Saturday, October 31, 2009
Dreams of Better Schools
Andrew Delbanco reviews E.D. Hirsch Jr.'s The Making of Americans: Democracy and Our Schools and Mike Rosein's Why School? Reclaiming Education for All of Us in the NYRB:
Ever since its beginnings in antebellum Massachusetts, public education has been regarded as a national imperative, yet running the schools has generally been left to the states. Before the Civil War, when one western state school superintendent observed the "futility of attempting to operate a Free School System, without proper supervisory agents," supervision was considered a state responsibility, and so it has remained ever since. During the short-lived experiment of Reconstruction, Congress did seek to influence local educational practices through its oversight of the new state constitutions, and through the Freedmen's Bureau, which set up schools in the South for black Americans who had previously been denied access to education. But it took nearly a century till the US Supreme Court, in Brown v. Board of Education (1954), issued its order that all public schools must be integrated. And it was not until the presidency of Lyndon Johnson that the federal government got substantially involved in school reform by directing funds to the states through the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA), with the goal of improving schools in high-poverty neighborhoods.
So it is all the more remarkable that it was under George W. Bush, a president full of platitudes about the virtue of local autonomy and the folly of "big government," that Washington entered the field of public education more aggressively than ever before. The No Child Left Behind Act of 2002, supported by many liberal Democrats, notably the late Senator Edward M. Kennedy, required that states institute standards defining what students must learn grade by grade, test student achievement school by school and district by district, and improve—or, in the absence of improvement, eliminate—schools that fail to meet the standards.
In general, the Obama administration remains committed to such mandates.
Jon Stewart: For Fox Sake!
The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon - Thurs 11p / 10c For Fox Sake!
Political Humor Health Car e Crisis
teachout defends "civilization"
Television can make you famous, but it can't keep you famous. It's a bit like heroin: No sooner do you stop taking your daily fix than you get all pale and clammy, after which you vanish in a puff of smoke. So far as I know, there's never been a TV star who lingered in the public eye for very long after departing from the airwaves—least of all Kenneth Clark. Even among his fellow art historians, Clark is only modestly well remembered. Most of his books are now out of print, and you're not likely to know his name if you're much under the age of 50. But Clark became a full-fledged celebrity in his late 60s when, in 1970, the newly hatched Public Broadcasting Service aired a 13-part TV series called "Civilisation: A Personal View" in which he escorted his viewers through a thousand years of cultural history. The program had been a huge success when broadcast by the BBC the preceding year, and it made a similar splash in America: In addition to launching PBS with a bang, "Civilisation" spawned an eponymous coffee-table book that cracked the best-seller list. It was the first time that PBS aired the kind of show that has since been dubbed "appointment TV." Everybody felt they had to see it—and talk about it.more from Terry Teachout at the WSJ here.
Reporting from San Francisco - William T. Vollmann hardly looks like one of the most ambitious authors of his generation. Walking on Haight Street in his rumpled jeans, ball cap and black T-shirt, shoulders bowed beneath a heavy backpack, he seems an older version of the street kids who still congregate in the tawdry heart of Haight-Ashbury -- young men mostly, carrying bedrolls, panhandling for change. In a lot of ways, these are Vollmann's people: outsiders, on the fringes, whom society tends to disregard. Outsiders have motivated his writing, from his 1987 debut novel, "You Bright and Risen Angels," which posits a war between insects and human beings, through his most recent effort, the monumental "Imperial" (Viking: 1,306 pp., $55), which tracks another kind of conflict: the battles, real and metaphorical, that define Imperial County -- battles over immigration and water, identity and the reach and limitations of political power. The book, which came out in August, is perhaps the clearest expression of Vollmann's career-long commitment to immerse himself in complexities.more from David L. Ulin at the LA Times here.
The Rags of Time
Part of the delight in “The Museum of Innocence” is in scouting out the serious games, yet giving oneself over to the charms of Pamuk’s storytelling. He often makes use of genre, turns the expected response to his purpose. His 1998 book “My Name Is Red” may be claimed as a historical novel with an embedded mystery, and yet again as a political story — the miniatures of Eastern book art headed toward obsolescence, facing off with Western art, its perspective and freedom of invention. Such worldly engagement is of no concern to Kemal: “I have no desire to interrupt my story with descriptions of the street clashes between fervent nationalists and fervent Communists at that time, except to say what we were witnessing was an extension of the cold war.” It’s one of many denials that maintain his indifference to the political scene, and it’s in keeping with his character. A feckless soul, an aging bachelor living with his mother, he is dealt a position in a family business he barely attends to. Meanwhile, during the years of their separation, the beautiful Fusun has married a would-be movie director. Night after night Kemal joins them at her family’s dinner table, a threesome locked in a hopeless love story. It never occurs to the constant lover that Fusun may be ordinary — much like the adored girl in Nabokov’s “Lolita.” Kemal is chauffeured from his mother’s house in Nisantasi to Cukurcuma, passively watching the nightly news with Fusun’s family. Years flipping by, he tags along with the cinema crowd in Beyoglu, the beloved one aiming to be an actress. Kemal’s dogged endurance may try our patience, though his dead-end accounting provides a bleak comedy: “According to my notes, during the 409 weeks that my story will now describe, I went there for supper 1,593 times.” Maureen Freely’s translation captures the novelist’s playful performance as well as his serious collusion with Kemal. Her melding of tones follows Pamuk’s agility, to redirect our vision to the gravity of his tale: “This is not simply a story of lovers, but of the entire realm, that is, of Istanbul.”more from Maureen Howard at the NYT here.
Taking the novel seriously
From The Guardian:
The winner of a literary prize is sometimes surprised, often delighted, seldom ever disappointed. But when I finally caught up with the novelist Rana Dasgupta, speaking on a patchy mobile phone as he drove through rural India a couple of weeks after his novel, Solo, had been voted the winner of the Guardian's inaugural Not the Booker prize, he confessed that he found his victory "very depressing". After a month-and-a-half of discussion on the Guardian books blog, Dasgupta was chosen from a shortlist of six by an open vote in an atmosphere which he describes as "incredibly chaotic".
"I had loads of people emailing me, asking 'Can I post this to the discussion?'," he says. "A lot of people were immensely irate about the whole thing – I was amazed by the passion it raised. I was mostly saying 'Please don't post anything'." A user with the postername John Self posted an invitation Dasgupta had sent via Facebook for friends to come and vote on the Not the Booker thread, and at that point "anything that was said about my book was a conspiracy," Dasgupta continues, "and people were saying that I was behind it all." It reached a point where Dasgupta felt there was "no way of arguing with any of this", and posted on the thread himself to withdraw from the competition.
According to Dasgupta, this was partly because he'd transgressed on an unwritten assumption among those commenting on the blog. "One thing that really surprised me was the expectation that authors should be this completely separate group who wouldn't even know how to send an email," he says. "There's this particular idea of what an author should or shouldn't do, and when you infringe that view there's an incredible violence. Most publishers are putting enormous pressure on their authors to publicise their own work, but it's as if a fiction must be maintained that you have no part in this; that if you were nominated for some prize you'd have no idea."
Ayn Rand’s Revenge
From The New York Times:
A specter is haunting the Republican Party — the specter of John Galt. In Ayn Rand’s libertarian epic “Atlas Shrugged,” Galt, an inventor disgusted by creeping American collectivism, leads the country’s capitalists on a retributive strike. “We have granted you everything you demanded of us, we who had always been the givers, but have only now understood it,” Galt lectures the “looters” and “moochers” who make up the populace. “We have no demands to present you, no terms to bargain about, no compromise to reach. You have nothing to offer us. We do not need you.”
“Atlas Shrugged” was published 52 years ago, but in the Obama era, Rand’s angry message is more resonant than ever before. Sales of the book have reportedly spiked. At “tea parties” and other conservative protests, alongside the Obama-as-Joker signs, you will find placards reading “Atlas Shrugs” and “Ayn Rand Was Right.” Not long after the inauguration, as right-wing pundits like Glenn Beck were invoking Rand and issuing warnings of incipient socialism, Representative John Campbell, Republican of California, told a reporter that the prospect of rising taxes and government regulation meant “people are starting to feel like we’re living through the scenario that happened in ‘Atlas Shrugged.’ ”
The Berlin wall had to fall, but today's world is no fairer
Mikhail Gorbachev in The Guardian:
Naturally, we politicians from the last century can be proud of the fact that we avoided the danger of a thermonuclear war. However, for many millions of people around the globe, the world has not become a safer place. Quite to the contrary, innumerable local conflicts and ethnic and religious wars have appeared like a curse on the new map of world politics, creating large numbers of victims.
Clear proof of the irrational behaviour and irresponsibility of the new generation of politicians is the fact that defence spending by numerous countries, large and small alike, is now greater than during the cold war, and strong-arm tactics are once again the standard way of dealing with conflicts and are a common feature of international relations.
Alas, over the last few decades, the world has not become a fairer place: disparities between the rich and the poor either remained or increased, not only between the north and the developing south but also within developed countries themselves. The social problems in Russia, as in other post-communist countries, are proof that simply abandoning the flawed model of a centralised economy and bureaucratic planning is not enough, and guarantees neither a country's global competitiveness nor respect for the principles of social justice or a dignified standard of living for the population.
More here. [Thanks to Kris Kotarski.]
Dennett and Kitcher write to the New York Times
From Philip Kitcher's letter in the New York Times:
To the Editor:
In his review of “The Greatest Show on Earth,” Nicholas Wade charges that Richard Dawkins is guilty of a philosophical error. According to Wade, philosophers of science divide scientific propositions into three types — facts, laws and theories — and, contrary to Dawkins’s assertions, evolution, which is plainly a systematic theory, cannot count as a fact. However, contemporary philosophy of science offers a vastly more intricate vocabulary for thinking about the sciences than that presupposed in Wade’s oversimplified taxonomy and in his confused remarks about “absolute truth.” Although philosophers may quarrel with aspects of Dawkins’s arguments on a range of issues, he has a far firmer and more subtle understanding of the philosophical issues than that manifested in Wade’s review.
The crucial point is that, as Dawkins appreciates, the distinction between theory and fact, in philosophical discussions as in everyday speech, can be drawn in two quite distinct ways.
Best Halloween Comic Book Costume
Putting Caste on Notice
Barbara Crossette in The Nation:
Navi Pillay, the South African judge who became the United Nations high commissioner for human rights last year, is moving to the forefront of a campaign to free more than 250 million people from the indignities and horrors of caste discrimination. No previous commissioner has dared to openly take on this pernicious system, the majority of whose miserable victims live in India.
"This is the year 2009, and people have been talking about caste oppression for more than a hundred years," Pillay says. "It's time to move on this issue."
For Pillay, who is of Indian descent, the subject of caste has been hidden too long by obfuscation on the part of governments, not only in India, that have successfully argued in UN conferences that existing international conventions against human rights abuses do not apply. Caste did not figure in the official conclusions of a conference on racism and other forms of intolerance in Durban in 2001, after intense lobbying by India, and remained on the periphery of a review of that conference earlier this year.
That being the case, Pillay said in an interview in her New York office on a visit from her headquarters in Geneva, there may well have to be a new international convention written to apply directly to caste.
Friday, October 30, 2009
The Explainer: P vs. NP
Larry Hardesty in MIT News:
In fact, in a 2002 poll, 61 mathematicians and computer scientists said that they thought P probably didn’t equal NP, to only nine who thought it did — and of those nine, several told the pollster that they took the position just to be contrary. But so far, no one’s been able to decisively answer the question one way or the other. Frequently called the most important outstanding question in theoretical computer science, the equivalency of P and NP is one of the seven problems that the Clay Mathematics Institute will give you a million dollars for proving — or disproving. Roughly speaking, P is a set of relatively easy problems, and NP is a set of what seem to be very, very hard problems, so P = NP would imply that the apparently hard problems actually have relatively easy solutions. But the details are more complicated.
Computer science is largely concerned with a single question: How long does it take to execute a given algorithm? But computer scientists don’t give the answer in minutes or milliseconds; they give it relative to the number of elements the algorithm has to manipulate.
Imagine, for instance, that you have an unsorted list of numbers, and you want to write an algorithm to find the largest one.
Will we ever be able to think of Hannah Arendt in the same way again? Two new and damning critiques, one of Arendt and one of her longtime Nazi-sycophant lover, the philosopher Martin Heidegger, were published within 10 days of each other last month. The pieces cast further doubt on the overinflated, underexamined reputations of both figures and shed new light on their intellectually toxic relationship. My hope is that these revelations will encourage a further discrediting of the most overused, misused, abused pseudo-intellectual phrase in our language: the banality of evil. The banality of the banality of evil, the fatuousness of it, has long been fathomless, but perhaps now it will be consigned to the realm of the deceitful and disingenuous as well. The first of the two new reports—and the one most overlooked here in America, perhaps because it's not online—appeared in the sober pages of London's Times Literary Supplement on Oct. 9. It was titled "Blame the Victim—Hannah Arendt Among the Nazis: the Historian and Her Sources." Arendt—the German-born refugee intellectual, author of the influential The Origins of Totalitarianism and the controversial Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil—has come under fire before for "blaming the victim" in her Eichmann trial book, but the author of the TLS piece, the distinguished British scholar Bernard Wasserstein, breaks new ground here with material I found shocking.more from Ron Rosenbaum at Slate here.
a foolish boyle
Robert Boyle (1627-91) was, at least by reputation, the greatest scientist in the period between the condemnation of Galileo and the triumph of Newton. A founder member of the Royal Society, he did a great deal to win respect for the new experimental science and the mechanical philosophy. His early experiments with a vacuum pump (published in 1660) became famous as a refutation of Aristotelian physics (which denied the possibility of a vacuum), and led to the formulation of Boyle's Law relating the volume and pressure of gases. These achievements were accompanied by a commitment to religion that was even more important to him than science. He was much concerned with the propagation of the Gospel in foreign lands and foreign languages (including Gaelic), and paid for a translation of Grotius's De veritate into Arabic (surely a futile undertaking if ever there was one). At his death Boyle left a bequest to fund an annual series of lectures defending the truths of religion against atheism. He clearly hoped that scientific methods would provide indisputable confirmation for religious truths: the existence of life after death, for example, was to be confirmed by investigation of the mysterious drummer of Tedworth, a poltergeist.more from David Wootton at Literary Review here.
An open letter to Steve Levitt
Raymond T. Pierrehumbert, Louis Block Professor in the Geophysical Sciences, The University of Chicago, in Real Climate:
Dear Mr. Levitt,
The problem of global warming is so big that solving it will require creative thinking from many disciplines. Economists have much to contribute to this effort, particularly with regard to the question of how various means of putting a price on carbon emissions may alter human behavior. Some of the lines of thinking in your first book, Freakonomics, could well have had a bearing on this issue, if brought to bear on the carbon emissions problem. I have very much enjoyed and benefited from the growing collaborations between Geosciences and the Economics department here at the University of Chicago, and had hoped someday to have the pleasure of making your acquaintance. It is more in disappointment than anger that I am writing to you now.
I am addressing this to you rather than your journalist-coauthor because one has become all too accustomed to tendentious screeds from media personalities (think Glenn Beck) with a reckless disregard for the truth. However, if it has come to pass that we can’t expect the William B. Ogden Distinguished Service Professor (and Clark Medalist to boot) at a top-rated department of a respected university to think clearly and honestly with numbers, we are indeed in a sad way.
By now there have been many detailed dissections of everything that is wrong with the treatment of climate in Superfreakonomics , but what has been lost amidst all that extensive discussion is how really simple it would have been to get this stuff right. The problem wasn’t necessarily that you talked to the wrong experts or talked to too few of them. The problem was that you failed to do the most elementary thinking needed to see if what they were saying (or what you thought they were saying) in fact made any sense. If you were stupid, it wouldn’t be so bad to have messed up such elementary reasoning, but I don’t by any means think you are stupid. That makes the failure to do the thinking all the more disappointing. I will take Nathan Myhrvold’s claim about solar cells, which you quoted prominently in your book, as an example.
As quoted by you, Mr. Myhrvold claimed, in effect, that it was pointless to try to solve global warming by building solar cells, because they are black and absorb all the solar energy that hits them, but convert only some 12% to electricity while radiating the rest as heat, warming the planet. Now, maybe you were dazzled by Mr Myhrvold’s brilliance, but don’t we try to teach our students to think for themselves? Let’s go through the arithmetic step by step and see how it comes out. It’s not hard.
Joe Lieberman has become the Balloon Boy dad of the Senate
Maura Keaney in The Guardian:
Joe Lieberman has become the Balloon Boy dad of the Senate Democratic caucus, a fame-whore so addicted to media attention that he hatches ever-more-desperate and risky schemes that sell out his "family" to earn press attention.
Progressives can only hope that, like Richard Heene, Lieberman will finally be exposed as a fame-seeking fraudster after his latest stunt, Tuesday's threat to filibuster any bill for healthcare reform that includes a public option.
No one who's been paying attention should be surprised by Lieberman's move, yet the Washington press corps responded as if they'd never heard of the boy who cried wolf. This is Lieberman's schtick, the only act that's ever consistently gotten him ratings.
Mind in the Forest
From Orion Magazine:
I TOUCH TREES, as others might stroke the fenders of automobiles or finger silk fabrics or fondle cats. Trees do not purr, do not flatter, do not inspire a craving for ownership or power. They stand their ground, immune to merely human urges. Saplings yield under the weight of a hand and then spring back when the hand lifts away, but mature trees accept one’s touch without so much as a shiver. While I am drawn to all ages and kinds, from maple sprouts barely tall enough to hold their leaves off the ground to towering sequoias with their crowns wreathed in fog, I am especially drawn to the ancient, battered ones, the survivors.
Recently I spent a week in the company of ancient trees. The season was October and the site was the drainage basin of Lookout Creek, on the western slope of the Cascade Mountains in Oregon. Back in my home ground of southern Indiana, the trees are hardwoods—maples and beeches and oaks, hickories and sycamores—and few are allowed to grow for as long as a century without being felled by ax or saw. Here, the ruling trees are Douglas firs, western hemlocks, western red cedars, and Pacific yews, the oldest of them ranging in age from five hundred to eight hundred years, veterans of countless fires, windstorms, landslides, insect infestations, and floods.
I had walked since dawn and lay down to rest on a bare hillside
Above the ocean. I saw through half-shut eyelids a vulture wheeling
.....high up in heaven,
And presently it passed again, but lower and nearer, its orbit
.....I understood then
That I was under inspection. I lay death-still and heard the flight-
Whistle above me and make their circle and come nearer.
I could see the naked red head between the great wings
Bear downward staring. I said, "My dear bird, we are wasting time
These old bones will still work; they are not for you." But how
.....he looked, gliding down
On those great sails; how beautiful he looked, veering away in the
.....over the precipice. I tell you solemnly
That I was sorry to have disappointed him. To be eaten by that beak
.....become part of him, to share those wings and those eyes--
What a sublime end of one's body, what and enskyment; what a life
by Robinson Jeffers
Palestinian equal rights joins the progressive agenda on ‘The Daily Show’
Adam Horowitz at Mondoweiss:
I don’t want to recount the whole interview, you can watch it. I have to say, I was blown away. Although I was laughing out loud for the first two segments, I was on the verge of tears throughout the interview. Here was a Palestinian leader demanding equal rights and an anti-Zionist Jew calling for boycott, divestment and sanctions to pressure Israel towards peace on The Daily Show and they were being applauded, while the traditional pro-Israel hasbara was being shown the door.
Palestinian equal rights was placed directly next to health care and the economy on The Daily Show’s progressive agenda and the audience was totally along for the ride. I could hardly believe my eyes, and yet it made perfect sense at the same time. Who can argue that it is necessary to deny people water? Who can argue against equal rights? The answer is increasingly no one, and if The Daily Show’s audience is any indication, the next generation will be leading this fight in a much different direction.
|The Daily Show With Jon Stewart||Mon - Thurs 11p / 10c|
|Exclusive - Anna Baltzer & Mustafa Barghouti Extended Interview Pt. 1|
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Are there asexuals among us?
Jesse Bering in Scientific American:
At least, that’s what most people tend to think. But actually, some scientists believe that there may be a fourth sexual orientation in our species, one characterized by the absence of desire and no sexual interest in males or females, only a complete and lifelong lacuna of sexual attraction toward any human being (or non-human being). Such people are regarded as asexuals. Unlike bisexuals, who are attracted to both males and females, asexuals are equally indifferent to and uninterested in having sex with either gender. So imagine being a teenager waiting for your sexual identity to express itself, waiting patiently for some intoxicating bolus of lasciviousness to render you as dumbly carnal as your peers, and it just doesn’t happen. These individuals aren’t simply celibate, which is a lifestyle choice. Rather, sex to them is just so ... boring.
True Love: How to Find It
From Scientific American:
Nicholas and his wife, Erika, like to joke that they had an arranged marriage, South Asia–style. Although they lived within four blocks of each other for two years and were both students at Harvard, their paths never crossed. Erika had to go all the way to Bangladesh so that Nicholas could find her. In the summer of 1987 he went to Washington, D.C., where he had grown up and gone to high school, to care for his ailing mother. He was a medical student, single and, he foolishly thought, not ready for a serious relationship. His old high school friend, Nasi, was also home for the summer. Nasi’s girlfriend, Bemy, who had come to know Nicholas well enough that her gentle teasing was a source of amusement for all of them, was also there. She had, as it turned out, just returned from a year in rural Bangladesh, doing community development work.
In the wood and tin hut where Bemy had spent her year abroad was a beautiful young American woman with whom she shared both a burning desire to end poverty and a metal bucket to wash her hair. You probably know where this story is going. One afternoon, in the middle of the monsoon, while writing a postcard to Nasi, Bemy suddenly turned to her friend Erika and blurted out: “I just thought of the man you’re going to marry.” That man was Nicholas. Erika was incredulous. But months later she agreed to meet him in D.C., and the four of them had dinner at Nasi’s house. Nicholas was, of course, immediately smitten. Erika was “not unimpressed,” as she later put it. That night, after getting home, she woke up her sister to announce that she had indeed met the man she was going to marry. Three dates later Nicholas told Erika he was in love. And that is how he came to marry a woman who was three degrees removed from him all along—she was connected to him through two intermediate social ties, a friend of a friend of a friend—someone who had lived practically next door, whom he had never previously met, but who was just perfect for him.
Thursday, October 29, 2009
Question your tea spoons
When a person is sick, Jews pray for him by reciting the verses of Psalms that begin with the letters of his name; Psalm 119 is often used for this purpose, as it is made of 22 sets of eight verses that begin with the same Hebrew letter, and the sets are arranged alphabetically—or, perhaps, aleph-betically. Accordingly, my Hebrew name, Yosef, is symbolized by Psalm 138:8, which in Hebrew begins with a yod, the first letter of Yosef, and ends with a fey, the last letter of Yosef; the entirety of the sentence that should save my life reads, in English: “The Lord will perfect that which concerneth me: thy mercy, O Lord, endureth for ever: forsake not the works of thine own hands.” Indeed, it seems like the majority of Jewish liturgy not taken directly from the Torah is made of devotions arranged by permutations of letters, and interpolations of sums: for centuries, rabbis have composed acrostic prayers that spell their own names; and any visit to any synagogue on any day of the week at any of the three daily services will tell you that the number of times a text is repeated is just as important as what that repeated text actually means. The occasion for these thoughts is no religious epiphany, but rather a rereading of French writer Georges Perec, whose 1978 masterpiece Life: A User’s Manual was just republished in a definitive translation by David Bellos.more from Joshua Cohen at Tablet here.
When was the last time you enjoyed a painting that was sexy, odd and hilarious all at once? Just visit the all-round wonderful show "Watteau, Music, and Theater" at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Sept. 21-Nov. 29, 2009, and look for The Surprise by the Rococo artist, Jean-Antoine Watteau (1684-1721). The elegant and witty game of love turns suddenly serious in this small oil painting on wood from ca. 1718. A guitarist dressed as the commedia dell’arte character Mezzetin, splendidly attired in satin with a lace ruff, looks up from tuning his instrument to watch a couple whom he has been, or was about to begin, serenading. The swain has suddenly, violently embraced his lady, swiveling her body across his as he steals a passionate kiss. He grasps her left arm, which he attempts to place around his neck, while her other arm dangles passively, suggesting that at least for the moment she does not reciprocate his ardor.more from N.F. Karlins at artnet here.
Has any major postwar American author taken as much critical abuse as Ayn Rand? Her best-known novels, The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, have sold more than 12 million copies in the United States alone and were ranked first and second in a 1998 Modern Library reader survey of the "greatest books" of the 20th century. Yet over the years, Rand's writing has been routinely dismissed as juvenile and subliterate when it has been considered at all. During the height of the Cold War, she managed to alienate leftists by insisting that capitalism was not simply more productive but more moral than socialism or a mixed economy because it allowed the individual to express himself most fully. And she angered the anticommunist Right with her thoroughgoing materialism, lack of respect for tradition, and atheism. (She once told William F. Buckley he was "too intelligent" to believe in God.) The publication of Anne C. Heller's Ayn Rand and the World She Made and Jennifer Burns's Goddess of the Market indicates that a belated but timely reconsideration of Rand's place in American cases for Rand's importance to the past 80 years of American intellectual and cultural life all the more convincing. That Rand's life story is in many ways more melodramatic, unbelievable, and conflicted than one of her own plots certainly helps to keep the reader's attention. As Burns puts it, "The clash between her romantic and rational sides makes [her life] not a tale of triumph, but a tragedy of sorts."more from Nick Gillespie at Reason here.
Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better
David Runciman reviews The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, in the London Review of Books:
The argument of this fascinating and deeply provoking book is easy to summarise: among rich countries, the more unequal ones do worse according to almost every quality of life indicator you can imagine. They do worse even if they are richer overall, so that per capita GDP turns out to be much less significant for general wellbeing than the size of the gap between the richest and poorest 20 per cent of the population (the basic measure of inequality the authors use). The evidence that Wilkinson and Pickett supply to make their case is overwhelming. Whether the test is life expectancy, infant mortality, obesity levels, crime rates, literacy scores, even the amount of rubbish that gets recycled, the more equal the society the better the performance invariably is. In graph after graph measuring various welfare functions, the authors show that the best predictor of how countries will rank is not the differences in wealth between them (which would result in the US coming top, with the Scandinavian countries and the UK not too far behind, and poorer European nations like Greece and Portugal bringing up the rear) but the differences in wealth within them (so the US, as the most unequal society, comes last on many measures, followed by Portugal and the UK, both places where the gap between rich and poor is relatively large, with Spain and Greece somewhere in the middle, and the Scandinavian countries invariably out in front, along with Japan). Just as significantly, this pattern holds inside the US as well, where states with high levels of income inequality also tend to have the greatest social problems.