From the monthly archives:

February 2007

Tax competition

by Henry Farrell on February 23, 2007

This “story”: from the _Irish Times_ ought to be of interest to US readers.

A Californian technology firm with only a handful of workers in Dublin funnelled revenues of almost $1 billion (€762 million) into an Irish holding company which made more than a quarter of its profits. SanDisk Manufacturing made a net profit of $105.96 million on revenues of $955 million in the eight months after its Irish unit started business in April 2005 …By accounting for such revenues in Ireland, they take advantage of the 12.5 per cent rate of corporate taxation on their profits, a rate that compares favourably with other EU states and the US. … SanDisk indicated last year that the total cost of setting up its Irish operation was less than $500,000. It said then that tax “certainly was part of the consideration” when moving here but that tax “certainly was not the determining factor,”

Sandisk isn’t the only company doing this, of course, but its (to employ the common euphemism) ‘tax-avoidance strategy’ is more blatant than most. The US is pretty vigorous about reclaiming taxes from citizens living abroad, but has been curiously supine in its attitude to the various schemes that US companies have come up withto relocate revenues outside the taxman’s grasp. Some of this is probably unavoidable – large multinational corporations have complicated internal flows of revenue which they can manipulate to make tax-dodges look legitimate – but the failure of companies like Sandisk even to try to hide what they’re up to suggests that they don’t expect much in the way of enforcement action.

Freedom cheese

by Chris Bertram on February 23, 2007

I made the mistake of surfing over to Jeff Weintraub’s blog earlier, which is currently featuring “lengthy coverage of Andrei Markovits’s book _Uncouth Nation_ “: . Markovits argues that all the social strata of Europe are in the grip of a pervasive anti-Americanism, and that this is closely related to anti-semitism. Evidence for this thesis includes the fact that British sports journalists often moan about the Americanization of soccer. You know, I’m puzzled. Does this mean that those Budweiser ads which mocked American commentators for their poor grasp of football during the World Cup were borderline anti-semitic? Were the people who produced them self-hating Americans? And could I get funding to write a book about the pervasive anti-Europeanism of America and cite as evidence disparaging remarks about European sport from US commentators? And would blogospheric and op-ed moanings about the European welfare-state, immigrants, old Europe and cheese count as good evidence for such a thesis? And could I get a leading European intellectual to come up with a quote for the cover saying that anti-Europeanism is “the cousin” of Islamophobia? And if I had tenure in the political science department of a leading European university, would such a book enhance its research reputation? Just wondering.

Imagined Communities

by Maria on February 22, 2007

I’ve just spotted that Benedict Anderson has produced a revised version of Imagined Communities, his influential 1983 book about nationalism. Is it worth buying if you own the original? [click to continue…]

Trees, flowers, mountains, stones

by Henry Farrell on February 22, 2007

I’m teaching James Scott’s _Seeing Like a State_ today (the only academic work I’ve ever read that made me want to dash off a fan-letter to the author), and on re-reading it spotted a passage that seemed possibly relevant to something I’ve sometimes wondered about. Scott is talking about how European states imposed universal last names on their populations, the better to tax and monitor them.

The legislative imposition of permanent surnames is particularly clear in the case of Western European Jews who had no tradition of last names. A Napoleonic decree “concernant les Juifs qui n’ont pas de nom de famille et de prenoms fixes,” in 1808, required Jews to choose last names or, if they refused, to have fixed last names chosen for them. In Prussia the emancipation of the Jews was contingent on the adoption of surnames.

Which may go some way to explaining the puzzle that I’m interested in – why so many Jewish last names of German (or perhaps Yiddish?) origin refer to natural phenomena, with endings such as berg (mountain), stein (stone), wald (forest), baum (tree), blum (flower) and so on. The Italian Jewish name Montefiore (mountain of flowers) is possibly an example of the same thing, but I don’t know whether it’s typical of a broader phenomenon or a singular aberration. If this is part of the story, I’d be interested to know whether these are names that 18th and 19th century European Jews chose for themselves, or were pressured to take by various German state authorities. Any historians of Jewish culture out there who know the answer?

New and Improved News

by Maria on February 22, 2007

Last week I posted rather breathlessly about the amount of content the BBC is putting online for free downloads. At the back of my mind, I had a little niggley thought which I chose not to pursue; wasn’t the BBC doing something a while back to get its whole archive online so that any member of the global public could rip, mix and burn? And hadn’t Cory Doctorow of EFF/BoingBoing been doing some work on this at some point?

That very day, a post on BoingBoing had the following to say;

“The BBC had so much promise a few years ago, back when it was talking about delivering real, world-class public value to license payers by doing the hard work of clearing the footage in the archive and letting the public remix it. Now that vision has been reduced to a sham — the BBC iPlayer, a steaming pile of DRM that restricts you to being a mere consumer of BBC programming, downloading it to your PC for a mere seven days.

For a minute there, the BBC seemed like it would enable a creative nation. Now it’s joining the jerks in Hollywood who think that media exists to be passively swallowed by a legion of glassy eyed zombie audience members. ”

The Beeb’s excuse is that it’s looking for an ‘open standards DRM’, an inherent contradiction if ever there was, and also that it can’t clear its archive. Doctorow points out the weakness of the latter claim; if BBC was so worried about past clearing archival footage, it would be working to “prospectively clear everything in its production pipeline, something that could have been done five years ago”. As he says, the BBC exists to make its content maximally available to the public.

BBC consultation on ‘on demand’ services here (boingboing link to it is broken). BBC Backstage podcast of a discussion on BBC and DRM here.

Russell Arben Fox on Abortion.

by Harry on February 22, 2007

Russell has a long, and typically thoughtful, piece explaining his attitude both to abortion and to regulation of abortion. A teaser:

I’ve probably called myself “pro-life” in the past, maybe way back when I was in high school or an undergraduate. But I have no specific memory of doing so, and I wouldn’t today. Part of this is, simply, because I’m not the hardline, simplistic, killing-a-fetus-is-murder opponent of abortion that I was raised to be. (Reading The Cider House Rules will do that to a person.) Do I still want to deter abortion, including–but not limited to–limiting abortion rights where I think best? Yes, definitely; the revulsion I feel towards the concept is still there. When I first learned about what an “abortion” was as a child, the mental image in my (ten-year-old, perhaps?) mind was of that of doctor wielding a butcher knife, stabbing a baby within a mother’s womb…and frankly, the straightforward medical facts of what an abortion involves don’t lead me to feel that that disturbing image is in any principled way flawed.

But while I would insist that is both impossible and irresponsible to pretend that such sentiments and feelings either could or should be excluded from political discussions, I also acknowledge that you have to be able to at least provide some reasoned account of the roots and parameters of one’s revulsions for political purposes; standing alone, they provide few details and fewer answers.

Go read it, and comment there.

What’s wrong with happiness measurement ?

by John Q on February 22, 2007

Over at Club Troppo, James Farrell summarises the main elements of the economic research agenda on happiness, and some of the standard objections to it. For those who came in late, and probably didn’t imagine economists ever thought about happiness, the crucial finding is that “Cross country data shows pretty consistently that on average happiness increases with income, but at a certain point diminishing returns set in. In the developed world, people are not on average happier than they were in the 1960s.”

The data that supports this consists of surveys that ask people to rate their happiness on a scale, typically from 1 to 10. Within any given society, happiness tends to rise with all the obvious variables: income, health, family relationships and so on. But between societies, or in Western societies like Australia over time, there’s not much difference even though both income and health (life expectancy, for example) have improved pretty steadily for a long time.

I’ve long argued that these questions can’t really tell us anything, and an example given by Don Arthur gives me the chance to put it better than I’ve done before, I hope.

Suppose you wanted to establish whether children’s height increased with age, but you couldn’t measure height directly.
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Academic haiku

by Eszter Hargittai on February 21, 2007

Grad school pal Jim Gibbon launched an academic haiku contest a week ago. I only noticed it today (Wednesday),which happens to be the deadline for submissions. If you still have time, head on over and submit something. If it’s past Wednesday then feel free to add your creative output in the comments here.

The idea is that the haiku should represent some of your work (a paper, a book, a dissertation, etc.). Here are my two submissions:

I am an expert.
I am man, you are woman.
I exaggerate.

From: *Hargittai, E & S. Shafer. 2006. “Differences in Actual and Perceived Online Skills: The Role of Gender.” Social Science Quarterly. 87(2):432-448. June.

RSS, widgets,
Don’t know one from the other.
Average Web users.

From: Hargittai, E. 2007. “Wikis and Widgets: Differences in Young Adults’ Uses of the Internet” Paper to be presented at the 2007 ICA meetings.

[*] I have to add that it’s actually not possible to tell from the findings whether men overestimate or women underestimate their skills, but perhaps that amount of artistic freedom for the haiku is allowed.

Bombs, Israel and Iran

by Henry Farrell on February 21, 2007

“Garance Franke-Ruta”: accuses John Edwards of having no foreign policy principles.

Was it really just a month ago that John Edwards was speaking to an Israeli audience at Herzliya and saying [that Iran was at the top of the list of threats to the world and Israel]. … Because Variety’s Peter Bart reports that he has rather dramatically changed his tune [saying that perhaps the greatest short-term threat to world peace was the possibility that Israel would bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities]. … How a serious presidential candidate could so rapidly go from taking a foreign policy position to saying that people who share that position are a grave threat to world peace is beyond me. … How is anyone supposed to trust that he means anything that he says now?

Now Edwards has been less than adept in talking about foreign policy issues, but not only is it clear to me that these points of view are compatible, but they arguably follow from each other. One of the arguments that I’ve heard repeatedly in informal discussions with Iran hawks is that the US needs to talk tough on Iran, and take direct action against it, because if it doesn’t, Israel will, perhaps provoking a major regional conflagration. In other words, you can both be in favour of (a) not taking the option of US bombing off the table, and (b) worry about what would happen if Israel decided to bomb Iran. To be clear, I’m vigorously opposed to bombing Iran myself (if nothing else, bombing is likely to be “useless in achieving its express aims”: I suspect that Edwards isn’t too keen on the idea either, and is more interested in rattling sabres to deter Iran’s nuclear efforts than in declaring war on Iran (although I suspect that his maladroitness has left some serious hostages to fortune if he gets the nomination and runs against a more hawkish Republican). But it’s clear to me that Franke-Ruta is flat out wrong in suggesting that this particular statement is evidence of untrustworthiness – it may attract political controversy (which is why the campaign seems to be back-peddling) but it’s a pretty unexceptionable claim. You don’t have to be either pro- or anti-Israel to recognize that Israeli action against Iran is likely to have pretty nasty consequences for the entire region. This is a broadly shared analysis, even if it isn’t often directly articulated; cf the first Gulf War, Hussein’s efforts to drag Israel in by lobbing Scuds, and Israel’s restraint, partly at the urging of the US, from retaliating.

Note to commenters: as usual, I will be policing comments and anything that drifts into a general discussion of the merits and demerits of Israel/Palestine etc will be ruthlessly deleted. I’ll be paying particular attention to the comments of past repeat offenders (yes, abb1; that means you).

One Night

by Jon Mandle on February 21, 2007

In 1956, Smiley Lewis scored a minor hit – #11 on the R&B charts – with a song written by Dave Bartholomew and Dave King called “One Night”. By 1957, Elvis Presley was a huge star. He had already had big hits with “Heartbreak Hotel”, “Hound Dog”, “Don’t Be Cruel”, “Love Me Tender”, “All Shook Up”, and 50 million people – over 80% of the viewing audience – had watched him on the Ed Sullivan Show. In January, 1957, he recorded a “One Night”. According Peter Guralnick, writing in the liner notes of The King of Rock and Roll: The Complete 50’s Masters:

‘One Night,’ by way of contrast [with ‘Teddy Bear’, which he recorded at the same session], … clearly stemmed from no other source but Elvis Presley’s passion for the music, and it was delivered with undiminished, and unexpurgated, force. Upon his return to the studio a month later to complete various album and single tracks, he re-cut ‘One Night’ with cleaned-up, more teen-oriented lyrics in a performance which, despite its lyrical compromise, actually matches the intensity of the original.

At the end of 1957, Elvis was drafted, so RCA began releasing previously recorded tracks, and they released “One Night” October, 1958. It hit #4 in the US and #1 in the UK. He played it during his 1968 comeback special, and it was re-released in the UK in 2005 and again hit #1. I believe his original recording (the one with the original lyrics) was first released only on The Complete 50’s Masters boxed set in 1992, under the title “One Night of Sin.” (It’s also included on the remastered version of his third album, Loving You.)
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Airset etc

by Henry Farrell on February 21, 2007

Eszter is the CT expert on life-enhancing information technologies, but I thought that some readers might be interested in a service, “Airset”:, that my wife and I have been using for the last several weeks. We’d been looking for a long while for some sort of scheduling software that would allow us to keep track of our respective obligations and to synch with Palm and Outlook, but hadn’t found anything very good. Yahoo! calendar synchs, if you’re prepared to beat some very badly documented software into submission, but the calendar isn’t very flexible. Google calendar is considerably better, but it doesn’t synch (there are some third party packages out there that allow synching with Google’s service, but for one reason or another, they weren’t what we were looking for). Airset synchs and does a lot more besides, allowing us to maintain separate calendars, to share events as needed, and really organize our lives. And (unless you want an optional service allowing you to maintain your calendar from your phone), it’s free. It’s straightforward, nicely designed, and incredibly easy to use – vastly better than any other competing product I’ve come across so far. Another worthwhile software package is “Foxit reader”: – a pdf reader which is smaller, neater, and much better behaved than Acrobat, and has recently been substantially upgraded. Other technology recommendations welcomed in comments (I discovered Foxit thanks to a similar thread at Jim Henley’s place back in the day).

It’s …. alive!

by John Holbo on February 20, 2007

So it happened like this. I noticed that the Gutenberg Project version of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein didn’t indicate which edition – 1818 or 1831. The two are rather different, as the author rewrote whole passages. Example: I just read a piece by Brian Aldiss in which he asserts, in passing, that H.G. Wells must have been misremembering when he wrote that “Frankenstein, even, used some jiggery-pokery magic to animate his artificial monster.” But: this would only be clearly wrong concerning the 1818 version, which is actually more ‘scientific’. An appendix to a recent edition of the 1818 edition notes: “the 1831 reader is allowed to think that the faculty at Ingolstadt [where young Victor gets his schooling] in the 1790s, even the previously sympathetic Waldman … were indeed teaching arcane magic under the name of natural science.” That’s sort of debatable, as a reading of the 1831 edition, seems to me. But it probably explains Wells’ impression.

Anyhoo. The Gutenberg version is definitely 1831. But, since Gutenberg editions are – Frankenstein-fashion – cobbled from the corpses of works passed into the public domain – it seemed possible that it was maybe a bit of both. Also, there are lots of typos (you get what you pay for.) Mostly just misplaced commas, colons and semicolons, but hundreds of those. (I’m convinced that the main export of Victorian England was the overused semicolon. Seriously, Shelley’s punctuation is bizarre. What’s with all the colons followed by dashes? Is that really necessary? Oh well.) So for the last few weeks I’ve been working through it, a chapter a night, with a public domain (1912 Everyman) edition of the 1831 edition in hand. I’m up to chapter 18. When I’m done I’m going to make a nice public domain edition. (Maybe do a book event.)

So here’s my question. When I’m done, I’d like to double-check it against an appendix to a still-in-copyright 1818 edition, which gives all the differences between the 1818 and 1831 editions. On the one hand, I really ought to be working from public domain material. On the other hand, I’m not exactly copying this appendix; merely verifying the correctness of text I’ve independently produced. Suppose I end up adding, subtracting or shifting 100 characters worth of punctuation, thanks to consultation of this appendix? Would that be a violation of copyright? Seems a bit weird if it is. 100 character total ought to be fair use, right? There must be copyright traditions concerning editorial questions like this, yes? Am I allowed to treat the appendix as containing information I am allowed to use freely?

UPDATE: Ben Wolfson has related, deep thoughts: “Punctuation marks can be very expressive, especially em dashes (my favorites!—maybe tied with semicola), so why ought one restrict their use to single isolated occurences? Surely in combination they can achieve heretofore undreamt-of degrees of subtlety in expression. (My gloss on the comash was that it implies a degree of reticence or hesitancy, and then:—suddenly elsewhere, or the dam is burst.)”

Perceiving through Flickr

by Chris Bertram on February 19, 2007

One of the nice things about blogging is the way you get to find out about new things, read books and watch films you’d never otherwise have come across, and so on. “Eszter”: recently persuaded “me”: to take part in a Flickr project where you take “one photo per day”: Some days, especially dark cloudy ones with British weather, can be a challenge, and I’ve sometimes been reduced to taking a pitiful snap of a household object. But I’ve also noticed a real impact on my perception of the world. Walking around, camera in pocket, being open to the opportunity to take a picture has a striking effect on what one sees. An interesting form here, an odd pattern of rust there, a splash of colour, an unusual building or a surprising or funny scene…. And the competitive/comparative element comes in too: you hope for comments, or for a given image to be “favorited”. You quickly get to notice, too, that there are some pretty interesting people on Flickr here and there. There’s “this guy”:, for example, who has a nice line in images of buildings taken from the same point, but 20 or 30 years apart (and he supplies the architectural and social commentary to match). Or “this one”: , (a kind of latter-day Cartier-Bresson) who captures street scenes in New York in black and white and has a sharp eye for the incongruous. So thanks, Eszter, for opening my eyes a bit.

(I can see that this is going to get expensive too: I’m already looking to buy a digital SLR and puzzling over the Nikon-Canon version of the Apple-Microsoft divide.)

The Challenge of Affluence

by Harry on February 19, 2007

From Avner Offer’s The Challenge of Affluence, perhaps the best first paragraph of an academic book:

Affluence breeds impatience and impatience undermines well-being. This is the core of my argument. For detail and evidence, go directly to the chapters; for implications, to the conclusion, which also has chapter summaries.

I’ve been longing to read this book since I first heard about it (several years ago) but, on reading the first paragraph, felt obliged to lend it to someone else for several weeks. I’ll tell you all about it when I’m finished with it. Be patient.

Other great academic first paragraphs?

You Can be The Ethicist

by Harry on February 18, 2007

I was posed this problem by someone in a very highly ranked research department in one of the social sciences (not Philosophy, not Madison), and post with permission.

Graduate Admissions Committee for the department in question is deciding whom to admit. For said discipline, as for several others, there is a website on which potential students gossip share information about the departments to which they are applying, and many do so anonymously. However, many such students say enough about themselves that if you are in possession of their file (as graduate admissions committee is) you can identify them with near, and in some cases absolute, certainty. One applicant to said department behaves on the website (under the supposed cloak of anonymity) like… well, very badly, saying malicious things about departments he has visited, raising doubts about whether he is honest and the kind of person it would be reasonable to want other students to deal with, and generally revealing himself to be utterly unpleasant.

Question: is it wrong for the GAC to take this information about the applicant into account when making a decision? Secondary question: does it make a difference to your answer that the department is in a private, not a public, university?