Continued collapse of the information system: two more dead canaries

Two significant pieces of news today:  Google’s earnings (and stock price) are down, and Newsweek has given up on a paper edition.The Newsweek story is only the latest step down a path to oblivion, as the digital edition cannot survive financially either and will close down in turn.

This is happening because the business models for  providing content have collapsed.  Newsweek is one dying gasp of a hybrid system whereby content could be  denied to anyone who didn’t pay for a physical object, and the attention of readers therefore sold to advertisers who could be assured that (i) anyone reading the story on left-hand page 32 would see the nice big ad on page 33 and (ii) cared enough to plunk down  50c or so for the magazine.  Google is a different animal, that sells ads with the promise that people seeing the ad had shown some interest in the type of product on offer.   What made Newsweek worth buying was the expensive expertise of its authors and editors and the expense accounts on which the former could get stories; what makes Google run is the utility of its search engine, maps, and other cool stuff, that we pay for by tolerating the crappy little ads that appear on tiny patches of a screen about the size of  a two-page Newsweek spread, but cluttered with a bunch of other stuff. Or the infuriating big ads that pop up all over what you’re trying to read, infinitely more intrusive than advertising in old print media. That these ads aren’t a substitute for what print ads used to do is evidenced by how long ago it was that you clicked on one, and that the whole deal manifestly isn’t working out for Google. Continue reading “Continued collapse of the information system: two more dead canaries”

Mobilizing Legal Forces for the Good

Although nonprofit organizations can make a big impact, they tend to have tiny or nonexistent legal teams. Even for the lucky few charities with a lawyer in-house or close by, it’s impossible for one attorney to know enough about all the different areas of law to be able to address all the organization’s needs.  Fortunately, there is plenty of good will in the legal profession for good causes. Pro bono legal services are quite literally yours for the asking. Here’s how.

And here’s more.

More from UVA

In case people don’t get to the bottom of the long comment stream on Jon’s post, William Wulf’s resignation from the faculty at UVA has been getting a lot of attention in certain circles.   I can’t imagine a better illustration of the problem the hard-headed business types on the Board of Visitors are bravely trying to solve, which is the failure of pointyhead intellectuals to get with the Darden Program.

First, Wulf (and Jones)  are very expensive.  For what Virginia is paying them, it could hire a whole batch of adjuncts who could fill many more seats in courses, especially required courses where the students don’t complicate the marketing task by demanding to actually learn anything important.  It could also hire a roomful of hungry assistant professors and post-docs who would publish, in total, lots more pages of research.  Just as there’s no problem finding students to fill seats, there’s no constraint of journals to accept these papers; I get invitations from actual journals I’ve never heard of and no-one reads to write something – anything – all the time. Production is paid bottoms in seats (real or virtual) and word count on paper (real or virtual); they’re easy to measure and the duty of the university is to get as many of each as possible as cheap as it can. Helen Dragas understands this and for some reason Wulf and Jones don’t, and that’s just how it is.

Second, there is no evidence they are providing any service to the university’s overall reputation on core measures: it’s telling that in his letter, Wulf cannot name a single football or men’s basketball starter who was recruited to UVA by himself or Jones, not one!  If they’re not advancing the mission, self-deportation is exactly in order, and their resignation is a badge of honor for the Visitors.

The selfless and courageous behavior of the Board don’t get no respect in quarters I frequent, perhaps because they tried to let their actions speak for them, but I’m happy to say they have now overcome their natural and admirable modesty and put forth a deathless, priceless manifesto of purpose and intentions.


Time to Defend Traditional Educational Values!

The world of higher education is still trying to assess the recent firing of University of Virginia President Teresa Sullivan because…well, no one really knows why.  The goobledygook spewed out by the University Board of Trustees is just that.  But here comes this nugget from the Washington Post’s extensive write-up of the situation: one reason the UVA Board, which is dominated and influenced by hedge fund and other financial wizards, wanted Sullivan out was that they felt “Sullivan lacked the mettle to trim or shut down programs that couldn’t sustain themselves  financially, such as obscure academic departments in classics and German.”

But…but…but…we’ve been told for years that it is the Left that is trying to destroy traditional learning.  It’s all those terrible postmodernists and Marxists and feminists, and that is why we need to purge the Academy of evil left-wing influences that want to undermine the traditional curriculum.  That’s what the National Association of Scholars says!  Lynne Cheney says we need to keep the traditional humanities curriculum as the way to save western civilization from horrid secular liberals!  I’m sure that their love for traditional humanities, like Latin, Greek, and German literature, will inspire them to rise up and defend President Sullivan.  I mean, that’s a no-brainer for self-styled defenders of traditional values, right?

I’m anxiously awaiting their criticisms of the multi-millionaire businesspeople who pushed Sullivan out.  Just any day now.  Just wait…

Better check my birth certificate

I just don’t *get* Johnny Carson, Marilyn Monroe, Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, horror movies or car racing.

I watched about half of the Johnny Carson special Harold linked to, and it reminded me of the how distant I am from important parts of American culture. The list of things that I simply don’t get is dismayingly long: Carson (and Leno and Letterman and Conan O’Brien), Sinatra, Elvis, Marilyn Monroe, Jerry Lewis, horror movies, car racing, fishing, hunting, apple pie.

To the best of my knowledge, my father wasn’t a Kenyan Muslim, so my un-Americanism is puzzling, especially since it’s patchy: I think John Wayne is way under-rated as an actor, and I’m a fan of barbeque (beef ribs, not pork) and loved pro football until the owner of the Colts betrayed Baltimore. The last two should be pretty conclusive on the nationality question, since as far as I can tell no furriner can stand either BBQ or real football, as opposed to that silly thing with nets where you actually use your feet.

How unusual is this? What’s on your list?

Heere’s Johnny

Nothing to really add here. This American Masters documentary on Johnny Carson is fantastic, and surprisingly poignant.

If PBS had greater confidence in their shows, they would run stuff like this during their pledge drives, instead of displacing American Masters, Nova, Independent Lens, and Frontline with kindof embarrassing 2012 performances by 1972 stars.

Watch Johnny Carson: King of Late Night on PBS. See more from American Masters.

Bad for art

What can it mean that a pastel drawing sells for $120m?   The economic function of this object is to create value inside the head of people looking at it; if it’s bought on speculation for resale, that function has to be anticipated for a subsequent buyer someday. It’s not copyrighted, so the value has to be the excess of value over that created by a good reproduction, of which there are lots in circulation.  At 5%, it has to be $6m per year to justify this price, or $684/hour working 24/7, four times that 9-5 weekdays. The odds that it will be on display anywhere on any terms every hour of every day forever are pretty slim, so let’s go with 2200 museum hours at $3K/hr.

How many people can be really looking at this piece at once; it’s not very big.  Maybe four, each of whom has to find it worth more than $10/min.   There are certainly people who would pay that, but if they are spending two minutes each, we need 120 of them every working hour, or a quarter million a year, again forever.  No, it’s not the greatest work of art ever made, whatever that could mean, and not in the top thousand despite its poster appeal and legs as a meme.

This transaction is completely ludicrous.  It properly exposes the whole culture of fine arts to ridicule as a game of poseurs, ignorant speculators, and predators that has nothing whatever to do with what paintings are about, or what art does for us, and that it should be a front page story as a serious event  does a little bit to damage the quality of everyone’s engagement with art.