From the monthly archives:

November 2004

Pieblogging

by Belle Waring on November 26, 2004

My dear, dear, deluded fellow Timberteers. Pumpkin pie is not replusive. Pumpkin pie is a silken cloud of holiday deliciousness. Last night I served the full Thanksgiving dinner to 16 people, many of whom, being British or Australian or Spanish or some such nonsense, had never eaten pumpkin pie before, though they had heard of this fabled treat. To a man and woman, they all thought it was delicious. Delicious, I say! Of course, it was a totally unorthodox pie actually made of kabocha squash. I adapted this recipe from the NYT and let me tell you, it will knock your socks off.

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Voting dogs

by Chris Bertram on November 25, 2004

Via “Butterflies & Wheels”:http://www.butterfliesandwheels.com/notesarchive.php?id=630 I came across the following ludicrous and offensive argument against gay marriage from “Keith Burgess-Jackson, the self-styled AnalPhilosopher”:http://analphilosopher.blogspot.com/2004_11_01_analphilosopher_archive.html#109984596293987913 :

bq. I have said in this blog many times that the very idea of homosexual marriage is incoherent, which is why I put the word “marriage” in quotation marks. I do the same for dog “voting.” If we took our dogs to the polls and got them to push levers with their paws, they would not be voting. They would be going through the motions of voting. It would be a charade. Voting is not made for dogs. They lack the capacity to participate in the institution. The same is true of homosexuals and marriage.

“Richard Chappell at Philosophy etc”:http://pixnaps.blogspot.com/2004/11/gay-marriage-analogies.html says nearly all that needs to be said about Burgess-Jackson’s “argument”, so I wouldn’t even have bothered mentioning it if I hadn’t been in conversation on Tuesday with the LSE’s Christian List whose article “Democracy in Animal Groups: A Political Science Perspective” is forthcoming in _Trends in Ecology and Evolution_ . List draws on Condorcet’s jury theorem (previously discussed on CT “here”:https://www.crookedtimber.org/archives/002706.html ) to shed more light on research by Conradt and Roper in their paper “Group decision-making in animals”:http://www.nature.com/cgi-taf/DynaPage.taf?file=/nature/journal/v421/n6919/full/nature01294_fs.html , from Nature 421 (155–8) in 2003. Conradt and Roper have this to say about animal voting:

bq. Many authors have assumed despotism without testing, because the feasibility of democracy, which requires the ability to vote and to count votes, is not immediately obvious in non-humans. However, empirical examples of ‘voting’ behaviours include the use of specific body postures, ritualized movements, and specific vocalizations, whereas ‘counting of votes’ includes adding-up to a majority of cast votes, integration of voting signals until an intensity threshold is reached, and averaging over all votes. Thus, democracy may exist in a range of taxa and does not require advanced cognitive capacity.

[Tiresome, humourless and literal-minded quasi-Wittgensteinian comments, putting inverted commas around “voting” etc. are hereby pre-emptively banned from the comments thread.]

Elections, election…

by Chris Bertram on November 25, 2004

I linked last week to an op-ed by John Allen Paulos about the conclusions that might (or might not) be drawn from the recent Presidential election. Now he’s written “a piece about the possibility of election fraud”:http://www.math.temple.edu/~paulos/exit.html , which draws on work by Steve Freeman of the University of Pennsylvania. His conclusion in part:

bq. The election has prompted extensive allegations of fraud, some of which have been debunked, but many of which have not. In several cases non-trivial errors have been established and official tallies changed. And there is one more scenario that doesn’t require many conspirators: the tabulating machines and the software they run conceivably could have been dragooned into malevolent service by relatively few operatives. Without paper trails, this would be difficult, but probably not impossible, to establish. Hard evidence? Definitely not. Nevertheless, the present system is such a creaky patchwork and angry suspicions are so prevalent that there is, despite the popular vote differential, a fear that the election was tainted and possibly stolen.

In completely unrelated news US Secretary of State Colin Powell “declared of the Ukrainian elections”:http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/4040177.stm :

bq. We cannot accept this result as legitimate because it does not meet international standards and because there has not been an investigation of the numerous and credible reports of fraud and abuse. We have been following developments very closely and are deeply disturbed by the extensive and credible reports of fraud in the election. We call for a full review of the conduct of the election and the tallying of election results.

Hoist on their own petard

by John Quiggin on November 25, 2004

Having been involved in the debate over schools policy for quite a few years, I’m enjoying a bit of schadenfreude following the publication of a couple of regression analyses showing that students at charter schools (publicly funded US schools operating independently from the main public school system) score worse on standard tests than students at ordinary public schools[1]. I don’t have a particularly strong view on the desirability or otherwise of charter schools, but I have long been critical of one of the most prominent rationales for charter schools and other programs of school reform[2].

This is the claim that “regression analyses show that students in small classes do no better than those in large classes”. If you believe this claim, you should believe the same claim with “charter schools” replacing “small classes” since both are supported by the same kind of evidence.

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The Wrong Pie

by Kieran Healy on November 25, 2004

Thanksgiving is one of America’s best ideas. Appropriately it is intimately associated with one of America’s worst inventions, the Pumpkin Pie. I say “appropriately” because such antinomies are common in American life. North and South, Red States and Blue States, expensive gourmet coffee and never a spoonful of real cream to put in it what do you mean you only have the kind that sprays out of a can never mind no that’s fine. On such foundational tensions is America built. I’m sure Alexis de Toqueville has a line about this somewhere in _Democracy in America_. Something about the Pumpkin containing the Seeds of its own Destruction — no wait, that was Marx in Vol. III of _Theorien über den Wurzelgemüse_. For de Tocqueville, pumpkin pie is the fulcrum of the argument developed in “Book II, Chapter 14”:http://xroads.virginia.edu/~HYPER/DETOC/ch2_14.htm of _Democracy in America_, where he shows “How the taste for physical gratifications is united in America to love of freedom and attention to public affairs.” A taste for physical gratification that is fed with pumpkin pie is sure to kindle a strong love of freedom (from the obligation to eat any more) and a concomitant commitment to public affairs (especially the effort to ban the thing once and for all).

I admit this may be a minority reading of de Tocqueville, though surely a wholly plausible one of Marx. But a number of figures in pie scholarship may be against me. Although I have not been “able to trace”:http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&lr=&safe=off&c2coff=1&q=fafblog+pie+blogging&btnG=Search a specific pumpkin-related discussion by the “best-known”:http://fafblog.blogspot.com/ of the world’s two leading pie authorities (the “other one”:http://www.weebl.jolt.co.uk/pie.htm is similarly silent on the matter), there is “some evidence”:http://examinedlife.typepad.com/johnbelle/2004/06/help_us_fafnir_.html that Fafnir is strongly pro-pumpkin. (“If a pumpkin pie is not a pie, well then I do not want to live in a world with your cold mechanical robot pies!”) This is a worry. The pumpkin pie is generally neglected in the social science literature, in my view rightly so. Milton Friedman “once commented”:http://www.policyofliberty.net/quotes6.php that “Most economic fallacies derive … from the tendency to assume that there is a fixed pie”, but the pie’s actual substance was left unspecified by him. Neoclassical economics assumed away the pumpkin by fiat, a move that goes back at least as far as Walras. He found that the tatonnement process could not plausibly be completed as long as the “auctioneer”:http://economics.about.com/od/economicsglossary/g/walrasiana.htm was left with a shitload of pumpkin that he couldn’t get off his hands for love or money. It re-entered the philosophical literature in Wittgenstein, who got it from Sraffa, but his solution is unknown — although in 2001 his grave in Cambridge was “found to have a pork pie on top of it”:http://myweb.lsbu.ac.uk/~stafflag/ludwigwittgenstein.html (no, really, it was), and also a “Mr Kipling Cake”:http://www.mrkipling.co.uk/about/ — perhaps evidence of efforts at solution via reduction to problems already solved.

At any rate, my plan is to avoid the pumpkin altogether and make an apple crumble instead. I have a lot of things to be thankful for today, and I hope you do as well — and if one of them is the courage to face up to reality and just eat the nutmeg out of the jar this year instead of using pumpkin puree as a substrate for it, so much the better for you.

Mince Pies at Thanksgiving

by Harry on November 24, 2004

Thanks to the comments of CTers my Christmas Cake worked out pretty well; it would have been perfect if I hadn’t taken it into my head to go to the Urgent Care center to have my pneumonia diagnosed during the baking time. I assumed the visit would take less than the 3 hours my cake still had to go, but I was wrong because for the first hour everybody seemed to be watching the Badger game on TV instead of working. My wife let it bake the full 4 hours; whereas I would probably have taken it out after 3 1/2. Oh well.

So, it being Thanksgiving, I decided to make my own mincemeat for a mince pie to take to the Analytical Marxist’s house (our usual Thanksgiving destination). According to the Joy of Cooking mince pie used to be as pervasive at Thanksgiving as the utterly revolting Pumpkin Pie now is, so I feel it is my duty to reclaim the tradition. I looked at 3 different recipes on the internet, two from Rose Elliot, and the ingredients list on my jar of Tesco’s Finest mincemeat and came up with the following recipe. It is very boozy indeed, as you’ll tell and, if I say so myself, surprisingly good. It is also more-or-less fat free (the AM cannot have fat except for olive and walnut oils, so I am going to risk all and see if I can make a small pie with walnut oil as shortening; and make a larger one with proper pastry and a large amount of butter to fatten up the mince). The recipe below made a enough mincemeat for a small pie, a large pie, and a bunch of individual pies I shall be offering to my political philosophy class after they have done their evaluations (so don’t tell them).

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Ukraine

by Chris Bertram on November 24, 2004

There’s some commenter unrest in a thread below about our lack of coverage of recent events in Ukraine. Lacking the resources of the BBC or the NY Times, I’m afraid that we assorted academics and oddballs at CT can’t aspire to comprehensive news coverage and usually (well sometimes!) restrict ourselves to writing about stuff we know something about. Fortunately, when we are ourselves in a shocking state of ignorance, we can sometimes point to people who are not. And such is Nick Barlow, over at “Fistful of Euros”:http://fistfulofeuros.net/ , who has multiple posts on the topic.

The flight of the Kiwi

by John Quiggin on November 24, 2004

Tyler Cowen links to Martin Wolf (FT, subscription) on the failure of the radical free-market reforms undertaken by New Zealand from 1984 to the mid-90s. The results are even more striking when you observe that the only sustained period of growth has come after 1999, when the newly-elected Labour government raised the top marginal tax rate, amended the most radical components of the Employment Contracts Act, and undertook some renationalisation. I’ve written about all this many times, for example in this AFR piece and this Victoria economic commentary published in NZ (PDF file).

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Because the Base wouldn’t want to see a fairy up there

by Kieran Healy on November 24, 2004

“Lynne Cheney Tops National Christmas Tree.”:http://www.guardian.co.uk/uslatest/story/0,1282,-4633299,00.html

Cityscapes

by Kieran Healy on November 24, 2004

Via “Patrick Nielsen Hayden”:http://nielsenhayden.com/electrolite/, a cool index of “photographs of cities”:http://www.worldcityphotos.org/. Of the cities in the index, I’ve lived in “Cork”:http://www.worldcityphotos.org/Ireland/IRE-Cork-webshotscheryllynn121.jpg, “Tucson”:http://www.worldcityphotos.org/UnitedStates/USA-AZ-Tucson-luvbride1.jpg and “Canberra”:http://www.worldcityphotos.org/Australia/AUS-Canberra-anueduau1.jpg, in that order. I imagine our cosmopolitan CT crowd can do better than that.

The database isn’t without its errors: “this”:http://www.worldcityphotos.org/Ireland/IRE-Cork-webshotstommy371.jpg claims to be Cork but is in fact “Cobh”:http://www.cork-guide.ie/cobh.htm, a town down the road that was the _Titanic’s_ “last port of call”:http://www.cobhheritage.com/index2.html.

Framing

by Kieran Healy on November 24, 2004

“Kevin Drum writes”:http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/archives/individual/2004_11/005214.php:

bq. *LAKOFF FRAMING….* it’s finally time for me to get a copy of George Lakoff’s “Don’t Think of an Elephant”:http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/1931498717/qid=1101255135/sr=1-1/ref=sr_1_1/103-7671099-8551863?v=glance&s=books, which appears to be something of a Bible among despairing liberals who can’t believe that half the country likes George Bush and apparently doesn’t like us. Basically, Lakoff says we need to get our act together and “frame” our arguments in more positive ways

Although I know (and like) his work on “Metaphor”:http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0226468011/kieranhealysw-20/ref=nosim/, I’ve only seen Lakoff’s stuff on this at one remove or more — snippets on TV shows here and there, and talk in newspapers and blogs. So I don’t know whether he’s pitching the idea of framing as new, or his own bright idea. But it’s worth noting that this concept is pretty old. I don’t mean some equivalent concept, either, I mean the same idea with the same name. Here’s a “very short reading list”:http://www.ssc.wisc.edu/~oliver/SOC924/Assignments/Framing.htm#Frames to start you off. It has its prehistory in work in micro-interaction work in linguistics and cognitive psychology (going back to Gregory Bateson). It gets named in the sociological literature by Erving Goffman’s (1974) _Frame Analysis_, but like a lot of Goffman nobody could do anything with it unless they were him. It was developed into a useful tool explicitly oriented to the study of political processes (especially social movements) in “Dave Snow”:http://today.uci.edu/Features/profile_detail.asp?key=112 et al’s “Frame Alignment Processes”:http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=0003-1224%28198608%2951%3A4%3C464%3AFAPMAM%3E2.0.CO%3B2-2 (American Sociological Review, 1986). That paper spawned a very big literature. Benford and Snow’s “Framing Processes and Social Movements: An Overview and Assessment”:http://arjournals.annualreviews.org/doi/abs/10.1146/annurev.soc.26.1.611, (Annual Review of Sociology, 2000) reviews fifteen-or-so years of theory and research in the field, including plenty of stuff on the limits of the concept and its potential for overuse. If Lakoff has managed to get the media to put his name in front of this idea then I guess he’s worth listening to, because he’s clearly very good at framing indeed.

*Update*: Seems like Lakoff gives the history of the idea its due, develops a version of his own in terms of his views about conceptual metaphors, and then applies it to the liberal cause in an accessible way. All to the good. My memory of the conceptual metaphor stuff in _Metaphors We Live By_, though, is that the metaphors that book looked at (“Love is a Battlefield”, etc) can’t really explain how and why political framing is really successful, as it’s not just a cognitive process. Moreoever, the idea that metaphors underpin our concepts is very similar to the idea that the social structure decisively shapes our thinking: immensely suggestive, almost certainly right in some sense, but very difficult to specify in a satisfactory way. I guess I should read the books, though, before saying anything else.

The MEMRI Hole

by Henry on November 24, 2004

MEMRI makes an “inept attempt to intimidate”:http://www.juancole.com/2004/11/intimidation-by-israeli-linked.html Juan Cole.

bq. Dear Professor Cole,

bq. I write in response to your article “Osama Threatening Red States?” published on November 3, 2004 on antiwar.com. The article included several statements about MEMRI which go beyond what could be considered legitimate criticism, and which in fact qualify as slander and libel. … As such, we demand that you retract the false statements you have made about MEMRI. If you will not do so, we will be forced to pursue legal action against you personally and against the University of Michigan, which the article identifies you as an employee of.

MEMRI’s threat is strongly reminiscent of Donald Luskin’s threat of legal action against Atrios a while back. It seems to me (though I note that I’m not a lawyer) that the purported complaint is completely, utterly and entirely bogus. But like Luskin’s supposed complaint, the threat isn’t so much in the possibility of a successful action, as in outcomes related to that action. In Atrios’ case, the real threat was that his identity would be revealed, possibly landing him in difficulty with the university that employed him. Similarly, MEMRI’s threat seems to me to be more about trying to create difficulties for Cole with the University of Michigan than the nugatory possibility of an adverse judgement in court against him. There’s no remotely plausible theory under which the University of Michigan can be held responsible for Cole’s private activities or statements, even if they were libellous. However, a state-funded university would presumably prefer, all things considered, not to be embroiled in an action of this sort, however frivolous. Thus, the inclusion of University of Michigan in the complaint seems to me to be an inept class of an indirect threat to embarrass the university and thus perhaps put Cole in a tricky position. I’m glad to see that he’s treating it with the contempt that it deserves. Cole urges

bq. all readers to send messages of protest to memri@memri.org. Please be polite, and simply urge MEMRI, which has a major Web presence, to withdraw the lawsuit threat and to respect the spirit of the free sharing of ideas that makes the internet possible.

IP-Watch

by Henry on November 22, 2004

Another new blog that deserves some attention – “IP-Watch”:http://www.ip-watch.org/, monitoring “the behind the scenes dynamics” of intellectual property. The politics of intellectual property is exceptionally murky and non-transparent – dubious deals done at the international level which are then presented as _faits accomplis_ to national publics. IP-Watch starts with a “particularly good account”:http://www.ip-watch.org/weblog/index.php?p=10&res=1280&print=0 of the shenanigans over the recent broadcasting negotiations. One worth visiting regularly.

Update: via “BoingBoing”:http://www.boingboing.net/2004/11/22/copyrights_are_award.html, Jamie Boyle has written a nice “polemic”:http://news.ft.com/cms/s/4cd4941e-3cab-11d9-bb7b-00000e2511c8.html for the FT on how intellectual property policy is made.

Lojack as a collective good

by Henry on November 22, 2004

My wife and I just bought our first jointly owned car – when we were negotiating the final details at the car dealership, they tried to use the hard sell to get us to buy “Lojack”:http://www.lojack.com, a vehicle recovery system. We didn’t bite (I don’t like hard sells), but I got to thinking afterwards that buying Lojack would have been an economically irrational contribution to a collective good (which is not to say, of course, that it would have been the wrong thing to do).

The system involves a difficult-to-detect tracer that’s put somewhere in your car – then, if the car is stolen, the police will have a much greater chance of recovering it and catching the thieves. The catch is, of course, that it doesn’t offer any visible deterrent to stealing your car – your only individual benefit is the somewhat dubious reward of getting your vehicle back, perhaps in several pieces after it’s been to the chopshop. However, Lojack offers real collective benefits if it works as the manufacturers claim. If you live in an area where there are lots of Lojack users, then car thieves are likely to be collectively deterred (or caught if they aren’t deterred).

The problem is, of course, that there will be a strong likelihood of underprovision of the collective good. If you live in a neighbourhood where there are lots of other Lojack users, then you have little incentive to buy it yourself – you can free ride on your neighbours. If you live in a neighborhood with few or no Lojack users, you still have little incentive to buy it – the marginal improvement that you make to general neighborhood security is of little value to you, compared to the substantial dollop of cash that you would have to pay to install Lojack. My musings came to an abrupt halt, however, when a Google search revealed that my clever idea had already been “written up”:http://www.nber.org/papers/w5928 several years ago by Ian Ayres and Steven Levitt, who suggest that individual Lojack users get less than 10% of its total social benefits (I note for the record that Levitt not only comes up with fun ideas, which is no more than any decent blogger or punter can do; he really excels in finding unusual data sources to test those ideas). As Ayres and Levitt suggest, if you’re an economically rational actor, you should go instead for the Club, which shifts the risk from your car to your neighbour’s.

Welcome back, Bill G.

by Ted on November 22, 2004

Regular Crooked Timber readers will remember Bill Gardner, who joined us as a guest blogger immediately before and during the election to describe the scene on the ground in Ohio.

The bug has bitten him, and he’s started a blog called Maternal & Child Health, about the health of children and their parents. Says Bill:

I want to spur discussion on a broad range of topics in this area. The struggle to improve the health of children and families involves the disciplines of medicine, public health, the social and behavior sciences, economics, the information sciences, and the law.

I hope to provide a forum for discussion among both specialists and laypersons about what determines parental and child health, and how we can improve it. I hope to see discussion of how the health system works at every level, from international public health to the interaction of clinicians and families in an office visit. I would love it if any of the Crooked Timber readership would visit and comment.

These sort of blogs, like the Public Health Press, are rare in that they generate a lot more light than heat. I hope that Bill enjoys himself.