From the monthly archives:

December 2008

Come on, donate to Oxfam.

by Harry on December 31, 2008

US taxpayers might remember that today is the last day to donate to Oxfam and still get a 2008 tax-deduction. It’s simple. Figure out what you can afford to give, guess what your tax rate will be, add that percentage to what you can afford, and then double it.

Donate here.

Arise, Sir Nutter

by Harry on December 31, 2008

Odd business, the honours system. In some fields, it seems that who gets offered an honour, and when, is not far from random: Cliff and Elton before Paul; Mick at all. Mike Brearley not a knight, still? Then there are the laggards: Cyril Washbrook getting a CBE in his 70s when almost everyone else had forgotten him except for the new Prime Minister of the time whose presumed intervention on Washbrook’s behalf is one of many reasons why I admire him more than anyone else I know does. And then there are the fields where you are bound to be offered something by a certain age unless you have done something very odd. Lead a party, get a peerage. Almost all significant cabinet ministers seem to be offered them eventually, so of those who don’t have them you pretty much know they have turned them down (Michael Foot has, apparently, turned everything down; Ted Heath must have turned down a peerage, though accepted other things). I presume that no-one has had a sufficiently surreal sense of humour to offer Tony Benn anything, but I also presume that’s the only reason he hasn’t been offered anything (or, maybe I’m wrong, and he has). I was told the other day that Nigella Lawson turned something down, which I find very surprising. But what could have been offered to her and why?

Anyway, no doubt the honours system is outdated, somewhat corrupt and faintly ludicrous. I just hope that its mostly harmless. Congratulations, Dad. Thank goodness they’re not hereditary.

(Explanation of title here. Key quote: ‘Professor Brighouse, a Labour Party supporter, used money he won in a libel action against John Patten, a former Conservative education secretary, for one of his most innovative reforms – setting up a University of the First Age at Aston University so youngsters from deprived backgrounds could get a taste of university life and seize the chance to go on to higher education. Mr Patten had described Professor Brighouse as a “nutter” who roamed the streets frightening little children.‘)

Asleep at the Wheel

by Henry Farrell on December 29, 2008

This _Washington Post_ “story”: on what happened at OSHA over the Bush years tells the usual story of flacks being hired as political appointees to gut enforcement, scientific advice being ignored, internal dissenters being punished and so on. But this bit seemed unusual, even by Bush administration standards.

In 2006, Henshaw was replaced by Edwin G. Foulke Jr., a South Carolina lawyer and former Bush fundraiser who spent years defending companies cited by OSHA for safety and health violations. Foulke quickly acquired a reputation inside the Labor Department as a man who literally fell asleep on the job: Eyewitnesses said they saw him suddenly doze off at staff meetings, during teleconferences, in one-on-one briefings, at retreats involving senior deputies, on the dais at a conference in Europe, at an award ceremony for a corporation and during an interview with a candidate for deputy regional administrator.

His top aides said they rustled papers, wore attention-getting garb, pounded the table for emphasis or gently kicked his leg, all to keep him awake. But, if these tactics failed, sometimes they just continued talking as if he were awake. “We’ll be sitting there and things will fall out of his hands; people will go on talking like nothing ever happened,” said a career official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to a reporter. In an interview, Foulke denied falling asleep at work, although he said he was often tired and sometimes listened with his eyes closed. His goal, he said, was to create the best agency he could, partly by putting in place “performance metrics” not previously used at OSHA.

We will kill you if you go to school

by Ingrid Robeyns on December 28, 2008

Among some groups of ‘Western’ feminists, perhaps especially within academia, there is a reluctance to draw attention to extreme instances of human rights violations in ‘non-western’ countries, especially in (predominantly) Muslim countries. The argument behind this position is that by highlighting the oppressions of women by some Muslim leaders or groups, one is playing into the card of Islamophobia, and contributing to the polarising rhetoric of ‘us’ versus ‘them’. Some also argue that Western feminists should focus on unjust global economic and political structures for which Western governments bear responsibilities, rather than on local sources of oppression in non-western societies.

I think such concerns are in many instances justified. Nevertheless from time to time I am struck by the intensity of the violence against women and girls by some groups or leaders in the world (and clearly this is by no means just a Muslim issue). Moreover, it would be hard to deny that it is of a different order than the disadvantages or hampering social structures experienced by mainstream groups of women in Europe or North America.

Take the latest one from the Taliban: “they have warned”: that in North-West Pakistan they will kill all girls who still go to school on January 15th, and that they will blow up schools who will enrol female students after that date. Now one would hope they wouldn’t have the capacity to execute such a threat, yet surely they will be able to kill some girls, just as they’ve killed so many other targets. It is just very sad that these things continue to happen when we are entering 2009. It reached the newspapers and the 8 o’clock news here in the Netherlands – but then, what else is going to happen now? As far as I can tell nothing much – except what must be a terrible decision to be made by these girls and their parents.

The Man Born to Be King

by Harry on December 27, 2008

Fans of Dorothy L Sayers might be interested that BBC7 is repeating the 1975 version of The Man Born To Be King. It started on Christmas Day. I can’t exactly recommend it (except that Gabriel Woolf is in it, so it has to be good) because I’m taping every part before listening to them all in a row. (It occurs to me, writing this, that it is possible that I listened to the 1975 version in 1975, but I’ve no memory of it). Sayers regarded it as the pinnacle of her literary achievement; if she is even half right it is brilliant. The BBC appears to have lost the original recording (bloody typical) but the 1970s really were the heyday of radio drama, and it’s hard to believe that the 1940s version was as good.

And if Christianity is not to your taste, here are dramatisations of Northern Lights and The Subtle Knife (next week), which I can recommend from having heard them. They made me wish, as the best dramatisations do, that I’d not already read the books.

Its a Marshmallow World

by Harry on December 27, 2008

Russell Davies played Mark Steyn’s latest single last Sunday (you have about 18 hours to hear it). Yes, that Mark Steyn. Davies says that when Steyn wrote about music he found him to be right about just about everything, but that when he turned to politics “I was going to have to look a lot harder to find any political common ground with him”. This comment perhaps explains even more than the music he plays why I never miss Davies’s show; it’s the music that explains why I am always careful to do so when no-one else is around (my wife and daughters ridicule me for listening to “show tunes” which is how they carelessly refer to it; let’s hope that the little lad has better taste).

Creationism Recapitulates Kirbyism

by John Holbo on December 27, 2008

On X-Mas I gave good ol’ PZ a visit. He had up a quote from Rick Warren:

I believed that evolution and the account of the Bible about creation could exist along side of each other very well. I just didn’t see what the big argument was all about. I had some friends who had been studying the Bible much longer than I had who saw it differently…Eventually, I came to the conclusion, through my study of the Bible and science, that the two positions of evolution and creation just could not fit together. There are some real problems with the idea that God created through evolution… My prayer is that you will have this same experience!

The Bible’s picture is that dinosaurs and man lived together on the earth, an earth that was filled with vegetation and beauty…man and dinosaurs lived at the same time…From the very beginning of creation, God gave man dominion over all that was made, even over the dinosaurs.

After that, I decided to give my X-Mas presents the attention they richly deserved. The adverb that describes the way my mother-in-law shopped for me is ‘awesomely’. [click to continue…]

Aiming At Amazon

by John Holbo on December 26, 2008

Eszter’s Amazon Price Discrimination post generated some heat and also light. Clearly folks are fascinated by how it all works. (I am.) So here’s something: Aaron Shepard, author of Aiming At Amazon, has posted the draft of the 2nd edition as a free PDF download (here’s the blog link; here’s a direct link to the zip file itself.)

What’s it about? I’ll quote the subtitle: ‘the NEW business of self-publishing – or – how to publish books for profit with print on demand by Lightning Source and book marketing on Amazon.’ That’s pretty narrow, so maybe you don’t care. If you do think that might be interesting, I’d say it’s a good book, and an excellent how-to. If you want a practical step-by-step to starting your own micro-publishing business, he’s got the blueprint. If that’s not for you, it’s still interesting. For example, he has smart things to say about Amazon’s apparently hair-raisingly ruthless attempts to stamp out the POD competition. (If you don’t know about that, you could start here, then graduate to reading the actual legal complaint here. It’s an ongoing class action suit.) Shepard doesn’t deny that Amazon is ruthless but he takes a small-fish-can-still-swim-here line. I’ll quote from his blog (presumably he doesn’t want his draft quoted, but it says pretty much the same): [click to continue…]

Saying thanks

by Eszter Hargittai on December 26, 2008

Last year, when I was putting together my tenure file, I kept thinking that a section was missing. Where was I going to thank all the people who had helped me over the years? Of course, it makes all the sense in the world that a tenure file does not have an acknowledgements section. After all, talk about a situation where one would feel obligated to include everyone, rendering the exercise completely pointless. Nonetheless, while academic work is often characterized as a lonely enterprise, feedback from others – whether on research, teaching or professionalization – is an essential part of the process. Thus it seemed wrong to put forward one’s materials without acknowledging all the assistance and support offered by colleagues and friends near and far.

When I heard that I got tenure, I said thanks to people as I let them know about it. But it didn’t quite seem enough. While there is room in articles to acknowledge others’ contributions, they tend to be focused on the specific actions related to that particular piece. Book acknowledgements can be a bit more inclusive, but even there, it is not clear how wide a net one would cast.

When talking to one of my colleagues about this, he suggested that the appropriate thanks is to pay it forward by mentoring future generations. That is a nice and generous idea and I’m happy to do it. Nonetheless, I still wish there was a way for the many people to get credit. This is part of all that invisible work in academia (and probably many other professions) that never shows up on CVs. Thanks to those who engage in it, it means a lot!

The exit door leads in, and other stories

by Henry Farrell on December 26, 2008

Happy Christmas to those of you who are so inclined; happy Festivus/religious or non religious holiday of your choice to those who aren’t. And in honour of those of you who have spent a large chunk of the day trying to open presents for the pleasure of impatient children, I present you with the iSlice, a ceramic blade purpose-designed to ‘open difficult plastic packages,’ such as those heat-sealed plastic packs ones that many toys and electronic devices come in. And what does the iSlice arrive in? Why a difficult-to-open heat-sealed plastic pack of course.


Harold Pinter is

by Harry on December 25, 2008

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Christmas, 1941

by Harry on December 23, 2008

From the amazing BFI Archive on youtube.
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Ahhh, the curse of a title that you like too much to throw away, but not enough to write a relevant post about. Lengthy, multiply footnoted philosophical meanderings, below the fold.

Update: Unaccountably, I forgot to thank “Robotslave” for massive amounts of help provided in this research. Sorry and thanks!
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Life Imitates Danny the Dealer

by Henry Farrell on December 22, 2008

The “Washington Post”:

This season’s animatronic Baby Alive — which retails for $59.99 — comes with special “green beans” and “bananas” that, once fed to the doll, actually, well, come out the other end. “Be careful,” reads the doll’s promotional literature, “just like real life, sometimes she can hold it until she gets to the ‘potty’ and sometimes she can’t!” (A warning on the back of the box reads: “May stain some surfaces.”) …

_Withnail and I_ some twenty-two years ago (or forty, depending on how you want to measure time):

I missed this bit of DC think-tank inside-baseball yesterday. Matt Yglesias wrote something critical about Third Way:

Third Way is a neat organization — I used to work across the hall from them. And they do a lot of clever messaging stuff that a lot of candidates find very useful. But their domestic policy agenda is hyper-timid incrementalist bullshit.

Shortly thereafter, GlaDOS Jennifer Palmieri of the Center for American progress appeared from behind the scenes and posted to Matt’s blog:

This is Jennifer Palmieri, acting CEO of the Center for American Progress Action Fund.

Most readers know that the views expressed on Matt’s blog are his own and don’t always reflect the views of the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Such is the case with regard to Matt’s comments about Third Way. Our institution has partnered with Third Way on a number of important projects … and have a great deal of respect for their critical thinking and excellent work product. They are key leaders in the progressive movement and we look forward to working with them in the future.

Whoops. We are throwing a party in honor of your tremendous success. Please place the device on the ground, then lie on your stomach with your arms at your sides. A party associate will arrive shortly to collect you for your party.

Things now seem to have returned to normal, with “weak tea” metaphors substituting for that stuff about “timid incrementalist bullshit.”