From the monthly archives:

October 2004

Parliamentary prerogatives II

by Henry Farrell on October 28, 2004

As “John Quiggin”: says, the European Commission President has blinked, and backed down in the face of a credible threat from the Parliament to defeat the Commission. The short term result is an (informal) enhancement in the power of the Parliament to control the Commission – what’s likely to happen in the longer term? My predictions:

* An informal deal between the Parliament and Commission in which the Parliament will get a permanent role in deciding which Commissioner gets which portfolio. If Barroso had struck a deal with Parliament last week, he would have been able to get away with sacking Buttiglione, and nobody else. Now, the Parliament is going to demand a higher price – in part because it can get it (the Commission has blinked), and in part because this will be much easier to sell to Christian Democrat MEPs who didn’t want Buttiglione to go. It’s clear that there is going to be a real reshuffle (Buttiglione will be booted; a couple of other dodgy Commissioners will either withdraw or be allocated less sensitive portfolios). The Parliament will demand a proper and ongoing voice in this, and will almost certainly get away with it – neither the Commission nor the member states are going to want a repeat of this week.

* If there’s ever another round of Treaty revisions, I suspect that the Parliament will be formally given the power to reject individual Commissioners. It has effectively shown that it is willing to summon up an absolute majority to reject the entire Commission if there’s one Commissioner whom it dislikes sufficiently. It makes sense for the Council to recognize this _fait accompli_ – and ensure that the Parliament can express its dissatisfaction with individual Commissioners without provoking an institutional crisis by sacking the lot of them. Something like this has happened before, in the Council-Parliament confrontation over the “last bite at the cherry” stage in the codecision procedure (if anyone’s interested, the story is detailed “here”: in a piece co-written with Adrienne Heritier).

* Curiously perhaps, given the slant of the current news coverage, an increase in the powers of the Commission President vis-a-vis the Council. Up to now, the Commission President has had limited choice over who gets what portfolio, and none whatsoever over who gets nominated. As a result, the European Commission is an odd mix of ambitious and competent politicians, bureaucratic operators, placeholders, superannuated hacks and complete chancers. Now, the Commission President is going to be able to tell member state governments that certain candidate Commissioners are unacceptable, and have more discretion in making sure that the right person gets the right portfolio – he’ll be able to say quite credibly that the Parliament won’t stand for this or that fox being put in charge of the hencoop. In political science jargon, he’s now the equivalent of a “COG” in a “two level game”

* As a result of all the above, a quite real increase in democratic legitimacy for the EU. The European Commission only vaguely approximates to a real government, and the European Parliament is not a fully-fledged parliamentary body. But by holding hearings for Commissioners- and firing them if they don’t measure up – the Parliament is injecting some real accountability into an area of EU politics that has traditionally been dominated by self-serving backroom deals among governments.

Protect the Vote

by Kieran Healy on October 27, 2004

“Gallimaufry tells you how”:

Ballot types

by Eszter Hargittai on October 27, 2004

Several images and videos have come across my inbox regarding the types of ballots one may encounter at the elections. Sure, these are parodies for the most part, but certainly have a serious side in light of the 2000 elections. Here is one. Here is another. I thought this thread could serve as a collection for pointers to other images and videos people have seen.

Space invaders

by Henry Farrell on October 27, 2004

More on the troubled relationship between the Republican Party and technology. One of my colleagues complained to me this morning that her AOL Instant Messenger software had been hijacked by political spam. As I’ve seen for myself, every time she moves her cursor over the program, a loud, obnoxious movie-ad pops up, telling her in stentorian tones about the horrible things that John Edwards and the Evil Trial Lawyers are doing to doctors. On further investigation, it turns out that this particular box of delights has been brought to your desktop by the “November Fund,” a pro-Republican 527 created by “the US Chamber of Commerce”: Apparently, the fund has spent $2 million; according to the American Bar Association’s “ABA Journal”:, they’re legally prohibited from buying attack ads on TV or radio, which probably explains why they’re spending money on pop-ups.[1] For my part, I sincerely hope that they raise and spend as much money as possible on Internet advertising. If I were a swing voter, I can’t imagine anything more likely to make me vote Democratic than having my desktop invaded by talking, dancing Republican adware.

fn1. The Internet is “exempt from the ban”: on corporate funded advertising that specifically targets candidates.

A new human species

by Chris Bertram on October 27, 2004

The BBC “is reporting”: that scientists have discovered evidence of a new human species that outlasted the Neanderthals:

bq. Scientists have discovered a new and tiny species of human that lived in Indonesia at the same time our own ancestors were colonising the world. The new species – dubbed “the Hobbit” due to its small size – lived on Flores island until at least 12,000 years ago.

IP filtering

by Henry Farrell on October 27, 2004

“BoingBoing”: is telling us that George W. Bush’s election site is blocking requests from non-US IP addresses. This seems pretty weird – there could be some reasonable explanation (preventing some kind of DoS attack???), but according to BoingBoing the Bush campaign’s media people aren’t telling. Does anyone have any idea what is going on?

Update: “Michael Froomkin”: links to a “story”: suggesting that suffered a DoS attack on Tuesday.

Update2: “Joi Ito”: suggests that the site has been timing out if you tried to reach it from Japan or elsewhere since August. Curioser and curioser …

Our all-powerful media overlords

by Ted on October 27, 2004

James Wolcott thinks that Bush supporters are preparing to deny the legitimacy of a Kerry victory, and shift the blame for disaster in Iraq, by blaming media bias.

Matt Welch has a reasonable response to this idea:

My main objection is this (note: he’s quoting Mark Steyn, although he could have found the same thought from James Lileks or a dozen others):

If the present Democratic-media complex had been around earlier, America would never have mustered the will to win World War II or, come to that, the Revolutionary War.

Firstly, as Steyn surely knows, the press was much more explicitly partisan and venal back before and during WWII, and because of a lack of things like television, barons like William Randolph Hearst (who bitterly opposed the entrance to the war, and even employed Hitler as a columnist) had far more comparative power than anyone you could name today.

As I pointed out in this column back in May, it’s amazing that the same people who constantly prophesize and compile evidence about Big Media’s demise will in the next breath blame the MSM for losing wars, tipping elections, and otherwise delivering massive outcomes contrary to the Republican agenda. They’re either all-powerful or not; I’m putting my money on “not.”


by Brian on October 27, 2004

“Richard Heck”: has put together what should become one of the coolest philosophy sites on the internet – a searchable database of online papers.

bq. “PhOnline”:

There isn’t much up there yet because individuals with papers have to “register”: and deposit their own papers. (Which if you’re a philosopher with online papers you should do right now.) But this will in time be a phenomenal resource for philosophers and people wanting an introduction to philosophy, and we’ll all be very grateful to Richard for putting together such a wonderful site.

Barroso blinks

by John Q on October 27, 2004

In the dispute over Rocco Buttiglionie the head of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso has blinked, deferring a vote which would have seen his entire panel of 25 commissioners rejected by the European Parliament. Barring extraordinary dexterity, it looks as if he will have to either secure Buttiglionie’s withdrawal or shunt him to a less controversial job.

[click to continue…]

That was the good news

by John Q on October 27, 2004

Amid all the dreadful news from Iraq, Australian blogger Arthur Chrenkoff has made it his mission to report the good news. A lot of the time this consists of impossibly cute kitten stories, and those repainted schools we’re always hearing about. But there is some real good news.

And, then, there’s this report on conditions for participation in the Iraqi election, linked by Chrenkoff from Iraq the model

[click to continue…]

Blogging and Blog Ads

by Kieran Healy on October 27, 2004

Somehow I missed this, but “Jason Kottke”: made an “interesting observation”: about popular blogs a few days ago:

Out of Technorati’s top 100 most-linked weblogs**, only 16 don’t feature advertising or are otherwise noncommercial:

Scripting News / Doc Searls / / Jeffrey Zeldman / The Volokh Conspiracy / Scobleizer / Lileks / Joel on Software / Rather Good / Joi Ito’s Web / RonOnline / USS Clueless / BuzzMachine / Vodkapundit / Baghdad Burning / Crooked Timber

Lots of interesting observations to be made about the commercialization of weblogs…the quick uptake of advertising on blogs, the increasingly false perception of blogs as inherently unbiased by commercial interests (and therefore preferable to “big media”), the continuing shift from blogging as a hobby to blogging for a variety of reasons, the number of weblogs launching lately that have ads from day one, the demographic difference between the typical circa-2002 blogger and the blogger of today, etc.

There’s more discussion about this “at his site”: I’d also note that of the Top 100, and particularly those in the Top 50, there’s a lot of heterogeneity. Some are run by single individuals (like “”:, some are group blogs (“Volokh”:, “Crooked Timber”:, some large communities (“Metafilter”: or social movements (“Common Dreams”:, while others are commercial enterprises (“Wonkette”: and the other Nick Denton Mini-Empire[1] sites), and so on. Beyond that, the mix of technology, culture and politics would be worth a closer look, too. I also wonder whether Technorati have changed their criteria a bit: I remember the last time I looked closely at the Top 100 list (a few months ago) the top sites were all from the Suicide Girls porn outfit, but they seem to have largely disappeared from the listing. The presence of sites written in languages other than English, like “this one”: and “this one”:, seems like a new development as well.

To forestall pointless arguments, I should say that I don’t think taking advertising means your content automatically suffers or your character is corrupted by money or whatnot.[2] But there’s a story here about viable organizational models for blogging. I sometimes think CT is just under a daily-visitor threshold that would change the character of the site. It’s not so much bandwidth costs as our relationship to commenters and so on. The software runs at a just-about-acceptable pace, and the comments threads are generally very good. But more visitors would put extra pressure on all of that. We’re still growing, so maybe we’ll see these changes whether we want to or not. Look out for our crossover deal with Burger King. I’m thinking Whoppers flame-grilled on crooked timbers, with Kids’ Meals containing small plastic effigies of Isaiah Berlin and copies of ‘What is Enlightenment?’

fn1. World’s smallest empire?

fn2. Though I do think your _layout_ does: most of the drop-in advertising methods I’ve seen look like crap.

Take Up the Wrong Man’s Burden

by Henry Farrell on October 27, 2004

One for the “Kipling enthusiasts”: over at the Volokhs (even if the author is a bit iffy on what ‘approbation’ means).

bq. Take up the Wrong Man’s burden—
And stay above the law—
No treaty or convention
Can stop America.
The moral approbation
Of others near and far
Denounce as soft on terror
And cowardice in war.

Via “Maud Newton”:

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?