Jumping off the Edge of the American West

by Kieran Healy on August 8, 2008

Mild-mannered Professor of History by day, Eric Rauchway emerges at night other times of the day in an altogether different guise.

Eric RauchwayRauchfish

He’s going to swim a mile for charity (presumably in just a few seconds, and while wholly underwater). You can go ahead and donate some money to his cause. Comments are open on the topic of the Rauchfish’s origin story, his unique powers, his faithful sidekick, and the special properties of his suit.

South Ossetia

by Maria on August 8, 2008

It’s not every morning I’m sipping my coffee, click onto BBC news, and the first thing out of my mouth is “oh, f**k!”. Absent any deep analysis, it is just horribly, horribly worrying that Russia has invaded South Ossetia. We can spend any amount of time on the rights and wrongs of it, and whether the Saakashvili has brought this on himself. But as the news is filtering in, I have a couple of very superficial observations to make.

The current level of hostility has been bubbling towards the boil all year, but I truly thought the Russians would wait for a more obvious excuse to send the tanks in. But why wait when you can slip quietly into an obscure part of the Caucasus on the monster news day that follows the Olympics opening ceremony?

A couple of weeks ago, Russian planes were blatantly flying over Ossetia and the Georgians sent in more of their troops. The Western powers called for restraint. Fat chance. Russia claims to be protecting the Russian minority in Ossetia, but really wants to show the Georgians who’s boss. ‘Restraint’ may be appropriate with two equally sized belligerents. It’s irrelevant when you’re sleeping beside someone big enough to roll over and crush you without waking up. I can’t help thinking that if we’d heard a bit less about restraint, and a bit more to remind Russia that joining the international system means you have be a less obvious playground bully, Putin might have thought twice before he sent the tanks in.

Another observation, this is part of the long pay-back for Kosovo. When Russia was strong-armed on the UN Security Council into accepting Kosovan independence, they made it clear that the precedent would ring out in the Caucasus and indeed any where else the Russians want to destabilize. Again, the rights and wrongs of springing Kosovo free of the Serbs can be argued, and so can the means of doing it. But the outcome is that Russia believes it has a free hand to prop up Russian or other minority nationalities anywhere geopolitically convenient within its Near Abroad.

Finally, to NATO. Georgia’s application was recently put on ice, but not placed sufficiently in the deep freeze to placate Moscow. NATO’s failure to either fully accept Georgia into the family or to expel it into Russia’s brawny arms may have created the moment and the motive for Russia to move. Russia was just as offended by the extended promise of membership to Georgia as it would have been by the real thing, but Georgia was effectively left to fend for itself.

Saakashvili has not played a smart game, that’s for sure. Perhaps thinking the west would stand behind him, or just trying to distract attention from his government’s unpopularity, he has willfully provoked Moscow whenever he had the chance. But here’s the thing; wanting to join NATO is not a provocation. As Russia’s actions have clearly shown, joining NATO was the only sensible thing to do.

*Update* A far more thoughtful piece about the invasion is at commentisfree, though the comments are pretty depressing. If anyone wants to reference a piece explaining things from the Russian point of view (that does more than the recently deleted comment “U ARE A US STOOGE. GEORGIAN ARE WRONG AND STALIN WAS GEORGIAN ANYWAY” etc.), please go ahead and I’ll be happy to link to it.

*Update 2* In that vein, Robert Farley at Lawyers, Guns and Money is worth a look. My cousin Daragh McDowell has a far more knowledgeable take than mine on today’s developments. Also, Daragh points to an excellent backgrounder on Ossetia that the redoubtable Doug Merrill posted back in March. Doug is based in Tbilisi as of last week and posted this morning. Le Monde is practically live-blogging.

*Comments closed*

Why Olympics coverage in the U.S. sucks

by Eszter Hargittai on August 8, 2008

I thought I’d get this rant out of the way before the season hits. Watching the Olympics in the US is no fun, because the only thing you can watch is Americans winning. You’d think the U.S. is the only country ever winning from the coverage. Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy for Americans to win, but I’m happy for other people to win, too. In fact, in some ways it’s much more interesting when you have a diversity of folks competing and this is portrayed clearly in the coverage. It gets boring fast when all you can hear is the U.S. national anthem.

Growing up in Hungary, I remember watching all sorts of sports competitions – and I don’t just mean the Olympics – where people from all over were taking home the gold. Sure, Hungary is a small country (population 10 million, that’s like Chicagoland having its own team) and its athletes are only going to win so many medals so you could argue that by definition coverage would have to feature other competitions as well. But actually, for a small country, Hungary ranks very high on the all-time medals list (whoa, I actually had no idea how high before writing this post) so it’s not as though there aren’t opportunities to feature its own. Also, TV could just show less of the event if there were not enough Hungarian nationals to feature. But that’s not what happens as featuring one’s own doesn’t seem to be the point. I remember hearing plenty of other national anthems and seeing lots of different flags.

This approach of showcasing athletes from all over doesn’t seem to be restricted to small countries. I was in Italy (pop ~ 60 million) recently flipping through channels and noticed the Hungarian national anthem playing on one of them. The station opted to show the end result all the way despite the fact that Italians were not the winners. Then they played another anthem (the Russian one so I could sing along in Hungarian, hah) for another winner, again, not Italians.

I wonder how this works in other countries, especially the ones winning lots of medals (e.g., for 2004, Russia, China, Australia, Germany, Japan, France, etc.).

Working women hurt their families

by Ingrid Robeyns on August 8, 2008

A “study”:http://www.admin.cam.ac.uk/news/dp/2008080601 conducted by sociologists from Cambridge University seems to suggest that the support for working mothers is weakening. The researchers compared survey results from the 1980s till recently, and found “growing sympathy for the old-fashioned view that a woman’s place is in the home, rather than in the office”, caused by “mounting concern that women who play a full and equal role in the workforce do so at the expense of family life.”
[click to continue…]

Ref checking

by Henry Farrell on August 8, 2008

Having just agreed to review a manuscript for a journal, I was greeted with this message:

When viewing the article online we recommend that you view the HTML version of the article. If the author used EndNote (or, beginning in the fall of 2007, Reference Manager) for reference management, the article HTML proof will have its references linked directly into Web of Science. This linking will save you time when ascertaining the accuracy and validity of the references. Web of Science is now also available as an ”External Search” option.

I think I’m a reasonably conscientious reviewer, but I’ve never tried to “[ascertain] the accuracy and validity” of an author’s references in my life. I just assume that either (a) they’re accurate, or (b) if more than a few are inaccurate, the author will get a flea in her ear when the proofing process commences (I’ve been on the receiving end of this). Nor do I imagine that a few iffy referenpces in the bibliography would make me change my mind about the worth of a piece (perhaps if the biblio was obviously hopelessly incompetent, but I suspect that when this happens it is one of a multitude of sins, and bad referencing is likely to be the least of the author’s problems. But am I unique in this – do others scrupulously check the endnotes etc? I suppose that this is hardly a matter of world historical significance, but I’ve always been fascinated by the details of the reviewing process.