From the monthly archives:

December 2009

Hey, did I mention that I (we – Belle and I) published a Plato textbook [amazon]? And that, thanks to me courageously refusing to settle for less, you can read the whole thing free online, even download a complete PDF (print-locked).

Well, I’m mentioning it again because we just got a favorable review for Reason and Persuasion from NDPR, which is very welcome development. “There is no dearth of textbooks offering an introduction to Plato’s thought, but Holbo’s stands apart in the scope of its introductory material and its user-friendly style …” And Belle’s translations get favorable notice as well.

Our book, y’see, contains a larger number of cartoon-y illustrations than your average academic publication, hence risks not getting taken quite seriously, or else getting lumped in with a lot of other cartoon-y illustrated Intros to So-and-So. (That lot are often alright as far as they go, but usually that’s not quite far enough … not for course use.) So I’m happy to read this sort of thing. “One concern I had reading the text with a mind to possibly adopting it for a course is that the introductory material is almost too thorough.”

I’ll take that as a compliment.

Anyway, I am very grateful to NDPR for seeing fit to review the thing, despite its cartooniness; and grateful to the reviewer – Paul Carelli – for taking it straight as well. (Some of my other recent scholarly work is taken less seriously, I fear. Pretty pictures cause small minds to miss a serious message!)

More seasonal, X-Mas posting to follow shortly. (Sorry for light posting. We just moved house.)

Notes on a Class

by Harry on December 18, 2009

I’ve just finished my most enjoyable sustained teaching experience so far. In Fall 2007 I taught a small freshman seminar (with 20 students) on Children, Marriage and the Family. This is part of a program my university has called the Freshman Interest Group (FIG) program (about which more here). 20 students all take a seminar together, and during the same semester they simultaneously take 2 other classes together, usually large lectures in which they are all in a single discussion section. The professor of the core seminar designates the associated classes, which usually, but not always, have some intellectual connection to the core seminar (in my case, they took Sociology of Marriage and the Family, also, unusually, in a 20-person class, and an Ed Psych course on child development in large lecture format). The point of it is not to give them a coherent intellectual experience, though that is a hoped-for component — but to provide them with a “natural” peer group, people with whom to identify in an otherwise large and anonymous campus. Ultimately the idea is to construct an element of their experience which matches the experiences they would normally have in a small undergraduate college. [That said, the integration between the classes was unusually good — even the timing worked out well, without much coordination (for several topics they covered the relevant sociological material just one or two weeks before they covered the corresponding material in the philosophy class).]

I did not do a brilliant job.

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Top political philosophy books of the noughties

by Chris Bertram on December 17, 2009

Jacob Levy is asking his Facebook friends to nominate their tips for the best political philosophy books (best, most enduring, most interesting) of the decade that Brits are now referring to as “the noughties”. Global justice has obviously been the defining topic, but, whist there have been some good books on the issue, I can’t bring myself to think that any of them will be thought of as essential reading in 20 years or so, in the way that some of the offerings of the 1970s and 1980s still are today. I can’t really think beyond _If You’re an Egalitarian, How Come You’re So Rich?_ (2000) and _Rescuing Justice and Equality_ (2008). But then, as a former Jerry Cohen pupil, I’m biased. Nominations?

Bookblogging: The failure of trickle down

by John Q on December 17, 2009

Another section of my book-in-progress, looking at the failure of the trickle-down hypothesis. Comments and criticism welcome as always.

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Happy Birthday, Brigadier

by Harry on December 16, 2009

Nicholas Courtney is 80 today. Co-creator, with the recently late, lamented, Barry Letts (the greatest of the Dr Who producers), of Brigadier Sir Alasdair Lethbridge-Stewart, one of the great embodiments of the post-war, one nation, consensus spirit. Straight as an arrow… and yet able to tolerate, support, and sometimes take leadership from that left-wing pacifistic crank who tried to immunize my generation against the ideology that, ultimately, killed the consensus the Brigadier stood for.

I presume someone will be celebrating with five rounds, rapid.

Houston, do you copy?

by Maria on December 15, 2009

Time was when I associated Houston with space travel and dire urban planning. That’s all changed. Houston has now elected its first openly gay mayor, Annise Parker, who seems a very capable administrator. Secondly, I was recently lucky enough to transit successfully through Houston’s George Bush International Airport from a late flight to a tight connection. If it weren’t for the good people of Houston (and my fellow passengers from Costa Rica), I’d never have made it. So, thank you Houston, very, very much.
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Gender Equality

by Harry on December 15, 2009

During Ingrid’s visit to Madison she was surprised to find that Gender Equality: Transforming Family Divisions of Labor (UK) has already been published, mainly because she expected me to organise a book event on it in a timely fashion, or at least announce it on CT. Mea Culpa. The book came out of the conference I wrote about here. Gornick and Meyers previously published Families That Work, a comprehensive discussion of family policy in various European countries with a view to recommending a mix of subsidies, leaves, and regulations for the United States; after a visit to present the work in Madison, Erik Wright pressed them to develop a more general set of recommendations for moving toward a dual carer-dual breadwinner system, which is the lead essay in the current book. The commentaries all take off from the lead essay, with varying degrees of criticism: commentators include Nancy Folbre, Johanna Brenner, Heidi Hartmann, Rosemary Crompton, Ann Orloff, Erik Wright and me, and not one, but two, former CT-guest bloggers, Kimberly Morgan and Lane Kenworthy. Oddly, given that her essay is more critical of the kinds of policies that I’d like to see (some variant of what Gornick and Meyers recommend) than any of the others, my own favorite commentary is Barbara Bergmann’s. As will be no surprise to anyone who knows her work, Bergmann argues against a system of leaves, especially paid leaves, on the grounds that, since men will not take the leaves, increasing the opportunities and incentives for women to take the leaves will, in fact, entrench rather than overturn the gendered division of labor. I’m not persuaded, and it’s not because I am more optimistic about men taking on more child-caring (though I am, but that’s because Bergmann is pessimistic in the extreme) but more because I don’t see childcare becoming a well-paid career, or a significantly male one, in the foreseeable future. But what I liked about her commentary was the sensitiveness to context — the way that she makes clear that any commentary on proposals like this cannot be “for” or “against” but must take into account the likely effects which will vary depending on the historical circumstances of the society being considered.

Anyway, this post is the announcement Ingrid had been expecting, and I’ll tardily try to put together an event about the book before too long.

Plus ca change

by Maria on December 14, 2009

A new enterprise requires new books, not clothes. As I’ve recently developed an acutely personal interest in all things military, I’ve begun to read about the British army. The process of converting one of my unknown unknowns into a semi-known unknown has been thoroughly enjoyable, and I’ve got a couple of books to recommend. Who will read these books? More people than I would ever have thought.

Dr. Johnson wrote “Every man thinks meanly of himself for never having been to sea nor having been a soldier.” I’m sure every man doesn’t and certainly shouldn’t think that. But I have been surprised to recently discover in most of my male relatives and friends an abiding interest in British military history. Uncles nod knowingly when regiments are name-checked and drop titbits of trivia about their history. Friends in the pub ask seemingly well-informed questions about structural re-organizations. Cousins ably describe the intricacies of rank, something I’d previously had only the vaguest idea about, most of it picked up from Persuasion and Vanity Fair. Now I’m scrambling to catch up.
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Crooked Timber announces MLA Takeover

by Henry Farrell on December 14, 2009

Or at least, MLA takeover by a “CT blogger”: Congratulations, Michael!

The First Troll: Identified!

by Henry Farrell on December 14, 2009

From the “blog”: of the International Culture and Cognition Institute.

Yet more or less impersonal discussions did exist before the creation of Usenet (1979) – in newspapers or gazettes, in the public places of big cities, etc. We should find Trolls there too. Indeed, we can find them in some of the first public places where free conversation between strangers was allowed, on a variety of topics : the antique Forum, grandfather of the virtual forums of today, womb of all Trolls. There you may find the antique equivalent of Trolls : what people at the time called ‘sophists’ or ‘philosophers’ – two words that were used interchangeably by the man on the Forum. Many Sophists did not want to endorse the label – sophistry was frowned upon or downright illegal in many places – and insisted on being called Philosophers. But the average citizen did not distinguish much between all these varieties of arguers. It is clear from most outsiders’ accounts that sophists/philosophers were perceived as disrupting the usual rules of conversation in a noxious way.

Two important men are having a careful conversation on military training. What do you call the guy who, having no particular competence or interest in the matter at hand, jumps in the conversation, systematically contradicts everyone with contrived arguments, ridicules the two competent discussants, orients the conversation on a completely different topic, then leaves the audience baffled and walks away, laughing? That Troll is Socrates in Plato’s Laches.

One man’s muops being another man’s bridge-dweller. I hope John Emerson is happy …

Paul Samuelson, 1915-2009

by Kieran Healy on December 13, 2009

Here’s the New York Times obituary. Here is his surprisingly thin Wikipedia entry.

Tippelzone Utrecht

This picture is taken in the suburbs of Utrecht, which is one of the four ‘big’ Dutch cities (big by Dutch standards, of course). I’m not going to translate this – that would spoil the fun of guessing!

Bookblogging: Implications of trickle down

by John Q on December 13, 2009

Another section of my book-in-progress, this time on the implications of trickle-down. I’m getting lots out of the comments, even if I don’t respond to everything, so please keep them coming.

One thing that would be really useful to me is references to publications (probably popular, rather than journal articles) by prominent academic economists that clearly espouse some of the implications of trickle-down discussed here. More than most of the ideas I’m criticising, trickle-down economics tends to be a background assumption rather than something which comes out into the open, and I want to avoid the suggestion that I’m attacking a straw zombie here.
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Siegfried Sassoon eat yer heart out

by Henry Farrell on December 11, 2009

Charles Rowley “laments the cowardice”: of his erstwhile band of brothers. In verse, no less (or, if you insist, ‘verse’).

Where are all the real business cycle theorists who once argued that business cycles reflect Pareto-optimality? Where are all the monetarists who used to worry about the inflationary implications of massive increases in the money supply? Where are all the financial economists who used to thrust the efficient capital market hypothesis down the throats of Wall Street brokers? Where are all the law-and-economics scholars who used to boast of the efficiency of the common law? Where are all the New Classical rational expectations scholars who used to explain why systematic fiscal and monetary policies cannot influence macroeconomic activity? Where are all those Friedmanians who used to argue so effectively in support of capitalism and freedom?

Where? Where indeed?

Where have all the free market soldiers gone?
Why, they have run for cover, almost every one!
Their models have failed, their math is undone.
They need new statistics and that is no fun.
They dig into trenches to evade the socialist gun.
Their escape routes are cut off, nowhere else to run.
They hide in the darkness and avoid the free market sun.
Come out, come out, counter-attack and be done!

Mind games

by Michael Bérubé on December 11, 2009

My review of <a href=””>Brian Boyd’s <i>On the Origin of Stories</i></a> has just appeared in <i>American Scientist</i>.  Though it contains no (overt) references to cap-popping, it does contain an illustration to which I was permitted to write the <a href=””>caption</a>.  (More specifically, I wrote the first sentence.  The good people at <i>AS</i> enjoyed it but assured me that it would confuse everyone terribly, to which I replied, “cool.”  But we compromised.)