From the monthly archives:

December 2003

CT, Left exposed again

by Kieran Healy on December 31, 2003

Here in Australia it has been 2004 for some time. My advice from the future is, buy IBM. Reading around this morning I see Glenn Reynolds going out on a high, high note for 2003, reminding us all why he dropped his tagline “The New York Times of bloggers” in favor of “If you’ve got a modem, I’m shouting in your ear!” Meanwhile Tacitus closes 2003 with a variant on one of the most popular themes of the year, viz, “I’ve noticed a disturbing tendency on the American left…” Yeah, me too. It barely exists. I hope you won’t stop reading Crooked Timber now that Tacitus has shown that “the American left” relies wholly on “murderous racism based on junk economic theory.” Another of our sins is noted by Steven Den Beste, who observes that we at CT think “white men don’t actually matter.” In case you haven’t twigged, CT policy is that white males are only good for use as the sexual playthings of rich and beautiful women. Email me for more details about this.

All of this rhetorical overkill reminds me of a line about the late rants of F.R. Leavis: “In his later books he libelled his literary opponents so scandalously that when he tried to condemn Stalin he had no harsh words left over.” Excitable bloggers take note.

Update: Checking back on this post reveals a comments thread swept up in a wave of huffiness, demands for apologies and assertions of lost credibility. Oh my. I guess I’ll have to work on spelling things out rather than letting the tone make the point. Tacitus says that the “American left” is either an unwitting apologist or a hopelessly naive water-carrier for what is really “murderous racism based on junk economic theory.” That’s why he accuses the “American left” of suffering from “battered wife syndrome” in their supposed denial, downplaying or defence of communist atrocities, and why he orders them to “cut the crap about communism.” If you think there’s nothing wrong with each step of his argument then you will not see the point of my original post, which was intended to show that this reflected reality about as well as the statement “Crooked Timber believes white men don’t actually matter.”

Tacitus’s post would have been a good deal less obtuse (though wrong for other reasons) if he had begun with a generalization he could support. The post refers in passing to identifiable entities (e.g., the Democratic party) that have a history of anti-communism but are still left-wing, and Tacitus probably thinks this immunises him against charges of illegitimate generalization. In fact, it just exposes the strawy nature of his imaginary target. What he really meant was something like “I’ve noticed a disturbing trend in some of the comments to this Calpundit thread,” which seems to have been the inspiration for his post. But I suppose saying a few bloggers got up your nose doesn’t give you the same buzz as indicting a notional “American left” tout court without a shred of evidence.


by Chris Bertram on December 31, 2003

I spent three days over Christmas reading Antony Beevor’s “Berlin”: . It really is a magnificent account of the final battle of the Second World War [in the European theatre — see comments] and a suitable companion volume to his “Stalingrad”: (which I read at Christmas a couple of years ago). When “Berlin”: first came out, most of the reviews focused on the book’s detailing of the extensive rape of German women by the invading Soviet soldiers. That is indeed a prominent feature of the book, but there is much much more going on.

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Globollocks, again

by Daniel on December 31, 2003

One more in our occasional ill-tempered and extremely unfair series keeping track of breathless and/or mendacious “Globalisation” commentary from neoliberal commentators. This time, we take a look at an interview in Reason magazine with Johan Norberg, a Scandinavian who “used to be part of the left but then saw the light and is now back with a book explaining it all” (where have we heard that before). I realise that some will call “no fair” on using a Reason interview, because it’s a bit of a libertarian house mag, but Norberg is unlikely to confine himself to the specialist media going forward, and I thought I’d get my retaliation in first. Besides, as a piece of Globollocks, this one is off the scale.

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Network Hacked

by Jon Mandle on December 31, 2003

Not a big deal, you say, that someone hacked their way into a corporate network? According to the CEO, the intruder took advantage of a network security hole “that we were a patch behind on.” Happens all the time, except that this company is VoteHere, which is “developing encryption-based software for secure electronic voting.” I admit I’d feel a little better if they were one patch ahead. Yes, encrypted voting results were stored on the network, but according to the CEO, “there is no evidence that any election was compromised.” Most reassuringly of all, it turns out that the system had only been tested on some “British local elections and nongovernmental tallies such as the Country Music Awards.”

Plame on

by Ted on December 30, 2003

John Ashcroft has recused himself from the Valerie Plame investigation. Patrick Fitzgerald, the current U.S. Attorney in the Nothern District of Illinois, will be in charge of the investigation

Here’s a press release with a brief bio of Patrick Fitzgerald. He’s been involved in the prosecutions of heroin smugglers, organized crime leaders, and a number of terrorists. More recently, his office prepared the indictment of former Illinois governor George Ryan. We’ll surely learn a lot more about him in the days to come, but at first glance, he seems like the real deal.

Mr. Fitzgerald, if by some unlikely chance you ever read this: I’d like to apologize in advance for what the blogosphere and much of the media are about to attempt to do to you. If you try to do your job, you will learn the meaning of “slime and defend.” Good luck.

UPDATE: Here’s a story gallery about Patrick Fitzgerald from the Chicago Tribune. He sounds like a genuinely vigorous prosecutor:

Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Chicago’s new U.S. attorney, who delivered the biggest message to corrupt Chicago politicians, insiders, grafters and boodlers this town may have ever seen. Fitzgerald’s first big indictment was of insurance executive Michael Segal for alleged insurance and mail fraud. Fitzgerald wasted no time in going after the biggest fish in town, to the shock and astonishment of just about everyone. Segal is not just a pal, but the pal, the top of the heap. His indictment makes the prosecution of Chicago aldermen look like the issuance of parking tickets. This is a hugely symbolic act; its effect will be like watching the bugs scurrying for cover after the rock has been lifted.

This sounds good, too.

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All the nice boys love a cowboy

by Daniel on December 30, 2003

New Year, old obsession … Steven Den Beste takes a rare break from telling us that France is shit to analyse US politics. Take a glance at the URL and you will see where he is coming from. Thankfully, he steers clear (just) of the usual and rather unpleasant analysis which seems to treat white male votes as the only “real” votes and support based on “minority” votes as in some way second-rate or not of the highest quality. But he does massively overstate the importance of white males, and the extent to which a 66-33 split of white male votes in favour of the Republicans is a disaster for the Democrats. Factoid: Al Gore did not so far from this in the 200 election (he actually got 36% of the white male vote) and the race was about as even as it could possibly be. A “36 point margin [ie a 68:32 split -dd] over Howard Dean” isn’t an “insurmountable obstacle”; it’s a two point swing away from the neutral point of the 2000 election and quite the sort of thing that could get lost in differential turnout rates. The rule of thumb always used to be that a Republican candidate had to do at least 60% among white males to have a prayer, because of the inbuilt slant of all the other demographics and Ruy Teixeira thinks that the bar is, if anything, raising year after year.

A Bush lead among white women is much more worrying, because that’s a genuine swing movement, but that doesn’t offer nearly as many opportunities for riding out old hobby-horses about the “far left” and the conclusions aren’t nearly so palatable for those of us in the pale and hairy camp. My personal assessment is that the Democrats are indeed, all to hell, but tending to the nation’s largest and whiniest minority hasn’t really got all that much to do with it.

All of which assumes, of course, that you can generalise over a category as large as “white males” (c: 110m Americans). Which you can’t, not unless you don’t mind writing sentences like this one:

To a great extent, this is because white men as a group prefer cowboys to metrosexuals.[1]

Which you have to admit, could be taken a number of ways …

(by the way, when is some TV network going to have the stones to produce “Black Eye for the White Guy”?)

[1] I added the links for satirical effect, although I doubt anyone was wondering.


by Chris Bertram on December 30, 2003

I’ve had to check myself several times when writing on CT recently. I’ve been tempted to use the word “quite” as a modifier of words like “good”. The trouble with this is that Americans (and perhaps all other English users outside the UK?) use the word as a modifier also but in a different sense from the way I would naturally do. If an English person is asked what they thought of a film or a play or a restaurant and they reply that it was “quite good”, they are likely to mean that it was good only to a moderate degree. Americans will intend and understand by the same phrase that something was absolutely, wholly or certainly good. If you tell me that my work is “quite good”, I’m likely to understand that as damning with faint praise. But If you are an American you probably meant to compliment me. Just to confuse matters, a British person who says they are “quite sure” does indeed mean that they are absolutely sure. I hope we’ve quite cleared up that misunderstanding.

Gin Lane

by Chris Bertram on December 30, 2003

The image of “Hogarth’s Gin Lane”: comes to mind after reading three pieces on Open Democracy on the booze culture in “England”: , “Ireland”: and “Scotland”: . Central Bristol on a Friday and Saturday night is very much as Ken Worpole describes the centre of many British cities: full of inebriated teenagers, casual violence and, eventually, vomit. Dublin — a destination of choice for young Brits seeking to get smashed out of their brains — also has a big problem:

bq. The results of this behaviour are alarming –- doctors, from a variety of hospitals, estimate that from 15-25% of admissions to accident and emergency units in 2002 were alcohol-related. In March 2003, representatives of the medical profession highlighted some of the horrendous consequences of excessive drinking. Mary Holohan, director of the sexual assault treatment unit at the Rotunda Hospital in central Dublin, said the pattern of alcohol consumption had changed greatly. One shuddering statistic that emerged was that in the past five years there had been a four-fold increase in the number of women who had been so drunk they could not remember if they had been sexually assaulted.

That last could be a dodgy statistic (if the number rose from one to four for example) but it sounds like there’s a serious issue.

Feeling a bit dizzy now

by Kieran Healy on December 29, 2003

In future, when you come across some piece of irritating rhetoric or dishonest spinning, rather than attempt to rebut it simply link to this picture instead. It conveys very well what’s going on and will save a lot of trouble all round.

Uncertain science

by Chris Bertram on December 29, 2003

Iain Murray has “a column on global warming in the Washington Times”: . As is typical of the genre, the column employs very different epistemic standards when assessing the claims of scientists about climate change than it does when invoking the projections of enviro-sceptics about the economic consequences of Kyoto. Be that as it may, I thought the following sentence worthy of at least an honourable mention in any “It could have been in _The Onion_ ” competition:

bq. Moreover, the alleged increase in extreme weather events may simply be due to better reporting, as more people move to areas susceptible to such events.

Hitchensian drift

by Chris Bertram on December 29, 2003

History News Network has “a discussion”: of whether Christopher Hitchens has sought to misrepresent his own reaction to 9/11 in the light of his subsequent political evolution (via “Au Currant”: ). When the Guardian article Sean Wilenz descibes as “particularly sickening” (available “here”: ) is re-read, I don’t think Hitchens has anything to be ashamed of or that there’s great inconsistency between what he said then and the positions he has adopted since. What has changed appreciably is Hitchens’s attitude to both the Bush administration and the Iraq war. On my old blog Junius, “I linked on March 2 2002”: to a “Hitchens article in the Daily Mirror”: (subtitle: “On the peril of America’s muddled, ignorant hawks”) in which he attacks the Bush administration’s “axis of evil” approach and refers to “an overconfident superpower whose leaders appear to be making up foreign policy as they go along.” Hitchens has every right to change his mind about the issues of the day. What some of us find unsettling is the ease with which he is today able to denounce as lacking in moral intelligence people who agree with positions he himself spouted as recently as the spring of 2002.

Love Actually

by Chris Bertram on December 29, 2003

I went to see _Love Actually_ last night. My vote was for _Master and Commander_ , but since that meant getting in the car and driving to a mulitplex whereas LA was showing at the end of the street, it was a battle I was never going to win. Two reactions: first, the intellectual in me was saying “this is utter crap” throughout; second, my eyes watered at various points during the evening. Now it isn’t hard for a film to engage my emotions — I always find it hard to stay composed during the closing scenes of _Crocodile Dundee_ — but for what it’s worth the film does work pretty well on that level. Hugh Grant’s as Prime Minister really is awful, but Bill Nighy as the ageing rocker is really funny and both Liam Neeson and Emma Thompson put in fine performances. It isn’t that I want to recommend it as such, but it did overcome my determination not to enjoy myself.

Sixty years in two hours

by Eszter Hargittai on December 28, 2003

I saw a play last night (in Budapest) in which no one said anything. Everything was conveyed through music and dancing. It wasn’t a musical as none of the actors sang at all. They moved and danced. The set changed a bit, but most events took place in a café. The play portrayed Hungary’s history from the 1930s through the 1990s. [If you’re getting sick of Hungary-related writing this week, don’t give up on this post just yet, I’m aiming at something hopefully with a bit more general appeal.:)]

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Your taxes hard at work.. uhm I mean at play

by Eszter Hargittai on December 27, 2003

While I believe that taxes in many countries could probably be used better and for more things than they are currently, I do think there should be limits to how government spends its tax payers’ money. A recent decision by the Hungarian government seems to suggest that some see no limits. The state has decided to spend $4 million sponsoring a driver for participation in Formula One next year. If this happened in a country with adequate social services and few people living in poverty then perhaps one could contemplate its legitimacy. But in a country with as many social problems as Hungary, I find it hard to swallow. Read it and weep.

Return of the King

by Kieran Healy on December 26, 2003

Just went to see The Return of the King, which opened in Australia today. As the Nazgul were dive-bombing the crap out of everything during the battle of the Pelennor Fields, I found myself wondering whether there was a deputy assistant undersecretary from Gondor’s Defence of the Realm Department hiding under his kitchen table somewhere on the fifth level of Minas Tirith thinking, “I must have written dozens of memos about Mordor’s air superiority, but would they listen, oh noooo! Just like every other year, the whole goddamn budget was blown on horses, silver filigree and whitewash.”