Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Watchdog.net would deny freedom of press to Fox News

Watchdog.net has launched a petition campaign to get the FCC to revoke Fox New's broadcasting license.  See http://act.watchdog.net/petitions/109.  Liberals and conservatives alike should not only recoil at such a campaign, but it their imperative duty to oppose it.

Thomas Jefferson, the patron saint of American liberals, held sacrosanct the freedom of the press.  "The only security of all is in a free press." --Thomas Jefferson to Lafayette, 1823. 
15 The Writings of Thomas Jefferson 491 (Memorial Edition, Libpscomb and Bergh eds., 1903-04).

Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackson identified freedom of convictions as a fundamental axiom of United States constitutional law: “If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein.”
West Virginia State Bd. of Educ. v. Barnette, 319 U.S. 624, 642 (1943).

In my own field, where I study how information environments affect stability and the rule of law, I have argued that freedom of the press and information, with broad participation by many voices and actors, is not just axiomatic to democracy and rule of law, but it is a prerequisite for long-term stability, and peace,   "Not only do freedoms of speech, press, and religion constitute the “fixed star” of democracy, they are essential to harmony and stability, and consequently must be a cornerstone of U.S. policy." Identity and Market for Loyalties Theory, 25 Saint Louis University Public Law Review 123, 153 (2006), available at http://works.bepress.com/paul_callister/3/.  Regardless of how one feels about Fox News, excluding them from the market place of ideas would not bring peace and harmony to the news environment; it will ultimately be a destabilizing act.  The analysis of why this is so is found in the aforementioned article.

Perhaps watchdog.net believes like many of my colleagues, myself once included, that Americans have segregated themselves by their news gathering habits into segments that seek only to view news from sources that reaffirm their views.  Many wring their hands over whether this may lead to civil strife.  Apparently, self-segregation of news may not actual be what's happening.  See a recent article from the Monkey Cage, at
http://themonkeycage.org/blog/2012/04/30/a-balanced-news-diet-after-all/ that finds that the majority of viewers are looking at ideologically diverse sets of new sources and are much more balanced than supposed. 

The petition was launched through watchdog.net. I cannot find who launched the petition. However, the site is run by Aaron Schwartz, founder of demandprogress.org. You can reach Aaaron at

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

I pontificate--Romney's loss

Mitt Romney's loss is a result of America's inability to identify with a Boston investment banker. A number of events may have swayed the election in the final days--Hurricane Sandy, the imprudent jeep ad, and Obama's superior ground game in Ohio, but fundamentally Romney had an identity problem.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Why a librarian’s perspective? The rebirth of metaphysics

The most disappointing thing about my undergraduate survey philosophy class was the lecture where I was informed that that Kant effectively ended metaphysics in the 18th century by defining the limits of what could be know. Essentially, all of the interesting metaphysical questions were unknowable (i.e., what is the nature of God, man and the universe, etc?), at least from the perspective of the acceptable epistemologies. Consequently, why bother?

I rediscovered metaphysics a decade years later as a graduate student in library and information science. The rebirth of metaphysics can be found in the question: What is information? Is it property? Is it like fire? How is different from knowledge? From data? What is its relation to the mind? Is it confined to a physical medium? Information has many strange properties. It can be replicated exactly, making it possible to share indefinitely without diminishment of use of the original. It leaks almost as if it had a life of its own—after all, DNA is coded information and is self-replicating. In the words of Harla Clevland:

Information is diffusive. It tends to leak; the more it leaks the more we have and the more of us have it. Information is aggressive, even imperialistic, in striving to break out of unnatural bonds of secrecy in which thing-minded people try to imprison it. Like a virus (itself a tiny information system), information tries to affect the organisms around it, whether by over-the-fence gossip or satellite broadcasting. The straitjackets of public secrecy, intellectual property rights, and confidentially of all kinds fit very loosely with this restless resource. . . . . [T]he leakage of information is wholesale, pervasive, and continuous. And the technologies of the leak are gaining fast on the pitiful efforts to bottle up information. . . . The Knowledge Dynamic, in THE KNOWLEDGE EXECUTIVE 32-33 (1985) 

The modern approach (from Claude Shannon and Warren Weaver) is quite utilitarian. It defines information in terms of “that which reduces uncertainty” and considered in context of information channels—all we need to do is optimize the channel and we can solve the problem of “what we have here is a failure to communicate” or control (e.g., Cool Hand Luke). It has been connected to anxiety (eg.Saul Wurman, Information Anxiety). Perhaps, information is the valium of the modern age, although it performs its task, without euphoria, but through providing order. If information reduces uncertainty, it plays a similar role to law—“the law must be stable, but it cannot stand still.”

An earlier definition of information is quite different. The Latin informare means “the action of forming matter, such as stone, wood, leather, etc.,” or, with respect to informing humans, “the action of informing; formation or molding of the mind or character, training, instruction, teaching; communication of instructive knowledge.” In this definition, information is transformative, but the modern definition, based on anxiety, is utilitarian. In an article on the subject, I pointed out that the modern definition has caused society (including legal institutions) to consider information as something to be minded, harvested, collected, controlled, monetized, commoditized, restricted, etc. Legal information has lost its transformative sense and instead is the basis for instrumentalism. It facilitates the skeptical view that there is enough law to make any argument necessary for victory in our adversarial legal system. This viewpoint has not always been predominate, especially in other cultures, and earlier in American legal history. See Law and Heidegger's Question Concerning Technology: A Prolegomenon to Future Law Librarianship, 99 LAW LIBRARY JOURNAL, 285-305 (2007).

The nature of information is important in current events. Is it property that is most effectively allocated in the market through copyright and licensing? Is the “right to information” so important that Wikileaks’ disclosure of classified US documents is to be applauded as necessary for government accountability or condemned because of the risk to international security? What is its connection to human rights, such as privacy? Should the definition of cyberware in international law, include ideological warfare by means of providing or encouraging access to differing viewpoints (e.g. Voice of America Radio and Twitter, per Iran), ideas, and values (sometimes in conflict by the ruling rĂ©gime)? Is information ever corrosive (such as pornography)? Does freer access encourage the development of culture and good citizenship or cause its decay (e.g. violent lyrics or the function of radio in the Rwandan genocide)?

I could go on, but I’ve been taught that too many questions in a “no-no” in good writing. Any way my argument is that such questions suggest there is ample justification for philosophical consideration of the nature of information and legal information. This is one reason, among many others, why we need philosophers in the library.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Daring to Do Philosophy

It is a rather bold thing, to claim, as this blog's title suggests that one is a philosopher. My formal training in philosophy ended with my major and undergraduate degree. Later, I received a JD, practiced law for nine years, and then went back to graduate school to obtain a masters degree in library and information science. Currently, I am the director of a small law school library and enjoy the title of Professor of Law. However, none of this qualifies me as a philosopher.

I recall the account of Prof. Paul Hedengren, one of my philosophy professors, that while he was in graduate school at University of Toronto, one of his professors accosted him for having the audacity to do philosophy, rather than appropriately limiting himself to the study of the great philosophers in history. Apparently, philosophy is the relegated to the dead, and the rest of us have no business in the subject; otherwise, we risk playing the role of the "sorcerer’s apprentice."

To understand what philosophy is, it is helpful to understand what it is not. While still an undergraduate at a religious university, a woman sitting next to me on an airplane struck up a conversation and asked me about my major in school. When I told her, she queried, "how can you study philosophy at a school like that?" I reflected on her question and answered, "If philosophy's role were limited to confronting religion, I suppose you would be right, but it challenges all thinking of its times."

This blog will serve the general purpose of challenging thinking of our time. It does so best when it tests the individual who engages therein; hence, my need to share my thinking, which will often be inadequate to the task, with others. Philosophy is an activity in which all of us should engage. I encourage your comments and participation.