FUN WITH EDITING ERRORS: I was reading Hayek's Law, Legislation, and Liberty this morning and came across a confusing passage. I had to read it several times before I realized what had happened. Here it is, with the offending part in bold:
It should now be easier to see why in all early civilization we find a law like that 'of the Medes and the Persians that changeth not', and why all early 'law-giving' consisted in efforts to record and make known a law that was conceived as unalterably given. A 'legislator' might endeavor to purge the law of supposed corruptions, or to restore it to its pristine purity, but it was not thought that he could make new law. The historians of law are agreed that he could make new law. The historians of law are agreed that in this respect all the famous early 'law-givers', from Ur-Nammu and Hammurabi to Solon, Lykurgus and the authors of the Roman Twelve Tables, did not intend to create new law but merely to state what law was and had always been.
EXCELLENT CAREER GUIDE RESOURCE: For the Classics major who thinks she'll be flipping burgers for a living, the English major who doesn't want to work in an office, and all the rest of us lost college students, Boston University has a set of web pages entitled What can I do with a major in ...?
SURVEILLANCE AND CRIME: Eric Burns has an interesting point about how pictures can make something into news, using the Toogood child beating case as his example. He thinks that as surveillance cameras become increasingly common, the number of actions caught on tape and turned into sensationalist crime stories will also increase.
I think that may be true for a short while. But as the number of these shocking videotapes multiplies, people will get sick of seeing them. Imagine that there was such a video every day - a child being beaten, two men punching each other after an argument, a small drug deal, etc. People would very soon get sick of the grainy pictures and the manhunts, and turn their attention to more important news. Privacy can be a product of too much available information just as it can be a product of not enough available information.
UPDATES: I asked a few days ago whether a certain humor article in my campus paper might be libelous. I have two updates in regard to this.
1. I was incorrect in saying that the author of the piece was not identified. The author of all the columns on the humor page that week was Haverford student David Langlieb. His name was listed only once, and since I assumed that each piece was written by a different person, I associated his name with only the one that was closest to the by-line. However, his name does not appear on any of the online versions of the articles or on the staff page of the paper. David wrote me a very thoughtful e-mail to identify himself and respond to my first post.
2. Eugene Volokh has answered my question on libel with a resounding "No, this is perfectly legal." He also points to an ambiguous area in the law: What happens if a majority of people understand a piece to be satire, but a substantial minority think it's real?
FEAR OF CHANGE: Some doctors are upset about ultrasound businesses, FoxNews reports. These companies will give you an ultrasound picture of your unborn baby for a fraction of the price it would cost at a doctor's office. The doctors' complaints?
1. Nobody has proved that repeated ultrasounds are safe. It's just about impossible to prove that anything is completely safe. Ultrasounds have been in use for decades without any adverse effects being noticed. And if parents are worried, they can just not get an ultrasound.
2. Untrained technicians might mistakenly diagnose a disorder in the baby. The technicians are not pretending to be trained doctors, and will certainly tell the mothers to visit an obstetrician if they see something unusual. But I think it's better to have more false positives reported and checked out than to have more mothers surprised that their baby has a birth defect after nine months of pregnancy.
3. Businesses are "using this wonderful technology to put bucks in their pockets." And why not? They're benefiting expectant parents and increasing the chances of having a healthy baby. Our society is built on technology and profit, and we think that's good.
IS THIS LIBEL? The campus newspaper of Bryn Mawr and Haverford colleges, called the Bi-College News, has a humor page called "The Last Word". This page is in no way identified as a humor page, though everyone (except the new freshmen) knows that the last page of the paper has always been the humor page. This year they've put a new feature on the page called "Guest Columnist", in which they write an op-ed from the point of view of some well-known person. Out of the four issues this year, two of the people they've mocked have been conservative commentators, one was the managing editor of the Bi-College News, and I missed the fourth issue so I don't know who it was.
The articles about the conservative commentators (Ann Coulter and Bill O'Reilly) were shallow, insulting, and stupid. They included the commentator's picture and real biography line, and did not identify the name of the student writing the column. This week's column, "Bill O'Reilly: If we fed all the Palestinians and Jews to a band of starving raptors then there would be no Middle East peace crisis" can be read online at the paper's website. Unfortunately, I cannot find a the Ann Coulter piece on the site and I threw away my copy.
Most Bryn Mawr students, though, are highly non-political. When I talked to my friends about the Ann Coulter column during the first week of school, their responses were along the lines of "Who is Ann Coulter?" and "Oh, I thought they'd just made up some name." I would guess that only 5-10% of the student body has ever heard of Ann Coulter or Bill O'Reilly, making this a strange decision for the paper in several respects.
ANOTHER REASON TO TAKE THE TRAIN: Boston's Logan Airport is installing machines that can read your driver's license to make sure it's valid. It can also generate reports of who is on what plane, and when and where their ID's were checked. The system will be used for airport workers first, but officials want to expand it to all passengers soon.
OUT OF CONTEXT: My dearest Sasha (who has been slacking for the past several weeks while his brother does all the blogging) discovered a Shocking Fact last night: There is no easy-to-find law student porn on the Internet. Google searches for nude law students, sexy law students, and law student porn return exactly zero law student porn sites on the first page of hits. Sounds like there's a niche market out there that could make someone a lot of money!
MELTING POT: Daniel Henniger has more about hyphenated-Americans and the melting pot, which I talked about a little in my paper yesterday. I have a negative gut reaction when anyone starts talking about "civics education", but I think Henniger is mostly right. Understanding the history of American / Western culture is necessary for understanding its value. And focusing on differences instead of similarities is quite likely to lead to, well, differences instead of similarities.
CUTE LITTLE UNDERGRAD PAPER: The paper I referred to yesterday is now up on my website under the title Spontaneity and Cultural survival. I think it turned out pretty well, though a little longer than the professor asked for (nearly five full pages). In the paper, I address the view that governments should act to preserve minority cultures through laws mandating continuation of the culture, such as French signage in Quebec. My answer is that a culture is by nature a thing that must spontaneously evolve through individual choice, so that mandating a stable culture is the same thing as killing a real, active culture.
ACADEMICS AND REAL LIFE: I'm taking a class this semester on 20th Century Political Philosophy, and the discussion in class last night made me want to direct everyone to my recent entry on cultural/historical identity. Unfortunately, that's not the kind of thing one can easily do in class, and I also didn't have the opportunity to fully explain my point of view.
We were discussing Charles Taylor's essay Multiculturalism and some of the critical responses to it included in the same volume. At several points in the discussion I found myself situated completely outside of the debate. The class was discussing whether the government should do this or that in various particular cases, and my response was, "Neither - the government shouldn't be involved in that area at all. It's not the appropriate realm of politics." And after the professor (rightly) answerd that my question was not the one under discussion right now, I had nothing further to say.
I don't know what to do in this kind of situation. How can I participate in a discussion of which cultures in a multicultural society deserve special protection from the government, when my view is that the government should be completely blind to cultural/ethnic/group identity? Certainly I can state that view and defend it, but it's outside the question and the other students view me as a somewhat annoying curiosity. But the discussion then becomes, to me, as useless as one about the number of angels that can dance on the head of a pin. (Of course, absurd theological questions are interesting in the appropriate context - for instance, understanding the implications of a historical debate and the evolution of ideas in the broader culture that happened because of that debate. Don't worry, Alan Kors has taught me well. But when the discussion is one attempting to seek truth and/or a resolution to actual current problems, it just becomes hopelessly irrelevant.)
This evening, or possibly tomorrow, I will be attempting to write a short paper (3-4 pages) critiquing Taylor's view that certain cultures need/deserve laws to protect the future survival of the culture, even when those laws are at the expense of certain individual liberties. I'll post it online when I finish, in case any of you are interested in reading it.
DISCRIMINATION: Wendy McElroy's latest column reveals political manipulation to stack a New Hampshire panel on men's rights with anti-men activists and people who just don't care. Reverse the genders in your mind - nobody would get away with doing such a thing on a women's rights panel.
WHY I HAVEN'T POSTED RECENTLY: It is too hot to stay in my room (92 degrees today, and I live on the fourth floor with no air conditioning), so I have been spending most of my time in the library, which has too few computers for too many people. Coincidentally, this is also the reason that I'm completely caught up on schoolwork.
Weather.com forecasts a cold front for Philadelphia tomorrow night, so expect more blogging and less studying after that.