The Ethicist

by Jon Mandle on April 13, 2006

I admit that I’m not a regular reader of Randy Cohen’s column for the NY Times Magazine, “The Ethicist.” But the hostility that some of my colleagues express is surprising. There are many complaints, some of which are absurd on their face. What to make of the criticism that his column doesn’t give readers the opportunity to engage in a dialogue? As if our books and papers do? (As it happens, the Magazine now has an on-line forum called “You’re the Ethicist” where people can post comments.) Or the complaint that he sets himself up as an expert, instructing others how to act? He gives his opinion. I can’t believe that anyone slavishly lives their lives according to his instructions. His audience knows that they can accept or reject his judgments based on their own assessment of the reasons he gives.
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Sorry to inflict kid-related anecdotes on you all. However. Scene: Two-year-old sitting in her cot with Teddy and Elmo. She has put a sippy-cup in front of Teddy. Me: “Oh, is Teddy drinking some water?” Pause. Kid: “No.” Me: “Why not?” Kid: “Teddy has no mouth.” Me: “Ah.” Kid: “Elmo has mouth. Elmo drink it.”

Siva Vaidhyanathan has written a very interesting “piece”:http://www.nyu.edu/classes/siva/archives/CriticalInformationStudies.pdf on “Critical Information Studies” – the conversations that have sprung up around intellectual property, new technologies etc – as a form of cultural studies. Among many other interesting things, Siva’s piece points to two aspects of Critical Information Studies that seem (to me; Siva is rather more generous) to be very useful correctives to tendencies within cultural studies as it exists today. One is an emphasis not on bodging together different and incompatible forms of theory, but instead on trying to make them interoperable, through using a vocabulary that doesn’t necessarily span them, but that makes the insights, say, of a computer science professor like Ed Felten intelligible to a legal scholar like Larry Lessig. Second, is a clear connection between theory and praxis – critical information studies is not only devoted to sorting out theory, but pragmatically applying it to change politics through initiatives and organizations like the “Creative Commons”:http://www.creativecommons.org and “Access To Knowledge”:http://www.cptech.org/a2k/. I’d be interested to read what people who are more sympathetic than I am to modern cultural studies (as opposed, to the original work done by Hall, Hoggart etc) think.

I’d like to teach the world to sing

by Henry on April 13, 2006

I’ve just come from a seminar given by Michael Tierney, who before launching into his paper on the Very Serious Subject of principal-agent relations in multilateral development agencies, encouraged us to visit and contribute to his list of “international relations themed music”:http://mjtier.people.wm.edu/teaching/irplaylist.php. Apparently, he begins his early morning classes by playing a song appropriate to that week’s topic so as to wake up the students. Contributions include “One is the Loneliest Number (Three Dog Night)” for the class on Polarity/Hegemonic Stability Theory and “Peace, Love and Understanding (Elvis Costello)” for Democratic Peace Theory. He pleads for alternative suggestions “to rectify the bad musical tastes of my colleagues,” which are indeed rather impressive. Sounds like exactly the right sort of silliness for a blog’s comment section – I’ll start the ball rolling by suggesting Tom Lehrer’s “MLF Lullaby”:http://www.song-teksten.com/song_lyrics/tom_lehrer/that_was_the_year_that_was/mlf_lullaby/ for a class on multilateral alliances, and indeed that Lehrer’s “We’ll All Go Together When We Go”:http://www.atomicplatters.com/more.php?id=70_0_1_0_M replaces Metallica’s _Blackened_ as the theme song for the week on Nuclear War and Its Consequences.

The Prehistory of Python

by Harry on April 13, 2006

I’ve promised to give a talk at the local High School on the pre-history of Monty Python’s Flying Circus. This is something I know a depressingly large amount about, not least from endless listening to the nostalgia strands on BBC7. But I wouldn’t have agreed to give a talk on it but for the delightful discovery that there are surviving episodes of both the immediate predecessor shows, Do Not Adjust Your Set and At Last the 1948 Show (Region 1, NTSC, believe it or not: Brits here and here). 1948 is more like Monty Python, not quite as good but containing, for example, the original version of the 4 Yorkshiremen sketch (with Marty Feldman!). DNAYS, though, is wonderful. It was a kid’s show, with Idle, Jones, Palin, David Jason, and Denise Coffey, and the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band appearing in various roles as well as themselves. The legend is that they did whatever they wanted because the kiddie-time slot meant that the executives didn’t bother to watch (those were the days!). I’d heard a great deal about it, and have long owned the album from the show (but the more or less complete bonzos is a better deal and contains Tadpoles), but I always imagined that it was lost to posterity. Wrong. 9 episodes survive and they are, really, exactly as the legend suggests. In fact, apart from not being in colour, they have aged better than Monty Python itself. The sketches are shorter, better structured, end with punch-lines, and the sense of anarchy is more palpable. You can see them enjoying themselves, and there is no sense, as there is in the later Pythons, that they are straining rather to get a laugh. The other marvel, though, is seeing the late lamented Viv Stanshall perform; I’ve always preferred Neil Innes to Stanshall, in the same way that I prefer McCartney to Lennon, but Stanshall commands the screen whenever he is on it. Brilliant. The local high school kids have a treat in store.

Mind the gap!

by Chris Bertram on April 13, 2006

The “decent left” who brought us Unite Against Terror, Labour Friends of Iraq, Democratiya, Engage and any number of other internet fronts, have now launched their “Euston Manifesto”:http://eustonmanifesto.org/joomla/ . Together with lots of general commitments to motherhood and apple pie, there are the usual obsessions: Iraq, Israel, the alleged anti-Americanism and anti-semitism of those who disagree with them. There’s also a the usual whining reinteration of the complaint that they have difficulty in getting their voice heard given the domination of the meeja by their foes. As “Matthew points out”:http://www.matthewturner.co.uk/Blog/2006/04/oh-dear-big-night-in-pub-i-cant.html this is a bit implausible give the cvs of the participants:

bq. Nick Cohen, columnist in the Observer, the Evening Standard and the New Statesman, with the report signed by Francis Wheen, deputy-editor of Private Eye, columnist in the Guardian, John Lloyd, editor of the FT Magazine etc.

Personally, my attention was caught by sections 13 and 14 on “Freedom of Ideas” and “Open Source”. I conducted a search of the Crooked Timber comment logs last weekend wondering if that would reveal the identity of someone who vandalized a Wikipedia page. I discovered that the vandal’s IP address had been used in comments from both from someone who shows up as a prominent signatory of the Manifesto and by a pseudonymous blogger. I can only suppose that, like Hesperus and Phosphorus, they are identical. No doubt the other signatories have a stronger commitment to open source and freedom of ideas.

For futher reaction see “Matthew”:http://www.matthewturner.co.uk/Blog/2006/04/oh-dear-big-night-in-pub-i-cant.html , “Jamie K”:http://bloodandtreasure.typepad.com/blood_treasure/2006/04/by_euston_stati.html and “Mike Power”:http://mikepower.net/mrpower2/2006/3/13/the-whine-approaching-platform-2-is.html .