From the monthly archives:

March 2010

Jonah Goldberg:

But on another level, this legislation is a superconducting super collider of culture-war conflagrations. It will throw off new and unforeseen cultural spectacles for years to come (if it is not repealed). The grinding debate over the Stupak amendment was just a foretaste. The government has surged over the breakwater and is now going to flood the nooks and crannies of American life. Americans will now fight over what tax dollars should cover and not cover. Debates over “subsidizing” this “lifestyle” or that “personal choice” will erupt. And when conservatives complain, liberals will blame them for perpetuating the culture war.

The Party of No

by John Q on March 23, 2010

One of the most striking features of the health care reform was that it was passed over the unanimous opposition of the Republican Party. This has all sorts of implications, not yet fully understood by anyone (certainly not me). To start with, it’s now clear that talk of bipartisanship, distinctions between moderate and hardline Republicans and so on, has ceased to have any meaning. If their failure to stop the health bill works against them, we may see occasional Republican votes for popular legislation that is going to get through in any case. Obama’s Employment Bill got only 6 Rep votes in the House, but passed the Senate 68-29 (or maybe 70-28) in what the NYT correctly called a rare bipartisan vote. At least the reporter on this piece, Carl Hulse, has caught up with reality, unlike the general run of Beltway pundits who still think that Obama should be pursuing bipartisanship.

In many countries, a party-line vote like this (at least on one side) would be nothing surprising. In Australia, for example, crossing the floor even once earns automatic expulsion from the Labor party and guarantees political death on the other side. But the US has never had a really tight party system, largely because, until recently,the Democrats (and before them, the Whigs) were always split on racial issues.

One problem arising from this is that the US system is more vulnerable than most to the kinds of crises that arise when one party is determined to prevent the other from governing. Passing a budget requires a majority in both Houses of Congress, and the signature of the President. If the Republicans win a majority in either House in November, it’s hard to see this happening. A repetition of the 1995 shutdown seems highly likely, and, with the financial system still very fragile, the consequences could be disastrous. The 1995 shutdown didn’t turn out too well for Newt Gingrich, but it doesn’t seem to have pushed him in the direction of moderation, and the current crop of Republicans make Newt look like a RINO.

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The Holbo

by Henry Farrell on March 22, 2010

is “profiled”: along with other academic bloggers (DeLong, Drezner, Shalizi) in Berkeley’s alumni magazine. Some discussion of CT, and changes in academic blogging included as part of the cover price. Two quotes:

Like DeLong, Holbo thrives on that public sparring. He finds the virtual salon a perfect antidote to the insulation of the ivory tower and the glacial pace of conventional scholarship. “I have a split intellectual life: these ant-like projects that evolve over months and years, and then this by-the-moment blogging life,” he says. “Blog posts take an hour, while an academic paper can take four years.” Yet even though the blogs reach a huge and influential audience compared to that of scholarly journals, the blogs are not recognized as scholarly publication and don’t count toward tenure.

Holbo admits he and his fellow pioneers have lost the “revolutionary fervor” of blogging’s early days. “I’m fortunate to be at the top of the food chain, to have these bully pulpits where I can stand up and know thousands of people will hear me,” he says. “But we all thought blogging was going to transform academic life, and that didn’t really happen.”

If there’s one thing Shalizi can’t stand, it’s misinformation bandied about in the name of science. “A lot of the time, when I’m motivated enough to post something, it’s because I think someone is ‘being wrong on the Internet,’ as the saying goes—and this cannot stand,” Shalizi says. “It’s usually something I’ve read more than once and it seems such a pack of lies, or utter misunderstandings, that I feel like writing something. I wish I wasn’t so destructively motivated, but I am.”

When asked how much time and effort that takes, he says, “Quite a bit, to be honest. Part of that is the fact that I’m way over trained as an academic, and part is also wanting to leave people no excuse or way out,” Shalizi says. “If I can show that they’re just totally wrong, thoroughly wrong, then I will try to do that.”

If anyone reading knows Randall Munroe (I’m pretty sure one regular CT reader at least does), he or she is hereby requested to get a new version of the famous cartoon commissioned; this time with the guy at the computer depicted with a “Leon Trotsky beard”: …

This “one”: from Megan McArdle, is a _very_ special example. It’s the blogospheric version of one of those avant-garde mechanical sculptures that starts to tear itself apart as soon as the clockwork key is turned. It’s worth quoting _in extenso_ so that you too can marvel at the beauty and ingenuity of the escapements.
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Not with a bang, but a hiccup

by John Holbo on March 22, 2010

Good job, House Dems!

K. Lo’s reaction. “Congratulations, Democrats. Beginning now, you own the health-care system in America. Every hiccup. Every complaint. Every long line. All yours.”

I think this does serve as a nice expression of the Republican case against health care reform. Hic! Damn you, Nancy Pelosi! Hic! Damn you, Nancy Pelosi!

In other health care reform news, I have been enjoying Awesome Hospital rather muchly. “Back off, Dr. Space Baby!” On the other hand, our girls have been getting sick at a rate of 1.2 medical emergencies a day, for a week. And Belle is traveling, so I’m a bit worn to a frazzle of a nubbin of myself. I think we should have a Frequent Faller card from our local hospital. Get 2 tests and the 3rd is free! Get 20 stitches and the next 5 are free! Baffle the diagnostician 3 times and the 4th bafflement comes at no extra charge! (Thankfully, we haven’t had to get stitches this week.)

Ten Influential Books

by Kieran Healy on March 20, 2010

Influential upon myself, I mean. Everyone else is doing it, at least for “American/white/politics/economics/mostly libertarian type guys” values of “everyone”. I suck at lists like this. It’s hard to give an honest answer, in part because I’m not prone to conscious conversion experiences, but mostly because I’m good at repressing things and so really find it hard to remember things I read that really hooked me at the time.

In any event, and in roughly chronological order:

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Massacre — and Gays in the Dutch Military

by Ingrid Robeyns on March 19, 2010

So now we know “why Srebrenica fell”: It was party due to the fact that gays could be openly gays, which internally weakened the Dutch Army, which as a consequence was no longer able to protect the local population.

I’m not going to write a real post about this. Erik Voeten at “The Monkey Cage”: has basically said all there is to say. “Go read and comment there”:

Symposium on the Philosophy of Amartya Sen

by Ingrid Robeyns on March 19, 2010

I’ve put together a symposium on the philosophy of Amartya Sen, in which Sen himself will take part. The symposium will be held in Rotterdam on July 1st, and will be preceded by a public lecture on global justice. Details below the fold.
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by Chris Bertram on March 18, 2010

Oliver Kamm in the Times

bq. In his first book, The Destruction of Dresden, he [David Irving] concluded that at least 135,000 had died. That figure quickly made its way into culture. Kurt Vonnegut, who as a prisoner of war had survived the bombing of Dresden, alighted on Irving’s figure and made this alleged atrocity — complete with a long quotation from Irving — a central theme of his novel Slaughterhouse-Five. But the statistic was bogus and was revealed as such during Irving’s unsuccessful libel suit against Deborah Lipstadt and Penguin Books in 2000.

So what’s Kamm’s thought about Vonnegut here? That Vonnegut, who was there, wouldn’t have written the novel if he’d known that “only” 25,000 people had been incinerated? That the central event of the novel, the execution of Edgar Darby, would have lost its absurdity if a smaller casualty figure had been accepted? Incidentally, the “long quotation” from Irving appears on pp. 136-7 of the novel and is not, in fact, a quotation from Irving but rather from two forewords to “an American edition” of Irving’s book by officers of the American and British air forces. People who write columns excoriating other people’s shoddy research really should be more careful.

The further you go in …

by Henry Farrell on March 18, 2010

So, when Michiko Kakutani (the daughter of the famous mathematician btw) writes an article “deploring the tendency”: of modern culture towards semi-coherent mash-ups of other people’s work, and the article is itself a semi-coherent mash-up of the work of other people (mostly themselves deploring semi-coherent mash-ups), is she being obtuse, quite brilliant in a self-undermining way, or something else entirely? I genuinely can’t figure it out.

Alex Chilton is Dead

by Henry Farrell on March 18, 2010

Guardian story “here”:

Afghanistan reading bleg

by Chris Bertram on March 17, 2010

The blogosphere was very exercised about the arguments for and against war in Afghanistan and Iraq, but as both conflicts have dragged on there has been less sustained attention given to the developments within those countries. Still, a trip over to Amazon presented me with a list of possible books to read about Iraq, the invasion, the occupation, the current situation, etc. Not so for Afghanistan where the top choice was an updated edition of a book first published in 1981 ( _Afghanistan: Land of Conflict and Beauty: A History of Conflict_ by John C. Griffiths). So is there anything? (And if not, why not?)

Long ago, before there was the internet, I was so much more persistently and baldly ignorant about various and sundry things that interested me. Example: I just got a guitar – well, in October – and resolved that I would finally learn to play after all these years. Needless to say, I can find lots of videos and online resources. It’s highly satisfactory. When I tried to learn guitar in college, only to give up quickly, I had none of that. (I had a teacher but, looking back, he was a bad teacher. Probably it was my fault, too.) I’m a lefty, which means I now occasionally Google up things to to with left-handed guitar. Which means that I randomly found a video of former Cars guitarist Elliot Easton musing about growing up a left-handed guitarist. Not a thrilling interview, but he remarks, off-handedly, that he had been playing left-handed for some time before learning that left-handed guitars – not just restrung righties – actually existed. And then he muses generally about how little information you had. You were just staring at a few LP covers, wondering what the hell was going on. You were pretty sure to suffer some or other stupidly and persistently huge hole in your knowledge-base, due to the accident of not happening to know someone who told you the thing any fool would Google up in a minute today. I think about the things that interested me, growing up – like science fiction novels, for example. And comics. And I realize that almost everything I knew about these things that mattered a great deal to me (did you notice?) I learned by talking to about six people, four of whom were kids like me, and going to four different stores in my hometown. (And sex. Did I mention that, as a young teen, I was quite intrigued by the topic of sex, but – sadly – lacked reliable sources of information and reportage on the subject.) I suspect you could provide your own examples, if you grew up pre-internet. And I feel it’s pretty important, somehow, that those of you who grew up post-internet probably can’t provide your own examples. Or rather fewer.

Of course, this is a flagrantly obvious thought: the internet = important! I don’t really know what to say about how it has made a difference, specifically, that things like serious young left-handed guitarists who don’t even know there are such things as left-handed guitars are now more infrequent occurrences. These sorts of minor epistemic follies tended to elude systematic documentation. Information now gets spread more easily and therefore efficiently. That’s for sure! But I feel there’s more to be said about the ways in which the shape of an individual’s whole view of the world used to be a lot less …(what’s the word?) … internetish? Maybe I should Google up something about Marx + “the idiocy of rural life”. I know that’s Marx’s phrase but I’ve never read what he had to say on the subject. (Well there you go!) Possibly there is some analogy to be drawn.

I really don’t know what to say

by Maria on March 15, 2010

Sad and upsetting times in Ireland. Cardinal Brady, it turns out, was instrumentally involved in the closed investigation of the monstrous Fr. Smyth, and himself swore to secrecy two children raped by Smyth. The incident simply resulted in Smyth getting some form of censure from the Church and going on to rape and abuse many, many more children. Whose parents were in turn stonewalled by the Church. How does anyone get over this? Should they?

Meanwhile, Pope Ratzinger is wriggling off the hook – at least this hook, this time – for his own involvement in a cover up. It’s odd to me that people are searching so intently for Ratzinger’s smoking gun, when as head of the Congregation for the Indoctrination of the Faith, he wrote to bishops telling them that breaking the seal of secrecy on church investigations of sex abuse was punishable by excommunication. That’s the smoking gun that destroyed not just the childhoods and perhaps lives of one or two children in Ratzinger’s direct responsibility, but thousands of children around the world who deserved better from the one, true Church.

The Irish adult voices of raped children are joined by American ones; people now grown up who were raped and abused by Fr. Smith when he was sent away from these shores and off to where he wasn’t known and could start again. A Connecticut woman poignantly asks why she was repeatedly raped by a priest who had been sent to America instead of to the police. An Irish woman asks why no one went to the police. If they had, she might have been saved. Many might have been saved. [click to continue…]


by Henry Farrell on March 15, 2010

“Tyler Cowen”: links to a post on a blog that I had hitherto been unaware of, “True Economics”: (proprietor: Constantin Gurdgiev, Adjunct Lecturer in Finance with Trinity College, Dublin and Chairman of the Ireland-Russia Business Association), asking the question “How much did the Irish government subsidize housing?” I’m writing a review of Fintan O’Toole’s “Ship of Fools” which speaks specifically to this question, and the answer is ‘not very much at all.’

Gurdgiev’s post is both quite mad and oddly charming, combining denunciations of the ‘Stalinesque schemes’ to provide development funds for Western Ireland and a railway link thereto, with quite sincere-sounding suggestions that he wants to engage with his critics. His intent is to rebut Paul Krugman’s “recent column”: on the Irish economic collapse (Krugman builds explicitly on this “recent report”: by three Irish economists). But his post, entertaining though it is, cannot be taken as a reliable guide to housing policy in Ireland, or indeed to Ireland’s economic crisis.
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