Spinoza’s Dream

by Harry on September 7, 2016

My friend (and former student) Dave Nachmanoff, has just released a philosophy themed folk-concept album called Spinoza’s Dream. I love it. The concept is pretty cerebral I suppose—each song is inspired by some philosophical idea or theory—but, as usual, Dave’s songs are nevertheless affecting and often personal. And the musicianship is fantastic: Dave himself is one of those musicians who somehow manages to make a single guitar sound like a whole band, and he is joined by various Al Stewart personnel (Dave has been Al Stewart’s lead guitarist for many years; the cover is designed by Colin Elgie, who designed the cover for Year of the Cat!), and Al himself on supporting vocals on one track. Here’s the great title track:

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Phyllis Schlafly, 1924-2016

by Corey Robin on September 6, 2016

News reports are coming in that Phyllis Schlafly, the longtime conservative anti-feminist who helped defeat the ERA and propel the Republican Party to power, has died.

Despite the tremendous damage she did to women, and progressive causes more generally, I had a great deal of respect for Schlafly, not least because she was a woman who managed to navigate—and amass—power in a man’s world, all the while denying that that was what women wanted at all.

That denial, coupled with the rampant sexism of her world, cost her dearly. It was none other than Catharine MacKinnon, her most formidable antagonist, who caught the full measure of Schlafly’s greatness, and tragedy, in two 1982 debates with Schlafly over the ERA: [click to continue…]

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The Facts of Life

by Maria on September 5, 2016

Mind your own beeswax

Today’s lunchtime irritation; the password re-set questionnaire.

1 The second school I went to? I don’t know. I was FIVE. It was for a year, somewhere in the north of England. I was terribly unhappy and it was dark all the time. When Mum and Dad could afford a roast chicken, we’d call it a party and invite the neighbours. They’d have a great time but the next day it would be back to distant nods and hellos. At that point we were moving around a lot. See ‘Employment figures, Ireland, 1970s’, also ‘economic migrants, bloody Irish’.

2 The first person I kissed? Are you fking kidding me? This is information I need to a) share and b) regurgitate (I chose the verb carefully) at will? Actually, the first person I kissed, i.e. necked/shifted/snogged, was an Iraqi soldier and I was 11. Consent wasn’t really on the agenda.On the plus side, I finally understood the expression “I wanted to wash my mouth out with soap.” And no, I didn’t catch his name. The second one was fully consensual and later that same summer, and, oddly enough, made me puke. But sure, I’ll offer it up for access to a crummy user interface that can’t be arsed investing in two-factor authentication.

3 It turns out I have no idea what ‘town’ my father was born in. (It was Ireland in the 1950s. AFAIK he was born at home or in a nursing home down the road from the farm. He was about the fifth child and the fourth son, so no one was really paying attention.)

4 The first band I saw live was kind of big in Ireland in the 1980s, but their name only has two characters.

5 It is a matter of both principle and policy with me that my favourite film is Point Break. But this system disagreed. Maybe my punctuation was out or I wasn’t allowed a space? Or perhaps, as Lori Petty so memorably told those beautiful, testosterone-poisoned boys, I just wasn’t doing it right.

6 My first primary/elementary (Elementary? Really? Are we just giving up already and going to use American spelling, too? Dizaztrouz.) school was called after a saint. Who is to say, a year after I typed in this information, that I’ll get the right combination of Saint / St / St. correct? The possessive apostrophe, no problem, though. But was that really my first primary school? Or was it just a nursery? It was the loveliest Montessori place that ever cherished a small, pathologically shy child. I spent the rest of childhood wishing I could go back. What about the school I had to start Senior Infants in? (In Ireland, being a Senior and also an Infant was a real thing.) I remember as clear as day being forced to memorise (memorize!) the alphabet, a concept that seemed pointless, alien and far less interesting than reading my older brother’s books through. I sat at my tiny desk and counted up the number of years of school remaining. Fourteen. People say small children don’t understand time. Not necessarily true. And something inside hid itself away, probably for good. But the official name of the school which changed according to who was principal in the course of my life sentence? Not a clue.

7, 9, 10 Favourite subject? When? Sometimes English. Often History. For the last stretch, Biology. I also did Social and Scientific Home Economics, which clever girls were supposed to avoid, and loved it more than probably anything. This question would get firmer answers, i.e. ones that don’t change according to the vagaries of memory and taste, if it asked for the least favourite subject. The subject I spent years biting my lip to keep the tears at bay, glancing around to wonder at others who seemed to just know how it worked, endless grinds and the edict that whatever I said and however badly I did at it, I must remain in the top stream. Because. The one I buy popular books about to this day, to prove, oh, I don’t know what it is to prove. But yes, I remember that one. Ask that. I’ll get 100% this time. It’ll be very emotionally cleansing, at last.
Favourite teacher? It varied then and it varies now. Women, most of them nuns, I owe a debt to that I can never pay back, only forward. For all the damage corporal punishment was said to do, I didn’t and still don’t feel badly about the ones who gave us the odd thump, or ‘puck’ as it was called. The one where the dull metal Sacred Heart ring would deaden your arm but leave the tiniest bruise – tant pis, it was different times, then. But the one who did cold-blood humiliation and masochistic mind games? Dead to me.

And what I wanted to be when I grew up? No fucking clue. Still don’t.

9 Favourite childhood holiday? OK, this one I can answer because it’s where I still go. I’m not sure I want to offer it up to Big Data, though, seeing as it handles the rest of my memories so callously.

These are not authenticable factoids to be fed into the maw of some crappy insecurity system. I will not harvest my childhood memories for the convenience of NetSuite or Microsoft or whoever the hell. They are not fixed data-points, ready for commodification and re-use. My memories are just as irreplaceable as a fingerprint biometric, and turning them into smooth, round interchangeable tokens exhausts them in a way I despise.

Also, if I could remember half of this &%$%$, I could probably also remember my password.

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Knee Deep In The Hoopla

by John Holbo on September 2, 2016

Earworms are having a moment. As if they needed one. “All Songs Considered” served up a rewind of an old episode on “Worst Songs”. (I really can’t imagine hating Meatloaf, “Paradise By The Dashboard Light”. It’s just a blues cheese track that doesn’t take itself seriously, in a Rocky Horror way. What’s to hate? It isn’t even an earworm. Also “We were barely 17 and we were barely dressed” is great lyrics.)

But mostly it’s this GQ article getting linked around on FB: an ‘oral history’ of Starship’s “Built This City”. Here’s my favorite bit: [click to continue…]

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On Corruption at CUNY

by Corey Robin on August 30, 2016

The New York Times reports this morning:


The City University of New York is investigating whether a recent $500,000 donation intended to bolster the humanities and arts at its flagship school may have been improperly diverted.


The inquiry was prompted by senior faculty members at the school, the City College of New York, who learned that an account that should have contained roughly $600,000, thanks to the donation, had just $76. Faculty members asked City College officials for an explanation, but were met with “silence, delay and deflection” before appealing directly the university’s chancellor, James B. Milliken. Mr. Milliken then asked Frederick P. Schaffer, the university’s general counsel and senior vice chancellor for legal affairs, to look into the “the expenditure of monies donated,” according to documents obtained by The New York Times.



This is part of a followup to a piece the Times ran last spring, which I blogged about, and which claimed:


Documents obtained by The Times indicated that the college’s 21st Century Foundation paid for some of Ms. Coico’s personal expenses, such as fruit baskets, housekeeping services and rugs, when she took office in 2010. The foundation was then reimbursed for more than $150,000 from CUNY’s Research Foundation. That has raised eyebrows among governance experts, because such funds are typically earmarked for research.



It’s unclear what the $600,000 went to, and who made the decision. Hence, the investigation, which involves federal prosecutors. But at a minimum, it seems clear that the money was used for purposes it was not earmarked for.

I used to think that corruption was just one of those do-gooder good-government-type concerns, a trope neoliberal IMF officials wielded in order to force capitalism down the throat of developing countries. After years of hearing about stuff like this at CUNY, and in some cases seeing much worse, I’ve come to realize just how corrosive and politically debilitating corruption is. It’s like a fungus or a parasite. It attaches itself to a host, a body that is full of possibility and promise, a body that contains so much of what we hope for, and it feeds off that body till it dies.

One of the reasons why, politically, it’s worse when corruption happens at an institution like CUNY or in a labor union—as opposed to the legalized or even illegal corruption that goes on at the highest reaches of the political economy—is that these are, or are supposed to be, sites of opposition to all that is wrong and wretched in the world. These are institutions that are supposed to remove the muck of ages.

It’s hard enough to believe in that kind of transformative work, and those kinds of transformative institutions, under the best of conditions. But when corruption becomes a part of the picture, it’s impossible.

Corruption is pure poison. It destroys everything. Even—or especially—the promise of that transformation.

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After neoliberalism: a snippet

by John Quiggin on August 30, 2016

Over the fold, some concluding comments from a chapter I’ve written about the rise and decline of neoliberalism. I’m drawing on the “three-party system” analysis I’ve put forward before, in which neoliberalism (in both ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ forms) is increasingly breaking down under pressure from tribalists on the right, and from an amorphous, but still resurgent left.

This is just a snippet, which I hope will evolve into a more extensive discussion of the policies and political strategies the left should adopt in response to the breakdown of the neoliberal order.

[click to continue…]

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Sunday photoblogging: Herefordshire sky, today

by Chris Bertram on August 28, 2016

Herefordshire sky

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This letter to incoming students from the University of Chicago’s dean of students is getting a lot of discussion (e.g.).

Our commitment to academic freedom means that we do not support so-called “trigger warnings,” we do not cancel invited speakers because their topics might prove controversial, and we do not condone the creation of intellectual “safe spaces” where individuals can retreat from ideas and perspectives at odds with their own.

There’s something basically right with the idea that universities (in the social sciences and humanities) should be in the business of making their students uncomfortable with their preconceptions, obligng them to examine their own and others’ ideas forcefully, and getting them to acknowledge a la Max Weber that there are awkward facts for every political position. But there’s also something fundamentally wrong with the claim that the ideal of academic freedom and the idea of the safe space are opposed to each other. [click to continue…]

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More Zorn

by John Holbo on August 25, 2016

There’s a class of Amazon negative reviews. Not vicious or trolling. These are honest, often terse reports. I will not foreshadow my Kierkegaardian theme by calling them ‘preambles from the heart’. They are fired off from the front, where the battle is forever being fought and lost against the relentless disappointment of erroneous expectation. I’m thinking of purchasing In Another Light: Danish Painting In the 19th Century. But what’s this I read? “Not what I expected.wanted more Zorn!” [click to continue…]

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Great Minds Think Alike

by Corey Robin on August 25, 2016

In a pathbreaking ruling, the National Labor Relations Board announced yesterday that graduate student workers at private universities are employees with the right to organize unions.

For three decades, private universities have bitterly resisted this claim. Unions, these universities have argued, would impose a cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all approach on the ineffably individual and heterogenous nature of graduate education. Unions might be appropriate for a factory, where all the work’s the same, but they would destroy the diversity of the academy, ironing out those delicate and delightful idiosyncrasies that make each university what it is. As virtually every elite university now facing an organizing drive of its graduate students is making clear (h/t David Marcus for discovering these particular links).

Here, for example, is Columbia:


What if an individual student objected to a provision in the labor contract? Would he or she still be bound by it?





Yes. Collective bargaining is, by definition, collective in nature. This means that the union speaks and acts for all students in the bargaining unit, and the provisions in the labor contract it negotiates apply to all unit members, unless exceptions and differences are provided for explicitly in the contract.





Here’s Yale:
10. What if an individual graduate student disagreed with a provision in the contract? Would he or she still be bound by it?
Yes. Collective bargaining is, as it sounds, collective in nature. That means that the union speaks for all graduate students in the bargaining unit, and the provisions in the contract it negotiates apply to all unit members, unless exceptions and differences are provided for in the agreement.

Here’s the University of Chicago:

What if an individual graduate student objected to a provision in the labor contract? Would he or she still be bound by it?

Yes. Collective bargaining is, as it sounds, collectivist in nature. This means that the union speaks and acts for all graduate students in the bargaining unit, and the provisions in the labor contract it negotiates apply to all unit members, unless exceptions and differences are provided for in the contract.

And here’s Princeton:
What if an individual graduate student objected to a provision in the labor contract? Would he or she still be bound by it?

Yes. Collective bargaining focuses on graduate students as a group, not as individuals. This means that a union would speak and act for all graduate students in the bargaining unit, and the provisions in the labor contract would apply to all unit members, unless exceptions are provided for in the contract.


Casual readers might conclude that the only thing standardized and cookie-cutter about unions in elite universities is the argument against them.

Or perhaps it’s just that great minds sometimes really do think alike.

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The EU referendum divided the UK very deeply. Some people want reconciliation with their political opponents; for others the scars are too recent. I’m in the latter camp. A national political project requires people to think of themselves as being in some sense in community with their co-nationals and to recognize themselves as being under special obligations to those others, obligations that they don’t have to outsiders. But I now feel myself out of community with my co-nationals who voted differently. Of course, I’m not utterly indifferent to their well-being — they have their human rights after all, even though they might dispute that — but I don’t feel any enthusiasm beyond pragmatic self-interest for putting them ahead of distant others.

One reason for this is that I think of nearly all of them as racists and xenophobes. Since this is one of the most bitterly resented accusation, prone to trigger outbursts of indignation, some explanation is needed. So here goes. Most Brexiters don’t actively hate foreigners. At least I think and hope that’s true, so let me stipulate that it is. If active hatred were a necessary component of racism and xenophobia then it would follow that most Brexiters are neither racists nor xenophobes. But I don’t think such an active attitude is needed for the accusation to proceed. Rather, I have something else in mind.

Brexit triggered a wave of hate crimes against the many EU citizens living in the UK, and, indeed, against foreigners more generally and made the legal and social position of those people precarious. This was all predictable. The formerly silent haters felt that the vote gave them a licence to act. Leaving the European Union also leave EU citizen residents in a state of acute insecurity, unsure what their future status will be. Brexiters were nearly all, when they contemplated their vote prospectively, indifferent to these impacts or they failed to give them the thought they should have. Though some Brexiters now seem appalled at what they have wrought, they seem incapable of grasping the full complexity of the rights that need reviewing and protecting which go beyond residence and work but extend to family life, and many social rights. [click to continue…]

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Sunday photoblogging: wires near St David’s

by Chris Bertram on August 21, 2016

Wires near St David's

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Scholars and critics may learnedly dispute when Schulz did his finest work with Peanuts. Let me say, I’m reading Volume 11 (1971-2) with the younger one, and we were dying over the whole Bunny-Wunnies business. I’ll quote from the wiki bibliography of Miss Helen Sweetstory’s collected works:

The Six Bunny Wunnies and Their Pony Cart
The Six Bunny Wunnies Go to Long Beach
The Six Bunny Wunnies Make Cookies
The Six Bunny Wunnies Join an Encounter Group
The Six Bunny Wunnies and Their XK-E
The Six Bunny Wunnies and Their Water Bed
The Six Bunny Wunnies and Their Layover in Anderson, Indiana
The Six Bunny Wunnies and the Female Veterinarian
The Six Bunny Wunnies Freak Out

Let’s not forget the time Snoopy became disillusioned with Miss Sweetstory’s collected works and gifted the set to a grateful Linus. [click to continue…]

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Donald Trump is the least of the GOP’s problems

by Corey Robin on August 18, 2016

The Associated Press ran a story earlier this week on the continuing crack-up of the Republican Party:

As he [Trump] skips from one gaffe to the next, GOP leaders in Washington and in the most competitive states have begun openly contemplating turning their backs on their party’s presidential nominee to prevent what they fear will be wide-scale Republican losses on Election Day.

Republicans who have devoted their professional lives to electing GOP candidates say they believe the White House already may be lost. They’re exasperated by Trump’s divisive politics and his insistence on running a general election campaign that mirrors his approach to the primaries.


The central weakness of the article—like so much of the reporting on the election this year—is that it posits Trump as the source of the party’s crack-up.

In actual fact, the seeds of the decline of the GOP and conservatism were sown long ago. That decline has little to do with the weaknesses of any candidate or elected official, mistakes this one or that one might have made. To the contrary, the decline reflects the strengths and achievements of both the Republican Party and the conservative movement. Both the party and the movement, in other words, are victims of their success.

The candidacy of Donald Trump, for all its idiosyncrasies, is symptomatic of two cycles of political time: one peculiar to the Republican Party, the other to the conservative movement. [click to continue…]

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Against Locke: Part 3

by John Quiggin on August 15, 2016

The third and final instalment of my critique of Locke’s theory of appropriation/expropriation is up at Jacobin. I turn my attention from Locke to Jefferson, Locke’s most important follower, in practice as well as theory. By opening the Louisiana purchase for agricultural settlement, Jefferson put to the test Locke’s theory of appropriation to a practical test. In particular, the vastness of the land, compared with the modest requirements of the ideal Jeffersonian farm family seemed to support Jefferson’s prediction that the new land would be enough to last a thousand generations. But of course the opposite was true: in less than one generation, the United States had overspilled the boundaries of Jefferson’s purchase and was embroiled in a civil war that started with battles over the newly opened land. To restate the conclusion of the previous instalments, Locke’s theory was designed to justify expropriation and enslavement. Neither Locke nor epigones such as Nozick and Rothbard can provide a coherent theory of just appropriation of property.

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