From the monthly archives:

September 2007

its hour come round at last

by Henry Farrell on September 17, 2007

Those interested in John’s post below should also take a look at Cosma Shalizi‘s long awaited, long heralded, post on econophysics, which went up yesterday. Following quickly on the heels of part IV of “dsquared’s Freakonomics review”:, this is surely a sign that End Times are upon us (biblical authorities seem to disagree on what the Third Sign is going to be; I leave plausible speculations thereon as an exercise for the reader).

Rationality and utility

by John Q on September 17, 2007

Over at Cosmic Variance, Sean Carroll offers some admittedly uninformed speculation about utility theory and economics, saying

Anyone who actually knows something about economics is welcome to chime in to explain why all this is crazy (very possible), or perfectly well-known to all working economists (more likely), or good stuff that they will steal for their next paper (least likely). The freedom to speculate is what blogs are all about.

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by John Holbo on September 17, 2007

Here are some follow-up thoughts to my long story arc TV post. Let me step back and take in the bigger picture. Seasonality. It’s pretty weird that it makes sense to try to deduce what is going on in a war from long-term seasonal trends. This is one way in which TV and foreign policy differ. In the TV case it is perfectly fine – good, even – to indulge in long arc story-telling. Things don’t always have to make a bit of damn sense, episode by episode, so long as there there is a satisfying up and down, up and down, in the long term. But foreign policy seems different. [click to continue…]

Mystery image

by Eszter Hargittai on September 16, 2007

I’ve long enjoyed cropping images into abstract sections. I like discovering sections of things I don’t necessarily notice otherwise. It’s related to the project Chris and I are undertaking this year, taking a photo every day. That also helps discover things in one’s surroundings that otherwise may go unnoticed.

Since it’s a slow Sunday and I just happened upon a crop in my photostream that I like, I thought I’d post it here:

Guess the image

Any ideas?

[click to continue…]

Google and new, international privacy rules

by Maria on September 15, 2007

Google is staking a claim on the moral high ground of Internet privacy. The company has called for new international rules, ostensibly to protect privacy online. Little of Google’s search information is strictly ‘personal data’, i.e. data directly concerning named individuals. But search data, potentially tied to individuals’ IP numbers, is dynamite, something it’s taken Google a long time to face up to publicly. Google got its fingers badly burnt by the incredulous reaction to its ‘trust us, we’re the good guys’ privacy policy a couple of years back. They hired Peter Fleischer, a well-respected Microsoft lawyer and data protection expert, to put their case more seriously. And now Fleischer is showing Google’s global citizenship willing by suggesting to UNESCO that an international body create a new set of rules on Internet privacy. But would this improve individuals’ privacy?

Part of the argument for a new instrument – at least as summarized in reports on the speech – is that the existing ones are too old and were crafted before the Internet really took off. The OECD Guidelines date from 1980 and the EU data protection directive from 1995, so they’re said to be out of date. Fleischer is said to argue for new rules based on the APEC privacy framework, and says Google is in favour of individuals’ privacy. The trouble is the ‘past their sell by date’ argument doesn’t hold up, and the APEC principles are a weak model to anyone who cares about privacy.
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War credits

by John Q on September 14, 2007

Now that everyone has finally agreed that Iraq is another Vietnam, we can move on to the next point which is that, having lost the war, the war party in the US is going to blame their domestic opponents, just like they did after Vietnam.[1] The only difference is that the war-peace divide now matches the partisan division between Republicans and Democrats.

In this setting, the idea of looking for a compromise is just silly. The Republicans have made it clear that they don’t want one. Even the dwindling group of alleged moderates aren’t going to vote for anything that would seriously constrain Bush. So, the Democrats can choose between acting to stop the war now, or inheriting it in 2009 [2] . There’s no possibility of pushing anything serious past the Senate filibuster, let alone override a veto.

The only real option, apart from continued acquiescence, is for Congress to fulfil its constitutional role and refuse to pay more for this endless war, starting with the $50 billion in supplementary funding Bush is asking for. There’s no need for any Republican votes, just for the Democrats to stick together and stand firm. That hasn’t been the Democratic way for a long time, but maybe its time now. Certainly, the majority of Americans want to get out of Iraq, just as, in the end, they wanted out of Vietnam.

1. In this context, it’s notable that despite the revisionism of the war party, there’s no evidence that Americans have changed their minds about Vietnam. The great majority still see it as a mistake, just as they did when the war ended

2, I suppose the counterargument is that, by doing what they were elected to do in 2006, the Democrats will wreck their presidential and congressional chances in 2008. If so, perhaps they should give up now.

Economists, journalists and European welfare states

by Henry Farrell on September 14, 2007

This “Dean Baker piece”: from a few days ago on how the _New York Times_ misrepresents the German welfare state got some well deserved attention. While I wholeheartedly agree with Baker’s basic point, I think that he perhaps lets the economics profession off the hook a little too easily. [click to continue…]

Celeb-spotting on Aer Lingus/Aer Arann

by Maria on September 14, 2007

You never know who you’ll run into on the way from Brussels to Kerry. In the check-in line at Zaventem, I met John Bruton, former Fine Gael Taoiseach and now the EU’s ambassador to the US. On Wednesday night, he had treated the Brussels branch of Fine Gael to his pungent and witty take on US/EU relations, and he was still in flying form. In the lounge, I was gently ribbed for my blueshirtedness by Fianna Fail MEPs Sean O’Neachtain and Liam Aylward. Both MEPs had been reading The Four Glorious Years, 1917 – 1921, an institutional account of the foundation of the Irish State by a civil servant of the time. They warmly recommended the book, saying you wouldn’t know the writer was a Dev man till the last chapter. Now this is something I just love about Irish politicians.
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The Droodification of TV

by John Holbo on September 14, 2007

By general acclaim, it’s a fairly Golden age for TV. Thanks to HBO, but also for other reasons. Mostly it has to do with improved story-telling, due to whole season or multi-season story arcs, made possible largely by the DVD market, I suppose. Shows are being made to be sold as season-length packages. The effect on quality is salutary, but there are two risks. First, the show runs too long. A good story is undone – the early promise retroactively debased – by writers forced to drag it out; keep the golden goose laying past her prime. Second, a good show may be canceled, leaving the audience unable to finish the damn story.

Example: Invasion (2005) – which I’m considering buying for the typical Holbonic reason that it’s marked down 60%. (As a purchaser, I am indifferent – swayed neither in favor or against – by the consideration that it is written/produced by former teen idol Shaun Cassidy.) Who here has watched it? Any good? It seems to have won a solid fan-base, but not enough to stave off cancellation – supposedly due to a slow start, and being about a hurricane at the time of Katrina.

I like a good SF yarn. I don’t really like the thought of a cliffhanger with no resolution. But these sorts of no-end productions are actually becoming more common – the Edwin Droodification of TV, if you will. Which reminds me. I happened to catch a bit of a memorable Doctor Who episode a year ago – which I now learn is “The Unquiet Dead”. Charles Dickens is in it, and – inspired by the creepy, gaseous Gelth he has met – he promises to finish Drood, making the murderer a ‘blue elemental’. Maybe it could turn out, conversely, that there is a somewhat hypocritical family of Victorian snobs from Cloisterham under the water (!). Or something.

Let us discuss the state of TV, the long story arc, the advantages and risks that accrue thereto.


by John Holbo on September 13, 2007

It turns out that short Nature Neuroscience paper discussed before, “Neurocognitive correlates of liberalism and conservatism”, is available free (PDF). In case you were curious.

Does this work?

by Eszter Hargittai on September 13, 2007

Here’s another find from my time in Switzerland, this time the Zürich Airport.


Approximate translation: “Pirating and counterfeiting is a bad sport: no rules, many fouls, only losers.”

This may actually sound better in English. Does “loser” have that extra connotation in German as it does in English? I didn’t think it did.

In any case, is an airport such a helpful place to put this, especially right near the business lounge in a relatively secluded area? Is any place a helpful place to put this? (I know there is a huge literature on the effectiveness of ad campaigns in various areas. I don’t know if there is any in this particular one.)

I saw this ad somewhere else, too, but I forget where. Have you seen ads of this sort elsewhere?

The ethics of researching men’s room sex

by Henry Farrell on September 12, 2007

Since it’s highly unlikely that Scott is going to link to his fascinating _IHE_ column on the work and life of Laud Humphries, writer of a famous study of anonymous sex in men’s rooms, _Tearoom Trade_, I’m going to do it myself. It ain’t just Larry Craig either – the ethical issues surrounding Humphries’ research are pretty interesting:

The book was also widely discussed because of the ethical questions raised by Humphreys’s methodology. It would be an overstatement to call Tearoom Trade the main catalyst for the creation of institutional review boards, but debates over the book certainly played their part.

At issue was not the sexual activity itself but how the sociologist (then a graduate student) investigated it. Posing as a voyeur, and never revealing that he was there for research, Humphreys was accepted as “watchqueen” by the social circle hanging out at the restroom. He was entrusted with giving a signal if the police came around. He took notes on the activity taking place – including the license plates numbers of men who came around for fellatio. Through a contact in the police department, he was able to get their home addresses.

After a year, and having disguised himself to some degree, he visited them under the pretense of doing a survey for an insurance company to gather more data about their circumstances and opinions. Humphreys states that he was never recognized during these interviews. He kept all the documents generated during this research in a lockbox and destroyed them after his dissertation was accepted by Washington University in St. Louis.

This reminds me of Kieran’s “post”: from a while back about the little megalomaniac living inside every academic researcher (and every NSA bureaucrat). Anyway, plenty more “here”:

Edwards’ CITO proposal

by Henry Farrell on September 12, 2007

Via “Matt Yglesias”: I see that John Edwards is proposing the creation of “a new treaty organization”: to combat terrorism through cooperation on policing and intelligence.

The centerpiece of this policy will be a new multilateral organization called the Counterterrorism and Intelligence Treaty Organization (CITO).

Every nation has an interest in shutting down terrorism. CITO will create connections between a wide range of nations on terrorism and intelligence, including countries on all continents, including Asia, Africa, Latin America, and Europe. New connections between previously separate nations will be forged, creating new possibilities.

CITO will allow members to voluntarily share financial, police, customs and immigration intelligence. Together, nations will be able to track the way terrorists travel, communicate, recruit, train, and finance their operations. And they will be able to take action, through international teams of intelligence and national security professionals who will launch targeted missions to root out and shut down terrorist cells.

The new organization will also create a historic new coalition. Those nations who join will, by working together, show the world the power of cooperation. Those nations who join will also be required to commit to tough criteria about the steps they will take to root out extremists, particularly those who cross borders. Those nations who refuse to join will be called out before the world.

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The Conservative Brain and the Laws of Motion

by John Holbo on September 11, 2007

I went and downloaded that Nature Neuroscience [subscribers only – sorry] paper that’s been written up and linked around: “Neurocognitive correlates of liberalism and conservatism”. [click to continue…]

Did Somebody Mention the Dirty Fucking Hippies?

by Henry Farrell on September 11, 2007

dirty hippies on parade

To be found running alongside notorious “unhinged”: “liar”: (and senior Giuliani adviser) Norman Podhoretz’s article in the _Wall Street Journal_ on how we’re now fighting WWIV (via “p. o’neill”: Pay particular attention to the fifth columnist with the sub-machine gun assault rifle in the shadows – I didn’t notice him first time I looked at the cartoon myself.

Update: the accompanying piece is now up and it’s “dirty hippies a-go-go”:

even I never imagined that the new antiwar movement would so rapidly arrive at the stage of virulence it had taken years for its ancestors of the Vietnam era to reach. Nor did I anticipate how closely the antiwar playbook of that era would be followed and how successfully it would be applied to Iraq, even though the two wars had nothing whatever in common. To be sure, this time, mainly because there was no draft, there would be no student protesters and no massive street demonstrations. Instead, virtual demonstrations would be mounted in cyberspace by the so-called netroots and these, more suited to the nature of the new technological age, would prove an all-too-effective substitute.