Fast Food Explanation

by Henry Farrell on August 25, 2003

I wasted part of my holiday reading one of the more dreadful books I’ve come across recently, Catherine Salmon and Donald Symon’s _Warrior Lovers: Erotic Fiction, Evolution, and Female Sexuality_ (published in Weidenfeld and Nicholson’s “Darwinism Today” series). It’s a grandiose title for a rather slim volume, which purports to apply Darwinian theory to the understanding of ‘slash fiction,’ fan-written stories in which various characters from popular fiction have passionate sex and declare their undying love for each other (Kirk and Spock are favourites, and have their own subgenre). Not that fan fiction mightn’t be an interesting subject of study, but you won’t find many insights in Salmon and Symon’s mercifully short monograph.

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Rorty Sporty

by Tom on August 25, 2003

If you’ve ever put in hard time trying to make sense of the writings of Richard Rorty, you’ll probably get some harmless giggles out of this deliciously silly poem that Norman Geras has managed to acquire, Bob Woodward-style, from a poet who wishes to remain anonymous. Here’s a taste:

Richie Rorty, Richie Rorty,
Naught he hadn’t read, it seems.
Heidegger and Nietzsche brought he,
Both, to feature in his schemes,

Next to others not so warty:
Caught he Dickens, Proust and Yeats,
Kundera and Orwell. Sought he
To cavort with them as mates.

Since I’m at it, I recall that the Philosophical Lexicon provided us with this useful definition:

a rortiori, adj. For even more obscure and fashionable Continental reasons.

Decline and fall

by Henry Farrell on August 25, 2003

Via “David Langford”:, a comprehensive and rather wonderful accounting of the various reasons advanced for the collapse of the Roman Empire.

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Flight risks

by Henry Farrell on August 25, 2003

I’ve just returned to the US after a long holiday in Ireland, and had an interesting, if unpleasant, experience on my way back. When I tried to check in to my American Airlines flight at Heathrow, the ticket agent, and then her supervisor, refused to give me a ticket. US immigration authorities require that all non-visa travellers to the US have a return or onwards flight to be allowed to enter the country. I had an onward flight to Toronto, where I teach and work, but for some reason, the American Airlines people wouldn’t accept it. At first, they claimed that I needed to have a return flight to London, and London alone to satisfy US immigration requirements. Then they changed their story, and claimed that because I was going to be returning to the US later (my onward flight was a return from Washington DC to Toronto), US immigration authorities wouldn’t accept it. I strongly suspect that the real reason was that I had an electronic ticket, and they weren’t very familiar or comfortable with them. Certainly, when I went through US immigration, the official had no problems whatsoever in letting me through.

So far perhaps, unsurprising – another instance of heightened security measures, twitchy airline employees etc. The interesting bit is what comes next. The American Airlines supervisor tells me that each time someone gets sent back by US immigration officials, American Airlines has to pay a $3000 fine. However, they’ll let me get on the plane on one condition – I have to buy a fully refundable one-way ticket back to London. This is to satisfy US immigration authorities that I have a return flight so that they don’t fine the airline – but as soon as I pass through immigration, I can go to an American Airlines desk, and get the ticket torn up and refunded. In other words, the airline was abiding by the letter of US immigrations regulations as it understood them, but flouting these regulations’ intention – and requiring me passively to cooperate with what it was doing if I wanted to board the flight. The airline supervisor gave me to understand that this was their standard practice.

This policy is obviously very problematic for travellers – I’d have been stuck in London if I hadn’t had a credit card with enough of a limit to pay for this temporary ticket. I was able to buy it in good conscience because it was clear that the airline was wrong in its interpretation of US immigration requirements – my original onward flight to Toronto would have sufficed perfectly well for US immigration authorities, so that I wasn’t seeking to evade the law in doing what American Airlines told me to do. But the airline’s policy says something more profound about current US aviation security policy. In part thanks to the unwillingness of the US administration to expand federal government employment, US authorities are relying more and more on airlines and other private actors to act as gatekeepers for them, threatening whopping fines if the airlines don’t cooperate. But sanction-and-control only goes so far because airlines, like other business actors, are motivated by the bottom line. Thus, in many situations they’re going to comply with the formalities of the regulations, so as to minimize their legal exposure, but look for ways to circumvent the intentions of the rule, so as not to turn paying customers away. I suspect that this isn’t only true of airlines – I’d be interested to know more, say, about banks’ compliance with Treasury rules on money flows, where I imagine that there might well be similar legalistic dodges and evasions.

How the news is made

by Chris Bertram on August 25, 2003

I guess at some level we all recognise the syndrome, but Ian Jack’s account of how the news get manufactured (especially by the Sunday papers) is well worth a look. Jack is the former editor of the Independent on Sunday, so knows whereof he speaks:

bq. The political editor is furiously sucking a paper clip. “Well, we could do a little ring-a-round of back-benchers who might not support the new Europe bill.” “And you could talk to that madman X [an alienated cabinet minister]”, says the deputy editor. “He’s bound to say something original.” And so the great hole – the lead story hole – on the front page is filled. The deputy editor, an excellent re-writer, “hardens up” a few of the political editor’s softer and more equivocal sentences. Headline type which really should be held in reserve for something significant, such as the sinking of the Titanic, reads: MAJOR IN NEW BATTLE OVER [something or other]. The first paragraph begins “A beleaguered John Major is this weekend facing one of the gravest crises of his political career.” The political editor looks wryly at the page proof and says, “That’s what you call a scoop of interpretation” The deputy and I (who, unlike the political editor, never need meet politicians) defend the choice of words: “one of” not “the gravest”, so that’s OK, and some clever use of the passive and conditional tenses further down, “It is believed” rather than “One embittered madman who wishes to remain anonymous thinks”, “may” rather than “will”, and so on.

Of course, Jack’s experience of all this is pre-blogosphere. In these newly enlightened times, if the story concerned some appropriate subject it would be referred to by Glenn Reynolds as evidence of something (European anti-semitism; French perfidy….) and then spun into a whole geopolitical theory by Steven Den Beste. And who is to say that “Secret EU plan to slaughter firstborn” wouldn’t get picked up by Samizdata!(Story first linked by Slugger O’ Toole).


by Kieran Healy on August 25, 2003

At the risk of sounding like Eugene Volokh, and inspired by a post from John Quiggin, I can think of three bands who take their names from William Burroughs’ writings. Name them and be entered in a prize drawing for the paperback edition of The Best of Crooked Timber, vol 2.

Take the Money! Open the Box!

by Kieran Healy on August 25, 2003

Brad DeLong wonders why Dan Weintraub seems least inclined to support the candidate for Governeror of California about whom most is known. On Dan’s own admission, McClintock and Simon are liars, Schwarzenneger is an unknown quantity and Bustamente has a known program that at least holds together. And yet Dan leans towards McClintock (whom he knows is lying) or Arnie (about whom he knows nothing). Brad says:

bq. A normal person, if offered a choice between candidates (McClintock, Simon) who are lying to you, a candidate (Schwarzenegger) who refuses to say what he would do both because he has no clue and because he thinks “people do not care about the numbers and figures,” and a reasonably-smart guy who understands what the tradeoffs are and has a set of ideas about what to do with them–as I said, a normal guy would choose the clued-in candidate who is not lying to him.

bq. But, as I said, Dan Weintraub is strange. The clued-in candidate who is not telling lies is to be avoided at all costs … Anyone have any idea why Dan Weintraub is such a strange guy?

Well, no. But there’s a neat experiment by Eldar Shafir that I want to tell you about, which may possibly be relevant.

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