From the monthly archives:

December 2009

Last of the Mohicans/Singing the same old song

by John Q on December 31, 2009

For me the big change that came with the last decade was blogging. I started in 2002, and it’s been a big part of my life (sometimes too big) ever since. So, when it came to review the decade, the obvious place to look was the Wayback Machine, which captured my old blogspot blog on 27 July 2002. Looking at the blog as it was then, two things jump out at me

* Looking at the blogroll, I feel like the last of the Mohicans. The bloggers of those days have nearly all retired, and hardly any has a solo blog anymore. CT is something of an exception – quite a few of us still keep our personal blogs going. Mine is here.

* I’m singing the same song now as I was all those years ago. The top post on the page is about how the financial crisis has discredited the efficient markets hypothesis, trickle down economics, privatisation and so on. Of course that was the dotcom financial crisis of 2000-01. I think a few more people are paying attention this time around, but we will have to wait and see.

A mole-hill as high as Tenerife

by Chris Bertram on December 29, 2009

John’s Shakespeare thread, featuring George Scialabba’s somewhat idiosyncratic opinions on the playwright, has reached the point where comments are closed. Not that I specially want to open them. But I was reminded of George’s deployment of Shaw earlier today when reading Hume’s “Of the Standard of Taste”. Here’s Shaw, as quoted by George, seeking in his poets a kind of will to moral improvement:

bq. All that you miss in Shakespeare you find in Bunyan, to whom the true heroic came quite obviously and naturally. The world was to him a more terrible place than it was to Shakespeare; but he saw through it a path at the end of which a man might look not only forward to the Celestial City, but back on his life and say: ‘Tho’ with great difficulty I am got hither, yet now I do not repent me of all the trouble I have been at to arrive where I am. My sword I give to him that shall succeed me in my pilgrimage, and my courage and skill to him that can get them.’ The heart vibrates like a bell to such utterances as this; to turn from it to ‘Out, out, brief candle,’ and ‘The rest is silence,’ and ‘We are such stuff as dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded by a sleep’ is turn from life, strength, resolution, morning air and eternal youth, to the terrors of a drunken nightmare.

And here’s Hume:

bq. Whoever would assert an equality of genius and elegance between OGILBY and MILTON, or BUNYAN and ADDISON, would be thought to defend no less an extravagance, than if he maintained a mole-hill to be as high as TENERIFFE, or a pond as extensive as the ocean. Though there may be found persons, who give preference to the former authors; no one pays attention to such a taste; and we pronounce without scruple the sentiment of these pretended critics to be absurd and ridiculous

Jeux Sans Frontieres

by Henry Farrell on December 29, 2009

The “Financial Times”:

Among the wave of reality board games to have hit the Argentine market in recent years, Eternal Debt has remained a niche favourite among those who still blame the IMF for leading the country into a nearly $100bn default eight years ago. The game, by local manufacturer Ruibal, involves taking Latin American raw materials, turning them into industrial products and selling the finished goods in world markets, using IMF capital.

Also available is Bureaucracy, which exploits locals’ disenchantment with the country’s notoriously cumbersome civil service. … The game is designed to elicit groans of recognition to anyone who has ever spent hours grappling with regulatory issues in public offices in Argentina. The game, made by toymaker Habano, cheerfully invites players “to waste time and lose their patience” as they move across the board with a lengthening list of documents to procure and departments to visit in their quest to complete a simple piece of paperwork. It is a game “where everyone loses”, crows the box.

Other suggestions for topical boardgames, in Argentina, the US or elsewhere, welcome in comments.

Political Correctness Gone Mad

by Henry Farrell on December 28, 2009

Perhaps the recent “terrorist outrage in the skies”: will bring the delusional opponents of group profiling to their senses. But I fear not. It should be a cut and dried case. A “member of a group”: that is “notoriously”: “associated with terrorist violence and fundamentalist political beliefs”: tries to set off a bomb in a plane and only fails because of sheer luck. The nabobs of political correctness will try to convince us yet again that there are many strains of thought among these people, that most of them are non-violent, that compulsory cavity searches will alienate them and so on, and on, and on. But the PC mafia will be ignoring these people’s plans to “build temples that dominate our major cities”:, and “actions taken deliberately to flout our common norms”: A strong country has a strong culture that it is willing to defend against the enemy – and a willingness to ignore the natterers of multiculturalism when its citizens’ lives are in danger. We were lucky this time. We may not be so lucky the next.


by Henry Farrell on December 25, 2009

For those who are (a) not suffering from holiday hangovers, and (b) do not have something better to do tomorrow morning, I’ll be on C-Span from 9am to 9.30am discussing the differences between liberalism, socialism, fascism. I’m anticipating some lively callers to the show …

Merry Christmas from the long tail

by Eszter Hargittai on December 24, 2009

It looks like Jonathan Coulton has gotten shout-outs in CT comments before and we even had a link to this specific video a couple of years back on Harry’s Favorite Christmas Songs post, but I missed it then. Today, I had to watch it to solve a puzzle for a game. The timing was rather appropriate to pull up this video so I thought I’d repost it here. The part about what happens to Santa is a bit harsh and may be inappropriate for children under a certain age (oh, I don’t know, 102?).

Star Trek and Moral Judgment

by John Holbo on December 23, 2009

Kevin Drum is amused, and rightly so, by this bit from the Corner’s Mike Potemra:

I have over the past couple of months been watching DVDs of Star Trek: The Next Generation, a show I missed completely in its run of 1987 to 1994; and I confess myself amazed that so many conservatives are fond of it. Its messages are unabashedly liberal ones of the early post-Cold War era – peace, tolerance, due process, progress (as opposed to skepticism about human perfectibility).

Kevin notes it is not every day you get conservatives to admit they oppose (or at least dislike) peace, tolerance, due process and progress. But the hole Potemra digs is deeper, and I think there’s actually a (semi) serious point to make here. Poterma forges on: “I asked an NR colleague about it, and he speculated that the show’s appeal for conservatives lay largely in the toughness of the main character: Jean-Luc Picard was a moral hardass where the Captain Kirk of the earlier show was more of an easygoing, cheerful swashbuckler. I think there’s something to that: Patrick Stewart did indeed create, in that character, a believable and compelling portrait of ethical uprightness.”

But surely the proper conclusion to be drawn, then, is that being an ethically upright and generally virtuous person is, however surprising this result may be, consistent with being tolerant, peace-loving, even with upholding due process. And there is no particular difficulty to the trick of being in favor of progress while being skeptical about human perfectibility. I say this is a semi-serious point because I think, for some conservatives, the main objection to a somewhat vaguely conceived set of liberal values really is a strong sense that they are inconsistent with a certain sort of hardassery in the virtue ethics department. End of story. But then Star Trek TNG ought, by rights, to be the ultimate anti-conservative series. At least for the likes of Potemra.

Potemra then pens a sort of Hail Mary follow-up post in which he asserts, if I have understood him aright, that basically Burkeanism is equal to a kind of (Spinozist?) view sub specie aeternitatis, all of which again redounds to the credit of conservatism and the good captain. And they all lived happily ever after in an old village in France. (I remember that episode.)

Presumed Consent Again

by Kieran Healy on December 23, 2009

Some work of mine on presumed and informed consent for organ donation has been picked up by Catherine Rampell at the New York Times’ Economix blog. It’s a good summary of the paper. We’ve had some discussion before about this stuff on CT, in the context of the possible introduction of a presumed consent rule in Britain.

Let’s try and put ourselves in the shoes of a member of the John Birch Society, circa 1968. What would the basis of such a person’s political worldview be? Basically, that the USA was ruled by a small cabal of educated elites, who were systematically undermining the USA’s advantages against Soviet Russia, and sabotaging the efforts of the military to protect the USA from the danger of Soviet attack. This person might also believe that the truth about the Kennedy assassination was covered up by this same elite cabal.

And such a person would be correct, of course.
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Santa and Moral Judgment

by John Holbo on December 22, 2009

Watched the classic Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer X-Mas special with the kids last night. I wonder: was such a message of tolerance, across color lines, considered faintly radical in 1964? (Did anyone object to this X-Mas special when it came out?) Well, anyway, Zoë (the 8-year old) was disturbed by the fact that Santa was morally in the wrong for most of the show, incapable of distinguishing naughty from nice. She expressed concern about the integrity of the system by which she is to receive her due. If Santa thinks it’s ‘nice’ not to let Rudolph join in any reindeer games, etc., until he needs the guy, he might “give all her presents to some racist.”

On the other hand, Rudolph may be one of those rare examples of a clearly color-coded ‘other’ who “switches sides at the last minute, assimilating into the alien culture and becoming its savior” – only this time its the Great White Father, Santa himself, who is led by the tactically-acute, colorful alien.

Ideally speaking, what should Santa’s theory of naughty/nice be, do you think?

I’ll get the rest of the Dickens scans up a bit later.

Steve & the Ottowanians

by Kieran Healy on December 22, 2009

Via David Friedman, a cool interactive music video.

Sunnyside by David Glen Gold is the best book I’ve read this year. Gold’s first novel was the magical Carter Beats the Devil, a lean and muscular piece of plotting. Sunnyside is a fat, thumping tome set again in 1920s California and bursting out with living characters, zany but true events and a wry and humane take on the meaning, if any, of the examined life. It had me gasping out loud, talking back to the characters, marveling at the sheer craft but never awakening from the spell.

It begins with a thrilling set piece; a real-life episode of mass hysteria that caused hundreds of simultaneous sightings of Charlie Chaplin across America. This sequence is a first cousin to DeLillo’s Underworld opening baseball game of Giants v Dodgers in Dodger Stadium the Polo Field, and Pynchon’s Against the Day visit to the Chicago World’s Fair. Each of the trio evokes a perfect moment of twentieth century Americana, and announces straight off a big book that will not be about small things. (And just as J. Edgar Hoover is the G-man Greek chorus of Underworld’s themes, Gold’s Treasury Secretary McAdoo stands in for the reader, trying to make sense of Chaplin’s Hollywood and what movies mean for the world.)
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Would Bacon’s Hamlet be Hamlet?

by John Q on December 21, 2009

In the course of an interesting piece by Richard Dorment in the NY Review of Books on the authenticity or otherwise of works by Andy Warhol, I came across a striking passage

The single most important thing you can say about a work of art is that it is real, that the artist to whom it is attributed made it. Until you are certain that a work of art is authentic, it is impossible to say much else that is meaningful about it.

Is this a reasonable claim about art in general? How important is authentic attribution in, say, literature or music?
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A Christmas Carol and The Chimes

by John Holbo on December 19, 2009

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Well, not quite yet (you might remonstrate).

But it’s coming up (you must concede). So I’ve undertaken a seasonal graphic project that doesn’t involve Photoshopping squid. I love Dickens, and “A Christmas Carol” isn’t the only good Christmas story he wrote. I also like all the old, original illustrations for his books and stories. But they tend to be printed on cheap paper, and at small sizes. So I have kindly taken the trouble of scanning them in at high resolution, cleaning them up and generally making them easier to see and appreciate in all their glory. Really, a lot of these images are full of fun little details.

For tonight, two tales worth. First, “A Christmas Carol”. Second – I love the wild title page and frontispiece for this one – “The Chimes”. A New Year’s tale, technically speaking. “A Goblin Story of Some Bells that Rang an Old Year Out and a New Year In.” Kind of an odd tale, really. (As one of my fellow Valve bloggers noted last year: the moral is a bit nuts. But I still love it.)

Obviously not just these old images but the stories themselves are very much in the public domain, hence available from lots of sources as well as your local, friendly neighborhood bookstore or library. Discuss!

Farewell, Tel

by Harry on December 18, 2009

The greatest living Irishman signs off. (Has anyone else noticed that the volume on the bbc iplayer goes to 11?)

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