From the monthly archives:

July 2008


by Daniel on July 25, 2008

While I of course do not countenance the harassment of anyone by religious nuts, I also have something of a baleful view of the kind of self-conscious atheist who regards it as a good use of his time to spend the day winding up the god squad. And so, I think it’s hard to argue that anyone involved will look back on the PZ Myers/Bill Donohoe/Webster Cook/”fricking cracker” episode and think “yes, that was my finest hour”.
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What obligation? Maximise what?

by Daniel on July 25, 2008

Further to John’s post (on which this should have been a comment, but it growed), I have a real bee in my bonnet about the claim made by Richard Posner that ” The managers of corporations have a fiduciary duty to maximize corporate profits”. It raises a whole load of topics relevant to plenty of my favourite economic hobby-horses as soon as you start to look remotely critically at what the seemingly simple phrase “maximise corporate profits” actually means anyway.

Pretending not to understand the meanings of common English phrases is a stock tactic for creating the impression of profundity (cf philosophers, who are always pretending not to understand the meaning of words like “is”, “would” and “must”). But sometimes you have to do it – my view is that in any view of the world more complicated than a very elementary blackboard model, the phrase “maximise profits” can’t be unpacked into a coherent decision rule which rules out any of the things which Posner talks as if it does. First, let’s look at some things that it can’t possibly mean.
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Do you remember the first time?

by Henry Farrell on July 25, 2008

Not the Pulp song; Siva Vaidhyanathan is looking for people to “tell him”: about the first time that they used Google, if they can remember it. Personally, I can’t – there was a vague process of transition beginning with exclusive use of Alta Vista (remember that?) and finishing with exclusive use of Google, and I’m not sure what came in between.

Michael Chertoff, Euroweenie

by Henry Farrell on July 24, 2008

Kevin Drum “links to”: an unusually stupid (by which I mean ‘unusually stupid, even by the standards of the Corner’) post by Byron York on Obama’s Berlin speech.

It’s a small passage from Obama’s Berlin speech, but this formulation, common in some circles, grates on some ears, like mine:

The terrorists of September 11th plotted in Hamburg and trained in Kandahar and Karachi before killing thousands from all over the globe on American soil.

Yes, the victims were from all over the globe — places like Brooklyn, and the Bronx, and Manhattan, and Queens, and Staten Island, and New Jersey — all over. And most were Americans, weren’t they?

I knew when I read this that I’d seen the same sentiment expressed in a speech by Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, Michael Chertoff. And indeed, Google confirms that “it is so”:

Homeland Security’s Chertoff Addresses European Parliament Committee on Data Transfer, Privacy May 14, 2007

…Today’s terrorists fund their operations internationally. They recruit members, they train, they plan and they carry out attacks by exploiting the gaps in the seams in our international systems. The attack of September 11th was a clear illustration of this. The plot was hatched in Central Asia, the recruits came from Saudi Arabia, the training occurred in Afghanistan, the planning occurred here in Europe, and the attack culminated, of course, in the United States with citizens from many countries including many countries represented here lost in the World Trade Center.

I’m eagerly looking forward to Byron’s follow-up post on the dubious sentiments common among ‘some circles’ of senior Bush officials, Chertoff’s shameful failure to mention that most of those killed were American, und (to use the mots justes) so weiter. Byron?

Fiduciary obligation vs creative capitalism

by John Q on July 24, 2008

The creative capitalism blog has been set up to examine the idea that corporations could do a job of promoting social goals like improving health in poor countries (that is, better than they do now and better, in at least some ways, than governments or NGOs). Richard Posner objects to this on the ground that corporate managers have a fiduciary obligation to maximise profits. I don’t find this convincing (reposted over the fold).

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Playing the Building

by Jon Mandle on July 23, 2008

David Byrne – you might have heard of his old band – has an installation at the Battery Maritime Building in New York called Playing the Building. Basically, he placed an old organ keyboard in the middle of a big room and rigged it up so that each key makes noise by banging, blowing, or grinding some part of the building. It’s a great effect and a lot of fun to play. When I was there, Saturday afternoon, there was only a 15 minute or so wait to play it, and everyone was in good spirits and having fun. The building itself is in poor shape and you need to sign a release form to enter. Probably not worth a trip to NY by itself, but if you’re already there, stop by and have some fun making noise.

Minority Pre-Tort

by John Holbo on July 23, 2008

“Mr. Marks, by mandate of the District of Columbia Prepardon Division, I’m placing you under acquittal for the future murder of Sarah Marks and Donald Dubin that was to take place today, April 22 at 0800 hours and four minutes.”

I like the way in which, thanks to Bush, Republican government inevitably entangles us in serious moral dilemmas: “Wait—can a president really pardon someone who hasn’t even been charged with a crime?”

And you thought that Republican science fiction was all about Intelligent Design.

UPDATE: In my defense, I didn’t really think this could work. I just wanted to call the post that.

24/7 Solar Madness

by Kieran Healy on July 23, 2008

Via Jim Lindgren at Volokh, some article from the Rocky Mountain News about Al Gore’s recent call for the U.S. to be fully running on renewable energy within a decade. The piece itself is hackery (though it does deftly compare Gore to Chairman Mao) but contains the following gem:

Stanley Lewandowski, the general manager of the Intermountain Rural Electric Association, is one of the few utility officials willing to suggest that the prophet of global warming is strutting about like an emperor without his clothes. “Al Gore’s statement of obtaining 100 percent of our power from renewables in 10 years has as much a chance of happening as the sun shining 24 hours a day,” Lewandowski quipped. “It’s nonsense.”


Seriously, Beware Finland

by Kieran Healy on July 23, 2008

Beware Finland” jokes Matt Yglesias in a post about education policy. But, frankly, this is good geopolitical advice. Just ask the Soviets. Or consider the following statistics.

I’d watch out for them, if I were you.

Book Review: “Savage Mules”

by Daniel on July 22, 2008

I think that over the last few years, the view has quite frequently been expressed in comments on CT and other blogs that it is rather a shame that Christopher Hitchens has suffered something of a decline in his talents as a writer even as the general direction of his politics has coarsened and moved rightwards. How we wish, a significant proportion of the readership lament, that there was somebody around writing exhilarating and scabrous left-wing polemics with a contrarian twist!

Check out “Savage Mules” by Dennis Perrin, guys, you’ll like it.
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Last Best Wordle

by Kieran Healy on July 22, 2008

Henry beat me to the punch by about five minutes, dammit. Here’s my wordley representation of my book, Last Best Gifts.

Last Best Wordle

I didn’t look at the site closely enough to see if I could get a PDF of the output, but it would be nice to have one.


by Henry Farrell on July 21, 2008

I’ve seen various textcloud applications before, but “Wordle”: (via “Steve Poole”: is the first one that I’ve seen that makes it easy to produce aesthetically attractive pictures of the information. Below is the textcloud of my book, “The Political Economy of Trust: Institutions, Interests and Inter-Firm Cooperation” which I’m preparing for publication in Cambridge’s Comparative Politics series (click on the graphic to see the full thing). I want to make a poster of this and frame it for my office.

More on accents

by Chris Bertram on July 21, 2008

Further to earlier posts on this topic, the BBC website “has a short clip of a voice coach training an Englishman to sound American, together with an accompanying article”: . (To my ears his American sounds slightly Irish.) There’s a priceless first comment below the article from a Texan who writes: “It never occurs to us that there is such a thing as an American accent.” Well now you know.

Cory Doctorow at Firedoglake

by Henry Farrell on July 20, 2008

I’m moderating a discussion at “Firedoglake”: on Cory Doctorow’s new book Little Brother, starting about now (with Cory himself as main attraction). If you’re interested, drop by.

Interesting subway scene

by Eszter Hargittai on July 20, 2008

The folks who brought you Frozen Grand Central now bring you Human Mirror. These ideas are great and they do a good job with them. Fun stuff!