From the monthly archives:

September 2013

Faculty to University of Oregon: Oh No We Don’t!

by Corey Robin on September 19, 2013

Great news! The faculty union at the University of Oregon, whose struggle I reported on a few days ago, has forced the administration to give up its extreme proposals on faculty freedom, autonomy, and privacy, and has signed its first contract. Thanks in part to all of you who wrote the administration.

Here’s how one union member, in an email, describes the victory:

Over the past week, the administration has completely backed off its extreme proposals around faculty rights and free expression.  Specifically:

The contract guarantees that freedom of speech includes freedom to voice internal criticism of university personnel or practices.

The administration completely dropped its proposal to regulate faculty’s right to consult with outside organizations.

The administration completely dropped its proposal to be allowed to “monitor” and spy on faculty emails, files or web surfing, and can only access faculty computer usage for truly “legitimate” needs such as system maintenance (with “legitimate” now a defined and grievable term).

The administration completely dropped its demand about owning all creations, inventions and course materials of faculty — we agreed to set up a joint union/administration committee to discuss this issue in the future, but until and unless that committee comes to voluntary agreement, there will be no change in the current policy, under which faculty own their own products.

I’m sure that the many messages from faculty across the US and internationally helped convince the administration to do the right thing.

Thank you to all of you for weighing in on this!

Proving once again that if you care about the future of the academy you should join a union, if you can, or support academic unions, if you can’t.

I haven’t seen a copy of the settlement, but the union also reports that it won average salary increases of nearly 12 percent over the two years of the agreement and minimum salaries for non-tenure track faculty. You can read more about the settlement here.

Congrats to the union! Well done.

The King’s Speech

by Henry on September 19, 2013

“Yesterday”: in the _Financial Times._

bq. The Netherlands’ newly inaugurated King Willem-Alexander has made his first annual appearance before parliament one to remember, with a speech effectively announcing the end of the generous Dutch welfare state. … “Due to social developments such as globalisation and an ageing population, our labour market and public services are no longer suited to the demands of the times,” the king said, in a speech written by the Liberal prime minister, Mark Rutte, and his cabinet. “The classical welfare state is slowly but surely evolving into a ‘participatory society’,” he continued – one, that is, where citizens will be expected to take care of themselves, or create civil-society solutions for problems such as retiree welfare.

Rene Cuperus has an article on the “politics of this”: in _Policy Network_ today.

bq. the actual political and social situation in the Netherlands … is quite depressing …The country is [a] member of the Northern Elite Club of Triple A creditors, but at the same time it is suffering from Southern European-style economic problems: a home-made housing bubble, rising youth unemployment, marginal economic growth. … For that reason, political trust in the social-liberal Grand Coalition of the conservative-liberal VVD (prime minister Mark Rutte) and the social-democratic PvdA (Party Leader Diederik Samsom; Vice Prime Minister Lodewijk Asscher) is at an all-time low. The established parties got all the blame for the predicament of the Dutch economy, whilst the populist protest parties are sky high rocketing in the opinion polls. This applies especially to the right-wing populist PVV Freedom party of Geert Wilders, and to a lesser extent to the Party for the Elderly (50Plus) and the left-wing Socialist Party (SP).

bq. The Netherlands now has become one of the populist laboratories of Europe and the world … One could even state, that this new Netherlands constitutes and represents a huge warning to other countries, especially to neighbouring Germany. For Germany, the Netherlands has transformed from a positive guide land to follow into a “negative guide land’’ not to follow. The Dutch developments are a nightmare scenario for Germany, an image of fear.

I don’t know enough about Dutch politics to comment intelligently. But I know that some of our commenters are in a much better position, and would be interested to see what you have to say.

With a bottle of wine, and some pills on the shelf

by Chris Bertram on September 19, 2013

Today is the fortieth anniversary of Gram Parsons’s death in Joshua Tree, CA, a death famously followed by two funerals, after the coffin containing his body was stolen from LAX by his road manager so that he could be cremated in the desert (as previously agreed, apparently). Relatives got the partially incinerated body back, and completed the job (as it were) in Florida. There’s even a rather uneven film about it: Grand Theft Parsons.

When Parsons died, he’d never had a hit record. He was a too-rich young man from the South, who loved country music, fancied being a rock star, and who threw much of his talent away with the drugs and booze he could readily afford. Not much to admire, you might think.

Parsons’s fame rests on five albums: the Byrds’ Sweetheart of the Rodeo, the Flying Burrito Brothers’ Gilded Palace of Sin and Burrito Deluxe, then the solo GP and Grievous Angel (the latter two cut with the top session musicians his money could afford). All of them contain a mix of his own songs and covers of classic country and sometimes soul. His own compositions, written in the country-rock idiom he helped invent, are suggestive, even enigmatic, vignettes of American life, love, faith, betrayal and death. “$1000 Dollar Wedding”, perhaps my personal favourite (though I change my mind all the time) tells a story of death and tragedy, a wedding transformed into a funeral, but what, exactly, has happened? We have to invent a lot of that for ourselves. “Sin City”, recorded with the Burritos, also tells a story of something. What? Evangelism? Conflict between money and faith? “The scientists say, it will all wash away, but we don’t believe any more ….” And other songs depict childhood, nostalgia and loss: “Hickory Wind” (recorded with the Byrds and re-recorded on Grievous Angel), “Brass Buttons”, in which he remembers his mother. None of them have dated.
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Taylor Swift and Kacey Musgraves

by Harry on September 19, 2013

My daughter’s friend thinks I am incredibly cool. Part of the musical cognoscenti. I have to find a nice way of disabusing her.

The soccer run was a major locus of conflict last year. The drive is far enough and frequent enough that the 12-year old girls want to listen to “their” music, and enough of a bore that I don’t want to be assaulted by rubbish. A modus vivendi was eventually established, in which their ipods were the inputs, but I got to veto anything I couldn’t stand hearing. (As soon as the truce was signed, their taste (magically!) improved, and we started hearing more Buble than Beiber, because basically they are nice kids and, having won their battle, were magnanimous). Taylor Swift is pretty easy on the ear, so I know a lot of the songs (and in fact took the 12 year old to see her for her 12th birthday. In Des Moines!). Sometime in early spring I heard a review of an album called Same Trailer Different Park by Kacey Musgraves which really appealed to me. Musgraves has a very similar voice to Swift’s, is more country, less pop — and the songs are, really, for grown ups rather than teens (or tweens). Very catchy melodies, they are about stagnation, fear of risk, and the risks of being paralysed by fear of risk. So I started playing it in the car, and, to get my way, just told them it was Taylor Swift’s earliest album, that had not had wide release. They believed me for about 2 weeks — until they decided that, really, this was too good to be Taylor Swift (it is, no disrespect to Taylor Swift, who is multi-talented, but Kacey Musgraves is really something). “The words are too clever for Taylor”. Now they’d much rather listen to Musgraves than Swift.

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Sociological Science

by Kieran Healy on September 17, 2013

I’m very pleased to see that Sociological Science is open for article submissions, and expects to start publishing articles early next year. The journal is designed to ameliorate several problems that beset academic publishing. It’s an open-access, peer-reviewed journal that promises a fast turnaround time in review. It’s common enough in some fields for authors to get stuck, literally for years, in Reviewer Hell. There, papers are subject to repeated rounds of review, new reviewers are added at each round, new demands are placed on authors, and later reviewers routinely object to content in the paper—e.g., further supposed theoretical development or methodological bells and whistles—that was added at the behest of earlier reviewers. Reviewer Hell is only one of the pathological forms peer review can take. but recently it’s become a real problem for some of the leading journals in the field. Sociological Science promises a 30 day up-or-down review process, with no “development” effort and no R&R process. They hope to accomplish this with a relatively large pool of Deputy Editors with authority to accept or reject articles.

As a properly open-access journal, they’ve chosen to fund themselves through submission and publication fees instead of signing up with a major journal publisher or soliciting institutional support from a university or a foundation. The fee schedule is graded by rank, so students pay least and full professors pay most. The incentive is that authors retain copyright on their work and everything published is available ungated and immediately.

All in all, I think Sociological Science is a really worthwhile effort to provide an alternative model for publishing serious peer-reviewed work in a timely and accessible way. I hope it succeeds.

Who got to design our uniforms?

by Harry on September 17, 2013

Maria’s post reminded me of this.

Some days are better than other days

by Maria on September 17, 2013

Ugh. Some days, no matter how many nice or exciting things happening in my personal and professional life, I just feel that we are all, quite simply, fucked.

As a mini-reward for getting a small work thing into my outbox by 0900, I read Russell Brand’s take on his recent adventure award-ceremony-land, when he reminded GQ that its main sponsor, Hugo Boss, used to do a nice line in Nazi uniforms. What’s that trick fiction writers are supposed to do, to make the day to day seem unfamiliar so you look at it with new eyes? Brand’s description of how it actually feels to be the male mega-star walking through a corridor of identically dressed and posed women-as-ornaments shows how messed up it is that anyone could ever think it normal. And it’s not even cool, just “a vision of what squares imagine cool people might do set on a spaceship”. In this instance, Brand is how you might like to imagine yourself if you were fabulously successful, clear-eyed about exactly how, and both brave and talented enough to write beautifully about it. And honest enough to see it’s not even all that brave to give the two fingers to the suits; it’s just somewhat unusual.

“I could see the room dividing as I spoke. I could hear the laughter of some and louder still silence of others. I realised that for some people this was regarded as an event with import. The magazine, the sponsors and some of those in attendance saw it as a kind of ceremony that warranted respect. In effect, it is a corporate ritual, an alliance between a media organisation, GQ, and a commercial entity, Hugo Boss. What dawned on me as the night went on is that even in apparently frivolous conditions the establishment asserts control, and won’t tolerate having that assertion challenged, even flippantly, by that most beautifully adept tool: comedy

Walking up Oxford Street around noon, I saw an angry white man trying to pick a fight with a woman in hijab, and a white woman getting onto him for it. At least that’s how I interpreted the scene. A couple of minutes later, as I sat at my bus stop, the white woman came up to check which buses went from it, and the man followed, abusing her with various disgusting and shouted remarks about her appearance and how she shouldn’t dare to be out. I glared at him and made to get up and intervene, and he walked away. But with today’s Sun newspaper’s front page launching its campaign to ban Muslim women from wearing veils in schools, courts, hospitals, banks, airports and other ‘secure places’, but offering to ‘let’ them continue to be veiled in parks and on streets, I’m not surprised this particular bully feels he has a license to abuse and threaten women on Britain’s biggest shopping street.

On the bus home, I cracked open Colin Crouch’s Post-Democracy, feeling sick at the thought that it’s a long and useless decade ago that he wrote:

“… in most of the industrialized world (that), whatever the party identity of the government, there was steady, consistent pressure for state policy to favour the interests of the wealthy – those who benefited from the unrestricted operation of the capitalist economy rather than those who needed some protection from it.”

The book is about how politics is no longer shaped in pro-democratic ways by an organised and engaged working class, among other factors, but is returning to its pre-twentieth century norm of being “something to serve the interests of various sections of the privileged.”

Having just witnessed what I’d guess from his accent was a working class Glaswegian man using a public space to target his presumed enemy, a woman from a minority religion, I couldn’t help feeling that we – the leftists, the progressives, or anyone who gives a political damn about more than their own venal and narrow economic interests – we’ve lost, we’ll continue losing in ever more – and then ever less – outrageous ways, and there’s nothing anyone can do about it.

But at least it will be entertaining, eh?

Back home, I spotted Cory Doctorow’s take on the Sultan of Brunei’s little brother who has blown almost fifteen billion dollars on tat. (Why, by the way, do the .1% have such awful taste in music? If you could rent almost any musician for a private show, would you really pick Rod Stewart?) Lest anyone think oiligarchs have absolutely anything to offer the rest of us, politically or culturally, we are reminded that;

“It’s a kind of pornography of capitalism, a Southeast Asian version of the Beverly Hillbillies, a proof that oil fortunes demand no thought, no innovation, no sense of shared national destiny: just a hole the ground, surrounded by guns, enriching an elite of oafs and wastrels.”

I’m not saying our crowd don’t have the best songs. And we for sure have the best writers and comedians. But we’re still losing and we will keep losing, while amusing ourselves to death.


by John Quiggin on September 17, 2013

I’ll be at Brisbane’s Avid Reader bookshop this evening, helping at the launch of Pushing our luck: ideas for Australian progress, a new book of essays from the Centre for Policy Development. We’ve got a few years to reflect on policy ideas following the recent election win for the Murdoch-LNP, so this is a good time to get started.

While I’m at it, I’m going to mention a bunch of books I’ve read, and intended to write about, but haven’t had time (may do so later)

Earthmasters: Playing God with the Climate by Clive Hamilton, is about geo-engineering, often presented as the backstop alternative to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. As the title indicates, this book is an argument that reliance on geo-engineering is a recipe for disaster. I agree, though I think it’s clear that sometime this century we are going to have to find a way to achieve, in effect, negative emissions, that is a situation where human and natural processes take more CO2 and methane out of the atmosphere than they put into it. That’s not exactly geoengineering, but it is a conscious intervention to change the atmosphere, or at least return it to an earlier state

Battlers and Billionaires: The Story of Inequality in Australia by Andrew Leigh, economist and MP. A great book on the looming end of the “fair go” in Australia. I’d put more emphasis on the role of policy and less on technology than Andrew does, but that puts me in a minority among economists.

The Infinite Resource by Ramez Naam. This is the book that Bjorn Lomborg ought to have written, instead of the silly and deceptive “Sceptical Environmentalist”. Naam doesn’t pretend that the risk of environmental catastrophe is spurious or that markets will fix the problem by themselves, but nonetheless has an optimistic take on the scope for innovation to allow the human race to not only survive but thrive.

Occupy the Future a volume of short essays arising from the Occupy movement. Lots of useful resources here

Masters of the Universe:Hayek, Friedman, and the Birth of Neoliberal Politics by Daniel Stedman Jones. Not a new topic, but a lot of new information and analysis – well worth reading.

The New American Economy:The Failure of Reaganomics and a New Way Forward From 2009, interesting in itself and because Bartlett is one of the most notable examples of the intellectual trend of conversion from right to left, evident since the late 1990s, and reversing the pattern of earlier decades.

Merchants of Doubt by Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway Another older book, but indispensable now that the merchants of doubt and delusion have gained political power here

Bankers, Bureaucrats, and Central Bank Politics: The Myth of Neutrality by Christopher Adolph. Makes the obvious but vital point that central bankers aren’t neutral bureaucrats. For many, central banking is a step towards, or an interlude in, a career in the financial sector, and the policies they advocate while in the public sector reflect this.

That hasn’t left a lot of time for fiction, but I think I have now read everything by the late and much-missed Iain Banks (including all the SF stuff written as Iain M. Banks).

Three Cheers for the Token Woman

by Harry on September 16, 2013

Anca Gheaus has a really nice paper up on her website (I think you need to join, but it is easy and free) called “Three Cheers for the Token Woman”. She observes that lots of people feel uncomfortable, or think that something is wrong with, being the token woman (at a conference, as a contributor to a volume, etc), whereas many of those same people think that it is important that positive steps be taken to ensure that, for example, conferences and volumes not have exclusively male participants and contributors. Her discussion is not exactly philosophy-specific, but is written in a context of the Gendered Conference Campaign, which, if it works, should result in more women being invited to conferences that they would not have been invited to in the absence of positive self-conscious measures. Here is how she poses the central question:

Now imagine that you, a woman, are invited to speak in a conference whose organisers openly subscribe to the gendered conference campaign. The mere fact that some people decided to do something about women’s inclusion in the profession has of course not changed the profession overnight; you may still be one of the very few women around, whose presence is primarily meant to signal an intention to change things. In less happy cases, the organisers may be motivated by an intention to conform to mounting social expectations of female inclusion; often you cannot be sure whether this is the case. And you may not be taken as seriously as you would should you be a man. In these senses, you are a token woman.

Moreover, you know that in the absence of the GCC you would probably not have been invited. Someone else – most likely a man – would now be speaking in your place. Your sex most likely played a causal role in you being invited and in this sense, too, you are a token woman.

Should you feel embarrassed, humiliated or otherwise unhappy with this situation?

Gheaus’s answer is a straightforward “no”. and she makes lots of interesting points – its really well worth reading, especially if you have ever been or expect to be in the situation she addresses.

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Trivia Question For Classicists

by John Holbo on September 16, 2013

Wikpedia says: “What is now the orthodox view of the piece [the Parthenon Frieze], however, namely that it depicts the Greater Panathenaic procession from Eleusis to Athens …”

But is that right? The Panathenaic procession ran … 20-some kilometers?

From Jon Mikalson, Ancient Greek Religion: “[participants in the Panathenaic procession] would go in a large procession from there [the city gate] one kilometer along the Panathenaic Way, through the Agora, and up to the Acropolis to Athena’s Great Altar. The priestess of Athena and the priest of Poseidon-Erechtheus would no doubt lead the way. They would be followed by others who served Athena’s cult, and then by a host of religious and government officials.”

Just curious if anyone knows if there was some marathon Panathenaic parade all the way from Eleusis to Athens. There was, I think, a procession from Athens to Eleusis for initiates into the Mysteries, so it’s not like Greeks weren’t prepared for a good trudge in a good cause.

University of Oregon to Faculty: You Belong to Me!

by Corey Robin on September 15, 2013

I always thought of the University of Oregon (UO) as one of great gems of our public university system. It’s got a terrific political science department (with Hobbes scholar Deborah Baumgold in theory and wonderful APD folks like Joe Lowndes and Gerald Berk in American Politics). It’s in Eugene, a lovely little city of hot tubs and hippies. And since last year, it’s had a faculty union. Who wouldn’t love it?

Apparently, the UO administration, that’s who.

The administration is currently locked into a battle with the faculty, who are trying to negotiate their first contract. Rather than seize the moment to establish good relations with the union and improve the university, the administration is intent on doing the reverse. Not simply with the usual patter of bottom-line administrators—no big raises, say (though even here the administration has gone the extra mile by refusing to guarantee the fulltime faculty a living wage)—but with proposals that would astonish even the most jaded observer of administrative ways and means.

I first caught wind of the UO’s aspirations this past week, when Inside Higher Ed reported that the administration was trying to undermine the speech rights of the faculty by inserting a so-called “civility” clause in the contract. [click to continue…]

Income Inequality and College Tuition

by Harry on September 15, 2013

Catherine Hill, President of Vassar, at the Washington Post explaining the rapid increase in tuition at elite colleges:

Increased access to higher education would help moderate the expansion in income inequality over time. Yet the increasing inequality itself presents obstacles to achieving this goal.

Real income growth that skews toward higher-income families creates challenges for higher education. The highest-income families are able and willing to pay the full sticker price. Schools compete for these students, supplying the services that they desire, which pushes up costs. Restraining tuition and spending in the face of this demand is difficult. These students will go to the schools that meet their demands.

Hence the proliferation of climbing walls and luxury dorms at selective and highly selective colleges (one college president told me that the climbing wall is a highlight of the college tour at both the private colleges he has led). Highly selective education is a positional good, and wealthy families have become enormously wealthier over the past 30 years and have been having fewer children: what are they going to do with all that money? Compete with each other to get their children into the best possible position, thus bidding up the price of highly elite colleges, making it unaffordable for others. In fact, elite colleges respond by using some of the revenues from those who cheerfully pay full price to subsidize students whose families cannot:

At the same time, many schools are committed to recruiting and educating a socioeconomically diverse student body. At private, nonprofit institutions, this commitment has been supported through financial aid policies.

Telling elite schools to keep down tuition doesn’t help:

Ironically, some of the proposed “solutions” to make higher-education finances sustainable would exacerbate future income inequality rather than address the trends that are creating financial challenges for institutions.

For example, in his 2012 State of the Union address, Obama called on colleges to slow down tuition increases and threatened to reduce public support. “If you can’t stop tuition from going up, the funding you get from taxpayers will go down,” he said. But slow tuition growth not tied to offsetting expenditure savings can result in reductions to financial aid. This is playing out in the private, nonprofit sector. Lower tuition combined with lower financial aid benefits higher-income students and hurts lower-income students.

Of course, public institutions, which are the main resort for lower income families, are different. They are the main resort partly because they have traditionally had a low-tuition, low-aid, model, and I cannot tell you how many students I have talked to who were deterred from applying to more selective private schools by the sticker price, applied only to Madison because it had low tuition, but who, I know, would be in much less debt than they are if they had applied to and attended the more selective, elite, private schools that they spurned because of the sticker price (which they would not have had to pay). Anyway, well worth reading the whole piece.

Fun with languages

by Eszter Hargittai on September 14, 2013

I’ve been enjoying this Great Language Game and wanted to recommend it to others. You listen to a clip in one of 80 languages and are given choices to decide which one it represents. At first you choose between two, but as you advance in the game, you are given an increasing number of choices making your job of picking the right one potentially harder. I say potentially, because if you’re certain of the language then it won’t make a difference, but if you are not then the guessing definitely gets much harder especially depending on the options. For example, I can certainly tell the difference between Cantonese and Japanese, but I cannot between Cantonese and Mandarin. Obviously, your personal experiences will help in various ways. I’m unlikely to be confused by languages I speak or have studied even for a little while (in my case a healthy variety: Hungarian, German, Russian, Japanese, French, Italian, Spanish), but have not the first clue about how to identify languages such as Bangla, Dinka, Tagalog or Tongan, just to name a few on the list that are completely foreign to me. Some others fall in between in my experience (like Slavic and Germanic languages) where I’ve done a reasonably good job guessing even if I couldn’t have been sure.

The game’s author has shared some interesting stats about how people have been doing. I got a 750 my first round and wish I could say I have only improved since, but in fact I have not been able to maintain that throughout my attempts. I’ve found the experience interesting for thinking about what features of languages I look for in trying to identify them.

What is it like to be a bug?

by John Quiggin on September 14, 2013

According to Calvin, at least, the same as to be a bat. But for the rest of us, it seems obvious that there is likely to be a qualitative difference between the subjective experience (if any) of a bug, and that of a bat. And, if true bugs don’t work for you in this example, there’s always the colloquial “bugs” such as bacteria and viruses, which presumably don’t have any experience at all.

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Or tea, as the case may be.

Really, it couldn’t be happening to a nicer guy. Also, this.

‘The revolution will eat its children’. But it’s interesting to think why autosarcophagarchy – that is, rule by self-cannibals – should be such a typical form of revolutionary decline. (Do you like my new word? I think I’ll teach it to my daughter.)

There’s shouldn’t be a problem in principle with being an idealist – i.e. having some vision of what an ideal state would be like that is radically at odds with actually existing reality. Whether it be True Communism or True Conservatism or what have you. Practicing revolutionaries should be able to talk the 1st best talk while walking the 2nd best walk. But there is, I suppose, something inherently maddening about that position, both to the one who assumes it and for spectators. The distance between real and ideal is so great that the practical negotiation of it can never look like an expression of what you have been talking about it, hence can’t look like prudent trimming. So it can’t help looking like rank hypocrisy to enemies and vile betrayal to friends.

This is accentuated by the rhetoric of naturalness that goes with utopianism. ‘Man is born free but everywhere he is in chains.’ Or in Obamacare, as the case may be. If the desirable state of affairs is so natural, and the actual state of affairs so horrible, it really seems the rickety structure ought to fall over if you push it. So therefore you ought to do so.

Of course, the case is a bit more complicated when the Robespierres in question were only ever recreational Robespierres to begin with. Napoleons of Notting Hill, not Napoleons. But the dynamic is much the same. (But you are bored with me quoting G. K. Chesterton, so I’ll cut it out.)