Sometimes working for the ACLU is fun

Step 1: British comedian John Oliver produces an absurd segment about coal CEO Bob Murray:

In it, Oliver acknowledges Murray’s history of litigiousness toward critics and challenges him to do his worst.

Step 2: Murray sues Oliver for defamation in West Virginia circuit court

Step 3: As reported in Slate, Jamie Lynn Crofts of the American Civil Liberties Union of West Virginia files one of the world’s funnier legal documents in the form of an amicus brief to the court

As John Stuart Mill said about freedom of speech in general: “Strange it is that men should admit the validity of the arguments for free speech but object to their being ‘pushed to an extreme’, not seeing that unless the reasons are good for an extreme case, they are not good for any case”.

Political speech, news reporting, and satire all deserve special protection in the public interest. Hopefully this whole back and forth will discourage those who face criticism in the future from seeking to suppress it through the courts of a free society.

Is there an alternative to extracting the bitumen sands?

I only just came across it, but back in January CBC News asked a bold question: can the oil sands be phased out?


Palantir and data analysis

Writing in The Guardian, Jacques Peretti has compiled an interesting summary of the technological capabilities and government-to-business relationships of Palantir, a secretive technology company focused on identifying patterns within large data sets and making them accessible to people without specialized training.

With sensors getting cheaper all the time, the tricky part of ubiquitous surveillance isn’t collecting the data. It’s making it intelligible and applicable. These kinds of powerful data linkage and analysis tools also undermine common-sense expectations and procedures for the protection of privacy. No human being might be able to look at a set of large supposedly-anonymized databases and pick out individuals, but it’s increasingly within the scope of what can be routinely done with computers.