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Friday, December 05, 2003

Searches



As ever, the big search that brings people here is "nasi lemak", and I don't, sadly, think they're looking for my insanely pedantic brand of academo-commentary. Two others bring out my conscientious, helpful side, though:

To the person searching for makan la restaurant "malaysian cuisine in Oxford" who came here as the 7th link: I'm afraid you're both well-informed and unfortunate, since the search won't find you what you want. I'm not sure if there was ever an actual discrete restaurant called "Makan La" (which means something like "eat up!" or "let's eat", I think) in Oxford - there is of course Bandung on Walton Street, which serves Indonesian food (i.e. pretty much the same as Malaysian, the impact of British/Dutch imperial rule on cuisine being fortunately minimal). I think Bandung is OK, although my wife, who is more of an expert, describes it as "adequate". There are much better places in London. However, on St Michael's St, the Nosebag restaurant's lower floor has an evening menu called "Makan La" which is limited, fairly authentic, and actually pretty good, and is presumably that for which you were searching. (In the course of reconstructing your search, I discovered the "New College Freshers' Guide" describes Makan La as "Thai". So much for New College.)

To the person searching for losernet danger in Finnish, for which this site is #3: loserwhat? danwho?






Conspirra Sea



This is rather interesting. Is 9/11 going to turn out to be a source of conspiracy-theorizing on a parallel with the Kennedy assassinations? I believe that the latter were not really questioned in public until the late 1960s/early1970s, so some time to go yet. I wouldn't be entirely surprised if it did, since the events of 9/11 have some of the same characteristics of shock (unexpectedness), complexity and uncertainty that will always make any assassination explanation less than wholly convincing, as well as odd decisions by various authority figures.

The 9/11 site has a bunch of links to fairly common open questions via the Philly Daily News "20 questions" piece. Some of these, I have to say, are still very intriguing (though some of them probably result from bad or credulous journalism at the time which the news organisations have not bothered to correct, as perhaps with various reports that particular hijackers were unreligious or were still alive). Certainly the 28-page redaction from the Congressional Intelligence Committee report, and the very unconstructive approach of the Bush administration towards the existence and then progress of a non-partisan commission of inquiry, give reason to think that there are important parts of the story which we have not been told yet, and perhaps that we have not been told for some mixture of genuine national security reasons, concern for the privacy of non-public figures such as the victims, and political embarrassment. Perhaps there are other elements, too. In any case it is impossible to make a judgement about why apparently relevant material of clear public interest has not been released, except to say that it is difficult to feel confident the conspiracy theorists are wrong while substantial questions remain.

What I thought was particularly interesting is that things are actually happening on the conspiracy-investigation front: for example, a 9/11 widow has brought a, presumably hopeless, RICO suit (i.e. anti-racketeering) against the President in an attempt to get subpoena power. It may be a hopeless quest for information which would not, even if successful, actually change anything; but I would think that this case is worthy of some media attention, and as far as I can see it hasn't had any at all.

Thursday, December 04, 2003

Exceptionalism



Brad DeLong has some fascinating thoughts about the socioeconomic consequences of technical change --- specifically, about the effects of each wave in terms of cheapness and plenty, expensiveness and shortage, unforeseen risks, wrongly foreseen risks. Really, really interesting stuff & something I want to write about myself on this site as soon as I have a moment.

However, he drops in a couple of real clunkers:


One of the chief things that has made America great, after all, is that we are the only country in which enthnicity is not closely linked to nationhood.

and

America is, after all, the only society that does not define its citizens substantially in ethnic terms.


and one just thinks: this man is a clever, presumably well-travelled, presumably pretty cosmopolitan guy, the very model of a modern social scientist. He has seen, one imagines, that other states have far larger numbers and proportions of immigrants in their population, and other states have a more varied or complex ethnic makeup, and that many of these states remain liberal democracies. He has presumably also seen that American political and social life continues to define its citizens substantially in ethnic terms. Sometimes this may be for plausible reasons (as with, say, affirmative action). Sometimes for deeply wrong reasons (one thinks of the arrests of, the attacks on, even the murder of Sikhs post 9-11 in the United States because they were thought to resemble Arabs: what can more clearly count as defining a person in ethnic terms than misdefining them?). Sometimes it may arise from a myriad of personal choices: even after the end of de jure segregation, rates of residential segregation in the US are higher than in other liberal democracies, and rates of racial intermarriage are substantially lower. In sum, then, other states construe their citizenships and social lives (somewhat) in non-ethnic terms. And in the United States there is ample evidence that political and social lives continue to be (somewhat) constructed from the materials of ethnicity. It's not, and DeLong must realise this, all that productive to engage in empirical comparison of the remaining importance of ethnicity within liberal democracies. There remain only a handful that explicitly affirm some kind of ethnic identity as a basis of citizenship (off the top of my head, I can think only of Israel, and perhaps Germany since I can't remember whether they "modernised" their citizenship laws).

I think this is almost as fascinating a phenomenon as that which DeLong actually looks to address. The rhetoric of American exceptionalism is deeply, deeply embedded within American intellectual life, regardless of what you might call the experiential backdrop. (Inevitably anyone who has read it will be reminded of Seymour Martin Lipset in The First New Nation, writing in, what, 1962?, spending hundreds of pages talking about how Americans don't believe in ascriptive, inherited hierarchy, and then taking what seems like a word-and-a-half at the bottom of page two-hundred-and-something to point out that the, er, entire South is "still" something of an exception).

Exceptionalism is one of the topics on our US politics paper, one I thoroughly enjoy teaching, and one that it's particularly puzzling to teach to American students. That is: even the really, really radical ones, those who will later argue that everything in American (and indeed all) politics is about race, that every American political dispute is disguised race talk, that racial explanations should be seen as a plausible alternative to every explanation of behaviour, that the only way to resolve the issue is total reparations, etc etc, even those students will say in their exceptionalism essay that:


One of the chief things that has made America great, after all, is that we are the only country in which enthnicity is not closely linked to nationhood.

and

America is, after all, the only society that does not define its citizens substantially in ethnic terms.


COMPULSORY READING FOR DELONGITES
(that is, followers of DeLong, rather than his ancient Greek forebear)
Rogers Smith Civic ideals : conflicting visions of citizenship in U.S. history
Desmond King Making Americans etc




Wednesday, December 03, 2003

Bang!



Word, as I believe the young people say. (It's particularly correct in implying that you could take a picture of Philadelphia, at any time, for an "after" photograph. Especially the area round the hotel I stayed in during APSA.)

Tuesday, December 02, 2003

Hildabeests



The BBC thinks St Hilda's College, Oxford, is run by its students. Seeing the headline I thought: the students are going to vote on it before the Governing Body does. Reading the story, and the tag under the photo, it's clear that they think the students are the Governing Body.


UPDATE: darn, they were quick to fix most of that. Here is a screenshot of the original.

Sledgehammer-nut crunch



Eugene Volokh explains the story of the dim Counterpunch reporter who attacked the Bush Thanksgiving trip to Baghdad on the grounds that it happened around 6am local time. This turned out to be based on a typo in the Washington Post; should've been 6pm.

Anyhow, two more thoughts on why the Counterpunch reporter was dumb:

i) I guess the US military in Baghdad doesn't actually take the night off. That is, at 6am, there may well be a bunch of people who have just come off duty and would be happy to eat a meal. I don't know how true this is, but it's clearly a possibility; if the reporter wanted to make this criticism he should at least have found out whether the troops were really having their breakfasts or not.

ii) Whatever the typo in the WaPo, what kind of moron runs this story without checking the time difference? It was clearly the case that the visit happened in the late morning Eastern time. So it takes all of ten seconds to check what time that actually is in Baghdad, even if you don't in fact know what direction time zones run in as you travel East. (Which, you know, I would have thought Americans would be very familiar with, given TV scheduling that says things like "8, 7c", even if one couldn't work out the consequences of sol oriens and sol occidens.)

There are legitimate reasons to criticize the Bush trip - roughly that it was entirely and only a PR stunt when much more drastic problems need to be addressed - but this one really shouldn't have wasted anyone's time for more than a few seconds.

Gangsterism



Mark A. R. Kleiman still believes in a place called Hope, to coin a phrase.

Shock security revelation



Photo shows California blogger moonlights as UK e-Minister.

Well, I think they look alike, anyway, and more so in some other photographs of Timms, which explains why I was very surprised to see a photo of Kevin Drum in the Financial Times last week.


Monday, December 01, 2003

Werd



A post I was about to gently mock on Oxblog:

http://oxblog.blogspot.com/2003_11_30_oxblog_archive.html#107029555287571222

Posted 11:16 AM by Josh Chafetz
ELEANA GORDON IS ABSOLUTELY RIGHT that the mores and norms of democracy must be taught. As one -- although by no means the only -- step, why not print up thousands of copies of an Arabic translation of The Federalist Papers and give one free to any Iraqi who wants it?


(because, oh dear god, what Iraq desperately needs is the two-hundred-year-old thoughts of a couple of slaveowners on how to sell an oligarchical republic to a deeply suspicious public, and not electricity or security or any bullshit like that)

anyhow, said post just disappeared! Reloading now gives no story newer than 10.35am. Does blogspot do this often? I wonder, and wonder also whether to back up all my worlds of wisdom off-blogspot just in case.

UPDATE: weird. So, if you go to the root ob.bs.com/ this article appears. But if you try to get to it by the permanent link, it disappears. Oh well.



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