From the monthly archives:

May 2007

Plus ca Change

by Kieran Healy on May 26, 2007

Steven Pinker reviewing Natalie Angier’s _The Canon_:

bq. Though we live in an era of stunning scientific understanding, all too often the average educated person will have none of it. People who would sneer at the vulgarian who has never read Virginia Woolf will insouciantly boast of their ignorance of basic physics.

C.P. Snow, 1959:

bq. A good many times I have been present at gatherings of people who, by the standards of the traditional culture, are thought highly educated and who have with considerable gusto been expressing their incredulity at the illiteracy of scientists. Once or twice I have been provoked and have asked the company how many of them could describe the Second Law of Thermodynamics. The response was cold: it was also negative. Yet I was asking something which is about the scientific equivalent of: Have you read a work of Shakespeare’s? I now believe that if I had asked an even simpler question — such as, What do you mean by mass, or acceleration, which is the scientific equivalent of saying, Can you read?-not more than one in ten of the highly educated would have felt that I was speaking the same language. So the great edifice of modern physics goes up, and the majority of the cleverest people in the western world have about as much insight into it as their neolithic ancestors would have had.

Irish election coverage

by Henry on May 25, 2007

I’ve been feeling a bit guilty about not blogging on the Irish election, but only a bit; unlike Maria, I’ve mostly lost touch with Irish politics. But for those who want to follow what’s happening minute to minute, “Irish Election”:http://www.irishelection.com/ is yer only man (and indeed its level of technological sophistication seems to be “impressing”:http://www.techpresident.com/node/364 the tech-politics folks in the US too).

Update: It looks as though Michael McDowell, who was Deputy Prime Minister (and more to the point, Maria’s and my uncle) has lost his seat and is “leaving public life”:http://www.rte.ie/news/2007/0525/election6.html. While we had very different political positions on a host of things (he’s strongly to the right), I’m very sorry about this, and not only because of my obvious personal affection for him – he brought a level of intellectual and argumentative clarity to a political culture that has all too often been based on ambiguity and obfuscation, and did more than anyone else to hold Sinn Fein’s feet to the fire when they looked likely to enter normal party politics on the nod and the wink.

Can Christians be Patriots?

by Harry on May 25, 2007

In a follow-up to John’s post asserting that a minority of Americans are Christians, Lindsey (a young evangelical Christian) at Regardant les nuages elaborates the specifically Christian case against patriotism. Her understanding from the inside accords pretty much with mine (and John’s) from the outside, which is nice to know! An excerpt:

while I love the gifts that I’ve received in virtue of living here, I must realize that they are by no means my own. I am obligated to use them to benefit everyone, and everyone is not limited to my American neighbors. So while I may love this country, I don’t love it in the sense that I’m proud to be American instead of Canadian, French or Japanese. My love is merely an appreciation of the opportunities afforded to me by growing up here. The real problem with love of country is that, while innocent enough on its own, it is often accompanied by neglect of other countries. God did not call us to love and serve America alone. We are here to make an impact on the world. We are called to bring justice, peace, love, and kindness to all peoples.

Comment there (esp colleen, who might like what she finds).

Pre-Early Rawls

by Jon Mandle on May 25, 2007

In the most recent issue of the Journal of Religious Ethics, Eric Gregory (a Religion professor at Princeton) has an article (abstract here) discussing John Rawls’s senior undergraduate thesis. Gregory is properly cautious, pointing out: “Few people, I suspect, would welcome the thought of being held accountable to claims made in graduate seminar papers, let alone undergraduate theses.” True enough. And it’s worth remembering what Sam Freeman writes in the preface to Rawls’s Collected Papers: “Rawls has often said that he sees these papers as experimental works, opportunities to try out ideas that later may be developed, revised, or abandoned in his books. For this reason he has long been reluctant to permit the publication of his collected papers in book form.” One can only imagine what he would have thought about a published analysis of his undergraduate thesis.
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Irish election

by Maria on May 25, 2007

Things aren’t looking too good for the rainbow coalition of Fine Gael, Labour and possibly the Greens. Yesterday’s election had a very high turnout and Fianna Fail, the leading party in the most recent coalition has about 41% of the vote.

Right now, all indicators are that the next coalition will be led by Fianna Fail. But who will the junior party be? The Progressive Democrats, Labour (despite their pre-election pact with Fine Gael) or even Sinn Fein.

I’d hoped to get home to vote, but work didn’t permit. In Brussels, only Irish civil servants and their spouses are permitted to use a postal vote. I’ve no serious complaints. If our diaspora was allowed to run the show, the provos would have been in years ago.

They’re Faster than You

by Kieran Healy on May 25, 2007

By all accounts not any sort of couch potato, Ogged is “understandably distressed”:http://www.unfogged.com/archives/week_2007_05_20.html#006859 to look at the age-group records for his chosen event, the 50 meters freestyle, and find that he has to go all the way up to the 75-79 age group to find a time he would stand a chance of beating.

I have the related experience of having family members who are irritatingly athletic. For instance, my brother was on the Irish cross-country team and won a bunch of stuff in college. My sister-in-law ran the Chicago marathon in 2004 — her first — and finished seventeenth. Worst of all, two years before I was even born my uncle won a marathon in “Kaduna”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kaduna in a time of 2:15:03, then the fastest time ever run in Africa, and now more than thirty five years later still one of the the 20 fastest marathons ever run by any Irishman. (And also, “to my knowledge,”:http://www.arrs.net/AC_Mara.htm still the fastest marathon ever run in Nigeria.)

Elite athletes are different from you and me, and this is true even when, as in my case, you share a significant percentage of their genes. My sister-in-law once told me of the experience — common amongst top women athletes — of being out for a run and getting held up at a stop light. Some regular semi-fit guy out for his evening jog runs up alongside, and glances over. The light changes, and the guy takes off at an unsustainable speed because, obviously, it would be a violation of natural law for a woman to be able to run faster than a guy. Having gone through this one too many times, my sister-in-law adopted the strategy of just tucking in behind the guy and waiting to see what would happen. After a short while he realizes she’s behind him. He tries to go faster. He glances behind. She’s still there. A very short while later the guy, now beginning to boil in a self-made vat of lactic acid, starts making random turns down streets in a desperate effort to shake his pursuer. It doesn’t work. Eventually the guy grinds to a halt, she breezes by, he’s left gasping for air and maybe reflecting on his views on gender.

Visas and education

by Henry on May 24, 2007

“Matt Yglesias”:http://matthewyglesias.theatlantic.com/archives/2007/05/visas_for_grads.php agrees for once with Airmiles Friedman.

It’s really baffling that we would give someone a visa to pursue high-level education in the United States and then do anything other than automatically give them a visa to work here. If we’re going to be stingy with anything, it should be with spots at our universities (in practice, there tend not to be Americans clamoring to get graduate schooled in technical disciplines), not spots in our labor force. Unlike the immigration of unskilled workers, immigration of highly skilled people is a totally uncomplicated balance of considerations. It’s good for the immigrant, it boosts the American economy as a whole, and instead of putting mild downward pressure on the wages of the least-fortunate native born people, the costs are borne by better-off Americans. It’s a total no-brainer.

Not so. It may be a total no-brainer for US economic wellbeing. It isn’t a no-brainer for the home country of the workers in question. Cue Dani Rodrik, who thinks that a “guest worker”:http://rodrik.typepad.com/dani_rodriks_weblog/2007/05/the_new_york_ti.html program would be ‘terrific,’ a point that he has developed at greater length in an earlier paper (PDF).

To ensure that labor mobility produces benefits for developing nations it is imperative that the regime be designed in a way that generates incentives for return to home countries.
While remittances can be an important source of income support for poor families, they are generally unable to spark and sustain long-term economic development. Designing contract labor schemes that are truly temporary is tricky, but it can be done.

This is the reason why, for example, people who come to the US to do advanced degrees with support from Fulbright scholarships (such as meself once upon a time) are obliged to return to their home countries (or, in the case of EU citizens, the EU) for a period of two years before they can apply for a proper work visa or permanent residency. Speaking from my personal experience, this can be a considerable pain in the ass, but it has an undeniable logic. The home country in question isn’t going to benefit very much from its most economically productive citizens (which category doesn’t include me; I was always likely to be a net drain on the Irish economy) going to the US to study, if they don’t ever come home. This point applies with _especial_ force to people coming over to study for advanced degrees in technical subjects. I think it’s possible to construct a slightly convoluted cosmopolitanish case against temporary worker programs (this would have to do with labour standards and the need for strong unions in the US to mitigate the global deregulatory impact of US preferences on the world economic regime; I may lay this out in a later post). But I don’t think it’s possible to construct one against the kinds of programs that Matt favors here. So if you are solely concerned with the economic benefit of the US, it’s indeed a no-brainer. If you’re worried about the rest of the world too (or instead), it’s anything but.

Karl Marx: The Pre-Beard Years

by Scott McLemee on May 24, 2007

The Hollywood Reporter, uh, reports:

Haitian auteur Raoul Peck will direct “Karl Marx,” tracing the young adventures of the German philosopher and revolutionary, producer Jacques Bidou said Thursday.

The picture will cover the period 1830-1848, including Marx’s time in Paris before being expelled to Brussels and culminating with the publication of the Communist Manifesto. “Marx was considered a young genius at the time, but it was also a period marked by the birth of a great movement in thinking,” Bidou said.

The story also will encompass Marx’s love for his aristocratic wife Jenny von Westphalen, and his friendship with Friedrich Engels, with whom he co-authored the Manifesto.

No cast is yet attached, but Bidou said the principal characters will necessarily be young….

Well, yes, that is probably true, given that Marx was 12 years old in 1830.
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Bloggingheads with Douthat

by Henry on May 23, 2007

I have a new “bloggingheads”:http://bloggingheads.tv/video.php?id=284 up with Ross Douthat- we spend the hour discussing the parlous state of American conservatism. Looking through the early comments, I get some well deserved grief for my tv manner. I find it hard to concentrate on a webcam, and I have a terrible habit of clicking randomly around on a computer when I am talking to someone or thinking (I’m one of those people who find the new _New York Times_ ‘helpful’ feature of pulling up a dictionary when you click on a random word, _really annoying_ ) I also have some academic tics; viz. I don’t interrupt people very often (interruption is considered pretty rude in a seminar). And I’m sure there’s more. It would be interesting to hear from readers with media experience about dos and don’ts of live TV or its cheapo webbed cousins. What kinds of things should you do? Should you not do? (I remember Brad DeLong had some tips on how to prepare yourself for TV interviews a long while ago, but I can’t find them).

Christians a minority in the US

by John Quiggin on May 23, 2007

Rightwing bloggers are making a big fuss about a poll in which 47 per cent of US Muslims stated that they thought of themselves first as Muslim, and only 28 per cent as Americans first (18 per cent volunteered “Both” and 7 per cent Don’t Know). By contrast, for self-described US Christians, the results were 48 per cent for American first, and only 42 per cent for Christian first, with 7 per cent saying “Both” and 3 per cent Don’t Know.

The only possible reading of this data is that less than half of all Americans are in fact Christians in the religious, as opposed to the cultural/tribal, sense of the term. Galatians 3:28 is pretty clear on the subject, but more importantly, it’s obvious that you can’t seriously believe in, and worship, an Almighty God if your allegiance to an earthly power comes first, or equal, or if you don’t even know.It might be useful in discussion of US exceptionalism as regards religion to note the preponderance of nominal believers revealed by this question.

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Waking up on a Red Day

by Chris Bertram on May 23, 2007

Well, “here we go”:http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport1/hi/football/europe/6669039.stm . An open thread for pre-match speculation and post-match analysis. Me, I’m feeling confident. Milan are a great side, but they’ve been doing all the talking and I think their desire to avenge 2005 will work against them. They were terrific against Man U, but profited from suicidal defending, and great performances are often followed by average ones. Hold on tight.

Born on a Blue Day

by John Holbo on May 23, 2007

I just read Born On A Blue Day [amazon], by Daniel Tammet. It’s subtitled ‘inside the extraordinary mind of an autistic savant’. He really is pretty extraordinary – a high functioning autistic savant syndrome synaesthete of the first order. First paragraph: [click to continue…]

Do you have email filters set up for some friends?

by Eszter Hargittai on May 22, 2007

John Tierney has a piece in the NYTimes about Dan Ryan‘s work concerning the sociology of notification and information dissemination among friends and acquaintances (based on Dan’s recent article in Sociological Theory).

I saw Dan give a talk on this recently and it’s a really fun and interesting topic. His work makes you think about things like why/when it is and is not appropriate to use cc vs bcc on emails, the proper order in which we should notify various people in our networks about certain types of updates, what medium is suitable for what types of material, etc.

The NYTimes piece specifically mentions the idea of setting up email filters for some friends. I must admit that I have filters set up for all sorts of people. I tend to do it by type of person (as in type of network) more so than by specific individual, although the latter idea isn’t foreign to me either.

As someone who studies savvy with IT, I consider the thoughtful use of email filters an important part of skill in how we interact with IT. Email filters are increasingly important for being able to manage the amount of material that comes our way via that particular medium.

[Thanks to Steve Mintz for alerting me to this piece.]

UPDATE: I forgot to post a link to Dan’s blog about the Sociology of Information. Check it out for more goodies.

Chinese Democracy II

by Henry on May 22, 2007

Brad DeLong “links approvingly”:http://delong.typepad.com/sdj/2007/05/thomas_pm_barne.html to Thomas Barnett’s “attack”:http://www.thomaspmbarnett.com/weblog/2007/05/an_overwrought_ideologically_m.html on James Mann and other China ‘fearmongers.’ Insofar as I can read through Barnett’s self-created jargon of “the Gap” etc, I don’t find this critique to be insightful, compelling, or indeed particularly accurate. [click to continue…]

Pretty Flamingo

by Jon Mandle on May 22, 2007

I thought this news item involved several of those colorful British idioms that I never quite get exactly. But no – these are real birds.

A pair of gay flamingos have adopted an abandoned chick, becoming parents after being together for six years, a British conservation organisation said Monday.