Fortune Cookie

by Micah on September 12, 2003

I got one tonight that read: “Be careful! Straight trees often have crooked roots.” Not exactly what Kant had in mind. But I’m keeping an eye my fellow CT’ers . . .

So who are the people in your neighborhood?

by Henry Farrell on September 12, 2003

Via “Laura”: at _Apartment 11D_ comes this fascinating “website”: Enter your zipcode, and you can find out which cheesy and facile marketing categories inhabit your neighborhood. Are you going through difficult times along with other Hard Years Sustaining Families, or hanging out with hip and happening Successful Singles? Details also provided on the likely purchasing habits of your neighbours (‘Struggling Metro Mixes’ are likely to buy jewelry, and own more than four televisions). You could waste hours if you’re not careful.

Neal Stephenson and his uncle had a lot of fun with these kinds of marketing labels in their pseudonymously written _Interface_ (purportedly written by ‘Stephen Bury’). Among the subcategories that Interface‘s crazed political-demographic operatives identify in their efforts to manipulate the American voting public are:

* Mid-American Knick-Knack Queens
* Post-Confederate Gravy Eaters
* Frosty-Haired Coupon Snippers
* Mall-Hopping Corporate Concubines
* Debt-Hounded Wage Slaves
* Trade School Metal Heads
* Depression-Haunted Can Stackers

By their labels shall ye know them.

How true that is

by Ted on September 12, 2003

One of the most common complaints about blogs is that we’re essentially parasites; without the mainstream media, we’d be talking about our pets. I generally agree.

But every once in a while, bloggers get to a story first. Just yesterday, for example, Andrew Sullivan revealed the surprising news that Howard Dean, presidential candidate and governor of Vermont, is fluent in Haitian creole.

To be fair, I’m reading between the lines a little. I have to assume that Howard Dean speaks Haitian creole. Because if he doesn’t, Andrew’s criticism of a song in Creole doesn’t make the slightest bit of sense. (I notice that respected economics professor Tyler Cowen loves Don Giovanni. To the Babelfish! Get ‘im!)

Jeez. Sullivan is not a stupid man, and I feel certain that he didn’t go to the Kennedy School of Government with the dream of dumbing down political discourse. And yet, here we are. As a wise man once said, “What a waste it is to lose one’s mind.”

Jack O’Toole has more.

UPDATE: Another scoop! The Bush administration and congressional investigators say that they don’t have sufficient evidence to connect Saddam Hussein to the 9/11 attacks, but Andrew has found the proof.

(That’s enough Andrew – Ed)

Yes, Prime Minister

by Kieran Healy on September 12, 2003

I’ve just discovered that complete versions of both Yes, Minister and Yes, Prime Minister are available on DVD. On to the wish list they go. And I recommend you follow those links and buy them yourself, too.

Question for discussion: Compare and contrast the political culture that gave us this series to the one that produced The West Wing.

The Yes Minister website throws up a classic dialog from the show on the value of opinion polls. Read on for details.

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Anna Lindh

by Maria on September 12, 2003

A few years ago, two friends of mine were walking with a Danish friend through Copenhagen one evening. As they passed the parliament building, a vaguely familiar man walked out. Their Danish friend smiled and said ‘good night’. The man responded in kind, and headed for a bus stop. It was Nyrup Rasmussen, the prime minister of the day.

The queen of Denmark is regularly to be seen walking alone through the main shopping thoroughfare of Copenhagen. Sweden is similar. In the country that gave the world Ombudsmen, part of government openness means that senior politicians walk openly and freely amongst the public, and generally disdain body guards.

Another anecdote; a journalist friend described interviewing Chris Patten when Patten was with the Northern Ireland office during the 1980s. The conversation continued as Patten walked to his car, got down on his knees and thoroughly examined the underneath, before standing up again and opening the car-door. All the time speaking as if nothing out of the ordinary was happening. Imagine incorporating that kind of personal risk (and risk to your family) into your daily routine.

Anna Lindh, Sweden’s rising political star, did not survive the multiple stab wounds she received while out shopping with a friend on Wednesday afternoon. As she was someone who championed openness in government, it will be a terrible shame if her legacy must be a distancing of Swedish politicians from the people they represent.

Open Democracy has an essay from a political commentator and long time friend of Lindh. The Economist considers how her death will affect the euro referendum in Sweden.

Old and alone

by Maria on September 12, 2003

Last Sunday, the Archbishop of Paris sent a letter to be read out in every parish Mass. It remembered the thousands of people who died in last month’s heatwave, reminded us of our obligations to the weak and the marginalised in our society, and asked us to pray for the souls of the dead. It added pathos to the now difficult to grasp number of dead; 15,000. The unclaimed dead were buried by the state in simple but respectful civil ceremonies. But many Catholics (and presumably those of other religions too) who had been regular churchgoers were buried without religious rites because their bodies had not been claimed in time. Parish priests who knew their parishioners well did not have the right to insist on Christian burials. This is probably as it should be. But somehow, the idea of people dying at home, alone (as most of the dead in Paris did) without the last rites, and not being received into the arms of their churches on death, made it all seem even sadder.

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Can’t truss it

by Ted on September 12, 2003

It’s long been one of my theories that the user ratings on Amazon are useless as guides to my reading habits. It seems like virtually every non-political book that I look up has a rating between 4 and 5 (out of 5). It’s not hard to understand how this would happen; I expect that most people don’t take the time to read and review a book unless they enjoy it. Self-selection would weed out the most negative reviewers before they pick up a book. (I probably wouldn’t enjoy Those Who Trespass, but I’ll never know because I’m not going to read it.) Furthermore, people who love a book are probably more likely to choose to review it than people who were indifferent.

I’ve taken a completely unscientific look at Amazon ratings. I looked at six categories: General nonfiction, general fiction, history, politics, classics, and “bad” books (evil, discredited, or worthless books, not trashy fiction). Most of the books in general nonfiction, general fiction, history and classics are books that I’ve read. (I’m interested in whether Amazon ratings are useful for me, you see.) I’ve read a few of the politics books, and none of the “bad” books. (A list of books and their ratings are here.) I know that this isn’t a randomized sample and that it’s biased around my tastes. I have no intention of defending this study’s methodology, except to say that I didn’t pick books in an effort to get results I wanted. It’s just for fun.

Here’s what I found:

Category Average rating % of books rated 4-5 out of 5
General nonfiction 4.5 95%
General fiction 4.2 94%
History 4.1 85%
Politics 3.6 35%
Classics 4.3 100%
Bad books 3.8 57%

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