From the monthly archives:

November 2007

Shalizi on Saletan

by Henry Farrell on November 30, 2007

This has been another episode of “what Cosma said”:

In my first post about this, I said that there were two possible interpretations of Saletan’s actions: that he didn’t know that the ideas he was spread were crap, or that he did, but spread them anyway to advance an agenda. Saying that the second interpretation was more charitable wasn’t _just_ a joke. Sadly, this partial _mea culpa_ supports the first interpretation, that of incompetence. To put it in “shorter William Saletan” form, what he is saying is: I am shocked — shocked! — to discover that the people who devote their careers to providing supposedly-scientific backing for racist ideas are, in fact, flaming racists. And he does seem to be shocked, though it is hard (as Yglesias says) to see why, _logically,_ he should strain out those gnats he displays for our horrified inspection while swallowing the camel of group inferiority (and telling his readers that camel is really great and the coming thing). This indicates a level of incompetence as a reporter and researcher that is really quite stunning …

But let me back up a minute to the bit about relying on “peer review and rebuttals to expose any relevant issue”. There are two problems here. One has to do with the fact that, as I said, it is really very easy to find the rebuttals showing that Rushton’s papers, in particular, are a tragic waste of precious trees and disk-space. For example, in the very same issue of the very same journal as the paper by Rushton and Jensen which was one of Saletan’s main sources, Richard Nisbett, one of the more important psychologists of our time, takes his turn banging his head against this particular wall. Or, again, if Saletan had been at all curious about the issue of head sizes, which seems to have impressed him so much, it would have taken about five minutes with Google Scholar to find a demonstration that this is crap. So I really have no idea what Saletan means when he claimed he relied on published rebuttals — did he think they would just crawl into his lap and sit there, meowing to be read? If I had to guess, I’d say that the most likely explanation of Saletan’s writings is that he spent a few minutes with a search engine looking for hits on racial differences in intelligence, took the first few blogs and papers he found that way as The Emerging Scientific Consensus, and then stopped. But detailed inquiry into just _how_ he managed to screw up so badly seems unprofitable.

and not only the arguments, one suspects

by Henry Farrell on November 30, 2007

This Atlantic Monthly “piece”: from 1957 on sex and the college girl is quite entertaining, in the ways that you might expect it to be entertaining. My favorite paragraph:

Even more complicated to deal with is the intellectual-amoral type of man, who has affairs as a matter of course and doesn’t (or says he doesn’t) think less of a girl for sleeping with him. He is full of highly complicated arguments on the subject, which have to do with empiricism, epicureanism, live today, for tomorrow will bring the mushroom cloud, learning about life, and the dangers of self-repression, all of which are whipped out with frightening speed and conviction while he is undoing the third button on his girl’s blouse.

The world turned upside down, down under

by John Q on November 30, 2007

Political events in Australia have been moving so fast, no one has really caught up. A week ago, Labor looked very likely to win the election (held last Saturday) and there seemed a good chance that Liberal (= pro-business right) Prime Minister John Howard would lose his own seat. Those things duly happened, and that seemed to be about as much as we could expect or hope for. Instead, there has been a meltdown of spectacular proportions on the losing side.

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Bumper stickernomics

by Daniel on November 30, 2007

Dennis Perrin, who I’ve just realised is the same bloke as the Dennis Perrin I used to have really nasty flamewars with on a mailing list five years ago, has a post up which, among other things, mentions a bumper sticker he recently saw which read:

“As Hillary, Nancy and Jennifer Rise In Stature, They Give New Meaning To The Phrase Ho Ho Ho!”

Well it got me thinking. Quite a number of points, below. I tried, but failed, to keep the footnotes under control this time.
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How a Petard Hoist Works

by John Holbo on November 30, 2007

Ramesh Ponnuru gives me a little spank for getting his name wrong. Fair enough. But he goes on to say that I can’t “make an argument pertinent to anything under discussion.” No, I don’t think that’s quite it. [click to continue…]

The Menace of Urban Youth

by Scott McLemee on November 29, 2007

I can’t argue with most of the selections in “The Nine Most Badass Bible Verses” — except for thinking that at least one violent episode might have been cut in favor of something from the Song of Solomon booty call.

Plus it’s a problem that the list implies a ranking, because no way Elisha and the bears (2 Kings 2:23-24) should come in at a mere number 8:

23 From there Elisha went up to Bethel. As he was walking along the road, some youths came out of the town and jeered at him. “Go on up, you baldhead!” they said. “Go on up, you baldhead!” 24 He turned around, looked at them and called down a curse on them in the name of the LORD. Then two bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of the youths.


And what do we learn from this? Valuable lessons for today:

Christians are constantly asking for prayer in schools to help get today’s kids in line, but we beg to differ. We need bears in schools. If every teacher had the power to summon a pair of child-maiming grizzly avengers, you can bet that schoolchildren nowadays would be the most well-behaved, polite children, ever. It’s a simple choice: listen to the biology lesson, or get first-hand knowledge of the digestive system of Ursus horribilis.

It should be pointed out that even after his death, Elisha continued to kick ass. II Kings 13:20-21 tells us that when a dead body was thrown into his tomb and touched Elisha’s bones, it sprang back to life. It’s unknown whether Elisha had this power in life, as well as death, but we like to think he did and that he had the habit of killing his victims with bears, resurrecting them, and then promptly re-summoning the bears to kill them, again. He’d just repeat the whole thing over and over until he got bored.

via Ralph Luker

The Party of Death

by John Holbo on November 29, 2007

Ramesh Ponnuru: “What on earth does Lemieux mean? Is he seriously arguing that supporters of a ban on partial-birth abortion want to punish women for having sex by exposing them, in some incredibly tiny percentage of cases, to unsafe abortions? That’s absurd.”

The context: “The ban Paul voted for, conversely, does nothing to protect fetal life, but simply tries to force doctors to perform abortions using less safe methods in some cases. Even on its face, therefore, such legislation is about regulating female sexuality and punishing women for making choices the state doesn’t approve of, which is as inconsistent with any coherent set of libertarian principles as it is with ‘states’ rights.'”

What is Ponnuru’s argument? It seems to be this. If Lemieux were right, it would be fair to accuse abortion opponents of being, in a certain sense, ‘pro-death’. But anyone who accuses the other side of being ‘the party of death’ must be wrong. Therefore Lemieux is wrong.

iRex Iliad review

by Henry Farrell on November 28, 2007

The “howls”: “of”: “derision”: greeting the announcement of the Amazon Kindle last week reminds me that I never got around to reviewing the “iRex Iliad”: that I bought some months ago. I can’t provide a proper comparison of the two; not only do I not own a Kindle, obviously, but I haven’t even used the Iliad to read DRM-protected books (this has only become a possibility in the last few months; before that you were limited to PDFs and the like). But for my particular purposes as an academic, the Iliad works very well. It’s still a first generation technology, and has several kinks that could, and should, be ironed out. Even so, what I’ve seen convinces me that academics are likely to become early adopters of this technology _en masse_ when it comes down in price and becomes a little more user friendly.
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But … but I thought greed was good!

by John Holbo on November 28, 2007

Kevin Drum responds to Matthew Yglesias, who is wondering why it took the social conservatives so long to come around to Huckabee, if this is what they wanted all along. Drum quotes the title of his review of Chait: “Forget neocons and theocons. It’s the money-cons who really run Bush’s Republican Party.” (I’m actually just about to get started reading The Big Con [amazon] myself.) If you want some confirming evidence for that thesis, check out this Robert Novak column, “The False Conservative”:

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Gangster Capitalism

by Henry Farrell on November 27, 2007

My (longish) review of Roberto Saviano’s _Gomorrah: A Personal Journey into the Violent International Empire of Naples’ Organized Crime System_ is “now out”: in _The Nation_. I liked the book quite a lot – as I say in the review it’s a little like Ryszard Kapuscinkski’s melanges of fiction and journalism, but it’s far starker, more direct, and angrier in its conclusions. One of the things I found most interesting about the book (although I don’t think his argument ultimately works), is Saviano’s efforts to connect together the Camorra and global capitalism. This is something that the “NYT reviewer”: didn’t get – he complains that the first chapter of the book (on Chinese smugglers) doesn’t say anything about the Camorra at all. As I read the book, that was rather the point that Saviano was trying to make – that the fundamental problem lies not so much in the florid stories about the Camorra clans as in the underbelly of globalization; the myriads of clandestine and informal markets and of relationships between the legal and illegal economies that help sustain global capitalism. The book is at least as much about markets as about crime – two extended quotes after the jump give some of the flavor. [click to continue…]

A Switch in Time

by Kieran Healy on November 27, 2007

This is awesome.

For a year from September 2005, under the nose of the Panthéon’s unsuspecting security officials, a group of intrepid “illegal restorers” set up a secret workshop and lounge in a cavity under the building’s famous dome. Under the supervision of group member Jean-Baptiste Viot, a professional clockmaker, they pieced apart and repaired the antique clock that had been left to rust in the building since the 1960s. Only when their clandestine revamp of the elaborate timepiece had been completed did they reveal themselves. “When we had finished the repairs, we had a big debate on whether we should let the Panthéon’s officials know or not,” said Lazar Klausmann, a spokesperson for the Untergunther. “We decided to tell them in the end so that they would know to wind the clock up so it would still work.

“The Panthéon’s administrator thought it was a hoax at first, but when we showed him the clock, and then took him up to our workshop, he had to take a deep breath and sit down.”

White Collar

by John Holbo on November 26, 2007

Deadline Hollywood says a deal may be struck. Writers strike may be settled by X-Mas! If not, let them write graphic novels! (Guardian article about "film-makers themselves branching out into graphic novels, incorporating that art form as an alternative storytelling tool rather than simply an adjunct or cash-in." Eh. Sort of interesting.)

But what if you want to combine your love of graphic novels with support for artists on strike? [click to continue…]

English as she is Wrote

by Kieran Healy on November 26, 2007

Via Matt Yglesias, a headline and subhead from a Newsweek profile of Giuliani:

bq. Growing Up Giuliani: Rudy Giuliani was raised to understand that fine, blurry line between saint and sinner. The making of his moral code.

It seems to me that a line can be fine, or it can be blurry. I’m having a hard time visualizing a fine, blurry line.

Iraqi employees – the nightmare continues

by Daniel on November 26, 2007

Dan Hardie just emailed me with some news about the Iraqi employees campaign. God help us all, but the compromise asylum arrangements have been so poorly publicised that several Iraqi employees have been left searching the internet for information and ended up at Dan’s blog.

I have, with permission, reproduced the whole of his post below the fold, but in summary we’re basically making another call on your good nature. The last set of emails and letters to British MPs worked, in as much as they pretty directly led to the Milliband statement and the announcement of asylum and resettlement packages. However, it’s clear that we need to keep making the point (politely) that the British blog reading public has not forgotten about this one, and to insist that the policy is generously and efficiently implemented. So basically, we need people to send emails and letters to their MPs. Crooked Timber readers have done us proud in the campaign so far and I hope we can rely on your support once more.

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The Monkey Wrench Gang

by Henry Farrell on November 26, 2007

Since it looks as though “Andrew Gelman”: has already announced it, I figure that I’m now allowed to publicize a new political science blog, “The Monkey Cage”: It’s written by three of my colleagues at GWU, David Park, John Sides, and Lee Sigelman (who’s received previous mention at CT for his groundbreaking collaborative research on “Supreme Court Justice betting pools”: One “interesting post”: on the costs of wars:

Recent days have brought a shower of media attention to the long-term economic cost of the war in Iraq. … According to Clayton, the pattern of long-term costs associated with American wars indicates that “the bulk of the money is spent long after the fighting stops” — and when Clayton said “long after,” he meant it. The primary reason: veterans benefits, which for the Civil War, World Wars I and II, and the Korean War averaged 1.8 times the original cost of the wars themselves.

It would be interesting to know whether this is likely to hold for the Iraq war. Will veterans’ benefits be as costly for an all-volunteer army? Has the ratio of technology costs to manpower costs changed substantially since the earlier wars discussed? I know next to nothing about the minutiae of military budgets – any CT readers have leads??