From the monthly archives:

January 2007


by Kieran Healy on January 31, 2007

Via “Jason Stanley”:, a link to some “now classic photographs”: of philosophers taken by Steve Pyke, together with a “new batch”: by the same photographer. “Here”: is the much-missed David Lewis. “Here”: is a terrific shot of Elisabeth Anscombe and husband Peter Geach. Amongst the new batch, “here”: is Rae Langton. “Here”: is Anthony Appiah. And “here is Jason himself”:, looking more intense than usual, and also unusually quiet.

Throughout the first batch and for much of the second, Pyke got the philosophers to provide a little statement about themselves and their field. Some are jokey, some gnomic, others quite straightforward. (“H.L.A. Hart:”: “To be frank I think the idea of a 50-100 word summary is an absurd idea… I advise you to drop it.”) Amongst my favorites is that of “Geoffrey Warnock”:, which elegantly captures the virtues that the analytic tradition strives imperfectly to embody: “To be clear-headed rather than confused; lucid rather than obscure; rational rather than otherwise; and to be neither more, nor less, sure of things than is justifiable by argument or evidence. That is worth trying for.”

But if that’s all too much for you, “here are some recent photos”: of philosophers having a blast pretending to be cowboys while riding uncertainly around on horses in the Sonoran desert. That’s what they’re _really_ like, you know, moody black-and-white headshots notwithstanding.

Shiny new domain tool

by Maria on January 31, 2007

Via Bret Fausett, a great new toy called PshychicWhois. I’m putting it away now because it is addictive and the possibilities are many. So very clever.

Grande mobilisation de citoyen(ne)s

by Maria on January 31, 2007

So this is a mild and modern dilemma. I have received from two sources an email notification urging me to take part, at 19:55 my time tomorrow, in a “mobilization of Citizens Against Global Warming!“.

All I have to do to be part of a this manifestation of people power is to turn off my lights and electrical appliances for five minutes. I’m as worried about climate change global warming (thanks, Steven Poole) as the next person. And this is probably a nice little gesture. So why do I feel so grumpy about it?

Well, first of all, it’s obviously useless as a way to save energy. Even more so than getting every German to stop using the standby on their tellies and ‘save enough energy’ to close down a nuclear power station. But that’s fine. I get it. We all understand that mass political acts are expressive rather than instrumental. So a little well-intentioned onanism to make an entirely rhetorical point is still in order.

And the organisers are quite up front about that:

“This is not just about saving 5 minutes worth of electricity; this is about getting the attention of the media, politicians, and ourselves.”

The mass action is tied in to the anticipated publication of a UN report on global climate. A visit to the UNEP website this morning already shows a sufficiently frightening report about glaciers melting. So as long as UNEP actually publishes its report on the right day, the whole thing could be the media event its organisers dream of.

“If we all participate, this action can have real media and political weight.”

Except. Who’s to know if I participate or not? I mean, practically. At 19:55 tomorrow night, I’ll be in the office, no surprises there. I’ll be alone, and most likely the only person on my floor. And I’ll be preparing for a conference call at 21:00, and meantime on the phone to people in different time zones. (And no, I will not tell them I’m sitting in the dark. I have some pride.) So there will be no raised consciousness here. I won’t be sitting around with my flatmate, discussing energy policy.

Can we use battery operated devices? Or should I turn off my mobile phone? What about my laptop – can’t I just put it to sleep because it’s a 2 year old Dell that takes 11 minutes to boot. Can I use a normal phone? After all, it doesn’t get its power from the same mains.

Many, many questions. Much resistance, very little of it related to this mass action. Perhaps I’m too prideful to participate wholeheartedly in making up the numbers. Mostly I’m just annoyed because I’ll still be in work.

Update Well, it looks as if the manifestation resulted in the lights of monuments like the Eiffel Tower and other European monuments being turned off – a very effective symbolic act.

I Got a Spot That Gets Me Hot/But You Ain’t Been To It

by Belle Waring on January 30, 2007

This post at Dr. Helen’s blog and its attendant comments have been widely linked around, and the finest comments already excerpted here at Feministe. Having read them all it occurs to me that if you are a heterosexual man of middle years, and it has been your life-long experience that women don’t like to have sex–with the result that they regard it indifferently as a bargaining chip rather than a pleasurable activity they would be denying themselves–maybe you’re doing it wrong. Just a thought.

Cos This Is What We Do Best

by Kieran Healy on January 30, 2007

Well not us. But this guy.

Reggie Watts: Out Of Control Via Unfogged.

Obviously the Standards for Fame are Rising

by Kieran Healy on January 30, 2007

Sometimes there’s no parochialism like Manhattan parochialism:

bq. This season “House” has reached as many as 17.5 million viewers a week. … Things might never have worked out had a largely unknown British actor named Hugh Laurie not sent in an audition tape at just the right time.

I’d be quite happy to be as largely unknown (and well-off) as the pre-House Hugh Laurie, but maybe that’s just me. Still, this example doesn’t quite match Alan Bennett’s recent experience after the premiere of _The History Boys_ on Broadway, when a reporter asked him whether he thought the success of the play would kick-start his career.

Scholars and Students

by Henry Farrell on January 30, 2007

“This”: is rather wonderful.

Melting the Arctic ice

by John Q on January 30, 2007

Suppose that someone proposed using nuclear explosions to melt the Arctic ice cap*, with the aim of opening the Northwest passage and reducing shipping costs, and that this proposal was supported by an analysis showing that world GDP could be permanently increased by 1 per cent, or maybe 3 per cent, as a result.

On the face of it, this seems (to me, anyway) like a crazy idea. Should such a proposal be dismissed out of hand or taken seriously and subjected to benefit-cost analysis or ? And, if we did do a benefit-cost analysis, what would be the result?

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Childrens’ books

by Henry Farrell on January 30, 2007

Harry’s post below reminds me that I’ve been meaning for years to recommend Michael de Larrabeiti’s Borrible trilogy (“Powells”:, “Amazon”: ) to parents of young ones with a certain disposition. Borribles are

generally skinny and have pointed ears which give them a slightly satanic appearance. They are pretty tough-looking and always scruffy, with their arses hanging out of their trousers. … The only people likely to get close to Borribles are ordinary children, because Borribles mix with them to escape detection by ‘the authorities’ who are always trying to catch them. … Normal kids are turned into Borribles very slowly, almost without being aware of it; but one day they wake up and there it is. It doesn’t matter where they come from as long as they’ve had what is called a bad start.

A section of the London police, the ‘Special Borrible Group,’ (the resonance is surely intended) is devoted to hunting them down and clipping their ears so that they turn into normal children. The best of the three books in my opinion is the first, _The Borribles_, in which a group of Borribles raid the warrens of the ‘ratlike’ and rather thinly disguised Rumbles, who live on Rumbledon Common, fight with pointed ‘rumble-sticks’ and are fearfully posh (‘you wevolting little stweet-awabs … how dare you tweat me in this fashion?’). The scene where a Borrible executes Great-Uncle Vulgarian by tossing an electric fire into his fancy bath-tub isn’t for the faint-hearted.

Also warmly recommended, although very different, is Ysabeau Wilce’s _Flora Segunda: Being the Magickal Mishaps of a Girl of Spirit, Her Glass-Gazing Sidekick, Two Ominous Butlers (One Blue), a House with Eleven Thousand Rooms, and a Red Dog_ (“Powells”:, “Amazon”:, ). Well written, light and dryly funny, but (like Harry’s recommendation) with a considerable degree of psychological depth (the heroine’s relationship with her two, very different parents is touching and complicated).

TechTalk at Google tomorrow

by Eszter Hargittai on January 29, 2007

I will be presenting in the TechTalk series at Google tomorrow.

    Google TechTalks are designed to disseminate a wide spectrum of views on topics including Current Affairs, Science, Medicine, Engineering, Business, Humanities, Law, Entertainment, and the Arts.

Interesting list, where do I fit in?

The title of my talk is “Beyond Gigs of Log Data: The Social Aspects of Internet Use”. I will be talking about the importance of social science research in gaining a better understanding of how and why people use digital media. That is, while companies like Google may have unbelievable amounts of information about their users based on logs of their online actions, I argue that there are other factors difficult to capture in logs that are also important to understanding how and why people use various online services the way that they do.

From Google’s perspective, I think one puzzle concerns the following. Despite being a media darling and getting a ton of positive press coverage over the years, other than search and ads, the company hasn’t gained significant market share in any realm. Even in search, how is it that they are only used by about half of all searchers with the kind of attention they get? (I actually have answers to this, my point here is that some people don’t seem to take a sufficiently nuanced approach to how the company’s products are doing.) And of course, search and ads are very important areas, but if Google thought that was enough, the company wouldn’t be expanding to other realms. It is expanding, but not very successfully.
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Malcolm Saville

by Harry on January 29, 2007

I was a late reader, only really mastering the basics as I approached 8, by that time having been designated a dullard by most of my teachers (reasonably enough given that I also couldn’t tie my shoelaces or put on my clothes, and spent a lot of time staring aimlessly into space). So I missed most of Enid Blyton’s books for little kids (you know, the racist ones (but also scroll down this page)). But I read almost every single one of her books for older kids (you know, the sexist and class-ridden ones) – the Famous Five, the Secret Seven, the Adventurous Four, the Adventure Books, the Mystery books, the R books, even, oddly, Mallory Towers (for some reason I spurned the St. Clare’s books, even though they must have been almost exactly the same as the Mallory Towers books).

And I never once, in my whole childhood, read a word by Malcolm Saville.

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by Henry Farrell on January 29, 2007

Dan Drezner looks at the “FT”: and “wonders”: why economists are debating whether the euro might become the world’s reserve currency at the same time that EU citizens say that they don’t much like it. Perhaps some of the answer lies in the different priorities of citizens and central bank economists, as described in another FT article “on the same topic”:

But the results at least offer the European Central Bank comfort on one front: expectations of inflation-beating wage rises are not widespread. Just under half of adults in employment across the countries surveyed expect to receive a pay rise this year. Of those expecting a pay rise, roughly 23 per cent expect a rise above the rate of inflation but 24 per cent expect an increase below the rate. … Fears about inflationary pressures from the labour market are a main reason why the ECB has signalled further interest rate rises are likely.

This suggests that under 11.5% of citizens in the countries surveyed expect that their pay will increase in real terms this year (this at the same time, by the way, that London City types are “writing op-eds”: telling readers how “we can all profit from million dollar City bonuses.”) Wage-inflation spirals how are ya. While the average punter may not draw the precise causal connections between (a) the institutionalized imperative for the European Central Bank to avoid inflation at all costs and (b) high interest rates and slow growth, he wouldn’t be all wrong to suspect that there’s something decidedly funny about the ECB’s priorities in setting monetary policy for the euro.


by Henry Farrell on January 28, 2007

According to this “article”: by Latanya Sweeney, one million hard disks with a total storage space of 90 terabytes were sold in 1983. My computer alone, purchased in late 2006, has one terabyte of storage space mounted in 2 RAID drives (I use them to back each other up). If my understanding that storage technology has yet to hit a brick wall is correct, it seems likely that a not-especially rich US consumer will have as much information storage capacity available to her as was available to the entire world in the early 1980s a few years down the line, if she wants it. (Sweeney’s article is really about the broader privacy issues that arise because of this expansion in the ability to store, and indeed to gather, personal information, but this figure hit me between the eyes when I read it).

Little news from Nairobi

by Ingrid Robeyns on January 28, 2007

Sunday morning, 7.05 AM. Most people are still asleep. I am playing with my son and listening to the radio, and it is the first time this week that I hear some substantial radio coverage of the “2007 World Social Forum”: I had no time this week to watch the evening television news more than once or twice, and hence do not know whether the Dutch television paid more attention. But I did read the newspaper, and listened to the radio, and heard almost nothing about the WSF.

So no attention to the WSF on primetime. Perhaps it’s just my impression? Or perhaps it’s just the Netherlands? (Not that there is important local news here – the government formation is happening behind closed doors, with no gossip spreading to the People). I hope I am wrong, since the WSF offers a good opportunity for the mainstream press to report on structural issues of global injustice and poverty, instead of only reporting on natural disasters, flaming wars, and other cases of instant misery.

Last Best Gifts in the NYT

by Kieran Healy on January 27, 2007

My book, “Last Best Gifts: Altruism and the Market for Human Blood and Organs”:, is “reviewed this weekend”: by “Virginia Postrel”: in the _New York Times_. Obviously, I’m delighted: Virginia’s review is generous and perceptive, and in many ways it’s hard to think of a better choice of reviewer. For one thing, as many readers will probably know, Virginia is herself an organ donor — she “gave one of her kidneys”: to her friend “Sally Satel”: — and now regularly writes about the organ shortage and market incentives. For another, she has also followed the growth of economic sociology as a subfield, writing “a very good piece about it for the Boston Globe”: a while ago. And last, she has a generally libertarian point of view, and the stereotype is that libertarians and academic sociologists should be flinging abuse at each other on the topic of altruism, self-interest and the market — especially when it comes to markets in things like human organs. I wrote the book partly in the hope that it would advance the debate beyond some of the entrenched clichés that both sides cling to. Virginia’s review encourages me that I might have been in some way successful in this respect.