The Podcast Times

by Scott McLemee on October 4, 2007

Last week, I met Todd Gitlin in the studio at Inside Higher Ed’s world headquarters on K Street to record an interview about his new book, The Bulldozer and the Big Tent. (The “studio” is actually the publisher’s office, since it has the best acoustics. Podcasting has become a routine if not a regular thing for us; here’s the backlist. I’m still getting used to the format itself and trying to think about its potential as a way to supplement my column, since merely duplicating content of a written piece in audio (or vice versa) isn’t very interesting or appealing.

At TPM Cafe, Gitlin expresses what seems like surprised appreciation to his interviewer “for actually having read the book.” Given journalistic norms, that probably means I’ll never get a steady gig again, and certainly not in radio or TV.

But in consequence of this peculiar tendency, I have notes indicating that Henry’s netroots essay is quoted on page 184 and then again on page 185.

War Crimes

by Henry Farrell on October 4, 2007

“Marty Lederman”: on the revelations in “today’s NYT”:

“[James] Comey told colleagues at the department that they would all be ‘ashamed’ when the world eventually learned of it.” [Would] that it were so. Between this and Jane Mayer’s explosive article in August about the CIA black sites, I am increasingly confident that when the history of the Bush Administration is written, this systematic violation of statutory and treaty-based law concerning fundamental war crimes and other horrific offenses will be seen as the blackest mark in our nation’s recent history — not only because of what was done, but because the programs were routinely sanctioned, on an ongoing basis, by numerous esteemed professionals — lawyers, doctors, psychologists and government officers — without whose approval such a systematized torture regime could not be sustained.

Playing nice

by Henry Farrell on October 4, 2007

“Anmik,” commenting on Kieran’s “post”: below writes:

But then, what about the very real, very reasonable impulse to softpedal book reviews, to write overly generous tenure evaluations, and on and on? I only ask because the whole idea of peer review, and the review process more broadly, has begun to feel a bit, how to say this, corrupt of late. I noted yesterday some very minor flap in which Chris Matthews, the political “journalist,” admitted that it’s hard to cover the people he sees at cocktail parties. The same is true for scholars, no? And blogs only compound the problem, I suppose.

This is a real problem, albeit not one of recent vintage; mutual backscratching is especially endemic in academic book reviews. But it isn’t one that is very easy to fix. Some months ago, I wrote a quite negative review of a book that seemed lazy to me; I thought it only fair to signal this to potential buyers. But precisely because there’s a kind of pooling equilibrium going on here I worried a bit about whether or not I was sending out _too_ negative a signal to readers and colleagues about the book’s quality. If everyone says nice things about everyone else’s books, then a negative review will likely be overinterpreted as saying that this book _really_ stinks to high heaven, its author should be denied tenure etc. In this case, it wasn’t a major issue, because the book was written by a seniorish figure, who presumably wouldn’t be damaged too much by an asst. prof’s evaluation of his work. However, I would worry if I were writing a review of a more junior person’s work, to try to be sure that whatever signal I was sending out wasn’t misinterpreted.

I suspect that this is even more of an issue in tenure review letters, where, I understand, negative comments will receive far more attention than positive ones on the assumption that their informational content is much higher. Given this, someone who wants to give an honest assessment that is critical but basically favorable is going to have to choose her words very carefully indeed so that she says only what she wants to say and isn’t interpreted as saying more. So the problem isn’t simply one of corruption – it’s also one of signalling conventions that are quite hard to overturn once they become established. Anonymous peer review is different in my experience – negative signals by and large don’t receive undue weight, because there aren’t any obvious pressures to converge on an equilibrium where we say nice things about each other even though we don’t mean them.

What Goes Around …

by Kieran Healy on October 4, 2007

Dan Myers tells a story for all you academic bloggers:

Sometime within the past year, a certain person made some very snarky, I’d even say rude, comments on my blog. (I erased the comments, so don’t bother going to look for them). Shortly thereafter, I received a letter from this person’s department asking me for an external evaluation of the person’s work for tenure and promotion. … Did I take the opportunity to punish them for their misdeeds? Of course not. Did they know me well enough to know that I wouldn’t? They did not! My point–be nice, academics. Even if you can’t drum up the humanity to do it, use your own self-interest.

Bidet of the Locust

by John Holbo on October 4, 2007

Tim Lambert has some good, clean fun with Mark Steyn’s strange notions about Hollywood hygiene. (via Yglesias.) But then I flip to the NY Times and read that the bidet is finally coming to the US:

Although Americans have long shied away from conventional bidets, which are common in other countries, and the newer bidet seats, at least two major companies, Kohler and Toto, expect the seat to overcome that resistance eventually.

Proving once again that you can’t spell commodity fetishism without the ‘commode’. This calls out for something – not as beat your head against the basin stupid as Steyn; a microtrendy David Brooks column. Something wise and telling about bidet liberals vs. flyover country, do-it-yourself sons of the soil; of left-coasters who like sipping lattes, hands free, while “a remote-controlled retractable wand that spouts oscillating jets of well-aimed aerated water and a dryer that emits warm air” do the necessary. Some sort of ceramic sequel to Bowling Alone: America’s Declining Social Capital. Something faintly superior, yet self-deprecatingly alarmist, possibly involving clever yet oddly meaningless puns on ‘day’.

Invisible Hands

by Kieran Healy on October 4, 2007

Via John Gruber, here is a striking series of photographs of workers in toy factories in China. I wish I had seen them yesterday, because this morning I did a midterm review in my social theory course and, in quick succession, students asked me about Smith’s idea of the invisible hand and about Marx’s concept of commodity fetishism.

_Update_: More photos, from their originator, here.

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