From the monthly archives:

October 2007

Audiobooks, plus Miniscule

by John Holbo on October 27, 2007

We recently moved and I now have a long commute. I’ve discovered that I greatly enjoy expending enforced bus-time, listening to audiobooks. I’ve also discovered that Librivox is a rich source of free listening material. They are slouching toward the 1000 title mark, with 1000 volunteer readers doing the work. All the products are released into the public domain. I just finished the second half of Dracula – which was, I must say, touch and go in some chapters. A few of the readers were quite good; the lady with the Indian accent did not – as I feared – make van Helsing sound like Apu. She was quite good. (But there were some terrible van Helsings in the bunch, all the same. I could add to Henry’s post about bad accents, but it seems cruel to mock earnest volunteers, as opposed to overpaid Hollywood actors.)

Modeling myself on the aurally self-improving Mr. Boffin, I’ve started in on Charles Dickens, Our Mutual Friend. (Belle, like Mrs. Boffin, is more a ‘high-flier in fashion’, you understand, and correspondingly less inclined to listen to audiobooks.) I have got up to chapter 9, and the quality of the readers so far has ranged from commendably adequate to downright excellent. (Someone named Alan Chant is doing Boffin as Wallace, from Wallace and Gromit. Which works just fine.)

Does anyone have any special recommendations, audiobook-wise? I’m not averse to paying for good stuff, although so far I am gratified by the availability of high-quality free stuff.

In other late Saturday night news, the 3-year old certifies this as the funniest video in the world. It is pretty funny.

Dept of Truthiness

by Kieran Healy on October 27, 2007

Your clown show dollars at work:

The Federal Emergency Management Agency’s No. 2 official apologized Friday for leading a staged news conference Tuesday in which FEMA employees posed as reporters while real reporters listened on a telephone conference line and were barred from asking questions. … FEMA announced the news conference at its headquarters here about 15 minutes before it was to begin Tuesday afternoon, making it unlikely that reporters could attend. Instead, FEMA set up a telephone conference line so reporters could listen.

In the briefing, parts of which were televised live by cable news channels, Johnson stood behind a lectern, called on questioners who did not disclose that they were FEMA employees, and gave replies emphasizing that his agency’s response to this week’s California wildfires was far better than its response to Hurricane Katrina in August 2005.

“It was absolutely a bad decision. I regret it happened. Certainly … I should have stopped it,” said John “Pat” Philbin, FEMA’s director of external affairs. “I hope readers understand we’re working very hard to establish credibility and integrity, and I would hope this does not undermine it.”

Rich state, poor state

by Henry on October 26, 2007

“Andrew Gelman”: and his co-authors build on results from a “recent paper”: to draw some fascinating maps of what the 2004 presidential elections would have looked like if only (1) poor, (2) middle income, or (3) rich people had been able to vote.




These maps show some obvious class differences (as well as illustrating the importance of poor voters to Democratic electoral prospects), but also suggest (as does the paper) some interesting relationships between how people at different income levels vote in rich and poor states.

For poor voters, there is no systematic difference between rich and poor states. But for middle-income and especially for rich voters, there is a very strong pattern of rich states supporting the Democrats and poor states supporting the Republicans.

In short, rich people and poor people who live in poor states have very different voting preferences from each other. Rich people and poor people who live in rich states have much more similar voting preferences. Gelman et al. don’t have any hard and fast explanation for this (they note that race explains about half of this disparity, but only half). However, their results do suggest that some of the conventional wisdom of American journalists on class, voting and geographic location stands in sore need of revisiting.

Then we take Berlin

by Henry on October 26, 2007

Like Chris, I want to object to Andrew Sullivan’s “post”: – but my objection is narrower. _What does he mean_ by insinuating that “at last” we’re “honest about the true agenda of the left”?? We let slip our hidden agenda of creating “a tyranny where Crooked Timber and the benign left will call the shots and enforce their orthodoxy” _years ago._ Not only that, but our nefarious plans have previously received widespread public attention. Andrew’s dire prognostications were _anticipated in their entirety_ in 2004 by “Mr. Nick Morgan Mr. Andy Duncan, commentator-at-large at who not only pointed out that “What John Quiggin desires is Orwellian Newspeak, with Mr Quiggin and his friends at Crooked Timber being the Inner Party deciding the rules,” but sagaciously remarked that “Hell on Earth would be a World Government run by Crooked Timber.” You can’t say that you haven’t been warned. Repeatedly.

Oh fantastic….

by Chris Bertram on October 26, 2007

Here’s “Andrew Sullivan”: :

bq. “Effective liberty.” Two of the most chilling words you’ll ever hear. Crooked Timber wants the government policing speech to protect minorities. At last they’re honest about the true agenda of the left. Notice this isn’t about “hate-crimes”. It’s about “hate-speech.” But the motivation behind hate-crime laws – a loathing of liberty and group-think victimology – is still out there. …. Once you start deciding what speech is or is not acceptable, we no longer live in a free society. We live in a tyranny – where Crooked Timber and the benign left will call the shots and enforce their orthodoxy.

Let’s put things in simple terms. Most of the people who discuss this topic, and especially most Americans, have some Lockean view of individual rights in mind, rights that stop where the other guy starts. Government, seen as some alien policeman, only has a legitimate role in stepping in to stop people harming one another, where the paradigm cases of harm involve punching people on the nose or stealing their stuff. Since speech isn’t like that, government has no business regulating it.

Well I see where you’re coming from. But I think it’s from the wrong place. The right frame, in my view, is to think of the state as “we, the people” and to ask what conditions need to be in place for the people, and for each citizen, to play their role in effective self-government. Once you look at things like that then various speech restrictions naturally suggest themselves. First, there are the obvious procedural ones, the rules for running the meeting, as it were. Second, there are the financial ones: we can’t have the conversation dominated by those who are rich enough to buy up all the megaphones. Third, if we are trying to implement such a conversational ideal in a society riven by deep ethnic or religious divisions, we’ll need to take seriously the idea that despised or stigmatized groups might not get their voices heard, and that one reason for this might involve the discourse of other citizens. This isn’t a matter of “the government” policing speech, it is a matter of us regulating our collective conversation.

However … and it is a big “however”, the states in which we live are a long way from that ideal of self-government. Given that they are at that distance, there are strong reasons to think that those who dominate government will abuse their power, we ought to be very wary about restrictions on hate speech, and we ought to be sensitive to the fact that any regulations will be subject to abuse (including by people who represent themselves as victims to gain an edge), may be counterproductive, and so on. Hence it is false to say — at least as some blanket proposition — that I (rather than CT collectively, some of whom may think I’m nuts, for all I know) want “the government policing speech to protect minorities”.

Small additional note. Sebastian writes in comments “The United States courts have some of the most extensive thinking about free speech recorded anywhere—complete with built in case studies.” Well sort of. The Americans have a long tradition of trying to discuss these things using the language of an 18th-century document. Given the difficulties of shoehorning a lot of real-world problems into that frame, that gives them a long history of acrobatic hermeneutics somewhere in the vague area of free speech. Some of it is even relevant. The trouble is that many Americans (at least the ones who comment on blogs!) can’t tell the difference between discussing the free speech and discussing the application of their constitution.

Small extra additional note. Someone might put the argument that the best way to regulate “the conversation” involves giving people 1st Amendment-style protections. They might be right about that. There’s a case to say that. But note that that’s a _different argument_ from “government should only stop harm, and speech isn’t harm.”

Oliver Kamm — “There goes liberty” — attacks Steven Rose for writing that hate speech ought to be banned because it violates the human rights of its victims. There are tricky debates to be had about what counts as a properly human right, but I don’t think there’s much mileage in forensically examining Rose on _that_ point. Kamm’s point is that hate speech — unlike, say, racist violence — doesn’t harm its victims, strictly speaking. That’s a highly dubious proposition: being bombarded with the message that you are of lesser worth than others, are disgusting, repellent, vicious or stupid, may well cause you significant harms (and where genocidal crimes have taken place, it is often against the background of such messages being prevalent). But we can let that go as an instance of Kamm’s lack of imagination. What Kamm really has in his sights are restrictions on speech that are alleged to flow from the idea that we owe one another respect, have duties of civility to our fellow citizens, and so forth. He’s surely wrong on this point, and for two reasons: first, in a a democracy of equal citizens it is important to see to it that the conditions are in place for people to participate as equals; second, no-one has any legitimate interest in the protection of hate speech, _as such_.* If particular groups are so stigmatized and marginalized because of hate-speech messages that their members cannot get their voices heard in the public sphere (they may speak, but most people will not listen to _people like them_) then the freedom and equality of citizens is undermined, and the formal right that those people have to legal, civil and political equality is of lesser value than the formally similar rights of others. Far from liberty being endangered by hate-speech legislation it may — and whether it is depends very much on the specific social and historical circumstances — ensure that many people continue to enjoy effective liberty. Kamm also writes: “I do not … regard it as any legitimate part of public policy to eradicate bigotry.” Even if the elimination of bigotry were not a legitimate part of public policy, the elimination of its public expression might well be, for the reasons having to do with the freedom and equality of citizens I just mentioned. But, of course, the elimination of bigotry _is_ an important and legitimate part of at least one area of public policy: the education system. Children should, contra, Kamm be taught that racism (along with sexism, homophobia etc) is deplorable and it is very much part of the government’s business to see that they are.

*They may have a legitimate interest in speech that would fall foul of hate-speech legislation, which is one reason to be very wary about passing such legislation and to be careful in formulating it, but hate-speech, as such, has no value and hence no claim to protection. The speech that Rose implicitly thought ought to be banned, that of James Watson about the intelligence of Africans, isn’t, strictly speaking, in that category, and banning it would endanger the legitimate expression of scientific opinion. Kamm, however, opposes Rose on the wrong grounds.

ÃŽles flottantes

by Henry on October 25, 2007

China Mieville, a man who certainly knows his “political pelagic communities”:, takes to the pages of _In These Times_ to fault “floating libertarian utopias”: for _not being crazy enough_. Much unfair fun ensues,

However, one senses in even their supporters’ literature a dissatisfaction with these attempts that has nothing to do with their abject failure. It is also psycho-geographical: There is something about the atolls, mounts, reefs and miniature islets on which these pioneers have attempted to perch that insults their dignity. A parable from seasteading’s past goes some way in explaining. In 1971, millionaire property developer Michael Oliver attempted to establish the Republic of Minerva on a small South Pacific sand atoll. It was soon off-handedly annexed by Tonga, and, in a traumatic actualized metaphor, allowed to dissolve back into the sea. To defeat the predatory outreach of nations and tides, it is clearly not enough to be offshore: True freedom floats.

Via “3 Quarks Daily”: Bonus points for anyone who figures out the obscure pun in the title of this post.

A year of photos

by Eszter Hargittai on October 24, 2007

One year ago today I started a project: take at least one photo each day and post it online. Yesterday, I took the 365th photo in the project and today I compiled a video of the set:

I have found this to be an amazing experience and I’m going to continue with it. Setting aside a few moments each day to look around and find something worthy of a photo adds a very interesting and nice component to everyday life. Like Chris, I’ve started noticing things I never saw before. Looking back at the full set is also a great reminder of all that I’ve been up to over the last 12 months.

I highly recommend a hobby of this sort. I have two pieces of advice. First, it’s helpful to have a small enough digital camera that you can take it with you everywhere. You never know when a great photo opportunity will present itself. Second, don’t expect to maintain a separate blog or even blog section for this (as I naively did), it’s hard to find the time for that. Rather, post the photos to a community photo-sharing site like Flickr that makes posting and organization easy and can connect you to a group of people engaging in a similar project.

I want to send a shoutout to folks on Flickr who’ve been participating in this concurrently. A great community has built up around the project, which has been another great aspect of all this.

Political Science weblog bleg

by Henry on October 23, 2007

I’ve been running my “political science weblog”: for the last few months, and it seems to be doing quite well thank you in attracting some attention and readers to political science research. However, because there isn’t any single dominant repository for political science papers on the Internet, I have to look around a bit to find what people are doing – there are bits and pieces on SSRN, on various seminar websites etc etc. I’d be grateful for any suggestions from readers as to good places to find papers in political science, political theory and related disciplines (sociology, political economy). Weekly seminars at your university, working paper depositories, professors with lots of recent stuff on their homepages etc etc all qualify. Either email me, or submit it in comments below (if you do the latter, it has the advantage that other people can read it too). I’d also obviously be grateful for leads on interesting new papers that I haven’t come across but that are available in ungated form somewhere on the Internets. Suggestions for improvements to the site are also gratefully appreciated. It is probably going to be little more than a papers-plus-abstracts-blog until my tenure file is in next year, at which stage I should have a bit more time to develop it (I’ve gotten some suggestions as to how it may be put on a firmer institutional basis in the long run, but this will likely be up in the air for a while).

Finally and most generally, I would really encourage academics (esp. those on the market for the first time, or in the early stages of their career) to work on building a website which has access to their key papers. It’s straightforward to do, and massively increases your visibility to others (you are allowing people who are interested enough in you to look you up to economize on their search costs by downloading and reading papers that sound sort of interesting).

Things I Don’t Understand

by Belle Waring on October 23, 2007

Via the Instapundit, I recently read this Michael Yon piece in which he proposes to offer his articles for free to US newspapers so that they can serve as a corrective to the misleading, negative reports on Iraq one reads today. I also read all the comments, because I am a peculiar person. My loss is your gain, however, since I am able to promote this moving, yet mysterious comment from its lowly position at 129 in the thread:

Carol Says:
There are two kinds of people in the world, those who read Michael Yon, and therefore know the truth and those who do not.

It’s easy to figure it out, I just ask. I’ve stopped tipping black cab drivers who don’t know about you Michael, the smart ones do, they deserve the tip.

I will definitely send you a tip and will spread the word in deepest darkest Kensington.

I’m afraid I can’t muster any response to this more eloquent than, “wha–?” I briefly considered instituting a new practice of tipping Singaporean Tamil taxi drivers only when they had heard of dsquared, but it seems comparatively lackluster. Chinese taxi drivers only when they are willing to spit on a wallet-sized photo of Tom Friedman?

UPDATE: helpful readers point out that the commenter is talking about “black-cab” drivers, rather than cab drivers who are black. I didn’t know that. So, 100% less racist, but still crazy.

It’s Islamo-Fascism Week!

by Kieran Healy on October 23, 2007

Oh the Feminists hate Republicans
And Republicans hate the Feminists
To mock all Feminazis
Is an old G.O.P. rule

But during Islamo-Fascism Week
Islamo-Fascism Week
You’ll see Ann Coulter On Our Backs at USC
She’s helping Muslims seek
Their Feminine Mystique
Simone De Beauvoir’s really very cool

[click to continue…]

Via “TechPresident”:, I thought this “Republican Facebook feed”: parody was pretty funny.

Republican Facebook Feed

Alan Coren is Dead

by Harry on October 22, 2007

Telegraph obituary here. No consolation at all, but if, despite my unbelief, there’s a heaven and hell, I just hope he and Linda Smith got to the same place.

UPDATE: a delicious memoir from Michael Bywater here. From it here is Coren on adultery:

“I would never have an affair,” he said, “because I wouldn’t want my children to have for their mother the sort of woman who would be married to a man who would cheat on her.”

Life imitates art

by John Quiggin on October 21, 2007

I thought, at first that he worked far harder than most of the men I knew. Later, I came to doubt this, finding that Quiggin’s work was something to be discussed rather than tackled and that what he really enjoyed was drinking cups of coffee at odd times of day

Anthony Powell, in A Dance to the Music of Time. Any of my co-authors will recognise this much of the picture, at least.

Missing the g-spot

by Henry on October 21, 2007

“Andrew Sullivan”: links briefly to the post below on whether _g_ is a statistical myth, describing it as another expression of the “conventional left-liberal view,” and defending again his decision as editor of _The New Republic_ to publish extracts from _The Bell Curve._ I would have much preferred to have seen a substantive response to the “essay”: by Cosma Shalizi that the post linked to and summarized. I don’t see anything in Cosma’s essay that requires subscription to left-liberal views, conventional or otherwise – instead, I see a (to me entirely convincing) methodological critique of the basis for statistical claims that _g_, the purported general factor for intelligence, exists. To quote Cosma again:

If, after looking at your watch, you say that it’s 12 o’clock, and I point out that your watch has stopped at 12, I am not saying that it’s not 12 o’clock, just that your watch doesn’t actually give you any evidence about the time. Similarly, pointing out that factor analysis and related techniques are unreliable guides to causal structure does not establish the non-existence of a one-dimensional latent variable driving the success of almost all human mental performance. It’s possible that there is such a thing. But the major supposed evidence for it is irrelevant, and it accords very badly with what we actually know about the functioning of the brain and the mind.

If Andrew would like to take issue with something, these are the claims that he needs to be taking issue with. And there’s nothing stopping him, if he has even a moderate grasp of statistical reasoning (Shalizi’s arguments are quite comprehensible to someone with a basic minimum of statistical training, as evidenced by the fact that a gawp like me can reasonably claim to understand them). What Cosma is saying is that the entire body of research on _g_ is demonstrably based on bad statistical reasoning. Nor is it only Cosma who says this. Nor is this a product of political druthers – it clearly flows from a set of methodological claims that are widely accepted among statisticians, and that have many applications outside this particular and highly heated debate. If Andrew wants to show how Cosma’s methodological critique is fundamentally flawed in some way because of left-liberal preconceptions, he really should do so. If not, then all of his claims about “conventional left-liberal view”s and “going to challenge many assumptions of right-thinking liberalism” are by-the-by – they don’t count for anything unless they are actually backed up by, like, methodologically sound science.