Last Best Gifts

by Kieran Healy on August 3, 2006

My new book, Last Best Gifts: Altruism and the Market for Human Blood and Organs has just been published by the University of Chicago Press. You can buy it from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Powells or of course any bookseller worth the name. There’s a website for the book, too. Amongst other things, there you can learn more about the cover image, which the people at Chicago did such a nice job with after I came across it by chance.

The book is a study of the social organization of exchange in human blood and organs. In a nutshell, it tries to show that gift exchange can do both more and less than we think when it comes to organizing the blood and organ supply: more, because there’s a lot of heterogeneity in actually-existing systems of donation. Some countries and regions do much better than others, and, in many cases (especially cadaveric donation), market incentives would probably not work any better. But also less, because gift exchange is not some magical mechanism for generating social solidarity out of thin air, especially in a procurement system that is increasingly rationalized and globalized. The book argues that the consequences of rationalizing the blood and organ supply are in many ways more important than the consequences of commodifying it. In particular, the logistical demands of procurement systems — short-run, nuts-and-bolts stuff about finding bodies and procuring organs — are in tension with the public account of donation as a sacred gift of life.

I’d like to think that the book has something new to contribute to the ongoing debate about commodifying human blood, organs and tissues. And I’d like to think that it’s written in an accessible and engaging way. And while I’m waiting for UPS to deliver my pony, I’d like you all to go and buy it, not just for yourself, but for your friends, and for the sake of this small kitten beside me. You wouldn’t want anything bad to happen to the kitten, would you?

“Alex Tabarrok”:http://www.marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2006/08/fiasco.html

bq. In Fiasco Thomas Ricks’ says the war on Iraq and subsequent occupation was ill-conceived, incompetently planned and poorly executed. I have no quarrel with that. What dismays me is that anyone expected any different. All wars are full of incompetence, mendacity, fear, and lies. War is big government, authoritarianism, central planning, command and control, and bureaucracy in its most naked form and on the largest scale. The Pentagon is the Post Office with nuclear weapons. If this war has been worse on these scores than others, _and I have my doubts_, we can at least be thankful that the scale of death and destruction has been smaller. At the Battle of the Somme there were a million casualties and 300,000 deaths over the course of a few months. If we remember previous wars more fondly this is only because those wars we won. Incompetent planning and poor execution are not fatal so long as the other side plans and executes yet more incompetently. Is this a suggestion to put the current war in context? Not at all. It is suggestion to put government in context.

This is not a good argument. That the massive bureaucracies of war involve waste and duplication is undeniable (although history doesn’t give us any reason whatsoever to believe that markets would do a better job). But to say that the incompetence with which the Iraq war was conducted was simply business as usual is not only to get Rumsfeld _et al._ off the hook for the quite specifically personal incompetence that they displayed and are still displaying. It’s to make a general claim that can’t be supported using the evidence that you claim is supporting it. An incompetently conducted war does not a general case against government make. Indeed, if you wanted to make a polemic case for a strong state and _against_ market reforms, you could quite easily use post-war Iraq as an example of how “massive contracting-out of military work to private actors”:http://www.guardian.co.uk/international/story/0,3604,1103566,00.html, “mass demobilization of an army”:http://www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/wp-dyn/A63423-2003Nov19?language=printer and “privatization and free trade”:http://www.harpers.org/BaghdadYearZero.html lead inevitably to political disaster. Not that I believe the Iraq experience actually supports so sweeping a claim – while the decisions in question all were bad ones in the context of post-war Iraq, this context is not generalizable. The argument that post-war Iraq demonstrates the badness of privatization everywhere would be a very poor argument indeed. But then, so is the argument that the Iraq war demonstrates the badness of government everywhere.

I … don’t understand.

by John Holbo on August 3, 2006

… The Rolling Stones weren’t original. Bach wasn’t original. Einstein wasn’t original. Show me someone who is original, creative, self-expressive, and I’ll show you someone who is boring.

Originality, creativity and self-expression dumb people down. Platonism dumbs people up. Platonism is the biggest dumbing-up exercise in the history of civilisation.

Think in terms of the Platonic Realm. Say you are painting a picture. The picture exists in the Platonic Realm. It is a perfect picture, and it is beautiful. Your job is to depict it as best you can. For you to do this demands that you be a technician – you must know how to use paints, know about perspective, and so on.

It demands that you paint selflessly. It demands that you paint objectively. Originality doesn’t come into it. The picture was there before you existed.

I don’t care if Platonism is metaphysical moonshine. The point is that all human achievement revolves around Platonism …

Read the rest, from the Telegraph.

Without pain on a plane

by Eszter Hargittai on August 3, 2006

Thanks for the many helpful recommendations given in response to my request last week about enduring a long flight without losing too much of the next day. I suspect the lack of time-zone change from Chicago to Buenos Aires helped quite a bit, but I would like to think my master preparedness was useful, too. Below the fold I have summarized the list of recommendations for future reference.

I did end up taking an hour-long nap after I got to Buenos Aires, but then was well-equipped to spend a good chunk of Saturday exploring the city. And what a fabulous city it is! It was my first time in Argentina, but after this visit I am convinced it was not the last.

As a side note on how some people try to make a long-distance relationship work, consider the story of the person sitting next to me on the flight there. He works in DC, but has a wife and young child in Argentina. Twice a month he gets on a plane Friday evening for the ten-hour flight to Buenos Aires to spend less than 48 hours with his family returning Sunday night so he can be back at work on Monday morning. Ouch.

[click to continue…]

I’m still not entirely comfortable about assuming that CT readers are necessarily interested in the stuff I put on the Guardian blog. But this bit on the current attempt by the UK government to stop people pretending to be Plymouth Brethren in order to take advantage of a tax loophole given to them (no really) is pretty ontopic. I’m more interested in comments about what this says about the politics of tax policy than in boilerplate rants about why the government shouldn’t give any special treatment to religious groups, so I thought that having two comments sections on this piece would give me two chances of not having the discussion end up going that way.

Different realities

by Chris Bertram on August 3, 2006

The Guardian has “a piece by Julian Borger”:http://commentisfree.guardian.co.uk/julian_borger/2006/08/post_279.html on the different versions of the Lebanon war being presented to British and American audiences. It seems that British reporters have focused far more on the the sufferings of the Lebanese, with lots of eyewitness interviews with distressed people there, whereas the Americans have concentrated far more on the perpective from the bomb-shelters in northern Israel.