Veil of ignorance

by Henry Farrell on February 13, 2004

Begging to differ (politely) from a “comment “: that Scott Marten makes on the French headscarf ban:

bq. I just don’t understand how people who feel this law is justified because girls are being forced to wear headscarves can think that the solution is to force them to take it back off. If I hold a gun to your head and make you do something you don’t want to, is the correct police response to hold another gun to your head and tell you not to? What makes otherwise rational people think that the solution lies in that direction?

Well, perhaps because there are situations in which holding a gun to someone’s head _is_ the right thing to do, and is indeed in the interests of the person at gunpoint. I don’t think that the headscarf ban is one of those situations, but …

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Quiz Night at Crooked Timber

by Kieran Healy on February 13, 2004

It’s quiztime, courtesy of Mike Rappaport at “The Right Coast”:, who does not like us. He turns his keen critical eye on four of our recent posts. The goal of the quiz is to match each of Mike’s devastating indictments to its target:

table(fig). {font-weight:bold;center}_|Accusation|Target|
|(. 1. Attacked conservatives when they were down. |((. A. John. |
|(. 2. Failed to discuss something on our blog. |((. B. Harry. |
|(. 3. Relies on news sources other than Fox. |((. C. Chris. |
|(. 4. Knows about the history of socialism. |((. D. Kieran. |

Answers are at “The Right Coast”: The accuracy of these criticisms, and their effect on our credibility here at CT, will be the subject of a later quiz.


by Brian on February 13, 2004

Looks like being an election official in Florida just got easier.

bq. The Department of State has notified elections supervisors that touchscreen ballots don’t have to be included during manual recounts because there is no question about how voters intended to vote.

bq. While touchscreen ballot images can be printed, there is no need and elections supervisors aren’t authorized to do so, Division of Elections Director Ed Kast wrote in a letter to Pasco County Supervisor of Elections Kurt Browning.

So we’re just going to trust the computers. Given how reliable we all know computers to be, this is about as democratic as selecting candidates by lots. (Just for the record, I think it’s an interesting theoretical question about how democratic that is. It’s how we pick juries after all, and they are often considered an important part of the democratic process.)

Counting votes is a very hard business, so you can see why they’d want to speed it up. In Australia, with roughly the same population as Florida, spread over a much larger area, with I think twice as many voters, and a more complicated voting system, we manage to count every ballot by hand in 3 or 4 hours. To be sure, we don’t have as many elections at once as Floridians do, but you’d think for top-line elections they could try for a change running elections as well as we do. (Hat tip: kos.)

Learning is not occurring

by Daniel on February 13, 2004

Tyler on the Volokh conspiracy links to a New York Times story and comments that “Deterrence doesn’t fully reassure me on the basis of this extract:

“”A complacent Saddam Hussein was so convinced that war would be averted or that America would mount only a limited bombing campaign that he deployed the Iraqi military to crush domestic uprisings rather than defend against a ground invasion, according to a classified log of interrogations of captured Iraqi leaders and former officers.

Mr. Hussein believed that a “casualty averse” White House would order a bombing campaign that Iraq could withstand, according to the secret report, prepared for the Pentagon’s most senior leadership and dated Jan. 26. And the Iraqi Defense Ministry, in a grand miscalculation, believed that any ground offensive would come across the Jordanian border. “

Lads, lads, we’re not learning the lesson here are we? Testimony from captured military officers, defectors, and anyone else who thinks that they have something to gain by telling interesting stories (which inflate their own importance) is worthless. This is how we got into the whole WMD fiasco. I’ve no idea whether or not this is true as a description about Saddam’s state of mind or military tactics. But after reading this story, given its sourcing, I’ve still got no idea. Stick to the satellite photos, that’s my advice, they don’t lie. That’s how Scott Ritter, Andrew Wilkie and myself managed to get it right on the question of Iraqi nukes.

Data mining

by John Q on February 13, 2004

I thought I’d repost this piece from my old blog, because a multidisciplinary audience is just what it needs. The starting point is as follows:

Data mining’ is an interesting term. It’s used very positively in some academic circles, such as departments of marketing, and very negatively in others, most notably departments of economics. The term refers to the use of clever automated search techniques to discover putatively significant relationships in large data sets, and is widely used in a positive context. For economists, however, the term is invariably used with the implication that the relationships discovered are spurious, or at least that the procedure yields no warrant for believing that they are real. The classic article is Lovell, M. (1983), ‘Data mining’, Review of Economics and Statistics 45(1), 1–12, which long predates the rise to popularity of data mining in many other fields

So my first question is whether the economists are isolated on this, as on so much else? My second question is how such a situation can persist without any apparent awareness or concern on either side of the divide.

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You Old Romantic, Me

by Kieran Healy on February 13, 2004

Until this afternoon, a “Google search”: for the phrase “‘Valentine Poem'”: promptly returned “this elegaic masterpiece”: high on the first page of results. (I know this because its been the most popular search referrer to my “website”: for each of the past ten days.) Written last year by one of the leading poetic talents of his generation, I think it’s a lot better than the crap that appears to have displaced it — but whoever said “democracy”: makes the best choices?


by Ted on February 13, 2004

(UPDATE: Glenn has taken down the link to the post in question. We all make mistakes. Original post below the fold, edited somewhat.)

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