Identity Politics for All

by Kieran Healy on December 15, 2004

Two posts sit side-by-side at “the Volokh conspiracy”: at the moment. In one, Eugene Volokh updates a post “making fun of some women”: protesting about not being picked for parts in a production of _The Vagina Monologues_:

Auditions Are So _Patriarchal_: Early this year, I blogged about a controversy related to The Vagina Monologues, in a post titled “Life Imitates The Onion.” An excerpt:

… In flyers handed out to audience members at the show, University graduate Nicole Sangsuree Barrett wrote that while there was “diversity” in the show, it was minimal. Women of “a variety of skin colors, body sizes, abilities and gender expressions” were not adequately represented, she said. …

… It turns out that variety of abilities really did mean variety of abilities …:

… Pete said the committee will select people who are “not necessarily drama-oriented” in favor of “people who work (toward) ‘The Vagina Monologues’ mission of ending violence against women.” … “The fact that they had auditions means that some people are automatically excluded,” [Women’s Center spokeswoman Stefanie Loh] said.

Not just some people — some vaginas! “Not all vaginas are skinny, white + straight,” or, apparently, have acting ability.

But just to show that identity politics is a game anyone can play, Orin Kerr “raises an eyebrow”: at the “sad tale of an oppressed conservative assistant professor.”: Forced to sit through the odd joke about Michael Moore, park his Honda alongside Volvos and Subarus, and endure a “semiotics of exclusion” (i.e., Kerry-Edwards and anti-war bumper stickers on the Volvos) he suffered grave emotional pain when “anti-Republican tenor” at the lunch table “ached its zenith with this vehement comment from one colleague, ‘I’m not even going to watch [the convention]. I can’t stand it’.”

*Update*: The going theory in the comments is that our “oppressed conservative”: is a hoax. The internal evidence for this is pretty good.

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Blunkett is toast

by Chris Bertram on December 15, 2004

So “David Blunkett has resigned”: . I felt pretty sympathetic to him concerning his private life, but let us all hope that his policy agenda departs with him.

Copyright and attribution

by Henry on December 15, 2004

Maynard Handley, in comments to my “recent post”: on plagiarism suggests that the recent kerfuffle over plagiarism can be traced back to the content mafia.

bq. Hypothesis: The current rash of stories on plagiarism is not simply a reflection of the fact that digital technology makes certain patterns easier to detect. Rather it is fanned and encouraged by the same media corporations that are behind perpetually lengthening copyright and the DMCA —- corporations whose larger goal is not simply to prevent you from copying a CD from your friend (and thereby avoiding paying them $15) but the construction of a system whereby everything non-material —- ideas, concepts, phrases on up, are owned.

He’s wrong, but in an interesting way – his hypothesis reflects a common confusion between copyright and attribution. Copyright is about the ability to control how your work is copied and disseminated – the granting of the right to make copies usually involves real money changing hands. Attribution is the (much weaker) requirement that any use that is made of your ideas or hard work acknowledges you in some sense as the author of those ideas. There’s no money involved – it’s an informal economy rather than a formal one. Academics usually don’t worry too much about copyright – they usually hand the copyright to their work over to publishers, and rarely receive much in the way of financial reward for it. They do, in contrast, care a lot about attribution, since this is the way that they make their reputation (and perhaps end up with cushy endowed professorships if they play their cards right). Academic publishers (which are a minor branch of the media industry) care very much indeed about copyright since this is their bread and butter, but don’t have much of an incentive to police attribution.

Not only are copyright and attribution different things, but they sometimes point in different directions. Academics would ideally like to see their work disseminated as widely as possible, as long as they retain attribution. They don’t make any money from it – the more readers, the better. Academic publishers, in contrast, clearly have an incentive to restrict reproduction of the work to those who are willing to pay for it.

In short, the informal economy of academic attribution is much more like the kind of alternative economy that, say, “Creative Commons”: is trying to create than it is like the copyright industry. Academics are usually happy when others rip, remix or even parody their work – as long as the remix artists acknowledge them by name. Similarly, the “Creative Commons”: licenses now include a requirement for attribution “as standard”: (it used to be optional, but 97-98% of Creative Commons users wanted it in their licenses, so that the CC crowd decided that it was easier to make it the default). The requirement that people not plagiarize (i.e. that they not use others’ work without attribution) presents no problems whatsoever for ‘free culture.’

Teacher Pay

by Harry on December 15, 2004

The latest issue of Education Next has three interesting articles on teacher pay in the US. All three articles attack the uniform salary schedule that is standard in union contracts. Teachers are normally compensated according to three indicators: years of service, numbers of university credits earned, and the welath of their district’s tax base. This means teachers who are better, or in shortage subjects, or work in schools for which it is more difficult to recruit teachers, are not paid more. Gym teachers get paid the same as Math teachers, despite the fact that it is much more difficult to recruit qualified Math teachers; inner citiy teachers get paid less than suburban teahcers even though it is more difficult to recruit to inner city schools.

Al three articles suggest alternatives to the current arrangements, and the first, by Brad Jupp, a Denver union leader, describes the real alternative they have established in Denver. He reports the interesting finding that his own members strongly supported merit pay:

bq. Though Denver had a typical salary schedule (see Figure 1) our data overthrow many of the preconceived notions held by teacher unions, school administrators, policy leaders, and opinion makers about how teachers perceive compensation systems. Since 1998 our union has asked its members what they thought about incentives for “teaching at schools with the highest percentage of high-need students.” By 2003, when the last available survey was conducted, the number of people favoring these incentives had reached 89 percent. The percentage of teachers who favor incentives for “teaching in content areas of short supply” is only slightly less, at 82 percent.

So, to put my cards on the table, I’m completely in favour of paying Math teachers more than Gym teachers, and English teachers more than Guidance Counsellors (not only because I’m married to one, either). I’m also strongly in favour of paying inner city schoolteachers more than suburban teachers. But I am very sceptical, not on principled but on practical grounds, of proposals for paying better teachers more than worse teachers. Here’s why:

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Voltaire the hypocrite

by Chris Bertram on December 15, 2004

It seems that no op-ed piece on the British government’s proposals to criminalize incitement to religious hatred is complete without some reference to Voltaire. So, for example, “Polly Toynbee in today’s Guardian”:,3604,1373878,00.html (and cf Toynbee “on the same subject”:,5673,1285291,00.html in August):

bq. Voltaire would have defended Islamic communities to the death from racists – but not set their beliefs beyond ordinary debate.

From Maurice Cranston’s “The Solitary Self: Jean-Jacques Rousseau in Exile and Adversity”: pp. 100–101:

bq. It was amid these ominous stirrings that the _Letters from the Mountain_ [by Rousseau] arrived in Geneva like ‘a firebrand in a powder magazine’, a phrase used in a letter from Francois d’Ivernois to Rousseau and often repeated. One or two magistrates proposed burning the book immediately, and Voltaire wrote impassioned letters urging them to do so. Posing as a champion of Christianity, he pressed his best friend on the Petit Conseil, Francois Tronchin, to ensure that the government acted against a ‘seditious blasphemer’ and put a stop to ‘the audacity of a criminal’ not simply by burning the book but by punishing the author ‘with all the severity of the law’.

Mervyn King on Uncertainty

by Daniel on December 15, 2004

I don’t ask much of you lot, but I’m asking you to read this (yes yes, pdf, they’re not exactly uncommon you know) speech by Mervyn King, Governor of the Bank of England. As well as being one of the UK’s best technical economists, King really is uncommonly thoughtful and insightful when it comes to issues outside his direct area of specialisation (I notice that he thanks Tony Yates in the acknowledgements, who is also a top bloke). This British Academy lecture takes on the concept of risk in the abstract, and illustrates it with a number of examples related to the retirement savings industry. It’s really very good. If you take nothing else away from it, there is one point which is extremely well made; that part of the reason why we have a role for public provision of pensions is that it allows us to spread the burden of longevity risk between present and future generations.

What Would Socrates Write?

by John Holbo on December 15, 2004

Adam Kotsko has an extremely funny post up. The First Letter of Slavoj Zizek to the Corinthians. "To the academic community that is in Corinth and to all those who are called to get off on knowledge and to enjoy their symptom." It’s part of a St. Paul week series, run to rather good effect.

Adam Anthony Smith also links to this Atrios post from a couple days back which I somehow missed. "A life of plenty, of simple pleasures." The school where the booklet in question is being taught claims to teach as well "the writings of Plato and Socrates." Indeed. WWSW?