It would explain a lot

by John Holbo on March 27, 2015

The daughter: So, was J.R.R. Tolkien saved by eagles in W.W. I?

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John Renbourn is dead

by Harry on March 27, 2015

I was at a conference with CB when Bert Jansch died, and neither of us recorded the death here. Now Renbourn is gone too. Both gone too early. Guardian obit for Renbourn here. Jansch here. I have a lovely memory of seeing them both, with Jaqui McShee, at the late lamented Palms, in Davis CA, just after I married; and being simply in awe of them. Just listen.

Pentangle:

Renbourn alone:

Jansch alone:

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I shall abhor you

by John Holbo on March 26, 2015

Do you ever wonder what a Wes Anderson horror film would be like? I have a good idea for one. It’s set in 1963, in a junior high school in Auburn, California, birthplace of “the bard of Auburn”, Clark Ashton Smith. An over-ambitious junior high drama director (Jason Schwartzman), in a misguided attempt to make the English teacher (Gwyneth Paltrow), fall in love with him, is staging an 8th grade production of Smith’s The Dead Will Cuckold You.

This is a truly unique play, in the Zothique cycle. I’m saving this Zothique zinger for some special occasion in comments, so be on your toes: [click to continue…]

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One of the things that makes me crazy about the media’s discussion of higher education is that so much of it is driven and framed by elite schools. During the 90s, when it seemed like every college and university was fighting over whether Shakespeare should give way to Toni Morrison on the syllabus, it occurred to few pundits to look at what was happening in community colleges or lower-tier public universities, where most students get their education. And where the picture can look quite different.

The same goes today for the wars over trigger warnings and safe spaces: on both sides of the debate, this is primarily an argument at and about elite schools. Which has little to do with a place like Brooklyn College, where I teach. Seriously: just check out Judith Shulevitz’s recent piece on the topic in the Times, which got so much notice. In a 2100-word oped, here are all the institutions that make an appearance: Brown, Columbia, Northwestern, Oxford, Smith, Hampshire, Barnard, and the University of Chicago. There are fewer students in all of these institutions combined than there are at CUNY alone; between them, these institutions enroll less than .4% of all students in America (not counting Oxford, of course, though it wouldn’t really change the numbers).

This is all a long windup to a piece in this morning’s Washington Post by a Columbia philosophy professor who is teaching at a prison in New York. [click to continue…]

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John Sladek Had Ted Cruz’s Number

by Henry on March 26, 2015

Ted Cruz on … well himself.

The similarities between Texas Senator Ted Cruz and 16th-century astronomer Galileo Galilei are remarkable, according to Cruz. In an interview on Tuesday with the Texas Tribune, the newly-minted presidential candidate compared himself to … Galileo when discussing, of all things, whether climate change was actually occurring. “Today the global warming alarmists are the equivalent of the flat-Earthers,” Cruz said. “You know it used to be it is accepted scientific wisdom the Earth is flat, and this heretic named Galileo was branded a denier.” … “Anyone who actually points to the evidence that disproves their apocalyptical claims, they don’t engage in reasoned debate. What do they do? They scream, ‘You’re a denier.’ They brand you a heretic,” Cruz added.

The late John Sladek discusses the ubiquity of this trope among crankish defenders of pseudoscience (specifically palm-readers) in his glorious book, The New Apocrypha.

Palmists are of course in no doubt as to who was right. As with all cranks, they feel they haven’t been given a fair hearing and that orthodoxy is ganging up on them. [quoting palmistry author Noel Jaquin] “The reward of the pioneer is so often the ridicule of his fellow-men. We are not very much more just today. Of recent years men of genius have been deprived of their living and literally hounded to death by the ridicule of their more ignorant brethren.” How true, how true. They laughed at Galileo, they laughed at Darwin, they laughed at Edison … and they laughed at Punch and Judy.

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World Cup Open Thread

by Harry on March 25, 2015

Well, CB does it for rugby. Now I am able to watch everything courtesy of ESPN, I thought why not do it for cricket. Thoughts welcome about the teams, the rules, the (ludicrous, unless someone can defend it) diss-ing of the associate nations, who you think will win, England’s spectacular failure, whether New Zealand can win on Australian soil, the way that T20 has influenced the one-day game… whatever you want.

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Non-gory cases (in philosophy of education)

by Harry on March 23, 2015

Whenever we discuss thought experiments in moral philosophy here, Daniel and JQ give me a hard time about various things, including the goriness of the thought experiments that moral philosophers frequently use (viz, trolleys killing workers, fat men, babies drowning… you name it). During the last round one or both of them challenged us to come up with some non-gory thought experiments. I haven’t. But I do have an article in yesterday’s local paper concerning a real case which serves as a sort of thought experiment—the case of Boston Public Schools’ deliberate and explicit pandering to middle class parents in the design of its choice system. The article is part of an insert that the College of Letter and Science at UW-Madison placed in the Wisconsin State Journal which, I think, is a model for communicating the value of our research (and, to a lesser extent, teaching) to the people in the state. PDF of the insert is here.

I took the case directly from Meira Levinson’s excellent Justice in Schools site: her team, which I think shares, to some extent, JQ and Daniel’s unease about the science-fictiony and gory cases we often use in moral philosophy, has been developing a series of carefully constructed cases (all based on real decision problems), with the aim of helping academics (including philosophers) teachers, policymakers and the public to train their ability to discern what values are at stake in particular situations and better make judgments about trading them off against each other. I’m designing a course around the cases for this coming fall. My favourite reaction to the site (which I used in the description when I was seeking approval for the course) comes from a (now former) elementary ed student I know quite well, who just graduated (and was snapped up by a school district in a different state that has gotten its act together). I sent her some of the cases, which she discussed extensively with her cohort. Along with her, typically well-considered, responses, she emailed:

“I wish they would give us more readings like those in my school of education, they are much more realistic than most of the readings we do, which are more idealistic… Actually I think that tension is something I struggled with a lot throughout the program-but didn’t fully understand why it was so frustrating to me. In my practicum I would see my teachers facing problems like this one-and the other behavior case every day-multiple times a day. Then in our content classes these very real problems were almost watered down, and approached in terms of ideal theory. We talked about the benefits of all-inclusive classes, being preventative, and reflecting in action. But we never really had conversations about how this looks in imperfect practice”

Which is both right (about the justice in schools project) and…depressing.

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Sunday photoblogging: Adriatic

by Chris Bertram on March 22, 2015

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Hullo again … delayed by a frankly inexcusable three weeks, this episode brings together some of the things I noticed and wrote notes on while in New Zealand. It’s the longest one so far, and might have been a lot longer if I hadn’t just despaired of ever doing it justice. I don’t think I’m ever going to fall for a country as hard as I fell for Greece, but man, New Zealand is very nice. Next episode will cover Polynesia …

(PS: Attentive readers may note that the word “Maori” is consistently misspelt. This is because I don’t know how to do the flat line accent over the a. Sorry)

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Some Responses to the Israeli Election

by Corey Robin on March 20, 2015

Yousef Munayyer in the New York Times:


This might seem counterintuitive, but the political dynamics in Israel and internationally mean that another term with Mr. Netanyahu at the helm could actually hasten the end of Israel’s apartheid policies. The biggest losers in this election were those who made the argument that change could come from within Israel. It can’t and it won’t.


Israelis have grown very comfortable with the status quo. In a country that oversees a military occupation that affects millions of people, the biggest scandals aren’t about settlements, civilian deaths or hate crimes but rather mundane things like the price of cottage cheese and whether the prime minister’s wife embezzled bottle refunds.


For Israelis, there’s currently little cost to maintaining the occupation and re-electing leaders like Mr. Netanyahu. Raising the price of occupation is therefore the only hope of changing Israeli decision making. Economic sanctions against South Africa in the 1980s increased its international isolation and put pressure on the apartheid regime to negotiate. Once Israelis are forced to decide between perpetual occupation and being accepted in the international community, they may choose a more moderate leader who dismantles settlements and pursues peace, or they may choose to annex rather than relinquish land — provoking a confrontation with America and Europe. Either way, change will have to come from the outside.



The re-election of Mr. Netanyahu provides clarity….The two-state solution, which has seen more funerals than a reverend, exists today only as a talking point for self-interested, craven politicians to hide behind — not as a realistic basis for peace.



Mr. Netanyahu’s re-election has convincingly proved that trusting Israeli voters with the fate of Palestinian rights is disastrous and immoral. His government will oppose any constructive change, placing Israel on a collision course with the rest of the world. And this collision has never been more necessary.



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Money Makers
Forthcoming in September, from Basic Books

As readers of this blog know, Franklin Roosevelt declared he had taken the US off the gold standard on March 6, 1933, as the first substantial act of his presidency. But scholars have not been so quick to accept this date or, with firmness, any other.

When Roosevelt first said he had taken the US off the gold standard, he didn’t want to make too great a fuss about it because he was trying to quiet a panic that had nearly broken the Federal Reserve System. He hoped Americans would bring their gold back for deposit in the nation’s vaults. And they did. Even though the papers were reporting that the president might issue scrip for temporary currency; even though the Emergency Banking Act provided that Federal Reserve notes could be backed by commercial bank assets, people generally preferred paper money to gold, so long as they trusted the paper money – which, with Roosevelt’s assurances, they did, as you can see from the chart. [click to continue…]

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Happy St. Patrick’s Day

by Henry on March 17, 2015

And as a St. Patrick’s Day present, a lengthy article on Ireland, written by an American journalist, which (a) hasn’t a hint of stories about fairy rings and the Little People, and (b) actually gets things right. Patrick Radden Keefe’s story on Gerry Adams and the murder of Jean McConville does an excellent job at summarizing multiple perspectives on a complex story, while making it clear which of those perspectives is most believable. And this, on Gerry Adam’s Twitter account:

Adams is now sixty-six and a grandfather, and his evolution into an approachable grandee has found its surreal culmination on Twitter. He intersperses studiously boring tweets about small-bore political issues with a barrage of cat pictures and encomiums to sudsy baths, rubber duckies, and Teddy bears. (“I do love Teddy bears,” he told the BBC. “I have a large collection of Teddy bears.”) One characteristic tweet, from last January: “Dreamt I was eating Cream Eggs. Woke up this morn. Pillow & beard covered in chocolate & cream thingymebob.” The Irish writer Damien Owens has likened all this to “Charles Manson showing you his collection of tea cosies.”

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Sunday photoblogging:

by Chris Bertram on March 15, 2015

In the old Blind School on Hardman Street, Liverpool, subsequently trade union offices and the home of the Picket (a music venue), there’s a cupola with a mural celebrating the workers’ movement. Sadly, the damp is getting to it. The mural was painted by artist Mick Jones, son of Jack Jones the trade union leader. Arthur Scargill leads Karl Marx and there is much other detail of interest. The owner of the nearby Hope Street Hotel owns the building now and has plans for to turn it into a gastropub, so let’s hope it gets restored rather than destroyed. (There are move shots of the mural in the adjacent sections of my Flickr stream.)

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Ancien Régime Turkophile Destroyed By Magnetizers?

by John Holbo on March 15, 2015

Having made one recent post that topped 1000 comments, I thought I would try to be more abstruse for a time.

I have a trivia question for you. I’m reading Volney’s The Ruins. Why? Because it’s one of the books that Frankenstein’s monster overhears: [click to continue…]

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I made this observation in comments on Chris’ ideal theory post, and got some pushback, so I thought I’d take a look back at the data
US Households in Poverty, 1959-2013

Both the number and the percentage of families in poverty dropped sharply during the 1960s when the “War on Poverty” was being waged actively, and remained near their all-time lows through the Nixon and Carter years until 1979, when the Volcker recession hit, followed by the election of Ronald Reagan. These events can reasonably be said to mark the point at which the government unequivocally changed sides.

The number of households in poverty has risen steadily since then and is now higher than in 1959, the year for which the poverty level was first defined by Mollie Orshansky. The poverty rate has remained consistently higher than in the 1970s, except for a brief deep at the peak of the late-1990s boom.
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