24 January 2011

First Essay Assignments of the Semester

Since the spring semester (or winter quarter, for some of you; and I suppose summer quarter for those in the southern hemisphere) is in full operation now, I propose the following three essay assignments based on link sausages.

  • Here's a fascinating, three-way exercise in comparison-and-contrast arguments: Should we decategorize "serious music" as a way of making it more popular, or should we acknowledge that "literary fiction" is just another artifical publishing category? And what do we do about the nerds and geeks in the first place? And all of this as the finalists for the National Book Critics' Circle awards are announced, including the obligatory award to one of their own...
  • Just how many wrongs does it take to make a right? Well, consider Harper's Magazine's unionization, followed by layoffs planned for two editors... one of whom was an organizer of the unionization. Now throw in that the magazine is controlled by a nonprofit foundation, but actually directed by a "benefactor." Then compare to (and contrast with) the preceding item...
  • Professor Crawford provides some useful (and unjustly neglected) insights into the FCC's decision on the Comcast/NBCU merger. The one criticism that I would make is that the entire argument presumes that the characteristics of a monopolist are functionally, mathematically, and effectively identical to those of a monopsonist... and it's trivial to demonstrate (even using the original research by Hirschfeld et al.) that they're not. It's quite disturbing to me that the FCC's decision never makes the distinction, and spends a total of two pages (!) discussing issues that are unique to the monopsony aspects of the transaction.

    As a quick reminder (and vast oversimplification), a monopolist is a seller; a monopsonist is a buyer. In this instance, there has been grossly inadequate attention paid to the restriction on supply, and lower prices paid to suppliers, that will result from restricting the number of independent markets for things like freelance TV scripts (to name only the most obvious aspect). Although the story of Keith Olbermann's departure from MSNBC seems incredibly complicated and probably not an immediate bit of fallout, his replacement (Lawrence O'Donnell) is a considerable move to the center from a center-left perspective; and it will be interesting to see if Rachel Maddow comes under pressure to tone things down so as to keep Fox News happy.