From the monthly archives:

December 2007

Nominees for the Fascist Octopus Award

by Henry Farrell on December 20, 2007

Via “Duncan Black”:, Mark Halperin comes up with a “doozy of a metaphor”:

Why is Drudge highlighting the McCain story, but has not touched other political hot potatoes that are swirling in the ether?

Those potatoes, turning this way and that as eddies and currents in the aether pull at them, heated to the boiling point by its luminiferous qualities. It’s almost as good as David Brooks’ famous “depiction”: of the Kossacks as squadrons of rabid, venom-unleashing command-lambs. Any other nominations for the most hilariously mangled metaphors and bad political writing of 2007? Halperin sets a high standard, but there must be other competitors out there …

Also, You Would Get Matching Funds

by Scott McLemee on December 20, 2007

Santa came a little early this year. The single most exciting possibility in American politics remains, of course, the idea that Bob Avakian, Chairman of the Central Committee of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA might emerge from the underground to campaign for the office of President of the United States. Alas, my appeal to him to do this has so far gone unanswered.


Instead, all we’ve had lately is a very long speech in which Chairman Bob talks about himself in the third person. What’s necessary is “a culture of appreciation, promotion, and popularization around the leadership, the body of work and the method and approach of Bob Avakian,” he says. Well, sure. But first you sort of need a reason to call a press conference. This is where the 24 hour news cycle is your friend. From a single spark….

In the meantime, Mike Ely, a former editor of the RCP newspaper, has come out with a cogent and thorough critique (pdf) of Avakian’s recent writings and the entire cult(ure) around him.

All irony to the side, I must say that this is a pretty interesting document, and so is the rest of Ely’s website. It is clearly the work of someone whose Maoism comes by way of Godard and Badiou as well as the RCP’s idiosyncratic Gang of Four-ism. For those who are interested in that kind of thing, it is the kind of thing they will find interesting. Thanks to Santa’s elves for bringing it to my attention.


I’ve made you some free X-Mas cards and gift tags!


Just like the ones your kids alway waste the good paper on! So there’s never any when you need it! But before I give you the download links, I have some explaining to do.

The world is filthy with X-Mas cards, says you. Well, I think mine are rather special and nice. They are based on visual elements extracted from Ernst Haeckel’s Kunstformen der Natur (1904). A very famous and beautiful work. Wikicommons has some lovely pictures. You know what I like best about that cover? (Thanks for asking, and feel free to click for larger.)

I like the fact that ‘Leipzig und Wien’ is in a sans serif font. Somehow that makes it perfect.

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Best of 2007 – a personal choice

by Chris Bertram on December 20, 2007

I guess it would be fun to have a best-of-2007 thread. The trouble is, of course, that it turns out when you look closely that many of the things that you thought came out in 2007 actually came out earlier. But I’m going to ignore that, if paperback came out in 2007 (for example) that’s good enough for me. So here goes – an entirely perverse personal selection (nominate your own in any category you like in comments).

Film: Das Leben der Anderen. Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s portrait of East Germany under the thumb of the Stasi. Not released in the US and the UK until 2007, so it counts.

Novel: David Peace, The Damned United. (Paperback in 2007). No doubt utterly incomprehensible to anyone who wasn’t around in England at the time, this is a novelised day-by-day account of Brian Clough’s short tenure at Leeds United, as seen from inside Clough’s brandy-sodden head. Utterly brilliant.

Biography: “The Man Who Went into the West: The Life of R.S.Thomas”: , by Byron Rogers. I blogged about it “here”: .

Team: “Bristol RFC”: , the relegation favourites who ended up in the Guinness Premiership play-offs. (OK, so I’m biased.)

CD: “Gram Parsons Archive vol. 1”: . Two CD’s of Flying Burrito Brothers performances from 1969 that have been sitting in the Grateful Dead archive ever since. Great performances and unmissable, if you like that kind of thing (which I do).

Blog: “The Encyclopedia of Decency”:, or Decentpedia. Whilst some of us had wasted hours of our time in serious engagement with the “decent left”, Malky Muscular, the Decentpedia’s proprietor, managed to deflate them with highly effective ridicule.

Blog post: Any one of Errol Morris’s “discussions”: of photographic authenticity at “Zoom”: .

Time-sink of the year: “Facebook”: .

Project of the year: Project 365, over at “Flickr”: , into which Eszter inveigled me, and which gave me a lot of fun.

I’d love to be able to nominate a philosophical paper or book of the year, but I can’t think of anything that’s really knocked me out.

Most people in the political theory/philosophy community probably know that G. A. Cohen is retiring (that’s a verb, not an adjective, as anyone who knows him would know) from the post of Chichele Professorship of Social and Political Theory. A rather brilliantly prosaic job advertisement is on the Vacancies page at the Department of Politics and International Relations (deadline Jan 7th). There’s a grander job ad here. The holders of the position since it was established in 1944 (a very odd time to be establishing Chairs, I’d have thought) have been G.D.H. Cole, Isaiah Berlin, John Plamenatz, Charles Taylor (not the famous one) and G.A. Cohen (who has held it for quite a bit longer than any of his pedecessors). Very curious who will follow.

The Goldberg Variations

by Michael Bérubé on December 19, 2007

The landmark publication of Jonah Goldberg’s <a href=””><i>Liberal Fascism: A Sourcebook for Blog Snark</i></a> has set me to wondering: where have I seen this kind of thing before? And then it hit me . . . it’s <a href=”″><i>The End of Racism</i></a> for the post-9/11 world!

It’s making me kinda nostalgic. You see, back in the 90s, before I became pen pals with David Horowitz, my very favorite wingnut and BFF was Dinesh D’Souza. And with good reason: he was a crossover phenomenon, breaking out of his obscurity in the middle of the Regnery list (in 1984, they published his <a href=”″>first book</a>, a praise song for Jerry Falwell) and placing a 10,000-word excerpt from <a href=”″><i>Illiberal Education</i></a> in the March 1991 issue of the <i>Atlantic Monthly</i>. He followed up the monster success of that book with <i>The End of Racism</i>, a 750-page tome I called, in my review of the book, “the D’Souza <i>Ulysses.</i>” (I can’t believe he never used that as a pull quote. Ingrate.) And the reason <i>The End of Racism</i> leaps to mind as a Goldberg variation, even though there is no clear evidence that Cheetos were involved in the composition of D’Souza’s magnum opus, is that both books rely on precisely the same gambit: just as Hitler and McCarthy have lately emerged as men of the left, their influence on contemporary liberalism descried at last, so too, twelve years ago, did D’Souza show that Franz Boas and W. E. B. DuBois were the <i>real</i> racists. Having established that much, he exposed contemporary liberals for what they really are:

<blockquote>Increasingly it appears that it is liberal antiracism that is based on ignorance and fear: ignorance of the true nature of racism, and fear that the racist point of view better explains the world than its liberal counterpart. </blockquote>

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Belgium: time out of the political crisis

by Ingrid Robeyns on December 19, 2007

192 days after the federal elections, the Belgian federal politicians have finally agreed on a government. Yet it is not an ordinary government – rather, an emergency government which will only last for three months. The politicians prefer the term ‘interim government’, but that conceals the fact that the country is still faced with a political crisis. Guy Verhofstadt, who was the prime minister for the last 8 years, has managed to deblock the negotiations crisis and has managed in about two weeks time to form such an interim or emergency government. He will lead the emergency government which will only last for three months and will have two main agenda points. The government’s first task is to deal with some urgent socio-economic and political problems that require the presence of a government will full legal authority (including the authority to decide on the 2008 federal budget). Its second task is to pave the way for the next government which should be formed by the end of March 2008, by starting negotiations about the state reform between the different communities.
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Culture wars go meta in Oz

by John Q on December 18, 2007

As in the US, the “culture wars” have been a long-running staple of political debate in Australia. The topics are much the same, except that Australian culture warriors tend to be a bit embarrassed about creationism and the more extreme forms of voodoo economics. And of course they’ve gone back and forth in the usual way, going nowhere much. With the departure of the Howard government, though, things have gone meta – we’re now fighting about whether we should fight culture wars.

The broadly unanimous centre/left position, (examples here and here) is “it’s over, no one cares any more, let’s get on with serious business”.

By contrast, the right is united on the view that it’s vitally important to keep on fighting the culture wars, but deeply divided as to the reason. As with Iraq, some say they’re winning and shouldn’t be tricked out of the victory that is rightly theirs, while others say the situation is so dire that only continued struggle will hold back the flood of leftist oppression.

As you can see from this post, we’re on the verge of going meta-meta here, but I suspect that this level of abstraction will be too much for simple Aussies.


by Harry on December 18, 2007

Apparently England’s new manager has promised to learn English. I was going to do a clever post on this, but then the excellently if improbably named Jimmy from Glasgow (scroll down to third comment) took the words out of my English-speaking mouth:

I don’t see the problem here with Cappello not speaking fluent English. I can’t think of many English football players who can speak fluent English either. They usually speak in general cliches peppered with generous helpings of ‘you know’, sometimes with the ‘what I mean’ added on. E.g. “They put us under a lot of pressure, you know, but Gav-o did well, you know, because sometimes in football you have to score goals, you know and the first 90 minutes of the match are the most important because, you know, I’m a firm believer that if the other side scores first you have to score twice to win, you know.”

It’s the Little Things

by Kieran Healy on December 18, 2007

Jonah Goldberg’s jacket-copy pronouncement that

bq. The quintessential liberal fascist isn’t an SS storm trooper; it is a female grade-school teacher with an education degree from Brown or Swarthmore

is already passing into legend. In my earlier post I linked to the faculty page of Swarthmore’s Department of Educational Studies. Browsing around, and wanting to learn more about Swarthmorofascism®, I found some information on the academic program they offer:

bq. The Department of Educational Studies offers students several alternative programs of study. Although the Department does not offer a major, it does provide students with the opportunity to develop a Special Major in conjunction with another department. Students may also minor in Education. In the Honors Program, students may do a Special Major in Education and another field or may do an Honors minor in Education. Students may choose to do secondary or elementary Teacher Certification in addition to or independently of these other options.

So, you can minor in Ed, and you can study it in conjunction with something else. But you cannot in fact have “an education degree from Swarthmore” in the same way that you can have an Economics or Physics or History degree from Swarthmore.

Fascism, Fascism, Fascism

by Kieran Healy on December 17, 2007

Via Fascist Sadly, No!, a fascist look inside fascist Jonah Goldberg’s fascist forthcoming fascist book. Fascist.

The fascist jacket copy suggests that “The quintessential liberal fascist isn’t an SS storm trooper; it is a female grade-school teacher with an education degree from Brown or Swarthmore.” I, for one, welcome our Fascist Swarthmore Obergruppenführer.

Political ignorance

by Henry Farrell on December 17, 2007

The new issue of _Perspectives on Politics_ has an interesting back-and-forth between Larry Bartels and Skip_Lupia_et_al. on Bartels’ “2005 article”: about voter ignorance and the Bush tax cuts. Unfortunately the dialogue is behind the paywall (Bartels usually posts his papers on his website but hasn’t done so with this one yet), but this bit jumped out from his riposte:

Well-informed people are sometimes quite wrong about things—even when it comes to straightforward factual matters. For example, well-informed conservatives in the 2002 and 2004 NES surveys were significantly more likely than less-informed conservatives to _deny_ that differences in income between rich people and poor people in the United States had increased over the past 20 years—a denial “grossly out of kilter with available evidence.” Here, as in many other instances, better-informed people seem mostly to have grasped the biased world-view of “their” political elites rather than an accurate perception of real social conditions.

“Alan Reynolds”: should be “taking a bow”: sometime around now. Bartels appears to be giving us a preview of one of the findings of his forthcoming book, _Unequal Democracy: The Political Economy of the New Gilded Age_, which is coming out from Russell Sage/Princeton next year and sounds very interesting.

Update: This “response”: by Ross Douthat to David Frum’s “much vaunted”: attack on conservative anti-intellectualism also seems sort-of on topic

Huckabee’s Fair Tax zeal and Paul’s anti-Fed enthusiasm are genuinely foolish; there is a touch of Miers-ish identity politics in the evangelical community’s Huckaphilia, and Frum’s larger worry about anti-intellectualism in the contemporary Right is one I share in spades. But if you’re going to be hard on the current crop of Republican candidates for making bogus claims about public policy, it seems awfully unfair to leave out the candidate given to running ads in which he announces: “I know that reducing taxes produces more revenue. The Democrats don’t know that. They don’t believe that.” (They don’t believe it, of course, because in the current fiscal landscape you can’t find a serious conservative economist who thinks it’s true.) … If you’re looking for cases where the Right’s anti-elitism has shaded into outright anti-intellectualism – for cases where, in Frum’s words, a GOP politician has deliberately failed to “study the problem, master the evidence, and face criticism” – Giuliani’s frequent channeling of Larry Kudlow seems like at least as telling an example as anything Mike Huckabee and Ron Paul are peddling.

(the point being, although Douthat doesn’t spell it out explicitly, that Frum is one of Giuliani’s senior policy advisers).

Facebook Friends

by Kieran Healy on December 17, 2007

Not one but _two_ former office mates of mine are quoted on the front page of the Times today in a story about Facebook. Jason Kaufman talks about his work with Nicholas Christakis on patterns of affiliation amongst Facebook users. Our own Eszter Hargittai talks about her research on comparative adoption of Facebook and MySpace. And my brilliant colleague Ron Breiger will doubtless be pleased to see that Georg Simmel gets a shoutout too, for the idea of triadic social closure.

Financial Independence and Age

by Harry on December 16, 2007

A terrific paper by Matthew Smith, Michael McPherson and Sandy Baum called “Financial Independence and Age: Distributive Justice in the Case of Adult Education” (pdf) is at the Equality Exchange. Currently, American colleges consider students over the age of 24 to be financially independent of their parents for financial aid purposes, and the paper argues that this rule has regressive consequences, showing that it unfairly favours students in advantaged circumstances. They argue for replacing the ‘age condition” with a ‘minimum income’ condition. It’s a great model of applied philosophy, demonstrating complete command of the (labyrinthine) institutional details in the US context (well, with these authors anything less would be disappointing) and making a compelling normative case for a modest, but valuable, reform.

London Tourism Advice Offered and Sought

by Harry on December 16, 2007

People regularly ask me advice on what to do when they visit London, so I thought, since a bunch of you are probably visiting in the coming year, that I’d put my advice up for general consumption. It falls into two categories; places to visit, and general “being a tourist” advice. It all assumes that people have limited budgets. If you don’t have a limited budget, stay at the Savoy, ignore most of what follows, and really enjoy yourself. Please feel free to disagree (anyone willing to defend MT?) and to add your own advice.

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