From the monthly archives:

July 2013

In the last few days libertarians have been debating the neo-Confederate sympathies of some in their movement. I don’t to wade into the discussion. Several voices in that tribe—including Jacob Levy, Jonathan Adler, and Ilya Somin—have been doing an excellent job. (This John Stuart Mill essay, which Somin cites, was an especially welcome reminder to me.)

But this post by Randy Barnett caught my eye.

I should preface this by saying that I think Barnett is one of the most interesting and thoughtful libertarians around. I’d happily read him on just about anything. He’s a forceful writer, who eschews jargon and actually seems to care about his readers. He’s also the architect of the nearly successful legal challenge to Obamacare, so we’re not talking about some academic outlier who gets trotted out, Potemkin-style, to serve as the kinder, gentler face of the movement.

What’s fascinating about his post is this: [click to continue…]

Why You Should Never Trust a Data Scientist

by Henry Farrell on July 18, 2013

“Pete Warden”:

bq. The wonderful thing about being a data scientist is that I get all of the credibility of genuine science, with none of the irritating peer review or reproducibility worries. My first taste of this was my Facebook friends connection map. The underlying data was sound, derived from 220m public profiles. The network visualization of drawing lines between the top ten links for each city had issues, but was defensible. The clustering was produced by me squinting at all the lines, coloring in some areas that seemed more connected in a paint program, and picking silly names for the areas. I thought I was publishing an entertaining view of some data I’d extracted, but it was treated like a scientific study. A New York Times columnist used it as evidence that the US was perilously divided. White supremacists dug into the tool to show that Juan was more popular than Juan[HF – John???] in Texan border towns, and so the country was on the verge of being swamped by Hispanics. …

bq. I’ve enjoyed publishing a lot of data-driven stories since then, but I’ve never ceased to be disturbed at how the inclusion of numbers and the mention of large data sets numbs criticism. The articles live in a strange purgatory between journalism, which most readers have a healthy skepticism towards, and science, where we sub-contract verification to other scientists and so trust the public output far more. … If a sociologist tells you that people in Utah only have friends in Utah, you can follow a web of references and peer review to understand if she’s believable. If I, or somebody at a large tech company, tells you the same, there’s no way to check. The source data is proprietary, and in a lot of cases may not even exist any more in the same exact form as databases turn over, and users delete or update their information. Even other data scientists outside the team won’t be able to verify the results. The data scientists I know are honest people, but there’s no external checks in the system to keep them that way.

[via Cosma – Cross-posted at The Monkey Cage]

_The Languages of Pao_ is occasionally discussed as an example (along with 1984) of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis in fiction. The imagination of the people of Pao is limited by their language, which enforces a culture of passivity and fatalism under all except the most extraordinary of circumstances. When their Panarch (under the tutelage of the Breakness ‘wizards,’ none of whose powers are supernatural) introduces new, artificially crafted languages to selected groups within this population, he is able to create new dynamic warrior, mercantile and technocratic elites, to his ultimate undoing. None of this need detain us; the philosophical discussion is no more and no less than one might expect of a highly intelligent pulp writer in the 1950s. Far more interesting is the guiding wisdom of the Breakness wizards themselves.
[click to continue…]

Several people have emailed me to ask why no one at CT has posted on the George Zimmerman verdict. It’s a good question. I can’t speak for anyone else; as Chris said, we’re a loose-knit crew. I know that I’ve simply not felt up to the challenge. And not able to say anything as cogent as I’ve read elsewhere.

But this clip from 1968 of James Baldwin on the Dick Cavett Show seems apposite. (The Milton Friedman lookalike trying to get a word in edgewise is the Yale philosopher Paul Weiss.)

<iframe width=”420″ height=”315″ src=”//″ frameborder=”0″ allowfullscreen></iframe>


CUNY Backs Down (Way Down) on Petraeus (Updated)

by Corey Robin on July 16, 2013

The New York Times is reporting that CUNY is backing down—way down—on its Petraeus hire. [click to continue…]

What makes a popular philosophy book a good book?

by Ingrid Robeyns on July 15, 2013

I’ve lately been contemplating the question of what makes a popular philosophy book a good book. I am focussing on the case of philosophy professors who are writing a book that is explicitly aimed at a broader audience, and who may or may not also have written scholarly articles on the topic of their popular-philosophy book. Which quality-criteria should that book meet? Here are some thoughts.
[click to continue…]

Gillard and Rudd: a short history

by John Q on July 14, 2013

I was asked in comments a while back to say something about the recent developments in Australian politics, in which Labor PM Kevin Rudd, deposed in favour of Julia Gillard three years ago, has returned to office. I won’t explain the mechanics of the process here, but instead talk about the personalities, policy differences and the issue of gender and misogyny. I’ll disclose up front that I supported Rudd’s initial selection as Labor leader, opposed his deposition, and supported his return, and that my views of Gillard are generally negative. For a reasonably balanced pro-Gillard case, you can look at this piece by Julia Baird.

A crucial point in understanding the issue is that Rudd was, and is, well-liked by the Australian public, but disliked, even hated, by many of his colleagues and other insiders.[^1] By contrast, Gillard was, and is, well liked, by her colleagues. This positive view was mostly shared by the general public, at least, those who cared enough about politics to have a view, until her installation as Prime Minister, and even for a short while thereafter. As Deputy PM, she was generally seen as the heir apparent to Rudd, and no one (AFAICT) foresaw any big problems for a female PM. We’d already had women as premiers and party leaders in most states, and the assumption was that there was bound to be a woman PM before too long.

However, beginning with her coup against Rudd, which was a complete shock to most voters, she came to be hated by large sections of the Australian public, with a venom that I can’t recall for any other public figure since John Kerr (who, as Governor-General, sacked an incumbent Labor Prime Minister in 1975). As a result of Gillard’s unpopularity, Labor was headed for a catastrophic defeat in the elections due this year. At least initially, Rudd’s restoration has turned things around, with the two parties now running level in the polls.

[click to continue…]

Still a ways to go with online targeted ads

by Eszter Hargittai on July 13, 2013

I don’t mind somewhat customized ads on Facebook and elsewhere, but I’d prefer a middle ground between irrelevant and creepy. The item on the image is one I was viewing on the arts-and-crafts marketplace Etsy the day before.
Suggesting to “Check out this unique find” seems a bit much. It’s not really a unique find since I already found it earlier. If the line wants to be that personalized then how about “This unique item is still available.”? For some reason I’d find that less creepy although still intrusive. The way they have it now seems disingenuous. It is as though the system is pretending that it doesn’t know that I already saw the item. In reality, all this does is remind me that it knows way too many details about my online actions. (I guess for that reminder: Thanks!) I really ought to use a different browser for FB…

[click to continue…]

Assimilated by the Borg

by John Q on July 12, 2013

Following up on Chris’s 10th anniversary post, I thought I’d add my own recollections of the early days of Crooked Timber. Back in 2003, there weren’t many blogs around – few enough that you could keep up with all of them, or at least all that mattered.[^1] So, from July of that year, I rapidly realised that all my favorite blogs were disappearing, assimilated by the mysterious Unicomplex that was Crooked Timber. It soon became apparent that resistance was futile, so when I got an invitation to do a guestblogging stint at the end of 2003, I grabbed it with both hands, and refused to let go when my stay came to an end. So, I became the 13th guest at the supper, and have stayed ever since.

John and Belle followed a little later, bringing us to the size of a rugby team, where we stayed for a long while. This was the 2004 lineout

Crooked Timber has been a great experience for me, and I’d like to thank my fellow Timberites, past and present, and even more, our readers. I tend to mix it with the commenters more than most, and I’ve got a lot out of that, so I’m sure they won’t be offended if I thank especially the much larger group of people who read the blog, but don’t take an active part. I meet CT readers in all sorts of contexts, and the positive responses I’ve had are a big encouragement to carry on.

[^1]: A situation that seems to be returning, at least as regards independent blogs like this one.

David Petraeus’s course description for his high-paying gig next year at CUNY is up. The course is called “Are We on the Threshold of the North American Decade.” That sounds like a question to me, but there’s no question mark. [click to continue…]

Here is a helpful compilation of extremely disgusting comments that Wimbledon Champion Marion Bartoli received on Twitter. That post does a good job of highlighting some of the ways in which these reactions have been sexist, misogynistic, offensive and plain dumb. Go take a look, seriously, I can’t do the vitriol of the commentary justice.

What I thought I would do, however, is follow up with the Twitter accounts of some of the people quoted, not by contacting anyone, simply by looking them up. I wanted to see whether being featured in such a post had any effect on them, and also to get some context. Not surprisingly, several have deleted the quoted tweets from their accounts. It is almost more surprising that some have not. Some have made their Twitter accounts private and others have altogether deleted them.

[click to continue…]

Hortatory Uplift Is Not a Plan

by Rich Yeselson on July 9, 2013

I thank John S. Ahlquist and Margaret Levi (hereafter A/L) for their response, “With Fortresses Like These …” to my essay in Democracy, “Fortress Unionism.” I had an odd feeling reading and rereading their essay. I though its bark was far worse than its bite. A/L warn that my strategy is “doomed”, and rests on “dangerous assumptions.” Unions are already doing what I advocate, and they are thus headed down “the drain.” Yet, given their final set of suggestions, it seems as if we really don’t have much to disagree about at all.  When all is said and done, A/L ignore most of my proposals before agreeing with others.

[click to continue…]

With Fortresses Like These …

by John Ahlquist and Margaret Levi on July 9, 2013

Rich Yeselson’s stimulating piece, “Fortress Unionism,” has attracted wide attention and appears to have provoked yet another round of soul-searching within the US labor movement. Yeselson clearly and convincingly shows how the laws and institutions governing American labor markets have, since Taft-Hartley, sapped the energy and resources of American unions, rendering them unable to effectively organize and represent workers as times have changed. He calls for unions to hunker down in their existing geographic “strongholds” and wait for someone or something else to bring workers into the streets.
[click to continue…]

Debating Fortress Unionism

by Henry Farrell on July 9, 2013

As Chris’s post below suggests, Crooked Timber is a kind of anarchist collective (albeit in ways not appreciated by David Graeber …), which reflects a variety of views. We’ve also tried over the years to encourage argument between different views (mostly on the left). In that spirit, we’re publishing a short and vigorous back and forth on the future of unions. A few weeks ago, Rich Yeselson wrote a piece defending what he called “Fortress Unionism” for “Democracy”: (PDF version “here”: John Ahlquist and Margaret Levi, have written a “response”: to Rich’s original piece; Rich has in turn “responded”: to the response. For those who prefer to read in printed form, here’s a PDF of the argument.

Rich Yeselson is a writer, all-round public intellectual and former labor organizer. He has contributed to Crooked Timber book seminars in the past

John Ahlquist is Trice Family Faculty Scholar and Associate Professor of political science at the University of Wisconsin—Madison. Margaret Levi is Jere L. Bachrach Professor of International Studies at the University of Washington and Chair in Politics at the United States Studies Centre at the University of Sydney. Their book _In the Interests of Others: Organizations & Social Activism_ will be published by Princeton University Press later this year.

Adler on Shelby

by John Holbo on July 9, 2013

After my posts on Shelby, a few weeks ago, I decided to see what the Volokh folks have had to say about that particular decision. Not a lot, it turns out. But here’s Jonathan Adler, explaining how he thinks left and right tend to view the issue differently. Seen from the right, the decision makes sense (although Adler does not endorse it explicitly): [click to continue…]