From the monthly archives:

August 2006

Slime and Defend, Vietnam style

by Henry on August 22, 2006

This “Los Angeles Times”:,1,7586489,full.story story (free sub or bugmenot required) deserves more attention than it’s getting.

In early 1973, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Creighton Abrams received some bad news from the service’s chief of criminal investigations. An internal inquiry had confirmed an officer’s widely publicized charge that members of the 173rd Airborne Brigade had tortured detainees in Vietnam. But there was a silver lining: Investigators had also compiled a 53-page catalog of alleged discrepancies in retired Lt. Col. Anthony B. Herbert’s public accounts of his war experiences. “This package … provides sufficient material to impeach this man’s credibility; should this need arise, I volunteer for the task,” wrote Col. Henry H. Tufts, commander of the Army’s Criminal Investigation Division. Now, declassified records show that while the Army was working energetically to discredit Herbert, military investigators were uncovering torture and mistreatment that went well beyond what he had described. The abuses were not made public, and few of the wrongdoers were punished. Tufts’ agents found that military interrogators in the 173rd Airborne repeatedly beat prisoners, tortured them with electric shocks and forced water down their throats to simulate the sensation of drowning, the records show. Soldiers in one unit told investigators that their captain approved of such methods and was sometimes present during torture sessions. In one case, a detainee who had been beaten by interrogators suffered convulsions, lost consciousness and later died in his confinement cage. Investigators identified 29 members of the 173rd Airborne as suspects in confirmed cases of torture. Fifteen of them admitted the acts. Yet only three were punished, records show. They received fines or reductions in rank. None served any prison time.

The LA Times story leaves no doubt that there was a coverup.

In the spring of 1969, about a dozen members of the 172nd MI organized a letter-writing campaign to complain to higher-ups about the abuse, Stemme said. “Next thing we know, we have this major coming up from IG’s office who is Miranda-izing us and asks us if we’re admitting to committing war crimes,” Stemme said, referring to the inspector general. “It was all about us, when this was de facto command policy. It was really scary.” They decided as a group not to give any statements, he said. … Records show that Stemme detailed specific instances of maltreatment, offering names and approximate dates. Yet a case summary produced by the Army chief of staff’s office reported that investigators closed the investigation because Stemme “declined to provide any specific information concerning his allegations.” “I spent hours with these guys,” said Stemme, now 63 and retired from his job as an investigator for the San Francisco public defender’s office. “There was no reason for me to be reticent.”

More Than Just a Pretty Face

by Belle Waring on August 22, 2006

This post from the Freakonomics blog on why beautiful women sometimes marry unattractive men seems somewhat incomprehensible to me. Maybe you all can help:

…a new study by Satoshi Kanazawa, an evolutionary psychologist at the London School of Economics, suggests it may be a simple supply-and-demand issue: there are more beautiful women in the world than there are handsome men.

Why? Kanazawa argues it’s because good-looking parents are 36% more likely to have a baby daughter as their first child than a baby son—which suggests, evolutionarily speaking, that beauty is a trait more valuable for women than for men. The study was conducted with data from 3,000 Americans, derived from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, and was published in The Journal of Theoretical Biology.

According to this news article, “Selection pressure means when parents have traits they can pass on that are better for boys than for girls, they are more likely to have boys. Such traits include large size, strength and aggression, which might help a man compete for mates. On the other hand, parents with heritable traits that are more advantageous to girls are more likely to have daughters.”

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The Prince and the feminist

by Ingrid Robeyns on August 22, 2006

When some people hear the words ‘gender’ and ‘feminism’, they have negative associations with these words. So I’ve very often been advised to be very carefully in using these words, especially with the F-word. My ‘strategy’ (if there every was such a thing) has been to never introduce myself as a feminist to people I didn’t know and who are not feminists themselves. In that way a person may get to know me a little without the influence of prejudices and bad connotations. During graduate work, I guess I’ve been very lucky that “my PhD supervisor”: was famous (and thus powerful) and entirely supported me in my feminist activities, so that I didn’t need to worry about whether my feminist interest would jeopardize my chances in obtaining my PhD degree (you bet I worked like hell). In addition, growing a little older, having job security and having collected some professional credits (grants, publications etc.) makes a lot of difference. If you don’t have to worry about bread on the table (or, for some people, a partner to live with), you are freer to speak your mind.

Still, outside academia I am much more careful. Hence when a few years ago I was at a party where the Belgian philosopher “Axel Gosseries”: introduced me to the Belgian Crown Prince as “a great Belgian feminist”, my first thought was “Help, what do I say now?”. I interpreted the prince’s facial reaction as expressing disgust and fear. My guess is that he had never met a self-proclaimed feminist, and must have felt the way I would feel if someone would introduce me to a terrorist or to a child-hater. He asked “are you really a feminist?” I replied that I wouldn’t normally introduce myself as such, but that yes, I was writing a PhD thesis on gender inequality and that this was clearly a feminist concern. He replied that he was concerned about the position of women too, since women who were staying at home where no longer valued and respected in our societies. I said that I agreed, but that it was even more difficult for men who wanted to spend time with their children or other dependents. Oh, he replied, but women and men are not the same. He then asked whether I had children. No, I didn’t. That seemed to disqualify me to talk about gender issues, because if I would have a child, I would have understood that women can never be equals to men, since they are the ones who become pregnant and give birth and care for children, and are therefore naturally unsuited to compete in the hard world outside. A few years of research on gender inequality and one baby later, I still don’t see why my having a womb and female hormones would make me unsuited to “competing in the hard world outside”. I wonder what he thinks about the fact that his daughter is second in line for the throne.

Free Lunch and Irish Breakfast

by Kieran Healy on August 22, 2006

A couple of “chancers”: in Dublin calling themselves “Steorn”: claim to have developed “a technology that produces free, clean and constant energy” — in other words, they say they have a perpetual motion machine. As they “helpfully point out”:, this “appears to violate the ‘Principle of the Conservation of Energy’, considered by many to be the most fundamental principle in our current understanding of the universe.” On the other hand, Steorn’s actions thus far confirm some more sociological principles, including the first of the “seven warning signs of bogus science”:, viz, “The discoverer pitches the claim directly to the media.” Steorn have published a “challenge” in the Economist seeking a “jury of twelve qualified experimental physicists.”

All of this – and the media attention these guys are getting – makes me feel bad for some friends of mine at “Science Foundation Ireland”:, who have worked very hard to build up Ireland’s scientific research infrastructure over the past few years. It also reminds me of a joke. Pádraig is walking along the beach when he finds a battered oil lamp. He rubs it an a genie appears, offering to grant him three wishes. “I’d like a bottle of Guinness that never runs out!” says Pat. The genie claps his hands and a bottle appears. Pat tips it upside-down and for a few minutes watches in delight as the stout pours endlessly from the bottle onto the beach. “That’s fantastic!” he says. “I’ll have two more of these, please.”

What’s in a name?

by Ingrid Robeyns on August 21, 2006

Thanks for the introduction, and thanks for the opportunity to blogg about some issues that have been keeping me awake at night. I’m really glad to have this opportunity to write about them and discuss them on this forum, since my 8-months old does smile back but still it’s hard to get a good discussion going with him.

I’d like to start with a puzzle. A family of three who are living in Utrecht (the Netherlands), is driving home from a visit to Brussels, the capital of Belgium. Let’s call this family the family Pierik-Robeyns (yes, my family indeed). In Brussels, two Pieriks and one Robeyns get into the car. Two hours later, they arrive in Utrecht. They have not made a stop. No-one has left the car, and no-one has been picked up. In Utrecht, one Pierik and two Robeyns’s leave the car. How is this possible? [click to continue…]

Introducing Ingrid Robeyns

by Chris Bertram on August 21, 2006

For the next week “Ingrid Robeyns”: will be guest-blogging here at Crooked Timber. When Ingrid is not busy trying to convince her 8-month old son to eat his vegetables, she works on topics such as Amartya Sen’s capability approach. Ingrid has just been given a big grant from Dutch National Science Foundation to do research on social justice and the new welfare state, with a special focus on parenthood, gender and the elderly. She’s Belgian by nationality, but studied and worked all over the place, including in Germany, the UK and the US, and is currently based in the Netherlands. Ingrid reports that she was once introduced to the Crown Prince of Belgium as “A great Belgian feminist”. Apparently this produced a reaction of incredulity and fear and the question “Are you _really_ a feminist?” She’s trained as an economist, but has worked in political science, philosophy and social policy. I’m sure she’ll have lots to say to us over the next week.

The Structural Power of Capital

by Henry on August 21, 2006

Dan Drezner “argued”: yesterday that the weakness of the Trans Atlantic Business Dialogue (TABD) suggests that business doesn’t have much power to shape the political agenda.

despite the impressive membership roster, this group does not appear to accomplish all that much. On issues like data privacy or genetically modified foods, the TABD has repeatedly issued stern proclamations with no effect on the outcome. … In a letter also signed by British Airways chairman Martin Broughton on behalf of the TransAtlantic Business Dialogue, the executives said it was “unacceptable” that transatlantic differences over agriculture, representing less than 3 per cent of transatlantic gross domestic product, were dictating progress on increased market access for goods and services. … After such a proclamation, any good Marxist would predict that Doha would be reborn. And, as usual, they will likely be wrong.

This is a topic that I’ve actually done research on (here’s a “piece”: that I wrote a couple of years ago on the relative power of the Transatlantic Consumer Dialogue and the TABD), and I think Dan is wrong here. The main reason that the TABD isn’t very influential in the grand scheme of things is that it doesn’t need to be. Business leaders on both sides of the Atlantic have plenty of access to policy makers without any need to go through the formalities of the TABD. In contrast, consumer groups had next to no official access to the US government before the Consumer Dialogue came into existence – while they still don’t have much clout in comparative terms, they have an official place at the table, which they didn’t before.

There is still an interesting question here, which is why businesses with an interest in increased transatlantic and international trade don’t have more impact than they do. But this doesn’t say anything about the structural power of business more generally. Indeed, I suspect that you could tell a reasonably convincing Marxist or marxisant story about how this demonstrates the relative strength of agribusiness as opposed to the internationalist types who make up the membership of TABD.

Dark matter

by Henry on August 21, 2006

Sean Carroll has a “post”: at _Cosmic Variance_ on some fascinating cosmological observations which seem (Sean’s take is obviously rather more authoritative than mine) to demonstrate the existence of dark matter as comprehensively as one could reasonably hope for.

Sanctioning liberal democracies

by Chris Bertram on August 21, 2006

When I was at the ALSP conference in Dublin a while back, one of the more interesting papers was “Sanctioning Liberal Democracies” by Avia Pasternak of Nuffield College Oxford. Pasternak’s paper addresses the question of when it is appropriate to take action against liberal democracies for human rights violations. After all, as we are often being reminded, there are far worse violations of human rights going on elsewhere in the world. It might be thought that there are “double standards” here and that there is something wrong about giving special emphasis to, say, Guantanamo or Abu Ghraib. Pasternak argues that we should hold democracies to higher standards. Central to her account is an idea of a community of democratic nations and the notion that they are, in some sense, involved in a collective project to promote democracy and human rights. When one member of such a community lets the side down, so to speak, by failing to live up to its commitments, it thereby undermines that collective project and can justifiably be the object of sanctions by the other members.

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Being overqualified

by Eszter Hargittai on August 21, 2006

I was catching up with a friend recently who, after receiving a Master’s degree, decided to move to a professionally less-than-ideal location for personal reasons. She’s been doing okay by picking up work here and there, but it’s been a long process. She was explaining to me the frustrations of being told that you are overqualified for a job. I could definitely see her perspective and was nodding throughout her desciption of various recent experiences. But after the responses I received to my recent post here about outsourcing advice, I am starting to understand the other side’s position better. A few people emailed me offering their services. The problem is, pretty much all of them seem to be overqualified, which puts me in a difficult position.

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That was then, this is now

by John Quiggin on August 21, 2006

Daniel Byman and Kenneth Pollack start a lengthy Washington Post piece by observing

The debate is over: By any definition, Iraq is in a state of civil war.

and their assessment only gets gloomier from there on in, pointing to the disaster as a source of further regional conflict, a recruiting poster and training ground for terrorists, massive flows of refugees and so on. They have essentially nothing positive to suggest except for the observation (for which General Shinseki got fired before the war) that

Considering Iraq’s … population, it probably would require 450,000 troops to quash an all-out civil war there. Such an effort would require a commitment of enormous military and economic resources, far in excess of what the United States has already put forth.

Since the commitment of 450 000 troops is even less likely now than it was in 2003, the conclusion is, in effect, that the situation is hopeless.

We’re well past the point where admissions of error will do any good. Still, I’m stunned that Pollack could write

How Iraq got to this point is now an issue for historians (and perhaps for voters in 2008); what matters today is how to move forward

This was so brazen that I thought I must have got him confused with someone else. But no, it’s the same Kenneth Pollack who wrote The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq.

Dead enders

by Henry on August 20, 2006

Perhaps I should comment further on Norman Podhoretz’s “ruminations”: in the forthcoming issue of _Commentary_, but surely the piece itself says it all.

I must confess to being puzzled by the amazing spread of the idea that the Bush Doctrine has indeed failed the test of Iraq. After all, Iraq has been liberated from one of the worst tyrants in the Middle East; three elections have been held; a decent constitution has been written; a government is in place; and previously unimaginable liberties are being enjoyed. By what bizarre calculus does all this add up to failure? And by what even stranger logic is failure to be read into the fact that the forces opposed to democratization are fighting back with all their might?

Surely what makes more sense is the opposite interpretation of the terrible violence being perpetrated by the terrorists of the so-called “insurgency”: that it is in itself a tribute to the enormous strides that have been made in democratizing the country. If this murderous collection of diehard Sunni Baathists and vengeful Shiite militias, together with their allies inside the government, agreed that democratization had already failed, would they be waging so desperate a campaign to defeat it? And if democratization in Iraq posed no threat to the other despotisms in the region, would those regimes be sending jihadists and material support to the “insurgency” there?

Desktop icon cartoon

by Eszter Hargittai on August 20, 2006

This is pretty cute although it would’ve worked at least as well with a less violent theme. It would be interesting to see something like this with some of the more recent popular programs like Firefox. Not too hard to guess who would win. Anyone know of such a creation?

Realism in the Middle East

by Henry on August 19, 2006

Flynt Leverett has an “article”: in _The American Prospect_ this month arguing that Democrats should embrace Kissinger-style realism if they want to redirect US foreign policy.

bq. Henry Kissinger established a paradigm for U.S. grand strategy in the Middle East. In this paradigm, American policy should seek always to empower moderates and marginalize radicals. The best way to do this was through careful management of the region’s balance of power, primarily through diplomatic means. The essence of such diplomacy is “carrots-and-sticks” engagement — credibly threatening negative consequences for regional actors who work against U.S. goals, but also promising strategically significant benefits in exchange for cooperation. … Regarding democratization, the administration’s three examples of U.S.-engineered democratic empowerment in the region — Afghanistan, Iraq, and Lebanon — are all basket cases. …There is no evidence that democracy reduces the incidence of terrorism, and ample evidence from places like Egypt and Saudi Arabia that holding more open elections in most Arab societies would produce governments that are more anti-American and less reformist than incumbent “authoritarians.” … Democrats have fallen into a “soft neconservatism” that has dulled the party’s voice on foreign policy. Henry Kissinger once observed that the United States is the only country in which the term “realist” is used as a pejorative. The more progressive elements of the Democratic coalition have been especially strident in voicing their antipathy to Kissingerian realism. … It is time for Democrats to understand that, when it comes to curbing the threats posed by problematic states like Iran, encouraging reform in strategically important states like Egypt and Saudi Arabia, or ensuring Israel’s long-term future, realism has become the truly progressive position on foreign policy.

While I agree with some of Leverett’s specific recommendations about engagement with Iran etc, his underlying argument is profoundly misguided. Kissinger-style realism was and is a long term disaster – a willingness (sometimes, as with Kissinger himself, a quite grotesque eagerness), to kow-tow to brutal dictatorships when it was perceived as being in America’s short term interests. Leverett claims that realism “ laid the foundations for eventual peaceful victory in the Cold War.” This is a highly dubious claim – if, for example, Kissinger had gotten his way in sidelining the human rights part of the Helsinki process (see further John Maresca’s _To Helsinki_ on this), things would have gone very differently (and in all probability, much worse) in Central and Eastern Europe when Soviet hegemony began to crumble.

The one thing that the neo-cons were right about was that America’s foreign policy in the Middle East (seeking to shore up crumbling and corrupt autocracies) was unsustainable in the long term. Their proposed solution to this problem – the imposition of democracy through force – has turned out, predictably, to be a complete disaster. But Leverett’s preferred alternative of maintaining the status quo would have only been very slightly better; a slow motion train wreck rather than a quick one.


by John Holbo on August 19, 2006

Tonight I got good results reading Tony Cliff’s fairy tale, “Old Oak Trees”, to the 5-year old. It’s from the new Flight 3 [amazon]. You can see a preview page here. And from there you can get to the flight blog, an excellent source for boingboing-ish things. In this case, it led me to Tony Cliff’s demo reel for season 1 of Pucca. Most peculiar. It’s Korean. More I really cannot say.