Peter Gay Has Died

by John Holbo on May 13, 2015

New York Times obituary.

I guess I’m the one who should make this little post, since for the last couple weeks I’ve been talking, a bit, about his classic book, Weimar Culture: The Outsider as Insider. I didn’t know very much about the man, myself, before reading his obit this morning. I haven’t really thought much about his legacy – how much of what he wrote was valid, or is still valid in light of subsequent historiography. But he has had an influence on me. In sophomore (?) year of college I heard about him from a Freudian psychology prof. I struggled through The Enlightenment: An Interpretation. It was maybe the first ‘proper’ intellectual history I read. I found it fascinating. But I had such screwy ideas at the time that the details didn’t really stick. Maybe I should go back and give it a reread in honor of the man. Well, maybe not the whole thing …

Any thoughts about Peter Gay?

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Attention conservation notice: A 5000+ word attempt to provide real ancestors and support for an imaginary ideology I don’t actually accept, drawing on fields in which I am in no way an expert. Contains long quotations from even-longer-dead writers, reckless extrapolation from arcane scientific theories, and an unwarranted tone of patiently explaining harsh, basic truths. Altogether, academic in one of the worst senses. Also, spoilers for several of MacLeod’s novels, notably but not just The Cassini Division.

I’ll let Ellen May Ngewthu, late of the Cassini Division, open things up: [click to continue…]

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And This, Too, Is a Romance

by Farah Mendlesohn on May 11, 2015

NB: All page references are to the UK first editions.

Ken MacLeod is an intensely romantic writer. His work is engaged with the intensity of feeling between people and landscape, people and people, and people and ideology. The majesty and humour of his writing is, I think, a function of this romance: love after all is both obsessive and mocking. In Dark Light, part two of the Engines of Light Trilogy, Matt Cairns is caught up in yet another revolutionary situation in his extended life, “What he doesn’t expect is the acute pang of nostalgia that the smallest hints of a revolutionary situation bring. (244)” Reading a MacLeod novel—even reading the names of characters, Jonathan Wilde, Myra Godwin, or of chapters, Bright Star Cultures, The Queen of Heaven’s Daughters, The Sickle’s Sang and The Hammer’s Harvest–can be a little like that for the politically attuned reader, acute pangs of nostalgia sweeping the reader into the moment. [click to continue…]

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The interview I linked to last week, about our book Family Values provoked what, for both me and Adam, has been a somewhat bizarre, and occasionally disturbing, experience. The sequence of events seems to have been this. Some Australian journalist (Tim Blair of the Daily Telegraph) with a beef against ABC, the broadcaster of the interview, wrote an article/post lambasting ABC for broadcasting it. Then, Mr. Rush Limbaugh picked this up and, in turn, lambasted Adam for insanity and ridiculousness (quite to my irritation, he didn’t mention me at all). Then – well, I guess a mention on Mr, Limbaugh’s show is enough to get you a lot of publicity, and the right and ultra-right wing blogs took up the cause. We started getting invitations to appear on talk shows, and a slew of hate mail (almost all of it to Adam – the worst I got was one saying “your also a fucken idiot like your mate adam smith. pair of wanker fucksticks. simple. fuckoff idiot). NRO took it up, and that spread it further. As you might guess, once Mr. Limbaugh has hold of something, the white supremacists pick it up pretty quickly too, and one site (to which I will not link, because it is so repulsive) celebrated the 70th anniversary of Adolf Hitler’s death by telling its readers that if the world had only listened to him, people like me and Adam would be silent.

Now, what did we say that was so insane and ridiculous? – what was it for which, according to one of Professor Althouse’s commentators, we should be shot?

[click to continue…]

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Kieran’s posts below, and the various discussions I’ve seen in the papers, and heard on the radio, have got my wondering: isn’t it rational for the Labour Party to split, now, before it saddles itself with a new leader?

Why should it do so? Well as many people have said, it is too right wing to defeat the SNP, given the SNP’s savvy (and in my view largely cynical) adoption of left-social democratic political positions that appeal to the Scottish electorate. But to have any chance of restoring its hold Scotland in the short term, it needs to become more obviously left wing than it dares to be, for fear of losing antsy English voters. Two, quite separate, parties (preferably with identifiably different names) might have a better chance of becoming a governing coalition. As it is, all three of the major English parties refrain from fielding candidates in one part of the Union—Northern Ireland. An amicable divorce might help, not hurt, the Labour Party’s prospects. And, simultaneously, help save the Union by giving Scots a prospect for an actual voice and real influence in government (eventually).

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Through the looking glass

by John Quiggin on May 10, 2015

The New York Times has a piece about Obama’s push to gain “fast-track” authority for the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership, which would preclude any amendments by Congress after the deal (still secret, except for what Wikileaks has revealed) is announced. The key para, buried a fair way down

To the president, the Trans-Pacific Partnership would counter the economic weight of China and set rules on labor, the environment, intellectual property and investor protections for the growing economies of the Pacific Rim. For members of Congress, it’s about jobs.
shows how differently the debate is playing out in the US compared to other countries involved, such as Australia, and how much leading papers like the New York Times are missing the point

In the Australian debate, it’s generally understood (based on both economic modelling and past experience) that there won’t be much effect on jobs either way, at least not through the direct effects on trade. For the critics (just about everyone on the left), it’s precisely the “rules on labor, the environment, intellectual property and investor protections” that represent the big concerns. All of these rules benefit corporations at the expense of workers, the environment, the free flow of information and national sovereignty. It’s the general strengthening of corporate power, and not the flow of goods, that will harm jobs, wages and working conditions Investor-State Dispute Settlement provisions, for example, have been used to challenge minimum wage laws.

Leading US critics like Elizabeth Warren and the AFL-CIO have raised some of these points, noting (for the benefit of Republicans in particular) that the ISDS provisions will enable unaccountable arbitrators to override US federal and state laws.

The use of trade deals as an instrument of geopolitics is also unwelcome for a country like Australia that needs to balance itself between the US and China. Despite its enthusiastic support for the US and the TPP deal, the conservative government here signed up to join China’s regional infrastructure bank, developed largely in response to China’s exclusion from the TPP.

But US news coverage can’t seem to get out of a frame set by the trade deals of last century, such as NAFTA.

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Politics and the English Landscape

by Kieran Healy on May 10, 2015

I’m still playing around with the UK Election data I mapped yesterday, which ended up at the Monkey Cage blog over at the Washington Post. On Twitter, Vaughn Roderick posted a nice comparison showing the proximity of many Labour seats to coalfields. That got me thinking about how much the landscape of England is embedded in its political life. In particular, what do the names of places tell you about their political leanings? I looked at English constituencies only, and searched constituency names for some common toponyms like “-ham”, “-shire”, “-wood” and -field”. Then I looked to see what proportion of seats with these features in their names were won by the Conservatives and Labour. For simplicity of presentation, I omitted the Liberal Democrats and UKIP who won a very small percentage of some of these seats. Here’s the result.

Constituencies by toponym and winning party.

I think that’s rather nice. The Tories are the party of shires and fords, and to a slightly lesser extent of woodland clearings (-ley, -leigh) and woods. Labour meanwhile are the party of -hams (as in, a farm or homestead), of -tons (or towns), and of fields.

Note that some double-counting occurs, because the naming categories are not necessarily exclusive. I did focus on suffixes, so for example “Northampton” would be counted as a -ton but not a -ham, and constituencies with ‘ton’ in their name but not at the end of a word would not be counted in that category.

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Sunday photoblogging: Hotwells and Cliftonwood

by Chris Bertram on May 10, 2015

Hotwells and Cliftonwood

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Who came second in the UK election?

by Kieran Healy on May 9, 2015

The UK’s election results are being digested by the chattering classes. So, yesterday afternoon I thought I’d see if I could grab the election data to make some pictures. Because the BBC has sane HTML structure, this proved a lot more straightforward than I feared—thanks in no small part to Hadley Wickham‘s rvest scraping library together with ggplot and dplyr and all the other tools he’s contributed to the R-using public.

So I grabbed the data and made two maps. The first is a version of the one you’ve seen showing the winning party in every constituency in Great Britain (sic: excluding Northern Ireland). The other shows who came in second.

[click to continue…]

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This will be the final installment in my ‘were the Nazis right-wing and, if so, why were they socialists?’ series (part 1, part 2).

This final post will consist mostly of a long passage from a chapter titled, ‘The Conservative Dilemma’, from Conservative Revolution In The Wiemar Republic, by Roger Woods. But I’ll frame it with a few general thoughts.

Before we get to the passage, the thing you should know is that ‘Conservative Revolution’ is not a tendentious title – some sinister liberal attempt to slap ‘conservative’ onto a bunch of Nazis (who were radicals, not conservatives!) Or if it is semantically tendentious, it isn’t the author’s fault, just because it seems like an flagrant oxymoron. German nationalists, from 1918 on, used the phrase ‘die Konservative Revolution‘. It was the proper, often self-applied name of a literary/intellectual movement.

In 1937 Thomas Mann wrote: [click to continue…]

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UK election open thread.

by Harry on May 7, 2015

3 seats in, all Labour in the northeast. Exit polls indicate meltdown for the LDs, but the Tories doing much better than they expected. Also that UKIP will be the third party in England and Wales in terms of votes. Speculate/Enjoy/Analyze away.

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Or “I thought Science was a serious peer-reviewed publication…”

A study published today in Science by Facebook researchers using Facebook data claims to examine whether adult U.S. Facebook users engage with ideologically cross-cutting material on the site. My friend Christian Sandvig does an excellent job highlighting many of the problems of the piece and I encourage you to read his astute and well-referenced commentary. I want to highlight just one point here, a point that in and of itself should have stood out to reviewers at Science and should have been addressed before publication. It concerns the problematic sampling frame for the study and how little prominence it gets in the publication (i.e., none, it’s all in the supplemental materials).

Sampling is crucial to social science questions since biased samples can have serious implications for a study’s findings. In particular, it is extremely important that the sampling methodology be decoupled from the substantive questions of interest in the study. In this case, if you are examining engagement with political content, it is important that sampling not be based on anything related to users’ engagement with politics. However, that is precisely how sampling was done here. I elaborate below, but in sum, although the study boasts 10 million plus observations, only seen in the supplementary materials is the fact that only a tiny percentage (single digits) of Facebook users were eligible to make it into the sample in the first place. These are folks who explicitly identify their political affiliation on the site, i.e., people who probably have a different relationship to politics than the average user. They are also relatively active users based on another sampling decision, again, something confounded with the outcome of interest, i.e., engagement with political materials.

Not in the piece published in Science proper, but in the supplementary materials we find the following:

All Facebook users can self-report their political affiliation; 9% of U.S. users over 18 do. We mapped the top 500 political designations on a five-point, -2 (Very Liberal) to +2 (Very Conservative) ideological scale; those with no response or with responses such as “other” or “I don’t care” were not included. 46% of those who entered their political affiliation on their profiles had a response that could be mapped to this scale.

To recap, only 9% of FB users give information about their political affiliation in a way relevant here to sampling and 54% of those do so in a way that is not meaningful to determine their political affiliation. This means that only about 4% of FB users were eligible for the study. But it’s even less than that, because the user had to log in at least “4/7 days per week”, which “removes approximately 30% of users”.

Of course, every study has limitations. But sampling is too important here to be buried in supplementary materials. And the limitations of the sampling are too serious to warrant the following comment in the final paragraph of the paper:

we conclusively establish that on average in the context of Facebook, individual choices (2, 13, 15, 17) more than algorithms (3, 9) limit exposure to attitude-challenging content.

How can a sample that has not been established to be representative of Facebook users result in such a conclusive statement? And why does Science publish papers that make such claims without the necessary empirical evidence to back up the claims?

Can publications and researchers please stop being mesmerized by large numbers and go back to taking the fundamentals of social science seriously? In related news, I recently published a paper asking “Is Bigger Always Better? Potential Biases of Big Data Derived from Social Network Sites” that I recommend to folks working through and with big data in the social sciences.*

Full disclosure, some of my work has been funded by Facebook as well as Google and other corporations as well as foundations, details are available on my CV. Also, I’m friends with one of the authors of the study and very much value many of the contributions she has made to research.

[*] Regarding the piece on which I comment here, FB users not being nationally-representative is not an issue since the paper and its claims are only concerned with Facebook use.

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Listen to This Killer Song

by Belle Waring on May 7, 2015

This song is objectively awesome. I…have to go to the doctor in a bit, and I might need to study kanji* re-play Monument Valley, so I don’t have much to say except OMG THIS THIS EVERYTHING!

Lead-singer and guitarist Brittany Howard has an incredible voice, obviously. I thought she was a dude at first. (John professed bafflement that I ever thought this. [This was not a function of her incredibleness, but just plain I didn’t know who was singing and heard it as a dude.]). Alabama Shakes has a really wide range of song-styles. What is this like? I would say sort of reminiscent of the Doors in ways, but I actually kind of hate the Doors, so. The guitar able to go so clean when she wants it to, as all the other instruments cut out, like at 2:19, it’s a later Pink Floyd-ish thing? (Which, btw, I have been really feeling lately. Anybody want to join me for some Shine on You Crazy Diamond? It’s only 25 minutes long. IT’S WORTH IT.)

*I am just going to stop taking topamax. Screw this. My brains have turned to mush and I have horrible headaches anyway. Though to be scrupulously over-generous to myself, our tutor gives us the hardest test I can think of: Japanese sentences with blanks for the kanji and hiragana for the sound, and then we have to write the character. It’s easy to see each character and remember what it means. The sounds…more troublesome. I would do better by just flipping the paper over and writing all 15 characters down. I should probably do that Sunday, then cross them out as they go in, but I’m doing the class with Zoe and I am way slower than her already.

OK, I got y’all this far, now you get a video about outer space. It’s AWESOME.

P.S. I will take ALL THE GRAVY BOATS. Just send’em on over. (John waves hands like X in background mouthing “noooo!”)
P.P.S. I am aware the title is now inaccurate.

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Who Will Take Care of the Gravy Boat?

by Juliet Sorensen on May 6, 2015

In the past week, a mystifying series of sexist posts on parenting boys have proliferated online. For example, this week’s feature on The Week is “What It’s Like to be a Mother of Only Boys.” Last week’s ScaryMommy essay was entitled, “10 Things Moms of Boys Must Do.” Needlessly gendered, these articles hearken back to the era of Mad Men’s first season.

Take the ScaryMommy voice of authority. She advises women expecting boys to “love bathtime,” “think farts are funny,” “do battle with the toilet,” “rethink your standards of safety,” “be prepared for messes,” “rethink your standards of safety,” and more. I don’t question the truth in these statements; indeed, as the parent of a boy, I concur. Rather, I take issue with her basic assumption that none of these nuggets apply to girls. As the parent of two girls, I know firsthand that they all do.

“What It’s Like to be a Mother of Only Boys” assures its readers that mothering (note the verb; no “parenting” used here) boys “leads to a set of personality traits, namely that you’re not fussy and that you roll with the (actual) punches.” While the counterfactual is not provided, presumably mothers of girls are fussy and uptight. Mothers of only boys learn to buy lots of food; the inference is that mothers of girls do not, since their princesses subsist on air. The author “wonders about the future of her stuff,” including her “mother’s gravy boat.” I don’t own a gravy boat and am confident that my two daughters would show no interest in it whatsoever.

At its best, the Internet gives voice to the voiceless and speaks truth to power. At its worst, it reinforces age-old gender stereotypes that can now be broadcast worldwide with a single keystroke.

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Ken MacLeod Seminar

by Henry on May 5, 2015

A public service announcement: we’ll be publishing a seminar on Ken MacLeod’s books next week, with contributions from me, Sumana Harihareswara, Farah Mendlesohn, Cosma Shalizi and Jo Walton, as well as Ken himself. It’s shaping up to be a lot of fun.

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