From the monthly archives:

September 2003

Two more points

by Ted on September 30, 2003

Two quick hits:

1. Greg Greene makes a strong argument that the independent counsel statute was a bad law, and we shouldn’t be pining for it. I’m pretty sure that I agree; the general de-armament of US politics is good for all sides in the long term, and the independent counsel sure looked like bad government a few short years ago.

2. Tim Dunlop helps clear up the confusing question, “who thought (Wilson) could be trusted with the Niger mission to begin with.” (Answer: the office of the Vice President).

I’m starting to get very angry about attacks on Joseph Wilson. Even if he’s wrong about everything, it doesn’t justify going after his wife, and it certainly isn’t relevant to the criminal inquiry about the release of classified information.

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Could we ever be Time Lords?

by Brian on September 30, 2003

is the title of a not bad article in The Age today on time travel. They give too much credence to branching universe hypotheses for my tastes, but there’s some fun quotes from some leading thinkers, and a relatively straightforward description of Paul Davies’s time machine plan.

Adventures in set theory

by Daniel on September 30, 2003

Related to Ted’s point below, could I just clarify that there are only two ways in which it can be true that X is “not a covert CIA operative”.

1) X is not a CIA operative
2) X is a CIA operative who is not covert

If you are making the claim “X is not a covert CIA operative”, then it may be helpful to your audience if you explain which of the two claims above you are making. I can draw a Venn diagram if it makes things clearer.

Piece of cake

by Ted on September 30, 2003

If I were to say:

Nobody at Domino’s called me to sell me Cinnamon Sticks. In July I was speaking to a Domino’s employee about a large pizza when he told me that I could get free Cinnamon Sticks with my order. Another Domino’s employee told me the same thing.

then no one in their right minds would try to summarize me by saying:

Ted Barlow says the Cinnamon Sticks didn’t come from Domino’s.

Right?

A plea for higher standards in the blogosphere

by Chris Bertram on September 30, 2003

“Glenn Reynolds deplores”:http://www.instapundit.com/archives/011754.php :

bq. the excessive gleefulness and point-scoring of the anti-Bush bloggers in general on this topic, [which] only serves to make this matter look more political, and less serious, than it perhaps is.

I’d just like to endorse that sentiment, and look forward to the bright future of Instapundit, freed from all that excessive gleefulness and point-scoring on serious matters.

Bundling e-journals

by Chris Bertram on September 30, 2003

There’s “an interesting communication on Brian Leiter’s site about the price of the notoriously expensive philosophy journal Synthese”:http://webapp.utexas.edu/blogs/archives/bleiter/000311.html#000311 . The incapacity of academics for any kind of concerted collective action has long been demonstrated by the failure of university libraries to organized a boycott of Kluwer (publishers of Synthese and a number of other overpriced journals). [Update: See also “Brian Weatherson’s site”:http://www.brown.edu/Departments/Philosophy/tar/Archives/002184.html and Leiter’s comment there.] But I wanted to comment on this paragraph in order to report something I heard in Belgium last year:

bq. With respect to the institutional pricing, things aren’t quite as simple or as bad as the raw number implies. The way things stand now, the number of paper subscriptions from institutions is slowly decreasing. However, the number of libraries buying electronic subscriptions to a bundle of journals (including Synthese) now outnumbers those subscribing to the paper copy. As libraries stop renewing their paper copy, they have tended to shift to the online version as part of an arrangement where they subscribe to all or a selection of the Kluwer journals. Consequently, the price that libraries pay for the e-version of Synthese is considerably less than €/$1652. I can’t give you a precise figure because the price varies depending on the arrangement that libraries or consortia of libraries make with Kluwer. Chances are, if your library now carries the print version of Synthese, they will soon within the next few years and will adopt it in electronic form as part of an electronic bundle of journals instead.

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Two quick takes

by Ted on September 30, 2003

1. Andrew Northrup is a phat, phat young man. (That’s what you kids say, right? Phat?)

2. Every day, Jim Henley wins my heart anew.

Come to think of it, a fun Washington fact I learned years ago from my buddy Toiler, who really is an analyst for the CIA. If someone asks him where he works, he has to tell them he works for the CIA. He is not to lie or dodge the question. Why? So he won’t ruin it for the people that do have to lie or dodge the question.

This is about the millionth reason to believe that Valerie Plame really was employed in the Agency’s clandestine services division: in all the times that Wilson, who surely knows the rules, and spokesmen for the White House and CIA have been asked about Plame’s employment, they have not said, “She’s an analyst.” But if she were indeed an analyst, that’s what they would say. So, can we please retire the Administration apologist defense “we don’t know whether Plame was really a ‘covert’ employee or not”?

He’s got a bunch of good posts; just keep scrolling. I’m especially partial to this one.

If I ever turn libertarian, I’m buying him a pizza. Arthur Silbur, too.

Astroturf

by Henry on September 30, 2003

Via “BoingBoing”:http://boingboing.net/2003_09_01_archive.html#106487652773758854, an interesting story about the new Transport and Security Administration (TSA). CAPPS II program, which aims to hoover up personal data from all airline passengers. The TSA has appointed a certain David S. Stempler, head of the “Air Travelers Association,”:http://www.1800airsafe.com/ as passenger advocate in the CAPPS II process. The trouble is that there’s no evidence that the “Air Travelers Association” consists of more than a fancy website, a customer loyalty program, a couple of flacks, and a bunch of letterheaded stationary. Moreover, there’s strong circumstantial evidence “to suggest”:http://www.dontspyon.us/stempler.html that the “Air Travelers’ Association” has close and intimate connections with Cendant Corporation, a data processing company that stands to make a lot of money if CAPPS II is implemented. In other words, it looks as though the “passenger advocate” may well be a corporate shill.

This is a perennial problem for interest group politics in the US. It’s very hard to tell “real” grassroots organizations from fake ones; private interests often set up astroturf associations to peddle a particular line and pretend that it’s emanating from a real constituency. Even when the US government wants to know who’s for real and who’s not (doubtful in the present instance), it’s hard put to distinguish the genuine from the ersatz. Many European countries do things differently; they give quasi-official status, and a privileged voice, to interest associations that they consider to be “genuine.” This has its own problems – it often gives rise to worryingly comfortable relations between governments and consumer watchdogs. But it’s still an improvement on the US approach.

Recently, however, US consumer groups have begun to organize – thanks to the EU. The EU and US set up a cross-Atlantic organization called the “Trans-Atlantic Business Dialogue”:http://www.tabd.org a few years back, to push the common interests of EU and US business. The Europeans insisted that there be a similar organization for consumer associations too, the “Trans-Atlantic Consumer Dialogue”:http://www.tacd.org, or TACD. Since its inception, TACD has not only represented EU-US consumer interests, but has served as an umbrella group to organize US consumer groups into a quasi-official lobby. Amazingly, nothing of the sort existed before (many US consumer associations had fallen out over NAFTA, and weren’t talking to each other). TACD also serves as a sort of vetting procedure for genuine consumer associations – if you’re a member of TACD, you’re undoubtedly the real thing. That said, it’s not surprising that the TSA didn’t invite a “real” consumer organization to provide an advocate. If you want to provide the appearance of consultation, but not the reality, astroturf groups have their advantages.

More on teaching and blogs

by Eszter Hargittai on September 30, 2003

A couple of weeks ago Henry posted an entry about blogs and teaching, or perhaps more broadly about the (potential) role of blogs in academia.

In the meantime, I’ve been having discussions with people at Northwestern’s Academic Technologies about the use of blogs here on campus. During these discussions, an interesting point came up that has some implications for the use of blogs in teaching. Apparently, it is illegal for a university to disclose information about who is enrolled in a course. When I asked for the legal basis of this, I was pointed to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. Reading that document, I can’t say this becomes obvious. But if it is the case then it has implications for requiring students to participate in world-accessible blogs. If we require students to maintain a blog or post to a central blog then we are making their course enrollment public.

In light of this policy, it seems blogs that require students to post in the context of a course cannot be public. And if teaching blogs cannot be public then I think they lose much of what makes them more interesting than a discussion thread for the purposes of teaching. As someone noted, it is exciting and educational for students to learn that some of the authors they discuss are real-live people out there who may stumble upon their comments. Students may then take the material more seriously and pay more attention to how they comment about issues. However, if a blog cannot be public then this won’t happen. So at that point, what distinguishes a blog from the combination of a message thread and a course Web page?

Undeniable

by Ted on September 29, 2003

I’ve read the transcripts of today’s press conferences (this one and this one), and it seems clear to me that Scott McClellan chose his words very carefully to avoid saying that Rove told him that he’s not the source of the leak. This certainly doesn’t prove that Rove is one of the leakers, but it’s pretty conspicuously not a denial.

Some people would consider this a long, nitpicking post. (Heck, I consider it a long, nitpicking post, but I don’t know another way to write it.) If you’re one of those people, and you know who you are, don’t continue reading.

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Ethics Blogs

by Brian on September 29, 2003

Jonathan Ichikawa, who has a shiny new blog, asked me an interesting question the other day. Why are there so few ethics blogs? One simple answer would be that there are lots of ethics blogs, they are just spread around between political theory and legal theory and other areas of normative philosophy. Sad to say, these bloggers seem to be just as interested in day-to-day affairs as in high points of theory. Where’s the fun in that? (Not that they don’t write excellent posts when they do turn their attention to more theoretical matters. If only the world was less pressing.) So if any aspiring (or established) ethicist wants to start up a blog on the finer points of Korsgaard’s or Blackburn’s or Smith’s views, there’s probably a market niche waiting to be filled.

By the way, it’s a sad day when the graduate students start seeming to be appallingly young. Sad day indeed.

D- D- D- Defense

by Ted on September 29, 2003

Brad DeLong has a good post asking, “Where are the grown-ups in the Republican party?”

Hanyes Johnson and David Broder wrote a book called The System about the rise and fall of Clinton’s health care plan. (Incidentally, DeLong reviews the book here.) One of the most interesting threads is about the struggle between “Bob Dole Republicans” and “Newt Gingrich Republicans” for the soul of the party. Sheila Burke was one of Bob Dole’s advisors who found herself at the pointy end of the Gingrich Republicans:

By June, Sheila Burke found herself experiencing abuse of a kind she had never known before, all as a consequence of “the Right being ginned up.” The True Believer mentality was at work, she thought. “They support nobody who doesn’t totally agree with them,” Burke said then. “It’s not about governing, which is what we do.” She paused, and repeated for emphasis, “It’s not about governing. That’s not how they think.”

The System, page 385.

I’ve been thinking a lot about that quote this weekend as the Plame/ Wilson story developed.

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Demographics

by Chris Bertram on September 29, 2003

One of the claims that features in the “Legrain piece I mention below”:https://www.crookedtimber.org/archives/000586.html is that US-European comparative growth rates give a misleading picture of the relative health of the two economic zones because US population is growing fast (more mouths to feed from that greater output) whereas European population is static. Of course the low population growth in Europe can be looked at the other way: as evidence of Eurosclerosis and the harbinger of a massive pensions-and-health crisis. Now I’ve always been a bit puzzled by the differential demographics. After all, the career pressures are perhaps greater in the US, there’s probably less in the way of subsidized childcare, and access to birth control is similar in both areas. So having children is pretty much elective in both zones and the individual cost-benefit calcultation is probably more favourable to having children in Europe than the US. So I’d predict, if I were just coming at things _a priori_ , a lower birthrate in America than in Europe.

Obviously that’s not what’s happening. So why not? And who is having the kids? After all, the dynamic America/sclerotic Europe claims are usually made by looking at the aggregate statistics. But if middle-class, educated Europeans and middle-class, educated Americans are behaving similarly to one another, but the “excess” children in the US are all being born to impoverished single parents in trailer parks, the aggregate figures may be less favourable to the US. So how do the figures actually break down, by income group, immigrant/non-immigrant, and so on? I’ve no idea what the answer is, and my googling skills haven’t helped here: but maybe someone else does.

Religion Politics and Universities

by Brian on September 29, 2003

Matt Yglesias linked to this very interesting exit poll from the last Presidential election. Like Matt, I thought some of the voting breakdowns are striking. I knew Jewish voters tended Democratic, but I had no idea it was 79-18. I wasn’t as shocked to see that voters with no religion favoured Gore 61-28, with another 9% for Nader, but that’s still a noticable gap.

Do these results have anything to do with the ‘liberalism‘ (meaning, in this context, disposition to not vote Republican) of American academia? Perhaps. At a guess, I would say that atheists, agnostics and Jews are pretty well represented in the academy, and Protestants are not as well represented, at least relative to their size in the broader community. As noted the well represented groups tend much more Democratic (and even Green) than the under represented groups.

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Even Further Down Under

by Kieran Healy on September 29, 2003

In case anyone’s wondering why I haven’t been posting, it’s because I’m off in the Southern Alps of New Zealand’s spectacular South Island. I feel the blogosphere will survive without me for a week.