What a coincidence!

by Chris Bertram on March 18, 2004

Harvard Law Review recently published a sympathetic note of a book by a certain “Francis Beckwith”:http://www.francisbeckwith.com/ on so-called “intelligent design” (that’s creationism with bells and whistles on, to you and me). Brian Leiter took them “to task for this”:http://webapp.utexas.edu/blogs/archives/bleiter/000878.html (as well he might) and became the object of “a vitriolic polemic in the conservative National Review”:http://www.nationalreview.com/comment/baker200403150909.asp . The pompous and moralizing tone of the National Review’s article starts to look a little inappropriate, though, one we realize that the author — who is described as “a freelance writer in Texas” — is, in fact, “the aforementioned Beckwith’s graduate student and teaching assistant”:http://webapp.utexas.edu/blogs/archives/bleiter/000952.html . It’s a small world.

Medicare

by Ted on March 18, 2004

The Gadflyer version of Political Aims doesn’t seem to have a way to link to individual posts, which is a shame. This one from Amy Sullivan on the Medicare bill is a doozy:

Let’s review. The Medicare bill only passed the House after Republican leaders:

a) broke all institutional precedent and held the vote open for a record three hours, instead of the traditional fifteen minutes;
b) used the extra time to “convince” a handful of representatives who had already voted against the bill to change their votes;
c) possibly threatened and/or bribed at least one representative;
d) broke the additional precedent of barring non-Members from the floor of the House during a vote by allowing HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson to “have a little talk with” some recalcitrant representatives; and now
e) lied about what they knew the final cost of the measure to be.

No wonder they’re spending federal tax dollars trying to convince us all that it was such a great idea. There’s absolutely no way the thing would have passed if the truth had been on the table. This isn’t a little political spat. This is pattern and practice. And it’s important. So pay attention.

P.S. Another post worth reading on the subject. The punchline is that the actuary was ordered not to present his findings on the bill for two reasons. The first, of course, was that he showed that the costs for the bill were higher than the House leadership was promising. The second is that they showed that the Republican plan “could increase premiums for those who stay in traditional programs by as much as 25 percent.”

Reference hyper-inflation ?

by John Quiggin on March 18, 2004

The phenomenon of recommendation letters for students being written by the student was discussed a few months back, but, as recommendation letters aren’t a big deal here in Australia, I didn’t pay much attention. Today, however, I met a new version of this. I got an email from someone in the US, previously unknown to me, attaching a CV and a draft recommendation letter, and asking me to sign it. I declined without reading the CV, and without formulating a precise reason. Has anyone else encountered this?

The Darkness

by Ted on March 18, 2004

When Jim Treacher linked to the homepage of the imaginary horror writer Garth Marenghi, he found a real gem. Garth Marenghi is wonderfully done narcissistic hack, the page is hilarious, and the internet is a beautiful thing for hosting it. (Oh, the internet. How can I stay mad at you?)

From one of the interviews:

What, scientifically speaking, is the most frightening thing ever?

Garth: I’m not a scientist. I’m a fabulist, a shaman, a ferryman, a dreamweaver. But that’s not to say I don’t put forward scientific propositions. In Black Fang, I dared to suggest that if pollution kept progressing at its current rate, rats would soon be able to drive buses. This week, as I sauntered through Soho, I witnessed a rodent sniffing curiously round a discarded rollerskate. Are we really so far away from my apocalyptic vision? I fear not friend.

A description of one of his books, Afterbirth:

It’s the year 2050 and everyone can choose the perfect baby. Blue eyes, blond hair, and calcium-rich blood. Everyone, that is, who can pay. (Many people can’t pay). The West Country’s most beautiful woman, Silvie Mink, is certain her newborn will be as drop dead gorgeous as her. But when her baby drops dead, knifed by her own placenta, she knows her DNA modification program has gone too far…

TAGLINE: After birth, comes Afterbirth

(On a related note, happy Day-Before-Zombie-Movie, everyone.)

Game on Rawls’s Second Principle

by Harry on March 18, 2004

For the first time in ages I am not teaching a course in which I’m going to use this game, but this morning I got a plaintive email from a former grad student saying that she had lost her copy, and wanted to use it in a class she is teaching. So I thought I’d post it just so that it is available to anyone who hasn’t already made it up themselves. The game is heavily adapted from a series of experiments done by Frohlich and Oppenheimer, and I’ve refined it over the years. It always seems to work well, even with lower-division students in low-discussion classes. I tend to use it prior to asking them to read any Rawls, and spend about 10-15 minutes at the beginning of the game explaining each of the principles and insisting that I really mean it that they can make up their own principles. I assume lots of people have done something like this, so if your version has features you think I should incorporate please let me know.
(Note, as you can see I do not distinguish the two aspects of the second principle — when I have done that it has confused the students and made the game work less well — this way, in fact, they frequently distinguish the issues themselves in the class-wide discussion we have after the small groups have worked it through).

[click to continue…]

From an untenured perspective

by Henry on March 18, 2004

“Another Damned Medievalist”:http://www.blogenspiel.blogspot.com worries in “comments”:https://www.crookedtimber.org/archives/001522.html about the perils of blogging for the untenured academic.

bq. I’d like to ask those of you who already have tenure and may be on hiring committees — what happens if you know a candidate from the blogosphere? Should people on the market blog (Ms Mentor says to be careful)? If the blog is not academic, is it relevant to the search (although I can’t imaging that it wouldn’t have some influence on whether a candidate is a ‘good fit’? Inquiring minds want to know!

As an untenured faculty member meself, I have little wisdom to offer.

UK – home of e-democracy II

by Maria on March 18, 2004

Good news – MySociety, the people who brought us the excellent Downing Street Says, have just been awarded £250,000 by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister following a bid they made with the West Sussex County Council.

Details of exactly how the money will be spent aren’t yet available, but Tom Steinberg hopes it will allow MySociety to start building the projects they selected before Christmas from hundreds of proposals. The lucky winners are intended to strengthen the voluntary sector and the democratic process;

GiveItAway – Lowering the barriers to giving stuff away, instead of throwing it away.

PledgeBank – Want to help a cause, but worried that your effort will make no difference?

FaxYourRepresentative – FaxYourMP.com goes 21st century

NotApathetic – Don’t want to vote, but also not apathetic? Let them know why.

YourConstituencyMailingList – Want to hear from your MP & discuss what they say?

Congratulations to everyone at MySociety – it couldn’t happen to nicer people.

Male lust at Oxford

by Chris Bertram on March 18, 2004

From today’s “Telegraph”:http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2004/03/18/ndons18.xml&sSheet=/portal/2004/03/18/ixportal.html :

bq. Oxford dons are biased in favour of female applicants, especially if they come from independent schools, according to a study by four eminent academics. One of them, A H Halsey, emeritus professor of sociology at Oxford, said: “I fear that the male lust hypothesis is part of the explanation.”

Would any of the Oxford admissions tutors who read CT care to comment? (Hat tip JW).

Anti-semitism in Europe

by Henry on March 18, 2004

There’s an interesting poll by Pew, which suggests that anti-Semitism has actually “declined significantly”:http://people-press.org/reports/display.php3?ReportID=206 in France and Germany since 1991. I imagine that much of the decline, especially in Germany, can be traced to older anti-Semites dying as time progresses. Even still, the percentage of Germans who view Jews “unfavorably” is unacceptably high, at 20% of the population. I’d like to see a breakdown of the difference between former East and West Germany (some 500 people were polled – probably enough to make a decent first attempt at identifying sub-national differences). My suspicion is that there are substantially higher numbers of people from former East Germany with anti-Semitic views. They missed out on most of the collective self-recrimination about Germany’s behaviour towards Jews in the 1933-1945 period (the East German regime preferred to propagandize the martyrdom of Communists in the concentration camps, for obvious reasons). Via “Norman Geras”:http://normblog.typepad.com/normblog/2004/03/european_attitu.html.

Medical ethics

by Chris Bertram on March 18, 2004

In British universities and, I suspect, elsewhere, medical ethics has been one of the big growth areas in philosophy (well, quasi-philosophy, anyway). It seems, in fact, that the expansion has been so fast that universities are struggling to find qualified lecturers. How else to explain that a scientist who tried to poison his wife’s gin-and-tonics with atropine and tried to cover his tracks by spiking products at the local supermarket has been “taken on by the University of Manchester”:http://www.thisislondon.co.uk/news/articles/9561757?source=PA to lecture in philosophy and medical ethics? Do as I say, not as I do? (Hat tip “Mick Hartley”:http://mickhartley.typepad.com/blog/2004/03/the_ethics_of_p.html )

Belle de Jour unmasked?

by Chris Bertram on March 18, 2004

In case anyone has missed the news in “today’s Times”:http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2-1042250,00.html , “Don Foster”:http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/entertainment/reviews/newsid_1410000/1410211.stm , the guy who used literary forensics to identify Joe Klein as the author of _Primary Colors_ and who confirmed Ted Kaczynski as the Unabomber, claims to have outed the anonymous author of “Belle de Jour”:http://belledejour-uk.blogspot.com/ as Sarah Champion, a minor author from Manchester. Belle, naturally, “denies the claim”:http://belledejour-uk.blogspot.com/2004_03_01_belledejour-uk_archive.html#107953767586241556 .

1. We enjoy the benefit of some very smart, very civil conservative commentators on this site. I’d be honestly interested in their answer to this question:

Regarding the war on terror, what policies or actions are you afraid that President John Kerry might actually adopt that could reasonably be described as “appeasement”?

2. For interested U.S. citizens, The Poor Man is holding a fundraising competition between former Clark supports (aka “the Jets”) and Dean supporters (aka “the far, far inferior Jets”). Give generously, or the terrorists win. (I kid!)

3. The Spainish election has been blogged heavily, not least by my my fellow Timberites. There have been a good deal of ignoble slurs on the subject that I’m pleased to ignore. On a more reasonable level, a number of people have made the argument that, even if we grant that Spaniards have done nothing wrong, the results will nonetheless incentivise terrorists. They will be convinced that terrorism can be effectively used to change the results of elections. This knowledge can only lead to more terrorism. (Jane Galt, for example, makes it here.)

This argument seems to rest on the premise that the terrorist attack did, in fact, change the results of the election. But for the train bombings, Aznar’s incumbent People’s Party would have remained in power.

I’m not going to pretend to be an expert on Spanish opinion polling, so I can’t make a claim for the significance of these polls. But according to this post, the Socialists were in the lead before the bombings, so the terrorists didn’t change the results. Doesn’t the argument take a severe blow?

3b. The argument that the right is showing contempt for democracy by decrying the results of the Spanish election is silly. If I had had a blog when Jorg Haider or Kurt Waldheim enjoyed electoral success in Austria, I would have complained, and I wouldn’t have been alone.

4. September 11th, 2001, was the worst day for the United States in my lifetime. I’d have a hard time choosing second place. But we all remember the way that the nation, and the world, pulled together in sympathy and support. I don’t want to get too sentimental, and we all have enough memories of those terrible days. But I’ll never forget sobbing as members of Congress stood on the steps of the Capital and sang “God Bless America” off-key. We were at our best, and it was easy to believe that we were all basically on the same side.

Fundamentally, I still believe that. But watching how people reacted to last week’s events in Spain has been deeply depressing. If there is another major terrorist attack on the U.S. in the next few months, I suspect that it would tear this country apart. May God have mercy on us all if it happens.