From the monthly archives:

May 2007

Gore and the TV

by Kieran Healy on May 31, 2007

Rich Byrne writes on Al Gore’s new book critiquing newsertainment and Gore’s own history facilitating the current state of affairs:

Gore’s book rehearses the well-known factors in the decline of TV news: runaway conglomeration, slashed news budgets and sharp profit incentives for news divisions to drown out the serious with titillation and slapstick.

But how precisely did it get this way? It’s been a long slow slide, to be sure, but the Telecommunications Act of 1996 – in which Gore was a key player as Bill Clinton’s vice president – has accelerated the very problems Gore bemoans in _The Assault on Reason_.

… it’s an inconvenient truth for Gore that this overhaul of US media law narrowed consumer news choices and curbed the public accountability of broadcasters. In a review of the legislation’s fallout in 2005, the advocacy group Common Cause noted that the law created “more media concentration, less diversity and higher prices”. …

… The new law increased the license period granted to broadcasters from five years to eight years and it significantly raised the bar required to successfully challenge license renewals. This double whammy effectively blunted one of the only tools available to ordinary citizens to hold media accountable.

The effects are already there to see. Recent studies have shown that local broadcast coverage of politics has been largely obliterated, with many broadcast news stations virtually ignoring regional congressional elections. … So it’s no surprise that Gore prefers to ping the soft target of celebrity. Nor is it surprising that his critics in the media prefer to keep the discussion on Gore v Britney.

Keeping track of friends’ whereabouts

by Eszter Hargittai on May 31, 2007

Not long ago I was going to post about the challenge of keeping relevant people posted of one’s travels. That is, the challenge of knowing who among one’s friends may be in the same location at the same time. It’s one thing to remember who lives at a particular destination, it’s another to try to guess who may be travelling there at the same time you are.

Fortunately, just as I was about to post on this, I came across Dopplr, which is a site that addresses this precise issue. Once you sign up, you can let the system know about upcoming trips. You also link up with other people to share your itineraries and the system tells you when you’ll overlap. It’s in closed beta, but if you can think of a friend who has an account, you can ask him/her for an invitation.

Obviously, the value of such a service increases by the number of relevant contacts that join and keep their accounts up-to-date. I wonder if they will be adding the option of distinguishing among contacts. You may want certain people to know about a trip, but not others. And of course, if you prefer that people not know about a certain trip at all, you can exclude it from your list altogether.

I’m excited about this service, but the usual challenge remains: getting enough of my non-geeky friends to join and update their travel info.

A liberating exit

by Ingrid Robeyns on May 31, 2007

“Henry’s post”: reminds me of a time in my recent past that the struggles of heterodox economics were taking up a good deal of my energy. In 2001, I was one of the three Cambridge University PhD students who wrote a little piece called “Opening up economics”:, which was originally signed by 27 economic, business economics and development economics PhD students to call for an ‘opening up’ of the economics discipline. In fact, originally we were four writing the proposal, but one dropped out since she became too worried that writing this piece might jeopardize her chances of getting her degree. In fact, I think it’s fair to say that many of us were scared, and some fellow PhD students didn’t want to sign because they worried about how their supervisors would react. So far for the notion of a free market of ideas.
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Upcoming CT book event: Higher Ground

by Eszter Hargittai on May 31, 2007

In the near future, CT will be hosting another book event. I thought it would be helpful to alert our readers ahead of time so people can read the book and thereby participate in the discussions more actively and in a more informed manner.

The book is “Higher Ground: New Hope for the Working Poor and Their Children” by Greg J. Duncan, Aletha C. Huston, and Thomas S. Weisner.

During the 1990s, growing demands to end chronic welfare dependency culminated in the 1996 federal “welfare-to-work” reforms. But regardless of welfare reform, the United States has always been home to a large population of working poor— people who remain poor even when they work and do not receive welfare. In a concentrated effort to address the problems of the working poor, a coalition of community activists and business leaders in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, launched New Hope, an experimental program that boosted employment among the city’s poor while reducing poverty and improving children’s lives. [The authors] provide a compelling look at how New Hope can serve as a model for national anti-poverty policies. [source]

You can either buy the book directly from its publisher, the Russell Sage Foundation, or get it at Amazon. Chapter 1 [pdf] is available online for free.

In addition to Timberite contributions, we’ll have comments by Nancy Folbre and Kimberly Morgan plus a response by Greg Duncan.

Amusing street scenes wanted

by Eszter Hargittai on May 31, 2007

Time sink!

Soon there will be a Web site just for this – if there isn’t one already -, but until then, let’s see what we can collect here.

Yesterday, Google announced a new feature of its Maps service: Street View for select urban areas in the U.S. plus Google’s backyard. We’ve seen this before on services like A9 (which discontinued the feature), and Microsoft’s Live Maps, but this seems more user-friendly.

Boing Boing has a thread with links to some interesting finds. Oh, the temptation to go hunting for more! Spot any embarrassing situations or funny captures? There is potential here for hours of amusement!

I’m off to Trader Joe’s.

Hip Orthodoxy

by Henry on May 30, 2007

Chris Hayes’ “article”: on heterodox economics has gotten a lot of attention; for my money, the two best takes on it are “Ezra Klein’s”: and “Matt Yglesias’s”: As Matt says:

What heterodox economists are really challenging isn’t neoclassical economics but the political behavior of neoclassical economists. The recent Alan Blinder fracas is a case in point. He didn’t call any of the standard neoliberal case for free trade into question, and, indeed, didn’t argue against free trade at all. He just said something that he thought would be helpful in spurring the creation of the sort of social democratic society with an open market that he favors, while many economists saw his statements as giving aide and comfort to people who have a political agenda (blocking new trade agreements) that they don’t like.

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Parents and children

by Michael Bérubé on May 30, 2007

I believe my last post here — almost a month ago — was all about <a href=””>not having enough time in the day</a>. Well, today my summer finally begins. I returned the last of my twelve graduate seminar essays, and I dropped off the First Child. I left him the car in which we drove 800 miles in one day, and flew back to central Pennsylvania the next day. Now that’s efficiency! We decided to forego <a href=””>the traditional father-son knife fight</a> upon parting, because I had myself a one-way airline ticket that I’d purchased only eight days before, and we figured I would attract quite enough attention in the airport without having to explain away sundry fresh flesh wounds.

Nick turned 21 last month, and will begin his senior year of college in the fall. I don’t know whether that makes me the CT contributor with the oldest child, but I figure I’ve got a shot at that dubious distinction. And so, for my return-from-little-hiatus post, I’m going to dilate a bit about parents and professors.

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DDT, tobacco and the parallel universe

by John Quiggin on May 30, 2007

The piles of documents released as a result of litigation against Phillip Morris and Exxon are gifts that keep on giving for those of us interested in the process by which the Republican parallel universe has been constructed. Previous research has shown that the core proponents of global warming delusionism including Stephen Milloy, Fred Singer and Fred Seitz got their start as shills for PM, denying the risks of passive smoking. A string of rightwing thinktanks including Cato, the Alexis de Tocqueville Institute and the Competitive Enterprise Institute helped to promote these hacks and the lies they were paid to peddle.

Now it’s turned out that one of the hardiest of parallel universe beliefs, the claim that Rachel Carson and the US ban on DDT were responsible for millions of deaths in the third world, arises from the same source.

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Basically it’s a Massive Pisser for You

by Kieran Healy on May 30, 2007

Kevin Drum has often complained about the terrible state of data protection laws and the related burden of dealing with identity theft. Over the weekend, I was listening to “That Mitchell and Webb Sound”: on Radio 4 and heard this sketch and thought it summed up the issues pretty well.

The threat of community reaction

by Henry on May 29, 2007

“Eugene Volokh”: gives the nod to Glenn Reynolds for a story about how Muslims are likely to respond in a “worrying” way if Ayaan Hirsi Ali speaks in Australia.

A tip: When you warn that your religious community will respond to critical speech in a “worrying” way, it is that response — and your use of that response as an attempt to deter such speech — that has the most potential to incite hostility. Oddly enough, citizens of a free country are often hostile (sometimes even to the point of hatred) to ideologies that demand suppression of critical religious views. And if your view is that Islam is a religion of peace, and that the overwhelming majority of Muslims don’t support religious violence, then condemn the (by hypothesis) small and unrepresentative segment of the community that is likely to act violently rather than using the “reaction from the community” as a threat in your political advocacy.

“Glenn Reynolds himself”: a couple of years ago on the American press and Iraq:

Freedom of the press, as it exists today (and didn’t exist, really, until the 1960s) is unlikely to survive if a majority — or even a large and angry minority — of Americans comes to conclude that the press is untrustworthy and unpatriotic. How far are we from that point?

See also his more recent “claim”: that “The press had better hope we win this war, because if we don’t, a lot of people will blame the media.” It seems to me that both statements invoke the same kind of implied threat as Eugene’s Muslim spokesperson: if you don’t say what I like, then other elements of the community are going to punish you for it (I’ll stand on the sidelines and sadly deplore what they do, but don’t try to tell me that you weren’t asking for it). I’d very much like to believe Eugene’s claim that the citizens of a free society are likely to be hostile to those who want to suppress critical views. But I imagine that this claim would be rather more persuasive if Eugene weren’t himself drawing on someone who has made implied threats about what will happen to the journalists rooting for America’s defeat unless they get on-side with the righteous American patriots.


by Chris Bertram on May 29, 2007

On the whole, ethnic stuff in English churches tends to consist of displays celebrating multiculturalism and interfaith understanding etc. So it was with some surprise that, when visiting Lichfield’s magnificent medieval cathedral I stumbled on this war memorial in the south transept. This in-your-face bit of Africa dates from just after the “Anglo-Zulu War of 1879”: (think Rorke’s Drift, think Michael Caine) and is just a teeny bit incongruous amidst the gothic widows and vaulted ceilings.

The whole Cathedral is magnificent by the way — there are other photos in my Flickr stream — and this isn’t the only cultural surprise. A memorial to Erasmus Darwin has the words:

“His speculations were directed towards problems which were afterwards more successfully solved by his Grandson, Charles Darwin, an inheritor of many of his characteristics.”

The Political Economy of Bibliographies

by Henry on May 29, 2007

This post has perhaps the single most unriveting title that a Crooked Timber post has _ever_ had (although there are arguably some other “close contenders”: But it’s motivated by some real annoyance. I’ve been dealing with a major project which has moved from one publishing venue to another, and am now checking to make sure that all the authors have switched over to the new bibliographical format, with brackets in the right places, journal volume number but not issue number, and all of the rest of that nonsense Which made me think about the considerable transaction costs that this involves for authors of academic articles and books. Most publications and presses in the social sciences have their unique house style, which one has to conform to in order to get something published.

You can maybe tell a functionalist story about why there are some differences in bibliographical styles _between_ disciplines – lawyers likely do have good reason to have those long confusing footnotes bristling with references. Within disciplines however, the continuing differences between journals are perhaps in part the result of path dependence (which in this case is little more than a fancy term for laziness on the part of the publishers; they’ve always done it this way and see no reason to change), in part the result of prestigious journals trying to reduce the flow of submissions by making prospective authors pre-commit some effort to sprucing up the bibliography before they submit a piece, so that they are less likely to submit a bad article on the off-chance. But surely this can’t explain why less prestigious journals too have their own house styles – one would think that those journals towards the lower end of the prestige rankings have an incentive to make it as easy as possible for authors to submit pieces. So I suspect that there is something else going on which isn’t strictly rational – a perception on the part of editors/publishers that to be a ‘real’ journal, one has to have one’s own particular hoops to make authors jump through. But then I’m writing as someone who has never edited an academic journal, nor seen any of the internal politics around these decisions – if anyone out there has more facts, or indeed more fact-free speculations along the lines presented here, comment away.

Incarceration and Education Budgets

by Kieran Healy on May 29, 2007

Last weekend I read Prophet of Innovation, Thomas McGraw’s biography of Joseph Schumpeter. Maybe more on that later: I need to write something about it before I forget the content. Somewhere in there McGraw quotes Schumpeter’s line that “the budget is the skeleton of the state, stripped of all misleading ideologies.” With that in mind, here’s a kind of X-ray of California’s state budget, via “Chris Uggen”:

Prison and Education Spending trends in California

This is from a “SF Chronicle”: article on these trends, which look set to continue.

Over the past few years, sociologists “Bruce Western”: and “Becky Pettit”: have shown that incarceration has become a standard feature of the life-course for certain segments of society, especially young, unskilled black men. A “paper by Pettit and Western”: provides some estimates, notably the astonishing finding that in the cohort born between 1965 and 1969, thirty percent of black men without a college education — and _sixty_ percent of black men without a high school degree — had been incarcerated by 1999. Recent cohorts of black men “are more likely to have prison records (22.4 percent) than military records (17.4 percent) or bachelor’s degrees (12.5 percent).” Western develops the argument at greater length in a recent book, Punishment And Inequality in America, which you should really go and buy. As these shifts show up in the social patterning of individual biographies, so too will they be reflected in the Schumpeterian skeleton of the state budget.

Cheney Speaks

by Kieran Healy on May 27, 2007

A “couple”: of “people”: have commented on “these remarks”:, delivered by Dick Cheney to the graduating class at West Point. The piece is full of the usual doubletalk: “We’re fighting a war on terror because the enemy attacked us first, and hit us hard”, etc. Notice he didn’t _quite_ say, “We’re fighting a war in _Iraq_ because the enemy attacked us first,” but this is clearly what he means, because later on he says,

bq. The terrorists … [seek] to establish a totalitarian empire, a caliphate, with Baghdad as its capital. They view the world as a battlefield and they yearn to hit us again. And now they have chosen to make Iraq the central front in their war against civilization.

Nice choice, guys. The bit that’s gotten notice is this:

bq. As Army officers on duty in the war on terror, you will now face enemies who oppose and despise everything you know to be right, every notion of upright conduct and character, and every belief you consider worth fighting for and living for. Capture one of these killers, and he’ll be quick to demand the protections of the Geneva Convention and the Constitution of the United States. Yet when they wage attacks or take captives, their delicate sensibilities seem to fall away.

Yeah, you see, that sort of double standard is what makes them the bad guys. Josh Marshall Steve Benen asks whether it “is it too much to ask the Vice President to refer to the protections of the Geneva Convention and the Constitution of the United States as _good_ things? Perhaps protections that he’s proud of?”

The thing about Cheney’s rhetoric, though, is that the flow from the first to the second sentence strongly implies that he _does_ think of them as good things. From what he says, it’s clear that the U.S. constitution and Geneva Conventions are amongst those things the graduates “know to be right,” that and that they embody ideals of “upright conduct” and express those beliefs they “consider worth fighting for and living for.” It’s just that he doesn’t seem to have any notion that these ideals themselves express rules for how to defend one’s principles without betraying them.

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Your papers, please

by Kieran Healy on May 27, 2007

Not the sort of phrase you associate with Britain, “but this may change.”: