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Kieran Healy

L.A. Paul at 3:AM Magazine

by Kieran Healy on August 31, 2013

The philosopher L.A. Paul is interviewed at 3:AM Magazine. Topics include becoming a philosopher, the relationship between science and metaphysics, causation, phenomenology, xphi, and what you can’t expect when you’re expecting. Oh yeah, something, something, full disclosure, something. 3:AM Magazine has a great collection of interviews at this point, with all kinds of interesting people. You should read them.

Robert Bellah Has Died

by Kieran Healy on July 31, 2013

I learned this afternoon that Robert Bellah has died following complications from surgery. He was 86. Bellah was one of the giants of American sociology, especially the sociology of religion. He taught at Harvard for ten years and then at Berkeley for most of his career. Bellah was a student of Talcott Parsons, and some of that influence can be seen in his late work, Religion in Human Evolution. (Bellah was a rather better-informed theorist of social evolution than Parsons.) But he is best known for his work on American religion and society. He formulated the concept of “American civil religion” in the late 1960s and it quickly became the standard shorthand for the fusion of Christian and secular ideals and rituals that anchor much of American public life. His work on that idea led to the book The Broken Covenant in 1975, and much else besides. A little later on he was—together with Charles Glock and other colleagues and students—at the leading edge of the study of changing forms of private religious practice. Initially, in The New Religious Consciousness, the focus was on religious aspects of 1960s counterculture and their persistence into the 1970s. By the 1980s this line of thought led to Habits of the Heart (again a collective product), a study of American religious practice and its connection to the common good. Habits of the Heart had a huge influence in the field. For a serious piece of social science it sold in large quantities; it pinned down some aspects of spiritual life in the U.S. (most notably with the idea of “Sheilaism“) that were in the air at the time; it helped set the agenda for a revived sociology of culture in the United States; and its methodological mix of in-depth interviews backed by survey research was an influential template for a great deal of sociological work that followed it.

I can’t really do justice to the man and his work here. I’m sure that over the next few weeks there will be many more in-depth appraisals from colleagues and experts. But he was the sort of academic whose influence was felt both through his work and his students, and whose scholarship shaped work in subfields at one and two removes from his own, even if this wasn’t always directly acknowledged.

Monsters University: the Aftermath

by Kieran Healy on June 23, 2013

Monsters University, the prequel to Monsters, Inc, opened this weekend. I brought the kids to see it. As a faculty member at what is generally thought of as America’s most monstrous university, I was naturally interested in seeing how higher education worked in Monstropolis. What sort of pedagogical techniques are in vogue there? Is the flipped classroom all the rage? What’s the structure of the curriculum? These are natural questions to ask of a children’s movie about imaginary creatures. Do I have to say there will be spoilers? Of course there will be spoilers. (But really, if you are the sort of person who would be genuinely upset by having someone reveal a few plot points in Monsters University, I am not sure I have any sympathy for you at all.) As it turned out, while my initial reactions focused on aspects of everyday campus life at MU, my considered reaction is that, as an institution, Monsters University is doomed.

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Using Metadata to find Paul Revere

by Kieran Healy on June 10, 2013

A small demonstration, from the 1770s.

PRISM

by Kieran Healy on June 6, 2013

Bureaucratic administration means fundamentally domination through knowledge. … This consists on the one hand of technical knowledge, which, by itself, is sufficient to ensure it a position of extraordinary power. But in addition to this, bureaucratic organizations, or the holders of power who make use of them, have the tendency to increase their power still further by the knowledge growing out of experience in the service. For they acquire through the conduct of office a special knowledge of facts and have available a store of documentary material peculiar to themselves. While not particular to bureaucratic organizations, the concept of “official secrets” is certainly typical of them. It stands in relation to technical knowledge in somewhat the same position as commercial secrets do to technological training. It is the product of the striving for power.

Google Glass and the need for XU Design

by Kieran Healy on May 6, 2013

I was reminded this morning of an old Dotcom Era commercial from IBM. With some helpful prompting on Twitter, I eventually tracked it down. As you can see—pixelated video notwithstanding—IBM had some of the main concepts of Google Glass covered back in 2000, notably the clear presentation of the wearer as a jerk.

One of the standard jobs in software development these days is UX Design. User Experience covers “any aspect of a user’s experience with a given system … addressing all aspects of a product or service as perceived by users.” Products like Google Glass make it clear that we should formalize the development process further to include what we can call “Experience of User” or XU Design. The XU Designer’s job will be to assess and tweak how third parties experience the users of your product or service. Is the XU experience intrusive? Is it annoying? Do our product’s XU Metrics all point in the direction of “Christ, what an asshole?” As the XU specialty develops we can trace its history back to phenomena like people loudly using cellphones in public, or people talking to you while wearing headphones, and the various ways norms and tolerances developed for these practices, or failed to develop. Right now, though, it looks like Google Glass is shaping up to be the leading XU Design disaster of our time.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to trademark the term XU Design and start a consulting company.

New Tools for Reproducible Research

by Kieran Healy on April 17, 2013

Clippy's Revenge

You can see this point made in somewhat more detail here.

We have changed the wording
in the workflow drop-down box
at the bottom of the Research Output entry screen
Validation is carried out by Editors of Content
They check the metadata fields in the Pure record
Old, New
Entry in progress
Entry in progress
Entry completed by User
Validate
The workflow statuses are visible
The new wording has been chosen
The actions behind the scenes are unchanged.

(With thanks to Martin O’Neill for the original administrative email.)

What you Can’t Expect when you’re Expecting

by Kieran Healy on February 27, 2013

Note: This post was written by L.A. Paul and Kieran Healy. The paper it draws on is available here as a PDF.

You should think carefully about whether to have kids. It’s a distinctively modern decision. Until comparatively recently, producing an heir, supplying household labor, insuring against destitution, or being fruitful and multiplying was what having a child was about. Nowadays the decision to bear a child is freighted with a more personal significance—assuming you are physically able to do so, and lucky enough to be well-off and well-situated. Children are an enormous responsibility, we are told, and you should be sure you really want to have one before you go ahead and do it. In particular, you’re supposed to reflect carefully on what it would be like. You weigh the options and make a decision.

Crucially, this involves assessments of your future experiences. You imagine your life with and without kids, and think about what it would be like or feel like to have that experience. In the language of philosophers, you must think about the phenomenology of the experience. When it comes to children, people argue endlessly about what you ought to do. Some claim motherhood is a supremely fulfilling vocation. Some wearily raise their hands (after wiping off spit-up milk) and beg to differ. Others see liberation in the decision to avoid parenthood. They complain about the presumptions of a culture that equates child-rearing with happiness or self-realization, or that looks with pity or suspicion on the indecently happy and child-free. Insofar as there is any detente in the Mommy Wars, though, it’s around the idea that you should personally reflect with great care on these issues and decide for yourself whether this … this—what? Grand adventure? Prison sentence?—this experience is for you.

That sounds like a reasonable compromise, until you realize no-one knows what it’s like to have a child, until they have one.

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Village Life

by Kieran Healy on February 17, 2013

This classic piece of New York Times Style Section trolling on “Hipsturbia” wrestles with the bitter fact that while “Brooklyn no longer feels as carefree as it did”, to “pull up stakes in Brooklyn … one has to make peace with the idea that a certain New York adventure is over”. The hipsters flee to the suburbs, but of course not just any sort of suburb: ‘“Hastings-on-Hudson is a village, in a Wittgensteinian sort of way,” Mr. Wallach said.’ The mind boggles. Although penetrating Mr Wallach’s private language is perhaps impossible and almost certainly inadvisable, to show the fly out of the fly bottle we here present the …

Top Ten Ways that Hastings-on-Hudson might be a Village in a Wittgensteinian Sense

  1. It is filled with very rich people affecting to be quite poor people.
  2. It’s located in a Remote Part of Norway.
  3. If a lion could live in this village, we would not be able to find it a decent duplex. Maybe a condo.
  4. The HOAs are unbelievably picky about exterior paintwork, door design, and appropriate methods of kite-flying.
  5. The configuration of the objects forms the atomic fact. In the atomic fact objects hang one in another, like the members of a chain. However, hanging laundry on chains at any time is absolutely forbidden.
  6. Cutting-edge methods of elementary school instruction designed to enhance discipline, focus, and respect.
  7. A property is internal if it is unthinkable that its object does not possess it, and is located inside the line demarcated on the relevant county plat map page.
  8. Feeding the duckrabbits is forbidden by local ordinance.
  9. Whereof we cannot speak, thereof we must be silent after 10pm except on public holidays.
  10. Slightly distressing sense of family resemblance amongst everyone you meet.

Popen Thread

by Kieran Healy on February 11, 2013

Pope Benedict steps down and surely Mitt Romney thinks, “One door closes, another door opens”. Or maybe the FAI could engineer a swap for Giovanni Trappatoni. Either way, the field seems wide open.

BDS BS

by Kieran Healy on February 3, 2013

The Political Science Department at Brooklyn College is co-sponsoring a panel discussion about the BDS Movement against Israel, featuring Omar Barghouti and Judith Butler. The other co-sponsors—as is typical of such events—include various student groups. The Department and University as a whole have come under strong and increasingly political pressure to either cancel the event, revoke the department’s co-sponsorship, or add a speaker who is strongly against the BDS movement. I won’t rehearse the details. Glenn Greenwald has a characteristically exhaustive discussion and defense of the BC department’s academic freedom. Crooked Timberite Corey Robin is a member of that Department, but I haven’t spoken to him about this. (In fact, I’ve never spoken to him about anything. We haven’t met.) As for other CT members, as usual I am only representing myself here.

The short version is that I think the pressure the Department is coming under is undeserved, their co-sponsorship of this panel is a simple question of academic freedom, and I invite you to write a polite note to that effect to Brooklyn College President Karen Gould, Provost William Tramontano and Director of Communications and PR Jeremy Thompson.

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Aaron Swartz

by Kieran Healy on January 14, 2013

A short memorial note from me, below the fold. [click to continue…]

Aaron Swartz, 1986—2013

by Kieran Healy on January 12, 2013

I just woke up to the terrible news that Aaron Swartz took his own life yesterday. He was twenty six years old. I don’t have much else to say at the moment other than that I am so, so sorry. Aaron was such a force for good in the world.

Invisible Men

by Kieran Healy on January 11, 2013

Over the years I’ve written about the work of Bruce Western, Becky Pettit, Chris Uggen, and other scholars who study mass incarceration in the United States. By now, the basic outlines of the phenomenon are pretty well established and, I hope, widely known. Two features stand out: its sheer scale, and its disproportionate concentration amongst young, unskilled black men. It should be astonishing to say that more than one percent of all American adults are incarcerated, and that this rate is without equal in the country’s history and without peer internationally. Similarly, it may seem hard to believe that “five percent of white men and 28 percent of black men born between 1975 and 1979 spent at least a year in prison before reaching age thirty five”, or that “28 percent of white and 68 percent of black high-school dropouts had spent at least a year in prison by 2009”.

Those numbers come from the first chapter of Becky Pettit’s new book, Invisible Men: Mass Incarceration and the Myth of Black Progress. You can read the first chapter for free, but I recommend you buy the book. Pettit’s argument is that mass incarceration is such a large and intensive phenomenon that it distorts our understanding of many other social processes.

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