Not Even Lost in Translation

by Scott McLemee on December 19, 2006

I’m still working my way through the report of the MLA task force on evaluating scholarship for tenure. It’s a hundred pages long, but takes a while to process. One thing does jump out as worrisome and discouraging, though: the status of translation.
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New Literary History

by Scott McLemee on December 19, 2006

A casual reference to limerick-writing here last week had the effect of unleashing hitherto unexpected powers of versification among some of Crooked Timber’s readership. Seriously, I had no idea.
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BP and worker safety

by Henry Farrell on December 19, 2006

The FT has two “great”: “articles”: (behind the paywall unfortunately) on how a deliberately fostered culture of corner-cutting at BP led to disaster. Some highlights below the cut. [click to continue…]

A Question

by John Holbo on December 19, 2006

Juan Cole:

I see a lot of pundits and politicians saying that Sunnis and Shiites in Iraq have been fighting for a millennium. We need better history than that. The Shiite tribes of the south probably only converted to Shiism in the past 200 years. And, Sunni-Shiite riots per se were rare in 20th century Iraq. Sunnis and Shiites cooperated in the 1920 rebellion against the British. If you read the newspapers in the 1950s and 1960s, you don’t see anything about Sunni-Shiite riots. There were peasant/landlord struggles or communists versus Baathists. The kind of sectarian fighting we’re seeing now in Iraq is new in its scale and ferocity, and it was the Americans who unleashed it.

I have a vague recollection that, in the run-up to war, more or less this point was adduced as evidence democratization could work: no deep history of sectarian in-fighting (not like the Balkans, or anything.) I don’t have a thing to add, ignorant as I am, but I think Cole’s choice of verbs – unleashed – points in the direction of a question. It seems to imply the opposite of what Cole pretty clearly means to suggest: namely, that the beast itself is substantially new. So what should we say? The most obvious thing? Saddam bred the beast, but kept it on a leash; we unleashed it? But I’m not going to bother to pretend I know what I’m talking about here.

Cole links approvingly to this post that offers a slightly different assessment – namely, the beast was born, leashless, after Saddam fell: “close social and political identification with one’s religious group has come about largely as a result of the political environment after the fall of Saddam Hussein – the situation of the Shi’ites in Iraq before that was largely the result of the clan-based nature of political power in the country rather than religious discrimination.” I have to say: this could be cited as evidence that ‘it could have worked, but the Bush crew gratuitously screwed up the reconstruction’ – a line that has taken quite a beating the last 12 months or so. (I’m not proposing we revive such counter-factual apologetics. I’m just asking.)

Five Things

by John Holbo on December 19, 2006

Glenn Fleishman tags me with one of these silly little things. Alright, then. Five things most people don’t know about me.

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Reviewing the Stern Review, again

by John Q on December 19, 2006

Following the publication of this piece in the NY Times, I’ve had a string of email exchanges with Hal Varian, cc:ing Brad DeLong in the role of interested onlooker. I was surprised by the NY Times article since it included both a correct statement of the way in which Stern treats discounting and income redistribution (roughly speaking a 1 per cent change in income has the same value whenever it is incurred and whoever receives it) with a lot of statements that were either misleading or downright wrong, implying that the near-zero rate of pure time preference in the Stern Review implied a near-zero discount rate for cash flows.

Since Varian is one of the brightest and most technically careful people in the economics profession, I was unsurprised by the correct statement, but very surprised to see errors I’d already refuted when put forward by Arnold Kling, Bjorn Lomborg, Megan McArdle and others. Email revealed that the main problems arose from editorial attempts to ‘simplify’ things for readers, but we still have a lot of disagreements about the justifiability or otherwise of inherent discounting.

In any case, all this has spurred me on to produce my long-promised review of Stern on discounting, at least in draft form. Read, enjoy and criticise.