At least one good thing happened in 2011

by Michael Bérubé on December 31, 2011

On the home front, the year opened with the inexplicable rupture of a whole-house water filter on January 2, a mishap that left four inches of water in the basement, ruining a bunch of Jamie’s books and DVDs; it closes as I return from visiting my father, who is intubated and unconscious after triple-bypass heart surgery.  We didn’t know he would be unconscious for my entire visit—I learned that via a phone call from my sister only after Nick, Jamie and I had gotten halfway through a seven-hour drive.  Our assumption was that at some point he would be conscious but unable to communicate, which is why I did what any dutiful son would do, namely, bring a copy of A Year on Ice, Gerald Eskanazi’s chronicle of the New York Rangers’ 1969-70 season, to read to him at his bedside.  When that plan fell through, we videotaped a bunch of messages for him (including my rendition of the final game of the Rangers’ regular season, April 5, 1970, which was the most exciting thing a nine-year-old kid could possibly hope to see—thanks for taking me, Dad!) and I’ll go back when he’s back home, which should be in a few weeks.

And oh yes, in March Lucy the Dog died after thirteen and a half years of faithfully guarding the house, playing with Nick, tending to Janet whenever she had migraines, and talking to Jamie when no one else would understand him.

But there was one good thing about 2011, and it was a world-historical event.  I refer, of course, to our family’s decision to topple Qaddafi and plunder Libya a milestone we had been anticipating for approximately twenty years:

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If Your Holidays Aren’t So Happy

by Tedra Osell on December 31, 2011

It wasn’t too many years ago that I was suicidally depressed. Because this is a public forum, I won’t go into what finally got me to a psychiatrist (I’d seen psychotherapists for years, but hadn’t been diagnosed with clinical depression) and onto medication, and I had to try several different pills before I found something that worked. Recently I’ve switched meds again, and I’m really having a great holiday season.

But for a lot of people the holidays suck. Sometimes that’s temporary, but often it’s not. Please take twelve minutes to watch the video below, and please take the time in real life to listen to the people you love. I think one of the profoundest difficulties we have as human beings, despite all our ways of communicating, is that ultimately it’s horribly easy to hear someone say they’re unhappy but not really understand that they are deeply in trouble, especially if the things they seem unhappy about seem small or temporary or like minor fillips in a pretty great life.

It’s impossible to know how someone with depression feels if you haven’t been there. And if you are there, it’s impossible to realize that it really doesn’t have to be that bad. If you think you need help, please ask for it. And if you think someone you know needs help, please listen—because when you’re way down that well, it can be almost impossible even to whisper.

Cash for Citations?

by Henry on December 30, 2011

Science has an article behind its paywall (but available in liberated form here) that likely merits discussion.

At first glance, Robert Kirshner took the e-mail message for a scam. An astronomer at King Abdulaziz University (KAU) in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, was offering him a contract for an adjunct professorship that would pay $72,000 a year. Kirshner, an astrophysicist at Harvard University, would be expected to supervise a research group at KAU and spend a week or two a year on KAU’s campus, but that requirement was flexible, the person making the offer wrote in the e-mail. What Kirshner would be required to do, however, was add King Abdulaziz University as a second affiliation to his name on the Institute for Scientific Information’s (ISI’s) list of highly cited researchers. …
“I thought it was a joke,” says Kirshner, who forwarded the e-mail to his department chair, noting in jest that the money was a lot more attractive than the 2% annual raise professors typically get. Then he discovered that a highly cited colleague at another U.S. institution had accepted KAU’s offer, adding KAU as a second affiliation on ISIhighlycited.com.
Kirshner’s colleague is not alone. I have learned of more than 60 top-ranked researchers from different scientific disciplines—all on ISI’s highly cited list—who have recently signed a part-time employment arrangement with the university that is structured along the lines of what Kirshner was offered. Meanwhile, a bigger, more prominent Saudi institution—King Saud University in Riyadh—has climbed several hundred places in international rankings in the past 4 years largely through initiatives specifically targeted toward attaching KSU’s name to research publications, regardless of whether the work involved any meaningful collaboration with KSU researchers.
… Academics who have accepted KAU’s offer represent a wide variety of faculty from elite institutions in the United States, Canada, Europe, Asia, and Australia. All are men. Some are emeritus professors who have recently retired from their home institutions. All have changed their affiliation on ISI’s highly cited list—as required by KAU’s contract—and some have added KAU as an affiliation on research papers. Other requirements in the contract include devoting “the whole of your time, attention, skill and abilities to the performance of your duties” and doing “work equivalent to a total of 4 months per contract period.”

Understandably, the regular faculty at the affected university are quite upset. I wonder how many researchers turned this offer down? (I’d hope that most did, but I’d be unsurprised to be disappointed)

Tis the Season for Conference Wankery!

by Tedra Osell on December 28, 2011

Do you know what’s more boring than the insularity of academia? Bold Rebels Who Take Stands Against the Insularity of Academia by using minor players/subfields as weapons to bash someone who is mistakenly thought to be Really Important because he has a Column in the New York Times.

I so do not miss this kind of wankery. I had spent a few minutes feeling mildly wistful about lacking a reason to go up to Seattle this year, since I like and miss Seattle and would have enjoyed having drinks with some old friends and acquaintances, but dear god do I prefer sitting on my couch in 70-degree December weather thinking about taking a walk to the grocery store to having to listen to people preen themselves on their superior cynicism. If I’d stayed in academia I’m afraid my eyeballs would have gotten stuck staring at the ceiling and I’d be unable to walk anywhere.

Simple, Docile, Gifted

by Henry on December 28, 2011

Via David Moles, Winston Churchill’s Grasshopper-Lies-Heavyesque exercise in the genre of alternative history within an alternative history deserves a wider readership. I give you the counter-counter-historical bit of “If Lee had not won the battle of Gettysburg.”

If Lee after his triumphal entry into Washington had merely been the soldier, his achievements would have ended on the battlefield. It was his august declaration that the victorious Confederacy would pursue no policy toward the African negroes which was not in harmony with the moral conceptions of western Europe that opened the highroads along which we are now marching so prosperously
But even this famous gesture might have failed if it had not been caught up and implemented by the practical genius and trained parliamentary aptitudes of Gladstone. There is practically no doubt at this stage that the basic principle upon which the color question in the Southern States of America has been so happily settled owed its origin mainly to Gladstonian ingenuity and to the long statecraft of Britain in dealing with alien and more primitive populations. There was not only the need to declare the new fundamental relationship between master and servant, but the creation for the liberated slaves of institutions suited to their own cultural development and capable of affording them a different yet honorable status in a commonwealth, destined eventually to become almost world wide.
Let us only think what would have happened supposing the liberation of the slaves had been followed by some idiotic assertion of racial equality, and even by attempts to graft white democratic institutions upon the simple, docile, gifted African race belonging to a much earlier chapter in human history. We might have seen the whole of the Southern States invaded by gangs of carpetbagging politicians exploiting the ignorant and untutored colored vote against the white inhabitants and bringing the time-honored forms of parliamentary government into unmerited disrepute. We might have seen the sorry force of black legislators attempting to govern their former masters. Upon the rebound from this there must inevitably have been a strong reassertion of local white supremacy. By one device or another the franchises accorded to the negroes would have been taken from them. The constitutional principles of the Republic would have been proclaimed, only to be evaded or subverted; and many a warm-hearted philanthropist would have found his sojourn in the South no better than “A Fool’s Errand.”

Since the JSTOR version is apparently a straight reprint of Churchill’s original 1930 essay, I’m presuming it’s not in copyright any more, and have put it up here taken it down as I understand from comments that it is still in copyright.

Science and the “aim of philosophy”

by Chris Bertram on December 28, 2011

There’s a very interesting interview with Brian Leiter over at 3:AM Magazine. Read the whole thing, as they say. Interesting and entertaining though Brian’s thoughts are, I reacted somewhat negatively to his promotion of “realism” over “moralism” and to the somewhat dismissive (though sugar-coated) remarks he makes about Jerry Cohen. Jerry actually did have some “realist” things to say about society and politics, most notably in parts of Self-Ownership, Freedom and Equality and in chapter 11 of Karl Marx’s Theory of History, but his work can speak for itself. More worrying, I think, is Brian’s apparent desire to abolish large parts of philosophy altogether when he write approvingly of:

those who think the aim of philosophy should be to get as clear as possible about the way things really are, that is, about the actual causal structure of the natural and human world, how societies and economies work, what motivates politicians and ordinary people to do what they do ….

My question here is: why’s that an aim of philosophy ? The people investigating the actual causal structure of the natural world are natural scientists, not philosophers; the people investigating the actual causal structure of the human world are social scientists, not philosophers.

Update: Brian assures me that he has no desire that the moralists be “purged” (my work was “abolished”). I’m happy to hear that, but it remains that he thinks that we moralists are pursuing an agenda that is other than he believes the aim of philosophy ought to be.

I Love a Man in Uniform

by Maria on December 28, 2011

I almost hesitate to make this recommendation, as my taste has cloven to the mainest of main streams since I became an army wife. A recent intervention has more or less cured me of a short but embarrassing episode of James Blunt fandom. I did, however, spend the whole of Christmas in two comfortable but flattering Boden dresses which I suspect are just a bit smart for the many coffee mornings I now attend. (I was shocked to discover I’m the only one who bakes for them. Everyone else brings biscuits from upper echelon supermarkets.)

‘Wherever You Are’, the lovely song sung by the Military Wives Choir led by Gareth Malone, is at least worth a hunt through Youtube, along with footage of how it came about. The song’s release follows a TV series about choirmaster Gareth Malone turning a group of women into a proper choir while their military husbands were away in Afghanistan. The women’s letters to their husbands were gleaned for touching – though admittedly a bit saccharine – lyrics to a song written for them. Eventually the men came home, and the choir sang beautifully in the Royal Albert Hall on Remembrance Sunday. There were many tears along the way, not least those of viewers. The song was number 1 in the UK at Christmas and has now been released in the US. The proceeds are going to charities that support ex-service men and women. It is certainly worth a listen and even ordering from Amazon US (whenever they get around to re-stocking it).

The real reason I hesitate just a little bit in recommending this sweet song is a niggling worry about sentiment. We all live in a post-Diana world where the stiff upper lip has given way to increasingly orchestrated and maudlin displays of public emotion. A leader who can’t emote, especially on television, is no good. As soldiers don’t have a choice about which wars they fight, it’s a good thing that citizens of democracies don’t, as a rule, pillory service men and women. But I can’t help thinking all these TV programmes about soldiers and their feelings, army wives singing and crying, and kindly townspeople meeting hearses; they give the rest of us a deliciously tender moment to feel in sympathy, rather than think hard about the reality of an all-volunteer force fighting largely wars of choice. [click to continue…]

Thanks to everyone who has made comments on the drafts of the new chapter of Zombie Economics, on Expansionary Austerity, for the forthcoming paperback edition.  I’m now editing in response, and adding a section on Further Reading. I’d welcome any suggestions for this chapter, as well as any useful references that weren’t in the hardback edition.

Mad Science for Kids: A Book Review

by Tedra Osell on December 27, 2011

If I were smarter, I’d have written this before Christmas so that you’d have an excuse to buy the book I’m going to tell you about. That said, maybe you don’t need an excuse to buy good books, so if you are inclined to like comics, humor, feminist scienceish geekery, and/or all of the above—or if you know someone who is, and in particular if that someone is a young person—I recommend the totally awesome Complete Narbonic Perfect Collection , only recently published. [click to continue…]

Reappraisals (updated)

by John Quiggin on December 26, 2011

As an Australian, I’m not much accustomed to think of political leaders in heroic terms[1], something that reflects the fact that nothing our political leaders do matters that much to anybody except us, and even then most of the decisions that really mattered have always been made elsewhere. So, I’m fascinated by the US activity of ranking presidents and other political leaders, and eager to try my hand.

What has brought this to mind is running across George Will’s campaign against Woodrow Wilson, who always seemed to be presented in hagiographic terms until relatively recently. Much as it goes against the grain to agree with Will on anything, he surely has the goods on Wilson: a consistent racist, who lied America into the Great War, and used Sedition acts and similar devices to suppress opposition. His positive record appears to consist of a variety of “Progressive” measures (in the early C20 sense of the term) many of which were inherited from Teddy Roosevelt, and few of which were particularly progressive from a left viewpoint[2], and his proposal for the League of Nations, where he comprehensively screwed up the domestic politics, leading the US to stay out of the League.

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I did warn you

by Tedra Osell on December 25, 2011

This is the final draft section of the new chapter of my Zombie Economics book, on Expansionary Austerity. 

As before comments are welcome. That includes everything from typos and suggestions for better phrasing to substantive critiques of the argument.  If I can get organized, I will try to post the edited version of the entire chapter and invite another round of comments.

As an aside, I just got an email link to the Journal of Economic Literature (behind a login screen), which contains Stephen Williamson’s review of my book, including his claims that both the Efficient Markets Hypothesis and DSGE macro are devoid of any implications. I bet that if I had submitted an article to any publication of the American Economic Association making such claims, it would have been shot down in flames by the referees. But, now it’s been published – anyone keen on a radical critique of mainstream economics can now cite the JEL to the effect that the whole enterprise (at least as applied to finance and macroeconomics) is irrelevant to reality.

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Cognitive dissonance and detention without trial

by John Quiggin on December 23, 2011

 

Now that Obama has signalled that he will sign the National Defense Authorization Act, US citizens have no legal rights that can’t be over-ridden by miltary or presidential fiat. Anyone accused of being a terrorist linked to Al Qaeda can be arrested, shipped overseas and held indefinitely without trial, or alternatively tried by military commissions.[1] And, if arrest isn’t feasible or convenient then (at least outside the US), they can be hunted down and assassinated, with or without warning.

On the face of it, that makes the US a scary place to live. But, as a matter of everyday reality, most Americans aren’t scared at all.[2] Should they be? 

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Not Very Cheering

by Tedra Osell on December 22, 2011

My husband sent me this fascinating chart of atrocities throughout history, from the NYT. It’s an excellent chart as chart (Tufte would be proud), and despite the appalling subject it’s really engaging. It’s a nice visual representation of something a couple of us referenced yesterday in comments, Ta-Nehisi Coates’s ongoing posts about the civil war as the end of a great tragedy, rather than a tragedy in its own right. And it’s also incredibly, incredibly humbling: the only one of the most deadly events of human history I really know much about is WWII, and many of the others I’ve never even heard of. Clearly my education has been revoltingly Eurocentric; I think I had one half of one semester in high school devoted to the history of Asia, and the only thing I really remember is that we memorized a brief dialogue in Mandarin and I cheated on the test by writing the names and Mandarin characters of the major dynasties on my pencil. Poor Doc Langan; he had a PhD in Chinese (Asian?) history, and he had to deal with ignorant little jackasses like me. I owe him restitution in the form of learning something. Anyone care to recommend a couple of decent histories of Asia (or regions thereof) for the general reader?

 

Ebooks and iPad and PDFs: Some Freebies

by John Holbo on December 21, 2011

Following up my previous post, here are some free PDFs. Enjoy (or not). I’ve tried to optimize these for the iPad. I would be interested to hear about any problems/unsatisfactorinesses, perhaps due to the fact that you are using a Kindle or whatever. [click to continue…]