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Heroes of democracy

David Brooks has started a series of columns in the New York Times that he called Heroes of Democracy.  The columns are biographical but also insights into the ideas that explained and sustained the democratic momentum of the 19th and 20th centuries.

Thomas Mann

He starts with Thomas Mann, Nobel Prize winning author of “Magic Mountain” and other novels, who fled the Nazis and came to America.  As Brooks said:

Democracy begins with one great truth, he argued: the infinite dignity of individual men and women. Man is made in God’s image. Unlike other animals, humans are morally responsible. Yes, humans do beastly things — Mann had just escaped the Nazis — but humans are the only creatures who can understand and seek justice, freedom and truth. This trinity “is a complex of an indivisible kind, freighted with spirituality and elementary dynamic force.”

Second in the series is John Stuart Mill, the 19th century philosopher who argued for freedom of speech in service to democracy.  Brooks said that to Mill:

John Stuart Mill

Real citizenship is a life-transforming vocation. It involves, at base, cultivating the ability to discern good from evil, developing the intellectual virtues required to separate the rigorous from the sloppy, living an adventurous life so that you are rooting yourself among and serving those who are completely unlike yourself.

Students of history, and anyone who cares about democracy, may want to stay tuned to David Brooks.  We’re taking bets on the rest of the list in history class here at Radford University.

How China is changing the internet

What happens when innovative technology from China interacts with the open internet in the rest of the world? Terrific New York Times video:

Science & Environmental Journalism

Science and environmental journalism in history — An ongoing project by Prof. Bill Kovarik — is available at this link.

What good is history?

On the witness stand in a libel trial, Henry Ford famously said:  “History is bunk.”  Ford was very good with machinery, but no one ever considered him a well-educated man.

Something rather like the “history is bunk” statement has led to a recent  academic  dustup among our cousins on the other side of the Atlantic.  On May 30, Patrick Johnston, Vice Chancellor of Queen’s University Belfast, opined:  Society doesn’t need a 21-year-old who is a sixth century historian. It needs a 21-year-old who really understands how to analyse things, understands the tenets of leadership and contributing to society, who is a thinker and someone who has the potential to help society drive forward.’   

So, what if Johnston is right?  After all, what good is history?

According to Jonathan Healy, answering Johnston in June, 2016, history is interesting, important, skill-building stuff, but most of all, the profession that serves  as umpires when the politicians go out of bounds.

William H. McNeill, then-AHA president, expressed similar ideas in a 1985 essay.

The changing perspectives of historical understanding are the very best introduction we can have to the practical problems of real life.

‘Every frame’s great take on Keaton

If you’re not familiar with Tony Zhou’s  “Every frame a painting” channel on YouTube and Vimeo, you’re in for a treat. Here’s a recent take on Buster Keaton, master of silent film comedy.     

Zhou, by the way, was interviewed recently in this Patreon podcast (uploaded to SoundCloud).

In Paris …


Radio interview with the author

Coy Barefoot of Inside Charlottesville interviews the author about Revolutions in Communication on March 4, 2014.

What if journalism can’t be “monetized” ?

It has often been observed that democracy is munted when there are fewer  independent fact-gathering operations or avenues for a diversity of opinion — what we used to call journalism. The hope, for the past decade, is that some formula can be found to “monetize” journalism — to make money from it.

An important new book,  Digital Disconnect  by Robert W. McChesney (excerpted in this article in Salon Magazine)  asks the bottom-line question:  What if journalism just can’t be monetized? What then?

Robert W. McChesney

McChesney is a professor at the University of Illinois and one the nation’s leading and most thoughtful media critics.  He’s the author of many other books such as Rich Media, Poor Democracy.

In Digital Disconnect notes with irony that the media saw the Internet effect  coming for decades,   and that for all its thrashing around with new apps and gadgets, trying to set up paywalls and link up with advertising, it has not solved the basic problem.

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