This is Monstrous

by John Holbo on October 11, 2018

New Yorker link.

According to a long-standing legal precedent known as the Flores settlement, which established guidelines for keeping children in immigration detention, Helen had a right to a bond hearing before a judge; that hearing would have likely hastened her release from government custody and her return to her family. At the time of her apprehension, in fact, Helen checked a box on a line that read, “I do request an immigration judge,” asserting her legal right to have her custody reviewed. But, in early August, an unknown official handed Helen a legal document, a “Request for a Flores Bond Hearing,” which described a set of legal proceedings and rights that would have been difficult for Helen to comprehend. (“In a Flores bond hearing, an immigration judge reviews your case to determine whether you pose a danger to the community,” the document began.) On Helen’s form, which was filled out with assistance from officials, there is a checked box next to a line that says, “I withdraw my previous request for a Flores bond hearing.” Beneath that line, the five-year-old signed her name in wobbly letters.


Normativity Erosion – #Make Norms Normative Again

by John Holbo on October 11, 2018

That time a ‘Constitution in Exile’ borderline anarchist libertarian and a Catholic integralist wandered into a Twitter thread to discuss political legitimacy, and it crossed neither of their minds it might be a normative notion (rather than a descriptive synonym for power, give or take.) [click to continue…]


Three cheers for Urgenda!

by Ingrid Robeyns on October 9, 2018

I’ve been absent here since over the last weeks all my time except for teaching and other non-postponable duties has gone into nation-wide activism to end the underfunding of universities in the Netherlands – about which another time, hopefully soon, more in another blogpost. But I wanted to briefly interrupt my absence to share with you the good news that Urgenda, has won the Appeal that the Dutch State made against the famous 2015 Climate Case that Urgenda won, on which I wrote here at the time. For some brief reports about today’s ruling, see the NYT, the Guardian, or in Dutch, NRC. [click to continue…]


One taken this morning:

Cliftonwood houses, through Vauxhall Bridge



by Henry on October 7, 2018

I wrote a long Twitter thread on Kavanaugh a week ago, the first time that I thought he was going to get in. This piece by Matt Yglesias covers much of the same ground that I did, but better. This Boston Review article by Sam Moyn says what I wanted to say about courts and democracy, but is sharper. Still, there’s one idea in neither of them that I think is worth developing.

That is Kavanaugh’s role as a frame. The sociology and political science of social movements talks a lot about how movements on the street need frames – simple representations that provide a common focus for the very different people with different interests that make up a movement. Kavanaugh – angry, distorted, shouting face and all – provides the most concrete imaginable metaphor for what the Republican party has become, and for the white conservative elite that is trying to cripple American democracy. The ways in which conservative judges are undermining American democracy are apparently a-political, and hard for many people to focus on and understand. Kavanaugh represents and personifies this silent judicial revolution. And he does so in an especially visceral way for the women who are the backbone of the social and political movement that has to be at the heart of any hope for political change in the US. He can – and should be – hung like a rotting albatross around the neck of the Republican party.

Democratizing the Supreme Court is a long term project. It is going to require a fundamental reshaping of the American legal elite – focusing on the cosy relationship between top law schools and the judiciary, and the ways in which the Federalist Society has finessed the ambiguities between debating ideas, providing a pipeline for judges, and vetting Supreme Court justices. It will also require politics on the streets. The circumstances of Kavanaugh’s elevation have temporarily raised the costs of overly comfortable relationships in the legal world. Keeping them raised – and turning them into a broader democratic agenda – will require active and continued mobilization. Pressing for investigations (should the Democrats win in November) of the role that Whelan, Leonard Leo of the Federalist Society and others seem to have played behind the scenes in trying to discredit accusations. Framing the court and every rotten decision it makes as the Kavanaugh Court. And protesting in every way possible to raise the costs for the politicians who voted for Kavanaugh, and where possible to replace them.

None of this changes the fact that it is very, very bad that Kavanaugh has been confirmed. But it does mean that Kavanaugh can, despite himself, become a political engine for change, in ways that would have been impossible if he had been confirmed without controversy, as seemed likely to happen just a few weeks ago.


Saturday art blogging: I am your father!

by Eszter Hargittai on October 6, 2018

In a small town in the French-speaking part of Switzerland is a fantastic exhibit dedicated entirely to Star Wars. It showcases several artists using very different media to pay homage to the popular series. From digitally-edited photographs of classical sculptures to various creative 3D-renderings of well-known characters, from photos of lego scenes to drawings in countless styles, the exhibit offers lots of interesting visual stimuli. It’s hard to pick a favorite. I very much appreciated Kyle Hagey’s pieces and can’t believe I had never come across them before. Conveniently, you can view and buy copies of his work on Etsy. There is also a free-to-play Star Wars pinball machine on the top floor of the museum as well as an old-school video game. This is a must-see for any Star Wars fan. The show runs through Oct 14th. That doesn’t leave a lot of time to visit and as far as I can tell, sadly it is not a traveling exhibition. While not the same experience, I did upload some of my photos here for those who are interested, but can’t make it there in person.


Cool-headed deliberation is the job, after all.

by Gina Schouten on October 5, 2018

I’ve been reading that the deliberations over Kavanaugh’s appointment in light of Blasey Ford’s allegations against him are firing up voters on the right in the sense that those voters, like Kavanaugh, find the mere investigation to be crazy, a moral outrage, incomprehensible. I’ve never felt so strongly like I’m living in a completely different reality than those who disagree with me politically. This makes me want to say why I think what I think as plainly as I can, because however wrong it might be, I’m almost certain it isn’t crazy or immoral or incomprehensible. Before the testimony, I thought only that further inquiry was in order. Now, in light of Kavanaugh’s testimony, and independent of Blasey Ford’s, I think Kavanaugh has shown himself to be unfit for appointment to the Supreme Court. Here’s why.

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Hoaxes in general

by Daniel on October 5, 2018

I don’t know much about “grievance studies”, but I do know quite a lot about fraud, having written a book on the subject and spent two years researching it (and now three months more researching some additional bits for the US edition, out in 2019). So just a further observation after Henry’s post on the subject – one thing that I think is underappreciated in a variety of contexts is that the susceptibility of a system to intentional deceit is not by any means a good indicator of the underlying health of that system. In fact, I would even go so far as to say that the equilibrium level of fraud is determined entirely separately from the equilibrium level of quality and output, and that therefore the ease with which X can be faked is irrelevant to your assessment of whether there are severe problems with X.
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The REF: A Modest (and very Tentative) Proposal

by Miriam Ronzoni on October 5, 2018

As many readers may already know, UK Universities will undergo their next round of research evaluation in 2021. This is called REF (Research Excellence Framework); has recently been joined by its teaching equivalent, the TEF; and is seen by many UK academics as part of a general managerialist, bureaucratic trend in UK academia which many deplore, and about which other CT members have already written many interest things.

This post is neither about that general trend, nor about the problems or virtues one might identify within the rules of the current REF compared to past versions. It is, instead, about throwing out there a very simple idea on how to engage in some minimal effort, minimum confrontation resistance to the whole thing. [click to continue…]


Move over, Sokal Hoax

by Henry on October 3, 2018

Something has gone wrong in the university—especially in certain fields within the social sciences. Scholarship based less upon finding truth and more upon #slatepitching the libs has become firmly established, if not fully dominant, within these fields, and their scholars increasingly bully students, administrators, and other departments into adhering to their worldview. This worldview is not scientific, and it is not rigorous. For many, this problem has been growing increasingly obvious, but strong evidence has been lacking. For this reason, I have spent a good 45 minutes inside the scholarship I see as an intrinsic part of this problem. [click to continue…]


Proportion Conservation Notice

by John Holbo on October 2, 2018

I opened my latest magnum opus (no link necessary I’m sure!) with a requisite attention conservation notice. But sometimes in life it’s good to maintain a sense of proportion. (I’m not the best at that.)

It’s atrocious that Republicans pretty openly don’t give a damn whether BK did or not or is lying or not or whatever. He’s a good guy, bad guy, either way he’s our guy.

But, for the record, when the planet has boiled, BK will be forgotten. And the official position of the Trump administration is not that it’s not true but – eh, screw it.

“The amazing thing they’re saying is human activities are going to lead to this rise of carbon dioxide that is disastrous for the environment and society. And then they’re saying they’re not going to do anything about it,” said Michael MacCracken, who served as a senior scientist at the U.S. Global Change Research Program from 1993 to 2002.

Just kind of giving up on life on the planet as we know it, without even trying anything. If the only chance of survival would mean doing something the donors wouldn’t like, better to go out feeling smug about coal country.


Sunday photoblogging: Newcastle

by Chris Bertram on September 30, 2018

I was up in Newcastle this week (the first time I’ve visited the city). Lots of dramatic photo-opportunities, particularly of buildings dwarfed by bridges in the city-centre. Unfortunately, at the only time I had to take pictures, the weather was rather overcast.



Attention conservation notice: TOO LONG. But I wanted to rewrite my last post to my own satisfaction. So I did it different, but same.

People of the internet, I have long been openly opposed to loose dispensing of the blue pill.

“You take the blue pill — the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe.”

No, the story doesn’t end there. That’s tomorrow-never-comes thinking. Read the warning label! You wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want? What a way to run the railroad. Morpheus is giving this stuff out like candy to any slacker bro who looks the least bit likely. Is he out of his mind?

Because, seriously: what is it you are sure to want to believe? You will want to believe you took the red pill – and we are off to the races! You will believe, falsely, you’re Neo. Past which point you will be no good to yourself or others. At best.

Most folks will be too tempted by the lazy beguilements of blue pill lifestyle, so we are soon up to our collective armpits in mass fantasies of red pill-popping pop-paranoid philosophy of politics. Gets so you can’t throw a rock without hitting ‘the One’ in some Spartacus line-up of ‘Ones’. (#METOO, but for Ones.)

Virgil poetized of the gates of horn and ivory. Even he never conceived of a gate of pizza. And now Kavanaugh (although he isn’t a gate yet, though I can’t imagine why not.) It is never going to end until someone figures out a way to stop Morpheus, a.k.a. Dr. Feelgood.

So I thought to myself: what will be the sign that BK has busted us through the basement, driving the right crazier? I designated a canary: if Dreher takes the blue pill, in a Kavanaugh-related manner, that will mean the right has found a way to delve deeper into crazy. That is, if Rod Dreher says he takes the red pill, that will be a sign he’s taken the blue pill. That will mean things are worse. And sure enough.

Why Rod Dreher, as my dead canary designate down a conservative coal mine? [click to continue…]


Saturday art blogging: Sculpture Milwaukee

by Eszter Hargittai on September 29, 2018

For any public art lover or sculpture lover, the Sculpture Milwaukee exhibit will be a thrill. Along the city’s Wisconsin Avenue, the event showcases over 20 pieces. There are additional sculptures along the way to enjoy that are not part of the exhibition per se. The styles differ considerably and many are good conversation starters. It’s worth visiting in person, but if you can’t, you can see the pieces here, captured during my August visit. The exhibition runs through Oct 21st.



by John Quiggin on September 28, 2018

This is an extract from my recent review article in Inside Story, focusing on Ellen Broad’s Made by Humans

For the last thousand years or so, an algorithm (derived from the name of an Arab a Persian mathematician, al-Khwarizmi) has had a pretty clear meaning — namely, it is a well-defined formal procedure for deriving a verifiable solution to a mathematical problem. The standard example, Euclid’s algorithm for finding the greatest common divisor of two numbers, goes back to 300 BCE. There are algorithms for sorting lists, for maximising the value of a function, and so on.

As their long history indicates, algorithms can be applied by humans. But humans can only handle algorithmic processes up to a certain scale. The invention of computers made human limits irrelevant; indeed, the mechanical nature of the task made solving algorithms an ideal task for computers. On the other hand, the hope of many early AI researchers that computers would be able to develop and improve their own algorithms has so far proved almost entirely illusory.

Why, then, are we suddenly hearing so much about “AI algorithms”? The answer is that the meaning of the term “algorithm” has changed.
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