From the monthly archives:

September 2006

Blogs and the Boston Review

by Henry Farrell on September 25, 2006

My piece on the netroots and the Democratic party has just come out in the _Boston Review_ (free webby version “here”:, but I heartily encourage people to “subscribe”: to the real magazine; it’s smart and filled with wonderful things). People who want to comment on or respond to the piece (it’s a broadly positive take on the netroots, but argues that they need to become more self-consciously ideological) can do so here.

Review: Good and Plenty

by Henry Farrell on September 25, 2006

Tyler Cowen – _Good & Plenty: The Creative Successes of American Arts Funding_

Available from “Powells”:, from “Amazon”:

There are two, quite different libertarian styles of writing about culture that I enjoy. One is the pop-culture variety, which uses libertarian precepts as the framework for a certain kind of flip, contrarian analysis. This can be quite entertaining, but it usually doesn’t bear up well to close examination. Libertarian nostrums all too frequently substitute for actual thought (granted, much leftist opinionating on culture has similar problems). The second style is that of Tyler Cowen. Cowen writes in an entertaining and straightforward manner. He’s enthusiastic and knowledgeable about both high and low culture. But the fun of his arguments is that they’re serious, interesting, and properly thought through. If they’re hard to fit into conventional frameworks of debate, they aren’t self-consciously contrarian either. Instead, they lead in their own directions, and Cowen isn’t afraid to follow them, even if they lead to unexpected destinations.
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Limiting Fast Food

by Belle Waring on September 25, 2006

New York City Councilman Joel Rivera (representing the Bronx) wants to change the zoning laws to restrict the number of fast food restaurants. The Times notes that Calistoga, CA has a similar law on the books banning chain restaurants from its historic downtown, for aesthetic reasons. Mr. Rivera’s reasoning may be aesthetic as well, though he would surely defend it as hygenic: he thinks New Yorkers are too fat. He’s probably right about that, but his proposed solution seems of dubious utility, in addition to being a gratuitous restriction of his constituents’ right to do what they please. And now let’s hear one of the least compelling defenses of the nanny state ever offered by a well-intentioned politician: [click to continue…]

Looking For A Fight

by John Holbo on September 25, 2006

I am proud to announce our CT book event on Chris Mooney’s The Republican War On Science has become a book! (You’d rather buy from Amazon? Here you go.) I declare it an event! There is a certain danger of regress, admittedly. But I think it is quite sound publishing procedure. I’m now an editor for Parlor Press. We’re calling the line Glassbead. I like connotations of transparency and combinatoric possibility. All our books will be available as inexpensive paperbacks and freely downloadable PDF’s; all released under a Creative Commons license. We’re starting with book events – some ones that have happened here at CT and at the Valve. I also want to make anthologies of good blog material. Dig things out of archives that are worthy of editing and preservation. And some nice critical editions of public domain works. More generally, the idea is to figure out a low-cost, fast, efficient model for peer-reviewing and publishing. Mostly the idea – I’ve said it before – is that academic publishing can only truly distinguish itself in this day and age by becoming an exemplary gift culture. (Chris Mooney seems pleased with the treatment.)

Maybe it’s already been done but, if not, someone could do a good ‘how Hitler conquered Europe’ skit based on the idea that at every stage he is able to advance, invisible, like a ghost, because someone points out that to take note of his presence would be a Godwin’s Law violation. The Wehrmacht rolls into Poland. The border guards frantically phone for assistance, only to be tut-tutted. ‘Ah-ah-ahh! You said ‘Hitler’!’ Stalin raves at his underlings when news of Hitler’s betrayal of their pact reaches him. ‘Impossible! That would be a Godwin’s Law violation!’

You may say I just compared Bush to Hitler and this is a strictly inaccurate analogy in a large number of respects. (I guess I can take cold comfort in that.) But I also, in effect, just compared David Broder to Stalin. Which is totally absurd. So let’s call it a wash and proceed straight to the improving moral. It is absurd to uphold moderation as a normative ideal in politics by simply refusing to acknowledge the possibility that it might have failed, in point of fact. (See Broder’s most recent pair of columns, if you haven’t already. And this Jennifer Senior book review, and this Digby review of the review.)

I used to be a practitioner of the Higher Broderism myself, in some ways. I’m trying to do better. What stings me is the conclusion of the Senior review. Two books on what’s gone on with Bush and what’s the moral of the story: “how important it is for writers to have a slight sense of humor about themselves.” Yes. A whole quadrant of possible conclusions is excluded – you just can’t get there from here – because it would be hard to get there while giving the audience a jolly ‘he said-she said’ ride, which lets them back off at the same place where they bought their ticket. And this is effectively put forth as a sufficient reason for doubting the conclusions are true.

UPDATE: It occurs to me the objection will be made that the likes of Broder are willing to consider the possibility that both sides have abandoned the middle in equal and opposite fashion. But this is really more a flirtation with political mysticism – a doctrine of the occultation of the middle, if you will – than a serious empirical proposal. (The Hidden Moderate speaks through its earthly representative: folks like Broder.) Because this view refuses to consider alternatives to itself, e.g. that moderation has failed in some other way. Either way, what we get is merely a means of preserving the accustomed rhetorical equilibrium of Broder, Senior. et al.

UPDATE the 2nd: Yes, I’m using ‘violation of Godwin’s Law’ to mean, more or less, ‘confirming instance of Godwin’s Law’. Well, I think I’m just following common usage in doing so. It’s some sort of non-exception that disproves the rule thing.

You Were Hoping For The Death of a Thousand Cuts?

by Belle Waring on September 24, 2006

I’m skeptical about whether bin Laden is actually dead. TPM guest poster DK says something that strikes me as funny, though: “I will say that typhoid is not exactly my idea of a deserved death for the man.” I don’t know. I hate Osama plenty, and I think dying of typhoid would be absolutely horrible, and much worse than getting shot or blown up. Fatal bacterial infections are world-renowned awful ways to die, so if typhoid has carried him off, I think my lust for vengeance will be perfectly slaked. That said, I’m skeptical. But then, I am partly skeptical because I think he died some time ago; I find it impossible to believe that he would be able to resist taunting everyone with pictures of himself holding a recent paper after some terrorist attack. I just don’t know.

Bin Laden dead ?

by John Q on September 23, 2006

French newspaper L’Est Republicain has published a report, citing sources in the French security services who claim that Osama bin Laden is dead of typhoid, having been unable to obtain treatment by virtue of his isolation.

« Selon une source habituellement fiable, les services saoudiens auraient désormais acquis la conviction qu’Oussama Ben Laden est mort. Les éléments recueillis par les saoudiens indiquent que le chef d’Al-Qaïda aurait été victime, alors qu’il se trouvait au Pakistan le 23 août 2006, d’une très forte crise de typhoïde ayant entraîné une paralysie partielle de ses membres inférieurs. Son isolement géographique, provoqué par une fuite permanente, aurait rendu impossible toute assistance médicale. Le 4 septembre 2006, les services saoudiens de sécurité ont recueilli les premiers renseignements faisant état de son décès. Ils attendraient, d’obtenir davantage de détails, et notamment le lieu exact de son inhumation, pour annoncer officiellement la nouvelle ».

Via ABC News (Australia)

Net neutrality and survey design

by Henry Farrell on September 22, 2006

Via “Public Knowledge”:, this “press release”: from the Senate Commerce Committee touting a survey which reveals that an overwhelming majority of the American public oppose net neutrality. Or perhaps not. The exact question asked was:

Which of the following two items do you think is the most important to you:

Delivering the benefits of new TV and video choice so consumers will see increased competition and lower prices for cable TV


Enhancing Internet neutrality by barring high speed internet providers from offering specialized services like faster speed and increased security for a fee

Given how egregiously the question was loaded, the surprise is that one third of the respondents went for the second option. It’s probably superfluous to mention that the survey was funded by Verizon, and carried out by a ‘bipartisan’ group of bought-and-paid-for hacks from Public Opinion Strategies and Joe Lockhart’s Glover Park Group.

Free the Tripoli Six

by John Q on September 22, 2006

This Nature editorial reports the alarming news that six international health workers face execution in Libya on bogus charges of spreading HIV. As the editorial points out, despite the absence of any real improvement in its human rights record, Libya is being treated as a Beacon of Light by both the US and EU because it has backed off its previous support for terrorism and WMDs. It should be made clear to the Gaddafi regime that murdering health workers is on a par with terrorism as a crime against the international community.

More from ScienceBlogs


by Maria on September 22, 2006

Today is the first ever OneWebDay; “the one day a year when we all – everyone around the physical globe – can celebrate the Web and what it means to us as individuals, organizations, and communities”. OneWebDay was started by Susan Crawford who’s also one of our Board Directors at ICANN and an all round good egg. The idea is to celebrate all the good things about the web, and the Internet more broadly, and do things that either make it better or remind ourselves how great it already is. Fun things, chatty things, useful things, things like teaching people to blog, getting grannies online and building community spaces.

We’ve not planned anything quite as concrete as all that here at CT. In fact, we’ve not planned anything at all. But we can certainly do the celebrating and reminiscing part of it.

Things like sharing:
How the web changed my life
How I found my job online
How I found friends online
What the web means to me
Or, my own category; mad things the web lets us do that we’d never thought of before and now can’t live without.

You know, the little things. So here goes.

How the web changed my life: well, I used to work in tv and film and had to get up very early. Which was no good as I’m emphatically not a morning person (not really a night owl or a middle of the day person either, for that matter). Now I make my living more or less directly from the Internet as I’ve worked in Internet policy for the last six years. So that’s pretty obvious.

The real way the Internet changed my life, though, is by making expat life a bit less like living with a running sore. I IM with at least one sibling every day, blog with another, and share photos and emails with all the rest. And if I ever figure out this Skype thing, I won’t even have to phone my parents any more. (They already have video-conferencing with their 8 month old grand-son in Washington, and will get it up and running next week for their 5 day old grand-daughter in Shropshire.) I read the Irish Times (and the Guardian, Washington Post and Le Monde) every morning, so I never feel completely out of touch with events. I download Questions and Answers and the evening news from Irish television and probably see more of my pundit/public figure type relatives than I ever did when I lived at home. I buy my flights online, knowing that the instant arbitrage of the Internet has helped drive prices down to the point where I can afford to be at home every six weeks. I manage bank accounts in four countries and shopped around for the best mortgage in one of them. And I get loads of silly joke emails every day, just as if I was in an office in Dublin. Of course, nothing is the same as living in your own country, speaking in your own accent, sitting in your best friend’s kitchen talking rubbish over a bottle of wine, going to a crap movie with your little brother because, hey, you’ve got the time. But the Internet helps. Lots.

So that’s a start, anyway. There’s lots I could say about how I got into Internet policy back in the days when we had all that west coast libertarian guff about the Internet making us free (because information wants to be free. Right.) and I started to worry that it was actually the ultimate technology of control. But it’s OneWebDay, the day when we think about the happy, shiny stuff the Internet has brought us.

So think. And share. Thanks!

War on Science: Science Strikes Back

by John Q on September 21, 2006

The war on science driven by a combination of Republican* ideology and corporate cash has been ably documented by Chris Mooney (see the Crooked Timber seminar here). Now, finally, science is striking back at one of the worst corporate enemies of science, ExxonMobil. As evidence of human-caused global warming has accumulated, leading energy companies like BP have seen the need to respond, with the result that industry groups like the Global Climate Coalition have broken down, leaving ExxonMobil to carry on a rearguard action through a network of shills and front groups. Now the company is finally being exposed by a major scientific organisation.

In an apparently unprecedented move, the British Royal Society has written to Exxon, stating that of the organization listed in Exxon’s 2005 WorldWide Giving Report for ‘public information and policy research‘, 39 feature

information on their websites that misrepresented the science on climate change, either by outright denial of the evidence that greenhouse gases are driving climate change, or by overstating the amount and significance of uncertainty in knowledge, or by conveying misleading impression of the potential impacts of climate change

(full copy of the letter here)

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Sorry, what was the Question?

by Kieran Healy on September 21, 2006

Here’s an Ad from Amazon’s front page, designed to sell the drug “Adderall”:

The sketch writes itself, I suppose. Thank you for calling 1-800-GOT-ADHD. Please listen carefully as our menu of options has recently changed. If you have questions about ADHD diagnosis, please press hey, have you ever put a bunch of Mentos in your mouth and then drunk some Diet Coke? I did that once and it was a blast. I want to go outside.

I’m sorry. I’ll get my coat.

Oliver Clement Brighouse Mothersname was born this morning (Wednesday) at about 8.40 central time, by C-section. At 8lbs he has the smallest birthweight of our children, much to his oldest sister’s joy. Both he and his mother are doing well.

He’ll have two adoring sisters and parents who want him (even if they had a hard time figuring out a name). My greatest wishes for him are that he gives and receives a great deal of love, happiness and laughter in his life, and that he has the self confidence that enables him to find his own way while treating others kindly. A life-long enjoyment of Round The Horne, Bob Newhart and a facility with Unwinese would be big bonuses. His sisters will work on those.

I had a close encounter with the Reaper this summer. I don’t know exactly how close, but closer than I’d like. He was waiting on a winding hill road in south east Ohio, keeping an appointment with an 18 year old kid who was driving too fast and on the wrong side of the road. Seeing me coming the other way in my Camry he thought he spotted a twofer, and got greedy. What was the chance that I’d be a middle aged man who drives like an old granny but has reactions honed by spending my teenage (pre-helmet) years standing at silly mid-off (because I was too fat to be put anywhere else)? I slammed on the brakes, remembered that I’d just doubled my life insurance, hoped my daughter would be fine, thought about what a nice life I’ve had, and waited.

There’s such a thing as overreaching and the reaper departed wicket-less, succeeding only in causing a few injuries, a fair amount of pain, and making a mockery of this old post. The upshot is along with the adoring sisters and the perfect mother, Oliver Clement gets to have a father. And a minivan. (But not, regrettably for him, the name Reginald).

I get to see him and his sisters grow up. They are materially comfortable, and no gifts you might offer to him will make us better parents, which is what they need. But if you did feel like celebrating our delight in his birth, you could do what I did tonight: pour yourself a glass of fresh grapefruit juice, listen to The Goons with your kids, and make a small, medium-sized, or, best of all, large donation to Oxfam (UK, Aus, elsewhere).

The shocking truth: politicians lie

by Eszter Hargittai on September 20, 2006

People have been asking me to comment on the recent riots in Budapest so I thought I would say a few words. First, a necessary caveat. I don’t follow Hungarian politics closely.* In fact, I don’t follow Hungarian politics much at all. I could probably write a whole separate post as to why not, suffice it to say that I don’t live in that country for a reason (or two or three) and years ago I decided that it was simply not good for my blood pressure to keep track of events. So I don’t. That said, when something especially noteworthy happens, I am curious to know what it is and will go to Hungarian sources instead of relying on various international reports. I’ve read up on recent events a little bit so here is a quick summary.

Politicians lie. Yawn. The twist here is that apparently many Hungarians naively assumed that they don’t. Worse yet, Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány was caught on tape saying that his party lied a lot before the elections last Spring. To clarify, the instigator of the riots was not some public speech the Prime Minister made in the last few days. Rather, someone taped and recently leaked a discussion [link to Hungarian text] he had with a a few top people about 180 of his party representatives back in the Spring.

The level of honesty in his comments is naive, refreshing and scary all at the same time. Imagine if you could give some magic potion to a president or prime minister of your choice that would lead the person to talk about his/her actions and policies from the last few years completely openly and eagerly. It could result in some frightening and fascinating speeches. And who knows where that would lead.

Hungary’s got a lot of problems. The main point of Gyurcsány’s speech was that it was time to fix at least some of them. Yes, the irony is that the point of the speech was to say that it was time to stop the lies and make some difficult, but important changes.

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Breathe into a Paper Bag and Count to Ten, Slowly

by Scott McLemee on September 20, 2006

A couple of days ago, in passing, I referred to the president of the United States at our Dear Leader. This has caused some hyperventillation. Just to clarify: The idea that the US and North Korea are in any way similar in polity or social structure never crossed my mind.

That sort of thing is, rather, a right-wing specialty: Gibberish about “totalitarian political correctness” of the Democratic Leadership Committee, etc. is a convenient way for crazy people to signal one another, so they can meet to discuss their shared feelings of persecution.

No, my intended parallel was between the men, not the regimes.

At that level, the element of sarcastic excess, while open to misinterpretation, came pretty close to bordering on the obvious: In each case, a personally unaccomplished and otherwise altogether unimpressive son, guided by his father’s old retainers, makes his country look both terrifying and ridiculous to the rest of the world.

Hysterics love hyperbole. But not all hyperbole is hysteria.