Diplomacy, intelligence, sophistication

by Chris Bertram on November 28, 2010

One method of getting a psychological assessment of the national character of potential antagonists would be to go to a local bar and ask people, any people. A few glasses of scotch would be a lot cheaper than the cost of intelligence and diplomatic services, and would doubtless come up with similar “results”:http://cablegate.wikileaks.org/cable/1979/08/79TEHRAN8980.html .

75 Tips for Getting a Better College Education.

by Harry on November 28, 2010

I’m sure we’ve had some discussion like this before, bemoaning the bad manners of undergraduates, but I can’t find it. Anyway, the other night I got one of those emails from unknown students which just starts “Hey” and continues with some request (usually to be admitted to one of my oversubscribed classes). My immediate reaction is to ignore (that was my wife’s advice) but this time I just decided to do something different. I wrote back explaining the over-subscription situation, and finished with this “By the way, you might want to address people you haven’t met more formally in future: I don’t find it irritating but many will” (which is a lie, I do find it irritating, but there’s no need to tell her that). My original version had more verbiage in it, but my 14 year old (whose missives to teachers are like business letters) told me to take it out on the grounds that “she’ll never do it again, but she’ll be scared to meet you”.

I was prompted to do this by Andrew Roberts’ book The Thinking Student’s Guide to College: 75 Tips for Getting a Better Education (see tip 53). The central idea of the book is that students need a map of how to get the most out of college, and that lots of them arrive not understanding key things. Why not just make it explicit for her?

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Austerity in the UK*

by John Quiggin on November 28, 2010

Visiting London briefly, I’m struck by both the drastic nature of the cuts being proposed by the Coalition government, and the bitterness of the response. By comparison, the austerity measures being proposed by most eurozone governments seem both less regressive and more sustainable in the long run, and the demonstrations in response to be much more in the nature of normal politics, with an element of street theatre.

I haven’t had time for a detailed analysis, but a quick comparison of the eurozone cuts listed here, and the measures proposed by the Coalition seems to me to bear this impression out. Maybe it’s just lack of detail in the eurozone list, but (except maybe in Ireland) there seems to be nothing like the mass withdrawal of public services and the focus on punishing the poor for the crimes of the rich that is the hallmark of the Cameron-Clegg regime.

This, again, seems to me to cast doubt on analyses that focus on the role of the EU and the euro. As far as I can see, UK policy is essentially unconstrained by the EU and is driven by the demands of ratings agencies and the financial sector generally. On the plus side, the Bank of England has been more expansionary in monetary policy than the ECB, but it’s been equally supportive of fiscal austerity which is the main problem.

* My intended allusion doesn’t jump off the page as I’d hoped, but UK political and social discussion has, to this visitor at least, a distinct late-70s air at present.

Kazu Kibuishi’s Amulet

by John Holbo on November 28, 2010

Here’s my pre-X-Mas best books for kids #1 top recommendation: Kazu Kibuishi’s Amulet series. Volumes 1-3 are out so far. So start with The Stonekeeper [amazon]. How they can sell a 200 page full-color graphic novel for under $7 and turn a profit is beyond me.

You can find preview material here. One word about the prologue to volume 1: it’s disturbing because the dad dies. My daughters (ages 6 and 9) almost gave up because that scene upset them so much (note to self: don’t die in car accident). But then it turns into a ripping yarn with a girl hero. Both girls are now of the considered opinion that the Amulet books are ‘the best books ever’.

Check out the rest of Kibuishi’s site – his gallery gives a good sample of his style. I’m thinking about buying my daughters a print for their wall. Maybe ‘the walking house’. Which is the final page from The Stonekeepers. I’ve enjoyed the Kibuishi edited Flight books for several years already. Here’s the preview page for vol. 7. “Premium Cargo” is the best story! Daisy Kutter was good Old West Steampunk fun, but Amulet raises the bar. Not that the story is new. Kid enters strange magical world, turns out to be The Chosen One With A Special Power, has to fight the Dark Power with the help of a small band of fellow fighters and scrappy sidekicks. But it really bounces along in a clever and good-hearted way. Solid dialogue, distinctive characterizations. Nice mix of humor and seriousness and action and sweeping visual spectacle. Stylistically, and world-design-wise, Kibuishi owes a lot to a lot of folks, from Jeff Smith to Hayao Miyazaki. But he’s got his own style, for sure, and it’s a distinct pleasure just to flip through the pages.