On the death of Gabriel García Márquez

by Corey Robin on April 23, 2014

Greg Grandin writes in The Nation:

Born in 1927, Gabriel García Márquez was 87 when he died last week. According to his younger brother, Jaime, he had been suffering from complications caused by chemotherapy, which saved his life but accelerated his dementia, a disease that apparently ran in his family. He’d call his brother and ask to be reminded about simple things. “He has problems with his memory,” Jaime reported a few years back.


Remembering and forgetting are García Márquez’s great themes, so it would be easy to read meaning into his senility. The writer was fading into his own solitude, suffering the same fate he assigned to the inhabitants of his fictional town of Macondo, in his most famous novel, One Hundred Years of Solitude. Struck by an insomnia plague, “sinking irrevocably into the quicksand of forgetfulness,” they had to make signs telling themselves what to remember. “This is a cow. She must be milked.” “God exists.” [click to continue…]

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Happy Krauthammer Day

by Henry on April 22, 2014

The day has rolled around again when we celebrate Charles Krauthammer’s linking of his, and his administration friends’ credibility to a confident prediction about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction.

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.

We’ve had over twenty five five month periods since then. There have been lots, and lots of words from Charles Krauthammer in the interim (most recently – pushing against disclosure of political funding because people might be mean to rich donees). Discoveries of Iraqi nuclear weapons? Not so much.

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Tu Quoque

by John Quiggin on April 21, 2014

I’ve written many posts and articles making the point that the political right, in most English speaking countries[^1] has been taken over by a tribalist post-truth politics in which all propositions, including the conclusions of scientific research, are assessed in terms of their consistency or otherwise with tribal prejudices and shibboleths.

Very occasionally, intellectuals affiliated with the political right (conservatives and libertarians) will seek to deny this, arguing that isolated instances are being blown out of proportion, and that the right as a whole is committed to reasoned, fact-based argument and acceptance of “inconvenient truths’ arising from the conclusions of scientific research[^2], [^3].

But, far more often their response takes the form of a tu quoque or, in the language of the schoolyard, “you’re another”. That is, they seek to argue that the left is just as tribalist and anti-science as the right. Favored examples of alleged left tribalism included any rhetoric directed at rightwing billionaires ( Murdoch, the Kochs and so on). The standard examples of alleged left anti-science are GMOs, nuclear power and anti-vaxerism, but it is also sometimes claimed that US Democrats are just as likely as Republicans to be creationists.

I’ll argue over the fold that these examples don’t work. What’s more important, though, is what the tu quoque argument says about those who deploy it, and their view of politics. The implied claim is that politics is inherently a matter of tribalism and emotion, and that there is no point in complaining about this. The only thing to do is to pick a side and stick to it. What passes for political argument is simply a matter of scoring debating points for your side and demolishing those of the others. So, anyone who uses tu quoque as a defence, rather than seeking to dissuade their own side from tribalist and anti-science rhetoric, deserves no more respect than the tribalists and science deniers themselves, who at least have the defence of ignorance.

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Max Weber’s Birthday

by Henry on April 21, 2014

Max Weber was born 150 years ago today. People should read his two seminal essays, Science as a Vocation, and Politics as a Vocation (PDFs), if they haven’t already. Both are rambling, but with nuggets of genuine genius. To mark the occasion, the famous closing paragraphs of Science as a Vocation (these words carry a very different resonance after Nazism and the Holocaust than before)

The fate of our times is characterized by rationalization and intellectualization and, above all, by the ‘disenchantment of the world.’ Precisely the ultimate and most sublime values have retreated from public life either into the transcendental realm of mystic life or into the brotherliness of direct and personal human relations. It is not accidental that our greatest art is intimate and not monumental, nor is it accidental that today only within the smallest and intimate circles, in personal human situations, in pianissimo, that something is pulsating that corresponds to the prophetic pneuma, which in former times swept through the great communities like a firebrand, welding them together. If we attempt to force and to ‘invent’ a monumental style in art, such miserable monstrosities are produced as the many monuments of the last twenty years. If one tries intellectually to construe new religions without a new and genuine prophecy, then, in an inner sense, something similar will result, but with still worse effects. And academic prophecy, finally, will create only fanatical sects but never a genuine community.

To the person who cannot bear the fate of the times like a man, one must say: may he rather return silently, without the usual publicity build-up of renegades, but simply and plainly. The arms of the old churches are opened widely and compassionately for him. After all, they do not make it hard for him. One way or another he has to bring his ‘intellectual sacrifice’—that is inevitable. If he can really do it, we shall not rebuke him. For such an intellectual sacrifice in favor of an unconditional religious devotion is ethically quite a different matter than the evasion of the plain duty of intellectual integrity, which sets in if one lacks the courage to clarify one’s own ultimate standpoint and rather facilitates this duty by feeble relative judgments. In my eyes, such religious return stands higher than the academic prophecy, which does not clearly realize that in the lecture-rooms of the university no other virtue holds but plain intellectual integrity. Integrity, however, compels us to state that for the many who today tarry for new prophets and saviors, the situation is the same as resounds in the beautiful Edomite watchman’s song of the period of exile that has been included among Isaiah’s oracles:

He calleth to me out of Seir, Watchman, what of the night? The watchman said, The morning cometh, and also the night: if ye will enquire, enquire ye: return, come.

The people to whom this was said has enquired and tarried for more than two millennia, and we are shaken when we realize its fate. From this we want to draw the lesson that nothing is gained by yearning and tarrying alone, and we shall act differently. We shall set to work and meet the ‘demands of the day,’ in human relations as well as in our vocation. This, however, is plain and simple, if each finds and obeys the demon who holds the fibers of his very life.

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At National Review Online, Jonathan Adler writes:

Over at the progressive blog, Crooked Timber, Corey Robin lists “Eleven Things You Did Not Know About Clarence Thomas.”  The items Robin lists shouldn’t surprise avid court watchers, or others who have paid much attention to the conservative justice.  Judging from the comments, however, several of the items were quite a revelation to CT’s readership.  I can only imagine the surprise if Robin had blogged on Justice Thomas’s jurisprudence, further challenging the caricature of Clarence Thomas that continues to dominate so much liberal commentary about him.


Actually, a fair number of commenters claimed not to be surprised by these revelations at all.

In any event, you’d think Adler would have been pleased that a group of progressives were having some of their misconceptions about Thomas challenged, if not dispelled. Instead, he complains about the fact that the misconceptions of a group of progressives are getting challenged, if not dispelled. Apparently the only thing worse than the left not knowing something about the right is…the left learning something about the right.

Wingers whine when we don’t pay attention to them; they whine when we do pay attention to them. Why do they whine so much? What does the winger want? [click to continue…]

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Monday photoblogging: Lakes

by John Quiggin on April 21, 2014

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Lakes Eacham and Barrine in the Atherton Tablelands, Queensland

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Sunday photoblogging #2: stripes

by Chris Bertram on April 20, 2014

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My Chait thread was a moderate disaster. I was like: ‘by saying X, I think Chait meant Y.’ And you were like: ‘by saying ‘by saying X, Chait meant Z,’ are you saying Q?’ And I was like: what? Z? Q? No: Y!’ And you were like: ‘Y what?’ Anyway, I take almost full responsibility for how that went down wrong. Some of the comments came round but it was, overall, a poor frame for my point. My bad.

Let’s cut all that loose and try again, from quite a different angle. This post is also, sort of, a presentation of arguments I cheekily refused to disclose in this post. On we go!

Conor Friedersdorf’s argument that gay marriage opponents shouldn’t be likened to racist bigots goes something like this.

P1: Racism is pretty simple.

“A belief in the superiority of one race and the inferiority of another.”

P2: Opposition to same-sex marriage is complex.

“One thing I’ve noticed in this debate is how unfamiliar proponents of stigma are with thoughtful orthodox Christians — that is to say, they haven’t interacted with them personally, critiqued the best version of their arguments, or even been exposed to the most sophisticated version of their reasoning, which I find to be obviously earnest, if ultimately unpersuasive.”

C: Comparing same-sex marriage opponents to racist bigots falsifies by over-simplification.

Friedersdorf is braced for resistance to P2. But P2 is ok and the problem is P1. I hope it’s obvious to you, when it’s put so simply. Racism is not … simple. (How could it be?) [click to continue…]

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Southern Gothic

by Belle Waring on April 19, 2014

“Midnight in the Garden of Good an Evil” is not a great movie but an OK one; certainly if you want to see a lot of purty pictures of Savannah it’s a good one. Kevin Spacey portrays, according to my grandmother Henrietta, the main character extremely convincingly—even going so far as to both have his mannerisms and resemble him somewhat, which she thought incredible for a picture of a dead man. There must have been video of him, obviously. There are a number of very unconvincing things about the book, mainly the idea that this white journalist from New York (IIRC) could insinuate himself into both white high society (second tier—but still) and black society in so short a time as to be both privy to all kind of secrets and taken by an…I don’t know voodoo I guess…practitioner on a midnight rowboat ride up in a marsh somewhere. (First-tier Savannah society is so insular you could only gain that kind of access by marrying someone, even though it’s true everyone loves to gossip. But getting invited to parties?) I say “voodoo I guess” because despite the fact that people totally do this thing, or practice this religion, or whatever, we don’t even really call it anything, so much do we not talk about it. No, that’s an exaggeration, we call it voodoo; there’s an island near my dad’s place in Bluffton called either Voodoo Island or Devil’s Elbow Island (or more cheerfully Potato Island, but I think the Crams pushed that and it never happened.) You can read a short story about it here, if you like. I had been thinking for a while people might like to read it, it’s from 2004, so quite a while ago. Yeah, voodoo, but not like in Florida where people have actual Santeria churches and storefronts and stuff; more like everyone is a devout Christian—but everyone—but still there are women who will do voodoo for you. As I say in the story, white people hire black people to put curses on other white people. And I’m not entirely sure how they find them, except that everyone knows who to ask? Everyone knows everything about everyone, is the answer to that. Well, no, there are information asymmetries: the black community as a whole knows more because maids know everything about their employers but not vice versa, and so on for a lot of other things.

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As long time readers may recall, I am not a big fan of Elsevier and was a public advocate of the position that no-one should submit to Elsevier journals at a time when it was neither profitable or popular. However, reading this article about Elsevier’s new policy of issuing take-down notices against authors who publish their work on university websites has made me change my mind. Now, I think that everyone should submit as much of their work to Elsevier as they possibly can. Any article that has even a modest chance of success. People should bear through the revise and resubmit process as many times as it takes. Once the piece has finally been accepted, then, and only then, should they withdraw the article from consideration, and then publish it on their university or personal website with an “accepted by Elsevier Journal x and then withdrawn in protest,” together with a copy of the acceptance email (containing the editor’s email address etc).

I do foresee a couple of possible wrinkles in this plan. Perhaps disgruntled elder colleagues might frown upon this (although in some fields at least, disgruntled elder colleagues seem entirely on board with pushing against Elsevier). Non-tenured faculty might want to think a little about the benefits and disadvantages before deciding they wanted to do this. This said, I could imagine senior faculty or tenure letter writers who would find this kind of thing wholly admirable, and to be congratulated, not punished (I know that I would). If this campaign actually took off, Elsevier would doubtless try to disrupt it, by e.g. obliging prospective authors to sign a contract agreeing to publish in the journal if accepted. However, I could also see any such efforts backfiring – most journals would be damaged by such a policy, since many academics (especially prominent and well published ones), would see forced contracts as presumptuous and insulting. Doubtless, there are other flaws that readers can point out.

However, I can’t imagine that the journal’s peer reviewers would have much ground for complaint. Their job is to help improve academic work that is eventually publicly circulated (in other words their loyalty should be to the field, rather than to the journal). Journal editors would probably be unhappy, but really, at this point, no-one should want to be the editor of an Elsevier journal. I’m perfectly OK with academic publishers who don’t try to extract monopoly rents, just as I’m OK with various forms of open publishing (I happily do both). But Elsevier relies both on the willingness of scholars to submit work and their willingness to review it, to make extortionate profits by effectively selling academics’ labor back to the academy. Current proposals to target Elsevier seek to withdraw this labor in one or the other way. Another possibility (which is the one I’m suggesting, albeit without a great deal of serious thought) is to subvert the current system and make it unsustainable in other ways, by extracting the kudos that acceptance in some Elsevier journals can bring out from the obligatory signing away of rights that goes together with agreeing to let the journal actually publish your piece. In a world where ever fewer academics discover articles by actually picking up the journals, this kind of strategy is at least thinkable.

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YOLO

by Belle Waring on April 18, 2014

Congratulations to Harry on his new US citizenship! Perhaps English people rock the whole YOLO thing a little more like this:

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Becoming an American

by Harry on April 18, 2014

I became a US citizen earlier today.

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Eleven Things You Did Not Know About Clarence Thomas

by Corey Robin on April 18, 2014

1. The first time Clarence Thomas went to DC, it was to protest the Vietnam War.

2. Clarence Thomas grew up a stone’s throw from the Moon River that Audrey Hepburn sang about in Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

3. In the 1970s, Clarence Thomas kept a Confederate flag on his desk. [Correction: It was the Georgia State flag, which features quite prominently the Confederate stars and bars. It was a large flag, apparently, and he hung it over his desk.]

4. There’s a law review article about Clarence Thomas called “Clarence X?: The Black Nationalist Behind Justice Thomas’s Constitutionalism.”

5. Clarence Thomas attended antiwar rallies in Boston where he called for the release of Angela Davis and Erica Huggins.

6. Clarence Thomas told Juan Williams that “there is nothing you can do to get past black skin. I don’t care how educated you are, how good you are—you’ll never have the same contacts or opportunities, you’ll never be seen as equal to whites.”

7. Clarence Thomas is the only Supreme Court justice to have cited Frederick Douglass and W.E.B. DuBois in his opinions.

8. In college, Clarence Thomas hung posters of Malcolm X on his wall, memorized his speeches, and studied his writings. “I’ve been very partial to Malcolm X,” he told Reason in 1987. “There is a lot of good in what he says.”

9. Clarence Thomas does not believe in color-blindness: “I don’t think this society has ever been color-blind. I grew up in Savannah, Georgia under segregation. It wasn’t color-blind and America is not color-blind today…Code words like ‘color-blind’ aren’t all that useful.”

10. Yale Law scholar Akhil Reed Amar has compared Clarence Thomas to Hugo Black:

Both were Southerners who came to the Court young and with very little judicial experience. Early in their careers, they were often in dissent, sometimes by themselves, but they were content to go their own way. But once Earl Warren became Chief Justice the Court started to come to Black. It’s the same with Thomas and the Roberts Court. Thomas’s views are now being followed by a majority of the Court in case after case.


11. Clarence Thomas resents the fact that as a black man he is not supposed to listen to Carole King.

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You Poor Bastards

by Belle Waring on April 16, 2014

OK, my mom texted me earlier that it was snowing in D.C. That is wrecked-up sideways, people. LAND’S SAKES IT IS THE MIDDLE OF APRIL?! In a way I should really post the Weezer song “My Name is Jonas,” because, do you know what else? Guess what I received in a text today—words of deep concern from my little brother. Building’s not going as he planned. The vortex means digging is banned. The dozer will not clear a path; the driver swears he learned his math! The workers are going home—I reckon, because the dirt’s frozen! How’s the man meant to get a cellar dug for his cool 1950s-plan cabin on the lower meadow of his proppity up in West Virginia if it starts snowing and the workers are going home? Now I imagine it’s all going to melt in a trice but this really has been retarding his plans, for real, and not just in a Weezer song (which is an excellent song, but not as good as “Say it Ain’t So,” The Best Weezer Song. Um. OK, no, I’m changing my plea to guilty claim to “The World Has Turned And Left Me Here“). Yep, they have had the stones and the timber and all that, sufficient to build a cabin, and all taken from the woods itself, but they haven’t been able to break ground till last week because they couldn’t break into the damn ground!

And now it’s snowing on all they poor heads, even that of Fatso, the chihuahua-pomeranian mix, who isn’t fat, and was chosen for his mighty endurance and ability to withstand the harsh winters by sitting in a dog bed made of a damn knitting basket or something right up next to the wood stove. I am told that despite being a pom-chi-chi (no, psych, it’s cause he’s 1/4 pom and the rest chi), Fatso has the soul of a black lab, and that I will love him and not think he is a wretched yappy creature whom humans brought into the world only in order to illuminate the First Noble Truth. We’ll see. E’erbody says so, though. Hmmm. OK Fatso, win my heart. He’ll get a chance this summer when I meet him for the first time.

Anyway, for the rest of y’all, here’s DJ Earworm’s Summermash 2013, with the “hey where’s all my ‘Get Lucky’ and ‘Blurred Lines’” you were wondering about I was complaining about with regard to the 2013 mashup (which has grown on me). Watch, listen, and imagine. Summer is coming, sure as anything. If she is delayed in some way I feel certain that small felt and metal figures whose manipulable fingers become dark with smuts over the course of the film will be animated in stop-motion and narrated over by an avuncular zombie Burl Ives in such wise as to overcome any difficulties as may be posed by the Snow Miser or Jim DeMint or whoever.

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Fuzzbot Wingfield

by Maria on April 16, 2014

E and I are acquiring a hairy baby this weekend. We can’t agree on a name. He is against human names, except for when he isn’t. I tend towards cute ones that will be embarrassing to call out in a south London park. We’re not allowed to get pretentious ones after writers and such. Suggestions?

Fuzzbot Wingfield
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