Cooking with Campbell’s Soup

by Maria on December 16, 2008

Most families have their own cooking lore, developed through accident and necessity into an unimpeachable canon of family food. The culinary canon of my childhood seems quaint, now that I live in California. Orange juice was a Christmas day treat. Corn on the cob was a summer treat (though we bought it frozen – in fact, I never saw a cob with the leaves around it until I was 18 and came to America for the first time). We competed for second helpings by gnawing off every bit of flesh till the cob was as bald as a loofah.
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Jacob Levy has a very interesting bloggingheads exchange with Will Wilkinson. At least it’s interesting if you want to understand what the hell just happened up in Canada, politically. That whole ‘didn’t the queen shut down parliament, or something?’ thing. If that interests you.

Next: there has been some indignation in response to Gerecht’s piece in the NY Times, defending torture and extraordinary rendition. Yglesias starts like so: “Because Reuel Marc Gerecht adheres to an appalling and cruel ethical system and the people who decide what runs on major newspaper op-ed pages have no ethics whatsoever …” [click to continue…]

They Bellow ‘Til We’re Deaf

by Henry on December 16, 2008

This “piece”: by Benjamin Kunkel (whom I usually have time for), is really, _really_ annoying.

The literary novel illuminates moral problems (including sometimes those that are also political problems) at the expense of sentimental consolation, while genre fiction typically offers consolation at the expense of illumination. … The main formal consequence, then, of a withered moral imagination has to do not with subject matter (love, crime, the future) but with character. Fictional character derives from moral choices made, contemplated, postponed, or ignored—morality is the page on which the stamp of character appears—and the signal formal trait of genre fiction is nothing so much as its lack of complex characters. This deficit entangles even an acknowledged generic triumph like Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968, and the basis of the 1982 movie Blade Runner) in a certain incoherence. The ironic burden of Dick’s novel is to stick up for the warm-blooded humanity of androids (read: clones), and in this way imply the cold-bloodedness of any society that denies fully human status to some category of person. The rub, of course, is that such sci-fi humanism is quickly overcome with another irony, this one unintentional, since it is the hallmark of genre fiction to treat characters instrumentally, putting them through the paces of the plot according to their function as the embodiment of some general psychological or social category and failing or refusing to endow them with the individuality to be found among the livelier inhabitants of the traditional realist novel and, for that matter, the real world. [click to continue…]

Freeman replies

by Chris Bertram on December 16, 2008

Samuel Freeman “has replied in comments to my post about his response to cosmopolitan critics of Rawls”: . It is a genuinely helpful and clarifying response, for which I’m grateful. I could quibble about the semantics of “invariably”, but I won’t. Rather, I’d highlight just two points in Freeman’s remarks. The first concerns the non-identity of “state” with “people” and “society”. Of course, I agree with Freeman that they on sensible construals of either term they would be non-identical, but I’d argue that Rawlsian fastidiousness in this respect merely highlights something rather evasive about their view. For what is it that picks out a Rawlsian “people” as distinct from other “peoples”, as a distinctive cooperative unit? Usually, it is their legal and institutional unity. In fact, this is normally the only thing, since state boundaries are rarely congruent with ethnic, religious or linguistic boundaries. Rawlsians may want, given the morally dubious history of nationalisms, to promote this as a feature rather than a bug. But it is questionable, then, whether Rawlsian peoples are really distinct from the states that organize them as such. (And, somewhat counterintuitively, lots of peoples fail to be “peoples” – the Kurds, for example.) (I hereby promise a proper post about Rawlsian “peoples” soon: Rawlsians want to be neither “statist” nor “nationalist”, but I’m sceptical about the existence of the middle ground.)

The second concerns Freeman’s concession (though “concession” is unfair of me) that what is key to the notion of social-cooperation is not coercive enforcement, but rather the inescapability, for individuals, of compliance with social rules. This seems to me to open up two difficulties for Freeman. The first, which I won’t develop here, is the blurring of the distinction between a society’s “basic structure” and its “ethos”, a distinction that Freeman needs be sharper for another dispute (that with G.A. Cohen). The second is brought out by the following statement:

bq. compliance with the rules of basic social institutions, even if generally voluntary, is unavoidable for the members of a society, since these rules are inescapable and structure their daily lives in innumerable ways (unlike members of other societies, whose lives are structured by their own system of basic institutions).

Perhaps something special is meant here by “structured”, since if it means that people’s lives are shaped in systematic ways that open some opportunites and deny others, then it can hardly be denied that, for example, Malian cotton producers are subject to a good deal of structuring by the US government. And, of course, one can make a similar point with respect to the lives of would-be economic migrants from poor countries to rich ones. Systematic structuring, then, doesn’t do the job of dividing insiders from outsiders in the way Freeman needs it to.


by John Quiggin on December 16, 2008

This New York Times article on the (apparently widespread) practice of drug companies drafting and ghostwriting scientific articles favorable to their products, and then arranging for academics to publish the articles under their own names, focuses, reasonably enough, on the potential for such practices to mislead doctors and other readers.

As an academic, though, I was particularly struck by the stress that the drug company Wyeth laid on the fact that the nominal authors of these articles were not being paid and endorsed the contents. In reality, having someone write articles for you amounts to not doing the job for which, as an academic, you are paid and, if the articles are sufficiently numerous and well-placed, promoted. It would be far more ethical (or less unethical) to pay academics for product endorsements, published as commercial advertisements.

Of course, in a world where a $50 billion (or maybe $17 billion, who can tell?) fraud barely makes the front page, and a $100 million rip-off is buried somewhere behind the shipping news, it seems a bit precious to worry about (allegations of) goldbricking academics passing off corporate propaganda as their own work. But at least I can understand how this scam works, as opposed to how a massive Ponzi scheme can be operated for decades under the noses of what are supposed to be the world’s most sophisticated fnancial markets and regulators.

Ricardian Effects

by Henry on December 16, 2008

The _Financial Times_ published an article based on an interview with Jean-Claude Trichet today (the article itself seems to be borked, along with the rest of the FT’s website, but the interview itself, which is more informative in any event, is available “here”: ). In the interview, Trichet suggests that large scale deficit spending is a bad idea because of ‘Ricardian effects.’

Consider the Ricardian effects, the level of confidence or the lack of confidence that you observe in the various constituencies of economic agents, particularly at the level of households: they suggest that there are certain situations where if you do not behave properly you might lose more in terms of confidence than what you are supposed to gain through the additional spending.


Every nation has its own Ricardian effects and its own assessment of the situation. I do not want to comment on any particular country, because my duty is to look at the continent of 320 million fellow citizens as a whole. But I fully accept that there are differences in the capacity of households in various cultures to accept a deterioration of their situation, and again, the Ricardian channel tells us that one might lose more by loss of confidence than one might gain by additional spending.

Is this plausible? The broad political economy literature on consumer behaviour that I’m aware of would suggest that this argument rests on some fairly heroic assumptions about individual information (and in particular their awareness of the possible long term consequences of government spending – and this leaves aside the claim that for some reason they will systematically _overestimate_ the consequences tomorrow of deficit spending today). As best as I’ve been able to tell from a quick glance at the WWW, the claim that Trichet is making is a controversial one, which lacks solid empirical support. But then, my understanding of macro theory is based on fast-disappearing memories of my BA coursework. So is there any solid empirical basis for the claim that strong Ricardian effects exist and are a real issue for policy makers? Or is this just a theoretical figleaf to cover over the less abstract political-economic reasons (to do with institutional prerogatives, inter-state relations, worries about defection etc) why the European Central Bank really wants to keep controls on national spending? This is not a rhetorical question – I honestly don’t know the answer, and would appreciate information from those who know this literature better than I do.

Kast Skoen

by Scott McLemee on December 16, 2008

A Norwegian website allows you to throw a shoe at George Bush.

My best aim seems to be with “Vinkel” set at 15 and “Styrke” at 50, which clobbers him with a dramatic “Midt I Fleisen!” Otherwise Bush just sort of ducks or doubles over, or else the shoe drops to the ground.