From the monthly archives:

June 2005

Can you prove that you were on a flight?

by Eszter Hargittai on June 27, 2005

The other day I found myself in the curious position of having to prove that I had been on a flight in order to be allowed to return home. The only explanation I could come up with for the airline having no record of my presence on the flight there is that the gate agent had failed to scan in my boarding pass. As far as I can tell I had done everything “by the book”. In this day and age of being tracked in so many situations and so many ways, I found it an interesting twist that I could think of no way of proving (no way that the ticketing agent seemed to find satisfactory) that I had, indeed, been on the plane and should be allowed to return home on my originally scheduled flight. Details follow.

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“David Brooks”:http://www.nytimes.com/2005/06/26/opinion/26brooks.html?ex=1277438400&en=52bbe1eeacc48d40&ei=5090&partner=rssuserland&emc=rss on the merits of Bush’s Africa policy.

bq. The Bush folks, at least when it comes to Africa policy, have learned from centuries of conservative teaching – from Burke to Oakeshott to Hayek – to be skeptical of Sachsian grand plans. Conservatives emphasize that it is a fatal conceit to think we can understand complex societies, or rescue them from above with technocratic planning. … The Bush folks, like most conservatives, tend to emphasize nonmaterial causes of poverty: corrupt governments, perverse incentives, institutions that crush freedom. Conservatives appreciate the crooked timber of humanity – that human beings are not simply organisms within systems, but have minds and inclinations of their own that usually defy planners. You can give people mosquito nets to prevent malaria, but they might use them instead to catch fish.

The crucial – and rather disingenuous – qualifier is “at least when it comes to Africa policy.” Even Brooks doesn’t have the chutzpah to defend Bush’s overall foreign policy approach as an exemplar of Burkean prudence and appreciation for the complexity of other societies. On which, see further a rather interesting article by leftwing rabblerouser “John Hulsman”:http://www.heritage.org/About/Staff/JohnHulsman.cfm and Anatol Lieven “forthcoming”:https://crookedtimber.org/2005/05/12/cons-vs-neo-cons/ in the Summer 2005 issue of _The National Interest_. But even on Brooks’ chosen turf – the Bush administration’s Africa policy and the Millenium Challenge Account initiative – there’s little positive to be said from a principled conservative stance. Burke, Oakeshott and other traditional conservatives are notoriously hostile to grand abstractions and keen on practical results. Over the last four years, the Millennium Challenge Account has yielded plenty of airy rhetoric, but no practical results worth talking about. This is for the simple reason that it still scarcely exists. The problems of implementation that Brooks, in fairness, acknowledges in passing, stem from the fact that the Bush administration has “obligated only 2%”:http://www.democracyarsenal.org/2005/05/compassionate_c.html of the Millennium Challenge funds. Nor has the administration requested the $5 billion that Bush promised in any of the four budgets submitted to Congress after the initiative was announced. As of April 29 not “one dollar”:http://www.democrats.senate.gov/dpc/dpc-doc.cfm?doc_name=fs-109-1-24 of Millennium Challenge Account money had reached a developing nation. While an appreciation that complex societies can’t be “rescued from above by technocratic planning” is a fine and wonderful place to begin thinking about how to improve development aid, it can also be a highly convenient excuse for doing nothing. For all the bluster about Burke, Hayek and Oakeshott, the development-aid-as-vaporware approach seems at the moment to be well explained by a simpler theory of “conservatism as moral philosophy”:http://chatna.com/theme/conservatives.htm ; that its primary characteristic is “the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness.”

(hat tip – “p o’neill”:http://bestofbothworlds.blogspot.com/ )

NYTimes promotes BugMeNot.. again

by Eszter Hargittai on June 26, 2005

I found it curious that in March of this year The New York Times mentioned the Web site BugMeNot.com in an article on sidestepping life’s little annoyances. Curiously, a new NYTimes article (scroll down to the bottom of the page) published this weekend repeats this recommendation.

For those not in the know, BugMeNot helps you find a username and password for sites that require registration. This means that you can proceed to viewing articles on, say, sites like nytimes.com without having to create an account for yourself on such sites.

Firefox users may be interested in this helpful extension that allows one-click use of BugMeNot. When you are on a page with a form for entering your username and password, place the cursor in the username or password box, right click on the mouse (or do the corresponding equivalent on a Mac) and you get a BugMeNot option in the menu. Select it and the form will be filled in automatically with registration information.

Life’s Devices

by Kieran Healy on June 26, 2005

“Teresa Nielsen Hayden”:http://nielsenhayden.com/electrolite/ links to a “terrific paper”:http://brodylab.eng.uci.edu/~jpbrody/reynolds/lowpurcell.html by E.M. Purcell called “Life at Low Reynolds Number.” The Reynolds Number is, roughly, the ratio of intertia to viscosity in fluids, and if you want to learn more about it I strongly urge you to read the rest of the talk for yourself. I learned about the Reynolds Number in graduate school. It’s not something they teach sociologists, as a rule, but I discovered during my first year that Princeton University Press often had sales at the University Store. Because I am in inveterate dilettante — er, I mean, polymath — I picked up a great book by “Steven Vogel”:http://fds.duke.edu/db/aas/Biology/faculty/svogel called “Life’s Devices”:http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0691024189/kieranhealysw-20/ref=nosim/.

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Scientology

by Kieran Healy on June 26, 2005

What with Tom Cruise and his Scientology-driven antipathy to psychiatric medicine “in the news”:http://msnbc.msn.com/id/8344309/ recently, it might be worth revisiting an old post about the claims that Scientology makes for its founder, the appalling L. Ron Hubbard.

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Lions update

by Chris Bertram on June 25, 2005

“Well it wasn’t just the selection was it?”:http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport1/hi/rugby_union/international/4618309.stm Those debates had mainly been around the backs, but since the Lions never got near the ball, Henson probably wouldn’t have made much difference. O’Driscoll knackered within 90 seconds was a blow, but the real difference was the ability of the All Blacks both to get the ball and to handle it even in the torrential rain. Will Woodward change the selection? Comments open.

I just finished reading Rick Perlstein’s “The Stock Ticker and the Super Jumbo”:http://www.powells.com/cgi-bin/biblio?inkey=62-0976147505-0 yesterday (an earlier version of the essay and the various responses is available “here”:http://bostonreview.net/BR29.3/contents.html, but buy the book if you can for extra post-election analysis goodness). It’s a great read, and a smart essay, but I think it buries its real argument.
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Scruton on Sartre

by Chris Bertram on June 24, 2005

Roger Scruton has an “immensely enjoyable”:http://www.spectator.co.uk/article.php?id=6290&page=4 , sometimes insightful, occasionally brutally stupid, and often deleriously silly article on Jean-Paul Sartre in the latest Spectator (registration required). After reading it you could always revisit Paul Jennings’s splendid “Report on Resistentialism”:http://www31.brinkster.com/yewtree/resources/resistentialism.htm .

Early Draft of the Kelo opinion surfaces

by Kieran Healy on June 24, 2005

An anonymous correspondent (signing himself only as “The Moor”) sends me two snippets from what he assures me is a section of the majority opinion in “Kelo vs New London”:http://straylight.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/04-108.ZS.html that was cut at the last minute:

You are horrified at our intending to do away with private property. But in your existing society, private property is already done away with for nine-tenths of the population; its existence for the few is solely due to its non-existence in the hands of those nine-tenths. You reproach us, therefore, with intending to do away with a form of property, the necessary condition for whose existence is the non-existence of any property for the immense majority of society. In one word, you reproach us with intending to do away with your property. Precisely so; that is just what we intend. From the moment when labour can no longer be converted into capital, money, or rent, into a social power capable of being monopolised, i.e., from the moment when individual property can no longer be transformed into bourgeois property, into capital, from that moment, you say, individuality vanishes. You must, therefore, confess that by “individual” you mean no other person than the bourgeois, than the middle-class owner of property. This person must, indeed, be swept out of the way, and made impossible.

And another:

bq. In fact, this proposition has at all times been made use of by the champions of the state of society prevailing at any given time. First comes the claims of the government and everything that sticks to it, since it is the social organ for the maintenance of the social order; then comes the claims of the various kinds of private property, for the various kinds of private property are the foundations of society, etc. One sees that such hollow phrases are the foundations of society, etc. One sees that such hollow phrases can be twisted and turned as desired.

Shameless

by Chris Bertram on June 24, 2005

I suppose I shouldn’t be shocked by any of the garbage that appears on TechCentralStation. Nevertheless, the shameless gall of some of their writers continues to astonish. One of their latest offerings is “My Grandfather and the Gulag”:http://www.techcentralstation.com/062405.html by Ariel Cohen, which – surprise, surprise – is an attack on Amnesty and Senator Durbin for the Guantanamo/Gulag comparison. Cohen’s article can stand as an exemplar of a whole genre of Amnesty-bashing that has been flourishing recently. Since the whole point of the piece is to insist on the virtues of truth and accuracy and to rubbish Amnesty and Durbin for the alleged betrayal of those standards, one might expect Cohen to exhibit at least a minimal level of concern for the correctness of his own claims. But such expectations would be misplaced.

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Public-sector commercialization

by Chris Bertram on June 24, 2005

Over at “Urbandriftuk”:http://urbandriftuk.blogspot.com/2005/06/soz-been-away-for-while.html , Mizmillie has been pondering the recent explosion in commercial operations by the British public sector, so, for example, the “North Wales police have been running a massive driving school for profit”:http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/programmes/newsnight/4563161.stm . She writes that “insidious blurring of the public and private is likely to be one of the current [British] government’s enduring legacies” .

She asks:

bq. Are there any principled moral reasons against public bodies carrying out private business?

bq. Or are they mainly consequential concerns, e.g. leads to two-tierism?

bq. If they trade should they be treated as private businesses and have their profits taxed in the same way? Or should they be exempt from tax since the monies get ploughed back into public coffers?

Part of my reaction to this is to look at things in historical perspective. After all, there have been many commercial operations, such as docks and airports, that have, up until recently, been run by local authorities in Britain. But on the matter of tax, I guess there has to be an question of equity. After all if the police are allowed to open an driving school next door to mine but can do so on more favourable terms, I’m going to go out of business pretty quick.

Taking Turkey off the Table

by Henry on June 23, 2005

This exchange between “Ivo Daalder and Jolyon Howorth”:http://americaabroad.tpmcafe.com/story/2005/6/22/163115/566 is the most interesting thing I’ve seen on the TPM _America Abroad_ blog so far. The various contributors to the blog are perhaps a little too well-used to the “we must get serious about aspect _x_ of our foreign policy” class of op-ed to take easily to the more freewheeling and dialogic medium of blogging; Daalder is much more lively when he’s engaged in a bit of conversational give-and-take. The subject is a serious one; whether the EU is losing its _raison d’etre_. Daalder is worried that it is; Howorth pooh-poohs these fears. I’m worried that Daalder has the better of the argument.
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Happiness is a Warm Book

by Brian on June 22, 2005

Brad DeLong has “two”:http://delong.typepad.com/sdj/2005/06/yes_bentham_got.html “posts”:http://delong.typepad.com/sdj/2005/06/experience_mach.html up defending Richard Layard’s defence of Benthamism against criticism from Fontana Labs and Will Wilkinson. I think Brad is misinterpreting Bentham, so while his defence might be a defence of something interesting (say, preference utilitarianism) it isn’t much of a defence of Bentham.

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The Slushie that Ate New York

by Henry on June 22, 2005

“Go see”:http://nielsenhayden.com/makinglight/archives/006460.html.

Still the Century of Syndicalism?

by Henry on June 22, 2005

“Juan non-Volokh”:http://www.volokh.com/archives/archive_2005_06_19-2005_06_25.shtml#1119376430 quotes one of his correspondents to rebuke Brian Leiter for not understanding that corporatism means government by corporate entities rather than corporations. Non-Volokh’s correspondent is right in stating that corporate entities don’t equal corporations, although apparently disinclined to address Leiter’s main point, which is that business did indeed play a prominent role in the Fascist state (the extent to which the political was “autonomous” from the economic is the subject of considerable historiographical debate, in the German case at least). Unfortunately he then goes on to give a quite distorted and politically loaded account of what corporatism actually was. He tells us that a “corporate is a production planning board made up of workers, owners, and others involved in production advocated by the syndicalist school of socialism,” and then goes on to try to claim that the modern left has a lot more in common with fascism than the modern right. Now it’s true that Giovanni Gentile was influenced by Georges Sorel, who was the most prominent advocate of syndicalist thought. But the two were very different, both in theory and practice. Corporatism, more than anything else, was an attempt to put the conservative and anti-socialist ideas expressed in Leo XIII’s encyclical, “Rerum Novarum”:http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/leo_xiii/encyclicals/documents/hf_l-xiii_enc_15051891_rerum-novarum_en.html ,into practice. Its animating philosophy was the belief that the corporate interests in society – business, workers etc – should work in solidarity to organize economic and political life. It was explicitly conceived as a rejoinder to the twin threats of socialism and democracy. Syndicalism was a very different creature, and argued that politics and economy should be under _trade-union_ control. Philippe Schmitter’s seminal essay, “Still the Century of Corporatism?,” which spurred the revival of the modern study of corporatism (and more particularly of its analogies with post WWII forms of economic organization), discusses the difference between these two social philosophies at length – indeed he predicts tongue-in-cheek that if the twentieth century is the century of corporatism, perhaps the next stage of history will see the rise of syndicalism as a counter-movement. Juan non-Volokh’s correspondent’s spurious historical analogy seems to me to be a rather transparent smear job.

Update: I should make it quite clear that this post is not a broad statement of support for Brian Leiter in his ongoing dispute with Juan non-Volokh. I don’t find his “threat”:http://leiterreports.typepad.com/blog/2005/06/who_is_juan_non.html#more to find out who Juan non-Volokh is, and to out him, any more respectable than Donald Luskin’s somewhat similar effort to use a bogus libel suit to find out who Atrios was, when Duncan Black was an anonymously-blogging non-tenured economics professor.

Update 2: Brian Leiter asks me in correspondence to make it clear that he, unlike Luskin, has not threatened Juan non-Volokh with a lawsuit; instead, he’s relying on someone to tell him who non-Volokh is. While I consider this to be quite irrelevant to the matter at hand (the threatened harm is in the outing, not in the methods used to pursue it), I’m happy to state this for the record.

Update 3: It would appear that Brian Leiter has “reconsidered”:http://www.unfogged.com/archives/week_2005_06_19.html#003635. I’m glad to see it.