Hot in the City

by Kieran Healy on March 22, 2005

Draft review of “Heat Wave: A social autopsy of disaster in Chicago”:, by Eric Klinenberg. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Forthcoming in “Imprints”:

In the middle of July of 1995, temperatures in Chicago rose to record heights as a mass of hot, humid air settled over the city. On Thursday the 16th, the high temperature was 106 degrees Fahrenheit, or just over 41 degrees centigrade. The humidity made it feel even hotter, more like 126 degrees (52 degrees centigrade). Chicago prides itself on being “the city that works,” but during the week of the 13th to the 20th, the city’s infrastructure, its administration and its people were tested to breaking point. Like the city’s buildings and roads, Chicago’s government, police force and hospitals buckled in the heat as they tried to deal with the crisis. In the end, epidemiologists found that there had been 739 excess deaths that week. “According to emergency workers, the task [of dealing with these deaths] was equivalent to having one fatal jetliner crash per day for three consecutive days” (p8). Eric Klinenberg describes and analyzes the effects of the heat wave in this ambitious book. His goal is to produce a “social autopsy” of the disaster by looking closely at the “social organs of the city” to “identify the conditions that contributed to the deaths of so many Chicago residents that July” (p11).

[click to continue…]

The Old Rugged Cross

by Henry on March 22, 2005

My various thoughts on l’affaire Volokh are superannuated by now, but at least I can give a relevant reading recommendation. Terry Bisson’s short story, “The Old Rugged Cross,” was first published in Patrick Nielsen Hayden’s Starlight 3 anthology. It’s a re-imagining of Dismas, which speaks directly to punishment as spectacle and the desire to inflict as much torment as possible on the condemned. To say more would be to weaken its impact. I don’t think the story is online anywhere, or I’d link to it.

Wolfowitz for the World Bank!

by Daniel on March 22, 2005

My favourite passage in Peter Griffiths’ book “The Economist’s Tale” is one where he ruminates on the nature of the job, and how it sometimes sends World Bank people a little bit batty.

“From time to time, I have to look a Minister in the eye and say something like; if you carry out this policy, I expect that 200,000 children will die in the city this year. However, as a result of the price mechanism put in place, I would expect that in four years’ time, 400,000 children of farmers will live who would otherwise have died. I do not have any conclusive evidence for this conclusion. The process by which I arrived at this estimate would
certainly not pass the peer review process of any Western economics journal. Nevertheless I strongly advise you to take this course of action. There is a kind of rush that comes with having this kind of power, and some people get addicted to it.

Since it would appear from this that the two insititutional hazards of the World Bank are a) arrogance and b) making big and important decisions based on not enough analysis, then you can sort of see how lots of people might think that Paul Wolfowitz, a man whose name does not exactly bring to mind the phrase “now there’s a humble chap who never makes absurdly optimistic projections with disastrous results”, would not be the right choice to lead it.

However, on careful consideration, I disagree (most of this already posted to the Progressive Economists’ Network, hullo lads, so subscribers to that list can stop reading and get on with finding more stuff for me to plagiarise on this blog).

[click to continue…]


by Henry on March 22, 2005

“n+1” magazine, which sent out its second issue a few days ago, is really very good indeed. It’s a nice mixture of politics and literature – a deliberate antidote in 248 pages to both the self-congratulatory coyness of McSweeneys and the ghastly sincerity of the Believer. The stand-out article in the current issue is Elif Batuman’s piece on Isaac Babel, which is shot through with small fragments of genius. It combines a finely judged assessment of Babel’s work, which makes you want to run out and read him (if, like me, you haven’t done so yet), with an exquisite and devastatingly funny deconstruction of the Babel industry in academia. I suspect that I’d get even more from it if I’d already read Babel’s stories. I especially liked this short passage on cultural identity and alienation (n.b. that Batuman’s point goes far beyond Jewish identity politics – the Irish have a more highly developed, if less historically justified, version of the same trope).

Tolstoy observed, “Every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way,” and he was right: surely everyone on this earth, vale of tears that it is, is entitled to the specificity of his or her suffering. But in the end, I am too deeply invested in the idea that literature can render comprehensible another family’s unhappiness. For this reason, I once became impatient with a colleague I met at a conference in New York, who was insisting that the Red Cavalry cycle would never be totally accessible to me because of Lyutov’s “specifically Jewish alienation.”

“Indeed,” I finally said, “as a six-foot-tall first-generation Turkish woman growing up in New Jersey, I cannot possibly know as much about alienation as you, a short American Jew.”

He nodded. “So you see the problem.”

Unfortunately, this isn’t available on the WWW; you’ll have to go to your bookstore and buy yourself a copy of the magazine (or become a subscriber) if you want to read it – I’d recommend the latter if possible (it’s really a great little magazine).

Schiavo Nazi comparisons

by Chris Bertram on March 22, 2005

Watching from the UK, the Terri Schiavo case makes the US look like a very weird and deeply troubled polity. All those homely and patronising sermons about “government of laws not of men &c”, and then the US Congress passes a law to deal with a particular case and to subvert a prior decision of the judiciary, just so that Republicans can grandstand to their Christian fundamentalist base (see “Obsidian Wings for the best commentary so far”: ). And all this signed into law by a President who, “when governor of Texas, approved a measure to switch off life support where people didn’t have the money to pay any more”: . I note, by the way, that the so-called “right-to-life” brigade have been “pretty free”: “with their use of”: “Nazi analogies”: on this one. Since any Nazi-comparison (however casual) involving George W. Bush, Ariel Sharon, Daily Mail journalists or Abu Ghraib elicits instant howls of outrage from the British-based neocon cheerleaders, I expect we’ll be hearing from them shortly. Or not.


by Kieran Healy on March 22, 2005

Hello again everyone. By “resident guru”:, Henry means I am the person who gets to ask better-informed people questions like this: Does anyone know how to get the “ComPreVal”: plugin working when “Staticize”: is also installed? The former previews and validates comments while the latter turns on page caching, which helps when the server is under heavy load. But they don’t play together: when someone tries to preview a comment, I think the cached version of the page keeps appearing rather than a new version including the preview.

Back in business

by Henry on March 22, 2005

After several days in limbo, we appear to be back in business. Crooked Timber now has its own dedicated server, which should mean that we don’t run into the same problem again in future. Kieran, who is our resident guru for all things technical, has rejigged the setup, and installed a plugin which should reduce server load substantially in the future. We are grateful to you all for your patience – we owe a particular debt of thanks to the CT readers who generously donated money to help us get back up. Between those donations (which have been applied exclusively to CT’s running costs) and our own resources, we are now on a pretty good footing. In retrospect, this is something which had probably been in the offing for a while. We now have quite a large readership, which we’re extremely grateful for, but which also means that we now have rather greater technical needs than we did when we began this enterprise back in 2003. Again, thank you all.

AddHealth Returns

by Kieran Healy on March 22, 2005

Nothing like teen sex to get sociology in the newspapers. Here’s “more interesting stuff”:,1,964952.story?coll=la-headlines-nation from the “AddHealth dataset”:, and more particularly from “Peter Bearman”: and “Hannah Brueckner”: This is the most recent in a line of papers on abstinence pledges and adolescent sexual activity more generally. A summary from the “L.A. Times”:,1,964952.story?coll=la-headlines-nation:

bq. Young adults who as teenagers took pledges not to have sex until marriage were just as likely to contract a venereal disease as people who didn’t make the promise, according to a study in the Journal of Adolescent Health. … The study found that 88% of sexually active people who took the pledge had intercourse before marriage. Sexually active pledgers were less likely to use condoms the first time they had sex, Bruckner said. The study found that people who took an abstinence pledge were less likely to get tested and treated for venereal disease. They may then be infected longer than other people.

An earlier paper, “Promising the Future: Virginity Pledges and First Intercourse”: addressed the question of whether abstinence movements like “True Love Waits” worked like they were supposed to:

bq. Since 1993, in response to a movement sponsored by the Southern Baptist Church, over 2.5 million adolescents have taken public “virginity” pledges, in which they promise to abstain from sex until marriage. This paper explores the effect of those pledges on the transition to first intercourse. Adolescents who pledge are much less likely to have intercourse than adolescents who do not pledge. The delay effect is substantial. On the other hand, the pledge does not work for adolescents at all ages. Second, pledging delays intercourse only in contexts where there are some, but not too many, pledgers. The pledge works because it is embedded in an identity movement. Consequently, the pledge identity is meaningful only in contexts where it is at least partially nonnormative. Consequences of pledging are explored for those who break their promise. Promise breakers are less likely than others to use contraception at first intercourse.

In short, true love doesn’t wait, except to when it comes to going to the clinic.