Piketty, in three parts

by Henry on December 15, 2015

It’s the unfortunate fate of greatly influential books to be greatly
misunderstood. When a book is sufficiently important to reshape
intellectual and political debates, it escapes, at least to some extent,
its author’s intentions. People want to latch onto it and use it as a
vehicle for their own particular gripes and concerns. Enemies will
distort the book further, some because they dislike the book’s message,
others because they feel that they, rather than the book’s author,
should have been the messenger adorned by history with
laurels. The book will further be subject to the more ordinary forms of
misprision and adaptation (some helpful; others less so) that all books
are subject to. [click to continue…]

It’s bargaining power all the way down

by J.W. Mason on December 15, 2015

Imagine that you’re a person who is obsessed with airplanes. Naturally
you’re excited when everyone starts talking about this big new book,
*Aviation in the 21st Century.* You get your copy and start
reading. Just as you’d hoped, there’s a detailed discussion of the
flight characteristics of a vast variety of plane types and a
comprehensive record of different countries’ commercial fleets, from the
beginning of aviation until today, plus a few artfully chosen
illustrations of classic early planes. But long stretches of the book
are quite different. They are devoted to the general principle that, in
an atmosphere, heavier objects fall faster than light ones, building up
to the universal law that lighter-than-air objects will float. Finally,
in the conclusion, you find some bleak reflections on the environmental
consequences of air travel – hardly mentioned til now – and a plea for
the invention of some new technology that will allow fast air travel
without the use of fossil fuels. How do you feel, when you set the book
down? You would be grateful for the factual material – even if the good
stuff is mostly relegated to the online appendices. You would be
impressed by the rigorous logic with which the principle of buoyancy was
developed, and admire the author’s iconoclastic willingness to break
with the orthodox view that all motion takes place in a vacuum. You
probably share the author’s hopes for some way of eliminating the carbon
emissions from air travel. But you might also find yourself with the
uneasy feeling that the whole is somehow less than the sum of its parts. [click to continue…]

No Hiding Place

by Harry on December 15, 2015

A friend asked me last week how I watch cricket. Do I sit for 8 hours at a time, or watch highlight reels, or what? So I explained that when possible I watch live during breakfast when the kids have left the house, and actually take a short lunch break if there is live cricket to watch. If I am cooking, or cleaning the house, I have it on, turned up loud, in case anything unmissable happens (only if my cooking is uncomplicated enough to . But, if I know a game is likely to get tense and exciting, and will not be able to see it at all — teaching, days of meetings, etc — then I try to avoid learning what happened, and watch either highlights or, sometimes, long parts of innings, later (sometimes much later). He scoffed. How hard can it be to avoid learning what happened in a Test match when you’re in Wisconsin? [1] He, much more impressively, has to avoid learning the scores in a Packers game (I didn’t say that, in fact, this is something I manage to do all season every season, with no effort at all). Anyway, he told me that when he was a kid, on days that his dad couldn’t see a game, he (the dad) would come home and say “We’re in the cone of silence. Nobody say anything” and expect complete cooperation from everyone in his herculean effort to avoid learning the score.

Well, every Briton over the age of 40 knows what comes next. But surely there must be an episode from an American sitcom with exactly the same plot, no?

[1] During the World Cup I had the misfortune of teaching a class with a smart and lovely Indian lad, who did his absolute best to keep results to himself, but…well, his best often wasn’t good enough.