Sunday photoblogging: chair shadows

by Chris Bertram on April 3, 2016

Jardin du Luxembourg

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A Very Very Brief Intellectual Autobiography

by Corey Robin on April 2, 2016

Reading Samuel Freeman’s review of conservative philosopher Roger Scruton in the latest NYRB, I had a mini-realization about my own work on conservatism, which features Scruton a fair amount.

In the mid-1970s, conservatism, which had previously been declared dead as an intellectual and political force, started to gain some political life (its intellectual rejuvenation had begun long before). As it did, conservatism began to have an impact on liberalism. Politically, you could see that influence in the slow, then sudden, retreat from traditional New Deal objectives, culminating in the election of Bill Clinton. What that meant was a massive turnaround on economic issues (deregulation, indifference to unions, galloping inequality) and a softer turnaround on so-called social or moral issues. While mainstream Democrats today are identified as staunch liberals on issues like abortion and gay rights, the truth of the matter is that in the early 1990s, they beat a retreat on that front (not only on abortion but also, after an initial embrace of gays and lesbians, on gay rights as well).

Among liberal academics, the impact of conservatism was equally strong. Not only in the obvious sense that conservatism became an object of increasing scholarly interest, particularly among historians. But also in a deeper sense, as the categories of traditional conservative concern, like religion, came to assume a greater role in scholarly inquiry.

The impact was especially dramatic in the world of liberal political theory. [click to continue…]

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And its goodnight from him.

by Harry on April 2, 2016


Even the Grainud obit underestimates him, I think. Sometime, before too long, I am sure that Radio 4 Extra will carry that lovely play from a couple of years ago about the relationship between the two ronnies. Til then, here Desert Island Discs. If anyone can find a clip of him on Crackerjack… please!

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It may be the age of big data, but since big data tend to come from those who are already using digital media, such data sets tend to lack information about non-users and those who don’t engage in certain activities online. I make this case in detail about data derived from social network sites in my paper called Is Bigger Always Better? published in the ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science.* That paper mainly focuses on those who are already connected, but even among Internet users, I find that data derived from social media tend to bias against the less privileged and the less skilled as such folks are less likely to be on those sites. This is a problem when more and more studies about social behavior and potentially policy decisions are made based on information that automatically excludes certain populations.

Today (3/31/16) the US Federal Communications Commission votes on broadband subsidies for low-income households. Yes, making home broadband more affordable is likely a necessary condition for getting more Americans online. However, it is not sufficient. My colleague Ashley Walker and I analyzed data from an FCC study administered in 2009 on both users and non-users, finding that people who are more concerned about their personal data being stolen are more likely to be non-users, results that hold true when controlling for other potentially related factors such as age and education. The issue here is not about price, it’s about privacy concerns. Other research I and others have conducted (some of it reviewed here*) shows that lack of Internet skills is often an impediment to using digital media and using it in ways from which people may benefit. Again, it’s not simply core infrastructural access that’s a problem.

Why are Ashley and I using data from 2009? Because shockingly no federal agency has collected nationally-representative data about Americans’ Internet uses since then. The Census used to be in the business of gathering such data, but at this point it only does so about very basic connectivity questions. The approach seems penny-wise and pound-foolish. Sure, gathering such data is expensive, but it is a drop in the bucket compared to spending over $2 billion dollars on broadband subsidies without having sound evidence on how that will actually improve a more diverse group of Americans using the Internet in helpful ways.

I also have a piece on Huffington Post about all this.

[*] If you can’t access it, feel free to send me a note for a preprint copy.

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Last week I met with a group of ten interns at a magazine. The magazine runs periodic seminars where interns get to meet with a journalist, writer, intellectual, academic of their choosing. We talked about politics, writing, and so on. But in the course of our conversation, one startling social fact became plain. Although all of these young men and women had some combination of writerly dreams, none of them—not one—had any plan for, even an ambition of, a career. Not just in the economic sense but in the existential sense of a lifelong vocation or pursuit that might find some practical expression or social validation in the form of paid work. Not because they didn’t want a career but because there was no career to be wanted. And not just in journalism but in a great many industries.

The future was so uncertain, they said, the economy so broken, there simply was no point in devising a plan, much less trying to execute it. The best one could do, one of them said, was to take whatever came your way, without looking more than six months ahead of you.

They even dreamed of the Chilean example, where an activist a few years ago burned what he claimed was $500 million in student debt. Sadly, they pointed out, that option wasn’t available in the US, where all of the debt is up in the cloud. (How strange, I thought to myself: once upon a time, utopian philosophers had their heads in the clouds; that was where they found a better world. Now it is the most dreary and repressive forces of society—drones, surveillance cameras, debt collectors—that take up residence there, ruling us from their underworld in the sky.) [click to continue…]

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Caricatures – Russell and Wittgenstein

by John Holbo on March 28, 2016

I’ve been trying to do caricatures in a new style. I did a few for the book but I’ve decided to continue the set. What do you think? Who should I do next?

russellandwittgenstein

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Sunday photoblogging: Riviera

by Chris Bertram on March 27, 2016

We don’t get that many American cars driving round Bristol. A bit of street photography from yesterday.
Riviera

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National Hero

by Maria on March 25, 2016

This weekend we celebrate the one-hundredth anniversary of the Easter 1916 Rising, the rebellion that gave the Republic of Ireland its foundation myth. As an origin story, Easter 1916 can be hard to live with. Its egalitarian and revolutionary ideals were quickly brushed aside by a deeply conservative political class intent on pushing anyone feminist or left-wing out of Irish politics. And the bumps and inconsistencies in how the leaders of the rising behaved were ironed out till the whole thing looks like one of those over-embroidered altar cloths with starched creases in all the wrong places. The whole enterprise fell victim, for many decades, to a pietistic impulse to canonise the leaders of armed rebellion, making them seem weirdly inhuman. But they were never distantly inhuman to me, despite what I learnt in school. When I first came across Benjamin’s now over-used expression, ‘rubbing history against the grain’, I knew exactly what he meant.

In 1916, my great-grand father, Eoin MacNeill, was the head of a dissident army, the Irish Volunteers. At its height, before many left and volunteered to fight in World War I, the Irish Volunteers numbered about eighty thousand men. (To put it in context, that’s within a few thousand of the British Army’s post-austerity total, today.) Eoin MacNeill was one of the most unlikely rebel leaders you can imagine. He was a scholarship boy from a small town in Antrim. He devoured Latin, history and Ancient Greek, and as a scholar opened up new areas of research in Irish language and laws. With Douglas Hyde, he co-founded the Gaelic League, a countrywide movement that was part of Europe’s late nineteenth century surge in cultural nationalism and also a great way to meet young people of the opposite sex. In pictures, MacNeill looks pale and fine-boned. He wears the fastidious little glasses everyone did who spent most nights reading in poor light. He is as far from a soldier as anyone can be. [click to continue…]

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2016 Hugos

by Henry on March 24, 2016

As usual, my list of the Hugo eligible books for this year (as well as short story collections), meant less as a form of canvassing (especially given that nominations are about to close) than of solving the commitment problem of getting me off my arse to talk about books that I liked and didn’t like. Necessary qualification – the very best novel that I read last year isn’t available yet – Ada Palmer’s Too Like the Lightning – a book that has the potential to remake the genre. It’ll be out in a couple of months, at which point I’ll have more to say.
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Did that really happen?

by Eszter Hargittai on March 24, 2016

From a scientific perspective, wow. From a where-could-this-go perspective, whoa.



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Substantial Burden Test?

by John Holbo on March 24, 2016

“Doug Laycock retracts in Little Sisters”. That would have surprised me. Turns out: Ed Whelan thinks that Laycock ought to retract, because Whelan disagrees with Laycock. Less noteworthy. (Made me look!)

But I have a simple legal question. [click to continue…]

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I have a new piece up on The Long And Short, suggesting that the “Evidence Based Policy Making” movement ought to be really very worried about the reproducibility crisis in the psychological and social sciences. In summary, the issue is that most of the problems that the sciences are dealing with are highly likely to be there in policy areas too, meaning that the evidence base for education reform, development economics, welfare and many other policy areas is equally likely to be packed with fragile and non-replicable results. I do suggest a solution for this problem (or rather, I endorse Andrew Gelman’s solution), but point out that it is likely to be expensive and time-consuming and to mean that evidence-based approaches are going to be a lot slower and deliver a lot less in the way of whizzy new policy ideas than people might have hoped.
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I’m going to float a series of vast and off-the-cuff historical generalizations in order to try and get at something that is distinctive about the current moment in US politics.

Beginning in Europe in the 19th century, liberalism has been engaged in a two-front war—on-again, off-again—against the right and the left. Against the right’s revanchism and the left’s radicalism, liberalism has held itself up as the original Third Way. It is the reasonable and moderate alternative to the extremes, offering men and women the promise and payout of a capitalist, vaguely democratic, modernity but without its revolutionary perils or reactionary pitfalls.

Though it has on occasion entered into a more productive, albeit tension-filled, front with the left, liberalism has always been uneasy about the left. For a variety of reasons, among them a doubt about the left’s commitments to the rule of law, civil liberties, the norms and procedures of parliamentary democracy, and the institutions of the capitalist market. (Which is ironic since it was the left, at least in Western Europe and the US, that fought hardest for civil liberties and the right to vote, but I digress.) Liberalism and the left thus have been either uneasy partners or outright antagonists.

While liberalism has often loathed the right, it hasn’t always been sufficiently attuned to the shape-shifting power of the right. Its attentions have too often been focused in the other direction, so fraught has been its relationship to the left. Till it was too late.

The left has not been entirely blameless in this. It, too, has been engaged in a two-front war: against liberalism and the right. On the ground, and in the streets, the left has understood the power of the right, but up in the chambers of political theory, intellectual debate, and elite party argument, the left has sometimes, and catastrophically, construed liberalism (or its positional surrogate on the ideological spectrum) to be its greatest and only enemy. Even at a moment like the present in the United States—when liberalism, at least as it has been historically understood in the United States, has been in abeyance, or at best, has played second fiddle—the left has tended to focus on the power and betrayals of liberalism.

What liberalism and the left have in common, in other words, is an insufficient appreciation of the right. What made that lack of appreciation understandable, historically, was that the left—whether in the form of socialist parties, communist internationals, militant trade unions, social movements, and the like—had some real power and traction on the ground. It was understandable for liberals to be more focused upon—and fearful of—the left, which often seemed ready to march right over the liberals. So was it understandable for leftists to be more focused upon—and pissed off at—liberals, who often seemed ready to betray the left.

But that is not the situation we are in right now. In fact, we haven’t been in that situation for some time. [click to continue…]

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Sunday photoblogging: saxophonist

by Chris Bertram on March 20, 2016

Busker

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This Matt Labash profile of Mike “Murphestopheles” Murphy, lately of Right To Rise fame – is fascinating. (People said ‘Right To Rise’ sounded like a late-nite viagra infomercial. I thought it sounded like a zombie flick, and I think this post-mortem of Murphy confirms me in that intuition. Although I see the other point of view.) [click to continue…]

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