From the monthly archives:

April 2004

Brooks makes sense

by John Q on April 28, 2004

Like nearly everyone else, I’ve been deeply disappointed by David Brooks’ Op-ed columns in the NYT. But it’s not only out of a sense of fairness that I’m giving a favorable link to his latest – it’s not only good relative to the other stuff he’s written but better than most other commentary[1]. Referring to the debates over the Clarke and Woodward books, occurring at a time when Iraq looks like sliding into chaos, he says

This is like pausing during the second day of Gettysburg to debate the wisdom of the Missouri Compromise.

Right though this is, it’s obviously helpful to the Republicans, as is the observation that

many Americans have decided that it’s time to persevere and win.

But his final para raises the real issue

Over the next weeks, U.S. forces are going to jump from the fires of unilateralism to the frying pan of multilateralism. What’s going to happen when our generals want to take on some insurgents but Brahimi and the sovereign Iraqi appointees say no?   

Brooks might want to ponder the point that the Bush Administration appears to have no answer to the question he has posed here. They have set up rules that let them ignore the supposedly sovereign government they plan to establish, but it’s obvious that any such action will bring the whole structure crashing around their ears.

Update 29/4 Well, no-one at all in the comments thread agreed with me, but I haven’t seen anything to change my mind on the central point. Of course, the he said-she said stuff reported by Woodward and Clarke will be relevant to the election in November, but the “handover” in Iraq is due to take place at the end of June, and the crucial issues seem to me to have received no discussion at all in the (mainstream) media.

Can any readers point me to any prominent old-media commentator who has addressed the issue raised in Brooks’ final paragraph, and quoted by me? And if the whole thing falls in a heap, as looks increasingly likely, will anyone really care about the precise alignment within the Administration that got us to this point ?

fn1. Obligatory blogplugging: That’s old-media commentary, of course. This whole post is a subtle reminder that blogs, including this one, have already moved on from point-scoring and asked the questions that are now being raised by Brooks.

Thom Gunn

by Chris Bertram on April 28, 2004

The poet Thom Gunn has died, and there are obituaries in the “NYT”: , “the Times”:,,60-1089982,00.html and the “Guardian”:,3604,1204724,00.html . A friend introduced me to Gunn’s work about twenty years ago and there are some lines from “Elegy” from “The Passages of Joy”: (1982) that have stuck in my mind ever since I first read them:

bq. There will be no turn of the river
where we are all reunited
in a wonderful party
the picnic spread
all the lost found
as in hide and seek.

A sad loss.

Morals in South Park?

by Brian on April 28, 2004

I haven’t watched _South Park_ in years, but when I did I tended to agree with the conclusion of “this article”: that it’s too preachy for its own good. Still, the article’s title gives me an idea or two. _South Park and Philosophy_ could be better than most of the “_Randomly Chosen Segment of Pop Culture and Philosophy_”: books that are coming out I think. Perhaps there is still potential for life in the genre. Apart from _South Park_, what could be next?

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50 per cent

by John Q on April 28, 2004

One of the most pleasant aspects of being a Research Fellow is guest lectures. I give guest lectures in a number of different courses, ranging over several faculties and sometimes different universities. This gives me all the things I like about teaching, including (since a change is as good as a holiday) generally attentive audiences, and a chance to present material that’s not the standard textbook, but not new or rigorous enough to justify an academic seminar. On the other hand, all the unpleasant stuff – booking rooms, litigious students complaining about their grades, administrators trying to promote customer-centric shareholder value in a dynamic enterprising university, and so on – is taken care of for me.

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Tomorrow’s Kerry-bashing today

by Ted on April 27, 2004

Drudge is showing a 1984 picture of John Kerry in a “Member’s Only” jacket.

Somehow, I don’t think a “man of the people” would be .

UPDATE: Mickey Kaus comments:

Nice jacket, freak!!

Indeed. Just keep scrolling.

UPDATE: Hugh Hewitt has a a question:

So who, exactly, are the “members” of this little club that the John “man of the people” Kerry belonged to? More specifically, who isn’t welcome? Could it be…. Jews?

Good question.

UPDATE: Roger L. Simon comments on the developing anti-Semetic implications of Kerry’s.. er… questionable taste in clothes.

UPDATE: Oliver Willis writes:

“Members Only” was just the name of a popular clothing line. I had one. There was no club, exclusionary or not, for John Kerry to belong to. It’s just some words on the back of a jacket.”

While I share Oliver’s feeling that Kerry is a phony, I’m a little disturbed that he would blow off the charges of anti-Semitism so lightly. Funny, I thought the left was supposed to be concerned about prejudice.

UPDATE: Reader mmallow writes:

Where have you been? The left has been a Nazi-light organization for years now. If there’s any difference between the Nurenburg rally and the so called “Rally for Life” this weekend, I’d like to see it.

While that’s inappropriate and inflamatory, I’m going to print it anyway.

UPDATE: Several readers have sent me this picture of George W. Bush in a
Members Only jacket. Sorry, I don’t see how that’s relevant.

UPDATE: Snopes says that the Members Only jacket photo is a fake. Sheesh.

The Adjunct pay issue, solved

by Daniel on April 27, 2004

Mylast couple of goes at a solution to the Adjunct Problem were, to be honest, more in the nature of an extended buildup to a slightly mean joke than a real attempt at social policy. But post-Invisible Adjunct, I remembered that shortly after posting the joke solution, a real solution occurred to me, which has been festering at the back of my mind for a while.

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Dave Podmore’s Cricket Night

by Harry on April 27, 2004

Dave Podmore is back on Radio 4 on Thursday at 11 pm GMT (that’s 6 pm Eastern Time, Brian). It may be on LISTEN AGAIN, but, then again, it may not (it’s not up yet, anyway). The alert I received said ‘Listen to it – or cop one up the snot box!’ so I’ll be listening if I get home on time….

Pont de l’Alma

by Maria on April 27, 2004

I work right beside the Pont de l’Alma where Diana, Princess of Wales, Dodi Fayed and Henri Paul died in that infamous car crash. It’s a very ordinary underpass, and probably disappoints the tourists who still come to see the accident site. It’s also much too dangerous to walk into the underpass, so most visitors leave their mark on a superbly tacky and incongruous sculpture across the road. (The sculpture is a brassy looking ‘eternal flame’ meant to symbolise American-French friendship, and probably deserves a post of its own.)

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The prodigal son

by Maria on April 27, 2004

The things you think of when you can’t sleep; my younger sister Nelly spent a good part of the wee hours this morning thinking about the relative merits and weight-bearing facilities of stiletto versus wedge heels.

The other night, I actually woke myself up with the conviction that the jealous threesome of Bush, Blair and Sharon is mirrored by the parable of the prodigal son. Apart from the fact that Bush makes a singularly uncompelling father figure, it fits.

Sharon is the wayward but adored son. It doesn’t matter how much of his father’s wealth/political capital he squanders, how many irresponsible gestures he makes, how much self-harm he inflicts. A light tap on the wrist and the fattened calf (flame-roasted Texan style) will be the paternal response. (The main difference, of course, being that the original prodigal son apologised for his folly before Dad threw the steaks on the barbie.)

Blair, on the other hand, is the ‘good son’ who has spent years toiling away within the system, doing as he’s told, taking all his father’s guff while being refused even a goat to feast on with his friends (or the occasional UN resolution/Guantanamo inmate).

Nothing new here of course. For all of Thatcher’s famous closeness to Reagan, she barely got a head’s up when the US invaded Britain’s former colony, Grenada.

The good son’s lot seems rather harsh and thankless, though it’s implied he will ultimately inherit the remaining property. But for our purposes, I don’t think the parable’s application can be stretched that far. And anyway, they do say virtue is its own reward.

How much is Google worth?

by John Q on April 27, 2004

According to this report, the widely-predicted Google IPO is likely to value the equity in Google at more than $20 billion – others suggest $25 billion. I immediately wondered whether Google was really worth $25 billion.

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Academic Calvinism

by Henry Farrell on April 27, 2004

“Eugene Volokh”: points to a very good _Chronicle_ “article”: on Invisible Adjunct’s decision to call it a day. The piece does an excellent job in capturing why her site was important. Adjunct faculty often find themselve systematically excluded from the collegial supports that allow tenured and tenure track faculty to chat, compare situations, and figure out common problems. It’s hard to engage in corridor talk when you’re a non-person. Invisible Adjunct’s site created a very real space for conversation.

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Academic Calvinism

by Henry Farrell on April 27, 2004

“Eugene Volokh”: [points to a very good _Chronicle_ “article”: on Invisible Adjunct’s decision to call it a day. The piece does an excellent job in capturing why her site was important. Adjunct faculty often find themselve systematically excluded from the collegial supports that allow tenured and tenure track faculty to chat, compare situations, and figure out common problems. It’s hard to engage in corridor talk when you’re a non-person. Invisible Adjunct’s site created a very real space for conversation.

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Induction on a Single Case

by Brian on April 27, 2004

One hears it said from time to time that it’s irrational to perform inductive inferences based on a single data point. Now this is sometimes irrational. For example, from the fact that Al Gore got the most votes in the last Presidential Election it would be foolish to infer that he’ll get the most votes in the next Presidential Election. But it isn’t always irrational. And this matters to some philosophical debates, and perhaps to some practical debates too.

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Parliamentary privileges

by Henry Farrell on April 27, 2004

John makes a commonly heard “argument”: – that the problems at the root of the European Union’s governance system revolve around the weakness of its Parliament.

bq. The central problem with the EU is the lack of democratic accountability arising from a structure with a powerless parliament, under which all decisions are effectively made either by the unelected European Commission or by national governments in the Council of Ministers. The solution is either to keep the EU relatively weak and ineffectual, by maintaining national vetos over most issues, or to make the system more like a bicameral legislature, with some form of majority voting in both the Parliament and the Council.

I reckon that both analysis and solution are arguable. The Parliament isn’t nearly as weak as it’s reputed to be, thanks to the beefing up of the so-called “codecision” legislative procedure, in which both Parliament and Council have an effective veto over major areas of policy. Indeed, the common complaint heard around the Commission these days is that it doesn’t have much of a role – the European Council is increasingly usurping its agenda-setting powers, while the Council and Parliament stitch up deals together on important items of legislation. The European Union is increasingly looking like a bicameral legislature – but this hasn’t done much to solve the famous democratic deficit. As the Parliament has gotten more powerful, it has found itself being sucked into the Council’s traditional, rather secretive, way of doing business, and informal deal-making. Because voters don’t take the Parliament seriously (they often use European Parliament elections to punish their national governments), it’s easy for members of the European Parliament to get away with this. Thus, the problem is less a weak Parliament, than a Parliament which has accrued substantial power without serious electoral accountability. This is a much trickier problem to solve.


by John Q on April 26, 2004

The problem with, and the virtue of, referendums is that, in the absence of armed guards at the ballot box, you can never be sure of the result. The curious politics of the European Union are such that referendums are of particular importance. The big news at present relates to the twin referendums just held in Cyprus, on the UN plan for reunification, and the commitment by Tony Blair to hold a referendum on the EU ‘constitution’.

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