Imaginary correspondent R. writes to say,

You seem to be going through your regularly scheduled bimonthly funk, in which you are frustrated with blogging. Why not work your way through it by writing a list recommending some of your favorite things, rather than waste everyone’s time with a “whither blogging” post? It’s quite charming when McSweeney’s does it.

Out of the mouths of imaginary constructs, as they say. As it happens, I have some recommendations…

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Ladybird books

by Chris Bertram on September 27, 2004

Michael Brooke has “a post up today about Ladybird books”:http://www.michaelbrooke.com/2004/09/ladybird-rarities.html and their value to collectors. This sent my scurrying to look for an old post of mine on the subject from back when I was Junius. It had disappeared from the archives! I eventually managed to locate the source in blogger and republish — so “here it is”:http://junius.blogspot.com/2003_01_05_junius_archive.html#390156623 — but I wonder how much else has faded out of existence due to the general flakiness of blogger. Anyway it was one of my favourite posts, and resulted in “an interesting reaction by Kieran”:http://www.kieranhealy.org/blog/archives/000224.html . An important moment in the prehistory of Crooked Timber.

I Want the World to Know

by Belle Waring on September 27, 2004

Did you hate high school? I suggest putting it all into perspective by reading a series of articles on being a 17-year-old gay boy in rural Oklahoma (Part I, Part II; Part III is forthcoming). On the one hand, I know that his life is much better than it would have been even in the recent past, and that American culture is changing in many ways that will make similar journeys for younger boys and girls easier in the future. He has uncles who are openly gay, and his father is apparently resigned to his sexual orientation. On the other hand, ponder the exquisite, hellish torment:

Michael tried sending his mom a clue about his sexuality early on. He took her to a Cher concert in Tulsa, but she failed to make the connection.

“Apparently a lot of people don’t know she has a gay following,” Janice says, defensively. “The guys at work said how neat it was that I was going.”

She pauses, thinking back. “I have to say, it was a fantastic concert.”

A Cher concert, people. I have to stop thinking about the ride back from the Cher concert now. His mother, Janice, wants to cure him:

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Rational voting

by Chris Bertram on September 27, 2004

Jim Holt in the New York Times raises “the old question of whether it is rational to vote”:http://www.nytimes.com/2004/09/26/magazine/26WWLN.html . The issue is this (for those who don’t know): the rational voter decides what to do by weighing the expected cost and benefits of actions. Suppose I value the victory of Party X at $1000. In working out the expected benefit of voting, I also have to take account of the probability of my vote making a difference, a probability which is extremely low (say 1/100,000). Assigning, therefore an expected benefit to voting of 1c, I see that going to the polling booth involves an expenditure of time, shoe leather and incurs the opportunity cost of missing a few minutes of my favourite soap opera. Since these costs will certainly by incurred if I vote, and dwarf the expected benefit of voting, the expected _net_ benefit is always negative, and so, rationally, I shouldn’t vote.

What’s wrong with this argument? Well, one thought, which I remember hearing first from my friend Alan Carling, is this: the argument involves inconsistent assumptions about rationality. The assignment of a low probability to my vote making a difference assumes what the conclusion of the argument denies, namely, that rational persons would vote. But the argument says they wouldn’t. Well if they wouldn’t then I would be the only voter (a dictator, in effect). In which case I would certainly be rational to vote since I can count the full expected benefit of $1000 in favour of doing so. But if that’s the case, and I should vote, then so should everyone else … in which case I shouldn’t … in which case nor should they … in which case I should ….

Spelling mistakes

by Chris Bertram on September 27, 2004

Sorry to keep posting about the Cat Stevens brouhaha, but it really is revealing about the world we are now living in. The latest reports suggest that what happened was basically a mistake — “a spelling mistake”:http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,702062,00.html , in fact. I don’t know it that’s true, but if it were, what would that say about the bloggers who rushed to construct justifications for the action and the “experts” who went into print in the Weekly Standard and elsewhere to explain why deporting Stevens was the right thing to do? It raises the possibility of an interesting exercise:

bq. You are a right-wing blogger or a writer for TechCentralStation or FrontPage Magazine. Famous non-American person X is detained and deported from the US. Construct a rationalization for the decision based only on material you can find using Google.

Suggestions for X: David Beckham, Amartya Sen, Sting, Tom Jones, Gunther Grass, Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

NYU Hiring

by Brian on September 27, 2004

In a move that might shock some in the philosophical community, NYU is about to _commence_ a hiring campaign.

bq. New York University is on a hiring campaign that it hopes will put its graduate and undergraduate liberal arts programs on sounder footing and give them the stature of some of its most prominent professional schools. Over the next five years, it plans to expand its 625-member arts and science faculty by 125 members, and replace another 125 who are expected to leave. (“New York Times”:http://www.nytimes.com/2004/09/27/education/27nyu.html?ex=1253937600&en=70320bbf92d34f3b&ei=5090&partner=rssuserland)

If hiring Ned Block, Hartry Field, Kit Fine, David Velleman etc etc was what they do in normal times, it could get a little scary to see what they do in an expansionary era.

Dubya Channels Calvin, or Vice Versa

by Kieran Healy on September 27, 2004

Man of Action

The last of the Thatcherites

by John Quiggin on September 27, 2004

The Australian election campaign has produced some interesting shifts in political positions, with the Labor opposition attacking the Liberal (= free-market conservative) government for being “the highest taxing government in Australia’s history”[1], and the government responding with yet more public spending. This is largely a matter of political pragmatism. But the election has produced one statement that’s worth paying attention to, from Prime Minister John Howard in the Australian Financial Review (no link – this is a subscription-only site)

There is a desire on the part of the community for an investment in infrastructure and human resources and I think there has been a shift in attitude in the community on this, even among the most ardent economic rationalists[2]

Howard is, arguably, the last of the Thatcherites. He entered the Australian Parliament in 1974, just as the Keynesian social-democratic consensus of the postwar period was coming to an end. He was Treasurer in the Fraser government (which held office from 1975 to 1983) and, subsequently one of Fraser’s bitterest critics, arguing that the government had missed the opportunity to undertake radical market-oriented reform[3]. In Opposition through the 1980s, he was the leading advocate of free-market reforms, continually pushing the Hawke-Keating Labor government (by inclination a precursor of Blair’s Third Way) to the right. On gaining office in 1996 after a very muted campaign, he introduced drastic expenditure cuts and established a Commission of Audit to find more. He’s been gradually moving away from this radical position ever since, in the face of increasing public opposition. Until now, however, he has never openly repudiated the ideological goal of rolling back the public sector.

.I think it’s reasonable to treat this statement as representing the end of the neoliberal push to overturn the social-democratic settlement, at least in the English-speaking countries

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