Short points

by Henry on February 10, 2011

Am too busy writing a paper to blog, but if I were blogging, I’d be writing about …

(1) My happy discovery that George Scialabba’s website has an “Atom feed”:http://www.georgescialabba.net/mtgs/atom.xml, which is mentioned nowhere on the page, but which allows you to keep up with new Scialabba As It Arrives. Apparently, his website has been speaking xml all its life without knowing it …

(2) My “review”:http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/story.asp?sectioncode=26&storycode=415096&c=2 of Evgeny Morozov’s “The Net Delusion”:ttp://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1586488740?ie=UTF8&tag=henryfarrell-20&linkCode=as2&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=1586488740 (short version: when it’s good, it’s very, very good. And when it’s bad, it’s horrid). [UPDATE: Cosma Shalizi emails to tell me that one of my criticisms of Morozov – viz. that it is impossible to later disentangle individual voices from the roaring of a crowd – is in fact wrong).

(3) The “Reformcard”:http://reformcard.com/ effort to grade Irish political parties’ commitment to reform, whenever they get around to issuing manifestos. I will say that I am a little sceptical about the term ‘reform,’ which is frequently employed as a more or less direct euphemism for ‘cuts and marketization’ – I’ll be interested to see how it’s measured in practice.1 While Ireland could surely do with reform, it is likely to suffer far more ‘reform’ than could possibly be beneficial, regardless of who gets elected. Update 2: commentators tell me that the reforms that the site will emphasize are purely institutional ones.

(4) Scott McLemee’s “thoughts on international politics and zombies”:http://www.insidehighered.com/views/mclemee/mclemee323. As “xkcd”:http://xkcd.com/856/ pointed out recently, we’re all a little overexposed to zombies and other Internet trochees. So here’s a bit from Francis Spufford’s _Red Plenty_ (coming out in the US in a few months!) that freshens up (if that’s the right word) the metaphor nicely.

bq. But Marx had drawn a nightmare picture of what happened to human life under capitalism, when everything was produced only in order to be exchanged; when true qualities and uses dropped away, and the human power of making and doing itself became only an object to be traded. Then the makers and the things made turned alike into commodities, and the motion of society turned into a kind of zombie dance, a grim cavorting whirl in which objects and people blurred together till the objects were half alive and the people were half dead. Stock-market prices acted back upon the world as if they were independent powers, requiring factories to be opened or closed, real human beings to work or rest, hurry or dawdle; and they, having given the transfusion that made the stock prices come alive, felt their flesh go cold and impersonal on them, mere mechanisms for chunking out the man-hours. Living money and dying humans, metal as tender as skin and skin as hard as metal, taking hands, and dancing round, and round, and round, with no way ever of stopping; the quickened and the deadened, whirling on. That was Marx’s description, anyway. And what would be the alternative? The consciously arranged alternative? A dance of another nature, Emil presumed. A dance to the music of use, where every step fulfilled some real need, did some tangible good, and no matter how fast the dancers spun, they moved easily, because they moved to a human measure, intelligible to all, chosen by all.

1Far worse though, is ‘painful reform,’ which is invariably used as a term of approbation by those expecting to suffer _no pain whatsoever_ (and quite possibly anticipating substantial profits or consultancy fees) from the ‘reforms’ being tabled.

Income growth shares over time

by Kieran Healy on February 10, 2011

income shares data viz

A useful bit of interactive data visualization for Emmanuel Saez’s time-series on historical trends in income growth and distribution in the United States. As you can see, between 1970 and 2008 people in the bottom 90 percent of the income distribution typically chose not to partake of annual increases in total income, presumably because of a tendency to prefer and thus self-select into lower-paying jobs, or possibly because of an innate dislike for the more complex mathematics (surrounding tax calculations, car payments, and budgeting generally) that is associated with earning more money.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

by John Holbo on February 10, 2011

Another film post: in teaching ‘philo and film’, I’m focusing mostly on sf, but branching into speculation in a more metaphysical sense, and spectacle in a more purely visual sense. One slightly oddball pick I’ve made is the Reinhardt/Dieterle A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1935) [amazon].

It was released on DVD for the first time last year and I really cannot recommend it highly enough for sheer entertainment value, and several other values as well. It’s not exactly a forgotten film, but this late arrival on the DVD scene is a symptom of some slippage between the cracks. Yet it’s got a great, big name cast. James Cagney as Bottom, the Weaver: [click to continue…]