From the monthly archives:

June 2004

Top “British” Public Intellectuals

by Chris Bertram on June 24, 2004

Prospect Magazine are running a poll to find the top 5 “British” public intellectuals. You can see “the whole list here”: and can vote by email to . I say “British” rather than British because the blurb reads: “Candidates do not need to live here or be British citizens, but they should make their most significant impact here.” So Seamus Heaney, Amartya Sen and Michael Ignatieff end up being “British”. There are some pretty dodgy characters on the list, various low rent talking heads, a Daily Mail columnist, and several people whose public ravings are at the outer limits of sanity (these aren’t meant to be exclusive categories). I’ll avoid mentioning names for fear of a libel suit. I thought about voting for Quentin Skinner as the only person on the list ever to have left a comment on Crooked Timber, and Richard Dawkins irritates me too often. In the end, my choice from their top 100, in no particular order is:

bq. Onora O’Neill (I had to pick a philosopher and the other philosophical options are _terrible_ and she’s done some good stuff over the years. Her Reith lectures are one of the most forthright recent attempts to drive back the “audit culture” that is wrecking Britain’s public services.)

bq. Amartya Sen (his work on democracy and famines alone should get him near the top of any such list.)

bq. Seamus Heaney (the only poet on the list.)

bq. V.S. Naipaul (the only _great_ novelist in their selection.)

bq. W.G. Runciman (manages to be a shipping magnate and a social theorist at the same time.)

Sen and Runciman were also, aeons ago, co-authors of a paper on Rousseau, the general will and the prisoner’s dilemma, all topics close to my heart.

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?

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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.

It’s Amore

by Henry Farrell on June 22, 2004

As mentioned in an “earlier post”:, Silvio Berlusconi didn’t cover himself in glory during Italy’s Presidency of the European Council. Now, CT can tell you why. Berlusconi spent a big chunk of the Italian presidency reliving his career as a cruise-ship piano-bar singer by “co-writing the songs”: on Mariano Apicella’s recent CD release, “Meglio una Canzone”: I was in Italy last month, and morbid curiosity drove me to buy a copy – I can now confirm that it’s precisely as dreadful as you might expect. Soft glissandos, cheesy strings, hammy vocals, and inane lyrics (the last are courtesy of Silvio). Popular love songs typically don’t have much in the way of artistic merit, but “Meglio una Canzone” fails to achieve even the usual level of mediocrity. Desperate lovers swooning, happy lovers crooning – all the usual stereotypes in words of three syllables or less.

My copy of the album comes with a special offer form: if you send it in before June 30, Mariano Apicella himself (perhaps with Berlusconi in tow: who knows) may come to perform at your wedding. If there’s any eligible CT reader with impending nuptials in Italy and either (a) a taste for syrupy love-songs, or (b) an unusual sense of humour, I’m happy to pass it on.

Tech Active

by Eszter Hargittai on June 22, 2004

There is lots to blog about while in London and Paris, but I am saving most of it for when I’m back in the States. (I really cannot justify sitting at a machine when I could be running around the streets of London and Paris, sorry.) However, this one event will be over by the time I get back to regular blogging so I wanted to post about it.

The Stanhope Centre for Communication Policy Research is sponsoring a panel discussion next Mon (28th) in London on “Tech Active” or the promises, successes and challenges of both using the Internet to change the world and using social policy to change the Internet. Both scholars and activists will engage in this discussion including Cory Doctorow, Gus Hosein, Lisa Nakamura and Bill Thompson. Thanks to Christian Sandvig for organizing the event. I am sure he will have interesting thoughts to add as well. I am sorry to miss it, but my flight leaves London a few hours earlier. The event is free and open to the public so I hope people will take advantage of it!

A Piece of the Pie

by Kieran Healy on June 22, 2004

Via “Nathan Newman”:, “Kevin Drum”: links to an “EPI graphic”: showing differences in the growth of corporate profits, labor compensation and private salary income between the current business cycle and the average of the last eight recoveries. This time round, Kevin summarizes, “workers have gotten almost nothing while corporate profits have skyrocketed.” Then he asks,

bq. But how can anyone defend this? Easy. The free market extremists at the top of the modern Republican party argue that economic growth is caused by the risk-taking executives of Fortune 5000 companies, and therefore they deserve the benefits of that growth. Worker bees don’t make any contribution — they just work — so why should they get anything?

bq. Treating labor like a commodity is a morally bankrupt policy, but it’s one that’s become an epidemic in the Republican party …

The thing is, the “free market extremists” Kevin complains about have it backwards. Treating labor like a commodity is a way to transfer the burden of risk _away_ from businesses and on to workers. In general, CEOs of big corporations do not engage in the kind of risk taking that they typically ascribe to themselves. Or more precisely, there is plenty of evidence that they do not have to suffer the consequences of the risks they take. The United States has always been ahead of other advanced capitalist democracies in this department, because it offers less in the way of social insurance than its counterparts. (Instead of a welfare state it has a “prison system”: But much of what got called “downsizing” in the early ’90s and the “New Economy”: a few years later can be seen as a new round of risk-redistribution noticeable in even the U.S.’s “nominally unregulated”: labor market. The stuff you see these days in the Business Section of Barnes & Noble about the brave new “Free Agent Nation” and its “creative class”: is the optimistic spin the disappearance of defined-benefit pension funds, the decline of decent health benefits, the rise of temp work, and other changes in the employment bargain that push more of the risk onto workers.

Dealing with the Parliament

by Henry Farrell on June 21, 2004

If you believe the conventional wisdom in transatlantic policy circles, a Kerry administration won’t make much difference to EU-US relations. Kerry would differ from Bush more on style than on substance: Europe and the US would still be divided on the important security and economic issues. Whether this argument is true or not (personally, I’m dubious), the transatlantic relationship is likely to enter a period of turmoil regardless of who occupies the White House. The reason: the increasing interest and involvement of the European Parliament in international affairs.

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Bargains at Night Shade Books

by Henry Farrell on June 21, 2004

“Night Shade Books”:, one of the best small press publishers around, is running a special offer until midnight tomorrow – order three or more of their books, and you’ll get a discount of 50%. I’d especially recommend M. John Harrison’s extraordinary novel, The Course of the Heart, and his short story collection, “Things that Never Happen”:, which I’ve “blogged about”: previously; NSB has also done very nice reprints of Dunsany’s “Jorkens stories”:

Are private schools charities?

by Harry on June 21, 2004

An interesting think piece from Mike Baker, the BBC’s always interesting Education correpondent (for some reason the BBC insists on having a correspondent in place for many years so that he actually knows something about his topic, I can’t think why). The (UK) government is proposing a bill on which private schools might have to do something charitable in order to earn charitable status (which, as Baker implies, basically operates as a subsidy to parents who would simply find more money for the higher fees if charitable status were removed). Currently the main charitable activities of private schools are inexpensively making some facilities available to the wider community and providing scholarships to children many of whose parents could already afford the fees, and who are selected on the basis of ability (so that their presence is a benefit, not a cost, to the full-fee-paying children).

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Ahead of next week’s federal election in Canada, Michael Geist has a revealing piece in today’s Toronto Star that compares the positions on Internet/technology issues of the main Canadian parties. The Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic (CIPPIC) at the University of Ottawa and Digital Copyright Canada surveyed the Liberals, NDP, Conservatives and Greens on their views on IP protection, file-sharing, open source, identity cards and use of Internet materials in education. The results are not what a classic right-left divide might predict.

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