From the monthly archives:

August 2008

New York, New York

by Kieran Healy on August 30, 2008

From Overheard in New York:

(family stands facing the empire state building)
Tourist son: Mom, which one is the Empire State Building?
Tourist mom: I think it’s the one with the circley top. (points to the Chrysler Building)
Tourist dad: No, honey, it’s the one way out there, on the water.
Tourist son #2: That’s the Statue of Liberty. [To no one in particular:] I can’t believe I’m part of this fucking family.

Open Sarah Palin Thread

by Kieran Healy on August 29, 2008

Interesting choice. My immediate reaction is that it’s a funny old world. We’re guaranteed either an African-American or a woman in the White House next year.

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Real and fake

by John Q on August 29, 2008

Until now, the blogospheric fuss over former TNR diarist Scott Beauchamp has been notable only for the amount of attention paid to disputing utterly trivial anecdotes. But the Beauchamp saga has suddenly and surprisingly collided with the reality of war in Iraq, as Moon of Alabama explains.

Looking Forward

by John Holbo on August 29, 2008

I have a suggestion regarding this whole ‘you have to be very careful about criticizing McCain because of the POW thing‘ thing. The next time someone suggests it is inappropriate to say McCain messed up/is confused about X, because this is a man who etc. etc., someone ought to ask whether this will continue to apply in McCain’s Presidency, if he is elected. If he exhibits bad judgment, if we lurch from foreign policy crisis to crisis, if unwise domestic policies are pursued, will there continue to be an unusually high bar against holding McCain responsible for his words and actions? It’s hard to know how to refute a ‘yes, all is excused’ answer, if people really believe he’s got that much credit in the bank, going forward. But if it is ‘yes’, then that seems like a good reason not to vote for McCain. Because we obviously don’t want a President who can’t be held to account for any potential failings or weaknesses.

What this shows up is the rather significant difference between ‘because of what happened to him then, he must be right now’ and ‘because of what happened to him then, we can’t blame him for what’s happening now’. Obviously I’m being all elaborate about it, but it’s the sort of thing that would be easy to implement in sound-bit sized pieces. Just ask Brokaw what he’s actually saying. That McCain must be right? Or that McCain can’t be held responsible for being wrong? If Brokaw responds, as he probably will, that he thinks he’s just commenting on public sentiment – the public will react badly to criticism of McCain – then ask again: does Brokaw think the public thinks McCain must be right? Or that McCain can’t be held responsible?


by Kieran Healy on August 28, 2008

Over at her own place, Belle suggested McCain ’08 should run with the line, “Let’s Start a Land War in Asia!” But then, in response to comments, she decided on “Let’s Get Involved In Another Land War in Asia!” instead. This is more accurate, but lacks teh snappy. It seems to me that if the canon is “Never Start a Land War in Asia” then McCain really ought to go with “Never Finish a Land War in Asia”.

Can you see dems?

by John Holbo on August 28, 2008

Well, at least Ponnuru admits he’s not making any counter-argument to the Holbo-Yglesias-Drum line. But if he wants to start saying that people who oppose the Patriot Act must think terrorism is ok, he’s going to need to find some standards of his own. Ours – which he proposes to borrow – are not up to the job.

What can I say to make it clearer? It is possible, I suppose, that McCain opposed Ledbetter because he wanted to see Title VII enforcement enabled in some completely different way. But, absent evidence of this, isn’t it more plausible that McCain – just like some of Ponnuru’s colleagues at the National Review – is ok with least some portions of Title VII being rendered dead letters (the letter ‘k’, at least. As in: “(k) The terms “because of sex” or “on the basis of sex” … ) [click to continue…]

Digital Media and Learning Competition

by Eszter Hargittai on August 28, 2008

As some of you know, much of my recent work has been funded by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation through their Digital Media and Learning Initiative. Last week came the announcement about a new competition for projects on participatory learning. Compared to last year’s competition, it’s an expanded initiative thanks to a new Young Innovator’s Award for those ages 18-25 with grants up to $30,000. The Innovation grants will be up to $250,000. The Web site lists last year’s winners, a fascinating mix of projects by academics and non-academics alike. This year, institutions and organizations from some countries other than the U.S. are also eligible (Canada, China, India, Japan, Mexico, Netherlands, Nigeria, Russia, Singapore, South Africa, UK).

While it is obviously great to get funding for work one wants to pursue, being a MacArthur grantee has come with other benefits. First, the people at the Foundation are very knowledgeable about the areas they fund so they are an important source of information about the substantive questions of interest to one’s work. Additionally, they do a remarkable job of connecting people. Thanks to the folks at MacArthur, I’ve not only made numerous important professional connections, I’ve also developed some wonderful friendships over the years.

Note that MacArthur isn’t administering this competition directly, it’s an initiative of HASTAC. See details here.

Political stock market punditry

by Daniel on August 27, 2008

Why are people selling the Obama WTA contract into the convention? The “convention pop” is a pretty well-established phenomenon in the polls and is visible in IEM data from previous races too. Added to that, Obama is pretty well-known for being good at set-piece speeches. All I can find in the pundosphere is a suggestion that Hillary Clinton might steal Obama’s thunder, but this seems pretty weak beer to me. Any theories, or is there a genuine short-term trading opportunity here?

Smear Watch Smear Swatch

by John Holbo on August 27, 2008

Ramesh Ponnuru:

Hillary Clinton on McCain: “In 2008, he still thinks it’s okay when women don’t earn equal pay for equal work.” Right: Opposing the Lily Ledbetter Act means approving of unequal pay for women. What a disgusting comment.

But what’s disgusting about it, from a conservative perspective? She seems to be making a point of being scrupulously accurate. In this context, saying ‘it’s okay’ amounts to saying that the thing in question is maybe a little bad, but it doesn’t matter much, so you needn’t – therefore shouldn’t – do anything about it. As in: ‘do you need a band-aid for that?’ ‘No, it’s ok.’ A sense that unequal pay for women ‘is ok’, in this sense, is precisely the reason one would oppose the Lily Ledbetter Act. It’s an attempt to solve a non-problem. There will be costs associated with the legislation, in the form of lawsuits. And there will be no significant benefits. This does indeed seem to be the position, at least at the Corner. Reading up and down: [click to continue…]

Fortunes of war

by John Q on August 26, 2008

Things have gone better than expected (certainly better than I expected) in Iraq over the past year[1]. On the other hand, things are going very badly in Afghanistan. For those, like me (and most at CT I think), who have supported the war in Afghanistan and opposed the war in Iraq, this raises some points to consider.

Most obviously, war is inherently unpredictable and dangerous, and there is no necessary correlation between the justness of a cause and its military success. That means, among other things, that launching a war (or revolution) on the basis of a cause that seems justified to those starting it, but which has little or no hope of success (indeed without strong grounds for expecting a good outcome after the inevitable loss of life on all sides is taken into account), is not glorious but criminally reckless.

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Good things about Los Angeles

by Maria on August 26, 2008

Some time back, I mentioned in passing that living in Los Angeles has never been my life’s dream. As of last week, I’ve lived here for a full year, and I’m glad to report I’ve mellowed on it a bit. Well, just the decision to put less energy into disliking it helped.

On another CT post of mine today, commenters geo and Delicious Pundit gently point out that it’s silly to hate on a relatively decent place like L.A. I agree. There are worse places to be dragged to by your job. It’s several months since I felt a true twinge of jealousy of a friend whose work took her to Astana for a few years (turns out they have quite good skiing nearby). L.A. has quite a few good things. Among them, Delicious Pundit exhorts me to “come to the Sunday Farmers’ Market in Hollywood and get some avocados and strawberries (Gaviotas, the kind that don’t ship), some tamales, and maybe some watermelon lemonade from the nice people who come down from Solvang.” Which sounds very nice indeed.

The best thing about L.A. is of course the weather. Nuff said. The first moderately ok thing about L.A. actually reminds me of Brussels: it’s a bit crap until you get used to it, but there are lots of good day trips and weekend trips to be made nearby in the meantime. So far, I’ve driven to Ensenada in Baja Mexico, Joshua Tree National Park, a couple of presidential libraries (both Reagan and Nixon are well worth a visit, whatever your political preferences), San Juan Capestrano, Santa Barbara and Solvang, and down the coast to L.A. from San Francisco. There’s no shortage of places to go from L.A., and they tide you over while you wait to find the city less soul-destroyingly ugly. Now that I’ve become indifferent to the strip malls and freeways, I’ve begun to like some of the nicer bits.

Good things about L.A.: many, many outdoor things, 5k and 10k runs every weekend that let joggers explore the city, some good cinemas and lots of cultural stuff scattered around a 30 mile radius. Life for me picked up an awful lot when I got a car and moved away from the office.

Bad things: well, let’s not focus too much on those, but I was surprised at how dirty the sea water is, and it’s a bit sad that so many good, independent book shops seem to be closing down at the moment. (Oh god, reading this back it sounds so Stuff White People Like, I’m mortified.)

I’m drawing a blank, but am sure there are plenty more good things, right?

Work related info-bleg

by Maria on August 26, 2008

This is the sort of information request that should be easily searchable, but any search terms I’ve thought to use have yielded a load of dross. So I’m turning to the collective brainpower of CT’s readers.

My beneficent employer, ICANN, has just opened an office in Washington D.C. (I’m still based in L.A., mope, boo, hiss). I’m here for a few days and just realised I don’t know what the authoritative source is for D.C. organizations is. Strikes me it’s the sort of thing we should have around the office.

When I worked in Brussels, it was easy enough to find comprehensive directories of trade associations, member state delegations, lobbyists, NGOs and the rest of the ragtag of organizations that gather around centres of political power. Does anyone know of a publication, ideally paper-based, with this info for Washington-based organisations? And where I might purchase such a tome?

Projection Ain’t Just a Booth in The Movie Theater

by John Holbo on August 25, 2008

K. Lo, at the Corner: “Conversations with random liberal strangers in New York City often descent into anger, bitterness, and crazy theories that cannot be argued with.” Yeah, I can see how that might be the case.

Wanting to get what you do not want

by John Holbo on August 25, 2008

This is a follow-up to this post from Chris B., about “wanting not to get what you want”. I want to consider the converse (inverse, whatever it is) per my title. A paragraph from the Stanford Encylopedia of Philosophy entry for “Punishment”:

“To seek to be punished because one likes it, is pathological, a perversion of the normal response, which is to shun or endure one’s punishment as one might other pains, burdens, deprivations, and discomforts. (Only among the Raskolnikovs of the world is one’s deserved punishment welcomed as a penance.) To try to punish another without first establishing control over the would-be punishee is doomed to failure. But the power to punish — as distinct from merely inflicting harm on others – cannot be adventitious; it must be authoritative and institutionalized under the prevailing political regime.” [click to continue…]

Comedy Is Hard

by John Holbo on August 23, 2008

From Powerline: “Being consumed by hate is damaging to your sense of humor.” Well, I have to admit it. I didn’t get the joke myself. Go ahead and read hindrocket’s original post and his somewhat petulant (so it seems to me) update.

I’m trying to figure out the joke’s nub or ‘cracker’ (I’m using humor lingo here!), the necktie-house analogy – which the author now claims was obviously supposed to poke fun at “how weird it seems, to us non-rich people, for someone not to know off the top of his head how many houses he owns” – can simultaneously obviously function by poking fun at the very idea that it seems weird not to know off the top of your head how many houses you own. This is some superfine complex irony conservative minds can parse with ease, which is lost on the plain people of liberalism, e.g. me.

But seriously, folks. I can at least analyze what properties the joke must have, even if I don’t get it: it is some sort of superpositional quantum irony, which depends for its appreciation on a given proposition P – in this case, P = it’s weird not to know how many houses you have – being self-evidently true and absurd at the same time. This superposition can only be maintained so long as the joke is unobserved (except by its author, who does not count as conscious – otherwise why would he have written such a thing?) Once conscious observers, e.g. liberals, took a look-in to see what was going on, the superpositional irony was bound to collapse into a state of grievance. And bob’s your uncle.

I have been obliged to invent a new blog category to cover this circumstance. I apologize for the complication this entails, but the universe is a rich, strange place.

UPDATE: Hey, categories aren’t showing any more, are they? (Am I missing something? Kieran?) Anyway, the category was supposed to be: ‘the water pitcher is both broken and unbroken.’ Get the picture?