Salty language

by Henry Farrell on June 23, 2004

More on transatlantic variations of the English language. I’m reading my way through Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey and Maturin series at the moment, and was intrigued to discover that a “scuttle butt” is some class of a naval water barrel. I presume that this means that the historical origins of the term “scuttlebutt” (rumours, especially of the vexatious variety) are closely analogous with those of the contemporary American term, “water cooler gossip.”

Divided by a common language

by Henry Farrell on June 23, 2004

Commenter ‘giles’ “says:”:

bq. The most interesting revelation of the night – that Bill thought kerry would make “quite” a good president – was I thought the revelation of the night. The parochial BBC pr department seems to have missed it entirely.

The BBC was probably right not to pick up on it, thanks to a very important difference between British English and American English. “Quite” in British-English, and indeed in its Hibernian variant (which is of course the purest and most supple form of the language) means “reasonably, but not very.” Thus, if Bill Clinton were British, his comment would be an unsubtle put-down. However, in American English, “quite” means “very” or “extremely” – so it’s a considerable compliment. One of my friends experienced this ambiguity at first hand a few years ago, when she invited her (American) boyfriend back to Dublin to meet the family. After eating dinner at my friend’s family home, the boyfriend remarked that the food was “quite good.” He thought he was passing a compliment; my friend’s mother thought he was a snotty Yank making disparaging remarks about her cooking, with predictably unfortunate consequences for familial relationships until it was all explained. So, the odds are that Clinton’s comment was entirely unexceptionable. You could probably still advance a malign interpretation: since Clinton has spent a considerable amount of time in the UK, he might have been aware of this ambiguity, and playing it cute by speaking out of both sides of his mouth at once. Still, an interpretation of this sort would seem a bit forced for what was, after all, one brief comment in a rather long interview.

Update: I’d quite forgotten that Chris has already “addressed this point”: in a post last December.

Cass Sunstein at Volokh

by Chris Bertram on June 23, 2004

Distinguished legal scholar “Cass Sunstein is guest-blogging over at the Volokh Conspiracy”: (and starts with some useful reflections on the legacy of FDR). What a coup for the Volokhs and what an improvement in the class of their guest-bloggers!

Fun with IT. Fun with IT?

by Eszter Hargittai on June 23, 2004

Chicagoland has a lot to offer especially during the summer. Lucky for those not in the area, you can catch some of these without being there. From art made of searches to interesting book signings, the Windy City will keep you busy.

Last Fall, I visited Kris Hammond’s Intelligent Information Laboratory at Northwestern and saw some really neat projects. Luckily, on occasion, these projects are shown in a more public forum as well. Such is the case of graduate student David Ayman Shamma’s Information Environment. While watching a TV broadcast, the viewer sees images that come up as a result of image searches both online and in a picture data base on words mentioned in the broadcast. It can be viewed at Piper’s Alley in Chicago or here.

Another IT-related event tomorrow, Thursday, will be Siva Vaidhyanathan’s book signing of Anarchist in the Library. It looks like Basic Books is putting out some interesting material this year (they published Paul Starr’s The Creation of the Media as well). Siva will be at Old Orchard mall tomorrow at 7:30pm.

Ideas made flesh

by Chris Bertram on June 23, 2004

I’m a great admirer of Karma Nabulsi’s book “Traditions of War”: . But “her piece in the Guardian today”:,3604,1245135,00.html is an exercise in wishfully projecting ideals onto real-world people without any critical examination of their claim either to represent those ideals or their chances of realizing them. She makes one point which seems right, namely, that sovereignty rests with the Iraqi people rather than with whoever happens to be exercising de facto authority at any time. But she then makes the astonishing leap to claim that the bearers of popular sovereignty in Palestine and in Iraq are the armed resistance groups there.

bq. The young men who defended Jenin refugee camp in the West Bank and Rafah refugee camp in Gaza, and who recently won back the Iraqi cities of Falluja and Najaf from the occupying power, are not the terrorists – or the enemies of democracy. They are our own past torchbearers, the founding citizens of popular sovereignty and democratic practice, the very tradition that freed Europe and that we honoured on D-day.

Are they? Do they see themselves that way? All of them or some of them? Don’t some of them favour theocracy rather than democracy?

[click to continue…]

Big Dog bites Man

by Kieran Healy on June 23, 2004

You should watch David Dimbleby’s “interview with Bill Clinton”: After a bunch of Monica questions, Clinton ticks Dimbleby off for being just like every other journalist who were — how to put it? — so obsessed with Lewinsky’s blowjobs that they didn’t realize how they were helping Ken Starr to screw people. (Jump to 28:25 or so in the interview to see this). Dimbo looks a bit shocked:

*Clinton*: Let me just say this. One of the reasons he [Kenneth Starr] got away with it is because people like you only ask me the questions. You gave him a complete free ride. Any abuse they wanted to do. They indicted all these little people from Arkansas, what did you care about them, they’re not famous, who cares that their life was trampled. Who cares that their children are humiliated … Nobody in your line of work cared a rip about that at the time. Why, because he was helping their story… Now that doesn’t justify any mistake I made. But look how much time you spent asking me these questions, in this time you’ve had. That’s because it’s what you care about, because that’s what you think helps you and helps this interview… And that’s why people like you always help the far-right, because you like to hurt people, and you like to talk about how bad people are and all their personal failings.

*Dimbleby*: I don’t —

*Clinton*: Look, you made a decision to allocate your time in a certain way, you should take responsibility for that, you should say ‘Yes, I care much more about this than whether the Bosnian people were saved, and whether he brought a million home from Kosovo … [or] than whether we moved a hundred times as many people out of poverty as Reagan and Bush’.

The “BBC’s own write-up”: write up of the interview quotes some of the best bits, but they try rather too hard to frame it as Bill Goes Ballistic:

bq. Wagging his finger and getting visibly agitated, Mr Clinton expressed anger at the media’s behaviour. … But despite the shaky start, Mr Clinton quickly recovered his composure and was questioned for a further 30 minutes by Mr Dimbleby.

“Watch the interview for yourself”: (starts about 12:00 in) and decide whether Clinton loses his composure, looks shaky or is noticeably agitated. As far as I can see, Clinton hardly raises his voice and does little more than sit up in his chair. It’s also noticeable that he hardly drops a syllable, hems, haws, or mangles a word as he speaks. Say what you like about the guy and his legacy, he knows how to fight his corner. I don’t see the current incumbent being subjected to that kind of persistent questioning in six or seven years — or even right now, come to think of it.


by Kieran Healy on June 23, 2004

There’s an “interesting article”: in the _New York Times_ today about “Elizabeth Willott’s”: work on mosquitos and the environmental ethics of wetland restoration. Elizabeth’s in the Entomology department at “Arizona”: Her other half is the philosopher “Dave Schmidtz”:, and when Arizona were recruiting “Laurie”: and me, we stayed with them. It was the middle of December. The first morning we were there, we picked a grapefruit from one of the trees in their yard and ate it for breakfast. This effective recruitment strategy is not often used by universities on the east coast, for some reason.