One of the ways in which blogging has changed in the past decade is that there are far fewer posts just pointing to recommending stuff. That business has gone elsewhere, to Facebook and Twitter, whilst blogging takes the form of longer (and longer) essays. That’s understandable, but in some ways a pity, and risks turning blogs into sequential slabs of dull but worthy texts (with the occasional gem of course). Anyway, I was just about to plug Iconic Photos to friends on FB, but I think the recommendation deserves a wider (and different) audience. The author (A.A.S. Holmes, whoever he or she is) takes, as the title suggests, an “iconic” photo and supplies fascinating commentary, often focusing on who the protagonists were, how they happened to be there, and what happened next. Particular favourites of mine are his commentary on Robert Capa’s L’Épuration, and Marianne of ‘68, where things aren’t what they seemed. Enjoy.
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Ronald Dworkin has died of leukaemia at the age of 81. I can’t speak to his work in jurisprudence, but his work in political philosophy has been some of the most original and creative of the past 50 years. In particular, the first two of his equality essays (welfare and resource), published by Philosophy and Public Affairs in 1981 and then featuring as the opening chapters of Sovereign Virtue had a major effect on the field and paved the way (for better or worse) for luck egalitarianism. I’m sure there will be obituaries over the next few days. In the meantime—though prephylloxera claret may be unavailable—I hope we all raise a glass to his memory.
(Here’s Dworkin talking about Justice for Hedgehogs, starts at about 12 minutes in.)
A big sporting weekend ahead. First up, the competition that probably counts the most here at Crooked Timber: the Six Nations. We kick off with, inter alia, Wales v Ireland and England v Scotland (the Calcutta Cup). I think England could do it this year, but you can’t really write anyone off. The Africa Cup of Nations is still going of course, and we’re into the quarter-finals, where the highlight of the weekend is Ivory Coast v Nigeria. Ivory Coast still look like winning the competition, but they have a tougher route to the final than Ghana do (they’ll probably have to beat Nigeria and South Africa in succession – assuming I’ve understood the draw, of course). That match also clashes with Man City v Liverpool, which is unfortunate. (And then there’s the Superbowl, but I have no clue what’s going on when I watch American football.)
Most readers will know by now that the British Prime Minister, David Cameron, yesterday pledged an in-out referendum on the UK’s continued membership of the European Union, to be held in the event that the Conservatives win the next general election. Cameron says that he will try to negotiate better terms for UK membership and that he hopes that he’ll be able to recommend these to the British people in 2017 or thereabouts. I thought CT should have a post on this, but the remarks below are very much off-the-cuff and not written on the basis of any expertise re EU politics.
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We haven’t had a thread on the Africa Cup of Nations since 2006, but I see that the latest competition has just started. There’s a solitary win so far with Mali beating Niger. The bookies are fairly clear about who the favourites are: Ivory Coast. Makes a lot of sense, since they have strength in all parts of the team, with players like the Touré brothers and Didier Drogba. Coverage in the UK media is pathetic, with the competition not even having a dedicated BBC webpage and the games being shown on ITV4 and British Eurosport. Francophone reporting is, predictably in this case, a bit better: L’Equipe has a page.The twitter hashtag to follow is #Afcon2013 . Predictions?
The New York Times has an interesting piece on the variability of people’s personalities, tastes and opinions over time and how we tend to underestimate the amount we will change in the future:
when asked to predict what their personalities and tastes would be like in 10 years, people of all ages consistently played down the potential changes ahead. Thus, the typical 20-year-old woman’s predictions for her next decade were not nearly as radical as the typical 30-year-old woman’s recollection of how much she had changed in her 20s. This sort of discrepancy persisted among respondents all the way into their 60s. And the discrepancy did not seem to be because of faulty memories, because the personality changes recalled by people jibed quite well with independent research charting how personality traits shift with age. People seemed to be much better at recalling their former selves than at imagining how much they would change in the future.
This wouldn’t have come as any surprise to Montaigne, whose whole project was predicated on the idea of constant change in the self:
I am unable to stabilize my subject: it staggers confusedly along with a natural drunkenness. I grasp it as it is now, at this moment when I am lingering over it. I am not portraying being but becoming: not the passage from one age to another … but from day to day, from minute to minute. I must adapt this account of myself to the passing hour. (“On repenting”, Screech trans 908-9)
But how much this contradicts the central presupposition of much intellectual biography, which is to find as much consistency as possible among the attitudes and doctrines adopted by a person throughout their life.
New Left Project has a wonderful interview with Noam Chomsky on work, learning and freedom. It really brings out the more attractive anarchist side of Chomsky’s personality and politics. He’s particularly eloquent on the importance of spontaneous play for children’s development and how this is being crowded out in societies like ours (a theme, incidentally of James C. Scott’s recent Two Cheers for Anarchism). Recommended.
I just love econobloggers, with their capacity for Swiftian satire. Dry as dust, yet clearly having a laugh, they aim to reel in the poor saps who are take them seriously, but they are big enough to continue to play along, making as if they really mean it. Until now, I’d thought of Tyler Cowen, Bryan Caplan and, perhaps, even Arnold Kling as being the true masters of the genre. But I’m pretty sure that Noah Smith surpasses them all with a new blog on The Rise of the Cyborgs. Smith does a really excellent job of pretending to be keen on the robot-human future he imagines. So, for example, we get
artificial eyes and ears would replace all input devices [i.e. actual eyes and ears]. You would never need a television screen, a phone, Google Goggles, or a speaker of any kind. All you would need would be your own artificial eyes. You could play video games in perfect, pure augmented reality. Imagine the possibilities for video-conferencing, or hanging out with friends half a world away! And why stop there? If you wanted, you could perceive the buildings around you as castles, or the inside of a spaceship. The whole world could look and sound however you wanted.
But understandably, he feigns enthusiasm most successfully about the prospects for the economy:
… cyborg technologies have the potential to improve human productivity quite a bit, as my examples above have hopefully shown. Humans who can store vast amounts of knowledge and expertise, who can directly interface with machines, and who can make themselves more well-adjusted and motivated at the touch of a (mental) button will be valuable employees indeed, and will prove useful complements to the much-discussed army of robots.
Indeed, employers could make it a condition of employment that workers undergo the necessary cyber-modifications! Actually, I think Smith missed a trick there, by failing to imagine how this might affect workplace dynamics. Oh well, I expect someone will be along to explain how such contracts would be win-win. Brilliant.
Those of you who are worried that the world is going to end on Friday may be inclined to relax and party when it doesn’t. On the other hand, those of you who have put off buying Christmas presents because, you know, what’s the point? May yet be vindicated. Apparently there is no scholarly consensus on when the Mayan calendar runs out. Could be Friday, but Sunday or Christmas Eve are also possibilities (pdf), and, indeed, it is Christmas Eve that these guys incline to:
Implicitly or explicitly, the majority of scholars have accepted Thompson’s leap-year argument (see, for instance, Bricker and Bricker 2011:91). That is why the idea has entered into the popular consciousness that the thirteenth Bak’tun will end on December 21, 2012, which is the date in the 584283 correlation, as opposed to December 23 in the 584285 correlation (or Christmas Eve, December 24, according to 584286).
From Simon Martin and Joel Skidmore and “Exploring the 584286 Correlation between the Maya and European Calendars”, The PARI Journal 13(2), 2012, pp. 3-16.
[All via Charles C. Mann ( @CharlesCMann) on twitter.]
Since today is movie day at Crooked Timber, I thought I’d share. If you haven’t yet seen Michael Haneke’s Amour then you probably should make the effort. Emmanuelle Riva’s performance as Anne is one of the most brilliant pieces of screen acting I’ve ever seen. On the other hand, this is an almost uncompromising portrayal of aging and dying and of incomprehension across the generations with the end in plain view. When we left the cinema, several people outside were in tears and when I started to talk about the film I found I couldn’t without starting to dissolve myself. Some audience members sat in their seats staring at the screen for a while afterwards, and some of those were quite elderly. So if you go, and, as I say, it is a great work, do so knowing that you’ll probably be somewhat upset by the end. As you should be.
I last paid attention to the Jerusalem Post when it was running apologetics for Anders Behring Breivik. It seems to have gone one better yesterday, with an article by Gilad Sharon entitled “A Decisive Conclusion is Necessary”, a sample:
We need to flatten entire neighborhoods in Gaza. Flatten all of Gaza. The Americans didn’t stop with Hiroshima – the Japanese weren’t surrendering fast enough, so they hit Nagasaki, too.
As one person remarked to me, maybe “decisive conclusion” could be one rendering of Endlösung.
Meanwhile, the President of the United States has this to say:
… there’s no country on Earth that would tolerate missiles raining down on its citizens from outside its borders.
Well then, can we expect Pakistani tanks on the White House lawn imminently?
And so the familiar litany of “justifications” goes on, most predictably about Hamas being to blame for any civilian deaths because their “operatives” “hide among the civilian population”. Those of us who have been paying attention during recent wars in Libya and Syria will note that nobody thought Gadaffi and Assad any the less responsible for the babies they killed (and in Syria, continue to kill) from the air because those resisting their tyrannies did so from populated areas such as Misrata and Aleppo. Do different principles apply when it is the IDF doing the killing? It would seem so.
And there seem to be a lot of “surgical strikes”. You know, the ones that magically discriminate between the innocent and the guilty in urban area, except when they don’t.
So it goes.
I was reading a postgraduate dissertation on decision theory today (a field where I’m very far from expert) and it suddenly occurred to me that Max Weber’s Protestant Ethic has exactly the structure of a Newcomb problem.
Consider: in the classic Newcomb problem a being, which always guesses right, offers you a choice involving either taking a box (A) containing $1,000,000 or nothing OR taking that box plus another one (B) which certainly contains $1000. The being guesses what you will do and, if you are disposed to take both boxes (A+B) always puts nothing in A, but if you are disposed to leave B alone and just open A, puts the million dollars in A. But by the time you make the choice, the money is there or it is not.
One apparently compelling argument says you should open both boxes (since A+B > A), another persuasive argument says that you want to be in a state of the world such that the being has put the million in box A. A sign that you are in that state of the world is that you are disposed to open just the one box, so this is what you should in fact do. You thereby maximize the expected payoff. [click to continue...]
Alex Gourevitch, with whom I’m collaborated in the past, has a piece at Jacobin that’s somewhat hostile to environmentalism. The piece is written as a provocation, and, indeed, it has successfully provoked at least one person: me. Alex argues that greens substitute science for politics, neglect the social determinants of well-being, would deprive the global poor of technological benefits that could protect them from natural disasters and risk condemning people to lives wasted in drudgery.
No doubt Alex can find plenty of instances of people mouthing the sentiments and opinions he condemns. But the trouble with this sort of writing is exemplified by the endless right-wing blogs that go on about “the left” and then attribute to everyone from Alinsky to the Zapatistas a sympathy for Stalinist labour camps. Just like “the left”, people who care about the environment and consider themselves greens come in a variety of shapes, sizes and flavours. Taking as typical what some random said at some meeting about the virtues of Palestinians generating electricity with bicycles is inherently problematic. [click to continue...]
This is a cross post of [a piece I’ve done for New Left Project](http://www.newleftproject.org/index.php/site/article_comments/predistribution_powerful_idea_or_window_dressing_for_austerity).
Back in 1875, Karl Marx had the sorry task of perusing the programme of the young German SDP. There was quite a lot he didn’t like, much of it due to the – as he saw it – bad influence of his rival Lassalle. One thing annoyed him immensely: the focus of the new German party on what he saw as the symptoms of capitalist class society rather than on the most basic structural features of that society. First among his targets was inequality, which the SDP was making a big thing about. Marx was scathing:
“Any distribution whatever of the means of consumption is only a consequence of the distribution of the conditions of production themselves. The latter distribution, however, is a feature of the mode of production itself. The capitalist mode of production, for example, rests on the fact that the material conditions of production are in the hands of nonworkers in the form of property in capital and land, while the masses are only owners of the personal condition of production, of labor power.”
One doesn’t have to buy into all the details of classical Marxism to see that he had a very good point. Since the early years of the 20th century, left-liberals and social democrats have been scrabbling around using the tax and benefits system to try to temper the gross inequalities that capitalism generates. Like Robin Hood, or maybe Robin Hood on prozac, they’ve cast themselves as taking from the rich and giving to the poor, without doing too much to address the question of how some people got to be rich and others “poor” in the first place.
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