From the monthly archives:

August 2006

Can you spot the spam source?

by Eszter Hargittai on August 19, 2006

McAffee SiteAdvisor offers quizzes to test users’ skills about sites that might lead to spam and spyware. I found them interesting. It’s not always possible to tell what site may lead to spam simply based on the site’s looks. And in some cases you have to do a reasonably careful reading of the site’s privacy policy to figure out whether use of the service may result in hundreds of spam messages within a few days of signing up.

This is an interesting idea, a potentially neat way to educate users about spam and spyware problems. The tool is lacking significanty in one domain though. I think it would be MUCH more useful if the results page included an analysis of the privacy policies to point out to users what it is exactly that should serve as a red flag in the various policy statements.

The survey I administered last Winter to a sample of 1,300+ college students about their Internet uses included a question about how often, if ever, students read a site’s privacy policy. It turns out that 37% of respondents never do so and an additional 41% only do so rarely. No wonder people are still struggling with spam problems.

Unfortunately, at some level it doesn’t matter what you do if your friends are not careful with your address. I have a very private address I had only given out to a few dozen people emphasizing several times that they should never enter it on any Web sites (e.g. ecards or whatnot) and should only use it for one-on-one communication (so also requesting that they avoid its inclusion on cc lines). Some of my friends couldn’t follow these requests and now the address receives about 40 spam messages/day. I realize that’s not a lot in the grand scheme of things, but the point is that none of that was due to anything I had done with the address given that I had never entered it on any Web sites and had only ever used it to send one-on-one emails to a few dozen people.

Second thoughts about Kosovo

by John Q on August 18, 2006

The discussion of this post brought up a question I’ve been worrying about for quite a while. Given the catastrophe in Iraq (and the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan) should those of us who supported intervention in Kosovo revise our position?

While I still think the likelihood of another round of genocidal ethnic cleansing justified action in Kosovo (and makes a bigger effort in Darfur morally obligatory at present), I think some aspects of the Kosovo action were mistakes that sowed the seeds of future disaster.

My view at the time was that the failure to get UNSC approval wasn’t that important, since there was a clear consensus in favour of intervention and the only problem was that the Russians didn’t want to be forced to state a public position.

Now I think that was wrong and the effort should have been made to secure a UNSC resolution, making whatever concessions were needed to get Russia not to veto it. The problem wasn’t so much the breach of legality in this case, as the precedent it set, which was expanded beyond all recognition by Bush and Blair in Iraq.

I also think (and thought at the time) that the bombing of Belgrade crossed the line from striking military targets to terrorisation, most obviously with the bombing of the TV station. This precedent was used recently in Lebanon. I plan more on this general issue soon.

More on Hungarians

by Eszter Hargittai on August 17, 2006

First, Stephen Colbert commented on a funny Hungarian story the other day. The entire clip is worth watching, but if you want to jump straight to that segment then forward to 3.44 (or 3.37 if YouTube won’t let you do that). Love the way he pronounces the URL. *

Second, Mark Liberman of LanguageLog has decided to do a speech speed experiment on native Hungarian speakers as a follow-up to this matter (his observations here and here). If you are a native speaker of Hungarian, please send him a note and participate. The original peer-reviewed journal publication’s findings were based on just ten participants. Let’s see if he can get at least as many.

[*] Not as funny, but part of the real story is that the vote is only for recommendations that a committee will then consider when making the final decision.

The Coffeehouse Mob

by Henry Farrell on August 16, 2006

I’ve just finished reading Brian Cowan’s _The Social Life of Coffee: The Emergence of the English Coffee House_ (“Powells”:, Amazon) which I really enjoyed a lot (thanks to Rick Perlstein for the recommendation). Its structure is a little unwieldy – the first part is an essay in the history of consumption, the second a semi-related exercise in intellectual and social history – but it really lays out a very strong historical case for something that I’ve suspected and presumed was true, but haven’t seen treated systematically. The typical academic view of the coffeehouse has claimed it as the herald and avatar of a far reaching civil society of intelligent discourse. London coffeehouses have been depicted as the empirical manifestation of Jurgen Habermas’s “public sphere,” a space in which individuals could come together to discuss art and politics, free from both economic pressures and the oversight of the state. They’ve been portrayed as sites of rational and civilized argument. Cowan provides compelling evidence that this view is, to be blunt, romanticized bosh.
[click to continue…]

Irish Pub in a Box

by Kieran Healy on August 16, 2006

Soon after I moved to the United States in the autumn of 1995, I went to visit a friend in Boston. We went to a pub in Cambridge called — possibly — Grafton Street. It was an early example of the Irish Pub in a Box, sold as a unit and built to look like a slightly heightened version of the real thing back home. On the way I asked whether was like an Irish pub really, or just a poor imitation. “Well,” my friend said, “it’s not too loud, the tables are clean, and you can find the bathrooms. So not like an Irish pub at all.”

“Via Alan Schussman,”: I see that a similar thing has arrived in Tucson, just down the road from my office. (Or, if it’s good, just up the road from my old office.) The “website”: says the pub will “echo the pathos of rural Ireland to a tee,” which does not augur well. [click to continue…]

Speed of speech and its implications

by Eszter Hargittai on August 16, 2006

The NYTimes decided to report on the extent to which Hungarians are better than Americans at recalling store prices. Given that most blogging I do about Hungary seems to result in a discussion of the Hungarian language and given that the authors explain the findings based on language differences, I thought I’d take this opportunity to address the issue head on.

Let’s start with the findings:

Hungarians are far better than Americans at recalling long prices; on average, they can recall 19 to 24 syllables with decent accuracy, while Americans can recall only 13. The authors suggested that this was because Hungarians speak 41 percent faster, both out loud and when repeating sounds to themselves “subvocally.”

The NYTimes piece ends right there. That’s not fair, the author left out the most interesting part: how do we know how fast Hungarians speak in comparison to Americans?

[click to continue…]

Data sources

by Eszter Hargittai on August 16, 2006

Behind the hustle and bustle of the book exhibit at the recent annual meetings of the American Sociological Association was an exhibit of various data sources. That area of the room is usually very quiet. As a break from everything else, I decided to take a little tour. The posters and flyers are actually quite informative despite being abandoned and looking somewhat pathetic from afar. It seems to me that this is an underappreciated part of the meetings and could be especially helpful for graduate students. Of course, it should hold value to many others as well.

In addition to data sources, there are pointers to various tools and also reports that may be of interest. Much of the material on these Web sites is presented in a way that it should be accessible and interesting to many non-specialists, too. The teaching potential of some of these sources is considerable as well.

Below the fold I list some of the resources I saw.

[click to continue…]

Since Daniel has identified me as abandoning the “Anti-this war now” viewpoint, and since I’m increasingly in agreement with Jim Henley’s Anti-Most Wars Most of the Time position, I thought I’d try to restate my version of ATWN as it applies to Iraq. I haven’t managed to work it all out, so as with Daniel I’d be grateful for suggestions.

[click to continue…]

Anti Which War When?

by Daniel on August 15, 2006

Marc Mulholland makes a very good point and one that has to be frank left me stumped. Regarding the “Anti (this) War (now)” position, which I had hitherto believed was my own view on the Iraq War, the question is quite simple.

Looking at the way in which Iraq has progressed since the war, is it really credible to say that this is just the result of poor planning? Does it not, in fact, make a lot more sense in light of the facts to say that this was a fundamentally misconceived objective which could not have been achieved by any plan at all and should never have been attempted?
[click to continue…]


by John Holbo on August 15, 2006

Which famous philosopher was accused of being all of the following (answer under the fold):

lecherous, libidinous, lustful, venerous, erotomaniac, aphrodisiac, irreverent, narrow-minded, untruthful, and bereft of moral fibre.

[click to continue…]


by John Holbo on August 15, 2006

Does it ever seem weird to you that Hegel and Hölderlin and Schelling were college roommates? Or, for that matter, that Hamann and Jacobi were housemates? The whole business strikes me as quite suspicious.

The Wind that Shakes the Barley

by Chris Bertram on August 15, 2006

I went to see “The Wind that Shakes the Barley”: last night, and thoroughly enjoyed it. There are at least three Timberites better qualified than I to judge of the historical accuracy of the film, so I won’t comment on that. There did seem to be points of universal interest though. A group of farm-boys with a semi-theocratic ideology successfully holding off the high-tech army of a modern industrialized power next door seems to be a theme that gets repeated in other times and places. And the way in which a revolutionary nationalist movement divides into warring factions in when faced with a pragmatic compromise of its maximal goals has some parallels with the Palestinian story. An unexpected pleasure was the close physical resemblance between pompous landowner Sir John Hamilton (played by Roger Allam) and Christopher Hitchens. Recommended.

Felten on Property Rights Management

by Henry Farrell on August 14, 2006

This is a very interesting “post”:

bq. The second trend I identified in the talk was toward the use of DRM-like technologies on traditional physical products. … some printer makers have their printers do a cryptographic handshake with a chip in their cartridges, and they lock out third-party cartridges by programming the printers not to operate with cartridges that can’t do the secret handshake. … Doing this requires having some minimal level of computing functionality in both devices (e.g., the printer and cartridge). Moore’s Law is driving the size and price of that functionality to zero … so it will become economical to put secret-handshake functions into more and more products. Just as traditional DRM operates by limiting and controlling interoperation (i.e., compatibility) between digital products, these technologies will limit and control interoperation between ordinary products. We can call this Property Rights Management, or PRM. … A pen may refuse to dispense ink unless it’s being used with licensed paper. … A shoe may refuse to provide some features, such as high-tech cushioning of the sole, unless used with licensed shoelaces. …Will these things actually happen? I can’t say for sure. I chose these examples to illustrate how far PRM might go. …What we can say, I think, is that as PRM becomes practical in more product areas, its use will widen and we’ll face policy decisions about how to treat it.

There’s an economic case to be made that this would be efficient and promotes innovation (see “Austan Goolsbee”: in the _NYT_). I think that the negative distributional consequences (i.e. the transfer of bargaining power from consumers to producers that it would lead do) would be more important. Other opinions?

Update: Link to Felten’s post added. Duh.

Derbyshire’s Deep Thoughts

by Henry Farrell on August 13, 2006

While we’re talking about Scott, this “piece on John Derbyshire”: is the best example of how to do intellectual garbage pick-up that I’ve seen in some considerable while. The lede:

bq. Few things are quite so instructive (if not quite in the sense he intends) as watching John Derbyshire pretend to wrestle with what he supposes to be deeply transgressive thoughts about matters of politics, culture, and morality. The topics vary. The method does not. “Why, it is shocking to find myself considering things from this angle!” he says sotto voce. “Yet one must be brave, and consider the possibility that I am, in fact, completely correct.”

Click through to read the rest.

25 years

by Harry on August 12, 2006

So, it’s the 25th anniversary of Scott’s high school graduation. That reminds me that it is mine too (though I’d call it leaving school, no graduation having been involved), indicating, contrary to my impression over these many years, that we’re the same age (I thought he was a little younger, making him all the more impresive, somehow). He spent his last two years of high school thus:

In particular, there was no love lost between me and the principal, a crusty old cracker named Theo “Cotton” Miles. I thought he was an idiot — an estimate there has been no occasion to revise — and tended to shake my head every time I passed his office. To judge by later hostilities, he may have noticed this.

It got really bad sometime during my junior year, around spring 1980, when I was walking around with Socialist Workers Party literature as well as running for student council president on some approximation of a “student power” platform, influenced by old radical paperbacks.

During the school assembly where the candidates gave their speeches, my appeal got a very enthusiastic and rowdy response, particularly from the black kids who gave it a standing ovation. Rumor had it that I actually won, but Theo wouldn’t stand for it.

My last two years of secondary school were spent battling the British associates of the American SWP inside the peace movement (a central combatant being, I now know, a housemate of Chris Bertram’s at the time — one of several ways in which our paths have crossed over the years). And I liked both my secondary schools a good deal, despite not fitting in very well at the school where I spent my final two years. The head was not fantastic by any means (unlike his successor, whom I missed), but the teachers were mostly serious, smart, and caring. Most of them, I thought, really wanted to teach in a comprehensive school, which that school was in name only, so the smattering of middle class kids like me got a lot of good attention. But at least one of my best A-Level teachers, I later discovered, was adored by many of his pupils who left at 16 for his efforts to find them suitable employment at a time when that was not especially easy. (And this, I’ll add, after having pleaded with them to stay on for A-levels, instead of leaving for marriage and a steady income). I have many happy memories of that school, and few unpleasant ones, despite not having been especially cheery at the time. I feel intense gratitude to the teachers I had, especially (if you are reading) Mr, King, Mr Matthews, Colin Ross-Smith, and, at my previous school, Mr Thomas and Mrs Flint.

Anyway, the real point is this. Scott doesn’t dare to ask for himself, but could someone get him a copy of this book about his hated high school principal. He obviously wants it, but can’t bring himself to pay for it (understandably). Meanwhile, I’ll try to find my old copies of Permanent Revolution for him (explanation at the bottom of his page, entries for July 2, 5 and 7).