From the monthly archives:

October 2006

If you haven’t, you really should read the very interesting exchange at TAP (round 1, round 2) between Matthew Yglesias, Ezra Klein, Mark Schmitt and Jacob Hacker, author of The Great Risk Shift: the Assault on American Jobs, Families, Health Care, and Retirement – and How You Can Fight Back [amazon]. I don’t have too much to add myself, but I’ll presume to recycle a little something from my good old “Dead Right” post from yesteryear.

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Got a few hours?

by Eszter Hargittai on October 27, 2006

Vivian’s recent comment wondering whether my work would interfere with my ability to post Friday time-sink amusements reminded me that I should not abandon my important role in keeping you from doing whatever it is that you had planned to do when you sat down at your computer.

This weekend’s amusement is brought to you by Jeux Chiants (yeah, I know, you’ll have to excuse my French).

Of the large selection, my highest recommendation goes to Double Jeu. You won’t miss much by not speaking French, it’s pretty self-explanatory. Just don’t let either ball drop. Hah, and doesn’t that sound easy? The one thing you’ll miss out on by not speaking French is the derogatory comments after you mess up. I managed to get up to 24.5 32.8 seconds. If anyone does it longer and understands the resulting comment, I’d be curious to hear if you ever get a true heartfelt congratulations.

I thought Labyflou was reasonably amusing and you can get it the first time around. It’s also not addictive, once is about enough.

Le jeu du ver is not bad. It’s one of those games that starts out almost too easy, but then gets significantly harder with each level.

Finally, La souris est invisible is a good reminder of how dependent we may or may not be on visual cues when using the mouse.

Got three minutes?

by Eszter Hargittai on October 27, 2006

Click here for something cool.

in three minutes, the largest dot will travel around the circle once, the next largest dot will travel around the circle twice, the next largest dot three times, and so on.

the dots are arranged to trigger notes on a chromatic scale when they pass the line


European Russia

by John Q on October 26, 2006

Reading recent posts, it’s clear nearly everyone here knows more about Eastern Europe than me I do, so probably others won’t be surprised as I was, by the information in this Washington Post story that Russia, as a member of the Council of Europe, is subject to the European Court of Justice Human Rights, and that

Russians now file more complaints with the court — 10,583 in 2005 — than people from any of the 46 countries that make up the Council of Europe, according to court statistics

Among other stats, the Court has issued 362 rulings on Russia, all but 10 going against the government.

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Though cowards flinch and traitors sneer ….

by Chris Bertram on October 26, 2006

Shorter Oliver Kamm (for the benefit of those who don’t want to wade through “5000 words of Kamm’s unique prose”: ):

bq. Many thousands of people have died, Iraq is a mess, and the war was completely mismanaged. Some other war supporters have therefore changed their minds about whether it was a good idea in the first place. Not me! Thanks to the war we in the West no longer have to worry about Saddam having WMDs. So the war was justified.

by Chris Bertram on October 26, 2006

Lately, I’ve been getting less and less from reading blogs and, more generally, stuff on the internet. But there have been some exceptions, and one of the most exceptional has been “”: , the paper put out by various exapts in Russia (where they are beyond libel and defamation laws). Notable in the most recent issue is “the kicking that Mark Ames gives to the American journalistic profession as a whole”: , and Anne Applebaum in particular, in the light of their reaction to the Politkovskaya assassination. I’ve also become a regular reader of Gary “war nerd”: Brecher and of “John Dolan’s book reviews”: . You should go there too. They’re good, if nasty.

(Cross-posted to the Ukraine Study Tour Blog)
During the Ukraine study tour, the British Council arranged a session with Andrei Kurkov, Ukraine’s most famous living novelist. With his impeccable, colloquial English and knowing way of dealing with Westerners, Kurkov maintains a slight diffidence while deftly playing the media game. Kurkov’s early training in Japanese and his slipping the net of Russian intelligence service recruiters to wait out the fall of communism as a prison guard in Odessa hint that this is a writer who will not be pinned down.

He thinks the Orange Revolution changed the mentality of Ukrainians, making them less passive and politically indifferent, but adds; ‘I have no illusions, it was essentially a bourgeois revolution’. He talked to us affably and optimistically about Russian and Ukrainian writing in Ukraine, cultural policy and the national arts scene. He also spoke about censorship, saying “there are no clean politicians in this country, unless they are very young or very unimportant.”
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Class, Flatus, Parties

by Henry Farrell on October 25, 2006

Will Wilkinson “claims”: that we can avoid positional conflicts in a world of infinitely proliferating status dimensions. [click to continue…]

The power of marketing

by Eszter Hargittai on October 24, 2006

Of two books on similar topics with similar publication dates, one is ranked #116 on Amazon (as of this writing, yesterday it was #350), the other is at #1,036,339 (as of this writing).* The former has an official publication date of October 17, 2006 (exactly a week ago) and has zero reviews on Amazon (as of this writing). The latter has an official publication date of July 27, 2006 and also has zero reviews on Amazon. Given zero reader reviews in both cases and the recent publication of the former manuscript, it would be hard to argue that it is its superior quality that has catapulted it to the top of Amazon’s popularity index. So what else differs?

Kati Marton’s book on The Great Escape: Nine Jews Who Fled Hitler and Changed the World was published by Simon & Schuster, a trade press with a powerful marketing machine. My father István Hargittai’s book on The Martians of Science: Five Physicists Who Changed the Twentieth Century was published by Oxford University Press (OUP), an academic press notorious for not putting any marketing weight behind its publications naively assuming that quality will yield popularity.

Kati Marton is a journalist formerly married to the late ABC anchor Peter Jennings, currently married to Ambassador Richard Holbrooke. Her book has blurbs from the likes of Tom Brokaw and has gotten coverage on ABC’s Web site among many other venues. István Hargittai is a scientist in Budapest married to Magdolna Hargittai another scientist, both members of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. His book doesn’t have blurbs from the likes of Tom Brokaw (it only does from two scientists, true, both are Nobel laureates) and has not gotten coverage in any major outlets.

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by Eszter Hargittai on October 23, 2006

Our revolution was not a movie Fifty years ago today events occured in Budapest that quickly led to the death of many and the emigration of about 200,000 Hungarians to various corners of the world. (Considering a country of 10 million, that’s a significant number.)

Having grown up in a system that didn’t recognize this day as worthy of mention (given that its whole point was to topple the Soviet-influenced regime) I have never had much of a connection to it. And having left Hungary soon after the political changes of the early 90s after which the date became officially important and a holiday, I have never developed much of a bond with it. In fact, I’m more likely to recognize November 7th as a special date (the one Hungarians and others in the region used to celebrate) than October 23rd. All that is a testament to how strongly social context can influence one’s perception of important historical events and dates.

The image above is from the Times Square area in New York City. I was walking down Broadway on Saturday and noticed the red-white-and-green lines. I figured it was a mistaken use of the Italian flag. When portrayed horizontally, the Italian flag has to be green-white-and-red in order not to be confused with the Hungarian flag. But people unfamiliar with the Hungarian flag (which would be most of the world) don’t know this and so I sometimes see the Italian flag portrayed that way. However, as I neared 50th St. I realized that this was meant to be a Hungarian flag. The Hungarian Cultural Center put up two huge billboards on the corner of Broadway and 50th to commemorate the occasion and to invite folks to “REimagine freedom“.

And yes, there has been unrest in Budapest during the past few weeks including some events today. Some people are trying to draw parallels to the events of 1956, but that seems ludicrous. Just because some people – mostly on the far right so you are not going to see sympathies from me – who are especially good at inciting a few hundred folks do not like the current regime doesn’t mean the president prime minister [d’oh, of course] needs to be ousted. (I commented on all this a few weeks ago.)

Helping Children with Homework

by Harry on October 23, 2006

spiked (my favourite) is sponsoring the Battle of Ideas conference next weekend at the Royal College of the Arts. My friend Adam Swift will be a panelist in the session on home-school relationships, Sending Parents Back to the Classroom (11-12.30 on Sunday morning). In the opening document Kevin Rooney says:

a profound change is taking place in the relationships between families, pupils and schools. What was once a relationship largely based on trust and informality is now being increasingly formalised into carefully regulated contracts and transactions. Parent-school contracts and homework contracts on the one side and inspection and auditing of teachers on the other are now the norm. At the extreme end of this spectrum are truanting orders, fines and the jailing of parents as well as a rise in litigation, with parents suing both schools and teachers.

Rooney’s piece is nicely provocative, and he raises most of the important issues. But I take issue with one thing he says in passing:

Most people over 40 struggle to remember their own parents spending any time helping them with homework.

Maybe, but perhaps that’s because most people over 40 think og helping the kids with their homework as doing it for them. My parents never, as far as I can remember, looked over my homework before I submitted it, or helped in any substantial way with the content. But they were helping me all the time. They made me go to bed early and get up in time for school, they encouraged me to listen to Radio 4 until I was addicted (at about age 6), they forbad homework in front of the TV, and provided space to do it without interruptions. They showed an interest in the work I did at school which resembled the interest my daughter now has in what I do at work — casual conversational interest, indicating that though it was no great concern of theirs they were genuinely interested. And, of course, at the limit I always knew that I could seek help. I can’t remember seeking substantive help from them, but the day I screwed up my first A/O Level paper in Additional Maths I called in a favour from the bloke down the street whom I trained in the nets for his annual work cricket match, and got him to run through how to do calculus with me. (Update — I should have added that he was bloody brilliant at it, and I salvaged a B, thanks to his incredibly clear explanations, in case anyone is considering taking a class from him, although the data is now 27 years old)

The difficulty with home/school agreements is not that they prevent parents from parenting, or encroach on their rights; by and large they don’t. The difficulty is, instead, the fact that this is a very blunt instrument for conveying to parents what really counts as helping kids with homework and giving them the means to do so. Basically, the help I needed was reinforcement of the message that this stuff was really really interesting and important for its own sake. That’s a very hard thing to get parents who don’t already know it, and feel that way, to do.


by Henry Farrell on October 23, 2006

Back to Jacob Hacker’s book, this “review”: by Roger Lowenstein in the NYT this weekend is really pretty awful. It’s one of those reviews which prompt you to wonder whether the reviewer has read the same book as you have. The very faintest of praise,”as predictable and, at times, whiny as his examples seem, Mr. Hacker does make a contribution to our understanding,” together with some unpleasant insinuations, “[s]ounding at times like a liberal Pat Buchanan.” But what really gets me is that Lowenstein baldly mis-states Hacker’s argument. [click to continue…]

Nameless Horror

by Kieran Healy on October 22, 2006

Via the “common-as-dirt PZ Myers”: comes “this site”:, which alleges it will tell you how many people in the U.S. share a name with you. The results are not encouraging.
Logo There are:
people with my name
in the U.S.A.

How many have your name?

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As everyone knows (or ought to know by now), one of the main reasons controversy over climate change is continuing in the face of overwhelming evidence is the fact that ExxonMobil has the cash spigot open to fund anyone willing to deny the evidence – the Competitive Enterprise Insitute, George Marshall Institute and the old tobacco industry network run by Steven Milloy, Fred Seitz and Fred Singer have been among the main beneficiaries. The Royal Society wrote to them recently, asking them to turn off the money tap.

Exxon’s response

The Royal Society’s letter and public statements to the media inaccurately and unfairly described our company.”

It went on: “We know that carbon emissions are one of the factors that contribute to climate change – we don’t debate or dispute this.”

So, they know the groups they are funding are lying, but they need to promote the idea that there is so much uncertainty that we should do nothing. The best way to do this is to create as much Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt as possible by promoting those who claim that global warming is a fraud.

A good face for radio

by Daniel on October 21, 2006

Here I am, talking about the Lancet study on “Counterspin”, the American radio program. Fans of incoherent mumbling, strangely reminiscent of the interviews that ended Shaun Ryder’s career, tune in. Or alternatively, copy one of my blog posts into Word and add the phrases “kind of”, “like” and “you know” every three words, to get a similar effect.