From the monthly archives:

November 2005

The Golden Boy

by Kieran Healy on November 25, 2005

George Best has “died in hospital”:, aged 59. It’s no surprise, of course: he drank himself to death over a long period. The Guardian has a “nice obituary”:,16836,1650898,00.html and “some photos”:,8555,1647552,00.html. For those who don’t know, Best was born in Belfast and was one of the most gifted players ever to play football. He was also an archetypal wastrel genius, spending just four or five years at the peak of his form in the late 1960s and then careening downhill. “I spent most of my money on booze, birds and fast cars,” he said once, “and the rest I just squandered.” A much-told anecdote has a hotel porter finding him drinking champagne on a cash-strewn bed with some starlet or other and asking, “Mr Best, where did it all go wrong?” The sad thing is that the porter was right.

I’m too young to have seen him play, but old enough to have grown up seeing footage of his best moments and wanting to play football like him. The pathetic, drunken old wreck he became never quite overshadowed the brilliance he once had. Just look at the photo on the right. Or “this one”: where he’s out-jumped players a lot bigger than himself. Or “this one”:, leaving a defender or two in the dust. Even in snapshots, he seems like he’s moving.

Anti-americanism redux

by John Q on November 25, 2005

Following the recent discussion here of critics of US foreign policy being labelled as anti-American, I saw a snippet in the Australian Financial Review (subscription required) in which the Wall Street Journal (also subscription required) applied the same epithet to Australians critical of US labour market institutions and their outcomes, even extending this to former Oz PM Bob Hawke, about as prominent a supporter of the US alliance as you could find, though, like many others, a critic of the Iraq war. The relevant quote

Even Labor leaders who have previously been strong supporters of the alliance have not hesitated to stir anti-US prejudices this time. Former Prime Minister Bob Hawke warned that making it easier for workers to negotiate wages directly either their employers would be “a move down the path to” -horror of horrors – “an Americanisation of labour relations

Unfortunately, my efforts to find the full piece have been unsuccessful – I assume it’s behind the paywall somewhere. I’d appreciate it it anyone could supply the full text.

I’d be interested to know, for example, whether the WSJ has extended its net to catch that notorious anti-American, John Howard, who has warned against taking the “American path” in relation to gun ownership and tort litigation.

In the meantime, let me suggest that lots of American workers share the “anti-American prejudice” that they would rather have a union on their side than enjoy the benefits of direct “negotiation” with employers. For example, this Gallup Poll reports that 38 per cent of Americans would like to see unions have more influence, as against 30 per cent who would prefer less. And I’ll guess that the WSJ itself would be happy enough to endorse Howard’s anti-Americanism, at least as far as tort law is concerned.


by Chris Bertram on November 24, 2005

Melanie Phillips:

bq. “The bogus child support agency”:

I think we can agree with Mel that only genuine children should be supported and that payments to these bogus ones should be cut off forthwith.

Printing blogs?

by Eszter Hargittai on November 23, 2005

One of my students asked whether it would be possible to receive a hard copy of students’ blogs for the quarter. This is a nice idea. I don’t know how long the course blog will stay online (and some of it will probably start anew next time I teach the class) so such a solution could be nice for archiving the material. (The Web Archive hasn’t picked up their blogs yet.) I had created archives of the blogs from last year using HTTrack, which is a handy tool, but an additional hard copy would be nice.

I have been looking around and although I have found some options, I am interested in finding some more. I know that Qoop has a Blog Printing service in beta, but it doesn’t seem to be open to just anyone (plus it is not clear whether they are supporting all blogging software at this point). In any case, given my experiences with Qoop’s Flickr photobook printing, I would rather explore some alternatives first. (The result was okay. The cover was very nice, but the rest seemed more like a notebook than a book per se. For that, the price seemed a bit too high.)

It looks like LiveJournal users have a ready-made solution. But I need something for WordPress. This person seems to have done a nice job printing a book (or “blook”), but the process seems extremely tedious. Does anyone have experiences with BlogBinders? (I don’t like the idea that they strip out the images from the blog.)

Has anyone done this? Any recommendations? Any thoughts on what to avoid or what not to forget?

My preference would be for paying a bit more if it meant having to do less work on it.

Dear oh dear

by Chris Bertram on November 23, 2005

Norman Geras has a “little post on inequality today”: . I’m happy to report that Geras still believes that inequality is a bad thing. However, he can’t let the matter go without writing a few lines directed at those whom he sees as America’s detractors, who made a fuss about the inequality exposed by Hurricane Katrina despite the manifest inequalities of their own societies.

bq. As if the issue was somehow absent before Katrina, isn’t with us continuously. Or as if it was an issue specific to America, and not a general feature of capitalist societies – in which the circumstances of many people’s lives are permanently of a sort that it would horrify others luckier and more privileged to be plunged into.

Well, yes, all capitalist societies _are_ unequal societies. But they are not unequal to the same degree, and among advanced capitalist societies the United States happens to be a significant outlier. Taking the “Gini coefficient as an indicator”: , the US comes in with a score of 45 with other “anglosphere” countries being closest to it among developed countries. Moreover the US does very badly compared to those other countries on measures such as the UN’s Human Poverty Index (17th out of 18 selected OECD countries in in the “2005 report”: (pdf) , p. 231). So emphasising America’s peculiar position is not, contra Geras, an indication of irrational anti-Americanism but a reflection of the harsh facts.

Bombing journalists

by Chris Bertram on November 23, 2005

I see that the White House is calling the suggestion that George W. Bush suggested bombing the headquarters of “Aljazeera”: in Qatar (a friendly state) “outlandish”: . Anyone who watched BBC’s Newsnight last night will have seen Frank Gaffney defending (indeed advocating) attacking “Aljazeera”: as entirely legitimate on the grounds that the station is an arm of enemy propaganda. There is also the small matter of the fact that the civil servants who leaked the transcript of the Bush–Blair conversation are facing prosecution for doing so and that the “Daily Mirror has been subjected to pressure”: . It is hard to see how someone could “leak” or could be prosecuted for leaking a document if it was other than genuine. One of the neocon themes has been the need for free institutions in the Arab world. Such institutions presumably involve a free and independent media. And yet the closest thing to such a media in the region is discussed as a possible target of attack (and indeed there have been numerous “accidental” attacks on “Aljazeera”: staff).

To that Cross my Sins have Nailed Him

by Kieran Healy on November 22, 2005

David Kopel “has a post”: about the origins of the Thanksgiving hymn “We Gather Together”: (Originally Dutch: a “Nederlandtsch Gedenckclanck,” which is a phrase I could say all day.) It put me in mind of the stuff I learned when growing up in Ireland. Much of it was pretty thin gruel, like the execrable “Christ be beside me”: But there were a few standouts — mostly leftovers from the pre-Vactican II fire-and-brimstone era. Chief among these was “God of Mercy and Compassion”: Nothing like hearing a bunch of eight-year-olds cheerily singing lyrics like “See our saviour bleeding, dying / On the cross of Calvary / To that cross my sins have nailed him / Yet he bleeds and dies for me.” Clonk! Clonk! Clonk! Do you hear those nails going in? Do you?

To offset this, though, when I was in fifth class our teacher, Mr Buckley, read us Frank O’Connor’s small masterpiece, “First Confession,” which put a more humane face on the whole thing. My view of religion was never quite the same afterward.

Then, to crown my misfortunes, I had to make my first confession and communion. It was an old woman called Ryan who prepared us for these. She was about the one age with Gran; she was well-to-do, lived in a big house on Montenotte, wore a black cloak and bonnet, and came every day to school at three o’clock when we should have been going home, and talked to us of hell. She may have mentioned the other place as well, but that could only have been by accident, for hell had the first place in her heart.

She lit a candle, took out a new half-crown, and offered it to the first boy who would hold one finger — only one finger! — in the flame for five minutes by the school clock. Being always very ambitious I was tempted to volunteer, but I thought it might look greedy. Then she asked were we afraid of holding one finger — only one finger! — in a little candle flame for five minutes and not afraid of burning all over in roasting hot furnaces for all eternity. “All eternity! Just think of that! A whole lifetime goes by and it’s nothing, not even a drop in the ocean of your sufferings.” The woman was really interesting about hell, but my attention was all fixed on the half-crown. At the end of the lesson she put it back in her purse. It was a great disappointment; a religious woman like that, you wouldn’t think she’d bother about a thing like a half-crown.

You can “read the whole thing”: in the space of a few minutes. Vintage publish “a good edition”: of O’Connor’s short stories.

Cheney’s question

by Chris Bertram on November 22, 2005

Cheney “asks”:

bq. “Would the United States and other free nations be better off or worse off with (Abu Musab al-) Zarqawi, (Osama) bin Laden and (Ayman al-) Zawahiri in control of Iraq?” he asked. “Would be we safer or less safe with Iraq ruled by men intent on the destruction of our country?”

Let me get this straight. At time _t_ you advocate a policy involving the invasion and occupation of Iraq on multiple grounds, none of which include the forestalling of an Al Qaeda seizure of power in Iraq (since such an eventuality is risibly improbable). At time _t+n_ , as a direct consequence of that brilliant policy, the only options are (a) its continuation or (b) an Al Qaeda takeover of Iraq. Genius. No wonder that man got re-elected.

Dishonest mistakes

by Henry Farrell on November 21, 2005

The Economist‘s Lexington starts an “article”: (behind paywall) on whether Bush lied with a piece of self-justificatory hackishness.

bq. The Democrats risk painting themselves as either opportunists (who turn against a war when it goes badly) or buffoons (too dim to question faulty intelligence when it mattered). They also risk exacerbating their biggest weakness—their reputation for being soft on terrorism and feeble on national security. So who is getting the best of the argument? Mr Bush starts with one big advantage: the charge that he knew all along that Iraq possessed no weapons of mass destruction seems to be a farrago of nonsense. Nobody has yet produced any solid evidence for this. Sure, Mr Bush made mistakes, but they seem to have been honest ones made for defensible reasons. He genuinely believed that Saddam Hussein possessed WMD—as did most of the world’s security services. And he was not alone in thinking that, after September 11th, America should never again err on the side of complacency. More than 100 Democrats in Congress voted to authorise the war. But being right and being seen to be right are different things. Mr Bush may not have consciously lied, but, egged on by Mr Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, he made dreadful miscalculations.

The issue, as the Economist‘s journalists know bloody well, isn’t whether the Bush administration believed at one point that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. It’s whether or not the Bush administration mendaciously manipulated intelligence to make the public case for their beliefs. The critics mentioned in the piece aren’t making “the charge that [Bush] knew all along that Iraq possessed no weapons of mass destruction.” I’m not aware of anyone apart from a few crackpots who are. They’re making the case that the Republican administration “deliberately suppressed”: information that didn’t support its case, and presented highly dubious information as providing a slam-dunk case for imminent war. In other words, the administration “stitched up”: a regime that turned out not actually to have weapons of mass destruction, let alone an active nuclear programme, through spin, lies and use of ‘evidence’ that they knew at the time to be dubious. I’d like to see _Lexington_ explain exactly how the claims of al-Qaeda links, the aluminium tubes presentation, the yellowcake claims and so on were “honest [mistakes] made for defensible reasons.” But of course he does no such thing – instead he attacks his very own, custom designed straw man in an attempt to disassociate the heap of political trouble that Bush is now in from the fact that the Bush administration undoubtedly lied in the run-up to the war. Shoddy, shoddy stuff.

PZ Myers

by Kieran Healy on November 21, 2005

Over at Volokh, “Todd Zywicki says”:,

bq. Scott Adams now has a blog, known apprpriately enough as “Dilbert Blog”: … I also see that Mr. Adams has also already had the misfortune to “cross paths”: with the blogosphere’s most infamous Lysenkoist. Welcome to the blogosphere, Mr. Adams.

The link goes to Adams’ version of a spat he (Adams) has been having with “PZ Myers”:, of _Pharyngula_. Here is “Myers’ version”: But what I really want to know is, under what description of reality does PZ Myers (a biology professor at the University of Minnesota at Morris, and tireless rebutter of creationist and Intelligent Design arguments) qualify as a “Lysenkoist”:, let alone the “blogosphere’s most infamous Lysenkoist”? Does Todd have evidence that Myers fakes his scientific research? That he believes that species can be changed through hybridization and grafting? That he thinks genetics is a bourgeois pseudoscience? Or maybe Todd is suggesting that any scientist with left-leaning political views is, _ipso facto_ some kind of fraud, and Myers is our most prominent example? I honestly have no idea what Zywicki is trying to say here.

*Update*: Todd has suddenly and silently updated his post. It now reads, in part, “I also see that Mr. Adams has also already had the misfortune to cross paths with one unpleasant corner of the blogosphere.” In addition, he has silently deleted three or four comments (including one from me) that called him on the smear he was making. I guess anyone could mistakenly type “Lysenkoist” when they meant “unpleasant.” Your self-correcting blogosphere at work. At least he saw that the charge was indefensible, I suppose.

*Second Update*: Todd “explains his actions a bit further”: in an update. From a post PZ Myers links to, it seems Zywicki’s animus toward Myers all goes back to an “earlier”: “argument”: they had about evolutionary psychology.

“Not torture”

by Chris Bertram on November 21, 2005

“Orin Kerr at the Volokhs”: has a link to an “ABC News piece on CIA interrogation techniques”: . Apparently these methods are “not torture”:

bq. 4. Long Time Standing: This technique is described as among the most effective. Prisoners are forced to stand, handcuffed and with their feet shackled to an eye bolt in the floor for more than 40 hours. Exhaustion and sleep deprivation are effective in yielding confessions.
5. The Cold Cell: The prisoner is left to stand naked in a cell kept near 50 degrees. Throughout the time in the cell the prisoner is doused with cold water.
6. Water Boarding: The prisoner is bound to an inclined board, feet raised and head slightly below the feet. Cellophane is wrapped over the prisoner’s face and water is poured over him. Unavoidably, the gag reflex kicks in and a terrifying fear of drowning leads to almost instant pleas to bring the treatment to a halt.

Muscular atheism alert

by Chris Bertram on November 21, 2005

Websites which regularly enthuse about the man are linking to “this quasi-interview with Hitchens”: in which he vaunts his atheistic credentials:

bq. He’s not just an atheist who doesn’t believe in God, he says, but an “anti-theist,” who actively denies the existence of same, a distinction he insists on making. …. His new book, _God is Not Great_ , is a call for people to grow up and abandon the self-comforting fantasy: “I personally think that’s the only answer. In the meantime, any government that allows any privilege to any one faith is preparing to commit cultural suicide.” And any state that retains even a quasi-connection to Christianity, he adds, will have to face Muslim arguments exploiting it. It is all gloomily predictable.

Last week “Nick Barlow pointed”: to the website of the “Family Research Council”: (“Defending Family, Faith and Freedom”) with a picture of a man looking rather like Hitchens who had given an address to the group. One can only suppose that evil biotechnologists from the idiotarian left have produced a clone of Hitchens which now goes around acting in a way that would discredit the real one. Somehow I doubt that such a risible scheme will discredit the “Dude” in the eyes of his faithful admirers.

Back to the UK

by Chris Bertram on November 21, 2005

I’m back in the UK after a trip to the US which included a week spent at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Thanks to Harry and everyone else who made it such a memorable and enjoyable visit, and to those Crooked Timber readers who made suggestions about what to eat. (The frozen custard was excellent, but I passed on the cheese curds.) One piece of good luck I had there was the following. Having eaten dinner and enjoyed interesting conversation with some of Harry’s students, I was wandering down State Street last Thursday when I saw a poster advertising a “Mary Gauthier”: gig. When? I wondered. Tonight! I produced my $15 dollars admission and made my entrance. It was a terrific performance by Mary and her German guitarist Thomm Jutz, leavened by some great monologues including one about “Brits who listen to Radio 2.” Afterwards, I was able to identify myself as such whilst getting my copy of “Mercy Now”: autographed, a memorable evening.

Just Google it?

by John Q on November 21, 2005

The availability of search engines like Google provides an easy way of checking on factual claims you may find questionable – just enter the relevant keywords into a search engine and see what comes up. If such a search produces nothing to support the claim, or evidence to refute or qualify it, then it’s time to start demanding evidence.

This started me thinking about a more general problem with search engines. Using search engine results in the way I suggest rests on the assumption that a given query will produce given results. The same is true if I want to say “Site X is the top result on engine Y for query Z”. But what happens if, as is already possible, search results are personalised, based on, say, previous search history and choice among search results. The same search, undertaken by someone else, might produce completely different results.

[click to continue…]

Creative food drive

by Eszter Hargittai on November 20, 2005

Browsing people’s Flickr accounts I came across pictures from CANstruction.

Canstruction® combines the competitive spirit of a design/build competition with a unique way to help feed hungry people. Competing teams, lead by architects and engineers, showcase their talents by designing giant sculptures made entirely out of canned foods. At the close of the exhibitions all of the food used in the structures is donated to local food banks for distribution to pantries, shelters, soup kitchens, elderly and day care centers.

The official Web site has pictures of this year’s winners, but I think it’s much more fun just to browse the Flickr photos tagged with “canstruction”. Check out the list of participating cities to see whether you can still catch the show somewhere.