Silly.. but we all do it

by Eszter Hargittai on July 1, 2004

My first reaction after reading about a Singaporean student who set a new world record for speedy text messaging was that it’s a really silly thing to bother competing over. [Thanks to LiL for the link.] But then I realized that we probably all have taken part in similarly silly games when we were young (or possibly even when we got older). My most memorable such “competition” (in quotes because it was always informal) was in middle school during breaks between classes. We used to race against each other to see who could solve Rubik’s Magic puzzle first (no, not the cube, that would have taken most of us too long to bother with during breaks). The “Magic puzzle” is much easier than the Rubik’s cube. In fact, once you know how it goes, you’ve pretty much solved it for good. Nonetheless, we just loved doing it over and over and over and over again. Last time I was at my parents’ I picked up a bunch of these logic toys I used to have and brought them with me back to the States. My place is now littered with Rubik puzzles and other similar brain teasers I can no longer solve. Maybe I just used to have more patience (and more time?) back then. I’m still working on getting the Magic puzzle right again…

Inspired to play, but don’t have a Rubik’s cube on hand? Check out this site that lets you play with the cube.. and then solves it for you in case you get stuck.

PS. Ernõ Rubik is another one in the relatively long list of Hungarian math wonders.

PPS. Yes, my blogging has picked up in the past couple of days. Let’s just say a blogger sick at home can be dangerous indeed. Maybe it’s time to go work on those puzzles…

Romance of the cup

by Chris Bertram on July 1, 2004

Greece, “in the final”:,14582,1251717,00.html ! Whod’a thunk it?

Paris notes

by Eszter Hargittai on July 1, 2004

Since many of you kindly offered suggestions on what I should do while in Paris, I thought I’d post a note about my trip. I include some reflections on random things I took note of (e.g. garbage disposals, toilet fees, price checks in stores).

Cool. Fête de la Musique. If you have a choice about when you visit Paris, I highly recommend including June 21st in your travel plans. It is an all-night program of free concerts all across town. It was a blast. Just imagine, walking around Paris with various free concerts scattered all across town. Awesome. And as you can imagine, the fact that France beat Switzerland in soccer that evening only added to the celebratory mood.

Cool. Government support of the arts. Related to the above is the fact that unlike in the U.S., government support for the arts is quite common in Europe. I doubt many people took particular note of the large sign behind a stage with the words “Ministère des Affaires &Eegu;trangères” on it, but for me it stood out as it’s not something one would often see in the States (maybe local government is better about this around here?).

Not cool. Closed off garbage bins in the Paris subway. Apparently, right after the bombings in Madrid, all of the garbage bins in Paris were closed off. The “solution” has been to put a flat cardboard paper container on the ground right next to them. The result: disgusting piles of trash of various sizes around the bins. Even if people aim at the paper trays, by the time the light waste makes it to the ground it scatters all over. A better solution would seem to be transparent bins or something along those lines. I did see some of these on the streets. Maybe they are getting around to introducing them in the subway. (Of course, people from some cities may respond that at least they have garbage disposals of some sort!)

[click to continue…]

Was Isaiah Berlin a Crooked Timber Merchant?

by Kieran Healy on July 1, 2004

Via “Ralph Luker”: comes a quite “astonishing story”: from Margaret Soltan at “University Diaries”: (The link doesn’t seem to work: scroll to Wednesday June 23rd.) “In March”: I wrote about Diploma Mills like “Glenncullen University”: (a non-existent college in Dublin), which offer a range of degrees upon receipt of a fee, without all that tedious standing in line, taking exams, writing theses, and so on. Last month, an ongoing investigation headed by “Senator Susan Collins”: called for “a crackdown”: on such places.

Degrees from the Glenncullens of this world pad out the CVs of people from many walks of life. But University Diaries reports that the investigation has also found evidence of bogus credentials on the CVs of some … unexpected … people. People like “Isaiah Berlin”:, for instance:

The committee’s zealous detective work has produced a list of contemporary and posthumous fake degree holders that is now making the rounds … Perhaps the most stunning revelation involves Sir Isaiah Berlin, an intellectual and moral icon whose death a few years ago prompted hundreds of tributes, festschrifts, conferences, and books. … How then can it be that Berlin graduated not from Corpus Christi Oxford, as his curriculum vitae claimed, but rather from the similar-sounding, and now defunct (by court order) diploma mill, the University of England at Oxford? And that his Ph.D. in philosophy was granted on the basis of a one-page essay he wrote describing his “life experience” as a “a real pluralist” who “likes everyone”? (Quotations are taken from UEO records confiscated by the Department of Commerce.)

“It’s an intriguing story,” says Madelaine Jovovich, a member of Collins’s staff. “Berlin was born in Riga; his father was a timber merchant. His father was very unhappy that his son wanted to become an academic, because he wanted Berlin to go into the family lumber business… It turns out that this business was not just wood but wood products, including paper, and that Berlin’s father was, among other things, the proprietor of an early and very lucrative diploma mill, which his son did eventually agree to help run, so long as it could be kept quiet. The business was so successful that the Berlins opened a branch in Romania which continues to operate today.” … Given this new information, scholars are reviewing Berlin’s somewhat enigmatic life – in particular, his various overseas trips and contacts – with greater care.

So Berlin might not just have gotten his Ph.D from a diploma mill, he might have actually been _in charge of one_? That popping noise you hear is the sound of heads exploding at Oxford, and possibly also in various political theory seminars around the United States. University Diaries quotes (but doesn’t source) the likes of Ronald Dworkin, Tom Nagel and Michael Walzer expressing their astonishment and dismay at these revelations.

And if you are not disturbed that the “Pope of Liberty”: might turn out to have feet of clay, then how does the actual Pope grab ya?

bq. Academics are bracing for what Senator Collins promises are further, equally staggering, revelations. “I can’t be definitive just yet,” she said to a reporter yesterday, “but I can tell you that we are scrutinizing Albert Schweitzer’s activities in Africa very carefully. The committee is also looking into allegations that one ‘Karol Wojtyla’ graduated not from the Jagiellonian University of Krakow, as his cv claims, but from the University of Jagellionia at Fort Lauderdale.”

Can all this be true? Am I just being wound up?[1] If the Pope got his degree from Fort Lauderdale, then that means “Ian Paisley”: (Ph.D “Bob Jones University”: is better qualified than him. I really, really need to read more detailed original reporting on this story, not just quotes at a few removes. Anyone got any news items to link to?

*Update*: _Of course_ it’s a wind-up. It’s amazing what six hours of sleep will do for one’s clarity of mind. But I have to say the possibility of truthfully using the phrase “Crooked Timber Merchant” with reference to Berlin was just too tempting to pass up. If only she’d left out the bit about the Pope, I think I’d have swallowed it whole.

fn1. By the way, if some Oxbridge product leaves a comment to the effect that of course this has been common knowledge in the Senior Common Room for _years_, I’m going to be even more annoyed than I will be if it turns out to be a false report.

If you have a coffee break today, why not spend it reading this wonderful piece. RA Radford was an economics don who ended up in a POW camp toward the back end of the second world war, and wrote this article in Economica describing the experience from the economic point of view. If you’ve already read it then congratulations; you clearly went to the right kind of university. Otherwise, it’s a treat.

While chasing up the Radford reference, I happened across this blog btw. I happen to know a couple of things about Chavez-era Venezuela, and this news source, pretty uniquely, checks out as honest on all the areas where I was able to check. The author is a bit less charitable toward Chavez than I am inclined to be (so hate me, I’m inclined to cut totalitarian socialist regimes a bit more slack when they’re faced with massive externally-funded subversion), but he gets the big picture right; Chavez, like modern Castro, is a narcissist and a very poor poster-child for Socialism indeed, but his opposition is woefully lacking in any positive policy prescriptions other than handing everything over to foreign vested interests. Rather a long coffee break if you decide to read both of these, I admit.