From the monthly archives:

April 2006

Speaking Truthiness to Power

by Henry Farrell on April 30, 2006

“Crooks and Liars”: has the video of Colbert at the White House Press Correspondents’ Dinner.

Galbraith dies

by Henry Farrell on April 29, 2006

“John Kenneth Galbraith”: died yesterday. I spent several weeks earlier this year reading the “Parker biography”: which I enjoyed (although it was surely a little prolix). He comes across as having been a surprisingly patrician character for someone who grew up in a small town in rural Canada – he enjoyed hugger-muggering with the powerful, and according to his biographer never once changed a nappy for any of his several children. But for all that, he was prepared to risk serious damage to his career in pursuit of truth, issuing, for example, a quite damning indictment of the Allied bombing of civilian targets in Japan when he was director of the United States Strategic Bombing Survey and might have been expected to toe the official line. He also showed himself entirely willing to break with political friends when he thought they were in the wrong. Whether he was a first rate economist or not (and he may very well have been; Brad DeLong for one “has suggested”: that his contribution has been sorely under-rated), he was surely an absolutely first rate public intellectual, and genuinely witty to boot (Dan is fond of quoting his dictum that “The modern conservative is engaged in one of man’s oldest exercises in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness. “) Someone who will be missed.

(Incidentally, there is one rather peculiar claim in the _NYT_ obituary: that

bq. Mr. Galbraith argued that technology mandated long-term contracts to diminish high-stakes uncertainty. He said companies used advertising to induce consumers to buy things they had never dreamed they needed. Other economists, like Gary S. Becker and George J. Stigler, both Nobel Prize winners, countered with proofs showing that advertising is essentially informative rather than manipulative.

“Proofs showing” only works here for restricted notions of ‘proofs,’ and decidedly odd notions of ‘showing.’)

How Can a Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live?

by Jon Mandle on April 29, 2006

This is the title of a 1929 song by Blind Alfred Reed that was covered by Ry Cooder on his first album. Bruce Springsteen now has a version that includes one original verse and three new ones, (apparently) written in preparation for his performance at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. The key lyric:

He says “me and my old school pals had some might high times down here
And what happened to you poor black folks, well it just ain’t fair”
He took a look around gave a little pep talk, said “I’m with you” then he took a little walk
Tell me, how can a poor man stand such times and live?

It’s not included on his new cd, but is available (at a low bitrate), recorded live at one of his rehearsals, here (turn down your volume and stop the tracks that play automatically – then play the tune in the format of your choice.)

Republicans for demogrants

by John Q on April 29, 2006

No one much has anything good to say about the Republican proposal for a $100 rebate to all taxpayers to offset the impact of rising gasoline prices. There are some potential traps, but from what I’ve seen so far, my biggest objection is that the Democrats didn’t propose it first.

Obviously, a grant of this kind will have no impact on behavior or on markets for oil and gasoline (there’s not even a requirement to show that you spent the $100, from what I can see), but that’s a good thing. The increase in prices is sending a signal that oil is scarce and the rebate does nothing to change this, while partly offsetting the income effects of higher prices.

In distributional terms, this is the first time since Bush was elected (in fact, the first time I can recall) that we’ve had a tax cut proposal from the Republicans that wasn’t overwhelmingly skewed towards the top 1 per cent of income earners. In fact, a uniform cash payment to everyone (a ‘demogrant’ in the jargon of tax-welfare wonks) is a policy usually found on the left of politics.

Of course there has to be a catch somewhere. One point I’m not clear on is whether “taxpayers” effectively means everyone (since everyone pays taxes) or whether it’s only personal income taxpayers, and how many people would miss out on the latter definition. The other is that the proposal is tied in some way to drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge: I don’t understand the processes enough to know whether this package can be unbundled. Finally, it’s another $10 billion on the deficit, and that’s not a good thing. But at this point in the process, it’s just rounding error. However, the deficit problem is resolved, $10 billion here or there isn’t going to make a lot of difference.

Wikipedia doubling time

by John Q on April 28, 2006

The English language version of Wikipedia had its one-millionth article on 8 March, and has recently passed 1.1 million, 50 days later. That gives an implied doubling time of about a year. The doubling time seems to be fairly stable, since the 500 000 mark was reached in March 2005, and 250 000 in April 2004.

A straightforward extrapolation gives a billion articles in 2016 (and a trillion in 2026). I planned to write something about this, but it seems much more appropriate to leave it to the collective wisdom of the blogosphere.

On a vaguely related point, thanks to commenters Matt Austern and others on my scale post who pointed me to Powers of Ten. I really like this kind of thing, so feel free to nominate more of the same.

Update over the fold

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Unintended Consequences

by Harry on April 28, 2006

David Beito reminds conservatives that they can’t always get what they want. Apparently Michelle Malkin complained vociferously about a math teacher at Bellvue Community College asking the following question:

“Condoleezza holds a watermelon just over the edge of the roof of the 300-foot Federal Building, and tosses it up with a velocity of 20 feet per second.”

As a result of the campaign by Malkin and others the teacher was upbraided, the President of the College expanded the administrative staff dealing with diversity issues and the consequence of the whole thing has been a nice bounty for another diversity expert:

In response to Malkin’s campaign, Bellevue College not only has given the diversity police more monitoring authority over the curriculum and personnel evaluations, but will hire the notorious Glenn Singleton to conduct ideologically one-sided training for faculty and staff. Apparently, it will be mandatory.

(Readers with long memories will know that I am less than enamoured with Singleton’s trainings).

David Horowitz take note!

Scorpion and Felix

by Kieran Healy on April 28, 2006

“David Bernstein speculates”: about the casting for a new film of _Atlas Shrugged_. Inevitably, “someone in the comments”: points out the obvious, viz, that Ayn Rand is an atrocious novelist fit only for insecure fifteen-year-old boys. Some other Volokh readers are not amused, and stomp off in a huff to listen to their _Rush_ CDs. In the course of his snipe at Rand, the commenter says “At least Marx, for all his faults, didn’t attempt fiction.”

Well, as a matter of fact, he “did”: _Scorpion and Felix_ is Marx’s unpublished comic (I do not say “funny”) novel, written around 1837, when he was 19. It is not for the faint-of-heart. In essence it is a pastiche of _Tristram Shandy_, a book Marx thought was fantastic. Here is the entirety of Chapter 37:

David Hume maintained that this chapter was the _locus communis_ of the preceding, and indeed maintained so before I had written it. His proof was as follows: since this chapter exists, the earlier chapter does not exist, but this chapter has ousted the earlier, from which it sprang, though not through the operation of cause and effect, for this he questioned. Yet every giant, and thus also every chapter of twenty lines, presupposes a dwarf, every genius a hidebound philistine, and every storm at sea — mud, and as soon as the first disappear, the latter begin, sit down at the table, sprawling out their long legs arrogantly.

The first are too great for this world, and so they are thrown out. But the latter strike root in it and remain, as one may see from the facts, for champagne leaves a lingering repulsive aftertaste, Caesar the hero leaves behind him the play-acting Octavianus, Emperor Napoleon the bourgeois king Louis Philippe, the philosopher Rant the carpet-knight Krug, the poet Schiller the Hofrat Raupach, Leibniz’s heaven Wolf’s schoolroom, the dog Boniface this chapter.

Thus the bases are precipitated, while the spirit evaporates.

In his “biography of Marx”:, Francis Wheen points out that the convoluted parodic style seen in the novel was a feature of Marx’s writing throughout his life, and in _Capital_ in particular. He also notes that the passage above, with its contrast of Napoleon and Louis Philippe as giant and dwarf, clearly prefigures the famous opening of the _Eighteenth Brumaire_:

Hegel remarks somewhere that all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce. Caussidiere after Danton, Louis Blanc after Robespierre, the _montagne_ of 1848 to 1851 after the _montagne_ of 1793 to 1795, and then the London constable [Louis Bonaparte], with a dozen of his best debt-ridden lieutenants, after the little corporal [Napoleon Bonaparte], with his roundtable of military marshalls.

At any rate, it is striking that Marx had such versatility that he could write a novel even less readable than _Atlas Shrugged_.

What would we have done?

by Harry on April 27, 2006

Via Norm, a very interesting article by Max Hastings, arguing that if Britain had been invaded by the Nazis the British would have behaved much as the French did:

Most of France’s “haves” collaborated not willingly, but in the face of perceived necessity. The bourgeois classes allowed their view to be determined by law-and-order arguments, which possess even greater force in war than in peace. Sabotage provoked murderous reprisals upon the innocent. Surely, people said, it is in the interests of the community that we behave in such a way as to be spared killings and confiscations, when daily existence is harsh enough already.

Resistance, confined to a small minority until 1944, was dominated by what middle-class people would categorise as “the awkward squad”: teachers and unionists (many of them leftists), young mavericks, communist activists, journalists, peasants: in short, little people.

All this, I think, would have applied equally in a German-occupied Britain.

Hastings commends Eden’s statement, when asked to comment on the behaviour of the French during the war, that “It would be impertinent for any country that has never suffered occupation to pass judgment on one that did.” We’d all do well to reflect on that brilliantly diplomatic, and true, comment. Hastings concludes that

Némirovsky’s great novel paints a portrait of a society that did not conduct itself with conspicuous courage or honour. I am doubtful, however, that we would have done much better.

I can think of only one piece of counter-evidence, which I can’t link to because my googling skills aren’t up to it, but I undertsand that as soon as the war began the British government started to train a secret domestic guerrilla army in preparation for invasion, comprised of conscription-age men who were (because of their age) regarded throughout the war (and until the end of the 50-year embargo on the confidential records) as conscientious objectors. But this is slim evidence (made even slimmer by my inability to cite it: did I dream that I heard a Radio 4 documentary about them?)

Talking of Eden, I recently read Kenneth Harris’s wonderful biography of Attlee (prompted by being fascinated by the role Attlee plays in Five Days in London: May 1940).

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Jose Can You See

by Kieran Healy on April 27, 2006

“Apparently,”: Michelle Malkin is ticked off by a song that incorporates bits of the _Star-Spangled Banner_ in Spanish — or “Star-Spangled Mangle” as she prefers to say. It’s an outrage, and so on. Meanwhile, here is a quiz: 1. What do the following words have in common? California, Colorado, Florida, Nevada, Montana, Oregon.

Networked governance

by Henry Farrell on April 26, 2006

Jon’s post below reminds me that I’ve been meaning to link to the Kennedy School’s “Program on Networked Governance”: which co-sponsored a talk I gave last week. A very interesting program, bringing together traditional concerns of social scientists with some of the new arguments about network topology etc. This is also probably a good time to mention that we’re going to be running a Crooked Timber seminar on Yochai Benkler’s new book in a week or two – the book has a lot to say about networks, governance and much else besides. Previously, these seminars haven’t been announced in advance – but it seems to me to make sense to provide some advance warning this time, for those who would like to participate in comments, and want to read the book first. The book is available to read online “here”: under a Creative Commons license. It is quite long though, so those who want to save their eyesight can purchase the hardcopy version from Powells (yer union-friendly store) “here”: or Amazon “here”: I’m hoping to introduce another innovation to this seminar, which is to link selectively from the seminar to posts on other blogs that seriously get involved in the conversation (I will be somewhat selective in this – but hope to include a diverse set of points of view on the book and what it says).

Little, Big

by Henry Farrell on April 26, 2006

Via “Locus”: I see that John Crowley now has a “Livejournal”: Crowley’s novel _Little Big_ is a masterpiece. I keep three or four copies around the house so that I always have a spare to press on visitors. It’s astonishingly good – and if you don’t believe me, ask Michael Dirda of the Washington Post (who thinks it’s a candidate for best American novel of the last thirty years), Harold Bloom (his favourite novel: point blank) or “James Hynes”:

bq. I’ve read _Little, Big_ four times now, and wept shamelessly each time over those last, extraordinary fifty pages, and over the years have purchased and given away fifteen copies of it (when I could find it–it is inconsistently in print). When “You’ll love this” isn’t recommendation enough, I have proceeded to claim (as I’m claiming here) that Little, Big is an Important American Novel that bears comparison to such works as _One Hundred Years of Solitude_ and Nabokov’s _Ada_.

Worth blogrolling (how many genuinely great writers are out there in the blogosphere?), and more to the point, worth buying his books (esp. _Little Big_; I also loved his recent chapbook, “The Girlhood of Shakespeare’s Heroines”).

Equality and the New Global Order

by Jon Mandle on April 26, 2006

On May 11-13, the Kennedy School at Harvard will be hosting a conference on “Equality and the New Global Order.” The three days are organized around “Foundational Questions,” “Institutions,” and “Global Public Health.” The tentative schedule is very impressive. Versions of several of the papers are now available – I’m guessing more will be put up over the next two weeks. The talks are free and open to the public. I’m going to try to make some of the sessions, so please say hello.

Mustafa Barghouti (and others).

by Harry on April 26, 2006

Mustafa Barghouti, who is Secretary General of the Palestinian National Initiative, and was recently elected to the Palestinian parliament as an independent, is in Madison at the Havens Center. His first talk (yesterday) is already on the web (audio); my guess is that today’s talk will be up within 24 hours.

Havens Center talks are now routinely recorded and made available on the web, so you might be interested to check out the list here. Two that I would particularly recommend are our own Chris Bertram, and also Richard Miller, both on global justice issues.

Sponsored link?

by Chris Bertram on April 26, 2006

I was just in gmail reading some emails from John and Daniel which mention some technical questions about choice under uncertainty and, in the rh pane, there appears under “sponsored links” an advertisment for Tyler Cowen’s “Marginal Revolution”: — “The greatest econ blog on the web! Insightful & interesting every day.” Well, often, I’ll give them that. Are many bloggers paying google to advertise their on-line scribblings?

Jane Jacobs is dead

by Chris Bertram on April 25, 2006

Sad news. Jane Jacobs, thinker about cities, eclectic economist and brilliant nonconformist, about whom I’ve blogged a “couple”: of “times”: , died this morning in Toronto. “Globe and Mail”: and “Toronto Star”: among others have reports.

Update: I’ll add links to other coverage and obituaries sporadically. “Douglas Martin in the New York Times”: . “Jeff Pruzan in the Financial Times”: .