by Brian on July 31, 2003

I’m very glad Jacob Levy is back posting on the Conspiracy.

bq. I’ve heard that there are institutions on the east coast where as many as a _hundred_ students sit in a big room and watch the professor, or not, as their fancy takes them, as if they were watching television. If true, _this_ is the real scandal!

Heh. I actually quite enjoy teaching those big lecture classes. Sometimes getting to perform on a stage is fun, even if my material isn’t exactly Shakespeare. But that doesn’t mean it’s good for the students.

I hope Jacob will be pleased to know that Brown is moving to be more like Chicago, with a stronger emphasis on seminar style teaching, especially at freshman level. I think we think tv style lectures are scandalous too.

Comfort Reading

by Henry Farrell on July 31, 2003

I settled down last night to re-read _Firebreak_, Richard Stark (aka Donald Westlake’s) last-but-one Parker novel, which begins with the sentence.

bq. When the phone rang, Parker was in the garage, killing a man.

This induced a feeling of complete comfort in me, which is rather odd when you think about it. Why is it that so many people find it relaxing to read about murder and violent crime?

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Cohen on facts and principles

by Chris Bertram on July 31, 2003

I’ve spent this morning puzzling through Jerry Cohen’s “Facts and Principles” from _Philosophy and Public Affairs_ (31:3 Summer 2003). It is, as I and others have intimated already, an important article and I can’t be confident that I’ve “got” it yet. I do think, though, that I can say that his thesis is not quite the threat to naturalism that I took it to be, unless it is coupled with some further commitments (although, as it happens, those dangerous further commitments are ones I accept). The basic argument Cohen puts forward is a really simple one, claiming that where people seek to ground their moral commitments on principles, some of those principles must hold independently of the way the world happens to be (“the facts”).

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Staying regular

by Henry Farrell on July 31, 2003

“The Economist”:http://www.economist.com/opinion/displayStory.cfm?story_id=1940664 (subscription required) has a rather silly editorial this week, deploring Congress’s efforts to push back FCC deregulation of the media industry. If you believe the _Economist_, the FCC was a disinterested champion of economic stability, while its “interested opponents” were shouting nonsense “about “grave threats to diversity of opinion in America, and even democracy itself.” Worse, the decision is a symptom of a wider malaise; “political meddling in regulatory policy is on the rise,” and the real problem is that “regulators, far from being unduly immune to the business of politics, are not sufficiently independent of the politicians.”

Even by the _Economist’s_ bombastic standards, this is a fact-deficient piece of free-market puffery – its account of the politics behind the FCC battle is laughably inaccurate. But that’s by the way; what’s interesting is the broader lesson that the Economist wants to draw from the affair. It claims that politics and regulation shouldn’t ever mix. In making this argument, the _Economist_ demonstrates a profound incomprehension of the actual relationship between politics and regulation. In fact, Congress’s 400 to 21 vote to smack down the FCC is a perfect example of how politics _should_ work to correct regulators. But to see exactly why, it’s necessary to trudge through a little political science.

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