Economics and similar, for the sleep-deprived

A subtle change has been made to the comments links, so they no longer pop up. Does this in any way help with the problem about comments not appearing on permalinked posts, readers?

Update: seemingly not

Update: Oh yeah!


Thursday, January 29, 2009

 
Old communist jokes

The "old Communist joke" Krugman mentions today was brought to the West by JK Galbraith (he recounts being told it at a meeting of the Polish Economic Association). Personally I prefer the story on the preceding page of "A Life in Our Times":

In a Communist country, one is naturally eager for indications of surveillance or, even better, of sinister intrigue. Feeling myself a pioneer, I was naturally thus alert. As I dined by myself one night in the dimly lit, slightly overstuffed restaurant of the Grand Hotel ORBIS in Warsaw, I became aware of two men of deeply conspiratorial aspect at the immediately adjacent table. They were talking in low intimate tones in English, and, by moving my chair slightly, I discovered I could hear some of what they were saying. My recollection is notional:

"He has real courage."
"Yes, but he has made enemies."
"Nonetheless he would speak out against them."
"You really think he would?"

I was now deeply engaged, my imagination fully at work. Presently I learned that they were both chiropractors from Cleveland, Ohio, who were discussing the chances of getting fair treatment from the medical establishment and legislature in the state.

14 comments this item posted by the management 1/29/2009 09:37:00 AM

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

 
Twenty20 hindsight

I wonder if, in the early days of association and rugby football, there were a load of old farts reminiscing about day-long village matches, muttering that the flashy attractions of the 90-minute code were all very well if they attracted young players, but shouldn't take attention away from the subtleties of kicking the living shit out of 200 people from the opposite side of town while wrestling over a severed Danish head.

I only ask because Mike Brearley has a series on Radio 4 at the moment about Indian cricket, which sounded like it was going to be interesting, but has in fact been taken over by his general project of boring the pants off everybody about 20/20 not being real cricket. Call me mister rootless economist guy, tell me that all I care about is money, but face facts; if there is a new game which is more exciting and more fun to play than your old game, then the strategy of emotionally blackmailing people into paying lip service to the old-fashioned version is good for one generation at most, and trying to coerce them into it by manipulating the rules is a certain recipe for decline.
34 comments this item posted by the management 1/27/2009 03:42:00 AM
 
From the department of "what could possibly go wrong?"

Private equity to assist in nuclear shutdown.

Just to make this clear to any passing environmentalists; I don't actually believe that nuclear power stations are particularly dangerous to human health. However, the reason why they're not dangerous to human health is that huge amounts of care and engineering effort are spent on making sure that they won't be (even in Chernobyl, NB, the really nasty stuff didn't get out at all). This makes them very dangerous indeed to the taxpayer's wallet. The record of public-private partnerships in safeguarding the taxpayer's wallet is a) very bad and b) much worse, the longer-dated and more critically important the contract.
4 comments this item posted by the management 1/27/2009 03:09:00 AM

Monday, January 26, 2009

 
Notes on Nationalisation

Banks, land, it's all the same thing. See here, in comments to a post on Ethiopian land reform, where two of my commenters argue (in retrospect, more convincingly than I thought at the time), that the spectre of compulsory nationalisation can have very deleterious effects ...
4 comments this item posted by the management 1/26/2009 11:21:00 PM

Saturday, January 24, 2009

 
Popular music: some logical investigations

Premis: I don't really like U2
Premis: I don't like Radiohead
First Lemma: I don't need to bother with Coldplay (ie, a linear combination of Radiohead and U2)
Second Lemma: I don't need to trouble myself overly with Franz Ferdinand (ie, a linear extrapolation of Radiohead along the axis linking it to U2 via Coldplay)
Premis: I do like AC/DC
Conjecture: So I suppose I might or might not like the Killers, the Strokes, or any of those other bands which can roughly be described as linear interpolations between Coldplay and AC/DC.

Any suggestions, readers?
43 comments this item posted by the management 1/24/2009 11:09:00 AM
 
High Concepts, part 2

Idea for a show: "Speed Detectives". Basically, all those Morse/Poirot/Miss Marple programmes that used to be on, but aren't any more because people stopped watching them. They're just too slow for the modern audience. The only interesting bit is the last five minutes, when the Great Detective explains the whole puzzle, providing flashbacks to the only interesting or dramatic moments in the preceding two hours. I reckon that with two minutes of set-up and three of conclusion, you could get through six cases in a half hour program. Would get good audiences with the kind of people who like filling in the blanks they missed from the crossword solution in the next day's paper.

Idea for a sitcom: "All The Browns". William Brown, Paddington Brown, Gordon Brown and James Brown, all in the same house. I haven't really got any ideas for what sort of things they might do, but the concept itself is surely worth at least a lunch. Come on, TV producers, you're killing me here.

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25 comments this item posted by the management 1/24/2009 11:03:00 AM

Thursday, January 22, 2009

 
Zimbabwe in its own words

One of the huge problems in trying to understand what the hell is going on in Zimbabwe is the fact that the UK media report everything from a very strange point of view. It's not so much that they're anti-Mugabe (everyone is) as that they take a vastly more extreme view of Zimbabwean politics than even the furthest fringe of the Zimbabwean anti-Mugabe movement; two UK newspapers have published editorials in favour of military invasion of Zimbabwe, when the official policy of the MDC is that it isn't even in favour of trade sanctions. It's as if the Boston Globe were to have reported on the Northern Irish conflict from the point of view of someone who thought that the Republic should invade.

With that in mind check this out, from Masipula Sitole's thinktank. It's a verbatim report (and for that reason occasionally makes hard reading) of a speaker meeting at which several elements of Zim civil society get their say, uninterrupted and not taken out of context. It's not like Mugabe is massively popular at the meeting or anything, but there's an atmosphere of reality to it which is totally absent from UK comment; even the ZANU-PF guy present is interesting, albeit that his speech is a practically self-parodic piece of authoritarian bluster. Primary sources like this are surely what the Internet's for.

Update: Among other interesting things, note that MPOI definitely regards MDC-Tsangverai and MDC-Mutambara as two separate political parties rather than factions of a single party. Even getting basic information like this is ludicrously hard if you're dependent on the UK press.
1 comments this item posted by the management 1/22/2009 04:29:00 PM

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

 
Cohen on Justice and Equality Non-Reading Group

Blahdy blahdy twenty nine quid book. This thread is exclusively for the use of people who haven't read the text, but who nonetheless wish to comment on it. Personally I think the souffle recipe is finicky.

Update: Also don't forget the "Monday Swearing Board

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39 comments this item posted by the management 1/21/2009 11:58:00 PM

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

 
Performance related pay for teachers: a dialectic

Thesis: Teachers go mad mental crazy when you ever suggest putting them on performance related pay.

Antithesis: On the other hand, education is actually the performance-measuringest business you ever did see. At least a quarter of the workload of the average teacher is performance measurement. I would guess that your average teacher carries out more assessments of someone else's performance than any other category of worker, supervisory or non-supervisory, anywhere in the world.

Synthesis: It is surely nonsense, therefore, that teachers' performance can't be measured, or that the flaws in student performance evaluations can't be corrected for. If it's not possible to measure how well a class of students have been taught, then this undermines the whole logical basis of the system.

Hypothesis: Teachers object to performance-related pay so strenuously precisely because they know how arbitrary, biased and unfair their own assessments of their students are. Apparently it's possible to like totally game the student evaluation system by blatant pandering, easy grading and a bit of showbiz. I wonder how many undeserved A-grades have been handed out to good-looking students who sit near the front, ask one sycophantic question per class in a loud voice, and feign interest in the professor's fuck-dull book?

Prosthesis: It might be right that:

"If the administration at A&M were serious about improving classroom performance, they'd invest quite a bit more money in pedagogical training for their graduate students; hiring more professors and reducing class sizes; offering release-time for professors to design new courses; and so on and so forth"


Sounds good to me (although the word "pedagogy" always makes me think of dodgy priests somehow). On the other hand, if the administration at A&M did make such a big investment in good-teacher-talking-stuff, then you'd certainly hope that they might follow it up with a bit of a look to see if it worked or not.

Photosynthesis: And if they were doing that, it wouldn't seem like the daftest idea to bung a couple of quid to the bloke whose teaching turned out to be the best, just to encourage the rest.

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94 comments this item posted by the management 1/14/2009 02:29:00 PM

Friday, January 09, 2009

 
A public service announcement for the attention of Professor Stephen Walt

I am a British citizen, and a reasonably representative member of the class of people among whom Prof. Walt would generally care to have a reputation. In respect of this blog post, I'd like to make it clear that so long as the inconvenience is not too great, I am prepared to testify in a British court to the effect that:

1) I have read the specific attacks on him published by Jonah Jeffrey Goldberg and Ross Douthat (establishing that they have been published in the UK) (corrected, thanks "political scientist" in comments)

and

2) that on reading those articles, I was disposed to think worse of Professor Walt, less likely to recommend his work to others, and in general his reputation with me had been harmed. My considered view is that Walt and his colleague Mearsheimer are not anti-Semites (I happen to disagree with their thesis but this is by the by), but every time I read one of these articles, even by an acknowledged halfwit twat like Goldberg, it does give me pause and make me wonder whether I'm missing some sort of poisonous nuance or other. (this would establish that Walt's reputation has been damaged by publication).

Between those two, Walt would have, AFAICS, decent grounds to bring a suit for libel in England; if he could convince a court that he had been called an anti-Semite, then the person accusing it would have to prove he was one in order to establish a defence of justification (or argue that it was fair comment). The American libel laws basically allow people like Goldberg and Douthat to throw around these very serious accusations at zero risk, but the British courts don't, and I think the British courts have it right in this case. This is not a general endorsement of UK libel law.
17 comments this item posted by the management 1/09/2009 01:44:00 PM
 
Genuine question, which might look disingenuous

As we all know, the only position on Israel/Palestine which can possibly be held by reasonable, normal, liberal etc people is the "Two-state solution". This comes in various flavours, depending on how much land you want to end up in each state and how you want it configured, but the underlying idea is the same across the board; some form of statehood for the West Bank and Gaza, that's where the Palestinians live, and that's yer lot.

Could someone who holds this position (I know that there are a lot of you) explain to me what happens to the people in the UNRWA refugee camps under this situation? There are about four million of them, so it's not at all clear that there's room for them in the literal, as opposed to economic/social sense, in the new putative state. And the idea of having them hang around indefinitely in their camps is not really one which I'd regard as consistent with any long term goal of peace.

Presumably, the implicit position of the "two state solution" is that a) with respect to the land that the UNRWA clients believe themselves to own in Israel, they get screwed, and b) we sort of hope that they grow up and get used to this fact, then slink off and become ordinary Jordanians, Syrians, Lebanese etc (which implies c) that Jordan, Syria and Lebanon are cool with this, which is presumably also not the sort of thing that should be taken for granted).

This does rather seem a bit tough on them, doesn't it? I only mention this because God knows, people who take the "one state solution" get it right in the fucking neck from their opponents, rhetorically, because said single secular state would not have a built-in ethnic minority (or "would lead to the destruction of Israel as a Jewish state", which lots of careless people take as having established that anyone who advocates a one state solution is a genocidaire). The 2SS seems to me to have a similar problem built into it, of about 80% of the magnitude in terms of headcount. "Everyone knows" that the eventual outcome is a two state solution, but it looks to me like it might be the ubiquitous proposition which looks too good to be true because it is.

Update: Just to make it clear, I don't have a solution at all.
35 comments this item posted by the management 1/09/2009 01:29:00 AM

Thursday, January 08, 2009

 
Idea for a sitcom: set in a Ku Klux Klan-owned dry cleaners

Seriously, these things look like they would be a bugger to wash, and when you consider that their main outings would be to small fires in grassy fields, the staining would be terrible. The economic basis of the Ku Klux Klan is dry cleaning.

No seriously. That sounds like a Harry Hutton "Killer Fact", but the KKK was not an insurance lodge (although the "revival Klan" was set up by two insurance lodge promoters, and various Klan-owned companies did sell insurance) and made a very significant proportion of its operating income by the sale of robes, and by requiring members to have them cleaned at Klan-owned laundries (source: "The Element Books Encyclopedia of Secret Societies"; it's also mentioned in Levitt & Fryer, 2007).

Killer Fact! Apparently the town of Iola, Kansas had an "Anti-Ku Klux Klan Cleaning and Pressing Shop" during the 1924 gubernatorial elections (during which Henry Justin Allen faced a challenge from both a Republican supported by the Klan and an "Independent Anti Klan" candidate).

The history of the anti-Klan movement in America is really interesting and colourful (The "Ancient Order of Anti-Poke-Noses" in Arkansas; the "Knights of the Flaming Circle" in Ohio, the "Royal Blues" in Oklahoma). They were mostly Italian-American organisations - the words "All-American" in a secret society's title, by the way, is usually a dead giveaway that it was ethnically based. I don't know what the Kansas one was called - I hope it wasn't something boring like the "Anti Ku Klux Klan All-American Association" (Indiana)

Bonus hilarity: various internet listings sites claim that there's a dry cleaners' in Charlotte, North Carolina, called "Klan And Fresh". I think they mean "Klean". Presumably they have a sign up saying "Please Separate Whites And Coloreds"
6 comments this item posted by the management 1/08/2009 04:24:00 AM

Saturday, January 03, 2009

 
High Concept/Alan Partridge

Idea for a television show, possibly an "ER" spinoff. ER: The Finance Department. Would revolve around a debt collector working for an American hospital, who has a limited amount of discretion to waive bills in circumstances of true hardship. Every week, he investigages the circumstances of a poor or middle-class American family with a crippling medical expense, deciding to what extent they're truly morally responsible for their own misfortune, or what luxury items in their house he believes they could do without; he could have a catchy thumbs-up/thumbs-down plus catchphrase to form the denouement of every episode. Would sell brilliantly in America, where everyone would enjoy vicariously judging distinctions between the deserving and feckless poor (and would make for good water-cooler discussions later, as people debated whether the Collector was right or not, plus any time ratings began to sag you could chuck in The Abortion Episode). Would also sell well internationally, as everyone around the world would like to gawk at the amazingly dysfunctional American health insurance system (this concept proven by Michael Moore's "Sicko"). Only drawback would be that it kind of times out if USA has meaningful healthcare reform, but I hardly think that's an obstacle to a long and successful run.

Update: For some reason I see Craig Ferguson in the title role.

It's horrifyingly likely I'll be doing more of these during 2009. Happy New Year to my dwindling band of readers.
23 comments this item posted by the management 1/03/2009 09:45:00 PM
 
Counterpoint

Let's not.
4 comments this item posted by the management 1/03/2009 02:54:00 PM

Friday, January 02, 2009

 
When you read the Morning Star, makes no difference who you are

Now free to web, according to your needs.
0 comments this item posted by the management 1/02/2009 01:23:00 PM
 
Harold Pinter's poetry, a defence

(The Guardian blog didn't go for this, so my career as a noted obituarist has stalled a bit. Nevertheless ...)

Such a shame to hear of Harold Pinter’s death. What particularly makes me want to write something about him is that as the obituaries and tributes pour in, the majority of them are bound to focus entirely on his plays and activism, while regarding his poetry – particularly the later obscene and polemic verses mainly contributed to newspaper letters columns – as something of an embarrassment, to be glided over as quickly as possible and mentioned, if at all, as evidence of unabated political commitment in his years of decline.
Which I just totally disagree with; I found Pinter’s dramatical masterworks hard going, but his poetry grabbed me by the throat. The thing is, the guy was unbelievably good at swearing. Some people are really bad at swearing (Hugh Grant, for example) and some people are fantastic at it (Ricky Tomlinson). Harold Pinter was the only person I can think of, with the possible exception of Peter Cook, who raised to the highest levels of art. Pinter was to the Anglo-Saxon invective what Zinedine Zidane was to the head-butt.

Consider, “Democracy”, from 2003. “The big pricks are out; they’ll fuck everything in sight – watch your back”. Only one minor and one major swear-word, but my God, how offensive? If you could swear like that, you’d never have problems with your builders again. If you could swear like Harold Pinter, white vans would meekly draw aside and let you cut in to traffic.
Or American Football, from 1991. Working the second division profanity “shit” into an intricate fugue, Pinter creates a mosaic of foul images. “We blew the shit right back up their own ass, and out their fucking ears … Now I want you to come over here and kiss me on the mouth”. He ran a cricket team, you know – how would you fancy dropping a dolly catch next to the boundary, with a captain who could swear like that waiting for you in the dressing room?

It’s not as if Pinter didn’t give us a load of clues about what he was doing; as Michael Billington notes at the link above, the point of these poems were that they were brutal, unattractive and hard to look at, because they were describing a reality that was also brutal, unattractive and difficult to face up to. Lots of people thought that Pinter’s invective was counterproductive, and that it would have been better for him to make his points with the reasoned eloquence that he was certainly capable of, as in his Nobel acceptance lecture. Maybe, but on the other hand, lots of people thought that plays ought to have wisecracking dialogue, a couple of good songs and a pretty girl who finds romance in the last half hour, and Harold Pinter set them right too.

In the last couple of weeks, we’ve had quite a few journalists and commentators musing on the general subject of “Iraq, eh? What was all that about?”, helping themselves to lowballed estimates of the civilian deaths caused and concluding that it’s all very difficult and we can’t really tell what the long term consequences are. The great thing about Pinter’s poetry is that, for the few seconds you’re reading it, you’re absolutely transfixed and forced to think about the physical reality of what these news stories are actually talking about. A lot of people don’t want to do that, and I suspect that this is why they’re so keen to say that some of best bad language in English letters isn’t worth looking at. They’re wrong.
10 comments this item posted by the management 1/02/2009 05:57:00 AM


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