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Archive for April, 2005

The market can stay irrational longer than you can stay solvent

April 16th, 2005 25 comments

Brad DeLong has a great post on the puzzle of low US interest rates (made more puzzling by the sharp decline over the past week or two). It seems obvious that this can’t last, but entirely unclear when it will come to an end. The reasons he and I (and more relevantly George Soros and Warren Buffett) aren’t betting on, and therefore accelerating, the end are argued pretty well, I think.

I’ll add my own contribution to the discussion over the fold. It’s a comparison of views of the economy based on flows of goods and services and those based on asset prices. On the former (traditional) view, the signs of impending disaster are everywhere. On the latter view, it’s sunny skies as far as the eye can see.
Read more…

Categories: Economics - General Tags:

Weekend reflections

April 16th, 2005 11 comments

This regular feature is back. The idea is that, over the weekend, you should post your thoughts in a more leisurely fashion than in ordinary comments or the Monday Message Board.

Please post your thoughts on any topic, at whatever length seems appropriate to you. Civilised discussion and no coarse language, please.

Categories: Regular Features Tags:

Dead horse, assume the position

April 16th, 2005 5 comments

In a stunningly original essay in today’s Australian, Stephen Matchett assails ” Elitist dismissal of mass entertainment as intellectual ‘prole food’”, when it is in fact, “recognisably subversive”[1]. He’s quoting one Alan McKee, who turns out to be a fellow Brisvegan and (via Google) a colleague of mine at UQ. Reading between the lines, I suspect McKee has more to contribute than this hackneyed point (he makes a valid observation about omnivorousness and cultural capital later on), but he’s not well served by this piece.

No doubt there are people out there who still adhere to the idea of a fundamental and unbridgeable gap between art and mass culture, but I’ve followed debates on this and related topics around the blogosphere for a few years now without running into them (probably, they’re waiting for this Internet fad to pass before they get a computer). The real problem now is to articulate some sort of criteria from distinguishing good from bad that does not rely on the failed assumptions of high art.

fn1. I see this point being made all the time in cult-stud writing. No doubt it explains why the recent collapse of capitalism, in the face of withering postmodernist critiques, began in the United States, the home of mass culture.

Categories: Books and culture Tags:

Preferential voting for Britain ?

April 15th, 2005 21 comments

I was thinking about Chris Bertram’s post on tactical voting at CT and I was struck by the thought: Why hasn’t Labour introduced preferential (single transferable) voting in Britain? Readers will probably be struck by the alternative question, Why should Labour introduce preferential (single transferable) voting in Britain?

My first is that this would be an improvement in democracy, both for individual constituencies and for the country as a whole. Although no voting system is perfect, preferential voting is much more likely to produce an outcome that reflects the views of the majority of voters than is first-past-the-post.

I don’t suppose that an argument like this will cut much ice with the Blair government (or most incumbent governments), so let me move to the second point. Labour would almost certainly benefit from this shift, at the expense of the Tories. It seems pretty clear that Labour would get the bulk of LDP preferences, as well as those of the Greens and minor left parties. The Tories would pick up preferences from UKIP (but this group looks like a flash in the pan) and the far-right (but this is a small group, and there are disadvantages attached to such preferences, especially if, say, the BNP demands preferences in return).

It’s true of course that the biggest benefits would go to the Liberal Democrats, since their supporters would not have to worry about ‘wasted votes’. But even here, there’s a hidden benefit for Labour. Sooner or later, there will be a hung Parliament, and the price of LDP support will be full-scale proportional representation. If Labour introduced preferential voting without being forced to, it would not only cement LDP support but would greatly weaken the case for PR.

The remaining objection is that of additional complexity. This can be overcome, in large measure by adopting the optional preferential system, where voters can indicate as many or as few preferences as they choose.

Categories: World Events Tags:

Lies and more lies

April 15th, 2005 36 comments

The news of yet another broken promise from the Howard government is notable only for the degree of inflation we’ve seen in these things.

Asked in September last year if the Howard Government was giving a “cast iron” commitment that bills would be rebatable at $300 or $700 after the election, Mr Abbott replied: “That is an absolutely rock solid, iron-clad commitment.”

It’s hard to see how you could get more emphatic than that, and while the government as a whole has long since lost credibility, Abbott had something of a reputation as a straight-talker[1].

Most politicians lie occasionally and nearly all governments break (or fail to fulfil) some promises, but the Howard government goes well beyond anything in Australian experience. Whatever successes he may achieve, the debasement of the coinage of public honesty is something Howard will never live down.

The result of all this is, I think, a government that can hold on to office as long as it keeps on bringing home the economic bacon, but one that will never earn really strong public support and will leave a poisoned legacy for the Liberal Party in the long run.

fn1. Of course, breaking the promise was not his idea, but if he’d been willing to put his job on the line he could no doubt have faced Costello down.

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

My good opinion, once lost

April 14th, 2005 17 comments

At Larvatus Prodeo, and at Catallaxy, they’re debating the question of whether you can dismiss an author based on ‘a brief skimming’, which I’ll take, along with some participant in the discussion, to mean five minutes of reading.

My answer to this question, which has arisen before now on this blog is “Absolutely”. At skimming or fast reading speed, five minutes gives you 5000 words, which is more than enough to conclude that a writer is guilty of gross logical or factual errors, pretentious or illiterate prose, repetition of tired and long-refuted arguments, or simple inanity. The idea, commonly put forward in defence of various indefensible types, that you can’t criticise someone unless you have read every word they have ever written is simple nonsense. It’s true that there are people who produce the odd pearl among an output more generally fit for swine. But in such cases, it’s up to their defenders to point out the gems: the volume of words is so great, and the average quality so low, that a demand to read everything is simply impossible.

I should concede that, on one or two occasions, I’ve got into trouble through misreading someone in the first five minutes, after which pride and prejudice does the rest. But in general, five minutes is enough to form a well-founded negative judgement in a great many cases.

Categories: Life in General Tags:

Strange deaths

April 14th, 2005 7 comments

I’m not sure if this is an occult link with the Zeitgeist, or just a manifestation of the reallocation of attention that leads new parents to notice other people’s babies, but a month ago, I finally got around to ordering “The Strange Death of Liberal England” (George Dangerfield) which arrived at Easter. In the ensuing couple of weeks I’ve seen not one but two uses of the same idea, with both Protestantism and Toryism dying strange deaths. Maybe this is happening all the time and I’ve just started noticing.

Categories: Books and culture Tags:

Are you thinking what I’m thinking

April 13th, 2005 12 comments

There’s been a lot of discussion about the ‘Australianisation‘ of the Conservatives election campaign in Britain, as represented by very lightly coded appeals to xenophobia and racism. But now the issue is settled. The Tories have pinched their slogan from B1 and B2

Actually, after posting this I realised that my blogtwin Tim Dunlop had beaten me to it ages ago, though he didn’t bother to spell out the Bananas in Pyjamas angle. But it’s still too good a story to miss.

Update 14/4 A day after this blog and weeks after Tim D, the Oz picks up the story

Categories: World Events Tags:

John Paul the Great ?

April 12th, 2005 32 comments

There’s been a lot of discussion of the late Pope, including whether he should be given the appellation “Great”. Historically, the honorific ‘Great’, when applied to monarchs, including Popes has not meant “Good”. Rather it’s been applied to those who’ve been successful in extending their monarchical power.[1] This is certainly true of Leo and Gregory, the popes currently regarded as Great. Although they’re both saints, neither of seems particularly saintly to me: rather they were hardheaded and successful statesmen.

In this interpretation of the term, it’s very hard to claim greatness for John Paul II. The church has lost ground throughout the developed world to secularism, and in Latin America to evangelical protestantism. Although there have been some modest gains in Africa and Asia, they’ve largely been in countries where the church had a strong presence dating back to colonial times.

Claims that the number of Catholics has risen greatly under JPII look dubious to me. This BBC file gives the basis of claims that there are more than 1 billion Catholics, and includes claims for more than 90 per cent of the population of Italy, Poland and Spain, based primarily on baptism. I suspect many of these are either nominal or lapsed.

If there has been growth, it’s largely due to natural increase in Catholic countries. To the extent that anti-contraception teaching has kept birth rates high, I suppose the Pope was partly responsible for this, but the same teaching contributed greatly to the collapse of the church in former strongholds like Ireland.

If you wanted to make a case for greatness for JPII it would be one of a fairly successful defensive action in unfavorable times.

In any case, judging by those who’ve been awarded the title by common consent, beginning with Alexander, Greatness is not a quality I admire much. And if we’re going for Goodness, I think John XXIII would be a more appealing candidate.

fn1. Fielding has great fun with this in Jonathan Wild, the story of the infamous ‘Thieftaker-General’, who became the Godfather of early 18th-century London.

Categories: World Events Tags:

State of Ozplogistan

April 11th, 2005 1 comment

Online Opinion is running a series of articles about online media, and has just published mine. Comments would be better here than in their forum, which I probably won’t have time to join. Lots of other interesting articles as well.

And in an illustration of the benefits of blogging, I got a call from the ABC asking for comment on the latest skirmishes in the federalism battle. I was able to draw on the debates here and also pinch from Ken Parish the suggestion that the states could look at reimposing income taxes. Radio doesn’t allow for acknowledgements, but blogging does, so thanks Ken.

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

Duffy on global warming

April 11th, 2005 108 comments

Via Immanuel Rant, I found this piece by Michael Duffy in Saturday’s SMH, pushing global warming denialism. Immanuel points out that Duffy has been more than a little economical with the truth, saying

Duffy is correct to warn us not to overlook agendas and political interests and how they affect science. The trouble is that Duffy’s “cold, hard look� forgets the mote in his own eye. Kellow and William Kininmonth (also mentioned) are members of The Lavoisier Group. The group was created by Ray Evans of Western Mining and is an astroturf operation.

The article is full of similar examples. Sceptic Bob Carter is described as “an environmental scientist at James Cook University”. At least when I knew him there, he was a geologist working (not surprisingly) with the mining industry, and his current affilation is still with the School of Earth Sciences Nothing wrong with that, as Duffy himself says, but, why the misrepresentation.?

Then there’s the reference to a conference held by

The Friedrich Naumann Foundation, a liberal think-tank,

which

held a climate seminar in Germany in February and conducted a poll of the 500 climate researchers who attended. A quarter doubted that the modest warming of the past 150 years is due to human activity.

For most Australian readers, the term “liberal’ without capitalisation might imply a moderate progressive, perhaps an Australian Democrat. Duffy doesn’t bother to inform us that the Foundation is liberal in the classical sense. It stands for

he reduction of state interventionism, the advocacy of decentralization and  privatization, the cutting of existing state regulations and of bureaucratic red tape in our daily lives.

In other words, it’s an ideological clone of the CIS, IPA or Cato. It appears to have close ties with the last of these, a well-known promoter of junk science on this and other topics. Duffy could have been honest with his readers and called it a “free-market thinktank”, but that would have alerted them to possible bias. I managed to find a report on the meeting here, but it’s in German and I can’t really follow it. It doesn’t appear to me that those in attendance were climate scientists, though some of the speakers were.

It seems to be just about impossible to attack the consensus view on global warming without resorting to dishonest misrepresentation. Duffy is no exception to this pattern.

Update Tim Lambert has more.

And, given his past form, I’m not surprised to learn that Duffy is an exponent of rightwing postmodernism.

As you’d expect from someone hired as the “right-wing Philip Adams’, Duffy poses as a critic of postmodernism, as in this Counterpoint episode where he links it to Leninism, eugenics and contempt for ordinary people, and defends science as a source of truth.

But, when science says something Duffy doesn’t like, for example on global warming, he’s happy to embrace the “social construction of reality” thesis, as propounded by political scientist and Lavoisier Institute member Aynsley Kellow.

Further update It turns out (see the comments thread) that the respondents to the survey described by Duffy were not, as he says, climate scientists attending a conference in 2005, but members of meteorological societies who responded to a survey sent out in 1996! It’s scarcely surprising that a lot of respondents took the view, at that time, that anthropogenic climate change was not proven. IIRC, the IPCC took the same view. I’ll put this one down to sloppiness rather than deliberate deception, but it’s illustrative of the point that Duffy is not engaged in a serious search for truth here.

Yet further update 20/4 A lengthy search suggests that the claimed result does not refer to the 1996 survey, but to another survey undertaken by the same researcher in 2003. The results are apparently here but I can’t get them to work on any of my browsers.

Categories: Environment Tags:

Fever Pinch

April 11th, 2005 45 comments

“Fever Pitch” (Nick Hornby) is a great read, but a book about the internal monologues of an obsessive soccer fan is obviously going to be hard to film. Who but the Farrelly brothers, and their brilliant writers Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel would have the great idea of turning it into a romantic comedy {and, of course, switching the pun to baseball]?

Categories: Books and culture Tags:

Monday Message Board

April 11th, 2005 25 comments

It’s time for the regular Monday message board, where you are invited to post your thoughts on any topic. Civilised discussion and no coarse language, please.

Categories: Regular Features Tags:

What I’ve been reading

April 10th, 2005 8 comments

“The Strange Death of Liberal England” (George Dangerfield). A classic I’ve meant to read for years, but only just got to has a strikingly apposite quote in relation to the Tory party’s incitement to army mutiny in relation to any order to enforce Irish Home Rule on the Ulster Unionists. Dangerfield has this great line

The Tory philosophy, up to the beginning of the war, might be summed up in this way: Be Conservative about good things, and Radical about bad things. This philosophy, so far as can be seen, has only one flaw: it was always the Tories who decided what was good and what was bad.

So while donning the mantle of conservatism in defence of the House of Lords, the Tories were prepared to tear up the constitution to defeat Home Rule. The same line seems applicable to the Bush Administration today.

“In Defense of Globalization” (Jagdish Bhagwati) Bhagwati is a smart guy, but he hasn’t yet learned that, on the internets nothing is as it seems. On the lookout for a good anecdote about globalization he finds one that seems too good to be true

In fact, while the rich-country while the rich-country claim to be providing “countervailing power” against the far richer corporationsin their midst, it is ironic that some of the the truly small NGOs in the rich countries themselves have voiced their fears over “unequal” competition from the far bigger and richer NGOs. A hilarious example is provided by a report in mid-2001 of “calls today for multinational pro-anarchy pressure groups to be investigated for monopolistic practices after the NW3 branch of the Radical Left Movement for Socialist Revolution Socialist Revolution was disbanded due to lack of interest.” The report goes on to say that the group’s spokesperson, Nigel Wilkinson, “believes that global anarchy movements such as the ones responsible for the G7 riots in Seattle are to blame for forcing out smaller, independent operations like his…. These large American anti-capitalist movements have effectively taken over the militant scene in this country.” As if this were not amusing enough, the report goes on to say: …”Wilkinson has seen his group’s membership dwindle by almost 70 percent over the last two years, from a peak of three members to one himself

Turning to the reference we find the source is Urban Reflex currently running the headline

Audience Stunned As Pop Star Appears On Stage Fully Clothed

Bhagwati may have been taken in on this one, but in other respects his book is sharp and well-argued. Some more comments before too long, I hope.

As well as these, I very much enjoyed“Singularity Sky” (Charles Stross), and I’ve been alternatively entertained and appalled by the TV version of <“Tom Brown’s Schooldays (Oxford World’s Classics)” (Thomas Hughes, Andrew Sanders) Actually that combination also sums up my response to last nights Swans-Lions game.

Categories: Books and culture Tags:

Multinationals and CADs

April 9th, 2005 7 comments

As current account deficits in the US and other English speaking countries continue to balloon, there’s a big demand for talking points in support of a “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” position. A favourite contender is the idea that the US trade and current account deficits are overstated because about half of all US imports come from overseas subsidiaries of US multinationals. For those who’d like to get straight to the bottom line, this fact makes no difference to the current account deficit or its sustainability.

For those who enjoy somewhat eye-glazing arguments about economic statistics, read on.
Read more…

Categories: Economics - General Tags:

Declining enrolments

April 8th, 2005 14 comments

I was struck by this Guardian story headlined US university enrolment ‘in decline’. We are seeing static or declining new domestic enrolments here in Australia, and it seems the same is true in Canada also. But I was unsure about the US and the Guardian story was lacking detail.

It is old news that the number of US students in areas like engineering and computer science has been falling for decades, and, since Bush came into office (and particularly since 9/11/01) foreign student numbers are also falling. But I had the impression that this was more than offset by increased numbers in law, business and other fields.

Checking at the National Centre for Educational Statistics yields a mixed picture. The total of undergraduate students is rising, but so is the population. Although participation has risen since 1970, participation rates for most age groups have been stable since about 1990 (There’s a graph over the fold), while rates in Europe have risen greatly.

What is going on here?
Read more…

Categories: Economics - General Tags:

Weekend reflections

April 8th, 2005 14 comments

In keeping with my general hopes of a return to normality, this (lately somewhat irregular)) regular feature is back. The idea is that, over the weekend, you should post your thoughts in a more leisurely fashion than in ordinary comments or the Monday Message Board.

Please post your thoughts on any topic, at whatever length seems appropriate to you. Civilised discussion and no coarse language, please.

Categories: Regular Features Tags:

Having it both ways

April 7th, 2005 28 comments

The Gunns case, in which the world’s largest woodchip exporter is suing critics it accuses of ‘corporate vilification‘ is a typical instance of companies wanting to have it both ways. On the one hand, advocates of the corporation deny that corporations can have any moral or ethical obligations, other than to their shareholders. On the other hand, they want all the protections available to a natural person, including protection from defamation[1]. An individual who acted the way a company is supposed to act in the standard theory would be a sociopath, incapable of being defamed because of the absence of any justified reputation.

In this case, of course, we have the equally important issue of defamation laws being used to suppress free speech on political issues. I doubt that Gunns will prevail, but they don’t have to – a corporation with deep pockets will always win at this kind of game, unless the courts come down hard. I hope that they not only lose but are forced to pay a full accounting of the costs they’ve imposed.

fn2. On the third hand, to mangle the metaphor, the officers and shareholders expect to be protected from any sort of liability for their corporate actions, relying on the sanctity of the ‘corporate veil’. I had a go at this topic here

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

We have a president (updated)

April 6th, 2005 23 comments

After months of delay and dispute, the BBC reports that the Iraqi Parliament has finally mustered the two-thirds majority needed to nominate a president and two vice-presidents. These positions are largely ceremonial, but the deal presumably implies an agreement to select a Prime Minister, after which an interim government can finally take office, with the task of drawing up a permanent constitution. Some good news is that the Allawi group has been kept to the marginal position its weak electoral support implies.

There are still plenty of big problems ahead – the delays reflect fundamental divisions between Kurds and Shias about the future of Iraq and, except for some token appointments, the Sunnis have been excluded altogether. And the insurgency continues with little letup, having no doubt found many recruits among the refugees from Fallujah, almost completely destroyed in the November campaign there. Still, it seems reasonable to hope that a reasonably democratic, and only moderately Islamist government will eventually emerge.

Assuming this happens, was the invasion worth it? Definitely not, in my view.
Read more…

Categories: World Events Tags:

Another big trade deficit

April 5th, 2005 12 comments

The trade deficit for February came in at $2.8 billion, which suggests an annualised trade deficit of about 3 per cent of GDP, and a current account deficit of maybe 7 per cent of GDP. All the export growth was in the rural sector (mostly coal I guess, though I haven’t checked yet.

There are two broad explanations of this. One is that foreignrs see huge investment opportunities that will enable us to expand exports greatly some time in the future. Given the stagnation of manufacturing exports and the fact that there’s no particular reason to think that we are getting drastically better in service areas like tourism, the only plausible growth area is yet more coal.

The alternative is that we’re relying on hot money that can be pulled out quite rapidly when sentiment about the English-speaking countries sours. At that point, we’ll need to turn the trade deficit into a surplus, pronto. As those who’ve experienced such adjustments can attest, this is likely to be a painful process.

I favour the second explanation, but we’ve maintained these deficits for a decade or more, with the obvious blowout confined to the past few years. So we’ll just have to wait and see.

Categories: Economics - General Tags:

Out of sight, out of mind

April 5th, 2005 22 comments

Reader Graeme Bond pointed me to this ABC radio Ockham’s razor special on the way Australia deals with mental illness, especially the Cornelia Rau case, also dealt with on last night’s Four Corners. The Rau case brought into focus how awful it is that places like Baxter detention centre exist, but far more mentally ill people end up in prison. An obvious question is whether the closure of mental hospitals in the 1970s was a bad idea, or a good idea taken too far. Graeme writes

Instead of updating psychiatric institutions, as is done with hospitals, schools etc, we have replaced them with ‘community based neglect’ and another institution, prison.

No one suggests ‘community care’ for other serious illnesses requiring hospitalisation. It is sometimes akin to suggesting open heart surgery on the kitchen table.

Not all mentally ill require a high level of expensive care, many, such as the homeless on the streets would have their lives vastly improved by little more than hostels with a low level of supervision and assistance with Centrelink forms so they were not reduced to begging. It is preferable to jail and probably cheaper.

Others simply need occasional brief periods of hospitalisation during a crisis and otherwise live relatively normal lives with their families.

and this seems pretty convincing to me. We’ve had a string of inquiries into this issue, without, it seems, making much progress.

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

A dangerous move

April 5th, 2005 16 comments

According to this ABC report, the Rann government in SA is trying to scrap parliamentary privilege against defamation actions, as a direct response to a political crisis in which the former Speaker, Peter Lewis, who resigned yesterday, has made accusations that a number of prominent people, including MPs, are pedophiles[1]. Although it appears that Mr Lewis named names, and that publication of these names would be protected by parliamentary privilege, the reports I’ve seen don’t give names.

In defence of the legislation, Rann is quoted as saying that there’s nothing to fear from making statements if they’re true, but this claim is itself false. His objection to Lewis’ statements is not that they are provably false, but that they are unsubstantiated. The fact that MPs can make allegations that are true, or at least plausibly grounded in evidence, but not provable in court is the essence of Parliamentary privilege.

There are some changes I’d like to see made in defamation law as it relates to MPs. First, and conversely with Parliamentary privilege, I’d like a strengthening of the principle that criticism of MPs by members of the public should be protected free speech under the Constitution. Second, I’d like an expansion of the existing rights of reply (I’ve never used this mechanism in response to criticisms of me in Parliament, but I think Clive Hamilton has). Finally, the Parliament itself, through the Speaker, ought to be more rigorous in calling MPs to account for abuses of privilege[2].

One thing is for sure. Making radical changes to fundamental institutions in the heat of the moment is a very bad idea.

Update 6/4/5 The Bill has been withdrawn

fn1. This Advertiser report isn’t exactly consistent, suggesting Lewis stated “that a serving MP had been involved in homosexual acts in the south parklands.” This might, I suppose, include violations of age-of-consent laws.

fn2. Given the dominance of the party system, I’m less sure about this last item.

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

PoP

April 4th, 2005 1 comment

I stumbled across the site of Dr Vegeta[1] whose motto is

If you have to ask whether you have published enough, you haven’t.

Since I ask myself this every day, I’d better keep typing.

fn1. Those in the right age cohort (or their parents) will recognise the allusion to DBZ. His SO is called Bulma.

Categories: Life in General Tags:

Monday Message Board

April 4th, 2005 33 comments

It’s time for the regular Monday message board, where you are invited to post your thoughts on any topic. I don’t have anything noteworthy to say about the late Pope, but perhaps you do. Civilised discussion and no coarse language, please.

Categories: Regular Features Tags:

The poverty of musical historicism

April 3rd, 2005 8 comments

In the April edition of Prospect (subscription required), Roderick Swanston has an interesting review of The Oxford History of Western Music by Richard Taruskin. Swanston attributes to Taruskin an agenda that

is conservative, even Hegelian, and implies an evolution of music from the 6th century AD to the present. Key works and composers are included that have in some way contributed to music’s progression.

I haven’t read the book, and at 280stg, I’m not likely to, but the raw numbers are pretty convincing. Of five volumes covering the last 1500 years, Taruskin devotes two to the 20th century, and, according to Swanston, his focus is almost exclusively confined to art music derived from the classical tradition.

This allocation of attention states a doctrine of historical progress in music in a way that is so extreme as to be self-refuting. The 20th century was saturated in music, as is the early 21st, but 20th century[1] art music plays a tiny role on any objective criterion, from popularity to durability to impact on our culture as a whole. If you covered the entire field, from ABBA to zydeco, on any of these criteria, contemporary art music would merit an entry comparable in length and reverence to that on progressive rock (another sub-genre inspired by historicism). Speaking personally, I couldn’t name more than a handful of living writers of art music, and even if I stretched it to include people who’d been active during my lifetime, I doubt that I could name ten. No doubt there are readers here who could do better, but we’re still talking about a marginal phenomenon, unless you assume that cultural significance is heritable property, passed on by classical art music to its institutional successors.

Nor could it be said that art music has handed on the baton of progress to other forms of music. The 20th century saw a profusion of musical forms and styles, and these have developed over time, crossed over and intermingled, but not obviously for the better (or, for that matter, for the worse).

If you want a grand-historical theory for music, Giovanni Battista Vico is your only man. The wheel turns.

fn1. As always, the term “20th century” can’t be used in a strictly chronological sense. For most purposes, as Hobsbawm says, the 20th century began in 1914, and composers with an essentially 19th century approach were still writing well after that. On the other hand, the view that progress manifested itself through formal innovation was around much earlier. A reasonable starting point for the 20th century proper would be Schoenberg’s atonalism.

Categories: Books and culture Tags:

What I’ve been reading

April 3rd, 2005 13 comments

I’ve been badly overstretched for the last few months, with an excessive amount of travel, and one symptom has been a failure to keep up with regular features like this one. I’m gradually getting my life under some control, so I thought I’d try to restart some conversations about books and writing. I have a huge pile of books on my desk, some of which I’ve promised to review. In this category, theres“Freakonomics : A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything” (Steven D. Levitt, Stephen J. Dubner), “In Defense of Globalization” (Jagdish Bhagwati), and Diversity in Development: Reconsidering the Washington Consensus.

I’ve also become interested in philosophical issues relating to causality, which are closely linked to my concerns about uncertainty (in a world with no uncertainty, causality is essentially trivial). Books I’ve found helpful include“Reasoning about Uncertainty” (Joseph Y. Halpern)“Facing the Future: Agents and Choices in Our Indeterminist World” (Nuel D. Belnap, Michael Perloff, Ming Xu, Nuel Belnap)“Causation and Counterfactuals (Representation and Mind)” (The MIT Press) and“Causality : Models, Reasoning, and Inference” (Judea Pearl)

On the leisure front, I’ve been enjoying Iain Banks series of novels about The Culture, most recently Excession

I hope to extend this post during the week, adding a range of comments on these books over the fold. But feel free to jump in first with your thoughts, recommendations for further reading etc.

Categories: Books and culture Tags:

New links

April 3rd, 2005 19 comments

Slightly belatedly, I’ve added a link to Mark Bahnisch’s new solo blog (he was formerly on the Troppo team). The title is apparently an allusion to Descartes self-description as a masked philosopher Lots of interesting stuff, as you’d expect. Also, new US blog Democracy Arsenal There’s room for more, so please send suggested links. I don’t promise to link everyone, but I usually link to anyone reasonable who links to me, if requested.

Categories: Metablogging Tags:

Heroes

April 3rd, 2005 14 comments

Nine Australian service personnel were killed in a helicopter crash during earthquake relief operations yesterday. This kind of work is always dangerous, and these brave men and women have given their lives to help others in danger. They are an example to us all, and their memory should be honoured.

Categories: General Tags:

One billion links

April 2nd, 2005 Comments off

I wasn’t watching it tick over, but Technorati just passed 1 billion links, of which this blog accounts for 311. Here’s the Technorati Top 100, including Crooked Timber at #59.

I don’t know exactly what to make of this number. A link can be anything from part of an extended debate to a cut-and-pasted item on a blogroll. Still, its obvious that the blogosphere is still growing rapidly and in all dimensions. There’s some more data, here , herehere

Categories: Metablogging Tags:

A bit of good news about GM crops

April 2nd, 2005 3 comments

This story about GM cotton designed to resist pests without the application of pesticides illustrates the potential benefits of GM technology, applied carefully. On this issue, I think Australian policymakers have struck pretty much the right balance between involuntarily exposing the public to risks they may not choose to bear (as in the US) and stifling technological progress (as in the EU).

Categories: Environment Tags: