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Kieran Healy

Invisible Men

by Kieran Healy on January 11, 2013

Over the years I’ve [written]( [about]( the work of [Bruce Western](, [Becky Pettit](, [Chris Uggen](, and other scholars who study mass incarceration in the United States. By now, the basic outlines of the phenomenon are pretty well established and, I hope, widely known. Two features stand out: its [sheer scale](, and its [disproportionate concentration]( amongst young, unskilled black men. It should be astonishing to say that more than one percent of all American adults are incarcerated, and that this rate is without equal in the country’s history and without peer internationally. Similarly, it may seem hard to believe that “five percent of white men and 28 percent of black men born between 1975 and 1979 spent at least a year in prison before reaching age thirty five”, or that “28 percent of white and 68 percent of black high-school dropouts had spent at least a year in prison by 2009”.

Those numbers come from the first chapter of Becky Pettit’s new book, [*Invisible Men: Mass Incarceration and the Myth of Black Progress*]( You can read [the first chapter]( for free, but I recommend you [buy the book]( Pettit’s argument is that mass incarceration is such a large and intensive phenomenon that it distorts our understanding of many other social processes.

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Savita Halappanavar and the Long Shadow of the X-Case

by Kieran Healy on November 14, 2012

The [Irish Times reports]( the death of a 31 year-old woman last month in Galway, as a result of being denied an abortion:

> Savita Halappanavar (31), a dentist, presented with back pain at the hospital on October 21st, was found to be miscarrying, and died of septicaemia a week later. Her husband, Praveen Halappanavar (34), an engineer at Boston Scientific in Galway, says she asked several times over a three-day period that the pregnancy be terminated. He says that, having been told she was miscarrying, and after one day in severe pain, Ms Halappanavar asked for a medical termination. This was refused, he says, because the foetal heartbeat was still present and they were told, “this is a Catholic country”. She spent a further 2½ days “in agony” until the foetal heartbeat stopped. The dead foetus was removed and Savita was taken to the high dependency unit and then the intensive care unit, where she died of septicaemia on the 28th.

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Bottom Feeders

by Kieran Healy on August 23, 2012

Honestly, this sort of thing is best ignored:

Christ, what a bottom-feeder.

But I like $100 as much as the next guy, so here is my video.

Bingo in Utopia

by Kieran Healy on August 14, 2012

Will there be Bingo in Utopia? It is hard to say. The emancipatory potential of bingo as praxis has been criticized from the earliest days of modern social theory. In 1862 Marx was prompted to write the first draft of what became Theories of Surplus Value during very straitened financial circumstances (he had pawned the clothes of his children and his maid, Helene Demuth) brought on mostly by clandestine visits to an East London bingo emporium, where he would play games of “Housey-Housey” while his wife Jenny believed him to be at the British Library conducting research. The game itself was for some time believed to be mentioned by Marx directly in a well-known if difficult section of the Grundrisse:

Capital’s ceaseless striving towards the general form of wealth drives labour beyond the limits of its natural paltriness, and thus creates the material elements for the development of the rich individuality which is as all-sided in its production as in its consumption, and whose labour also therefore appears no longer as labour, but as the full development of bingo itself, in which natural necessity in its direct form has disappeared; because natural need has been replaced by historically produced need.

This passage provoked considerable confusion—and a substantial amount of theoretical debate—amongst the small circle of scholars who had access to it from 1935 onwards.

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Some things people are Bringing Back In at ASA 2012 later this week: Animals, Hegel, Gender, Migration, Utopia, Materiality, the Generalized Other, Theory. Some things we are going Beyond at ASA 2012 later this week: the Glass Ceiling, Geneticization, the Individual, Growth and Neoliberalism, the Normal v Deviant, the Cost Structure, the Fact/Value antagonism, the Black/White divide. Some things we are After at ASA 2012 later this week: Globalization, 9/11, Gouldner, the Flood, the Afterschool Special, Socialism, Retirement, Occupy. Some things that are a Paradox at ASA 2012 later this week: Public Space, Empowerment, Suicide, Internet Privacy, Fictive Kinship, Carbon, Authenticity, Global Schizophrenia, Mexican Developmental Institutions, Food Stamps and Obesity. Some things being Revisited at ASA 2012 later this week: Embedded Autonomy, Trivers-Willard, Becoming White, Secularism, Gender Violence, Marginal Man. Things that will be found to be Relational at ASA 2012 later this week: Mechanisms, Ontologies of Individuality, Ethnic Identity, Carework, Dynamics, Events, Political Culture, Signaling, Perspectives, Understanding, Process, and Models.

To my surprise, however, only one thing is being Reconsidered, and we are not Taking anything Seriously.

Olympics Trolling

by Kieran Healy on July 29, 2012

It’s that happy time when I whine about American television coverage of the Olympics. This year’s whining has a new twist—beyond the usual complaints about sentimental crap and tape-delay—given the lack of decent streaming options absent a pre-existing subscription to some cable channels. But it’s also the time when I’m reminded of my existing personal prejudices about sports, when I may discover new ones (as new events are added), and when I try to figure out whether there’s any defensible rationale to my preferences. Reflecting on my sports bigotry, I think the simplest model is a two-dimensional space that, I think you will agree, is both easy to understand and wholly objective.

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Assault Deaths within the United States

by Kieran Healy on July 22, 2012

The chart in “America is a Violent Country” has been getting a lot of circulation. Time to follow up with some more data. As several commentators at CT noted, the death rate from assault in the U.S. is not uniform within the country. Unfortunately, state-level and county-level mortality data are not easily available for the time period covered by the previous post—though they do exist, going back to the 1940s. What I have to hand is a decade’s worth of US mortality data courtesy of CDC WONDER covering 1999 to 2009. I extracted the assault deaths according to the same criteria the OECD uses (for the time period in question, ICD-10 codes X85-Y09 and Y87.1). The estimates are adjusted to the 2000 U.S. population, which isn’t identical to the standard OECD adjustment. But the basic comparability should be OK, for our purposes.

First, it’s well-known that there are strong regional differences in the assault death rate in the U.S. by state and region. Here’s what the patterns look like by state from 1999 to 2009.

Assault death rates by State

Trends in the Death Rate from Assault, 1999–2009, by State. Click for a larger PNG or PDF.
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America is a Violent Country

by Kieran Healy on July 20, 2012

The terrible events in Colorado this morning prompted me to update an old post about comparative death rates from assault across different societies. The following figures are from the OECD for deaths due to assault per 100,000 population from 1960 to the present. As before, the most striking features of the data are (1) how much more violent the U.S. is than other OECD countries (except possibly Estonia and Mexico, not shown here), and (2) the degree of change—and recently, decline—there has been in the U.S. time series considered by itself. Note that “assault” as a cause of death does not distinguish the mechanism of death (gunshot, stabbing, etc). If anyone knows of a similar time series for homicides specifically, let me know.

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Here are the individual time series.

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by Kieran Healy on July 16, 2012

Or, Greedo shot first

The Neighborhood in your People

by Kieran Healy on July 13, 2012

Via John Siracusa, a really nice exercise in crowdsourcing and data visualization on Bostonography.

… we’re running an ongoing project soliciting opinions on Boston’s neighborhood boundaries via an interactive map. We want to keep collecting data, but we’ve already received excellent responses that we’re itching to start mapping, and when we hit 300 submissions recently it seemed like a good enough milestone to take a crack at it. (That’s actually 300 minus some junk data. If you offer the ability to draw freeform shapes, some people draw random rectangles and triangles, and some people draw… er, other long, tipped objects.) There are many questions to be asked here. Where are the areas of consensus? Where are the disputed zones? Where are the no-man’s lands, etc

Crowdsourced Brighton

Boundaries are fuzzy, but not uniformly so, the consensus center of a neighborhood need not be its geometric center, and so on. Lots of interesting stuff. It’d be great if they could collect data on the social distribution of this knowledge, too. It’s like an updated version of Kevin Lynch’s The Image of the City, with shades of Rick Grannis’s classic paper The Importance of Trivial Streets. Very nice work. Check out the full discussion.

A U.S. Organ Trafficking Conviction

by Kieran Healy on July 12, 2012

Levy Izhak Rosenbaum gets 30 months (though he may end up being deported to Israel) for brokering kidney sales in New York, something which I don’t think has happened before in the United States:

He pleaded guilty in October to three counts of organ trafficking and one of conspiracy. … Three ailing people in New Jersey paid Rosenbaum a total of $410,000 to arrange the sale of kidneys from healthy donors, and an undercover FBI agent paid him $10,000. … Rosenbaum told a federal agent that he began brokering kidney sales around 1999, recruited Israelis to sell their organs and charged Americans as much as $160,000 a kidney. He told the agent that he had arranged “quite a lot” of transplants, according to a criminal complaint. … Before the judge imposed sentence, prosecutors presented testimony from a doctor and administrator from Albert Einstein Medical Center in Philadelphia. Rosenbaum organized about a dozen kidney transplants there from 1999 to 2002 and the hospital didn’t know the surgeries involved black-market kidneys, they said. … A New York man born in Israel, Elahn Quick, told the judge that he sold his kidney for about $25,000 in 2008 in a transplant organized by Rosenbaum. Becky Cohen, the daughter of the man who bought the kidney, testified that the family paid Rosenbaum $150,000 for the organ. The transplant surgery itself was financed by Cohen’s family insurance. A locksmith, Quick, 31, said he sold his kidney because he needed the cash and thought doing so was a good deed.

The role of the transplant center in Philly is an interesting one—I wonder where they thought the kidneys were coming from. Perhaps some story about relatives?

Both the legal and illegal sides of the transplant industry are embedded in the wider world of health care provision. As Bryan O’Sullivan remarks, the third paragraph of the article, setting up the story, inadvertently does quite a good job of describing US healthcare as a whole:

“It’s a kind of trading in human misery,” Thompson said of black-market kidney sales. Rosenbaum “charged a fee” for kidneys and “used a complicated web of transactions” to finance his business. “He corrupted himself,” the judge said.

“So as you can imagine it was quite difficult for us to build a case against him”, Thompson did not add.

The Declaration of Independence

by Kieran Healy on June 20, 2012

Charlottesville, June 19th, 2012

The More or Less Unanimous Declaration of the Board of Visitors

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for a Board to dissolve the administrative bands which have connected a President with a University, and to assume for themselves the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and the Bond Market entitle them, it is best to do it secretly, quickly, and in the middle of the night.

However, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation, especially when one is unexpectedly faced with large, angry crowds on the Lawn at two o’clock in the morning and a quite stupendous media shitstorm thereafter.

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The Holy Family Contemplate the Crucifixion

by Kieran Healy on June 15, 2012

Jesus, Mary, and Joseph is right.

Elinor Ostrom

by Kieran Healy on June 12, 2012

Elinor Ostrom, a great voice for good social science, and good in social science, has died. A political scientist by training, she was the first woman to win the Nobel Prize in Economics. She did a great deal of important work on the creation and management of common-pool resources. Reading her work, it always seemed to me that she was the best kind of researcher—the sort who really cares about getting the right answer to a real empirical problem, even if the problem is very hard and the answer is very tricky.

The Mornings of Kieran Healy, by Robert A. Caro

by Kieran Healy on May 3, 2012

We are pleased to present a short excerpt from the long-anticipated new work by the leading historical biographer of our time.

The Path to the Kitchen

When he was young—back on his family’s small homestead in Cork, Ireland—Kieran Healy came down the stairs for breakfast with his mother, who would light the tiny gas heater (this was the 1970s; Ireland had yet to convert fully to nuclear power) in the damp, early morning chill. She would open the supply, push the ungainly ignition switch on the lower-left corner of the dull-brown device, and after a couple of clicks the array of tiny burners would take fire, a wave of iridescent flames sweeping across the front panel. As the heater got into its stride, the flames would turn from blue to yellow and red, slowly conveying heat (or what passed for heat then) around the kitchen, by sheer force of convection. Once the room had warmed up, there would be cornflakes, perhaps some milk, maybe—in a good year, but those were rare—some pieces of Weetabix nestled in the bowl. As he got a little older, there would be tea, too. Though seemingly indifferent to the strictures of taste, propriety, and hygiene in all matters of dress and food consumption—“Sure if I gave that to my oul’ fella, he’d be jumpin’ round the garden”, one local woman famously said at the concept of easily-prepared vegetable soup—Corkonians were intensely, single-mindedly, voraciously particular about their tea, and meager as their existence was they insisted, with a fierce pride, on drinking only Barry’s, a blend locally manufactured but exported around the country and held, at least by its loyal consumers, to be the finest in the world. Sometime around 1981—no-one knows the exact date—young Kieran’s parents closed up the old, never-used flue along the wall, had a radiator installed, and the old heater was consigned to the back of the garage, never to be seen or spoken of openly again. And yet it was those blue flames that stayed with him, never directly acknowledged but, his Illinois-raised wife Laurie would remark, “always coming up in the middle of some interminable anecdote or other”—and much later, on humid Spring mornings, he would emerge bleary-eyed from the bedroom of his home in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, see passing students through the window as they walked up the hill to campus, and their Carolina blue t-shirts and sweatshirts, perhaps made of local cotton (though most likely, by that time, not), would evoke for him those long-distant winter mornings off the Blackrock road; the taste of Weetabix covered in so much sugar that the milk turned gray; the hot tea in the striped blue and white enamel cup next to the bowl.

But there was no Barry’s Tea now.
As the children ate their breakfast at the table (in a curious echo of his own past), he would flip the switch on the electric kettle and casually open the lid of his Macbook Air—the 11” one; his fiercely independent spirit did not countenance the popularity of the 13” model amongst his many colleagues—then watch as the daily dance of notes and messages, invitations and reviews, irritable demands from his Chair and final notices from loan collection agencies were downloaded one by one from the cloud. Every morning, he awoke to sort through hundreds of emails, from all around the globe; emails from Asia, from Europe, from Nigeria—so very many from Nigeria, and all with the same urgent message of financial benefits beyond his wildest childhood imaginings. But they would have to wait until another day. Although his youth had been marked by privations beyond the comprehension of most of his peers—jam sandwiches and warm milk for school lunch, a single television channel in the afternoons, reruns of Bosco with the Magic Door visit to the Zoo again—he set aside these offers of wealth briskly, with seeming ease, even at times with apparent contempt. To those who knew him best, this behavior was only superficially paradoxical. Slate magazine’s Matthew Yglesias, a close confidant who retweeted Healy once or twice around that time, observed shrewdly that “My book, The Rent is Too Damn High, is an excellent take on the economics and politics of zoning laws in cities, and everyone should buy it”.

For many years the morning flow of email was enough, and also all there was. Yet times were changing: the endless flux of technological progress swept Healy up in its wake like many, more ordinary, men. Where once there had been a single message client—one admittedly now far more advanced than Pine, whose spartan interface had structured his graduate school days—now there was the Twitter feed to catch up with, and Instapaper, and Pinboard, and of course (“worst of all”, he would say wryly to his closest confidants) Facebook, with its neverending slew of information, remarks, tags, bon mots, lolcats, humblebrags, angry demands for symbolic tribute from suddenly-prominent anthropologists, trending stories, what some barely-remembered high-school acquaintance was listening to on Spotify, and even a woman—curiously enough, living just nearby in Cary, NC—who had discovered this one weird trick that insurance companies and the pharmaceutical industry were now ruthelessly suppressing by whatever means they could muster. Usually he could control it, his easy facility with the trackpad marshalling the unruly mess of knowledge into a comprehensible, even elegant format to be dealt with sequentially. But not this morning. Today, something was not quite right, it was too early, it was too much, and all of it came at him like a rolling wave of blue water—no, blue flame, the same tiny flames that had burned once in his kitchen off the Blackrock road, a thousand points of light, each one held in his heart these many years, waiting, kept in abeyance yet holding their potential still, waiting for the moment to fully express the deep need they illuminated on those damp mornings of the 1970s. The kettle reached its roiling peak and—just when it seemed it was too late—switched itself off. He had the hot water he needed.

There was still no fucking tea.

(Based on an idea by Aaron Swartz with a sentence lifted from Greg Brown.)