Stabs in the dark

by Henry Farrell on April 10, 2008

Clive Crook is probably my favourite sort-of-conservative big media commentator. But his “new piece”: on ‘the End of the American Exception’ seems to me to be seriously out of whack.

That the United States stands apart is something Americans and Europeans have agreed on for a long time … Modern America has limited government, weak unions, high-powered incentives, capitalism red in tooth and claw. Post-war Europe has tax-and-spend, transport strikes, six-week vacations, and the welfare state. …Caricatures are well and good, but this one is just too much. In economic matters, America is far more like Europe, and Europe more like America, than either cares to admit. … health care … is America’s biggest social-policy exception …And it is marked for abolition. … . Consider regulation of business and finance. Few seem to question that the weight of regulation is less in the United States. In one area, anyway, this is true: Worker protections are weaker in America than in Western Europe … But think about product-safety regulation, or environmental regulation. … On regulation of corporate governance, Democrats are still calling for stricter rules … since Sarbanes Oxley, American financial and corporate regulation has been probably the most stringent and complex in the world.

…The unions are weaker here, it is said. To be sure, they have fewer members as a proportion of the workforce than in Britain, or (even more so) continental Europe. … proposed card-check legislation is expressly intended to slow and reverse the decline in union membership. This is a goal which few European governments would any longer think to embrace. In Britain it would be regarded as crazy … American unions remind me of the old-fashioned British kind. They seem anachronistically angry and assertive. … See what America’s unions have done to the auto industry. The Writers’ Guild just shut Hollywood down for several months. …I cannot think of a British union that any longer has that kind of muscle, or would think of exerting it if it did. In much of the rest of Europe, unions have become a quietly co-operative part of management more than militant champions of workers’ rights.

[click to continue…]


by Henry Farrell on April 10, 2008

The OSI has a “new fellowship program”: that may be of interest to some CT readers.

The Open Society Fellowship supports outstanding individuals from around the world. The fellowship enables innovative professionals—including journalists, activists, academics, and practitioners—to work on projects that inspire meaningful public debate, shape public policy, and generate intellectual ferment within the Open Society Institute.

The fellowship focuses on four themes: National Security and the Open Society; Citizenship, Membership and Marginalization; Strategies and Tools for Advocacy and Citizen Engagement; and Understanding Authoritarianism. OSI also supports a limited number of fellows whose work focuses on other topics within the scope of its mission.

Also, I’ve been meaning for a week to link to the inimitable “Kathy G.”: Those of us who’ve known her in other contexts have benefited greatly from her mixture of shit-stirring feminism, sociological chops and interest in political economy; it’s great to see her join the blogosphere. “Here”: and “here”: she explains to Megan McArdle what monopsony actually involves. And “here”: she asks with some justification if anyone can tell her why _Salon_ is publishing the “twisted, misogynist, bizarrely self-obsessed ravings of a freak like Camille Paglia?”

The death of Flickr?

by Chris Bertram on April 10, 2008

Obviously, I’m not Crooked Timber’s resident expert on the sociology of online communities, so here’s hoping that Kieran or Eszter will be along in a moment to reassure me, but, as a keen Flickr user, I’m perturbed by their decision to start allowing video. Flickr (owned by the troubled Yahoo, of course) probably has two (overlapping) kinds of user: the person who wants a repository for their snaps to show to friends and family and the person who is into photography on at least a hobbyist level who wants to interact with similar others. It also has thriving groups of various kinds based on shared interests or locality: for example my local group has 1000+ nominal members, dozens of active members, and a fairly thriving offline complement of activities (monthly meets where much beer is consumed, photowalks etc.).

All of this is threatened by the addition of video. As the photographic element is diluted and the YouTubers arrive, some photographers will find it less congenial and will choose to go elsewhere; as they go, the pool will become more dilute, leading others to take the same decision. In other words, I predict the kind of cascade effect the Mark Granovetter and others have written about. Of course, I could be wrong, and maybe the Flickr community is more robust and adaptable than I’m allowing for. SmugMug and Pbase don’t (yet) have local groups of photographers who hang out together, critique one another’s pictures and so on. But this seems a rash decision for Yahoo to make. Does it have to do so with the Microsoft bid? Maybe.

Stupid, stupid upgrade creatures

by John Holbo on April 10, 2008

I just upgraded to MS-Office 2008 for mac. God help me. I did it without reading the reviews. Now I discover custom macros are history. I don’t really care so much, except I worry that EndNote won’t play nice now. (Won’t that be lovely?) And I used to have a custom macro for converting ascii/plaintext – i.e. stripping out all the hard returns. So I could cut&paste email or a Gutenberg book, select one menu item, and get the lines to wrap instead of being all sullen and jagged out there on the right. It’s such a common problem. Now how am I going to solve it?

What’s a simple fix for converting ascii/plaintext to MS-Word?

UPDATE: OK, on reflection it’s pretty clear how to make a 4-step fix using find&replace. Having bothered to figure this out, I’ll just put the simple solution under the fold. [click to continue…]

A Country Life

by Henry Farrell on April 10, 2008

It seems to be children’s TV and organ procurement week here at CT; before I get started into something new I should probably note that Russell Arben Fox has “said everything I wanted to say”: in my earlier postbut has put it far more thoughtfully and eloquently. As the father of a two year old with an interest in the topic (albeit one whose TV diet is restricted to 2 hours on weekends, much to his disgruntlement), I’ve become much more intimately acquainted with the offerings of US children’s TV than I ever imagined possible or desirable. I’m especially interested in how US TV deals with the product of foreign cultures. Sometimes, it improves on them, as in the three dimensional _Noddy_ show. Not that it’s much good or anything, but the original books weren’t much cop either, and the frank racism of the original has been replaced by a soothingly multicultural Toytown in which PC Plod, oddly enough, is the only character to maintain a real English accent (I suspect serious dubbing of the UK original).

As an Irishman, I’m naturally more interested in _Jakers: The Adventures of Piggleywinks_ which is probably the most influential depiction of my native culture that millions of American children will ever be exposed to. And it’s surprisingly well done in my opinion – not classic Sesame Street good, but still not at all bad – you feel that the creators have taken some care in putting it together. Bits of the background, such as the national school ring reasonably true to my own upbringing, and even if it’s a concatenation of cliches, they’re well researched cliches. Most of the characters even have real Irish brogues (unlike “other shows with bigger budgets”:, although the grandfatherly narrator seems to have mysteriously picked up a pronounced Dublin working class accent somewhere in his peregrinations between Raloo Farm and Amerikay.

Still, there’s one glaring omission from its depiction of rural Irish life in the 1940s – there’s no mention (at least in the episodes I’ve seen) of the Roman Catholic church, or any other church for that matter. Apart from their occasional utterance of the eponymous expression of surprise, you’d think that the villagers were as godless a crowd of humanists as ever warmed the cockles of PZ Myers’ heart. I can understand why the program producers made this choice – it would be hard to tackle the role of the church in 1940’s Ireland without falling into the one set of cliches or the other, and the bits after the main show seem designed to highlight the universalities of the immigrant experience rather than the particularities of one small country. But it still feels odd to me every time I watch the program; having grown up in a small market town with less than 2,000 inhabitants myself, I can testify that the Catholic church was not only important but omnipresent. It organized and disciplined the community in good ways and in bad. When I was around nine years old or so, we were told by the headmaster of the local Christian Brother’s school (the unloved Brother Ryan – I sometimes wonder what’s happened to the vicious old bastard since) that the local cinema was to be boycotted because it had dared to show _The Life of Brian._ One boy who broke the boycott, and was caught, got several strokes of the stick in front of the class for his pains; none of us found this at all remarkable at the time. Of course, the country (and the town, on the couple of occasions I have been back through it) have changed dramatically in the interim, and not entirely for the better; while I wouldn’t want to go back to the Ireland of the 1970s, let alone the 1950s, I find the consumerism and materialism of the new Ireland pretty unpleasant in its own way too.