From the monthly archives:

June 2004

Maybe Our Fat Chum Chet Could Help!

by Belle Waring on June 28, 2004

Courtesy of the now non-blogging (but suspiciously time-wasting-on-the-interweb) Chun the Unavoidable, I present you with the Mayday Mystery. These are a series of mysterious ads which have been running in an Arizona paper since May 1, 1985. It seems to be an erudite, mathematico-historical puzzle of some kind, containing specific Tuscon-area clues (?), but what is the point? Is there a prize? Some of the ads are rebus-like, while others tend to the Dr. Bronner’s label All-One-God-Faith style. Sample text from the May 1, 2004 edition:

1) “Quaerendo invenietis” [1747]}}!!+}The 473rd Anniversary of the Confessio Augustana will again be celebrated in the Riemann Room of the 5)Hotel Californias (non uni fidit antro) where the Founders will be entertained by an in situ demonstration of 17) l’art d’accommoder les restes. The Pigs will be less entertained by le dénoument–and the Hirelings least of all. 29) Alberich has programmed The Symmetry Generator as per I Corinthians 1:28 to serve as the propaedeutic for Ireton’s penetration of [$\omega_{p,n}= i log Ëœp^n$] on Trinity Sunday.

Perhaps the brainy CT readership will figure everything out? If there’s lots of money involved, the solver of the puzzle is respectfully encouraged to pass some along to your humble author. Perhaps I will use it to take a vacation in Thailand. I hear Koh Phi Phi is very nice this time of year.

UPDATE: Adam Kotsko has put out a call for posts for a Chun the Unavoidable Festschrift. Suggested topics include: Halitosis in Literature, Cunnilinguis and the Discursive Performance of Class, Richard Clarke, and The blogospheric reception of the verb “to chun.” You know what to do, people.

Following Chris’s post about topics in philosophy that provoke worries about angels and pinheads, I was going to pitch in with a comment setting out my own pet hates, but realised I was veering off-topic when I began to whine not about the problems themselves but about the values of the discipline itself.

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Katharina Blum

by Chris Bertram on June 26, 2004

Heavy rain in Bristol today, so I spent the afternoon watching Volker Schlondorff’s “The Lost Honour of Katharina Blum”:http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0073858/ (based on the Heinrich Boll novel). For those who don’t know, the film is about what happens to a young woman after she spends the night with a man who turns out to be a terrorist suspect. She is alternately bullied by the police and villified by the gutter press. What is different today, of course, is the way that the blogosphere serves as an Insta-echo-chamber for tabloid coverage of such stories. One imagines the “Heh”s and “Readthewholethings” that would accompany posts linking to a contemporary Die Zeitung’s online coverage of events. (If you’ve not seen the film, don’t be put off by the sole IMDB commenter, who has also posted politically-motived negative reviews of Rabbit-Proof Fence and Bloody Sunday.)

IRRITATED UPDATE: Why is a classic of the New German Cinema available on DVD in Region 1 but not in Region 2 (including the UK and Germany)?

Noblesse d’Etat

by Henry on June 26, 2004

“Atrios”:http://atrios.blogspot.com/2004_06_20_atrios_archive.html#108825764687097446 reports that the White House have lodged a complaint with the Irish Embassy over the “disrespectful’ “interview”:http://www.rte.ie/news/2004/0624/primetime/primetime56.smil by an Irish journalist discussed “yesterday”:https://www.crookedtimber.org/archives/002075.html. Mere journalists apparently aren’t allowed to interrupt the President when he’s trying to make a point. Nor are Presidents supposed to have to defend their policies against vigorous critique. Kieran “posted”:http://www.kieranhealy.org/blog/archives/000265.html on this rather bizarre feature of US public discourse last year – as he says, it smacks more of feudalism than democracy. Indeed, as in feudalism, the respect only goes one way – the vice-president seems to feel quite entitled to tell his critics to go fuck themselves, and not to apologize for it afterwards.

Sociology’s Final Frontier

by Kieran Healy on June 26, 2004

Via “Baptiste Coulmont”:http://coulmont.com/blog/ comes word of an effort to establish a new subfield of Sociology. Jim Pass, who as far as I can tell is an adjunct sociology instructor at “Long Beach City College”:http://www.lbcc.edu/, is trying to get “Astrosociology”:http://www.astrosociology.com [Warning! Monster Java Zombie Nightmare Website from Beyond 1996], um, off the ground. He has managed to get “a paper on this topic”:http://convention.allacademic.com/asa2004/view_paper_info.html?pub_id=502 accepted at an “Informal Roundtable Session”:http://convention.allacademic.com/asa2004/session_info.html?c_session_id=1479&part_id1=14066&dtr_id=4646 at the upcoming “ASA meetings”:http://www.asanet.org/convention/2004/ in San Francisco. He’s also organizing an Astrosociology Interest Group meeting[1] for the many, many sociologists who will want to join his proposed section-in-formation.

What is Astrosociology? You may well ask. According to Jim’s helpful email,

bq. Generally, astrosociology is the study of astrosocial phenomena (a subset of all social phenomena)

Well, obviously. My initial thought was that the field would be picking up where “Elizabeth Tessier”:http://www.eteissier.com/ left off. Elizabeth managed to “extract a Sociology Ph.D”:http://www.skepticism.net/articles/2001/000032.html from the Sorbonne a few years ago with the argument that Astrology was as good a science as any other, and vice versa. America is always a few years behind the French trend-setters. But this hope was dashed when I read Jim’s clarification that the field dealt mainly with

bq. all human behaviors related in some way to outer space; a neglected area of sociological inquiry.

Now, it’s true that outer space is a neglected area of sociological inquiry. My naive view was that this was explained by the fact that, at any one time, there are are perhaps three or four people in outer space. That’s enough to keep a social psychologist happy for most of their career, but the rest of us might run into problems. As a great sociologist once said, after all, the division of labor is limited by the extent of the market. But Jim is not confining himself to outer space. Although this is a wise move, it makes Astrosociology rather less interesting than it first appears. Jim’s “programmatic statement”:http://convention.allacademic.com/asa2004/view_paper_info.html?pub_id=502&part_id1=14066 on the field at the roundtable (“Table 15: New Ideas in the Sciences”:http://convention.allacademic.com/asa2004/session_info.html?c_session_id=1479&part_id1=14066&dtr_id=4646) is paired with just one other paper, by Juan Miguel Campanario of the Universidad de Alcala. Unlucky for Juan Miguel, you might think, but his paper title is “Resistance to New Ideas In Science”:http://convention.allacademic.com/asa2004/view_paper_info.html?pub_id=118&part_id1=23694, so they should be well set up for a good chat. In a creative scheduling decision, Juan Miguel is also supposed to be speaking simultaneously at Table 16, “Media, Sport and Science.”[2] Bizarrely, his paper title at _that_ Table is “Studying the Competence for Space in Sociology Journals”:http://convention.allacademic.com/asa2004/view_paper_info.html?pub_id=119&part_id1=23694. But it’s the _wrong_ kind of space! So near and yet so far!

fn1. Monday August 16, 6:30pm, Union Square 24/San Franciso Hilton. I’ll be there!

fn2. It’s a big tent at the informal roundtables, alright.

Chmess and twaddle

by Chris Bertram on June 26, 2004

Brian Leiter has a “couple”:http://webapp.utexas.edu/blogs/archives/bleiter/001529.html#001529 of “interesting posts”:http://webapp.utexas.edu/blogs/archives/bleiter/001531.html#001531 reflecting on the state of analytical philosophy, and also links to Dan Dennett’s “The Higher-Order Truths of Chmess”:http://www.ephilosopher.com/modules.php?op=modload&name=Sections&file=index&req=viewarticle&artid=9 , which I hadn’t read before. Dennett cites Donald Hebb’s dictuum “If it isn’t worth doing, it isn’t worth doing well,” and remarks

bq. Each of us can readily think of an ongoing controversy in philosophy whose participants would be out of work if Hebb’s dictum were ruthlessly applied.

I confess to succumbing to feeling of utter despair whenever I have to listen to people talking twaddle about twater on twin-earth, so that would be my candidate even though I have dear colleagues who care passionately about the topic. But the twaddlers themselves would, no doubt, want to consign some of my pet interests to the bin. Commenters are invited to nominate the disputes that drive them crazy, and those who care about the tw-topic are invited to explain to the rest of us why we should think it matters.

And then there were six

by Chris Bertram on June 26, 2004

Germany, Spain, Italy, England, all gone. And now France! This is getting interesting.

Root causes of terrorism

by Henry on June 25, 2004

Do you agree with the proposition that people join terrorist organizations because there’s no hope? Do you disagree? Discuss, with reference to recent developments in current affairs. (Hat tip to Chris).

Making History

by Henry on June 25, 2004

“Via Bookslut”:http://www.bookslut.com/blog/archives/2004_06.php#002732, this “account”:http://chronicle.com/free/v50/i42/42a02502.htm of an interesting dust-up at _Foreign Affairs_ , the influential foreign policy journal run by the Council of Foreign Relations. Kenneth R. Maxwell, who was the journal’s book review editor resigned last month, claiming that the magazine had bowed to pressure from Henry Kissinger, and shut down a debate on its letters page about America’s role in the assassination of former Chilean foreign minister, Orlando Letelier and his wife in Washington DC by “Operation Condor.” Jeremy Adelman, who succeeded Maxwell, has just resigned too after only three weeks in the job. The editor of Foreign Affairs, James Hoge, has admitted receiving at least one phone-call from the head of the Council of Foreign Relations conveying Mr. Kissinger’s displeasure; if Maxwell is to be believed, Hoge also received repeated phone calls from Henry Kissinger. However, Hoge has denied that this had anything to do with his editorial decision to cut short debate.

Henry Kissinger’s historical legacy is very slightly more complicated than it might seem at first glance. Critics like Christopher Hitchens fail to acknowledge his very real contribution to the understanding of international relations – some of his early academic writings (“A World Restored,” “The Troubled Partnership”) are first rate. Nonetheless, his political career seems to have combined a particularly unpleasant variety of _Realpolitik_ with a gruesome eagerness to condone lies, murder, torture and other human rights violations. The greater part of his subsequent writing can be seen as a sustained effort to whitewash the record. Kissinger’s memoirs are mendacious and untrustworthy, even by the usual standards of statesmen’s self-justifications. Like Winston Churchill, he intends to ensure that history is kind to him by writing it. Given Kissinger’s track record, I’m not at all surprised that he seems to have used his clout to try to shut down debate about one of the nastiest aspects of his record as Secretary of State. I am surprised, and disappointed, that _Foreign Affairs_ seems very possibly to have knuckled under.

Bush and Europe

by Henry on June 25, 2004

George W. Bush gave an interview to Irish television’s “Prime Time”:http://www.rte.ie/news/2004/0624/primetime/primetime56.smil that’s worth watching (the interview starts about 15 minutes into the clip). It’s the first time that I’ve seen him subjected to a hostile (if not extraordinarily competent) interviewer, and he clearly didn’t like it – in particular, he got very tetchy whenever he was interrupted. In the course of the interview Bush claims that he had most of Europe’s backing for the war in Iraq.

bq. Most of Europe supported the decision in Iraq: really what you’re talking about is France isn’t it. They didn’t agree with my decision. … Most European countries are very supportive and are participating in the reconstruction of Iraq.

This is misleading in a way in which John Kerry’s much-ballyhooed statement that many foreign leaders preferred him as a potential president to Bush is not. Kerry was undoubtedly correct, even if he wasn’t able to provide public evidence to back up his claim. Everybody knows that most Western European countries (perhaps even including Britain) would prefer a Kerry administration to another round of Bush. Bush, in contrast, does apparently have evidence to back him up – he could point to the various resolutions signed by Western and Eastern European countries on Iraq. However, these statements are for the most part, rhetoric. Most of the Eastern European countries that signed on were less interested in resolving problems in the Middle East than in avoiding punishment by the hegemon, and reaping the “political and financial rewards”:http://archive.salon.com/news/feature/2003/03/12/foreign_aid/ of a friendly relationship with the US. Remarkably few of the so-called “coalition of the willing” were prepared to put their money where their mouth was, by committing substantial numbers of troops to Iraq.

If Bush sincerely believes that the difficult transatlantic relationship is all about France’s posturing, he’s in trouble. Even those governments which nominally signed on last time would have extreme difficulty in doing so again – their voters wouldn’t stand for it. Bush is electoral poison; Irish prime minister, Bertie Ahern will not have been pleased at Bush’s “expression of gratitude”:http://www.ireland.com/newspaper/front/2004/0625/1294716001HM1MAINBUSH.html to him for his help on Iraq. It’s almost certainly a vote-loser. The “conventional wisdom”:http://www.brookings.org/views/op-ed/daalder/20040620.htm among foreign policy wonks is that European leaders will not get much more satisfaction from a Kerry administration than they would from a second round of Bush. I don’t think this is true. Bush has managed to create such distrust among the voting public in Europe that it’s going to be politically impossible for European leaders to sign onto any major new transatlantic foreign policy initiative. Given the important threats (such as proliferation of nuclear weapons) that require decisive multilateral action, this is a very dangerous development indeed.

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by Chris Bertram on June 25, 2004

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The world’s oldest mountain guide

by Chris Bertram on June 25, 2004

The world’s oldest mountain guide, Ulrich Inderbinen, has died at the age of 103, having climbed the Matterhorn more than 370 times (making his final ascent at the age of 90). “The Economist has the story”:http://www.economist.co.uk/people/displayStory.cfm?story_id=2787797 . I’m sure what they write of him is true, but anyone who has read the beginning of Ernest Gellner’s best book — “Thought and Change”:http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0226286983/junius-20 — will feel slightly suspicious. Gellner illustrates the idea of a society living against “an unchanging temporal horizon”, where everything stays the same “like a train crossing a featureless landscape” with the story of the Taugwalders, survivors of the first ascent in 1865.

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England crash out

by Chris Bertram on June 25, 2004

Brian Weatherson watched the England–Croatia game with us the other night, so he can attest to the general level of invective directed towards the television at Chateau Bertram. But, whilst I didn’t watch last night’s proceedings with detachment, I can say that one event followed another with the depressing inevitability all long-term England watchers expect. The early goal (Michael Owen, 6/1 at bluesquare.com — thanks very much!) reminiscent of Germany-England 1996 followed by the Portuguese equalizer just before the 90 minutes. Then the disallowed goal (an exact re-run of England-Argentina 1998), all ending, finally, with the penalty-shoot-out (too many precendents to bother listing here). At least we can enjoy the rest of the tournament free of “Rooneymania” and most of the St George’s crosses will disappear from assorted motor vehicles. Come on the Czech Republic!

What’s the Irish for boondoggle?

by Maria on June 24, 2004

What’s the Irish for boondoggle?

It’s not every day that Fine Gael, the Progressive Democrats and Sinn Fein agree on something. But they all say Irish should be an official language of the EU, and complain that the government (which the PDs are part of) hasn’t done enough to make this happen during the Irish presidency. Our presidency of the EU is at best a partial success because we haven’t managed to force the EU to spend an extra 50 million euro a year to translate speeches and documents into a language that no one actually needs them in. It’s the principle, you see.

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Down to Gehenna

by John Quiggin on June 24, 2004

I can remember discovering, with something of a shock, that Armageddon was a real place (modern Megiddo). So, I shouldn’t have been too surprised to find out today that Gehenna is the name of a valley near Jerusalem, bearing no obvious marks of being on the road to eternal damnation. I also got to see Golgotha and Mount Zion – I don’t think my reading of Biblical allusions will be quite the same after this.