From the monthly archives:

June 2010

And I’m not feeling all that well myself, either

by Kieran Healy on June 30, 2010

Maybe I should have a lie down.

Alan Plater is dead

by Harry on June 30, 2010

When Alan Sillitoe died I experienced a moment of sadness that evaporated when I realized that it was, indeed, Sillitoe, and not Plater, who was gone. But now it is, indeed, Plater. Guardian obit here. A gorgeous appreciation by Tom Courtenay here. Z Cars, Softly Softly, Selwyn Froggitt, Fortunes of War, A Very British Coup (enormously superior to the book), Close the Coalhouse Door, it seems that for decades he was everywhere, words just spilling out. And all those radio plays, including the brilliant Roll Jordan Roll saga — many being replayed over and again on Radio 7. But above even the radio plays there is what for me was his masterpiece — the Beiderbecke Trilogy — a long, long, mood piece with lots of talk in which, by the end of each part, you realize belatedly that nothing has really happened. Brilliant.

Ken Coates is dead

by Chris Bertram on June 30, 2010

Ken Coates, a very significant figure in the history of the British left, has died. The Guardian has an obituary.

Working the Refs – Epistemology and Diplomacy

by John Holbo on June 30, 2010

Congrats to Dave Weigel on his new gig. You might want to read his mea culpa piece that just went up at (of all places!) Big Journalism. Comments are a hoot. [UPDATE: I see Breitbart is now offering a $100,000 reward for the complete JournoList archives. Sigh.]

The mea culpa makes the point that it’s risky, trying to make too many different groups like you, by talking down the other groups – whom you also want to like you. Age of Facebook and all. Not the sort of thing you should have to lose your job over, but embarrassing.

A point about the original leaked emails/postings. Weigel’s critics didn’t take kindly to severe snark about Drudge and Newt and Rand Paul; but what was presented as truly damning evidence that Weigel wasn’t willing and able to play his role as journalistic ‘bystander’ were the bits where he seemed to be 1) saying some prominent conservative thinkers/ideas aren’t worth taking seriously; 2) criticizing framing/spin efforts by conservatives and conservative media, and maybe hinting at ways that journalists should try, collectively, to counter such efforts. It’s easy to see why conservatives would be put off by the tone of Weigel’s comments, but it was apparently the fact that Weigel expressed ideas whose content fit categories 1) and 2) that got him fired. Let me try to say why this is nuts in a slightly different way than other people have been, rightly, saying this is nuts. And let me roll up 1) in 2), because 1) is just a special case of 2): crazy people are just spin doctors who have gone native, as it were. [click to continue…]

On Tight Deadline

by Henry Farrell on June 29, 2010

trying to get a policy piece on the Europe mess finished, but if I was blogging, I’d be blogging on the following:

(1) Eric Rauchway’s ‘Tom Buchanan’s Schooldays’ follow-up, _Banana Republican_ is out ( “Amazon”:, Powells). The publisher asked me to blurb it, but then never used the blurb (on account of I’s not famous, I suspect) – what I said was:

Harry Flashman VC – make room for Tom Buchanan. Eric Rauchway’s anti-hero is more caddish, more craven and more enjoyably despicable than his English predecessor as he swaggers and bluffs his way through the seedier parts of the American Imperium. Enormously entertaining.

(2) “A Fine Theory”: on Debreu and how to think about economic models (via Cosma’s “delicious feed”: ).

bq. The problem lies at the heart of the difference between social science and mathematics. In an axiomatic mathematical system, the axioms are by assumption true – there is no sense in which an axiom can be false, since it is merely an abstract statement used to derive implications. … Social science is not this way. We know, pace the arguments of Lionel Robbins, that our assumptions are false, though we hope that they are in some sense “good enough” to derive implications … If axioms are only approximate, though, as in the standard Humean problem of induction, we have no way of knowing whether conclusions will also be approximate; there is no “universal continuity”. I think economists would be better served to think of axiomatization as the formalization of analogies. That is, an axiomatic deduction when axioms are imprecise may tell us nothing about the real world, but it tells us as much as a qualitative analogy, and does so in a formal way that deemphasizes the rhetorical ability of the author.

(3) Dan Sperber “pwns”: Frans de Waal.

(4) “Teresa Nielsen Hayden”: on Ireland’s economic problems. “If there’s anything I keep wishing the economic bloggers would explain in terms comprehensible to the general public, it’s that taxes are not the only way that government policies can cost them money. “

England’s Finest

by Kieran Healy on June 29, 2010

No, not that lot, obviously. (I hope Rooney put a downpayment on that caravan.) But even I have started to feel just very slightly bad about the recriminations and self-hatred engulfing English football writers at present. So here, as evidence of the sort of thing England is really quite good at, is The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain.

[click to continue…]

Do we really want to know what they were pouring?

by Henry Farrell on June 28, 2010

“The FT today”: (I wonder how long this will stay uncorrected).

World Cup open thread 2

by Chris Bertram on June 28, 2010

Now England, France and the USA have been given their marching orders, perhaps we can get on with enjoying the football. On the first of those, I’d just like to say (i) that of course we need technology to check whether the ball has crossed the line, (ii) that Jamie Carragher would never have been caught out (as Terry and Upson were) for that first German goal and (iii) that the Germans, unlike the English (and the French), grasp that football is _a team game_ – so well done to them. Personally, I’m backing Ghana until they go out (and having warm feelings about Japan too). Realistically though, Argentina.

Suggestions welcome

by Michael Bérubé on June 25, 2010

Even though today is Friday, this post is not ABF — neither arbitrary nor facetious (and certainly not fun).  I suppose it’s my own fault that I have to make this clear at the outset, since I have been known to make up “letters” from imaginary “readers” now and then.  But the following letter is quite real, as is my reply.  The person who wrote to me, earlier this week, suggested that I might post the exchange (so long as I deleted his/her name), in the hope that s/he could get some further advice in comments.  So, dear readers, if you have further advice, offer it in comments!

Dear Dr. Bérubé,

After reading your “Employment of English” at the tail end of my master’s in literature in 2007, I had pretty well sworn off my fanciful idea of becoming a professor. I come from a modest background and my parents have been hit pretty hard by the recession, along with most of my extended family. Making those kinds of sacrifices of time and lost income with very little hope of a job at the end just seemed dangerous to me.
[click to continue…]

Via Andrew Anthony, some collateral damage from the Times paywall:

Oliver Kamm has commented that his blog at The Times will also be behind the pay wall. The comments section to his post on the matter is full of those who have said that this decision means that they will no longer read his blog, and these comments include those made by many long term readers. His blog will also not be read by the majority of users of the Internet around the world, even for those using Google to search for information. If they have to pay, they will not bother and try and read something else. […]

No doubt Oliver will continue writing his blog, and the next time Noam Chomsky writes something silly, he will expose him. But this will not assist an average Internet user around the world confronted with a Chomsky argument in an on line debate. For them, the day that The Times starts charging for content will be the day that Oliver Kamm ceases to exist.

Oliver Kamm’s bit of the blogosphere conversation, RIP. If only someone were able to write a suitable obituary.

An eternity ago, in 2008, Jay Nordlinger wrote:

And, in some respects, the entire country is a Church of Grievance. It is our national church. Everybody’s a victim, everybody whines, in this incredibly free and beneficent and prosperous country.

And today, a case in point: [click to continue…]

Plucky King Leopold

by Chris Bertram on June 24, 2010

Jesus Christ. Louis Michel, the former European Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid, is reported by the EU Observer as offering his opinions about Leopold II, King of the Belgians and one-time private owner of the Congo:

bq. “Leopold II was a true visionary for his time, a hero,” he told P-Magazine, a local publication, in an interview on Tuesday. “And even if there were horrible events in the Congo, should we now condemn them?” … “Leopold II does not deserve these accusations,” continued Mr Michel, himself a descendent of the Belgian king and a “Knight, Officer and Commander” in the Order of Leopold, Belgium’s highest honour. … “The Belgians built railways, schools and hospitals and boosted economic growth. Leopold turned the Congo into a vast labour camp? Really? In those days it was just the way things were done.” …. Admitting there were “irregularities,” he said: “We can easily be tempted to exaggerate when it comes to the Congo … I feel instinctively that he was a hero, a hero with ambitions for a small country like Belgium.” “To use the word ‘genocide’ in relation to the Congo is absolutely unacceptable and inappropriate.”

Let’s be clear about this: what Michel has said is comparable to Holocaust-denial. If you doubt this, or even if you haven’t read it yet, then Adam Hochschild’s King Leopold’s Ghost should set you right. Perhaps 10 million people, perhaps half the population of the area, died during the “Free State” period, victims of Leopold’s greed for the region’s natural resources, chiefly rubber.

Orwellian Undertones?

by John Holbo on June 24, 2010

Jonah Goldberg points out that there is something sinister, even progressive, about the German phrase, ‘Arbeit Macht Frei’ – quite apart from the association with Auschwitz. “The Orwellian undertones to the phrase are real, and the associations with the Holocaust are horrific, but Arbeit Macht Frei was a popular “progressive” slogan on the road to serfdom.” Do you know where the phrase came from?

The Arbeit Macht Frei sign [at Auschwitz] was erected by prisoners with metalwork skills on Nazi orders in June 1940, and was a cynical take on the title of an 1873 work by the lexicographer, linguist and novelist Lorenz Diefenbach in which gamblers and fraudsters discover the path to virtue through hard work.

I appreciate that Republicans are hard-pressed to come up with a positive platform in 2010, but this seems an unpromising trial balloon: we must restore a culture of healthy recklessness and corruption, lest, by treading the perilous path of work and responsibility, we be beguiled into serfdom.

It’s like ‘the Fascist octopus has sung its swan song,’ but with Poor Richard’s Almanack as the libretto.

Awesome design decisions

by Henry Farrell on June 23, 2010

So my university just got me a replacement Dell printer for my office desktop, which is a Mac. When I went to Dell’s site to download it, I found that they have the necessary .dmg files readily available – compressed as an .exe file. Looks as though this has been an issue for “quite a while.”: You might think that someone at Dell would know that Macs can’t read .exe files. You might think it. Still, this doesn’t match my personal-nominee-for-worst-software-design-decision-of-all-time – the wonderful Windows XP tool you had to use to log laptops onto ‘secure’ wireless networks. This asked you to enter in the secure key in a masked text box, so you couldn’t see what you were typing – which is annoying, but in principle justifiable for security reasons. Then, it asked you to enter it in _again_, as far as I can make out, for no logical reason whatsoever that I could make out, and booted you back to the beginning of the process if the two passwords didn’t match. When you have long randomly generated passwords (as you should), there is a not insignificant chance that you are going to type it in incorrectly. Being forced to type it in twice doubles this chance for no apparent gain.

While I’m on a roll, I’m also peeved at Google’s recent decision to randomly challenge you to enter in your password again every couple of days, even if you are already logged in – since I use a long randomly generated password that is impossible to memorize, this usually involves a couple of minutes of searching for the password while swearing profusely. So that’s my life at the moment – how’s yours?

“Steven Laniel”:

Back when I was in college (Carnegie Mellon class of 2000), a friend who was attending the University of Chicago gave me a placard that was posted hither and thither on Chicago’s South Side: a dorky-faced guy with a ridiculously toothy grin smiling out at us. It read

“Barack Obama

for state senate”

My buddy Josh and I thought this was hilarious. Over the years, we turned the guy on the placard into a superhero. We’d be studying for one hard exam or another and would say to one another, “You know who could ace the piss out of this test right now?” The other would respond, “Barack Obama!” to which the first would respond, inevitably, “…for state senate!” Or we’d be at the gym: “Man, these weights are tough! … Know who could lift them without breaking a sweat?” “Barack Obama!” “…for state senate!

The years go by. It’s 2004. There’s a dude up on the stage at the Democratic National Convention who’s making everyone ask, “Why do I have to vote for Kerry? Why can’t I vote for this guy?” Josh and I called one another: “Uh … dude, do you see who’s on stage right now?” It was surreal.

It’s still surreal. Every few months it occurs to me afresh that Josh and I were making this obscure local politician the punchline of a joke probably a decade before he became president of the United States. Bizarre.