From The New Yorker: Malcolm Gladwell’s “Priced To Sell”

Full article here. (Once archived, it won’t be (F)ree)

Gladwell argues that “Free” is a kind of utopian vision, or at least as it appears in Chris Anderson’s new book:  “Free:  The Future of a Radical Price”   What’s being overlooked is the cost of actually gathering news and information, and the infrastructure required to do so:

“This is the kind of error that technological utopians make. They assume that their particular scientific revolution will wipe away all traces of its predecessors—that if you change the fuel you change the whole system.”

Yet, aside from this utopianism, should we go so far as to have the law step in…protecting news-gathering organizations to some degree?  

Gladwell finishes with:

“The only iron law here is the one too obvious to write a book about, which is that the digital age has so transformed the ways in which things are made and sold that there are no iron laws”

It’s still up in the air.

See Also:  Walter Isaacson’s piece in Time a while back:  “How To Save Your Newspaper,” that is, if it isn’t already a shell of it’s former self.

See Also On This Site: Posner makes the case for some legal copyright intervention: From The Becker-Posner Blog: The Future Of Newspapers

From The Seattle Post-Intelligencer Via Sound Politics: Why Did The PI Die? From Slate: Jack Shafer On The Pulitzer Prize-Who Cares?  Who Reads The Newspapers? The Newseum Opens On The Mall: More From The Weekly Standard

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From The Becker-Posner Blog: The Future Of Newspapers

Posner’s post here

The argument isn’t bad:  we’re living off the fat of newspapers’ news-gathering abilities.  Such costly news-gathering was maintained by advertising revenue.  Online ad-revenue is not able to provide the same news-gathering depth and breadth.  So, at some point, all this free-riding may have to be addressed legally to protect some form of news-gathering:

Expanding copyright law to bar online access to copyrighted materials without the copyright holder’s consent, or to bar linking to or paraphrasing copyrighted materials without the copyright holder’s consent, might be necessary to keep free riding on content financed by online newspapers from so impairing the incentive to create costly news-gathering operations that news services like Reuters and the Associated Press would become the only professional, nongovernmental sources of news and opinion.”

No more free access!

I understand that there is more here in this post than just a conservative (conservare) impulse to maintain the institutions of newspapers for their own sake.  The free press is vital to our democracy, and journalism at its best is reaches highs that can maintain that freedom.  

Among other things, news organizations have allowed young writers to gain valuable experience and wisdom.  They have served as important social institutions, with obligations to the public good.   They can uncover corruption, hold the maneuvering of politicians to light of day, and inform the public, providing a bridge to the laws, law-making, and law-breaking…that affects us all.

At their best, they can even highlight injustices of which most men benefit by being aware (and I am a person as averse to the democracy-threatening idealism and over-zealousness that accompanies the pursuit of justice as you’ll find).

Yet despite all these abstract reasons…why do newspapers themselves need to be protected by such a top-down approach?

I’m not convinced. 

And as for news-gathering, won’t such needs be filled by other venues?

Related On This Site: Here in Seattle, Bill Virgin says newspapers built up their value, and slowly let it die: From The Seattle Post-Intelligencer Via Sound Politics: Why Did The PI Die? From Slate: Jack Shafer On The Pulitzer Prize-Who Cares?  Who Reads The Newspapers?

The Newseum Opens On The Mall: More From The Weekly Standard


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From The Weekly Standard: Harvey Mansfield Reviews Paul Rahe’s “Soft Despotism, Democracy’s Drift”

Full review here. (Thanks to the A & L Daily for the link)

Mansfield identifies Rahe as a follower of Leo Strauss, and as a historian who disagrees with both Quentin Skinner and J.G.A Pocock’s historicism:

“In their view…ideas can be traced to prior conditions that are not ideas, such as economic forces or, more particularly for them, political interests. Ideas are essentially defensive; they justify, defend, and protect the established interests of various regimes and of their opponents, for example the defense of the American colonists in the Declaration of Independence.”

Mansfield argues that Rahe takes a different tack; ideas can come from sources.  Sources such as the influence of Montesquieu and Jean-Jacques Rousseau on Alexis De Tocqueville.

However, Mansfield also argues there are two problems that seem to arise from Rahe’s view, namely that De Tocqueville’s thinking runs deeper than those sources:

“…when democracy comes to America fully visible “in broad daylight,” as Tocqueville says, it is in the democratic “idea,” both political and religious, that the Puritans brought with them. It seems that, before the Puritans, democracy was working under cover of aristocracy–on its own, as it were–without benefit of advocates who were strong enough to speak openly on its behalf.”

…namely that he was a historicist in some ways (democracy has been there all along, back to the Greeks at least) , as well as the fact that De Tocqueville:

“…does not appear to be a political philosopher, at least not one of their kind. He does not provide either a comprehensive survey of politics, as did Montesquieu, or an abstract foundation for politics, as did Rousseau.”

Mansfield argues that De Tocuqueville took care to resist the lure of top-down abstract surveys applied to people and how they organize , as well as even resisting historicism.

“In this he offers testimony to the influence of ideas while avoiding them, and to the power of the democratic context of ideas while resisting it. One could say that he yields some ground to historicism as he decisively rejects it”

Food for thought.  Mansfield seems to find Rahe’s book not quite convincing.

I still very much find myself compelled by Strauss’s fact-value distinction (from wikipedia):

“Strauss treated politics as something that could not be studied from afar. A political scientist examining politics with a value-free scientific eye, for Strauss, was self-deluded”

Also On This Site:  Bernhard Henri-Levy: no De-Tocqueville? Scott McLemee At ‘The Nation’ On Bernhard Henri-Levi: Darkness Becomes HimFrom The New Atlantis: MontesquieuAre You Man Enough? Nussbaum v. Mansfield

A Brief Discussion of Strauss here:  Update And Repost- From YouTube: Leo Strauss On The Meno-More On The Fact/Value Distinction?’

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From Watts Up With That-Surfacestations Update

Full post here.

Looking for something to do?

Travel, do some science, take your kids with you and work on a little project:

“A Google Earth KML file has also been created to help volunteers assist us in surveying these remaining stations to the best of our ability. I don’t expect to get all of them, but we should be able to easily exceed the 1000 station mark and perhaps reach 90% before the end of summer”

I don’t know if I’ll have the time, but there are still a few left near Seattle.

Addition:  NOAA defends itself here.

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From The Middle East Quarterly Via A & L Daily: Europe’s Shifting Immigration Dynamic

Full article here.

Our author points out that immigration policies have opened the door for a continuing stream of people in Europe, people who are still arriving.  She argues these policies and many European laws have created too easy a haven for them, perhaps even detracting from a truer spirit of Western human rights and refuge.   At their worst, such policies do little to prevent immigrants from maintaining their own religious beliefs, cultural practices and languages of origin (often in ghettoes, which is arguably the greatest moral failure here).  They also devalue the deeper reasons immigrants come in the first place. 

The problem poses a sort of identity crisis for many European societies, as well as many real and serious sources of social and political conflict.

I would argue that our author wants to keep in mind some of the same ideals that Roger Scruton does (marriage, the role of the church, the moral depths of religious thinking) and their influence on the institutions that can maintain those freedoms and reasons. 

On that note, Scruton doesn’t necessarily jump into bed with the hard European right (where violent nationalism and racial identity lurk), but he finds the current public sentiment and an excessive multi-culturalism driving public policy and law-making to not be sufficient in handling the problem.

Though continuing further…there is an argument in this article (and in some of Scruton’s thinking) that leads back to religious idealism, and perhaps doesn’t do enough to avoid a confrontation between say…Christian/Jewish religious idealism and Islamic religious idealism.

Addition:  I should add that the goal is not to prevent immigrants from maintaining their own religious beliefs, cultural practices, and languages, but to give them good reasons to adopt those of their chosen countries.   Some policies may serve the ideological interests of some citizens, but do little to help the actual immigrants integrate.  Another fault line where such tension can be observed could be in Sarkozy’s recent statements to ban the full body Muslim garments worn by a few women in public. 

See Also On This Site:  From YouTube: Roger Scruton On Religious Freedom, Islam & Atheism…Low European Birth Rates In The NY Times: No Babies?

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From The New Yorker: Atul Gawande On Health Care-“The Cost Conundrum”

Full post here (once archived, it won’t be free)

McAllen, Texas, Gawande argues, could learn a lot from the Mayo clinic’s method of de-incentivizing some ways doctors make money, and feel pressure to make money:

“Whom do we want in charge of managing the full complexity of medical care? We can turn to insurers (whether public or private), which have proved repeatedly that they can’t do it. Or we can turn to the local medical communities, which have proved that they can.”

Some collectivism may be necessary, and practical, to reduce wasteful spending.  It also could help to keep the discussion away from the top-down, and often once removed, visions of politics and political ideology.

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Roger Scruton In The American Spectator Via A & L Daily: Farewell To Judgment

Full article here:

So what’s lacking in the humanities?  Roger Scruton has some keen insights:

“The works of Shakespeare contain important knowledge. But it is not scientific knowledge, nor could it ever be built into a theory. It is knowledge of the human heart”

So forget the recent, and rather desperate, attempts to make the humanities into a science  (however…it’s been done before with some success).  Scruton suggests it’s been a long slide for the humanities to arrive where they’ve arrived:

“In the days when the humanities involved knowledge of classical languages and an acquaintance with German scholarship, there was no doubt that they required real mental discipline, even if their point could reasonably be doubted. But once subjects like English were admitted to a central place in the curriculum, the question of their validity became urgent. And then, in the wake of English came the pseudo-humanities—women’s studies, gay studies and the like—which were based on the assumption that, if English is a discipline, so too are they.”

And now that we’re left with somewhat balkanized and politicized departments of English, these departments have become a target of the political right, dragging many people into a nasty fight that eats up political capital:

“And since there is no cogent justification for women’s studies that does not dwell upon the subject’s ideological purpose, the entire curriculum in the humanities began to be seen in ideological terms.”

So how to restore the vision? Scruton advises to restore (and not eschew) judgment:

” Of course, Shakespeare invites judgment, as do all writers of fiction. But it is not political judgment that is relevant. We judge Shakespeare plays in terms of their expressiveness, truth to life, profundity, and beauty.”

This is deep insight and I think the better part of Scruton’s thinking in the article comes when he resists his own political (anti multi-cultural, pro-conservative, pro-church of England conservatism) impulses.  Here are the last few lines:

“It will require a confrontation with the culture of youth, and an insistence that the real purpose of universities is not to flatter the tastes of those who arrive there, but to present them with a rite of passage into something better.”

One could argue that this is necessary though how to arrive there is in doubt.

Here’s a quote from George Santayana:

The young man who has not wept is a savage, and the old man who will not laugh is a fool.”


On another note:  Despite the importance of beauty, the refinement of our experiences through poems and prose, the difficult work of cultivating”taste” for ourselves as well providing a rite of passage for our youth:  Aren’t we still attaching the humanities to something else?

We know the humanities will never be a science.  Politics is always in conflict with the arts.   Much philosophy is indifferent to the humanities at best.   In fact, Plato was quite suspicious of their influence on the republic (good overview here).

One target here may be somewhat political as well:  anti-social constructionism and anti-multiculturalism, though I am speculating.

Just some food for thought.

See Also On This Site:  Philosopher Of Art Denis Dutton of the Arts & Letters Daily says the arts and Darwin can be sucessfully synthesized: Review of Denis Dutton’s ‘The Art Instinct’

Martha Nussbaum says the university needs to be defend Socratic reason and still be open to diversity:  From The Harvard Educational Review-A Review Of Martha Nussbaum’s ‘Cultivating Humanity: A Classical Defense of Reform in Liberal Education.’

Stanley Fish also says keep politics out of academia: From The Stanley Fish Blog: Ward Churchill Redux…

Scruton again has deep insight, but will Christian religious idealism have to bump heads with Islamic religious idealism?: From YouTube: Roger Scruton On Religious Freedom, Islam & Atheism

Thanks to iri5

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From Strange Maps: America’s Mean Streak

Full post here.

You can plot Americans’ move westward.

“The mean centre of US population is “the point at which an imaginary, flat, weightless and rigid map of the US would balance perfectly if weights of identical value were placed on it so that each weight represented the location of one person on the date of the census”, in the definition of the US Census Bureau itself.”

See Also:  From Strange Maps: The Sweet Tea Line In Virginia…Edward Hopper: Railroad Sunset

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Nigel Warburton On His New Book About Free Speech

2 min introductory video here. (book can be found at the link)

I get a lot of comments from people who think that philosophy’s not good for much, and often I agree.  Maybe it’s best for clarifying one’s own thinking, and through that clarification offering insight into a central and divisive issue:

The divisive issue here is free speech, especially in Europe (it can get you killed) and has become a flashpoint between Muslim immigrants and European natives (where national and racial identity can be violently united).  

Do we want absolute freedom of speech or absolute anything for that matter?…How does a civilization deal with the often unwise, incendiary ranting that comes with it?  Who decides what the limits are?

Worth a look.

Also On This Site:  Do you defend Christianity against Islam as Roger Scruton does despite his depth?  From YouTube: Roger Scruton On Religious Freedom, Islam & Atheism…the way people treat immigrants is important, but so is the way people treat the poor among them…

Martha Nussbaum may be asking the question:  How do you create a civil society that does not place religion above a concept of the moral good, yet that also does not pursue the moral good while zealously excluding religion?  Repost: Martha Nussbaum Channels Roger Williams In The New Republic: The First Founder

I’d like to answer that question without theories of distributive justice please…I don’t think a big bloated government helps in the long run.

Also:  From The Atlantic: Samuel Huntington’s Death And Life’s Work

Tempe Library Free Speech Zone Sign by Scrap Arcs

by Scrap Arcs

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From The Atlantic: Megan McArdle On Elizabeth Warren’s Bankruptcy Study

Full post here.

So is this just a libertarian worried about a liberal push for universal health care?

“The post-2005 fall in bankruptcies, then the steady subsequent rise back towards the pre-2005 mean, is the central fact about US bankruptcy in the last ten years.  It’s like doing a study on bank capital without reference to the financial crisis.”

Mcardle argues that Warren rather sloppily (or in very partisan fashion) didn’t address that issue in her report, mostly because she has a dog in the hunt.  The comments are really insightful. A good debate.

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