Nota Bene #119: Think! It Ain't Illegal Yet

“My wife and I were happy for twenty years. Then we met.” Who said it? Continue reading

Nota Bene #117: Wake Up!

“Hollywood is so crooked that Mafia gangsters are entirely outclassed and don’t stand a chance. People in Hollywood are smarter. They have more sophisticated knowledge of money and deals and how to steal legally rather than illegally.” Who said it? Continue reading

Why isn't Rush happy?: Limbaugh inadvertently illustrates democracy in action

America’s democratic ideal doesn’t work perfectly. Sometimes it doesn’t work at all, and in these cases it feeds our cynicism to the point where we’re tempted to conclude that the very possibility of true freedom is a sham. I know whereof I speak, because there are few people out there more soaked in bile than I am.

Still, this whole “marketplace of ideas” is a marvelous concept. Perhaps the most marvelous concept in history. Drawing on the Miltonian belief that if people are allowed to enter the agora and freely state their cases, then “the truth will out” (that is, an educated and informed citizenry will unerringly perceive the truth and that weaker ideas will be disregarded in favor of stronger ones), our nation’s founders crafted a Constitution that assured people the right to voice their opinions, free from government intrusion. Continue reading

Why American media has such a signal-to-noise problem, pt. 2

Part 2 of a series; Previously: What Bell Labs and French Intellectuals Can Tell Us About Cronkite and Couric

The Signal-to-Noise Journey of American Media

The 20th Century represented a Golden Age of Institutional Journalism. The Yellow Journalism wars of the late 19th Century gave way to a more responsible mode of reporting built on ethical and professional codes that encouraged fairness and “objectivity.” (Granted, these concepts, like their bastard cousin “balance,” are not wholly unproblematic. Still, they represented a far better way of conducting journalism than we had seen before.) It’s probably not idealizing too much to assert that reporting in the Cronkite Era, for instance, was characterized by a commitment to rise above partisanship and manipulation. The journalist was expected to hold him/herself to a higher standard and to serve the public interest. These professionals – and I have met a few who are more than worthy of the title – believed they had a duty to search for the facts and to present them in a fashion that was as free of bias as possible.

In other words, their careers, like that of Claude Shannon, were devoted to maximizing the signal in the system – the system here being the “marketplace of ideas.” Continue reading

American media’s signal-to-noise ratio problem, part 1

Part one of a two-part series.

From Walter Cronkite to Katie Couric: the Kingdom of Signal is swallowed by the Empire of Noise

The recent death of Walter Cronkite spurred the predictable outpouring of tributes, each reverencing in its own way a man who was the face and voice of journalism in America for a generation or more. The irony of all these accolades is that we live in an age where “broadcast journalist” is such a cruel oxymoron, and we seem to speeding headlong into an era where the word “journalist” itself threatens to become a freestanding joke. Why, against this backdrop, would so many people who are so involved in the daily repudiation of everything that Cronkite stood for make such a show memorializing the standard by which they so abjectly fail?

As I read what people had to say about Cronkite, I realized that something I studied and wrote about over a decade ago helps explain why our contemporary media has gone so deeply, tragically wrong. Continue reading

Science and faith: a reply to Martin Bosworth

Our old friend and colleague Martin Bosworth offered up a thoughtful take on science and faith a few days ago and his thesis has been percolating in my mind ever since. In this post he describes himself as experiencing a “spiritual crisis.” No doubt he’s in one of those deep periods of self-reflection that I experience from time to time, although he seems way too lucid for the word “crisis.” In any case, since he posted these thoughts to a public forum and promoted them a bit, I think it’s fair to conclude that he’s inviting conversation. As such, I thought I might take a few moments here to, well, conversate.

Let me begin by noting that Boz doesn’t need anybody’s approval to believe what he believes or to live his life as he sees fit. Continue reading