02 April 2012

A Return to... You Call This Sanity?

Now that the officially silly day is over, we can return to unofficial silliness. And I only wish that my comment yesterday had been a little less obviously an April Fool's Day joke... or that it was less credible... but I guarantee that none of the following are April Fool's Day items.

  • More on Amazon, Apple, and e-book pricing demonstrates that very, very few people are actually looking at any facts; instead, it's just battling fact-free ideologies. Unsurprisingly, the Chicago Tribune — a paper that started out dubious under Col McCormick and has been in a slow, half-century-long downhill slide — has entirely bought into the idiocy, with its unsigned editorial in favor of "market forces" failing to discern that there's more than one market... and that what might work in one market won't necessarily work in others. Ironically enough, Amazon's hometown paper, the Seattle Times, at least tries to establish a factual foundation for its miniprofile and distinguish between markets in e-books, but still falls into the trap that most other commentary and articles fall into. It is a very simple one:

    Do not assume that the status quo before the entry of a probable antitrust violator represented a free and open market undistorted by other antitrust violations.

    To name a few of the more obvious distortions in book and e-book sales to consumers that result from probable antitrust violations endemic across publishing (and, for that matter, entertainment-copy provision as a whole, including recorded music, recorded audiovisual media, and gaming), consider the monopsony problem at the supply end (not to mention stupid packaging); the returns system; the relatively uniform accounting methods that are inconsistent with GAAP; the extremely limited number of distributors; what an e-book even is; and so on.

  • An article in the LA Times demonstrates exactly what happens when you make the corresponding assumption in cultural and political terms. A misleadingly named reactionary think tank claims that a "liberal atmosphere" is harming education in the University of California system. To start with, if you call anything that does not meet your preconceived notion from the hard Right "liberal" — including centrist positions a liberal might well call "conservative" — you're going to get a rather distorted picture. Then, too, exactly how does one judge the political orientation of introductory calculus-based physics? Is it a "liberal-oriented" course if it includes "modern physics"? How about if you offer a non-calculus-based alternative that mentions energy production as an example for study? Is a linguistics course that includes consideration of non-Western languages inherently "liberal", especially if it is not based on Latin and ancient Greek? How does looking at a reading list for a course on the nineteenth-century British novel reveal a political predisposition independent of the material for study?

    I could go on, but I won't, except to leave you with this thought. One can argue that any university education is inherently liberal to a reactionary, and even to most who call themselves "conservatives," because a university that is not restricted to theology is inherently about introducing students to the new and unfamiliar. That goes for the sciences, too: In the very early 1980s, what passed for conservatives at my undergraduate school — who would no doubt be labelled flaming liberals by the authors of that "study" — criticized a biology professor for introducing material about limb malformation and thalidomide, and about teratomas, into the advanced-undergraduate course on vertebrate development... over two decades after proof of the relationship. This criticism was founded on the allegation that such material inherently demonstrated hostility to private pharmaceutical corporations, and did not belong in an undergraduate classroom. There was no objection at all, though, when a moderate political science professor included breaking PATCO as a possible topic on a contemporary-events seminar syllabus.

  • "Johnson" laments difficulty in finding an infinitive to irrevocably, definitively, and visibly split. See? That wasn't that hard... for a German-speaker.