From the monthly archives:

August 2007

Should the sheriff be above the law?

by John Q on August 23, 2007

Daniel Drezner (supported by Megan McArdle and Glenn Reynolds, but not by Brad DeLong) has responded to my criticism of his claim that the US should be able to invade foreign countries whenever its “vital national interests” are threatened. Drezner narrows the gap between us a bit, saying that most members of the FPC are more skeptical about the effectiveness of military force than they used to be (though of course, plenty of members in good standing are pushing for a war with Iran that’s even more certain to fail than the war with Iraq), and saying

there is a big difference between not taking force off the table as a policy option and advocating its use in a particular situation. As Quiggin observes, force is a really messy option and carries horrendous costs.

That’s where the agreement ends, though. Drezner dismisses my concerns about international law, quoting James Joyner’s observation that the UN Charter prohibiting war has mostly been observed in the breach. Joyner only mentions the US, but Drezner goes on to claim that

This applies to every other state in the international system as well. Quiggin wants international law to be a powerfully binding constraint on state action. That’s nice, but what Quiggin wants and what actually happens are two very different animals.

A couple of questions arise here. First, is Drezner’s claim that the international law prohibiting aggressive war is a dead letter factually correct? Second, would the US (more precisely, the people of the US) be better off if the option of unilateral resort to (non-defensive) war was taken off the table or at least put further out of reach?

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Self-fulfilling assumptions

by Chris Bertram on August 23, 2007

Megan McArdle has a new blog over at the Atlantic, and, browsing through it I notice that “she comments”: on “John Q.’s recent remarks about Drezner”:, foreign policy etc. The following caught my eye:

bq. Many economists (not all) might agree that it would be lovely if we lived in an Edenic utopia in which everyone did the best for society without thought of themselves. But almost all economists recognize that self-interest is a powerful force that must be dealt with, and therefore that economic policy must be designed on the assumption that people will try to maximise their own good, rather than society’s. Similarly, foreign policy assumes that states will act in their own interest, and try to design a foreign policy that works within that constraint.

I have three reactions to this. The first is that McArdle’s description of the possible motivations for individuals is just absurdly simplistic: people either maximise their own good, or society’s, and since the latter suggestion is silly, we must work on the basis that of the former. Huh? How about intermediate possibilities, such as that people have a good that they try to realize, but that they also recognize constraints on the reasonable pursuit of that good (such as that other people have lives to live, have rights etc.). The second is that her justification for the self-interest assumption for states isn’t a simple consequence of her self-interest assumption for individuals. If individuals were straightforward maximizers of their own good then states would act in ways that reflect the self-interested action of the most powerful individuals within them rather than the (long term? short term?) interest of the state itself. Maybe there would be convergence, and maybe not, but McCardle isn’t entitled to the conclusion that states act self-interestedly on the basis that individuals do (if they do). My third reaction is that, as “Bruno Frey”: and others have argued, the self-interest assumption turns out to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. Design a system on the assumption that people will act to maximize their individual good and they will act on that assumption. They’d be crazy not to: why hold back from the trough when the rules of the game assume that everyone will be pushing their own snout forward? But this proves nothing fundamental. A system designed on the basis of a certain level of solidaristic or community spirit may well foster such attitudes, especially if we have effective mechanisms for punishing those who act greedily or selfishly.

DNS 2.0

by Maria on August 23, 2007

My ICANN colleague, Kieren McCarthy, has written an interesting piece on the ICANN Blog about types of new top level domains (e.g. .com, .info). He dusted off a 1997 proposal to put .firm, .store, .web, .arts, .rec, .info and .nom in the domain name system (DNS).

What strikes me is the taxonomic approach of what we now think of as Web 1.0. The TLDs considered ten years ago were attempts to organise the Internet from the top down by category and generic activity type. If and when a process for approving new TLDs begins next year (it’s subject to a vote by the ICANN Board, probably in October), it won’t yield anything like this organised and thematic approach.

Rather than creating a hierarchy of meaning, we’ll see an explosion of ideas pushing up from below. About the only new TLD proposal we know we’ll get is .berlin, which has put a glint in the eyes of city managers and tourist authorities all over the world. We don’t know which new TLDs will be created, but as Kieren says they’ll probably be things like .blog, .news, .coffee, .google and the like, i.e. services in search of a market and branding efforts by companies, cities and pretty much anything you can think of.

The predominantly English-speaking technical cadre that looked at this issue 10 years ago only came up with one non-English TLD (.nom) which was still pure ASCII text. Today, the global technical community is working hard to smooth the way for internationalised domain names, i.e. names in non-Roman characters.

It’s clear that the Internet will start changing as soon as the new TLDs begin to appear. What’s not as obvious is how ICANN may change. Just as the European Economic Community was fundamentally altered by conceiving and administering the Common Agricultural Policy, ICANN may itself be changed by the new gTLDs programme. The CAP is a bad example substantively, as it was designed to shut competition out. The DNS isn’t a way to organise the world’s information, but is a tool people can use to organise and express themselves. I hope the new gTLDs will give expression and form to communities and interests around the world that use the Internet but don’t yet see themselves in it.

Democracy and Unipolarity

by Henry Farrell on August 22, 2007

Jack Snyder, Robert Shapiro and Yaeli Bloch-Elkon are presenting a “paper”: at the APSA meeting next week that’s of considerable interest in its own right, but that also sheds some light on the recent debate between “Dan Drezner”: and “Glenn Greenwald”: [click to continue…]

Kamm versus Anscombe

by Chris Bertram on August 22, 2007

For the past week I’ve been crouching behind a bush, metaphorically speaking, waiting to ambush Oliver Kamm who was unwise enough to announce his intention to defend the use of the A-bomb at Hiroshima against its moral critics. Of course, I spent some of that time anticipating what Kamm might say and, it turns out, I anticipated wrongly. I had expected Kamm to concede, against people like Elizabeth Anscombe, that Hiroshima involved the murder of innocents, but then to argue that such murder was necessary. I’d then intended to invoke Orwell’s critique of Auden from _Inside the Whale_, a passage that contains _inter alia_, some acute comments on the Kamm mentality.

But I was wrong. It turns out that “Kamm denies the claim that it was murder”: . The trouble is, he can’t bring himself to face the issue directly, and, despite quoting Anscombe _in extenso_, gives a seriously inaccurate account of her view.

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No rush to sign T. rex

by Chris Bertram on August 22, 2007

The BBC “tells us”:

bq. Tyrannosaurus rex would have been able to outrun a footballer, according to computer models used to estimate running speeds of dinosaurs.

But which one? Outrunning some footballers would be no great achievement. More to the point, would T. rex have been able to control the ball and get a decent cross into the box? Those who have followed the career of the Danish winger Dennis Rommedahl know that speed isn’t everything.

Genuine vs Fake Economics Blogs

by Kieran Healy on August 22, 2007

Via a slightly ticked-off Max Sawicky comes this ranking of economics blogs, in which (like MaxSpeak) Crooked Timber does not feature. The author remarks,

bq. Only genuine economics blogs are included. … [and later, in a comment] By genuine, I meant not spam blogs or useless stock tips blogs, and not blogs that claim to be about economics but are really about politics (there are quite a few of those).

Usually, in the U.S., the key test of whether one is a real economist is a simple credential: you must have a Ph.D in economics. Choice of substantive topic certainly can’t be the discriminating factor, as is made clear by the position of the Freakonomics blog at the very top of the list. But by my count, we have at least as many Economics Ph.Ds writing here at CT as several of the blogs on this Top 10 list, and more than at least one of them.

If I were a cynical person — which of course I am not — I might say that the dividing line between what’s “really” economics and what’s “really” politics is itself something of a political question. (As Abba Lerner remarked, an economic transaction is a solved political problem.) Perhaps we often see instances where _I_ hold policy positions informed by scientific economics whereas _you_ are a mere advocate, pushing a political line. There was a pretty entertaining example on Mankiw’s blog the other week.

Anyway, on the measure used, Crooked Timber would be fourth on the list, if only the likes of John or Daniel or Ingrid (whose Ph.D was supervised by someone or other) could be thought of as having an informed point of view about economics.

_Update_: Aaron, the list compiler, comments below and is maybe a bit nicer than this somewhat irritable post merits. I think it was the “genuine economics” comment that set me off.

“Jindal on Religion”

by Henry Farrell on August 22, 2007

There’s a lot of “excitement”: in the netroots over a piece written by Bobby Jindal in which he tries to persuade Protestants of the benefits of Catholicism. After reading the “piece in question”:, I’m at a loss to understand what all the fuss is about. It seems to me to be a standard – even banal – exercise in Catholic apologetics. That the Catholic church considers itself to be the one true church, to hold the apostolic succession, to believe that works are important as well as faith etc etc … isn’t news. Nor is it news that a conservative Catholic politician would believe these things It might be mildly politically awkward – but given that Jindal explicitly _isn’t_ arguing that Protestants worship a different God, and is merely asking them “to consider seriously the claims of the Catholic Church,” I don’t think that there’s very much traction in this (there seems to me to be a tacit deal among conservative Christians whereby fundamentalist Protestants are softpedalling the Whore of Babylon stuff in return for Catholics not pushing their line on the magisterium too hard).

But if the netroots are blowing it out of proportion, the ‘Jindal on Religion’ “website”: and accompanying TV ad, put up by Louisiana’s Democratic Party, are actively dishonest. The website says that Jindal argues that

Jindal states non-Catholics are burdened with “utterly depraved minds” and calls individuals who ignore the teachings of the Catholic church intellectually dishonest.

The actual quotes in their proper context are:

the alternative is to trust individual Christians, burdened with, as Calvin termed it, their “utterly depraved” minds, to overcome their tendency to rationalize, their selfish desires, and other effects of original sin.


I trust I have provided enough evidence to indicate that the Catholic Church deserves a careful examination by non-Catholics. It is not intellectually honest to ignore an institution with such a long and distinguished history and with such an impressively global reach.

The first rather obviously _isn’t_ a claim that non-Catholics are utterly depraved. It’s a mildly clumsy attempt to hoist Protestants on their own petard, building on earlier discussion of how Reformation Protestants believed people to be depraved, and saying that it’s a bit odd then that Protestants should trust them to interpret religion on their own. The second is a claim that it’s intellectually dishonest to ignore the Catholic Church, and that Protestants should consider converting to it very carefully. This manifestly isn’t a claim that those who don’t follow the Catholic church’s teachings (which is the everyday meaning of “those who ignore the teachings”) are ipso facto intellectually dishonest.

I don’t know very much about Jindal’s politics, and I imagine that there’s a lot that I would disagree with. He may indeed have taken political stances that I would find absolutely reprehensible. That doesn’t change the fact that this is an obviously dishonest attack.

[modified to correct a stupid error following an email from a reader]

A perpetual declaration of war

by John Q on August 21, 2007

In the course of a controversy with Glenn Greenwald, Dan Drezner offers the following rewording of Greenwald’s critical summary of the orthodoxy of the US “Foreign Policy Community”

The number one rule of the bi-partisan foreign policy community is that America can invade and attack other countries when vital American interests are threatened. Paying homage to that orthodoxy is a non-negotiable pre-requisite to maintaining good standing within the foreign policy community.

and states:

I suspect that anyone who accepts the concept of a “national interest” in the first place would accept that phrasing. As a paid-up member of the Foreign Policy Community (FPC), I certainly would.

Unless “vital national interest” is construed so narrowly as to be equivalent to “self-defence”, this is a direct repudiation of the central founding principle of international law, prohibiting aggressive war as a crime against peace, indeed, the supreme international crime. It’s more extreme than the avowed position of any recent US Administration – even the invasion of Iraq was purportedly justified on the basis of UN resolutions, rather than US self-interest. Yet, reading this and other debates, it seems pretty clear that Drezner’s position is not only generally held in the Foreign Policy Community but is regarded, as he says, as a precondition for serious participation in foreign policy debates in the US.

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Arthur Miller’s Son

by John Holbo on August 21, 2007

In Vanity Fair. Some excerpts:

No photograph of him has ever been published, but those who know Daniel Miller say that he resembles his father. Some say it’s the nose, others the mischievous glimmer in the eyes when he smiles, but the most telling feature, the one that clearly identifies him as Arthur Miller’s son, is his high forehead and identically receding hairline. He is almost 41 now, but it’s impossible to say whether his father’s friends would notice the resemblance, because the few who have ever seen Daniel have not laid eyes on him since he was a week old …

“Arthur was terribly shaken—he used the term ‘mongoloid,'” Whitehead recalled. He said, “‘I’m going to have to put the baby away.'” A friend of Inge’s recalls visiting her at home, in Roxbury, about a week later. “I was sitting at the bottom of the bed, and Inge was propped up, and my memory is that she was holding the baby and she was very, very unhappy,” she says. “Inge wanted to keep the baby, but Arthur wasn’t going to let her keep him.” Inge, this friend recalls, “said that Arthur felt it would be very hard for Rebecca, and for the household,” to raise Daniel at home. Another friend remembers that “it was a decision that had Rebecca at the center.”

Within days, the child was gone, placed in a home for infants in New York City. When he was about two or three, one friend recalls, Inge tried to bring him home, but Arthur would not have it. Daniel was about four when he was placed at the Southbury Training School. Then one of two Connecticut institutions for the mentally retarded, Southbury was just a 10-minute drive from Roxbury, along shaded country roads. “Inge told me that she went to see him almost every Sunday, and that [Arthur] never wanted to see him,” recalls the writer Francine du Plessix Gray. Once he was placed in Southbury, many friends heard nothing more about Daniel. “After a certain period,” one friend says, “he was not mentioned at all.” …

Marcie Roth remembers seeing Daniel for the first time when he was about “eight or nine.” Now the director of the National Spinal Cord Injury Association, Roth worked at Southbury during the 1970s. “Danny was a neat, neat kid,” she says, “a very friendly, happy guy.” Although there were close to 300 children at Southbury at the time, everyone, she says, knew Danny Miller. This was partly because they knew who his father was and partly because Daniel “was among the more able of the young children with Down syndrome,” Roth says. But mainly it was because of Daniel’s personality. “He had a great spirit about him,” she says. This was no small achievement, because, according to Roth, “Southbury Training School was not a place you would want your dog to live.” …

Bowen recalls the first time she met Daniel: “He was just a delight, eager, happy, outgoing—in those days even more so than now, because of his isolation.” He showed her his room, which he shared with 20 other people, and his dresser, which was nearly empty, because everyone wore communal clothing. “I remember very clearly trying to respond with happiness, but it was very hard, because there was nothing there,” she says. “He really had nothing. His sole possession was this little tiny transistor radio with earplugs. It was something you’d pick up at a five-and-dime. And he was so proud to have it. You couldn’t help but think, This is Arthur Miller’s son? How could this be?”

Blegs for help

by Henry Farrell on August 20, 2007

Two requests for help:

(1) Academic blogs wiki. I’ve grown tired of dealing with google spammers, and have upgraded to Mediawiki 1.68 which should allow me to use “ConfirmEdit”:, a basic captcha tool. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work – when I try to implement it I get the following error message

Parse error: syntax error, unexpected T_BOOLEAN_AND, expecting ‘(‘ in /home/farrell/public_html/wiki/extensions/ConfirmEdit/ConfirmEdit.php on line 363

It looks from the extension’s “talk page”: as though I am not the only person experiencing this problem (someone suggests a modification to the php file which doesn’t seem to work for me). Anyone have any idea of what the problem is? (fwiw my server uses php 4.4.6 – hence my inability to upgrade to a more recent version of MediaWiki). For the moment I have implemented a temporary kludge to deter spambots by protecting the relevant directory with a password easily visible to Real Humans, but this isn’t a happy or elegant long term solution. UPDATE – problem solved – a directory screw-up on my part.

(2) when messing around with my server a few months ago, I deleted the rtf and PDF files for the Yochai Benkler seminar that we ran here a while back, and can’t find any copies on my hard drive or on the Wayback Machine. Anyone who downloaded a copy and is willing to send me it will have my eternal gratitude …

Susan Hurley

by Chris Bertram on August 19, 2007

My colleague Susan Hurley died last Thursday night. She had been ill for some time, but many of us still held on to the hope that someone as energetic and determined as Susan was would survive. Susan had only joined us at Bristol fairly recently, but she had had a tremendous impact on the Department of Philosophy. She was a great inspiration for graduate students and a formidable interlocutor for her colleagues. Susan is well known to the wider philosophical community for her books _Natural Reasons_ and _Justice, Luck and Knowledge_ as well as for an impressive array of “papers”: . Her interests were very broad, ranging from decision theory and political philosophy, through philosophy of mind, psychology and neuroscience. Lately it had been neuroscience that had engaged her, and she was keen to articulate a distinctively naturalistic view of what philosophy is that makes it very much continuous with the natural sciences. Many of us didn’t agree with Susan about that, but she was pretty good at forcing us to reexamine our own lazy assumptions in thinking through why. She’s a real loss to the profession and to the academic community more widely: someone who was committed to the discipline, who was generous with her time and person, and whom many students at Bristol, Warwick, Oxford and elsewhere will remember for having got them really excited about philosophy. We will all miss her.

Beaucoup de Beauchamp

by John Q on August 19, 2007

A bunch of rightwing blogs are getting excited yet again about Scott Beauchamp. For those who haven’t followed the story, Beauchamp is a US soldier in Iraq who wrote some pieces for The New Republic which, among other things, described bad behaviour by US troops, such as deliberately running over stray dogs and taunting a woman disfigured by burns. The pro-war lobby has worn out dozens of keyboards seeking to discredit Beauchamp, his story and the very possibility of running over dogs in an armoured vehicle. Now it appears the US Army has denied Beauchamp’s claims. (To reiterate, I don’t care about or intend to debate, or even to link to, the details of this case).

Some might suggest that the truth or falsity of these stories doesn’t matter much in the light of this. or this or this or this, to list just a few of the disasters have taken place while the wingnutosphere has been defending the US Army’s commitment to animal welfare.

But that would miss the point. What matters, in the world of rightwing postmodernism, is not reality but the way the media reports it. One bogus memo is enough to turn George W. Bush from a scrimshank who used his family connections to line up a cushy billet to avoid war service, and then shirked even that, into a war hero.

So, lets stick to media criticism. Not long after Beauchamp’s piece ran in a single magazine of modest circulation, all the major MSM outlets ran a story by well known critics of the war, Michael O’Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack whose intrepid journey through recently pacified parts of Iraq had convinced them that the surge was working. Here, for example, is their piece in the NY Times.

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Ancient Athenian Law Bleg, Special Cleruchy Edition

by John Holbo on August 19, 2007

Quiet around here over the weekend. Anyway, following up on my Euthyphro post, another legal thought.

Euthyphro describes the case (4c): [click to continue…]

Ancient Athenian Law Bleg

by John Holbo on August 18, 2007

So it’s the time of year when I teach Plato’s Euthyphro and I’m getting ready to run through my usual very short history of Athenian homicide law: how before Draco there was no legal distinction between intentional and non-intentional killing; after Draco, the state began to take greater interest in what had previously been strictly family business; how after Solon it was possible, for the first time, for a citizen who was not a blood relation of the victim to bring suit. (I hope I got that right.)

And then I asked myself: pre-Solon (and even after) what did happen, in practice, if a stranger – some traveler – was killed, and there was no family to bring suit on his behalf? In the dialogue, Euthyphro explains to Socrates that it shouldn’t matter whether the victim is family or a stranger – the pollution is the same either way. And, theologically, that is a perfectly orthodox thing for him to say. More specifically (although Euthyphro doesn’t mention it) Zeus is well-known for having a soft spot for travelers. So if someone kills a traveler or stranger then, theologically, the public has a very legitimate interest in getting all that miasma cleaned up quick before lightning strikes.

So what did the ancient Athenians do in cases in which there was a killing – in which it may have been known who did the killing – and no family with standing to bring suit?

Specific follow-up question: suppose the victim was a guest-friend of an Athenian citizen. Would the citizen then have had legal standing to bring suit on the victim’s behalf?