The gunmen who killed 12 people in the attack on French magazine Charlie Hebdo are now dead after battles with police that claimed yet more innocent victims. The world stands in solidarity with France and its media, and rightly so. Nothing justifies answering the barbs of a cartoonist’s pen with the bullets of a Kalashnikov.
But as the outrage dissolves and the mourning ends, the question will remain: What is the right relationship between free speech and a free society? Freedom of speech is never absolute: There are restrictions for hate speech, libel, state secrets, and so on. A blanket insistence on free speech at all costs is no less dogmatic than a blanket insistence on sharia law. Charlie Hebdo’s brand of satire was arguably racist and deliberately provocative. What we are defending when we defend its journalists is not their right to publish without limits, but their right not to get killed for doing it.
American graphic journalist Joe Sacco addressed this elegantly in a cartoon published on Friday. After affirming—and exercising—his right to vilify Muslims, Jews, black people, and anyone else, he wrote, “But perhaps when we tire of holding up our middle finger we can try to think about why the world is the way it is and what it is about Muslims in this time and place that makes them unable to laugh off a mere image. And if we answer, ‘Because something is deeply wrong with them’—certainly something was deeply wrong with the killers—then let us drive them from their homes and into the sea… for that is going to be far easier than sorting out how we fit in each other’s world.”—Gideon Lichfield
Five things on Quartz we especially liked
The great oil treasure hunt. Nova Scotia’s offshore oil fields were once considered bone-dry, but one man’s conviction that they weren’t resulted in BP and Shell setting aside $2 billion to try again. Steve LeVine charts Sandy MacMullin’s nearly decade-long quest to prove his case by reconstructing the world as it was 200 million years ago.
The calendar according to Wikipedia. On any given day, millions of people around the world are reading a Wikipedia article. Nikhil Sonnad wondered what a 12-month calendar would look like when you put the day’s most-read page of knowledge in its respective place.
Something called “dynamic scoring” is about to ruin the US budget. Governments need to fill their coffers, and Republicans want to do it via tax cuts for the wealthy. Slipping those cuts in, however, is complicated when the research shows they lead to deficits. Tim Fernholz explains the new math on Capitol Hill.
What’s behind the revival of vinyl. There’s a new rage for old plastic records, but contrary to what aficionados claim it’s not about their sound quality. John McDuling muses on how the format of your music, as much as your taste in it, is a matter of identity.
If you’re going to support freedom of speech, go all out. “I would prefer to die standing than to live on my knees,” said the slain satirical cartoonist Charb back in 2012. Emma-Kate Symons speaks up for the absolutist stance on freedom of speech—France’s gift to the democratic world.
Five things elsewhere that made us smarter
Tony Blair’s Central Asian sideline. The former British prime minister has been helping autocrats burnish their images even as they crack down on civil rights. Casey Michel in the New Republic asks some troubling questions about Blair’s associations and whether he’s profiting from them.
The hedge fund king. Pershing Square’s Bill Ackman is a financial genius, but reviled by some for his aggressive brand of activist investing. At Bloomberg, Katrina Brooker captures the intense and weird world of a man who, in 2014 alone, wept on stage describing Herbalife’s business model, and made billions on a fiendishly complex and masterfully failed acquisition of the company behind Botox.
The rules of finance. Lex, the anonymous, long-running opinion column in the Financial Times, is an influential voice in the investment world. Robert Armstrong, its lead editor, steps in front of the curtain (registration required) to reveal a few of the institution’s core principles, from the futility of share buybacks to the abuse of dual-class shares, madness of quarterly reporting, and much else besides.
The boring self-driving future.
Letting a car drive you around sounds exciting and futuristic—but no. At Wired,
the “delightfully dull” experience of riding the 500 highway miles from Los Angeles to Las Vegas in an autonomous Audi, using technology that could be in production cars in three to five years.
Is it the 1990s all over again? Facebook is the new AOL. Google is the new Microsoft. Buzzfeed is the new Yahoo. Nilay Patel in The Verge draws parallels between tech companies that were hot two decades ago and those of the present day. (Quartz itself made a similar argument about messaging apps as the mobile version of 1990s portals.)
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