Crooked Timber comments: a big change

by Chris Bertram on October 19, 2016

We Timberites have been chatting amongst ourselves about our comments threads. Recently, and perhaps even not so recently, our threads have been dominated by a few commenters who are rude, abusive and dismissive to one another and others. This creates an environment where other commenters get squeezed out and where many of us feel reluctant to post on the blog because it isn’t fun exposing yourself to such gratuitous hostility and because housekeeping comment threads (and arguing about housekeeping decisions) is frankly exhausting. We want to create an environment where we feel more willing to write for the blog and where a wider spectrum of people feel encouraged to participate in discussions. There are no perfect solutions here. Abolishing comments threads altogether is an option, but that excludes people who have been good citizens at CT over the years.

Here’s what we’re going to do: we’re going to enforce our comments policy more rigorously (including the requirement that you supply a valid email address), and not just the part about comments that are racist, sexist or homophobic, but also the part about comments that are personally insulting. Specifically, commenters should abjure ostentatious displays of contempt towards other participants in the thread and commenters should not write in a manner that clearly presupposes that they do not believe the person they are engaging with is deserving of intellectual engagement. To pursue this policy, we’re going to try out putting everything into moderation by default. This will requires more work on our part to scan potential contributions as well as making it more difficulty for people to engage in the kind of to-and-fro that is characteristic of good conversation. That’s a pity, but may be the price we have to pay. We’re planning to review our policy in a couple of weeks, to see how it is working.


John Peel’s 40th Birthday Programme

by Harry on October 19, 2016

from 1979 is on Listen Again for about 3 more weeks: Here, and here. Enjoy.


Here, gentle reader, is a guest-post from, Andrew Brown, Guardian writer and friend of CT.

At a conference on Serious Matters of Internet Governance last month, some of the participants kept bringing up science fictional references as a guide to the future; others never did. A straw poll revealed that about half of us had never read any science fiction, while the other half read huge amounts. The non sf-readers asked for some pointers.

So Maria and I, with some suggestions from Henry, have tried to draw up a List of Science Fiction for People Who Don’t Read SF. There might be some overlap there—I think Riddley Walker is definitely a book that gets read for its considerable literary merit by many people who would never dream of filing it as a post-apocalyptic fantasy, even though that’s what it also is. Margaret Atwood may be another author whose books are read in that way.

Note: this is a starter package for adult readers who feel curious as to what is the attraction of sf, and it is intended to introduce them to some of the distinct pleasures of the genre as well as to good books. Almost everyone (hi, Henry) will have different and possibly better ideas for this list. Fire away in comments. But the criterion for success is not whether you know the field better than we do—you do—but whether anyone who has been wondering what is the distinct pleasure of sf as a genre becomes able, through some of these books, to discover it.

Hors d’oeuvre—short stories available for free or cheap download

If you don’t like any of these, you won’t appreciate anything that follows

E.M. Forster, The Machine Stops – Dystopia perfectly imagined, in 1909.

William Tenn, The Liberation of Earth – All you need know about war

James Blish, Surface Tension – What imagination can do

Frederik Pohl, The tunnel under the world – Life inside Facebook

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Sunday photoblogging: Pigeons, Bogota

by Chris Bertram on October 16, 2016

Pigeons, Bogota, Colombia


Locke + Nozick = Locke

by John Quiggin on October 16, 2016

In the discussion of my threepart critique of Locke, I mentioned my view that Rothbard and Nozick added nothing of value, and promised to expand on this when I got some time. I discussed Rothbard here, and have finally got around to Nozick.

Someone (I think Jerry Cohen) remarked that Nozick was be taken very seriously by Marxists and not nearly as much by social democrats and (US) liberals. Obviously, my reaction (that of a social democrat) illustrates this. The reason for this divergence is obvious enough. If you would like to derive property rights from a notion of self-ownership (and the Marxist concept of exploitation is close to this), Nozick provides a reductio ad absurdam. So, a critique like Cohen’s is essential.

OTOH, if you start from the ground that property rights are social structures, and that their justice or otherwise is inseparable from that of the society in which they operate, Nozick is of no real interest. All the important errors in his work were already made by Locke. However, I’ll point out some new ones.

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Viv Stanshall Day 2016

by Harry on October 14, 2016

Today is Viv Stanshall Day (its a moveable feast). Why? Who needs a reason? But… every day when I make my first check of the election news I think of Viv and wonder whether even he could have made it up.

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Adrian Grey-Turner, 1955-1986

by Harry on October 12, 2016

(This is an updated version of something I posted 10 years ago, on the 20th anniversary of my friend’s death)

About 33 years and 3 weeks ago You and Yours had one of those “off to University” shows, helping parents and about-to-be new undergraduates to understand what the first few weeks of University was going to be like.[1] Although fitting the latter category, I only listened because at the time You and Yours was among my regular listening. One comment struck me, and has stayed with me ever since. A woman in her thirties, commenting on Fresher’s Weeks, said that “in that first week of college you meet people who will be your friends for the rest of your life”.

I was skeptical. And it turned out to be untrue for me. I’m in much closer touch with several friends from secondary school than anyone from college (I did meet CB sometime in 1984, but only for a few minutes, and not again till Sept 12, 2001, so he doesn’t count). My first day at Bedford College was spent almost entirely with a girl who decided the next day to leave (not, I hope, because she spent the first day with me, but because she was trying to escape her home town of Egham, to which my college suddenly announced it was moving). I’m still in touch with two other people I met that week, but I’ve seen them each only once in the past ten years, and have spoken to one of them only a few times more.

But it was also that week that I met Adrian.

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“What’s This Little Boy Doing Here?”

by John Holbo on October 12, 2016

My 15-page On Beyond Zarathustra series, over at Hilobrow, has now run its course. I managed – barely! – to usher the rope dancer onstage, as I collapsed from the graphical strain. But on my way down I penned a think-piece on Seuss and philosophy, with special reference to Nietzsche.

What else?

Did you know that Ted Geisel, as a young teen, was traumatized by a sudden, personal attack on him by Teddy Roosevelt? It’s true! Apparently. I quote from Dr. Seuss and Mr. Geisel: [click to continue…]


Trump the Ringmaster and His Unwitting Clowns

by Corey Robin on October 11, 2016

Back in July, I wrote a post about the amnesia of the Vox generation of journalism.

This was about the time when young journalists were claiming that no presidential candidate in modern American history ever posed the kind of threat to American democracy that Donald Trump did. I went through the specific claims, and cited example after example of comparable threats. I concluded thus:

So many of them seem to lack the most basic gut impulse of any historically minded person: if you think something is unprecedented, it’s probably not. Check your amnesia, dude.

I know this is nothing deep or fancy, but it does make me wonder if today’s generation of commentators, raised as so many are on the assumption that the biological sciences and social sciences—with neuroscience as the master mediator—are the source and model of all knowledge, are somehow at a deficit.

By amnesia, I was thinking of these journalists’ failure to remember events from the Goldwater, Nixon, and Reagan campaigns.

Little did I expect that only three months later they’d be forgetting events from…the Trump campaign. [click to continue…]


In August, I blogged about a New York Times story on a corruption investigation of City College President Lisa Coico. On Friday, the Times reported that Coico abruptly resigned. Today, the Times has a long piece on the corruption and potential criminality that led to Coico’s resignation (upon threat of firing).

On the one hand, the piece paints a portrait of a college president so fantastically corrupt, it’s almost comical.

Ms. Coico, who had an annual salary of $400,000 at that point [2011], was using the college’s main fund-raising vehicle, the 21st Century Foundation, to pay tens of thousands of dollars for housekeeping, furniture, seasonal fruits and organic maple-glazed nuts, among other items….By August 2011, according to an email between two school officials, the college had begun to itemize more than $155,000 of her spending in three categories — “college,” “personal” and “iffy.”

On the other hand, it’s just one blood-boiling outrage after another, where the criminality flows, like lava, from the mountain of largesse that Coico was legally allowed in the first place.
The Times also questioned whether Ms. Coico had repaid a $20,000 security deposit for a rental home, or kept the money for herself….Ms. Coico had a housing allowance of $5,000 per month when she was hired, which was increased to $7,500 per month in July 2010.

We have adjuncts at CUNY who can’t pay their rent. Mostly because the pay is so low, but sometimes, as occurred at Brooklyn College last month, because CUNY can’t be bothered to get its act together so that people are paid on time. Yet a college president, who’s already earning a $400,000 salary (and remember that was in 2011; God knows what she was raking in upon her resignation) plus a housing allowance of $7500, gets additional help to put down a $20,000 security deposit on a rental home in Westchester? [click to continue…]


Spending money on classrooms

by Harry on October 10, 2016

Michael O’Hare has a nice piece about building on campus. The central point is that capital is so cheap, compared with labor, in our business (even at UC Berkeley apparently!) that if better buildings make us more productive the university should invest more in building than they do (at least, if they will invest in the right kinds of buildings):

Consider an improvement of some sort to a classroom with fifty seats, used for 1200 hours a year – new projector, paint the walls, new chairs, whatever. If it could increase learning by the students by 5%, what fraction of the cost of the room would it be worth spending? The answer is 100%: you should be willing to throw the room away and build a whole new one.

A typical senior faculty office is about 10×12 feet…. In that office you can get a desk and a chair, bookshelves all over one wall, a couple of file cabinets, and a chair for visitors. If we’re lucky, there’s a tree outside the window, and the élite of profs get a squirrel in the tree. Throw in a printer and a scanner and you need another small table and it starts to get quite tight.

What would increase productivity in my business? I nominate: another real table that seats four, and a couch. Why a couch? For naps; actually everyone would do more, better work with naps, but profs work long hours; the research on this is done and it’s not debatable. The meeting space is because our work requires a lot of small meetings, often unscheduled, with colleagues and with students alone or in small groups.

Three thoughts based on my own experience:

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Only a tiny minority of American academics are Republicans, a fact that is a continuing source of angst for much of the political right, as well as quite a few centrists. It’s generally assumed that this fact requires some explanation specific to the way in which universities work. The implicit assumption is that the group of those qualified and willing to take up academic jobs is roughly representative of the US population, and therefore contains roughly equal numbers of Democrats and Republicans. To state that submission is to see immediately what’s wrong with it. As a group, academics are obviously not typical of the US population. They have much more education and significantly higher incomes, though not as high as those of highly educated Americans in general. We know that these two characteristics work in opposite directions politically. Other things equal, more income is positively associated with Republican voting while more education is associated with lower support. So, a proper test of the idea that there is something special about academic voting patterns would begin with a multiple regression incorporating income and education as explanatory variables, then see if a dummy variable for academic employment was (statistically and quantitatively) different from zero.

But this is a blog post, so I’m not going to bother with all that hard work. Rather, I’ll point to this New York times article about the voting patterns of doctors. It includes a bivariate regression of voting patterns on income, with specialisations marked as observations It includes a bivariate regression of voting patterns on income for a sample of 30 000 doctors. This graph shows the resulting regression and plots the mean values for different specializations
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Sex, Dice, and the Trump Tapes

by Corey Robin on October 9, 2016

Yesterday, the Washington Post revealed that it had obtained a videotape featuring Donald Trump bragging, in the most graphic and ugly terms, about women he’s groped, harassed, demeaned, and more. Within 24 hours, the tape seems to have transformed the political landscape, with legions of Republican leaders now calling on Trump to step down from the ticket.


Across social media, people are wondering why this particular story has proven so explosive for Trump. Given that everyone already knew the vileness of his views on women and the viciousness of his behavior toward them—not to mention Muslims and Mexicans—what’s so different about this story? [click to continue…]


Sunday photoblogging: Cathedral, Bogota

by Chris Bertram on October 8, 2016

Cathedral, Bogota, Colombia


Shock and Aw, we knew it already

by John Holbo on October 8, 2016

So Trump said something truly horrible in 2005. And, it would seem, Hillary’s Wall Street speeches have leaked. Or bits. And internal emails concerning them. (I guess it could turn out that these have been doctored by the Russians, in collaboration with Wikileaks. But it looks like the real deal.) This is going to make that Town Hall debate hot. But, as bombshells go, it’s hard for me to imagine anything less surprising. Everyone already knew – how could it not be? – that Clinton said cosy-cosy stuff to Wall Street folks. And Trump? Is there a single person on the planet surprised that he talks this way? (And surely it isn’t just talk.) Dog bites man. Donald gropes woman. His defenders aren’t even feigning surprise. [click to continue…]