From the monthly archives:

June 2006

Gender Trouble

by Kieran Healy on June 30, 2006

Just before lunch, I had the following conversation on the phone:

[Phone rings]
KH: Kieran Healy.
Woman: Oh, so you are a man.
KH: Uh, yes, I am.
Woman: This is [someone] at the editorial desk of the _New York Times_. We referred to you as a woman yesterday in a post on our _Opinionator_ blog. We’ll change it now.
KH: Oh, OK.
Woman: Thank you. Goodbye.
KH: Goodbye.

The Opinionator is behind the Times Select Paywall, so I haven’t seen the original reference or the corrected one. Someone else told me yesterday is was a quote from the “Brights post”:

Framing God

by Steven Poole on June 30, 2006

The Holy Trinity is getting a makeover:

When referring to the Trinity, most Christians are likely to say “Father, Son and the Holy Spirit.”
But leaders of the Presbyterian Church (USA) are suggesting some additional designations: “Compassionate Mother, Beloved Child and Life-giving Womb,” or perhaps “Overflowing Font, Living Water, Flowing River.”
Then there’s “Rock, Cornerstone and Temple” and “Rainbow of Promise, Ark of Salvation and Dove of Peace.”
The phrases are among 12 suggested but not mandatory wordings essentially endorsed this month by delegates to the church’s policy-making body to describe a “triune God,” the Christian doctrine of God in three persons.
The Rev. Mark Brewer, senior pastor of Bel Air Presbyterian Church, is among those in the 2.3-million-member denomination unhappy with the additions.
“You might as well put in Huey, Dewey and Louie,” he said.

Some of the other proposed phrases include “Sun, Light and Burning Ray”, or even “Fire That Consumes, Sword That Divides and Storm That Melts Mountains.” This is a reaction to the supposedly “patriarchal” nature of the usual way to express the Trinity. I say, why not? I like the imagistic poetry of the alternatives. It reminds me of the names for movements in Chinese martial arts. How about “White Crane Spreads Its Wings, Green Dragon Emerges from the Water, and Step Back to Ride the Tiger”?

Germany vs Argentina Open Thread

by Kieran Healy on June 29, 2006

On present form it’d be hard to justify a bet against Argentina, but Germany have home advantage and are … well … Germany.

I should get a job as a pundit or something. Anyway, have at it.

_Update_: Penalties.

_Update_: Looks like “Kai was right.”:

Behind the Sofa

by Henry on June 29, 2006

“Jenny Turner”: in the latest issue of the _London Review of Books_ (or, to be more precise, the latest issue to arrive in print on my doorstep).

bq. ‘All lazy writing about Doctor Who,’ Kim Newman writes in his ‘critical reading’ of what he calls ‘the franchise’, ‘trades on the stereotypes of children watching “from behind the sofa”’ – exactly what I remember doing, though in our house we called it the settee. So do I really remember it, or do I just think I do, because I want to join in? Newman confesses that he can ‘confirm the authenticity’ of the sofa stereotype in his own case; so culturally embedded has the trope become that when the now defunct Museum of the Moving Image curated a Doctor Who exhibition in the 1990s, they called it Behind the Sofa

Me too! I remember the specific episode (if not its name) – it involved Cybermen and a back-and-forth between Earth and Mars where the two light minutes between the planets proved to be a crucial point in the plot. I dove behind the sofa, and refused to come out until my parents told me that the scary part was over. We were living in Darlington for a year and I was six – I then went back to Ireland, escaping the reach of BBC forever (you could get it on the East coast, but not in the wilds of Tipperary). I haven’t been exposed to Dr. Who culture or to Dr. Who itself since, so I don’t think that this can be a false memory. Is this one of those experiences that people from a particular generation share, but don’t necessarily talk about?

(and speaking of cybermen, Michael Bérubé can be “vewy, vewy cwuel”:

Geneva and Guantánamo

by Steven Poole on June 29, 2006

The Supreme Court has found [pdf] that the military commissions set up to try prisoners at Guantánamo Bay are illegal, because Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions applies there. This is very important news, and has wider implications than for habeas corpus, according to Marty Lederman:

This basically resolves the debate about interrogation techniques, because Common Article 3 provides that detained persons “shall in all circumstances be treated humanely,” and that “[t]o this end,” certain specified acts “are and shall remain prohibited at any time and in any place whatsoever”—including “cruel treatment and torture,” and “outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment.” […] This almost certainly means that the CIA’s interrogation regime is unlawful, and indeed, that many techniques the Administation has been using, such as waterboarding and hypothermia (and others) violate the War Crimes Act (because violations of Common Article 3 are deemed war crimes).

Meanwhile, there is a certain comedy value in the dissenting opinions of Scalia and Alito, which I have attempted to mine here.

Social Isolation Again

by Kieran Healy on June 29, 2006

Miller McPherson, Lynn Smith-Lovin and Matt Brashears’ “ASR Paper”: on changes in core discussion networks has been getting a lot of play in the blogs and media. As is often the case with research like this, the commentary doesn’t really do justice to the paper. The summaries tend to be superficial and a lot of the commentary raises questions that the paper addresses, or proposes explanations it controls for. But “I liked this piece”: from CBS’s Dick Meyer. He kicks around various ideas about the significance of the findings and their explanation in the generalizing mode you’d expect an Op-Ed commentator to adopt, but it’s also clear that he read and understood the paper. It’s probably the best journalistic discussion of the issue I’ve seen so far.

The servant problem

by John Quiggin on June 29, 2006

Like many countries Australia is experiencing Industrial Relations reform. The reforms are a curious mixture of deregulation and compulsion. On the one hand, all sorts of conditions and requirements are stripped away, but in their place there has been created an array of new criminal and civil offences, prohibited terms in contracts, requirements to offer particular employment forms such as AWAs and so on.

Making sense of this seeming contradiction is not so hard. The deregulation is all for employers, and the regulation is all imposed on workers and, particularly, unions. Lockouts are now almost unrestricted, but strikes are subject to strict regulation. Employers cannot be sued for unfair dismissal, but employees are prohibited from including protection against unfair dismissal in a proposed employment contract and so on.

An obvious interpretation is the Marxist one, that this is class-based legislation, designed to increase profits and reduce wages by driving down workers’ bargaining power. That’s part of the story but not, I think, the most important part.

The real issue, I think, relates to the personal power relationship between employers and employees. The complaints of employers about bad employees and the difficulty of sacking them echo very closely the complaints of a century ago that ‘you can’t get good servants any more’. The changes made in the IR laws make most sense if they are read as an attempt to remove constraints on the day-to-day power of bosses to be bosses, whether these constraints are imposed by law, by collective agreements or by individual contracts with workers.

This also helps to explain some of the class alignments we see in Australian politics. While political alignments continue to be determined to a significant extent by income, there are groups with relatively high incomes, such as academics and other professionsals, who tend to support Labor. On the other side of the fence, managers tend to support the conservative parties more strongly than their incomes alone would suggest. The obvious point is that managers are, by definition, bosses. Professionals, who mostly in hierarchical institutions, can identify either as bosses or workers, but with the rise of managerialism, most professionals find themselves on the workers side of the divide.

Smarter anti-piracy?

by Steven Poole on June 29, 2006

A friend told me that there is an interesting version of the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ new album, Stadium Arcadium, doing the rounds on internet filesharing services, so I listened to it. (Note to RIAA agents: I’d already bought the CD.) The pirate version is fascinating. It looks like a genuine high-bitrate mp3 rip of all songs on both discs, but the panning – the distribution of instruments in the stereo field – is drastically wrong. John Frusciante’s guitar takes up nearly the whole of the right channel, while Anthony Kiedis’s voice, and even the drums and bass guitar, are relegated to the left. Since lead vocals, bass guitar, and bass and snare drums are nearly always more or less centred in standard rock mixes, this makes the mp3s very disconcerting to listen to on headphones for any length of time. (This is a simplification, of course: for some amazing spatial engineering in rock music, listen for example to Placebo’s new album, Meds. But this pirate Chilis rip just makes you feel kind of seasick.) Now, of course this could just be some software gremlin in the ripping process. But it started me wondering: what if it’s deliberate?
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129 Wallace

by Eszter Hargittai on June 28, 2006

No thanks to Jim Gibbon for siphoning off a few hours of my time today with that Gapminder pointer. Nonetheless, I wanted to send him a shoutout and welcome him to blogging seeing that he comes from a bit of Crooked Timber lineage. Kieran and I shared an office for a couple of years while in graduate school at Princeton. And it is in this same office that Jim now spends a good chunk of his graduate student days (granted, right now he’s doing summer research in Germany). Welcome to blogging, Jim!

To try to decipher what it is about 129 Wallace Hall that leads to all this blogging, you can check out a light switch, a chair component, a scooter, part of the wall, parts of the building and its door for clues on this collage – all the product of an afternoon when I didn’t feel like working on my dissertation. Those were the days… You think you have no time in grad school, but then you become faculty and all that blogging, taking pictures and surfing the Net… oh, never mind.

Data ain’t just for geeks anymore

by Eszter Hargittai on June 28, 2006

Via Jim Gibbon I’ve discovered Gapminder. Wow! It’s a wonderful visualization tool for data. The focus is on world development statistics from the UN. The tool is incredibly user-friendly and let’s you play around with what variables you want to see, what you want highlighted in color, whether you want to log the data, what year you want to display, and whether you want to animate the time progression (oh, and how quickly).

I’ve made an example available on YouTube. (I used Gapminder to create the visualization and Hypercam to capture it.)

Here is some context for that particular graph. My first interests in research on Internet and social inequality concerned the unequal global diffusion of the medium. I wrote my senior thesis in college on this topic and then pursued it further – and thankfully in a more sophisticated manner – in graduate school. So this is a topic that has been of interest to me for a while and it’s great to be able to play with some visual representations of the data.

So what you have on the video graph is a look at Internet diffusion by income (logged) from 1990-2004. I picked color coding by income category, which is somewhat superfluous given that the horizontal access already has that information, but I thought it added a little something. (For example, to summarize the puzzle of my 1999 paper – the first to run more than bivariate analyses on these data -, it focused on explaining why all the red dots are so widely dispersed on the graph despite all representing rich long-term democratic countries.)

Thanks to the tool’s flexibility, you can change it so that the color coding signifies geographical region and could then tell immediately that what continent you are on – an argument some people in the literature tried to make – has little to do with the level of Internet diffusion.

Gapminder example

Imagine the possibilities of all this in, say, classroom presentations. Jim links to a great presentation using this tool. (Although I disagree with the presenter’s conclusion at the end about the leveling of differences regarding Internet diffusion.)

I recommend checking out the tool on your own for maximum appreciation of its capabilities.

UPDATE: There is more! Conrad – Jim’s source on this – tells me that the tool on the Trendalyzer site has even more option. Moreover, you can download a beta version of the software that even lets you import your own data.

Liberty at Low Prices

by Kieran Healy on June 28, 2006

Say what you like about the free-marketeers, they certainly know how to ignore market forces, eschew profit and embrace subsidization when it suits them. I just got the 2006 “Liberty Fund”: catalog in the post, and as usual I am having a hard time not buying a lot of their absurdly under-priced offerings. You can get the “complete Sraffa/Dobb edition of Ricardo”: (eleven volumes!) for about a hundred bucks, or $12 for individual volumes. (The true measure of value is in there _somewhere_.) For similar prices, there’s more “Gordon Tullock”: or “James Buchanan”: than any sane person would ever want to read. You can also get the whole “Glasgow Edition of Smith”: for seventy five dollars. Or sixteen hundred pages of “Armen Alchian”: for fifteen dollars. They’re also strong on Enlightenment types, with “Hume’s History of England”: on the cheap, and you can find any amount of reactionary commentary on the French Revolution, too.

On the other hand, you can get a lot of this stuff (the Ricardo, for instance) “for free and in PDF format”: at their Online Library of Liberty.


by Steven Poole on June 28, 2006

Recently I was explaining to a French friend the arguments we have in English over whether to call people “suicide bombers”, or “suicide murderers”, or “martyrdom bombers”, or even (for Fox fans) “homicide bombers”. “What do you call them in French?” I asked. She smiled somewhat apologetically and said: “Oh, we just call them kamikazes.” I was intrigued by the analogy, and recently Freeman Dyson has argued for it explicitly in the New York Review of Books.
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Grain vs grape

by Steven Poole on June 28, 2006

I’d like to thank Chris and Kieran for inviting me to guest blog here for a while. Since I’m under no obligation to conform to the self-imposed strictures of my own blog, I thought I’d begin by relating my dismay this afternoon upon noticing the headline “Beer better for you than wine: official”. Since I live in Paris, where good wine is cheap and beer is hideously expensive, I was horrified. Luckily, the article in question goes on to prove its own nugatory level of reliability, for the man telling us that beer is healthier than wine is, um, a “beer specialist”, no less than the “Anheuser-Busch endowed Professor of Brewing Science at the University of California”. Phew, that’s ok. It’s more like a PR agency for fossil-fuel companies telling us that carbon dioxide is good for you. Of course, I have nothing against beer, and will indeed be taking out a large bank loan in order to toast England’s victory on Saturday with a small glass of Amstel. Now, will some kindly scientist please tell me once and for all whether the vast quantity of coffee I drink is, on the whole, good or bad?

SWIFT and Europe

by Henry on June 28, 2006

I’ve been waiting for the other shoe to drop on this for the last few days, and it finally has. Privacy International has “filed complaints”: with umpteen European and non-European data regulators that SWIFT has illicitly shared European citizens’ financial data with US authorities. This could have some very interesting consequences. Now bear in mind as you read the below analysis that I am not a lawyer. I have, however, spent a lot of time over the last six years working on and writing about privacy issues in the EU-US relationship, so I do have a good grasp of the political issues involved.
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More Anonymous Lawyer fun

by Eszter Hargittai on June 27, 2006

The competition in the Anonymous Colleague contest was fierce with a very close outcome. The winner is Nabakov with the following entry:
“Mr Happy, who believes if something funny is worth saying once, it’s worth saying a thousand times, the fucker” having received 33.5% of the votes. He wins the free Anonymous Lawyer book from the publisher.

Congrats also – but no book, I’m afraid – to M. Gordon for the “Amazing Vanishing Advisor” entry, which came in close second with 30.2% of the votes.

There are more opportunities to have anon legal fun including the chance to win an Anonymous Lawyer T-shirt and the book. The Anonymous Law Firm is accepting job applications and the top ten entries get goodies.