From the monthly archives:

September 2004

Quote of the Day

by Henry Farrell on September 24, 2004

From “The Poor Man”:

bq. Relying on Free Republic losers to “fact-check” the media is like relying on the proverbial roomful of typing monkeys, except with somewhat more feral howling and feces-flinging.

Lead on, David Brooks

by Kieran Healy on September 24, 2004

On CNN’s _Newsnight_ last night, “David Brooks”: took his favorite rhetorical trope — that there are “two kinds of people in the world”: — to its _realpolitik_ conclusions:

bq. You’ve got to have a political strategy and you’ve got to have a military strategy. … You’ve got to use our Iraqis, the Iraqis who want a democratic Iraq to give them something concrete, win them over. But then you’ve got to have a military strategy too and those are the people who, like Zarqawi, who just want to spread death and destruction. So, what you do is you win over the people you can, town by town and then you kill the people you can.

Brooks was ready to fly to Iraq and lead the army from house to house in Iraq using his magic glowing finger to distinguish the Iraqis we must kill from those we must win over, he did not go on to say.


by John Holbo on September 24, 2004

That’s Latin for ‘do your own research, pal!

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Hobsbawm deported

by Chris Bertram on September 24, 2004

In shock news veteran Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawm has been deported from the United States. After the historian’s name appeared on a no-fly list, his UA flight was diverted 600 miles to Maine, the elderly scholar was removed and, after questioning by FBI agents he was placed on the first available flight to the UK. Homeland Security officials said “we’ve been watching this guy for a while, we had new intelligence….”

Hobsbawm has long been a controversial figure, in “a notorious interview with Michael Ignatieff he appeared to justify the Soviet Gulag”: :

bq. Ignatieff: “In 1934, millions of people are dying in the Soviet experiment. If you had known that, would it have made a difference to you at that time? To your commitment? To being a Communist?”

bq. Hobsbawm: “This is the sort of academic question to which an answer is simply not possible. . . . If I were to give you a retrospective answer which is not the answer of a historian, I would have said, ‘probably not.’”

bq. Ignatieff: “Why?”

bq. Hobsbawm: “Because in a period in which, as you might imagine, mass murder and mass suffering are absolutely universal, the chance of a new world being born in great suffering would still have been worth backing. Now the point is, looking back as an historian, I would say that the sacrifices made by the Russian people were probably only marginally worthwhile. The sacrifices were enormous; they were excessive by almost any standard and excessively great. But I’m looking back at it now, and I’m saying that because it turns out that the Soviet Union was not the beginning of the world revolution. Had it been, I’m not sure.”

bq. Ignatieff: “What that comes down to is saying that had the radiant tomorrow actually been created, the loss of fifteen, twenty million people might have been justified?”

bq. Hobsbawm: “Yes.”

Seeking to justify Hobsbawm’s deportation on the grounds that he was a threat to the security of the United States, “guys-with-websites”: all across the internet cited Hobsbawm’s remarks by way of justification. Prominent US liberal bloggers, such as “Juan Cole”: , “Mark Kleiman”: and “Kevin Drum”: also mentioned the repulsive remarks and said that in their view, the fact that Hobsbawm had made the remarks had left them indifferent in the face of Homeland Security’s actions. As one of them said: “If you excuse the execution of dissidents, you and John Ashcroft deserve one another.” “Screw him,” was another’s comment on the affair.

Song of the Schmibertarians

by Kieran Healy on September 24, 2004

I agree “with Matt”: Jacob Levy’s defense of the possibility of Libertarian Hawkishness is coherent and even forceful in the context of the Afghanistan war, but “Belle backed down too soon”: It’s just not plausible to construe libertarianism as really being about massive, state-sponsored,[1] centrally-planned,[2] militarily-administered[3] efforts to invade and reconstruct another country — let alone to imply that libertarians are by temperament the kind of people who are confident that enterprises like this usually succeed as planned. So, I think “Schmibertarians”: could adopt as their anthem a slightly modified version of Randy Newman’s song “The World Isn’t Fair”: It’s about “Karl Marx”:, which doesn’t seem promising for Schmibertarians with aggressive foreign policies.[4] But consider:

Oh Karl the world isn’t fair
It isn’t and never will be.
They tried out your plan
It brought misery instead,
If you’d seen how they worked it
You’d be glad you were dead.
Just like I’m glad I’m living in the land of the free,
Where the rich just get richer
And the poor you don’t ever have to see —
It would depress us, Karl.
Because we care
That the world still isn’t fair.

Just replace ‘Karl’ with “‘Bob'”: and “they” with “we” and you’re set. Sure, Iraq was run by a wholly evil despot before. But so what? After all, who if not libertarians can we depend on to remind us that the world isn’t fair, your plan brought misery instead, and that you’re just wasting your time — and probably making things worse — by initiating some Grand State Scheme to control unemployment, the market for rental accommodation, civilian air traffic or infant polio. This argument scales up to things like the forcible invasion, occupation and political reconstruction of faraway countries. Given that the country posed no credible threat to the U.S., Libertarians ought to have opposed the war and especially the subsequent occupation in Iraq. And indeed “many of them”: did.

fn1. That is, botched.

fn2. That is, botched.

fn3. That is, botched.

fn4. Note that we’re talking about the Schmibertarians of Samizdata here, not Jacob Levy of the University of Chicago.

VOIP = square peg, round hole ?

by John Q on September 24, 2004

The failure of yet another VOIP (voice over Internet Protocol) company reminds me of a question to which I’ve never got a satisfactory answer. Is there any technological reason for thinking that VOIP is a good idea? To clarify, IP is a packet-switching technology, which is great for data, but everything I’ve read suggests that circuit-switching is better for voice (that’s what it was designed for, after all).

Whenever I’ve seen an explanation of the supposed advantages of VOIP, it has seemed to involve regulatory arbitrage. That is the technology is supposed to use cheap substitutes for regulated voice lines, while typically relying on those same lines for access either via old-style modem or ADSL.

But all of this is just an impression. Can anyone set me straight?


by Chris Bertram on September 23, 2004

My head is clearly stuck some time in the 1970s, because “I just can’t understand this story”: :

bq. The Amateur Boxing Association is set to offer Amir Khan £70,000 a year, tax free, to stay in the amateur ranks. Khan has said he wants to remain an amateur with the ABA planning to make a formal offer to the Olympic silver medallist on Friday. …. [Lennox] Lewis said he did not subscribe to the view that Khan needed to turn pro to make the most of the commercial opportunities available. “There is a lot of amateur money out there,” said Lewis.


What do IEM prices actually mean?

by Daniel on September 23, 2004

Via the Marginal Revolution lads, here’s a working paper by Charles Manski, an economist at Northwestern who’s interested in a question that we’ve often returned to at CT; what are the prices in markets like the Iowa Electronic Markets (***MARKET UPDATE*** Kerry still “dying on arse”) actually measuring? Can we really take a market price of 0.70 and unproblematically read off it that “the market thinks there is a 70% chance”?

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Media Fairness As Justice

by John Holbo on September 23, 2004

I’ve been holding off posting about memogate out of respect for the worm’s rotational speed. Where we stop, nobody knows. Here I go.

First, a bit of prophecy. No, prophecy’s a fool’s game. On to philosophy (ba-dum, crash, thanks for coming out tonight.)

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Academic blogging

by Chris Bertram on September 23, 2004

Today’s Guardian Online has “a piece by Jim McClellan about academic blogging”:,3605,1310111,00.html . I get quoted quite a bit and accurately too. But, as always, I’m not sure that what comes across is exactly what I meant to say. So I guess I wanted to make two points: (1) that blogs can be used as an interactive teaching tool but that rival courseware technologies which lock out “outsiders” pose a threat to that expansion of the medium (a point that “Eszter makes more eloquently here”: ); and (2) that concerns over intellectual property and corporate liability on the part of universities are in tension with academics increasing use of the blog medium. Those points get rather run together in the piece (that’s probably my fault, not Jim’s). As for my own experiment to use a blog in teaching — it wasn’t a great success, as the article says. But others have done better, and I’ll have another go this year.


by Belle Waring on September 23, 2004

Jacob Levy, whose absence is deeply felt in the blogosphere, sent me an email containing the following, totally correct rebuke:

Libertarianism is incompatible with invading other countries and overthrowing their governments iff:

1) States are fundamental rights-bearers who cannot be aggressed against — which is a really weird thing for libertarians to think.
2) Libertarianism is incompatible with *any* use of force, e.g. it is a variant of pacifism. Some people think this, but I deny that only they count as libertarians.
3) Libertarianism is incompatible with *any* state action, e.g. it is a variant of anarchism. Lots of libertarians think this, but I also deny that only they count as libertarians.

I hang my flippant, snarky head in shame. Clearly, libertarians can support or not support foreign wars of choice depending on the ostensible goals of the war, empirical questions about the various options available, differing beliefs about international law, etc. etc. My vague sense that there is something…odd…about libertarians who are full-throated supporters of wars to export democratic government by force doesn’t amount to a reasoned critique of libertarianism. Nonetheless, I stand firm on my original “those Samizdatistas are kinda nuts” claim.

Abu Ghraib

by Henry Farrell on September 23, 2004

Extracts from Mark Danner’s article on “Abu Ghraib”: in the NYRB.

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Business Opportunity

by Kieran Healy on September 23, 2004

For various reasons we needed to locate some Kosher dairy products today, which proved to be more difficult on short notice than I imagined. However, if anyone wants to set up a shop selling such things, it’s obvious that it should be called “Jews for Cheeses.”

Vengeance is Mine, Sayeth the Lord

by Kieran Healy on September 23, 2004

Bob Morris points out that Florida counties which voted for Bush in 2000 seem to have been “visited with calamities”: in the past few weeks. I think He is trying to send a message. (Hat tip: “Erin Kelly”:

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 ….