From the monthly archives:

March 2006

Varieties of Civil War

by Kieran Healy on March 31, 2006

Jim Henley:

bq. The NOT A CIVIL WAR OH NO marked by Shiite death squad attacks on Sunnis, some of whom are surely guilty of guerrilla activity and some of whom are surely not, is really Insurgency Plus.

This reminds me of something I meant to say the other week. In much the same way as we’re not supposed to call Iraq a quagmire, we’re also not supposed to say it’s on the brink of — or already stuck in to — civil war. It’s worth bearing in mind that just as there are different “kinds of quagmires”: there are also varieties of civil war. An example familiar to me — with the usual caveats that this just meant as an illustrative comparison, not a strong correspondence — is the “Irish Civil War”: of 1922–23. It was a conflict between Free State forces (the government, who supported the “Anglo-Irish Treaty”: that ended the “War of Independence”:, and the opponents of the treaty, including a majority of the old IRA.

For present purposes, what’s worth noting is that while the conflict was relatively short it was also vicious, especially towards the end, and especially amongst the elites. There was a cycle of execution, retaliation and retribution both in the field and against prisoners. A relatively large proportion of the political class was killed. What did _not_ happen, however, was something like the American Civil War, where large armies repeatedly confronted one another on the battlefield. Moreover, life, as always, went on. The Irish Civil War was largely confined to active combatants, and casualties were heavily concentrated in the leadership. For instance (I’m open to correction here), the Free State army was of course targeted but its unarmed police force was generally not subject to attacks. It’s also worth noting that a very large majority of people did not support the Anti-Treaty side, but that didn’t stop the conflict from happening.

Less than eight years after the war ended the government peacefully handed over power to the party directly descended from the Anti-Treaty forces. For years afterwards many of those in Parliament looked across the aisle at the murderers of their fathers, uncles or brothers. Iraq is very different — much more complex — in all kinds of ways, not least because of its strategic importance, its oil reserves and the continued presence of an occupying army. So the Irish case offers little real direction. Optimistically, maybe, it reminds us that it is in fact possible for severe civil conflict to resolve itself into something like peaceful coexistence. But it also shows that you don’t need to wait for an Antietam or a Gettysburg to say that a country is in the middle of a bitter civil war.

Don’t Pray for Me

by Jon Mandle on March 30, 2006


NEW YORK – In the largest study of its kind, researchers found that having people pray for heart bypass surgery patients had no effect on their recovery. In fact, patients who knew they were being prayed for had a slightly higher rate of complications.

The study looked at complication rates within 30 days of heart bypass surgery and compared three groups of about 600 each: “those who knew they were being prayed for, those who were prayed for but only knew it was a possibility, and those who weren’t prayed for but were told it was a possibility.”

Results showed no effect of prayer on complication-free recovery. But 59 percent of the patients who knew they were being prayed for developed a complication, versus 52 percent of those who were told it was just a possibility.

A kind of reverse placebo, I guess.

Dr. Harold G. Koenig, director of the Center for Spirituality, Theology and Health at the Duke University Medical Center, who didn’t take part in the study, said the results didn’t surprise him….

Science, he said, “is not designed to study the supernatural.”

No, it’s designed to study the natural. Like, for example, whether prayer can help recovery from bypass surgery.

UPDATE: Here’s a link to the abstract in the American Heart Journal. The full text is behind a pay wall.

A small, vivid world

by Henry Farrell on March 30, 2006

John McGahern “has just died”: I knew that he’d been ill; he had been supposed to come to Washington DC a couple of weeks ago, but his trip was cancelled at short notice. This recent “Jonathan Yardley review”: of his memoirs give some flavour of the man.

bq. His mother hoped that he would become a priest and say Mass for her, but his life took a different direction. In his early teens, he discovered reading, “a strange and complete happiness when all sense of time is lost,” much of which he did floating on the nearby river in a small boat. Gradually “a fantastical idea” formed in his mind: “Why take on any single life — a priest, a soldier, teacher, doctor, airman — if a writer could create all these people far more vividly? In that one life of the mind, the writer could live many lives and all of life. . . . Instead of being a priest of God, I would be the god of a small, vivid world. I must have had some sense of how outrageous and laughable this would appear to the world, because I told no one, but it did serve its first purpose — it set me free.”

bq. McGahern has taken full advantage of that freedom. He has published six novels and four collections of short stories, received numerous honors and much well-deserved praise. He is regarded as one of Ireland’s finest contemporary writers, not least because he writes about his native land with such clarity and honesty. His difficult childhood informs much of his work — in particular his best-known novel, The Dark (1965) — but in that as in this memoir, he seeks not to exploit his past but to understand it and to make it pertinent and meaningful to others.

Spin, Old Man’s War online

by Henry Farrell on March 30, 2006

John Scalzi emails to tell me that his Hugo-nominated book, _Old Man’s War_ and Robert Charles Wilson’s _Spin_ are “both available”: to potential Hugo voters. The catch is that you have to confirm that you’re an attendee at LAcon IV, and thus able to vote for Hugos. The upside is the books aren’t crippleware; they’re being made available in .rtf format on the honour system. Charles Stross’ _Accelerando_ is also part of the package, but it’s been available “under Creative Commons”: in a variety of formats since it was first published.

“Scott McLemee”: is a superb critic, and one of the things that makes him good is that he is generous. He can get something interesting out of not very interesting books, and he doesn’t go out of his way to be snarky. But when he feels like filleting something, “his knife is very sharp”:

THE MAN ON WHOM NOTHING WAS LOST: The Grand Strategy of Charles Hill, by Molly Worthen. Houghton Mifflin, 354 pp.

… Charles Hill — a former Foreign Service officer who served in important positions under Henry Kissinger and George Schultz – has for a few years now taught a class at Yale University called Grand Strategy. Young aspirants to the diplomatic corps flock to it. … Molly Worthen, a recent Yale graduate, was one of Hill’s junior illuminati, and her book The Man on Whom Nothing Was Lost is an authorized biography of the great man. … The result is not a book so much as it is an alumni-magazine profile gone horribly, horribly wrong. … Hill comes across as a single-minded careerist who did not notice his wife’s alcoholism until she mentioned it during the final days of their marriage. If not for the element of hero worship pervading the book, one might suspect an element of sarcasm in Worthen’s title … something is missing from Worthen’s gale-force proclamations of wonder … There is nothing resembling a substantial idea in the entire book. Worthen presents Hill as a neoconservative guru. But her portrait is that of a mind bearing less resemblance to the political philosopher Leo Strauss than a walking edition of Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations. … the author never forgets herself entirely. Or at all, really. … She also indulges in a considerable amount of “my generation” babble: “We sit in coffee shops and complain about the doldrums of ‘real jobs,’ the stress of having to commit to a career that won’t ever let out for the summer,” etc.

This is not a biography, but a study in self-absorption by proxy. The publisher ought to be ashamed. The manuscript should have been left in a drawer, where it might embarrass the author 10 years from now, and in private.


Geraldine Brennan is blogging for the TES at the Bologna International Children’s Book Fair. A good place to pick up tips on children’s books. Come to think of it, further tips are welcome in comments.


by Kieran Healy on March 29, 2006

Here’s “an apposite comment”: from P.Z. Myers about someone who has had some cells from his late pet dog, Tito, cultured and frozen:

This is a personal decision, and I wouldn’t argue one way or the other about what Hank should do; it sounds like he’s wrestled over the issues already. All I can say is what I would do if I were in his sorrowful position.

I wouldn’t even try cloning.

… the essence of Tito isn’t reducible to a few million cells or a few billion nucleotides. While the genome is an influence and a constraint — a kind of broadly defined bottle to hold the essence of a dog — the stuff we care about, that makes an animal unique and special, is a product of its history. It’s the accumulation of events and experience and memory that generates the essentials of a personality and makes each of us unique.

Even if cloning were reliable and cheap, I wouldn’t go for it. It would produce an animal that looks like Tito, and would be good and worthy as an individual in its own right, but it wouldn’t _be_ Tito.

I’ve half-joked before that, purely because of this basic point, sociologists should welcome _human_ cloning with open arms. Technically achieving the sort of things many people imagine they could do with cloning — recreate a lost child or relative, produce a new version of themselves — would in fact have just the opposite effect. It would show just how important social structure, local environment and historical contingencies are to forming people. And that’s without even getting in to the metaphysical questions of what’s essential about people’s identity. Some people are going to be really upset when they realize that the genome is not some kind of magic essence of self. I hope public understanding catches up with the reality before actual cloned people are subject to the resentment of their creators.

Political Entertainment

by Kieran Healy on March 29, 2006

Shorter Volokh Conspiracy today: “The people have spoken — the bastards.”

Kiddy Operetta

by Kieran Healy on March 29, 2006

The NYT has a piece about a new Nickelodeon show called Wonder Pets, which follows the adventures of guinea pig, a turtle and a duckling, three schoolroom pets. The show’s main innovation is its music. The program is “a series of operettas.”

“We wanted to find a way to have the music drive the show,” Mr. Selig said … “we found that kids responded well to having music at the center of everything,” with characters singing rather than simply speaking their parts.

Brown Johnson, Nickelodeon’s executive creative director for preschool television, said she believes operetta is an art form particularly suited to children. … The “Wonder Pets” music does not feature the tinny, saccharine melodies that often infect children’s television shows. Rather, each episode uses an original score recorded by a live orchestra overseen by Jeffrey Lesser, the Grammy-winning record producer … Which is not to say that the music is not repetitive. Like many operettas, “The Wonder Pets” is full of hummable recitatives that linger in the minds of both children and adults long after the performance ends.

In light of this, let me just come out and admit that my two-year-old is a slave to Gilbert and Sullivan. She seemed to like choral music whenever it was on the radio, and I remembered that a friend had told me a few years ago that his kids liked it a lot, too. So, like an idiot, I went and bought a CD of Gilbert and Sullivan favorites on the off chance one day. Now it’s all she listens to in the car. The other day in the supermarket she solemnly came out with “Stay close to your desks never go to sea … ha ha ha … and you all may be rulers of the Queen’s Navy.” It’s a mixed blessing. On the one hand, my daughter is perfectly happy. On the other hand, I now know all the words to “I Am The Very Model of a Modern Major General.” Next stop, Götterdämmerung.

Monty Python and Philosophy

by Harry on March 29, 2006

Monty Python and Philosophy is now available (US;UK). Other CTers have expressed skepticism about the value of the Popular Culture and Philosophy series, and I must admit that this is the first one I’ve had a really good read of, but I think it provides a pretty accessible and fun introduction to a range of topics in philosophy, especially those less well represented by the CT team. There’s a great little essay by my much-missed erstwhile colleague Noel Carroll (splitter!) about why we laugh at Mr. Creosote, and nice essays about ordinary language philosophy, existentialism, and philosophy of religion, all set within a Python framework, and accessible to a broad audience. I’d have loved to have read it (or something like it) when I was in high school, and have acquired a bunch of copies to distribute to my Python-loving friends who are curious about philosophy. (Full disclosure: I contributed a chapter ostensibly about the Argument Clinic, but really about method in political philosophy, which, I’m embarrassed to say, works least well of the 11 essays I’ve so far read).

Not as silly as she sounds

by Chris Bertram on March 29, 2006

Madeleine Bunting is getting a real kicking from various “decent left” blogs for the “following paragraph”: about the Enlightenment:

bq. [Jonathan] Ree countered by saying the Enlightenment had never happened – or at least certainly not in the shape we think it did. It was a retrospective creation in the nineteenth century designed to make the eighteenth century look silly – the gist was that excessive pride in human rationality was a story which had ended in tears in the brutal terror of the French Revolution. Ree pointed out that all the great thinkers attributed to the Enlightenment such as Hume, Locke, Kant were actually religious believers and none of them believed in progress.

Three initial remarks: (1) Bunting is reporting what she remembers from an exchange involving others; (2) as she notes, she is not a philosopher (or an intellectual historian); and (3), she probably wrong about Hume (though his religious views remain a matter of controversy).

Nevertheless, it would be uncharitable not to notice both that it is certainly correct to say that the Enlightenment and “the Enlightenment project” are movements and events that were discerned in retrospect, that the contours of those events remain in dispute, and that the figures that we today think of as central to the Enlightement didn’t think of themselves as belonging to any current under that description. The idea of reason’s over-reaching ending in tears in the Terror is also, recognizably, the story Hegel tells in the Phenomenology and elsewhere.

There are many ironies in Bunting’s critics waving the flag of Enlightenment as they do. Among them is the fact that as Robert Wokler explains in his “The Enlightenment, the Nation State and the Primal Patricide of Modernity”: (pdf), many of the central ideals of the Enlightenment were lost to the rise of the modern nation state. As Wokler puts it:

bq. Not only individuals but whole peoples which comprise nations without states have found themselves comprehensively shorn of their rights. At the heart of the Enlightenment Project, which its advocates perceived as putting an end to the age of privilege, was their recognition of the common humanity of all persons. For Kant, who in Königsberg came from practically nowhere and went nowhere else at all, to be enlightened meant to be intolerant of injustice everywhere, to pay indiscriminate respect to each individual, to be committed to universal justice, to be morally indifferent to difference. But in the age of the nation-state, it is otherwise. Thanks ultimately to the father of modernity [the abbé Sieyès] , ours is the age of the passport, the permit, the right of entry to each state or right of exit from it which is enjoyed by citizens that bear its nationality alone.

The fact is, of course, that far from being advocates of the kind of cosmopolitan universalism championed by Kant, most of the “decent” left are actually advocates of or apologists for some form of 19th-century ethnic nationalism. Of course, the case for and against such nationalism has to be argued on its merits, but there is something radically inconsistent in simultaneously banging on about the Enlightement and endorsing nationalisms antithetical to the ideals of thinkers like Kant and Voltaire. (The Wokler piece, by the way, appears in The Enlightenment and Modernity edited by Robert Wokler and Norman Geras.)

UPDATE: Stop reading here and go over to The Virtual Stoa for some “sensible reflections”: on the whole business of defining the Enlightenment.

Republican War on Science Seminar: Index

by John Q on March 29, 2006

Various commenters have suggested that the blog format for the seminar is hard to follow. In the hope of improving things, I’m posting an index. I think it should work particularly well with tabbed browsers. Anyway I’d appreciate advice on whether this makes it easier, or just adds to the confusion. My order isn’t the same as the posting order on the blog, but roughly matches Chris Mooney’s arrangement of his repsonse

Republican War on Science : Introduction to a Seminar by John Quiggin (introduction and overview)

War on Science by Ted Barlow

Worldwide War on Science by John Quiggin

The Stars and Stripes Down to Earth by Daniel Davies

Mooney Minus the Polemic? by John Holbo

War with the Newts by Henry Farrell

The war and the quarrels by Tim Lambert

If There’s a War, Please Direct Me to the Battlefield by Steve Fuller

The Revolution will not be Synthesized comment on Steve Fuller by Kieran Healy

War over Science or War on Science by John Quiggin

Man, You Guys Worked Me Hard…. Reply by Chris Mooney

The Revolution will not be Synthesized

by Kieran Healy on March 28, 2006

I am abusing my ability to post here rather than add a comment to “the ongoing thread”:’s-a-war-please-direct-me-to-the-battlefield/ discussing Steve Fuller’s response to Chris Mooney’s book. I think — sorry, P.Z. — that much of what Fuller says is more or less right. To be more precise, I think the first half of his response to Mooney is pretty good, and there are some good bits later on, too. However — sorry, Steve — I also think Fuller makes an error in the way he fuses his sociology of science with his policy recommendations about what to do about the Intelligent Design movement. Moreover, he himself does the groundwork that makes the basis of the error clear. I’ll try to explain below the fold.

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Political conflict over scientific issues has probably never been as sharp as at present. Issues like global warming and stem-cell research, that came to prominence in the 1990s are being fiercely debated. At the same time, questions that had, apparently, been resolved long ago, like evolution or the US ban on agricultural use of DDT, are being refought. A striking feature of these debates is that, in nearly all cases (the one big exception being GM foods) the fight lines up the political Right, and particularly the US Republican Party on one side, and the majority of scientists and scientific organisations on the other. Chris Mooney’s book, The Republican War on Science is, therefore, a timely contribution to the debate, and we are happy to host a seminar to discuss it, and thank Chris for agreeing to take part.

In addition to contributions from five members of CT, we’re very pleased to have two guests participating in the debate. Tim Lambert has been an active participant in the blogospheric version of some of the debates discussed by Chris. Tim, like the CT participants, broadly endorses Chris’s argument, though with some disagreement on analytical points and questions of emphasis and presentation. To broaden the debate, Steve Fuller was invited to take part in the seminar, and kindly agreed, knowing that he would be very much in the minority. Steve presents a social constructivist critique of Chris’ argument. We’re very grateful to Steve for taking part.

I won’t attempt to summarise the debate since Chris Mooney, in his response, has done an excellent job.

Like previous CT seminars, this seminar is published under a Creative Commons licence, with no prejudice to any material quoted from The Republican War on Science or other texts under fair use principles. Comments are open to all posts; we encourage people with general comments to leave them on Chris’s post. The seminar will be made available in PDF format, once discussion concluded.

If you wish to link to this seminar, use the URL “”:

Chris Mooney’s book, “The Republican War on Science” seems to me a very American book. It’s not that Europe is bereft of “sound science” hacks trying to influence the process by which regulations are made, or even of our own brand of home-grown irrationalists of one kind or another. However, America does seem to have a hell of a lot of them, and they seem to pick battlegrounds (like creation science, to take the clearest example) which suggest that the purpose of a lot of the Republican War on Science is not so much to push an alternative pseudo-scientific agenda for political and economic gain, but rather to knock scientists off their pedestal for the sake of doing so.

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