Left-Wing Conspirators

by Kieran Healy on February 16, 2004

Via “Atrios”:http://atrios.blogspot.com/2004_02_15_atrios_archive.html#107694748162031817 and “RMPN”:http://www.rmpn.org/weblog/archives/permalink/001104.cfm I found a beta version of “FollowTheNetwork.Org”:http://www.followthenetwork.org/uidev/default.cfm. Apparently the brainchild of David Horowitz, it purports to be “a guide to the political left” and takes the form of a big database of people, funders, media, government and so on. The design of the site suggests that the left is a huge, interconnected web of shadowy figures and money flows. The database entries make for interesting reading. Trawling around in it (note that the site is in beta, so these links may stop working soon) I find that you can “follow the network” for people like these:

* “Troy Duster”:http://www.followthenetwork.org/uidev/personsDetail.cfm?pid=69. Described as a “Radical black sociologist.” Duster teaches at NYU is a past-president of the “American Sociological Association”:http://www.asanet.org.

* “Jamal Ahmen Al-Fadl”:http://www.followthenetwork.org/uidev/personsDetail.cfm?pid=184. Described as “bin Laden lieutenant, Sudanese … Helped Sudan’s ruling NIF build world’s then-largest complex of terrorist training camps.”

* “Bruce Ackerman”:http://www.followthenetwork.org/uidev/personsDetail.cfm?pid=324, “‘Progressive’ academic.” Ackerman is “Sterling Professor of Law and Political Science”:http://www.law.yale.edu/outside/html/faculty/baa27/profile.htm at Yale University.

* “Ben Ali Zinedine”:http://www.followthenetwork.org/uidev/personsDetail.cfm?pid=127, ” President General of Tunisia’s democratic government.”

* “Joan Baez”:http://www.followthenetwork.org/uidev/personsDetail.cfm?pid=27, “singer, radical.”

* “Osama Bin Laden”:http://www.followthenetwork.org/uidev/personsDetail.cfm?pid=178, “Saudi Arabian financier … Issued fatwa calling for Muslims to kill Americans and Jews everywhere in the world. CIA notified Congress of this.”

* “Barbara Reskin”:http://www.followthenetwork.org/uidev/personsDetail.cfm?pid=315, “progressive academic.” Reskin is professor of sociology at the “University of Washington”:http://www.soc.washington.edu/people/faculty/faculty_detail.asp?UID=reskin and a former president of the American Sociological Association.

* “Ahmad A. Ajaj”:http://www.followthenetwork.org/uidev/personsDetail.cfm?showHeader=No&pid=117, ” Associate of first WTC bombers. From Houston. Pizza deliveryman. ‘Mysterious connections and unlimited funds.'”

* “Mary Waters”:http://www.followthenetwork.org/uidev/personsDetail.cfm?showHeader=No&pid=455, “‘Progressive'” academic. Waters is Professor of Sociology and Chair of the Department at “Harvard University”:http://www.wjh.harvard.edu/soc/faculty/waters/

* “Mohammed Ali”:http://www.followthenetwork.org/uidev/personsDetail.cfm?showHeader=No&pid=121, “Special operations chief for Osama bin Laden in USA.”

* “Michael Walzer”:http://www.followthenetwork.org/uidev/personsDetail.cfm?pid=87, “political theorist.” Walzer is Professor at the “Institute for Advanced Study”:http://www.sss.ias.edu/home/walzer.html.

* “Ayman Al-Zawhiri”:http://www.followthenetwork.org/uidev/personsDetail.cfm?showHeader=No&pid=192 is “Second in command of al-Qaeda.”

I could go on. And that’s just the database of individuals. There’s also the “list of groups”:http://www.followthenetwork.org/uidev/groups.cfm, where you can find invaluable information on terrorist groups like “Hamas”:http://www.followthenetwork.org/uidev/organizationsDetail.cfm?orgid=66&chksearch=organizations&type=alpha&alpha=H, “Habitat for Humanity”:http://www.followthenetwork.org/uidev/organizationsDetail.cfm?orgid=2754&chksearch=organizations&type=alpha&alpha=H and the “Harvard Alumni Association”:http://www.followthenetwork.org/uidev/organizationsDetail.cfm?orgid=5977&chksearch=organizations&type=alpha&alpha=H. And like any good blacklist, everyone is “invited to submit any information they might have”:http://www.followthenetwork.org/uidev/contribute.cfm.

*Update*: Blogger “Jack Balkin”:http://balkin.blogspot.com/ is “on the list”:http://www.followthenetwork.org/uidev/personsDetail.cfm?pid=398, as another “‘Progressive’ Academic.” What are we at CT? Chopped Liver?

*Update 2*: It seems like the Follow The Network has been taken offline, but those helpful people at “RMPN”:http://www.rmpn.org/weblog/ have a “Mirror Site”:http://www.thinkpol.net/ftnmir1/ for you all to play with.

Kant’s Approach to Ethics

by Jon Mandle on February 16, 2004

Chris reminded us that the other day was the 200-year anniversary of Kant’s death. I didn’t get this done in time, but here is a brief overview of Kant’s ethics – what I, at least, think is valuable and distinctive about his approach. I don’t claim that my account is particularly original, although do I think it differs from the way Kant is usually presented. Nor do I say that there are no good objections to his view, but at least I hope to show that it isn’t as mysterious as it sometimes appears. Here goes….

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Famous quotes from nowhere

by Eszter Hargittai on February 16, 2004

Sometimes quotes take on a life of their own. They become famous and get attributed to someone without anyone citing a traceable origin. I ran into such a problem about five years ago when I wanted to use a quote by Herbert Simon in an article. The quote was this:

What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention, and a need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of information sources that might consume it.

I remember doing all sorts of searches online to figure out the exact source of that quote. But others using those lines either cited no source or pointed to a piece by Hal Varian in Scientific American as the source of the quote. I checked out that article, but there was no citation. What to do? I ended up contacting Hal Varian directly for the source and he very kindly provided a pointer to it (p.40.).

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Junk science

by Henry on February 16, 2004

Has either Flack Central Station or Junkscience.com thought about commissioning a few articles from David Icke and friends? It sounds to me as though there might be a real “meeting of minds”:http://www.davidicke.com/icke/articles2002/greensgovern.html (although they might have to get the Icke crowd to soft-pedal the “shapeshifting reptilians from outer space angle”:http://www.davidicke.com/icke/articles3/obsessed.html).

Green knights

by Henry on February 16, 2004

The incomparable “Michael Dirda”:http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A38093-2004Feb12.html does a full-page review of Gene Wolfe’s The Knight in this week’s Washington Post. Dirda says that Wolfe “should enjoy the same rapt attention we afford to Thomas Pynchon, Toni Morrison and Cormac McCarthy” and he’s not blowing smoke. I’ve “blogged before”:https://www.crookedtimber.org/archives/000700.html on Wolfe, who’s perhaps my favourite living writer. _The Knight_ isn’t quite as wonderful as Wolfe’s “New Sun” books, which together constitute his masterpiece, but is still quite wonderful indeed. Its setting most closely resembles that of his juvenile novel, _The Devil in a Forest_, but its story is rather more complex; as Dirda says, the surface smoothness of Wolfe’s language is “that of quicksand.” The prose-style of _The Knight_ is plain, plainer by far than the archaisms and loanwords of the _New Sun_ books, but it is possessed of the same gravity and music. Wolfe is staunchly conservative, and the book shows it. _The Knight_ presents a vision of chivalry and fealty in the Dark Ages that borrows from “Tolkien”:http://home.clara.net/andywrobertson/wolfemountains.html, and that is likely to be signally unsympathetic to most lefties. But there’s something important there; like other good writers on both left and right, Wolfe’s understanding of human nature and society runs deeper than his immediate political sympathies. His depiction of life in a society on the margins of civilization (caught between the depredations of barbarism and the efforts of the monarchy to impose order) is note-perfect; Wolfe not only has an ear for the music of language, but for the rhythms of society. If you haven’t read Wolfe before, I still recommend that you start with the New Sun books (Shadow and Claw, and Sword and Citadel); but _The Knight_ is a worthy companion.

Anonymous review

by Henry on February 16, 2004

The “NYT”:http://www.nytimes.com/2004/02/14/technology/14AMAZ.html?ex=1392094800&en=183dc1d16a0c7b4c&ei=5007&partner=USERLAND has an article on anonymous reviews on Amazon, and how they’re manipulated in different ways by authors, authors’ friends, and authors’ most bitter enemies. It’s a real problem with a system that allows uncontrolled anonymity or pseudonymity – the information content of the average review quickly drops to zero, unless (like “Tyler Cowen”:http://www.marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2004/01/how_do_consumer.html you’re interested in the degree of controversy that surrounds the book, rather than the ratio of positive to negative reviews). For an academic, the obvious point of comparison is peer review. Most halfway decent scholarly journals[1] get anonymous scholars to review any articles that are submitted to them so as to assess publishability. Although the editor of the journal usually has the final say, the anonymous reviewers’ findings count for a lot. There’s a lot of bitching and griping about this in the particular, especially because it’s sometimes not too difficult for the paper’s author to guess the identity of the ‘anonymous’ reviewer who did a hatchet-job on their cherished piece. The identity of particularly venomous reviewers is the subject of (frequently lurid) speculation and gossip.

Still, the system works reasonably well in the general, for three reasons. First, even if the reviewers are anonymous from the point of view of the article’s author, the journal’s editor knows who they are. This encourages at least some degree of responsibility on the part of the reviewer; even those with malice in their hearts may prefer not to run the risk of becoming known as a partisan hack by a journal editor, who may be receiving their own pieces in the future. Second, most journals will solicit at least two, and very likely three or four reviews, which ideally will be written by people from a variety of backgrounds, so that neither the author’s friends nor foes determine the article’s fate. This doesn’t always work as well as it should – but most journals at least make good-faith efforts to ensure that a piece receives a fair hearing. Finally, anonymity does provide some protection for fair criticism. Even in contexts where the disgruntled author of a rejected article can make a fair guess at who the reviewers were, they can’t be entirely sure; thus, it’s hard for them to retaliate, even when they’re powerful figures in the field. Anonymous peer review isn’t perfect – but by and large the articles that get published in the better known journals in the social sciences are reasonably good, interesting pieces (I don’t know other disciplines well enough to comment properly on their journals).

fn1. Legal journals are the most obvious exception.

The World City System

by Kieran Healy on February 16, 2004

The “latest issue”:http://www.journals.uchicago.edu/AJS/journal/contents/v109n4.html of the “American Journal of Sociology”:http://www.journals.uchicago.edu/AJS/index.html [subscription required] has a number of interesting articles, but given the, ahem, cosmopolitan nature of the crew here at CT, a paper by Alderson and Beckfield on “Power and Position in the City World System”:http://www.journals.uchicago.edu/cgi-bin/resolve?AJS080226 [also “pdf”:http://www.journals.uchicago.edu/cgi-bin/resolve?AJS080226PDF] caught my eye. They examine power relations between three and a half thousand cities in a network analysis, operationalizing ties with a measure of HQ and branch locations of the world’s 500 largest corporations. The authors develop a “blockmodel”:http://faculty.ucr.edu/~hanneman/SOC157/TEXT/C9StructuralEquivalence.html#block to identify clusters of “regularly equivalent”:http://faculty.ucr.edu/~hanneman/SOC157/TEXT/C11RegularEquivalence.html cities. Roughly, members of regular equivalence sets have similar relations to members of other equivalent sets, so equivalent cities stand in the same relations to other groups of cities.

As you might expect, the core of the city world system is the block made up of London, New York, Paris and Tokyo, and these four cities are much more powerful than any of the others. But outside this core group, the analysis suggests some patterns that aren’t visible from less formal approaches. Outside the “L-N-P-T” block, there are six other “Primary” blocks:[1] Amsterdam, Basel, Atlanta, Caracas, Cologne and … “Bristol”:http://www.bristol-city.gov.uk/. “Chris”:http://eis.bris.ac.uk/~plcdib/ will be delighted.

fn1. These are “cliques whose members are involved in high levels of relations with outsiders. More specifically, they are blocks with greater than expected ingroup preference (their cliquishness), but also greater than expected outdegree and indegree.”