Category / Media and Popular Culture

Whatever happened to news and comment? October 3, 2006 at 9:44 pm

Sometimes you find something that, in context, might not seem too strange, but when you step back and think about it, is genuinely odd. (Yes, that really is a ten foot copper eggcup in a late medieval church, by the way.) We are so used to the mixture of news and comment that passes for journalism these days that we don’t object. But when you find a really egregious example, it can bring you up short.

I was forwarded something like that today: it was a virulently anti-London Olympics piece. Now, as it happens, I think having the Olympics in London is a plan that has never been properly validated, is likely to go seriously wrong, and will cost Londoners a lot of money. But that’s an opinion. What really annoyed me about this supposed news item was the way it moved seemlessly from (carefully chosen) facts about the Barcelona, Athens etc. Games to pure conjecture about London and back again. The writer attributed motives to various parties including property developers and the mayor that not only were pure surmise, they were also deeply implausible. (I honestly don’t believe Ken is the natural leader of a capitalist cabal: do you?) The fact that I agreed with the conclusion is irrelevant: it was a really bad piece of journalism.

A commentator needs to see the plays clearly before he or she can understand how the game works. Then they might suggest changes to the rules to meet their views of a what a better outcome is. But mixing the opinion in with the analysis is bound to lead to muddied thinking. So journalists, please, try to keep that old fashioned news/comment separation in place.

If only Tony and Gordon had paid more attention to Blake’s 7 September 8, 2006 at 5:46 pm

Selected points from a most amusing list ALL I EVER NEEDED TO KNOW I LEARNED FROM BLAKE’s SEVEN directly relevant to today’s Labour leadership:

* Trust is only dangerous when you have to rely on it.

* It is frequently easier to be honest when you have nothing to lose.

* The art of leadership is delegation.

* All that patience gets you is older.

* Show me someone who believes in something, and I will show you a fool.

* He who trusts can never be betrayed, only mistaken.

* Dignity, at all costs, dignity.

* The choice is very simple — either you can fight, or you can die.

* In the end, winning is the only safety.

* Power usually makes its own rules.

* Nobody is indispensible.

* Everyone’s entitled to one really bad mistake.

Trust me, I’m an economist August 18, 2006 at 8:16 pm

I’ve just seen an amusing programme on BBC2, ‘Trust me, I’m an economist’. It applies, albeit in a rather trite way, ideas of game theory, strategy and incentive structures to ‘real life’ situations. And it isn’t bad. Really. Considering. Given it is television.

Copy me, mash me up June 7, 2006 at 9:33 am

Reading the customarily histrionic ramblings on boingboing about copyright, The lady doth protest too much springs to mind. As always, the game needs to balance the needs of the various players. Large media companies want as long and as restrictive a copyright law as possible. Consumers want the legitimate freedom to copy something, once purchased, between various devices they own, to time shift their consumption and so on. The greedy want everything for free. Artists whose practice is based on bricolage want to be able to alter other people’s work and incorporate it into their own freely – similarly for satirists. And all parties have effective lobbyists.

The right solution will be difficult. Clearly there should be some use it or lose it clause, so that copyright does not prohibit legitimate use where a copyright holder cannot be identified (this holds for the vast majority of works more than a few years old). Equally, creators need some measure of legal certainty, but the protestations of older ‘artists’ like Cliff Richard that they can no longer live off the royalties on their earlier works do not sway many people. And finely drawn distinctions between the right to listen to a purchased CD on one device but not an MP3 rip of that CD on another will only serve to irritate consumers. Perhaps a disinterested systems theorist could help?

Publish and be damned April 27, 2006 at 8:40 pm

Two news stories recently have highlighted another aspect of the tragedy of the commons. One on Copyright (artists petitioning government to extend UK copyright beyond 50 years): the other on a proposed EU community directive to require open access publishing of scientific results.

In both cases, there is lots of research to indicate that the greatest good comes from open access. In copyright terms, the issue is not the few famous things: it is the huge mass of copyrighted material which cannot be reproduced because the copyright holder cannot be found. This reduces knowledge transmission and empoverishes us all. In scientific research, the effect is acute: the massively beneficial effects of the theoretical physics archiv service are obvious to anyone working in the area, whereas those subjects without an open access publications server have a looser culture, slower dissemination of results, and are less open to paradigm shifts. Take a look at the archiv server front end to get some idea of what’s available. So yes, limited copyright and open dissemination of research might be bad for a few copyright holders, but that is greatly outweighed by the massively positive effects for the commonwealth.

CP Snow as a power source… April 19, 2006 at 8:41 pm

…because he’s turning in his grave. I think the two cultures thing is getting worse. Certainly mainstream arts people not only are unembarrassed by their ignorance of science, they even flaunt it (scroll down to ‘Opacity Quotient’). Clearly this problem has been with us for a long time. Perhaps it is time to set a few equivalences, just so the arty types understand the thresholds of ignorance, as it were. Something like

Ignorance of Newton to a scientist = Ignorance of Shakespeare to an arts person


Ignorance of Electromagnetism to a scientist = Ignorance of Dickens to an arts person


Ignorance of String Theory to a scientist = Ignorance of Structuralism to an arts person

It’s quite amusing trying to construct the parallels if you have a few moments
to spare.
Gödel = Joyce?
Transfinite set theory = Gabriel Garcia Marquez?
Dark Matter = Derrida?