Pop Quiz

by Kieran Healy on February 7, 2005

From the Guardian, a sample from the test administered to recruits to the Iraqi Police Force:

bq. Any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person is: a) torture; b) interview techniques; c) interrogation techniques; d) informative and reliable.

How sad that the United States now has an Attorney General who would get this question wrong.

Copenhagen collapse

by John Q on February 7, 2005

The wheels are coming off Bjorn Lomborg’s attempt to undermine the Kyoto Protocol. The Economist, which backed Lomborg’s exercise, published an interesting piece on climate change recently, noting that some members are dissenting, and ending with the observation, from Robert Mendelsohn, a critic of ambitious proposals for climate change mitigation, who worries that “climate change was set up to fail”. This was my conclusion when I reviewed the book arising from the project.

It’s a pity, because, done well, the Copenhagen project could have been a really good idea, and even as it is, a lot of valuable work was done.

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Power to the people

by Henry Farrell on February 7, 2005

“David Brooks”:http://www.nytimes.com/2005/02/05/opinion/5brooks.html?ex=1265346000&en=ae72d590be931a39&ei=5090&partner=rssuserland has another op-ed expressing the emerging right-wing wisdom that Dean’s chairmanship of the DNC shows that the lunatics have taken over the asylum of the Democratic party. In Brooks’ account:

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Scholarbloggers and kettlechoppers

by John Holbo on February 7, 2005

Scott McLemee ‘s new column at Inside Higher Ed. The ethics and aesthetics of kettle chopping. Plus this bit about our kind:

For every scholar wondering how to make blogging an institutionally accredited form of professional activity, there must be several entertaining the vague hopes that it never will.

I am the former sort. But let’s consider. The concern might be that blogging will drag down the tone of scholarship. But clearly Scott has in mind the reverse concern that scholarship will drag down the tone of blogging. It is clear enough how the dynamics of obligatory overproduction – among other common, cruel disfigurements – can produce hollow but noisome artifacts such as Scott laments:

And so the implicit content of many a conference paper is not, as one
might think, "Here is my research." Rather, it is: "Here am I,
qualified and capable, performing this role, which all of us here
share, and none of us want to question too closely. So let’s get it
over with, then go out for a drink afterwards."

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Networks and tastes

by Eszter Hargittai on February 7, 2005

Retailers such as Amazon and Half use social network methods applied to people’s previous purchasing behavior and demonstrated interests to figure out what other items customers may want to buy. MovieLens is an interesting example of a non-commercial service that uses information provided by the user about his or her movie preferences (ratings of movies already viewed) to suggest what additional movies may be of interest to the person based on the movie evaluations of others who exhibit similar tastes. Music Plasma suggests what artists are close to each other based on style and epoch. Unfortunately the site doesn’t tell us much about the underlying methodology.[1] Unlike MovieLens, it seems to rely on information about the position of artists in the network based on shared genre and era to make recommendations (i.e. display linkages) instead of relying on listener feedback about shared tastes. I’d be curious to hear about other similar services resembling any of these approaches. For those interested in visualizations of this type, the search engine Kartoo and the Virtual Thesaurus may also be of interest (the latter is quite restricted for non-subscribers though and I have never been able to access enough of it to be particularly impressed). For more on visualization of networks see orgnet.com.

fn1. A few months ago I contacted them for more information, but got no response.


by Belle Waring on February 7, 2005

Could anything be more “Airmiles” than the suggestion that we start an essay competition to foil Bin Laden?

What I would do with the $75 million we have budgeted as rewards for bin Laden and Zarqawi is use it instead to sponsor an essay contest for high school students in Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Syria and Egypt. The contest entry form would say the following: “In 2,000 words, write an essay on one of these two topics: 1. Why do you believe the Arab-Muslim world is fully capable of achieving democratic, representative government and how do you envisage it coming about through peaceful changes inside your country, without any American or other outside help. 2. Write an essay about the lives of any of the great medieval Arab or Muslim mathematicians, scientists or philosophers and how their innovations helped to shape our world today.”

You know what else we should ask? Turn-ons and turn-offs. Then they could be like, “I’m Miss September from Egypt. Turn-ons: democratic government, long walks on the beach; turn-offs: rude guys!”