From the monthly archives:

November 2008

Monkey Cage Redirect

by Henry on November 21, 2008

It appears that The Monkey Cage, a blog that I contribute to together with a bunch of other political scientists, has been domain squatted. Hence, it will no longer be themonkeycage.org, unless we somehow manage to get it back (fat chance). As soon as the domain name propagates (probably 24 hours or so) it will be “http://themonkeycage.net”:http://themonkeycage.net. Those of you who read the blog please update accordingly – I’d be grateful if those of you who have blogs that are likely to be read by Monkey Cage readers passed on the information about the new URL.\

UPDATE: It looks as though the problem isn’t as bad as I had thought – one of my co-bloggers (who shall remain nameless) had forgotten to renew the URL GoDaddy screwed up the renewal of the URL and it is simply going to the registrar’s home page. So the old URL should be back soon – but the new one will work too.

Ahem

by Daniel on November 21, 2008

Budweiser, eh?

I asked the brewmaster, Jean-Marie Rock, which American beer he likes best. He thought for a moment, squinting down his bladelike nose, and narrowed his lips to a point. Then he raised a finger in the air. “Budweiser!” he said. “Tell them that the brewer at Orval likes Budweiser!” He smiled. “I know they detest it, but it is quite good.”

Thanks very much for the heads up to Luis Enrique and Unfogged. Sweet vindication, albeit coming from a guy with pointed lips. Other gems from the article:

“When a brewer says, ‘This has more hops in it than anything you’ve had in your life—are you man enough to drink it?,’ it’s sort of like a chef saying, ‘This stew has more salt in it than anything you’ve ever had—are you man enough to eat it?’ ”

Microbrewers, gahhh.

End of the beginning?

by John Quiggin on November 21, 2008

The failure of Citigroup, which looks increasingly likely to happen in the near future, would mark the end of the beginning of the financial crisis. Until now, the prevailing view has been that the crisis and recession will pass in a year or so, after which things will go back, more or less, to the way they were, with a few less financial institutions, and a bit more regulation. A Citigroup failure would put paid to that idea.

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E-Fax hell

by Henry on November 21, 2008

Some consumer venting. In 2006, I used “E-Fax”:http://www.efax.com for several months, and then cancelled the service. At that point, it was necessary to “use a chat client”:http://www.elsewhere.org/journal/archives/2004/04/05/cancelling-efax-service/ to cancel – I presume in order to increase the chance of retention by raising hurdles for customers who wish to depart. After going through a lengthy and tedious process of telling the E-Fax representative that no, I did not want to get two months service free to encourage me to stay, I quit, and was told by the representative that my account was cancelled. Story over – or so I thought. Then today, I check the credit card account that the E-fax account billed to (it’s automatically balanced and one that I rarely use) and discover that E-fax have never cancelled, and have been billing me $16.95 a month for the last two years. I call customer service, and eventually get transferred to a supervisor called ‘Martha’ who is polite, but insists (a) that their customer records show that I accepted the offer of two months free service to stay (which is flatly untrue), (b) that the transcript of the chat conversation can’t be found (and because it can’t, she suggests that I must have called to cancel, which was an impossibility at the time), and (c ) that their inflexible policy is only to refund for a maximum of four months of service. She conceded that the online chat agents were encouraged to retain customers – when I asked whether or not their pay reflected their retention success, she told me that she didn’t know, because they were based in India (but suggested, without ever quite explicitly saying so, that they weren’t – I strongly suspect from my knowledge of how these subcontracting relations work that this isn’t true).

Yes – this is partly my own fault for not checking all my accounts regularly to be sure that weird things aren’t happening – but it has left a pretty bad taste in my mouth regarding E-Fax and its business model (a couple of cursory Google searches suggest that I am not the only unhappy customer). So I strongly recommend that before people think about signing up for E-fax, they consider the difficulties of cancelling, the adoption by the company of a cancellation system that provides you with no record to prove that you have cancelled, when in fact you have, and the fact that the sales agent in my case at least seems to have falsely recorded the outcome of our interaction. I told the representative that I understood that this was the policy of the company, but that I would be blogging it to express my strong dissatisfaction – so here it is (and may it put a pox and a plague their Google searches).

All Free Songs Considered

by John Holbo on November 20, 2008

My free music posts have been generally well-received, so here’s another. First, if you don’t know, the new Guns N’ Roses album is now streaming on MySpace. I shall listen while writing this post. [UPDATE: it sounds like Guns N’ Roses.]

Right. Other free stuff. If you don’t know, Stereogum is a great source for music news and free mp3 downloads. They have whole albums and lots of individual tracks. You can download old archive sets in convenient zips. Here, for your delectation, a free fix of mostly recent, mostly Stereogum-derived freebies. Just right-click and download. Report back later, praising my good taste. [click to continue…]

What do SUVs and luxury cars have in common?

by Ingrid Robeyns on November 19, 2008

“The answer: “:http://www.ad.nl/utrecht/2783837/Onderzoek_naar_ruimere_afwerkplek.html they are too big for the afwerkplekken that were built around 1986 in Dutch cities such as Utrecht, and so the drivers are having a hard time getting access. Afwerkplekken? You don’t know what that is, and your Dutch-English internet translator doesn’t know how to translate this word?

Afwerkplekken are, as the picture in the “newspaper article”:http://www.ad.nl/utrecht/2783837/Onderzoek_naar_ruimere_afwerkplek.html shows, places where the client of a prostitute can drive to, and have sex with her. Basically it looks like a parking, with walls and with bins. They are provided by the local governments. Literally it means ‘a place to finish the work’.

Sometimes this country really amazes me.

You Little Bobby Dazzler

by Kieran Healy on November 19, 2008

Soc Blogger Jeremy Freese won this year’s Interactive Fiction Competition, where the goal is to write a text-based puzzle game in the tradition of stuff like Infocom classics. The premise of Jeremy’s game, Violet, is summarized by the Chronicle of Higher Education:

It’s noon and you’ve still got 1,000 words to type. That might not seem like much, but it’s been months since you’ve last worked on your dissertation and distractions are plentiful. To make matters worse, your girlfriend, Violet, says she’s out the door and flying back to Australia if you don’t finish the paper by the end of the day.

What’s your next move?

This is the premise for Violet, a text-based computer game in which a graduate student is the main character. As the student, you must fight through countless distractions and solve a number of puzzles to finish the paper in time to save your relationship. The story is told by Violet, who allows you to examine objects in your office and ask for hints.

Here is a review. Naturally, a sequel must now be in the works. Who should the protagonist be? What situation should they face? Obvious possibilities include a disaffected English professor teaching somewhere in a state beginning and ending a vowel, whose only creative outlet is bitter, overwritten Chronicle columns; a busily networking scholar-blogger desperate to finagle an invitation to appear on Bloggingheads.tv; or perhaps the crisis of a senior faculty member whose long history of abusive pseudonymous commenting is suddenly and inadvertently exposed.

Global rules and regulators

by Henry on November 19, 2008

Dani Rodrik had a provocative “blogpost”:http://rodrik.typepad.com/dani_rodriks_weblog/2008/11/what-a-surprise.html a little while back:

Here is the dilemma we cannot evade. If we want a truly global financial system, we need to acquiesce in a global regulator and a global lender of last resort. If we do not want the latter, we cannot have an integrated global financial system, so we must acquiesce in–gasp!–capital controls.

The counterargument that I’ve been hearing from people (well, one significant person anyway) involved in the Obama transition process is twofold. First – that it would take far too long to create any global regulatory structure, given differences in national level regulatory schemes. Second, that we don’t need any binding global regulations anyway, and that everything we need to do can be done through dialogue between the national regulators that already exist. Maybe the best way to think this through is to look at the best example that we have of a transnational regulatory system with teeth – the European Union.

The EU’s experience reinforces the claim that it is really difficult to get national regulatory systems to play nicely with each other, and it is _especially_ difficult to get them to play nicely in the realm of banking and financial system regulation, because these regulations are (a) really important, (b) reflect genuinely different national priorities and banking systems, and (c ) also reflect the desires of strongly embedded interest groups in the national systems that like things the way they are (the Italian central bank, for example, is effectively beholden to a number of national banks inside and outside the _salotto buono_ and unsurprisingly these national banks want to keep the current system unchanged).

However, it also provides strong evidence of the problems of weak regulation. One of the major reasons why the European financial system is finding it hard to cope is exactly the lack of a Europe level regulatory backstop and lender of last resort, that could deal with banks that are effectively playing in a Europe-wide (if not worldwide) market. National governments are trying to do what they can, but their efforts are sometimes pretty wobbly. And the EU experience completely belies the claim that regulatory dialogues are a good substitute for comprehensive supranational regulation. If there is one thing that Europe does to a fault, it’s regulatory dialogues. But they do diddly-squat to stop countries defecting when they are in hard situations (e.g. the Irish offer to guarantee bank deposits when its credibility came under attack, Germany’s follow-up behaviour etc). This isn’t to say that one can easily create a global regulator with teeth and genuinely binding regulatory power – building one would be somewhere between very difficult and effectively impossible. It is to say that Rodrik’s conundrum is a real one – and the claim that governments can muddle through with a little more coordination and talk among themselves is almost certainly wishful thinking.

Make-work

by Kieran Healy on November 19, 2008

I’m so far behind on this one. Here’s a figure based on a table Eric sent me.

Composition of the workforce 1929-1939

There is a PDF version. There is also a 4-category version (with a PDF too), that breaks out farm workers from the main category.

Grading Education

by Harry on November 18, 2008

Richard Rothstein’s new book Grading Education: Getting Accountability Right
just got added to my short list of books about education that everyone should read. I presume that EPI has put it in the hands of everyone in Congress, but it might be worth, after reading it yourself, passing it on to a local school board member. Whereas a lot of criticism of NCLB amounts to little more than an unbalanced rant and I would say that most criticism is unconstructive, Grading Education offers a comprehensive, compelling, and constructive critique. It’s comprehensive in that it places NCLB within a (very interesting) discussion of the history of evaluation of schools, and constructive, not in the sense that it suggests a way to fix NCLB (that, the authors say, is impossible) but rather by offering a sensible alternative framework for “getting accountability right”. The authors believe (rightly) that accountability is important, and (again rightly) that the particular method of democratic accountability through locally elected school boards simply doesn’t work. (They do not ask whether NCLB, with all its flaws, when superimposed on a system of local democratic control is superior to local democratic control on its own, which I suspect it might be, but their aim is to influence future policy). The book ought to have a lot of influence over the debates around the re-authorisation, revision, or tacit abandonment of NCLB which, presumably, we’ll start to have at some point.

I hesitate to say too much about it, for fear of releasing you from the obligation of reading it. But the basic argument is as follows.

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Book cover

by Henry on November 18, 2008

My first book is coming out with Cambridge next year, _The Political Economy of Trust: Interests, Institutions and Inter-Firm Cooperation_, and the publisher is asking me whether I want to suggest a cover image. My first thought – to do a Wordle of the text – apparently isn’t going to work – and my visual imagination and knowledge of the visual arts leaves a fair amount to be desired. So I thought that I would throw it open to CT readers, who might have some ideas of where to go for good images (or even some proposed images of their own). The themes of the book include trust and distrust, the mechanical engineering industries in Germany and Italy and the Sicilian Mafia. Possibilities might include classical art, cartoons, political images related to the above. Ideally, nothing with expensive rights of reproduction, since I think that I have to cough up the fees myself, but any suggestions would be gratefully appreciated (and reciprocated with the admittedly modest reward of acknowledgment in the book’s introduction).

Furious agreement, parts II and III

by John Quiggin on November 18, 2008

It’s an analysis familiar to most on the Left. Support for laissez-faire is a hypocritical pretence, typified by Republicans who denounce a universal health care scheme as “socialist” while backing huge handouts for wealthy sugar producers.

For cultural and historical reasons, the United States has never had a proper socialist party of any significance[1]. Instead

the socialism we do have is the surreptitious socialism of the strong, e.g. sugar producers represented by their Washington hirelings.

In America, socialism is un-American. Instead, Americans merely do rent-seeking — bending government for the benefit of private factions.

As I say, familiar stuff. But it’s mildly surprising to see it coming from George Will.

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When old age shall this generation waste ….

by Chris Bertram on November 17, 2008




Bowl

Originally uploaded by Chris Bertram

I bought a Song dynasty Qingbai bowl at the weekend. So what’s so great about that, you might reasonably ask? After all, it lacks the beauty of some more modern ceramic pieces. It is hardly a patch on a high-fired Ruskin vase, from a purely aesthetic point of view. (Some of the more delicate northern Song pieces might compete, but not this one.) Well I think the attraction is this. Here’s an artefact, made from an amazing material, porcelain, about a thousand years ago. Someone crafted it then, and someone (maybe someone else) incised little pictures of fishes as decoration on the inside. They probably made hundreds, indeed thousands of similar bowls. They lived a life long ago in a place very distant from where I live (maybe Jingdezhen), and they are now dead, many many generations past. When they lived, England was feudal, probably the Normans had recently invaded, and life was short and fairly brutish. But the artefact survives, a very material, tactile link between that human being’s craft activity and the present.

Reading Cohen

by Chris Bertram on November 17, 2008

I’ve suggested to some of the other CTers that we should have an online reading group on G.A. Cohen’s _Rescuing Justice and Equality_ (“Amazon”:http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0674030761/junius-20 , “Amazon.uk”:http://www.amazon.co.uk/exec/obidos/ASIN/0674030761/junius-21). They can’t do it until January, so this is a heads-up. When we get started we’ll cover a chapter a week, with maybe different people taking the lead (Harry, Ingrid, Jon? …) and then comments will be open. But a condition of commenting is that you’ve actually read the text under discussion (violators will be deleted). So if you want to take part you need to get the book, and you need to get reading and thinking.

Free Daptone Records Sampler

by John Holbo on November 16, 2008

It’s boring for me to keep linking to Amazon stuff, but, damnit, they have adopted the strategy of giving away good stuff for free. This time it’s This is Daptone Records…, a fantastic sampler. The Daptone sound is a perfect retro funk soul affair. They release 45’s, just to fool people into thinking the stuff is decades old. You’ve heard the Dap-Kings backing up Amy Winehouse about that whole ‘not going to rehab’ thing, among other issues. They’re all over her Back To Black album, a big reason why it sounds so sharp. The three Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings tracks on the sampler are as good as any Winehouse stuff. But the best track is “Make The Road By Walking”, from the Menahan Street Band. You can listen on YouTube.