Another philosopher

by Ingrid Robeyns on December 14, 2007

Today is a special day for me: it’s the first day of my maternity leave (read: finally time to slow down and take a daily nap) and from now on I can legitimately call myself a philosopher. Yes, I’ve done something that is unusual for someone in my situation: I just completed an MA in Philosophy, which I studied on a part-time basis with the “British Open University”: since January 2005.

Until now only a handful of people knew, since I thought it was a little weird for someone in my situation to take a taught degree in philosophy. After all, even though I’m not in a philosophy department, there is nothing that prevents me from reading any philosophical book or article, or doing (some sort of) philosophical research myself — as I have in fact been doing for some years now, as those who know my work can testify. Yet I have wanted to properly study philosophy since around 1995, but the flow of life prevented me from doing so until 2004, when I decided that if I wasn’t going to do it then, it may not happen before I would retire. There were some areas of philosophy that I had read a lot about for my PhD work, but I was curious to know more about other areas too, such as philosophy of mind or metaphysics. [click to continue…]

Is Our Senators Learning??

by Henry Farrell on December 14, 2007

My colleague “Lee Sigelman”:, at _The Monkey Cage_:

In 1993, I was contacted by Stephen Joel Trachtenberg, who was then president of this fair university. He said that he had recently dined with a prominent U.S. Senator who had agreed to give a speech about the U.S. presidency. This senator (who will remain unnamed here) told Trachtenberg that he was a bit nervous about giving this speech because he wasn’t an expert on the presidency. Never fear, Trachtenberg replied, we’ve got this hot new guy in our political science department. I’ll send him over and he can brief you. And so Trachtenberg called me.

I immediately enlisted the involvement of a colleague who was teaching our presidency course, and at the appointed hour we trooped over to the Cosmos Club for our date with destiny.

The senator was obviously preoccupied with what apparently would be his major decision of the day — the selection of an appropriate bottle of wine. With that preliminary finally completed after only half an hour or so, he turned to the task at hand. Well, he declared, because he had spent some time in England, he thought it would be a nice touch to talk not only about the U.S. but about England as well. And then: “I know something about the President of the United States, but I don’t know much about the President of England. What can you tell me about the President of England?”

I swear that the foregoing is true, and I have a witness.

Enid Blyton, Genius

by Harry on December 14, 2007

Engels takes the first wicket, Felix Gilman mops up.

Logistics of a chocolate party

by Eszter Hargittai on December 14, 2007

It’s that time of year when I think about chocolate even more than usual. Along those lines, I’m hosting a chocolate birthday party tonight (I can’t believe it’s taken me this many years to think to do it!) and am not sure yet how to handle the logistics of the blind taste test. I guess it doesn’t have to be that complicated, but if anyone has any experiences and lessons learned, please share. I’m supplying about ten types of chocolate (from high-end to not exactly) and guests will bring their own contributions. I’ll remove the wrappers and place the chocolate on plates. I figured I would number these and hand out sheets where people can rank order. But perhaps they should just comment and rate. I’m not sure. Any thoughts? Part of the point is to see who decides that their absolute favorite is the cheapest relatively generic brand vs the super special imported variety.

I’m also looking for any additional ideas for such a party. I’ve gotten some nice chocolate Q&A cards that I’ll spread out across the place. I’m making some large printouts of chocolate photos (using this nifty tool). And I’ll likely have a couple of fondue pots going thanks to gifts from previous birthdays. Of course, I’ll have plenty of other food (and not just sweets!) and drinks (spiced wine anyone?) to allow people to cleanse their palettes between morsels. Anything regarding the chocolate theme that I should add?

Giving credit where its due: the chocolate party blind taste test idea comes from my friend Diane who hosted a very successful version back in grad school so it is a tested concept. I just don’t remember the logistical details.

What’s in a knol?

by Eszter Hargittai on December 14, 2007

Henry points us to a new Google initiative and was wondering what I might think about it. I started writing a comment, but thinking that a comment shouldn’t be three times as long as the original post (and because I can), I decided to post my response as a separate entry.

First, I think Kieran is right, knol is way too close to troll, I would’ve picked a different name. (That said, most people out there probably have no idea what a troll is so in that sense it’s just as well although I still don’t like the name.)

I address three issues concerning this new service of trying to create something Wikipedialike within Google’s domain: First, will it gain popularity? Second, what might we expect in terms of quality? Third, what’s in it for Google beyond the potential to showcase more ads? [click to continue…]

Google vs. Wikipedia

by Henry Farrell on December 14, 2007

The Wikimedia folk have been muttering for a while about taking on Internet search companies such as Google, but I suspect that Google is more likely to be able to “displace them”: than vice-versa.

Earlier this week, we started inviting a selected group of people to try a new, free tool that we are calling “knol”, which stands for a unit of knowledge. Our goal is to encourage people who know a particular subject to write an authoritative article about it. The tool is still in development and this is just the first phase of testing. For now, using it is by invitation only. … A knol on a particular topic is meant to be the first thing someone who searches for this topic for the first time will want to read. The goal is for knols to cover all topics, from scientific concepts, to medical information, from geographical and historical, to entertainment, from product information, to how-to-fix-it instructions. Google will not serve as an editor in any way, and will not bless any content … For many topics, there will likely be competing knols on the same subject. … People will be able to submit comments, questions, edits, additional content, and so on. Anyone will be able to rate a knol or write a review of it. … Once testing is completed, participation in knols will be completely open, and we cannot expect that all of them will be of high quality. Our job in Search Quality will be to rank the knols appropriately when they appear in Google search results. We are quite experienced with ranking web pages, and we feel confident that we will be up to the challenge.

I’m waiting to see what Eszter and “Siva”: have to say about this before I can start to think in earnest about this, but given Google’s clout and resources I imagine that this project is much more likely to have legs than, say, Citizendium.

Update: See also “Nicholas Carr”:

Kenworthy and Rauchway in the blogosphere

by Henry Farrell on December 14, 2007

Two great new blogs by academics who I admire but have never met. First, Lane Kenworthy, author of many articles and a few books on the comparative politics of inequality, is now blogging at “Consider the Evidence”: This “post”:, for example, does a nice job of bringing together some of the data on economic risk (on which more soon), and looks at how the incipient credit crunch and the high number of families that already have two parents in the workforce means that lower income households simply don’t have much margin to cope any more with unexpected financial emergencies.

households now appear to be more sensitive to serious short-run financial strains — job loss, a medical problem that results in significant cost (due to lack of health insurance or inadequate coverage), a hike in rent, a rise in mortgage payments (as a low-interest-rate adjustable mortgage rolls over). A generation ago a household could adjust to this type of event by having the second adult take a temporary job to provide extra income. During the economic boom of the late 1990s they might have been able to switch jobs in order to get a pay increase. In the past ten years they could run up credit card debt or take out a home equity loan. For many households with moderate or low incomes, these strategies are now foreclosed.

Second, Eric Rauchway at UC Davis is blogging together with Ari Kelman at “The Edge of the American West”: One of his “posts”: gets stuck into the recent “outbreak”: of the liberal bias in the academy thing in the Washington Post op-ed pages, and generates an interesting conversation in the comments section about where you can find intelligent and intellectually honest conservatives in the US. I’d add Steve Bainbridge to the people listed in the comments section; also “Clive Crook”: and Clive Davis (who I don’t follow as much as I should now that he’s at the “Spectator”: and doesn’t have his own RSS feed any more). Both of the latter are Brits, of course. Does anyone have other nominations for interesting conservatives in the blogosphere or elsewhere? Please: no need to list obvious suspects at high profile blogs like Orin Kerr, nor to state that there ain’t any such thing as an interesting honest conservative. I know that this latter view has some adherents among CT readers, but its restatement in response to questions of this sort is kinda like telling people who are troubleshooting their PCs that the obvious solution is to buy a Mac.