From the monthly archives:

January 2006

A twist on online communities

by Eszter Hargittai on January 20, 2006

Judging from my posts around here – not to mention my daily browsing habits – I’m obsessed with Flickr. I wanted to take a step back and give a bit of basic info about the site to those who are not that familiar with it. It is my way of trying to spread all that Flickr goodness to more people.

Flickr may seem like no more than a photo-sharing Web site, but it’s actually much more than that. It is a large community of people sharing images, yes, but also learning about a myriad of topics, exploring nearby and distant lands, and communicating with people from all over the world. In some ways it resembles corners of blogworld. One important difference is that a good chunk of the communicating is done through images rather than text.

Flickr can help you get to know people in all sorts of ways through their photos (and I don’t just mean by looking at what they had for dinner, although frankly, if the cook or restaurant is a good one, that can be interesting as well), get to know cities (e.g. the Guess Where Chicago and Guess Where NYC groups are both fun and informative), learn about healthy foods, read thought-provoking (or not) quotes, and much more.

In case you don’t need these basics, perhaps you’ll find some helpful tips in my guide to finding great photos on Flickr published yesterday on Lifehacker. Consider that the second installment to this post.

Here are some of the basic features of the site. Some of the links below will only work if you are logged in to the system. If you have a Yahoo! account then you are all set. If not, sign up for a free account now, you won’t regret it.*

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Waiting for the perfect shot

by Eszter Hargittai on January 19, 2006

I was at the Bulls vs. Knicks game last night. What a great ending: the perfect shot in the last second. Here is the recap of the last minute:

The Bulls were ahead 102-99 after Songaila hit two free throws with 51.1 seconds left in overtime. Crawford went 2-of-3 from the line after being fouled by Andres Nocioni to make it a one-point game. After Nocioni converted two foul shots with 8.3 seconds left, Crawford’s 3 tied it at 104.

There were 4.6 seconds left. Gordon saved the day by scoring in the last second (tenth of a second to be precise). It was awesome.

All this made me wonder: why do we bother – those of us who do:) – watching the first three quarters of basketball games? So much happens in the last few minutes almost regardless of what happened up until then. This is a layperson’s view and I certainly don’t have the stats to back this up, but it seems to me that this is quite often the case. Sure, we watch the game, because of the sheer enjoyment of the sport. Still, it seems that few sports competitions have as much riding on such a tiny last segment of the game as basketball.

So do we watch to figure out the optimal last-minute strategy? The Bulls did a horrible job with free throws last night so it was an especially good bet to foul them in the last few seconds. But would there have been a different strategy to retrieve the ball if they had not been doing so poorly on that front? I’m not saying that we have to be rational about our sports-viewing habits, but sitting through an entire basketball game seems particularly irrational.

Blogometer profile

by Henry on January 19, 2006

There’s a short profile of me up at the National Journal’s “Blogometer”:http://blogometer.nationaljournal.com/archives/2006/01/119_the_kitchen.html today. Feel at liberty to slag me off in comments.

Ask Pajamas Media

by Ted on January 19, 2006

Q: Dear Pajamas Media,

Christopher Hitchens has been noteworthy for his strong support of the Iraq war and the Bush Administration’s vision of the war on terror. Many were surprised when he recently joined an ACLU lawsuit challenging the NSA program of warrantless wiretaps. Could you direct me to any insightful citizen journalism that could help me understand this story?

A: Sure. It’s because he’s an anti-semite.

Pajamas Media is not an embarassing money pit bringing shame to political bloggers everywhere.

The Army and Vietnam

by Ted on January 19, 2006

Inspired by this post, I read The Army and Vietnam by Andrew F. Krepinevich a few weeks ago. It’s really very good. Most of the book functions as an analysis of the Vietnam war through the lens of counterinsurgency tactics, as the author walks through the failure and sporadic successes of the military leadership to learn from its mistakes.

I especially appreciated the introduction and its lucid introduction to the strategy of a successful insurgency/counterinsurgency. I liked that part so much that I’ve transcribed about four pages, in the interest of posting it in small blog-sized chunks for discussion. The book was published in 1986. It’s fascinating to see how much of it applies to the situation in Iraq, and how much is less relevant.

I hope that this inspires a few readers to buy the book, or at least discuss its ideas. Unfortunately, I realize that this goes beyond “fair use”. I’ve tried to contact Krepinevich to ask for permission, but have failed to get a response. So I’m going to try to play this like an mp3 blog. Each section will stay up for a week, and then I’ll pull it down. I will, of course, respond immediately to any request from the copyright holder or complaint from a co-blogger.

Here goes.

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Radical Professors Exposed, Woo

by Kieran Healy on January 19, 2006

Eugene Volokh “is already on this”:http://volokh.com/archives/archive_2006_01_15-2006_01_21.shtml#1137628916, but I caught a segment “on the radio”:http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5162955 about the “UCLAProfs.com”:http://www.uclaprofs.com, the site founded by some recent political science grad “dedicated to exposing UCLA’s most radical professors,” people who are engaged in “brainwashing” their students, an activity “described”:http://www.uclaprofs.com/profs/piterberg.html as “about as hard as shooting fish in a barrel.” The idea that professors exert a vise-like grip on the pliable minds of their students is a dubious one at best. But frankly, the notion that cardigan-wearing lefties can out-compete the cornucopia of brain-cleansing goods and services on offer in the city of Los Angeles strikes me as wholly implausible.

What most irritates me about the site is that it will probably play to the persecution complexes of some of the people on the list, which will lead them to make comments about Joe McCarthy and Fascism, which is exactly the kind of reaction UCLAprofs.com wants. The best thing about this otherwise lame project is its black-fist rating system for the radicalism of professors (three fists out of five shown here). Political Science prof Mark Sawyer had the right idea with “his profile”:http://www.uclaprofs.com/profs/sawyer.html — he wrote in to complain, saying “I now have tenure … I have been away from UCLA for 2 1/2 years at Berkeley and Harvard. I have been active though in the anti-war movement etc. So I feel I deserve 5 fists.”

But apart from the fist innovation, UCLAprofs.com is pretty badly written, poorly designed and completely fails to hit its target, as most of the “radical causes” it cites (disapproval with President Bush, opposition to the war in Iraq) are in fact at present majority positions in the United States. It doesn’t come close to the delicious heights of “Discover the Network”:http://discoverthenetwork.org/default.asp, let alone “Discover the Nutwork”:http://homepage.mac.com/jholbo/nutwork/. So I’m afraid that on my personal scale of 1 to 5 McCarthys (also shown here), UCLAprofs.com receives a derisive half a McCarthy, a new record low. It would have gotten a zero except for the superb self-parodic line in the article “There’s Something About Petitions”:http://www.uclaprofs.com/articles/petitions.html where the author says “The list also demonstrates that a large number of UCLA professors are ardently in favor of affirmative action, and just as ardently opposed to conservative legal nominees, even opposing fellow alumni like Justice Janice Rogers Brown.” That’d be _Judge_ Brown, incidentally, not Justice, whom we all know and love for her “excellent speeches”:https://crookedtimber.org/2005/05/05/janice-rogers-brown-revisited/. Now if you’ll excuse me I have to supervise the students who are presently washing my collection of Che Guevara t-shirts as part of an in-class research exercise.

Virtual Stoa on Pollard, Browne and cats

by Harry on January 19, 2006

Chris Brooke really is excelling himself these days. First, a relentless (and funny, and good) take down of Anthony Browne’s pamphlet The Retreat of Reason. Then a slightly obsessive-seeming savaging of everyone’s favourite right-wing left-winger, Stephen Pollard. And cat pictures too. Enjoy him while he’s in such a good mood.

Democrats, Republicans and Intervention

by Henry on January 18, 2006

The “Boston Review”:http://bostonreview.net/ has just put “the results”:http://bostonreview.net/BR31.1/stateofthenation.pdf of a very interesting opinion survey online. They’ve asked respondents whether they would approve of military intervention to support a number of goals, and provided a breakdown of how party ID correlates with the answers. Republicans are far more likely than Democrats to approve of military intervention to ensure the supply of oil, to destroy terrorist camps, and to assist in the spread of democracy. The differences are much less marked when military intervention is intended to prevent genocide or to assist an ally under attack. When military intervention is intended to help the UN support international law, Democrats are far more likely than Republicans to be in favour. This provides a valuable corrective to the widely discussed Transatlantic Trends “survey”:http://www.transatlantictrends.org/index.cfm?id=2 of a few months ago, which reported that Democrats were far less likely than Republicans to support interventions aimed at helping the international spread of democracy. As I interpret these results (and I acknowledge that they could be interpreted in various ways), Democrats are more likely than the earlier numbers suggest to favour such interventions – but only if they’re in accordance with international law. The interesting question – which we’ll never know the answer to – is how Republicans and Democrats would have responded to these questions in 2000 or even in late 2001. I suspect that Democrats would have been more likely than today to favour intervention to spread democracy, but that very few Republicans indeed would have been favorably disposed to actions of this sort.

The Boston Review suggests that this is the first in a series of ‘State of the Nation’ surveys that they’ll be running and reporting – this looks set to be a very valuable resource indeed.

Shadows and Fog

by Henry on January 18, 2006

As a follow-up to Ted’s post, Chris Bray, a historian on duty as a sergeant in Kuwait has some interesting “reflections”:http://hnn.us/blogs/entries/20531.html.
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The 17c grad student meal

by Eszter Hargittai on January 18, 2006

JoAnne at Cosmic Variance discusses graduate student culinary experiences inspired by this article in Symmetry Magazine.*

Jonathan Bagger, a Physicist at Johns Hopkins reminisces about his grad student days: “I lived with four housemates in Princeton. We had an ongoing competition to see who could make the cheapest meal. The winner, at 17 cents a serving, was pigs’ feet. Not cooked the way pigs’ feet normally are, but simply broiled.”

At least some people can recall their grad student eating experiences (then again, are these experiences you necessarily want to recall?). For me, several years are a complete blank although Kieran may want to remind me – having shared offices for a couple of years – that junk food does not equal blank. What saved me was a fellowship in my fourth and fifth years that came with money to be spent at the student center cafeteria. It was more money than you could possibly want to spend in the dining hall so you ended up inviting friends. That was a nice perk. Unfortunately, it was only after my fellowship with that program had run out that we realized you could spend those points in the faculty dining room eating good meals. Not that I’m complaining. At least I had some regularity in my eating habits for those two years.

[*] If I didn’t happen to own symmetry.org they could have a much cooler URL.

The politics of country music

by Chris Bertram on January 18, 2006

A few days back Dsquared and I were involved in “a comment thread over at Stumbling and Mumbling”:http://stumblingandmumbling.typepad.com/stumbling_and_mumbling/2006/01/merle_haggard_a.html about Merle Haggard’s politics. That post had been prompted by Chris Willman’s “Rednecks and Bluenecks”:http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1595580174/junius-20 , and that’s also the subject of a “Jesse Walker review in Reason Online”:http://www.reason.com/links/links011606.shtml which is worth a read. I’ve been meaning to get hold of Willman’s book and this is a further spur to me doing so.

Cheese-eating mechanization monkeys

by Ted on January 18, 2006

I started reading The Sling and the Stone: On War in the 21st Century by Colonel Thomas X. Hammes tonight. Hammes is a 29-year career Marine who has spent his professional life studying what he calls fourth-generation warfare, or counterinsurgency. In the small portion that I’ve read, it’s striking how scathing Hammes is about “transformation”, the push for a smaller, high-tech force:
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Long Article

by John Holbo on January 17, 2006

A few days ago Matthew Yglesias linked despairingly to a Caitlin Flanagan Atlantic book review/long article on ‘blowjob nation’ (and he wasn’t despairing because it was paywalled). Now I see (via Maud) it is available free online at Powell’s books. It seems to need a comment box; now it has one.

I myself will not comment, except to note that – in a sign of the times – TLS the Times just started a bunch of blogs. Just bought itself a typepad account, apparently. And – another sign of the times, perhaps – this venerable literary organ has allowed one of its tv critics (assigned to the Big Brother beat) to employ this image of herself (semi-worksafe). Like Flanagan, she appears to be named Caitlin. And that’s all I have to say.

AWB Overboard

by John Quiggin on January 17, 2006

I’ve always thought that the Oil-For-Food scandal and the parallel scandal (promoted mainly on the left of the blogosphere) about corruption in Iraq’s postwar reconstruction were overblown. Under the circumstances, corruption was inevitable in both cases. If you supported feeding Iraqi children or attempting to repair the damage caused by the war, you had to expect, as part of the overhead, that those with power in Iraq would seek to skim money off the top, and that they would find willing accomplices in this task. Having said all that, corruption shouldn’t be passively accepted. It’s a crime and, wherever they can be caught, those guilty of it should be punished.

By far the biggest fish to be caught in the net so far is Australia’s monopoly wheat exporter, AWB, which was, until 1999, the government-owned Australian Wheat Board. It has become evident that AWB paid hundreds of millions of dollars to Saddam’s regime, and it has now been stated in evidence that the deals in question were discussed with Australia’s foreign minister, Alexander Downer., who has played a leading role in defending Australia’s participation in the Iraq war.
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Clipr

by Eszter Hargittai on January 17, 2006

Gone are the days when you had to clip letters from different newspapers and magazines to get a mix of fonts. This nifty tool lets you write out words with letter images from Flickr. (I assume the images have to be tagged with a letter to be part of the pool from which the program draws photos.) If you don’t like a particular letter design, you can click on just that one to get a different image.

Crooked Timber from Flickr letters

For more Flickr goodness, you can keep track of the time using Clockr.