The Circumstances of an Accident

by Henry Farrell on November 8, 2011

Chris’s “post below”: reminds me that I’ve been meaning to disagree with this “claim”: by Nick Carr.

bq. Works of science fiction, particularly good ones, are almost always dystopian. It’s easy to understand why: There’s a lot of drama in Hell, but Heaven is, by definition, conflict-free. Happiness is nice to experience, but seen from the outside it’s pretty dull.

bq. But there’s another reason why portrayals of utopia don’t work. We’ve all experienced the “uncanny valley” that makes it difficult to watch robotic or avatarial replicas of human beings without feeling creeped out. The uncanny valley also exists, I think, when it comes to viewing artistic renderings of a future paradise. Utopia is creepy – or at least it looks creepy. That’s probably because utopia requires its residents to behave like robots, never displaying or even feeling fear or anger or jealousy or bitterness or any of those other messy emotions that plague our fallen world.

[click to continue…]

The grandfather clause*

by John Q on November 8, 2011

I saw a reference to (US Representative) Paul Ryan’s plan to kill Social Security and Medicare, but only for people currently under 55 (he doesn’t say “kill” of course, but if it was going to make things better he wouldn’t need to exempt everyone likely to care directly about the issue) and it reminded me to post this.

A policy like this has what economists like to call a time-inconsistency problem. To get the policy approved, Ryan needs the votes of people currently over 55 (hence the exemption) and in the current US situation, any Republican majority has to rely heavily on older voters. Say the plan passes. Sooner or later, the combination of demographics and the electoral pendulum means that the Repubs will be out, and the new primarily majority will face three choices (a) Repeal the whole thing if they can do so before it comes into force (b) Keep on paying high taxes to fund benefits they will never receive for the benefit of the selfish old so-and-so’s who voted to cut the rope once they had reached the top; or (c) extend the same cuts to the (as of 2011) over 55’s, and claw back some money for themselves.

If I were an over-55 Republican, I don’t think I would want to count on (b)


* The original grandfather clause was a Jim Crow rule limiting the franchise to people whose grandparents had held it before the Civil War. The UK adopted something similar in relation to immigration in the 1970s. These examples give some good reasons why grandfather clauses (exempting existing participants in a system from unfavorable rule changes)  are bad policy in general, though there may sometimes be exceptions 

A new Communist Manifesto

by Chris Bertram on November 8, 2011

At The Utopian there are details of a project by Adorno and Horkheimer for a new Communist Manifesto:

bq. Horkheimer: Thesis: nowadays we have enough by way of productive forces; it is obvious that we could supply the entire world with goods and could then attempt to abolish work as a necessity for human beings. In this situation it is mankind’s dream that we should do away with both work and war. The only drawback is that the Americans will say that if we do so, we shall arm our enemies. And in fact, there is a kind of dominant stratum in the East compared to which John Foster Dulles is an amiable innocent.

bq. Adorno: We ought to include a section on the objection: what will people do with all their free time?

bq. Horkheimer: In actual fact their free time does them no good because the way they have to do their work does not involve engaging with objects. This means that they are not enriched by their encounter with objects. Because of the lack of true work, the subject shrivels up and in his spare time he is nothing.

h/t Brian Leiter.

And did those feet?

by Chris Bertram on November 8, 2011

We went to see Jez Butterworth’s Jerusalem on Saturday, with Mark Rylance playing the role of “Rooster” Byron. It was one of the most overwhelming experiences I’ve had at the theatre. The production was superb, and Rylance extraordinary, inhabiting the character of drunk, drug-dealing outsider Byron with love and energy throughout. Englishness is the theme, but hardly the house-trained Englishness of which the Daily Mail would approve, since the action is set on Byron’s last day before eviction from his illegal encampment by Kennet and Avon council, and Byron is a “gippo” and a “pikey” (Americans might call him “trailer trash”). The inhabitants of the little box houses on the “new estate”, many of whom have hung around Rooster’s caravan as adolescents themselves, want him out. If I were being pretentious I might use terms like Dionysian (ok I just did). The play problematizes peace, “progress”, order and prosperity and projects a view of what matters that won’t appeal to Steven Pinker or the average economist. Well too bad for them. I hear the play was well-received on Broadway. I wonder how well the Wiltshire underlass travelled to New York? No spoilers here, but I have listened to Sandy Denny singing “Who Knows Where the Time Goes?” about 100 times in the past couple of days, often with tears running down my face.


by niamh on November 8, 2011

Singapore is evidently a great place for shopping, as this photo from a friend shows:

But it is surely a sign of deep recession that gives us bargains like this in Dublin: