From the monthly archives:

December 2006

Lentil soup for the New Year

by Eszter Hargittai on December 31, 2006

Apologies as this is too late for most of our readers outside of the Americas, but hopefully still in time for some. Below the fold is my blog entry from exactly four years ago. All the best for 2007!

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Das Leben der Anderen

by Chris Bertram on December 31, 2006

I’ve just finished watching “Das Leben der Anderen”:http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0405094/, which I was given on DVD for Christmas. It was a bit of a struggle, linguistically, and I missed a fair bit of dialogue, but it is a very powerful film which I strongly recommend. The setting is East Berlin in 1984 and the plot concerns the Stasi surveillance of a playwright and his lover. I won’t post more in the way of spoilers but I’ll just say that the movie gives a very strong impression of what it must be like to live in a police state and of the corrupting effects of dictatorship on watchers and those they watch. I had “a bit of a disagreement with Tyler Cowen”:http://www.marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2006/11/east_germany_ci.html recently about the former GDR, when he took issue with me for saying:

bq. the real problem with East Germany was not its comparative level of economic development or the level of health care its citizens could receive (rather good, actually). It was the fact that it was a police state where people were denied the basic liberties.

I have to say that’s an opinion that has been reinforced by the film: a (far) worse choice of fruit and vegetables is as nothing to the corrosive effects on the soul of a political tyranny. The film also constitutes a very concrete rebuttal of Volokh guest blogger Fernando Tesón’s “strange polemic against political art”:http://volokh.com/posts/1166215181.shtml . Art can contribute to political understanding by making vivid to people what a state of affairs is like in a way that no mere enumeration of facts can. The level of surveillance that citizens of the GDR were subject to is shocking, but it takes art to depict the effect of such a system on their inner lives.

Let me get this straight

by Kieran Healy on December 29, 2006

So Nouri al-Maliki pardoned Saddam Hussein to promote national healing and move on, Gerald Ford is making one last appearance at the Apollo theater, and James Brown will shortly be buried at Arlington cemetery, his long reign of terror having come to an end at last. No, that’s not right. I’ll try again.

While I puzzle it out, go read “Josh Marshall”:http://www.talkingpointsmemo.com/archives/011729.php pre-emptively cutting through the bullshit that will pile up around the gallows this weekend:

bq. Convention dictates that we precede any discussion of this execution with the obligatory nod to Saddam’s treachery, bloodthirsty rule and tyranny. But enough of the cowardly chatter. This thing is a sham, of a piece with the whole corrupt, disastrous sham that the war and occupation have been. Bush administration officials are the ones who leak the news about the time of the execution. … This whole endeavor, from the very start, has been about taking tawdry, cheap acts and dressing them up in a papier-mache grandeur — phony victory celebrations, ersatz democratization, reconstruction headed up by toadies, con artists and grifters. … for its prime promoters and cheerleaders and now-dwindling body of defenders, the war and all its ideological and literary trappings have always been an exercise in moral-historical dress-up for a crew of folks whose times aren’t grand enough to live up to their own self-regard and whose imaginations are great enough to make up the difference. This is just more play-acting. … This is what we’re reduced to, what the president has reduced us to. This is the best we can do. Hang Saddam Hussein because there’s nothing else this president can get right. What do you figure this farce will look like 10, 30 or 50 years down the road? A signal of American power or weakness?

Friday fun or frustration

by Eszter Hargittai on December 29, 2006

Time sink

If you haven’t seen the Grow Cube before then you are lucky and I do apologize for bringing it to your attention. I realize that it’s been around for a while, but some may have missed it. [No thanks to Marc Rittle for the link.]

If you don’t have hours to kill then a search for grow cube solution on your favorite search engine should do the trick. But I doubt you’ll appreciate it if you don’t spend at least a bit of time trying to figure out the solution on your own. No comment as to how much time.

Answers on NYTimes.com

by Eszter Hargittai on December 29, 2006

Answers.com has got to be one of my most visited sites. (Yahoo! Answers is another, but I’ll save that for later.) It is the site that Google uses for definitions and I use it often for spell checks.* I guess I find it easier to type a word in the search bar, press return and then click on the “definition” link in the upper right corner of the search results page than to designate Answers as my search engine of choice and type in the word there. This may be, because subsequent use of the search bar would then require another click to switch back to another engine.

In any case, today after I finished reading an article (this one) on the NYTimes site, I noticed the following below the piece:

Tips
To find reference information about the words used in this article, hold down the ALT key and click on any word, phrase or name. A new window will open with a dictionary definition or encyclopedia entry.

So I placed my cursor on a word, pressed the ALT key and clicked with my mouse. Voila. A window popped up with information from Answers about the word. (I have a pop-up blocker and this still came up so it’s of a different variety. You are also given the option of having it come up in a separate tab or window in the browser.) Cool feature.

Alternatively, of course there is always the option of using the ConQuery extension on Firefox and adding the relevant Answers plugin from MyCroft. ConQuery is certainly my preferred way for locating addresses on Google Maps without having to retype them. But I like these little pop-up windows since they’re smaller, come up quickly and are easy to close.

[*] I have found that simply relying on the number of search results for a term is not a good indicator of correct spelling given the number of misspelled words out there.

Sensitivity analysis

by John Quiggin on December 27, 2006

One of the points on which economists generally agree on is that sensitivity analysis is a good thing. Broadly speaking, this means varying the (putatively) crucial parameters of a model and seeing what happens. If the results change a lot, the parameter justifies a closer look.

In the case of the Stern Review of the economics of global warming, sensitivity analysis quickly revelas that the crucial parameter is the pure rate of time preference. This is the extent to which we choose to discount future costs and benefits simply because they are in the future and (if they are far enough in the future) happening to different people and not ourselves. If like Stern, you choose a value near zero (just enough to account for the possibility that there will be no one around in the future, or at least no one in a position to care about our current choices on global warming), you reach the conclusion that immediate action to fix global warming is justified. If, like most of Stern’s critics you choose a rate of pure time preference like 3 per cent, implying that the welfare of people 90 years (roughly three generations) in the future counts for about one-sixteenth as much as the welfare of people alive today, you conclude that we should leave the problem to future generations.

So, responses to a Stern Review provide another kind of sensitivity analysis. If you don’t care (much) about future generations, you shouldn’t do anything (much) about global warming.

What we earn, what we should earn

by Ingrid Robeyns on December 27, 2006

Can you ask your siblings and friends how much they earn? Can you ask your co-workers? I guess in many or most places in the world, this is a taboo. This is regrettable, since there are many unjustified earnings inequalities, often related to factors such as gender, race and nepotism. Unjust earnings inequalities can only fade away if individuals demand equal wages for equal work, but therefore they first need to know how much those who are doing this ‘equal work’ are earning (and in many countries much more is needed, such as a shift in power between labour and capital, to put it in these grand terms).

In 17 countries, there exists an internet tool, called the “wage indicator”:http://www.wageindicator.org/main, that can tell us how much people in a certain profession (with the same age, seniority, etc. etc.) earn, which may be useful information if you need to negotiate your wage, or if you think you or your colleague should be earning more. For labour scholars, the information gathered by the tool can be used to investigate pay inequalities, and many other trends and facts related to earnings and the workforce. “The Dutch version”:http://www.loonwijzer.nl/main/ was launched in 2001, and at present the wage indicator is available in “many countries”:http://www.wageindicator.org/main/Partnersworldwide, such as “South Africa”:http://www.mywage.co.za/main/, “India”:http://www.paycheck.in/main/, “Finland”:http://www.palkkalaskuri.fi/, “the UK”:http://www.paywizard.co.uk/ and “the USA”:http://www.worklifewizard.org/main/.

Clearly the wage indicator has its limitations too. One limitation is inherent for almost all surveys: sometimes you feel that your experience does not fit the questions, and therefore that you can’t answer the question properly. For example, when I had to give the number of years I had been employed, I didn’t know whether I should count my years working on my PhD or not (in the Netherlands and Belgium doctoral students are – euh – not students but employees, whereas in England, where I got my PhD degree, they are students.) Another problem is that there needs to be a minimal number of respondents who have responded to the questionnaire before anything statistically representative can be said about the average earnings of people with your profile. Hence even if you have no personal interest in figuring out what the typical person with your profile earns, you can do labour scholars a favour by filling out this survey. And by reporting any oddities you come across, or your views about these tools, in the comments section. I don’t personally know the scholars who run them, but I’m sure they’ll find us.

Get Up Offa That Thing

by Scott McLemee on December 26, 2006

UPDATE: See Phil Ford’s response, on “Hot Pants,” at Dial “M”

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While taking in the news that James Brown has died, I’ve been in transit — far away from my CDs, and unable to celebrate his life in fitting manner. It sounds like a joke in really bad taste, but in fact what I most want to hear is the album called Dead on the Heavy Funk 1974-’76. I used to have it on tape but am not sure if it’s still in print. There’s another compilation with a similar title released as part of what sounds like a worthy archival edition covering Brown’s entire career.
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To the Home of my Childhood Awayyyy

by Kieran Healy on December 24, 2006


French Church Street, Cork. To avoid excessive nostalgia, below the fold is an equivalent photo from my current location, Tucson. Merry Christmas, everyone.
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St. Clement’s Sauce

by Harry on December 23, 2006

If, like me, you find that Christmas Pudding is already heavy enough without the brandy butter or clotted cream, you might want to try this much lighter sauce which cuts the richness with a nice tangy citrus flavour (taken from Katie Stewart and sharing its name, I suddenly notice, with my son).

4oz butter
4oz caster (baker’s) sugar
Juice of one orange
1 tsp cornflour
Rind and juice of one lemon

Slowly bring the butter and sugar to a boil. Mix the orange juice and cornflour together, then add to the butter and sugar with the lemon juice and rind. Keep mixing to ensure a smooth sauce. Serve warm.

I said it was less heavy than brandy butter. Don’t worry, its not healthy or anything. You can use more juice or less butter and sugar if you like. Adding brandy is nice too, though redundant if you serve the pud properly.

Have a happy Christmas, those of you to whom its relevant. The rest of you — well, have a great December 25th anyway. I’m off for a few days to enjoy myself with my family.

Leopold and George

by Ingrid Robeyns on December 23, 2006

When, some years ago, I read Adam Hochschild’s “King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terrorism and Heroism in Colonial Africa“:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/King_Leopold’s_Ghost, I was shocked not only by the historical analysis of Belgian Colonialism in the Congo, but even more about the fact that I had never learnt these things at school or university. While, partly thanks to the internet, nowadays many more Belgians know about the attrocities that King Leopold committed in the Congo, there is still a lot of denial about Belgium’s colonial role in Africa.

According to Adam Hochschild, there are “striking parallels between King Leopold in Congo and George W. Bush in Iraq”:http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/la-oe-hochschild22dec22,0,2727390.story?coll=la-opinion-center. I expect that people will differ in their opinion whether this is an exaggeration or not, but at least I hope that the American kids (now and in the future) will get a more self-critical account of the US’s role in Iraq than what I learnt about Belgian’s role in the Congo.
(hat tip to “Political Theory Daily Review”:http://www.politicaltheory.info/)

Incentives, taxes and policy feedback

by Henry on December 22, 2006

Via “Dan Drezner”:http://www.danieldrezner.com/archives/003069.html, Greg Mankiw “accuses Deval Patrick”:http://gregmankiw.blogspot.com/2006/12/deval-patrick-is-no-pigovian.html of not understanding basic economics.

The money quote from Patrick:

“If we’re trying to cultivate here in Massachusetts an energy-smart economy, then the notion of relying for additional revenues on something we’re trying to break our dependence on doesn’t seem to me to be a formula for long-term success.”

Mankiw’s response:

Okay, let me get this straight: It is important that we reduce our consumption of oil. Therefore, we should not tax it.

Hmmm….Governor Patrick was Harvard class of 1978, and it’s a good bet that he took ec 10. I wonder what they taught about the slope of demand curves back then.

There usually isn’t much need to remind well known right-of-center economists of the importance of incentives, but it looks to me as though Mankiw is misreading an on-the-face-of-it-quite-reasonable claim here. Patrick is suggesting, as far as I can see, that if we want to move away from a petroleum based economy, it may be a bad idea _ex ante_ to make gas into an important source of tax revenues for the government. If the Massachusetts state government comes to rely on a gas tax as a significant source of income, then it will have an incentive over the longer term not to want to lower tax revenues, say, by introducing non-tax regulations that make hybrid vehicles more attractive and gas-guzzlers less so. It will have created a long term constituency that favors the status quo, and that is likely to resist vigorously attempts to move away from it that would threaten funds going to this or that favoured project.

This kind of feedback loop, in which policy shifts create and provide resources for new constituencies which then push for the maintenance of that policy, has been explored at length by Paul Pierson and others (see “here”:http://64.233.161.104/search?q=cache:LbUegaZYGqEJ:www.yale.edu/coic/pierson.doc+%22paul+pierson%22+%22effect+becomes+cause%22&hl=en&gl=us&ct=clnk&cd=9 for a nice and reasonably brief overview). Now it could be that this effect is swamped by the substitution effects and so on described in basic micro textbooks. But it also could be that it isn’t swamped – and I can’t think of any very good way empirically to test for which effect is likely to prevail under which circumstances. Mankiw and Patrick are on different sides of an argument about the appropriate instruments for changing incentives. But this in no sense means that Patrick is an economic illiterate.

Non-Presence

by Kieran Healy on December 21, 2006

I’m sure you’re all tearing your hair out with frustration or worry, so I apologise for not posting much. For the past week I have been on a very tiny island on the south end of the “Rangiroa”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rangiroa atoll, in French Polynesia. No internet access there. Also no electricity.

In other news, it turns out that if you write a book called “Last Best Gifts”:http://www.lastbestgifts.com then the website for it gets a _big_ surge in hits from Google searches in the weeks before Christmas, but not because people are suddenly interested in the topic.

The empirical basis of the Green Lantern theory

by John Quiggin on December 21, 2006

The idea that winning wars is a matter of willpower (what Matt Yglesias calls the Green Lantern theory of geopolitics) has been getting more and more attention as the situation in Iraq deteriorates.

At one level, the triumph of will theory is immune to meaningful empirical refutation. Whenever a nation loses a war, it can be argued that, with more willpower it would have prevailed. The one exception is where the nation is utterly destroyed, in which case, there will be no one interested in observing the failure of will.

There is, however, a specifically American version, which can be given some kind of empirical support. Until Vietnam, the United States had, at least according to the official accounts, never lost a war. The willpower theory holds that this loss was due to domestic weakness rather than defeat on the battlefield, and that subsequent failures of US forces in Lebanon, Somalia and elsewhere represent “Vietnam syndrome”.

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Gift guide: charitable giving

by Eszter Hargittai on December 21, 2006

Last in this season’s gift guide series are some ideas for charitable giving. If you celebrate any of the season’s gift-giving holidays, it’s getting to that point where it is too late to order anything for delivery and soon you won’t have time to run out and buy something either. What’s left? You could make a charitable donation on behalf of the people on your list.

I am sure there are the usual suspects on everyone’s list, either charities that are the first to gain mention during any crisis, ones automatically associated with the holidays, or ones you donate to annually and so it is likely that you reach for your checkbook this time of year with specific organizations in mind. For example, we here at CT have a history of supporting causes such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation since their mission is so closely aligned with what we do.

But in addition to the usual suspects, how about considering some lesser known charities? Is bigger always better in this realm?

Recently, I stumbled upon an interesting site called the Darfur Wall.

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