From the monthly archives:

December 2005

Tookie Williams denied clemency

by Chris Bertram on December 12, 2005

I see from the “BBC that Tookie Williams has been denied clemency”: . I have no opinion about whether he was guilty or not, nor do I know whether the various good works he has engaged in in prison were sincerely motivated. I am generally opposed to the death penalty, for a variety of familiar reasons. But I’m moved to post now, not to articulate those general reasons, but out of a sense of incredulity. The crimes for which Williams was convicted took place in 1979, when he was in his mid-20s. Even if I thought it was right to execute people for such crimes, I think I’d baulk at the idea of killing someone in his 50s for an act committed more than a quarter of a century ago. To do that is almost like executing another person.

Survey shows majority of Iraqis disapprove of invasion

by Chris Bertram on December 12, 2005

I’d decided to self-impose a moratorium on commenting on the ramblings of the “pro-war left”, but I’m roused by a post on Normblog entitled “At variance with certain depictions”: in which Geras claims that “a new survey of Iraqi opinion”: (PDF) gives a more positive view of life there than we get from unspecified sources of whom he clearly disapproves. He specifically draws attention to a “vox pop”: section of “the BBC page”: where one ordinary Iraqi voices the opinion that:

bq. The US invasion was a really good thing and the presence of the US troops is really important now.

Now I’m sure that any selection of material by Geras was intended to be in line with the standards of balance and accuracy normally to be found on his site, but I fear he’s slipped up in failing to notice the responses to the following question:

bq. From today’s perspective and all things considered, was it absolutely right, somewhat right, somewhat wrong or absolutely wrong that US-led coalition forces invaded Iraq in Spring 2003?

Today 50.3 per cent of Iraqis polled answered that the invasion was somewhat or absolutely wrong. That’s an increase from 39.1 per cent in “last year’s survey”: .

An age less fastidious than our own

by Chris Bertram on December 10, 2005

I went to see a production of Robert Bolt’s “A Man for All Seasons”: in Bath last night. Martin Shaw was marvellous as More. I was surprised that I already knew much of the dialogue (certainly from “the Fred Zinnemann film”: ). And there are many great moments such as the confrontation between More and Roper in Act 1 concerning the conflict between conscience, God’s law and the laws of England. I wondered, watching the play, whether anything had been mucked about with to make the performance more “topical”, and I was sure it must have been when the “Common Man” declaimed at the start of Act 2:

bq. Only an unhappy few were found to set themselves against the current of their times, and in so doing to court disaster. For we are dealing with an age less fastidious than our own. Imprisonment without trial, and even examination under torture, were common practice.

But no. Those lines are there in Bolt’s original.

The Price of Motherhood

by Harry on December 9, 2005

Interesting article by Steve Landsburg in Slate about how to calculate the opportunity costs for future income of becoming a mother. He’s reporting a study by Amalia Miller (pdf), who claims that delaying childbirth for a year in your twenties increases your prospective income by 10%. I was most interested in the method, and am even more interested in hearing what economists have to say about the method and the findings (open invitation). Landsburg on the method:

How does Miller know her findings are reliable? It would never do for her to simply compare the wages of women who gave birth at different ages. A woman who gives birth at 24 might be a different sort of person from a woman who gives birth at 25 and those differences might impact future earnings. Maybe the 24-year-old is less ambitious. Or worse yet (worse from the point of view of sorting out what’s causing what), maybe the 24-year-old started her family sooner precisely because she already saw that her career was going badly.

So, Professor Miller did something very clever. Instead of comparing random 24-year-old mothers with random 25-year-old mothers, she compared 24-year-old mothers with 25-year-old mothers who had miscarried at 24. So, she had two groups of women, all of whom made the same choices regarding pregnancy, but some of whom had their first children delayed by an act of chance.

Lennon and Beatles Covers

by Harry on December 9, 2005

The BBC is obsessed with the anniversary of Lennon’s death. For my own part I have four memories — the shock of Radio 4 (the Today Programme) announcing the death in the morning; the amazing sense of loss at school, mitigated only by the bizarre spectacle of Lennon-look-alike Nick P crying his eyes out all day long; somebody on Question Time saying that everyone would remember where they were when they heard about Lennon’s death, and finally, watching Not the Nine O Clock News that week (Thursday?) and wondering all the way through the show how they would respond to his death — and being first touched, and then shocked, by the way they did it (am I the only person who remembers this?)

Anyway, I’m deliberately posting this the day after the anniversary in order to alert you to 2 wonderful shows full of cover versions:

Mike Harding’s show, with numerous folkies covering songs from Rubber Soul (released 40 years ago this week? Amazing)


Lennon Live with numerous non-folkies covering Lennon songs, with varying degrees of success (My favourite: Teddy Thompson, whom I’d never heard before, and is eerie)

Other Lennon-related radio shows include a portrait narrated by Mark Ratcliffe and a play based on Ray Connolly’s reflections on his death.

Oh, and you can hear Libby Purves reminisce about him, too, but its a bit odd.

Religious groups as ethnic minorities

by Chris Bertram on December 9, 2005

In comments to Daniel’s “post”: about the “Project”, commenter Sean Morris responds to the following remark by Daniel:

bq. Messing around with “Project” conspiracy theories about ethnic minorities is not a harmless hobby.

with the rhetorical question:

bq. Since when was a religion an ethnic minority?

To which the short answer is, in some cases, since forever. This rhetorical move is often made in blog debates by people who want to deny Muslims in European societies the kinds of protections that are afforded to some other groups. But it is a move without merit, since, depending on the social and cultural context, religion, like anything else, can function as the marker that denotes the insider-outsider boundary.

This gives me the excuse — which is the real function of the post — to reproduce a few lines from Howard Becker’s “Tricks of the Trade”: on the definition of ethnic groups:

We would wonder, for instance, how to define the concept of “ethnic group.” How did we know if a group was one of those or not? [Everett C.] Hughes had identified our chronic mistake, in an essay he wrote on ethnic relations in Canada:

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Weltmeisterschaft 2006

by Chris Bertram on December 9, 2005

It is the “draw the World Cup today”: (about 2030 gmt) so there’s an excuse for a soccer thread (like I need an excuse!). A couple of points worth noting:

— The USA is now the most fancied nation outside of Europe and Latin America, with odds of about 89-1 at betfair.

— The African representation is truly surprising: no Nigeria, no Cameroun, no South Africa. Of the African nations, Ivory Coast has the shortest odds (same as the US of A).

So who is going to win the damn thing? England clearly fancy themselves this time and look strong in every area except goalkeeper. The Germans have to stand a good chance on their home turf. France are over the hill. Spain never seem to perform.

I’m going for the *Netherlands* to win for the first time ever and thereby to stick it to “their historic enemies”: on German home turf. And they’re good value too at around 13-1. Whether they’ll still look so good when we see which pool they’re drawn in is another matter.

Income and Consumption Inequality

by John Q on December 9, 2005

I’ve spent a lot of time trying to work out what’s been going on with income and consumption inequality in the United States. Partly that’s because the subject is of interest in itself and partly because social and economic developments in the English-speaking world often (not always) follow the lead of the US.

However, there seem to be lots of contradictions in the data, and between data and popular perceptions, for example regarding social mobility and consumption inequality. I’ve finally managed to sort out what seems (to me, at any rate) to be a coherent account of what’s going on. A list of the main points follows, with supporting links, some of which may require registration/subscription. I’ve tried to indicate which bits of the story reflect my judgements, and which are drawn from the literature.

Comments and criticism on this are most welcome.

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Google users not your average Internet users

by Eszter Hargittai on December 9, 2005

IDG News Service has an article with results from a study conducted by S.G. Cowen and Co. about search-engine use by socio-economic status and Internet experience of users. The findings suggest that Google users are more likely to be from higher income households and be veteran users than those turning to other services for search. Finally some data on this! I have had this hypothesis for several years, but had no data to test it. I am usually frustrated when people make generalizations about Web users based on data about Google users (worse yet, Google users referred to their Web sites through particular searches) and this is precisely why. I did not think Google users (not to mention ones performing particular searches on certain topics) are necessarily representative of the average Internet user. (The report says very little about the methodology of the study so it is hard to know the level of rigor concerning sampling and thus the generalizability of the findings.)

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“The Project” ooh scary

by Daniel on December 8, 2005

Scott Burgess at the Daily Ablution blog is in the process of retranslating “The Project” from a French translation published in a Swiss newspaper. Apparently “The Project” is a secret document which outlines the secret plan of the Muslim Brotherhood to infiltrate European institutions, secretly take control of European governments and rule the world. Understandably, Scott is at pains to tell us that “this isn’t a conspiracy theory”, but I think he’s batting on a sticky wicket here; he’s got a theory, and it’s about a conspiracy, so there is no other two-word phrase which describes it more accurately than “conspiracy theory”. Scott himself appears to have a tiny bit of critical distance preserved from this material, but he’s not exactly shying away from the conspiracist interpretation and there are plenty of people in the Daily Ablution comments section who have really gone off at the deep end in the most hilarious fashion possible.

Welcome to the wacky world of conspiracy theories guys is what I say. As a frequent inhabitant of conspiracy mailing lists, can I offer the following advice:
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NY Grad Students

by Henry Farrell on December 8, 2005

“Cosma Shalizi”: says it loud and clear

bq. Surveying the treatment of our graduate student employees from the lofty perch of half a year on the faculty, it seems to me that CMU, at least in the statistics department, treats them pretty well, and much better than we had it at Madison when I was a TA there, and a member of AFT local #3220. But still, if they wanted to unionize, I’d be completely behind them, and I think it’s idiotic and reprehensible for universities to refuse to even recognize and negotiate with graduate student unions. Unions can ask for stupid and/or selfish things, of course — which distinguishes them from any other organization how, exactly? — but the merits of particular proposals isn’t the issue here; punishing people who attempt to organize to exert their rights is.

As “Chris notes”: in comments, left academics who’ve come out in favour of the NYU administration have ducked this point, preferring to concentrate on whether or not the grad student union has somehow or another been a pain in the ass. Get over it – unions are professional pains in the ass for administrators – and in any event it’s quite irrelevant to the broader issue. The make-or-break question is quite simple. Do you, or do you not, support what the university is threatening to do to striking grad students? To quote the title of “one of my favourite books”:, which side are you on?

Interior design hell

by Chris Bertram on December 8, 2005

Via a page devoted to Swedish dance bands of the 1970s, I happened upon “Eurobad 74”: “an exhibition of Europe’s worst interiors of 1974”. I have no idea what the horse is doing in #4, nor why the child is lifting the woman’s mini-skirt in #11, but it is indeed hard to imagine interiors much worse than these, even in 1974.

Santa Clause

by Henry Farrell on December 8, 2005

“Tyler Cowen”: links to “Leonard Peikoff”:, suggesting that”a bracing Randian approach is needed” to the commercialization of Christmas. But why settle for an epigone like Peikoff, when you can get the Randite vision of Christmas “straight from the horse’s mouth?”:

*Ayn Rand’s A Selfish Christmas (1951)*

bq. In this hour-long radio drama, Santa struggles with the increasing demands of providing gifts for millions of spoiled, ungrateful brats across the world, until a single elf, in the engineering department of his workshop, convinces Santa to go on strike. The special ends with the entropic collapse of the civilization of takers and the spectacle of children trudging across the bitterly cold, dark tundra to offer Santa cash for his services, acknowledging at last that his genius makes the gifts — and therefore Christmas — possible.

bq. Prior to broadcast, Mutual Broadcast System executives raised objections to the radio play, noting that 56 minutes of the hour-long broadcast went to a philosophical manifesto by the elf and of the four remaining minutes, three went to a love scene between Santa and the cold, practical Mrs. Claus that was rendered into radio through the use of grunts and the shattering of several dozen whiskey tumblers. In later letters, Rand sneeringly described these executives as “anti-life.”

(nb – I “linked”: to this last year when it lived on its author, John Scalzi’s, “blog”: As a result of which people promoting Christmas specials like the “The Happy Elf”: seem to have become convinced that I’m a valuable target for their marketing efforts).

Dover, PA

by Jon Mandle on December 7, 2005

Last week’s New Yorker (Dec.5, 2005) had a very good article on the trial concerning “intelligent design” in the high school of Dover, PA. (It’s not online, but a Q&A with the author, Margaret Talbot, is.) It included lots of interesting original reporting, including the following:

The night after the board approved the evolution disclaimer, Brad Neal, a social-studies teacher at the high school, had an e-mail exchange with [assistant superintendent Mike] Baksa. “In light of last night’s apparent change from a ‘standards-driven’ school district to the ‘living-word-driven’ school district … I would like some direction in how to adapt our judicial-branch unit,” Neal wrote. “It is apparent that the Supreme Court of the United States has it all wrong. Is there some supplemental text that we can use to set our students straight as to the ‘real’ law of the land? We will be entering this unit within the next month and are concerned that we would be polluting our students’ minds if we continue to use our curriculum as currently written in accordance with [state] standards.”

Neal’s message was sarcastic, but Baksa’s reply was not. “Brad, all kidding aside, be careful what you ask for,” he wrote back. I’ve been given a copy of ‘The Myth of Separation,’ by David Barton, to review from board members. Social studies curriculum is next year. Feel free to borrow my copy to get an idea where the board is coming from.”

Fortunately, those are now ex-board members.

Hear no evil …

by Henry Farrell on December 7, 2005

From Jefferson Morley’s “World Opinion Round-Up”: at the _Post_.

bq. Has the United States government decided that Americans don’t care about what the world thinks of their country? You might get that impression from the State Department’s Web site. Last week the department stopped posting surveys of how the international press is covering significant developments in U.S. foreign policy. Based on reporting from U.S. embassies around the world, the surveys quoted newspaper and broadcast reports in just about every language. … No more. The Web address of the Office of Media Reaction — “” — now yields a “page not found” error. The archive of past surveys is also unavailable. The page states, “The USINFO website is undergoing significant design changes.” There’s a link to the surveys from the main State Department press page, but it’s dead. The changes involve more than just the “design,” according to a State Department official who spoke on the condition he not be identified. “The Web site is directed, by law, at foreign audiences. It doesn’t make sense for us to put up what foreign newspapers are saying,” he said.