Lest we forget

by John Quiggin on April 25, 2017

Today is Anzac Day, the anniversary of the disastrous Gallipoli campaign which marked the first major involvement of Australian and New Zealand troops in the Great War. In their memory, I’ll quote the man most directly responsible for the disaster, describing the war of which it was a part (H/T Daniel Quiggin)

Germany having let Hell loose kept well in the van of terror; but she was followed step by step by the desperate and ultimately avenging nations she had assailed. Every outrage against humanity or international law was repaid by reprisals often on a greater scale and longer duration. No truce or parley mitigated the strife of the armies. The wounded died between the lines; the dead moldered into the soil. Merchant ships and neutral ships and hospital ships were sunk on the seas and all on board left to their fate, or killed as they swam. Every effort was made to starve whole nations into submission without regard to age or sex. Cities and monuments were smashed by artillery. Bombs from the air were cast down indiscriminately. Poison gas in many forms stifled or seared the soldiers. Liquid fire was projected upon their bodies. Men fell from the air in flames, or were smothered, often slowly, in the dark recesses of the sea. The fighting strength of armies was limited only by the manhood of their countries. Europe and large parts of Asia and Africa became one vast battlefield on which after years of struggle not armies but nations broke and ran. When it was all over, Torture and Cannibalism were the only two expedients that the civilized, scientific, Christian states had been able to deny themselves: and these were of doubtful utility.
As it turned out, even this assessment was too optimistic. The second phase of the great world war saw the end of the few limits that had been observed in the first.

To pay respect to the Anzacs and those who followed them, we should stop repeating the mistakes and crimes of those who sent them to their deaths.

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Macron leads!

by Chris Bertram on April 24, 2017

Macron has won the first round of the French Presidential election, and I for one am very pleased at the outcome. In the first place, I’m pleased because Marine Le Pen and the Front National have not done better despite circumstances, such as the Nice and Bataclan attacks, that might have been expected to give them a further boost. This suggests that, at least in France, right-wing populism has hit a limit, for the time being. Second I’m pleased because I think Macron probably has more about him than the Blair and Clinton comparisons and the childish chanting of the mantras of “neoliberal”, “austerity”, “banker” and “elite” by the Mélenchon claque suggests. He’s someone both committed to the EU and committed to changing it, whereas Mélenchon was all about making demands and walking away, in the vague direction of Lexit, as soon as the other member-states turned him down. Unlike Clinton and Blair he has done what he has done without a massive party machine behind him, he’s exhibited a lot of political courage and his bet has paid off. Now that we face the second-round, we see Mélenchon refusing to back Macron against Le Pen, which to my mind indicates that Mélenchon is an unserious poseur, but then his enthusiasms for Hugo Chavez and his apologetics for Assad ought to have been a clue to that.

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Hey, Kids, Comics! – Vienna Genesis Edition

by John Holbo on April 23, 2017

I have been down my work hole for weeks. Apologies, plain people of Crooked Timber. Also, I haven’t worked on On Beyond Zarathustra for months. Maybe that’s even worse. Gotta get back into the good stuff over the summer. Here is a downpayment. I’ve found the first occurrence of a Dr. Seuss-style tree in Western art. It’s from the Vienna Genesis, which is pretty awesome proto-comics and you should check out all the pages at Wikipedia.

I don’t recall Scott McCloud saying anything about this in Understanding Comics. If you want to read a confusing scholarly discussion, try Franz Wickhoff on Roman Art. I think it’s the earliest occurrence of ‘continuous narrative’, also ‘illusionism’. And his use of the latter is eccentric, so you are sure to be the life of the party discussing his ideas!

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Sunday photoblogging: Pézenas, Rue Conti

by Chris Bertram on April 23, 2017

Pézenas, Rue Conti

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Fourteen years of Krauthammer days

by Henry on April 22, 2017

Today is the fourteenth anniversary of the day when Charles Krauthammer announced to the world:

Hans Blix had five months to find weapons. He found nothing. We’ve had five weeks. Come back to me in five months. If we haven’t found any, we will have a credibility problem.

It’s now been 168 months since that confident pronouncement – or, put differently, we’ve seen 33.6 Krauthammer Credibility Intervals come, and then go, without any sign of self-assessment, let alone personal acceptance of responsibility for his prominent cheerleading for a war that led to hundreds of thousands of deaths. Still out there opining.

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Individual emission budgets & footprints

by Ingrid Robeyns on April 22, 2017

It’s Global Earth Day, and this year the theme is environmental and climate literacy. I’d like to take us through an argument and a set of calculations. If what I write is correct, it only illustrates (but quite vividly, I think) the mess we’re in. So I hope that someone will convince me that what follows is wrong, or that the pessimistic conclusions do not follow.

[click to continue…]

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Ada Palmer seminar

by Henry on April 20, 2017

The seminar with Ada Palmer on Seven Surrenders and its prequel, Too Like the Lightning is now complete. Below, a list of the participants with links to their individual posts, to make it easier to keep everything together (a PDF will be forthcoming). All posts are available in reverse chronological order here. Comments should be open, for anyone who wants to talk about the seminar (or the books) as a whole.

The participants:

  • Ada Palmer is an Assistant Professor of Early Modern European History at the University of Chicago.

The Dystopian Question and Minorities of One [Response to Emrys and Gladstone]

Reappropriated Histories and a Different Set of Tools [Response to Morley and H. Farrell]

Unusual Experience and Second Hand Plato [Response to M. Farrell and Waring]

Not Nothing and Speculating Late [Response to Holbo and Konstantinou

A Dialog on Narrative Voice, Complicity, and Intimacy [Dialogue with Jo Walton]

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Between Jo Walton and Ada Palmer.

Continuing from Jo’s essay “Complicity and the Reader

Jo Walton is a good friend, and there is little we love than sinking our teeth into a fascinating aspect of the craft of writing.  We’ve discussed questions of narration, voice and complicity in Terra Ignota many times, so much so that much of what I would say in response to Jo I already have, and she’s already addressed it in her essay.  So I thought that the best way to bring something really new, and to round out this delightful seminar, was to have a fresh dialog with Jo about the subject, and to share it—in all its rawness and discovery—with you.  And once again, thank you all for reading so deeply, thinking, discussing, sharing your thoughts, responding, and reading more—discussion like this seminar the happiest fate that can befall a book.  And an author. [click to continue…]

UK GE17 Open Thread

by Maria on April 18, 2017

Well in fairness, it hardly feels like summer is coming unless there is a massive, polarising electoral campaign in the UK.

On watching the PM call the election, issuing the death knell for Labour – a sentence the party is only to happy to carry out on itself – I had the same grim satisfaction I remember from boarding school, when the head-nun blasted apart a girl we all knew was innocent. We all stood in a semi-circle around the weeping victim of the precision tongue-lashing and watched as we’d been instructed to, sympathetic, appalled but also weirdly thrilled. Not by the spectacle itself, but by a grim gladness that even the pretence of even-handedness had finally been dropped. The bully in a habit was no longer acting otherwise. There’s always a next victim, and a next one, and in that place, the subsequent victim was me (public verbal demolition AND a face-slapping – from a great height, you fall a long way), but I can’t deny there was satisfaction, then, too.

Let’s watch this nasty show play out as what it really is.

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Not Nothing and Speculating Late

by Ada Palmer on April 14, 2017

The “Not Nothing” in Thomas Carlyle’s Protagonization of History

a response to

John Holbo “Heroes and Aliens”

John Holbo’s essay is a masterwork of hinting without revealing, discussing pieces while keeping the veil across the whole.  As I read it, a visual kept entering my mind, of great hands reaching under the belly of a Leviathan, lifting it toward the ocean surface, not high enough to expose its shape or color, just enough for the many reefy knots and house-sized barnacles that stud its skin to poke up through the dark waves like an island chain, so the spectator on the shore can just make out that there is a living vastness in the deep whose structure connects makes many new-bared lands one.

My first contact with Carlyle’s Heroes, Hero Worship and the Heroic in History came suddenly, in my second year of grad school.  The title lurked on my list of required historiographical background reading, preparation for my oral exams, amid so many histories of Italian city-states, and rebuttals of Hans Baron.  My cohort and I were wolfing down a book a day in those months, looting each for thesis and argument, so we could regurgitate debates, and discuss how our own projects fit with the larger questions of the field.  Only two books refused on that list to be so digested: Carlyle’s, and Burkhardt’s The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy. [click to continue…]

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The poverty of psychology, again

by John Quiggin on April 14, 2017

Chris’ post on psychological theories of anti-egalitarianism reminded me of one I’ve been meaning to write for a while, responding to a whole subgenre of the Haidt school of political psychology dealing with the question: why do people maintain false beliefs in the face of contrary evidence? There seems to be an article in the papers on this every week or two (unsurprisingly, given the political situatin), and they are nearly always much the same.

Given the assumption that this is a matter of individual psychology, the answer must be applicable to everyone, and, in the US context, “everyone” means “both Republicans and Democrats”. The answer is some irrational/antirational feature of individual belief formation, such as confirmation bias. I’m not going to pick on any particular writers; examples abound.
The obvious problem here is that, to a first approximation, people believe what members of their social groups believe. So, the relevant questions are:

*How do social groups maintain, or correct, false beliefs in the face of contrary evidence ?

  • Under what circumstances do people break with false beliefs held by other members of their social group? If this happens, does it involve a break with the social group or the emergence of a dissident subgroup?

Once we look at things this way, it’s obvious that not all social groups are the same, Scientists have a social process for dealing with evidence, which differs from that of (to pick a group with almost zero overlap) Republicans. Obviously, scientists collectively are much better at correcting false beliefs than Republicans, even though, as individuals, both scientists and Republicans exhibit forms of motivated reasoning such as confirmation bias.

The question of how the members of groups change their beliefs seems like an obvious topic for study by social psychologists. And perhaps it is, but if so, their work has had no impact on the asocial psychologists I’ve seen talking about it.

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Unusual Experience and Second-Hand Plato

by Ada Palmer on April 13, 2017

Unusual Experience

a response to Maria Farrell “In Good Hands”

I love micro-autobiography.  I love autobiography too, but micro-autobiographies like Maria Farrell’s essay here, a closely-narrated experience in which you get to know a new human being through what that person shares about a small, relatable experience of real time, are just so tender, and intimate, celebrations of the art that goes into every tiny part of being human, like the little hidden faces tucked between the tracery of a gothic archway, through which the architect shares with every visitor a small slice of play.  That’s why my favorite thing, when I meet a new person who has read Too Like the Lightning is to say nothing beyond some periodic approving “oohs” so as not to interrupt the beautiful flow of this new reader’s unique and beautiful experience. [click to continue…]

Reappropriated Histories

a response to Neville Morley, “Future’s Past.”

I was very excited looking forward to a classicist’s response to these books, and very satisfied that the references to antiquity loomed large for him as I expected. My use of the Enlightenment is intentionally conspicuous, even ostentatious, throughout the book. Antiquity is a quieter presence, but still, as Morley observed, deeply pervasive, in the Masons, and in Mycroft’s own thought and imagery.

I actually worked in an intentionally cumulative momentum to the presence of antiquity in the book, and especially the presence of the Iliad, as Mycroft’s references to Homeric imagery become more frequent, and as his use of grand Homeric similes become more frequent and more explicit over the course of the first two books. Ganymede is the Sun in the first book but Helios in the second, and the first time dawn has “rose fingers” as she always does in Homer is the morning of the Sixth Day of Mycroft’s history, the irrevocable day when civilization’s rose-tinted daydream breaks. This momentum builds toward the revelations of the book’s end, both the final revelation in the chapter “Hero,” and final solidification of that word which Mycroft begs Providence not to bring into his history: war. Like many subtle writing things, I don’t expect most people to be conscious of it, or for it even to have a strong effect on everyone, but especially for a classicist its presence was intended to add a more epic feeling as momentum built, and to make the end of Seven Surrenders feel, not predictable, but correct, as when a long, elaborate algebraic exercise yields a solid 1=1. [click to continue…]

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Yesterday Dan Drezner said it was embarrassing that US Attorney General Jeff Sessions called illegal aliens “filth.” Today Drezner apologized, because while the word “filth” was in prepared remarks, Sessions didn’t say it, and because even in the prepared remarks, “The context is clear: Sessions was going to use ‘filth’ to describe MS-13 and drug cartels, not all illegal immigrants crossing the border.”

While I admire Drezner’s forthrightness in admitting a mistake I think he has made another one. He should make only the first half of this apology, because, in fact, the context is not clear—as, I can only suspect, is indicated by Sessions’s decision not to say the word aloud.

[click to continue…]

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The Dystopian Question and Minorities of One

by Ada Palmer on April 11, 2017

The Dystopian Question: Is There a Place For Me?

a response to

Ruthanna Emrys “Falling Through the Cracks of Identity

I was delighted to see Ruthanna touch on a number of the tensions within the Hive system that I crafted intentionally, and am setting up for further resolution in the second half of Terra Ignota. The Utopian’s isolationism, the pressure of those caught between Hives as personified by Cato Weeksbooth, and the particular awkwardness of the Cousins having what feels like a forced politico-cultural monopoly on caregiving and such huge slices of our society, and our curiosity about the Hiveless.

I was interested to see the characterization of Hiveless as “second-class citizens” and the assumption that they don’t participate in government, or inform the laws that govern them. Such guesses do indeed follow reasonably from what’s in the first two books, particularly since Mycroft makes so much of Hive power, so I’m very excited to see how Ruthanna and other readers expand their impressions of the three Hiveless groups on Book 3, when we see a lot more, both of them and of how they’re integrated into the politics of Romanova. In the first books we hear hints in that we know J.E.D.D. Mason is, among other things, a “Graylaw Hiveless Tribune” but we don’t know yet precisely what that entails, or just how powerful the Hiveless Tribunes are within the Alliance. [click to continue…]

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