From the monthly archives:

April 2007

Five Days in London, May 1940

by Harry on April 30, 2007

Its difficult for a republican to watch The Queen, and for several reasons. First, its not very good — Helen Mirren is fine, of course, but none of the set pieces rings true, Cherie is overacted and implausible, anyone who has watched enough Rory Bremner could have written the Campbell/Blair dialogue, and, although the actor playing Blair captures his mannerisms, he does so too obviously (why didn’t they just cast Bremner, I wonder?). Second, just as at the time 10 years ago, one’s loyalties are torn. Of course, in some sense one wants the monarchy abolished. But, while one finds the Queen utterly despicable in most respects, her reaction to the collective insanity of a large part of her nation does her credit. The indecent and frankly lunatic mourning of millions for someone they didn’t know and who was, basically, a manipulative wastrel, bemused at the time. My feeling was something like: “Well, if this is what sinks the monarchy, what’s the point? Let’s just keep the sods”. Finally, and crucially, you just cannot suspend your knowledge that, in the end, the Queen wins, with Blair’s help. There’s just no dramatic tension for anyone over the age of 18 who is not senile.

Which brings me to the question which started bugging me about half way through the film: why isn’t there a film of Five Days in London, May 1940 (UK)? Author John Lukacs tells the story of the first 5 days of Churchill’s premiership, the period during which the war was not won, but, more importantly, was not lost. The focus is on the struggle between Churchill on the one hand, and the defeatists Chamberlain and Halifax (Halifax having, apparently, been the King’s preference for Chamberain’s successor), with Clement Attlee and Arthur Greenwood, having joined the War Cabinet when Labour became part of the coalition government, starting out as observers but then getting drawn in to the battle. You see Attlee starting to realise that he had play the self-abnegating role as Churchill’s ballast that he maintained throughout the war. (A possibly apocryphal moment, which the ungossipy Lukacs does not treat us to, has Attlee pointing out to Greenwood that if Churchill loses to the Tory grandees civilisation in Europe will be gone, Greenwood retorting that if so, “it won’t be our fault” and Attlee responding “I don’t want to go down in history as someone whose fault it wasn’t when civilisation was destroyed”). Lukacs takes the struggle a day at a time, interweaving the high-level political struggle with documentary accounts of the mood of the country. The characters are larger than life; there is no collective insanity; and the stakes are high. Best of all, when you’re reading it, you keep forgetting what the outcome is going to be. It’s a thriller — perfect material for a movie, and a much better one than The Queen.

I hope it’s not a spoiler to reveal that Churchill’s faction won, and civilisation was saved to live another day. What a relief!

Choke Point

by Kieran Healy on April 29, 2007

SF map


(04-29) 11:49 PDT OAKLAND — A huge ball of fire from an exploding gasoline tanker truck caused an overpass in the MacArthur Maze in the East Bay near the Bay Bridge to collapse on top of the highway below early Sunday, virtually ensuring major traffic problems and confusion for weeks to come. The intense heat crumbled the elevated roadway that carried eastbound traffic from the Bay Bridge onto Interstates 580 and 980 and state Highway 24. The broken concrete fell like a blanket over the connector roadway from southbound Interstate 80 to I-880.

Good luck with that commute tomorrow.

the irony ….

by Chris Bertram on April 29, 2007

(Those who don’t know about Bristol’s most famous “artist” can google for “Banksy” or check the Wikipedia.)


Into the West

by Kieran Healy on April 29, 2007

New Yorker Matt Yglesias’s westward march, from Washington DC to Santa Fe and maybe beyond, has been attracting some attention. So far the highlight has been what you might call the Fashion Trail of Tears, pictured here. An iconic image, I think. Today he freely admits to never having heard of Kit Carson (knowledge of whom had even made it to the Ireland of my youth) and notices how sunny it is in New Mexico.

Maybe Matt will continue west and get to Tucson and see the saguaros. (“Some kind of spiny tree.”) Of course, I’m a relatively recent transplant to the Southwest myself. One thing I didn’t want to have happen when I moved out here was to succumb to a common disease of grad students recently relocated to new jobs, which is to chronically pretend you are still living on the campus where you got your degree, or — worse — in the downtown NY apartment or beachfront West Coast condo you daily fantasized about living while writing your dissertation. So I bought a mountain bike and started exploring.

Although it takes a long time to really get to know a place, it’s surprising how quickly you can adapt to some things. For example, I can now wear jeans in the kind of summer temperatures that, when I first moved here, I didn’t think were capable of sustaining human or other animal life.

Maybe where the Hidden Imam lives?

by Kieran Healy on April 28, 2007

Via “3QD”:, Ernest Lefever “writes”: about Africa and irritates my inner copyeditor:

bq. BECAUSE OF AND in spite of Hollywood films like The African Queen and television shows like Tarzan, tropical Africa south of the Sahara and north of the Zambezi is terra incognito for most Americans.

I imagine a giant moustache on top of the Central African Republic. The CIA engages in the war on terra incognito.

bq. Others accept the opposing myth promulgated by Thomas Hobbs that in a “State of Nature,” there are “no arts, no letters, no society, and which is worse of all, persistent fear and danger of violent death, and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”

Maybe he’s confusing him with “Russell Hobbs”: I know, I know … this is just nit-picking. But then, a classic:

bq. Unduly critical of the European colonists, they seemed unaware that the British, for example, had ended slavery 79 years before Lincoln signed the Emaciation Proclamation. …


bq. Back to Hobbs. If it took a thousand years for the barbarian tribes of Europe to become democratic and prosperous states, how long will it take African tribes that missed the Renaissance, Reformation, Magna Carta, and Industrial Revolution? … And brutal demagogues like Mobutu in the Congo, Adi Amin in Uganda, and Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe have ravaged their countries to enjoy the fruits of unbridled power.

Mmmm. Adi enjoyed unbridled fruit.

bq. [Rhodesia] was conquered by explorer-entrepreneur Cecil Rhodes in 1897 and eventually established as a self-governing British colony. Determined to make the country safe and prosperous, Rhoades established the world’s first national park there, insisting that it be open to all races.

I’ll leave Tim Burke to deal with the content, as needed.

Not quite civil unions in Australia

by John Q on April 28, 2007

I’ve been an observer at the National Conference of the Australian Labor Party, which is being held in Sydney.* One of the few real debates at the (generally tightly controlled) conference concerned a proposal under which couples could register their relationship to protect property rights, pension entitlements and so on. This proposal is somewhat less than a civil union, since there is no associated ceremony, and is explicitly claimed not to represent gay marriage. A couple of states have already implemented the idea. A striking feature, mentioned in the debate but not in newspaper reports is that registration is available for people in a carer-dependent relationship rather than a partnership.

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Kiss kiss boom

by Kieran Healy on April 28, 2007

Nora Ephron remarks somewhere that a baby is a hand grenade thrown into the middle of a relationship. But there are a lot of people looking for someone to pull the pin:

bq. So if some men think my urgency for kids is unappealing, FUCK THEM. In the first place, it is not something I can control, neither the wanting nor the fact that maternal age matters, and you can not shame people for what they can’t control. In the second place, they are fooling themselves about having an indefinite period of healthy sperm and energy for young kids and young women willing to be with them.

That second point reminds me of another Ephron line:

Sally: It’s not the same for men. Charlie Chaplin had babies when he was seventy three.
Harry: Yeah, but he was too old to pick them up.

Childhood Horrors

by Kieran Healy on April 26, 2007

Sneaky SnakeSo, in a fit of nostalgia I picked up a DVD of Wanderly Wagon episodes. Although marketed as “Vol 1” it seems to be a slightly haphazard collection of episodes, as these were the days (the 1970s) when most programs were not preserved on videotape. The second scene in the first episode re-introduces us to the character shown here, Sneaky Snake. I had forgotten about his fez. But the tiny rush of adrenaline that I felt as he hoisted himself up on his bench (prehensile tail and all) next to Dr Astro reminded me how much he used to scare the bejaysus out of me when I was a kid. Something about the eyes. Always looking at you they were. On second thoughts, maybe I’ll hold off on making my own kids watch this stuff.

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You Kids Get Off My Berlin Wall

by Scott McLemee on April 26, 2007

Two radio spots that aired when I was a freshman in high school (that would be Wills Point High School, aka “Home of the 1965 State AA Football Champs,” which can now also proudly boast that it is “ranked as ‘academically acceptable’ under the Texas Education Agency”) have stuck in my head for the past — oh good lord, this can’t be true — thirty years almost. And to think Kieran feels old.

Both ran on the “album oriented rock” station in Dallas, i.e., the one that played “Stairway to Heaven” every day. One of them had Andy Warhol endorsing the Talking Heads. I’m pretty sure it was More Songs About Buidlings and Food. Imagine hearing “Freebird” and then, “Hi, uhm, this is Andy Warhol and, uhm, I think Talking Heads are really great….”

But the other ad really brought the culture clash: an announcement that the Sex Pistols would be coming through on tour. For years I have been puzzled by this memory, given that the only show in Texas anyone ever seemed to discuss was the one at Randy’s Rodeo in San Antonio (several hundred miles away) where Sid hit somebody over the head with his bass.

Somehow I forgot that the Pistols actually did play Dallas. That ad was neither a trick of my memory nor a sign of how badly organized the tour must have been. And it turns out that a video from that show of “Holidays in the Sun” is available online, which I put up now for all the other geezers in the house:

[ Word Press being strange about embeds sometimes, here’s a backup link ]


by Henry Farrell on April 26, 2007

In honour of “International Pixel-stained Technopeasant Day”:, Charlie Stross is giving away his novella(??? I – never figured out the difference between novellas, novelettes etc myself) “Missile Gap”: for thems that wants to download it. I’ve put it on my iRex Iliad (which I promise to write a proper review of after the end of semester crunch) for consumption on an upcoming plane trip. Other good stuff is available for free on the technopeasant page from Jo Walton (the main instigator), Sarah Monette etc.


by Kieran Healy on April 26, 2007

Dynamically coupled vaguely squid-like fun.

Hogging II: Son of hogging

by Michael Bérubé on April 25, 2007


Among the many reasons to love the late Pierre Bourdieu, quite apart from the range and quality of his scholarly work, is the fact that he was willing to appear in the 1977 film <i>Slap Shot</i> as the character of Moe Wanchuk. He wrote about the experience many years later in <a href=””><i>Contre-feux</i></a>, but most English-speaking readers remain completely unaware of Bourdieu’s brief career as a Charlestown Chief. I mean, talk about putting your cultural capital at risk:

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by Henry Farrell on April 25, 2007

Bits and pieces from elsewhere on the WWW in lieu of a proper post.

Via “Tyler”:, I see that Dani Rodrik now has a “blog”: And has just won the first “Albert Hirschman prize”:, which sounds to be an excellent institution, honoring “scholars who have made outstanding contributions to international, interdisciplinary social science research, theory, and public communication. Hirschman is notoriously a prophet without honour in his own discipline; he’s far more widely read by sociologists (see Kieran’s “article”: with Marion Fourcade for further discussion) and political scientists than by economists.

Cory Doctorow is turning out, in the best of all possible ways, to be an “uncomfortable guest”: at the University of Southern California. There’s a lot more background in this “interview”: he did with the _Chronicle_ a few weeks back, which I meant to link to at the time, and never quite got around to. More on this later today or tomorrow.

This “bit”: at Chris Hayes’ blog (which you should all be reading) is thought provoking:

My friend Nick Reville once said something about public libraries that has always stuck with me. “If libraries didn’t already exist, there’d be no way they could ever come into existence now. Can you imagine telling the publishing industry that the government was going to pay to set up buildings where they gave away their product for free?” That’s as good a summary of our current political-economy as any.


by Harry on April 25, 2007

Three days late, this one’s for Daniel (youtube). Who else but S of H would use a song lamenting a lost England to celebrate our immigrants? Me, I’m a rootless cosmpolitan, if an ultra-English one (CB’s adjective, not mine). More enthusiasm about Show of Hands here.

You Kids Get Off My Lawn

by Kieran Healy on April 25, 2007

Today while walking across campus I had the sobering realization that many people who were not yet born when I started college will themselves be starting college this autumn. In an effort to spread this sinking feeling around amongst readers older than me, I started college in 1990, when I was seventeen. Whenever I teach an undergraduate class, I ask the students what’s the earliest major news event they can remember. When I started teaching at Arizona, most students could remember the Challenger disaster. Then it was the fall of the Berlin Wall. Then the first Gulf War. Then Bill Clinton’s first-term election. At the moment it is the Oklahoma City bombing. Soon it will be the death of Princess Diana.