Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, whose candidacy I’ve championed and worked for since May, had a bad moment late last week.

Appearing on the reboot of Firing Line, Ocasio-Cortez was asked by conservative host Margaret Hoover to explain her stance on Israel. The question left Ocasio-Cortez tongue-tied and equivocating. Here was the exchange:

MH: You, in the campaign, made one tweet, or made one statement, that referred to a killing by Israeli soldiers of civilians in Gaza and called it a “massacre,” which became a little bit controversial. But I haven’t seen anywhere — what is your position on Israel?

AOC: Well, I believe absolutely in Israel’s right to exist. I am a proponent of a two-state solution. And for me, it’s not — this is not a referendum, I think, on the state of Israel. For me, the lens through which I saw this incident, as an activist, as an organizer, if sixty people were killed in Ferguson, Missouri, if sixty people were killed in the South Bronx — unarmed — if sixty people were killed in Puerto Rico — I just looked at that incident more through . . . through just, as an incident, and to me, it would just be completely unacceptable if that happened on our shores. But I am —

MH: Of course the dynamic there in terms of geopolitics —

AOC: Of course.

MH: And the war in the Middle East is very different than people expressing their First Amendment right to protest.

AOC: Well, yes. But I also think that what people are starting to see at least in the occupation of Palestine is just an increasing crisis of humanitarian condition, and that to me is just where I tend to come from on this issue.

MH: You use the term “the occupation of Palestine”? What did you mean by that?

AOC: Oh, um [pause] I think it, what I meant is the settlements that are increasing in some of these areas and places where Palestinians are experiencing difficulty in access to their housing and homes.

MH: Do you think you can expand on that?

AOC: Yeah, I mean, I think I’d also just [waves hands and laughs] I am not the expert on geopolitics on this issue. You know, for me, I’m a firm believer in finding a two-state solution on this issue, and I’m happy to sit down with leaders on both of these. For me, I just look at things through a human rights lens, and I may not use the right words [laughs] I know this is a very intense issue.

MH: That’s very honest, that’s very honest. It’s very honest, and when, you, you know, get to Washington and you’re an elected member of Congress you’ll have the opportunity to talk to people on all sides and visit Israel and visit the West Bank and —

AOC: Absolutely, absolutely. And I think that that’s one of those things that’s important too is that, you know, especially with the district that I represent — I come from the South Bronx, I come from a Puerto Rican background, and Middle Eastern politics was not exactly at my kitchen table every night. But, I also recognize that this is an intensely important issue for people in my district, for Americans across the country, and I think what’s at least important to communicate is that I’m willing to listen and that I’m willing to learn and evolve on this issue like I think many Americans are.


Let’s be clear. This is not good. Prompted about her use of the word “massacre,” Ocasio-Cortez doesn’t stay with the experience of the Palestinians. Instead, she goes immediately to an affirmation of Israel’s right to exist, as if Israelis were the first order of concern, and that affirming that right is the necessary ticket to saying anything about Palestine. Asked about her use of the phrase “occupation of Palestine,” Ocasio-Cortez wanders into a thicket of abstractions about access to housing and “settlements that are increasing in some of these areas.” She apologizes for not being an expert on a major geopolitical issue. She proffers liberal platitudes about a two-state solution that everyone knows are just words and clichés designed to defer any genuine reckoning with the situation at hand, with no concrete discussion of anything the US could or should do to intervene.

Even within the constraints of American electoral politics, there are better ways — better left ways — to deal with this entirely foreseeable question. Not only was this a bad moment for the Left but it was also a lost opportunity: to speak to people who are not leftists about a major issue in a way that sounds credible, moral, and politically wise.

As soon as I saw this exchange, I posted about it on Facebook. [click to continue…]

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A long piece by Michiko Kakutani on “The death of truth: how we gave up on facts and ended up with Trump” is making the rounds. In it, Kakutani quotes Arendt:

Two of the most monstrous regimes in human history came to power in the 20th century, and both were predicated on the violation and despoiling of truth, on the knowledge that cynicism and weariness and fear can make people susceptible to the lies and false promises of leaders bent on unconditional power. As Hannah Arendt wrote in her 1951 book The Origins of Totalitarianism, “The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or the convinced communist, but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction (ie the reality of experience) and the distinction between true and false (ie the standards of thought) no longer exist.”

Arendt’s words increasingly sound less like a dispatch from another century than a chilling description of the political and cultural landscape we inhabit today…


This is an Arendt quote that gets thrown around a lot these days, for obvious reasons, but it gives a very partial view of Arendt’s position on truth and lies. Sam Moyn pointed this out on Twitter. Sam also urged folks to read Martin Jay’s book on the question of lies and politics, which includes an extensive discussion of Arendt.

I haven’t read Jay’s book, but I did read a draft of it, or part of it, for a talk he gave at Columbia years ago. It was the Lionel Trilling Seminar, and I, along with Princeton poltical theorist George Kateb, was asked to be one of the discussants. I remember being a little discomfited by Jay’s treatment of Arendt. So I dug up my comment, and thought I’d reproduce it below. I think it suggests why Kakutani’s gloss is too simple, but also why Jay’s gloss (at least the earlier version of it; again, I didn’t read the final book) may be too simple, too.

The bottom line, for me, about Arendt’s treatment of lies and liars is this: One of the reasons she was so unnerved by liars was that the way they did politics was so close to how she thought politics ought to be done. She wasn’t endorsing lying or embracing liars. She just thought the distinction between the liar and the truth-teller was too easy because opposing oneself to reality—which is what the liar is doing, after all—is part of what it means to act politically. Part of what it means; not all of what it means. For Arendt also thinks there is a necessary dimension of factuality that undergirds our political actions. It’s part of our task as political beings to preserve that web or ground of factuality. It is between these two dimensions—opposing oneself to factuality, preserving factuality—that the political actor, and the liar, ply their trades.

By the way, I should note the date of that exchange with Jay: October 2008. We were still in the Bush era. The entire discussion—of lies and facts, the disregard for facts, and such—was framed by the Iraq War and the epic untruths that were told in the run-up to the war. It should give you a sense that the world of fake news that so many pundits seem to have suddenly awakened to as a newborn threat has been with us for a long time. The Bush era may seem like ancient history to some, but in the vast, and even not so vast, scheme of things, it was just yesterday.

Here are my remarks about truth and lies, Arendt and Martin Jay. [click to continue…]

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Sunday photoblogging: banana bridge

by Chris Bertram on July 15, 2018

Banana Bridge

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Ingrid has introduced the Twelve Stars project to you several weeks ago.

Today (indeed: right now!) it is my turn to participate in the project, with a proposal (or rather the proposal to revive the old idea) to elect MEPs on transnational lists. Join me! The proposal is deliberately sketchy and balck and white – here it is (but if you can comment on the debate’s site itself!): [click to continue…]

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Cliff edge ahead!

by Chris Bertram on July 9, 2018

In the early days of Crooked Timber, I think we took ourselves to be under some kind of obligation to react to major current events. That’s rather fallen by the wayside. During the era of Trump and Brexit, I find the thought of having to write about every absurdity and injustice just too damn depressing. But today is one of those moments in British politics that perhaps ought to be marked, since we have had the resignations of David Davis and his deputy Steve Baker at 11.59 last night (DExEU’s Midnight Runners as social media has it) followed by the opportunistic self-release of Boris Johnson into the community today. What has brought this about is a ticking clock. The fact that under the Article 50 process, the UK crashes out of the European Union in March next year. The Tory party have wasted most of the two year process, running a pointless general election then arguing with one another, but failing to negotiate with the EU’s team because they couldn’t agree a common position. Faced with the warnings from industry, the prospect of queues at the ports, empty supermarket shelves, supply chains severed and planes unable to land, those Tories who still have connections outside of the Brexit fantasy have prevailed on Theresa May to put together something that might be at least the start of a solution (even if it looks unacceptable to the EU in its current state). But since May’s Chequers compromise envisages at least having the minimum conditions in place for continued trade with a much bigger partner, that inevitably involves accepting that the UK will have to swallow the EU’s way of doing things. The UK has walked away from a table where it had a powerful voice and put itself in a position where those left around the table get to dictate terms. All too much to bear for the true believers in Brexit and for those who think their future careers depend on ingratiating themselves with the true believers. Cliff edge ahead.

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Steve Ditko: Neat Drawings, Much Thinking

by John Holbo on July 9, 2018

A couple of weeks ago (June 23) I made the following post on Facebook: “Huh. Steve Ditko is still alive? Just not giving interviews the last half-century?”

And, of course, he died a week later. (This is why people believe in jinxes.) So I feel a bit bad about that one.

Kirby and Lee … and Ditko. That’s where it all started at Marvel. I was always a Kirby guy. But I would say Ditko’s best feature was keeping it simple and clean in terms of the outlines of his figures, especially the ones wearing tights. Whenever you see Spider-Man swinging through your friendly neighborhood, that’s Ditko. Even when he’s drawing Kirby monsters, Ditko manages to make it look simple and clean in a nice, palette-cleansing way. [click to continue…]

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Sunday photoblogging: Steps

by Chris Bertram on July 8, 2018

University of Bristol, Senate House

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Nearly seven years after I started work, here’s the final draft chapter from my book-in-progress, Economics in Two Lessons. Thanks to everyone who commented on the first 15 chapters and encouraged me in the project as a whole.

I’ve had quite a few amusing snarks on Twitter to the effect that 16 chapters and 90 000 words is an awful lot for just two lessons. That’s true and yet there are even more topics I wanted to cover. In particular, I wrote quite a bit on health and education but have had to omit most of it for space reasons. Still, if anyone wants to point out critical omissions, now’s the time.

Comments, criticism and praise are welcome. I’m also on the lookout for telling graphs, insightful illustrations and apt quotations.

[click to continue…]

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In the wake of the primary victory of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, there’s been a dramatic shift in mainstream liberal opinion—in the media, on social media, among politicians, activists, and citizens—toward Sanders-style positions. People who were lambasting that kind of politics in 2016 are now embracing it—without remarking upon the change, without explaining it, leaving the impression that this is what they believed all along.

As you can imagine, this causes no end of consternation in certain precincts of the left. For some legitimate reasons. You want people to acknowledge their change in position, to explain, to articulate, to narrate, perhaps to inspire others in the process. And for some less legitimate, if understandable, reasons: people are pissed at the way Sanders-style politics was attacked in 2016; they feel that they were unfairly maligned; they want folks to own up to it. That’s understandable from a human point of view, but it’s not really the way you build a coalition or a movement. Every mass movement is built on converts, and if the first thing a convert hears when they show up at the shul is ” Apologize. Apologize. Pull out his eyes.” (mixing my cultural touchstones here, I realize)—well, you can see where this is going. Or not going. If the left is going to grow, everyone should be welcome to join, without having to hand over a bill of lading upon their arrival.

But I’m not bringing this up now either to settle scores or to enforce some kind of norm of the welcome mat. I’m actually just super interested in this phenomenon, in this kind of change at the both the human and the political level. By “this kind of change” I don’t meant the deep transformations that some political people undergo over the course of a lifetime: the proverbial Whittaker Chambers-style migration from left to right, for example, that we saw throughout the 20th century. That’s a deep, one-time change that you don’t easily go back on. I mean more these micro-shifts that happen under the pressure of events, the subtle coercions of new opinion, the ever-finer movements we all make to keep up with the flow, so as not to be left behind.

I just finished reading the letters of Thomas Mann, who’s an exemplary figure in this regard. Leading up to World War I, he was a fairly standard old-school conservative militarist/nationalist. That continued until the end of the war. After the war, he became a dedicated liberal defender of Weimar. Once the Nazis took over, his liberalism morphed into a humanist anti-fascism. By the end of the war, that antifascism had come to include overt sympathy with communism and the Soviet Union (he even praised Mission to Moscow on aesthetic grounds!) That continued into the late 1940s, when he supported Henry Wallace for president and was outspoken in his opposition to HUAC.

But then, around 1950 or so, you begin to see, ever so slightly and subtly, Mann’s opinions starting to change once again. He never comes out in defense of McCarthyism, but you begin to feel a chill and distance toward the left. His criticisms of the repression in the US begin to modulate and moderate. Till finally, in a 1953 letter to Agnes Meyer, his close friend and matriarch of The Washington Post, he confesses that he has decided not to publicly oppose McCarthyism in the New York Times. He reports to her that when he was asked—”probably by someone on the ‘left’”—what he thinks about the censorship and restrictions on freedom in the US, this was his reply: “American democracy felt threatened and, in the struggle for freedom, considered that there had to be a certain limitation on freedom, a certain disciplining of individual thought, a certain conformism. This was understandable.” Though he adds some sort of anodyne qualification at the end of that.

It just about broke my heart. That “left” in scare quotes (previously Mann had seen himself as a part of the left), the clichés about freedom and the Cold War, the betrayal of all that he had said and done in the preceding decades—and most important, the seeming inability to see that he was betraying anything at all.

Who was the real Thomas Mann? The German militarist, the Weimar liberal, the humanist antifascist, the Popular Fronter, the Cold War liberal? Who knows? All of them, none of them? I think in the end, his most authentic moment was probably during the 1920s and early 1930s, when he made the migration from German nationalist to humanist antifascist. That was the one true shift that he could endure and narrate. But everything after that? It was just the way the game was being played. And he was a player. Not a self-conscious, strategic player. More un-self-conscious, moving with the times. Less player than played. As the climate of opinion changed during the war, he changed with it. And then at the onset of the Cold War, he changed again. But always without seeming to realize what he was doing. Watching how his positions changed—within a very short period of time—without him even seeing it, without him even remembering what he had said, a mere three years prior, was eerie and unsettling. And heart-breaking, as I said.

During the McCarthy years, Arendt wrote in a letter to Jaspers how terrified she was of the repression. It wasn’t just the facts of the coercion she saw everywhere. It was how quickly it happened, how the mood of the moment had gone so suddenly from a generous and capacious liberalism to a cramped anticommunism. “Can you see,” she wrote, “how far the disintegration has gone and with what breathtaking speed it has occurred? And up to now hardly any resistance. Everything melts away like butter in the sun.” Victor Klemperer notices and narrates a similar shift among his friends and colleagues in his diaries of Nazi Germany.

We’ll never know what combination of incentives and forces and genuine beliefs are at play in one person’s shifting positions. And like I said, I welcome the change that is happening today. But I would be less than honest if I didn’t say that I was sometimes unsettled by it. Particularly when it’s unacknowledged.

Intellectuals like to think of themselves as above this kind of thing, but I think we’re especially prone to it. We live in the world of ideas, with an emphasis on that word “world.” The world is not what goes on in our heads; it’s what’s happening out there, between heads. Intellectuals want to be in that space of the in-between (that space was something Arendt talked about a lot). They want to be in the swim. That can make them chameleons of the first order.

Intellectuals are probably not that different from anyone else in this regard, but they do like to take and defend positions as if they were emanations of pure reason. Or the products of an unblinkered empiricism. The proverbial “When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?” Which always gets attributed to Keynes but was in all likelihood said by Paul Samuelson.

I confess I’m always suspicious of these “when the facts change” types. In part because the most pressing fact that seems to change people’s opinions is…other people’s opinions.

Among intellectuals, that doesn’t always lend itself to an honest narration of change. Just the opposite: it can become an ever-shifting, ever-more baffling, and often unacknowledged, litany of changes.

Not sure what there is to be said about that. Just noting how universal, if sometimes eerie, it is.

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When copyright goes wrong

by Ray Corrigan on July 4, 2018

[This is a guest post by Ray Corrigan, Senior Lecturer in Science Technology Engineering & Mathematics Faculty, The Open University, UK, and author of ‘Digital Decision Making: Back to the Future’ [Springer-Verlag, 2007]

In a world that faces enormous structural problems, it may be hard to get people to care about an obscure-seeming piece of copyright legislation. Yet the proposed new EU copyright directive approved by the European parliament’s JURI (Legal Affairs) committee on 20 June is causing a lot of unjustified unhappiness. The reasons are straightforward. In an age as dependent on information flows as ours is, information laws can have crucial consequences for markets and politics. Actions taken to protect copyright can reshape politics by giving both the responsibility and power to control information flows to a small number of key actors. The proposed copyright directive would completely change the politics of who controls information, and hence who controls the public narrative. It’s a really bad idea.
[click to continue…]

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What should I be reading?

by Henry on July 4, 2018

Having sent an academic book off to the publisher, I’m in what I hope are the final stages of writing a very long proposal for a commercial book based on this essay (the book will probably have less PKD, and more generic weirdness). For the last nine months or so, my reading material has been mostly recent US history, American paranoia (Jesse Walker’s book is very good), changes in American media markets, how Facebook actually works, the theory and practice of bots, history of traditionalism and lots and lots of creepy stuff on the WWW (Dark Enlightenment, MRA, GamerGate and other assorted varieties of sleaze and vileness). The result is that I’m desperate for new and different books to read, after I get the damn thing finished, as a class of a carrot to lure me over the finish line.

Books I know that I really want to read include:

Ruthanna Emrys – Deep Roots (have an ARC of it already, and it looks very, very good).
Vera Tobin – Elements of Surprise (cognitive psychology meets literature).
Dave Hutchinson – Shelter (though I’m looking forward even more to the next book in his Europe series)
Judea Pearl – The Book of Why (how we need causal reasoning and what it means).

Books that I don’t know that I really want to read, but should know, are multitudinous. Tell me about them.

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My book, Do States Have the Right to Exclude Immigrants? has now been published on the continent of North America, so the inhabitants of said continent are invited to buy it. (Amazon doesn’t seem to have stock yet.) By way of advance publicity for the book, and because it was a fun idea anyway, I recorded a podcast with my friend Avery Kolers of the Department of Philosophy at Louisville KY for his show on Forward Radio. You can listen to the podcast now on Soundcloud.

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Economics in Two Lessons Chapter 15

by John Quiggin on July 3, 2018

My long-running book-in-progress, Economics in Two Lessons is nearly done. Thanks to everyone who commented on the first 14 chapters.

Here’s a draft of Chapter 15: Monopoly and the Mixed Economy. Only one more chapter to come after this

Comments, criticism and praise are welcome.

[click to continue…]

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Head Lopper!

by John Holbo on July 3, 2018

I haven’t recommended any good new comics for a while. You should read Andrew MacLean’s Head Lopper. Its heart is in the right place. Everyone says it’s like Hellboy and they’re right. (Kind of a cross between Mike Mignola’s style and Guy Davis’, graphically.) But you could also say it’s Hellboy meets Adventure Time, with a bit of Samurai Jack on top. You can buy volume 1 on Amazon or Comixology pretty cheap [link]. It does that fast-paced, stylish, sword & sorcery with deadpan dialogue thing. Norgal, the barbarian hero, lops heads and (for reasons that remain obscure) hauls the lopped head of Agatha Blue Witch around. There are sea monsters and evil priests and foul beasts from the pit and giants and snakes and ghosts and cool maps and evil spirits trapped in bogs by goddesses and sinister stewards and queens and boy kings and giant wolves and bat creatures and amusing blacksmiths and etc. You’ll like it.

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Kennedy, The Magic 8-Ball Justice

by John Holbo on July 1, 2018

Some readers are failing to appreciate the aptness of my Kennedy-as-Magic-8-Ball analogy. In some cases this may by due to infirm powers of reading or reasoning; in other cases, to ignorance of the law, or of recent legal history. In some cases it may be due to insufficient familiarity with a children’s toy. No matter, I shall explain.

The Magic 8-Ball has 20 possible responses: 10 positive, 5 hazy or non-commital, 5 negative. And that is what Kennedy was. Half the time a rock-ribbed conservative, but half the time either liberal or hazy.

Thus, the following would be one way to keep the Supreme Court above the partisan fray, post-Kennedy, while acknowledging the power of partisanship, and according the sitting President a certain privilege when it comes to determining the make-up of the court. [click to continue…]

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