Academic Nutjobs

by Kieran Healy on September 13, 2005

A column by Mikita Brottman in the “Chronicle”:http://chronicle.com/free/v52/i04/04b00701.htm contends that

bq. It has often been observed that the more prodigious the intellect, the more it can compromise other aspects of the personality, such as self-awareness and social grace … All vocations attract certain personality types; academe appeals particularly to introspective, narcissistic, obsessive characters who occasionally suffer from mood disorders or other psychological problems.

The piece is pretty bad, and in places is a bit stupid — John Nash is cited as an example of a “forgetful genius,” when in fact he has been mentally ill for much of his life. But it did bring to mind A.J. Liebling’s remark that the University of Chicago constituted “the biggest collection of juvenile neurotics since the children’s crusade.” (With apologies to Dan, Jacob, et al.) I notice also that Brottman contends that “Eccentric characters seem particularly common in those departments known for the more abstract realms of thought, like … most often, philosophy, the field of notorious oddballs.” Moreover, she says people with Asperger’s Syndrome — a condition freely and confidently diagnosed by amateur psychiatrists everywhere, like ADD — are characterized by their “persistent preoccupation with parts of objects.” As it happens, my “wife”:http://www.u.arizona.edu/~lapaul/ is a notorious oddball philosopher, and is presently writing an entire book about “parts”:http://www.u.arizona.edu/~lapaul/papers/logical-parts.pdf of “objects”:http://www.u.arizona.edu/~lapaul/papers/ajp.pdf. Hmm.

Who’s Going to Tell Michael Medved?

by Henry on September 13, 2005

Turns out that some of those “Godfearing, family values penguins”:http://www.nytimes.com/2005/09/13/science/13peng.html?ex=1284264000&en=36efde9c1de3fa22&ei=5090&partner=rssuserland&emc=rss may be “playing for the other team”:http://www.jrn.columbia.edu/studentwork/cns/2002-06-10/591.asp.

(via “Max”:http://maxspeak.org/mt/archives/001605.html).

Shot by Both Sides has died of its wounds

by Chris Bertram on September 13, 2005

The blogosphere ecosystem just lost a bit of its biodiversity with John Band’s decision to shut down “Shot by Both Sides”:http://www.stalinism.com/shot-by-both-sides/ . I’ve alternately enjoyed and been infuriated by John’s blog and he’s certainly been a major irritant to the decent smug and self-satisfied former left and the samizdatistas. Both Daniel and I were regular commenters on John’s site and I’ll miss the mix of friendly repartee and ill-tempered invective there. Still, there’s an upside: John says he’ll be writing more at the excellent “Sharpener”:http://thesharpener.net/ . Go to read him there.

The Law in its Majesty

by Kieran Healy on September 13, 2005

I haven’t been following the buildup to the Roberts hearings closely, but today, “via Bitch PhD”:http://bitchphd.blogspot.com/2005/09/and-theyre-off.html, I see this analysis from the NYRB:

Roberts was in favor of limiting the progress of African-Americans in participating in the political process and of making far-reaching changes in the constitutional role of the courts in protecting rights. … Roberts conceded that the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment could pose a formidable barrier to legislation intended to strip the federal courts of jurisdiction over cases involving school desegregation. But, he noted, the problem might be surmounted, since strict scrutiny would be applied only if there were “racial classification,” and the legislation in question would only classify cases by type, i.e., not “race” but “school desegregation.” Giving state courts the final say over school desegregation, he added, *would not involve unequal treatment because white officials as well as black groups would lack the right to appeal*. … Nowhere in any of the memos that have been made available did John Roberts acknowledge the effect of the many years of disenfranchisement on black citizens. Instead his concern was about the effect of an imagined quota system on whites, a concern that twenty-five years later has proved to be groundless. (Emphasis added.)

I’d be interested to see the original text that this paraphrases. It looks like it was just lifted directly from Anatole France: “The law, in its majestic equality, forbids rich and poor alike to sleep under bridges, beg in the streets or steal bread.” Or sue under the fourteenth amendment. It’s hard to imagine someone with an education like Roberts’ writing that sentence and not immediately thinking of France’s epigram. Maybe he smirked.

Putting the Beast on a Diet

by Henry on September 13, 2005

Kevin Drum “says”:http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/archives/individual/2005_09/007112.php:

bq. The fact is, conservatives haven’t won much of anything in the last 10 years except a PR triumph. Their biggest successes have been on taxes — a Pyrrhic victory at best without corresponding spending cuts — and in the court system, which hasn’t actually delivered much real world benefit. Plus they have a war in Iraq, for whatever that’s worth. Public opinion simply hasn’t allowed them anything more.

I think that this misunderstands what has been happening these last few years. I’m reading Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson’s _Off Center: The Republican Revolution and the Erosion of American Democracy_ (“Powells”:http://www.powells.com/s?kw=Off%20Center%3A%20The%20Republican%20Revolution&PID=29956, “Amazon”:http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/redirect?link_code=ur2&camp=1789&tag=henryfarrell-20&creative=9325&path=tg/detail/-/0300108702/qid=1126622313/sr=2-2/ref=pd_bbs_b_2_2?v=glance%26s=books) at the moment, and it’s very good on this topic.

bq. As is often noted, usually with a “gotcha” thrown in, the size of public spending under President Bush has _not_ fallen, even as tax revenues have plummeted. … And while Republicans are reducing the beast’s daily rations, they are asking it to do more things – from new subsidies for corporations and rich investors to new drug benefits for the aged to trillions in potential borrowing to establish private accounts for the Social Security system. Some say this means the Republican revolution never happened. The truth is more complex. Although Republicans have not starved the beast in the short run, they are putting it on a very specific diet that is transforming the role of government in American life. This special diet is not principally aimed at making government larger or smaller, at least in the short term. It is aimed at tilting the balance of benefits and protections – usually away from ordinary Americans and toward the well off, the well connected and the Republican base … Plus, the day of budgetary reckoning _will_ come. The Republican innovation has been to separate the pleasant business of cutting taxes from the unpleasant business of slashing popular social programs. But if the Republicans continue to cut taxes, or even simply maintain existing tax reductions, the unpleasantness is coming. And it will be especially painful for those who value the popular government programs likely to come under the knife.

Update: See also “Brad Plumer”:http://plumer.blogspot.com/2005_09_01_plumer_archive.html#112660240377724548.

Windschuttle flips again

by John Quiggin on September 13, 2005

Henry pointed me to this Financial Times report of an interview (over lunch) with rightwing Australian historian Keith Windschuttle, which begins with Windschuttle saying he regrets his involvement in the dispute over Australia’s Aboriginal history, seeing as a distraction from his ambition to write a polemical defence of Western civilisation, aimed at the US market, and make heaps of money in the process.

”If you have a reasonably big hit in America you’re talking about hundreds of thousands of dollars,” he says. “That’s my aim – to have a couple of big sellers and have a leisurely life.”

It is unclear how much of this is intended as tongue-in-cheek affectation, but it’s certainly consistent with notable elements of Windschuttle’s past career, which has been marked by repeated political and methodological somersaults.

Although a lot of attention has been focused on Windschuttle’s political jump from Marxist left to Christian right, I’ve always been more interested in his shift in methodological stance. Having made his name as a defender of objective truth against politicised history in both left-wing and right-wing varieties, Windschuttle has become a practitioner of an extreme form of politicised history, and now looks ready to abandon any remaining links to the world of fact.

[click to continue…]

Hey, we’re back

by Kieran Healy on September 13, 2005

CT was a knocked out by today’s “big power outage”:http://www.guardian.co.uk/uslatest/story/0,1282,-5274095,00.html in Los Angeles, along with every other site hosted by our provider, and much else besides, like traffic lights. Despite our cosmopolitan nature, our server is in one place only — the wrong place, today. But they seemed to have managed over there without any panic. One of the news reports I saw quoted a vox pop reaction from a woman identified as “Stylist for TV Commercials.” Ah, LA.