The Widmerpool Award

by Chris Bertram on September 22, 2004

Over at his blog, Stephen Pollard “reproduces his own article from the Times”: . A few paragraphs:

bq. The Anthony Powell Society is to give its annual Widmerpool award this year to the journalist Sir Max Hastings. The award is in honour of Kenneth Widmerpool, one of the 20th century’s great fictional characters, a recurring presence in Powell’s series of novels, A Dance to the Music of Time.

bq. According to the society: “Widmerpool is variously pompous; self-obsessed and self-important; obsequious to those in authority and a bully to those below him. He is ambitious and pushy; ruthless; humourless; blind to the feelings of others; and has a complete lack of self-knowledge.”

bq. The description is redolent of so many characters in public life that more must be made of it.

Indeed, Stephen, indeed ….

Blame it on Fatty

by Daniel on September 22, 2004

Arnold Kling has a new book out, with the title What’s a nice guy like me doing in a flack shop like this? “Learning Economics”. If what you want is an introduction to economics from a somewhat aggressively libertarian perspective, I daresay it will be pretty good; in my experience, Arnold has almost never been intellectually dishonest himself (which further raises the question, why’s he providing window dressing to TCS?).

However, in plugging his book, Arnold repeats a mistake I’ve corrected him on a couple of times, so let battle commence. Specifically, he claims that

“If you think that paying for your own health care is too expensive, I argue that it is mental illness to believe that paying for each other’s health care is affordable.”

I think that this is based on a pretty egregious confusion between a dull statement about health care, about which this statement is trivially true, and health insurance, about which it is probably false. Read on …

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Making nonsense of Marx

by Henry Farrell on September 22, 2004

“Joi Ito”: links approvingly to a “short essay”: by Adina Levin, criticizing the Dan Hunter article on open source and Marxism that I “discussed”: last week. Ms. Levin says that open source is not, in fact Marxist, a claim which may or may not be true, but which would be better supported if she knew more about what Marxism actually says.

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Grilled Lobster on Sugarcane

by Belle Waring on September 22, 2004

Is it just me, or does this Samizdata post sound oddly as if it were written by the Medium Lobster?

I hardly know where to begin on this one (from Fox News).

While Bush has been campaigning as the best candidate to deter terrorists and protect the nation, Kerry portrayed him as out of touch with the situation in Iraq.

“With all due respect to the president, has he turned on the evening news lately? Does he read the newspapers?” Kerry said. “Does he really know what’s happening? Is he talking about the same war that the rest of us are talking about?”

This man thinks the Commander-in-chief should formulate war strategies according to what it says on CNN, and he is standing for president of the United States?

With all due respect to the Democratic candidate, has he never heard of military intelligence? Does he even know what the blogosphere is? Is he talking about the same universe that the rest of us are talking about?

Damn right, we are talking about different wars. This is the real one. And it’s not available in any newspapers.

I recommend very strongly that you follow the link and learn that John Wayne movies about Vietnam are an awesome place to learn about press bias. And, if you read the comments thread, you learn that the liberal media travelled back in time from the 70’s and caused the US to lose the Vietnam war by raising geo-political concerns about open war with China. Also, can we think of a new name for libertarians who think it’s a good idea to invade other countries and overthrow their governments, like maybe “shmibertarians”? Thanks.

Bonkers conspiracies

by Chris Bertram on September 22, 2004

Maybe someone can help me out here. I idly surfed to some of the far reaches of lunacy last night and ended up at David Horowitz’s Front Page Mag, there I found “an interview with someone called Bat Ye’or”: whom further googling revealed to be quite well-known, though not to me. It also revealed that “this character”: is regularly cited and linked to approvingly by people like Melanie Phillips who, in turn, are approvingly linked to by others …. Anyway, this is Bat Ye’or’s summary of the recent history of the European Union:

bq. Eurabia represents a geo-political reality envisaged in 1973 through a system of informal alliances between, on the one hand, the nine countries of the European Community (EC)which, enlarged, became the European Union (EU) in 1992 and on the other hand, the Mediterranean Arab countries. The alliances and agreements were elaborated at the top political level of each EC country with the representative of the European Commission, and their Arab homologues with the Arab League’s delegate. This system was synchronised under the roof of an association called the Euro-Arab Dialogue (EAD) created in July 1974 in Paris. A working body composed of committees and always presided jointly by a European and an Arab delegate planned the agendas, and organized and monitored the application of the decisions. …. Eurabia is the future of Europe. Its driving force, the Parliamentary Association for Euro-Arab Cooperation, was created in Paris in 1974….

This seems to me to rank alongside the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the Faked Moon Landings, Kennedy assassination conspiracies and the like. Yet this person has spoken at a United Nations Commission on Human Rights-organized conference and spoken before the United States Congress…..

Better than the Great Depression

by John Q on September 22, 2004

Daniel Akst contributes yet another in a seemingly endless series of articles reminding American workers that they should “stop whining”, since they are far better off than were their forebears during the Great Depression.

What is striking about this genre is that the choice of the Depression is not an accident. You have to go back that far to get a comparison that gives a clear-cut, unqualified and substantial improvement in the pay and conditions of US workers across the board. Real hourly wages for men with high school education are now around the levels prevailing in the 1950s[1]. Since it’s difficult to make comparisons with the war decade of the 1940s, it’s necessary to go back to the 1930s to get a clear-cut improvement.

Correction and apology I got so annoyed by the appearance of the Depression comparison, that I failed to read the entire article properly. Akst ends by pointing out

It is noteworthy that in news media coverage of job stress, the emphasis is usually on educated middle-class professionals who, in fact, have many choices – including a lower-pressure job or simply working less. All this hand-wringing over the suffering of the relatively fortunate only distracts us from the plight of Americans whose work lives are really stressful: those who are paid $7 or $8 an hour, don’t have health insurance and lack the skills or education to better their lot.

Life for these workers is a tightrope act without a net, so the least that we lucky ones can do is stop whining. Better yet, we can honor their labor by adopting social policies, like national health insurance, a higher minimum wage and tougher limits on unskilled immigration, that will ease their struggle. It will cost us something, of course. But for the working poor, yoga won’t cut it.

which makes a lot of the points I would have wanted. I withdraw my criticism of Akst and apologise for misreading him. Thanks to commenter Steve Carr for pointing this out. (As there has been plenty of discussion, I’ll leave the rest of the post unchanged for the record) end correction

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Cat Stevens banned from the US

by Chris Bertram on September 22, 2004

Yusuf Islam — the former singer once known as Cat Stevens — “has been banned from the United States”: . And not just banned, they actually diverted the plane 600 miles to Maine to remove him from it. He’s made some equivocal statements in the past, but more recently “has been forthright in his condemnation of terrorism”: . Perhaps there’s something we don’t know, but, on the surface, this looks like a bad mistake. Ordinary Muslims will be bound to see this as hostility to their religion as such rather than just to extremists and terrorists.

Self-promoting bullshit?

by Chris Bertram on September 22, 2004

The Observer, the Guardian’s Sunday-stablemate — and so the liberal paper of record for that day of the week — carried an account by one Sebastian Horsley of his “1000+ encounters with prostitutes”:,11913,1306267,00.html . This now features as one of today’s items on “A&L Daily”: Now Horsley’s tale may be true, but any reader savvy enough “to feed his name into Google”: will find that the very same Observer carried a feature on “the same guy and his struggle with heroin”:,11913,1241264,00.html and another on how, as “a performance artist, he crucified himself”:,11913,722216,00.html . Seeing the various stories together certainly affects the epistemic situation of the reader, shall we say.

Correcting the media

by Henry Farrell on September 22, 2004

I don’t usually link to items that mention me (not that it happens that often anyway), but reckon that I do want to link to this “Star Tribune”: piece, which is nice enough to quote me, but in an inadvertently misleading way. The piece says of Rathergate:

bq. “This was a story tailor-made for bloggers,” said Henry Farrell, the co-author of the research paper. “They’re not investigative reporters and don’t have the resources of the media. But there are lots of talented people out there who can work on the story for 20 minutes. It was distributed intelligence in which a story can be unpacked into thousands of little bits.”

My recollection is that what I said had a rather different emphasis – I was riffing on a recent “post”: by Steven Johnson, which argued that the role of bloggers in Rathergate was a flash in the pan, and that real journalism took dedicated resources. I’m sure that I didn’t refer to the Rathergate bloggers as talented people, because I was thinking about Johnson’s argument (which is that comparing the documents didn’t take much more talent than the ability to switch applications). So the way I’ve been quoted isn’t completely wrong (it’s close to my original words), but it does turn my actual argument (that this is a once-off because of the kind of issue involved) into what sounds like a fairly uncritical celebration of the blogosphere. Which was certainly not what I intended. I suppose it’s a lesson in how our words are received by others – what we believe we mean is very often not what people think that they’re hearing, even when they’re trying their best.

Snippet of a conversation with a student from my “Sources of Social Theory”: class:

Student: I just wanted to be sure I understood the “Engels reading”:
Me: OK.
Student: I mean, I think I got it — like, he went to Manchester and it was totally gross and everything, right?
Me: That’s about right, I suppose.

And speaking of class warfare, consider the headlines from these two stories, nestled next to each other in the _Times_ right now:

bq. “U.S. Seeking Cuts in Rent Subsidies for Poor Families”: The Bush administration has proposed reducing the value of subsidized-housing vouchers given to poor residents in New York City next year, with even bigger cuts planned for some urban areas in New England. The proposal is based on a disputed new formula that averages higher rents in big cities with those of suburban areas, which tend to have lower costs…

bq. “Legal Loophole Inflates Profits in Student Loans”: The federal government is paying hundreds of millions of dollars in unnecessary subsidies to student loan companies even though the Bush administration has the authority to cut them off immediately, according to a report by the Government Accountability Office.

It’s probably worth some Think-Tanker’s time to express the money involved in the former story in terms of the money involved in the latter story, and package it into a 1-liner about the present Administration’s approach to social policy.