Very cool tool

by Eszter Hargittai on June 16, 2005

I am constantly on the lookout for cool online tools. I just found one. I came upon it through del.icio.us, I think this set. One of these days I’ll get around to posting about what a cool tool that is in its own right.

But right now I want to tell you about YubNub. As its creator Jon Aquino explains, it is “a command-line for the web”. Impressively, it was his submission for a 24-hour programming contest.

What does it do? It helps you access search results on various sites directly. That is, say you want to search for a book on Amazon. As long as a command has already been created for searching on Amazon, you can simply enter the following in YubNub:
amazon booktitle
and you will be redirected to Amazon’s search results for “booktitle”. Or let’s say you want to search for an address on Google Maps, you can just enter:
gmaps address
and YubNub redirects you to the Google Maps result.

What is additionally great about YubNub is that if a command does not yet exist for your preferred search, you can add it.

To try it out, I created a command for searching the archives of Crooked Timber. If you go to YubNub and start your search query by typing in ct and then proceeding with whatever terms are of interest then you will be redirected to the results of your search here on CT.

So now you may be thinking: Well, that’s nice, but why would I bother going to yubnub.org to run the query instead of just going directly to the site where I want to run my search? Because you don’t have to go to yubnub.org. Several people have written Firefox search plugins for YubNub. So assuming you use Firefox and have a search toolbar in your Firefox browser, you can just add this as an additional engine.[1] MOREOVER, because YubNub defaults to Google when you do not enter a specific command, you can just leave YubNub as the default engine in your toolbar and still use Google (assuming that’s of interest) for generic searches without commands.

The service is evolving. Its creator has some suggestions and it sounds like he continues to work on it. Unfortunately, there is no way to make corrections to typos in submitted command lines so for now that has to be handled through emails. It is also easy to see how some people may create numerous commands that are not very interesting to most people. But overall, it’s a great service, I recommend trying it out!

UPDATE: For those of you savvy Firefox users who are wondering how this adds to already existing features in Firefox I should mention Jon Aquino’s inspiration for creating this service: not having to replicate the same keywords on different machines. For those of us who use more than one machine this is very helpful. Thanks to YubNub, it’s enough to add it to the toolbar and you’re ready to go.

1. Far be it from me to assume that you do use Firefox. But this would be a good time to start.

PledgeBank

by Chris Bertram on June 16, 2005

In “the discussion below”:https://crookedtimber.org/2005/06/14/if-youre-a-libertarian-how-come-youre-so-mean/ about charitable giving, foreign aid and so on, I mentioned the figure of 1 per cent of GDP or of first-world person’s income as being enough to make a real difference to third-world poverty. I got that figure from a footnote referencing the Liam Murphy paper, somewhere in Thomas Pogge’s excellent “World Poverty and Human Rights”:http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0745629954/junius-20 . Whether that’s actually the right figure I don’t know. But anyway, today I came across the new “Pledgebank”:http://www.pledgebank.com/ site. As “Chris Lightfoot”:http://ex-parrot.com/%7Echris/wwwitter/20050613-me_help_you_help_them.html writes:

bq. PledgeBank is designed to solve what I’m told are called `collective action problems’ — things that you want to do, but can only get done if enough other people will help. Why go out on a limb and say you’ll do something difficult or expensive or embarrassing if you don’t know whether enough other people will turn up to make it worthwhile? Anyway, PledgeBank is designed to help you get around that problem by letting people sign up to say they’ll take part, and telling you when enough people have done so for your plan to succeed.

One of the “pledges is from Nicola”:http://www.pledgebank.com/justonepercent and it has this content:

bq. I will give 1% of my gross annual salary to charity but only if 400 other people will too.

To make the link to third-world poverty, the charity would have to be an appropriate one (such as Oxfam, perhaps), but that’s up to individual pledgers.

What we owe

by Ted on June 16, 2005

On any given day, the odds are pretty good that Obsidian Wings will be the best blog in existence. Take this post by hilzoy.

Members of Congress say they receive a negligible number of letters and calls about the (torture) revelations that keep coming. ”You asked whether they want it clear or want it blurry,” Senator Susan Collins, a Maine Republican, said to me about the reaction of her constituents to the torture allegations that alarm her. ”I think they want it blurry.” “

“Wanting it clear” means wanting an honest, open debate about what we want interrogators to do in our name. In the course of that debate, those who favor torture would have a chance to make their case. Is it useful in interrogations? Do ticking time bomb scenarios actually occur, and if so, how often? How much actionable intelligence have our “stress positions” and our “Fear Up Harsh” and “Pride and Ego Down” tactics actually yielded? Those who oppose torture would have a chance to ask: do these benefits, if they exist, outweigh the dangers of adopting a policy that seems to invite abuse? Do they create more terrorists than they allow us to capture or thwart? Have they made enemies of people who might have supported us? And are these methods consistent with our values as a nation, and with our noblest aspirations? When both sides had made their case, we could then decide openly what we want to do, and decide it as a nation.

“Wanting it blurry” means wanting to avoid that debate. It means caring less about considering the extremely serious issues at stake and getting them right than about being able to duck the uncomfortable knowledge that debating those issues might force on us. It means caring less about our country, its ideals, and its honor than about our own peace of mind, even when we have reason to think that that peace of mind might be undeserved. It means being willing to let taxi drivers whom we know to be innocent be beaten to death, detainees be sodomized with chemical lightsticks and have lit cigarettes stuck in their ears, and fourteen year olds be “suspended from hooks in the ceiling for hours at a time” while being beaten, in order to preserve the illusion that our own hands are clean.

Wanting it clear is for adults. Wanting it blurry is for children, who hope that problems they don’t attend to will go away. And it is unworthy of citizens of a great democracy.

Susan Collins thinks that her constituents “want it blurry”. Apparently, other members of Congress agree. As citizens of a democracy, we cannot react to this insulting idea by bemoaning the apathy of some unspecified group of other people. We are the people Collins is talking about, and it is up to us to prove her, and those who agree with her, wrong. So let’s do it.

She goes on to lay out exactly what we ought to do.

Not frightening the horses

by Henry on June 16, 2005

Andy Moravcsik had an article in the FT yesterday which provides an interesting counter-argument to Chris’s – claiming, in effect that the French and Dutch should never have been asked to decide upon the technicalities of EU decision making (FT version with sub required “here”:http://news.ft.com/cms/s/1a3fac54-dc39-11d9-819f-00000e2511c8.html, Word version on Moravcsik’s home page “here”:http://www.princeton.edu/~amoravcs/library/works_well.doc ). But Moravcsik goes further even than Giscard – he claims that the very idea of asking people to vote on the text was naive:

bq. The convention, the constitution and the invocation of European ideals were tactics explicitly designed to increase public legitimacy. Enthused by the prospect of re-enacting Philadelphia, Europeans were supposed to educate themselves, swell with idealism, back sensible reform and participate more actively in EU politics. In retrospect, this grand democratic experiment seems naive. Abstract constitutional debates and referendum campaigns gave anti-globalisation, anti-immigrant and anti-establishment discontents of every stripe a perfect forum. EU policies already ratified by national parliaments, such as the recent enlargement, drew fire. Add the suspicion of voters unsure why a new constitution is required at all, and the enterprise was doomed.

Still, he thinks that the voters made the right choice, despite themselves.

bq. In rejecting the resulting document, reasonable though it is, French and Dutch voters may be wiser than they know.

Why? Moravcsik believes that the recent votes demonstrated the impossibility of a ‘political’ integration process. EU leaders should return their attentions to the bread-and-butter business of the European Union, and to incremental, unflashy integration based on technocratic bargains among the big member states.

Moravcsik’s arguments stem both from his basic theoretical claims about the processes driving EU integration (he’s the best-known academic advocate of the argument that the EU is little more than a set of bargains among states) and from his belief that the debate over the EU’s ‘democratic deficit’ is a chimera (see “here”:http://www.princeton.edu/~amoravcs/library/deficit.pdf for the best short version of his arguments). He claims that the kinds of policies that are delegated to the European Union are the kinds of policies that national governments usually delegate – decisions over cross-border trade issues, interest rates, judicial decision making and the like – so that we shouldn’t be especially concerned when they’re delegated to a transnational rather than a national authority. In any event, there are checks and balances that allow for some degree of democratic control (the European Parliament, national parliaments and so on). These arguments can be challenged on both empirical and normative grounds. There’s a lot of evidence that EU decision-making processes do escape the control of nation states (something I’ve posted on frequently before). But more pertinently, the fact that many aspects of economic decision making are delegated and removed from direct democratic controls is by no means necessarily a good thing on normative grounds. Indeed, you could turn Moravcsik’s argument on its head – a fair amount of the animus that led to the “No” votes was less specifically directed at the constitutional text, or even at the EU, than at the general feeling that economic decision making is slipping away from democratic control, and that the EU is one manifestation of this. Indeed, I suspect (and hope) that the ‘No’ votes are the beginning of a wider challenge to the notion that vast areas of economic decision making should not be subject to political control. While I’m broadly in favour of an integrated Europe, I’m not especially keen on a EU like the one we have today, in which the imperative of the free market usually overrides national level social protections.

Capitalism and freedom?

by Chris Bertram on June 16, 2005

From “yesterday’s Guardian”:http://www.guardian.co.uk/online/news/0,12597,1506976,00.html :

bq. Civil liberties groups have condemned an arrangement between Microsoft and Chinese authorities to censor the internet.

bq. The American company is helping censors remove “freedom” and “democracy” from the net in China with a software package that prevents bloggers from using these and other politically sensitive words on their websites.

bq. The restrictions, which also include an automated denial of “human rights”, are built into MSN Spaces, a blog service launched in China last month by Shanghai MSN Network Communications Technology, a venture in which Microsoft holds a 50% stake.

bq. Users who try to include such terms in subject lines are warned: “This topic contains forbidden words. Please delete them.”

Giulini dies

by Chris Bertram on June 16, 2005

Giulini’s recording of The Marriage of Figaro was, I think, the first opera CD I ever bought. It remains one of my better choices. He died the other day at 91, and “there’s an obit in the Guardian”:http://www.guardian.co.uk/obituaries/story/0,3604,1507333,00.html .