From the monthly archives:

March 2004

Finding playmates

by Eszter Hargittai on March 28, 2004

Seth Finkelstein comments on Ed Felten’s blog that perhaps one reason why we don’t see much mixing of people from legal and technical backgrounds at conferences is that neither lawyers nor technologists get points within their own communities for attending conferences with experts from other fields. I can’t tell if Seth agrees with this point or is merely raising it, but it’s worth considering either way. My reaction to the above approach is that it seems short-sighted to assume that you cannot gain something valuable – something that could eventually score you points in your own community – from attending a conference that isn’t solely made up of people from your own field.

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Selective intelligence

by Eszter Hargittai on March 28, 2004

There are clearly some very smart folks behind Google given that they provide us with a great service and continually add useful features. That said, at times I am surprised by some of the decisions. Should they be placing their machine intelligence over user preferences? I am surfing the Web in Budapest. When I try to go to, I am redirected to I change the URL because I prefer to see the site in English. Fine. Then I run a search using English words and get Adwords Sponsored Links on the right in Hungarian. The rest of the interface is in English as are all of the results, but the ads are not. (Granted, the one term that matched the search term “domain” was in the ads, but every other word was in Hungarian.) Geography does not equal language preference or knowledge, especially when the user has already signaled so. It seems getting meaningful ads would be in the interest of both Google and its Adwords clients, why this decision then? (I commented on something very similar a year ago and although it seems some progress may have been made, need for improvement remains.)

Ruling the waves

by Henry Farrell on March 27, 2004

Another interesting piece of information on states and private actors in the governance of the Internet. One of the more important parts of the Internet’s architecture is the management of domain names, like,, and the various national top-level domain names (like .uk for Britain, and .ie for Ireland). People who study this sort of thing have a vague sense that domain name allocation is handled by private actors in most parts of the world. “Not so”:;id=448 according to a new paper by Michael Geist, who has preliminary results from 66 countries around the world.

bq. The most significant finding of this global survey is that, at least at the national level, governments are currently deeply involved in domain name administration. In fact, contrary to most expectations, virtually every government that responded to the survey either manages, retains direct control, or is contemplating formalizing its relationship with its national ccTLD. This is true even for governments, such as the United States, that generally adopt a free-market approach to Internet matters. Given the near ubiquitous role of government at the national level, it should therefore come as little surprise that governments have begun to seek a similarly influential role at the international level where policy decisions may have a direct impact on their national domains.

Geist’s evidence also suggests that the closer a domain name authority is to the private sector, the less likely it is to be interested in public interest goals, and the more likely its main concern will be flogging off as many domain names as possible. This isn’t exactly surprising, but it does offer food for thought, especially given “Verisign’s push”: further to privatize control of the domain name allocation system.

Seduced by a Model

by Kieran Healy on March 27, 2004

A “nice example”: via Crescat Sententia of an issue I’ve “mentioned before”:, namely, a case where the stylized facts lend themselves to an elegant bit of modeling that seems to analyze things very neatly, but the empirical details turn out to be much messier or a different kind of process altogether. Here it’s the debate about the Hijab in French schools. This is why fieldwork is important. The identification of mechanisms like sub-optimal conventions, failed co-ordination, tipping phenomena, self-fulfilling prophecies or auto-equilibrating systems are amongst the most useful and powerful tools in social science, but the number of phenomena they _appear_ to explain is much larger than those they _in fact_ explain. This can lead to odd consequences. For example, John Sutton’s little book “Marshall’s Tendencies”: (which I didn’t read carefully enough when I picked it up) makes the point that we can be led to misapply standard models not just when the reality is much more complicated or otherwise difficult, but even when there’s a perfectly good alternative model available, just not the obvious one.

Reaction to my last few posts make me want to add disclaimers like “Look, this doesn’t mean formal modeling is unimportant or bad,” “Yes, yes, of course there are lots of very smart game theorists,” and “No, Libertarians, I am not talking about you, so please relax.”

And sorry to anyone who was expecting this post to be about the attractions of the other kind of model.

Different agendas

by Henry Farrell on March 26, 2004

Read Kip, at “Long Story; Short Pier”: on what gay people, feminists and creationists _don’t_ have in common.

Up your hacienda, Jimmy1

by Daniel on March 26, 2004

Once more I find myself writing a post about something I didn’t think I’d need to write a post about, because I thought it was so obvious that everyone would have written about it. But no, so here goes. It’s an observation about the real meaning of the Spanish election result.

I’ve commented elsewhere about the general tone of a lot of comment (particularly in the USA) on the Spanish elections. But reading through Airmiles‘ latest column today, I was struck by the fact that nobody in the USA seems to realise that in at least one important sense, the fact that the Socialists won in Spain is, well, about them.

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Beating the odds

by Henry Farrell on March 26, 2004

The WTO has just handed down a “preliminary ruling”: that Internet policy wonks like myself have been waiting for with considerable impatience. Last June, the Caribbean island state of Antigua and Barbuda took a WTO case against the US for restrictions of trade. The issue: various US laws that have been applied to stamp out Internet gambling, with unpleasant consequences for the Antiguan economy. Antigua has just won in this first stage of the process.

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Elvis and bin Laden

by John Q on March 25, 2004

The idea that the war in Iraq is a necessary part of the struggle against terrorism is probably the biggest single factor in the case supporting the war. Both political leaders and pro-war bloggers have made repeated claims that the overthrow of Saddam Hussein constitutes progress in the “War against Terror”. A variety of arguments in support of this view have been proposed, most notably the ‘flypaper’ or ‘bring ’em on’ theory that, by encouraging terrorists to fight in Iraq, the war made the rest of the world a safer place.

The most widely reported opinion poll in Australia is the Newspoll, which provides results for Rupert Murdoch’s News Limited papers (he has about half the Australian market). There was widespread discussion recently about a Newspoll showing that 65 per cent of people thought the war in Iraq had increased the danger of a terrorist attack in Australia[1],

However, the really striking result was ignored. This concerned the proportion of people who accepted the claim, made repeatedly by the government here, that the invasion of Iraq substantially reduced the danger of terrorist attack. Only 1 per cent of respondents said that the invasion had made a terrorist attack “less likely”. The view that the war made an attack “a lot less likely” got an asterisk (less than 0.5 per cent). You can read the details here (PDF file).

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Bloggers incarnate

by Kieran Healy on March 25, 2004

Laurie and I had dinner last night with “Kevin Drum”: and his wife Marian. Kevin’s as engaging as you’d expect from his blog, only taller. Thanks to this dinner, Kevin has now met as many Crooked Timberites (Timberoids? “Timberteers”: as I have. I have this image of all the CT members finally gathered around a table for dinner somewhere someday, staring at their starters and sipping their drinks in awkward silence. I hope to increase my network score in the next few days by tracking down Brian, who like me is here for the Pacific APA, except he’s a real philosopher whereas I’m only married to one. As it happens, I did accidentally have a job interview at the Eastern APA a few years back, when I sat at the wrong table in one of the ballrooms. Sadly, I made the mistake of admitting that I wasn’t the guy they were looking for. I should have stuck it out and tried to get a campus visit out of it.

Juan non-Volokh (with minor editorial changes)

by Henry Farrell on March 25, 2004

Markets versus Politics – The Real Choice: … Too often policy arguments proceed as follows: A) politics “fails” because it does not produce the theoretically optimal result, therefore B) market processes are necessary. But B does not follow from A. The failure of government to produce an optimal result does not ensure that market processes will do a better job. From a social democratic perspective – or any perspective that is inherently suspicious of privatization – the burden should be on those advocating market processes to explain why the marketplace can be expected to produce a better result than the political process. In such an inquiry, the theoretical virtues of a basic equilibrium model of perfect competition are no more relevant than Pigouvian theories of government intervention. Both are blackboard abstractions that often have little bearing on what occurs in the real world. What matters is how privatization — and make no mistake, the subordination of political decisions to the marketplace is always political — is likely to affect the status quo ante, and whether the consequences of such intervention (and the attendant rent-seeking, transaction costs, etc.) constitute an improvement in the real world.

The introduction of market mechanisms into politics may be well intentioned, but that does not make it any more likely to generate positive results. Indeed, insofar as noble intentions leave the likely consequences of such interventions unexamined, such policies may make us all worse off.

(see “here”: for original).

Europe and the War on Liberty

by Maria on March 25, 2004

Today, European leaders meet to wave through a raft of measures purported to fight terrorism. The public story is that the bombings in Spain have galvanised EU member states into wider and deeper cooperation to prevent and detect terrorism. The reality is that many of the measures to be agreed have little directly to do with fighting terrorism, and much to do with increasing police powers and budgets.

Update Thanks to Maurice Wessling for the correction that the ‘anti-terrorism co-ordinator’ is actually Gijs de Vries, and not Klaas de Vries. Reuters had a mix-up between the two and I followed along. Gijs de Vries’ biog is here in dutch. He was secretary (under-minister) of the Interior from 1998 to 2002, an MEP from 1984 to 1998, and the Dutch representative in the EU Convention negotiations. Maurice reckons de Vries’ appointment still signals a lack of seriousness in co-ordinating European intelligence agencies, saying ‘he has little experience in counter-terrorism and he will have no powers to force any policy. His task will be to write a report. So the name ‘counter-terrorism tsar’ is way over the top.”

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The Miracle of Life

by Henry Farrell on March 25, 2004

Kieran “suggests”: ” that people who subscribe to Intelligent Design theory need to have the perverse mechanics of childbirth explained to them.” Carl Zimmer “goes one step further”:, and asks why the intelligent design crowd doesn’t embrace “one of the most successful, intricate examples of complexity in nature” – the cancer tumour.

bq. Cancer cells grow at astonishing speeds, defying the many safeguards that are supposed to keep cells obedient to the needs of the body. And in order to grow so fast, they have to get lots of fuel, which they do by diverting blood vessels towards themselves and nurturing new vessels to sprout from old ones. They fight off a hostile immune system with all manner of camouflage and manipulation, and many cancer cells have strategies for fending off toxic chemotherapy drugs. When tumors get mature, they can send off colonizers to invade new tissues. These pioneers can release enzymes that dissolve collagen blocking their path; when they reach a new organ, they can secrete other proteins that let them anchor themselves to neighboring cells. While oncologists are a long way from fully understanding how cancer cells manage all this, it’s now clear that the answer can be found in their genes. Their genes differ from those of normal cells in many big and little ways, working together to produce a unique network of proteins exquisitely suited for the tumor’s success. All in all, it sounds like a splendid example of complexity produced by design. The chances that random natural processes could have altered all the genes required for a cell function as a cancer cell must be tiny–too tiny, some might argue, to be believed.

Chomksy Blog

by Brian on March 25, 2004

I’d be more excited if he had started posting to “Language Log”:, but even if we won’t be seeing flashes of linguistic brilliance, it’s still newsworthy that “Noam Chomsky has started a blog”: The introductory post is a little hard to decipher.

bq. This blog will include brief comments on diverse topics of concern in our time. They will sometimes come from the ZNet sustainer forum system where Noam interacts through a forum of his own, sometimes from direct submissions, sometimes culled from mail and other outlets — always from Noam Chomsky.

bq. Posted by Noam Chomsky

I wouldn’t have guessed that Noam Chomsky calls Noam Chomsky “Noam Chomsky”, but if it’s good enough for Rickey Henderson I guess it’s good enough for the Noam.

Hat tip: “NicoPitney”: over at Kos.

Elective Affinities

by Kieran Healy on March 24, 2004

Interesting, but also a bit demoralizing, to see “the bloggers”: of the Harvard Law Federalist Society “on the side”: of “Intelligent Design Theory”: (See “Cosma Shalizi”: and “Brian Leiter”: for context.) Maybe it’s only a short hop from originalism about the Founding Fathers to creationism about God the Father. They’d probably describe themselves as being on the side of “free speech and free thought”: rather than pseudo-science and sophistry, though their hysterical description of “Leiter’s criticisms”: as “thuggish,” “vicious,” “naked threats” leads me to think that Harvard Law students are a lot more thin-skinned than they ought to be. My own view is that people who subscribe to Intelligent Design theory “need”: to have the perverse mechanics of childbirth explained to them.

*Update*: For somewhat more in-depth and “professional”: commentary on ID and evolution, check out the newly-formed “Panda’s Thumb”: group blog.

Principia Ethica

by Brian on March 24, 2004

Does anyone know if there’s a free electronic copy of Moore’s _Principia Ethica_ online anywhere? It should be out of copyright, so there’d be no legal reason it wouldn’t be posted, but maybe no one thought it important enough to convert to electronic form. I wanted to cut and paste some long sections because I got interested in the role of necessity and a priority in Moore’s meta-ethical views, and it would be more convenient to (a) not have to transcribe things and (b) be able to refer readers immediately to the passages I’m talking about.