From the monthly archives:

February 2010

Measuring Justice

by Harry on February 28, 2010

Cambridge has just published a new book, Measuring Justice: Primary Goods and Capabilities (UK), which Ingrid and I edited (the idea of doing it was entirely Ingrid’s, I should say, and a brilliant idea it turned out to be). Its a fairly tightly focused collection, for which we invited two kinds of contribution. It opens with a shortened version of Pogge’s essay “Can the Capabilities Approach be Justified?” which many of the contributors refer back to, and the first part continues with a series of chapters considering the relative merits of Rawls’s social primary goods approach and the capabilities approach to the metric of justice; for this we invited contributors whom we believed would defend one or another of these metrics while giving careful criticisms of the rival, plus Dick Arneson whom we believed (rightly) could be relied on to help make progress despite not being associated with either view. For the second part we invited contributors who would think about some specific issue of justice (in health, education, gender, the family, disability) and consider the relative merits of the approaches with respect to that specific issue. We wrote a short analytical introduction which locates the debate in a broader context, and which, we hope, helps guide the reader through the book (the CUP page has a pdf of it, so you can judge for yourselves); the book concludes with a nice, partly autobiographical, essay by Sen engaging with the chapters in the first part of the book. The contributors so far unmentioned are Erin Kelly, Elizabeth Anderson, Norman Daniel, Lorella Terzi, Colin MacLeod, and Elaine Unterhalter. This is the second volume I’ve co-edited for Cambridge, and both times they have come up with much better titles than the editors would have done, good-looking but demure covers, and, most importantly, a reasonable price.

Discussion on my last post on reanimated zombie ideas in economics touched on a lot of the themes I want to talk about in this one, about the efficient markets hypothesis and why this undead monster can never be laid to rest. (Warning: favorable references to Popper ahead!).

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I’m adding a little section to each of the chapters in my Zombie Economics book called “Reanimation”, about the attempts that are already under way to revive economic ideas killed (at least according to the standard rules of hypothesis refutation) by the global crisis. I wasn’t surprised to find plenty of examples for the efficient markets hypothesis (easy to render immune from any kind of refutation by an appropriate formulation) or for policy ideas that yield big benefits to the rich and powerful, such as privatisation and trickle-down economics. But I was surprised a little while ago to see the crisis described as a transitory blip in the continuing Great Moderation. Still that pales into insignificance compared to this piece by Casey Mulligan of Chicago (h/t commenter Daniel ), in which (I swear this is true!) the crisis is the result of financial markets correctly anticipating the adverse labour market impacts of possible legislation under Obama, such as a health plan that might include means tests.

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Libel and Academic Book Reviews

by Henry Farrell on February 25, 2010

Via a CT reader, this “rather horrifying attempt to hold an academic journal criminally responsible”: (PDF) for publishing a negative book review and then refusing to suppress it. As Joseph Weiler, the editor of the _European Journal of International Law_ describes the culmination of his saga:

… on 26 September 2008 I received a Subpoena to appear before a French Examining Judge in connection with an investigation of alleged criminal libel based on a complaint made by Dr Calvo-Goller essentially replicating the complaints in her first letter to me. … in libel cases, all investigations of the merits of the case are exclusively reserved for the Criminal Court itself and, therefore, as a direct consequence of the complaint being filed, it was necessary that I be referred to the Court for trial. The date for the trial has now been set for 25 June 2010.

The review (in the _European Journal of International Law_ ) is “decidedly pungent”:, but (without commenting on the legal aspects,which I know nothing about) it seems to my eyes to be well within the usual norms of academic book reviewing (where a general tendency towards back-slapping congeniality is leavened by occasional fits of vigorous criticism). Weiler asks that academics who are upset at Dr. Calvo-Goller’s novel approach to managing the fallout from negative book-reviews send letters of “indignation/support” by email attachment (preferably with letterhead and affiliation) to, especially if they are editors or book review editors for other journals. He also asks that people send scanned or digital copies of other caustic book reviews to this address, so as to demonstrate that Dr. Calvo-Goller’s unhappy experience at the hands of a critic is nothing unusual. As an occasional author of “uncomplimentary book reviews”: myself, I encourage people both (a) to send such reviews in and (b) to link them in comments, especially if they are well written. I do wonder whether Dr. Calvo-Goller appreciated the notoriety that she would accrue through her actions; The _Chronicle_ already “has a piece”: on this, _Inside Higher Ed_ won’t be far behind, and I wouldn’t at all be surprised at all if this story breaks out into the mainstream press.

And your mother’s a minger!

by Maria on February 25, 2010

Oh dear. Half of Greece is now protesting against the EU as the cause of budget cuts, and not, say, their own lying government(s), aversion to tax and an enormous black economy. They could even more logically protest about Goldman Sachs’ role in the affair. But no, it’s all the Germans’ fault.

Invoking the European statesman’s version of Godwin’s Law, Greece’s deputy prime minister Theodoros Pangalos says Germany never paid proper reparations following its occupation of Greece in 1941:

“They took away the Greek gold that was at the Bank of Greece, they took away the Greek money and they never gave it back. This is an issue that has to be faced sometime in the future,” Mr Pangalos told the BBC World Service.

“I don’t say they have to give back the money necessarily but they have at least to say ‘thanks’,” he added.
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Writing tips

by Henry Farrell on February 25, 2010

The Guardian’s “Ten Rules for Writing Fiction”: feature has gotten a lot of attention. Here are “Tim Howard’s supplementary guidelines”:

3. “When in doubt, have a man come through the door with a meat lovers pizza in his hands.” (Chandler)

4. Never use a verb other than “ejaculated” to carry the dialogue, eg. “‘I don’t really know what to say to you, Ivan Ivanych,’ Nastasya Petrovna ejaculated tearfully.” (Chekhov)

5. Use as many exclamation points as possible! No! Really! Do! ! !

Feel encouraged to suggest others in comments. Via “MJH”:

Dante’s Inferno

by John Holbo on February 25, 2010

You’ve probably heard about this. Surely we can get a thread’s worth of comments, eh? I’m awaiting the inevitable backwash of an actual edition of Dante’s poem with imagery from the game on the cover. But someone came up with that joke already. What next? Obviously video game adaptation is most natural when you have ‘levels’ or ‘generations’, and episodic picaresqueness is a plus. Vanity Fair? (You play Becky Sharp, climbing the social ladder, winning over various representative males in the Boss Fights.) Buddenbrooks?

OK, then, what about this: it’s obvious that the way to do this right would have been as an installment in the Mario series: Mario’s Comedy. With Peach as Beatrice, Bowser as Satan, Luigi as Virgil, providing ‘super guide’ assistance’. Or maybe Virgil should be a Toad. I’m flexible. And the rest of the cast. Mushrooms and King Boo and Koopas and Yoshis and big biting metal balls on chains, disporting in appropriate spiritual attitudes. Lava and ice and howling wind. Various souls trapped in blocks you free by jumping on them, then carrying them to the end of the level, maybe.

Italian guy loves princess, Italian guy loses princess, Italian guy has to struggle through level after level, eventually fighting the Big Boss, to get Princess back again. Writes itself. Nine Levels. Plus climbing the Mountain of Purgatory. Then Paradiso could be the video you watch after you’re done. Boring stuff, but running on kinda long. Like the original. (YouTube mashup artists, take it away!)

Since this isn’t the way we’ve gone, apparently, I think our second best option would be to adapt, say, Super Mario Brothers, as a terza rima epic. So that’s your assigned task in comments. Something about ‘midway along the path’, ‘running always to the right’, ‘jumping on people’s heads’. That sort of thing. If you choose to accept your mission.

Google and Italy

by Maria on February 24, 2010

Three Google executives have been convicted of violating Italian privacy law because of a children’s bullying video posted briefly by Google in 2006. Although Google took down the offending video of several children in Turin cruelly taunting a mentally disabled boy, and subsequently helped authorities to identify and convict the person who posted the video, three executives were convicted today of violating privacy. A fourth employee who has since left the company had his charges dropped, which seems to indicate that a political point is being made. The executives in question are outraged, and former UK Information Commissioner Richard Thomas is quoted as saying the episode makes a mockery of privacy laws.

For years I’ve observed that Italy always pushes for the most extreme EU version of laws about privacy and security and then domestically gold-plates them into laws that would seem more at home in Turkmenistan. It makes other Europeans scratch their heads as the Italians generally aren’t willing or able to enforce their draconian laws. Several years ago over a pint in Brussels, an exasperated UK official told me ‘the Italians have no intention of ever implementing this stuff, but we’re a common law country and if it’s on the books, we actually have to do it’.

Update: Milton Mueller has an interesting take on the decision and makes the point that the E-Commerce Directive has not aged well in an era of user-generated content.
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Ken Worpole on Colin Ward

by Chris Bertram on February 23, 2010

Further to last week’s brief mention of Colin Ward’s death, “Ken Worpole now has an obituary in the Guardian”: . A brief excerpt:

bq. Colin saw all distant goals as a form of tyranny and believed that anarchist principles could be ­discerned in everyday human relations and impulses. Within this perspective, politics was about strengthening ­co-operative ­relations and supporting human ingenuity in its myriad vernacular and everyday forms. One of Colin’s favourite metaphors – adopted from a novel by Ignazio Silone – was the image of the seed beneath the snow, which suggested to him that anarchist principles were ever alive and prescient. He thought it was the work of politics to nurture such beliefs and to support them through small-scale initiatives, avoiding the temptation to replicate or scale them up to a level beyond which professional bureaucracies take over.

I’d also note Daniel Trilling’s brief note at the New Statesman blog (which contains a link to an online pdf reader of Ward’s writings), Boyd Tonkin’s appreciation in the Independent, and Ross Bradshaw at the Five Leaves Publications blog.

Reading around Ward’s work in the few days since his death I kept coming across one of his favourite quotes, from the German anarchist Gustav Landauer:

bq. The State is not something which can be destroyed by a revolution, but is a condition, a certain relationship between human beings, a mode of human behaviour; we destroy it by contracting other relationships, by behaving differently.

Material there, I think, for further meditation on Jerry Cohen’s critique of Rawls, the “socialism of the the camping trip”: , the importance of “ethos” and the inadequacy of a conception of human emancipation based around law and citizenship. (The “the seed beneath the snow” metaphor even finds echoes in the cover design for Cohen’s _Why not Socialism?_ ) But speculation about these convergences should form the matter of another post.

Update: Roman Krznaric’s “appreciation”: , and the Times “obituary”: .


by John Holbo on February 23, 2010

I never really got the whole G.K. Chesterton thing. I understand lots of folks really like Chesterton but, having never read anything but a few Father Brown mysteries, I formed a theory about that: some people really like formulaic mystery series, and some people really like this C.S. Lewis-ish naive-is-sophisticated-in-a-peculiarly-English-way attitudinizing. I feel I can take or leave the both of them. So, to repeat, I never got the Chesterton thing. But I figured maybe I should sample the non-Father Brownish material, just to be sure. (People do seem to love their Chesterton, not just the Father Brown fanboys.) I’m halfway through Manalive. And it’s pretty great! Obviously, being a tediously predictable person in my own way, I want someone to do it up proper as a graphic novel, with Innocent Smith as Manalive, in a tight green costume! With strength of leaps proportional to those of a grasshopper! And a revolver! Dealing out Life! More Life-Affirming Tales of Manalive, the Living Man!

Discuss. What’s your favorite Chesterton? Is Father Brown as fundamentally tedious as I take him to be? Is Innocent Smith just as tedious, only I like him because I’m susceptible to any whiff or soupcon of man-and-superman themery? The public is banging on its breakfast table, demanding answers to these and other questions, quite possibly.

Quote Bleg

by John Holbo on February 21, 2010

I’m writing an essay and I want to reference, in passing, Wilde’s quip that some women, so that they may be perfectly spiritual, strive to be very thin. They’re sort of like Descartes’ pineal gland that way, if it’s true, if you think about it. Only Oscar didn’t think to add that extra joke about Descartes. Getting to the point: I’m not even sure he added the thing about the women. Is it in one of the plays? Someone did. Surely a Edwardian/Victorian sort of someone. It would be altogether convenient to know who.

Sunday afternoon mashup: Fleetwood mac vs. Daft Punk. Good stuff!

Thinner, Better, Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger, plus the constructivist implication of ‘you make’, being the spiritual red thread running through this post, as it were. Daft Bodies an all.

The Harvard Mentality as Moral Emblem

by John Holbo on February 20, 2010

Following up on Henry’s post …

I have just been reading Robert Louis Stevenson’s Moral Emblems (history of comics is everywhere, you know), and I think he pegs this ‘Harvard Mentality’ with a simple but elegant woodcut and associated poem.

Mark, printed on the opposing page,
The unfortunate effects of rage.
A man (who might be you or me)
Hurls another into the sea.
Poor soul, his unreflecting act
His future joys will much contract,
And he will spoil his evening toddy
By dwelling on that mangled body.

Or, as Michael Bérubé puts it: “I’ll show YOU what’s liberal about the liberal arts!”

The ‘Harvard Mentality’ as a Plea for Mitigation

by Henry Farrell on February 19, 2010

Noted without comment, from the “Chronicle”:

Amy Bishop’s court-appointed lawyer says the professor accused of killing three of her colleagues appears to have paranoid schizophrenia and while she is “aware of what she’s done” and is full of remorse, she can’t remember the shootings. Roy W. Miller, the lawyer, told the Associated Press that her failure to get tenure at the University of Alabama at Huntsville was the likely key to the shootings. “Obviously she was very distraught and concerned over that tenure,” Mr. Miller said. “It insulted her and slapped her in the face, and it’s probably tied in with the Harvard mentality. She brooded and brooded and brooded over it, and then, ‘bingo.'”

The Wizard of Oz

by John Holbo on February 18, 2010

Lots of folks seemed to think that Japanese paper theater manga book sounded pretty interesting, and many had good suggestions for related material; so here’s something vaguely similar – proto-pop culture-bleg-wise. The new The Wizard of Oz blu-ray set is on sale cheap [amazon]. Apparently they’ve toiled to improve the visual quality and the thing includes extras I want: namely, the early silent films. These are public domain, so you can watch them courtesy of the Internet Archive: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1910); The Patchwork Girl of Oz (1914); The Magic Cloak of Oz (1914); and His Majesty, The Scarecrow of Oz (1914). May I recommend, in particular, the fight scene between Hank the Mule and the Witches! (For anyone looking to extract baffling visual material to incorporate into your clever hipster music video project – here you go!) But the Internet Archive quality is poor, bless their charitable hearts. I’m hoping they’ve done a bit better with these new discs.

Fun facts! The Scarecrow of Oz – the 1915 book – is based on the film, not the other way around. Although I have to say: the relation is kinda loose.

The 1939 film we know and love was not, in fact, the first version to present Kansas in b&w, Oz in color. That honor goes to a 1933 cartoon included with the new set, which was originally released all b&w due to a lawsuit about the color process. You can watch it on YouTube but, again, quality not great. (Music by Carl Stallings!)

Also, The Wiz (1978) was not the first crazy blacksploitation installment of the franchise. That honor goes to the far crazier, Larry Semon-directed/starring, young Stan Laurel-containing 1925 version (again, YouTube provides, at least a bit). It has Spencer Bell as “Snowball”, the black farmhand who is send skipping to Oz on lightning bolts. (He is billed as G. Howe Black.) So far as I can tell, this version is not included in the new set, but one Amazon reviewer seems to think it is. I guess I’ll find out for myself. [click to continue…]

And whatever you do, don’t mention the war

by Henry Farrell on February 17, 2010

“Paul Krugman”:, like “others before him”:, fails to do justice to Martin Feldstein’s perspicacity.

Today, Martin Feldstein suggests that Greece make a temporary return to the drachma, so as to regain cost competitiveness. In terms of the macroeconomics, this actually does make sense. But it’s also impossible; Feldstein needs to read Barry Eichengreen.

What he doesn’t realise is that Feldstein is playing a much deeper game here, and that his fundamental objections to the euro “have nothing to do with macroeconomic theory”:

War within Europe itself would be abhorrent but not impossible. The conflicts over economic policies and interference with national sovereignty could reinforce long-standing animosities based on history, nationality, and religion. Germany’s assertion that it needs to be contained in a larger European political entity is itself a warning. Would such a structure contain Germany, or tempt it to exercise hegemonic leadership?

A critical feature of the EU in general and EMU in particular is that there is no legitimate way for a member to withdraw. This is a marriage made in heaven that must last forever. But if countries discover that the shift to a single currency is hurting their economies and that the new political arrangements also are not to their liking, some of them will want to leave. The majority may not look kindly on secession, either out of economic self-interest or a more general concern about the stability of the entire union. The American experience with the secession of the South may contain some lessons about the danger of a treaty or constitution that has no exits.

Obviously, Feldstein can’t write about this in public; Germans have, after all, been known to “read the Financial Times”: But perhaps if Greece extricates itself very, very carefully from EMU, and promises (however disingenuously) that it _really, really will_ return to the eurozone just as soon as it can, Angela Merkel will stand down the Panzertruppen she has amassed at the Greek border …

Update: “see also Colm McCarthy”: