From the monthly archives:

July 2010

Jansson’s Illustrated Alice

by John Holbo on July 31, 2010

Speaking of Tove Jansson: when I got home from vacation, a prize awaited me. Just before I left I scored a cheap 1st edition of Jansson’s illustrated Alice In Wonderland on Abebooks. (And – oh look! [UPDATE: you didn’t look quick enough] – there’s another one available for only $38. Which is quite reasonable, compared to the prices for all the other available copies.) Mine is an ex-library copy, of the sort disdained by collectors, particularly where children’s books are concerned. (Nasty things, with their sticky, mauling, foxing fingers! thinks the collector.) But it’s in good shape, and I appreciate how it came complete with an envelope-tucked library card, earnestly autographed by several young ladies – no boys – who I like to think will now go through life with quite un-Tennielish notions of these characters (not that there’s anything wrong with Tenniel, good heavens. But it’s just funny to imagine not being able to imagine the Hatter as looking like anyone but Snufkin) … [click to continue…]

Hot and Cool Jansson & Jazz

by John Holbo on July 30, 2010

Golly, I haven’t posted to a blog for nigh a month. I haven’t actually been off in the wilderness but we’ve been on vacation and I resolved to keep my news and blog engagement to a minimum, while enjoying the great outdoors – Oregon and then New York – just to see how that treats my head. Good, it turns out. Reading several whole books, I started to feel the old attention span growing back.

Best: two short Tove Jansson novels – more or less ‘adult’ novels, at any rate not moomintroll books: The Summer Book and The True Deceiver [amazon]. Lovely stuff. Seasonal and moody and melancholy and not as funny as the moomin books, but funny. Mildly obsessive characters sort of bump into each other as they make painful and pleasurable private ways through the summer or winter. Some moomintypes have turned human – palpable touches of fillyjonkery (fillyjonquerie?), hemulic tidiness, whomperish literality, my-ish determination, etc. Which is interesting to watch. (But that’s not the only reason to read the books.)

And now that I check my Flickr contact updates …

The Library of Congress is serially posting to Flickr what promises to be a huge set of Golden Age jazz photos taken by William Gottlieb. (First link takes you to the easier-to-overview but only just started Flickr stuff. Second, to the complete and text searchable, but less overviewable complete collection.) I like this Cab Calloway. And a nice Django Rheinhardt. Gene Krupa as a zombie? Eh.

Gottlieb released it all into the public domain but some of the images still have publicity and privacy rights issues, apparently.

Political philosophy and the left

by Chris Bertram on July 30, 2010

Part one of a superb interview of Stuart White by Edward Lewis over at the Next Left Project. Meritocracy, luck egalitarianism, status inequality, negative liberty and republican liberty all get some discussion. I particularly liked Stuart’s observation that contemporary politics is keen on the “choice” side of luck egalitarian argument but tends to little or nothing about the correction of brute luck.

The bottom of the barrel, let me scrape it for you

by Kieran Healy on July 29, 2010

I thought that I’d never been asked to join JournoList because, unlike some people around here, I am not a member of the elite liberal-media vanguard. As it turns out, though, I was not asked to join because, truth be told, I am quite a handsome man. I take no pride in this fact, believe me, but was reminded of it when Twitter threw up this piece of genius, which argues that the liberal JouroListers were all pig-ugly losers who had been on “the business end of a fugly stick beat-down”. It brought a tear to my eye, reminiscent as it was of the good old days of blogging, when such arguments were very much to the fore. The real reason I bring this up, though, was to show you a screenshot of the piece:

Who among us has not marveled at DaVinci’s David while strolling through the streets of Venice? It’s one of the many gifts of Western Civilization that a solid conservative education teaches us about.

“Andrea Brandolini”:

bq. What I really find conspicuous in the comparison of top income shares across rich nations is the similarity of the patterns observed in English-speaking countries as opposed to those found in continental European countries. It is striking that, after a prolonged period of moderate decline, the income share of the richest 1 percent suddenly began to rise in the mid-1980s in the United Kingdom, Canada, Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand as well as in the United States, while it exhibited no upward trend in France, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain, and Switzerland.

bq. The difference between these two groups of countries confirms that market and technological forces cannot be the whole story, but the similarity of trajectories, including the time of the turning point, in the English-speaking countries defies an explanation based only on the national characteristics of the U.S. political process. Hacker and Pierson recognize the potential problem, but play it down by positing that the close interdependence of the markets for top executives can largely account for the common trends in English-speaking economies. Perhaps, but why should interdependence be so much stronger between London and New York than between London and Frankfurt in today’s highly integrated financial markets? Can common language be the only critical factor, or are there more fundamental reasons?

Emulating the trappings of a dictatorship

by Henry Farrell on July 28, 2010

Jim Lindgren, who has apparently rowed back on “his promise to reveal ‘a lot more’ about Journolist over the next few days”:, “explains it all”:

Update: Anderson, a frequent commenter at the Volokh Conspiracy, has created a “shadow blog”: so that people can comment on Jim Lindgren’s posts if they want to (Lindgren usually turns off comments himself).

What Produced the Inequality Boom?

by Henry Farrell on July 28, 2010

Riffing off John’s “post of a few days ago”:, the most recent issue of Politics and Society (which, as I noted before, “has free access”: for the next few months” ) has a pretty interesting debate on this topic. There are four contender. One of these – the standard technology-leading-to-inequality-story – is not discussed at any length in _Politics and Society_, but this accont doesn’t in any event tell us why there has been substantial variation in the impact of technology on different industrialized democracies, and hence requires at the least an account of intermediating forces.

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Red Plenty

by Henry Farrell on July 27, 2010

I get far more free books from publishers than I can read, let alone write about (a source of persistent, if mild guilt). And this book I haven’t read yet, since I only got it this morning. But I have been _wanting_ to read it ever since I read “Ken MacLeod’s brief account”: ; how it is that the publicity department of Faber and Faber discovered this entirely unexpressed desire of mine, I don’t know. Ken:

bq. It’s a fictionalised account, or a non-fiction novel, about the project in the early 1960s to use computers to plan the Soviet economy. A key figure is the genius Kantorovich, who invented the mathematical technique of linear programming in 1938. (We follow his mind as the idea dawns on him, on a tram.) He and other real characters such as Kosygin and Khrushchev mingle with fictitious characters – some based on real people, some not, but all convincing. It’s a bit like reading a novel by Kim Stanley Robinson, Neal Stephenson, or Ursula Le Guin – or maybe a mashup of all them; full of arguments between passionate and intelligent people, diverting (in both senses) infodumps, and all about something that actually happened – and, more significantly, about something that didn’t happen, and why it didn’t.

Worth noting that the cover is far spiffier looking than a compressed jpeg can convey. Worth also noting that MacLeod’s own recent novel, “The Restoration Game”: looks like a lot of fun; since it doesn’t appear to have a US publisher, I’m waiting till I get to Ireland next month to pick it up.

Hugo Awards II

by Henry Farrell on July 26, 2010

One of the nominees this year (for best related work) is Farah Mendlesohn’s “The Inter-Galactic Playground: A Critical Study of Children’s and Teens’ Science Fiction”: I haven’t read the other contenders, but wanted to do a quick write up. It’s a fun book, with an argument that both contributes to genre studies and sets out Mendlesohn’s own position on the kind of books that sf writers for younger readers _ought_ to be writing.
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Hugo Nominees (1)

by Henry Farrell on July 26, 2010

Usually, John Quiggin or I discuss the nominees for the Hugo Awards at some point – and time is running out. The nominees this year for Best Novel:

_Boneshaker_ by Cherie Priest (Amazon, Powells)
_The City & The City_ by China Miéville (Amazon, Powells)
_Julian Comstock: A Story of 22nd-Century America_ by Robert Charles Wilson (Amazon, Powells)
_Palimpsest_ by Catherynne M. Valente (Amazon, Powells)
_Wake_ by Robert J. Sawyer
_The Windup Girl_ by Paolo Bacigalupi (Amazon, Powells)

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“Martin Wolf in the FT today”:

bq. Whatever the rhetoric, I have long considered the US the advanced world’s most Keynesian nation – the one in which government (including the Federal Reserve) is most expected to generate healthy demand at all times, largely because jobs are, in the US, the only safety net for those of working age.

I’m not sure I agree (or more precisely: your level of agreement with this statement will depend on exactly how you want to define Keynesianism) – but it’s worth pointing out that this is at the least quite consonant with Tyler Cowen’s “arguments about Germany”: On the one hand, this intellectual convergence could be taken as suggesting that Tyler’s case suggests that German-style social democracy works better than US style Keynesianism (an argument which I _think_ Tyler agrees with, at least with respect to Germans). On the other, it could be taken as suggesting that despite Wolf’s frequent minatory statements about the external consequences of the German model, he believes that it works better in relative terms than US-style Keynesianism in providing _internal_ economic security and political stability. Certainly, he is quite skeptical about the prospects of the US economic system given Republicans’ role as a blocking minority and perhaps majority in the near future (his most provocative suggestion is that Republicans are a perverted species of Keynesians).

Who has gained from the inequality boom?

by John Q on July 25, 2010

A question that comes up at CT quite a bit is: who has benefited from the massive increase in US income inequality over recent decades. I finally got around to chasing down Congressional Budget Office data (derived from tax records for the period 1979 to 2005), and the answer, in short is:
* The top 1 per cent roughly doubled their share of both pre-tax income (9 per cent to 18 percent) and after-tax income (7.5 per cent to 15 per cent)
* The rest of the top 10 per cent slightly increased their share (from about 20 to about 22 per cent)
* The next 10 per cent held their share (about 15 percent)
* The remaining 80 per cent of households saw their share drop (from 58 per cent to 48 per cent of post-tax income, with the biggest drops coming at the bottom. The bottom 40 per cent of households now get a smaller share of post tax income (14 per cent, down from 19) than the top 1 per cent.
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Live on Video

by John Q on July 25, 2010

After the usual hassles, UQ School of Economics finally has its own videoconference facility, an IP-based Tandberg system, which should (fingers crossed) be interoperable with other standards-based systems. I just did my first conference, and it worked very well. Unfortunately, we are still waiting for an upgrade that will let me run a presentation at the same time as appearing on video. But I’m confident of ultimate success, so I’m now announcing that I’m available to give seminars and talks on a wide range of topics to anyone (subject to time and timezone constraints!) who would like to organise a videoconference. Email me j.quiggin at if you are interested.

McLemee on Hall on Gellner

by Henry Farrell on July 23, 2010


bq. It is easy to imagine why Ernest Gellner would be one of the universally known figures in Anglophone intellectual life. A polymath whose work ranged across anthropology, history, philosophy, and sociology, his mind wrestled with an encyclopedia’s worth of nagging questions about nationalism, modernity, civil society, imperialism, Islam, psychoanalysis, ethics and epistemology. “I am not a donkey,” he liked to say, borrowing a line from Max Weber, “and I don’t have a field.” He wrote clearly and trenchantly, with brio and dry wit. Clearly these were not among the qualities that had rubbed off on him from Weber (let alone from Immanuel Kant, another of the master-thinkers defining the horizons of his work). By my count, roughly half of Gellner’s almost two dozen books are collections of essays – a wry running commentary on half a century of public intellectual life following the Second World War: existentialism, structuralism, the thaws and re-freezings of the Soviet bloc, and the varieties of dissident enthusiasm in the West… These pieces revisit the themes and preoccupations of his monographic works, and retain their vitality, well after the original polemical targets have been forgotten. All of this, to repeat, should explain Gellner’s monumental prominence – except for the fact that he has no such prominence. There are Foucauldians aplenty and Rortyans by the score – and even the occasional stray Marcusean, tending the flame. But of Gellnerians, there is scarcely a trace.

Count me as one of those barely visible Gellnerians, and Cosma Shalizi too1. I’ve often wondered about why Gellner doesn’t get the respect he deserves. I had a genuine moment of intellectual horror last year when I realized that two articles I had co-written got more cites on Google Scholar than “Plough, Sword and Book”:, which has to be one of the great synthetic works of scholarship of the twentieth century. Not that I don’t like my articles fine. But they are not _Plough, Sword and Book._ My working theory is that Gellner has less influence precisely because his work is unclassifiable. Not only because (as the quote above illustrates) his range of interests was extraordinarily catholic, but because his theoretical ambition is hard to confine within the usual academic strictures. In email conversation, Scott describes him as the liberal thinker who is closest to Marx’s historical materialism, which serves as an indicator of his ambitions. He wanted to come up with a Theory of Everything, and while he didn’t succeed, he came up with a body of work which is nothing short of extraordinary.

I’m looking forward to reading the biography that Scott reviews. I recommend you read his review. I recommend even more strongly (if you have an interest in the social sciences) that you read as much of Gellner’s own work as you possibly can. It’s wonderful stuff.

[Post updated to remove banalities]

1We are currently writing a paper that could fairly be summarized as Gellner wedded to an explicitly evolutionary theory of institutional change. With network theory! And machine learning! And cognitive science! And handwaving! Lots of handwaving.

Cover design for the living dead

by John Q on July 23, 2010

The choice of cover design for a book is always a tricky process, at least for authors like me who are more comfortable with text than images. A while back Eszter dealt with the problem by crowdsourcing the cover for her book Research Confidential.

I got lots of input from readers here on the text and title of Zombie Economics, but I left the cover design to the professionals, and I’m glad I did. Here’s the cover, based on a horror comic and here,at the Princeton University Press blog, is a discussion of how it came about.

There was one anxious moment when we discovered that the design included a reference to a chapter (on central bank independence) that I’d deleted at a late stage in the process. But the designer came up with a clever tweak that changed the reference (to refer to financial markets) without affecting the impact of the design.

This is the first book I’ve done since I took up blogging (I use to say blogs kill books, but this book grew out of the blog) and the process has left me with renewed respect for the range of skills that are involved in turning an idea and a rough draft into a book.