Lessig and the Choir

by Kieran Healy on May 25, 2005

A long article in New York magazine about “Lawrence Lessig’s participation in a lawsuit”:http://newyorkmetro.com/nymetro/news/features/12061/index.html against “the American Boychoir School”:http://www.americanboychoir.org/movie.html. A teacher at the school molested boys during the 1970s and Lessig, a former head boy at the school, was one of the victims. He’s now arguing the case in front of the New Jersey Supreme Court. The crux of the lawsuit is whether the school can be held responsible for the actions of its abusive employees. (They’ve settled cases in the past.) I remember seeing the American Boychoir tour bus around Princeton quite regularly. The place is is just down the road from campus. The school is arguing that it is in no more responsible for the actions of the abusers it employed than it would be for employee “stopping in a bar after work and slugging someone in the mouth. ‘Is the company responsible?’ [the school’s lawyer] asks. ‘No. Why not? Because they’re not acting within the scope of employment.'” That seems like a weak analogy. In this case the employee was in a position to repeatedly abuse his victims in virtue of his role and the authority it carried. The school’s defence seems to come perilously close to arguing that it can’t be held responsible for _any_ illegal action that a teacher perpetrated on a pupil, because of course illegal actions are not within the scope of the teacher’s employment.

I don’t know about the legal merits, of course, but on the basis of their past experiences, together with the evasions and blame-the-victim insinuations from the school’s President and its chief lawyer, it’s easy to see how the litigants’ could have a desire to raze the institution to the ground.

Disciplinary boundaries

by Henry Farrell on May 25, 2005

Eszter’s “post”:https://crookedtimber.org/2005/05/19/isolated-social-networkers/ on physicists, sociologists and network theory has given rise to some interesting responses, and the beginnings of a broader distributed discussion on what disciplinary boundaries mean. Maybe it’s time to tie these threads back into a knot, entangle them further with some arguments from Susanne Lohmann on the functions and problems of academic disciplines, and see how people choose to unravel it all. (warning – lengthy extracts below fold).
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by Chris Bertram on May 25, 2005

One of the best comebacks ever, dead and buried at half-time, “Champions of Europe….”:http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport1/hi/football/europe/4573159.stm

Cross-ideological conversations among bloggers

by Eszter Hargittai on May 25, 2005

This weekend I’ll be at the annual meetings of the International Communication Association meetings in New York. All of the members from my research group will be participating in the conference and we’ll be reporting on several of our projects. Sunday midday we will present a poster summarizing some preliminary findings from our project on cross-ideological conversations among bloggers. I thought I would give a little preview here.

Cass Sunstein in his book Republic.com talks about the potential for IT to fragment citizens’ political discussions into isolated conversations. Borrowing from Negroponte, he discusses the potential for people to construct a “Daily Me” of news readings that excludes opposing perspectives. Sunstein argues that for democracy to flourish, it is important that people continue to have conversations with those in disagreement with their positions. However, he is concerned that with the help of filtering out unwanted content people will fragment into enclaves and won’t be exposed to opinions that challenge their positions. The book is an interesting read, but it does not offer any systematic empirical evidence of the claims.

I have been working on a project this past year with Jason Gallo and Sean Zehnder on empirically testing Sunstein’s thesis. We are doing so by analyzing cross-linkages among liberal and political blogs. You may recall that about two months ago Lada Adamic and Natalie Glance came out with a report on “The Political Blogosphere and the 2004 U.S. Election”. My first reaction was one of panic. Here we had been working on our project for months and someone else came out with the results first. However, a closer read made me realize that our project has some unique elements. And if nothing else, seeing that project has made us more careful and critical in our work showing that more research in an area can be fruitful, because hopefully it inspires the agenda to move forward in a productive manner.

[I updated this image on June 1 when I realized the right graph wasn’t displaying exactly what I had described it as.]

Our work has focused on addressing two questions. First, we are interested in seeing the extent to which liberal and conservative bloggers interlink. Second, we want to see what kind of changes we may be able to observe over time. Sunstein’s thesis suggests that we would see very little if any cross-linking among liberal and conservative blogs and the cross-linking would diminish over time. We go about answering these questions using multiple methodologies. We counted links and calculated some measures to see how insular the conversations are within groups of blogs. We also did a content analysis of some of the posts in our sample. We continue to work on this project so these are just preliminary findings.
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I think I’m going to be sick.

by Maria on May 25, 2005

But first. The Economist’s new venture is “an inspirational lifestyle magazine which instead of helping readers make decisions in their professional life, helps them do the same in their personal life”.

“Take white-collar boxing – the latest stress reliever for Wall Street and City elite. Tired of punching a bag at the gym, they have now moved on to punching each other in front of a paying audience. If smacking around your colleagues doesn’t sound appealing, how about brushing up on your space travel tips so you can be first in line to book your space flight? If all that sounds too strenuous, check out the dos and don’ts of selecting massage therapy. Other articles include the latest on gadgets, health innovations, luxury items and how to order your own bespoke car.”

I suppose they forgot the first rule, that we don’t talk about fight club. And also the part about status-seeking through rampant consumerism being a bit of a trap. Especially if you just acquire the same crap everyone else has. Which you will if you buy this magazine. Worth noting if you’re one of today’s busy global managers and hoped Intelligent Life would give you an executive summary of all that culture stuff.


by Harry on May 25, 2005

The arrival of Andrew Adonis in government has so far gone uncommented upon here, so I feel entitled to say something, however belatedly. Adonis’s presence at #10 made the Education portfolio a poisoned chalice for at least the whole of the second term. Because Number 10 was always interfering in policymaking, no Education Secretary (even Charles Clarke) could pursue his or her own agenda with confidence. Not only were they constantly being second-guessed and scrutinized, but even when they put forward their own initiatives no-one affected could be sure whose they were, or whether, if they truly belonged to the Secretary, they would reach fruition. It seemed to me that Estelle Morris (who was Secretary of State most of the time I lived in the UK) was always in an untenable position. The portion of the Queens Speech on Education has Adonis’s name written all over it.

Ruth Kelly should be delighted, therefore, to have Adonis in her team.

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Academic bestsellers

by Henry Farrell on May 25, 2005

David Greenberg had two “interesting”:http://www.slate.com/id/2118854/entry/2118924/ “articles”:http://www.slate.com/id/2118854 last week about the gap between academic and popular history, and how to bridge it. This suggests an interesting question. Which academic books are fit for human consumption? Or, to put it less polemically, which books written for academic purposes deserve, should find (or in some cases have found) a more general readership among intelligent people who are either (a) non-academics, or (b) aren’t academic specialists in the discipline that the book is written for. Nominations invited. To start the ball rolling, I’m listing three (fairly obvious imo) contenders myself.

bq. E.P. Thompson, Making of the English Working Class. A classic, which reads more like a novel than a piece of academic history, rescuing organizers, sectaries, pamphleteers and gutter journalists “from the enormous condescension of posterity.” Moving, smart, and wonderfully written.

bq. Albert Hirschman, Exit, Voice and Loyalty. A stunningly simple idea, worked out to its logical conclusions – it creates a new vocabulary for understanding how social institutions work.

bq. James Scott, Seeing Like A State. Libertarians will like the critique of state-led social engineering, but be discomfited by Scott’s account of the totalizing effects of markets. Traditional social democrats and socialists will have the opposite set of reactions. Both should read it (as should anyone else interested in the intersection between political theory and real life).