From the monthly archives:

April 2006

70’s Rock Arbitrage

by Harry on April 21, 2006

I apologise in advance for lowering the tone, but I have recently discovered in myself a hitherto unimaginable and frankly rather disturbing liking for 70’s rock. I sometimes blame Steve Harley, but its not really his fault. It all began with me whimsically picking up The Best of the Seventies, and then only listening to it for reasons referred to in this long dead, but maybe worth-glancing-at, thread.

Prog rock, folk rock, glam rock (of the less cerebral variety (Slade rather than Bowie)), you name it, it seems to have infiltrated my consciousness, 30 years late (not disco or punk, which I did register at the time, hating one and liking the other). I’ve been using boxed sets such as Ars Longa Vita Brevis, Time Machine, and Strangely Strange but Oddly Normal to feed my habit, using them as samplers for observing a strange but oddly congenial world. I am too young to have listened to this stuff first time round (born 1963, and came late to contemporary music, around the time of TRB), and would have scoffed at it at the time, but there you go. The Move and The Strawbs are particular favourites at the moment.


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A counterexample

by John Q on April 21, 2006

This report on a recent outbreak of mumps in the US midwest makes the point that the US has a far more stringent and effective system of universal vaccination than most European countries. For example, it’s impossible for a child to attend school without up-to-date vaccination records (at least that was my experience when I lived there).

Australia dropped the ball on this a decade or so ago when the Federal government passed responsibility to the states, though we now seem to have restored effectively universal vaccination.

All of this is surprising to me. I would have expected that health scares about vaccination would be at least as easy to run up in the US as anywhere else, that objections on the grounds of individual liberty would be taken more seriously in the US than elsewhere, and that the complex patchwork of state and local management of health policy would lead to large gaps.

Is my general expectation wrong, or is there something special about the case of vaccination? Or is thus just an illustration of the fact that every predictive model fails sometimes?

Replication of results

by Henry Farrell on April 20, 2006

“David Glenn”: has another article of topical interest today; the best write-up so far of the recent twists and turns in _l’affaire Lott_.

bq. Last week Mr. Lott filed a defamation lawsuit against Steven D. Levitt, a professor of economics at the University of Chicago … Mr. Lott charges that in the book and in private e-mail messages, Mr. Levitt spread lies about the quality and integrity of Mr. Lott’s work (The Chronicle, April 13). Much will hinge on exactly what Mr. Levitt meant by the words “replicate” and “peer refereed.” … Mr. Lott’s lawsuit comes at a time when Mr. Levitt is riding high; Freakonomics has sold more than one million copies. Mr. Lott, meanwhile, is in transition; on April 3, one week before he filed the lawsuit, he abruptly left his position as a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, where he had worked since 2001. He did not answer The Chronicle’s inquiries about where he would go next. A representative of the institute declined to characterize the reasons for Mr. Lott’s departure, citing a policy against discussing personnel matters. …”The term ‘replicate’ has an objective and factual meaning in the world of academic research and scholarship,” the lawsuit reads. “When Levitt and Dubner allege that ‘other scholars have tried to replicate his results,’ the clear and unambiguous meaning is that ‘other scholars’ have analyzed the identical data that Lott analyzed and analyzed it the way Lott did in order to determine whether they can reach the same result.” … It is far from clear, however, that “replicate” is in fact consistently used by social scientists in the way Mr. Lott and Mr. Moody say it is used.

There’s also a second allegation that Levitt, in a private email, said that a special issue edited by Lott wasn’t peer-reviewed – but it’s hard for me to imagine how this allegation could be libellous. And on the question of the meaning of replication – I’ve always understood it in the wider, more ambiguous sense that Levitt appears to have been using it in. That said, I’m a political scientist (one of the economists quoted in the _Chronicle_ piece says that political scientists and economists use the term in different ways). I’d be astonished if this ever gets to trial, but if by some bizarre chance it does, it should make for some entertaining arguments about the nuances of the social science lexicon.

Tim Lambert, naturally, has more, “here”:, “here”:, and “here”:

Culture War Mashup

by Kieran Healy on April 20, 2006

Bumper sticker seen in traffic: “If evolution is outlawed, only outlaws will evolve.”

Books and Blogs

by John Q on April 20, 2006

Brian’s post raises the question of blogs turning into books, and commenters give lots of examples. However, any addition to the supply of books generated in this way needs to be offset by the books that would have been written if their potential authors weren’t writing blogs instead.

Update Sarah Hepola makes exactly the same point, announcing in Slate that she is shutting down her blog to write a book. Coincidence, or the mysterious workings of the BlogGeist?

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Blogs and Books

by Brian on April 19, 2006

Language Log is having a book published of their best posts for the last few years. Although there won’t be anything new in this, it should be a fun record of what has long been to my mind one of the best academic blogs around.

I’m sure there are other examples of blogs turning into books, though I think this is the first time it’s happened to a blog that I read regularly. To be honest, it’s hard to think of many other blogs I read that would be even suitable for this treatment. (Perhaps CT is the only one, though not for my contributions!) Most political blogs are too focussed on the day to day aspects for there to be much value in a print publication. And most philosophy blogs tend to publish snippets, thoughts in progress and the like, which need a lot of polishing before they are ready for print. When I started blogging it was with the hope that it would genuinely be an alternative publishing source. That is, it would be a place where I put things that were finished pieces, but which wouldn’t, couldn’t or shouldn’t end up in traditional print journals. But in fact it has turned into a repository for transient thoughts, not a publishing place. Language Log has, to a large extent, gone the other way.

Which other blogs do people think are worthy of commemoration in dead-tree format?

A graduate student asked me the other day for some summer reading suggestions; must-read articles in political philosophy from the past 25-30 years. I was a bit shocked at how narrow my list was (though I did leave off a bunch of papers that I knew he’d already read, and that would have broadened my list a bit), and I thought it would be a nice exercise for the political philosophers who read CT; suggest one or two papers from the past 30 years that you think everyone who wants to write a dissertation in the area of political philosophy reasonably broadly conceived should have read. Do not suggest your own papers unless you are dead or plan to be by the summer. I’ll follow up with an eccentrically chosen list of 10 , with the best links I can manage.

Journalists and secrets

by Henry Farrell on April 18, 2006

Also in the Chronicle, an “interesting article”: on controversies swirling around Jack Anderson’s archives, which have been donated to GWU. Kevin Drum said last month that the “AIPAC case”: was likely to be used as a weapon against leakers. Now we have this.

bq. During his life and career as a muckraking journalist in Washington, Jack Anderson cultivated secret sources throughout the halls of government — sources who passed on information that allowed Anderson to investigate and write about Watergate, CIA assassination schemes, and countless scandals. His syndicated column, Washington Merry-Go-Round, earned him the enmity of the corrupt and powerful — so much so that during the Watergate years, associates of Nixon had discussed assassinating the columnist. … His archive, some 200 boxes now being held by George Washington University’s library, could be a trove of information about state secrets, dirty dealings, political maneuverings, and old-fashioned investigative journalism, open for historians and up-and-coming reporters to see. But the government wants to see the documents before anyone else. Agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation have told university officials and members of the Anderson family that they want to go through the archive, and that agents will remove any item they deem confidential or top secret. … The FBI eventually told Kevin Anderson that the investigation centered on Steven J. Rosen and Keith Weissman, two former officials with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee who have been charged with receiving and distributing national defense information. …Kevin Anderson doubts that his father gathered information related to the Aipac case. He points out that his father had Parkinson’s disease for the last 15 years of his life and that he had done his best muckraking in the 1960s, 70s, and early 80s.

Fear and loathing in the blogosphere

by Henry Farrell on April 18, 2006

“David Glenn”: has an article in the _Chronicle_ about Carol Darr, and the howls of outrage she provokes among both left wing and right wing bloggers.

bq. There is not much love lost between the liberal activists who blog at Daily Kos and their conservative counterparts at One entry at Daily Kos last month was titled “RedState Runs From Their Own Idiocy.” The same week, a commenter at RedState wrote, “I don’t visit Kos, because I am not enamored with wading through sewage.” Last spring, however, the two blogs found a common enemy: a “clueless embarrassment” (in the words of Daily Kos) who was peddling a “cheesecloth-flimsy” argument (RedState). The object of their ire was Carol C. Darr, director of the Institute for Politics, Democracy, and the Internet, which is affiliated with George Washington University. Someone in her position, the bloggers believed, ought to be an enthusiastic defender of online politicking in all its forms. Instead she was urging the Federal Election Commission — where she had worked as a staff lawyer in the 1970s — to bring certain kinds of blogging under the umbrella of campaign-finance law.

Carol is a colleague of mine, and I’ve been getting increasingly pissed off at the abuse she’s receiving from prominent bloggers. It’s not Carol who’s the clueless embarrasment here. Take, as Exhibit One, this “post”: by Adam B at Daily Kos, which Duncan Black “approvingly linked to”: last week. For Adam B and Duncan, the argument that blogs are going to make Swiftboating easier is a version of “the Commies sap and impurify all of our precious bodily fluids, [and] they’re going to take over our blogs.” Come off it. I don’t seriously believe that Duncan wasn’t paying attention to the ways in which right wing blogs served as amplifiers for the original Swiftboating exercise (a feat afterwards “celebrated”: in the Weekly Standard). And if you don’t think that there are going to be John Thune style “astroturf blogs galore”: in the ’06 and ’08 elections, then God bless your naivete. Carol’s making a legitimate argument which is highly uncomfortable for bloggers – that blogs, as they exist today, are wide open to abuse, and specifically to becoming channels for the systematic spread of disinformation. It deserves a hearing – and a more serious response than puerile name-calling and appeals to the numinous self-correcting power of the blogosphere.

Update: I’ve received several comments along the lines of “you are being dishonest because Atrios is attacking hypocrites who say that bloggers should be regulated but not the mainstream press.” This doesn’t fly, since that has never been Carol’s position; in the piece linked to above, she makes that explicit. If someone can find a public statement where she says something different, I’ll happily eat crow. I’ve also changed the above link as the old link had stopped working.

Update 2: See “here”: for a transcript of Carol Darr’s symposium at the _Chronicle_ and “here”: and “here”: for responses from Atrios and Adam Bonin respectively. I should also say at this point that my original post was much snarkier than it should have been – while I stand by the basic claim that Carol Darr doesn’t deserve some of the nasty things that have been said about her – I used more intemperate language than I should have. For which, apologies.

There’s a very interesting conversation going on at Leiter’s site (post by Jason Stanley) about the purpose of the academic discipline of Philosophy. The title is a giveaway (In Defence of Baroque Specialization). Jason says:

a university’s primary mission should be to advance the disciplines it represents. In short, a university should seek to promote work that will give that university prestige in the future and not in the present. So, a university’s mission with regard to its philosophy department should be to support those who are attempting to formulate new positions and arguments, rather than those who seek contemporary relevance.

I agree that this is part of the university’s mission. A good university wants to promote work of lasting importance. But that is only part of what it does, or should do. Very few scholars are going to contribute in a discernable way to that part of the mission (not me, not most of the people who think of themselves as at or somewhere near the top of their disciplines at any given time), and in the long run we’re all dead anyway. Furthermore, we have no reason at all to want Universities to promote their own, individual, reputations, except in so far as some sort of reputational competition helps to advance the other fundamental goals of the institution of academia.

Another part of the University’s mission is to contribute, right now and in the near future, to the intellectual life of the larger community; if universities don’t do that, who will?

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Plagues and polygraphs

by John Q on April 18, 2006

Following our seminar on The Republican War on Science I heard from John Mangels, science writer for the Cleveland Plain Dealer, who pointed me to this series of reports (free registration required) on Dr Thomas Butler, an infectious disease researcher who (apparently mistakenly) reported missing 30 vials of plague bacteria, and ended up being railroaded into prison by an FBI determined to get a conviction even after it became apparent that the events they were supposedly investigating had never occurred.

It’s an amazing story, which as Mangels says is a metaphor for the clash between science and the Bush administration, and between fear and reason in the post-9/11 world. Much of is the kind of thing that can happen anywhere once the wheels of criminal investigation are set turning.

I was struck, though, by one particularly American feature of the story – the crucial role of the polygraph or “lie detector”. This method is (literally) a piece of witchdoctor magic, tricked out with enough electronic gadgetry to impress the class of believers in technology, as opposed to science, we discussed in the seminar. This group plays a much bigger role in the US than elsewhere, which may be why the polygraph is taken seriously only in the US.

Lip service

by Chris Bertram on April 18, 2006

When someone says of their adversaries that they pay “lip-service” to something, they are trying to devalue some of the substance of what those people say. This may be a claim that their opponents are insincere, or simply that they lack a suitable degree of commitment. The suggestion is that someone is making a merely token acknowledgement of the importance of some matter or value but that it is merely incidental to their view of what matters, a view that is actually focused on other things. It is a charge that the authors of the “Euston Manifesto” have been happy to dish out:

bq. We have no truck, either, with the tendency to pay lip service to these ends [Iraqi democracy], while devoting most of one’s energy to criticism of political opponents at home (supposedly responsible for every difficulty in Iraq), and observing a tactful silence or near silence about the ugly forces of the Iraqi “insurgency”.

(Get the “silence or near silence” there! So if your opponent has actually said that beheading hostages or blowing-up civilians is a monstrous crime but hasn’t said it as often or as loudly as you think fit, you can still point the finger!)

Others can judge how much of the Eustonites’ energies have been devoted to criticism of political opponents at home and how much to the material promotion of Iraqi democracy (writing about it on your blog doesn’t really count, in my book). Anyway, here’s a list of the things that the Euston Manifesto pays “lip service to”, a charge I am as entitled to make, without supporting evidence, about them as they are about others:

  • “racism against people from Muslim countries and those descended from them, particularly under cover of the War on Terror.”
  • The right of the Palestinian people to self-determination.
  • “The violation of basic human rights standards at Abu Ghraib, at Guantanamo, and by the practice of ‘rendition’, must be roundly condemned for what it is: a departure from universal principles, ….”
  • Pure lip service, if you ask me, since issues such are rarely mentioned on the blogs in question without some degree of contextualization, minimization, relativization, whatabouterry, and so on. (Of course torture is bad, they acknowledge, but the real outrage is committed by those torture critics who compare Guantanamo to the Gulag.) These are the same verbal manoeuvres that, when applied to acts of terror, are condemned by said blogs as amounting to de facto apology.

    Incidentally, it seemed odd to me for the Manifesto to include among the events that have made the democracy-and-human-rights package the heritage of us all, blah blah blah, the “anti-colonial transformations of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries”. “Transformations” is a strangely euphemistic term to describe the various anti-colonial struggles of the last century. Still, I suppose it wouldn’t do to look too closely at the methods employed by the FLN, the Mau Mau, the NLF etc. just in case they resembled the “ugly forces” of the Iraqi insurgency rather more closely than would be comfortable. Some insurgents, it seems, have contributed to the great Enlightenment bundle, and some have not.

    Name that Scheme

    by Kieran Healy on April 17, 2006

    You sometimes see a rhetorical device were the author compares himself (or another) to some related group of people, real or fictional, and says that while one might have hoped to be _x_, it turns out one is actually _y_. So, for example, here’s one inspired by reading “Untold Stories”: the other night. “When I was younger I hoped I might be “Peter Cook”:, or even “Jonathan Miller”:, but then I discovered I was really Alan Bennett.” As can be seen from this example, there is usually a strong element of faux-modest self-promotion in the apparent putdown, at least when the author is the subject of the comparison. When there is some other target, this scheme is a vehicle for insult. In these cases, the comparison individuals will be related not by a substantive tie but only by name.


    by Belle Waring on April 17, 2006

    Relatedly, I am genuinely curious about something. Some people claim to fear a future in which citizens of the Western nations are reduced to “dhimmitude” by muscular Islamists. The first act of this tragedy is meant to be the excessive deference to Muslim sensitivities we see in US papers’ craven refusal to print Danish cartoons about The Prophet (now stipulate that I type PBUH in an ironic way) or Cartoon Network’s Comedy Central’s patent lack of cohones (yeah, man, they totally censored Buttercup from the Powerpuff Girls when…oh, no.) Act three includes women from Cleveland being legally required to wear burkas as their impotent menfolk look on. What the hell is act two supposed to be? Lots of suicidal terrorist attacks on US soil? Can anyone, reviewing the recent past in her mind, believe that this would decrease the American appetite for rizziping some shit up? Like, Indonesia is going to invade the US or something? Hitlery turns US soveriegnty over to the UN and they implement Sharia law using unstoppable black helicopters? I’m not being snarky here; I really want to know. Wait, that’s a total lie. I am being snarky, but I also want to know. WTF?

    No One Is That Crazy. Right? Ummm…right?

    by Belle Waring on April 17, 2006

    One thing that strikes me as funny about this whole “let’s invade Iran” thing…wait, did I actually just type that? I’m looking at the desk and I don’t see any glass tube with burnt-up brillo pad in it, so I probably didn’t just smoke a glittering rock of yeyo. Probably. OK, nothing about this is funny except in a nervous, “ha ha I’m sure he’s just joking way” that one might employ if locked in a room with a drunk person holding a chainsaw and making jokes about how Texans love real meat. The warmongery is starting up, from Mark Steyn columns to “hawkish” “liberals” pontificating on how no options should be off the table (not even A NUCLEAR FIRST STRIKE ARE THEY INSANE???!!!!), to stop-making-me-commit-genocide wankery to credulous NYT articles to James Lileks relating everything back to this one chick who wouldn’t sleep with him was wrong about Iran in the ’70s. (You should really read the Vodkapundit post and accompanying thread. He says you’ll need a drink, and the man is not kidding at all. The story he links to [by Dan Simmons] takes grave misreadings of Thucydides to a whole new level, a category in which the competition is stiff. Simmons is sure to win this year’s coveted “Golden Hanson”. The trophy features a stern VDH uprooting an olive tree with one hand and hitting himself repeatedly on the head with an axe handle with the other.) [Edited for clarity–thanks tom scudder!]

    Any minute now I’ll have to read from K-Lo about how hypocritical western feminists don’t care about women being oppressed in Iran. I can’t be the only one to find the machinery a bit creaky. Are the warbloggers’ hearts in it? The more important question is whether the US will really do something so extraordinarily, supremely crazy, but I’m firmly committed to lowering the tone at CT. If that means ignoring the important issues of the day to make mocking, ad hominem comments, then let the chips fall where they may.

    No, the thing that strikes me as funny is that everyone who supports was with Iran is all about the “mad mullahs” and how they can’t be deterred by normal deterrance because they’re crazed jihadis content to incinerate their own country, plus OMG THE HIDDEN IMAM!!! The people making this argument now insist that of course MAD worked back when we faced rational opponents like the USSR or, you know, Mao’s China or whatever. But now, in a new era of crazy people having nukes, all bets are off. It’s like Iran is one big suicide bomber! The limits of the internet and my own laziness prevent me from researching this at all, but I’m going to go out on a limb here and bet that all these people (over a certain age) did not regard the commies as secular rationalists who weighed the costs or war carefully back in the day. Not at all. Much more of the “they’ve got a plan to retreat to their bunkers and sacrifice their own hapless citizens upon the altar of destroying America!!!” Just a theory. (Obligatory on-the-otherhanding: I’m sure some of the liberals now advocating deterrance railed against MAD at the time as an armageddon-hastening nightmare.)