From the monthly archives:

February 2006

Create your own light installation

by Eszter Hargittai on February 19, 2006

Time Sink!

Let’s get those creative juices flowing. The Hayward Gallery is hosting Dan Flavin: A Retrospective (this seems to be the one that was at Chicago’s MCA recently) and has a fun interactive site to go along with it. You can create your own light installation dedications and add them to the pool. You can view other people’s here.

Playing with lights

If you send yourself a copy of the image you create then you’ll have a URL to it like the one for the image above. Feel free to post a link to your creations in the comments.

Most “economists” aren’t

by John Q on February 18, 2006

I’ve always thought that an economist is someone who understands opportunity cost. If there is one thing a first-year undergraduate economics course should teach, it’s an understanding of this concept. So it’s alarming to discover that most members of a sample drawn from participants in the profession’s most important conference are not, at least by my definition, economists.

Via Harry Clarke, I found this paper by Paul Ferraro and Laura Taylor (guest registration or subscription required). Ferraro and Taylor presented their volunteer subjects with this question:

Please circle the best answer to the following question:

‘You won a free ticket to see an Eric Clapton concert (which has no resale value). Bob Dylan is performing on the same night and is your next-best alternative. Tickets to see Dylan cost $40. On any given day, you would be willing to pay up to $50 to see Dylan. Assume there are no other costs of seeing either performer. Based on this information, what is the opportunity cost of seeing Eric Clapton?

(a) $0
(b) $10
(c) $40
(d) $50.

Take some time to think before looking over the fold

[click to continue…]

Folies Berlesques

by Henry Farrell on February 18, 2006

Yesterday’s “Economist”: and “Financial Times”: have uncannily similar stories about the reasons for Berlusconi’s political success.
[click to continue…]

Blogs and progressive politics

by Henry Farrell on February 18, 2006

“Lakshmi Chaudry”: has an interesting piece in _In These Times_ on whether or not blogs can revolutionize progressive politics. Interesting – but, I think, based on a flawed premise. Chaudry’s argument, as I understand it, is that blogs aren’t going to be able to fulfil their promise of creating a vital new progressive movement, based on the netroots, unless it becomes more internally diverse, embracing women, minorities and (something which not many people focus on) people from the working class. Lakshmi seems to buy in, at least in part, to the argument that blogs can be an

bq. inherently democratic, interactive and communal medium, with the potential to instantaneously tap into the collective intellectual, political and financial resources of tens of millions of fellow Americans to create a juggernaut for social change.

Where she disagrees with lefty blog evangelists is in her belief that:

bq. any such strategy is unlikely to work if those in charge of crafting it—be they bloggers, politicians or so-called netizens—show little interest in expanding the reach of the progressive blogosphere to include the largest, most diverse audience possible. If the blogs are unable to bridge the class divide online, there is no reason to think they can create a grassroots movement that can do so in the real world.

This seems to me to be based on the flawed premise that blogs can be the heart of a genuine mass-movement, with appeal to working class voters as well as politics geeks. Blogs are still an elite phenomenon, with a relatively low readership among non-elites. There are a lot of inflated numbers being thrown around – the most “convincing estimate”: that I’ve seen suggests that the biggest political blog around, the Daily Kos, had less than 1% of the readership of the New York Times in the middle of last year (it has probably grown since). Blogs are politically important, not because they are the nucleus of a mass movement, or a new form of radical democracy, but because they are read by journalists, federal law clerks, political activists and others who may then be influenced by them. While Chaudry is right that the blogosphere needs more diversity, this isn’t because a greater diversity of voices among bloggers is likely to make blogs more appealing, say, to working class voters. It’s because blogs do sometimes frame political questions for the media, and to the extent that they’re mostly written by white college educated males who are interested in technology, they’re liable to skew politics a but in favour of the interests of aforesaid college educated males, and against the interests of other groups with different priorities. It seems to me that political blogs are a little better than print media or TV at, say, taking trade unions seriously, but not so much that we should be patting ourselves on the back or anything.

No Extra Push Required

by Kieran Healy on February 18, 2006

Last we heard from Andrew Sullivan, he was “hyping up the danger”: of clerical thugs being able to blackmail western democracies into dismantling themselves. I suggested that, insofar as civil liberties were being eroded, this was something elites in these countries were doing to themselves. Now I see that he’s come up with an example from (noted democracy) Russia of, in his words “How Muslim Blackmail Works”: One of Russia’s leading Muslim clerics said that anyone planning to turn out for a gay pride parade in Moscow “should be flogged”. The parade was canceled, and QED says Sullivan. Except that, as “Cathy Young argues”: the news reports actually show a more complicated picture. The short version is that rather than being canceled in response to this pressure it was vetoed by the city government, and the muslim cleric was joined in his opposition to the parade by the Mayor, the local Russian Orthodox Bishop and others. Astonishingly, Putin’s Russia turns out not to be such a haven for free speech, civil society or popular dissent. Who’d have thought it?

I was gonna complain about a post that was up … on this blog … about Democrats are traitors. Hell with it. It went like this.


Yep, that’s how it went. I nabbed the graphic from ‘dial B for blog’. Which is good, but not as funny as this, on a day to day basis.


by Chris Bertram on February 18, 2006

JAAIS is short for Jane-Austen-Adaptation-Inauthenticity-Syndrome. Sufferers can be of either sex, though most are female. The symptoms are a craving to see the latest TV or film adaptation of a Jane Austen novel, accompanied by anticipatory worries that “I bet it is going to be awful”. If the victim watches the adaptation at home, perhaps on a rented DVD, she feels the compulsion to keep up a commentary on the inauthenticity of the costumes, performances, location and on unwarranted departures from the original novel. “Mr Bennet was never at that ball!” or “They would never have done _that_ !” or “She’s far too old!” are standard remarks. There is no known cure.

I had to help someone suffering from a particularly bad case of JAAIS last night. When we then played the “alternate US ending” to “Pride and Prejudice”: — the awful extra syrupy gooey ending that was demanded by test audiences in Des Moines — I thought I was going to witness a seizure! No doubt the special super-schlocky ending was inflicted all over North America, so that even unsuspecting Canadian JAAIS sufferers were caught.


by John Q on February 18, 2006

My wife forwarded this sequence of photos that are doing the rounds, headed “Irish Salvage”.

No doubt eagle-eyed Irish Timberites and readers will be able to point out that the truck is of a make used exclusively in the UK, or that the superscript on the manifest is of a type not found in the Irish localisation of MS Word.

Update: As expected, too good to be true. The second spill is faked. Still, it’s pretty funny.

[click to continue…]

How a Stupid Bill becomes a Law

by Kieran Healy on February 17, 2006

“A bill”: presently working its way through the state legislature here in Arizona proposes that universities and colleges be required to “provide a student with alternative coursework if the student deems regular coursework to be personally offensive,” that is, where “a course, coursework, learning material or activity is personally offensive if it conflicts with the student’s beliefs or practices in sex, morality or religion.” The “Arizona Daily Star”: and “Inside Higher Ed”: have more. Although Arizona is home to the Grand Canyon, the bill was prompted not by evolutionary theory but by “Rick Moody’s”: novel, _The Ice Storm_. No, really. Someone didn’t like the description of the wife-swapping key party in the book, which you will recall from the book and film is not exactly full of admiration and cheerful praise for the well-balanced people participating in it. (And even if it were, etc …) “There’s no defense of this book,” said State Senator Thayer Verschoor ==(R)==, “I can’t believe that anyone would come up here and try to defend that kind of material.” (I heard recently that a book by some filthy-minded Irish guttersnipe containing graphic descriptions of bowel movements, urination, masturbation and sexual intercourse is on the syllabus of many college English courses. I can’t believe that, either.) Senator Jake Flake (R – Snowflake. No, really) partly disagreed, but mainly I wanted to mention that his name was Jake Flake, of Snowflake, AZ.

Since I’ve been teaching at the University of Arizona, my feeling is that my undergraduate students have been personally offended mostly by the reading and writing requirements for my courses. So in the (hopefully) unlikely event that this legislation passes, maybe I’ll have to provide an alternative “No Work/Sleep All You Like” option for them.

Best TV miniseries

by Chris Bertram on February 17, 2006

Following on from Kieran’s “post about British and US TV”: the other day, I started thinking about the best “TV miniseries/drama serial”: ever, by which I mean just the best drama series telling a story over a limited number of episodes. My list of five contains four British examples and one German. Maybe I’m just parochial, but maybe this is a format the British excel in and the Americans don’t. That’s my hunch. So here’s my list (with annotations). Post rival suggestions in comments.

1. “Heimat”: . Does this count? It is long by miniseries standards, but Edgar Reitz’s story of the the Simon family and the village of Schabbach from the end of the First World War to the 1970s is simply the best thing I’ve ever seen on TV. The sequels, Heimat 2 and Heimat 3 are also pretty good, and some think Heimat 2 the best of the three. They’re wrong, but non-culpably so.

2. “The Edge of Darkness”: . Mid 80s nuclear drama set in Britain as policeman Bob Peck goes after the killers of his daughter (Joanne Whalley) with help from rogue CIA man Joe Don Baker. Eric Clapton soundtrack with frequent playings of Willie Nelson’s “Time of the Preacher” thrown in (the daughter’s favourite record). Tense, paranoid, and secured Peck his role in Jurassic Park.

3. “The Singing Detective”: . Who could watch the pathethic Hollywood remake after this? Michael Gambon, Joanne Whalley (again!) and a sense of growing incredulity that the plot can actually come together. Complete with Dennis Potter’s trademark use of music and song as the key to the unconscious. His best work.

4. “Our Friends in the North”: . Currently being shown again in the UK. From 1960s idealism, through local government and police corruption, vice, and the miner’s strike. Christopher Ecclestone and Gina McKee both superb.

5. “Traffik”: . Why did they ever make the crummy Hollywood version with Douglas and Zeta-Jones? Lindsay Duncan gives an ice-cold performance as the wife as the various threads come together in the UK, Germany and Pakistan. Shostakovich’s 8th String Quartet as the backing music.

I note the dates for these are 1984, 1985, 1986, 1996 and 1989, suggesting the 1980s as a golden age for the format. I might have included Bleasdale’s “Boys from the Blackstuff”: (1982) or “GBH”: (1991) on a different day.

An Unlikely Peon

by Kieran Healy on February 17, 2006

Observed in the wild, from a book I was reading this morning:

bq. Adam Smith … opens _The Wealth of Nations_ with an unlikely peon to a pin factory.

Sounds like the first few scenes in a Dickensian novel — the unlikely peon (because, as will be revealed later, he is really the heir to a large fortune) is sent by his bitter guardian to work cutting, drawing and polishing pins. Or, seeing as it’s Smith, doing only one of these things.

Clever ad

by Eszter Hargittai on February 17, 2006

Ebay exchange point at the Zurich Hauptbahnhof Train stations often (or sometimes?) have meeting points where people can arrange – surprise-surprise – to meet up with others. This can be helpful if you don’t know the train station at all since you can just decide to meet at the point and then look for it once there. It’s also helpful if you do know the train station since you can avoid having to address the question of specific meeting location every time you’re meeting up with someone.

I was at the Zürich train station last week and noticed an interesting twist on all this: the ebay Xchange point. I had never seen one before. It looks like a really clever way to advertise the service. Not only is it an ad for the auction site, it is also a very helpful place for people to meet up to exchange items bought and sold on ebay. While people could just say “see you at the meeting point” that’s less helpful when you have never met the person before and since the regular meeting point tends to get quite crowded at times, it’s useful to have a separate location for these exchanges.

Anyone know of other such points elsewhere? Extra credit for having pictures of other such locations.:)

Maher Arar

by Henry Farrell on February 16, 2006

Maher Arar’s case against the US government got “thrown out of court”: today. From my very limited understanding of the law, this wasn’t a surprising result, which isn’t to say that it’s not very disappointing. Both the US and Canadian governments appear to have behaved appallingly. The opinion (“long PDF”: is here; a press release from Arar’s attorneys is “here”: People who want to refresh their memory regarding Arar’s story can’t do better than to go back to Katherine of Obsidian Wings’ “synopsis”: of what happened (Katherine is very sorely missed).

Normally I do my comicsblogging at J&B. But this is just too important. (Tip to Farber, who also provides an executive summary, which unaccountably omits discounted Hulk Hands in the bathroom stall.)

Vault radio

by Chris Bertram on February 16, 2006

I’m currently listening to Bob Dylan and The Band, Rainy Day Women #12 & 35, 30 January 1974, Madison Square Garden on “Vault Radio”: . The stream is from the archive of live shows recorded by Bill Graham at the Fillmore and other venues … now on to Jefferson Airplane, “White Rabbit”, Fillmore Auditorium, Feb 1967 … Elvis Costello, “Radio Radio”, Winterland 1978 … this is too good!

Via “Flop Eared Mule”: . Thanks Amanda!