From the monthly archives:

December 2013

Happy New Year!

by John Holbo on December 31, 2013

My older daughter and I stayed up until midnight doing still life drawing on the kitchen table. A horse and a weird little ceramic thing. My horse turned out pretty good but I Liefelded two of the hooves off the page. How embarrassing! Pretty crazy party scene, in short! Belle and the younger one went to bed early.

I think Bryan Lee O’Malley, the author of all those great Scott Pilgrim comics, is a pretty good musician. So remember, kids, in the new year “Don’t Let the Archons Get You Down”. Hope his next book, Seconds, turns out to be really good.

What is Self-Control?

by John Holbo on December 30, 2013

I think this looks like a rather loose translation of the original.


A Very Bourgeois Post on Buying a House

by Corey Robin on December 29, 2013

Last weekend, I was at my parents’ house and I saw a copy of Lawrence Durrell’s Bitter Lemons on the shelf. I’ve stared at the book since I was a kid, but I never bothered to pick it up, much less read it. In the last several years, though, my friend Adina has been singing the praises of Durrell as one of our great writers of place. So I decided to spirit the book away with me back to Brooklyn. (Sorry, Mom! I also have your copy of Rebecca.)

I’m glad I did. [click to continue…]

Duck … Duck … Goose?

by John Holbo on December 28, 2013

I wish I’d posted this before Pater Duck got reinstated by A&E. I was, you see, going to predict A&E would reinstate him after a week or so. What, they were going to cancel the show? Limp along without their lead? Leave a ton of money on the table? Hardly seemed the most likely option.

The whole thing seems like it could have been, from the start, a deliberate marketing gimmick. Free publicity for the new season. Goose ratings! Get the show’s fan base lathered up and loyal. Why should A&E mind being subject to a two-minute hate, so long as it gets to sell ads?

Were I truly devious, I might hypothesize that the whole episode was engineered as part of a vast liberal media conspiracy to keep the GOP boxed as a regional ethnic party.

Seriously: even NRO went for a HuffPo-style ‘stand with Phil’ slideshow. (You can click it after reading Steyn’s column on “The Age of Intolerance”.) Man, there’s no way GOP outreach proceeds by convincing lots of undecideds this sort of ‘the only intolerance is intolerance of intolerance!’ double-talk is the bright future of freedom.

American Vista

by Kieran Healy on December 27, 2013

U.S. District Court Judge William Pauley has ruled that one of the NSA’s mass metadata collection programs is lawful. On p.25 of the ruling itself, there’s a nice Appalling Vista moment:

Regarding the statutory arguments, there is another level of absurdity in this case. The ACLU would never have learned about the section 215 order authorizing collection of telephony metadata related to its telephone numbers but for the unauthorized disclosures by Edward Snowden. Congress did not intend that targets of section 215 orders would ever learn of them. And the statutory scheme also makes clear that Congress intended to preclude suits by targets even if they discovered section 215 orders implicating them. It cannot possibly be that lawbreaking conduct by a government contractor that reveals state secrets—including the means and methods of intelligence gathering—could frustrate Congress’s intent. To hold otherwise would spawn mischief: recipients of orders would be subject to section 215’s secrecy protocol confining challenges to the FISC, while targets could sue in any federal district court. A target’s awareness of section 215 orders does not alter the Congressional calculus. The ACLU’s statutory claim must therefore be dismissed.

Of course this specific claim, this particular ruling, and this one case are all located in a much broader legal and political crisis. But the logic is striking all the same. “To hold otherwise would spawn mischief”, indeed.

Here’s a piece by me from earlier this year on the power of metadata.

Does the American Studies Association (ASA) boycott of Israeli academic institutions violate academic freedom?

According to the presidents of Harvard, Yale, Indiana University (see my comment on that university at the end of this post), and numerous other universities across the United States, the answer is yes. The question is: How?

I asked my Facebook friends that question. A bunch of people—some in favor of the ASA boycott, others opposed, others undecided—answered. I thought the discussion was worth reprinting here. [click to continue…]

Small Worlds

by John Holbo on December 26, 2013

I just finished watching Season 1 of The Returned. French zombies! Fun!

Plotspoilers Under the Fold: [click to continue…]

The biggest game in town

by Daniel on December 24, 2013

I never really got round to writing a proper Christmas sermon this year, but given that it’s been kind of topical recently, I thought I might have a go at explaining one of the phenomena of online political debate which is as persistent as it is puzzling – that is to say, why does everything end up turning into a flamewar about Israel?

Consider, reader, a person who is a bit of a nut. His very favourite thing in the world is to have arguments on the internet about the politics and government systems countries he will never visit. There are two issues in the world which he regards as massive injustices which cry out to heaven for redress – the Russian occupation of Chechnya, and the military junta in Burma/Myanmar. He also, broadly, supports the cause of the Palestinians, but this really isn’t much of an issue for him; he’s much better informed and much more concerned about Chechnya and Burma.

So why, when the NSA takes a snoop over this fellow’s online output, does he seem to spend all of his time arguing about Israel and Palestine?
[click to continue…]

Have An Uncanny Christmas!

by John Holbo on December 24, 2013

Might as well give away some copies of my silly old Haeckel spoof (PDF 19 megs or so.)


99 1/2 Won’t Do

by Belle Waring on December 22, 2013

John gave me my Christmas present early. It was…our stereo. Yes. The stereo we had all along. That I had cut off my hair to buy! No, psych. But it had only been in our possession in its entirety since 2011, along with all our records, which I bravely rescued, all on my lonesome, from Colonial Storage on Abercorn Extension outside Savannah. I had to kill the biggest brown recluse spider I have ever seen in my life, from which my mover, who had served two terms in Iraq as a Marine “ran away like a little girl” in his words. It was on the back of a mirror he was moving and he was able to set it down without breaking it, on account of military training, before running off in the aforesaid manner, and I picked up a piece of a chair and killed it. It wasn’t like we could do anything useful just knowing it was in there somewhere, right? [I will spare you from the further explanations of why we could not set up our stereo in our old house.]

Yes, so we shipped our records and stereo to Singapore. That was economically very rational and I don’t want to hear anything about the sunk costs fallacy and the excellent new (to me) 70s Boston Acoustics speakers and 70s Marantz receiver I could have bought at the Adelphi Mall for the same money. Because I would never have gotten the records. Sure, in principle, I could have bought the same records again, but I wouldn’t have, because I don’t know what records I have. Ha! Refute that, Chicago economics guy! Now, the answer is supposed to be that if I don’t want to listen to it for ten years I don’t want it. Not so fast Professor Nerdlinger! I might want to be surprised! Like, hey, “Come Dance With Bump?” Released in Asia on the label Music Girl? Which I might very well think I had hallucinated if I could not hold it and look at its astoundingly great, yet deeply mysterious cover? Bump is apparently the nom de dance of a super-hot black chick with striped stockings, purple platform shoes, and a gold and yellow fringed hot-pants one-piece. But maybe she’s not? Maybe Bump is the DJ playing songs to which you are meant to do the bump and…something? OK, on a listen the latter. I guess I bought this here and couldn’t listen to it for ages. So it was a bad example. I only happened to notice it in alphabetizing. My daughter was willing to help until I told her it was 3 letters deep and she was like l8rs, Imma listen to Vocaloid, which I have convinced iTunes to accept in hirgana and katakana, although this has created alphabetizing issures of its own…
[click to continue…]

Another perspective on boycotts

by Eszter Hargittai on December 20, 2013

For those following this topic and who may have missed it, a link to the statement released today by the Executive Committee of the Association of American Universities on the boycott of Israeli academic institutions. I’m glad to see this statement and I’m proud to see the signature of Northwestern’s president on it.

The general reaction to various revelations of spying by the US on its friends and allies, particularly in contexts such as trade negotiations has been “everyone does it” and “in any case, there’s nothing anyone can do about it”. And, as regards direct retaliation against the US, that’s pretty much right. The situation is a bit different for junior members of the Five Eyes[^1], such as Australia. A case now being heard at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague could set a precedent that will make such spying a high risk exercise.
[click to continue…]

Of Boycotts and Double Standards

by Corey Robin on December 18, 2013

Last month, Brandeis University announced that it was severing its decade-long relationship with the Palestinian university Al Quds. Since 2003, the  two universities have engaged in sustained academic exchanges, involving joint research projects, conferences, study abroad programs, and more.

Brandeis severed the relationship in response both to an Islamic Jihad rally on the Al Quds campus that featured Nazi-style salutes, military-style outfits, and fake weapons, and to the failure, in Brandeis’s eyes, of the Al Quds administration to respond appropriately to that demonstration. Three Brandeis professors who have been involved in the Al Quds exchange wrote a lengthy report protesting this decision by Brandeis.

In terms of actual academic exchange, the Brandeis decision has a substantive impact. It ends a real relationship, with real infrastructure and opportunities for scholars and students to communicate with each other and work together.

To my knowledge, not a single professor of American Studies at Brandeis has publicly protested the decision of the university. [click to continue…]

David Brooks Says

by Corey Robin on December 18, 2013

Matt Yglesias has an excellent post on that odd column of David Brooks, which John already posted about. (Thanks to CT commenter Marcel for pointing me to the Yglesias column.)

David Brooks says:

We are in the middle of…a dangerous level of family breakdown.

David Brooks says:

It’s wrong to describe an America in which the salt of the earth common people are preyed upon by this or that nefarious elite. It’s wrong to tell the familiar underdog morality tale in which the problems of the masses are caused by the elites. The truth is, members of the upper tribe have made themselves phenomenally productive. They may mimic bohemian manners, but they have returned to 1950s traditionalist values and practices. They have low divorce rates, arduous work ethics and strict codes to regulate their kids. Members of the lower tribe work hard and dream big, but are more removed from traditional bourgeois norms. They live in disorganized, postmodern neighborhoods in which it is much harder to be self-disciplined and productive.

David Brooks says:

I’d say today’s meritocratic elites achieve and preserve their status not mainly by being corrupt but mainly by being ambitious and disciplined. They raise their kids in organized families.

David Brooks says:

It’s not enough just to have economic growth policies. The country also needs to rebuild orderly communities. This requires bourgeois paternalism: Building organizations and structures that induce people to behave responsibly rather than irresponsibly and, yes, sometimes using government to do so.

David Brooks is getting divorced.

Thought Leading

by John Holbo on December 18, 2013

“Little boys and girls in ancient Athens grew up wanting to be philosophers.”

That’s not a good first sentence.