From the monthly archives:

April 2008

All Out For May Day!

by Scott McLemee on April 30, 2008

The first time I tried to celebrate May Day was by waving a black flag at Wills Point High School (about fifty miles east of Dallas, Texas) in 1981. None of the other students had any idea what that was about, and the teachers were probably just glad to know the Class of ’81 would be gone soon, and my wierdo ass with it.

And for the next quarter century, celebrating May Day in the United States remained a pretty good sign that you were on the political margins. That started to change two years ago. Turnout was lower in 2007. But it’s a good sign when the website of the AFL-CIO’s Washington, DC Metro Council runs an announcement for tomorrow’s protests.

Meanwhile, there are interesting developments elsewhere…

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Is there a general skill of “management”?

by Daniel on April 30, 2008

Synopsis: yes.

I promised this post in comments to Chris’s on Blackburn’s myths below, where I took my life in my hands and disagreed with John. I think that actually, there probably is “a general skill called management which works in any and all domains”, and, just to raise the tariff and secure gold medal position for myself in the Steven Landsburg Memorial Mindless Contrariolympiad, I’ll also defend the proposition that this skill is pretty closely related to what they teach on MBA courses. But first a couple of remarks on Blackburn’s own “Myth of Management“.

In his very definition, Blackburn pretty much gives it away; he says that “[the myth of management] claims that people can be managed like warehouses and airports”. What does this even mean? How do you manage a warehouse or an airport if it’s impossible to manage people? If he had said “like machines” or even “like factories”, then it might have been comprehensible, but a warehouse which doesn’t have any people working in it is just a shed full of stuff and doesn’t require any management because no deliveries or shipments are being made. And an airport without people is just a warehouse for planes. Warehousing and transport are two very labour-intensive industries.
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Charles Tilly

by Kieran Healy on April 30, 2008

Just ten days or so ago Henry wrote that Chuck Tilly had won the SSRC’s Hirschman Prize, and linked to a classic paper of his. Tilly died this morning. He had been battling cancer for several years.

Tilly was a comparative and historical sociologist, an analyst of social movements, a social theorist, a political sociologist, a methodological innovator — none of these labels quite capture the scope of his work. I think of him as someone who was interested in the general problem of understanding social change, and he attacked it with tremendous, unflagging energy. Here is one of his own self-descriptions:

Among Tilly’s negative distinctions he prizes 1) never having held office in a professional association, 2) never having chaired a university department or served as a dean, 3) never having been an associate professor, 4) rejection every single time he has been screened as a prospective juror. He had also hoped never to publish a book with a subtitle, but subtitles somehow slipped into two of his co-authored books.

I saw him speak on several occasions and met him a few times, too. I particularly remember him giving the Mel Tumin lecture at Princeton, and a great chat I had with him in his office at Columbia. He was a small, wiry man who always seemed to be smiling and, like a true Weberian charismatic figure, he seemed able to transmit some of his own brio to you as he talked.

Oil on troubled waters

by Maria on April 29, 2008

Riddle me this; how, in a world of competition and trade rules, does OPEC exist? I’ve been asking this question for years, and never gotten a proper answer. My faith in free trade may be shaken.

It reminds me of how, as a teenager, I spent several years asking catechism teachers ‘if I am forgiven my sins in confession, then what is there to talk about on judgment day?’. Result; I’m a practicing Catholic who hasn’t been to confession since I was 17.

But seriously, do WTO rules bend the space-time continuum to let OPEC members continue their cartel-building, export-controlling ways? How is OPEC accommodated in the world of sort-of free trade? I’m not looking for the realpolitik answer. That’s pretty obvious. But what is the legal and institutional answer to this question?

Yesterday, Algeria’s energy minister and current OPEC president said oil may hit $200 a barrel and there’s little OPEC can do about it. As if oil prices are as immutable as the weather. He went on to say increasing output wouldn’t lower prices currently high prices because these are the result of the weak dollar and global instability. Which is some equally bizarre reasoning. Even if you accept situation X is caused by variables Y and Z, doesn’t mean that it can’t be changed by adjusting some other variable. (Whether or not there is a duty of those in control of that variable to adjust it is another question – though the assertion that Saudi Arabia has cut production by 2 million barrels a day in the last 3 years undercuts OPEC’s disinterest claim.)

What’s going on at the level in between OPEC’s realpolitik and disingenuous P.R. claims? Is there such a level of legal or institutional discourse with other countries or institutions? I feel there’s a stratum of interaction missing in the way OPEC is reported on in the news. In the middle bit between its externally focused bully power and its self-serving rhetoric, are there rules that constrain OPEC in its outside relations? (Clearly, internal struggles between producers generate their own constraints and coordination problems – I’m thinking of Robert Bates‘ fascinating work on coffee producers.) How does OPEC get along…?

More Kindle & etc.

by John Holbo on April 29, 2008

I got a new mac recently – oh joy! – and happened to notice this bit of the set-up instructions.

If you don’t intend to keep or use your other Mac, it’s best to deauthorize it from playing music, videos, or audiobooks that you’ve purchased from the iTunes Store. Deauthorizing a computer prevents any songs, videos, or audiobooks you’ve purchased from being played by someone else and frees up another authorization for use.

Because listening to someone else’s songs is like using someone else’s toothbrush, the Lord knows. Don’t get me started about lending books. The book mobile would roll through town, just as during the crusades the rotting, infected heads of the dead were lobbed over the walls of besieged towns, to dismay and disease the defenders …

I think someone told this story before:

This put Dan in a dilemma. He had to help her—but if he lent her his computer, she might read his books. Aside from the fact that you could go to prison for many years for letting someone else read your books, the very idea shocked him at first. Like everyone, he had been taught since elementary school that sharing books was nasty and wrong—something that only pirates would do.

Which reminds me of this screed against Amazon’s Kindle, the Future of Reading (a Play in Six Acts).

Speaking of which: the Kindle is now available for immediate shipping. They’ve sorted out their supply issues and are going great guns. They are also commencing engagement in what sounds like grossly uncompetitive behavior in the POD market, preparing to force small publishers to use their very ill-regarded BookSurge service. That’s just terrible. [click to continue…]

Terminating Parental Rights

by Harry on April 29, 2008

The FLDS incident has stirred up plenty of discussion in the blogosphere. Laura got so annoyed in her first thread that she, sensibly, shut it down, and then, equally sensibly, opened up a more general thread about when the government is justified in terminating parental rights. (See also Russell, here and here). I am uneasy about commenting much on the FDLS issue, mainly because I have not been following it as obssessively as I’d have needed to to feel comfortable. But I do have some observations about parental rights. These are partly drawn from my paper with Adam Swift, Parents’ Rights and the Value of the Family (pdf, but free, and no registration required, at least as of now), so in what follows the usual Brighouse/Swift rule for anything I say that draws on our work — whatever you agree with credit him, whatever you disagree with blame me — applies (for the final, published, paper, we get joint credit/blame).

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Videoseminar: report from the bleeding edge

by John Quiggin on April 29, 2008

I presented a videoseminar today, presenting a new argument against discounting the utility of future (more precisely later-born) generations, and I thought I’d report on both medium and message.

It was a bit of a bleeding edge experience, though it worked OK in the end. The big problem was presenting slides at the same time as video of me talking. ANU was expecting a hardware solution (dual video) while UQ was expecting a software solution (NetMeeting or Bridgit). Fortunately, I had sent the presentation ahead of time, so someone at the ANU end was able to run it for me. But I’ll have to develop a standard procedure for this.

I’ve attached the presentation (in PDF format)here

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Not really an issue of academic freedom

by Henry on April 28, 2008

Ms. Almontaser, a teacher by training and an activist who had carefully built ties with Christians and Jews, said she was forced to resign by the mayor’s office following a campaign that pitted her against a chorus of critics who claimed she had a militant Islamic agenda. In newspaper articles and Internet postings, on television and talk radio, Ms. Almontaser was branded a “radical,” a “jihadist” and a “9/11 denier.” She stood accused of harboring unpatriotic leanings and of secretly planning to proselytize her students. Despite Ms. Almontaser’s longstanding reputation as a Muslim moderate, her critics quickly succeeded in recasting her image.

The conflict tapped into a well of post-9/11 anxieties. But Ms. Almontaser’s downfall was not merely the result of a spontaneous outcry by concerned parents and neighborhood activists. It was also the work of a growing and organized movement to stop Muslim citizens who are seeking an expanded role in American public life. The fight against the school, participants in the effort say, was only an early skirmish in a broader, national struggle. “It’s a battle that’s really just begun,” said Daniel Pipes, who directs a conservative research group, the Middle East Forum, and helped lead the charge against Ms. Almontaser and the school.

I’m temporarily coming out of hiatus to point to this “New York Times article”:http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/28/nyregion/28school.html?_r=1&hp&oref=slogin which should, I hope, give some pause to people who claim that concerns over whether to fire people like John Yoo reduce down to academics trying to defend their privilege of tenure. And yes – I completely agree that there is a vast gaping difference between trying to fire someone for actions that were directly intended to facilitate torture,1 and firing someone because vicious paranoid hatemongers like Daniel Pipes and his cronies say that she deserves firing. The question is whether that distinction can be maintained politically in an employment system where very few people indeed have the kind of job protections that academics (or, to a lesser extent, teachers in an unionized system) have, and where people like Daniel Pipes have considerable political sway. I think it’s perfectly legitimate for people to maintain either (a) that firing people like Yoo in the absence of external proceedings is still worthwhile, even if it has substantial knock-on effects, or (b) that firing Yoo is unlikely to have the kinds of repercussions that I fear. But I also think that my position is legitimate (and I also think that it’s right or I wouldn’t have put it forward), and whatever you believe, it’s clear that the battles that are about to begin are only indirectly about academic freedom. They’re better considered as battles over whether people who hold minority views (‘middle ground’ Muslim views, certain political beliefs), whether they be professors, teachers, or whatever are going to be persecuted (either sporadically or systematically, depending on how successful Pipes is), sacked or forced to resign, and forced out of public life in its myriad forms. That’s the agenda that Pipes is proposing. Now back to my cave …

1 I should say, by the way, that I think that “Brian Leiter’s claim”:http://leiterreports.typepad.com/blog/2008/04/american-freedo.html that

Anyone calling for him to be fired is calling for him to be punished for his ideas, and nothing else. Attempts to claim it is more “complicated” are just attempts to rehabilitate the idea that having bad ideas, even bad ideas others act on, is a crime.

is misleading and very badly wrong. “Ideas” that are floated in an academic paper are very different from _legal analyses_ that are offered by someone working within a bureaucratic apparatus, which are directly intended to help others in that apparatus to carry out war crimes. The latter are better considered as actions than ideas – they are directly connected to the activities that are carried out on their basis in a way that free floating ideas are not.

UPDATE: I should perhaps have made clearer that I am not diving into the comments section of this post for reason of time commitments. I recognize that this isn’t very satisfactory for people who might want to push me on this or that aspect of my argument, and promise that I’ll post again on this when I return …

War crimes questions

by John Quiggin on April 28, 2008

It’s not that surprising to read that former Malaysian PM Mahathir Mohamad has called for an international tribunal to try Western leaders with war crimes over the war in Iraq, nominating Bush, Blair and Howard in particular. Mahathir is well-known as a provocateur, with a fondness for extreme statements, which have included anti-Semitic attacks on George Soros and others. So it’s unlikely that anyone will pay much attention to him.

Still, his views on Iraq as a war crime are widely shared. It scarcely seems beyond the bounds of possibility that someone like Baltasar Garzon might find a legal way to file criminal charges (Wikipedia says he’s already threatened a civil suit).

Such charges would have enough factual and legal support to make the outcome unpredictable if they ever came before a tribunal. Apart from the general question of the legality of the war itself, the US in particular has openly denied the applicability of the Geneva Conventions and has engaged in many actions (torture of prisoners, bombing of occupied civilian areas, reprisal attacks of various kinds) that at least arguably violate the Conventions.

On the other hand, the prospect of Bush, or any US official, for that matter, actually standing trial, let alone being convicted or punished, seems unthinkable. The only consistent inference that I can draw from this is that, if charges are ever laid in any jurisdiction, the governments concerned will find a way to abort the process without allowing the substantive issues to come before a court. Since most of the doctrines that might be used to achieve such an outcome (sovereign immunity, non-interference in internal affairs and so on) have already been repudiated, it seems as if such an outcome could only be justified in terms of a bald claim of “reasons of state”.

Are there any legal experts who can help me out here? I have two main questions:

1. Where, if at all, might charges be brought against Bush and others?
2. How would the hearing of these charges be prevented?

Puzzling about Hobbes and obligation

by Chris Bertram on April 28, 2008

I gave a couple of lectures on Hobbes last week, having volunteered a long time ago when doing so seemed like a breeze, then remembering rather late in the day that I hadn’t taught Hobbes for a while. Anyway, it all seemed to go pretty well but then a smart first-year student asked me a question that I’ve been puzzling about ever since. No doubt *real* Hobbes scholars have the answer all sorted (and if so, please tell me) but I wasn’t quite sure what to say. The problem is below the fold.

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Beyond the area of his expertise

by Chris Bertram on April 27, 2008

Simon Blackburn is clearly doing his best to give philosophers a bad name through his own “popular” writings, but his “latest effort”:http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/story.asp?sectioncode=26&storycode=401547&c=1 — part of “a series in which academics range beyond their area of expertise” — is spectacularly awful. Norman Geras, with whom I often disagree, takes issue with him in a series of posts “here”:http://normblog.typepad.com/normblog/2008/04/todays-big-matc.html . My own hackles weren’t especially raised — I was just in “yeah, whatever” mode — until I got to his eighth “myth”, “the myth of equal respect” where Blackburn writes:

bq. The belief that everyone deserves equal respect and that anything else is discriminatory and elitist. The truth is the exact opposite: discrimination is a virtuous activity and elites are to be admired. The _very few human beings who are good at anything_ [emphasis added], whether football or playing the violin or writing or painting, form an elite and deserve respect for their excellence. Other people either deserve sympathy for trying and failing, or should be ignored if they have not even tried.

Aside from the obvious fact (which Geras points out) that the claim that everyone deserves respect in the rights and human dignity sense doesn’t entail the hostility to discriminations of achievement that Blackburn claims, his statement that “very few human beings … are good at anything” is simply crap.

Many many human beings are talented cooks or gardeners, accomplished dancers, considerate colleagues, good mothers or good fathers. Many many human beings are empathetic, or courageous, or patient. And no, I don’t think those who are (for example) rated good cooks by those they know and cook for “deserve our sympathy” for failing to be Escoffier, nor should they be ignored for not even trying to be Escoffier. Blackburn, on the other hand, probably ought to have our sympathy: not for trying and failing to make it to the level of, say, David Hume, but for falling victim to the delusion that the less that superb doesn’t amount to good. What a failure he must imagine himself to be!

Final Trumpet

by Kieran Healy on April 26, 2008

Humphrey Lyttelton has died. The Guardian has an obituary written by George Melly, who also happens to be dead.

I first came across Lyttelton not on Radio 4, but in Peter Winch’s The Idea of a Social Science and its Relation to Philosophy, of all places. He pops up there in an anecdote showing why some kinds of social practice are in principle not amenable to precise predictions derived from some (putative) social physics. Lyttelton was once asked if he knew where jazz was going, and replied “If I knew where jazz was going, I’d be there already.”

Maybe Baby

by Maria on April 26, 2008

Henry has inspired me. I’ve been trying everything to break through my blogger’s block – even to the point of going to a writing class in UCLA. (which is great, but doesn’t have much bearing on blogging so far) Generally the best way to start blogging again may be to announce that I’m taking a hiatus. Then again, I’ve been on an unofficial one since about Christmas, so perhaps not.

When you first start blogging, everything in your life becomes fodder for ‘ooh, I might blog about that’. After a couple of years, and especially if you’re in a job where you can’t really write about your area of expertise, the dry spells appear. And life intervenes. For months after I moved to L.A. I could barely think of a thing to blog about. It reminded me of how after my university finals, I literally could not read a page of a book for a couple of months. Eventually that wore off. For the last month or more, there are absolutely all manner of things I think of blogging about. And I just can’t seem to write about any of them.

Some topics I dismiss because they’re too boring, too done, and who wants to hear a blogger say they think the same thing about the same thing as everyone else? And as Chris mentioned last week, CT’s audience is so wide and so knowledgeable about every single thing in the universe, why write some half-assed thing and get shot down? But then I think to myself, ‘hey, that’s what blogging is all about!’ But even on a high-powered, Guardian list featuring type of intello-blog, we all feel kind of insecure. (well, with the probable exception of Daniel who is the funniest man in the world and also, by the way, my blog crush. Hi Daniel.) The one thing CT bloggers all say when we meet up is ‘Timberteer X’s stuff is so good, I really feel intimidated writing on the same blog.

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Because we like you.

by Eric on April 25, 2008

So, that’s the week for me.  Please visit me and Ari at The Edge of the American West.  Please buy my books, if you possibly can (to make it easier: Rauchway books from Amazon US * UK * FR * DE * CA) (no, not California).

Many thanks to the Crooked Timber collective for letting me mess about with their site for a week.

Be excellent to each other.

Godwin this.

by Eric on April 25, 2008

During this week’s guest stint I’ve managed to touch on Palestine-Israel, the New Deal, and Michel Foucault. Steering clear of the real killer tripwires—i.e., sex roles, the Democratic primaries, or emacs/vi—that leaves a final frontier of Internet mischief….

On this day in 1945, only three days after the occupation of their city by French troops, the remaining full professors of the University of Freiburg assembled to elect new officers and to restore the customs under which they had operated before 1933, when their faculty, racially purged by the Nazis, elected as rector the philosopher Martin Heidegger. (All details here come from Hugo Ott; see more at the footnote.)1

This is not a parable or an analogy. It is a story of one episode in which civil authorities and academic governing bodies reckoned with a disastrous crossover between scholarship and politics.

One of the first orders of business for the reassembled professors was the question of what to do about Nazis among their colleagues. They chartered an internal review committee for the purpose, and tried to keep jurisdiction over this process, without success. City authorities were conducting their own reviews, and they designated Heidegger’s house, among others, as a “Party residence” to be requisitioned for use. The university protested, based on the opinion of legal scholar Franz Böhm (an anti-Nazi dismissed from his post during Hitler’s regime) that for “establishing political guilt” one needed “a proper court of law.”
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