From the monthly archives:

December 2012

Join a photo project!

by Eszter Hargittai on December 31, 2012

It’s been a while since Chris and I have talked about our various photo projects and since many people like to use the New Year as a starting point for novel endeavors, I thought I would post about it while it is still 2012. I am talking about the idea of taking and sharing a photo with some regularity. Both Chris and I have participated in Project 365 (or the Photo-a-Day project) where you do this daily. It has been a fantastic experience for both of us. But since a daily commitment can be overwhelming for some (for most, in fact), I suggest trying a photo a week (Project 52 – 2013). I have started a new group on Flickr for this and will post a theme for each week. (There are similar groups on Flickr that do not have a theme and the daily project rarely has a theme.) Since many people now have a camera on their phones that they presumably have with them all the time, the technical aspect of this project should be less of a burden than even just five years ago. And thanks to various apps, uploading and sharing has become less of a hassle as well.

Why do this? Lots of reasons as Chris and I have both discussed in the past. To recap just a few, in no particular order: [click to continue…]

Chomsky on work, learning and freedom

by Chris Bertram on December 30, 2012

New Left Project has a wonderful interview with Noam Chomsky on work, learning and freedom. It really brings out the more attractive anarchist side of Chomsky’s personality and politics. He’s particularly eloquent on the importance of spontaneous play for children’s development and how this is being crowded out in societies like ours (a theme, incidentally of James C. Scott’s recent Two Cheers for Anarchism). Recommended.

Banning guns: the Australian experience

by John Q on December 29, 2012

The re-emergence of gun control as an issue in the US has led to a fair bit of discussion of Australian experience. As is now normal on any issue, the political right has relied on Fox News factoids bearing no relation to the truth. But even for those seeking accurate information, it hasn’t been easy. AFAIK, there is no good place to go for an accurate summary of an issue that evolved in Australia over several decades. So, I’ll offer my own, based largely on recollection but with links where I can find them.

[click to continue…]

Highlights from Jacobin

by Corey Robin on December 27, 2012

The latest issue of Jacobin is now online, and it’s fantastic. Before I give you some highlights, let me make a pitch: subscribe or donate to Jacobin. I’m a contributing editor, so I’m biased. But I know I’m not alone in saying it’s one of the newest, freshest magazines around. It was founded by an undergrad in his dorm room (seriously). But, hey, Trotsky was 25 (or 26?) when he led the St. Petersburg Soviet in 1905 and Martin Luther King was 26 (or 25?) when he led the Montgomery Bus Boycott. So who knows where this can go? In any event, subscribe, donate, help out. [click to continue…]

Noah Smith had me going for a minute there

by Chris Bertram on December 27, 2012

I just love econobloggers, with their capacity for Swiftian satire. Dry as dust, yet clearly having a laugh, they aim to reel in the poor saps who are take them seriously, but they are big enough to continue to play along, making as if they really mean it. Until now, I’d thought of Tyler Cowen, Bryan Caplan and, perhaps, even Arnold Kling as being the true masters of the genre. But I’m pretty sure that Noah Smith surpasses them all with a new blog on The Rise of the Cyborgs. Smith does a really excellent job of pretending to be keen on the robot-human future he imagines. So, for example, we get

artificial eyes and ears would replace all input devices [i.e. actual eyes and ears]. You would never need a television screen, a phone, Google Goggles, or a speaker of any kind. All you would need would be your own artificial eyes. You could play video games in perfect, pure augmented reality. Imagine the possibilities for video-conferencing, or hanging out with friends half a world away! And why stop there? If you wanted, you could perceive the buildings around you as castles, or the inside of a spaceship. The whole world could look and sound however you wanted.

But understandably, he feigns enthusiasm most successfully about the prospects for the economy:

… cyborg technologies have the potential to improve human productivity quite a bit, as my examples above have hopefully shown. Humans who can store vast amounts of knowledge and expertise, who can directly interface with machines, and who can make themselves more well-adjusted and motivated at the touch of a (mental) button will be valuable employees indeed, and will prove useful complements to the much-discussed army of robots.

Indeed, employers could make it a condition of employment that workers undergo the necessary cyber-modifications! Actually, I think Smith missed a trick there, by failing to imagine how this might affect workplace dynamics. Oh well, I expect someone will be along to explain how such contracts would be win-win. Brilliant.

Merry Christmas, Everybody.

by Harry on December 25, 2012

Its easy.
Just take 5 minutes to give what you can:
Oxfam USA

Then enjoy yourselves:

Yesterday, the President of the University of Rhode Island issued a new statement on the Erik Loomis controversy:

Over the past several days we have heard from many individuals concerning statements made or repeated by Professor Erik Loomis. Many writers forcefully expressed serious concern about his statements and many others expressed very strong support for Professor Loomis, especially in regard to his First Amendment right to share his personal opinions. In the statements at issue, Professor Loomis did not make it clear that he was speaking solely as an individual, and that the views he expressed were his alone and did not reflect the views of the University of Rhode Island. This was the rationale for our original statement.

The University of Rhode Island strongly believes that Constitutionally protected rights to free expression are the foundation of American democracy, and central to our mission of imparting knowledge and promoting the exchange of ideas. It is our conviction that Professor Loomis’s personal remarks, however intemperate and inflammatory they may be, are protected by the First Amendment, as are the views of those who have contacted us in recent days.

David M. Dooley, Ph.D.
University of Rhode Island

Many thanks to all of you who signed our statement and wrote individual emails and letters to URI administration.

Mama in Her Kerchief and I In My Madness

by John Holbo on December 23, 2012

Merry X-Mas, CT’ers! Here’s a seasonal something I whipped up a while back, then reworked, which I’m releasing now as a convenient PDF. “A Truly Awful Christmas Volume – A Visitation of Sog-Nug-Hotep” (PDF – and a big one at that. Approx 18 megs, 58 pages. Looks good on an iPad.). The usual sort of faux-Lovecraftian horsing around, you understand. But that really never gets old – relatively speaking. I am proud of my lettering.


It’s too damn late for you to do much online shopping, but if it weren’t, I’d recommend my friend Josh Glenn’s book, Unbored: The Essential Field Guide to Serious Fun, for the kids. His book is better than that boring old Daring Book For Girls and Dangerous Book For Boys, or whatever they were called. I’m glad to see that Josh’s title is selling healthily without me giving it an appropriate pre-X-Mas boost. But you might file away Unbored as a notion, for a later occasion. Or check out Josh’s series on Radium Age SF. Healthy stuff, in large doses!

If you need it by Christmas, and you want to support someone who is also my friend, you might gift someone Adam Roberts, I Am Scrooge: A Zombie Story for Christmas, available on Kindle. An “I Am Legend” “Christmas Carol” mash-up, you will quickly perceive. I was hoping for more of a plummy, Dickens voice. But Roberts went for a Lemony Snicket-y thing, I should say. Nothing wrong with that! But I assure you that his fake horrors-of-Christmas etymologies are not the real deal. Mine are!

Rimbaud Conservatism

by Corey Robin on December 22, 2012

All this talk of arming teachers and training children to rush psychopaths who are outfitted with machine guns semi-automatic weapons reminds me of a moment in high school. But first, a recap.

In the wake of the Newtown killings, writers on the right have suggested we should teach children to turn on their assailants, rushing them en masse. Here’s Megan McArdle writing in The Daily Beast:

I’d also like us to encourage people to gang rush shooters, rather than following their instincts to hide; if we drilled it into young people that the correct thing to do is for everyone to instantly run at the guy with the gun, these sorts of mass shootings would be less deadly, because even a guy with a very powerful weapon can be brought down by 8-12 unarmed bodies piling on him at once.

McArdle is a libertarian. You know, the type who believes you can’t derive Rawlsian-style social justice from self-interested premises—that shit would never work—but that you can adduce from those very same premises a mass death instinct of the sort that powered the Red Army to victory against the Nazis. When it comes to public goods, libertarians think we’re all free riders; in the face of crazed killers, we’re all comrades. [click to continue…]

My annual kind-of-tradition continues this year, to the protests of all our long suffering readers. Thoughts on evidence, disagreement, knowledge and related matters follow, in suitably opaque and allusive style …

On not believing in Canada

I remember clearly when I first started along the road that led me to where I am today – the unfashionable and lonely position of an adult man, educated and well-travelled, who doesn’t believe in the existence of Canada. I was a kid at Sunday School, and the vicar was trying to talk to an awkward class of hard-nuts and smart-asses about the general concept of faith in the absence of empirical evidence.

“What about Canada?”, he asked us all, his thick Welsh accent muffled slightly by an impressive crop of nostril hair. “You’ve never been to Canada! You’ve never seen Canada! You’ve never even met anyone who’s been to Canada! But you believe in Canada, don’t you, Davies?”.

He cast his gaze around the room, having to swivel his neck a bit as something like a dozen of us were called “Davies”. I elected myself as the spokesman and made what seemed to be the obvious response:
[click to continue…]

Guns and drones

by John Q on December 21, 2012

Glenn Greenwald contrasts the horror over the Newtown mass murder and the immediate political reaction with responses to the deaths of children in US drone attacks. He focuses his criticism particularly on Obama supporters.

While there are many different views, and combinations of views, my perspective (as a non-American who would have voted for Obama) is a bit different. Until Newtown my perspective on US gun violence and drone attacks was pretty much identical

* They are horrible
* I thought Obama would change things for the better, but they changed for the worse (no action on semi-automatics, spread of concealed carry and stand your ground, expansion of the drone war)
* Given the attitudes of the majority of Americans, little hope for improvement
* Repubs would be even worse

I think most of these views were shared by most participants in the “lesser evil” debate before the election. But what strikes me in retrospect is that the entire debate was focused on drones and related issues. Implicitly, I and I think, most others, regarded gun control as a cause so thoroughly lost that Obama couldn’t be blamed for abandoning it. The Trayvon Martin case changed this a bit, but not much. By contrast, Newtown showed that the apparent pro-gun consensus was if not illusory, at least fragile. In his trademark ‘lead from behind’ style, Obama captured the new consensus and seems likely to push it forward.

The hopeful reading of this is that public opinion about drones could change just as radically, if public understanding improved. At the moment, it’s hard to see that happening without some truly horrible shock, like a drone wiping out a primary school. Perhaps, however, the widespread view among those who have actually examined the drone war, that it’s both cruel and counterproductive, may start to seep into public discussion, as part of a reaction against the culture of violence that supports both drones and guns.

Academic and Workplace Freedom – Open Thread

by Henry Farrell on December 20, 2012

Since we are not allowing regular comments on the letter below, I thought it would be only fair to open up a different thread for people who want to comment more broadly on matters related to this case, or the general issues it raises. No trolling, but feel free to comment as per on a regular post.

Statement on Erik Loomis

by Erik Loomis Statement on December 19, 2012

Erik Loomis is no stranger to this blog. A gifted young scholar of US labor and environmental history, Loomis is also a blogger at Lawyers, Guns and Money. Many of us have tussled and tangled with him, most recently over whether leftists should vote for Obama. We have often disagreed with Loomis, not always pleasantly or politely, and he has certainly given as good as he has got.

But now we must stand by Loomis’s side and speak up and out on his behalf, for he has become the target of a witch hunt, and as an untenured professor at the University of Rhode Island, he is vulnerable. Loomis needs our solidarity and support, and we must give it to him.

This past Friday, in the wake of the tremendous grief and outrage millions of people felt over the Newtown mass shooting, Loomis tweeted the following:

I was heartbroken in the first 20 mass murders. Now I want Wayne LaPierre’s head on a stick.

Wayne LaPierre is the head of the National Rifle Association.

It seems obvious to us that when Loomis called for LaPierre’s head on a stick, he had in mind something like this from the Urban Dictionary:

A metaphor describing retaliation or punishment for another’s wrongdoing, or public outrage against an individual or group for the same reason.

After the BP Oil Spill; many Americans would like to see Tony Hayward‘s head on a stick, myself included.

Ever since putting someone’s head on a stick ceased to be a routine form of public punishment—indeed, the last instance of it we can think of is fictional (Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities, though it references an actual event from the French Revolution)—calling for someone’s head has been a fairly conventional way to express one’s outrage or criticism. Two months ago, for example, right-wing blogger Glenn Reynolds voiced his anger over the State Department’s lax provision of security in Benghazi by demanding, “Can we see some heads roll?”

Yet that very same Glenn Reynolds is now accusing Loomis of using “eliminationist rhetoric.”

Other conservative voices have joined in. The Daily Caller says Loomis “unleashed a flurry of profanity-ridden tweets demanding death for National Rifle Association executive Wayne LaPierre.” Townhall put Loomis’s tweets in the context of NRA members and leaders getting death threats. And just this morning, Michelle Malkin wrote at National Review Online:

What’s most disturbing is that the incitements are coming from purportedly respectable, prominent, and influential public figures.

Consider the rhetoric of University of Rhode Island professor Erik Loomis….

Unfortunately, Loomis is not alone….

So, it’s come to this: Advocating beheadings, beatings, and the mass murder of peaceful Americans to pay for the sins of a soulless madman. But because the advocates of violence fashion themselves champions of nonviolence and because they inhabit the hallowed worlds of Hollywood, academia, and the Democratic party, it’s acceptable?

Blood-lusting hate speech must not get a pass just because it comes out of the mouths of the protected anti-gun class.

This campaign has now brought Loomis into the crosshairs of the state and his employer.

Loomis has already been questioned by the Rhode Island State Police, who told him that someone had informed the FBI that Loomis had threatened LaPierre’s life. Loomis also has been hauled into a meeting with his dean.  And now the president of the University of Rhode Island, where Loomis teaches, has issued the following statement:

The University of Rhode Island does not condone acts or threats of violence. These remarks do not reflect the views of the institution and Erik Loomis does not speak on behalf of the University. The University is committed to fostering a safe, inclusive and equitable culture that aspires to promote positive change.

We do not expect any better of the orchestrators of this campaign—this is what they have done for many years, and doubtless will be doing for years to come. We do expect better of university administrators. Rather than standing behind a member of their faculty, the administration has sought to distance the university from Loomis.

Even to suggest that Loomis’s tweet constitutes a “threat of violence” is an offense against the English language. We are dismayed that the university president completely fails to acknowledge the importance of academic freedom and of scholars’ freedom independently to express views (even intemperate ones) on topics of public importance.  This statement—unless it is swiftly corrected— should give alarm to scholars at the University of Rhode Island, to scholars who might one day consider associating themselves with this institution, and to academic and professional associations that value academic freedom.

However, this is not merely a question of academic freedom. It also speaks to a broader set of rights to speak freely without the fear of being fired for controversial views that many of us have been flagging for years. Everyone should be clear what is going on. As a blogger at Atrios has pointed out, what the witch hunters want is for Loomis to be fired. Indeed, the calls have already begun (see comment thread here). Though Loomis has a union, his lack of tenure makes him vulnerable.

We insist that the University of Rhode Island take a strong stand for the values of academic freedom and freedom of speech, that it not be intimidated by an artificially whipped-up media frenzy, that it affirm that the protections of the First Amendment require our collective enforcement, and that all employers—particularly, in this kind of case, university employers—have a special obligation to see that freedom of speech become a reality of everyday life.

We urge all of you to contact the following three administrators at the University of Rhode Island:

Dean Winnie Brownell:
Provost Donald DeHays:
President David Dooley:

Be polite, be civil, be firm.

We also call upon all academic and other bloggers to stand in support of Loomis. We invite others who wish to associate themselves with this statement to say so in the comments section to this post, and to republish this statement elsewhere.


Chris Bertram, University of Bristol

Harry Brighouse, University of Wisconsin – Madison

Michael Bérubé, The Pennsylvania State University

Daniel Davies, non-academic

Henry Farrell, George Washington University

Kieran Healy, Duke University

John Holbo, National University of Singapore

Jon Mandle, SUNY Albany

John Quiggin, University of Queensland

Eric Rauchway, University of California Davis

Corey Robin, Brooklyn College

Brian Weatherson, University of Michigan


Update. Since this wasn’t entirely clear in the original post. This comment section is purely for people who want to sign onto the statement. If you don’t want to sign the statement, but simply to make semi-related points, start discussions, troll or whatever, please refrain from doing so. Further information that is directly relevant (e.g. about responses received, other people to be contacted or whatever) is OK. So too is brief context for why you are signing, if you want to provide it – but please remember that this is a public document, which is intended to speak to a cause that deserves support from a wide variety of people. Anything else – not the right time, thanks.

Update 2: some CTers who did not have the opportunity to sign on earlier added above.

Apocalypse postponed

by Chris Bertram on December 18, 2012

Those of you who are worried that the world is going to end on Friday may be inclined to relax and party when it doesn’t. On the other hand, those of you who have put off buying Christmas presents because, you know, what’s the point? May yet be vindicated. Apparently there is no scholarly consensus on when the Mayan calendar runs out. Could be Friday, but Sunday or Christmas Eve are also possibilities (pdf), and, indeed, it is Christmas Eve that these guys incline to:

bq. Implicitly or explicitly, the majority of scholars have accepted Thompson’s leap-year argument (see, for instance, Bricker and Bricker 2011:91). That is why the idea has entered into the popular consciousness that the thirteenth Bak’tun will end on December 21, 2012, which is the date in the 584283 correlation, as opposed to December 23 in the 584285 correlation (or Christmas Eve, December 24, according to 584286).

From Simon Martin and Joel Skidmore and “Exploring the 584286 Correlation between the Maya and European Calendars”, The PARI Journal 13(2), 2012, pp. 3-16.

[All via Charles C. Mann ( @CharlesCMann) on twitter.]

More advice for academics

by Eszter Hargittai on December 17, 2012

After a “bit” of a break from adding to my Ph.Do column at Inside Higher Ed, I’ve started writing pieces for it again. My most recent one is about all of the helpful information one can glean from consulting other people’s CVs. To those who know this, it is obvious advice, but it is surprising how many people do not recognize what a helpful resource CVs can be. A future piece will address how to write one’s own CV as having viewed many hundreds over the past few years, clearly there are many people out there who can use some advice on that matter as well.