Research help request

by Chris Bertram on March 9, 2004

Below the fold is a request for someone to dig out something Marx-related from their university library for me.

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The Sociology of Blood and Guts

by Kieran Healy on March 9, 2004

The director of “UCLA’s Willed Body Program”:, Henry Reid, has “been arrested”: for “illegally selling human body parts”: from perhaps as many as 800 cadavers. A second man, Ernest Nelson, has also been arrested and charged with receiving stolen goods. Nelson “claims”: that he routinely showed up hacksaw-in-hand at UCLA, with the full knowledge of the Program, and left with knee joints, hands and other body parts. UCLA officials describe Nelson and Reid as a pair of criminals operating without the knowledge of the University. The practice came to the attention of other administrators when Nelson wrote a letter to UCLA demanding $241,000 compensation for body parts he had been forced to return after UCLA banned transfers of cadavers to people or organizations unaffiliated with the University.

Exchange in human goods is a topic “near and dear”: to all my major organs. At the moment, I’m trying to write the conclusion to a book about some aspects of it. Over the past twenty years or so in the United States, a very large and complex system of tissue procurement and distribution has grown up, mostly to service the demand created by new medical technologies. Some of these, like heart and kidney transplants, enjoy broad public support. Others, like the use of “processed cadaveric skin”: for “lip enhancement”: and “penis enlargement”:, “bone screws”: for orthopedic surgery or “cadavers in automobile crash tests”: are less well known.[1] With the exception of the plasma market in the U.S., almost all solid organs and human tissues come from voluntary donors. The increasing demand for body parts has led to a lively debate (going back to the 1970s) on whether some kind of market in human body parts is a good idea. Although this is a very important question, in my view debate about it misses a lot of what’s really interesting about actually-existing systems of exchange. The wide range of empirical variation in rates of blood and organ donation across countries, and within the U.S., for example, complicates the simple contrast between giving and selling that underpins arguments about markets for organs. So does the terrific amount of cultural work that goes into maintaining the viability of organ donation, on the one hand, and real markets for things like human eggs, on the other.

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I thought I’d said my last word on voting systems, but it’s a topic that’s hard to exhaust. The comments thread to Brian’s latest post raised the notion of Approval voting in which you cast a vote for all candidates of whom you approve, the candidate with the largest number of votes being elected. I suggested that “the appeal of approval voting is mainly to people who can see the inadequacies of plurality (first past the post) but are worried about the supposed complexity of preferential” and the site linked above, with its frequent references to simplicity, supports this view.

I now want to make a stronger point. Approval voting is, for nearly all purposes, dominated by the “optional preferential” system, in which voters can list in order all the candidates whom they wish to give any support, leaving the remaining candidates unranked. In effect, optional preferential is an approval voting version of the single transferable vote system, with the desirable property that voters don’t have to give any support to candidates they dislike. Given the data from on optional preferential ballot, it would always be possible to implement approval voting by disregarding the rankings given by voters, but its hard to see when this could ever be desirable.

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Voices of reason

by Henry Farrell on March 9, 2004

“Andrew Sullivan”:

bq. THANK GOD FOR KRAUTHAMMER: Charles Krauthammer has never written a dumb column, to my knowledge. Even on emotional subjects such as civil marriage, he brings to the debate a calm reasoning that wins the respect of his opponents as well as his supporters.

See “here”:, “here”: and “here”: for a few recent examples of the calm reasoning that Krauthammer’s opponents value so much. And then file this one along with the crackpottery of the bloke who was trying to convince us all a few months ago that Steven Den Beste was the Nabokov of the blogosphere.

Money talks

by Henry Farrell on March 9, 2004

It’s extraordinary how quickly the blogosphere has become a significant channel for political donations; Atrios has raised “$25,000 in five days”: for the Kerry campaign. I’ve no doubt that this will be a big issue of debate at the blogging panel that Dan Drezner and I are organizing for the APSA meeting this September. My spur-of-the-moment impression – to the extent that this favours one side, it’s going to favour the Democrats. Regardless of whether the blogosphere tilts left or tilts right (your guess is as good as mine), the most-read blogs on the liberal-left side of the spectrum are much more closely aligned with the Democratic party apparatus than the blogs on the right are with the Republican machine. They also have the precedent of MoveOn, and of the Dean movement to build on. Rightbloggers, even the ones who support the administration, tend to self-identify as libertarians rather than Republicans, and maintain a little distance from the formal aspects of the Republican party. I could be wrong, but I don’t see Glenn Reynolds hosting appeals for donations to the Republican National Committee, let alone Eugene Volokh. Andrew Sullivan might have up to a month or so ago, but not today.

How big a deal this is remains to be seen; my guess is that its consequences will be significant, but not enormous. Where it will have an impact is in terms of the agenda-setting power of the few bloggers who can and will raise large amounts of cash for the cause. If Atrios can keep on getting people to donate that kind of money, the powers that be in the Democratic party are going to start taking him quite seriously indeed. Especially if the FEC starts cracking down on soft-money contributions to 527s. Developing, as they say.

Academic Freedom

by Kieran Healy on March 9, 2004

Last week it was the “apparently unjustified firing”: of a Professor at Penn State Altoona. This week it’s the suspension of “two professors at Southern Mississippi”:, again for what looks like no good reason. Ralph Luker at Cliopatria “has more”:, with links to various commentaries. Here also is “a news story”: from the student paper found via “a blogger”: who knows more about the situation on the ground. Looks like there’s been “some”: “student”: “reaction”: to the suspensions, together with “criticism”: from benefactors and a “vote of no confidence”: from the USM faculty senate. (Hat tip: “Matt Weiner”: