From the monthly archives:

September 2005


by Eszter Hargittai on September 20, 2005

ABC’s Dancing with the Stars Dance-off is on right now live. I should’ve blogged about this earlier, but I didn’t realize it until an hour ago. It’s exciting to see a fairly marginal activity that you are passionate about attract widespread attention and enthusiasm. The show ran in the summer and already named a winner. But enough people were disgruntled about the results that they are having a rematch.

I have been a huge fan of ballroom and Latin dancing ever since senior year in high school when I joined a club and attended classes regularly. After thirteen years away from the sport, I found my way back to it this past January. I am incredibly passionate about it and was happy to find a great club in Chicago. I get to take classes with super-talented dancers/teachers Tommye Giacchino and Gregory Day (the club owners) who are U.S. and Blackpool Champions. It’s a blast and also very good exercise. I even considered competing, but decided that that level of commitment wouldn’t be conducive to tenure.

I find it problematic that the Dancing with the Stars show has participants competing with each other doing different dances. Some dances are much harder than others so it doesn’t make sense to compare them. For example, Cha-Cha and Quickstep are sufficiently different that a comparison is nearly impossible. Granted, you can do super hard moves in all of them. To someone who takes this seriously – like moi – the dancers are not always great (some are better than others), but it is clear that they put a lot of effort into it and are taking it seriously. To be sure, you do need more than a few weeks of training to do this well.

Tonight’s winner will depend completely on audience feedback. ABC is making a donation to the charity of the winner’s choice so that’s an incentive to participate even if you’re not interested in dancing.

PS. If anyone knows of good clubs in the Stanford area, I am curious to hear as I would like to continue doing this when I’m out there next year.

PPS. If any Chicagoland readers are inspired to take lessons, feel free to contact me for more info about Chicago Dance. And if you decide to join, let’s use the referral discount special.:)


by Henry on September 20, 2005

“Matt Cheney”: voices a common complaint about the MacArthur foundation awards.

bq. I’m glad Lethem was chosen, and certainly am excited for him, but this choice continues the unfortunate trend of the MacArthur award often going to writers who have already found a lot of success. Imagine, for instance, how much it would have changed Lethem’s life to get this award not right now, when his books sell well, but ten (or even five) years ago, when the $500,000 would have done exactly what it is supposed to do: free the recipient from financial considerations that limit their ability to experiment.

And indeed, a cursory glance at the list of awardees tells us that well over half of them are over 40, and/or well established in their career paths. Of course, the MacArthur foundation has excellent institutional reasons for choosing people who already seem to have established themselves – to do otherwise would be to take much bigger risks that MacArthur awardees are going to flake out later or have mediocre careers. But then, would you do better? If you think so, your nominations (more or less serious please) invited in comments for people who _should_ get awards in the future. Less serious speculations as to the most plausible blogger to receive a MacArthur are also invited (my money would be on “Cory Doctorow”:

CT West Coast dispatch in ’06/07

by Eszter Hargittai on September 20, 2005

Next year we’ll be adding a time zone to CT representation. I will be a Fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford. I am super excited about this opportunity. The Center got a grant from the Annenberg Foundation last year to add Communications to the fields represented among its fellows and I’m going as part of such a cohort.

There’s something amusing related to all this. Or I thought it was amusing until I shared it with a friend who didn’t think it funny at all. You be the judge. While I was lifehacking away a few weeks ago, Chris pointed me to Google Sets for various associations. I decided to see what Google Sets had to say about my academic affiliations. I typed in the names of my BA and PhD granting institutions plus Northwestern (the place of my current employment) and pressed Large Sets. The fourth school on the list was Stanford. When I did this I already knew that I was headed to the Center next year so I found this amusing. But perhaps you need to have a certain geek factor to get anything out of this exercise.:)

Mommy-Tracking the Ivy Leaguers

by Kieran Healy on September 20, 2005

Here’s an “irritating piece”: from the New York Times about how high-achieving women students at elite schools are planning to quit their jobs and have children when they’re a bit older:

Cynthia Liu is precisely the kind of high achiever Yale wants: … So will she join the long tradition of famous Ivy League graduates? Not likely. By the time she is 30, this accomplished 19-year-old expects to be a stay-at-home mom. “My mother’s always told me you can’t be the best career woman and the best mother at the same time,” Ms. Liu said matter-of-factly. “You always have to choose one over the other.” … Many women at the nation’s most elite colleges say they have already decided that they will put aside their careers in favor of raising children. Though some of these students are not planning to have children and some hope to have a family and work full time, many others, like Ms. Liu, say they will happily play a traditional female role, with motherhood their main commitment.

Now, let’s be clear about why the article is annoying. I don’t begrudge these women their choices in the slightest. I hope they make happy lives for themselves. In many ways they get the absolute best deal possible. But as usual, the article is steeped with the standard way of framing the issue, viz, only women have work-family choices. It’s up to them to be “realistic”, while of course the male students do not have any work-family choices at all. The subtext of the piece is the indirect vindication of those crusty old bastards in the 1950s who couldn’t see why they should hire, say, Sandra Day O’Connor because she’d only be taking a place away from a man with a family.

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Moondoggle Returns

by Kieran Healy on September 19, 2005

In passing the other day, I mentioned the Moondoggle. This is the idea floated early last year that NASA might return to the moon and build a base there, for no particular reason. At the time I thought it was just a “failed trial balloon”: that rose out of Karl Rove’s head. But several commenters said that in fact it was alive and well, and now I see the “BBC reports”: that 2020 has been set as the date NASA will triumphantly return to 1969 — er, I mean, the moon. Nasa Administrator Mike Griffin said the new launch vehicle and lander would be “very Apollo-like, with updated technology. Think of it as Apollo on steroids.” This is an appropriate comparison, because it makes clear that the new project will be bloated, prone to fights, and, when it comes to producing anything of lasting scientific value, probably impotent.

A case for instant runoff voting

by John Quiggin on September 19, 2005

This NYT article[1] discusses the problems New York Democrats are having with their primary system. If they use first-past-the-post, given a large field, they end up with candidates supported by only a minority of voters, who in turn are an even smaller minority of Democrat voters. So they have had a runoff system when no candidate gets 40 per cent of the votes, but this has caused divisions and delays.

The solution is obvious: adopt the instant runoff/single transferable vote/optional preferential system, listing favored candidates in order of preference and omitting those for whom you don’t want to indicate a preference.

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by Kieran Healy on September 18, 2005

As of this evening you can’t get access to the Op-Ed columnists of the New York Times unless you pony up for “Times Select”:, a new subscription service. I have no plans to sign up. Don’t know about you. I doubt this spells the beginning of the end either for political bloggers or the relevance of the Op-Ed page to the chattering classes at large. But it does seem that this will reduce the columnists’ ability to set the agenda for online chatterers like ourselves. We won’t have David Brooks or Airmiles Friedman to kick around any more. But is that bad for us, or for them? NYT columnists are the pinatas of the _conscience collective_. If not so many people are reading them, you have to wonder whether it’s worth signing up yourself just for the content. I think we benefit at CT. The _Times_ makes you pay to read Paul Krugman, but his substitutability with our own “John Quiggin”: is pretty high, and as of this evening we’re therefore e a better deal than ever.

Blogger meeting, meeting bloggers

by Eszter Hargittai on September 18, 2005

Blog Workshop Dinner

This Friday and Saturday I had the pleasure of spending some face-to-face time with a group of bloggers several of whom will be familiar to the CT crowd (click on the photo for details). Dan Drezner and our very own Henry Farrell organized a great meeting on The Power and Political Science of Blogs. Ethan Zuckerman kindly took copious notes and has posted some of them on his blog.

Congrats to Dan and Henry for hosting a very interesting and productive meeting. The conference featured some of the best discussions I’ve heard and participated in on the subject of blogging. I think we are all invigorated and inspired now to go and finish writing up our related papers.:)

Here’s the outrage

by Daniel on September 17, 2005

Chris asked, quite correctly, where the blogospheric outrage was about the UK government’s current “anti-terrorism” legislation was. I didn’t have any particularly intelligent analysis to add, which is why I haven’t posted so far, but upon reading the bloody thing, I realise that this is hardly an excuse. So here we go.

For Christ’s sakes !! A Labour government (A LABOUR GOVERNMENT!) is trying to pass a law whereby you can sit down at a pub table, spend the evening talking and come away having COMMITTED A CRIMINAL BLOODY OFFENCE!! THIS IS A BLOODY SPEECH CRIME PEOPLE!! THEY ARE QUITE LITERALLY SAYING THAT THEY ARE GOING TO PUT PEOPLE IN JAIL FOR EXPRESSING THEIR POLITICAL VIEWS!!Do I have to start using the f and c words before anyone notices that there is something quite serious going on? I am as concerned as the proprietor of Shot by Both Sides for my long term career path, but this surely has to be more important. THE GOVERNMENT OF THE UNITED KINGDOM OF GREAT BRITAIN AND NORTHERN IRELAND IS PROPOSING TO PUT PEOPLE IN JAIL FOR POLITICAL SPEECH CRIMES!! If anyone is proposing a quick sing-song outside the gates of 10 Downing Street singing “Glory Glory O Bin Laden” I think I am probably up for it. What the by-our-lady hell is going on?!

The equity premium and the Economists Voice

by John Quiggin on September 17, 2005

The Economists’ Voice is one of the more interesting (at least to me) ventures in academic publishing on the Internet. The aim is to provide analysis of economic issues from leading economists, something that has been sorely lacking in recent years[1]. It’s intended to contain deeper analysis than is found on the Op-Ed page of the Wall Street Journal or New York Times, but to be of comparable general interest. Unfortunately, it’s not free but you can get guest access to read particular articles.

Simon Grant and I have an article on the implications of the equity premium, an issue that’s been discussed in various ways on this and other blogs.

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Tax and Spend. Or Just Spend

by Kieran Healy on September 16, 2005

About a year and a half ago, the White House floated the “moondoggle”: Remember that? Casting about for some legacy or other, Karl Rove came up with the idea of a permanent base on the moon. (And “a pony”: At the time I wondered whether the initiative would be funded by a series of aggressive tax cuts. After the President’s speech yesterday, it’s clear that while the moon is no more (so to speak), the “payment plan for Katrina-cleanup”: is the same. “You bet it’s going to cost money,” the President said, “… It’s going to cost whatever it costs.” Reported estimates are that it’s going to cost at least as much as the War in Iraq has so far.

Meanwhile, White House economic adviser Allan Hubbard said the administration still plans to make the Bush tax cuts permanent, while at the same time “cutting the deficit in half by 2009.”: The White House Press Corps laughed roundly at this statement. No, of course they didn’t. The President also proposed to create a “Gulf Opportunity Zone”:, which would provide subsidies to business, because “he said”:, “It is entrepreneurship that creates jobs and opportunity … and we will take the side of entrepreneurs as they lead the economic revival of the Gulf region.” This reminds me of a comment I heard the economist “Geoff Brennan”: make during a conversation about alternative forms of energy. Someone suggested that entrepreneurs should lead the way in this area, and Geoff agreed. They then said the government should maybe offer some subsidies or assistance to them as part of some program. “I think you have a different concept of entrepreneur from me,” says Geoff. As “Max says”:

bq. If the city is cleaned up, its infrastructure restored, and flood protection established, there should be no need for subsidies to make business development flourish. On the other hand, individuals will need compensation to get on their feet again, including access to credit for business start-ups. Such access would not be a subsidy if it plugged preexisting holes in the market — the sort of red-lining that prevents solvent, lower-income people, especially minorities, from getting the loans they need and can repay to buy housing and start businesses.

And I’m not sure whether to hope he’s right about this or fear that he is right about this:

bq. However messy the use of money becomes in the hands of the Bushists, I maintain that this is a watershed moment for the limited-government movement. What we have in this Administration is an unwholesome mixture — the term toxic soup comes to mind — of Christian fundy prejudice (towards non-Christians, science, and the Enlightenment), Wilsonian jingoism, and blind anti-tax sentiment. Big, stupid government is all over your bedroom and your public schools, driving your kids further into debt, rattling an insubstantial sabre at a legion of emboldened international miscreants. These people will be the death of us all.

Glorifying terrorism

by Chris Bertram on September 16, 2005

There doesn’t seem to be a lot of blogospheric comment yet about the more surreal aspects of the British governments “intention”: to “criminalize”:,15935,1571350,00.html the “glorification” of terrorism. Saying that a particular terrorist act or event was a good thing is set to be a criminal offence unless the event was more than 20 years ago, except that the Home Secretary will draw up a list of older events the “glorification” of which will also be an offence. So far there’s no clear indication of what will be on the list except the suggestion that glorifying the Easter Rising of 1916 or the French Revolution (1789-whenever you think it ended) will not be illegal. Will it be illegal to praise the following events?

* The Irgun bombing of the King David Hotel (1946)

* Any bombings or shootings by the Baader-Meinhof gang.

* ETA’s assassination of Prime Minister Carrero Blanco in 1973

* Any acts of Palestinian terrorism.

* The assassination by Mossad of Palestinian leaders in foreign countries.

* The assassination of any member of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty.

* The sinking of the Rainbow Warrior by the French secret service in 1985.

However repusive it may be to praise some of these acts, it is just incompatible with a free society for it to be in some politician’s gift to decide which historical events it is or isn’t acceptable to “glorify”.


by Chris Bertram on September 16, 2005

Alan Johnson of Labour Friends of Iraq emails to tell me of a new online journal he’s editing, “Democratiya”: . It won’t be any great secret around here that we’ve not exactly seen eye-to-eye recently with people who call themselves the “pro-liberation” left (or similar). But Demokratiya includes writings from some people who didn’t think the war was such a great idea, such as Gideon Calder (who has an “interesting review of Walzer on war”: ), and involves some others whom I continue to like and respect. And I certainly share with them the hope (against hope) that Iraq somehow turns into a flourishing democracy. So surf over there and take a look.

Excuse me?

by Chris Bertram on September 16, 2005

I hesitate to come over all Mel P here, but I was astonished to read “the following bit of opportunism”: in the Law Society Gazette from the Solicitors’ Pro Bono Group:

bq. The government should not profit from compensation payments made to victims of the London bombings when its own policies may have contributed to the attacks, the Solicitors Pro Bono Group (SPBG) claimed last week. SPBG acting chief executive Robert Gill said that lawyers had not provided advice to victims free of charge ‘so that the government could save money’. ….

bq. ‘It is normal for CICA payments to be taken off benefits, but in these circumstances it should be different. It is about a particular set of actions which in part were brought about by the fact that Britain has taken a prominent role in Iraq – which was a government decision. Government action is part of the reason [for the events], so it is not fair that the government should benefit from private citizens who are injured.’

The government quite reasonably insists that the same rules apply for all Criminal Injuries compensation cases and that bomb victims should be treated the same as everyone else.


by Henry on September 15, 2005

“Tyler Cowen”: at Marginal Revolution has some interesting things to say about his experiment in allowing comments on his blog.

1. Visitor stats rise considerably. But this happens so quickly, I believe it is people hitting “reload” to read additional comments, rather than more readers.

2. The more that comments are regularly available, the more rapidly the quality of comments falls. The quality of comments stays high when it is periodic, not automatic, and when we request comments specifically.

3. The quality of comments is highest when the matter under consideration involves particular facts and decentralized knowledge. Posts which mention evolution, free will, or Paul Krugman do not generate the highest quality of comments.

So my current sense (Alex chooses his own course, though I believe he agrees) is to ask for comments periodically rather than always having comments open. The goal is to maximize the real value of comments, rather than the number of comments (or measured visits) per se.

Which of these specific claims can be universalized? Speaking, like Tyler, from personal experience, it seems to me that his observations on visitor stats are probably generally true. The relationship between the general availability of comments, and the quality of the comments falling in particular varies considerably from blog to blog. _Making Light_ has been extraordinarily successful in building up a community of commenters with interesting things to say (it has a homier feel than most comment sections; everyone mostly knows each other). The argument that more commenters=less interesting discussions has a lot of truth to it – there is very clearly a Gresham’s law effect, where bad commenters drive out good ones. Which suggests (and again _Making Light_ illustrates this well) that a vigorous moderation policy can help counteract the negative effects of growth. Finally, Tyler may be on to something when he talks about specific facts and decentralized knowledge – but there’s another factor there which I think is even more important. That’s the extent to which there is minimal agreement on a shared set of facts in the first place. Where there isn’t – and where there’s strongly opposed viewpoints – blog comments sections tend to break down rapidly. For Tyler, it’s Paul Krugman; for us, it’s the Israel-Palestine question (where I don’t allow comments any more on the rare occasions that I post ). But even here, Jonathan Edelstein’s Head Heeb seems to succeed in hosting generally civil discussions – I suspect that this is another example of the community effect – the commenters are a group of people who seem to have come to know each other over time, and have a good sense of the ground rules of debate. But enough rabbitting on; over to you.