From the monthly archives:

August 2006

You’d probably like to hear Ross Douthat explain how Margaret Mead, Stanley Fish and a bunch of hippies are responsible for the excesses of racist BMOC frat boys who hire strippers. C’mon, you like that sort of thing in small doses, admit it. It’s a good thing that last month’s secret feminist world-domination meeting involved a solemn pledge by all sexually active women to deny young Mr. Douthat any sexual contact outside of marriage, or going beyond the plain vanilla missionary-position type sanctioned by traditional mores, otherwise all this insufferable priggishness might have a whiff of hypocrisy about it. Best comment: “Yeah, raping strippers is awful, and meaningless sex isn’t great either. Also, some academics are crazy. I guess we should ban birth control.” Roy’s suggestion is bumper stickers reading “If you can eat pussy, thank a liberal.” I am afraid that a cold appraisal of continuing sexism leads me to conclude that advertising to men that they owe liberals a thank-you note for every blowjob would be even more effective. Black ink on white or cream stationery only, please. I suppose you can send them to Norbizness.

Swartz for Wikimedia

by Henry on August 31, 2006

I see that “Aaron Swartz”:http://www.aaronsw.com/weblog/wikiroads is running for the Wikimedia Foundation’s Board. I’ve known his blog for a little while; he’s an occasional commenter here; he set up Rick Perlstein’s “website”:http://rickperlstein.org/ and he created the “New York Times Link Generator”:http://nytimes.blogspace.com/genlink?q=http://www.nytimes.com/, beloved of bloggers who don’t want their NYT stories to succumb to linkrot. All of which is to say that any of you who qualify as a member of the electorate (400+ edits on Wikipedia; I don’t know about other Wikimedia forums rules), should seriously consider voting for him (note that this is a personal endorsement on my part; CT doesn’t do endorsements as a collective).

Open University

by Henry on August 31, 2006

The New Republic‘s “Open University”:http://www.tnr.com/blog/openuniversity blog is up and running. While I’m not at all a fan of the magazine itself in its Martin Peretz incarnation, this new venture has some very good people blogging for it, as well as others who’ll be quite interesting to watch from a safe distance.

I was also going to review Glyn Morgan’s The Idea of a European Superstate: Public Justification and European Integration, but it’s fortunate I didn’t, as Henry has done a better job of most of the points I was going to make. So let me make just one more point, about the implications of soft power.

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Pessimism

by John Quiggin on August 30, 2006

This NYT piece by Adam Cohen starts with the observation that Americans are feeling pessimistic about the war in Iraq, Hurricane Katrina and so on, then jumps to a recent work on philosophical pessimism by Joshua Dienstag, whose basic argument is summarised in this sample chapter. As Cohen says, pessimism in this sense is not a gloomy disposition, but a worldview that “simply doubts the most basic liberal principle: that applying human reasoning to the world’s problems will have a positive effect.’ Cohen concludes “Part of Mr. Bush’s legacy may well be that he robbed America of its optimism “.

But if optimism holds that applying reasoned analysis will have a positive effect, the experience of the Bush Administration merely illustrates the point that the converse is also true.

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Yglesias

by Henry on August 30, 2006

Matthew “Big Number of Blogs”:http://lefarkins.blogspot.com/2006/08/dont-whine-fight.html Yglesias is “consolidating his efforts”:http://yglesias.typepad.com/matthew/2006/08/a_new_hope.html at a revamped “MatthewYglesias.com”:http://www.matthewyglesias.com. Update yer blogrolls accordingly.

Review: The Idea of a European Superstate

by Henry on August 30, 2006

This review is a year late – the delay is thanks to the birth of our first-born, the urgency of getting my own book into a fit state to be submitted to publishers, and repeated and extended fits of procrastination. I hope to be starting to review political science books more regularly from here on in, with a particular focus on books that touch upon areas that I do academic work on (EU politics, the politics of the Internet and e-commerce, institutional theory, trust), or that are topical for one reason or another. Some of these books are likely to be of interest to the general CT reader, some not.

Glyn Morgan, _The Idea of a European Superstate: Public Justification and European Integration_ (Princeton University Press 2005), review beneath fold. “Powells”:http://www.powells.com/partner/29956/s?kw=glyn%20morgan%20european%20superstate. Amazon.
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Getting the Counterfactual Right

by Kieran Healy on August 30, 2006

In the course of a “silly piece”:http://www.usatoday.com/printedition/news/20060830/opcom30.art.htm boosting Joe Lieberman against the loud but ineffectual online hordes, Bruce Kluger says:

If this wasn’t enough to drain the effervescence from the blogger bubbly, America’s noisy Web wags were dealt an even more sobering blow 10 days later when Snakes on a Plane opened nationwide to a decidedly flat $15.3 million box office. Before its premiere, Snakes had been the latest blogger darling, as swarms of online film geeks prematurely crowned it the summer’s big sleeper. This hyperventilating fan base even convinced Snakes’ distributor, New Line Cinema, to up the movie’s rating to R, to ensure a gorier, more venomous snake fest. But all that clapping and yapping couldn’t put enough fannies in the seats.

But what’s the right counterfactual here? I think it’s that _Snakes on a Plane_ is a cheap B-Movie that, in the absence of the jokey attention it got online, would have gone straight to DVD and never come close to the top of the box office for even a single weekend. If anyone was suckered by the “mythology of the blogosphere” it was New Line Cinema, who clearly had convinced themselves that they had another _Titanic_ on their hands. (Maybe they had — just the wrong one.)

DiePod III, Die Harder

by Maria on August 30, 2006

Within a week of eachother, both my and a younger sister’s re-conditioned ipods have died. This was my third. After a year’s solid service, my first (they’ve all been 20 gig clickwheels) deteriorated over a couple of days before completely crashing. I sent it to a crowd in Kentucky who promised to either fix it or replace the hard drive. But not before they’d posted me an ipod ambulance to send it in, completely mislabelling it so I spent 3 months arguing with DHL over a customs fee of 45 Euro for said empty box. With its new drive, my little ipod zombie struggled on for another two months. Ipod no. 2, a secondhand job, is probably still working. But last time I saw it was tucked into the seat-back pocket on a Singapore Airlines jet. A week ago, ipod no. 3 upped and produced a black screen of death. After a stern talking to and a 24 hour time out, I sat it into its little charger only to pull it out 10 minutes later because of the sharp smell of burning. Now I truly understand what a meltdown is. So, no more ipods for me. Nor for my sister Annaick, who was on no. 2. That is, until the prospect loomed of an 8 month trip with no music.

What to do? I’m leaning towards a SanDisk, hoping the flash memory might be less likely to ignite. And figuring anything that avoids iTunes control-freak closed standards and copy controls is a good thing. Annaick’s considering a nano, but open to something with a non-proprietary format that can be more easily updated while on the road. She’s checked out Zens, but their distinguishing feature seems to be the ability to die the week their 1 year warranty expires.

Then there’s the mp3 player / mobile phone dilemma. Is this a hybrid device whose time has come? I lost my tri-band phone on a trip a few months ago (bit of a pattern, that) and replaced it with a cheap and cheerful Nokia that doesn’t work outside GSM land. If I spend enough $$$ for a posh new phone that works in the US, might I just as well buy something that plays mp3s as well? Might I even be less phone-phobic and likely to turn it on if it did nice things like play music while I run?

Questions, questions. Answers would be welcome, and sneering or ribaldry for a repeat ipod offender will be taken on the chin.

Palin’s Travels

by Jon Mandle on August 29, 2006

In 1988, Michael Palin set out to travel around the world in 80 days roughly tracing the path of Phileas Fogg and using only modes of transport that had been available to him. He filmed it for a BBC documentary. I vaguely remember seeing and enjoying an episode or two some years ago. I had no idea that he filmed 5 more travel adventures – Pole to Pole; Full Circle; Hemingway; Sahara; Himalaya – and he is now working on one called the “New Europe” about countries that were part of the Soviet Bloc but are now part of or are soon to be part of the EU. I haven’t seen any of them – don’t watch enough TV, I guess. But I did stumble upon his website – Palin’s Travels – complete with lots of texts, maps, pictures, and some video from the travels. It’s worth exploring.

APSA panels

by Henry on August 29, 2006

I’ll be attending the APSA conference in Philadelphia, arriving Friday, and leaving Sunday morning. Below the fold is a list of panels that I thought looked interesting on the basis of a quick browse through the APSA website – feel free to add others in comments.

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Plural of Data ≠ Anecdote

by Henry on August 29, 2006

“Mike Pence”:http://www.nytimes.com/2006/08/29/washington/29pence.html?pagewanted=2&ei=5090&en=b8427076a837addf&ex=1314504000&partner=rssuserland&emc=rss on evidence-based reasoning.

Mr. Pence argued that tax cuts help the poor by revving the economy. That may eventually prove true, but despite large tax cuts the poverty rate has risen in each of the last four years. “That’s anecdotal,” Mr. Pence said in an interview last fall. Then he offered an anecdote — a story President Reagan told about a pipe fitter pleased to see the rich prosper, “because I’ve never been hired by a poor man.”

The apparent deceptiveness of the world

by John Quiggin on August 29, 2006

Googling around in connection with my review of Unspeak, I came across an old LanguageLog post on The apparent deceptiveness of the world, which cites the paradoxical statement

Appearances are not deceptive; it only seems as if they are.

and invites Brian to analyse it (Since this predates both CT and Technorati, I’m not sure if there was any followup), saying

Clearly, if this is true, then it has to be false, and if false, it must be true. Yet it is not a standard liar-paradox sentence like as in classic liar sentences like This statement is false, or Everything I tell you is a lie, including this. It does not mention truth or falsity, or refer to itself. It is a metaphysical claim, as far as I can see. It speaks not about language or truth but about the nature of reality. It says (contrary to the old proverb) that reality does not present itself in a way that deceives our senses, and any perception we may have to the contrary is incorrect.

I think we can extract a coherent claim with the aid of Hamlet’s observation “For there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so”. I’d read the statement as saying something like “First appearances are not deceptive; it’s thinking about them that leads you astray”.

While this is obviously false as a general statement, it’s arguable that direct perceptions are usually closer to the mark than the results of the kinds of analysis (Freudianism, a lot of marxist and marxisant thinking, most public choice theory) that purport to strip away surface appearances and reveal the underlying truth.

Death Rates Again

by Kieran Healy on August 27, 2006

It’s depressing to see a professor of demography pull “this sort of stunt”:http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/08/25/AR2006082500940.html in the Washington Post:

bq. Between March 21, 2003, when the first military death was recorded in Iraq, and March 31, 2006, there were 2,321 deaths among American troops in Iraq. Seventy-nine percent were a result of action by hostile forces. Troops spent a total of 592,002 “person-years” in Iraq during this period. The ratio of deaths to person-years, .00392, or 3.92 deaths per 1,000 person-years, is the death rate of military personnel in Iraq. … One meaningful comparison is to the civilian population of the United States. That rate was 8.42 per 1,000 in 2003, more than twice that for military personnel in Iraq.

What a joke. Note that the authors (Samuel H. Preston and Emily Buzzell) actually compare the crude death rate for the _entire population_ of the United States to that of U.S. service personnel in Iraq. Who knew so many people died in America from every conceivable cause every day? There ought to be a law.

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LIESNS PL8S

by Eszter Hargittai on August 27, 2006

In addition to taking pictures of restroom signs, I also enjoy looking around for interesting license plates. There are plenty of these in Illinois, apparently one in five drivers has one. I find this somewhat surprising given their cost: $76 extra for personalized plates and $123 for vanity plates (and who knew there was a difference between those two categories?).

I used to take a lot of pictures of them, but given the volume I have decided to focus mostly on ones that I can decipher and find at least somewhat interesting. Some of my favorites: EUROPA, KODALY, MAKE ART, GENEVE 4 (although that would be cleaner without the number), GOOGLE and MR PHOTO. For that last one I reversed course and went back to park on the street and capture it. I am serious about my collection.:) Among others’ photos, I’ve especially appreciated finds that have some Internet-related meaning (FLICKR‘s the best), but some others are fun as well (e.g. GRUETZI) plus the ones that are not obvious to decipher (although if they are too cryptic I’m likely to miss the meaning). Others are just outright curious, for example, who knew emotional expressions about one’s Mom is a popular theme (I LOV MUM, ILUVMA).

The issue of vanity plates can get tricky quickly as certain expressions are not always allowed. One has to wonder how closely suggested plates get scrutinized. Or would the reverse of a plate be checked (say, you want to send a message to those viewing your plate in their rear-view mirror, do state official consider the reverse reading of submitted requests)? Then there is the issue of specialty plates that support certain causes. The environmental ones don’t cause much contraversy, but the pro-life ones do.

Illinois has a search program available so you can check whether your preference is available. It turns out that mine is, but I’m not ready to spend the $123. I guess I could always just get a bumper sticker.

I see that there are plenty of vanity plates in Calfornia so I look forward to capturing those when I move there in a couple of weeks.