From the monthly archives:

December 2003

Movie: Good-Bye, Lenin!

by Eszter Hargittai on December 25, 2003

I just saw the movie Good-Bye, Lenin! It is about a young man in East Berlin struggling to make it seem to his sick mother as though the Berlin wall hadn’t fallen and nothing had changed since when she fell into a coma (just before the political changes) in order to make sure she doesn’t have a relapse. It was a good movie, I recommend it.

[click to continue…]

Happy Christmas to all our readers

by Chris Bertram on December 25, 2003

A Happy Christmas to all our readers and fellow bloggers. I’ve been enjoying a traditional East Midlands Christmas here in England — and that means starting the day with a choice of ham or pork pie before moving on to the turkey (accompanied by a rather good Margaux from 1983) somewhat later. I’m sure that many of my fellow Timberites have also been enjoying themselves in their various climates and time-zones. See you all soon!

Christmas Giving

by Harry on December 24, 2003

If you don’t like being guilt-tripped skip this. The rest of you get your credit cards out. Here’s the deal. Figure out how much you are spending on Christmas/Holiday cheer. Figure out how much has been spent on you. Add the two figures together. Halve that figure and plug it in to the OxfamAmerica form or the Oxfam UK form (depending where you pay taxes — for other countries you can reach your own country by negotiating from the OxfamAmerica home page). (Note: if, like me, no-one spends anything on you at Christmas the decent thing to do is to skip the adding and halving stages.) If you are a utilitarian this is the best thing you can do, if you are a Kantian it is also the best thing as long as you don’t enjoy it (that’s a joke — I know Kantianism isn’t really like that).

Next year I’ll do this early in December so you can avoid giving presents to people you don’t like and, instead, send them an email saying you’ve donated X amount to Oxfam in their name.

Donations from non-celebrators of Christmas are also, I believe, welcome.

Christmas in Oz

by Kieran Healy on December 24, 2003

I’m having my least Christmas-like Christmas ever, mostly because I’m living in Canberra. I understand that it’s unreasonable to expect Christmas to proceed as normal amidst the gum trees and sunshine, and of course there’s a lot to be said for adapting traditions to fit the circumstances. At the same time, I can see why the first transplants from Europe held so grimly to traditions that were absurdly out of whack with their situation. I have a strong urge to light a candle and put it in the window, except Monday was the longest day of the year, so what’s the point?

For someone brought up on a Northern-hemisphere Christmas, the uneasy Australian detente between the season and the Season (so to speak) is deeply unsatisfying. Even our two years in the high desert of southern Arizona were more genuinely festive — though warm it was still winter, and local adaptations like Chili Wreaths were much more creative than anything I’ve seen here. Australia might be better off if it just ditched the holiday altogether, perhaps replacing it with a full-on festival of the Summer Solstice. There must be something better than having the fake snow-covered pine trees, overheated Santas and In-the-bleak-Midwinters hanging on for dear life in the blazing sun.

A thought for Christmas Eve

by Kieran Healy on December 24, 2003

Courtesy of Alexander McCall Smith’s At the Villa of Reduced Circumstances, which unaccountably is not published in the United States:

The Master then rose to give a short address.

‘Dear guests of the College,’ he began, ‘dear Fellows, dear undergraduate members of this Foundation: William de Courcey was cruelly beheaded by those who could not understand that it is quite permissible for rational men to differ on important points of belief or doctrine. The world in which he lived had yet to develop those qualities of tolerance of difference of opinion which we take for granted, but which we must remind ourselves is of rather recent creation and is by no means assured of universal support. There are amongst us still those who would deny to others the right to hold a different understanding of the fundamental issues of our time. Thus, if we look about us we see people of one culture or belief still at odds with their human neighbours who are of a different culture or belief; and we see many who are prepared to act upon this difference to the extent of denying the humanity of those with whom they differ. …

‘Here in this place of learning, let us remind ourselves of the possibility of combating, in whatever small way we can, those divisions that come between man and man, between woman and woman, so that we may recognise in each other that vulnerable humanity that informs our lives, and makes life so precious; so that each may find happiness in his or her life, and in the lives of others. For what else is there for us to hope for? What else, I ask you, what else?’

As good a standard to hew to as any, it seems to me, despite the awful complexity of the world.

Random Web Wow

by Eszter Hargittai on December 24, 2003

I was in Israel this past weekend and was trying to describe to my cousin the size of Lake Michigan. (This was in the context of telling him about my new surroundings in Chicagoland.) I realized I don’t know the actual size of the lake so I thought we’d go online and check. I did a search on Google for “lake michigan” map size. No more, no less. The top result was a map of Israel and Lake Michigan superimposed on each other. Thanks, Web. This was certainly an effective way of explaining to an Israeli the size of Lake Michigan.:) (I realize the question of a map of Israel can be a tricky issue. I am not posting this to start an argument about that. I thought from a Web-search point-of-view, this was an interesting/amusing case worth sharing.)

Laughter, the best medicine

by Ted on December 23, 2003

Before I leave, I thought that I would string together a list of links and quotes from non-political humor sites. Enjoy.

[click to continue…]

Four quotations bearing on choice and responsibility

by Chris Bertram on December 23, 2003

Jackie D from Au Currant has a “quote of the day”: picked up from “Norman Geras”: who gets it from “some columnist in the Jerusalem Post”: :

bq. [I]t’s about time we all stop treating Iraqis, and Arabs generally, as anything but what they are: Human beings, capable of making rational choices, who, _like the rest of us_ [emphasis added CB], are accountable for their own successes, their own failures, and their own fates.

On a plausible reading “like the rest of us” looks like a weasel phrase here: on the one hand appearing to stretch out the hand of a common humanity but with a wave of that same hand dismissing the very different conditions under which that human life gets lived. I wish I had a view about responsiblity, agency, choice, blame and so on that I was satisfied with. I don’t. But that view would have to satisfy at least two conditions: first, it would have to treat our fellow humans has having the capacity for free choice and second it would have to take a realistic view about the obstacles to their actualizing, developing, and exercising that capacity. If I lived (as I do) under conditions that are relatively propitious for that actualization, development and exercise, then I would hesitate before using phrases such as “like the rest of us” about those who have grown up under dictatorships and in much tougher material circumstances than I have.

[click to continue…]

Refusing gongs

by Chris Bertram on December 22, 2003

Yesterday’s Sunday Times printed “a long list of people who had refused honours”:,,2087-939310,00.html from the British government. An interesting list including Michael Oakeshott, H.L.A.Hart, Isaiah Berlin and Gilbert Ryle. I also scrolled down the list to see if the reason the most successful manager in English football history had not been knighted was that he’d turned them down. No such luck — they never even offered (even though two managers from an inferior team have been honoured).

Big tent politics

by Daniel on December 22, 2003

Via email, I discover that there is something out there called the Libertarian Green National Socialist Party, operating under the slogan that “National Socialism is neither leftist nor rightist; it is naturalist, and inherently environmental.”

Though their choice of URL does rather give the game away.

Actually Existing Terrorism Futures

by Daniel on December 22, 2003

Always nice to be able to test an idea in a live application … It’s worthwhile remembering in any discussion of “terrorism futures” that nobody was ever really proposing to offer contracts on any specific terrorist events; the proposed “Policy Analysis Market” (which claims on its website that it’s going to launch in March; sadly there is no currently existing futures market which allows me to bet that it won’t), was always going to be about betting on general indices of global political stability. For example, one might think it would be useful to have a futures market which gave finer-grained information about the risks to the US than the Department of Homeland Security’s Threat Level Indicator; not just whether today’s threat was “yellow” or “orange”, but whether the risk was growing or falling.

One might think that, but one would be wrong. In actual fact, it is possible to trade futures on the US Homeland Security indicator at So, since the threat level was raised from “Yellow” to “Orange” over the weekend we can go to the tape and see whether the traders there had any advance steer on this movement. Did they?

[click to continue…]

Getting it right

by Henry Farrell on December 22, 2003

Yet another post in the “we right-wingers are smarter because we say we are” genre, this time from “Alex Singleton”: at the Adam Smith Institute. Singleton puts forward the self-evidently preposterous argument that the blogosphere is dominated by the right wing because the blogosphere favours reasoned argument, leaving leftwingers (who are good at chanting slogans and spouting jargon, but lousy at reasoned thought) in the lurch. Weak stuff, which is barely worth jousting against. Indeed, the post effectively furnishes its own refutation; it advances a thesis which is based on

* One unproven (and “probably false”: generalization – that the blogosphere is dominated by the right
* One preposterous claim – that the most successful bloggers are those who are most adept at reasoned argument. The exceptions to this rule are too many and various to require explicit mention.
* One tendentious and silly piece of polemic – that leftwingers, unlike rightwingers, have no real arguments.

If this is the sort of reasoned debate that the Adam Smith Institute thinks will help the right to prevail on the battlefield of ideas, then more power to them. But of course, it isn’t an argument as such. Rather, it’s a sort of intellectualized gut-rumbling, a tarted up set of prejudices without any factual basis. Just the sort of nonsense that you might expect from a jargon-spouting, sloganeering leftist in other words.

Inequality in America

by Chris Bertram on December 22, 2003

“Paul Krugman in the Nation”: :

bq. The other day I found myself reading a leftist rag that made outrageous claims about America. It said that we are becoming a society in which the poor tend to stay poor, no matter how hard they work; in which sons are much more likely to inherit the socioeconomic status of their father than they were a generation ago. The name of the leftist rag? _Business Week_ …

Le foulard islamique

by Chris Bertram on December 22, 2003

Those following recent French debates about the proposal that the ostentatious display of religious symbols in schools should be banned, may find “this article from Le Nouvel Observateur”: by sociologists Jocelyne Césari et Jean Baubérot enlightening. As they point out, French law is actually rather close to the liberal view of these matters. But there is a mismatch between what French law requires — as reflected in successive decisions of the Conseil D’Etat — and a commonly held view of the principle of secularism which charges the state with the aggressive promotion of Enlightenment rationalism. It all seems a little odd from this side of the English Channel. I had a conversation with a French researcher last year who declared herself shocked to have seen a newsreader on the BBC wearing a small crucifix round her neck. I had to say that I’d never noticed such a thing, wouldn’t have cared if I had, and that I’m sure that most British people wouldn’t notice: in a country with an established church hardly anyone cares about religion.

One oddity of the French media’s representation of this issue: the controversy centres on the common Islamic practice of women covering their hair with a headscarf. Of course, in some Islamic societies rather more is covered: women are veiled or enclosed in outfits like the burqua. The French secularists object to schoolgirls wearing headscarves that cover their hair — and the word “foulard” is appropriate here — but often the press reports refer to the “voile” and sometimes this is absurd. So the the caption to photograph accompanying “this article”: (again from the Nouvel Obs) reads “Lors de la manifestation des femmes voilées” but the women in the picture are _not_ veiled.

Favourite films of all time

by Chris Bertram on December 22, 2003

Norman Geras is running one of his polls again. The latest one is for “favourite films of all time”: (deadline January 18th). So get over to “Normblog”: and cast your votes (up to ten). Here are mine, in no particular order except that the first on the list is my all-time favourite (with All About Eve probably my second choice):

The 400 Blows (Francois Truffaut)
All About Eve (Joseph L Mankiewicz)
Casablanca (Michael Curtiz)
Vertigo (Alfred Hitchcock)
The Third Man (Carol Reed)
The Maltese Falcon (John Huston)
The Tenant (Roman Polanski)
Boyz N The Hood (John Singleton)
Diva ( Jean-Jacques Beineix)
Lift to the Scaffold (Louis Malle)

I adopted a private one-entry-per-director rule, though, which limited my Hitchcock nominations, and I was really conflicted about which Louis Malle film to choose (Milou en Mai gets one aspect of France so right). And I’m puzzled that Stanley Kubrick didn’t end up on my final list.