A bridge not far enough

by Maria on November 18, 2018

Yesterday I took part in an act of civil disobedience, helping to close off one of five central London bridges as part of Extinction Rebellion. The campaign takes the view of a couple of the books discussed recently here on CT, that at some point the ‘get out of jail free’ clause on principled political disobedience rises to the level of positive moral obligation; the urgency and devastation of climate change are so severe, and normal politics so unable to conceive of what’s needed, let alone do much or any of it, that blocking streets and other forms of nonviolent escalation are now essential.

On one level, it was just the same as every other protest; make a sign for the dog, stuff my pockets with poo-bags, and be sure not to drink too much beforehand. It was clear once I got onto the bridge – which was already blocked to traffic – that if you wanted to risk arrest you should sit in the road; otherwise you could just show support for those being arrested. There were the usual speeches, singing, drumming, chatting, getting Milo to pose for pictures with people, and even a woman playing the cello. It was pretty white, though with a strong Swampy contingent, a couple of whom had several arrests behind them and were looking at a custodial sentence if they were arrested again.

I stayed on the footpath, cheering for those arrested. But I felt uneasy about it and still do. And uneasy that I feel so anxious about rule-breaking – to the point where, when I was going home, I made sure to thank the police. (For some reason, the bridge I was on had six times the arrests of the next most numerous one.) It’s nice on one level, because it was a well-policed event with no aggro I could discern. But it’s also such a middle class white lady protestor thing to want to do, standing around with my cute dog and his cute sign, wanting everyone to be happy, especially in a country where policing is unequal and often vicious. Even this morning I have that emotional hangover from when you’ve gone a bit far in a political argument and, while winning, have squashed the other person a bit too much.

The reasons I went to do mild civil disobedience were what I’d read here from Chris et al on positive obligation, and also having noticed a week or two ago that a senior Church of England churchman was involved. Reading that back, I see I’ve become such an upstanding churchlady goody two shoes that I want to slap myself! Then I think, well, nothing political or structural gets done without massive, unlikely coalitions. So I just need to get over the fact that now, yes, I’m a mid-forties person who’s now on the distinctly establishment end of the rainbow. It’s a good thing – if galling, I’m sure – that the complacents like me are finally starting to get the message, but God knows we don’t deserve any medals for finally turning up.

There were people there who basically live on fracking protest sites or who have been activists for decades. It occurred to me this morning (yes, in church and no, I don’t know why I’m so sheepish about this, either) that those protestors are like the disciples who heard the New Testament firsthand, took it at face value and then did the only thing they could – tore up their lives to go out and re-make the world in the image of what they believed to be true. Success or failure didn’t matter. If you believed it was what it said it was and followed the logic of it through, there was no alternative but to spend the rest of your life proselytising in a hair-shirt, penniless and relying on the hospitality of others.

The same is true for climate change, obviously. Its severity and urgency and the sheer evil of how we are sliding into it demand that we tear our lives up to try to stop or at least slow it down. But in the same way that every religion gets softened because doing what it actually says on the tin is clearly unreasonable (i.e. incompatible with living comfortably), on climate change we’re still acting as if incremental change is a reasonable response to imminent catastrophe. (Or maybe the rationalisation is the implicit belief that the catastrophe will mostly happen to other people?)

The difference between the radicalisms called for by Christianity and climate change is this; the second coming is highly unlikely (at least), but climate catastrophe is both imminent and already here. We know it is coming, but we are still waiting to be forced by immediate circumstance into a radicalism we feel in our bones is essential right now. When the disaster finally comes to us, some part or number of us will finally embrace it with grateful relief. But till then, many are screaming into the void. Stopping a bit of traffic is the very, very, very least we can do. And no, it is not and will never have been enough.

A friend I called into on the way couldn’t come till later, and by then the bridge was blocked off to other protestors. She stood at the barricade explaining to people who wanted to cross Lambeth Bridge what the demonstration was about and asking them if, now they knew, they felt it was justified. Most of them did, once they thought about it. Maybe they won’t join any future ones, and probably it will be too late, but I think my friend certainly did more for the cause than I did, yesterday.

I will say, though, that by far the best bit was when I was walking along the Albert Embankment and a young man in a suit, driving a very large Mercedes which had just been turned away from the blocked bridge, was screaming out his opened window. Some tourists turned to see what he was about and he roared at them to “Shower, you cunts!”. Result.

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Sunday photoblogging: fox

by Chris Bertram on November 18, 2018

Fox

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Trolls

by John Quiggin on November 18, 2018

I’ve decided that life is too short for me to deal with any more trolls. From now on, I’m following the same zero[1] tolerance policy regarding blog comments as I do on other social media. Snarky trolling comments will lead to an immediate and permanent ban from my comment threads.

More generally, I’ve come to the conclusion that the best way to look at the ‘Intellectual Dark Web’ and what remains of the Republican intellectual class is the light of my experience as a blogger.
Put simply. the IDW and others are trolls. Their object is not to put forward ideas, or even to mount a critique, but to annoy and disrupt their targets (us). As Nikki Haley observed, a few months before announcing her resignation as UN Ambassador, it’s all about “owning the libs
Once you look at them as trolls, it’s easy to see how most of the right fit into familiar categories. They include

  • Victim trolls: Their main aim is to push just far enough to get banned, or piled-on, while maintaining enough of an appearance of reasonableness to claim unfair treatment: Christina Hoff Sommers pioneered the genre
  • Concern trolls: Jonathan Haidt is the leading example. Keep trying to explain how the extreme lunacy of the far right is really the fault of the left for pointing out the lunacy of the mainstream right.
  • Quasi-ironic trolls: Putting out racist or otherwise objectionable ideas, then, when they are called out, pretending it’s just a joke. The alt-right was more or less entirely devoted to this kind of trolling until Trump made it acceptable for them to drop the irony and come out as open racists.
  • Snarky trolls: Delight in finding (or inventing) and circulating examples of alleged liberal absurdity, without any regard for intellectual consistency on their own part. Glenn Reynolds is the archetype in the US, though the genre was pioneered in UK print media by the Daily Mail’s long running obsession with ‘political correctness gone mad’
  • False flag trolls: Push a standard rightwing line, but demand special consideration because they are allegedly liberals. Alan Dershowitz has taken this kind of trolling beyond parody
    From what I can see, the latest hero of the Dark Web, Jordan Peterson, manages to encompass nearly all of these categories. But I haven’t looked hard because, as I said, life is too short.

fn1. Not quite zero. Commenters with a track record of serious discussion will be given a warning. But, anyone who wastes my time will be given short shrift

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Saturday art blogging: the Art Institute’s digital collection

by Eszter Hargittai on November 17, 2018


Recently, the Art Institute of Chicago updated its Web site, which included making available – under a Creative Commons Zero license – over 50,000 of its images. This is very exciting especially since the images are in high resolution. This means that you can zoom in and see the pictures in considerable detail like I did with the image posted above, a section of Monet’s Cliff Walk at Pourville, posted in full below. Given the Art Institute’s exceptional collection, this is a tremendous resource for art lovers, students, educators, and beyond.

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A question about referendums

by Harry on November 15, 2018

If you want to discuss Brexit, what’s going on, etc, please go to JQ’s thread. I have a question for those of you who know about referendums (referenda?) and/or surveys either through study or experience.

Several times recently, I’ve heard politicians say that it is obvious that a 3-option referendum is impossible. The obvious reason they say this is that they want to ensure that the (from their point of view) worst option is off the table: Brexiteers want “this deal or none” and Remainers want “This deal or stay”. Sensible enough. But, is there any other reason not to have a 3-option referendum, in which people rank their preferences, and if no option gets a majority, the second preference of those whose option comes third get redistributed?

Obviously its possible. I can think of actual reasons why it might be undesirable (eg, maybe people can’t cope with three options, or maybe there’s a reason to think that there’s something undemocratic about it, or that Current Deal would lose against either No Deal or Remain in 2-way votes, but would beat both of them in a 3-way vote even with 2nd-preferences redistributed), but have no idea whether these reasons have any basis in reality.

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Brexit: this is it?

by John Quiggin on November 15, 2018

Since the Brexit referendum was hailed by many as representative of a new force in global politics, it’s of interest even on the far side of the planet, and I’ve watched the slow-motion train wreck with appalled fascination.

So, as far as I can tell, the Brexit deal Theresa May has come up with is pretty much the super-soft version. About the only immediate change it will produce is a return to blue passports in place of the EU burgundy, which, it appears, were always optional. And, it appears, the new passports will be printed in France.

All that assumes that the deal will go through. In this context, I’ve been struck by a lot of commentary supporting the deal on the basis that a second referendum isn’t feasible due to the timing requirements of the Referendums Act. Am I missing something here? Isn’t Parliament supreme? And given that this issue has consumed British politics for the last two years or more, can there really be any significant ambiguity about the possible choices articulated by May today: her deal, no deal or no Brexit?

Feel free to comment on these or any other aspects of the issue.

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Armistice Day

by John Quiggin on November 11, 2018

It’s 100 years since the Armistice that brought an end to fighting on the Western Front of the Great War. Ten million soldiers or more were dead, and even more gravely wounded, along with millions of civilians. Most of the empires that had begun the war were destroyed, and even the victors had suffered crippling losses. Far from being a “war to end war”, the Great War was the starting point for many more, as well as bloody and destructive revolutions. These wars continue even today, in the Middle East, carved up in secret treaties between the victors.

For much of the century since then, it seemed that we had learned at least something from this tragedy, and the disasters that followed it. Commemoration of the war focused on the loss and sacrifice of those who served, and were accompanied by a desire that the peace they sought might finally be achieved.

But now that everyone who served in that war has passed away, along with most of those who remember its consequences, the tone has shifted to one of glorification and jingoism.

In part, this reflects the fact that, for rich countries, war no longer has any real impact on most people. As in the 19th century, we have small professional armies fighting in faraway countries and suffering relatively few casualties. Tens of thousands of people may die in these conflicts, but the victims of war impinge on our consciousness only when they seek shelter as refugees, to be turned away or locked up.

In the past, I’ve concluded message like this with the tag “Lest we Forget”. Sadly, it seems as if everything important has already been forgotten.

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Sunday photoblogging: Llanberis lake

by Chris Bertram on November 11, 2018

Llanberis Lake,  Snowdonia

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Saturday art blogging: public art in Turku

by Eszter Hargittai on November 10, 2018

I love public art. I love stumbling upon sculptures while walking around in a city. I only got to spend about 36 hours in Turku, Finland and most of it was rather dark (and/or foggy) plus I was inside for my talk and meals for a good chunk of the time, but I still got to experience some surprises. Pictured to the right is Posankka, a cross between a pig and a duck, that its artist Alvar Gullichsen apparently created as a commentary on genetically-modified organisms. I spotted it across the highway as I was walking around the University of Turku and had to get closer to investigate. It looked cute from afar, not so much from closer. It seems to elicit a lot of sentiments in people and now greets visitors to Turku as they enter the city. (Originally it floated on water.)

This was not the creepiest piece I saw in Turku, not to suggest that I usually measure sculptures by the amount of creepiness they elicit. That just happened to come up here a couple of times. The little girl to the left wins that award from me. It reminds me of something, but I can’t put my finger on it and online searches didn’t help. I’m more of a fan of other pieces I saw around town. But not being a fan does not mean I don’t enjoy stumbling upon a piece. As I noted, I get a kick out of being surprised by such works when I explore a city. What’s some of the more unusual public art you’ve seen? I’d love to see examples if you can point to them.

For more on what public art I found walking the streets of Turku, click here.

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There. Fixed it.

by John Holbo on November 8, 2018

“All that talk about winning x percent of the “national House vote” or the “national Senate vote” — neither of which, you know, exists — is a backhanded way of getting at the fact that they do not like how our governments are organized” (Link.)

All this talk about how neither the national House vote or the national Senate vote – both of which, you know, exist – exist, is a backhanded way of getting at the fact that they do not know why how our governments are organized should be liked.

(On the other hand, if Kevin D. Williamson really denies you can add 50 numbers – well, we’d all love to see the plans.)

In comments, you can make fun of Williamson. Or you could discuss the election.

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Time to join the generation game? Definitely

by John Quiggin on November 7, 2018

A little while ago, I partially recanted my long-standing rejection of the idea that “generations” are a useful way of thinking about such issues as political attitudes. The UK elections showed a very strong age effect, reflecting the way that the politics of nostalgia, represented by Brexit, appeal to the old and appal the young.

The same appears to be true of “Make America Great Again”, at least according to the exit polls. In every racial group, there’s a clear cohort effect, with the younger cohorts favouring the Democrats.

The Republicans had majority support only among whites over 45.

[click to continue…]

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‘Extremely Possible’?

by John Holbo on November 5, 2018

‘Extremely possible’ was probably not the phrase for it. (It seems to have sent Taleb round the twist.)

Silver’s point is to emphasize 85 isn’t 100. But it’s striking how hard it is to say that without sounding like you are saying 85 is 50.

A sort of extremism kicks in that doesn’t seem to manifest in other areas of probabilistic reasoning. 50/50 or 100/0. Look at the polls; see which of those the polls are close to; that’s your answer. Elections: toss-up or lock.

Not black swan blindness, in Taleb’s familiar sense. Nor does anyone make quite this style of mistake when thinking about dice or cards, do they? You might make a baseline rate mistake in interpreting a potentially false positive regarding a medical diagnosis. But if the doc tells you you have a 15% chance of having the flu, no one thinks: oh, from that it follows that I’m 100% healthy. [click to continue…]

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Sunday photoblogging: Bordeaux at night

by Chris Bertram on November 4, 2018

Bordeaux at night

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Saturday art blogging: Magritte in Lugano

by Eszter Hargittai on November 3, 2018

This isn’t the first exhibit dedicated to René Magritte and it won’t be the last (one just ended a few days ago in San Francisco), but it’s the one I got to see yesterday while attending a conference in Lugano, Switzerland, and thus inspires this weekend’s art post. I have already been to the Magritte Museum in Brussels, but nonetheless had plenty of works to see here that I had not encountered before. The pieces are presented in chronological order grouped by style. One thing I really like in such exhibits is when the work of those who inspired the artist is on display as well. A piece by de Chirico right next to Magritte’s paintings makes his influence on the artist very clear.

Magritte may be most known for his Surrealist pieces, but he created art in lots of other styles. For example, he had an Impressionistic phase, although apparently due to a lack of positive response, he abandoned it fairly quickly. He also did quite a bit of work designing advertisements.

This exhibit features several of his curtains pieces, including a large bronze sculpture:

The MASI Lugano has a beautiful view of Lake Lugano and the surrounding mountains, which is a gorgeous backdrop for the sculpture. See more of the pieces on display at this exhibit in my photo album.

The exhibit runs through January 9, 2019 and is a pleasant 15 min downhill walk from the Lugano train station. Lugano is just over an hour from Milan and just over two hours from Zurich by train.

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Lang leve de jarigen!

by Ingrid Robeyns on November 3, 2018

It’s Chris’s 60th birthday today – Happy Birthday, Chris!

Since this blog owes a lot to Chris (that is an understatement…), I want to let you know that on FB, Chris has launched a fundraiser for Bristol Refugee Rights, an organisator supporting refugees in Bristol of which Chris is the Chair of the trustees. If you’re on FB I am sure you can find your way there to the place to donate; otherwise, you can use this link.

Chris shares his birthday with my sister (Gelukkige verjaardag, zusje!) and with my former PhD-supervisor Amartya Sen, who celebrates his 85th birthday today (Happy birthday, Amartya!).

Since I was writing to them today, it occurred to me that the Dutch language has a word that, according to my knowledge of English and the online dictionary that I consulted, doesn’t have an equivalent in English: de jarige – the person who has their birthday. Either I am wrong, and then you sharp people will surely teach me a new word, or else I may have found one of the very few words in Dutch that doesn’t have an English equivalent (most of the time, it’s the other way around).

Lang leve de jarigen!

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