Sunday photoblogging: 19th arrondissement

by Chris Bertram on January 4, 2015

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Best political philosophy/theory papers, a decade later

by Chris Bertram on January 3, 2015

Back in 2004 I wrote a piece here asking for people to nominate the most significant political philosophy/theory papers of the previous ten years. On twitter, @sreddi_515 asks me whether there was ever a second round. Well no, but why not?

Last time I nominated five suggestions to kick us off, so why not again? Some of these papers I profoundly disagree with, but I think they are all worth the effort.

  • Charles Mills (2005). “‘Ideal Theory’ as Ideology”. Hypatia, 20(3).
  • Andrea Sangiovanni (2007). “Global Justice, Reciprocity, and the State. Philosophy and Public Affairs, 35(1).
  • Arash Abizadeh (2008). “Democratic Theory and Border Coercion”. Political Theory, 36(1),
  • Zofia Stemplowska, (2008). “What’s ideal about ideal theory?” Social Theory and Practice, 34(3).
  • David Estlund, (2011). “Human nature and the limits (If any) of political philosophy”. Philosophy and Public Affairs, 39(3).

Over to you….

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Untimorous Beastie

by Maria on January 3, 2015

People are always asking me where my hugely fluffy and dolphin-smiling Samoyed dog, Milo, is from. ‘Northamptonshire’ always gets a laugh. He’s been a great little traveler from the first, which is probably pure luck, but I put it partly down to his general ebullience. Last April, Ed and I drove a few hours north of London to get the little beastie. We stopped off first at Ed’s old prep school, where he’d been sent from Ireland at the age of eight. It was a Sunday and they now just do weekly boarding, so we walked around the school’s silent rose garden, playing field and pond. I can’t say seeing the place helped me understand its place in his psyche any better, but he was surprised and moved to remember places and things he’d forgotten, and find the new-old memories were happier than he’d thought. Then we went and plucked our white little furball from his own litter and drove three hours home with him on my lap. He didn’t wee or howl or soil himself, or even try to escape, poor little thing. Having no obvious traumas on that journey seemed to set him up to be a good car dog; well, so far so good, anyway.

Milo’s habits are simple and revolting. He is a proper South London dog. For the first couple of months there was nothing on the street he wouldn’t eat; spilt curry, vomited curry, styrofoam, plastic bags, used condoms and cigarette butts. He has absolutely no concept of gastrointestinal cause and effect. The first time he stayed overnight with Henry and his family in Ireland this summer, Milo crept out and gobbled half a gallon of gone-off shellfish that had been thrown away into a ditch down the road. When Ed is old and takes – finally – to warming up old stories for me, he’ll probably not count as a high point in our marriage the three a.m. pool of crustacean-laced dog-sick at the bottom of the bed and me under a pillow saying; ‘It’s too disgusting; you deal with it’.
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Happy New Year!

by Eszter Hargittai on January 2, 2015

No CT posts in 2015 yet? No wishing our readers a Happy New Year? Let’s fix that. With this video, wishing all our readers and commenters (hopefully the latter a subset of the former ;-) much health and happiness in 2015!

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Consequentialist arguments for deontological claims

by John Quiggin on December 30, 2014

Thinking about various interchanges on the Internetz, a great many have the frustrating property that, while they appear to be couched in consequentialist terms, some or all of the participants are defending claims that they actually hold for deontological reasons[^1]. For example, a follower of Pythagoras (who, apocryphally, forbade the eating of beans) might appear in a discussion about beans and claim that we shouldn’t eat beans because

  • they cause flatulence
  • bean production is environmentally destructive
  • the bean industry is dominated by exploitative multinationals
    The problem for someone seeking to counter these arguments is that, even if they are all refuted, the Pythagorean will not agree that it is OK to eat beans.
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Even the liberal New Republic…

by Corey Robin on December 29, 2014

supports third party challenges that would forcing the Democrats to lose a presidential election in order to produce a change in the party’s ideological direction:

In the spring of 1983, the magazine ran a cover story…declaring that the Democratic Party needed to lose the 1984 election. Longtime liberal subscribers recoiled with horror. But Fairlie wanted a defeat that would shock a sclerotic party into reform and recovery, not a Republican triumph. In fact, the essay did a good job laying out the path that Bill Clinton and the Democratic Leadership Council would follow on the way to the election of 1992.

When The New Republic makes this argument from the right, TNR-style liberals like David Bell, writing in the LA Review of Books above, welcome it as a healthy dose of clear-eyed realism.

When leftists make this sort of argument from the left, TNR-style liberals like Sean Wilentz, murmuring darkly of “left-wing utopianism,” invoke Dostoevsky. Seriously.

 

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Sunday photoblogging: North View houses

by Chris Bertram on December 28, 2014

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Happy Christmas, Timberteers!

by Maria on December 25, 2014

milo christmas 2014CT
And a very happy holiday to non-Christmas celebrators, and a good and healthy and fruitful and happy 2015 to all our readers and commenters.

Yours, Milo (the dog Crooked Timber commenters named…)

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A Christmas story

by Chris Bertram on December 23, 2014

And when they [the wise men] were departed, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, Arise and take the young child and his mother, and flee into Egypt, and be thou there until I bring thee word: for Herod will seek the young child to destroy him. When he arose, he took the young child and his mother by night, and departed into Egypt: And was there until the death of Herod: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of by the Lord by the prophet, saying, Out of Egypt have I called my son. (Matthew 13-14).

Joseph, Mary and Jesus were able to get asylum in Egypt, having, as they did, a well-founded fear of persecution, and when it was safe for them to return, they did. Today, by contrast, wealthy states (like the Egypt of the time) do all they can to prevent those fleeing political or religious persecution from getting across the border. The barriers are such that many people take desperate risks to escape the regimes they are threatened by in Syria or Eritrea, and end up drowning in the Mediterranean. Those that do make it are often disbelieved, stigmatized as “bogus” asylum-seekers, and even prosecuted for using false documents to enter.

Many of the citizens of those wealthy states will take part in Christian religious services over the next few days, perhaps the only time they do that year. Many will be people who vote for parties committed to “clamping down” on migrants and erecting further barriers to the persecuted. Let’s hope that at least some of them notice that the Christmas story is also a story of refugees.

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Sandy Hook and Peshawar

by John Quiggin on December 22, 2014

A couple of news items that struck me recently

  • In the immediate aftermath of the Peshawar massacre, a Pakistani judge granted bail to the alleged planner of the Mumbai massacre, Zaki ur Rehman Lakhvi, a leading figure in the (military-backed) Lashkar e-Taibi terrorist group.

Obviously, these decisions were neither aberrational nor the product of a legal system divorced from any social context. Rather, they reflect deeply ingrained views in the societies from which they emerged. Beyond that point, I don’t have a lot to say, but I’ll be interested to read the views of others.

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A Weimar-y Vibe (Updated)

by Corey Robin on December 22, 2014

If you haven’t been following the situation in New York City since Saturday, things are getting tense.

On Saturday, a gunman shot and killed two police officers at close range in the Bedford Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn.

The murders come on the heels of weeks of protest in New York (and elsewhere) against the rampant lawlessness and brutality of the police.

Instantly, the police and their defenders moved into high gear, blaming the murders on the protesters; NYC Mayor Bill De Blasio, who had been gesturing toward the need for police reform; and US Attorney General Eric Holder. Many have called for the mayor’s resignation.

The police union and its head, Patrick Lynch, were the most forthright:


“There is blood on many hands, from those that incited violence under the guise of protest to try to tear down what police officers did every day,” Mr. Lynch said.


“That blood on the hands starts on the steps of city hall in the office of the mayor.”



A statement purporting to be from the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, the biggest police union, blamed Mr. de Blasio for the shootings.


“The mayor’s hands are literally dripping with our blood because of his words, actions and policies,” read the statement, “and we have, for the first time in a number of years, become a ‘wartime’ police department. We will act accordingly.”


The statement instructed officers to forward it to colleagues, and it spread instantly through the department.


The Sergeants Benevolent Association issued a similar statement on Twitter.



I had heard that that statement was not in fact from the PBA, but now I can’t find anything definitive about it. In any event, it gives you a flavor of what Greg Grandin is calling a “cop coup” in New York. It’s a strong term, but it’s hard not to conclude that the mayor believes his first duty is not to the security and well-being of the people of New York but to the security and well-being of the NYPD. Because the fate of his administration is in their hands.


The mayor has already called upon protesters to suspend their protests. Even though the protesters had already considerably softened their line—chanting “Blue Lives Matter,” too—De Blasio said today:


“It’s time for everyone to put aside political debates, put aside protests, put aside all of the things that we will talk about in due time.”…”That can be for another day.”


The mayor’s call came a few hours after the police commissioner, William J. Bratton, said that the killing of the officers on Saturday was a “direct spinoff of this issue” of the protests that have roiled the nation in recent weeks.



And with that, De Blasio’s pretty much handed over his administration to the NYPD.


Listening to these cries from the cops—of blood on people’s hands, of getting on a war footing—it’s hard not to think that a Dolchstosslegende is being born. Throw in the witches brew of race and state violence that kicked it off, the nearly universal obeisance to the feelings and sensitivities of the most powerful and militarized sectors of the state, and the helplessness and haplessness of the city’s liberal voices, and you begin to get a sense of the Weimar-y vibe (and not the good kind) out there.


But whatever historical precedent comes to mind, one thing is clear.

The entire New York City establishment—not just De Blasio, but political, cultural, and economic elites—is terrified (or in support) of the cops. With the exception of this fairly cautious statement from Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, himself a former police captain, not one of these figures has spoken out against the Freikorps-ish rhetoric emanating from the NYPD. It’s not that these men and women are spineless or gutless in a psychological or personal sense. It’s worse: They’re politically frightened, which is far more dangerous. Because they have no sense of an alternative base or source of power. After decades of being whipsawed by capital—you could trace this rot all the way back to 1975, if not even further—they’re simply not prepared to take on the police. Even if they wanted to.

Update (December 26)

Via Digby, who was also skeptical of my initial report, comes this article in the New York Times of the impact the political response to the killing has had on the critique of the police:


Just how dramatic the turnabout has been in New York could be measured by a scene that unfolded this week at City Hall. There were no Council members blocking traffic. There were no choruses of “I can’t breathe.” And there were no mayoral meetings with protesters.


Instead, there was unstinting praise for the police from the Council speaker, Melissa Mark-Viverito, who earlier this month had asked her colleagues to repeat “I can’t breathe” 11 times, for the number of times Mr. Garner said those words before he died in the encounter with the police.


“We are here to send a simple and direct message: that we unequivocally support, appreciate and value our police officers, that we condemn any and all violence against them, that we must end hateful and divisive rhetoric which seeks to demonize officers and their work,” Ms. Mark-Viverito, flanked by fellow Council members, said at a news conference.


 

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Sunday photoblogging: Natural History Museum, London

by Chris Bertram on December 21, 2014

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Concluding Serial; or, Koenig v. Ranke

by Eric on December 19, 2014

The hott podcast Serial concluded this week with its twelfth episode, an episode that crystallized for me why I like it. For all the complaints – that it is white privilege in distilled radio form; that it is really about its host, Sarah Koenig – it is a pretty good dramatization of the historical process.

And it’s not only because this week one of the intrepid reporter/producers descended into an actual archive to retrieve a critical document and, despite some gratuitous mockery of the archivists, gave a sense of what it’s actually like to do that and why you would want to.

It’s ultimately because Koenig held herself to a standard of argument that’s similar to what historians use. She repeatedly questioned herself as she pursued her research over the course of months; she tried to disprove her hunches even as she followed them, and ultimately concluded with “what we know” – which is distinct from “what really happened” (yes, she goes all Ranke on us).

Here’s how she ends (SPOILERS):

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My God! It’s Full of Arse!

by Henry on December 19, 2014

I think that anyone who sits down to read the Wieseltier decades of critical reviews in The New Republic will notice that at some mysterious philosophical level a great many of those hundreds of essays seem to cohere. It is not because they display a particular ideological bent or follow a political line. Something deeper is at work, which I do not know how to describe. (It is a task for a philosopher-historian.) I note a nearly uniform predisposition against the doctrines of determinism, whether they be scientific or economic or identity-political. There has always been, in any case, an intellectual ardor, as if the entire “back of the book” were asmolder with passion—a passion for the creative labors of certain species of writers and artists and thinkers. For the uncorruptible ones, for the ones-of-a-kind, for the people who are allergic to fads and factions and the stratagems of self-advancement. Perhaps the entire section has been animated by the belief, keen and insistent and unstated, that humanity’s fate lies in the hands of those people. This is not the sort of belief that researchers will declare one day to be scientifically confirmed. But it has the advantage of generating a hot-blooded criticism—occasionally cruel or trigger-happy, but always intense, which means thrilling.

I can’t help wondering if Berman is making some class of a highly elliptical bid to be nominated for the Bad Sex Award (subsection on intellectual affairs). Discuss, if you really have to.

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Research Excellence Framework… the denouement

by Chris Bertram on December 18, 2014

In the UK, we’ve just got the results of the Research Excellence Framework, successor to the Research Assessment Excercise, and the method that the state uses to disburse a very large amount of public money. Nobody is sure why the name was changed from “exercise” to “framework”, but since you can strap a person to a frame and then compel them to submit to sundry indignities, the change seems apt. The point of the REF is to measure the quality of research done at a particular institution and to give more of it, indeed most of it, to the departments that have produced the best work. It also has other effects, such as moving universities up and down in various league tables, and doing the same for their constituent departments. One further effect of those movements is to get university managers sharpening knives and threatening to close departments and sack individuals. It is all very unpleasant.

You would hope, then, that an exercise so fateful for the lives of academics and for the distribution of public money would measure what it is supposed to measure. No doubt there is some relationship between good research and REF scores, but there are also significant problems. One of these is that people are incentivized to produce research that will meet with the approval of the assessors and that this may have a conservative effect on disciplines, which also, thereby, become more disciplinary towards the heterodox. Another is that the rules for inclusion may be constructed in such a way that research that redounds to the credit of one institution may have been done somewhere else entirely. This has, in the past, resulted in a transfer market for “high fliers” and the payment of salaries to them which may have restricted entry-level opportunities. When this happens in the UK, we’ve effectively had a near zero sum game between institutions which won’t have done much to improve the overall quality of research done. The other issue has been the question of how to include people with fractional appointments in the assessment. This time, anybody employed on a 0.2 contract (that is, effectively one day a week) could be submit the same number of “outputs” to the exercise as a full-time employee. Although the inclusion of such a person would only increase the staff numbers eligible for “QR” funding by 0.2, their papers and books would still raise the average score of the department as if they counted for one, and this average, multiplied by the staff numbers, will benefit them financially. And, of course, such a department would rise higher in the league table than its comparators, with possible ill-effects for the displaced.

Of course, there may be perfectly good reasons to offer top American scholars 0.2 contracts at UK universities. They may improve the environment, be of service to graduate students, and so on. I’ve been assured that such were the reasons the University of Birmingham employed Paul Boghassian (NYU), Hartry Field (NYU), Kit Fine (NYU), Allison Jaggar (Colorado), Stephen Neale (CUNY), Susanna Siegel (Harvard), and Ralph Wedgwood (USC) in its Philosophy department. Still, when the BBC publishes a league table saying that “most world leading research” in Philosophy in the UK is done at Birmingham, one might think that claim a misleading one.

I’m also puzzled, given the effects on the disbursement of public money, why no UK university sought to challenge the 0.2 rule in the courts, to seek judicial review, given its perverse consequences.

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