The neoliberal imagination

by Henry on October 31, 2005

It’s all confirmthem.com, all of the time at the Volokhs today; Todd Zywicki chimes in with his little “bit”:http://www.volokh.com/archives/archive_2005_10_30-2005_11_05.shtml#1130797431.

bq. For those like myself (and I hazard to guess Scalia, Alito, and Thomas) conservatism is attractive because it now seems to be the party of meritocracy where one is judged on your character and ability, and not on your connections or demographics. As the doors of schools such as Princeton and Yale Law School (in Alito’s case), and the professions themselves have been thrown open to Italians, Poles, Irish, etc., individuals such as Scalia and Alito have had the opportunity to prove themselves. Among other things, I think this cultural upbringing reflects itself in a skepticism about racial preferences in college admissions and hiring. It is difficult to say, from what I can tell, that Sam Alito’s ascent to the Supreme Court came about through some sort of unfair advantage, money, or family connections. In the legal arena, I think this cultural temperament may reflect itself in a anti-elitist streak rebelling against the arrogance of the Supreme Court and the federal judiciary and a humility in the face of the common-sense of citizens as reflected through democratically-elected legislatures.

The best rejoinder to this conservatism-as-meritocracy trope that I’ve seen is Walter Benn Michaels’ brilliant little essay on the neoliberal imagination for “N+1 magazine”:http://www.nplusonemag.com/ (not available online – but see “here”:http://www.boston.com/news/globe/ideas/articles/2005/10/09/class_fictions/ for a shorter version). Michaels’ essay is devastating as a critique both of liberal and neo-liberal/conservative attempts to brush the issue of class under the carpet. When conservatives claim that in the absence of formal discrimination, merit will out, they’re making a claim that isn’t any better justified by the empirics than the liberal notion that a carefully metered dose of ‘diversity’ makes up in any substantial sense for a system that’s overwhelmingly skewed against the poor. [click to continue…]

Keep your eyes off my content

by Eszter Hargittai on October 31, 2005

Ed Felten quotes a disturbing snippet from an interview with SBC CEO Edward Whitacre concering traffic flowing through SBC pipes:

Q: How concerned are you about Internet upstarts like Google, MSN, Vonage, and others?

A: How do you think they’re going to get to customers? Through a broadband pipe. Cable companies have them. We have them. Now what they would like to do is use my pipes free, but I ain’t going to let them do that because we have spent this capital and we have to have a return on it. So there’s going to have to be some mechanism for these people who use these pipes to pay for the portion they’re using. Why should they be allowed to use my pipes?

The Internet can’t be free in that sense, because we and the cable companies have made an investment and for a Google or Yahoo or Vonage or anybody to expect to use these pipes [for] free is nuts!

Ed (Felten that is) rightly notes that calling the service free is hardly correct when SBC customers (me being one of them) pay monthly fees for it. He then goes on to discuss some other problems with the quote. But I want to focus on one particular issue having to do with SBC’s status as a common carrier.

Randy Zagar correctly points out in the comments to Ed’s post that common carriers are legally prohibited from monitoring the content of the traffic that flows through their pipes, which means that they cannot legally discriminate among content the user requests. So how could they do what CEO Ed Whitacre is suggesting? I’m not a legal scholar nor am I up-to-date on possible recent developments, but I am quite sure this law is still in effect. I welcome clarification.

The conversation on Ed’s blog regarding this matter seems to focus mostly on prices and commercial considerations. But how about political ones? What if an Internet service provider company had a leadership that was especially supportive of a certain political view (whether backing a particular political candidate or taking a certain side in a debate over, say, abortion or gay rights). Let’s say the leadership in said company was aligned enough with a particular perspective that they did not care if restricting access to certain content perhaps even led to lost revenues (in the short term or long). Let’s assume they were more interested in pushing a certain political perspective and decided to block access to Web sites that disagreed with these views. What then? If there are several players in town then the user can perhaps switch providers. That said, blocking usually happens in a way that doesn’t make it at all clear to the user what happened and why a certain site is inaccessible. So it is not clear that the user will know what alternative route to take to access the desired content.

The reason I decided to get DSL at home instead of cable is precisely because of the law concerning common carriers and their neutral stance with respect to content. I don’t want my provider to discriminate among the types of material I request. I went so far as to bother getting a land line installed just for my DSL connection despite the fact that I am already paying for basic cable anyway as part of my building’s assessment fees and so getting Internet access on cable would have been easier (and possibly cheaper). I realize this level of obsession with having guaranteed access to different types of content is probably not common, but I believed it to be an important enough distinction to bother. But what was the point if the CEO of my common carrier believes in what is articulated in the above quote?

Do head over to Ed’s post for more on problems with Whitacre’s comments.

UPDATE: I just came across this piece that points to a draft of the new broadband legislation. Among other things, it “[e]nsures network neutrality to prevent broadband providers from blocking subscriber access to lawful content.”

Cliopatria Awards

by John Holbo on October 31, 2005

Go nominate some deserving soul, or souls, for best history blogging in various categories.

got up with the sun (as ’tis called)

by John Holbo on October 31, 2005

My last post was about E.S. Turner‘s Roads to Ruin, the Shocking History of Social Reform. One of the chapters is about daylight savings, a timely topic, so I’ll make it a two-part series. Here are a few choice samples of arguments against the pernicious practice.

[click to continue…]

Hyperion copyright case

by Chris Bertram on October 31, 2005

Today’s Guardian “editorial”:http://www.guardian.co.uk/leaders/story/0,3604,1604944,00.html concerns the recent legal case involving “Hyperion Records”:http://www.hyperion-records.co.uk/ . Hyperion are best know for their wonderful series of Schubert song recordings — Ian Bostridge’s Die schöne Müllerin being a case in point. Their survival is now threatened because the editor of the works of a rather obscure French composer was successful in “an action claiming musical copyright in the work”:http://www.hyperion-records.co.uk/news.asp#1 . I offer no opinion on the legal merits of the case, though it is claimed that this effectively lowers the threshold on what counts as an original work. Hyperion will probably face small damages, but they must now meet their own and the plaintiff’s enormous legal costs. They are “appealing for donations”:http://www.hyperion-records.co.uk/shop/donate.asp .

Million dollar baby

by John Quiggin on October 31, 2005

Feeding www.crookedtimber.org into this calculation applet, it’s estimated to be worth $928,668.30, using the same link-to-dollar ratio as the AOL purchase of Weblogs Inc deal for a rumoured $25 million. Toss us a few more links and we’ll all be millionaires[1]

fn1. Or rather we’ll be worth one virtual million between us based on the imputed value of hypothetical ads.