The wealth of networks

Comment on Crooked Timber’s seminar on “The Wealth of Networks”. Amateur, cooperative culture is the long-run norm.

Crooked Timber have just held an online seminar around a new book by Yochai Benkler on “The Wealth of Networks”. The theme is that new information technologies are reshaping opportunities for cooperation in cultural production and other forms of social action, but face obstacles in achieving them.

It’s good stuff, but I miss the grand historical perspective. So let’s have a go, in the new spirit of wiki amateurism. Are we seeing a cultural revolution? No, reversion to the mean.

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Sick America

Middle-aged Americans are sicker than English ones

A heavyweight study published in JAMA (“Disease and Disadvantage in the United States and in England”, Michael Marmot et al.) has found that

“Americans are much sicker than the English.”

It covered large samples of white middle-aged people enrolled in longitudinal studies in both countries. For once, England is the exact term; unhealthy Scotland and healthy Wales now run their own parts of the NHS. The design makes the USA look better than it is; the omission of the Scots is outweighed by that of African-Americans.

I’ve turned the key findings into charts.

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Pink triangles won’t be worn

The Pope makes his pilgrimage to Auschwitz today, at the end of his visit to Poland. Benedict and his predecessor have done the right thing by Poles; the right thing by Jews – perhaps not far enough, but still a lot; the right thing by gypsies, so far as I know; the right thing by the mentally handicapped – the Vatican position on euthanasia may go too far, but it certainly respects this group of victims of Nazism.

But when will the Catholic Church stop giving Hitler a posthumous victory over homosexuals?

The Andalusian nation

Never heard of it? Me neither. Only 4% of Andalusian Spaniards think of themselves as a “nation”, and another seven as a “historic nationality”, the quite inaccurate term used in the current regional statute. (Al-Andalús was simply the name of Moslem Spain, whatever its area; as it shrank during the Reconquest, it corresponded roughly to present-day Andalusia only for a few decades around 1220 CE.) The overwhelming majority of Andalusians (63%) are content with the name and status of “autonomous region”. (Data from an editorial in the May 25 English-language edition of “El Pais”, no link I can find.). But the proposal on the table for the regional statute is to upgrade from “historic nationality” to “national reality”, only a semantic whisker away from “nation”.

The depressing competition to give the Andalusians something they don’t want or need results from two things. One is an accident of regional coalition politics. The Socialists (with 61 seats) are bidding for the support of two splinter parties, the far left (7 seats) and regional nationalists (6 seats); it’s unclear why, since they have a working majority over the PP (37 seats) anyway. The other, and more significant, factor is jealousy of the ever greater privileges won by the Catalans and Basques, many of whom really do aim at ultimate independence. It could only ever be a Disneyland independence. The assumption of the regionalists, who have succeeded in breaking up Belgium, is that real policy – on defence, envrironment, immigration, the economy – will be made in Brussels.

Immigration Crisis Solved!

It’s pretty simple, actually: those opposed to making citizens out of illegal immigrants say that it is wrong to be rewarded for violating the law. That’s true, as a general matter. (In my view, it is vastly overstated: we don’t take away someone’s license for a parking ticket.) But in any event, why not say that those illegal immigrants who want to become citizens have to pay a particular penalty?

Now McCain-Kennedy already does that, of course. But I’m thinking of something far more specific: why don’t illegal immigrants have to do precisely what Rush Limbaugh must do under his plea agreement?

I’d love to see the right wing, which has condemned Limbaugh’s probation/plea agreement as unduly harsh, answer this: why suddenly is it a free ride for an illegal immigrant to do precisely what Limbaugh must do, even though the immigrant (unlike LImbaugh) has not actually committed a crime?

The stuffed shirts of Europe vs. youth and a fresh start

The stuffed shirts running Europe need a new plan

The closing group photo-op of an EU summit with Latin America in Vienna last Friday was hijacked by Ms. Evangelina Carrozo, the carnival queen of Gualeguaychú in Argentina. The minders didn’t realize she is also a Greenpeace activist. She wangled a press pass and paraded a sign protesting a planned pulp mill (nothing to do with the meeting) before the assembled stuffed shirts, having first removed her own.

Stuffed shirts_html_m5ddf03f5.jpg

It was only a stunt, but the photo illustrates how the European project has lost the fizz, libido, sex-appeal, chutzpah that Ms Carrozo radiates. Jean Monnet had them: in 1914, as a young man of 25, he talked his way into the office of the French Prime Minister, René Viviani, and presented him with a plan for financing the French war effort; in 1934, he got round the unavailability of divorce in Italy by marrying his young Italian partner Silvia in Moscow; in 1951, already 62, he bounced the French government he worked for into the European Coal and Steel Community by manoeuvres that surpassed Sir Humphrey Appleby. Contrast the minimal results wrapped in diplomatic waffle of the gatecrashed Vienna summit, plainly not worth the air fares.

All that vitality is gone.

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The world in a blade of grass

Grass Ronda.jpg

A one-minute two-stroke history of humanity:

Modern humans emerged in Africa about 100,000 years ago, skilled hunter-gatherers like their hominid predecessors. In the expansion phase, we spread over six continents, while our culture differentiated into around 10,000 language communities. About 10,000 years ago, roughly when humans were reaching Patagonia, women gatherers in the Fertile Crescent domesticated grasses into cereal crops, and male hunters tamed sheep and goats. This revolution triggered population growth, specialisation and social stratification, organised religion, science, writing, and states. The interaction of states by trade, cultural exchange, migration, warfare, genocide, empire and law drives the contraction phase of human history, with steadily decreasing cultural diversity. We are now in the final phase, nearing a global unity – of peace or self-destruction.

(117 words)

The domestication of grass is the central event of secular history.

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Rupert Stavro Murdoch

Rupert Murdoch hosts a fundraiser for Senator Hillary Clinton. Of course it’s significant. Murdoch may be a ruthless bastard, and deserved his kitsch immortality as the mogul Elliott Carver, villain of the James Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies, but he’s as cool and focused as Warren Buffett. To defend his media empire from regulators dreaming of such unhelpful concepts as balance and competition, he needs to be right on major political shifts. That’s why he ditched the Tories for Tony Blair in 1997. This is a classic hedge. Bill O’Reilly’s days may be short. “Number 17, you have failed miserably!” (strokes Persian cat, presses concealed button)

Why is the Supreme Pontiff?

Why is the Pope still called the Supreme Pontiff of pagan Rome?

Michael O’Hare’s post below on Chinese bishops points out that the Vatican’s conflict with the PRC over the appointment of bishops closely parallels its mediaeval run-ins with Henri II Plantagenêt and the Emperor Heinrich IV. I follow Norman Davies’ convention of naming rulers in their usual language, which in Henri’s case wasn’t English. It wasn’t in any case diplomatese for either of them; a letter of Heinrich’s to Pope Gregory VII ends: I, Henry, king by the grace of God, with all of my Bishops, say to you, come down, come down, and be damned throughout the ages.

Toynbee is unfashionable but he was surely right to argue that the importance of these controversies was that nobody won: kings and popes checked each other in a fruitful Madisonian tension that nurtured modern political concepts. The Papacy only secured its current exclusive control over the appointment of bishops with the disappearance of the Catholic monarchs in the last century, an absurd centralisation which has allowed John-Paul II’s policy of appointing far too many second-rate yes-men.

Which brings me to the question: why does the Pope retain the bizarre title of Supreme Pontiff , the chief priest of the pagan civic cults of Ancient Rome?

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John Milton comments on Darfur Awareness Week

With apologies to the poetic muse of John Milton, but not his political one — Milton would l think have understood, and forgiven the plagiarism.

Avenge, O Lord, thy slaughtered sons, whose bones

Lie scattered on the Sahel grasses sere;

Nor yet thy violated daughters’ fear

Before they fell to hate as hard as stones,

Forget: and in thy book record their groans

Who were thy sheep, with gun and bomb and spear

Slain by the bloody Sudanese. The drear

Survivor camps feed men, rot souls. Their moans

The plain redoubled to the dunes, and they

To heaven. Their martyred blood and ashes stain

The paper shrouds that cynics weave and lay

To mute the crime with spiritless refrain;

Turn reptile tears to burning coals; in pain

The debt to justice make the murd’rers pay.

Copyright John Milton, 1655(the good bits)/James Wimberley 2006

If you agree with this, spread it around.