Speaking of Hackery

by Kieran Healy on May 31, 2006

Jesus wept. “This nonsense again.”:http://www.newsmax.com/archives/ic/2006/5/29/132706.shtml?s=ic

bq. Despite media coverage purporting to show that escalating violence in Iraq has the country spiraling out of control, civilian death statistics complied by Rep. Steve King, R-IA, indicate that Iraq actually has a lower civilian violent death rate than Washington, D.C. … Using Pentagon statistics cross-checked with independent research, King said he came up with an annualized Iraqi civilian death rate of 27.51 per 100,000. While that number sounds high – astonishingly, the Iowa Republican discovered that it’s significantly lower than a number of major American cities, including the nation’s capital. “It’s 45 violent deaths per 100,000 in Washington, D.C.,” King told Crowley. Other American cities with higher violent civilian death rates than Iraq include: Detroit – 41.8 per 100,000. Baltimore – 37.7 per 100,000. … The American city with the highest civilian death rate was New Orleans before Katrina – with a staggering 53.1 deaths per 100,000 – almost twice the death rate in Iraq.

Astonishing, indeed, until you recall that Washington D.C. is a city, and Iraq is a country. As it happens, only last week we were looking at OECD data on “national rates of death due to assault”:https://crookedtimber.org/2006/05/26/incarceration-again/. The U.S. rate is “exceptionally high”:http://www.kieranhealy.org/files/misc/assault-deaths-99.png compared to peer nations — around 6 per 100,000. But this is still some distance behind Iraq, I think. In the meantime, I have an offer for Rep. King. He should pay my expenses for a vacation to DC, including a flight to the city, a taxi to a local hotel, a few dinners out at restaurants. Maybe some tickets to some museums and local sights, perhaps a concert or a game. At the same time, he could take a parallel trip to Baghdad and do the same things — commercial flight in, local taxi, wander out for dinner, etc. We’ll both bring camcorders and see how it works out. If DC is so much more dangerous than Iraq I’m sure something like this would really show up people who say the situation in Iraq is terrible.

Gore and CO2

by Kieran Healy on May 31, 2006

“Tim Lambert”:http://scienceblogs.com/deltoid/2006/05/you_call_it_lying_cei_calls_it.php finds “Iain Murray”:http://corner.nationalreview.com/post/?q=OTVlODk1YWJlMmRlMGY2ZmI4ZDI2MmNlODJhNjA2YmM engaged in a contemptible bit of smearing. Previously, the CEI “falsely claimed”:http://scienceblogs.com/deltoid/2006/05/cei_exaggerates_by_a_factor_of.php that Al Gore was producing 4,000,000 times as much CO2 as the average person in the course of his daily activities, given his heavy use of air travel. This estimate turns out to be way, way off. In addition, it now turns out that Gore is trying to make his promotional tour carbon neutral by purchasing carbon offsets, presumably from organizations like “TerraPass”:http://www.terrapass.com/. Murray’s response?

bq. Translation: I am rich enough to benefit from executive jets and Lincolns because I pay my indulgences. All you proles have to give up your cars, flights and air conditioning. The new aristocracy; there’s no other way to describe it.

Purchasing carbon offsets is of course a “market-based”:http://www.terrapass.com/faq.html#13 solution to the externalities associated with individual use of cars and air travel and so on. You’d think that the Competitive Enterprise Institute and the National Review would be in favor of that sort of thing. But if Gore is doing it, then it must be the purest form of aristocratic statist elitism.

Back in the day, Murray was the sort of person you could “have a reasonable disagreement with”:http://www.kieranhealy.org/blog/archives/2002/09/19/crime-and-punishment-part-3/. But then he went to work for CEI and he went rapidly downhill. Because he had to follow the CEI line, he began to make “stupid mistakes”:https://crookedtimber.org/2003/07/10/the-cost-of-emission-control/, “bad arguments”:https://crookedtimber.org/2003/12/29/uncertain-science/ and “unsupportable smears”:https://crookedtimber.org/2003/11/04/annals-of-premature-accusations/. His trajectory is a good illustration of the principle that being paid to follow a certain political line regardless of what the evidence says will turn you into a hack. Taking empty pot-shots at Al Gore is just the latest step down the ladder.

I used to have a friend who was a very energetic adulterer. We never talked about it much, because I was too repressed to ask, but it seemed to me that he and his many partners, all of whom he met in ordinary social situations, were giving out signals that could only be detected by one another (ok, I have lots of stories that would reveal that my own social antennae are, well, deeply defective, but in my defence no-one else seemed to notice either).

I sometimes think that in a low-fertility society like ours something rather similar is going on among people who have children. Now, I should declare that I never doubted that I’d want children (only, for a very long time, that anyone would want to have them with me). But even I, away from children for most of my late-teens to late-twenties, as most childless adults are in these low-fertility times, was much more vividly aware of the downside of having children than of the upside. As Laura says:

Last week, we briefly talked about why people, especially Europeans, aren’t making babies like they used to. I’ve got a new theory. Childless people are having too much fun. They are congregating in urban areas and when they outgrow body shots and apple core bongs, they move on to nice restaurants, museums, and last minute trips to Anguila. The breeders get stuck going on the DisneyLand cruise and posing for pictures with Goofy. And why are the Europeans having even less kids than the US? Ibiza.

Kids really are fantastic, but you don’t really know it until you have one of your own. When you take the love for your kids out of the equation, all you have is a comparison between fun and no fun. And without the social pressure to procreate, many people choose no kids.

[click to continue…]

Outside contributions

by Henry on May 31, 2006

As I come across interesting posts on other blogs contributing to the discussion of Benkler’s book, I’ll add links and potted summaries to this post.

First, “Brayden King”:http://orgtheory.wordpress.com/2006/05/30/undertheorizing-networks/ at _Organizational Theory_ about the blinders that network theorists wear:

bq. All of this talk about the new forms of social production is very reminiscent of the excited discussion about “network forms of organization” that have been going on in org. theory for more than a decade. In fact, Quiggin’s comment summarizes much of what Woody Powell argues in his 1990 article “Neither Market Nor Hierarchy: Network Forms of Organization.” In that article Powell enthusiastically portrays another new form of economic production, which he also sees as distinct from the market-hierarchy dichotomy. … My irritation, if I have one, is that both Powell and the new Internet network folks seem obsessed about the technology without really theorizing the form of social action. … As Eszter notes, the networks of the web overlap with existing social structures, like class hierarchies. … The open source movement perhaps hasn’t flattened hierarchies as much as we’d like to think; rather, it’s just created new outlets for their expression. This all leads us to the question, what’s so new about these new networks of social production?

Second, “James Wimberly”:http://www.samefacts.com/archives/_/2006/05/the_wealth_of_networks.php at _The Reality-Based Community_ on the history of cooperative production.

bq. The theme is that new information technologies are reshaping opportunities for cooperation in cultural production and other forms of social action, but face obstacles in achieving them. It’s good stuff, but I miss the grand historical perspective. So let’s have a go, in the new spirit of wiki amateurism. Are we seeing a cultural revolution? No, reversion to the mean. … In pre-modern societies, hunter-gatherer or agricultural, most cultural production is cooperative. … Just as our consumption of oil is a historical blip in the long run (the “Hubbard pimple”), so, culturally speaking was the industrial society of the last two centuries. In the 19th century, industrial workers had negligible leisure and lost many (but not all) habits of self-entertainment. In the 20th, as workers regained leisure, it was overwhelmingly filled by the consumption of goods produced by professionals: sporting events, newspapers, magazines, genre fiction, film, recorded music, and TV. For anyone brought up like ourselves in this world, the reinvention of cooperative cultural production through new technology looks like a revolution. It is, but in the Platonic not the Marxian sense. What we are seeing now, I suggest, is a move back towards the long-run historical norm.