Whole language

by John Quiggin on November 9, 2004

The war between advocates of whole language and phonics as methods of teaching reading has broken out again in Australia. I have no particular axe to grind in this dispute. In the spirit of wishy-washy liberal compromise, I suspect that both have their place.

But it strikes me as a rather odd feature of the debate that advocates of phonics should also be the ones most concerned about spelling. The vast majority of spelling errors arise from the use of the obvious phonetic spelling rather than the “correct” spelling that is part of the whole language. So one of the costs of the phonic approach is the need to learn, by rote, the vast number of exceptions and special cases that make spelling English such a miserable experience for the uninitiated.

Phonics phans never seem to recognise this.

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Senate obstructionism

by Henry on November 9, 2004

Adam Posen at the IIE has an interesting article in today’s FT about the political motivations and consequences of Bush’s economic policy.[1] For me, the key quote:

bq. However, the Bush administration is putting its political staying power ahead of economic responsibility – indeed it is weakening the independence of those very institutions on which Americans rely to check economic radicalism. For example, the current Republican congressional leadership is trying to override the constitutional design whereby the Senate acts as a brake on the executive branch and on the self-interest of “majority faction”. Bill Frist, senate majority leader and George Allen, the Republican senate campaign committee chair, said their unprecedented direct campaign against Tom Daschle, the defeated Senate minority leader, should warn moderate Republican and Democratic senators not to be “obstructionist”, even though that is precisely what the Founding Fathers intended the Senate to do.

bq. … Markets tend to assume that the US political system will prevent lasting extremist policies so, even now, observers discount the likelihood of the Bush administration fully pursuing – let alone passing – this economic agenda. If the thin blue line of Democrats and the responsible Republican moderates in the Senate bravely fulfil their constitutional role, perhaps the damage will be limited. If not, we can foresee the US economy following the path to extended decline of the British economy in the 1960s and 1970s and of Japan in the 1990s.

I think that there’s an important message for the anti-Bush opposition here, if it can only articulate it clearly and simply. The current administration claims to be both conservative and strict constructionist; it’s neither. In fact, it’s trying to short-circuit the basic constitutional checks and balances of the US political system in order to ram through its agenda. The US apart, presidential democracies are extremely fragile, in large part because presidents tend to grab all power to themselves. This is exactly what the Bush administration is doing, both in its sweeping constitutional arguments about the extent of presidential privilege, and in its efforts to impose strict discipline on the Senate. This is something that shouldn’t only be worrying to lefties – it’s something that should be of deep concern both to serious conservatives, and to libertarians who are worth their salt.

fn1. No hyperlink because it’s behind their paywall.

The Obvious Solution to Spam

by Kieran Healy on November 9, 2004

In the comments to “John’s post”:https://www.crookedtimber.org/archives/002842.html about a jailed spammer, “George Williams”:http://ghw.wordherders.net/ notes that “If we outlaw spam, only outlaws will send spam.” This is exactly right. The solution is to put industrial-strength spamming technology into the hands of ordinary citizens. The resulting deterrent effect would reduce the flood of spam to almost nothing, as no rational spammer would risk immediate retaliation in kind. Of course, no-one would be _required_ to own huge email lists, spambot factories or “relay-rape”:http://www.comedia.com/hot/jargon-4.2.3/html/entry/relay-rape.html kits, but enough decent citizens would legally conceal them on their person and use them as needed that the problem would take care of itself very quickly. Moreover, actual use of spam technology would be very uncommon. A survey[1] I did a few years ago while not quite on the faculty of the University of Chicago showed[2] that simply brandishing a DVD of the software was enough to deter would-be spammers 98% of the time. In the American West of the early 19th century, where this approach prevailed, letter-writing was far more common than it is today, but spam was virtually unknown. Also indoor plumbing.

fn1. The data are unavailable for reasons “too complex”:http://cgi.cse.unsw.edu.au/~lambert/cgi-bin/blog/guns/Lott/survey/ to go into here. You would be amazed how easy it is to lose every last shred of evidence showing you conducted a major piece of social research.

fn2. When appropriately, um, weighted.

Target the Salvation Army

by Harry on November 9, 2004

This is old news for many, but some may have missed it in the blanket election coverage. Target has decided not to allow the Sally Army to collect outside its doors this winter. I have no particular affection for the Salvation Army, but I shop with my kids a lot, and I like them to see people colecting for charity in the midst of the commercial horrors of Christmas. Since I raise them in an atheist household I also believe that I have an obligation to ensure that they are exposed to a wide range of non-atheist viewpoints and practices, and welcome them seeing positive images of religious life. I also resent the power that large corporations like Target have over the public space. Some critics of this decision suggest lobbying Target to include the SA among its charitable partners; I don’t, because I see no reason to filter individual charity through corporate entities. Instead, I fired off an email, expressing disappointment, to Guest.Relations@target.com. I invite you to do the same, and perhaps to encourage others. The text of my email is below the fold: please modify according to your situation.

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by Chris Bertram on November 9, 2004

No sooner does “Des von Bladet”:http://piginawig.diaryland.com/index.html leave a comment mentioning Marshall Sahlins than I click on a link in a document Henry sent me and get taken to the “Creative Commons”:http://creativecommons.org/ site, where there’s an “interview with …. Marshall Sahlins”:http://creativecommons.org/education/sahlins on the topic of pampleteering on the internet. Sahlins has republished (and e-published) a number of pamplets from his “Prickly Paradigm Press”:http://www.prickly-paradigm.com/catalog.html , including his own “Waiting for Foucault, Still”:http://www.prickly-paradigm.com/paradigm1.pdf (PDF), which contains some great observations. Here are two:

bq. *Relevance*
I don’t know about Britain, but in America many graduate students in anthropology are totally uninterested in other times and places. They say we should study our own current problems, all other ethnography being impossible anyhow, as it is just our “construction of the other.”

bq. So if they get their way, and this becomes the principle of anthropological research, fifty years hence no one will pay the slightest attention to the work they’re doing now. Maybe they’re onto something.


bq. *Orientalism (dedicated to Professor Gellner)*
In Anthropology there are some things that are better left un-Said.

Farting around (and “economic rationality”)

by Chris Bertram on November 9, 2004

Will Wilkinson’s “thoughts”:http://www.willwilkinson.net/flybottle/archives/2004/11/who_likes_leisu.html on the (alleged) European taste for leisure over work had me scurrying over to my bookshelf to find a copy of Marx’s _Grundrisse_ . Will surmises that the real reason that Europeans work shorter hours than Americans is that European taxes are too high. After all, anyone who is “economically rational” would surely work more if only the rewards were there, wouldn’t they? So goes human nature according to libertarians. Well, no Will, they might work _even less_ if they could satisfy their consumption needs with fewer hours at the grindstone. As Kurt Vonnegut “says”:http://www.vonnegutweb.com/vonnegutia/interviews/int_technology.html , human beings “are here on Earth to fart around, and don’t let anybody tell you any different.” Anyway, “that quote”:http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1857/grundrisse/ch06.htm from Marx:

bq. _The Times_ of November 1857 contains an utterly delightful cry of outrage on the part of a West-Indian plantation owner. This advocate analyses with great moral indignation—as a plea for the re-introduction of Negro slavery—how the Quashees (the free blacks of Jamaica) content themselves with producing only what is strictly necessary for their own consumption, and, alongside this ‘use value’, regard loafing (indulgence and idleness) as the real luxury good; how they do not care a damn for the sugar and the fixed capital invested in the plantations, but rather observe the planters’ impending bankruptcy with an ironic grin of malicious pleasure, and even exploit their acquired Christianity as an embellishment for this mood of malicious glee and indolence. They have ceased to be slaves, but not in order to become wage labourers, but, instead, self-sustaining peasants working for their own consumption.

Good for them!

Fifteen years since the end of the Wall

by Chris Bertram on November 9, 2004

Today it is fifteen years since the breaching of the Berlin Wall. The BBC has “its reports and some video footage”:http://news.bbc.co.uk/onthisday/hi/dates/stories/november/9/newsid_2515000/2515869.stm . Reuters have “a good item”:http://www.reuters.co.uk/newsPackageArticle.jhtml?type=worldNews&storyID=617515&section=news on the continued polarisation of the city. The Independent “analyses”:http://news.independent.co.uk/europe/story.jsp?story=580905 the mismanagement of the transition. The New York Times writes of “ambivalence”:http://www.nytimes.com/2004/11/08/international/europe/08cnd-germany.html on the part of former East Germans. Further comment from “FAZ”:http://www.faz.net/s/Rub117C535CDF414415BB243B181B8B60AE/Doc~EC65261560A134ECFAA3A5F1FF14A0B51~ATpl~Ecommon~Scontent.html , “Deutsche Welle”:http://www.dw-world.de/dw/article/0,1564,1388098,00.html , “Le Monde”:http://www.lemonde.fr/web/article/0,1-0@2-3214,36-386315,0.html . A great day for human freedom, but 9 November is also a day of “shame and reflection” as Gerhard Schroeder puts it, since the anniversary of the end of the wall is also that of “Kristallnacht”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kristallnacht in 1938.

Legitimate spammers

by John Quiggin on November 9, 2004

It’s not the death penalty as demanded by Stephen Landsburg for hackers, but the nine-year sentence handed down to megaspammer Jeremy Jaynes should mark the beginning of the end for spammers physically located in the US. But that’s small comfort, since spam can be sent from anywhere. A less mobile target can be found in the businesses that ultimately sell stuff through spam. These include some very large firms indeed.

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