The Adversary

by Ted on July 13, 2004

I recently read Emmanuel Carrere’s The Adversary cover-to-cover in one night. It’s the true story of a man named Jean-Claude Roland who takes a terrible path, ending with his murder of his own wife, children, and parents.

Roland missed an important exam at the end of his second year of medical school, but never rescheduled it. Instead, he told everyone he had passed, and pretended to continue his studies. He married and had children, and became a respected member of the community, having convinced everyone that he was a high-ranking official with the World Health Organization. He got by by defrauding his parents, in-laws, and friends. He told them that he was investing their money, or selling them worthless cancer treatments. Eventually, when he realized he was on the verge of being discovered, he killed his family, and made a (strikingly half-hearted) effort to kill himself.

I find his story fascinating for a number of reasons, but I’ll single out one: it was so irrational. He could have just rescheduled the exam he missed. He could have gotten a job

Highly recommended.

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There’s only one Fafblog!

by Brian on July 13, 2004

Some philosophers, your humble narrator occasionally included, get irritated when people, especially intro ethics students, focus on what we take to be irrelevant details of what are meant to be serious, if somewhat improbably grisly, examples. But really we’re not upset about the lack of philosophical sophistication our students shown, just about how stylishlessly they complain. If all our intro ethics students were like “Fafnir and Giblets”: I can’t imagine we’d ever be so irritated.

Knock on wood

by John Holbo on July 13, 2004

There has been some discussion – by Matthew Yglesias and Kevin Drum, for example – of the issue of rescheduling elections in the event of a terrorist attack. On the one hand, concern about the administration’s motives in making this proposal; on the other hand, something to be said for laying out clear procedures beforehand. A quick point. The only good such a measure could possibly aim at would be ensuring public confidence and faith in the fairness of an election conducted under extraordinary circumstances. The only thing that could undermine that faith would be concern that extraordinary measures were being taken for partisan political gain. Partisan political appointees can hardly restore faith by fiat. So it isn’t just that a broad bi-partisan commission would be safer for democracy, as Kevin and Matt and others have reasonably remarked. Rather, it’s the case that no other arrangement would hold out any conceivable benefit. You would do just as well muddling through with no procedures in place. So even if you assume Bush and co. will act with the best of wills – an assumption made for argumentative purposes only – there is simply no point to the proposed measure as it stands.

The Right Time

by Harry on July 13, 2004

The tragic aspect of my migration to the US is this. I was born middle-aged, in a country where middle-age was considered something of an achievement. I used to look forward to the time when I’d be able to complain with my peers abut the state of today’s youth, and not be complaining about them. But then, at 22, I moved to a country in which nobody is middle-aged — even old people pretend to be young, until they are so doolally that the game is up. And I only truly settled in this country around the time that my chronological age caught up with my natural inclinations. So here I am, a genuinely middle aged in a culture that doesn’t even recognise, let alone celebrate, the phenomenon.

Here’s a show about what is now regarded as middle-age but used to be old age. I especially recommend it to Ophelia Benson, and invite private emails from anyone, including her, to explain why I particularly recommend it to her. The prize is….

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What for are English professors?

by John Holbo on July 13, 2004

Bit strange to run across one at this time of year – like Christmas in July – but this is one of the better “I went to the MLA” pieces I’ve read. It deserves a comment box. (Also, I’m sort of curious whether this post will work – sort of like a bat signal – to draw Chun out of retirement.)

There’s a lot here that exercises me tremendously. But if I started I’d never shut-up. You go first. But here’s a polite suggestion. Since the piece is in “The Believer” – and they so stern against snark – let’s try to keep the anti-MLA hatchet-work sub-Peckish, shall we? (Just a suggestion.)

Braised lamb shanks son mas macho

by Ted on July 13, 2004

Have you ever read a blog post so aggressively, ferociously wrongheaded that it temporarily sucks all the fun out of political blogging?

Case in point. Glenn Reynolds seems to think that it’s fair to associate the Kerry campaign with a poster for Fahrenheit 9/11 produced by a distributor in the Benelux countries. (I’m still waiting for an explanation from the Kerry/Edwards campaign for White Chicks.) He says that Michael Moore (who is responsible for writing and directing left-wing films of questionable accuracy) is the American version of the Iraqi rebel cleric al-Sadr (who is responsible for killing our soldiers and running a repressive fundamentalist regime in Fallujah). Etc., etc.

I could argue with this nonsense. But wouldn’t all of our time be better spent sharing a genuinely delicious recipe for braised lamb shanks in red wine? I think so.

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American civil society

by Henry Farrell on July 13, 2004

Spinning off from the general question of the left and third parties – what are the political consequences of the US left’s failure to create a long lasting set of social institutions independent of government? Colin Crouch, my former Ph.D. co-supervisor, gave an address which touched upon this last week, where he claimed that neither classical liberalism nor classical social democracy had much to say about society, the former obsessing about the market, and the latter obsessing about the state. He did, however, have to acknowledge that the left created a vibrant set of alternative social institutions in many European countries, which provided all sorts of social benefits to ordinary people. Usually, these networks of institutions were set up in competition with rather similiar networks that were run by the Catholic Church and Christian Democratic party. Both networks were intended to shore up political support by providing tangible goods in return. When I lived in Italy in the late 1990’s, there were a few remants of the old Leftist alternative civil society around – the _Casa del Popolo_ (People’s Palace) in Fiesole had some of the best pizza in town, and ran a great May Day festival.

Of course, none of this really ever got going in the US. The only really active set of alternative social institutions in the US isn’t socialist, or even Christian Democratic – it’s the localized networks associated with evangelical Christianity. The Catholic church also plays a role, especially in education, but isn’t anywhere near as important as far as I can tell (I may be wrong). It seems to me as an outsider that this has shaped the US debate on the proper relationship between state and society in important ways. On the one hand, most left-wingers are virulently hostile to the idea that ‘state’ type social services should be delegated to civil society, because they see civil society as composed of religious zealots who will require that anyone who accepts their services also accept Jesus into their hearts. While this may, or may not be true, it seems to me to be associated with a certain lack of imagination on the left, a failure to think beyond the state. On the other, the enthusiasm of the conservative right for outsourcing social services to civil society is equally a product of the social dominance of religious organizations. How many of them would be keen on this, if, say, there was a thriving set of social democratic third sector institutions that could compete with religious groups to provide services (and perhaps smuggle in a bit of indoctrination along the way?) Not many, I imagine.


by Brian on July 13, 2004

I was looking over the forms I’ll have to fill in to get my latest US Visa, and I was struck by this question on the DS-157 form.

bq. Do You Have Any Specialized Skills or Training, Including Firearms, Explosives, Nuclear, Biological, or Chemical Experience?

Since I’m applying for a specialist skill visa, you’d kinda think I should answer “Yes” just reading the first part of the question. But I think the words after “Including” rather change the meaning of it all. At least I think I think they do. I hope I can’t get brought up on perjury charges for trying to hide my extensive philosophical skills from consular officials.