Graphs Maps Trees Valve

by John Holbo on January 11, 2006

We’re staging a book event at the Valve. The book is Franco Moretti’s Graphs, Maps, Trees, subtitled “abstract models for literary history”. That means: quantitative history, geography and evolutionary theory. It was originally available on the web as articles in the NLR, but no longer. But we’ve got free PDF’s of the chapters temporarily available. At the very least, I think you owe it to yourself to look at the neat graphs plotting the rise of the novel in Britain, Japan, Spain, Italy and Nigeria. (Those would be in “Graphs”.)

Steven Landsburg, perennial bete noire of people who want to say that economists aren’t an entirely baleful influence on public debate, is doing his poor man’s version of Freakonomics again over at Slate and attracting an entirely fair amount of opprobrium for doing so (via Matthew). This week, we have the “counterintuitive” “result” (note two different flavours of scare quotes here; the first set are mocking Landsburg for constantly referring to things as “counterintuitive” when they are actually just silly, while the second set is there in order to indicate that his argument is intended to resemble a result from economics, but is no such thing) that turning off the ventilators of patients too poor to pay their medical bills is the right and even the moral thing to do. I don’t think anyone was ever likely to have been convinced by this, but below I present an argument which might help to sort out cases in which economists might have something useful to add to a debate of this kind, from cases like this where they probably don’t.
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One sided debate

by Henry on January 11, 2006

The _Boston Review_ has posted a very interesting “forum”:http://bostonreview.net/ndf.html#Exit where Barry Posen puts the realist case for getting out of Iraq, and various pundits and political types respond. The WWW version, however, is missing the introductory note from the print version of the forum, which closes with the following.

bq. Unfortunately, however, none of the proponents of the current policy whom we invited to respond – including several who have previously commented publicly on Posen’s views – were prepared to join the debate here. Suffice it to say that we sought a very broad range of opinion in the interests of moving policy forward, and we regret that proponents were unwilling to join in.

Speak, Memory

by Kieran Healy on January 11, 2006

In her hugely successful memoir, Olivia Saves the Circus, Olivia gives a virtuoso account to her school class of how she single-handedly rescued a circus performance (all the performers were sick with ear infections, she claims) by doing everything herself. The book is replete with astonishing but true accounts of Olivia the Lion Tamer, Olivia the Queen of the Trapeze and Olivia and her Amazing Trained Dogs. At the end, Olivia’s teacher suspects something and the following exchange takes place.

In his hugely successful memoir, A Million Little Pieces, James Frey gives a virtuoso account of his life of crime and drug abuse. The book is replete with astonishing but true accounts of Frey getting a root canal without anesthesia, Frey involved in a fatal train accident, and Frey in jail for desperate crimes. At the end, The Smoking Gun provided “detailed evidence”:http://www.thesmokinggun.com/jamesfrey/0104061jamesfrey1.html that Frey’s “memoir” is in fact a highly fictionalized — not to say falsified — version of events. The “following exchange”:http://www.nytimes.com/2006/01/11/books/11memo.html?ex=1294635600&en=d54d1a2e5fa09232&ei=5090&partner=rssuserland&emc=rss takes place between Doubleday, Frey’s publisher, and the _New York Times_:

Two days after an investigative report published online presented strong evidence that significant portions of James Frey’s best-selling memoir, “A Million Little Pieces,” were made up, the book’s publisher issued a statement saying that, in essence, it did not really matter. … “Memoir is a personal history whose aim is to illuminate, by way of example, events and issues of broader social consequence,” said a statement issued by Doubleday … “By definition, it is highly personal. In the case of Mr. Frey, we decided ‘A Million Little Pieces’ was his story, told in his own way, and he represented to us that his version of events was true to his recollections.”

Olivia would be proud.

“The Left” (part 12214332)

by Chris Bertram on January 11, 2006

The online journal Democratiya has an interview with Kanan Makiya. Now Makiya is a smart guy who did much to expose the brutal nature of the Baathist regime in Iraq, so he deserves our respect. Nevertheless, I have to take issue with his narrative about “the left” according to which there was once a body of people who stood for universal values who then became seduced (around the time of the fall of the Soviet Union) by various kinds of relativism and postmodernism. Moreover this intellectual collapse into “relativism” explains, according to Makiya, that same left’s unwillingness to support the invasion of Iraq and the overthrow of Saddam.

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Google video search

by Chris Bertram on January 11, 2006

Just to say, that the new “Google video search”:http://video.google.com/ (and the associated Google Video Player) is fantastic. I particularly enjoyed the search results for “Liverpool” (gets you Sky highlights of the comeback against Milan) , “Steven Gerrard” (his 10 best goals) , and “England” (which got me the Channel 4 report of Ashes victory and Owen’s hat-trick against Germany). I had a bit less success in other categories, but I did find a clip of Buddy Miller playing a festival somewhere. (Obviously, Irish people, Welshmen, Australians, Chelsea fans and people taking an interest in so-called “American sports” would derive more pleasure from other clips.)

Post-Its: Bad For Books?

by John Holbo on January 11, 2006

A friend just told me a story: he left a post-it in a book, returned it to a university library, was soon summoned into the presence of an enraged librarian, informed that post-it’s destroy books and the one he had returned had been sent to the lab for testing. If deemed contaminated with corrosive post-it glue, he would be charged for replacement.

I am very sorry to hear that post-its in books are like facehuggers on all the minor characters in the Alien films; because I use post-its like mad. I have a copy of Schopenhauer’s World as Will and Representation with post-its on the post-its. (So I guess I should figure out whether post-it glue is bad for post-it paper, if I’m planning on saving those post-its for years.) I always assumed I was being kind to books, not writing on/dogearing the pages. I will change my habits if I must but I’ll miss the useful darlings.

Googling I’m getting some confirmation of the ‘post-its are bad’ thesis. But why haven’t I heard this before? Is everyone else in the know? Did the Volokhs already take sides two days ago and I missed the memo? I often walk around carrying library books that flutter like colorful tropical birds. I never noticed anyone glaring at me.

In other news, have you ever noticed how computer and software and general IT advertising often features a picture of a multiethnic, mixed gender group of co-workers, smiling faces all lit by the light of the monitor of the obviously excellently working computer they are gathered around. When in fact the only time five people are ever staring at the same lit computer screen is when one of them is saying something like ‘really? even the off button doesn’t work?’