16 October 2007

5kg of Kielbasa

... that is, a big honkin' link sausage.

  • From the world of "publishing news," we have the Grauniad's litblogger complaining about the paucity of perceptive reviews. Well, duuuuuuuh. Orwell wrote a much more perceptive article on the subject nearly seventy years ago... and not much has changed. On the other hand, I suppose that the old line that "too many 'critics' are frustrated novelists" has more than a gram of truth in it. But at least book review sections are less disreputable than awards ceremonies and shows.
  • I'm going to grumble a bit about this one: A wildflower garden is Art protected by the Visual Artists Rights Act (codified at 17 U.S.C. § 106A). My grumpiness comes not from the artist's win, but the restriction to "visual arts."
  • Somewhere, every second of every day, someone is complaining about lack of funding for the arts. Perhaps the complaints are the best argument for government funding... because if proponents of "let private benefactors fund the arts!" were correct, there simply wouldn't be a gap here, as the private benefactors would rush in to fill the vacuum. (Of course, the fact that private benefactors almost always want high-end, finished product, while government funding goes disproportionately for developmental aspects like training, couldn't have anything to do with it, could it?)
  • It looks like the travesty of libel tourism is starting to get some notice. There's a good — not compelling, but good — argument that the Commonwealth countries' exceptionally plaintiff-friendly libel regime, coupled with a harsh loser-pays-all-the-lawyers procedural system, does not fulfill all of the requirements of European human rights law. However, it's the sort of extremely technical argument that will never result in changing things, primarily because the corresponding privacy torts that have developed under US law to deal with certain abuses that don't quite meet the US definition of libel would also need to be imposed at the same time to avoid an excessive correction. This is one of those times that I'll take the "arrogant American" attitude that the US has it right and the rest of the world has it wrong... because in this case, almost alone among all such cases, it's true.
  • Then, too, there's the issue of e-books. I suppose it's helpful to have something to read them on, even if it's grossly overpriced and currently optimized for early adopters only. More of the effort needs to go into setting useful standards for digital preservation of texts than into marketing... but that would be foreign to contemporary business-school doctrine, wouldn't it? So, for that matter, is ensuring true open accessibility (regardless of format).
  • No batch of link sausage would be complete without reference to the wacky world of music. One can argue endlessly over what kind of music to listen to and why we expect people to listen to only one kind of music.
  • This large a batch of link sausage will also grind a little politics into the mix. An instructive quasimemoir from some experienced interrogators of war criminals shows a little bit more about the problems with Jack Bauer as a paragon of effective information-gathering.
  • Professor Solum recently remarked, during a panel presentation on the value of blogging to legal academics:

    I think that ideally we should have multiple audiences, right? I also have an appointment in the philosophy department, and I write some scholarship that is targeted. I try really to write for a wide audience in everything, but targeted exclusively at scholars, and at philosophers and legal scholars who are interested in philosophy. I also have two treatises, and I do work that's targeted at judges and practicing lawyers. But there's an interesting question: Why this new trend, why is it that academic presses and peer-reviewed journals and interdisciplinary scholarship has become so important? And I think that a short answer to that, a short, and vastly oversimplified, answer to that question is legal: That realism cracked open formalist approaches to law, and said, "We have to really be thinking about public policy directly, in the practice of law." Judges have to think about public policy.

    And law schools are not, anymore, hermetically sealed off from the rest of the university, and presidents, chancellors and provosts are paying attention to what their law schools are doing. And if I can be crude in the way that I characterize the way legal scholarship was conducted in the 1960s and '70s, I would say this: That what it consisted of was good doctrinal analysis that identified a policy problem, or a problem about what's fair, and then crude, shallow, unsupported, undertheorized, empirically embarrassing arguments about what the law should be. That cannot persist. It will not persist; legal scholarship must change. It must become as rigorous as every other academic discipline.

    This really should remind anyone who has paid attention to twentieth-century intellectual history of C.P. Snow's flawed "two cultures" hypothesis. The flaw in Snow's hypothesis was in his proposed resolution of the conflicts, not in his basic diagnosis, which leads to our last item:

  • I am not really a fan of Hillary Clinton. She's a moderate trying to assume the mantle of a champion for capital-L Liberalism, but in the pragmatic, "we can afford it if we do it my way" mold. (That this is not entirely consistent with the tenets of Liberalism, whether classically European or contemporarily Rawlsian, gets almost no attention.) Sometimes, though, she has a good idea: In this instance, having science advisors who are scientists and whose mission is to communicate the science, regardless of the political implications.

    But that's not what pisses me off about a remarkably ignorant article in the NYT. The problem is that the writers never challenge a blatantly dishonest bit of bullshit from a defender of George III's vision of "science" as a mere rhetorical device to help push his political agenda:

    Danny Diaz, a spokesman for the Republican National Committee, chided Mrs. Clinton for saying that she would take politics out of science, contending that her record is replete with political manipulations. "Hillary Clinton says she will bring integrity to science, but on the campaign trail she manipulates basic mathematics in her attempts to explain how she will pay for hundreds of billions of dollars in new spending," Mr. Diaz said. He also noted that Mr. Bush had made federal money available for stem cell research.

    Patricia Healy & Cornelia Dean, "Clinton Says She Would Shield Science From Politics" (05 Oct 2007) (fake paragraphing omitted).

    In other words, if it involves manipulating numbers, it's science. Diaz's bullshit is just another example of the way many have chosen to escape the implications of Snow's conflicts between the sciences and the humanities: Just put numbers on it and claim it's scientific — that'll make it more convincing to the public (and to funding sources). This is particularly ironic given Diaz's "counterexample," in two ways. First, nobody would claim that describing the federal budget is scientific; leaving aside questions of data validity and reproducibility, not to mention the politicization of the very spending and income estimates at issue, there isn't even a good, internally consistent model of how government spending on particular items feeds back into government income during particular periods! Second, and perhaps more grievously, Diaz's attitude simultaneously ignores the qualitative nature of much of science while using argument from implied dogma to validate a partisan vision.

    I am very disappointed that Healy and Dean closed their article with Diaz's bullshit without challenging it whatsoever. It did not respond to the substance of their article, and it's intellectually dishonest on both their part and on Diaz's to pretend that in any way it did.