Smoke ‘n’ Guns

by Daniel on December 18, 2003

In an otherwise perfectly fine post on some subject or other, Jim Henley says:

“I rather suspect that there would be states in which one could grow marijuana […] and states in which one could make a machine gun, but very few states in which one could do both […] which is too bad because if someone’s of a mind to make himself a machinegun I’d like him to be nice and mellow afterwards.

It’s a not uncommon argument in the legalisation debate; that if everyone smoked nice friendly mellow pot instead of drinking horrible yobbish alcohol, various beneficial social consequences would result. To be honest, though, there’s only one country in the world which has experimented in any serious way with the combination of widely available cannabis and widely available machine guns, and the results haven’t really been what you would call a roaring success. Apparently if someone isn’t of a mood to be mellow, that’s just more or less the kind of person they are and there’s surprisingly little you can do about it pharmaceutically. One of the few things we do know about people’s behaviour on drugs is that it’s very context-dependent and influenced by their state of mind at the time of taking them. You might have thought that if you took a bunch of chilled-out Scandinavians and fed them hippy magic mushrooms, you’d get a total peace-and-love-and-social-welfare trip, but look at the Vikings …

Guardian UK Blog Awards

by Maria on December 18, 2003

If you haven’t seen already, the Guardian has announced its blogging award winners. They reminded me of how limited my knowledge of other (especially non-political) bloggers is, and the amazingly wide range of things you can do with a blog. Bruce Sterling was one of the judges.

There are a couple of absolute crackers. Call Centre Confidential reminds you that The Office is funny because it is so horrifyingly accurate.

Belle de Jour has its doubters, but seems to be the diary of a sassy and articulate London call girl. Warning; best read at home.

Going Underground’s Blog is all about the London Underground and has loads of pictures of drunken santa clauses. It’s my favourite UK public transport blog after Transport Blog. Who says the British are a nation of trainspotters?


by Chris Bertram on December 18, 2003

I’ve been scanning the press coverage of the Britain’s “Soham murder trial”:,14010,1073385,00.html to see whether anyone has asked a very obvious question. So far, commentary seems to be concentrating on the failure — if it was a failure — of the Humberside police to pass on details of the “ten allegations of sex crimes”:,14010,1109155,00.html that had been made against Ian Huntley. (Anyone who has had experience of Britain’s Data Protection Act will sympathise with the police when they declare themselves confused about which records they were allowed to retain, and how much they were allowed to disclose.) But the dilemma of policy and principle is obvious: on the one hand there was information that could have prevented the murders; on the other hand, it seems wrong to allow mere allegations that have not been tested to be a barrier to someone getting a job. The question nobody seems to be asking, though, is why didn’t the earlier allegations go anywhere?

And there seems a worrying possible answer to that question. In today’s target culture, neither the police nor the Crown Prosecution Service will proceed with an case unless they think they stand a very good chance of success. To risk failure is to risk bad statistical outcomes. In other words, maybe Huntley was able to continue his career of rape and under-age sex because the threshold at which the authorities will now initiate a prosecution is set too high.

The third bubble

by John Q on December 18, 2003

Once there were three bubbles. The one that attracted everyone’s attention was the dotcom bubble, of which no more needs to be said. The second bubble, noted by plenty of economists was the glaring overvaluation of the bubble. Given chronic deficits in both the budget and current account, and the fact that the US dollar was trading at a value well above purchasing power parity, anyone who gave any credence to the view that markets eventually reach equilibrium could conclude that the US dollar was bound to fall, and it has duly done so. (this only leaves the question of why putatively rational investors did not sell earlier)

The third bubble seemed, until this year, like part of the second. Rates of interest on 10-year US government bonds are amazingly low, currently around 4.25 per cent (the price is inversely proportional to the interest rate, so low interest rates mean a bubble in bond prices). Most economists would, I think have assumed that, as the US dollar declined in value, long-term interest rates would go up. But, apart from a brief panic a few months ago, this hasn’t happened.

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Small country – big job

by Maria on December 18, 2003

Today’s FT devotes almost half a page to the Irish presidency of the EU, which starts on January 1st and will be accompanied by a collective sigh of relief at the end to Berlusconi’s embarrassing ‘reign’ which “began with him comparing a German MEP to a Nazi camp guard and ended with the collapse of the stability pact and the diastrous EU summit in Brussels”.

The FT hits on a subject close to my heart; the big role that smaller countries play in greasing the wheels of the European machine. They also interview Ireland’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, Brian Cowen, who contradicts recent reports that the Irish would kick the stalled constitution talks into the long grass. (I can’t find that one in the online FT – it’s on page 3 of the European paper edition though.) Brian Cowen, who is widely acknowledged to be very smart and very astute, says that the team Ireland brings to the presidency has recent and deep experience in the extremely tricky negotiations on Northern Ireland. We also bring to the table a prime minister, Bertie Aherne, who, while no great visionary, is a superb deal-maker. And (cleverly, I think), Cowen says straight off the bat that any verbal deals struck with Berlusconi will expire with the Italian presidency on 31 December. The Irish will start with the constitution in its current draft, and a clean slate. So, if negotiations can be re-started soon enough, it’s possible that Ireland just might deliver the constitution.

But what do small countries bring to the EU decision-making process in general?

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Sing a bleep bleep

by Eszter Hargittai on December 18, 2003

The seven dirty words are still a no-no on US radio (unless they’re not sexual in nature, it turns out), but what about other suggestive lyrics? It doesn’t seem clear when things do and do not get censored. Take, for example, the song Semi-Charmed Life by Third Eye Blind. I haven’t heard that one on the radio, but a friend tells me that it is not bleeped out despite the line “she comes round and she goes down on me”. Recall, however, Alanis Morissette’s song You Oughta Know from a few years ago when a portion of the line “Would she go down on you in a theatre” did get bleeped out.

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by Brian on December 18, 2003

Did anyone else get the Nigerian Spam email from “John Adams” of the “Senate Committee on Banks and Currency”? I thought at first it would be moderately amusing, perhaps suggesting I get involved with something obviously fraudulent like purportedly buying the Midwest for pennies per hectare, but it turned out to just be a regular fraud letter with the grammatical mistakes fixed. I haven’t been following these letters for a while (thanks Thunderbird spam filter!) but it might be fun to see if they evolve a little.

Wright on Target

by Kieran Healy on December 18, 2003

The re-enactment of the Wright brothers’ first flight failed to get off the ground in South Carolina, but the hackers at MIT were much more successful. My favorite is still the police car that made it up there. (Via Kai von Fintel.)


by Kieran Healy on December 18, 2003

I just finished a writing up a 500-word entry for a forthcoming Encyclopedia of Economic Sociology, edited by Jens Beckert and Milan Zafiroski. (I was only about a year late. You’d think the blogging would have made 500-word chunks easy to churn out.) While reading the boilerplate in the contributor’s agreement, I came across the following clause:

bq. 2 (a) … The Contributor further warrants that the Contribution contains nothing obscene, libellous, blasphemous, in breach of copyright or otherwise unlawful …

All well and good, except that my allocated entry is “Sacred.” As you will all remember from your social theory class, Durkheim‘s view is that religion is a collective representation of the social structure. “Society awakens in us the feeling of the divine.” This is not likely to get a nihil obstat from many religions.