From the monthly archives:

November 2003

Modern Greats

by Henry Farrell on November 24, 2003

There was an interesting “imbroglio”: at the National Book Awards ceremony on Wednesday. Stephen King, who had just won an award, made a speech telling the gathered dignitaries of the literary world that they should be reading more popular bestsellers. Another award winner, Shirley Hazzard, politely but firmly dissented from the idea that people should pay any attention to “a reading list of those who are most read at this moment.” According to Terry Teachout, “who was there”:, you could tell that Hazzard “was torn between her obligation to be tactful and her desire to tear a piece off King.”

Update: more on this from “Terry Teachout”:, “Ophelia Benson”: and “Sarah Weinman”: Teachout also has a nice “piece”:, which I hadn’t spotted before, about the merits of one genre series, Donald Westlake’s Parker novels (written under the pseudonym of Richard Stark). It’s a series for which I’ve a “weakness”: myself.

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Cloning (3)

by Brian on November 23, 2003

One of the neat things about the cloning debate is that it’s one of very few places where you’ll hear Christian conservatives saying that sex is good. Normally one hears that sex is at best a mortal sin and at worst the cause of all that’s wrong with modern society. But give us a chance to make babies any other way, and all of a sudden it’s sweetness and light. I mean, which of the following two kinds of activities looks to you like a ‘repugnant’ way to originate life?

  1. The kind of activity that goes on in nightclub bathrooms and on the sets of porn movies and between teenagers in the backseats of their parents’ cars.
  2. The kind of activity that goes on when people who have dedicated their lives to understanding a particular natural mystery try to carefully apply their knowledge in order to improve the lot of their fellow humans.

If you picked option 2, then you too can be Leon Kass’s friend. More seriously, I wonder how much my own support for cloning comes from somewhat different feelings of repugnance to Kass’s.

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Dr Who 40 Today

by Harry on November 23, 2003

The first episode of Dr. Who was broadcast 40 years ago today. Some of you will know that the BBC is planning to bring the series back, after a long hiatus, though the title role has not yet been cast. Sylvester Stallone perhaps? Anyway, congratulations to the Doctor on his birthday, and thanks to the BBC for bringing him, or her, back. (See also cartoon version, watchable if you have broadband, on BBCi here).

Celebrity Tat

by Kieran Healy on November 23, 2003

I am wondering what sort of person shows up for a Michael Jackson vigil. It seems like the turnout was a little … underwhelming. About the numbers some people had been hoping the London protests would draw. Meanwhile, the celebrity lawyers are on the case. Those guys will need a new angle seeing as the Chewbacca Defense is now a standard Republican talking point.

Swing low sweet chariot

by Chris Bertram on November 22, 2003

A great game — including a great try to boring boring England — and the right result . Commiserations to Brian (England had to beat Australia at something, one day).

In Black and White and Red

by Kieran Healy on November 22, 2003

What must it be like to see the world from inside David Bernstein’s head?

QUOTE OF THE DAY: A London attorney:”You will never change the hearts and minds of terrorists by bombing them.”

That’s OK, I’ll settle for their death. I don’t think we changed the hearts and minds of too many Nazis during World War II, either.

It must be like living in a Mondrian painting. Seeing as Godwin’s law has already been violated here, let me just point, first, to the famously demoralizing effects of the Blitz on Londoners; and, second, to the fact that the likes of Al Qaeda would happily settle for our deaths, too. The gut reaction of that London attorney is, frankly, the reason we’re the good guys. Anyway, Matt explains, in a form adapted to the meanest capacity, the real-world difficulties of killing all the terrorists without (a) killing other people as you go or (b) creating more terrorists.

Bleating nonsense

by Henry Farrell on November 21, 2003

I was going to blog on James Lilek’s “disgusting response”: to Salam Pax. But Dan Drezner has “beaten me to it”:

Aussie Aussie Aussie

by Brian on November 21, 2003

Americans, like everyone else, like to play up sporting rivalries. And tomorrow sees the latest installment of one of the big ones by their parochial standards: Ohio State v Michigan. It’s a bit overshadowed though by the greatest rivalry in world sports: Australia v England. Since this time it’s for the Webb Ellis Trophy, it is a pretty important game in the rivalry too. A bit more important than, say, our guy beating their guy at darts. In recent years, Australia has outgunned the English in just about everything, but I fear that doesn’t provide much ground for confidence about tomorrow’s game. I’m pretty confident that Australia will score more tries than the English, and the English will score more field goals than we do. If this was an Australian Rules grand final Jonny Wilkinson would be flattened within the first five minutes. Twice. And that’s assuming he got through the warmups unscathed. Fortunately the game they play in heaven is a little more civilised, even if English tactics are about as much in keeping with the spirit of the game as Bodyline. I’m so excited about it I can hardly sleep, which is a good thing since the only way I’ll make a 4am start time is if I’m still awake.

Gratuitous Links

by Brian on November 21, 2003

David Beaver on Gricean maxims of blogging: “Occasionally say what you are certain is true. It adds credibility.” Funniest blog post I’ve read in months.

Geoff Pullum on corpus fetishism in reviews of the Cambridge Grammar of the English Language: “A couple of the reviews published in Britain have been so stupid that the only thing a fair-minded man like me can wish upon the reviewers is that they should die in obscurity.” I love the smell of blog wars in the morning.

Geoff Nunberg on Bush in Britain: “But it’s certainly convenient that Bush fits the negative stereotype of Americans so neatly — he’s a self-made straw man.” If I’m a good blogger one day I’ll be able to write phrases like that.

John Holbo on The Issue Regarding TCS and Confessions of a Former Protein Sheath. As they say in the classics, read the whole things.

Yesterday’s bombings

by Chris Bertram on November 21, 2003

Assuming that Al Quaida or one of their sub-franchises were behind the recent bombings in Turkey, I’m amazed at some of the writing on the subject in today’s Guardian: especially the leader and Polly Toynbee.

“The leader”:,12700,1090102,00.html :

bq. The use of force in Iraq, now enshrined as a governing principle by Mr Bush, invited a highly aggressive response. That response is in progress. The whirlwind is being reaped.

“Toynbee”:,3604,1089947,00.html :

bq. These bombs made yesterday one of the darkest days of Tony Blair’s prime ministership. As if that horror were not enough, too many other disparate pigeons came fluttering home to roost at once. Whichever way he turned, things looked black. They were no mere accidents, for everything that happened came as a direct result of his own decisions, all of them taken against the better instincts of most of his party.

The “war or terror” may have been prosecuted in a stupid way. The Iraq war — nothing to do with the war on terror — may have stoked up Arab resentment against the West. These are reasonable subjects for serious argument. But these writers help themselves quickly, easily and cheaply to the claim that the bombings are a direct consequence of US and British policy since September 11th. To which there are two obvious ripostes. First (an argument too often deployed for rhetorical effect but, I think, applicable here) the bombers set out to do what they did deliberately and intentionally and were not forced to kill and maim many innocent people by Bush or Blair. Second, Al Quaida’s bombing campaign long pre-dates the current US and British governments — remember those East African embassies — and would plausibly have continued with or without the “war on terror” and the invasion of Iraq.

Those demonstrations

by Chris Bertram on November 21, 2003

The widespread hostilty to Bush and Blair over the war and the run-up to it is well reflected in the numbers attending the demonstrations in London and elsewhere yesterday. Many people here are still very angry that they were lied to (as they see it) about WMDs and the “threat” from Iraq. At the same time, liberal hawks are asking rhetorically why there were no demonstrations against Saddam Hussein, or against other tyrannies.

(I think that last question is pretty easy to answer: people usually demonstrate because they are angry at their own government (or its associates) rather than at someone else’s. Even anger at yesterday’s bombings in Turkey wouldn’t translate into demonstrations because there would be no point in marching against Al Quaida.)

But even walking a few streets around my home and looking at the posters urging people to demonstrate, I’m quickly reminded why I would not. “Bush” is represented on many of them with a swastika in places of the “S” — an absurd implied equivalence anyway, and a grotesque one a few days after the synagogue bombings in Istanbul. The stunt with the statue also suggest the triumph of theatre over political and moral judgement. And then there’s the fact that the Stop the War Coalition calls for an immediate end to the occupation of Iraq and that some of its components even support what they call the “resistance”. Since the imperative now is to stop Britain and the US from “cutting and running” and to insist that they ensure a transition to stable and constitutional Iraqi self-goverment (and put the infrastructure back together again) what the demostrators largely want is the opposite of what ought to be done.

Testimony and Advertising

by Brian on November 20, 2003

The response from various right-wing circles about the TCS brouhaha is either charmingly antique or extraordinarily naive. The position seems to be that we should ignore who’s paying the piper and just listen to the tune to see whether we like it. Arguments, they say, can be evaluated independently of the context they appear in. But this relies on views about the nature of testimony that don’t stand up to empirical or philosophical scrutiny. As Grice put it, communication requires cooperation, and since advertising masquerading as honest opinion is not particularly cooperative, it is unlikely to be communicative, but without successful communication there simply isn’t a presented argument to evaluate.

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Keeping Us Updated

by Kieran Healy on November 20, 2003

I wonder if we’ll hear again from that friend of Eugene Volokh and Kathryn Lopez that, well, maybe a few protestors turned out after all. Perhaps he or she will follow the lead of Iain Murray’s friend who has sensibly stayed some distance away from the protests so that he can truthfully say “it’s quiet around here again.” Meanwhile Iain’s wife suggests the protestors are inconsistent: “Were there protests like this during the height of the IRA terrorist attacks in London against the British government’s military intervention in Northern Ireland? … [I]f you’re going to protest a nation or group of nation’s ‘aggressive behavior’ towards a country or region that appears to support terrorism, shouldn’t you protest all such ‘aggressive behavior’?” I don’t know whether she’s aware of what originally provoked British military intervention in the North (it wasn’t because the IRA had bombed London). But I’ll have to leave it to others to explain the difference between (a) Efforts to capture or control terrorists living in your own country who bomb your citizens, and phone you up to say so, and (b) Invading a country which, though run by a universally reviled evil dictator, does not pose any credible threat to your nation or have any known links to the terrorists who attacked you.

Living in China

by Chris Bertram on November 20, 2003

A former student, himself living and working in China, emails to tell me about what looks like an interesting co-operative blog project: “Living in China”: — definitely worth a look.


by Chris Bertram on November 20, 2003

Terrible, “terrible news”: from Turkey (for the second time in a few days).