George Bush, Bruno Latour and the end of postmodernism

For discussion: one of the far right’s greatest achievements in the past decade has been to show post-modernists how wrong they were.

Let me explain. In a famous 2004 article on the Iraq War, the New York Times journalist Ron Suskind quotes an aide to George W. Bush (possibly Karl Rove) disparaging what the aide calls “the reality-based community”:

“‘That’s not the way the world really works anymore,’ he continued. ‘We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out.’

The quote may not be correct, and it may be that the aide was actually making the case for action over endless analysis; it isn’t as clear as Suskind paints it. But the whole quote had a post-modern ring to it, and it set me thinking about post-modernism and the right. Just eight years later, some thoroughly belated conclusions:

First, the attempt by some on the US right to push creation science into schools is a pretty textbook implementation of the postmodern philosophy of science. Specifically, it is …

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Urban Planning and Corporate Governance.

The Sydney Morning Herald has been trumpeting a study they supported by on the future of Sydney’s public transport and urban structure. Beneath the being overly pleased with themselves, with we’re above petty politics harrumphing there is a genuine effort to talk about the policy issues in depth. That’s a big relief compared to the usual scandal mongering and whinging vox pops that we usually get from the media on the issue.

A major theme in the study is differing potential models for future development. One is a European model, which is described as a web of transport routes and urban centres across the metro area, which is officially the current plan. The other is an East Asian model which is described as a small number of dense urban centres from which public transport spokes extend, each covered by a spine of high rise residential developments and with land prices that rise exponentially with their access to these centres. The report reckons that we’re headed to the latter, which is A Bad Thing.

I am not convinced this is solely a issue of government policy though. A large part is due to decisions made by companies on where to provide jobs, and subsequently where the transport infrastructure is forced to be built to relieve what is already there. More specifically it’s about where the management of these companies decide to site their operations, particularly compared to what you might expect firms to do. I think this is partially an issue of corporate governance.
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Google’s doodle boo boo?

Google removes Aboriginal flag from winning Doodle 4 Google entry

Last year 11 year old Jessie Du won Google’s Doodle 4 Google competition with her entry ‘Australia Forever’. Displayed on Google’s homepage for Australia Day, the doodle features Australian animals formed into the letters g-o-o-g-l-e.

Attentive Google visitors soon noticed that something was missing. Jessie’s original entry included the Aboriginal flag but this has been removed from the image on Google’s homepage. But before readers start throwing around the ‘R’ word, here’s Google’s explanation:

You may have noticed that the Google Doodle on the homepage today is slightly different to Jessie’s original entry, because that one contained copyright imagery that we weren’t able to publish on the homepage today. However, I think you’ll agree it’s still absolutely beautiful, and inspires lots of wonderful ideas about the Australia of our future.

The Aboriginal flag is protected by copyright. In 1997 the Federal Court of Australia recognised Harold Thomas as the flag’s author. The flag may only be reproduced in accordance with the provisions of the Copyright Act 1968 or with the permission of Mr Harold Thomas.

Update: Asher Moses at the Sydney Morning Herald has the story including an interview with Thomas:

Thomas, who lives in Humpty Doo in the Northern Territory, said he refused only because Google did not approach him in a respectful way and had demanded to reproduce the flag without charge.

"I said well you can use it but there’s a fee component and the [Google] person said: ‘Oh we can’t do that, we can’t pay for it, we’ll have to ask the girl to change it [the logo] if we have to pay for it,’ " Thomas said.

"So ever since that time we’ve been argy bargying over how we should go about it and in the end it was a pittance offer so I decided why bother?"

Another update: Dogs like to dig holes.

Yet another update: Valeri at Typeboard has more, including a comment from Jessie.

But wait … there’s more: The BBC has picked up the story. But they’re a little confused about the origins of the Aboriginal flag:

Mr Howard designed the flag in the 1970s as a symbol of the indigenous land rights movement in Australia.

They mean Mr Thomas.

Quantifying Institutions Part 2 : Religion AND Politics

In the first post of this series I described recent work in empirical institutional economics and why I thought the work pursued a virtuous end but was compromised by the use of poor institutional measures. Today I will introduce a specific paper of this type that had drawn my attention and talk briefly about the other types of institutional variables that have been tried in country level regressions.

I had come into the current empirical literature whilst researching the resource curse for my honours dissertation. A Norwegian trio, Mehlum, Moene and Torvik, had created a model that predicted that a resource curse would happen only if institutions were below a certain threshold of quality. The resource curse occurred, they said, because natural wealth provided an easy source of unearned wealth; economic rents. It made becoming or usurping a thief, or a warlord or an oligarch much more attractive (and easier) compared to productive activity such as working or becoming an entrepreneur. This doesn’t help the country grow economically. The attractions towards kleptocracy and rentseeking can be mitigated or averted by good institutions, so that Australia, Norway or even Botswana could avoid the curse and even prosper from their resources, but in places like The Congo or Venezuela the gains from seizing something and sitting on it were just too great relative to alternatives.

This was very interesting, and had strong intuitive appeal. It promised insight into one of the most vexing of development issues and gave a distinct hypothesis. They even crunched data in support of this hypothesis.

Unfortunately of course, they used those damn indices.

This was little enough reason to discard an intriguing hypothesis. So I went hunting for a better measurement of institutions.
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Cocktails for carnivores


"I expected it to taste greasy and salty;" writes Clay Risen, "instead it was dry and smoky, with a hint of meat."

Across America cocktail bars are serving up bourbon cocktails flavoured with bacon. In the Atlantic Risen explains the process:

First, you fry up several thick slabs of bacon. Keeping the pan on the fire, you remove the meat and pour in a few cups of bourbon–Patterson House uses Four Roses–and stir. Then you set the mix aside to cool. As the temperature drops, the fat congeals, creating a thick film on top of the liquor. Once it’s done, you cut a hole in the grease, pour out the liquid, et voila!

This is just one example of a technique known as ‘fat washing‘. Developed by cocktail maker Eben Freeman, it can be used with flavourful fats like browned butter or bacon grease. New York cocktail bar PDT is famous for its bacon-infused old fashioned.

Elsewhere: cocktail geeks wonder about the best way to use fish sauce in a drink.

Image credit: bhamsandwich on flickr

Weiners & Gorge

Weiners and Gorge

"Eat our weiners and gorge", says the sign on this Los Angeles fast food joint. Every time I look at this photo I wonder what that means. Is it an invitation to overeat? Is gorge the name of some American fast food delicacy?

I took this photo in early 1987. From memory, it was somewhere around Hollywood.

No doubt the Lynne Truss brigade will complain about the misspelling of ‘wiener’. Since ‘wiener’ is short for ‘Wienerwurst’ (Vienna sausage) it should be written with the ‘i’ before the ‘e’ as in ‘Wien’ (the German name for Vienna). But as David Dominé points out, the ‘ei’ spelling is so common in the US that Merriam-Webster Online lists ‘weiner’ as a variant.

More interesting is the word ‘gorge’. Anyone want to have a go at explaining what the sign means?