From the monthly archives:

September 2004

Polls, polls and more polls

by Eszter Hargittai on September 28, 2004

In case you haven’t seen it yet, Mystery Pollster is a new blog for “Demystifying the Science and Art of Political Polling”. I didn’t find it through Kausfiles or Instapundit, I got the recommendation during a phone conversation with a friend who barely reads blogs… but who does work with surveys herself. The blog should be of interest to data & methods geeks and political junkies alike.

UPDATE: Since a reader completely misunderstood why I happened to mention how I got information about this blog, I thought I should clarify. I mentioned that I did not get it from reading another blog, because I found it interesting that people who do not read blogs are still in the position to recommend blogs these days. For those of us interested in who knows about blogs and who reads them, this is an interesting tidbit.

Strange Aeons

by Henry Farrell on September 28, 2004

“Teresa Nielsen Hayden”: reminds us that “Charlie Stross”: has a strong claim to the title of Supreme Cthonic Entity of the Order of the Shrill for his Oliver-North-discovers-the-Cthulhu-mythos-and-likes-what-he-finds short story, “A Colder War”:, available in its entirety online. Stross describes it as a dry run for his novel, “The Atrocity Archives”: but the two are very different in tone – _A Colder War_ is chill and disturbing, while “Atrocity Archives” is jaunty and irreverent – British bureaucratic incompetence battles against eldritch powers and survives, just about. It’s quite amazing how _adaptable_ H.P. Lovecraft’s oeuvre is, and how well it has survived as a set of cultural tropes, despite its dodgy politics and dodgier prose style. To name a few other unorthodox contemporary riffs on Lovecraft: P.H. Cannon’s “Scream for Jeeves”: (Lovecraftiana redescribed by P.G. Wodehouse), Nick Mamatas’ “Move Under Ground”:, which has Jack Kerouac going up against the Great Old Ones,[1] and my personal favourite, William Browning Spencer’s “Resume with Monsters”:, which blends the Cthulhu mythos with the misery and drudgery of dead-end jobs in a sharp, funny and effective romantic comedy. Really. As it happens, I came across two copies of “RwM” in a second-hand bookshop yesterday – will happily send one each to the first two people to ask for them in comments.

fn1. I started reading this a couple of months ago and still haven’t finished thanks to other books and work commitments; Matt Cheney gives it “a good rating”: here).

Imaginary correspondent R. writes to say,

You seem to be going through your regularly scheduled bimonthly funk, in which you are frustrated with blogging. Why not work your way through it by writing a list recommending some of your favorite things, rather than waste everyone’s time with a “whither blogging” post? It’s quite charming when McSweeney’s does it.

Out of the mouths of imaginary constructs, as they say. As it happens, I have some recommendations…

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Ladybird books

by Chris Bertram on September 27, 2004

Michael Brooke has “a post up today about Ladybird books”: and their value to collectors. This sent my scurrying to look for an old post of mine on the subject from back when I was Junius. It had disappeared from the archives! I eventually managed to locate the source in blogger and republish — so “here it is”: — but I wonder how much else has faded out of existence due to the general flakiness of blogger. Anyway it was one of my favourite posts, and resulted in “an interesting reaction by Kieran”: . An important moment in the prehistory of Crooked Timber.

I Want the World to Know

by Belle Waring on September 27, 2004

Did you hate high school? I suggest putting it all into perspective by reading a series of articles on being a 17-year-old gay boy in rural Oklahoma (Part I, Part II; Part III is forthcoming). On the one hand, I know that his life is much better than it would have been even in the recent past, and that American culture is changing in many ways that will make similar journeys for younger boys and girls easier in the future. He has uncles who are openly gay, and his father is apparently resigned to his sexual orientation. On the other hand, ponder the exquisite, hellish torment:

Michael tried sending his mom a clue about his sexuality early on. He took her to a Cher concert in Tulsa, but she failed to make the connection.

“Apparently a lot of people don’t know she has a gay following,” Janice says, defensively. “The guys at work said how neat it was that I was going.”

She pauses, thinking back. “I have to say, it was a fantastic concert.”

A Cher concert, people. I have to stop thinking about the ride back from the Cher concert now. His mother, Janice, wants to cure him:

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Rational voting

by Chris Bertram on September 27, 2004

Jim Holt in the New York Times raises “the old question of whether it is rational to vote”: . The issue is this (for those who don’t know): the rational voter decides what to do by weighing the expected cost and benefits of actions. Suppose I value the victory of Party X at $1000. In working out the expected benefit of voting, I also have to take account of the probability of my vote making a difference, a probability which is extremely low (say 1/100,000). Assigning, therefore an expected benefit to voting of 1c, I see that going to the polling booth involves an expenditure of time, shoe leather and incurs the opportunity cost of missing a few minutes of my favourite soap opera. Since these costs will certainly by incurred if I vote, and dwarf the expected benefit of voting, the expected _net_ benefit is always negative, and so, rationally, I shouldn’t vote.

What’s wrong with this argument? Well, one thought, which I remember hearing first from my friend Alan Carling, is this: the argument involves inconsistent assumptions about rationality. The assignment of a low probability to my vote making a difference assumes what the conclusion of the argument denies, namely, that rational persons would vote. But the argument says they wouldn’t. Well if they wouldn’t then I would be the only voter (a dictator, in effect). In which case I would certainly be rational to vote since I can count the full expected benefit of $1000 in favour of doing so. But if that’s the case, and I should vote, then so should everyone else … in which case I shouldn’t … in which case nor should they … in which case I should ….

Spelling mistakes

by Chris Bertram on September 27, 2004

Sorry to keep posting about the Cat Stevens brouhaha, but it really is revealing about the world we are now living in. The latest reports suggest that what happened was basically a mistake — “a spelling mistake”:,8599,702062,00.html , in fact. I don’t know it that’s true, but if it were, what would that say about the bloggers who rushed to construct justifications for the action and the “experts” who went into print in the Weekly Standard and elsewhere to explain why deporting Stevens was the right thing to do? It raises the possibility of an interesting exercise:

bq. You are a right-wing blogger or a writer for TechCentralStation or FrontPage Magazine. Famous non-American person X is detained and deported from the US. Construct a rationalization for the decision based only on material you can find using Google.

Suggestions for X: David Beckham, Amartya Sen, Sting, Tom Jones, Gunther Grass, Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

NYU Hiring

by Brian on September 27, 2004

In a move that might shock some in the philosophical community, NYU is about to _commence_ a hiring campaign.

bq. New York University is on a hiring campaign that it hopes will put its graduate and undergraduate liberal arts programs on sounder footing and give them the stature of some of its most prominent professional schools. Over the next five years, it plans to expand its 625-member arts and science faculty by 125 members, and replace another 125 who are expected to leave. (“New York Times”:

If hiring Ned Block, Hartry Field, Kit Fine, David Velleman etc etc was what they do in normal times, it could get a little scary to see what they do in an expansionary era.

Dubya Channels Calvin, or Vice Versa

by Kieran Healy on September 27, 2004

Man of Action

The last of the Thatcherites

by John Q on September 27, 2004

The Australian election campaign has produced some interesting shifts in political positions, with the Labor opposition attacking the Liberal (= free-market conservative) government for being “the highest taxing government in Australia’s history”[1], and the government responding with yet more public spending. This is largely a matter of political pragmatism. But the election has produced one statement that’s worth paying attention to, from Prime Minister John Howard in the Australian Financial Review (no link – this is a subscription-only site)

There is a desire on the part of the community for an investment in infrastructure and human resources and I think there has been a shift in attitude in the community on this, even among the most ardent economic rationalists[2]

Howard is, arguably, the last of the Thatcherites. He entered the Australian Parliament in 1974, just as the Keynesian social-democratic consensus of the postwar period was coming to an end. He was Treasurer in the Fraser government (which held office from 1975 to 1983) and, subsequently one of Fraser’s bitterest critics, arguing that the government had missed the opportunity to undertake radical market-oriented reform[3]. In Opposition through the 1980s, he was the leading advocate of free-market reforms, continually pushing the Hawke-Keating Labor government (by inclination a precursor of Blair’s Third Way) to the right. On gaining office in 1996 after a very muted campaign, he introduced drastic expenditure cuts and established a Commission of Audit to find more. He’s been gradually moving away from this radical position ever since, in the face of increasing public opposition. Until now, however, he has never openly repudiated the ideological goal of rolling back the public sector.

.I think it’s reasonable to treat this statement as representing the end of the neoliberal push to overturn the social-democratic settlement, at least in the English-speaking countries

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Nice results

by Eszter Hargittai on September 26, 2004

I was hesitant to blog about technical details of my work here, but then I realized that if my fellow economist and philosopher bloggers can post about the details of their work then why couldn’t the sociology geeks?:) I’ll tuck it below the fold though as it likely only has limited appeal.

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The over-optimism of Fahrenheit 911

by John Q on September 26, 2004

I finally went to see Fahrenheit 9/11. I won’t give a review as I don’t have much to add to what lots of others have already said. What struck me about the film is how much worse things have become, and how much more has come out, in the time since the film was made (I haven’t checked but the film seemed to end around the time of the Fallujah atrocities and the subsequent abortive assault).

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Advice to Authors

by Kieran Healy on September 26, 2004

Here is one of the many footnotes from Susanna Clarke’s novel, “Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell”:, which Henry “reviewed”: recently:

bq. Horace Tott spent an uneventful life in Cheshire always intending to write a large book on English magic, but never quite beginning. And so he died at seventy-four, still imagining he might begin next week, or perhaps the week after that.

“Publish-or-perish” is hardly the best motto for good scholarship, but if the alternative is to perish without publishing at all then perhaps it might not be so bad. This footnote may find itself stuck above my desk come Monday. Or Tuesday, at the latest.

Confusing U

by Kieran Healy on September 25, 2004

How many different (and distant) placenames can an institution fit into its name and address? “Miami University, Oxford, Ohio”: is way out there in the lead, I think.

Ancestor Worship

by Henry Farrell on September 24, 2004

Graham Harvey, “Endo-cannibalism in the making of a recent British ancestor,” _Mortality_ 9:3 (August 2004) pp: 255 – 267


Following his death in 1975, the ashes of Wally Hope, founder of Stonehenge People’s Free Festival, were scattered in the centre of Stonehenge. When a child tasted the ashes the rest of the group followed this lead. In the following decades, as the festival increasingly became the site of contest about British heritage and culture, the story of Wally’s ashes was told at significant times. His name continues to be invoked at gatherings today. This paper discusses these events as ‘the making of an ancestor’, and explores wider contexts in which they might be understood. These include Druidic involvement in the revival of cremation, Amazonian bone-ash endo-cannibalism, and popular means of speaking of and to dead relatives. In addition to considering the role of ‘ancestors’ in contemporary Britain, the paper contributes to considerations of ‘ancestry’ as a different way of being dead, of a particular moment in the evolution of an alternative religious neo-tribal movement, of the meanings of ‘cannibalism’, and of the ways in which human remains might be treated by the bereaved and by various other interested parties.

Hat tip: “David Glenn”: