From the monthly archives:

October 2008

Malicious SQL injection blues?

by John Holbo on October 27, 2008

Someone left a comment to my Blues Verification post, saying that when they visited the page in question their A-V software terminated the connection upon detection of a “HTML:Iframe-gen” virus, which, a quick Google informs me, might mean some sort of malicious SQL injection thingy. Does anyone know about such stuff? I certainly would feel bad about sending lots of readers off to some compromised site to get infected with malware.

Liberté, egalité, celebrité

by Maria on October 27, 2008

Now I know what it’s like to be blonde. Today I wore my / Obama t-shirt around the 5th arrondissement of Paris. The reaction was extraordinary. Talk about turning heads. I hesitate to blog about this because for many Americans, the excitement Obama inspires in the rest of the world is a disqualification for the US presidency. But honestly, it would do your heart good to experience first hand the joy and enthusiasm and just plain old-fashioned hope people express when Obama is mentioned.

After too many years of Americans being unpopular abroad, now everyone wants to talk to them and wish them well. My first suitor was a Moroccan builder who flagged me down in the street. He wanted to know if I was American and could vote for Obama. I’m not, so we both fervently shared our hopes about the US election.

Later, in a bookstore, a young woman working there wished me the cheeriest hello I’ve ever received in a Parisian shop. I told her I’m not American and don’t have a vote there, but figured wearing a shirt was one way to say what I think. She said she wished you could get them in France. She asked what date the election was, and talked excitedly about how wonderful it is to see so many Americans walking around the 5th wearing ‘hope’ buttons.

I know there are many in the US who think the support of ‘cheese-eating surrender monkeys’ is something you can do without. But much of what animated the French in opposition to Bush is their almost fan-boy type love for what they see as truly American; an open-hearted curiosity about the rest of the world, and the sometimes naïve desire to make it a better place. Often in France, you get the sense of an old, old culture made weary and cynical by its long experience. Today, on a beautiful autumn day in Paris, America’s hope made an old city feel young again.

Sunday Blues Verificationism

by John Holbo on October 26, 2008

Yesterday I linked to an archive of free Leroy Carr mp3s. All well and good. Then I noticed that they are part of a much larger collection. Very nice. (Scroll down, down, little farther. There.) Today I listened to dozens of those tracks, while messing about in Photoshop. Dum de dum. Perfect Sunday, really. Turned out the one I liked best was Blind Willie McTell (two great, free mp3s). Interesting. It had never occurred to me that Bob Dylan’s claim that “no one can sing the blues like Blind Willie McTell” was a proposition subject to empirical confirmation. Also, I hadn’t realized that the White Stripes “Your Southern Can Is Mine” was a cover.

What does it all mean

by John Q on October 26, 2008

There’s been a bit of discussion about what Alan Greenspan really conceded in his recent testimony. Although Greenspan was less opaque than usual, I won’t try to second-guess him any further, and will instead ask again what the crisis means for the way we think about economics and the economy. There are two big economic ideas that look substantially less appealing in the light of the current crisis.

The first is the macroeconomic hypothesis, often called the Great Moderation which combines the empirical observation that the frequency and severity of recessions declined greatly from 1990 to the recent past with the explanation that “the deregulation of financial markets over the Anglo-Saxon world in the 1980s had a damping effect on the fluctuations of the business cycle”.

The second is the microeconomic idea, central to much of modern finance theory called the Efficient Markets Hypothesis. In its most relevant form, the EMH states that prices observed in asset markets (for stocks, bonds, foreign exchange and so on), reflect all known information, and provide the best possible estimate of the value of earnings that assets will generate.

[click to continue…]

Leroy Carr Saturday

by John Holbo on October 25, 2008

I was going to say YouTube Saturday. But YouTube has only got a couple. Whereas you can download 10 free Leroy Carr mp3’s here. Says they are in the public domain. I recommend: all of them. But you might start with “How Long How Long Blues”, “When the Sun Goes Down” and “How Long Has That Evening Train Been Gone”, later covered by the Supremes. Speaking of which: you can hear an unreleased demo of the Supreme’s version here.

I don’t know much about Leroy Carr. I heard him for the first time a few days ago, bought a bunch [amazon], and I think it’s fantastic. Here’s a short appreciation, which appeared in the NY Times a few years ago: [click to continue…]

Greenspan concedes

by John Q on October 24, 2008

There’s been a fair bit of debate about what, if anything, the current crisis means for economic policy and political philosophy more generally. A lot of this has been hung up on issues of terminology, which I will do my best to avoid here and in future.

Coming to substance, quite a few people have argued that the crisis doesn’t really signify very much, and that, once it is resolved, things will return to pretty much the way they were a couple of years ago. I disagree.

This concession of error by Alan Greenspan is, I think, pretty strong evidence against the view that the crisis is not so significant, in policy or ideological terms.
[click to continue…]

Spread the Wealth

by John Holbo on October 24, 2008

First, credit where due. Ross Douthat made a couple of wholly sensible posts about that ‘spread the wealth’ business. For example: [click to continue…]

JSTOR for books

by John Holbo on October 23, 2008

BoingBoing links to a Safari Books Online special offer: pick a free book for a month , plus 10% off a subscription to the full version of the service. Looks good. In the basic package, Safari gives you generous (not total, unless you pay more) access to a truly vast range of titles from “O’Reilly Media, John Wiley & Sons, Addison-Wesley, Peachpit Press, Adobe Press, and many more top publishers.” It looks like you can have 10 books ‘checked out’ per month. You have ‘slots’. Plus there are extras and goodies of various sorts. Yearly rate: $252. Monthly rate: $22.99. For me it doesn’t quite make sense, but almost. I’m sure for a lot of people, and institutions, this makes total sense. Often when you are learning something new you would like to have not just one but five books (because you aren’t sure which Photoshop book will be best). And 18 months later there’s a new version and you would like new books. (How many thick, obsolete technical titles do you have on your shelf? I have: enough.) It might make sense to subscribe for a few months when I’m learning something new, then unsubscribe for a year and subscribe again when the next bout of learning hits.

But mostly I’m thinking how nice this would be for academic books in the humanities in particular (in the social sciences, too, but the humanities seems more monograph-driven – or ridden.) JSTOR for books. Your institution subscribes, or you subscribe individually. You get access to everything from all the major publishers. It would make a good deal more economic sense than what we’ve got, and would be a lot more functional. Also, it would be good for independent scholars and ordinary citizens who don’t have the privilege of institutional access, which I think is a real problem. It’s bad that the (often tax-subsidized) productions of academics get locked in university libraries. If you could buy a month-long library membership for $22 – maybe Joe the Plumber gets it in his head to read all the latest scholarly work on Plato – that would be reasonable. Free culture is best, but affordable culture is second best. Of course it won’t happen. JSTOR for scholarly books in the humanities. Damn, that would be nice.

Le Plan returns?

by Henry Farrell on October 23, 2008

“Arthur Goldhammer”: (whose blog on French politics is one of the treasures of the blogosphere).

Sarkozy has announced the creation of a French investment fund with a capital of $200 billion. He is also temporarily suspending the taxe professionnelle. Call it an investment fund or sovereign wealth fund. Call Sarkozy a socialist in wolf’s clothing (as one MEP did the other day). Mock his inconsistency or praise his political versatility. In fact he’s merely doing what leaders of all the advanced industrial countries will be doing shortly, if they are not doing it already: trying to minimize the damage of the recession by turning on massive government investment. This can do a lot of good, especially if it is seen not solely as countercyclical spending but as a chance to do something about decaying infrastructure and make foundational changes with a chance for long-term impact. In France it’s hardly unprecedented for major capital spending to be directed by the state, whether under the Commissariat au Plan, through state-controlled-or-influenced enterprises, or directly by the Ministry of Finance. Sarkozy always danced nimbly between the neoliberal and state-capitalist camps. If the last two decades were the neoliberal decades, the coming two are likely to consecrate the hegemony of state capitalism. Sarkozy has been quicker than most to draw that conclusion and try to get ahead of the tsunami. Let’s see what happens next.


by John Q on October 23, 2008

Since I’ve started blogging, I’ve been very interested in the relationship between technical and cultural innovation. Among other things, I make the point that this is now a two-way street: the development of the Internet is driven as much by cultural innovations, like the manifold uses of blogs, as by technical innovation, and in many cases it’s hard to distinguish between the two.

I gave a presentation on this at the Centre of Excellence for Creative Industries and Innovation (CCi) Conference a few months ago, and was invited to turn it into a paper for a special issue of a new journal, Cultural Science.

I was very favorably impressed by the issue when it came out, and also by the interval between submission and publication, which was quite a bit shorter than I’ve experienced in the past. To be precise …

[click to continue…]

Public Spheres, Blogospheres

by Eszter Hargittai on October 23, 2008

Public Spheres Blogospheres Flyer I’m on my way to UC Irvine to participate with some very cool folks in a meeting called Public Spheres, Blogospheres hosted by UCI’s HumaniTech. I’m on a panel about Blogging and the Academy.

I suspect the question of whether or how junior faculty should blog will come up. While it’s a topic we’ve gone over numerous times around here and it may make some people yawn at this point, I believe it’s still worthy of discussion with some points that haven’t been considered sufficiently yet. More on that when I get around to organizing my thoughts about it (this conference would be a good opportunity for that, hah). Academics from different fields will be represented at this meeting, which may lead to different takes on the topic. I look forward to the conversations.

UPDATE (11/6/08): Podcasts of the sessions have now been posted, they are available here.

McCain: The Measure of a Maverick

by Henry Farrell on October 22, 2008

Charles Doriean has written a new and topical paper with Scott Page seeking to measure the maverickyness of John McCain as a senator. They’ve asked me to publish it on CT – the PDF version is “here”: and a Flash embedded version is beneath the fold. In the authors’ description:

A maverick, … can be defined as someone who surprises us by voting against their party as often as they do, given their ideology. To determine whether a senator is a maverick (and how much of a maverick they are,) all we need to do is figure out how often we expect that senator to support their party, and then see how often they actually do support their party. The difference between the expectation and the reality can be called a “maverick measure.”

Under this definition, John McCain is very definitely a maverick. Indeed, he’s the seventh most mavericky Senator since 1877. However, he isn’t the most mavericky Senator in recent history; that honour goes to Lincoln Chafee, who comes in at number three. Also, McCain-ites who want to embrace this result should note that it is based on the same kind of measures of ideology (DW-Nominate scores) that have been “used to show”: that Barack Obama, _contra_ the _National Journal_ and Republican mythology, is not (for better or worse) the most liberal Senator by a significant stretch.

Cross-posted at “The Monkey Cage”:
[click to continue…]

Pulling the plug?

by Henry Farrell on October 22, 2008

From a short “NYT piece”: on the shrinking McCain advertising budget in swing states.

But the McCain campaign also needs the extra money to keep up with its current plans, due to a quiet decision it has made that most voters will hardly notice. Until now, the campaign has been teaming up with the Republican National Committee to jointly produce a large percentage of its advertisements. By sharing the costs down the middle, Team McCain has been able to basically double the amount of advertisements it can run for its money. This is all legal: campaigns are allowed to split the costs of their ads with their affiliated parties. But there’s a catch: The spots must serve not only their campaigns but also the collective agendas of their congressional colleagues.

Such advertisements – known in the political business as “hybrids” – tend to garble a presidential candidate’s message. So, for instance, a spot attacking Mr. Obama also has included references to “liberals in Congress’’ and figures like Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the Senate majority leader, who is not as well known to everyday voters.

The campaign has started to phase out those ads in these final days, deciding to stick to advertisements it can devote fully to Mr. McCain’s campaign message. That will greatly disadvantage Mr. McCain as he struggles to keep up with the far better funded Mr. Obama. But Mr. McCain’s aides have clearly decided a trade of volume for greater clarity is worth it.

Now this is one possible interpretation of what is going on. But while mixed messages are a significant problem, I (as an admitted naif on these issues) would have thought that getting completely swamped by your opponent’s advertising is a rather bigger one. Isn’t a more plausible interpretation of this decision that the RNC are finally “pulling the plug”: on their subsidization of the McCain campaign, and the McCain folks are trying to put the best face that they can on it?

Some unkind lefties (including “one of my co-bloggers”: were a little dismissive towards “this post”: by ‘Dr. Helen,’ blogger and Instaspouse of Professor Glenn Reynolds.

Why the crescendo of economic collapse right before the election? Why didn’t the media and congress act just as concerned some time ago or wait until sometime after the election to go into crisis mode? The timing of the current financial crisis seems too planned and calculating to be just a coincidence. Polls show that people’s number one concern right now is the economy and that for the most part, voters believe Democrats are somewhat more likely to help with the economy. Could it be that the liberal media and those in Congress, knowing that, is blaring the bad economic news from the rooftops in order to manipulate voters into voting for a Democrat? If so, it won’t be the first time.

But now “Barbara Ehrenreich”: (via “Cosma”: ) has let the cat out of the bag and it’s _even worse_ than Dr. Helen suspected.
[click to continue…]

Just to be clear, and to head off the accusations of partisanship that the previous post invites, I am usually about as willing to think well of sensible Republicans as of sensible Democrats on education policy. Nor do I mean to criticise McCain for supporting choice. The reason I say it indicates he has no ideas is that everyone is pro-choice now (“we are all pro-choice Georgians!” could be Senator McCain’s slogan); the issue is just what kinds of choice. Choice through the housing market, choice within public school districts, magnets, charters, etc… And, as Laura says:

Vouchers aren’t going any where. Anybody who talks about them really has no clue about the realities of the politics of education.

Vouchers are a very small part of the picture and the only people who doubt this are leftists who see vouchers as some sort of cunning plan to privatise the whole of public schooling. In the next decade, even if McCain were to become President, we might possibly see the emergence of 5 new voucher programs (but I doubt it would be that many, frankly). For readers who care about my own views, not only am I an unenthusiastic supporter of several voucher programs, I’ve even written a whole book expressing my support for school choice (despite the complaint of one prominent academic reviewer I shan’t name, who presumably didn’t bother to beyond the first couple of pages, that I oppose it). Vouchers are a band aid, and I don’t mean that as an insult; I use band aids myself, they’re handy when you have a small cut, and are better than nothing when you have something more serious. But they are only a band aid, and that is the sensible thing to say about them. In policy environments where more comprehensive interventions are not going to happen (Milwaukee in the early 90s, DC in the mid 2000s), sure, go ahead, give vouchers a try (and design the programs so that we can actually study them and figure out what the effects are). But understand that vouchers are at the margins of urban schooling, let alone of the larger policy environment, and talking about them as if they were something else displayed McCain’s lack of interest in education.

Still, I can’t resist correcting McCain on two points.

[click to continue…]