From the monthly archives:

July 2005

The Devil’s Music

by Kieran Healy on July 31, 2005

I’m gradually making my way back to Tucson from Australia. Free advice: if you can avoid taking a flight across the Pacific oecean with a small child suffering from a cold and teething pain, go right ahead and avoid it. I am presently at an undisclosed location in the Pacific Northwest. Outside the hotel is a little plaza. A band has been playing Christian rock music to a small crowd. Lots of terrible, low-quality, saccharine power ballad stuff, complete with sexualized double-talk. (“There was a man in my room last night … ” Guess who it was.) Like Creed on valium. Hard to imagine, I know. They just closed out the show with a version of “I’m a Believer.” By far the liveliest song they’ve played, but with the lyrics changed. (“Then I saw _his_ face,” etc.) I suppose _something_ has to counterbalance the fact that a large chunk of the best music ever written is Christian music.

Training to run a 5K

by Eszter Hargittai on July 31, 2005

Inspired by Chris’ posts about PledgeBank, I decided to set one up myself [password: running]. The silly part about mine is that my pledge has no collective action problem since one person making a decision to take on the action would achieve its intended goal, which is to add some additional exercise to one’s life. Nonetheless, I was intrigued by the service so I gave it a try.

My pledge has to do with training to run a 5K. I have been meaning to take on running, but have never had the necessary enthusiasm. I thought if I had a group of people training at the same time that would offer the inspiration I am lacking. I thought a dozen people training together – not in any geographical proximity per se – would do the trick.

I sent the pledge around to friends a few weeks ago. I have “only” gotten five to sign up. I need six more and the deadline is tomorrow. It’s not that my friends are lazy. It’s actually the opposite. So many of my friends are already running marathons (no joke!) that this pledge is irrelevant for them. I thought I’d see if any CT readers have been contemplating such an exercise regime and wanted to come on board. Any takers?

What I’ve been reading

by John Quiggin on July 30, 2005

I’ve decided to do a pre-announcement review of the candidates for the 2005 Hugo Award for best novel. I’ll post a draft before too long, I hope.

But one vision of the future disturbs me. I was reading Charles Stross’ Iron Sunrise (a strong contender, but I liked his Singularity Sky better), set in the 24th century, and he introduces a character who had inherited the masthead of The Times and announced his profession as “warblogger”.

I don’t really suppose our little virtual community is going to last a thousand years, or even 300, but just in case, can’t we find some way to agree on a better name than “blogger”?

Hybrids

by Jon Mandle on July 30, 2005

I recently traded in a 2000 Toyota 4-Runner to buy a new Prius. It’s great. My gas mileage tripled – over its 1500 miles so far, it has averaged around 50 mpg. The sight-lines take a little getting used to – or maybe it’s just the adjustment after climbing down from an SUV – but it handles well and I’ve had no problem with power. I’m very happy with it and its “super ultra low emissions.”

It will also be nice to claim a tax credit next April. However, starting next year, a provision of the new Energy Bill will cap at 60,000 per company the number of hybrids that can claim a credit. “This year alone, Toyota projects it will sell 140,000 hybrids.”

During the two quarters immediately after the cars and trucks of the automakers become ineligible for the full credit, buyers would receive 50 percent of the credit. The next two quarters after that, the credit is 25 percent. The credit is phased out entirely at the end of the fifth full quarter after the automaker sells 60,000 hybrids or advanced diesels.

“By capping the credit, Congress has limited the incentives available to companies that have been at the forefront of hybrid technology” – namely, Toyota and Honda. Way to get those incentives right, guys!

Meanwhile, Toyota is taking full advantage of its remaining incentives. The new Lexus hybrid uses its additional electric power not to increase its gas mileage, which in real world conditions stays exactly the same as its gas-powered equivalent, but to boost its horsepower. (However, the additional power seems to be largely offset by the increased weight of the hybrid system.) And, yes, it still does qualify for the tax incentive – up to the 60,000 cut-off, of course.

Botuli gratia botulorum

by Henry on July 30, 2005

From the back of a packet of “Hans All-Natural Chicken and Apple Sausages”:http://hansallnatural.com/dir/products/itempage.aspx?ItemID=34, I discover the artistic urge that led to the creation of these distinguished offal tubes.

bq. While touring alluring ocean fronts and majestic alpine passages, an epiphany occurred to Hans: create organic sausages as natural as the glistening of the snow and as genuine as the sunset’s glow.

Not quite up there with the “European bake shop”:http://www.kieranhealy.org/blog/archives/000159.html, but a noble ambition nonetheless.

Diving into infinite

by Eszter Hargittai on July 30, 2005

These two image collections don’t have to constitute a time sink depending on when you are able to tear yourself away from them.

Friday Dismal Thread

by Ted on July 29, 2005

I recently made a one-night trip from Houston to Chicago with very little notice. I managed to save almost $200 off of the lowest-price plane ticket by adding a hotel room at a Super 8 outside of Gary, IN, which I didn’t use.

A quick look at Travelocity shows me that it was no fluke- for brief trips with very little notice, it’s much cheaper to book a flight to Chicago if you book a room at a Super 8 at the same time. At the time that I originally wrote this post, Delta would sell a flight from Houston to Chicago for $616 without a hotel room, $340 with. If I needed to leave tomorrow, I could buy a ticket on American for $606 without a hotel room, or $350 with.

How does this make sense? I can imagine that, all other things being equal, it would be worth a few bucks to an underutilized hotel to boost its occupancy rates. They might gain a customer for the future. However, even if the hotel in question incurred no costs at all for a housing a guest, I see no way that the hotel could derive $200+ worth of benefit. I must be missing something obvious, but I can’t figure out what.

My department is hiring

by Eszter Hargittai on July 29, 2005

My department – the Department of Communication Studies at Northwestern – is looking to hire up to two faculty members (tenure-track, open rank) this coming year for positions starting in Fall, 2006. We are especially interested in candidates with expertise in either of two areas: social network analysis and computer-mediated communication. Details below the fold.

[click to continue…]

The Ribena test

by John Quiggin on July 29, 2005

In the July edition of Prospect Erik Tarloff reviews What Good are the Arts? by John Carey. Tarloff’s critique (subscription-only link I think, but give it a try) is summed up in the write-off

If I prefer Ribena to Château Lafite, does that make me a fool? No. It’s just a matter of taste—as it is for art. That is John Carey’s thesis, and it’s wrong

I haven’t read Carey’s book yet, but as far as I’m concerned, Tarloff is wrong. Not having read the book, I won’t assert that Carey is right, but he is certainly raising the right questions.

The difference between ‘Art’ (I’ll defend the scare quotes later) and mass-produced cultural products is, in most respects, just like the difference between Château Lafite and Ribena. One takes a lot of skill and indefinable talent to produce, and an experienced palate to appreciate , and the other is cheaply produced in bulk and reliably appeals to basic tastes we all possess[1]

In fact, this comparison is too favorable to ‘Art’ since a lot of stuff produced under that banner, and accepted by its official representatives, has none of the merits of Château Lafite, while lots of things that don’t make into the canon are subtle and complex.

[click to continue…]

IRA says its armed campaign is over

by Kieran Healy on July 28, 2005

The IRA has “announced”:http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/northern_ireland/4720863.stm that its “armed campaign”:http://www.guardian.co.uk/Northern_Ireland/Story/0,2763,1537901,00.html is “over”:http://www.nytimes.com/2005/07/28/international/28cnd-ira.html?ex=1280203200&en=7a0719b5ff9dea7b&ei=5090&partner=rssuserland&emc=rss. “Slugger O’Toole”:http://www.sluggerotoole.com/ is a good place to go to get a roundup of reactions and analysis. The second-guessing and tealeaf-reading is well underway already. Here’s the first part of the statement:

The leadership of Óglaigh na hÉireann has formally ordered an end to the armed campaign. This will take effect from 4pm this afternoon.

All IRA units have been ordered to dump arms. All Volunteers have been instructed to assist the development of purely political and democratic programmes through exclusively peaceful means. Volunteers must not engage in any other activities whatsoever.

This is a big development.

[click to continue…]

Cultivating ignorance

by Henry on July 28, 2005

Another post from a Savage Minds contributor, Tak, on a “different blog”:http://www.froginawell.net/japan/?p=106, talking about the Diamond controversy. Other Savage Minds types have denounced Diamond as “no nothing anti-racist” and “quasi-racist” (they seem to be overlapping categories); Tak says that he’s just plain racist. The basis for this accusation? First: Diamond says “in an article”:http://www.kimsoft.com/2004/japanese_roots.htm that the Japanese are the most distinctive major country in terms of their culture and environment. But Japanese imperialists too say that the Japanese are distinctive in terms of their culture and environment. In Tak’s own words, “Stop right there, mister, because to those who know Japan’s modern history, he has just reproduced the rhetoric of Japanese imperialism!” In addition, there are “frightening parallels” between Diamond’s belief that physical environment is an important causal variable, and the work of a racist Japanese author, who, according to “some Japanese critics” believed that environmental factors were responsible for Japanese racial superiority. _Quod erat demonstrandum_. Or something. Second, Diamond “perpetuates racism by associating a group of people with specific traits,” (i.e. cultivating rice!) and holds to the bizarre thesis that “rice cultivation gives a military advantage over hunter & gatherer people.”

This is beyond sloppy. You don’t fling around accusations of racism in public forums without serious evidence. Tak doesn’t have serious evidence, or, as far as I can see, any evidence whatsoever. Instead he has a selection of egregious misreadings and slurs-by-association (you can judge for yourself whether Tak’s piece is a fair summation of Diamond’s article; the latter is a short, easy read). I simply don’t understand what is going on here with Tak and with the other Savage Minds who have contributed to this debate. It’s fine and good to challenge Diamond’s evidence and arguments with other evidence and counter arguments. That’s what academic debate should be about. It’s also fine to challenge particular styles of thinking if they’re unable to come to grips with certain kinds of phenomena. But if you want to claim that certain kinds of reasoning are inherently racist and repugnant to right thinking people, which is what seems to be going on here, you had better have strong evidence to back up your accusations. So far, all I’ve seen a lot of vaguely worded innuendo. There’s some underlying deformation of thinking here, and I’m not sure what’s driving it.

Update: Kerim at Savage Minds offers a “possible explanation”:http://savageminds.org/2005/07/26/guns-germs-and-steel-links/.

bq. If we anthropologists seem a little to ready to throw around the term “racist” it is not because we are “jealous” of other disciplines … it is because we are all too aware of our own history as a discipline. Anthropologists were the foot-soldiers of colonialism, promoting theories of racial superiority to justify colonial expansion. As a result, we are sensitive to the ways in which specific interests can be served in the name of “objective” science.

This seems to me to be at least part of the story – anthropology’s complex historical relationship with imperialism is indeed one of the mainsprings of the discipline’s identity. But while it helps explain, it doesn’t _give license_ to Ozma and Tak to fling about poorly sourced accusations of racism like confetti (Diamond very clearly is not promoting any sort of theory of racial superiority, or anything like it).

Update 2: See this “post”:http://weblogs.swarthmore.edu/burke/?p=68 by Tim Burke, which does a nice – and careful – job of criticizing Diamond.

The Yammys

by Eszter Hargittai on July 28, 2005

Yahoo! responds to Google Video with The Yammys aka the Yahoo! Video Search Awards launched yesterday. Get those creative juices flowing in the following categories: Road Trips, Office Humor, Bloopers, Pets and Misc (so just about anything else). It’s a nice publicity idea to get some attention for their video search service. That is, assuming you – or anyone you know who likes to send around links:) – get a kick out of watching a dog on a skateboard. [thanks]

Academic lectures and discussions available online

by Eszter Hargittai on July 28, 2005

The Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton has launched a new initiative to make available audio and video recordings of academic lectures and events. For now, the University Channel is focusing on public and international affairs, because, as the site claims, “this is an area which lends itself most naturally to a many-sided discussion”. Perhaps the idea is to have people link to the material on the site and then host discussions on their own blogs or classrooms as I do not see a place for the suggested “many-sided discussion” on the UC site itself. The scope of materials that will be included seems quite broad judging from what is already available (IT, religion, politics, etc.).

It is certainly nice to have one central repository of such materials. If the project succeeds in getting lots of places on board and hosting material from all over then it has the potential to be a great service. In fact, the collaborators it already has lined up are already a good sign of its potential. (Then again, some people have suggested [see first comment] that “text is the only useful information on the Internet”.;)

A happy day

by John Quiggin on July 28, 2005

Under John Howard, who built on precedents established by the preceding Labor government, Australia has adopted some of the harshest anti-refugee policies in the developed world, centred on the policy of mandatory detention of asylum seekers (including children) without trial in camps located either in remote areas or (under deals driven with dependent client states) outsourced to Pacific Islands. This policy was popular to begin with – it won Howard the 2001 election – but as the panic of 2001 has subsided and the evils of the policy have emerged, public opinion has shifted against it, and the worst aspects of the policy have now been abandoned.

The release of the remaining children being held in detention brings an end to the worst single part of this sad and shameful chapter in our history. At the same time, the oppressive use of Temporary Protection Visas has been rejected by the Federal Court. I hope the government will not appeal against this decision, and that we can put the whole sorry episode behind us, and start the search for a more rational and humane solution to the problem of responding to asylum seekers.

Cos it’s too darn hot

by Kieran Healy on July 28, 2005

Flickr’s photos tell me that it’s cold and sunny in “Canberra”:http://www.flickr.com/photos/1arc/28680138/. I knew that already. The Lobby Bar is closing in “Cork”:http://www.flickr.com/photos/docaoimh/28704801/, which comes as a shock. (It’s a great venue.) And the Saguaros are flowering in “Tucson”:http://www.flickr.com/photos/notna/28514213/. That means it’s really hot in Arizona right now — “dangerously hot”:http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/4723233.stm, in fact — just as I’m about to return there. One advantage of desert life, though, is that it’s possible to live in a more-or-less solar powered house. Even though the materials needed to build a house like this aren’t really that expensive anymore, few are built because housing construction is a lot like film-making. The difficulty of bringing together so many specialized contractors for what’s essentially a small-scale, often one-off project means that a lot of energy goes in to ensuring that all the bits hook up together in a reliable, predictable manner. The paradoxical result is that a lot of fluid network activity amongst creative individuals produces a tendency to conservatism and a bias against innovation in the actual outputs. Reconfiguring some bit of the house (the cooling system, say) means that a bunch of other people back along the supply chain have to adjust their standard practices, and they don’t want to. Symmetrically, prospective buyers may be nervous about the resale prospects of such a house in a market where the demand for innovation is strictly limited. So in much the same way that most films are boring and cookie-cutter, so are most houses, despite the fluidity and high potential for creativity inherent to the enterprise. Nicole Biggart “makes this argument”:http://ciee.ucop.edu/docs/market_struc.pdf for commercial buildings, and large parts of the housing market seem similar.

There is still a fair amount of innovation. It’s just difficult to get it incorporated into standard plans for homes. Tucson has “many examples”:http://www.solarinstitute.org/innovative_home_tour/index.html of solar-powered or otherwise energy efficient homes, including one of the few “zero-energy homes”:http://www.toolbase.org/tertiaryT.asp?TrackID=&DocumentID=3688&CategoryID=69 in the country. The ZEH is _net_ zero energy, of course: it’s designed to produce what it needs via solar panels, and its overall energy consumption is very low. An “ordinary” solar home is not a ZEH, but if its built right it’s very cheap to run. If things go according to plan, I’ll be living in one come November.