From the monthly archives:

January 2004

Three Wars or Four?

by Henry Farrell on January 26, 2004

Norman Geras sees some “overlap”: between a recent interview with Benny Morris (where Morris “qualifies”: some of the arguments attributed to him previously), and a “piece”: that Michael Walzer wrote for Dissent in 2002 on the Israel-Palestine conflict. Morris argues that the ‘war being waged against us’ [in Israel] needs to be seen in the context of three overlapping conflicts; Walzer argues that there are no less than four ‘Israeli-Palestinian wars’ now in progress. But apart from the basic organizing metaphor, there doesn’t seem to be much overlap at all – Morris and Walzer are making very different (and perhaps radically opposed) arguments, for very different purposes.

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And where were you educated?

by Eszter Hargittai on January 26, 2004

Last week in class I asked my students where we had all learned that it is illegal to kill people. [UPDATE 1/27/04 10:30am CST: Since the comments have gotten long and some may miss this clarification: this is not the exact wording of what I had said in class. I said something along the lines of “not supposed to kill people”. My question was not about legalities it was more general.] (Let’s set aside for the moment why this question would come up in a grad seminar on the Social Implications of Info and Communication Technologies.. the question seemed to make sense at the time.:) When I posed the question I wasn’t sure about my own answer to it so I was especially surprised when I saw that most students (of the eight in this class) had an immediate response: church.

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APA Pacific

by Brian on January 26, 2004

This will mostly be of interest to philosophers and fellow travellers. The APA Pacific Divivision conference program is now online. This is worth noting for a couple of reasons. First, the conference is absolutely packed with good papers. Every session has, IMNSHO, multiple papers that are worth travelling to see. If you are undecided about whether to go to the conference, seeing the program should tip the balance. Second, there is a mini-conference on global justice running during and after the APA, organised by (among others) our own Harry Brighouse. This will be of interest to many CT readers I think. Since this does not entirely overlap the APA, those interested in it should make sure their travel plans allow them to attend. I imagine many attendees will have already booked their travel to the conference, but for those that have not, it is worth checking to see whether you want to stay around for the mini-conference after the main show.

Favourite movies

by Chris Bertram on January 26, 2004

Norm has “posted the results”: in his top movies of all time poll. My “own two favourite movies”: got absolutely nowhere and fifteen people (10 per cent of the total!) were deluded enough to vote for the Shawshank Redemption (4th= best movie of all time? — you must be joking!). Still, it gives us something to talk about and has been a lot of fun. So thanks to Norm for his efforts.

Kelly Bets and Education Policy

by Daniel on January 26, 2004

Non-UK readers might not be aware of this, but there is the most almightly kerfuffle going on in the UK at the moment on a subject which I strongly suspect Americans would regard it as bizarre to be having a debate about. We’re all throwing beer bottles and calling each other fascists over the question of … whether different universities should charge different fees. Why? Well, for one thing, Blair and his government promised us in their last manifesto that they weren’t going to do this, and apparently some of us still care about the government’s habit of allowing us to go into the ballot chamber believing things that aren’t true (by the way, where the hell are our oversized pint glasses and longer opening hours?). But there is another, more fundamental reason; a lot of people believe that this is a fundamentally inegalitarian measure. And on my analysis (though not that of most other economists) they are right. Read on …

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The Umbrellas of Cherbourg

by Chris Bertram on January 26, 2004

I went to see “Les Parapluies de Cherbourg”: at my local cinema yesterday afternoon. An extraordinary banal story, real soap-opera stuff, but so strange and wonderful when every line is sung to French semi-jazz music. And the final scene when Catherine Deneuve and Nino Castelnuovo meet again is so moving. Wonderful multicoloured wallpaper in every room too! The poignancy was accentuated by the mentions of war in Algeria: ambushes, comrades killed and so on. If I’d seen this a year ago these would have been little more than words but now it is easy to imagine the scenes.

Globollocks quiz!

by Daniel on January 26, 2004

From Thomas “Even More Airmiles” Friedman’s column today:

“Former Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo remarked to me: “I don’t think I would have been successful in political reform without the decent economic growth we had [spurred by Nafta] from 1996 to 2000. Those five years, we had average growth of 5 percent.”

Who can tell me what might be considered by harsh judges to be perhaps a leetle bit misleading about this quotation?

Answer below the fold.

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The Hard Way

by John Q on January 26, 2004

My summer holiday activities over the last couple of months included a lot of work on my music collection (I’m slowly transferring from vinyl to MP3/AIFF) and rereading Nick Hornby. So, I was naturally struck by how rapidly the skill of making compilation tapes, a central theme of High Fidelity has gone from the esoteric to the everyday. Not surprisingly, not everyone is happy about this. Joel Keller, writing in Salon, says

Putting together a home-brewed compilation of songs used to be an act of love and art. Now it’s just too damn easy to be worth caring about.

and much more in the same vein, though his conclusion is more elegiac than polemical

When making the decision between practicality and artistic merit, I’ll choose practicality more often than not. I may be wistful for the old days, but I’m not an idiot.

So let’s have a moment of silence, for the mix as we used to know it is dead. Technology has overtaken the experience and made it cold and impersonal. But it’s time to look forward, as the Internet has allowed us to trade and download more varied types of music, making for better-sounding, albeit more antiseptic, mixes. One of these days, Nick Hornby should do a sequel to “High Fidelity” and list Rob’s Top 5 music downloads. I’m sure it’ll be a nice read. But it just won’t be the same.

The first time I heard this form of argument, it was from my Grade 4 teacher, lamenting the arrival of the ballpoint pen, and its adverse effect on the quality of handwriting. Possibly since I never mastered the steel nib/inkwell technology still favoured by the South Australian Department of Education in the 1960s, I was not impressed. Since then, I’ve seen the same argument applied to calculators, word processing and desktop publishing. And of course, the argument wasn’t new when I first met it – in one form or another, it’s been applied to almost any technical innovation that replaces a complex skill with an easily usable machine. (It’s separate from the income-distributional arguments that apply when skilled workers are displaced by unskilled ones, although the two are often entangled).

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Baker’s Dozen

by Kieran Healy on January 26, 2004

I’m very happy to report that, after his stint as a guest blogger recently, John Quiggin will be joining us as a regular here at Crooked Timber. John is a distinguished Australian economist at the University of Queensland, and many readers will already know him from his own excellent blog. We’re delighted John’s agreed to join the gang, and his doing so brings our number to thirteen. I’m not sure who gets to be Judas. Or Jesus, for that matter.

Koufax Awards Update

by Kieran Healy on January 25, 2004

Head over to Wampum and vote for your favorite blog named “Crooked Timber.” We are nominated for Best Writing, Best Series, Best Group Blog and Best Design. Unfortunately, the “Best Group Blog” and “Best Blog” categories seem mutually exclusive.

I just saw a documentary yesterday about the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, the organization behind the Golden Globes. Apparently it’s made up of people who need be neither foreign nor press, but who share a desperate desire to be photographed with celebrities. I will happily pose for a photo with anyone who votes for us in the Koufax Awards. Head and Shoulders shots only, though.

Top-up fees

by Chris Bertram on January 25, 2004

I see from comments to “another thread”: that Daniel is preparing to argue against the British government’s case for top-up fees for universities. A good thing that we don’t have a CT party-line! Actually, I’m not sure I would be in favour of them either if the choice were between the current proposals and any alternative that I’d care to formulate for an ideal world. But that isn’t the case. British universities have been starved of resources for over two decades, academic pay is extremely poor (especially at the start) and we’ll face a real difficulty in recruiting people to teach some subjects if things don’t change (Daniel — fancy a job an a junior econ lecturer in a British university?). So since the extra money we need isn’t going to come from increasing taxation and isn’t going to come from a graduate tax (both of which I’d be perfectly happy with), and since the likely outcome of a government defeat is further drift and starvation — I hope Blair wins this one.

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by Chris Bertram on January 25, 2004

The most popular theory of egalitarian justice at the moment is probably one that says that an individual’s fate should be a sensitive to their choices but insensitive to the brute luck they suffer (including their unchosen circumstances). I bring this up in the light of the often-unenlightening comments threads that ensue once someone here has posted on the situation of the poor (and especially of the _American_ poor), as Henry did on the Caroline Payne case, and I did some time ago on the health outcomes of black Americans.

For the standard response of our rightist friends is to tell us that the individuals who suffer these bad outcomes do so largely as a consequence of their own choices. So it is worth pointing out that, were that actually so, the most influential strand of egalitarian thinking on distributive justice would not find that a matter of concern.

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by Henry Farrell on January 24, 2004

CT extends its hearty congratulations to Congressman Billy Tauzin (R-La), who’s demonstrating his sincere attachment to free market virtues by retiring from politics and selling himself to the highest bidder. For the last couple of weeks, there’s been a “bidding war”: between the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) for Tauzin’s services. The MPAA had paid its outgoing head lobbyist, the unlamented Jack Valenti, more than $1 million a year. Apparently this wasn’t nearly enough for Tauzin, who held out for a substantially larger sum – and got it from PhRMA. As it happens, PhRMA is a particularly unpleasant organization – it played a dishonorable role in the AIDS drugs licensing for Africa controversy a few years ago, and has been up to its eyeballs in other controversies and backroom arrangements, up to and including the recent Medicare porkfest. Needless to say, Tauzin has been assiduous in his efforts to protect the interests of “big pharma”: and the “content industry”: over the last couple of years; it’s hard to believe that his grossly inflated salary is unconnected to services previously rendered. The phenomenon of Congressman-turned-lobbyist is hardly a new one; but the openness and extent of the greed on display is unusual, even for Washington. A sign of the times.

“I don’t think they existed”

by Jon Mandle on January 24, 2004

Thanks to Calpundit for linking to this Reuters interview with David Kay.

Q: What happened to the stockpiles of biological and chemical weapons that everyone expected to be there?
A: “I don’t think they existed.
“I think there were stockpiles at the end of the first Gulf War and those were a combination of U.N. inspectors and unilateral Iraqi action got rid of them. I think the best evidence is that they did not resume large-scale production, and that’s what we’re really talking about, is large stockpiles, not the small. Large stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons in the period after ’95.”

Q: You came away from the hunt that you have done believing that they did not have any large stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons in the country?
A: “That is correct.”

Q: Do you think they destroyed it?
A: “No, I don’t think they existed.”

The interviewer, it seems, had some difficulty believing that Kay was being so straight, and wanted him to say these words twice.

A New Kind of Anti-Semitism?

by Daniel on January 23, 2004

Via Normblog, a piece in the nation on “The New Anti-Semitism, that being the kind practised by people like Paul Krugman when they criticise the Likud party, as opposed to the old kind of anti-Semitism – things like saying Mussolini wasn’t all that bad, which used to be unacceptable but apparently isn’t anymore.

The Nation piece argues that this new knd of Anti-Semitism doesn’t exist and isn’t anti-Semitism. Norm doesn’t like the article and he’s right; it’s a pretty weird and unsatisfying piece. But it contains one really odd standout line:

But the evidence suggests that the perpetrators of the anti-Jewish attacks in France were animated by political outrage, not bigotry.

Surely if this were true, it would mean that there was a new kind of anti-Semitism around, wouldn’t it? I know I’d certainly be a lot less vocal in criticising the Israeli government if I thought I was encouraging the “political outrage” of the kind of person who sets fire to synagogues. Wouldn’t you?

(and btw, this is the answer to Norm’s final question of “who cares?”. Liberal gentiles who oppose the actions of the current government of Israel care, because if there is a new kind of anti-Semitism, we’re potentially allying ourselves to a social trend which leads to racist attacks, and if there isn’t, we’re not. Personally I think there isn’t, but I begin to think I ought to make sure).

(by the way, I’ve not enabled comments because past experience suggests that links to Normblog have an almost pheromonal quality when it comes to bringing out the nasty side of otherwise lovely CT commenters. C’mon guys, you should be grateful. I’ve saved you from wasting Friday night on a pointless bulletin board flamewar).