As promised!

I finally managed to publish the silly fine thing! Reason and Persuasion, the 4th edition. It is currently available on Amazon. And I made a nice iBooks edition. (Fixed layout. Crisp look. Can read it even on an iPhone 6. I’m still working on the reflowable Kindle version.)

And never forget that cheap good people can get all the PDF’s for free at the book site.

Tell me what you think! Praise and criticize. Tell all your friends. Hunt typos. (I’ve found three. Minor ones.) [click to continue…]

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You Keep Using That Word

by John Holbo on January 21, 2016

Eric tells us one thing we’re sure of. Which is interesting. And relates to something I’ve long thought would be an interesting scholarly exercise. A survey of the history of Presidential impossibilities-turned-realities. In this season of Trump, we shall see what we shall see. In the meantime, go back and collect all the ‘Dewey Defeats Truman’ events, from every Presidential season. Who is certain to be a contender, then immediately eliminated? (Looking at you, Scott Walker.) How many candidates who cannot possibly win have won?

Now, there is an ambiguity in the question, insofar as the other side always has a vested interest in kicking up dust. Every possible candidate is ‘impossible’ to someone. So let’s focus on the consensus cases. Like Trump. No one – I mean: no one – thought he would make it this far. Impossible. Now things get tricky, count-wise, because, from an impossibility, an infinite number of impossible consequences flow. (Looking at you, Ted Cruz, last, best hope of the Establishment.)

But seriously. Barack Obama was impossible. Clinton was impossible. Reagan was impossible. Carter? A long-shot, for sure. Watergate was impossible, ergo Ford. Nixon was impossible, insofar as he was a has-been.

Back of the envelope, I think more than 50% of the most important things that happen in Presidential elections are strictly impossible, at least according to conventional wisdom, six months earlier. What do you think is a good number?

UPDATE: The impossibility unit, per season, could be the Trump. Every election can have a T-rating, for the number of impossible things that actually happen.

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A year from today, the US will inaugurate a new president. But inauguration day has not always been thus fixed.

In the early years of the Republic, habit (rather than statute) placed the date of inauguration at March 4—though even that convention was not quite firm. In 1821, with the incumbent President James Monroe about to take the oath of office for his second term, March 4 fell on a Sunday. Monroe asked of Chief Justice John Marshall whether he could take the oath on the following day, rather than sully the Lord’s day with secular business.

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On the inadequacy of “Great Recession”

by Eric on January 19, 2016

I dislike the term “Great Recession” to describe our times, for technical and political reasons alike. Technically, the severe recession ended in June 2009. But, as the NBER says there,

In determining that a trough occurred in June 2009, the committee did not conclude that economic conditions since that month have been favorable or that the economy has returned to operating at normal capacity.

And indeed it still hasn’t, six and a half years after the recession ended. In fact, as Kevin O’Rourke noted, in August of 2015

the inevitable happened: measured in terms of industrial output, our current recovery was overtaken by that of the interwar period. Pretty dismal stuff.

So now, having avoided quite so severe a contraction as the 1930s, we are suffering a less impressive recovery. What do we call this ongoing period?

“Malaise” is taken, and rather ruined, by Carter-related discourse. I’ve lately been suggesting “the great economic unpleasantness” but without, I confess, really expecting it to catch on. Krugman’s old “Lesser Depression” is looking depressingly correct.

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A note on Ferrante’s Neapolitan quartet

by Chris Bertram on January 18, 2016

I finished Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan quartet yesterday. I know there’s been a lot of hype about these novels, but it is entirely justified. Actually, I write “these novels” but this is actually just one long novel, distributed across four printed volumes. For those who don’t know, it concerns the relationship between two women, Elena (or Lenu or Lenuccia) – the narrator – and Lila (or Lina) from childhood to early old age, and their mutual relationship to “the neighbourhood”, a working-class district of Naples and the many other families who live there. It is a difficult friendship, infected with rivalry, jealousy and resentment from the start. Lila is both intelligent and impulsive, spiky and demanding, capable of both extraordinary determination and of self-neglect and remains forever tied to the district; Lenu eventually enjoys worldly success and social evelation, but, in her own mind, is forever in the shadow of her “brilliant friend”.
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Sunday photoblogging: Llanberis

by Chris Bertram on January 17, 2016

Llanberis,  Snowdonia

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An inconvenient gun fact for Nicholas Kristof

by John Quiggin on January 17, 2016

Nicholas Kristof has a column in the NY Times, headlined Some Inconvenient Gun Facts for Liberals. The headline, though presumably not chosen by Kristof, is a pretty accurate summary of the article, which berates liberals for proposing various ineffectual gun control measures, and concludes:

Let’s make America’s gun battles less ideological and more driven by evidence of what works.
If Kristof wants to be taken seriously, he ought to acknowledge the actual evidence of what works, namely, measures that drastically reduce the number of guns and restrict their availability. I discussed the evidence a bit more in this post, with links.

Of course, such measures aren’t politically feasible in the US, and have to be disavowed by politicians seeking even limited progress. But if Kristof started by admitting this, he’d end up with a very different analysis than the one he’s putting forward. The primary criterion for any gun control policy in the US has to be to maximize the ratio of long-term harm reduction to political cost. I don’t have any particularly good ideas about political strategies. Still, it’s clear that Kristof’s operating assumption that sweet reason will be sufficient, or even helpful, is way off the mark.

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Ellen Meiksins Wood, 1942-2016

by Corey Robin on January 14, 2016

I came to Ellen Meiksins Wood’s work late in life. I had known about her for years; she was a good friend of my friend Karen Orren, the UCLA political scientist, who was constantly urging me to read Wood’s work. But I only finally did that two years ago, at the suggestion of, I think it was, Paul Heideman​. I read her The Origins of Capitalism. It was one of those Aha! moments. Wood was an extraordinarily rigorous and imaginative thinker, someone who breathed life into Marxist political theory and made it speak—not to just to me but to many others—at multiple levels: historical, theoretical, political. She ranged fearlessly across the canon, from the ancient Greeks to contemporary social theory, undaunted by specialist claims or turf-conscious fussiness. She insisted that we look to all sorts of social and economic contexts, thereby broadening our sense of what a context is. She actually had a theory of capitalism and what distinguished it from other social forms: that it was not merely commercial exchange, that it did not evolve out of a natural penchant for barter and trade, that it was not a creation of urban markets. Hers was a political theory of capitalism: capitalism was created through acts of force and was maintained as a mode of force (albeit, a mode of force that was exercised primarily through the economy). She was also a remarkably clear writer: unpretentious, jargon-free, straightforward. Just last week, I had started reading Citizens to Lords, and I’d been slowly accumulating a list of questions that I hoped to ask her one day on the off-chance that we might meet in person. Now she’s gone. The work continues.

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“Poor David Bowie. Barely 72 hours dead and he’s already being misremembered.”

I like the URL. “david-bowie-transgender-1970s-misappropriated?” I think probably the piece was written on a bet, and the URL reflects that.

No, seriously. The piece follows the standard template for conservative kulturkampf tu quoque. It’s by-the-numbers. But there is a purity to it.

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Non-specific plot details discussed herein.

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Aaron Swartz died three years ago today

by Henry on January 11, 2016

The New Press has put out a book collecting some of his writing. I contributed a short piece, as did some other people who knew him; since my contract allows me to, and since no-one conceivably wants to buy the book to see what I have to say, I’m putting it below the fold.

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David Bowie

by Henry on January 11, 2016

Comment on his career seems superfluous and almost impertinent. I have difficulty thinking of another recently living musician who so defined the contours of the world I grew up in and lived in. The one thing that’s noticeable to me (at least for the music I know, which is obviously far from everything), is that while you can trace his influence on musicians of pretty well every subsequent generation, it’s hard to discern any significant backlash against him. He was sui generis.

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Sunday photoblogging: Washington Monument with plane

by Chris Bertram on January 10, 2016

Washington Monument with plane

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Plato Can Make You A Man!

by John Holbo on January 9, 2016

The reason I haven’t been blogging is I’m in the depths and throes of book-making. We’re finally – finally! – bringing out a new edition of good old Reason and Persuasion (that’s Belle’s and my old Plato book. I’ve swept clean the old site to celebrate the new book. All we need to complete the celebration is: the new book.) The problem is that it’s literally impossible to proof a book. Typos. They go all the way down. No matter how many times you comb through, there are more. And then more, underneath that. I’m convinced every book manuscript contains an infinite number of – admittedly increasingly small – typographical errors. It’s Zenoesque. [click to continue…]

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Happy Roy Batty Incept Date!

by John Holbo on January 8, 2016

Life has been keeping me too busy. I’ll be back soon. But don’t forget! Tonight is the night Roy comes, to give toys to good girls and boys. Happy Incept Date!

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