Writing in The New Republic today, Michael Kazin issues a sharp attack on the BDS movement, particularly the recent vote of the American Studies Association (ASA) to boycott Israeli academic institutions. (That decision is now being voted upon by the wider membership of the ASA.)

Kazin levels two charges against the boycott movement. First, it is inconsistent: why single out Israel when there are other human rights violators like China and Russia that could just as easily be targeted for an academic boycott? Second, it is ineffective: the boycott movement is “quite unlikely to change anyone’s minds or, for that matter, Israeli policy.” It is a form of theater, professors playing politics.

Kazin contrasts the boycott movement of self-righteous, divisive, “flashy” poseurs with what he calls “a larger and more practical academic left.” That left is engaged in movements for economic justice on campuses across the country. It campaigns for a living wage for university workers and union rights for adjuncts; it works against sweatshop labor in Bangladesh and high student debt at home.

Beyond the justice of their cause, what attracts Kazin to this academic left is that it practices a version of what Michael Walzer calls connected criticism. “They ‘challenge the leaders, the conventions, the ritual practices of a particular society…in the name of values recognized and shared in the same society.’” While “one left talks about something it calls ‘American Studies’; the other actually practices it.”

Kazin’s first charge—inconsistency and double-standards—puzzles me. [click to continue…]

Why TPP Counts

by Henry on December 13, 2013

“Paul Krugman yesterday:”:http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/12/12/tpp/

I’ve been getting a fair bit of correspondence wondering why I haven’t written about the negotiations for a Trans Pacific Partnership, which many of my correspondents and commenters regard as something both immense and sinister. The answer is that I’ve been having a hard time figuring out why this deal is especially important. … The big talk about TPP isn’t that silly. But my starting point for things like this is that most conventional barriers to trade — tariffs, import quotas, and so on — are already quite low, so that it’s hard to get big effects out of lowering them still further. The deal currently being negotiated involves only 12 countries, several of which already have free trade agreements with each other. It’s roughly, though not exactly, the TPP11 scenario analyzed by Petri et al (pdf). They’re pro-TPP, and in general pro-liberalization, yet even so they can’t get big estimates of gains from that scenario — only around 0.1 percent of GDP. And that’s with a model that includes a lot of non-standard effects.

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Sorting Hat’s Gotta Sort

by Belle Waring on December 13, 2013

OK everyone, important moral questions here! Set your trifling trolley tracks and trickery to one side! IF you were set under the Sorting Hat in Hogwart’s Academy for Witchcraft and Wizardry, would you be a Hufflepuff, a Slytherin, a Ravenclaw, or a Gryffindor? Now, it’s important to remember that the books are all about a bunch of Gryffindors who save the world a British boarding school from evil. And that Ms. Rowling, though awesome in many many ways, suffers from world-building problems in others (she is free to tell me my 7-book series, which unites all the children of the world in the love of reading, is conceptually flawed as well.)

There are larger problems, such as the eensy-weensy “er, not to Godwin your whole series, and I know your evil wizard from the 30s backstory was going there, but, um, why aren’t wizards ruling the world, with Voldemort having a continental empire, full of Muggles whom he has shuffling off, of their own accord, under the imperius curse, quite horribly with no need for guards or jailers or even wizards to construct the camps…?” Naturally in a book for children one would put it more, “why aren’t wizards trying with a bit more of a ‘can-do spirit’ to take over the world, I wonder?” Setting that aside, within Hogwart’s itself: we get Cedric Diggory to remember, and he’s super-hot and everything in a pale, unhealthy way, but otherwise, Draco Malfoy’s initial pronouncement that he’d rather not be in the school at all than be a Hufflepuff is not really gainsaid, leaving you with the impression that they are a bunch of morons. Not so! The eventual TOTAL FAIL fanfic Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality, while written in some wiki fashion by libertarians, or possibly by the character Randy in Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon (which some of you may have heard of from Stephenson-quoter-kun) has some very good features (I realize it does not sound at all plausible when I have laid it out like that but it really does have its moments). Fine, technically it’s written by the Less Wrong people. Waaaay different.
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