The wisdom of rowdy, beer-soaked crowds

by Ted on August 18, 2004

In the brutally competitive, take-no-prisoners world of fantasy sports team managment, sometimes we have to take matters into our own hands. That’s when McSweeney’s guide to heckling might come in handy.

While you’re out and about in your town, try heckling some of the locals to build your confidence and work on your repertoire.

To the Mailman: “Karl Malone would be ashamed.”

To the Paperboy: “Who taught you how to throw? David Cassidy?”

To the Grocer: “This orange blows.”

To the Bank Clerk: “I can buy and sell you at will.”

To the Bus Driver: “Flunk out of chauffeur school?”

To the Ice-Cream-Truck Driver: “Flunk out of bus-driver school?”

To the Town Vampire: “Even I have bigger teeth. And you call yourself a reanimated corpse that has risen from the grave to suck the blood of the living? You suck. In a nonliteral, yet highly amusing, way.”

To the Waiter: “How’s that whole aspiring-to-be-an-actor thing going? Not good? At least you got your degree in …? Oh. I’m truly sorry. Can I get a refill?”

Political equality and material inequality

by Harry on August 18, 2004

In his reply to Chris B’s response to his article on desert Will Wilkinson expresses dismay that no-one has taken up a point he made in his original piece, viz,

bq. Material inequality is one kind of inequality among many. Political
inequality is more troubling by far, for political power is the power to
push people around. Coercion is wrong on its face, and so the existence
of political inequality requires a specially strong and compelling
justification. However, if the luck argument cuts against moral
entitlement to material holdings, it cuts equally against any moral
entitlement to political power.

He goes on, in the original piece, to say that

bq. The justification for political power is generally sought in the “consent” of the people through free, fair and open elections. Yet the fact that someone has gained power by a democratic ballot can be no more or less relevant than the fact that Warren Buffet gained his billions through a series of fair, voluntary transactions. John Edwards (who, by the way, is a mill worker’s son) didn’t deserve his luxuriant tresses and blinding grin. Reagan didn’t deserve movie-star name recognition. Bushes don’t deserve to be Bushes. Kennedys don’t deserve to be Kennedys. Kerry’s war medals? Please.
If the luck argument is any good, then democratic choice and the resulting distribution of coercive political power is also, as Yglesias says, “chance all the way down.” And if luck negates the moral right to keep and dispose of one’s stuff, it also negates the right to take and dispose of others’ stuff.

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Krugman at the ASA

by Kieran Healy on August 18, 2004

“Paul Krugman”: and “Fernando Cardoso”: were the final plenary speakers yesterday evening at the “American Sociological Association Meetings”: in San Francisco. The topic under discussion was “The Future of Neoliberalism,” and both of them did a pretty good job. The panel was introduced and moderated by “Juliet Schor”:, who spoke for twenty-odd minutes at the beginning and seemed just a tiny bit reluctant to give up the mike. That was understandable, I suppose, as the ballroom was jammed — standing room only and spillover into the hallways outside, and it’s hard to resist a crowd that big. I hadn’t seen Krugman speak before. He was refreshingly nerdy. His detractors work incessantly to make the “shrill” label stick, but in person he comes off more like Woody Allen’s accountant brother.

Krugman made a passing reference to Enron and wondered whether Homeland Security was responsible for the intermittent problems with the lights and sound, but otherwise stuck to the topic at hand, arguing that “neoliberalism” could and should be decomposed into policies that ought to be evaluated independently. So whereas free-trade and export-led growth has clearly gotten _much_ better results than tariffs and import-substitution, the benefits of unrestricted capital mobility or gung-ho privatization aren’t as well established. He emphasized the complexity of the problems at issue and the dangers of hubris in development policy. He came across, in other words, like a theoretically-driven social scientist determined to learn from the data and looking for the answer to the question “How can we make as many people as possible better-off?”

All of which made some of the questions from the audience (passed up on cards and read out by Schor) more than a little irritating. The worst one, stupid as well as rude, asked whether economics was “too mired in the muck of right-wing thought” to do any good in the world. (I should say that no-one clapped at that one, and a lot of people were clearly embarrassed: in many respects this was the friendliest of all possible audiences.) Krugman politely stood his ground. Whoever submitted the question is probably well-used to (correctly) arguing that the horrors of Stalin don’t invalidate the fundamental insights of Marxists. How hard can it be to apply the same basic point to the WTO and the neoclassical toolkit?[1] Questions like that are the bobblehead left-wing analogue to the pez-dispenser right-wing trope that if only you understood “Econ 101” or “the basic laws of the market” you’d agree with every wingnut idea put to you. I have all kinds of criticisms and qualms about economics as a body of knowledge and a professional enterprise, and naturally I’d like to be right about all of them all the time. But, sadly, easy certainty is continually frustrated by the fact that many of the economists I know are much smarter than me and have the irritating ability to make good arguments for their point of view. And so even though I will of course prevail in the end I can’t just dismiss them out of hand. I expect the same consideration in return, the odd snotty economist (or, more often, their camp-followers in political science and law) notwithstanding.

Anyway, if you get a chance to see Krugman at a book-signing or whatever — especially of the topic is international macroeconomics — take it. He’s good value.

fn1. Comments to the effect that I am implying that the WTO is as bad as Stalin here will be ignored.

Vorsprung durch Technik

by Henry Farrell on August 18, 2004

“Daniel Drezner”: posts an extract from a _Wall Street Journal_ article (subscription only, and I don’t have a subscription), suggesting both that there is a serious shortage of skilled machinists in the US, and that “U.S. apprenticeship programs have dwindled as the large American companies that once provided the bulk of such training have cut back to save money and now outsource some of the work.” As I’ve noted “before”:, there’s a serious case to be made that both these problems reflect underlying weaknesses in the US model of capitalism.

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Dropping a Pollard

by Daniel on August 18, 2004

Stephen Pollard, hack journalist, blogger and perennial feature of the Virtual Stoa’s “Ignorant Git” column, has a column up at the Times (American readers; you are spared this one by the Times’ subscription policy, so it will mean nothing to you. But I don’t complain when you lot bang on about Fox News.). The main conceit of the column is one that we can expect to see a lot more of in the near future; that there is something hypocritical about wanting to see international action to help rescue millions of Sudanese from being massacred, unless you also supported the bombing of Iraq.

Pollard thinks that he has found the true hypocritical heart of the Left here; that it doesn’t care about suffering people but only about “bashing America”. In fact, he’s demonstrated two things to the world:

1) That there are people in the world who know what the phrase “Humanitarian intervention” means (as in the sentence “Have you read the excellent report by Human Rights Watch entitled ‘War in Iraq: Not a Humanitarian Intervention‘ Stephen? Thought not”), and who believe that there is a difference between intervening in an immediate human crisis and intervening when there isn’t an immediate humanitarian crisis.

2) That in the worldview of a small minority of warbloggers, gathering support for an international effort to do something in Sudan is important, but much less important than reminding the world what a nasty bunch of people “the Left” is for reminding people like Pollard what a ferocious stack of bollocks they bought into eighteen months ago.

One might think that, since a large part of the difficulty in getting any action on Sudan is that nobody trusts us any more because we lied about Iraq, a certain degree of contrition might be in order. But apparently not.

Modigliani in NYC

by Eszter Hargittai on August 18, 2004

I saw the exhibition Modigliani: Beyond the Myth at The Jewish Museum in New York this week. I highly recommend it, it is a wonderful exhibit. (It’s only on until Sept 19th so don’t delay.) There was a twenty minute wait in line, apparently much more reasonable than a few months ago. The experience was definitely worth the wait.

One nice thing about shows that focus on the entire career of an artist is that you tend to learn more about an artist’s background than possible through just a few pieces mixed in with works by others. Modigliani died at the age of 34, but created quite a bit during his short life. Before learning about this exhibition, I had no idea that Modigliani was Jewish. One may wonder why that matters, but given the anti-Semitism he encountered once he moved to Paris, and given that much of his work focused exclusively on portraitures and an exploration of identities, it seems this part of his identity would be important for understanding his work.

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Paul Beard writes to ask what the economists and social scientists at Crooked Timber think of this interview with economist Ray C. Fair. His model that is predicting that Bush will get 57.5% of the 2-party votes.

Well, the economists and social scientists at Crooked Timber are in bed, so I’ll try. Here’s the model and relevant webpage. Fair is a Yale professor who has been tweaking his model, and successfully publishing papers on it, since 1978. I am a lowly uncredentialed blogger who has spent less than an hour looking at said papers. If I were a betting man, I’d have to bet that Fair is right and I’m wrong when I raise a criticism. If I’m lucky, maybe he’ll respond to my email and humiliate me in comments.

Having said that, a few comments:

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I can’t argue with that

by Ted on August 18, 2004

1. Dan Aibel at Contrapositive reads the New York Times very carefully, and points out that it would probably be for the best if the city of New York took an interest in the cars that military recruiters regularly park illegally in Times Square.

To put it simply: If there are going to be 3,000 pound metal boxes parked in the middle of Times Square, they ought to be have an awfully good reason to be there. And they should be inspected regularly–whoever happens to own them.

2. Gary Farber discusses the same post from Bjørn Stærk that Belle pointed to below. My favorite part is this exchange at Winds of Change:

SDN: Don’t worry, Gary, when Jews fly planes into skyscrapers I’ll be hunting them too.

Gary: Yes, I know.

Two points possibly worth making:

a. This is one problem that we can’t blame Bush for. For all of his faults, he has consistently urged respect for the Muslim faith and world, and I’m grateful for that.

b. What is the intended end goal of LGF-ish anti-Muslim agitation? I certainly understand that there’s a lot to criticize. But those comments indicate a significant (?) vein of people who seem unwilling to accept that we’re going to continue to co-exist with Muslims. If this is engagement…

3. I don’t like illegal music downloading, but I’ve made my peace with mp3 blogs. This track, “Seeds of Life”, by the 70s Latin funk group Harlem River Drive, makes me want to quit my job and hit a cowbell for a living. Just awesome.

Around The Right-Wing Blogosphere in 80 Links!

by Belle Waring on August 18, 2004

Be Amazed: as warblogger Bjorn Staerk comes to the stunning conclusion that some people might have gone a bit off the rails in wanting to ban Islam. People like, well, LGF commenters! And Bjorn Staerk commenters!

What has gone wrong when Norwegians, Americans and other Westerners who rever the enlightenment ideals of reason and freedom of thought more than anything, justify restrictions on thought with bad reasoning and paranoia? It’s not just LGF readers. You can read similar views (though fewer of them) at Free Republic, Dhimmi Watch, and Liberty Post – all in reply to the Kristiansand story.

Again, I’m not saying these views are shared by the owners of these websites, or the majority of their readers. But neither do I see many strong, principled objections. Phil says above that “the failure of good Muslims to object or organize and stop bad Muslims indicts the whole Islamic movement”, which doesn’t justify a ban on Islam, but is true in a sense. We all have a responsibility to speak up clearly against extremists in our own ranks, whether we are Muslims or peace activists or bloggers who criticize Islam and support the war on Islamist terror.

And so it’s time to stand up for the basic values of our democracies and confront those in our own ranks who want to abandon those values. Because if we don’t, outsiders will be justified in interpreting this as silent approval or apologism.

Something has gone rotten. We can’t blame it on the “left”, the “relativists”, the “PC crowd” or the “multiculturalists”, (and don’t anybody dare blame it on the Muslims). It’s gone rotten here, among people who on 9/11 woke up to the danger of Islamism. The ban Islam meme and all its relatives (Islam is Islamism, Islam is war) must be confronted here, now, before it spreads.

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