From the monthly archives:

June 2012

My brain needs to know your sex

by Ingrid Robeyns on June 30, 2012

I’ve met someone at the SAP-conference this weekend, whom I never met before, but with whom I had corresponded quite intensively over a period of two years. And now it turns out that this person is a man, whereas I had assumed he was a woman. He has a name that I am not familiar with, but I had just somehow assumed this was a woman’s name.

Reflecting a bit on this, I notice that I see two patterns in my sex-to-name-attributing habits.
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Debating applied philosophy

by Ingrid Robeyns on June 29, 2012

The Society for Applied Philosophy celebrates its 30th anniversary at its Annual Conference in Oxford this weekend. I delivered earlier today a plenary paper on the conceptualization of the rich, on which I may or may not write another post in the future (you can see that I’m writing this after a long wine reception and being in combative spirits!). Earlier today we had a roundtable on the nature of applied philosophy, which was very interesting. There were a few panelists opening with some statements, but a large part of the session was simply the philosophers present in the room voicing their views and concerns about the nature of applied philosophy and its interaction with society at large.
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Open Data Journalism

by Matthew Yglesias on June 28, 2012

In the practical community of professional journalists writing about political events, the term “open data” is hardly ever in circulation. And yet, to those who are doing the best work it’s an invaluable tool. David Simon succeeded in turning the idea that information age journalists need to learn to “do more with less” into a national joke, but the underlying concept makes perfect sense. The very same information technology revolution that’s undermined the business models of traditional newspapers has done an enormous amount to increase the productivity of working journalists. Open data is an enormous part of that.

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Fast and Furious?

by John Holbo on June 28, 2012

Like Kevin Drum, I haven’t really been following this Fast and Furious thingy. (I didn’t like the movies either.) And, like Drum, I’m amazed at the Forbes CNN Fortune piece he links to. If this is right, everything everyone has been saying about the case is wrong. Unlike Drum, I say it’s possible to extract the nub, like so: [click to continue…]

Happy birthday Jean-Jacques

by Chris Bertram on June 27, 2012

Today (the 28th, which it now is in Geneva) is the 300th birthday of Jean-Jacques Rousseau! It is fair to say that Jean-Jacques has divided people pretty sharply ever since he first came to public notice in 1749. There are those who love him, despite his madness, his misogyny and his occasional penchant for alarming political formulations, and there are those who loathe him as the progenitor of totalitarianism. For what it’s worth, I’m in the first camp.

Rousseau’s genius is to have perceived that the gains of modernity were accompanied by significant loss. He was obsessed with the idea that as civilization has developed, we have acquired new needs, needs which exceed our capacity to satisfy them alone. From that dependence on others arises a threat to our freedom; from our living together with others springs a new self-consciousness and a sense of how we appear in the eyes of others. Dependence on others provides each of us with powerful incentives to get others to do what we want; our consciousness of how we appear to them leads us to yearn for their recognition, for their love and respect. But knowing that they too have an incentive to represent themselves to us in ways that get us to fulfil their material and recognitional needs, we are forever gripped by anxiety, jealousy and resentment. We, and others, are dancers in a terrible masked ball of inauthenticity, from which we cannot escape.

Or maybe we can. Maybe we can be educated so that our sense of self-esteem is less dependent on the opinion of others. Maybe we can bring into being a social form in which each of us is secure in the recognition of our fellow citizens and in which we cease to be dependent on the whims of our fellows, but are subject instead to impartial laws that we ourselves have chosen.

That was Rousseau’s project, and it has not been without consequence: without Rousseau, no Kant, no Hegel, perhaps no Marx or Nietzsche; without Rousseau perhaps also no Robespierre (though he would have rejected as laughable the Jacobin claim to incarnate the general will). But we also should not forget, on his birthday, his contributions to music and literature, the beauty and pain of his autobiographical writings, and his sensibility to nature and contribution to the science of botany.

Happy birthday Jean-Jacques.

The handshake

by niamh on June 27, 2012

At last Sinn Féin have done it. They missed out on all the big symbolic moments of Queen Elizabeth’s official visit to Ireland last year. Then realized that they were way out of step with public opinion. Handshakes for slow learners. But better late than never.

Searching for John Snows

by Steven Berlin Johnson on June 27, 2012

Sometime in the early 1840s, a British doctor and statistician named William Farr took control of the Weekly Returns Of Births And Deaths, a publication of the Registrar General’s office where Farr worked. Variants of the Weekly Returns had been published by the state for at least two centuries before Farr took over, but for most of that time the Returns recorded only the name of the newly born or newly dead, and the parish where they resided. But Farr was what we would now call an Open Data advocate, and over time he greatly expanded the information disseminated through the Weekly Returns. By the mid 1850s, the Returns tracked age, cause of death, occupation–even the elevation of the dead’s primary residence. (Farr believed that people living in higher altitudes had healthier lives.) Inspired by a debate with one of his contemporaries, the Soho doctor John Snow, Farr even added information on the deceased’s regular source of drinking water.

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Reasoning and open data

by Victoria Stodden on June 26, 2012

It’s hard to argue with increased government transparency and accountability. Who wouldn’t welcome a bulwark against opportunist backroom deals and increased incentives for rulemakers to think carefully about policy decisions? However, the link between these goals and open data isn’t obvious and depends on what is being made available, and how it is being made available. I argue that what’s actually useful is the reasoning process that underlies decision making, of which the data are just one part.

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Seeing Like a Geek

by tom_slee on June 25, 2012

Yes, as through this world I've wandered
I've seen many men, I guess;
Some will rob you with a six gun,
And some with a GIS. 

In the state of Tamil Nadu, near the town of Marakkanam, right next to a reserved forest, lies a contested plot of land. Records say these three acres belong to a member of the Mudaliar caste, but lower-caste Dalits living nearby claim the plot should be part of the reserved forest, which is not privately owned. The Dalits claim that the Mudaliars have pulled a fast one, using their influence in the local bureaucracy to fix the land records, and that older records will bear out the Dalit claim. Complicating the case, officials say that boundaries between land parcels in the area are often difficult to ascertain.1

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Open Data Seminar

by Henry Farrell on June 25, 2012

Another Crooked Timber seminar, albeit on an issue rather than an author. Last month, Tom Slee wrote “two”: “posts”: on the Open Data movement which got a lot of interesting argument going. To push the contradictions further, we’ve invited a number of people with differing perspectives to write short pieces on the theme of when and how, if ever, open data makes for better politics. Contributors are:

Henry Farrell (blogger at Crooked Timber)
Steven Berlin Johnson (author of _Emergence_, _Where Good Ideas Come From_, and the forthcoming _Future Perfect: The Case for Progress in a Networked Age_)
Tom Lee (director of Sunlight Labs at the “Sunlight Foundation”:
Beth Noveck (professor at New York Law School, author of _Wiki Politics_, and former Deputy Chief Technology Officer at the White House)
Clay Shirky (author of _Here Comes Everybody and _Cognitive Surplus_)
Tom Slee (author of _No-One Makes You Shop at Walmart_)
Victoria Stodden (assistant professor of statistics at Columbia, Big Data public intellectual)
Aaron Swartz (in no need of introduction to CT readers
Matthew Yglesias (author of Slate‘s Moneybox column).

As per the last seminar, posts will be put up (nearly) every weekday for the next several days. And yes – as commenters will surely notice, the sex ratio is off again (all I can say is that this is not the result of any lack of effort, I’m not happy about it, and I’d be grateful for suggestions in comments).

Lessig’s Republic, Lost

by Henry Farrell on June 25, 2012

The Montana decision today has provoked me to write up the review of Larry Lessig’s _Republic Lost_ (Powells, Amazon)that I’ve been planning for the last few months. Short version: there is a lot to like about the book. If you are looking for a good account of the systematic corruption of American politics, this is that account. If you are looking for the account that might convince your centrist/moderately conservative aunt or uncle that there is something wrong, even better – Lessig writes far better than I can for that audience, although he makes it reasonably clear that his allegiances are left-of-center. This said, there’s a lot to disagree with too. Most broadly, I don’t think that his updated version of early twentieth century progressivism will do what he wants it to do, although it could surely help. The fundamental problem that Lessig sees is one of money in politics – if one can cleanse out the Augean stables by attacking dubious relationships between politicians and lobbyists and fundraisers, one could win back the Republic. The fundamental problem that I see is one of economic inequality – even if there are no obvious quid-pro-quos between legislators and those wanting to sway them, the system will remain corrupt. In short – if there is a friendly argument between Lessig and Chris Hayes (and I suspect there is), I think that Chris has the better of it.

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Martin Amis Moves to Brooklyn, Sounds Like Jerk

by Belle Waring on June 25, 2012

The New York Times sometimes does things just because it can, as Drew Magary of Gawker noted in his nuanced, thoughtful “The New York Times Styles Section Profiled The Brant Brothers Because The New York Times Hates You.” (Really you should read it, even though you will find out who the Brant brothers are, and All Will Be Lost. Also, Faye Dunaway.) So maybe the New York Times was briefly diverted from its mission to reported on all the news and cetera, to do something just to mess with us.

Many of you may have worried that literary Brooklyn wasn’t macho enough, what with all the female authors, and the important female editors, and all the attention paid to ladyissues, and all those memoirs you heard about from those women who read comic books when they were kids in Brooklyn and then something something. Let me tell you: Martin Amis just pulled your fat out of the fire, who doggie! He’s mannin’ up the borough right and left! He gestures out the window of his brownstone “Out there, it’s Arcadian,” he said. “It’s prelapsarian. It’s like living in the ’50s.”

You know what I love about the ’50s? The rigid racial apartheid. That’s the best part, seriously. Oh, shit, no–I messed up–the crippling sexism and hatred of homosexuality. No, no–goddamnit! I’m going back to the rigid racial apartheid thing I said just now. That’s the best. It’s like having 3 favorite flavors of evil! That’s why the ’50s are so tempting and delicious: just far enough away to see recognizable humans betraying their dearest in the service of ideology, just close enough that you know they knew better.
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Escher Girls and Anatomic Ecology

by John Holbo on June 25, 2012

Another follow-up to the last two posts about body images and beauty ideals. [click to continue…]

Imperialist Doublethink

by Henry Farrell on June 22, 2012

A rather remarkable “editorial”: on the Assange-Ecuador story from the _Washington Post_ today:

bq. There is one potential check on Mr. Correa’s ambitions. The U.S. “empire” he professes to despise happens to grant Ecuador (which uses the dollar as its currency) special trade preferences that allow it to export many goods duty-free. A full third of Ecuadoran foreign sales ($10 billion in 2011) go to the United States, supporting some 400,000 jobs in a country of 14 million people. Those preferences come up for renewal by Congress early next year. If Mr. Correa seeks to appoint himself America’s chief Latin American enemy and Julian Assange’s protector between now and then, it’s not hard to imagine the outcome.

So on the one hand, the _Washington Post_ believes that the notion that the US has an ’empire’ is self-evidently ridiculous. On the other hand, it suggests that if Ecuador is impertinent enough to host an individual whom the US doesn’t like (but would have a hard time pressing charges against), it should and will express its displeasure by crippling Ecuador’s economy and threatening the livelihood of 400,000 of its citizens. These few sentences are rather useful, despite themselves, in talking to the nature of the American imperium, the doublethink that maintains it, and the usefulness of providing/withholding market access as a means of imperial coercion.

Pressing the Civvy Button

by Maria on June 21, 2012

“My finger is on the ‘civvy button’. Should I hit ‘send’?” a friend’s husband called and asked the other day. He’s recently back from his second tour in Afghanistan in eighteen months. His new job is hundreds of miles from his wife and a child who can’t risk moving to start yet again at the bottom of the special needs waiting list.

“There’s no give and take for army families. It’s just take, take, take.” The words of another friend whose husband has done two tours back to back and is considering a third so he’ll be ineligible for forced redundancy for another year.

Stoic silence. From the woman whose husband has been made redundant three months before he would have been eligible for his hard-earned half-pension.

Last week’s round of UK armed forces redundancies has come and gone from the headlines, but the impact on the people whose lives are affected is only beginning. Families yearning for the safe return home of their soldiers calculate the odds of being in next January’s round of redundancies, and the one after that, and after that. Should they continue on an inhuman rate of redeployment or take their chances with finding themselves suddenly unemployed in a part of the country where they have no prospects, family or friends outside the armed forces? Bear in mind many partners – let’s be honest and call them wives – have had their careers hobbled or finished by the constant moves. More so than in the general population, there is often no second bread-winner in an armed forces family.

Yet while ‘difficult decisions’ and ‘tough choices’ have been made to throw another 4,000 service men and women into a broken job market, £1 billion pounds was easily found for the first stage of the Trident nuclear deterrent replacement programme, a controversial initiative with no mandate from Parliament.
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