The internet in song

by Chris Bertram on July 20, 2006

“Mary Wells”: came on the radio the other day singing “My Guy”, and when she sang the line

I’m sticking to my guy like a stamp to a letter

it set me thinking about the way that old technologies get referred to in popular song. There’s no end of trains, especially in country music, but even horses and ferries get a lot of attention. Old technology is homely and part of the shared cultural experience even of people who hardly use it. By contrast, digital technology hardly gets a mention, and when it does the results can be embarassing. “ refer to this cringeworthy effort”: from one Tim O’Brien:

My color screen won’t even function,
My hard drive it went soft, my application coughed,
and I’m a runnin’ out of memory for you.


“Bob Harris”: played a Guy Clark song tonight called “Analog Girl”. It was pretty good, and managed to mention email and websites without making me want to curl up and die. But of course the whole point of the song is that its heroine is authentic because she eschews all contact with the digital world. Other non-embarassing mentions of computers, technology and the internet in popular song?


by Chris Bertram on July 20, 2006

“Steven Poole”: seems to have gone on holiday, so it must fall to others to catalogue the emergence of new unspeak terms. “Rebalancing” seems to be the vogue word with British government ministers at the moment. It is used when the government wants to restrict the rights of people accused of crimes, to promote summary punishment of offenders, to impose harsher sentences, and so on. The open admission that the government wants to restrict civil liberties would cause many people to worry about justice. “Rebalancing”, with its tacit reference to the scales of justice, and its suggestion that this or that measure is merely the tuning of a delicate machine, aims to calm such anxieties. Authoritarian thug Home Secretary John Reid is “a frequent user”:,,1824989,00.html of the word, and I see that blogger Oliver Kamm “likes it too”: .

Walzer on Lebanon

by Chris Bertram on July 20, 2006

Michael Walzer has “a piece in the New Republic”: which addresses the question of how Israel may legitimately prosecute its war in Lebanon. There’s much to agree with in the piece, especially since Walzer is clear about the impermissibility of deliberately killing civilians and deliberately destroying the infrastructure necessary to support civilian life. There’s also much with which I disagree. Walzer tends to take IDF claims about the extent to which they actually do seek to minimize civilian casualities at face value; the reports from Lebanon would seem to support a more sceptical stance. I was, however, brought up short by this:

bq. the Israeli response has only a short-term aim: to stop the attacks across its borders… Until there is an effective Lebanese army and a Palestinian government that believes in co-existence, Israel is entitled to act, within the dialectical limits, on its own behalf.

Now I don’t dissent from the proposition that Israel is entitled to act to stop attacks across its borders. But Walzer’s linkage of that claim to the capacity of the Lebanese government is surely perverse. The claimed legitimacy of many of the Israeli actions has hinged on the failure of Lebanese government to act and on its legal responsibility to do so. Attacks on facilities outside the Hezbollah zone of control have been conducted with this explicit justification. But if it is part of the case for action that the Lebanese government actually lacks the capacity to act — as it surely does — then those operations were wrong.

Israel can’t simultaneously base its justification for action on the responsibility of the Lebanese government to act _and_ on its incapacity to do so, except insofar as it limits itself to actions that an effective Lebanese government would be duty-bound to perform, namely, suppressing Hezbollah. But Israel hasn’t limited itself to such actions, it has attacked other Lebanese targets.

The Walzer justification could surely only be offered in good faith by a party that was also committed to enabling the Lebanese government to exercise effective sovereignty over its territory. The Israeli attacks aren’t strengthening the post-Cedar-revolution government, they are increasing the probability that Lebanon will once again descend into being a failed state.

Trying to make sense of what Israel is actually doing is hard, in my opinion. I don’t believe that Israel can destroy Hezbollah by direct military action, and I’m sure they don’t believe so either. The point of their action can’t be to get the Lebanese government to act, because, as the Walzer justification insists, they lack the capacity to do so. So what are they trying to do? My guess, is that they are trying to exploit the US commitment to a post-Syrian Lebanese order to bounce the US into acting against Syria and Iran. “Take action Condi, or we’ll screw an important plank of your Middle East policy” is the message, and this might indeed be an effective way to get Hezbollah to stop firing rockets. If Iran or Syria pushed Hezbollah to provoke Israel (and I think it very likely they did) then presumably they’re also trying to pressure the US to make a deal in some way whilst they can. Lebanese civilians are expendable chips in what looks like a high stakes game of diplomatic poker.

Israel and Boobs

by Daniel on July 20, 2006

I thought I’d give this post a title which combines the obsession of the blogosphere with the obsession of the entire internet, because Max Sawicky has been complaining that some of our post titles have been a little bit off-putting of late, in particular, “Was Foucault a closet Habermasian?”. Max has a point; Foucault is all right but Habermas is ratings death. I actually own a book called “Hegel, Habermas and Hermeneutics” which I bought secondhand out of sheer admiration for the publisher’s gall at such a commercially suicidal title. It was standing next to a row of ten other copies, mint and unopened.

It got me to thinking though; what would be the most off-putting title in the world? So far, my suggestions are “Insurance Accounting in the Communist Countries”, “Comitology in the EU” and “The Role of Telecommunications Standards in the WTO Negotiations”.

The thing is, all three of these issues are actually rather interesting, and so was “Was Foucault a Closet Habermasian?”. It just goes to show you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, I suppose. Furthermore, I am in the mood to get all contrarian and say that off-putting titles can be a virtue. Henry’s title of the Foucault post might have scared off readers who didn’t care about Foucault and Habermas, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing, given that it was about Foucault and Habermas. Certainly, the posts with popular and whizzy titles often seem to attract the most ferocious morons to their comments sections.

So what would be the most genuinely off-putting title for a potentially interesting post? Suggestions are welcome in comments with one proviso: I am not looking for fictitious posts. Anyone suggesting a post title had better be able and prepared to write 250 words on the subject without being boring (or even better – link to a real-world example on their own blog). I will be making a few quasi-randomly selected calls of “bullshit” to keep you honest.