From the monthly archives:

February 2006

Cricket Stands in opposition to barbarism…

by Harry on February 22, 2006

Thanks to Adam Swift for pointing me to Radio 3’s Sunday Feature, a wonderful if mournful lament by Darcus Howe. Ostensibly an investigation of CLR James’ question “What do they know of cricket who only cricket know?” it turns into a reflection on the decline both of the game and of the moral character of West Indian society, but retains throughout the spirit of James’ approach. It is also a moving personal tribute by Howe to James who was, as far as I can work out, some sort of cousin, not, as the site says, his nephew. Listen here. Mike Atherton is also featured,a nd is excellent: the question I was posed was whether there is any other sport in which a national team could have, within a generation, two captains as thoughtful as Atherton and Brearley.

And don’t stop when it is over — hold on a couple of minutes to hear Richard Thompson singing Plastique Bertrand’s “Ca plane pour moi”. On Radio 3!

A local vicar wrote in today’s Plymouth Herald that the second half of the show, which is set in hell, made him feel like he was “in hell” …

(link via Neil Gaiman)

The Kingmaker, Part II

by John Q on February 22, 2006

Peter Beinart runs a TNR piece with a theme implicit in my post on the Sadr interview, the fact that Sadr’s rise to power in Iraq has attracted almost no media attention. Not having access to US TV, I didn’t realise how completely this has been ignored (Technorati suggests the same is pretty much true for the blogosphere). It’s behind their paywall, but I can’t resist quoting the first few paras.

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Summers Resigns

by Kieran Healy on February 21, 2006

I wonder whether it’ll be possible to preempt the spin that this was all because of his silly remarks about women in science, and ergo Summers was forced out by intolerant liberals. Probably not — even though, you know, Summers is in fact a liberal and you may remember him serving in the Clinton administration. There’s a line from Douglas Adams that I think explains the real situation a lot better: “You’re a clever man … but you make the same mistake a lot of clever people do of thinking everyone else is stupid.” Not a good management style, especially at Harvard, even if your policy goals are worthwhile.

Email from Students

by Kieran Healy on February 21, 2006

Dan Drezner “picks up”: on today’s NYT article about students emailing their professors in slightly weird ways. I thought the article ran together several different kinds of email oddness, some of which are more of a problem than others. One thing it didn’t mention: even though universities give students email addresses, it’s often the case that students won’t use them. Instead they prefer their free hotmail or yahoo or gmail addresses. No problem as such there, except that sometimes the students pick the kind of addresses for themselves that aren’t exactly professional-quality. Frankly it feels a bit odd to correspond with, e.g., missbitchy23 or WildcatBongs about letters of reference or what have you.

_Addendum_: One other thing: Assistant Professor of English Meg Worley’s rule that students must thank her if they receive a response because “One of the rules that I teach my students is, the less powerful person always has to write back.” Very Foucauldian. Only not really. I think Erving Goffman makes the observation somewhere that the capacity to be gracious is actually an _aspect_ of being powerful, not something that’s _owed_ to the powerful. In any event, I thought it seemed a little snotty. _More_: In the comments thread to “this post”: by Tim Burke, Meg says she was misquoted, and the rules she says she talked to the reporter about are in fact quite reasonable. Stupid NYT.

Snark or boojum

by Henry Farrell on February 21, 2006

“Brad DeLong”: wrote a couple of weeks back:

bq. For a surprisingly large part of the time over the past six years, the Economist has been like Austin Powers without his mojo–has spent far too much time on its belly making craven and pathetic excuses for the incompetent, inept, mendacious, and malevolent George W. Bush administration. Now it looks like it may have its snark back.

Perhaps not for long: The _Guardian_ “tells us”:,,1714327,00.html that

bq. The editor of the Economist stepped down yesterday … The board hopes to appoint a new editor by the end of March. Contenders for the role include Emma Duncan, the former UK editor, who has been deputy editor since May, and US editor John Micklethwait.

I know nothing about Duncan, but devoted Timberites will remember that Micklethwait is co-author of the execrable “Right Nation”: He’s also, at the very least signed off on the increasingly hackish _Lexington_ columns of the last year or two, and there’s strong reason to believe that he’s their actual author. No better man for making “craven and pathetic excuses for the incompetent, inept, mendacious, and malevolent George W. Bush administration,” and if he gets the job, I suspect that we’ll be seeing a lot more of it in the editorial pages of the _Economist_.

I’m not an economist, but…

by Maria on February 21, 2006

You know when you look at a word, and suddenly it appears to be spelt wrongly? ‘Vendor’ is a classic. Somehow you’ve stepped outside the frame, and the obvious no longer appears right.

I just cast my eyes over a press release from an Irish political party that shall remain nameless, and realised, ‘either this is a poor translation from the Manchurian or I have been abroad for way too long…”
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When you are a crazy person, as I am, you may find yourself awake early in the morning, having gotten up to nurse your baby and now being unable to fall asleep, as the room slowly whitens with dawn–you may find yourself, I say, thinking about gun control. That’s right, gun control.

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The Kingmaker

by John Q on February 21, 2006

Juan Cole translates an Al-Jazeera interview with the new kingmaker of Iraqi politics. In many ways, he’s just what the Bush Administration has been hoping for. He’s a Shi’ite but favors a broad government of national unity, reaching out to Sunni nationalists. He has an impeccable record of opposition to Saddam and isn’t compromised by any links to the occupation or to the interim Allawi regime. And while he’s previously called for an immediate pullout of US forces, he’s now prepared to accept a timetable for withdrawal.

He is, of course …

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Giant Book of the Month Club

by Kieran Healy on February 20, 2006

The phenomenon of “Biblically Correct Tours”: is much in the news recently. (P.Z. Myers has a “summary”: Essentially, a creationist named Rusty Carter leads people on tours around museums chatting away about how dinosaurs and people lived together, how the world was created in seven days, and how the earth is only six thousand years old, _ad nauseam_. So I thought I’d mention Martin Rudwick’s new book, “Bursting the Limits of Time: The Reconstruction of Geohistory in the Age of Revolution”:, a (very, very large) history of how scientists in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries figured out that the earth was very, very old. Certainly much older than six thousand years. The problem of the age of the earth is a good one partly because because it’s so tangible, partly because it’s a good story (the French and English scientists are great, and Thomas Jefferson gets a look-in as well), and partly because it was solved[1] more than two hundred years ago. Richard Fortey “reviewed the book”: in the LRB (subscription req’d) recently. He begins the review with an anecdote:

bq. … as I had anticipated, a caller from Kentucky duly declared that the world had been created in seven days, and what did I have to say to that? I invited the caller to ask himself whether, when his grandfather used the words ‘in my day’, he meant one particular day, or rather a season or a phase of life. I went on to say that the biblical ‘days’ could be better understood as whole eras, domesticated by a familiar terminology in order to make them comprehensible. Had I but known it, the same argument had already been thoroughly rehearsed by French naturalists more than two hundred years earlier. My creationist caller was restating a position which was already unfashionable in the late 18th century.

People like Rusty Carter make you appreciate scholars like Rudwick — not to mention the Enlightenment.

[1] I mean, it was established that the earth wasn’t just a few thousand years old. Sorry for the unclarity.

Cartoon unwisdom

by Chris Bertram on February 20, 2006

The whole business with the Danish cartoons has now reached new levels of insanity with Christians and their churches being attacked in Nigeria and Pakistan. That the Danish newspaper had the right to publish its deplorable cartoons ought not to be in question. But it does not help the case for freedom of speech if Muslims can truthfully say that there is a double standard and that the sensibilities of Christians are regarded as a valid legal reason for restraining freedom of expression whereas theirs are not. Mark Kermode had “a piece in the Observer a week or so ago”:,,1707715,00.html concerning the film “Visions of Ecstasy”: which the British Board of Film Classification refused to grant a certificate to on the grounds that a successful prosecution under Britain’s blasphemy laws was likely to succeed. The film maker took his case to the European Court of Human Rights, claiming that that the refusal to grant classification was a breach of his rights under Article 10 of the Convention. He lost. In line with a previous judgement, the Court

bq. accepted that respect for the religious feelings of believers can move a State legitimately to restrict the publication of provocative portrayals of objects of religious veneration.

It is therefore simply not true to say that in Europe freedom of expression trumps the sensibilities of believers. What is true is that some believers, of some denominations, get legal protection from being offended, and others don’t. Not a satisfactory situation.

The full judgement of the ECHR (complete with concurring and dissenting opinions) is “here”: .

Lost in Space

by Kieran Healy on February 20, 2006

Scott McLemee: “The effect of constant web access is a kind of mental entropy.” Similarly, a recent comment by “Dave Pell”:

I can’t read books. I can’t even focus on a magazine article without stopping every few paragraphs to email my team at Rollyo about tweaks we should be making to our new Firefox tool (or whatever happens to be to project of the moment). I can’t listen to other people for more than a few seconds. Eye contact is unthinkable (too much else to see). … Did the internet make me like this? Did the always connected, always emailing, always browsing, always IMing and always going all-in while playing online Texas Holdem gradually destroy my ability to focus and think clearly? Or was I just a guy with a short attention span who was therefore drawn to the internet?

We’ll never be uncovered again

by Maria on February 20, 2006

If there is one firm rule I have in life, it is never to make an important decision in February. (For those in the southern hemisphere, I advise caution in August.) February is the darkest of months, especially in Brussels where we haven’t seen sunshine in 5 months and an outbreak of killer smog is felling 30 people a day, or so they say. In February, the only rational response to circumstances is obviously to chuck in the job and emigrate. Which I’ve done. Twice.

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Fukuyama – After Neoconservatism

by John Holbo on February 20, 2006

Seems like Fukuyama’s “After Neoconservatism” piece could use a comment box. Let me make a few remarks. I posted something muddled last night at J&B about skepticism about social engineering, an issue Fukuyama discusses. Feel free to drop by and straighten me out. There’s also a connection to my post below. What Fukuyama advocates under the heading ‘what to do’ is worse than unserviceable for the Republican party’s domestic needs. “Effective international institutions that can confer legitimacy on collective action;” “we are serious about the good governance agenda.” These are hardly phrases to conjure with, if what you are conjuring is an image of Democrats as untrustworthy on foreign policy. Fukuyama’s quote from pre-Iraq Kagan is excruciating: “It is precisely because American foreign policy is infused with an unusually high degree of morality that other nations find they have less to fear from its otherwise daunting power.” That was then. But you don’t feed the base big slices of humble pie. It still gets red meat, surely.


by John Holbo on February 20, 2006

Jonah Goldberg:

There is also the philosophical problem. Bush has done real violence to the principle of limited government with all of his talk about how the government has to move when someone is hurting and his aim to leave no child behind. Some of his programs are, I think, easily defended on the merits. But that doesn’t change the fact that as general philosophical issue, Bush has conceded that the government is there to help in a way Reagan never would have. Sure, Reagan made exceptions to his general anti-government position. Sometimes they were pragmatic, sometimes they were legitimate exceptions (conservatives aren’t uniformly opposed to all government interventions), and some times his deviations were hypocritical, at least in the eyes of some. But such hypocrisy was the tribute conservatives must sometimes pay to politics. Bush has conceded much of the fundamental ground to liberals when it comes to the role of government. Now the argument about governmental problem solving is technical – "will it work?" – rather than principled, "is it the government’s job?"

Kevin Drum (channeling Bruce Bartlett’s forthcoming book, Impostor):

The charges leveled against the president were familiar: reckless spending increases, out-of-control deficits, relentless pandering to business interests, and a deliberate and willful contempt for policy analysis. The Bush White House, it argued, judges legislation not by whether it’s conservative or liberal, but solely by whether it will gain the Republican Party a couple of percentage points of support among some voting bloc or other. Principle is nothing. Politics is everything.

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