Too sexy

by John Quiggin on January 29, 2004

The Economist runs a piece endorsing the Hutton inquiry’s rejection of BBC claims that the Blair government’s dossier on Iraqi weapons was “sexed up”, but runs it under the headline George Bush and Tony Blair exaggerated, but they did not lie.

What, precisely, is the difference between “exaggerated” and “sexed up” ?

None so blind

by Ted on January 29, 2004

Lifted from Jack O’Toole:

Here’s Andrew Sullivan on Josh Marshall’s New Yorker article:

Josh Marshall has written an engaging and artful essay about the notion of an American empire for the liberal New Yorker magazine. I read it yesterday and then re-read it. Josh manages to write about the Clinton era “soft-imperialism” and the Bush era “hard imperialism” with nary a mention of a certain even that occurred on September 11, 2001.

Emphasis added. Here’s the Josh Marshall article in question, fifth paragraph:

After September 11th, a left-wing accusation became a right-wing aspiration: conservatives increasingly began to espouse a world view that was unapologetically imperialist.

If this is the kind of attention to detail we get when Sullivan reads something and re-reads it, what happens when he reads something only once?

UPDATE: I emailed Andrew about this, and he emailed back:

he has a one sentence aside in a 4000 word piece.
my point entirely

I honestly don’t know how to respond to that.

Tax and spend

by Henry on January 29, 2004

David Bernstein has a couple of very “weird”: “posts”:, railing against the liberals in his head for not liking George W. Bush. His main proposition: that liberals stereotype their opponents, and hate them when they don’t live up to their stereotypes. Seems to me that Bernstein is engaged in a wee bit of stereotyping himself. Chez Bernstein, liberals are obsessed with massive spending increases, clumsy protectionism, and boondoggles in space; all good reasons to love George W. The fact that they don’t demonstrates their fundamental irrationality (in fairness, Bernstein says that conservative Clinton-hatred was irrational too).

Bernstein’s non-argument rests on the premise that there’s no good reason for liberals not to like Bush – he’s overseeing a massive increase in government spending. I don’t need to belabour the obvious – there are many, many legitimate, policy-related reasons why liberals may believe the Bush administration to be a disaster. There are even more reasons for social democrats like myself. Under Bush, the relationship between who bears the brunt of the tax burden, and who gets the benefits of government spending is tilting further, so that politically well-connected corporations are prospering at the expense of of poor and middle-income taxpayers. That’s not something that any liberal or social democrat worth their salt is going to want to sign up to, and Bernstein knows it. The only explanation that I can think of for these truly strange posts is Bernstein’s own discomfort with Bush. He doesn’t like the Bush administration much, but isn’t much happier with the company that he’s starting to keep. I guess he’s afraid he might get liberal-cooties or something.

Update: “Michael Froomkin”: has similar thoughts; see also “Brad DeLong”:

Exam Question for Bonus Marks

by Henry on January 29, 2004

“Hell on Earth would be a World Government run by Crooked Timber”:

Do you agree with this proposition? Do you disagree? Discuss, with reference to the “assigned readings”:

Minor factual

by Daniel on January 29, 2004

Alastair Campbell was on the box last night to discuss being cleared of all charges by the Hutton inquiry. Fair do’s to the guy; he got cleared and we have to respect that. Doesn’t change the fact that every single word we were fed about WMD, including “the” and “and”, was bollocks, but it seems churlish to deny even the Blairites their day in the sun. But I have to take issue with one claim he made. Mr Campbell said, pressing his advantage home:

“If the Government faced the level of criticism which today Lord Hutton has directed to the BBC, there would clearly have been resignations by now. Several resignations at several levels.”

[click to continue…]

There’s a wide spread of political opinions at Crooked Timber; as you can tell, we run the gamut from social democrat to democratic socialist. All sorts, I tell you. But I think that there’s one issue which divides us neatly into two groups. Or rather, into one group consisting of me, and one group consisting of all the others. And that’s the fact that I’m a nationalist. Horrible to admit it but it’s true. I genuinely do believe that, according to my standards (and who else’s standards might I use?), Britain is the best place to live that there is, and the British are the finest people in the world. After that, Irish, Turks, Czechs, Danes and French in that order, and after that there’s quite a steep drop-off. Sorry, where was I? Anyway, yes, the British are best.

If I were to criticise my fellow countrymen at all, however, it would be to say that we do have something of a tendency to panic when we see two flakes of frost sticking together. Look at this bloody circus. It snowed for precisely one hour yesterday evening round our way, a snowfall that had been forecast a week in advance, and left about half an inch of light white dust on the ground, which promptly started to melt. I was four hours late getting into work this morning because the trains couldn’t cope with it. The bloody Russians run trains across Siberia, for Christ’s sake. I actually watched an interview with some London Transport bod on the TV explaining that the Metropolitan line had to be shut down because of “severe weather”, in which it was possible to see over his shoulder a beautiful clear blue cloudless sky. As Peter Cook remarked, the arrival of winter, while usually quite generally expected, seems to always catch London Transport by surprise.

A look back at the history of the Crimean campaign reveals that this has been a bit of a blind spot for the Sons of Albion for quite a while.

UPDATE] I’ve just been told that we’re running “emergency trains” this evening, 24 hours after the event and with the snow entirely melted. Apparently the “severe icy weather conditions” have had serious effects on “both trains and infrastructure”. Apparently water freezes. Who’d a thunk it?

Political correctness as civility

by John Quiggin on January 29, 2004

In my experience there is a close to 100 per cent correlation between the stated belief that society is suffering from a decline in “civility” and a willingness to proclaim that we are all being oppressed by “political correctness”. Australian PM John Howard neatly illustrates this. A week or two ago, he was denouncing public schools as hotbeds of political correctness, and the excessive concern with offending religious minorities that (allegedly) led to the curtailment of Christmas celebrations. Now he’s calling for more civility.

The common analysis underlying both demands for “political correctness” (this actual phrase was never used, except jocularly as far as I know, until critics seized on it, but terms such as “sensitivity” or “inclusive language” cover much the same ground) and for “civility”, is that offensive words give rise to offensive acts. In both cases, there’s some ambiguity over whether the problem is with the offence to the recipient or with the reinforcement of the hostile/prejudiced attitudes of the speaker, but the central claim is that modes of speech are an appropriate subject of concern and that some form of government action to encourage more socially appropriate modes of speech, ranging from subtle pressure to direct coercion, is desirable. The only difference between the two positions is that they have different lists of inappropriate words.

I don’t have a sharply defined position on any of this, except that I find people who think that being “politically incorrect” is exceptionally brave and witty to be among the most tiresome of bores. I doubt that changes in speech will, of themselves, produce changes in attitudes. The obvious evidence for this is the rate at which euphemisms wear out and become as offensive as the terms they replaced (for example, ‘handicapped’ for ‘crippled’). On the other hand, I think there’s a lot to be said for avoiding offensive words and forms of speech and can see a place for (tightly drafted and cautiously applied) laws prohibiting or penalising various forms of collective defamation.

[Posted with ecto]

Inequality and the Varieties of Capitalism

by Kieran Healy on January 29, 2004

My department has a job offer out to Emory’s Lane Kenworthy, a comparative macro-sociologist. We hope he accepts, of course, because his stuff is very interesting. His homepage has a list of his papers, along with various datasets. He also has a complete draft of a forthcoming book, Egalitarian Capitalism [2mb PDF]. It’s an examination of trends in growth, employment and income in 20 of the advanced capitalist democracies. The analytical focus is on whether there is a tradeoff between each of these desirable goals, on the one hand, and income equality, on the other. The general conclusion is that there is no such tradeoff — or at least, the kind of income distribution that would look very good to egalitarians can be achieved without growth taking a big hit. Egalitarian Capitalism is very accessible to the general reader, I think, and relevant to the question “If not the New Economy, then what?” that’s been suggested by our ongoing discussion of Doug Henwood’s book.