From the monthly archives:

September 2007

An essay by Akbar Ganji that ran in The Boston Review a few months ago had one of the more striking contributor’s notes I have ever seen:

He is working on the third installment of his Republican Manifesto, which lays out a strategy for a nonviolent transition to democracy in Iran, along with a book of dialogues with prominent Western philosophers and intellectuals. He plans to return to Iran, where, he has been told, he will be re-arrested upon his arrival.

On the occasion of President Ahmadinejad’s trip to New York, Ganji has written an open letter to the Secretary General of the United Nations. It has received more than three hundred endorsements from around the world, among them Jurgen Habermas, Ziauddin Sardar, Anne-Marie Slaughter, Juan Cole, and Slavoj Zizek.

A copy was just forwarded to me by Nader Hashemi, a fellow at the UCLA International Institute, with the request that it be disseminated as widely as possible. The full text follows:
[click to continue…]

Shedding blood for liberty

by John Q on September 22, 2007

A brawl has erupted over a statement in the stump speech of our favorite Republican candidate Fred Thompson, who asserts that the US has “shed more blood for other people’s liberty than any other combination of nations in the history of the world” As the WaPo points out, our Russian allies lost millions in WWII alone, as did Britain and France in WWI which (at least nominally) they entered ‘that small nations might be free’. In fact, US casualties in World War I (about 120 000 killed and 200 000 wounded) were comparable to those of Australia and New Zealand,which between them had about 5 per cent of the US population.

Unsurprisingly, various people have tried to quibble by saying that the other losses weren’t in defence of freedom, so that Thompson’s claim is true by default. But in that case, Thompson ought to have said something like “the US, alone among nations, fights for the freedom of others” which at least sounds like standard meaningless stump-speech rhetoric rather than a false factual claim.

Leaving motivations aside, the striking fact is that Thompson’s claim is pretty much the opposite of the truth. The US is notable among major nations in how little it has suffered in foreign wars, and this helps to explain why the war party is so strong there.

[click to continue…]

Defending Rachel Carson

by John Q on September 22, 2007

One of the stranger efforts of the political right over the last decade has been the effort to paint Rachel Carson as a mass murderer, on the basis of bogus claims conflating the US ban on non-public health uses of DDT with a non-existent ban on the use of DDT for indoor spraying against malarial mosquitoes. Starting from the lunatic fringe of the LaRouche movement and promoted primarily by current and retired hacks for the tobacco industry, this claim has become received wisdom throughout the US Republican party and its offshoots, and has deceived quite a few people, including writers for the NY Times. Although this nonsense has been comprehensively demolished by bloggers, most notably Tim Lambert, article-length refutations are desperately needed. Now Aaron Swartz has a piece published in Extra!. It’s great to see this but, as the global warming debate has shown, one refutation is never enough in resisting the Republican War on Science.

Fit-and-proper person alert

by Chris Bertram on September 21, 2007

“Chicken Yoghurt has the details”: on the counterproductive attempts by lawyers retained by oligarch (and would-be Arsenal owner) Alisher Usmanov to prevent the dissemination of allegations made by Craig Murray (the UK’s former ambassador to Uzbekistan). From what I can gather, Murray is just begging for Usmanov to sue him in a British court.


by Henry Farrell on September 21, 2007

Ross Douthat “responds”: to a question I threw at him on Bloggingheads a few months ago about what kind of society he wanted to live in. His response to that question seems fine to me (I suspected that he and other Catholic conservatives wouldn’t much have enjoyed living in Ireland when the church had effective hegemony, and he has more or less confirmed this), but I’m pretty sure that he’s wrong when he says that:

I incline away from [left communitarians] on questions of economic policy not out of any delusion that unfettered capitalism hasn’t played a significant role in the cultural trends that I find worrying, but because I think that economic freedom was one of the freedoms that the 1950s order went too far in stifling – and more importantly, because the most likely alternative to Reaganism and Rubinomics wasn’t some low-growth crunchy-communitarian utopia, but rather a steady expansion in government power that would have crowded out the “little platoons” even more quickly than free-market capitalism undercuts them. Traditional forms of social organization are weaker in today’s America than they were fifty years ago, but they’re still much, much stronger than in Europe, where the economic left has held the whip for decades.

[click to continue…]

Tear down this paywall

by John Q on September 21, 2007

The NYTimes experiment with putting premium content behind a paywall lasted a bit longer than I expected, but eventually the cost, in terms of separation from the Internet at large, has outweighed the benefits. The NYT columnists and archives will now be available to all readers. (Hat tip, Andrew Leigh).

As Jay Rosen says, this is good news for the conversation that is the blogosphere. Paywalls are an obstacle that we can’t get around individually, since, even if I have free access to a site, there is no point in linking it for readers who have to pay.

But there’s always a downside. The Times decision has been motivated not only by the increasing costs of a closed system but by the increasing returns to advertising, of which the lion’s share is driven through Google (and to a lesser extent, other search engines), which rely on links to place their ads.


In my experience, growing returns to advertising are being manifested in more, and more obtrusive, ads. This may signal a renewed arms race with ad blockers. I’ve just installed Adblock Plus on Firefox, and am waiting to see if that gets me blocked from ad-dependent sites.
[click to continue…]

Politics meets SATC

by Eszter Hargittai on September 20, 2007

I doubt you have to be a Sex and The City fan to appreciate this clip from The Daily Show called “Is American Ready for a Woman President?”, but if you are a SATC fan you are absolutely guaranteed to LOL.

Atlas of Creation

by Kieran Healy on September 20, 2007

So Laurie, the lucky duck, got a copy of the Atlas of Creation, the amazingly large-format, glossy-photo-laden, funtastic creationist slice of life, courtesy of whoever is bankrolling its author Adnan Oktar. It’s a fantastic educational resource for our three-year-old: she’s already excited about cutting out the photos of the bunnies and fishies, etc, and making them into collages, puppets and so on. Strongly recommended.


by Chris Bertram on September 19, 2007

Today is _International Talk Like a Pirate Day_ , which is no fun whatsoever in “a city”: where all the locals talk like pirates all year round. The most likely outcome if any outsider tried to speak like a pirate would therefore be a smack in the mouth from an offended resident. But all is not lost, here’s a helpful guide to “talking like a German pirate”: .

The ingredients of the Belgian cocktail

by Ingrid Robeyns on September 19, 2007

Finally, here is the promised post on Belgium – delayed not only by personal circumstances, but even more by the time it took me to talk to a dozen of people more knowledge on the Belgian situation. Writing this post made it very clear that one should never trust one single source when he or she is talking about Belgium – chances are very high that only a partial (and thereby biased) analysis is offered. So I talked to people from both sides of the language border, spent hours on websites from both Flemish and French Belgian newspapers and other media, and tested my draft ideas on Belgians from all persuasions.

Below the fold my list of the main ingredients of the Belgian cocktail (warning: very long post!). [click to continue…]

Iraqi government bonds

by Daniel on September 18, 2007

Via Marginal Revolution and the Freakonomics blog, Michael Greenstone of MIT’s analysis of developments in Iraq since the beginning of the surge. Most of it is pretty unobjectionable stuff (if not terribly related to economics), but the bit that caught my eye was the use of the secondary market price of Iraqi government bonds (they’re tanking) as an indicator of whether the surge is working.

IRAQI EMPLOYEES CAMPAIGN UPDATE: sorry to interrupt – the post is continued below the fold. The following update is mainly aimed at our British readers – once more could I prevail on the goodwill of other CT authors to keep this one at the top for the rest of UK daytime? Thanks.

Frank Dobson, my local MP, has replied to me about the Iraqi employees. His letter is mainly concerned with administrative arrangements for the speaker meeting on the 9th – I had asked him to book a room for us, but Dan had already sorted one out. He is, however, in firm sympathy with the campaign and is utterly sound on the issue. If any readers who wrote letters the last time we asked have received replies from their MPs, then do please say so in the comments here (or if you have a blog, post them there). We’re trying to keep the list of MP replies up to date; Dan’s apparently having quite a good response to the mailing we sent out but it’s important to keep the blog campaign running too. Thanks very much.
[click to continue…]

Expenses, income, bankruptcy

by John Q on September 18, 2007

Andrew Leigh has pointed me to a recent study of US bankruptcy (paywalled, but the abstract is over the page). which concludes that the increased variability of income, and exposure to expense shocks such as medical expenses are not important factors in explaining the dramatic increase in bankruptcy rates since 1970. (I’ve seen a blog link to this also, but can’t find it now).

Count me as unconvinced. The main reason for rejecting income shocks is an explanation of bankruptcy is that, in the model of the paper, households should respond to increasing variance of permanent shocks by increasing precautionary savings. This appears to impute to households a much higher level of ex ante information about future income shocks than they actually possess, and also to rely critically on strong assumptions about rational planning. The whole credit card business is centred on the fact that lots of people (about half the population) don’t pay their monthly balances down to zero and therefore carry semi-permanent debt at very high interest rates. It’s hard to imagine that people who have trouble managing their credit cards are computing, in advance, the income risk they face and making precautionary savings to offset this.

That’s not to discount the importance of the ‘supply side’, in terms of easier access to credit, which has assisted people in managing increasingly risky income and expenses, at the cost of steadily increasing debt-income ratios. But you have to look at both sides of the story, and this paper rules out one side by assumption.
[click to continue…]

The perils of photography

by Chris Bertram on September 17, 2007

Eszter blogged a couple of days ago about the rather addictive project that she and I are engage in over at Flickr. There are lots of changes to my perception of the world, along the lines suggested by Dorothea Lange’s words “A camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera”. But not all of that change in awareness is perceptual. I’ve come to realise just how much petty harassment people suffer for pursuing a fairly innocent hobby. The worst I’ve had to put up with myself is being pestered by a security guard for photographing university buildings. But many people in London get stopped by the police and questioned under terrorism legislation. Generally, this isn’t much more than a minor annoyance, but there are places where it is much much worse. One guy, who was present at our last Flickr meet in Bristol, is a teacher working in Thessaloniki, Greece. He was brave enough to take some pictures of the Greek police on a demonstration. This earned him a dislocated shoulder, fractured nose, multiple bruising and smashed glasses. Story and pictures “here”: .

Catechisms and cliches

by Henry Farrell on September 17, 2007

Alan Wofle (no, sorry, I mean _Wolfe_ ) is quoted in the “New York Times Review of Books”:

As Alan Wolfe puts it, “Everyone’s read ‘Things Fall Apart’ ” — Chinua Achebe’s novel about postcolonial Nigeria — “but few people have read the Yeats poem that the title comes from.”

Having just written a post with a title taken from that poem in the assumption that many/most CT readers would get the allusion, I perhaps have a little too much skin in this game to be entirely objective. But this seems to me to be a frankly bizarre assertion (about the poem, not the Achebe novel). The poem is so well known that minatory prognostications about slouching towards Bethlehem have passed beyond cliche into kitsch – Christopher Hitchens had a very funny review of one of Conor Cruise O’Brien’s books a few years ago which belaboured it, _inter alia,_ for trotting the rough beast out yet again (I wonder: does it ever chase after the owl of Minerva when it’s let out for its night-time pee???). Am I wrong here? Are there vast multitudes of the canon-educated public, which is what Wofle (damn! I did it _again_) is supposed to be talking about, who _don’t_ know Yeats’ poem?? I’d find it surprising (but I’ve surely been wrong about many weightier things than this).

Via “The Valve”:

Microsoft gets clobbered

by Henry Farrell on September 17, 2007

Microsoft received a very significant setback this morning – its appeal against anti-trust actions taken by the European Commission was rejected by Europe’s Court of First Instance (with the exception of one, more or less unimportant aspect of the Commission’s oversight regime) (NYT story here, Court press release “here”: This is a very interesting ruling, not only for the EU but for US markets as well. While Microsoft can (as it has done in the past) continue to sell tailored products for the European market only, it is likely to find its business model quite significantly constrained by the threat of future action. More detailed analysis below the fold … [click to continue…]