Winged Mercury

by Henry Farrell on December 1, 2003

I finished Neal Stephenson’s _Quicksilver_ the day before yesterday, and enjoyed it very much, despite the mixed reviews. In many ways, the book reminded me of another baggy-great faux-historical novel set in the same period, which similarly received scant critical acclaim; Thomas Pynchon’s _Mason and Dixon_. And _Quicksilver_ is very nearly as good.

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Worth Reading

by Henry Farrell on December 1, 2003

“Nasi Lemak”: on intellectual consistency, racism, and Zell Miller.

Chad Orzel on “exam design”:

Bruce Sterling on “Brazilectronica”: (although he’d have been better advised to write about “DJ Marky”: than Bebel Gilberto, if you ask me).

Chris Genovese on “boosting”: and decentralized filtering.

Skinner on liberty

by Chris Bertram on December 1, 2003

The Columbia website has “”Three Concepts of Liberty”: ” , the Contemporary Civilization Coursewide Lecture, Fall 2003 by Quentin Skinner, Regius Professor of Modern History at the University of Cambridge. I’ve watched about the first 20 minutes so far and it is admirably clear and consistently interesting. When he got to Mill, Marx and Habermas I started yelling “What about Rousseau?!!” at the screen (but I often do that). (To watch you need RealPlayer installed).

UPDATE: I’m less impressed after 48 minutes than I was after the first 25 or so. He still didn’t talk about Rousseau which was all the more unforgivable because his third concept of liberty — freedom as non-dependence on the will of others — is so important for Rousseau’s own account. But I shouldn’t just snark on about my own obsessions. What I thought was absurd was his insistence at the end that it somehow followed from the alleged incommensurability of the three concepts that we have to choose amongst them. Why? Why can’t I value (in some measure) absence of constraint, self-realization and non-dependence on the will of others? He doesn’t explain and he makes some silly (and disingenuous) remarks about being a historian rather than a philosopher to absolve himself from having to. None of which should discourage people from listening to what is a characteristically elegant and interesting presentation.


by Chris Bertram on December 1, 2003

Like everyone else I’m plagued by spam. Since 1930 gmt on Saturday I’ve received 17 legitimate emails and 353 spams. The good news is that using “Mozilla Thunderbird”: ‘s spamblocking software I’ve filtered out nearly all of it (and the latest version of “Mozilla Firebird”: is very good at stopping annoying pop-up advertising). People who use different (better?) operating systems may have better options, but for those of us condemned to Windoze, those two programs may be the best mail and browser options.