Political Science Fiction

by Henry Farrell on June 14, 2005

“Dan Drezner”:http://www.danieldrezner.com/archives/002117.html pre-empts a post I’ve been toying with writing for the last couple of weeks by discussing the usefulness of Douglas Adams’ “Somebody Else’s Problem Field”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SEP_field to the understanding of international politics. There’ve been books on Star Trek and International Relations Theory, Harry Potter and International Relations Theory etc, etc. Why hasn’t somebody written the Hitchhiker’s Guide to International Relations? Adams made far punchier contributions to the understanding of IR than either Rowling or Rodenberry; not only the SEP Field, but the Babel Fish theory of the effects of globalization.

bq. The Babel fish, said the Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, is small, yellow and leech-like, and probably the oddest thing in the Universe. It feeds on brainwave energy received not from its own carrier but from those around it. It absorbs all unconscious mental frequencies from this brainwave energy to nourish itself with. It then excretes into the mind of its carrier a telepathic matrix formed by combining the conscious thought frequencies with nerve signals picked up from the speech centres of the brain which has supplied them. The practical upshot of all this is that if you stick a Babel fish in your ear you can instantly understand anything said to you in any form of language. The speech patterns you actually hear decode the brainwave matrix which has been fed into your mind by your Babel fish.

bq. The poor Babel fish, by effectively removing all barriers to communication between different races and cultures, has caused more and bloodier wars than anything else in the history of creation.

Cornell Loses a President

by Brian on June 14, 2005

The President of Cornell, Jeffrey Lehman, resigned in somewhat mysterious circumstances at the weekend. Lehman was the first Cornell alum to be President, and it had seemed like he was treating this as a job for life. But after just two years he has jumped off the ship, in his words because the “Board of Trustees and [he] have different approaches to how the university can best realize its long-term vision.” This isn’t maximally plausible. The best story on the background to Lehman’s departure is by “Scott Jaschik at Inside Higher Ed”:http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2005/06/13/cornell. I suspect there is still a bit more to this story to come out.

If you’re a libertarian, how come you’re so mean?

by Chris Bertram on June 14, 2005

At Samizdata the other day, “Natalie Solent wrote”:http://www.samizdata.net/blog/archives/007640.html :

bq. In Milton and Rose Friedman’s “Free to Choose”:http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0156334607/junius-20 it says:


Of course, an egalitarian may protest that he is but a drop in the ocean, that he would be willing to redistribute the excess of his income over his concept of an equal income if everyone else were compelled to do the same. On one level this contention that compulsion would change matters is wrong – even if everyone else did the same, his specific contribution to the income of others would still be a drop in the ocean. His individual contribution would be just as large if he were the only contributor as if he were one of many. Indeed, it would be more valuable because he could target his contribution to go to the very worst off among those he regards as appropriate recipients.

bq. I have a question for all the protestors planning to give up their time and money by going to Edinburgh for the G8 summit. Why is what you are doing better than just giving your spare money to the poor?

Later in comments to the same post she adds:

bq. They could do both: go to Edinburgh and give their spare money away. That’s all their money above what is required for subsistence, of course, because by their own account the Third World is poor because they are rich and money transfer is the way to correct that situation.

[click to continue…]

Geek picks

by Eszter Hargittai on June 14, 2005

Quick links

by Henry Farrell on June 14, 2005

Two interesting articles in the _Chronicle_.

“Peter Monaghan”:http://chronicle.com/temp/reprint.php?id=wz7n53ufckak2an9dpxwljgfo82kc7t7 on film and the difficulties of dealing with Heidegger’s legacy.

and “John B. Thompson”:http://chronicle.com/free/v51/i41/41b00601.htm on the problems of academic publishing, considered from a sociological perspective.

Unions and immigration

by Henry Farrell on June 14, 2005

Two interesting articles in the new issue of the “Boston Review”:http://bostonreview.net/. “Joe Carens”:http://bostonreview.net/BR30.3/carens.html makes a political-theoretical argument that we have an obligation to grant citizenship to most immigrants and their children. “Jennifer Gordon”:http://bostonreview.net/BR30.3/gordon.html argues on practical grounds that those who want strong trade unions should be in favour of granting citizenship rights to undocumented immigrants. She writes about how these workers are exploited in sweatshop situations, and how the threat of alerting immigration authorities is used to enforce compliance and to squash union membership drives. On the one hand, this means that the workers who are most vulnerable to exploitation and most in need of union representation are extremely hard for unions to reach. While new forms of protection – worker centers – have sprung up, they’re structurally disadvantaged and only cover a small number of undocumented immigrants. On the other, the existence of a large working population which has no choice but to accept the conditions that they are offered weakens the bargaining power of organized labour more generally. As Gordon writes:

bq. A serious attack on the very worst work in this country will require immigration reform to allow undocumented workers to legalize their status, removing the greatest source of their vulnerability to exploitation; a genuine commitment to enforcing the worker-protection laws that currently languish on the books; and a significant investment in new forms of organizing—including worker centers.