Monday, August 22, 2005

Why Levitt Is Wrong (About Book Tours, Not Oil)

Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner - William Morrow, 2005

Levitt and I don't have all that many disagreements, at least not in public. But this one's a little close to home. It began with this post, in which I wondered aloud if the tour was worth the publisher's money. Steve followed recently with this post, which detailed why, from his perspective, the tour was a waste of his time. Well, in this case he's guilty of thinking like an economist. Generally it's not so bad to think like an economist -- in fact, it's served Levitt very very well over recent years. But when you look at the world through the eyes of a super-rational agent, you do tend to miss the scenery. Levitt acknowledges that he went on the tour because there were a variety of incentives at play -- social and moral as well as the more obvious financial incentive. But then when he calculates the ROI, he essentially ignores the social and moral returns. So yes, it's true that the financial return is probably (and I stress "probably," since it'll be a while before anyone can measure the long-term financial effect of this tour) pretty thin considering the time invested, but the returns in the social and moral realm are quite considerable. Levitt says he hates attention, and I know this to be (mostly) true. And yet, consider some of the non-financial benefits generated by the tour: a public platform from which to discuss our ideas; the likelihood that our ideas will be heard more in the future; the chance to see old friends from college; the chance to visit a few excellent bookstores, the Milken Institute, the Commonwealth Club, Yahoo! headquarters, and Google headquarters; the chance to ride around in the same black sedan that carried Jack Welch only a few weeks earlier, and hear some pretty entertaining Welch stories from the driver; the chance to participate more fully with bookstores and our publisher in this strangely successful publishing venture; and the chance to generally see more of the world and its inhabitants. (Along with, yes, as he acknowledged, the chance to be gone for a week and miss our families and other opportunities.) Now maybe it's true that none of those returns really matter to Steve (though I think at least the chance to see old friends probably does matter). Or maybe -- and this is probably the closest to the truth -- this is a case where Steve's incentives and mine are unaligned. For me, a writer, a high-profile book tour even as short as this one was a) mostly fun; b) mostly gratifying; and c) mostly productive. Did I miss my kids? Sure. Did I get any work done while I was gone? Not much. Still, the return seems well worth it to me. That's because a book tour is a pretty essential element in my profession. In Levitt's profession, however, it's not. If anything, this whole popularity thing may be bad for his career. Some academics get horribly cranky when a peer deigns to sprinkle the guild's wisdom upon the masses. So does a book tour make sense from his perspective? Maybe not. I guess the equivalent might be if the Quarterly Journal of Economics were to ask me to collaborate on an article about the economics of publishing; my response would be ... um ... "and I want to do this why?" All this said, I'm glad Steve allowed his arm to be twisted and came along on the tour. And if he tries to tell you again how miserable he was, asking him about the Pasadena laughing fit.
posted by Stephen J. Dubner at 8:24 AM

2 Comments:Ken Webb said...
I have a first run copy of the book. If I come up to chicago, can I track you guys down and have you sign my copy?

Look at it this way, you will not have to go on a book tour. :)

8/22/2005 9:42 AM
Peter Ostrovski said...
Great post. I think people miss the non-financial implications too often in calculating ROI. This is especially true of fledgling economists who have just learned the concept of opportunity cost. They begin calculating the opportunity cost of every activity they partake in strictly through monetary terms, while ignoring the social and moral benefits that said activity provides.

8/22/2005 10:31 AM

Bait and Switch


Bait and Switch
CNN had an interestingly deceptive advertising campaign for last night's "Inside An Intelligence Meltdown," right down to its title. It was billed as another "CIA fucked up story," when it was in fact a radical narrative about the runup to the war. By radical, of course, I just mean "at odds with the standard beltway convention wisdom" which one has after receiving the obligatory cranial-rectal inversion surgery. That narrative is "poor Bush misled by an evil CIA intent on going to war," despite the fact that before the war the narrative was "stupid CIA is trying to stop Bush from going to war." Anyway, the show is pretty good. Some highlights throughout the day.

north cove

north cove
Originally uploaded by deborah lattimore.

The New York Review of Books: BLOCKED

The New York Review of Books: BLOCKED

It is disappointing to learn that the Central Intelligence Agency filed motions in federal court in May 2005 to block disclosure of records related to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy forty-one years ago.

Brooklyn Eagle

Brooklyn Eagle
Originally uploaded by *syzygynick.
Does this look like "one" photo to you? It is not!
It's a montage of two photos designed to look like a single shot. Does it? ...

It avails not, neither time or place—distance avails not;
I am with you, you men and women of a generation, or ever so many generations hence;
I project myself—also I return—I am with you, and know how it is.

- Walt Whitman, from his poem "Crossing Brooklyn Ferry", which probably appeared in Whitman's 19th century newspaper, the Brooklyn Daily Eagle

The Blog | David Sirota: Beltway Dems Regurgitate Right-Wing B.S. on Iraq; Grassroots Fights Back | The Huffington Post

The Blog | David Sirota: Beltway Dems Regurgitate Right-Wing B.S. on Iraq; Grassroots Fights Back | The Huffington Post

U of O professor accused of hosting anti-Semitic website

Ottawa Citizen - network

Sunday » August 21 » 2005

U of O professor accused of hosting anti-Semitic website
Group files complaint over 'wild theories' that blame Jews for 9/11

Pauline Tam
The Ottawa Citizen
Saturday, August 20, 2005
CREDIT: Pat McGrath, The Ottawa Citizen
University of Ottawa professor Michel Chossudovsky says research on his website is 'anti-Zionist, not anti-Semitic.'
A Jewish group has filed a complaint to the University of Ottawa against one of its professors after the discovery of content on his website that blames Jews for the terrorist attacks on the United States, and claims the numbers who died at Auschwitz are exaggerated.
The website,, also reprints articles from other writers that accuse Jews of controlling the U.S. media and masterminding the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Other postings suggest Israel, the U.S. and Britain are the real perpetrators of the recent attacks on London.
The site, which is not hosted by the university, is run by Michel Chossudovsky, a controversial left-leaning economist, and came to the attention of B'nai Brith Canada after public complaints to the advocacy group and the Citizen.
"The material on the site is full of wild conspiracy theories that go so far as to accuse Israel, America and Britain of being behind the recent terrorist bombings in London," said Frank Dimant, executive vice-president of B'nai Brith Canada. "They echo the age-old anti-Semitic expressions that abound in the Arab world, which blame the Jews for everything from 9/11 to the more recent tsunami disaster."
The organization singles out a discussion forum, moderated by Mr. Chossudovsky, that features a subject heading called "Some Articles On The Truth of the Holocaust." The messages have titles such as "Jewish Lies of Omission (about the 'Holocaust')," "Jewish Hate Responsible For Largest Mass Killing at Dachau," and "Did Jews Frame the Arabs for 9/11?"
Another posting suggests the number of Jews who died at Auschwitz during the Second World War is inflated.
None of the postings is written by Mr. Chossudovsky himself.
Under Canadian law, website owners can be liable for material they knowingly post, even if they haven't produced it themselves.
"I know this isn't his own writing, but he's certainly got a responsibility for the website, which, I checked, is registered in his name," said Anita Bromberg, B'nai Brith's legal counsel and human rights co-ordinator.
The site identifies Mr. Chossudovsky as the director of the Centre for Research on Globalization and editor of His wife, Micheline Ladouceur, is listed as associate editor. They manages the site out of Montreal.
The site does not mention Mr. Chossudovsky's position at the university, nor does his website at the U of O refer to However, an Internet search of Mr. Chossudovsky's name shows he is listed as an adviser for a Swedish-based group called the Transnational Foundation for Peace and Future Research. Its website contains a biography of Mr. Chossudovsky, his contact information at the U of O and a link to
When reached in South Korea, where he is on a research trip, Mr. Chossudovsky said the offending messages were removed from the forum after he was made aware of them by the Citizen.
But as of late yesterday, some of the postings remain on the site. A discussion thread about 9/11, contained a message that casts doubt on the Auschwitz death count. Other postings under a forum on globalization have titles such as "The Hilarious Auschwitz Story" and "The HolyCo$t Lie is Finished."
Mr. Chossudovsky indicated that despite monitoring the forum "periodically," he did not know about the inflammatory messages, even though they had been posted since March. He added that while he has received complaints before about offensive content on the site, the volume of messages on the forum makes it difficult for him to control what is posted.
"We don't choose the articles that go up, and when we see that there are texts which are racist or hateful, we do, to the best of our abilities, try to remove them."
Mr. Chossudovsky described himself as being of Jewish descent, and said he has relatives who were Holocaust victims. "I'm the first person to withdraw any kind of hate material directed against the Jewish people."
He went on to defend the reprinted articles that have also sparked complaints, saying they are legitimate commentary representing views that are "anti-Zionist, not anti-Semitic."
"It's an analysis of Israeli policy which we don't support," said Mr. Chossudovsky, an antiwar commentator and an outspoken critic of U.S. and Israeli policies.
He also noted the site contains a disclaimer saying the articles posted don't necessarily reflect his views as editor.
Jewish students at the University of Ottawa said they have so far received no complaints about the site, but maintain Mr. Chossudovsky has not gone far enough to ensure the website is free of material they consider offensive.
"As an organizer of the site, especially if he is of Jewish descent and his family has gone through the atrocities of the Holocaust, he should take a more active interest in what is posted and published on the site," said Nicole Advocat, an executive member of the university's Jewish Students Association.
Ms. Advocat, a second-year international relations major, worries other students will stumble on to the site.
"Students will come here looking for research information on the topic of globalization. I know as a globalization student, I'm often looking for different sites that can help me find articles and relevant information. And for students who aren't educated about the Holocaust, they could look at this information and say, 'This is the truth.' "
Ms. Bromberg said despite Mr. Chossudovsky's efforts to distance the website from the university, there is a chance students could happen upon it.
"The bottom line is, he is a professor at a leading university, which gives him credibility. ... It worries me what students, who may be very ill-equipped, face. He has an obligation as a professor towards the young minds he teaches."
B'nai Brith is monitoring the website closely, and putting pressure on the U of O to act. "His connection with the university might put some responsibility on the university to hold him to a certain standard of acceptable civil discourse," said Ms. Bromberg.
A U of O spokesman said the university has not yet received a complaint from B'nai Brith, and is not prepared to intervene. "Until we're approached, it's something that we just don't see a role for us to be involved in," said Bob LeDrew.
A specialist in globalization and the economics of developing countries, Mr. Chossudovsky, 59, has a reputation for producing radical critiques often out of step with the views of his colleagues.
Since 1968, when he left his native Switzerland to take a position at the U of O, Mr. Chossudovsky has produced research that keeps him on the margins of mainstream academia, but wins praise from anti-establishment intellectuals such as Noam Chomsky.
While he is rarely quoted in mainstream academic journals, Mr. Chossudovsky is a popular figure among anti-globalization activists, and is widely quoted in newspapers. He writes regularly for the French-language monthly Le Monde diplomatique, and his books, published by a small printing house in Britain, have been translated into 11 languages.
Students who take his courses rave about his unorthodox views, going so far as to dub him "Canada's Chomsky."
More recently, Mr. Chossudovsky's research has turned his attention to terrorism. He has written articles accusing the U.S. of plotting to conquer the world with Britain and Israel, and suggesting Osama bin Laden is a CIA asset.
A forthcoming book entitled America's "War on Terrorism" In the Wake of 9/11 is described on as an expose that "blows away the smokescreen, put up by the mainstream media, that 9/11 was an 'intelligence failure.' "
But even sympathetic colleagues familiar with his work admit they are uncomfortable with many of his ideas.
"Among people who work on terrorism, there certainly is not much that resembles his work," said Michael Dartnell, a political scientist at York University. "The thing that disturbs me about what he's doing is there is a conspiratorial element to it. And I can't prove or disprove it."
Nonetheless, added Mr. Dartnell, Mr. Chossudovsky's ideas reflect a public sentiment that is suspicious of the motives of government.
"He wants, probably for very sincere reasons, to formulate a substantive critique of what the U.S. government is doing. I'm just not really clear that he's successful in doing that."
© The Ottawa Citizen 2005

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Newsweek's CW: Bush has gone overboard on 9/11

AMERICAblog: Because a great nation deserves the truth

Bozell and Limbaugh lie about Olbermann/World's Worst II

Crooks and Liars

not far from home

not far from home
Originally uploaded by Cilest.
Austria, near Vienna.
best viewed large


Originally uploaded by P├ęterT.

weather project

weather project
Originally uploaded by trashbat.
This is an edit of this untouched original:

For those that don't know, this was an art installation at Tate Modern, in London. In this photo I've made the people the main subject (which I think was kind of the artist's intention), rather than the centre piece, whick was a large 'half sun' at the end of the hall. The ceiling was mirrored which is why people are lying on the floor looking up. The air was mist-filled and the light really was that colour!

Feather Bloom, Past Tense

Feather Bloom, Past Tense
Originally uploaded by cobalt123.
A delicate pigeon feather caught in the tip of a weed gone to seed.

Added to Cream of the Crop as my favorite photo. And I've got to pass along this member photo from "small", fun fun fun!

Iraq Sunnis Urge U.S., U.N. to Block Draft - Yahoo! News

Iraq Sunnis Urge U.S., U.N. to Block Draft - Yahoo! News

News Hounds: Fox News Watch: A Fox Watching the Hen House

News Hounds: Fox News Watch: A Fox Watching the Hen House