The Leg question

by Daniel on October 26, 2004

Apparently, we are bombing the town of Fallujah. Apparently, we are doing this because the residents refuse to co-operate with our wishes by not “handing over” the notorious terrorist Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi. Apparently, we will continue to bomb them until they do so.

I am, as a result haunted by a nightmare in which I am flying in a helicopter gunship above the town of Fallujah, looking down on the wrecked buildings and bodies below. I find myself having a conversation, through a megaphone, with one of the residents:

Me: Just hand over Zarqawi and we’ll let you live!
Resident: OK! OK! We’re having a bit of trouble finding him!
Me: A likely story! Bomb them again, Lurch!
Resident: Could you just give us a hand? Like maybe tell us where in Fallujah he’s staying?
Me: I don’t know. But we have excellent intelligence that tells us that you’re harbouring him! Bomb that coffee shop, Lurch, it looks like an ammo dump!
Resident: Well, what does he look like?
Me: Everyone knows what Zarqawi looks like! You’re just playing for time! Bomb him again!
Resident: Well, how many legs does he have? Give us something to work with here!

And at that point I wake up, screaming.

It strikes me that if your level of information about someone is not sufficient to answer the question “how many legs does he have?”, it would be a good idea to not express any strong opinions on the subject of that person. It also strikes me that if we’re reforming the intelligence process, then we might profitably include a question about “number of legs” on any checklist we propose to use to sift good intelligence from bad.

Questioning academics

by Henry Farrell on October 26, 2004

While the Republicans are clearly enjoying the benefits of the “hack gap”:, “Christopher Shea”: suggests in the _Boston Globe_ that the Democrats’ ‘professoriate gap’ doesn’t count for much. According to Shea, (1) the recent poll of academic economists in the _Economist_ where 70% of economists judged Bush’s fiscal policy to be bad, or very bad, (2) the letter signed by Harvard Business School professors suggesting that Bush flunked his tax policy, and (3) the letter from over 700 foreign policy scholars denouncing the Iraq adventure are so much hot air.

Shea’s article is lazy, one-sided, and intellectually sloppy. It tries to squash two, quite different arguments into an incoherent whole. The first is undeniably true – that academics don’t have much power to influence elections. The second is false – that this means that polls or petitions signed by academics are politically irrelevant. Academic economists and international relations scholars have real expertise in their areas of interest – that’s why they’re frequently tapped by both Democratic and Republican administrations for middle-to-senior policy positions. They’re not just living in ivory towers. Furthermore, both economics and international relations departments are ideologically and intellectually diverse – it’s notoriously hard to get them to agree on anything. When international relations scholars from both left and right unite to denounce a major foreign policy initiative, it’s a pretty good signal that there’s something horribly wrong with the policy in question. Likewise, when the great majority of economists are convinced that Bush’s fiscal policy is bad-to-disastrous, it tells us something important about how truly awful Bush’s fiscal policy is.

Update: Chris Shea responds, defending the article in comments.

How Prince Prigio was Deserted by Everybody

by John Holbo on October 26, 2004

Brian and Matt are quite right about this. “While others quiver with pre-election anxiety, their mood rising and collapsing with the merest flicker of the polls, he alone radiates certainty.” Whatever can be the point of writing such a stupid column on this theme?

In unrelated news, I’m sure, the invaluable Ray Davis has thoroughly Repressed a simply gorgeous online edition of Andrew Lang’s Prince Prigio.

Can you imagine anything more cruel and unjust than this conduct? for it was not the prince’s fault that he was so clever. The cruel fairy had made him so.

The story has a very wise moral.

UPDATE: Disappeared comment now appearing, but something is wonky with comments. Are other people having troubles?

John Peel is dead

by Chris Bertram on October 26, 2004

“John Peel is dead”:,14173,1336385,00.html at only 65. I can’t believe it. He’s been a part of my life since I was a teenager and used to listen to his late-night show. He’s been responsible for introducing so much music to a British audience (he did much for punk and reggae), he’s been consistently funny in his distinctive dry way, and, of course, he was just about the world’s no. 1 Liverpool fan. Terrible news. “More from the BBC”: .

Locke tercentenary

by Chris Bertram on October 26, 2004

This year is the 300th anniversary of the death of John Locke and since he was born in Wrington and brought up in Pensford (both small villages near Bristol) we’ve been doing our bit to celebrate. On Saturday we had “a one-day conference aimed mainly at schoolchildren”: and last night I gave an evening class on his political thought (attended by, among others, our polymathically perverse commenter Count Des von Bladet who “asked a question about Levi-Strauss”: that I didn’t understand). There’s also been a flurry of newspaper articles, of which “the latest is from Martin Kettle in today’s Guardian”:,3604,1335926,00.html .

Those dastardly Clintonites….

by Chris Bertram on October 26, 2004

Many of the British blogs are currently debating whether Charlie Brooker’s joke (or “joke”, depending on your pov) about Presidential assassination was funny, not funny, tasteless, stupid, etc. “Michael Brooke”: , “commenting at Harry’s Place”: offers some much needed context for the benefit of people who’ve never actually held a copy of the Guardian’s listings supplement in their hands.[1]

bq. … it appeared on page 52 of their pocket-sized listings guide, in equally pocket-sized print, in a slot normally occupied by facetious demolitions of TV programmes (which was certainly the spirit in which I read it this morning). Unfortunately, this distinction is somewhat blurred by the more egalitarian online version.

Such attempts to minimize the affair would cut no ice with FrontPage magazine! They begin “their coverage”: thus:

bq. The Left’s campaign of hate and defamation against the American president has hit a new low: a major media organ of the international Left, edited by an associate of Bill Clinton, has called for President Bush’s assassination.

And after foaming at the mouth for a few more paragraphs they finish:

bq. This final American connection lays everything in place: The president’s leftist opponents – foreign and domestic – feel they have a sacred duty to rig elections around the world to their liking. And if their advice is scorned, they have the right to pursue what Clausewitz called “politics by other means”: physical warfare. The development is not a healthy one for democracies on either side of the Atlantic.

fn1. The Guardian’s listings supplement is not just ephemeral, it is, in my experience, almost useless. It is supposed to be regionally sensitive, so that you don’t have to wade through all the Cardiff cinema listings if you live in Edinburgh. Unfortunately, the Guardian appears to have a policy of distributing the various editions randomly, so there is very little chance that the one actually on sale locally pertains to that region.

David Brooks has Gone Completely Mad

by Brian on October 26, 2004

This isn’t exactly a news story, but David Brooks’s “latest column”: is bizarre even by his distinctive standards. Is it meant to be biography? Autobiography? Fantasy? The mind boggles. Here’s the most charitable explanation I can come up with. “I’m a conservative columnist and it’s a week until election day. So I should like write an argument for voting for the conservative. But I can’t think of a !@#$%^& reason for doing so, or at least one that passes the giggle test. So I’ll just doodle on the page for 760 words and hope my reputation isn’t too tattered when this is all over.”

Becoming the Establishment

by Kieran Healy on October 26, 2004

In the “continuing”: “discussion”: around Jerry Fodor’s “LRB piece”: about Analytic Philosophy, “Jason Stanley”: makes the following observation in a “discussion thread”: on Brian Leiter’s blog:

bq. There is a certain kind of very influential academic who has a difficult time recognizing that they are no longer a rebellious figure courageously struggling against the tide of contemporary opinion, but rather have already successfully directed the tide along the path of their choice. Chomsky is one such academic, and Fodor is another.

This reminds me of a comment my advisor, “Paul DiMaggio”:, made to me a few years ago. He’d just turned 50, and when asked how he felt about it, he said that, seeing as he couldn’t really be an _enfant terrible_ any more, he would have to content himself with merely being _terrible_.

Why not Zarqawi ?

by John Q on October 26, 2004

The Bush Administration has finally conceded, on the record, that it decided, for political reasons, not to go after leading terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in the leadup to the Iraq war. The question remains, which political reasons were decisive?

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