From the monthly archives:

September 2009

Betsy McCaughey and Big Tobacco

by Henry on September 28, 2009

More evidence that the discovery trove from the tobacco litigation is one of the major sources for information on the political economy of late 20th century America. “James Fallows”:http://jamesfallows.theatlantic.com/archives/2009/09/ok_info_about_b_mccaughey_that.php on notorious hack Betsy McCaughey.

the real news is the evidence that tobacco lobbyists secretly worked with McCaughey to prepare her infamous New Republic article “No Exit.” As I argued back in 1995 in “A Triumph of Misinformation,” everything about McCaughey’s role in the debate depended on her pose as a scrupulous, impartial, independent scholar who, after leafing through the endless pages of the Clinton health proposals, had been shocked by what she found. If it had been known at the time that she was secretly collaborating with one of the main interest-group enemies of the plan, perhaps the article would never had been published; at a minimum, her standing to speak would have been different.

Ms. McCaughey was apparently unwilling to be interviewed for the “Rolling Stone article”:http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/story/30219673/the_lie_machine that Fallows is riffing off. This is a pity. It would have been interesting to have found out a little more about the precise role that tobacco lobbyists played in helping draft McCaughey’s notoriously mendacious piece (since the proposed reforms would have been partly bankrolled by a tobacco tax, they clearly had a considerable interest in influencing debate).

Update: The “Manhattan Institute appears to be denying”:http://jamesfallows.theatlantic.com/archives/2009/09/manhattan_institute_replies_re.php that McCaughey ‘worked with’ Philip Morris.

bq. Is this a question of a lobbyist grossly exaggerating his “influence” to impress bosses and funders? That’s a very familiar pattern in Washington. On the other hand, the lobbyist’s detailed knowledge of Betsy McCaughey’s writing plans suggests some interaction. I don’t know the underlying truth here. It would be valuable if Ms. McCaughey, who has specialized in detailed textual analysis, would address in specific what these documents contend.

That politely acidulous ‘has specialized in detailed textual analysis’ is quite nice. I suspect that all this turns on the precise definition of what the term ‘worked with’ means or can be taken to imply.

They call it Theory Monday

by Michael Bérubé on September 28, 2009

I’ve decided to take the Great Cultural Studies Debate (Round CXLVIII) over to CT in the hopes of running it by a more international and interdisciplinary readership.  Hi, more international and interdisciplinary readers!  Here’s what’s been going on in my little world lately.

I recently published an <a href=”http://chronicle.com/article/Whats-the-Matter-With/48334/”>essay</a> in the <i>Chronicle of Higher Education</i>.   People responded.  The brief recap is <a href=”http://www.thevalve.org/go/valve/article/cultural_studies_fandango/”>here</a>, though you should also check out <a href=”http://www.thevalve.org/go/valve/article/the_lo/”>this post</a> from Andrew Seal, <a href=”http://www.pmgentry.net/blog/2009/09/whither-cultural-studies.html”>this one</a> from Philip Gentry, and <a href=”http://rsa.cwrl.utexas.edu/node/3128#comment-3986″>this comment</a> by Josh Gunn, who helpfully kicks things off by explaining that my essay is “bullshit.”

My general reaction to the response is: good.  I wanted to provoke discussion, and I got it.  And, begging your indulgence, I’d like to carry on that discussion here, by picking up where <a href=”http://www.michaelberube.com/index.php/weblog/comments/1342/”>my blog’s last comment thread</a> leaves off.

<i>Warning: Clicking “click to continue” will lead you to a two-part, Internets-straining essay.</i>
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Perspective

by Belle Waring on September 28, 2009

I decided just to boost this comment I made in the thread below about Dr. Kealey’s failed attempt at humor. (My sexism. Let me show you it.) I considered removing the bad words, but then decided, fuck it. If Panera bread is banning CT from its wireless for you right now, sorry hypothetical Panera-eating CT readers. Who can’t read this apology.

I’d like to share a little anecdote from my college years. I had a Roman History prof who would frequently make comments on my appearance, in front of the gathering class, as I made my way to my seat in the front row (because I was a very diligent student!). And at a gathering of students and faculty I decided to leave and put on my coat, but then got sidetracked into a discussion with him and said I needed to take my coat off. And he said, you can do that but if you do I’m going to stare at your breasts—but you knew that when you got that tattoo there. (The tattoo is like 3 inches below my clavicle anyway, thank you.) He actually said that to me! And then, when I was applying to graduate school, I had to approach my advisor with a problem, because normally I would ask this prominent scholar who gave me an A+ (which, I may say, I thoroughly deserved) in Roman History to write a recommendation, but I knew from previous experience that I didn’t actually want to be alone with him in his office. And so my advisor had to convince another professor, of equal status, to write me a recommendation that was somewhat fictional, on the assurance that when I did have a class with him that term he would find me everything promised, etc. He kindly did so and didn’t regret his decision. So where I’m going with this is, that fucking sucked and was a terrible experience for me, and Dr. Kealy is a fucking asshat who is even now making the lives of his attractive female students needlessly miserable. And just FYI, dsquared’s reliable, not-making-a-big-deal-out-of-it, stand up feminism makes him infinitely more sexually appealing to the leftist ladies of the world. That shit is like catnip. It is only the strict, sex-hating conventions of Crooked Timber, under which fraternization between co-bloggers is totes banned, which keeps us apart right now. And the happily married thing.

Just adding, it was particularly irritating about the grade, because I really did deserve an A+ in that class, but it was impossible to know whether my grade was influenced by my breasts. My boyfriend at the time, for example, questioned it on this basis. I doggedly went on earning the same grade in other classes until at one point my GPA was above 4.0. But the tarnish never really went away. And all of this fell under the look but don’t touch rubric, while still being humiliating and awful.

Particularly humiliating and awful in light of the fact that a teacher at my middle/high school “fell in love with me” on the first day of 7th grade (when I had just turned 13) , and proceeded to have a protracted–I don’t know what you would call it, affair, maybe–which he carefully avoided consummating until four weeks after I reached the age of consent in Washington D.C. The schmuck wrote a book about me, in addition to taking approximately one billion pictures of me (he was the photography teacher, natch.) I mean really, a whole novel. What a pitiful, yet shitty thing to do. And then I finally told my mom about it, and he got fired from the school in my senior year, and then almost all the girls at my (all-girls) school turned uniformly against me and treated me awfully for “ruining his life.” So think how happy I was to get to college, where there would be real scholarship and adults who behave with minimal decency! Hollow laughs ensue. Now I’m not writing this so you can all say, poor Belle, that’s really awful. I’m fine now and that’s not the point. But there’s a reason all those annoying strident feminists go on about how the personal is the political. Kealy doesn’t know the personal histories of the female students he’s ogling. And they deserve to be treated like human beings, not fresh-faced dollies to use as mental props during masturbation.

Roman Polanski

by Kieran Healy on September 28, 2009

What happened is part of the public record, so there’s no reason to be unclear or misinformed about the nature of the crime and subsequent events. This includes the victim’s stated wish — repeatedly, later — that legal action not be continued, but also the actual facts of the crime, which was a one hundred percent real rape of a drugged 13 year-old. So, now. Who’s going to cover themselves in glory?

Thus far, I think Robert Harris is winning with “I am shocked that any man of 76, whether distinguished or not, should have been treated in such a fashion” and “One of the reasons I’m absolutely shocked and stunned by his arrest is that we have worked together extensively in Switzerland, where he has a home … “. (And he dresses so well! And The Pianist is such an affecting film!) Close behind is French Minister of Culture Frederic Mitterrand, who “strongly regrets that a new ordeal is being inflicted on someone who has already experienced so many of them”. Like Neddy at EOAW I don’t believe there’s anything more to these defenses than “He’s one of us”. But it’s early days yet. For instance, coming up fast now on the outside is Anne Applebaum of the Washington Post, who says the arrest is “outrageous” in part because,

Polanski, who panicked and fled the U.S. during that trial, has been pursued by this case for 30 years, during which time he has never returned to America, has never returned to the United Kingdom, has avoided many other countries and has never been convicted of anything else. He did commit a crime, but he has paid for the crime in many, many ways: In notoriety, in lawyers’ fees, in professional stigma. He could not return to Los Angeles to receive his recent Oscar. He cannot visit Hollywood to direct or cast a film.

See, you or I might think that not going back to the U.S. or U.K. is an action Polanski took in order to make sure that, having raped a minor and fled the country, he would not be rearrested. But you or I would be wrong. In fact these are punishments that Polanski has suffered. But tiens, it was a long time ago. Puritanical Americans simply do not have the enlightened attitude toward wine at the dinner table, quaaludes, and child rape that the Europeans do. In Ireland, for instance, there are quite a number of seventy-odd year old men (and even older) who spent their youth ministering to children and raping them — some of their victims have been able to forgive them, and many want never to speak of those events again, so why all the legal fuss? Perhaps that’s a bad example. Ireland isn’t really a European country.

In any event, I look forward to more detailed explanations of who the Real Victim is here, and more fine-grained elaboration of the criteria — other than “marvelous dinner guest” — for being issued a Get Out of Child Rape Free card.

Oh noes! Teh Internets makes u gulible

by John Quiggin on September 27, 2009

Another “Internets makes you stupid story” from the Brisbane Courier-Mail (irony detector overload alert !!).

The original source is something called the Levitt Institute and the Courier-Mail story is a pretty fair summary of the Levitt Institute report, which is here (PDF). I’ll leave the deconstruction as an exercise for readers, with a bonus mark for the question “Which basic concept of classical hypothesis testing is ignored in this study of ‘ability to detect erroneous information'”

Here’s a post with a couple of links arguing the opposite.

UpdateSucked in! It turns out the whole thing is in fact a hoax by Andrew Denton’s new show.. Sad to say, with the irony detector already blown, it’s hard to tell the difference between genuine and fake stupid.

Best sentence I’ve read today

by Henry on September 27, 2009

bq. Taxonomy was once a sedate occupation; now it’s like staging triage in a big city hospital.

“Context”:http://unlikelyworlds.blogspot.com/2009/09/random-linkage-260909.html. Also check out the Cocoon concept cooker.

A bubble in the humanities?

by Chris Bertram on September 27, 2009

Philip Gerrans argues that there is a bubble in the humanities, and that all kinds of people are holding stock at an artificially inflated value, often on the advice of people who have a vested interested. (h/t Darius Jedburgh)

Sunday Picture: St Vincent’s Works

by Chris Bertram on September 27, 2009




St Vincent’s Works

Originally uploaded by Chris Bertram

Various Timberites had a discussion some time ago about having a semi-regular Sunday photo on the blog. I think I probably take more pictures than the others, both digital and film, but, looking through my Flickr stream, I don’t tend to take pictures that illustrate grand social or political themes. Still, this one might be of interest. It is the interior of St Vincent’s works in Bristol, now the headquarters of a sustainable development consultancy, but once the offices of a Victorian factory. The building dates from the 1890s and the decoration, mainly ceramic, is extraordinarily ornate. Like many British cities, Bristol has an “open doors” day once a year, when buildings that are normally closed to the public are open to visit. Is this just a British thing, or do other countries do the same? This was taken on one of those days.

One doesn’t fire a professor like this

by Ingrid Robeyns on September 27, 2009

In August, the Erasmus University Rotterdam fired Professor Tariq Ramadan. Well, strictly speaking, they didn’t fire him, but rater withdrew the invitation to be a guest professor. Since December 2006 Ramadan had a contract with the City Council of Rotterdam to advise the City Council on civic integration & multicultural policies (about half of the population in Rotterdam is not from Dutch origin and the city has enormous socio-economic-cultural problems). At the same time he was invited as a guestprofessor at the Erasmus University for the same period (allegedly he had asked for this affiliation himself when he was asked to work for the City Council). So legally speaking in August the City Council fired him, and at the very same moment the University withdrew its invitation to be affiliated as a guest professor. Yet for what follows, I don’t think this legal quibble is very relevant. From an ethical-political point of view it remains a dismissal. The question is: was this dismissal justified?
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Rotten Borough

by Kieran Healy on September 27, 2009

Via a FB friend:

As of April 1, 2006, out of a 2004 Census estimated population of 18 in Teterboro, there were 39 registered voters (216.7% of the population, vs. 55.4% in all of Bergen County).

Sadly, the answer may be prosaic. From earlier in the same Wikipedia entry:

The 2000 census failed to count any of the residents of the Vincent Place housing units who had moved into the newly built homes in 1999. The uncounted residents, including the Mayor and all four Council members, would help make up a projected tripling of the population enumerated by the census.

Handing a rightwing media don and author of pop ev psych books commission to wrote 500 words on the subject of “Lust” for a start of term humour article has to pretty much go in the “what could possibly go wrong?” column. But I think even the THES editors must have been a little bit surprised at what they got. A classic example of the sort of thing where having shown a draft to a single close female friend might have saved the day, and in the process offered a useful insight into the distinction between the concept “refreshingly un-PC” and the concept “creepy”, and perhaps the Pleistocene conditions on the veldt which might have given rise to it.

I am more or less diametrically opposed to Dr Kealey’s point of view, which I consider wrong on two counts. On the one hand, this “look but don’t touch” stuff is guff; students and lecturers are both adults and don’t need to be protected by special rules not imposed on the rest of us against their own occasional tendency to have bad sex. On the other hand, it’s perfectly possible, if you actually are an adult man, to have a conversation with an attractive young woman and interact with her professionally without leching over her all the time. In fact, it’s not only possible, it’s the law (specifically the law with respect to sexual discrimination in the workplace). Sheesh.
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What global warming looks like

by Chris Bertram on September 25, 2009

Some amazing time lapse sequences of glacier retreat and a spectacular ice-shelf collapse:

Uncertainty and climate change

by John Quiggin on September 25, 2009

I was at a conference on uncertainty and climate change in Berkeley last week, and gave the wrap-up panel discussion with Geoffrey Heal. We’d discussed a wide range of uncertainties and ambiguities, from future emissions scenarios to model uncertainty to perception and communication issues, and we were asked to comment on how, with so much uncertainty, economists can make useful recommendations.
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The Punchbags Of Notre Dame

by Daniel on September 23, 2009

Do you find yourself considering the financial crisis and thinking “well, neoclassical economists have certainly come through this one with their reputations enhanced! Anyone with a world-class heterodox economics department should certainly be thinking about closing it down right now, there’s no interest in that sort of thing!”. Well, if you do, then you’re almost certainly working as an administrator at Notre Dame University (or for that matter, the University of Notre Dame, thanks Ben in comments), because nobody else does.

I mean, what the byOurLady heck do they think they are playing at. Back in April 2008, the decision to place clear fresh water between the nice professional efficient market types in the “Economics and Econometrics” department, and the dirty f**king hippies in “Economics and Policy Analysis” might have made some sort of sense, in that while cynical and not very academic-freedom-y, it would have improved students’ chances of getting into prestigious economics graduate programs where they could write “counterintuitive” and “fascinating” job market papers about penalty shootouts and speed-dating (these being the only remaining social or anthropological questions not thoroughly answered by neoclassical economists, cf “Freakonomics”).

But today? With the whole field blown wide open and all sorts of questions of the role of economic analysis wide open to debate again? With Richard Freaking Posner coming out as a post-Keynesian? I suppose that if you truly believe that it’s impossible to time the market, this is one way to prove it.

Martin Bright in the New StatesmanSpectator

bq. Incidentally, I now think the invasion was indeed an error: carried out at the wrong time, by the wrong coalition for the wrong reasons. But where I do agree with the “decents” is that those who opposed intervention in 2002/3 were arguing for the murderous Baathist regime to stay in power. This should remain on their conscience just as the murderous consequences of the invasion are on the conscience of those who supported the war.

(via comments at “Aaronovitch Watch”:http://aaronovitch.blogspot.com/ .)