From the monthly archives:

October 2012

Binders full of women

by niamh on October 17, 2012

The US presidential debates are on TV at very unsocial hours for Europeans, but I gather the general view is that Obama ‘won’ last night’s.

Reading the coverage this morning, Romney seems to have hit a nerve with his ‘binders full of women’ – I can’t help laughing at Tumblr responses such as this:


Philosophical Conservatism and Operational Liberalism

by John Holbo on October 15, 2012

Kevin Drum noticed the same bit of this Ezra Klein piece that I did:

At this point, Romney and Obama are running almost perfectly opposite campaigns. Romney can tell you exactly what he wants to do, but barely a word about how he’ll do it. Obama can’t describe what he wants to achieve, but he can tell you everything about how he’ll get it done. It’s a campaign without real policies against a campaign lacking a clear vision.

Klein asks: when did Obama lose ‘the vision thing’? He thinks Obama had it in 2008, but it’s worth considering the counter-hypothesis that it was lost long before. Free and Cantril documented loss of liberal mojo in their 1967 book, based on survey data from the 1964 election. ‘Americans are philosophical conservatives but operational liberals.’ If that’s how it goes in 2012, that just goes to show how it goes, for the past half century. [click to continue…]

Opportunity knocks

by John Q on October 12, 2012

I’m very interested in ways of increasing leisure, so when I saw mention of The Four-Hour Workweek, I naturally rushed to check it out. It turns out to be about “Outsourcing your Life” by hiring a fleet of remote executive assistants from India, to handle your email, pay your bills, run interference between you and your wife (really! ) and generally to replicate the archetypal “office wife” secretary, right down to the 1950s gender stereotypes.

That wasn’t what I had in mind at all, but just after seeing the link, I got an email asking about a presentation I gave last year, and which I had totally forgotten. It only took me a few seconds to find it (one reason I don’t want a remote EA), and to recall that it’s an improved version of this old blog post which reads as if it was written just before I joined Crooked Timber. But I haven’t got around to turning into an article and probably never will. 

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One Day at a Time

by Tedra Osell on October 10, 2012

So homeschooling is turning out to be kind of like sobriety? Which started as a joke–and no, I am not an alcoholic or addict, except for being a former smoker, which does, actually, count–but on thinking about it, I wonder if there might, actually, be a more than casual relationship between addiction and “giftedness” that’s like the one between “giftedness” and depression. Or for that matter, addiction and mental illness. At least, in my experience of the latter, a big part of the problem is the gap between conception and reality. One sees problems globally and is overwhelmed by realizing that you can only chip away at them in tiny increments, or imagines a fabulous project or goal but is frozen with anxiety by not knowing how to start, or by perceiving the enormous gap between starting and actually achieving the thing. [click to continue…]

Alex Gourevitch on environmentalism: some pushback

by Chris Bertram on October 10, 2012

Alex Gourevitch, with whom I’m collaborated in the past, has [a piece at Jacobin]( that’s somewhat hostile to environmentalism. The piece is written as a provocation, and, indeed, it has successfully provoked at least one person: me. Alex argues that greens substitute science for politics, neglect the social determinants of well-being, would deprive the global poor of technological benefits that could protect them from natural disasters and risk condemning people to lives wasted in drudgery.

No doubt Alex can find plenty of instances of people mouthing the sentiments and opinions he condemns. But the trouble with this sort of writing is exemplified by the endless right-wing blogs that go on about “the left” and then attribute to everyone from Alinsky to the Zapatistas a sympathy for Stalinist labour camps. Just like “the left”, people who care about the environment and consider themselves greens come in a variety of shapes, sizes and flavours. Taking as typical what some random said at some meeting about the virtues of Palestinians generating electricity with bicycles is inherently problematic.
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Books and Audiobooks

by John Holbo on October 8, 2012

I was amused by this Tor piece: most citizens of the Star Wars galaxy are probably totally illiterate. And then life imitated art: Amazon ate Audible, that is. A while back, Amazon acquired Audible (the audiobook store) and now they have added a whispersync for voice service which, I confess, is just what I’ve been waiting for. You buy the kindle book and then, for a few bucks extra, add the audiobook. Now I can do what I couldn’t: listen, add bookmarks, and later consult/cut&paste text for the usual scholarly/bloggy reasons. Your progress point in the book is synced, so you can listen on the bus, read when you get home. I realize this post is reading like a sponsored ad for the service but, for me, it’s going to make a significant difference. I consume a lot of audiobooks, and I like nonfiction titles. But there are reasons why scholars – or just plain thoughtful people – like to work with text, not audio, for study and reference purposes. Also, if there are tables or illustrations, it’s nice to be able to see them. For our Debt event, I bought the audiobook and it really wasn’t a full enough format, on its own, although I made do.

I find myself drifting further and further from traditional print culture into a weird sort of audio-visual mix. (But, then again, I’m a professor. What’s school like, after all?) But I’ve done this, in part, as a defense mechanisms against the much-lamented distractions of hypertext. I’m a less distracted listener than I am a reader, these days. (Memo to self: someone ought to write a theory of the book along the lines of the theory of the firm.)

Death of the book-wise, I hold the line these days at Chris Ware [amazon]. Charles Burns, too. And Seth, and a select few others. Mostly I read even comics on Comixology. I’m increasingly of the opinion that comics – but only the best ones – are the last argument for the old-fashioned book. As its plain utility wanes, the swansong of the printed book will be a series of preposterously beautiful art objects.

Francis Spufford and the inner life of belief

by niamh on October 7, 2012

Fans of Red Plenty, of whom there clearly are many in view of the online seminar we had here recently, will be interested to know that Francis Spufford has a new book out: entitled Unapologetic, this time it’s about Christianity.(1) The style as well as the content is different from his previous writings. There is some subtle and often quite beautiful writing in parts, but the tone is mostly conversational, unbuttoned, colloquial. It is also witty, funny even, and the book is in my view a highly engaging read.

There’s a lot of new interest in what religion can bring to public discourse, whether in the context of the human costs of rising inequality, the fundamental questions about economic organization raised by the current crisis, or our catastrophic despoliation of the natural world itself. For example, INET (the Institute for New Economic Thinking) is initiating a series of conversations between economists and theologians ‘designed to provoke creative thinking about money and markets in light of the world’s pressing economic challenges’. Keynes himself thought that we’d sooner or later have to face the question of what growth was actually for and what the purpose of a good life should be, and although not religious himself, he thought religious values would be important as a guide.

But Spufford’s book starts a few steps prior to these kinds of debates: he wants us to see what it means to take religion seriously on its own terms. It is in part a counter-blast at what he sees as over-simplification by atheists such as Dawkins and Hitchens. This doesn’t take the form of a point-by-point argument, nor is it a combative riposte such as, for example, Terry Eagleton’s. But mostly it’s an extended personal account of what it feels like to commit to a view of the world that is religious. If you’d like a flavour of how he goes about this, you can read the first chapter here.

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The quote doctors

by John Q on October 6, 2012

In the interests of inter-blog peace, I’ve decided to take this post down. As with war in general, the costs of interblog war typically outweigh the benefits.

Who needs a navy ? (rewritten)

by John Q on October 4, 2012

First up, I want to apologize to readers of CT and LGM for what has been (for me, and I think quite a few others) an unpleasant experience. The post I wrote about naval expenditures was provocative, but I thought it fell within the normal bounds of blogging license – that was clearly wrong. Obviously, this is a question on which a little provocation goes a long way.

Also, although I had noticed that people had different views about the “lesser evil” question in relation to the US election, I hadn’t thought of this as a “blogwar” between CT and LGM and in any case I had no idea that this post would upset Rob Farley in the way it did. Had I known these things, I would not have put the post up, certainly not written as it was. When the fight blew up, I made a series of attempts to cool things down, but with little success (in fact, probably making things worse).

Coming to the post itself, it contained a fair bit of hyperbole and snark (though not directed at anyone personally). This was returned in full measure, pressed down and running over. I also wrote some things in a loose and sloppy way, leaving opportunities for misinterpretation that were taken up with enthusiasm.

I’ve been duly smacked for the hyperbolic/snarky/loosely worded statements in the post. On the other hand, reflecting the nature of this kind of fight, the critics haven’t engaged at all with the main arguments of the post. So, it seems to me that the best thing to do at this point is to rewrite the post, removing the hyperbole and snark, correcting some points where I think there was a substantive error, and expanding on points where what I originally wrote was misinterpreted, or where the critics have made points that need a response.

The majority judgement is pretty clear that I’m wrong on this one. Maybe so, but as I said, I haven’t seen any real response on what I regard as the central issues, so I’m going to restate my position and leave it at that.

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Andrew Sullivan writes. “When you see an unexpected and sharply upward trend in inequality and want to accelerate it some more, you have ceased to be a conservative.”

As Sullivan goes on to confess, there was a time when he himself saw such an inequality trend, and cheered it on. He now wants to say this was ‘complacency’. But I don’t think he would go so far as to say that he has only in the recent past converted to conservatism, having only since 2007 or so shed a view that previously disqualified him from holding that position. So why should Erick Erickson, say, be disqualified from being a conservative? [click to continue…]

Eric Hobsbawm is dead

by Chris Bertram on October 1, 2012

Very sad news. Eric Hobsbawm, one of the 20th century’s great historians, has died. The Guardian has [a report]( and [an obituary]( No doubt there will be more obituaries to come. (In fact there’s [a very nice one by Marc Mulholland]( for Jacobin.)

Say Anything

by John Holbo on October 1, 2012

No, I’m talking about the film, not Daniel’s post (his thread, rather). Following up my bad experience with Sixteen Candles, I rewatched Say Anything and it really holds up. It’s a delight. It’s funny and sweet and sentimental, but in a good way. John Cusack is great. Cameron Crowe is the real deal. [click to continue…]