From the monthly archives:

November 2006

Nature review of Martians

by Eszter Hargittai on November 30, 2006

Following up on my earlier post about the difference in the marketing and subsequent sales of two similar books, here is a bit of an update. The current (Nov 30, 2006) issue of Nature has a review* of my father István Hargittai’s book The Martians of Science. Likely as a result, the book is now ranked #87,665 on and #33,109 on Amazon UK. Earlier today it was even higher (#56,649 in the US, #16,279 in the UK), but I didn’t have time to blog until now. This is a much better figure than over one million, which it was at some point recently. Of course, the change could well be due to no more than one or two purchases. I’m not sure why it is always higher on Amazon UK, perhaps Amazon lists fewer books on that site.

[*] Nature requires subscription. Here is a screenshot of the review.

Old Stalingrad — I mean, Old Nassau

by Kieran Healy on November 30, 2006

Just to piggyback on “Henry’s post”: about Orson Scott Card’s “new novel”:, I was pleased to learn from the excerpt Scott Lemiuex “posted”: that, like me, the hero spent his grad student years at “Princeton”:

bq. Princeton University was just what Reuben expected it to be — hostile to everything he valued, smug and superior and utterly closed-minded. … Yes, a doctorate in history would be useful. But he was really getting a doctorate in self-doubt and skepticism, a Ph.D. in the rhetoric and beliefs of the insane Left. … In other words, he was being embedded with the enemy as surely as when he was on a deep Special Ops assignment inside a foreign country that did not (officially at least) know that he was there.

Fantastic! Princeton’s a great university, though in the past I’ve said myself that it can be a bit closed minded and smug. _I_ had thought this might grow out of its role as the “Southernmost Ivy”, its culture of selective Eating Clubs, its astonishingly loyal, cranky and tradition-worshipping undergraduate alumni, its “historically”: “close”: connections with the CIA, stuff like that. But now I know better. “All together now”:, “Tune every heart and every voice …”

Starship Stormtroopers, How Are Ya?

by Henry on November 30, 2006

Orson Scott Card’s new ‘American libruls start a new Civil War’ novel has been provoking well deserved hilarity. “Scott Lemiuex”: quotes one of the choicer descriptions of the Evils of Leftist Professors.

He kept thinking, the first couple of semesters, that maybe his attitude toward them was just as short-sighted and bigoted and wrong as theirs was of him. But in class after class, seminar after seminar, he learned that far too many students were determined to remain ignorant of any real-world data that didn’t fit their preconceived notions. And even those who tried to remain genuinely open-minded simply did not realize the magnitude of the lies they had been told about history, about values, about religion, about everything. So they took the facts of history and averaged them with the dogmas of the leftist university professors and thought that the truth lay somewhere in the middle.

But for my money, John Ringo and Tom Kratman’s forthcoming current Watch on the Rhine (die Wacht am Rhein), billed by Baen Books as “The Most Un-PC Book of the Year,” sounds even juicier.

A man-eating Posleen horde invades Earth and Germany is forced to rejuvenate its most reviled warrior caste: the Waffen SS. With peacenik and under-prepared modern Europe reeling, it’s up to these old soldiers to reforge the steel of hard regimen and redeem their honor as warriors. It’s a chance for Europe’s fighting spirit to reawaken, weed out the lingering rot, and fight for the survival of humanity itself. Politically correct? No way! Thoughtful and action-packed? Absolutely!

Und so weiter” to use what I suppose is the appropriate phrase under the circumstances. All the book needs is a “blurb”: from Glenn “flat out racist”: Reynolds. “Is Europe going to revive the Waffen-SS to stiffen up its drooping manliness in the face of invasion by cannibalistic aliens? Not immediately, perhaps, but famed science fiction writer John Ringo thinks that we’re in enough danger that he’s co-authored a cautionary tale that’s set in more-or-less present times.”

I suspect these two books are the first blossoms of a sub-sub-genre of revanchist sf warporn that will develop over the next couple of years to console warblogger-types and to tell them that they will be justified by history when the cyber-empowered Islamo-Nazis/man-eating aliens/liberal-comsymp-guerillas come marching over the horizon. There’s sure to be a dissertation in here somewhere for some hard-working grad student.

Over at Econolog, TCS writer and right-wing hack Arnold Kling reports, under the headline “The Stern Swindle”: , that Cambridge economist Partha Dasgupta “criticizes the Stern report”: for applying a very low discount rate to the interests of future generations. Kling writes:

bq. What Dasgupta is saying is that the approach Stern uses to evaluate intertemporal trade-offs would, if applied generally, suggest that our consumption should drop from over 80 percent of GDP to 2.5 percent, in order to leave the target legacy to our children. What Dasgupta’s comment does is crystallize for me the magnitude of the intellectual swindle that Stern is attempting to pull off. Any time you assign a far-from-plausible interest rate to a long-term intertemporal problem, you get distorted results.

What Dasgupta _actually says_ :

bq. I have little problem with the figure of 0.1% a year the authors have chosen for the rate of pure time/risk discount….(p. 6)

Dasgupta’s real argument is that Stern shouldn’t adopt the egalitarian approach it does to intergenerational well-being whilst being _at the same time_ indifferent to inequality among members of the present generation. Dasgupta thinks the well-being of the actual poor should take priority over climate change abatement. Of course, we’ve heard arguments along these lines before, but Dasgupta, as someone with a record of concern for development and the well-being of the global poor, is someone who should be taken seriously when voices them and might be expected to devise and support policies that benefit the worst off. Right-wing hacks, are, needless to say, a different matter.

(Dasgupta’s critique seems to me to support the idea that economies like China and India shouldn’t be pressured into climate change abatement because the value of the benefits their growth brings to the poorest outweighs the harms to future generations. It doesn’t look anything like so plausible to claim that the least advantaged would be similarly harmed by the wealthier countries cutting back their carbon emissions.)

English as she is Spoke

by Kieran Healy on November 29, 2006

“Dan Drezner”: takes an online quiz and finds he has a “midland” accent. His evaluation says:

bq. “You have a Midland accent” is just another way of saying “you don’t have an accent.” You probably are from the Midland (Pennsylvania, southern Ohio, southern Indiana, southern Illinois, and Missouri) but then for all we know you could be from Florida or Charleston or one of those big southern cities like Atlanta or Dallas.

The number of people who sincerely believe they do not have an accent is quite astonishing. Maybe quizzes like this are partly to blame.

Reputations are made of …

by Daniel on November 29, 2006

At this late stage in the occupation of Iraq, many of Henry Kissinger’s old arguments about Indo-China are being dusted down. One of the hoariest and worst is that we need to “stay the course” (or some similar euphemism) in order to maintain “credibility” – to demonstrate our resolve to our enemies, who will otherwise continue to attack us. It reminds me of my one and only contribution to the corpus of game theory.
[click to continue…]

The MLA Meme

by Scott McLemee on November 29, 2006

An experiment is underway over at Acephalous to test the velocity at which a meme spreads across the blogal landscape. As Scott Eric Kaufman explains the hypothesis being tested:

Most memes, I’d wager, are only superficially organic: beginning small, they acquire minor prominence among low-traffic blogs before being picked up by a high-traffic one, from which many more low-traffic blogs snatch them. Contra blog-triumphal models of memetic bootstrapping, I believe most memes are — to borrow a term from Daniel Dennett’s rebuttal of punctuated equilibrium — “skyhooked” into prominence by high-traffic blogs.

I’m not sure where CT fits in this particular schema, though probably we are of the middling sort. Anyway, please check out the rest of SEK’s entry. Here’s that link again.

And if you have a blog — be its traffic high or low — please consider joining the experiment with just the short of (otherwise content-free) entry you are now reading.

Remember, it’s all for Science, albeit of the MLA variety.

Hard to believe

by John Quiggin on November 29, 2006

Writing in the LA Daily News, in a piece full of harrowing stories of flight from Iraq, Pamela Hartman states

The United States has not liberalized its refugee policy in response to the worsening crisis in Iraq. More than 1 million Iraqi refugees of all religious backgrounds have poured into Lebanon, Syria and Jordan. In fiscal year 2006, just 202 Iraqi refugees were resettled in the United States.

The 1 million figure is broadly consistent with other estimates I’ve seen, but there’s no source for the amazingly low figure of 202 refugees (If anyone can point to a data source that would be great.) I assume this excludes people like many of Hartman’s clients who’ve found some other route such as a family relationship, but that can’t change the fact that the US is ducking a central responsibility here.

Of course, the same is true in spades for Australia. At the same time as promoting the disastrous Iraq venture, many of our local warmongers have enthusiastically backed the view that we have no obligations to the refugees it has created, or, in comments on my blog, only to the Christians among them.

There’s no real way to salvage the disaster we’ve created in Iraq. But we must at least accept the responsibility of providing a haven to those fleeing the carnage we have created.


by Daniel on November 28, 2006

I’ve just noticed that we haven’t had a specific post on the Litvinenko poisoning, despite the fact that it’s an interesting subject. I don’t really have anything to say on this, except that I would point out that this is a good refutation of those self-consciously “level-headed” types who like to believe that “most suspicious things are a case of cock-up rather than conspiracy”, that “you can’t put together any big plan without someone talking about it” or that there is something intrinsically weird or tin-foil-hattish about assuming that political ends of one sort or another are often advanced by illegal means. The most interesting thing about this case to me is that whoever is responsible for killing Litvinenko (and I suppose that the truly “rational” point of view of the non-conspiracy-theorist might be that the polonium got into his sushi by a series of coincidences), they will almost certainly get away with it. All of the main suspects are simply too geopolitically important in one way or another to ever be charged with or punished for anything as simple as murder. Informed opinions solicited, the other sort welcomed, try not to libel anyone please.

MCI Customer Service Hell

by Henry on November 28, 2006

“Sean Carroll”: writes about his miserable experience with Orbitz customer service, comparing it to the Hell’s Embassy scene in _Perdido Street Station_ where the suave tones of the demonic ambassador are accompanied by a disturbing echo from below “in the appalling shriek of one undergoing torture.” Which reminds me that I promised myself last week, after enduring 2 hours in customer service hell with MCI, that I would blog about it so as to warn anyone else considering signing up with the company to avoid them like the plague. [click to continue…]


by Henry on November 28, 2006

I’m up on Bloggingheads again, “this time”: with Dan Drezner, for those as wants to watch.

Hey, hi, do my work for me, will ya?

by Eszter Hargittai on November 28, 2006

As we know from recent CT discussions if not from our own inboxes, many people are not very good at communicating requests to strangers. My frustrations over this – being the recipient of such messages several times a week – have led me to write a piece on how best to approach a stranger with a request over email published today at Inside Higher Ed.

Often enough we are faced with a question that can best be answered by someone else, possibly a complete stranger. The upside of the Internet is that we can quickly contact folks without much effort. The downside of the Internet is that people can contact us without much effort. [..]

Given people’s limited amount of time, how can we ensure that our inquiring e-mail is not simply relegated to the recipient’s trash folder?

Descriptive subject line
Polite point-of-contact
Succinct statement of the message’s purpose
Brief introduction of yourself
Acknowledging other attempts at finding an answer or solution
Restatement of question
Gratitude for assistance

.. all done briefly.

See the piece for details. Of course, one problem is that the people who are most likely to write pathetic notes are the least likely to read an article of this sort. But at least for those who care, perhaps this can offer some helpful pointers.

Russian dolls II

by Maria on November 28, 2006

Last week, having wondered about how Europe should approach a resurgent Russia, I asked for recommendations of books and other sources that may give some insight into Russia today, and into relations with its former satellite states. Then I disappeared off for the weekend and neglected the comments of what became quite a long thread.

So, for people who are just as curious as me, or who, in one commenter’s rather flattering put-down, wish to have the correct talking points for glamorous euro dinner parties, here are some of the suggestions CT commenters shared: [click to continue…]

Annals of Rationality vol MCMLXXVII

by Kieran Healy on November 27, 2006

Via “Jeremy Freese”:, a poster for a Mass General Hospital study. As Jeremy says,

Do you have not one, but two separate problems that are associated with making bad decisions? If so, why don’t you choose to have a 50% chance of forgoing treatment for both for three months, in exchange for _$600_?… Don’t worry: you can rest assured you’ll be in the most capable, professional hands — just look at the quality of our graphic design! Yes, that’s a picture of a human brain we got off the web, with a martini glass superimposed on top of it. And, see, there’s a photo of an anguished woman, just below a photo of a cartoon man so excited he’s raising his arms with glee.

This reminds me of one of my favorite books, encountered during research for Last Best Gifts: Ed Brassard’s Body For Sale: An Inside Look At Medical Research, Drug Testing, And Organ Transplants And How You Can Profit From Them. This is a how-to guide for selling the renewable and non-renewable bits of yourself and also for getting accepted into paying clinical trials of all kinds.

Comments problems

by Henry on November 27, 2006

A few people have emailed me in the last few weeks saying that they’ve been unable to comment here (or, more precisely, that they have been commenting here and that their comments have been disappearing into the ether). If you’ve been having this problem, well … don’t comment here obviously, but email me with info about what has been happening, what your browser version is, what your internet service is, IP address if you have a fixed one, and anything else that might be helpful. If anyone has any idea what might be going on (we’re using WordPress 2.0.4) feel free to let me know either in comments or by email.