From the monthly archives:

April 2006

Norms, networks and neutrality

by Henry Farrell on April 24, 2006

“Kevin Drum”: complains that

bq. I’ve been trying to understand this whole “net neutrality” thing and I’ve failed utterly. I just can’t figure out the underlying issues.

Duncan Black tells him “not to be an idiot”: But Kevin has a point – the network neutrality debate isn’t quite the no-brainer that it might seem to be at first. There are different kinds of discrimination that might occur, some of which are straightforward to regulate, some not so straightforward. See further, Ed Felten’s “two”: “part”: primer on the topic, and his two “follow up”: “posts”: on the topic, which provide by far the most accessible overview of the underlying technical issues that I’ve read. One very interesting argument which emerges from Felten’s series of posts is his suggestion that a move away from network neutrality might have damaging consequences for the _sociological_ underpinnings of cooperation over resource sharing.

bq. [endpoint computers] deduce that the network is congested. So they will re-send the dropped packet, but in response to the probable congestion they will slow down the rate at which they transmit data. Once enough packets are dropped, and enough computers … One interesting aspect of this system is that it is voluntary — the system relies on endpoint computers to slow down when they see congestion, but nothing forces them to do so. … there is an incentive to defect from this deal. Suppose that you defect — when your packets are dropped you keep on sending packets as fast as you can … By ignoring the congestion signals you are getting more than your fair share of the network. … Despite the incentive to defect, most people keep the deal by using networking software that slows down as expected in response to congestion. … there is a sort of social contract … One of the reasons users comply, I think, is a sense of fairness. If I believe that the burdens of congestion control fall pretty equally on everybody, at least in the long run, then it seems fair to me to slow down my own transmissions when my turn comes. … But now suppose that the network starts singling out some people and dropping their packets first. … the incentive for those machines and applications to stick to the social contract and do their share to control congestion, will weaken. Will this lead to a wave of defections that destroys the Net? Probably not, but I can’t be sure. … We should also listen to the broader lesson of this analysis. If the network discriminates, users and applications will react by changing their behavior. Discrimination will have secondary effects, and we had better think carefully about what they will be.

This seems to me to make sound sociological sense – one of the reasons that the system works as well as it does at the moment is because there’s a set of norms governing behaviour, and a sense that the costs of obeying these norms are, to use Robert Sugden’s terminology, cross-cutting so that they fall on everyone equally in the long run (Sugden has an apposite analysis of norms governing which car crosses a one lane bridge first). If we undermine the basic sense of rough equality in burden sharing, we’re likely going to weaken (and possibly destroy) these norms. There’s a general (and in this case, I believe entirely sound) sense that network neutrality has worked to date, and that we shouldn’t try to fix it. Felten’s analysis helps us move beyond this intuition to a more coherent analysis of what the costs of regulatory change might be.

Update: “Duncan replies here”:, saying “Henry says I’m wrong to think this net neutrality issue is a no-brainer and then proceeds to outline one of the many reasons it is, in fact, a no-brainer.” This misses the point I was trying to make. Even assuming that you agree that network neutrality is a good and wonderful principle of regulation, it’s not clear how best to regulate so as to make sure that it’s achieved in practice. Felten makes this clear in his discussion of the tricky ways that telcos might undermine network neutrality through apparently neutral technical decisions. This makes for complicated regulatory problems. Two pertinent examples. First, the DoJ action against Microsoft – I suspect that most people other than the hacks and the Chicago school true believers now accept that Microsoft was a bloated and abusive monopoly – but that’s the easy part. Figuring out how to regulate it successfully is considerably harder; there aren’t any very obvious solutions (my preferred solution would have been the “Zittrain one”: but it would have turned the copyright system upside down). Second, efforts to unbundle the local loop in Europe – i.e. to allow new entrants to compete effectively with dominant telcos in providing broadband. This was great in principle – but in practice proved more or less impossible to implement (the dominant telcos proved adept at exploiting loopholes in the regulation to hobble their competitors). Finally, the whole point of the Felten argument that I quoted from is that the effects on exchange of information on the Internet _aren’t_ a no-brainer. We can predict that changing the status quo will have consequences for actors’ behaviour, and we can make a good guess that the consequences will be negative. But without working through these consequences carefully, we don’t know what’s likely to happen. The Felten argument happens to accord with my intuitions on this – but my (and others’) intuitions have been known to be wrong on the past, which is why working through the arguments is important. And Felten’s argument was surely non-obvious to me before I read it – perhaps because I’m an idiot too. None of this detracts from the fact that the legislation under discussion is almost certainly a revolting give-away to lobbyists – but the underlying issues involved make for complicated debates and complications of implementation.

Is Teaching Patriotism Justified?

by Harry on April 24, 2006

Peter Levine has a post objecting to my argument in chapter 6 of On Education that schools should not teach patriotism. Peter makes the case for patriotism (understood as “love of country”) being a legitimate feeling in itself, and that it has various instrumental benefits, in particular that it encourages citizens to participate in the affairs of the nation, and that it can play an important role in moral development, training the sentiments to attach beyond the confines of those we are immediately attached to, and therefore helping our characters to learn the virtue of impartial justice. (See also, Sigal Ben-Porath’s nice new book, Citizenship under Fire : Democratic Education in Times of Conflict ). He then tackles two of the main arguments I make against teaching patriotism; that if its agencies promote love of country the state interferes with the development of authentic, legitimacy-producing, consent, and that using, say, History teaching to produce patriotism can conflict with other more academic goals of History teaching (like, e.g., getting the students to learn the truth!). He points out that learning the full truth about Rosa Parks’s involvement in politics can increase one’s sense of attachment to the nation (as it did his) and describes an interesting hands on history project with black students in a local school which was aimed in part at cementing their attachment to their own communities.

Peter’s post is lengthy (if concise), and rather than reproduce it I’ll assume that readers have followed the link and done the reading. Here’s my response:

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Lime Pickle and Peanut Butter Sandwiches.

by Harry on April 24, 2006

A long promised post for one of our readers in a bi-national marriage.

Use a soft whole grain bread. Spread crunchy natural peanut butter thickly on the first slice. Spread a sweet or medium lime pickle thinly on top. Cover with the second slice of bread.

This is an incredibly annoying recipe because I have been unable to find a really good peanut butter anywhere in the UK, or a really good mild lime pickle in the US (Pataks is occasionally find-able here, but frankly nothing beats Marks and Spencer). Still, if you can find the ingredients, enjoy it.

Update: if, like jr, you’ve no idea what lime pickle is, here’s a recipe and picture. Now it occurs to me I could make my own; has anyone reverse-engineered the Marks and Spencer recipe?

Wikipedian Utterances of the Gawping Soul

by Henry Farrell on April 24, 2006

Two opinions on wikis last weekend.

From the former editor of _Encyclopedia Britannica_, quoted in the “Economist”: (sub required).

bq. Contrast that with the joyful reaction of Wikipedia’s detractors to Brian Chase, the dodgy biographer (whose article was literally one in a million). Somebody who reads Wikipedia is “rather in the position of a visitor to a public restroom,” says Mr McHenry, Britannica’s former editor. “It may be obviously dirty, so that he knows to exercise great care, or it may seem fairly clean, so that he may be lulled into a false sense of security. What he certainly does not know is who has used the facilities before him.”

From an aside in “John Clute’s review”: of Theodora Goss’s new book of short stories.

bq. It is something that may derive from the tendency of mutants to emit blog gas, for the net culture they live in has no internal or external censors, no _captaining_ of the unsorted untested wikipedian utterances of the gawping soul, no place for the buck to stop.

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New blog

by Chris Bertram on April 24, 2006

My former student Colin Farrelly (now Assistant Professor at the University of Waterloo) has started a blog — “In Search of Enlightenment”: — go visit!

Worst President in US history?

by Chris Bertram on April 24, 2006

In Rolling Stone, Princeton historian “Sean Wilentz makes the case”: for judging George W. Bush the worst President in US history:

bq. The president came to office calling himself “a uniter, not a divider” and promising to soften the acrimonious tone in Washington. He has had two enormous opportunities to fulfill those pledges: first, in the noisy aftermath of his controversial election in 2000, and, even more, after the attacks of September 11th, when the nation pulled behind him as it has supported no other president in living memory. Yet under both sets of historically unprecedented circumstances, Bush has chosen to act in ways that have left the country less united and more divided, less conciliatory and more acrimonious — much like James Buchanan, Andrew Johnson and Herbert Hoover before him. And, like those three predecessors, Bush has done so in the service of a rigid ideology that permits no deviation and refuses to adjust to changing realities. Buchanan failed the test of Southern secession, Johnson failed in the face of Reconstruction, and Hoover failed in the face of the Great Depression. Bush has failed to confront his own failures in both domestic and international affairs, above all in his ill-conceived responses to radical Islamic terrorism. Having confused steely resolve with what Ralph Waldo Emerson called “a foolish consistency . . . adored by little statesmen,” Bush has become entangled in tragedies of his own making, compounding those visited upon the country by outside forces.

File under “who knew”?

by Daniel on April 24, 2006

Surprising news:

The Objectivist Academic Centre of the Ayn Rand Institute now offers accredited courses for which college credits can be granted.

Very very surprising news:

The financial support arrangements and tuition waivers are rather generous.

If any CT readers want to apply for a grant from the Ayn Rand Institute the form is here. Although I suppose this may be a trick; if you apply for a grant you thereby prove yourself to be unworthy of one.

(PS: If any other editors change the category of this post away from “Philosophy” I will throw a hissy fit of epic and heroic, life-affirming proportions.)

Hungarian elections

by Eszter Hargittai on April 23, 2006

I’m sure lots of CT readers are on the edge of their seat about today’s Hungarian elections so here are the results. The left held on to its position (actually, strengthened it a bit) by winning the majority of seats in parliament after the second round of votes today.

This graph is helpful not only to visualize the distribution of seats resulting from this year’s elections, but also to compare the outcomes of the last five elections. It’s the first time since the political changes of the late 80s that the governing coalition maintained its position. As a bit of explanation, red stands for the socialist part, orange for the conservatives, blue for the liberal party (which refers to left-of-center in Hungary) and green is another party on the right. Interestingly, they were so disgusted by FIDESZ (the orange party) that they were not willing to go into a coalition with them no matter what.

Fun anecdote: Two weeks ago during the first round of voting, my parents ran into Prime Minister Gyurcsány while they were all on their way to the voting booths. They like him lots so this was a pleasant encounter.

Fun video: Here is the Prime Minister replacing Hugh Grant’s dancing moves in a clip from the Love Actually movie.

Gyurcsány maintained a blog throughout the campaign.

As You Know, Darth, the Galaxy …

by Kieran Healy on April 23, 2006

Via “Making Light”: comes the entertaining saga of “Another Hope”:, a Star Wars fan-fiction novel that you can buy on Amazon, though I should imagine not for very much longer. Apparently the author believes that this doesn’t contravene George Lucas’s copyright because “I wrote this book for myself. This is a self-published story and is not a commercial book. Yes, it is for sale on Amazon, but only my family, friends and acquaintances know it’s there” — Amazon being your local, small private website.

Anyway, the “Making Light thread”: has lots more, but I thought a short excerpt from the book was worth reproducing here, because I read it and why should I be the only one with blood leaking out of my eyes?

The galaxy known as Celestine … was a spiraling mass of six concentric rings that encircled a small group of densely packed stars, the Deep Core. The Core Worlds formed the first ring around the Deep Core, and the Core Worlds were the oldest known places of human habitation. A second ring, the Colonies, was quickly established around the Core Worlds. Like the Core Worlds, the colonies became heavily populated. Later, humans again fanned out into a third region called the Inner Rim, a great ring of sparsely populated territory where conditions were harsh and resources extremely scarce. This lawless region formed the largely uncharted frontier between Celestine and wild space.

In between the Deep Core and the Colonies was a region known as the Old Suburban Worlds, where people moved after the Core Worlds filled up with immigrants from a nearby Galaxy. But this happened long ago — shortly after the invention of hyperdrive technology — and so most of those people (or rather, their descendants, for all this happens a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away) now inhabit the New Suburban Ring Worlds, a rapidly developing region located between the Inner Rim and Wild Space, where the Malls are nicer and there are fewer of those awful Gungans.

My Sweet Tunibamba

by Belle Waring on April 23, 2006

This is a very interesting post about sexuality and sex education as it applies to women with disabilities. (Obviously much could be said about men with disabilities as well.)

It raises questions in my mind. What does it mean to “have the mental age” of a 12-year-old? Should you necessarily have the sex life of a 12-year-old, for all your days? I think all of us can imagine both the nightmare of a mentally-disabled woman raped in a poorly-monitored group home and the nightmare of a mentally-disabled woman who is ruled out of bounds wrt any form of sexual experience by well-meaning supervisors.

The painful legacy of mainstream treatment of stipulatively “sub-normal” women and men [i.e., forcible sterilization] might incline us to extend the human rights of sexual autonomy to people who cannot reliably employ them on their own behalf. Or, American preoccupation with child sexual abuse might lead us to rule out-of-bounds an entire realm of human experience when we think about disabled adults.

As a mother, I am interested to hear about what the parents of disabled children think about this. I would be even more interested to hear about what disabled adults have to say, with the hopeful caveat that at least a few disabled adults read our blog.

When I was a kid there was a Latino family living in a house up the street from us. They had a funny hand-lettered sign above their door which said “my sweet Tunibamba.” None of us ever knew what that was supposed to mean. Of the 12 kids living there who were under 15, I would say 10 had Down’s syndrome (this is just a superficial judgement, but possibly somewhat accurate.) The meta-meaning of “Tunibamba” in my family was “don’t judge a book by it’s cover.” Like, “you think you know about this, but maybe ‘tunibamba.'”

Credibility up in smoke

by John Q on April 23, 2006

Among the scientists taking a public position sceptical of global warming, Richard Lindzen has always seemed the most credible. Unlike nearly all “sceptics”, he’s a real climate scientist who has done significant research on climate change, and, also unlike most of them, there’s no* evidence that he has a partisan or financial axe to grind. His view that the evidence on climate change is insufficient to include that the observed increase in temperature is due to human activity therefore seems like one that should be taken seriously.

Or it would do if it were not for a 2001 Newsweek interview (no good link available, but Google a sentence or two and you can find it) What’s interesting here is not the (now somewhat out of date) statement of Lindzen’s views on climate change, but the following paragraph

Lindzen clearly relishes the role of naysayer. He’ll even expound on how weakly lung cancer is linked to cigarette smoking. He speaks in full, impeccably logical paragraphs, and he punctuates his measured cadences with thoughtful drags on a cigarette.

Anyone who could draw this conclusion in the light of the evidence, and act on it as Lindzen has done, is clearly useless as a source of advice on any issue involving the analysis of statistical evidence.

Now with added irony Lindzen argues that we should be equally sceptical about both climate change and the link between smoking and cancer, but his argument can just as easily be turned around. If you accept Lindzen’s ‘impeccably logical’ view that the two arguments are comparable, you reach the conclusion that the link between human activity and climate change is now so well-established that it makes about as much sense to doubt it as to doubt the relationship between smoking and lung cancer, that is, no sense at all.

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by Chris Bertram on April 22, 2006

I’m hoping against hope that the forces of “Good”: will defeat the legions of “Evil”: in the semi-final of the FA Cup later on today (although “God himself”: is ineligible to play for Good, being cup-tied from an earlier round). Meanwhile, I laughed aloud at several passages of Simon Burnton’s meditations on “Djibril Cisse and the off-side rule”:,,1758833,00.html .

Pop Quiz

by Henry Farrell on April 22, 2006

Complete the following sentence.

bq. The dismissal of Ms. McCarthy provided fresh evidence of the Bush administration’s determination to (…) leaks of classified information.

a. abuse
b. manipulate
c. hypocritically punish others for
d. stanch

The correct answer here is a, b or c. Unless you’re David Johnston and Scott Shane of the _New York Times_. In which case, apparently, it’s “d”:

Proposed Dutch racist law

by Chris Bertram on April 22, 2006

Alex Voorhoeve (LSE) writes to tell me of a proposed law in the Netherlands which would establish a special legal status for young Dutch citizens of Caribbean descent, allowing them to be deported from the Netherlands back to their territory of origin for minor crimes. The people in question are Dutch citizens of as good a legal title as anyone else, but this appears to single them out on the basis of ethnic or racial criteria for treatment that would not be meted out to others. The details are in “this pdf”: , by a judge on the Caribbean Court of Justice (and formerly a judge in The Netherlands).

Tan update

by Henry Farrell on April 21, 2006

Via reader Joe, Ben and Jerry’s have done more than Winston Churchill ever did; they’ve “apologized”: for the “Black and Tans”:

bq. DUBLIN – Ice cream makers Ben & Jerry’s have apologized for causing offense by calling a new flavor “Black & Tan” — the nickname of a notoriously violent British militia that operated during Ireland’s war of independence. The ice cream, available only in the United States, is based on an ale and stout drink of the same name. “Any reference on our part to the British Army unit was absolutely unintentional and no ill-will was ever intended,” said a Ben & Jerry’s spokesman. “Ben & Jerry’s was built on the philosophies of peace and love,” he added.