Sunday photoblogging: Paris metro

by Chris Bertram on January 8, 2017

Metro

{ 6 comments }

The Wish Power Are Together With You

by Belle Waring on January 8, 2017

Someone dubbed a terrible Chinese sub of the third Star Wars prequel under the title The Third Gathers: Backstroke of the West. It is the best thing ever. Obi-Wan Kenobi is called “Ratio Tile”, while Anakin is “Allah Gold.” The Presbyterian Church is also involved way more than you might think. If When you watch the full movie, use settings to put the subtitles at “backstroke” or you will be distracted by the actual, really bad script. Some highlights:

{ 27 comments }

Health policy: Excerpt from Economics in Two Lessons

by John Quiggin on January 8, 2017

Another excerpt from my book-in-progress, Economics in Two Lessons (partial draft here). As usual, praise is welcome, useful criticism even more so.

[click to continue…]

{ 23 comments }

DJ Earworm 2016

by Belle Waring on January 6, 2017

This year blew hairy goat balls. Like, Mickey Kaus learned lucid dreaming techniques and came up with these balls. I know this, you, The Plain People of Crooked Timber know this. Anyway, did DJ Earworm’s 2016 mix blow perforce? Nah. It’ll grow on you. I know y’all are all going to say “oh Belle Waring there were no good songs this year and this just reminds me how much I hated that “worth it” song which was like some stepped-on B-List Destiny’s Child knockoff bullshit, and also that Drake doesn’t rate and I should get with Rhianna, and stuff.” That’s as may be, Plain People of Crooked Timber, but basically Rhianna needs to date like a Rhianna clone or maybe Cara Delivigne or something, or else we’re all still going to be standing here saying, “this person? Seriously?” but this is a good mashup. It has an EDM-esque enough track in it, which is crucial for a good mix. Zoë thinks 2013 is best while Violet favors 2012. Both very solid choices. I have a lot of love for 2012, in part because I listen to it so much with Violet. This is so even though I find it brings up memories of a year that also blew hairy goat balls, but for me personally rather then the world at large. (John is experiencing the cold robbies as he reads the number 2012.)

If I never go that crazy again it’ll be too soon, I tell you what. And what did my Singaporean psychiatrists do? Prescribe every wrongest worse medication in the world, to where I got ordered an EKG an hour in on my first day here at the Mayo Clinic when they asked “so, they’re monitoring your heart carefully on this right?” Me: wat no. And now I have to titer down off all this scheisse and what does amitriptyline withdrawal give you? MIGRAINES HA HA HOW IRONIC. (Also plain old reg’lar headaches. Also I have 8 more weeks on the taper. Also some people have headaches for 8 weeks following total elimination. Those people are probably pussies who suck at withdrawing from drugs though, am I right?)

I like to listen to music loud on the good headphones when I’m miserable. When Violet pointed out the other day that this might be counter-productive I explained, rather lamely, that when I control the sounds I hear and I know what they will be I don’t find it disturbing in the same way that other loud noises are. Violet, with excessive emphases: “oh my favorite songs could never hurt me. They’re my favorites!!” Mmmmmm. Compelling. Also, the headphones just died lol fine. I’m going to go put my feet in the hot tub and pour icy water on my head which, put that way, makes this seem pretty baller. I mean, some people have real problems. I even have new anti-depressant/mood stabilizers that appear to make me be not depressed! I’m an ungrateful shit, really; I was actually depressed a month ago and had forgotten how vile it is, and also Zoë is doing great and now I’m all “I have a headache”/whine. In some ways 2017 can only be worse generally but for my family in particular I’m certain it’ll be way better (provided my mom is OK.) I’m fervently hoping the same is true for all the Plain People of Crooked Timber and their simple but honest families. OK, I have a soft spot for the complicated dishonest families; y’all stay safe too.

{ 21 comments }

Brexit and Labour’s Disaster

by Henry on January 5, 2017

A piece I wrote on Brexit and the UK party system has just come out in Democracy. More than anything else, I wrote the article to get people to read Peter Mair. I didn’t know Mair at all well – he was another Irish political scientist, but was based in various European universities and in a different set of academic networks than my own. I met him once and liked him, and chatted briefly a couple of times after that about email. I wish I’d known him better – his posthumously edited and published book, Ruling the Void is the single most compelling account I’ve read of what has gone wrong in European politics, and in particular what’s gone wrong for the left. It’s still enormously relevant years after his death. The ever ramifying disaster that is the British Labour party is in large part the working out of the story that Mair laid out – how party elites became disconnected from their base, how the EU became a way to kick issues out of politics into technocracy, and how it all went horribly wrong.

The modern Labour Party is caught in an especially unpleasant version of Mair’s dilemma. Labour’s leaders tried over decades to improve the party’s electoral prospects in a country where its traditional class base was disappearing. They sought very deliberately and with some success to weaken its party organization in order to achieve this aim. However, their success created a new governing class within Labour, one largely disconnected from the party grassroots that it is supposed to represent. Ed Miliband recognized this problem as party leader and tried to rebuild the party’s connection to its grassroots. … However, as Mair might have predicted, there weren’t any traditional grassroots out there to cultivate. … Mair argued that the leadership and the base were becoming disengaged from each other, so that traditional parties were withering away. Labour has actually taken this one stage further, creating a party in which the leadership and membership are at daggers drawn, each able to stymie the other, but neither able to prevail or willing to surrender.

{ 183 comments }

For quite a while now, I’ve been working through my book-in-progress, Economics in Two Lessons (partial draft here), focusing on applications of Lesson 2

Lesson 2: Market prices don’t reflect all the opportunity costs we face as a society.

Thinking about the standard market failures (monopoly, externality and so on), I’ve come to the conclusion that I need to say more about the interaction between market failure and income distribution. I’ve already looked at the opportunity costs involved in income redistribution and predistribution, but different kinds of questions are coming up in relation to issues like monopoly, privatisation and for-profit provision of public services.

The discussion here and at my blog has been very helpful in stimulating my thoughts, but I need to do a lot more clarification. Some preliminary thoughts are over the fold: comments and criticism much appreciated

[click to continue…]

{ 20 comments }

Look, It’s Halley’s Comet!

by Belle Waring on January 5, 2017

My step-father Edmund Kirby-Smith (great-grandson of the very same) was kind of an awful person. In a shorthand way it may help to note he was best pals with Lee Atwater. Well, he was brought up by a…I think brutally strict father is a fair thing to say about Col. Edmund Kirby-Smith Sr.? Though less strenuously strict fairness compels me to say the Colonel was never anything more than abstractly terrifying to me or my brother and sister, and meant well as near as I could figure. They lived in an isolated home looking down into a valley at the edge of Sewanee, Tennessee, at the top of the last arm of one of an amphitheater of mountains, with trees falling away endlessly down the slope and then more mountains stretching out of view which, if not purple, were at least the lavender of eroded East Coast majesties. To say Edmund’s dad was lord of all he surveyed would understate his power. Just him and his sister—shit went Faulkner wrong up there, is the thing. Maybe sometimes I think he didn’t really have much of a chance to be a good person, although that’s not an actual excuse for failing to be one.

So, yeah, he was sort of your all around bad step-dad. You can use your imagination as long as you don’t go overboard. But father to my beloved, best beloved sister. And he had his moments! He was fun at parties.* I’m not being sarcastic; he really was. We invented games like Jupiter-Ball, which we played with a whole Salvation Army’s worth of bowling balls (we systematically switched the tags on them from badminton rackets), and into the thumb hole of the biggest and black ugliest of which we had hammered a broom handle to use as a mallet. We dug a huge hole in the yard to be the golf-analogue target, and created a ring out of which one would attempt to knock one’s opponents’ ball before they could take the shot. When even that grew boring he helped us carry them all over to the park across the road at 12 a.m. where we took turns sending them down the curly slide and seeing whose could go the furthest into the soft sand. We had some good friends with us, like the liquor store clerk and his girlfriend with the less interesting, less relevant job: electron microscopy. But she could play the fiddle pretty fair and could pee standing up like a man and was willing to do it in front of everyone after a few beers, and so was a worthy addition.
[click to continue…]

{ 26 comments }

Tony Atkinson has died

by Ingrid Robeyns on January 3, 2017

2017 started off badly, with the death of Tony Atkinson – the most important economist working on inequality, poverty (in affluent societies), the economics of the welfare state, and ‘optimal taxation’. Academics who have known Atkinson have lost one of the most humane, wise and gentle of their colleagues, who was genuinely caring about other people in his work as well as in his interactions with them.

The world at large has lost a wise welfare economist who was the Godfather of modern inequality analysis and therefore (and for other reasons) should have received the Nobel Prize. Without his work, inequality metrics and knowledge on social security mechanisms wouldn’t be what they are now; he continued working on normative welfare economics throughout the decades in which it wasn’t fashionable at all (I am not sure it is fashionable again, but at least I hope that the recent hugely popular and influential work by Thomas Piketty has improved the status of inequality analysis among economists.)

Atkinson’s work on how to effectively protect the poor and decrease inequalities will be badly needed in the years to come, so luckily he has left us a goldmine of scholarly papers and academic books, including most recently Inequality: What can be done? which doesn’t require an economics degree to be understood.

For Thomas Piketty’s obituary of Atkinson, see here.

{ 13 comments }

Columbia and grad student unionization

by Henry on January 3, 2017

It’s not surprising that businesses are likely to take advantage of the incoming Trump administration’s hostility to unions. It’s infuriating that some academic institutions are looking to do the same. Graduate students in Columbia University just voted to organize, citing frustrations with late pay, poor working conditions and so on. The university administration is looking to challenge the vote before the National Labor Relations Board on transparently specious grounds.

In its objections, Columbia said that during the election, “known union agents” stood within 100 feet of a polling place — an area voters had to pass through in order to vote — and had conversations with eligible voters. Columbia also faulted the regional body of the N.L.R.B., saying a last-minute decision not to require voters to present identification might have allowed ineligible voters to cast ballots. Columbia said a board representative improperly removed an election observer.

Given that there was a 2-1 majority in favor of unionization, this argument is, bluntly, horseshit. There are no plausible grounds for thinking that the vote would have gone differently had there not been “known union agents” (whatever that might mean) within 100 feet of voting, nor that there was voter fraud. This is nothing more and nothing less than Columbia deciding to take advantage of a new presidential administration, and an NLRB where an incoming majority of board members will see their mission as gutting the union movement through whatever means and cases present themselves.

At the moment, there appears to be a Facebook petition but I don’t use Facebook. I hope very much that Columbia faculty members put pressure on the university administration to reverse this shameful decision. If the leaders of the unionization effort want support from non-Columbia faculty members (and non-Columbia people more generally), I hope they get that too (and will try to provide updates should there be further information).

{ 7 comments }

Derek Parfit Has Died (Physically)

by John Holbo on January 2, 2017

Parfit was a great philosopher, and derived a mildly unfair advantage from looking more than a bit like Peter O’Toole. If you just read Reasons and Persons, then looked at a lineup of Ph.D.’s in philosophy, I think you’d probably go: ‘that’s the guy! Gotta be!’ Also, Reasons and Persons is definitely the major work of philosophy most deserving of being rewritten in ‘plan your own adventure’ format. ‘If you think the resulting hivemind will still be you, turn to page 347. If not, turn to page 360.’ That sort of thing.

Let us extend his identity ensure that his psychological life rolls on, albeit in a branching way, by remembering him well. Psychological connectedness and all that.

{ 12 comments }

Reason and Persuasion … And Academic E-Publishing

by John Holbo on January 2, 2017

It’s been a year since Belle and I self-published the latest edition of Reason and Persuasion [amazon], after the original publisher reverted the rights to us. The self-publishing model for our book works ok. We give away the PDF. But you can buy the paper and get a free Kindle version to go with; or just get the Kindle for $1.99. Such a bargain! Or get it from iBooks. All major ebook formats available. We’ve sold a couple hundred copies this year; given away thousands more as free downloads. (I hope you remembered to buy a copy for the person on your list who had everything … except a copy of our book!) I keep hoping it will catch on as a standard textbook in virtue of its obvious economic advantages – and it’s good philosophically, too. But if we just keep bobbing between the 100,000 and 1,000,000 sales ranks on Amazon, I can live with that. But if YOU have a friend looking for a Plato text for some intro course, kindly give them our card.

reasonandpersuasioncoversmall [click to continue…]

{ 12 comments }

Flyin’ Saucers Rock n’ Roll

by John Holbo on January 2, 2017

When I teach SF and Philosophy I include a short bit on SF in different media (before proceeding to devote the semester to short stories, for the most part.) So: SF and popular music. Seems like a thing. And a suitable challenge for the CT commentariat. I would be particular appreciative of intelligent periodization. But unclassifiable curiosities are also always welcome.

My post title come from Billy Lee Riley’s 1957 rockabilly hit. Ten years earlier, in 1947, you have a curious, country-gospel number, “When You See Those Flying Saucers”, from the Buchanan Brothers. Ten years later, in 1966, we’ve got the Byrds, “Mr. Spaceman”, the birth of a hippy-trippy sort of space rock – although folk-y “Spaceman” lacks the cosmic, synth-y atmospherics one associates with later progginess. Then, in 1969, we get “Space Oddity”, flipping the script from aliens to alienation, and corresponding to the work Kubrick does with 2001: A Space Odyssey, graduating out of the B-movie flying saucers era. (I just linked to the 1972 version. The song had sort of a slow roll-out, on its way to becoming a classic.) Glam and Ziggy Stardust. Elton John’s “Rocket Man” (1972) is the other early-70’s pop classic in this category. But let’s not forget Harry Nillson’s “Spaceman”, which was a Top-40 hit in 1972. “Bang Bang Shoot ‘em up destineee!” And Genesis, “Watcher of the Skies” (1972). I feel Journey’s 1977 “Spaceman” bookends what the Byrds started a decade earlier. (By the by, Journey finally made it into the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame this year. Also, ELO.) After 1977 we are, for a time, in the Styx “Come Sail Away” era, at least when it comes to American SF-themed pop megahits. [click to continue…]

{ 122 comments }

Frankenstein’s Children

by Henry on December 30, 2016

This talk by Maciej Ceglowski (who y’all should be reading if you aren’t already) is really good on silly claims by philosophers about AI, and how they feed into Silicon Valley mythology. But there’s one claim that seems to me to be flat out wrong:

We need better scifi! And like so many things, we already have the technology. This is Stanislaw Lem, the great Polish scifi author. English-language scifi is terrible, but in the Eastern bloc we have the goods, and we need to make sure it’s exported properly. It’s already been translated well into English, it just needs to be better distributed. What sets authors like Lem and the Strugatsky brothers above their Western counterparts is that these are people who grew up in difficult circumstances, experienced the war, and then lived in a totalitarian society where they had to express their ideas obliquely through writing. They have an actual understanding of human experience and the limits of Utopian thinking that is nearly absent from the west.There are some notable exceptions—Stanley Kubrick was able to do it—but it’s exceptionally rare to find American or British scifi that has any kind of humility about what we as a species can do with technology.

He’s not wrong on the delights of Lem and the Strugastky brothers, heaven forbid! (I had a great conversation with a Russian woman some months ago about the Strugatskys – she hadn’t realized that Roadside Picnic had been translated into English, much less that it had given rise to its own micro-genre). But wrong on US and (especially) British SF. It seems to me that fiction on the limits of utopian thinking and the need for humility about technology is vast. Plausible genealogies for sf stretch back, after all, to Shelley’s utopian-science-gone-wrong Frankenstein (rather than Hugo Gernsback. Some examples that leap immediately to mind:

Ursula Le Guin and the whole literature of ambiguous utopias that she helped bring into being with The Dispossessed – see e.g. Ada Palmer, Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars series &c.

J.G Ballard, passim

Philip K. Dick (passim, but if there’s a better description of how the Internet of Things is likely to work out than the door demanding money to open in Ubik I haven’t read it).

Octavia Butler’s Parable books. Also, Jack Womack’s Dryco books (this interview with Womack could have been written yesterday).

William Gibson (passim, but especially “The Gernsback Continuum” and his most recent work. “The street finds its own uses for things” is a specifically and deliberately anti-tech-utopian aesthetic).

M. John Harrison – Signs of Life and the Kefahuchi Tract books.

Paul McAuley (most particularly Fairyland – also his most recent Something Coming Through and Into Everywhere, which mine the Roadside Picnic vein of brain-altering alien trash in some extremely interesting ways).

Robert Charles Wilson, Spin. The best SF book I’ve ever read on how small human beings and all their inventions are from a cosmological perspective.

Maureen McHugh’s China Mountain Zhang.

Also, if it’s not cheating, Francis Spufford’s Red Plenty (if Kim Stanley Robinson describes it as a novel in the SF tradition, who am I to disagree, especially since it is all about the limits of capitalism as well as communism).

I’m sure there’s plenty of other writers I could mention (feel free to say who they are in comments). I’d also love to see more translated SF from the former Warsaw Pact countries, if it is nearly as good as the Strugatskys material which has appeared. Still, I think that Ceglowski’s claim is wrong. The people I mention above aren’t peripheral to the genre under any reasonable definition, and they all write books and stories that do what Ceglowski thinks is only very rarely done. He’s got some fun reading ahead of him.

{ 50 comments }

Education: Excerpt from Economics in Two Lessons

by John Quiggin on December 29, 2016

Here’s another excerpt from my book-in-progress, Economics in Two Lessons. As usual, praise is welcome, useful criticism even more so. You can find a draft of the opening sections here.

In the section over the fold, I’m looking at education.

[click to continue…]

{ 57 comments }

Public Services: Excerpt from Economics in Two Lessons

by John Quiggin on December 28, 2016

Here’s another excerpt from my book-in-progress, Economics in Two Lessons. As usual, praise is welcome, useful criticism even more so. You can find a draft of the opening sections here.

In the section over the fold, I’m looking at public goods and publicly funded services
[click to continue…]

{ 25 comments }