My department just held its second annual ceremony celebrating our graduating majors and, again, the chair was kind enough to ask me to make some remarks (you can find last year’s remarks here). Again I followed two of our majors, whose talks were excellent.

I’m posting the comments here, again, partly because it was fun, and partly as a resource for others. Last time I invited people to use whatever they want without attribution and, again, feel free though in this case the two personal examples make that a little more difficult.

I have omitted four jokes that went down particularly well, three of which don’t look quite right in writing, the other of which was spontaneous. But the video of the speech is up on facebook and shouldn’t be hard to find (it’s public) so you can watch/listen there, and critique my delivery. Maybe someone else can figure out how to embed it here (I can’t).

A tranche of about 10 students graduated this year, all of whom took a class with me in their first semester as freshmen, and who have taken (or attended without taking) classes with me on and off throughout. I saw 9 of them (plus a boyfriend) the night before the event, and realised that not only are none of them Philosophy majors, but none of them are even graduating from my college (Letters and Science). But two of them (and a mum) kindly attended the Philosophy reception, non-awkwardly. The comment about liking, admiring, and respecting at the end—well, that’s how I feel about lots of our majors too, but it was formulated with those others in mind.

Here are the comments:

First I want to congratulate the students who are graduating, and thank the parents, friends, and supporters who are here to celebrate with you. And to thank especially whoever has been paying tuition the past few years. We’re all sad that we don’t get to teach the students any more, but somebody at least is glad that the paying is over.

Last year I reassured the parents about how well prepared philosophy graduates are for the labor market. That was an exercise in futility – if you are here, you either know that they are well-prepared for the labour market, or you don’t care or, perhaps, you are just really pissed off with them, and going through this whole weekend with gritted teeth; and nothing much I say will convince you otherwise.

So this year I thought I’d explore how well-prepared they are to be leaders in our democracy. Now, in saying that, I don’t want you to think they have a high chance of being elected. Probably not, in fact. But they are well-trained and well-prepared to contribute to changing the way the culture of our democracy works.

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Kenneth Clark on Velazquez

by John Holbo on May 15, 2017

No one is willing to wait in moderation for God-knows-how-long on a Sunday to see their comments to my Samurai Jack post finally show. Evidently, it’s just not worth the trouble! Well, here’s some more elevated art criticism. I’m reading a Kenneth Clark essay on Velazquez, and he’s remarking on how we prefer the buffoons and dwarfs. “Take away the carapace of their great position, and how pink and featureless the King and Queen become, like prawns without their shells.” That’s true! He looks like a prawn. Her, too. How did I miss it before? [click to continue…]


Sunday photoblogging: Pézenas, Place Gambetta

by Chris Bertram on May 14, 2017

Pézenas- Place Gambetta


Samurai Jack, Season 5

by John Holbo on May 14, 2017

12 years after Season 4 left us hanging, we get Season 5! I’m up to episode 8. It’s a bit harsher than the original – not really so appropriate for little kids. Normally I disapprove of that grim-dark development arc. But in this case it works out great. The story is great. The characters are great. Jack is back, and the animation is drop-dead gorgeous. Samurai Jack has always been one of my stylistic favorites. It hits a UPA flat-style cartoon modern sweet spot between a bunch of other influences: Kurosawa, Frank Miller, Bruce Timm, with a Mary Blair color palette and Eyvind Earle backgrounds. Season 5 is the most beautiful yet. They’ve taken it to next level.



Freedom of the City

by Maria on May 12, 2017

Two nights ago, I got back from a work-dinner, kicked off my heels in the hall and hung up the smart jacket that went with them, pulled on docs and a coat to walk the dog. Which is worse; a half-mile walk in a too-tight dress now, or a long-cold shit on the kitchen floor in the morning? Walk it was.

Half way round the walk – which has gradually lengthened from ‘don’t stop walking right after the dog shits because he’ll learn to hold it in to maximise the walk’ to ‘sod it, may as well do the mile’ – the lolloping pace of the docs, the cool and the dark, and a sudden realisation that with a medium to large sized dog I feel somewhat impervious – it came to me. I felt free. Free in a way I haven’t felt since Jerusalem in 1996, I think it was.

Rolling back a little. My first ever holiday alone. The Greek Islands. Black sands of Santorini, a night spent sleeping on the deck of a ferry and waking up with the sun. Actually, that’s all I can remember. After Santorini I couldn’t take any more of all the same and got a flight to Israel to do some real traveling. I got there a day or two after Benjamin Netanyahu had won his first election. I saw him on the street, actually, in the middle of a dozen or two people bowling along the pavement, then careening from the footpath to cross the street and spin back again, like primary school boys in a moving melee around the ball.

I stayed in a youth hostel somewhere central-ish in Jerusalem.

“Hi Mum,” I couldn’t resist calling home. No point being a rebel unless you let the establishment know. “Guess where I am.”

She couldn’t, so I told her. There may have been a sharp intake of breath on the other end, but history doesn’t relate. History does relate that on the out-breath she said; “Oh you must look up Declan Meagher. He delivered you all and he runs the maternity hospital in Bethlehem, now.”
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Back, Sack and Crack

by Maria on May 12, 2017

This morning, Milo had his third professional grooming session. The first was a disaster. The salon we took him to thought they knew better than the universal wisdom of Samoyed owners, which is to brush first, then shampoo. Reverse the order, and brushing becomes impossible for, oh, about three months, till the matted undercoat grows out. He came home looking like a sheep who’s been too liberal with the Brylcreem, but instead of comely ripples of fur flowing down his back he had a mogul-field made of clumps of three-inch thick dog-felt.

The second time was pretty good. A woman parked outside and ran a power-flex into the house. Milo leapt into the van and sprang out a couple of hours later looking like a pompom. In the meantime, though, his yowling and weeping could be heard through both the van door and the front door and all the way back to the kitchen. When I went to get him, the inside of the van was covered with so much white fluff it looked like a candy floss drum right before the stick goes in.

Third time round, we went with the van-lady again. We have builders in. (Actually, we’ve had them in since January 2016. Work slowed down a LOT in the summer when the best one went home on a family visit and was press-ganged back into the army to go and fight in Donetsk. Allegedly.) When the van arrived and backed into the back-garden, the builders did the whole manly thing of waving it in and holding the gates, issuing a stream of instructions in loud Ukrainian. The Portuguese-speaking groomer found it very helpful.

Then we all had five or so minutes of trying to catch Milo and calm him down as he pinballed around the house and garden, dodging (mostly) power tools and ladders. At one point he stopped suddenly and tiptoed like a Lipizzaner out of the kitchen to hid behind the door, probably on the logic that if he couldn’t see us, etc. etc. Eventually, we got him into the van. The lamenting began and I went back to work upstairs. [click to continue…]


With Notably Few Exceptions

by Henry on May 12, 2017

Via Kieran on Twitter. We’ve been here before.


Geoffrey Bayldon is dead

by Harry on May 11, 2017

In my properly aspiringly middle class household we were allowed to watch ITV, but we were mocked for it. So when Catweazle was first shown, I never saw it. I knew about it, though, and for a while I bought Look In, solely for the Catweazle and Timelsip strips. I did watch it in repeats when I was a bit older, and more willing to endure the mockery. But when Network put out the DVDs I got them immediately, and have now watched every episode several times, with each of the kids and lots of the their friends. The second series is great, but the first series is sublime. Packed with character actors, many yet to become famous; stupid—and brilliant—sight gags and puns; short, and sweet, episodes. But, at the core, is Bayldon; dirty, ragged, mischievous, bewildered. Its hard to imagine anyone else—maybe not even Jon Pertwee—succeeding in the role. And, for me, seeing him in anything else is bizarre (his presence makes it as hard for me to take To Sir With Love seriously as Leonard Rossiter’s makes 2001 A Space Odyssey). You don’t have to get the DVDs, by the way. Every episode seems to be on youtube.

Here’s the evening standard, because I can’t find a BBC or grauniad obit. Nothing works.


Cory Doctorow seminar

by Henry on May 10, 2017

Cory Doctorow’s new book, Walkaway, a novel, an argument and a utopia, all bound up into one, is out. And we’re running a seminar on it. The participants and their posts are all below.

  • Henry Farrell blogs at Crooked Timber. No Exit.


Coase’s Spectre

by Cory Doctorow on May 10, 2017

If you’ve read Walkaway (or my other books), you know that I’m not squeamish about taboos, even (especially) my own. I even confess to a certain childish, reactionary pleasure in breaking through them (especially my own!).

But I have a single to-date-inviolable taboo, inculcated into my writerly soul by the elders who nurtured and taught me when I was a baby writer: DON’T RESPOND TO CRITICS. Not when they’re right, especially not when they’re wrong. It never reflects well on you. You can privately gripe to your good friends about unfair criticism (or worse, fair criticism!), but people who don’t like your book don’t like your book and you can’t make them like your book by explaining why they’re wrong, and the spectacle of you doing this will likely convince other people that you’re the kind of fool whose books should not touched with a 3.048m pole.

A corollary, gleaned from the wonderful Steven Brust when I was a baby writer haunting Usenet in the late 1980s: “telling a writer you think his book’s no good is like telling him he’s got an ugly kid. Even if it’s true, the writer did everything he could to prevent it and now it’s too late to do anything about it.”

Rules are made to be broken. These two rules of thumb have served me well in my writerly and readerly life, but a symposium like this is an extraordinary circumstance, a Temporary Autonomous Zone where even the deepest-felt taboos are exploded without mercy. Let us press on, even as my inner compass whirls, unmoored from the norms that were its magnetic north. [click to continue…]


Comey and Hypocrisy

by John Holbo on May 10, 2017

It is not hypocritical in the least for Democrats to be outraged about Comey over the Clinton business and also to be outraged over Trump’s firing of Comey, apparently to hinder FBI investigations of Trump and his associates. (One presumes Trump has a motive for the firing and the official reason is obviously not the real one.)

If Republicans try to troll Democrats – and I see that they already are – here’s the short, sharp response: we all agree that someone may deserve to be punished, but also that proper procedures for punishing them need to be observed. This is not hypocrisy. It’s the rule of law. If I say Smith should be arrested for capital crimes, and then I am outraged when Smith dies in custody in a suspicious manner, suggesting the police might be covering their own crimes, I am not a hypocrite. The firing is like that. If you care about the rule of law, you are outraged that Comey was fired today. If you care about the integrity of US elections, you are outraged he wasn’t fired before. There is no tension in the view that the rule of law is good, yet the integrity of elections is also good. If Republicans want to make the case that one or both of these are bad, or that it’s wrong to want both, let them make their case openly and honestly.


From Scarcity to Abundance

by Eric on May 9, 2017

I suppose I should begin by saying few things have ever made me feel as old as this book does; Doctorow’s idea of utopia seems to be something that maybe some kids would like—but I wouldn’t. I’ve no interest in uploading myself and living indefinitely as a meta-stabilized simulation, even if it means downloading myself someday into some new, buff, handsome body. I find it impossible to believe that either the sim or the physique too sexy for its shirts would ever be, in any meaningful sense, me. I don’t just happen to inhabit my body, which is aging and will someday die; I am it—and that is not just okay; that is me.

That aside, let me say that what I take to be the basis for the book is one I find intriguing indeed: how do we navigate the shift from a society premised on scarcity to one premised on abundance? The recent burst of writing on the roboticization of labor has brought home the imminence of an era in which most of us will be economically surplus. Keynes had an idea that the abundant society would be one of leisure and widespread artistic endeavor, one toward which we should aim and for which we should plan; his was a fetching optimism, which appears to have no purchase on the zero-sum, inequality-hugging societies of our time. But abundance, and the values that recognize it, is where Doctorow wants to go—a future in which acquisitiveness might still exist, but is not only no longer laudable, but has become shameful.

Doctorow’s novel envisions a utopia that takes the blogosphere and wikis and other online communities (probably not metafilter though) as the basic model for how an abundant society might organize itself. Physical spaces are as cheaply furnished in his book as virtual ones now are, online. You could live in a world as sleek and spare and instant as a Squarespace site, only less lonely. The key move in establishing such communities is, in Doctorow’s imagined future, turning passive-aggression into a virtue—if someone has screwed up, someone else will just fix it; don’t bother trying to hold the erring party responsible. Doctorow sketches for us these functioning societies formed by walkaways—self-deportees from a reality not unlike our own. These are real-world spaces, as easily pioneered as a new WordPress blog. They would be just as easily infested by trolls, too—but Doctorow seems to think that community norms could quite readily expel such infestations. My own experience of trying to moderate comments sections makes me less optimistic than I take him to be.

Does this sound as though I’m reviewing a philosophical essay, rather than a novel? I hope I’m not being unfair if I say that Doctorow pretty clearly intends this to be a novel of ideas, in which plot and character are secondary to intellectual development. How much you like it will depend on how much you want to turn the ideas over in your head. Doctorow writes of one of his characters, after she is walked through an intellectual thicket, “This discussion killed her horniness.” As the kids say these days, “it me.”


This new Chronicle article by Michael Vasquez on a surreptitious effort by a non-profit organization to get conservatives elected to student government positions is worth reading throughout. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with conservatives organizing to get elected – what’s fishy is the stark contradiction between the organization’s private self-understanding (a “rather undercover, underground operation” to change politics on campus) and its public self description. See further this Amy Binder piece for a description of the background politics – what is happening, more or less, is that bomb-throwing conservative campus organizations are sparring with the more sedate and traditional ones for the money and attention of donors, and winning.

But what I wanted to single out was this bit, which very much reads to me as one of those ‘the journalist strongly believes that there is something interesting going on, but hasn’t nailed down interview or documentary evidence’ hanging observations that you sometimes see in news articles (I understand from talking to journalists that such paragraphs are often a way of shaking the tree – if you put something out there, it may encourage others to come forward with more evidence).

Yet there is one policy proposal that almost always shows up with Turning Point’s candidates: promoting Uber.

The ride-sharing service has long been touted by conservative politicians as an example of free-market innovation. Student government can push for Uber in two important ways: lobbying local municipalities to allow Uber service on campus, and setting aside student-government funds for late-night “safe ride” programs that provide free or discounted Uber service to students.

In Mr. Kirk’s book, a group of “Turning Point USA activists” are credited with helping the University of Southern California’s student government reach its free-ride arrangement with Uber. Mr. Kirk’s book mentions Uber 42 times.

… At the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa last year, the student-government president at the time, Lillian Roth, was an outspoken supporter of bringing Uber back to campus. She even met with Tuscaloosa city officials on the issue, and the city allowed Uber to resume service last summer.

Ms. Roth was endorsed by Turning Point’s student chapter at Alabama. Her father, Toby Roth, has long been active in Alabama politics and is a registered lobbyist for Uber. Mr. Roth said his daughter didn’t have a conflict of interest in advocating for Uber.

“She was not a decision maker in the process,” he said. “Whether or not Uber came to campus was not in her discretion. If she was on the City Council in Tuscaloosa, if she was the mayor of Tuscaloosa, then yes, I think recusal would be in order.”

Notably, Vasquez shows that it isn’t just activists at the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa that have been pushing the pro-Uber perspective. Perhaps the elective affinity between conservative campus activism and promoting Uber is just so compelling that pretty well everyone whom Turning Support has helped fund independently sees this as a core issue. Perhaps not.


Free Your Mind (And The Rest Will Follow?)

by Neville Morley on May 8, 2017

If the world is burning, and the walls of western civilization are collapsing around our ears, what exactly is the point of devoting time not only to reading speculative fiction – that might be understood, if not necessarily excused, as a temporary escape from contemporary horrors – but to discussing it in a learned manner? Surely our intellectual energies should be focused on the real problems that confront us, not on the imaginary problems of an imagined future? But, the answer may come, of course these are really our problems; extrapolated and magnified and taken to extremes, but still recognisably versions of the issues we face. Still, time is short; surely a more direct engagement with this world is what’s needed, to have any hope of real solutions? [click to continue…]


I decided it was about time to reread the classics. Fantastic Four #11, to be exact.

In this scene the FF are reading from the mailbag. (Ben has, once again, been temporarily turned human by one of Reed’s serums. It won’t last.)

What is Reed going to say, you wonder? Well, wait no longer, loyal Marvelite! Just click and read under the fold! ‘Nuff said! [click to continue…]