Five Best Thursday Columns
Barry Diller on why broadcasters don't own the airwaves, Nesrine Malik on the freedom to offend everyone, Christopher Howse wonders whether we've reached 'peak beard,' Brian Beutler on the Republicans' phantom support of Obamacare's goals, Reihan Salam says Paul Krugman's $225,000 doesn't make him a hypocrite.
Barry Diller at The Wall Street Journal on why broadcasters don’t own the airwaves. “On April 22, the Supreme Court will hear a case that could alter the way Americans have used and benefited from broadcast airwaves since the dawn of radio and television. The case, American Broadcasting Companies v. Aereo, aims to shut down the startup Aereo's two-year-old video streaming service and claim ownership of the airwaves as the sole right of broadcasters like ABC, NBC and CBS,” Diller writes. “This goes against everything the broadcast industry has agreed to over the past 100 years. Yet broadcasters claim Aereo is 'stealing' their content. Why is the industry pushing to punish those who wish to receive their television through airwaves, which are not owned by broadcasters?” The Guardian’s Matt Sullivan tweets, “'Sorry, you can't have access to modern technology to watch television.' Barry Diller makes the case for Aereo." Factory Berlin’s Jeremy Baumberg tweets, “How an industry is being disrupted: American broadcasting companies v. Aereo.”
Nesrine Malik at The New York Times on the freedom to offend everyone. “The defense of free speech often hides a multitude of sins. Since Brandeis University withdrew an honor it had intended to bestow on the author and activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali, many have flocked to her defense in the name of free expression — no matter how offensive. But implicitly they are suggesting that Islam and Muslims are worthy targets of Ms. Hirsi Ali’s scorn. And their preciousness about the right to offend won’t be credible until they advocate extending it beyond Islamophobes — to racists, anti-Semites and homophobes, too,” Malik writes. “The reaction to the Brandeis affair is a troubling harbinger. It suggests that America, like Europe, might also begin to pick and choose who deserves to be protected from offensive speech. Those who fancy themselves defenders of free speech must be consistent in their absolutism, and stand up for offensive speech no matter who is the target.”
Christopher Howse at The Telegraph wonders whether we’ve reached 'peak beard.' “If you are repelled by the inexplicably large number of young men wearing big beards, the prediction by a pogonologist, or beard-scientist, from New South Wales will cheer you. We have reached 'peak beard', declares Dr Rob Brooks. From now on, beards will dwindle and fail, soon to be despised and shunned. In his book, the popularity of beards is a matter of 'negative frequency-dependent selection'. When everyone has one, there’s no advantage in growing facial foliage,” Howse, himself a bearded man, writes. “Some women say they like a man with a beard, but I suspect their preference is for the man behind the rebarbative barrier. When beards reigned, women just put up with them as they did with the wing-collars, spats, cigars and a strong smell of horse that characterized male life in the Victorian heyday.”
Brian Beutler at The New Republic on the Republicans’ phantom support of Obamacare’s goals. “Republicans have replaced an unabashed "full repeal!" mantra with a deluge of weasel words meant to conceal the fact that "repeal" is still the beginning and end of their health-care reform agenda. It's still the goal—they're just a little ashamed of it now. And that places an onus on Dems (and reporters and anyone else who believes politicians should own the consequences of their policies) to be extremely explicit about the benefits Obamacare is conferring, and what an unvarnished rendering of GOP health policy would really look like,” Beutler writes. “It's a grand swindle. But the awful truth is that if Democrats are determined to avoid thoroughgoing debates about Obamacare, and at times they appear to be, then it might just work.”
Reihan Salam at Slate says Paul Krugman’s $225,000 salary doesn’t make him a hypocrite. “Paul Krugman may be America’s foremost public intellectual. He has done more than any other thinker to sound the alarm about rising income inequality in the United States, and in doing so he has shaped the worldview of a generation of liberals. So when Gawker reported that Krugman was offered $225,000 to join the faculty of the City University of New York’s Graduate Center, at least some of Krugman’s critics saw an opportunity to knock 'Krugtron the Invincible' down a peg or two,” Salam writes. “But this is one case where I think Krugman is in the right and his critics are in the wrong. Not only should he have had no compunction about accepting CUNY’s offer—he would have been entirely justified in asking for more.” The University of Toronto’s Joshua Gans tweets, “I think we can all agree that being part of the 1% should not be a barrier to speaking out against inequality.”