From the monthly archives:

November 2004

The Bradford Experience

by Chris Bertram on November 30, 2004

I don’t want to turn Crooked Timber into a series of announcements for British radio shows, but I would like to give advance notice that “Alan Carling”:https://www.crookedtimber.org/archives/001911.html , sociologist, electoral candidate, and one of my collaborators on Imprints, is now on the radio with “Bradford Community Broadcasting”:http://www.bcb.yorks.com/index.php . His show — The Bradford Experience — goes out this Thursday, and he’ll be interviewing Home Office minister “Fiona McTaggart”:http://www.fionamactaggart.labour.co.uk/ . The show goes out from 1600-1700 (UK time) and I rather suspect they’ll be discussing race, religion, secularism and such matters. There’s sure to be plenty on the “live stream”:http://www.bcb.yorks.com/index.php that might interest — or infuriate — Harry, Ophelia Benson, Russell Arben Fox and others around these parts. So perhaps Crooked Timber can get Alan an audience beyond the limits of the Bradford–Leeds conurbation.

UPDATE: Alan tells me that the programme will be repeated on Saturday (9.00-10.00 am) and Sunday (4.00 – 5.00). He’ll also be interviewing the Bishop of Bradford.

Furtwängler fifty years on

by Chris Bertram on November 30, 2004

Today is the fiftieth anniversary of the death of “Wilhelm Furtwängler”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wilhelm_Furtw%E4ngler and the BBC are remembering with “a special programme devoted to his conducting on Radio 3”:http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio3/pip/pip/3lm1v/ this evening. It starts at 19.30 UK time, so adjust for other time zones.

Spreading democracy in practice

by Henry on November 29, 2004

The OSCE must be doing something right, given the “loud yelps of dismay”:http://news.ft.com/cms/s/d1af5d44-416b-11d9-9dd8-00000e2511c8.html from Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov in the _FT_ today (warning: hidden behind paywall). Lavrov complains that the OSCE “has deviated from its original objectives” and that “some countries’ approach to the OSCE’s work is increasingly based on obvious double standards.” Dire warnings in diplomatic speak (“the very survival of the OSCE will depend on its ability to capitalise on its comparative advantages”) follow on demands that the OSCE revert to consensus-based decision-making and show a greater sensitivity to national and cultural differences. All of which amounts to a barely-stifled howl of complaint at the OSCE’s role in monitoring electoral behaviour in Ukraine, and blowing the whistle on some of the dodgy goings-on associated therewith. Since the early 1990’s, the OSCE has pioneered a very effective form of “limited intervention”:http://www.utsc.utoronto.ca/~farrell/Piecing_together.pdf that has helped prevent or mitigate ethnic conflict in a variety of trouble spots, as well as promoting democracy through election monitoring and norm diffusion. It’s clearly working well enough to discomfit the Russians. The final outcome in Ukraine is still up in the air (although it looks increasingly hopeful), but the process is very interesting indeed. It suggests yet again that outside actors can help promote democracy through monitoring, information diffusion and censure of bad behavior when the internal conditions are right. If Ukraine does indeed become a democracy over the next several years (I still wouldn’t lay hard money on this outcome) it will demonstrate that soft power, preventive diplomacy and constructive intervention can work, even in the teeth of vigorous opposition from the regional hegemon. Indeed, it will stand as an important counterexample of successful democracy-building to the mess in Iraq. Too early to say, of course, but worth keeping an eye on.

Legitimation effects

by Henry on November 29, 2004

“Eugene Volokh”:http://volokh.com/archives/archive_2004_11_28.shtml#1101750671 points us to a new “blog”:http://www.becker-posner-blog.com/archives/misc/index.html (no entries yet), which will be co-written by Gary Becker and Richard Posner. This provides a nice opportunity for casual empiricism in the cause of predictive social science. As perusors of the academic blogroll may notice, there are huge disparities between different disciplines (some of this is surely sampling error, but only some). There are lots and lots of philosophy blogs and law blogs, but many other academic disciplines, including economics, seem surprisingly under-represented in the blogosphere. I suspect that one of the important causal factors is legitimation. Junior academics may be unwilling to get involved in blogging. Not only is it a time-suck, but it may seem faintly disreputable – senior scholars in many fields of the social sciences take a dim view of ‘popularizing.’ However if there is a well known senior scholar in a discipline who blogs, it’s much easier for junior people in that discipline to dip their toes in the water without worrying that it’ll hurt their tenure chances. I suspect that this helps explain the explosion of philosophy blogs – the fact that Brian Leiter (who is responsible for a hugely influential ranking of philosophy programs) blogs lowered the entry costs for other philosophers; so too with law and the Volokhs. If I’m right, we should see an explosion in economics blogs over the next twelve months, now that Brad DeLong and other blogging economists have been joined by Becker, who’s as close to a household name as you can be in the dismal science.

Attrition in Iraq

by Kieran Healy on November 29, 2004

Brian Gifford of “Pub Sociology”:http://pubsociology.typepad.com/pub/ has an “Op-Ed piece”:http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A18882-2004Nov28.html in todays _Washington Post_ arguing that the pressure on the U.S. military in Iraq is much greater than simple comparison to casualty rates in previous wars would suggest:

To better understand the difficulty of the fighting in Iraq, consider not just the current body count but the combat intensity of previous wars. During World War II, the United States lost an average of 300 military personnel per day. The daily figure in Vietnam was about 15. Compared with two per day so far in Iraq, the daily grinds of those earlier conflicts were worse than what our forces are currently experiencing.

On the other hand, improved body armor, field medical procedures and medevac capabilities are allowing wounded soldiers to survive injuries that would have killed them in earlier wars. In World War II there were 1.7 wounded for every fatality, and 2.6 in Vietnam; in Iraq the ratio of wounded to killed is 7.6. This means that if our wounded today had the same chances of survival as their fathers did in Vietnam, we would probably now have more than 3,500 deaths in the Iraq war.

Moreover, we fought those wars with much larger militaries than we currently field. The United States had 12 million active-duty personnel at the end of World War II and 3.5 million at the height of the Vietnam War, compared with just 1.4 million today. Adjusted for the size of the armed forces, the average daily number of killed and wounded was 4.8 times as many in World War II than in Iraq, but it was only 0.25 times greater in Vietnam — or one-fourth more.

These figures suggest that our forces in Iraq face a far more serious threat than the public, the media and the political establishment typically acknowledge or understand. Man for man, a soldier or Marine in Iraq faces a mission nearly as difficult as that in Vietnam a generation earlier. This is in spite of the fact that his contemporary enemies do not field heavy armored vehicles or aircraft and do not enjoy the support and patronage of a superpower such as the Soviet Union. …

The focus on how “light” casualties have been so far rather than on what those casualties signify serves to rationalize the continued conduct of the war and prevents us as a nation from confronting the realities of conditions in Iraq. Even more troubling, daily casualties have almost tripled since before the first attack on Fallujah in April. Conditions are getting worse, not improving. To be sure, American forces are winning the body count. That the insurgency is nonetheless growing more effective in the face of heavier losses makes it difficult to imagine an exit strategy that any reasonable person would recognize as a “victory.”

There is a tension in warblogger rhetoric between the wish to emphasize the great sacrifices that soldiers are making in Iraq and the desire to deride those who worry about the casualties. The former leads them to emphasize the hellish nature of battling guerilla forces in urban settings, but the latter demands they argue that fatality rates are trivial compared to Vietnam or other much larger wars. Brian treats the fact that the U.S. military is the best-equipped, best-trained and best-supported ground fighting force in the world as more than just rhetoric. As he argues, this should force us to see the casualty numbers in a new light.

Fighting Inflation as Class Warfare

by Henry on November 29, 2004

I spent a chunk of the Thanksgiving Weekend reading Mark Blyth’s Great Transformations: Economic Ideas and Institutional Change in the Twentieth Century, on which more later. Before doing a proper post, though, I want to point to an interesting claim that Blyth makes in passing; I’ve seen versions of this argument before, but never stated as punchily. Blyth argues that there is no very good reason why we should be worried about the general effects of inflation on the economy – the empirical evidence shows that there is no statistically significant relationship between growth and inflation for inflation rates under twenty per cent per year, as acknowledged even by inflation bears such as Robert Barro. The argument that moderate-to-highish rates of inflation create real economic costs is, at the very least, contestable. Yet low inflation is one of the shibboleths of modern macroeconomic policy. Why? Blyth’s explanation (borrowing from Brian Barry) goes as follows:

bq. Inflation acts as a redistributionary tax on holding debt. Stock prices stagnate and bond prices increase as bond holders demand a premium to guard against the effects of inflation. Investment is hit as inflation eats away at depreciation allowances and stock yields … In short, _inflation is a class specific tax._ Those with credit suffer while those with debt, relatively speaking, prosper. Given then that the benefits of inflation control (restoring the value of debt) are specific while the costs of inflation control (unemployment and economic decline) are diffuse, the reaction of business, particularly the financial sector, to inflation is best understood as the revolt of the investor class [italics in original]

Thus, Blyth argues that efforts to combat inflation are the result of rent-seeking by a small class of individuals (investors/creditors) with sharply defined interests who are able to push government to protect their investments even when this conflicts with the common weal. Creditors don’t want inflation – especially when it’s unexpected – while debtors benefit from it.I’m not a macroeconomist, but the basics of this argument seem plausible, even if you don’t agree with Blyth’s implied Keynesian alternative. Is there a credible alternative explanation of the clear anti-inflationary bias of most advanced industrial democracies, one that, for example, identifies real social benefits attached to low inflation? Arguments against hyperinflation don’t count, since the causal relationship between middling-to-high inflation and hyperinflation is at best underspecified.

Not loyal to the king…

by Chris Bertram on November 29, 2004

Documents concerning Karl Marx’s life, including a shareholders’ certificate and the police advice on his application for naturalization, “are to go on display”:http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/magazine/4042187.stm at the British National Archives in Kew. According to the Metropolitan Police he was a

bq. notorious German agitator, the head of the International Society and an advocate of communistic principles. This man has not been loyal to the King.

Tracking blog coverage

by Eszter Hargittai on November 29, 2004

I have updated the graph that looks at the words “weblog” and “blog” in mainstream print media since 1997. I am sure nobody is surprised to see the large increase during the past year.

The graph represents the results for a search in LexisNexis Academic for “weblog” and “blog” in the General News section of Major Papers from 1997 to 2004 (these searches also turn up results for the plural of these terms). This section includes 47 (53 in 2004) papers from across the world including 24 (29 in 2004) US dailies.[1] The figure shows the change over the past eight years. The 2004 numbers include coverage until November 28, 2004. I also ran the searches for 1995 and 1996 but there was no mention of these terms then either so I decided to follow the suggestion made by a commenter to my previous post on this topic and now just start with 1997.

Please note that this figure does not give accurate information about the total sum of articles on the topic because 1. some articles mention both “blog” and “weblog” and are thus counted in both columns (which also explains why I decided not to stack the two columns on top of each other); 2. I did not do a search for other related terms such as blogger or blogging which may have excluded some articles. Moreover, although for the earlier years I checked each article to verify it featured related content, I did not do this for later years when the numbers became too large (given that this is not a research project, just something I’m doing for fun:). The information on this graph is thus just an estimate of the actual occurance of these words in major print media outlets. Also, because it seems that the General News search of Major Papers in LexisNexis Academic searched more newspapers in 2004 than earlier years, the change in coverage may explain some (although likely not all) of the increase from 2003 to 2004.

(I posted earlier versions of this graph in April, 2003 and May, 2004.)

fn1. It looks like there are quite a few additions/deletions in the LexisNexis Academic database over the years.

The case for war

by John Quiggin on November 27, 2004

Norman Geras presents a central part of the argument for war, arguing that war can be justified even when it is predictable in advance that it will do more harm than good, and that even aggressors aren’t fully responsible for the consequences of the wars they start. Here’s the crucial bit

in sum, those in the anti-war camp often argue as if there wasn’t actually a war going on – the real conflict on the ground being displaced in their minds by the argument between themselves and supporters of the war. Everything is the fault of those who took the US and its allies into that war and, secondarily, those who supported or justified this.

Except it isn’t. As I said in the earlier post, the war has two sides. One counter-argument here is likely to be that those who initiate an unjust war are responsible for everything they unleash. But first, this begs the question. Much of the case for the war’s being unjust was that it would have bad consequences. Yet, many of those bad consequences are the responsibility of forces prosecuting a manifestly unjust war – in both its objectives and its methods – on the other side. Secondly, it’s simple casuistry in assessing the responsibilities of two sides in a military conflict to load everything on to one of the sides – even where the blame for having begun an unjust and aggressive war is uncontroversial. Were the Japanese themselves responsible for the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki? Adolf Hitler was responsible for many terrible crimes during the Second World War. But the fire bombing of Dresden? This is all-or-nothing thinking.

To respond, I’ll begin by asking a question. Suppose those of us on the Left who opposed the Iraq war had prevailed. To what extent, if any, would we have been responsible for the crimes that Saddam would undoubtedly have committed while he remained in power?

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Murder in Baghdad

by Chris Bertram on November 27, 2004

Not only is “child malnutrion”:https://www.crookedtimber.org/archives/002900.html soaring in Iraq, but so are deaths from crime. “The Times reports”:http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,7374-1376189,00.html that in Baghdad alone more that 700 people are killed every month:

bq. Shot, stabbed, blown up,burnt: the bodies of Iraqis killed in Baghdad lie piled in overcrowded refrigerators at the city’s central mortuary, their ever-increasing number overwhelming both staff and storage space in a wave that marks the city’s descent into a Hobbesian world of crime and brutality.

bq. “Our morgue was designed to cope with between five and ten bodies a day,” explained Kais Hassan, the harrassed statistician whose job it is to record the capital’s suspicious deaths. He gestured into the open door of a refrigeration unit at the stomach-turning sight of tangled corpses inside, male and female, shaded with the brown and green hues of death. “Now we’re getting 20 to 30 in here a day. It’s a disaster.”

To be fair, the article also reports that the hospital staff cannot agree on whether on not the situation is worse than under Saddam, since they remember the Baathists dumping large numbers of unclaimed bodies at the morgue. No doubt there’ll be blog commentary to the effect that (a) the crime-related death figures are invented by anti-war ideologues and (b) the Coalition can in no way be held responsible for deaths from crime. (via “Juan Cole”:http://www.juancole.com/ )

Top books

by Eszter Hargittai on November 27, 2004

Since people on CT seem to enjoy book lists (of ones not read, favorites, ones every educated person should read, ones lesser-known) I thought I’d post a link to the OCLC Top 1000 list.

OCLC Research has compiled a list of the top 1000 titles owned by member libraries—the intellectual works that have been judged to be worth owning by the “purchase vote” of libraries around the globe.

The complete list page has links to top lists by genre. The site also features a page with fun facts about the list plus pointers to other top book lists.

Hat tip: Neat New Stuff.

Pumpkin pie redux

by Eszter Hargittai on November 26, 2004

Who would’ve thought that discussing pumpkin pie would be such a popular topic among Timberites (and others as well). Here, I offer an alternative European perspective as there were eight of us around the table last night (with not an American in sight although some later joined us for socializing): three Italians, two Germans, one German/French, one Dutch and one Hungarian. First of all, I’m proud to say that you couldn’t have had a more traditional Thanksgiving meal including a mashed potato/sweet potato dish, bean casserole, cranberry relish, cranberry jello salad, squash, stuffing, plenty of gravy and, of course, a beautiful and delicious turkey. Other than the dinner rolls, ice cream and whipped cream everything was homemade. But let me fast forward to the dessert portion of the evening.

After a walk out to the beach to make some room for the pies, we started a general discussion comparing European vs American pastries. Several people around the table thought that American desserts are just too sweet. This may explain why most people only took a small slice of my pecan pie (oh, and I cheated, I didn’t make the crust). However, I was happy to note that people were quite excited about the pumpkin pie (pictured here without the important whipped cream component). I relied on canned pumpkin pure, but used a special recipe that adds vanilla ice cream to the filling making it extra fluffy and yummy. To the skeptics who in the comments to Belle’s post wondered whether people just said they liked the pie versus actually enjoyed it, I can report that my guests were quite honest regarding their preferences. Everyone got to take food when they left and people did not seem to have any qualms about expressing their preferences (thus I got to keep quite a few peanutbutter bars given that several of those in attendance have not yet developed a taste for peanut butter). I should add that my friend’s Alsatian apple tart was a really big hit as well (and as suggested earlier, it was not as sweet as the other desserts). One more point about desserts: I never use vanilla extract, I use vanilla sugar instead. I think it works much better (the former seems to have an artificial taste I don’t like). Substituting one packet for one teaspoon seems to work well.

The evening ended with us reminiscing about European 70s music (that may require a separate post sometime) and playing around with the various toys on my coffee table (coffee table books are so passé, try putting some Rubik games out sometime). Of course, after that amount of food no need to get so technical as to introduce elaborate puzzles. I brought out my vintage Schwarzer Peter card deck my grandmother and I used to play with when I was five. There is a reason I used to play with it when I was five. After a few minutes of playing we started wondering how many PhDs it takes to figure out the quickest way to end the game (well, you know, without actually just calling it quits). (Keep reinventing the rules and working with the other players so someone can win.) What a fun evening, and of course, no need to cook for the next several days.

Ab Hominem Arguments

by John Holbo on November 26, 2004

Keith Burgess-Jackson responds to Chris’ post. "What’s interesting (and ironic) is that nobody at the site engaged my
argument. In the insular world of liberalism, argumentation is
unnecessary. One mocks conservatives; one doesn’t engage their
arguments." OK, obviously the dogs voting thing wasn’t the man’s argument, so it was very unfair for Chris to seize on that. The argument goes like this: "Some disappointed pundits have said that this [voter rejection of gay marriage] reflects bigotry. No. It
reflects intelligence. The other day, Pat Caddell said that homosexual
“marriage” isn’t a conservative/liberal issue. It’s an
intelligence/stupidity issue. I agree. I have said in this blog many
times that the very idea of homosexual marriage is incoherent, which is
why I put the word “marriage” in quotation marks."

So the argument is: supporters of gay marriage are stupid? Or: some guy says homosexual marriage is incoherent? (How could some guy be wrong, after all? Makes no sense.)

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Tarik Amar on the Ukraine election/coup

by John Quiggin on November 26, 2004

One of the nice things about blogging is the occasional contributions from people who have more sense than to start a blog of their own, but are well-informed and passionate about particular subjects of current interest. Over at my blog, I’ve had not one but two such contributions on events in Ukraine.

Following up the post from Tom Oates last week, reader Dan Hardie sent me another (long) piece, by Tarik Amar, who is doing a PhD on Soviet history speaks Ukranian, German and Russian, among other languages, and knows the place very well. Lacking all these qualifications, I pass it on to you with a recommendation to read it.

From what I’ve read, including Tarik’s piece, this all seems very similar to Marcos in the Phillipines and Milosevic in Serbia, and hopefully will be resolved in a similar fashion.

Post or perish ?

by John Quiggin on November 26, 2004

There’s been a fair bit of discussion among academic bloggers about whether blogs count for the purposes of vitas and if so how. The maximalist position (so far not put forward seriously by anyone as far as I know) is that each blog post is a separate publication. The minimal claim is that blogs are a form of community service, like talking to school groups and similar. A good place to start, with plenty of links to earlier contributions, is this post by Eszter.

Rather than engaging directly with the arguments that have been put up so far, I want to claim that the question will ultimately be settled by the way in which blogs are used and referred to. In this context, I have a couple of observations.

First, I’ve had one reader tell me that he’s cited one of my posts in an academic work, and I think this is not unique. Clearly, the more this happens, the more conventions for referring to blog posts will be developed, and the more easily they can be incorporated in vitas and so on.

Second, I had an interesting recent communication from the Senior Secondary Assessment Board of South Australia, which sets school examinations. They used this post in an exam paper for Year 12 politics. They wrote asking for copyright permission to print it in their set of past papers[1].

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