Sunday photoblogging, and an appeal

by Chris Bertram on December 2, 2018

Southville-2

Here’s a row of houses in Southville, Bristol near where I live. I’m hoping to have a burst of photographic activity now, having just taken delivery of a new camera, a Panasonic G9, last week.

And now for an appeal: Bristol Refugee Rights, where I’m chair of the board of trustees, is a charity providing support, advice, education, meals, social space and other services to refugees, asylum seekers and other vulnerable migrants in the Bristol area. Funding is always tight, and we desperately need to raise £29,000 to keep our advice services running. We’ve started a crowdfunder to this purpose, and I’d urge everyone (especially if you like these Sunday photos) to contribute.

Abusive Legalism

by John Holbo on December 2, 2018

‘Norm erosion’ has been a debated thing for a while. Good norms have been undermined by Trump. But does it make sense to push back against that by defending norms, rather than, say, the good?

It’s useful to narrow it down. This President, in this era of hyper-partisanship, is a peculiarly unconstrained beast, legally. (Not just in the old, familiar imperial presidency sense.) There isn’t much Trump could do to get Republicans to impeach him. So impeachment is off the table as a check on Presidential abuse of power. In a narrow, legal sense, the immunity of a sitting President from prosecution, plus arguable exemption from conflict of interest laws, plus theoretically unconstrained pardon power, means on paper, a lot of ‘get out of jail free’ cards. No one would have aimed for this result. It’s obviously bad to have no check on Presidential corruption. (Maybe the emoluments clause is going to save us. We’ll see.)

So you get what Matthew Yglesias calls ‘abusive legalism‘, which is a bit narrower than ‘norm erosion’.

Andrew McCarthy is a good example. In his latest piece he objects to Mueller’s investigation – as he always does – on the grounds that there is no clear, overarching, blackletter ‘collusion’ crime in the prosecutor’s cross-hairs.

Note that word: crime. There are many wrongs that are not crimes, activities that are immoral, mendacious, unseemly. If we are talking about cosmic justice, all these wrongs should be made right. But prosecutors do not operate in a cosmic-justice system. They are in the criminal-justice system. The only wrongs they are authorized to address — the only wrongs it is appropriate for them to address — are crimes.

Note the attractive, exculpatory impersonalism of ‘cosmic injustice’. If awful stuff comes to light in l’affaire Russe, but it can be made out that there wasn’t a technical law against it; or if there is some law, but still some last ‘get out of jail free’ pardon card to be played – then Trump isn’t guilty – nor can Republicans be said to be at fault for turning a blind-eye. It’s the universe. Ergo, anyone who is upset about corruption is just some kooky, wild-eyed cosmic justice warrior.

The position is self-undermining within the scope of the piece itself. McCarthy is indignant that Mueller is violating prosecutorial norms – not breaking laws. But McCarthy doesn’t, therefore, chalk Mueller’s wrongdoing up to the cosmos’ injustice tab and shrug it off. But there’s an attractive pseudo-purity to such legalism. Adhering to the letter of the law is a good thing. ‘There’s no norms, dude’ is not the winning way to spin bad behavior. ‘We ONLY uphold the rule of law’ is how to spin norm erosion positively.

I think probably the most effective tack, rhetorically, is to force the likes of McCarthy to own the apparent perversity of the allegedly principled result. Namely, the right thing to do is to not expose serious Presidential corruption, since, weirdly enough, it isn’t illegal.

Saturday art blogging: patterns in Islamic art

by Eszter Hargittai on December 1, 2018

In my senior year of college, I took what must have been the most talked-about course offered at my school: a year-long introductory art history class, “Art 100”. It has since been discontinued, sadly, but also understandably, as it was taught by the entire art history faculty and its coordination must have been overwhelming. The benefit to students was that we got to learn about all materials by experts in it. It was a fantastic and beloved class, in some cases life-changing (see one example of this). Numerous friends in my house (Smith’s name for dorms) had taken it and we had countless conversations about the class (and to my chagrin now as a professor, some also about the profs, but for what it’s worth, they tended to be about our admiration).

One of my favorite sections was Islamic art. I hadn’t known much about it and found the patterns in architecture mesmerizing. When I was in Doha almost a decade ago, I very much enjoyed the tour of the Museum of Islamic Art where lots of patterns greeted us both in the architecture (see above) and the pieces on display (see below and here). Given these positive experiences, I was pleasantly surprised this week to stumble upon the Web site Pattern in Islamic Art, which offers a very nice collection that I wanted to share with you. The slideshow pages take a few seconds to load, they are worth it.

     

The three-party system in Australia

by John Quiggin on December 1, 2018

A couple of years ago, I had a go at analyzing politics in the English-speaking developed countries in terms of a three-party system. The three parties were neoliberalism (in hard and soft versions), leftism and what I then called tribalism, but can now be better described as Trumpism. Trumpism combines what might be called dominant identity politics (for the countries in question, the relevant identity is white, Christian, heterosexual and suburban/rural) with crony capitalism and “big man” authoritarianism.

When I described the Australian political system a year ago, I noted a profusion of Trumpist parties. The most important is the governing Liberal party, until recently (like the US Repubs) hard neoliberals, but now increasingly Trumpist, with the partial exception of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull,

Malcolm Turnbull, a wealthy businessman, and smooth neoliberal who was widely seen as reviving of the soft liberalism of the past on social questions. As it has turned out, however, Turnbull has acted as a puppet for the Trumpists who dominate the party
A few months ago, the Trumpists finally tired of Turnbull and dumped him in favor of Scott Morrison, a former PR executive, who has praised Trump and even taken to wearing baseball caps.

The results, happily have been catastrophic, that is for the Liberals. After being tossed out as PM, Turnbull resigned from Parliament and his ultra-safe seat was won by an independent. Then the Victorian Liberals, running on a Trumpist platform involving a racist fear campaign on crime, the revival of the drug war and support for anti-gay discrimination by publicly funded church schools, were comprehensively thrashed in a state election. With moderate members defecting and others in open revolt, the Liberals are now in a complete mess.

Where does this leave the three-party system?
[click to continue…]

Democracy as an information system

by Henry on November 27, 2018

Democracy is an information system.

That’s the starting place of our new paper: “Common-Knowledge Attacks on Democracy.” In it, we look at democracy through the lens of information security, trying to understand the current waves of Internet disinformation attacks. Specifically, we wanted to explain why the same disinformation campaigns that act as a stabilizing influence in Russia are destabilizing in the United States. [click to continue…]

Sunday photoblogging: Lyon, France

by Chris Bertram on November 25, 2018

Lyon, France

Saturday art blogging: learning about art through jigsaw puzzles

by Eszter Hargittai on November 24, 2018

A few years ago I started doing jigsaw puzzles again. I found my way back to this hobby when I realized that putting together jigsaw puzzles of art pieces could teach you a lot about a painting. In addition to very much enjoying exploring paintings, I also make paintings (mostly acrylic and watercolor) so understanding an artist’s technique is of great interest to me both as a lover of art and as a maker of art. When you are working on putting together a 500 or 1000 piece jigsaw puzzle, you become intimately familiar with every part of the image. By having to look very closely at each piece, and having to identify patterns and links across puzzle pieces, you notice things about a painting you may well miss otherwise. Sure, many people likely recognize Van Gogh’s special brush strokes, but you get a much more heightened awareness and appreciation for what the artist did when trying to piece together their work from such distinct elements. I highly recommend working on jigsaw puzzles of art pieces you like or want to learn about more.

To avoid confusion, I should note that the two photos represent two different puzzles. The top one is from a Van Gogh piece, the bottom from a Klimt piece.

Recipe Corner: Nut Roast with Stuffing

by Harry on November 24, 2018

I don’t eat meat, but I like to have something special for Christmas lunch/dinner, so this is what I make. We had it for Thanksgiving this year too, and all the guests ate it as well as the turkey, so we don’t have much left. It is straight from Rose Elliot with very little modification, and, as long as you have a food processor, is dead easy. The proportions are very forgiving. I find that adding a couple of eggs to the roast helps it keep its shape but… well, although it helps, it doesn’t help enough, so I can rarely get it to look like a loaf, and tend to serve it directly from the loaf pan. The stuffing is fantastic, so I sometimes double the stuffing, which yields roughly equal volumes of roast and stuffing.

For the roast:
2 oz butter
1 large onion
8oz cashews
4 oz bread crumbs
2 large cloves of garlic
7 oz of vegetable stock
Salt and pepper, a small amount of grated nutmeg
1 tblsp lemon juice

For stuffing:
4oz bread crumbs
2 oz softened butter
1 small onion
½ tsp each of thyme and marjoram
1-3 oz of chopped parsley

For the roast.
Chop the garlic and onion small, and sautee in the butter for 10 mins
Grind the bread and cashews, add to the onions and garlic, then add the stock, seasonings, and lemon juice, and mix it altogether.

For the stuffing. GRATE ((do not chop) the onion, then mix all the ingredients together.

For cooking:
Liberally butter a 1 lb bread pan. Place half the roast mix in the bottom, then put the stuffing mix on top of that, and then the rest of the roast mix on top of that.

Cook at 375F for 40 mins
Double the amounts to make a 2lb loaf, which should cook for about 70 minutes at 375F.

Bitcoin’s belated bust

by John Quiggin on November 23, 2018

It’s been quite a big week in cryptocurrency markets. The price of Bitcoin has fallen close to $4000, down from a peak of nearly $20 000.

As a longstanding sceptic of cryptocurrencies, it might be thought that I would be taking a victory lap. After all, I have previously written that “Bitcoins will attain their true value of zero sooner or later, but it is impossible to say when.” With the Bitcoin price having fallen by 75 per cent, it might seem that my prediction is well on the way to being justified.

Unfortunately, the second part of my statement, about the impossibility of predicting timing has been proved definitively correct.. I wrote this in 2013 when Bitcoins were valued at around $100, and the total market capitalization was a mere billion dollars. A single wealthy individual could have driven the price to zero by short-selling.

Five years later, and despite the price collapse of the past few months, Bitcoins are selling at nearly 50 times the price I criticized as excessive. Moreover, as cryptocurrencies have proliferated, Bitcoin now constitutes only a fraction of the total market. The capitalization of the cryptocurrency market as a whole is fluctuating still close to $100 billion.

Yet this massive valuation is built on nothing. The idea that Bitcoin, or any of its competitors will provide a new and superior means for buying and selling goods and services has been tested to destruction. Nearly a decade after the currency was launched, the use of Bitcoin in purchases is modest, and rapidly declining.

[click to continue…]

A bridge not far enough

by Maria on November 18, 2018

Yesterday I took part in an act of civil disobedience, helping to close off one of five central London bridges as part of Extinction Rebellion. The campaign takes the view of a couple of the books discussed recently here on CT, that at some point the ‘get out of jail free’ clause on principled political disobedience rises to the level of positive moral obligation; the urgency and devastation of climate change are so severe, and normal politics so unable to conceive of what’s needed, let alone do much or any of it, that blocking streets and other forms of nonviolent escalation are now essential.

On one level, it was just the same as every other protest; make a sign for the dog, stuff my pockets with poo-bags, and be sure not to drink too much beforehand. It was clear once I got onto the bridge – which was already blocked to traffic – that if you wanted to risk arrest you should sit in the road; otherwise you could just show support for those being arrested. There were the usual speeches, singing, drumming, chatting, getting Milo to pose for pictures with people, and even a woman playing the cello. It was pretty white, though with a strong Swampy contingent, a couple of whom had several arrests behind them and were looking at a custodial sentence if they were arrested again.

I stayed on the footpath, cheering for those arrested. But I felt uneasy about it and still do. And uneasy that I feel so anxious about rule-breaking – to the point where, when I was going home, I made sure to thank the police. (For some reason, the bridge I was on had six times the arrests of the next most numerous one.) It’s nice on one level, because it was a well-policed event with no aggro I could discern. But it’s also such a middle class white lady protestor thing to want to do, standing around with my cute dog and his cute sign, wanting everyone to be happy, especially in a country where policing is unequal and often vicious. Even this morning I have that emotional hangover from when you’ve gone a bit far in a political argument and, while winning, have squashed the other person a bit too much.

The reasons I went to do mild civil disobedience were what I’d read here from Chris et al on positive obligation, and also having noticed a week or two ago that a senior Church of England churchman was involved. Reading that back, I see I’ve become such an upstanding churchlady goody two shoes that I want to slap myself! Then I think, well, nothing political or structural gets done without massive, unlikely coalitions. So I just need to get over the fact that now, yes, I’m a mid-forties person who’s now on the distinctly establishment end of the rainbow. It’s a good thing – if galling, I’m sure – that the complacents like me are finally starting to get the message, but God knows we don’t deserve any medals for finally turning up.

There were people there who basically live on fracking protest sites or who have been activists for decades. It occurred to me this morning (yes, in church and no, I don’t know why I’m so sheepish about this, either) that those protestors are like the disciples who heard the New Testament firsthand, took it at face value and then did the only thing they could – tore up their lives to go out and re-make the world in the image of what they believed to be true. Success or failure didn’t matter. If you believed it was what it said it was and followed the logic of it through, there was no alternative but to spend the rest of your life proselytising in a hair-shirt, penniless and relying on the hospitality of others.

The same is true for climate change, obviously. Its severity and urgency and the sheer evil of how we are sliding into it demand that we tear our lives up to try to stop or at least slow it down. But in the same way that every religion gets softened because doing what it actually says on the tin is clearly unreasonable (i.e. incompatible with living comfortably), on climate change we’re still acting as if incremental change is a reasonable response to imminent catastrophe. (Or maybe the rationalisation is the implicit belief that the catastrophe will mostly happen to other people?)

The difference between the radicalisms called for by Christianity and climate change is this; the second coming is highly unlikely (at least), but climate catastrophe is both imminent and already here. We know it is coming, but we are still waiting to be forced by immediate circumstance into a radicalism we feel in our bones is essential right now. When the disaster finally comes to us, some part or number of us will finally embrace it with grateful relief. But till then, many are screaming into the void. Stopping a bit of traffic is the very, very, very least we can do. And no, it is not and will never have been enough.

A friend I called into on the way couldn’t come till later, and by then the bridge was blocked off to other protestors. She stood at the barricade explaining to people who wanted to cross Lambeth Bridge what the demonstration was about and asking them if, now they knew, they felt it was justified. Most of them did, once they thought about it. Maybe they won’t join any future ones, and probably it will be too late, but I think my friend certainly did more for the cause than I did, yesterday.

I will say, though, that by far the best bit was when I was walking along the Albert Embankment and a young man in a suit, driving a very large Mercedes which had just been turned away from the blocked bridge, was screaming out his opened window. Some tourists turned to see what he was about and he roared at them to “Shower, you cunts!”. Result.

Sunday photoblogging: fox

by Chris Bertram on November 18, 2018

Fox

Trolls

by John Quiggin on November 18, 2018

I’ve decided that life is too short for me to deal with any more trolls. From now on, I’m following the same zero[1] tolerance policy regarding blog comments as I do on other social media. Snarky trolling comments will lead to an immediate and permanent ban from my comment threads.

More generally, I’ve come to the conclusion that the best way to look at the ‘Intellectual Dark Web’ and what remains of the Republican intellectual class is the light of my experience as a blogger.
Put simply. the IDW and others are trolls. Their object is not to put forward ideas, or even to mount a critique, but to annoy and disrupt their targets (us). As Nikki Haley observed, a few months before announcing her resignation as UN Ambassador, it’s all about “owning the libs
Once you look at them as trolls, it’s easy to see how most of the right fit into familiar categories. They include

  • Victim trolls: Their main aim is to push just far enough to get banned, or piled-on, while maintaining enough of an appearance of reasonableness to claim unfair treatment: Christina Hoff Sommers pioneered the genre
  • Concern trolls: Jonathan Haidt is the leading example. Keep trying to explain how the extreme lunacy of the far right is really the fault of the left for pointing out the lunacy of the mainstream right.
  • Quasi-ironic trolls: Putting out racist or otherwise objectionable ideas, then, when they are called out, pretending it’s just a joke. The alt-right was more or less entirely devoted to this kind of trolling until Trump made it acceptable for them to drop the irony and come out as open racists.
  • Snarky trolls: Delight in finding (or inventing) and circulating examples of alleged liberal absurdity, without any regard for intellectual consistency on their own part. Glenn Reynolds is the archetype in the US, though the genre was pioneered in UK print media by the Daily Mail’s long running obsession with ‘political correctness gone mad’
  • False flag trolls: Push a standard rightwing line, but demand special consideration because they are allegedly liberals. Alan Dershowitz has taken this kind of trolling beyond parody
    From what I can see, the latest hero of the Dark Web, Jordan Peterson, manages to encompass nearly all of these categories. But I haven’t looked hard because, as I said, life is too short.

fn1. Not quite zero. Commenters with a track record of serious discussion will be given a warning. But, anyone who wastes my time will be given short shrift

Saturday art blogging: the Art Institute’s digital collection

by Eszter Hargittai on November 17, 2018


Recently, the Art Institute of Chicago updated its Web site, which included making available – under a Creative Commons Zero license – over 50,000 of its images. This is very exciting especially since the images are in high resolution. This means that you can zoom in and see the pictures in considerable detail like I did with the image posted above, a section of Monet’s Cliff Walk at Pourville, posted in full below. Given the Art Institute’s exceptional collection, this is a tremendous resource for art lovers, students, educators, and beyond.

A question about referendums

by Harry on November 15, 2018

If you want to discuss Brexit, what’s going on, etc, please go to JQ’s thread. I have a question for those of you who know about referendums (referenda?) and/or surveys either through study or experience.

Several times recently, I’ve heard politicians say that it is obvious that a 3-option referendum is impossible. The obvious reason they say this is that they want to ensure that the (from their point of view) worst option is off the table: Brexiteers want “this deal or none” and Remainers want “This deal or stay”. Sensible enough. But, is there any other reason not to have a 3-option referendum, in which people rank their preferences, and if no option gets a majority, the second preference of those whose option comes third get redistributed?

Obviously its possible. I can think of actual reasons why it might be undesirable (eg, maybe people can’t cope with three options, or maybe there’s a reason to think that there’s something undemocratic about it, or that Current Deal would lose against either No Deal or Remain in 2-way votes, but would beat both of them in a 3-way vote even with 2nd-preferences redistributed), but have no idea whether these reasons have any basis in reality.

Brexit: this is it?

by John Quiggin on November 15, 2018

Since the Brexit referendum was hailed by many as representative of a new force in global politics, it’s of interest even on the far side of the planet, and I’ve watched the slow-motion train wreck with appalled fascination.

So, as far as I can tell, the Brexit deal Theresa May has come up with is pretty much the super-soft version. About the only immediate change it will produce is a return to blue passports in place of the EU burgundy, which, it appears, were always optional. And, it appears, the new passports will be printed in France.

All that assumes that the deal will go through. In this context, I’ve been struck by a lot of commentary supporting the deal on the basis that a second referendum isn’t feasible due to the timing requirements of the Referendums Act. Am I missing something here? Isn’t Parliament supreme? And given that this issue has consumed British politics for the last two years or more, can there really be any significant ambiguity about the possible choices articulated by May today: her deal, no deal or no Brexit?

Feel free to comment on these or any other aspects of the issue.