From the monthly archives:

April 2014

Monday photoblogging: Lakes

by John Q on April 21, 2014



Lakes Eacham and Barrine in the Atherton Tablelands, Queensland

Sunday photoblogging #2: stripes

by Chris Bertram on April 20, 2014

My Chait thread was a moderate disaster. I was like: ‘by saying X, I think Chait meant Y.’ And you were like: ‘by saying ‘by saying X, Chait meant Z,’ are you saying Q?’ And I was like: what? Z? Q? No: Y!’ And you were like: ‘Y what?’ Anyway, I take almost full responsibility for how that went down wrong. Some of the comments came round but it was, overall, a poor frame for my point. My bad.

Let’s cut all that loose and try again, from quite a different angle. This post is also, sort of, a presentation of arguments I cheekily refused to disclose in this post. On we go!

Conor Friedersdorf’s argument that gay marriage opponents shouldn’t be likened to racist bigots goes something like this.

P1: Racism is pretty simple.

“A belief in the superiority of one race and the inferiority of another.”

P2: Opposition to same-sex marriage is complex.

“One thing I’ve noticed in this debate is how unfamiliar proponents of stigma are with thoughtful orthodox Christians — that is to say, they haven’t interacted with them personally, critiqued the best version of their arguments, or even been exposed to the most sophisticated version of their reasoning, which I find to be obviously earnest, if ultimately unpersuasive.”

C: Comparing same-sex marriage opponents to racist bigots falsifies by over-simplification.

Friedersdorf is braced for resistance to P2. But P2 is ok and the problem is P1. I hope it’s obvious to you, when it’s put so simply. Racism is not … simple. (How could it be?) [click to continue…]

Southern Gothic

by Belle Waring on April 19, 2014

“Midnight in the Garden of Good an Evil” is not a great movie but an OK one; certainly if you want to see a lot of purty pictures of Savannah it’s a good one. Kevin Spacey portrays, according to my grandmother Henrietta, the main character extremely convincingly–even going so far as to both have his mannerisms and resemble him somewhat, which she thought incredible for a picture of a dead man. There must have been video of him, obviously. There are a number of very unconvincing things about the book, mainly the idea that this white journalist from New York (IIRC) could insinuate himself into both white high society (second tier–but still) and black society in so short a time as to be both privy to all kind of secrets and taken by an…I don’t know voodoo I guess…practitioner on a midnight rowboat ride up in a marsh somewhere. (First-tier Savannah society is so insular you could only gain that kind of access by marrying someone, even though it’s true everyone loves to gossip. But getting invited to parties?) I say “voodoo I guess” because despite the fact that people totally do this thing, or practice this religion, or whatever, we don’t even really call it anything, so much do we not talk about it. No, that’s an exaggeration, we call it voodoo; there’s an island near my dad’s place in Bluffton called either Voodoo Island or Devil’s Elbow Island (or more cheerfully Potato Island, but I think the Crams pushed that and it never happened.) You can read a short story about it here, if you like. I had been thinking for a while people might like to read it, it’s from 2004, so quite a while ago. Yeah, voodoo, but not like in Florida where people have actual Santeria churches and storefronts and stuff; more like everyone is a devout Christian–but everyone–but still there are women who will do voodoo for you. As I say in the story, white people hire black people to put curses on other white people. And I’m not entirely sure how they find them, except that everyone knows who to ask? Everyone knows everything about everyone, is the answer to that. Well, no, there are information asymmetries: the black community as a whole knows more because maids know everything about their employers but not vice versa, and so on for a lot of other things.

As long time readers may recall, I am not a big fan of Elsevier and was a public advocate of the position that no-one should submit to Elsevier journals at a time when it was neither profitable or popular. However, reading this article about Elsevier’s new policy of issuing take-down notices against authors who publish their work on university websites has made me change my mind. Now, I think that everyone should submit as much of their work to Elsevier as they possibly can. Any article that has even a modest chance of success. People should bear through the revise and resubmit process as many times as it takes. Once the piece has finally been accepted, then, and only then, should they withdraw the article from consideration, and then publish it on their university or personal website with an “accepted by Elsevier Journal x and then withdrawn in protest,” together with a copy of the acceptance email (containing the editor’s email address etc).

I do foresee a couple of possible wrinkles in this plan. Perhaps disgruntled elder colleagues might frown upon this (although in some fields at least, disgruntled elder colleagues seem entirely on board with pushing against Elsevier). Non-tenured faculty might want to think a little about the benefits and disadvantages before deciding they wanted to do this. This said, I could imagine senior faculty or tenure letter writers who would find this kind of thing wholly admirable, and to be congratulated, not punished (I know that I would). If this campaign actually took off, Elsevier would doubtless try to disrupt it, by e.g. obliging prospective authors to sign a contract agreeing to publish in the journal if accepted. However, I could also see any such efforts backfiring – most journals would be damaged by such a policy, since many academics (especially prominent and well published ones), would see forced contracts as presumptuous and insulting. Doubtless, there are other flaws that readers can point out.

However, I can’t imagine that the journal’s peer reviewers would have much ground for complaint. Their job is to help improve academic work that is eventually publicly circulated (in other words their loyalty should be to the field, rather than to the journal). Journal editors would probably be unhappy, but really, at this point, no-one should want to be the editor of an Elsevier journal. I’m perfectly OK with academic publishers who don’t try to extract monopoly rents, just as I’m OK with various forms of open publishing (I happily do both). But Elsevier relies both on the willingness of scholars to submit work and their willingness to review it, to make extortionate profits by effectively selling academics’ labor back to the academy. Current proposals to target Elsevier seek to withdraw this labor in one or the other way. Another possibility (which is the one I’m suggesting, albeit without a great deal of serious thought) is to subvert the current system and make it unsustainable in other ways, by extracting the kudos that acceptance in some Elsevier journals can bring out from the obligatory signing away of rights that goes together with agreeing to let the journal actually publish your piece. In a world where ever fewer academics discover articles by actually picking up the journals, this kind of strategy is at least thinkable.


by Belle Waring on April 18, 2014

Congratulations to Harry on his new US citizenship! Perhaps English people rock the whole YOLO thing a little more like this:

Becoming an American

by Harry on April 18, 2014

I became a US citizen earlier today.

[click to continue…]

Eleven Things You Did Not Know About Clarence Thomas

by Corey Robin on April 18, 2014

1. The first time Clarence Thomas went to DC, it was to protest the Vietnam War.

2. Clarence Thomas grew up a stone’s throw from the Moon River that Audrey Hepburn sang about in Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

3. In the 1970s, Clarence Thomas kept a Confederate flag on his desk. [Correction: It was the Georgia State flag, which features quite prominently the Confederate stars and bars. It was a large flag, apparently, and he hung it over his desk.]

4. There’s a law review article about Clarence Thomas called “Clarence X?: The Black Nationalist Behind Justice Thomas’s Constitutionalism.”

5. Clarence Thomas attended antiwar rallies in Boston where he called for the release of Angela Davis and Erica Huggins.

6. Clarence Thomas told Juan Williams that “there is nothing you can do to get past black skin. I don’t care how educated you are, how good you are—you’ll never have the same contacts or opportunities, you’ll never be seen as equal to whites.”

7. Clarence Thomas is the only Supreme Court justice to have cited Frederick Douglass and W.E.B. DuBois in his opinions.

8. In college, Clarence Thomas hung posters of Malcolm X on his wall, memorized his speeches, and studied his writings. “I’ve been very partial to Malcolm X,” he told Reason in 1987. “There is a lot of good in what he says.”

9. Clarence Thomas does not believe in color-blindness: “I don’t think this society has ever been color-blind. I grew up in Savannah, Georgia under segregation. It wasn’t color-blind and America is not color-blind today…Code words like ‘color-blind’ aren’t all that useful.”

10. Yale Law scholar Akhil Reed Amar has compared Clarence Thomas to Hugo Black:

Both were Southerners who came to the Court young and with very little judicial experience. Early in their careers, they were often in dissent, sometimes by themselves, but they were content to go their own way. But once Earl Warren became Chief Justice the Court started to come to Black. It’s the same with Thomas and the Roberts Court. Thomas’s views are now being followed by a majority of the Court in case after case.

11. Clarence Thomas resents the fact that as a black man he is not supposed to listen to Carole King.

You Poor Bastards

by Belle Waring on April 16, 2014

OK, my mom texted me earlier that it was snowing in D.C. That is wrecked-up sideways, people. LAND’S SAKES IT IS THE MIDDLE OF APRIL?! In a way I should really post the Weezer song “My Name is Jonas,” because, do you know what else? Guess what I received in a text today–words of deep concern from my little brother. Building’s not going as he planned. The vortex means digging is banned. The dozer will not clear a path; the driver swears he learned his math! The workers are going home–I reckon, because the dirt’s frozen! How’s the man meant to get a cellar dug for his cool 1950s-plan cabin on the lower meadow of his proppity up in West Virginia if it starts snowing and the workers are going home? Now I imagine it’s all going to melt in a trice but this really has been retarding his plans, for real, and not just in a Weezer song (which is an excellent song, but not as good as “Say it Ain’t So,” The Best Weezer Song. Um. OK, no, I’m changing my plea to guilty claim to “The World Has Turned And Left Me Here“). Yep, they have had the stones and the timber and all that, sufficient to build a cabin, and all taken from the woods itself, but they haven’t been able to break ground till last week because they couldn’t break into the damn ground!

And now it’s snowing on all they poor heads, even that of Fatso, the chihuahua-pomeranian mix, who isn’t fat, and was chosen for his mighty endurance and ability to withstand the harsh winters by sitting in a dog bed made of a damn knitting basket or something right up next to the wood stove. I am told that despite being a pom-chi-chi (no, psych, it’s cause he’s 1/4 pom and the rest chi), Fatso has the soul of a black lab, and that I will love him and not think he is a wretched yappy creature whom humans brought into the world only in order to illuminate the First Noble Truth. We’ll see. E’erbody says so, though. Hmmm. OK Fatso, win my heart. He’ll get a chance this summer when I meet him for the first time.

Anyway, for the rest of y’all, here’s DJ Earworm’s Summermash 2013, with the “hey where’s all my ‘Get Lucky’ and ‘Blurred Lines'” you were wondering about I was complaining about with regard to the 2013 mashup (which has grown on me). Watch, listen, and imagine. Summer is coming, sure as anything. If she is delayed in some way I feel certain that small felt and metal figures whose manipulable fingers become dark with smuts over the course of the film will be animated in stop-motion and narrated over by an avuncular zombie Burl Ives in such wise as to overcome any difficulties as may be posed by the Snow Miser or Jim DeMint or whoever.

Fuzzbot Wingfield

by Maria on April 16, 2014

E and I are acquiring a hairy baby this weekend. We can’t agree on a name. He is against human names, except for when he isn’t. I tend towards cute ones that will be embarrassing to call out in a south London park. We’re not allowed to get pretentious ones after writers and such. Suggestions?

Fuzzbot Wingfield
[click to continue…]

“The Luck in the Head”

by Henry Farrell on April 15, 2014


A new collection of Ian Miller‘s art is out today. When I was in my early twenties, I was mildly obsessed by Miller’s graphic novel collaboration with M. John Harrison, The Luck in the Head, to the point that a few years ago, when I could finally afford to, I bought a couple of the originals, including the ‘Procession of the Mammy’ shown above (reproduction isn’t wonderful; it’s far sharper and not nearly as drenched with red in real life).

I thought about this graphic novel, and the Harrison short story it built on a lot last year, when Margaret Thatcher died. Neil Gaiman describes in his introduction to Harrison’s work how:

For me, the first experience of reading Viriconium Nights and In Viriconium was a revelation. I was a young man when I first encountered them, half a lifetime ago, and I remember the first experience of Harrison’s prose, as clear as mountain-water and as cold. The stories tangle in my head with the time that I first read them – the Thatcher Years in England seem already to be retreating into myth. They were larger-than-life times when we were living them, and there’s more than a tang of the London I remember informing the city in these tales, and something of the decaying brassiness of Thatcher herself in the rotting malevolence of Mammy Vooley (indeed, when Harrison retold the story of “The Luck in the Head” in graphic novel form, illustrated by Ian Miller, Mammy Vooley was explicitly drawn as an avatar of Margaret Thatcher).

He doesn’t mention (but then it’s an aside) how Harrison and Miller’s collaboration captures the contrast between Thatcher’s role as emblem and her frailty as a human being. In the picture, she’s already become a kind of ritual object, carted around to no particular purpose beyond display. Like the teapots that are the helmets of her supporters, she’s been superannuated and put to new uses that are both ludicrous and sinister. Another panel shows her after the procession, without her wig, shaven-headed, exhausted and empty, pushed along in a bath-chair by a lackey wearing a fish-head mask (a reference both to Miller’s art – he likes to draw fish – and to an incident in Harrison’s short novel _In Viriconium_). Miller and Harrison depict Thatcherism not as the revolution it believed itself to be, but as an aftermath where the symbols have been emptied of all meaning. Put another way, the senescent Thatcher depicted by Miller and Harrison’s Mammy Vooley represents less a foretelling of Thatcher’s own decline, than the decay of the movement that she represented (a decay which was already present in its moment of full flowering).

The Color Of His Presidency

by John Holbo on April 15, 2014

That’s the title of this really good (in my opinion) Jonathan Chait cover article in New York Magazine. At this point it would be customary for me to extract a nut graph but, you know, that results in a lot of squirrels fighting it out in comments about just the nut. I think the whole article deserves considerate discussion. So do that instead. (I will be Chait’s defender! Although, of course, if someone picks on one of the places where his foot slips … well, I can’t defend that.)

UPDATE: Sorry, original link was to a subsection not the whole article. And original post title was a subsection title, not the actual article title. Not that it really matters.

Not Actually Sunday Anymore Sunday Photoblogging

by Belle Waring on April 14, 2014

It’s cool that Chris and Ingrid were meeting up recently; Maria came here to have roti prata with me and John in Singapore just the other day. Maybe someday in the future perfect subjunctive all the CT authors could have met one another. Maybe someday we could all meet up at once and have a killer party! I would like it to be…on Ortygia in Syracuse, I think (the one in Sicily). It would be OK if it were in a different city too. HK would be cool. Mataram isn’t exactly a city, but it still might be nice to meet on Lombok somewhere. I took this photo on Lombok week before last, looking East off the Southwest coast. If it were clear and you looked to the left you could see Bali across the Lombok strait, three mountains one behind the other, about as big as the knuckle line of your fist held out at arm’s length. This is also the Wallace line, which divides Eurasian flora and fauna from Austronesian. Storms marching towards us across the marsh and then the river, and up the bluff, and then whiting out the screened porch with rain and then hammering the tin roof with a thousand pebbles taught me as a child that clouds get really full and black and then water up and falls out the bottom. It’s just science.

Sunday photoblogging: Staircase

by Chris Bertram on April 13, 2014

I met up with Ingrid recently and she reminded me that we had plans to run a regular photoblogging series at Crooked Timber, indeed, we actually started one. So here’s a re-start. This is the staircase at the Musée des Beaux Arts at Nancy, France, taken last summer. Here’s hoping that other CTers will join in.

The Stale Catnip of Contemptsmanship

by John Holbo on April 12, 2014

I have resisted writing about the Brendan Eich Mozilla affair. Literally. The ‘resisted’ bit is literal, I mean. Every day, for more than a week, I have expended non-trivial willpower to post nothing. It’s the moral equivalent of a giant bag of snacks in the kitchen of my mind. Unopened. That I am so distracted by the knowledge that someone, right now, is writing something wrong on the internet about Brendan Eich, is a sign I am a glutton for empty calories of falsehood.

Thus, my new policy. I am allowed to eat as many stale snacks of falsehood as I want. I’m opening the Brendan Eich bag. Now. By commencing to write this post I have opened the bag. The temptation is increasing! But I’m … just going to let it sit, getting good and stale. It’s already sort of stale. I did manage to wait more than a week. If, after staleness really sets in, I still want to partake, I may do so. At which point I just may manage to do so moderately, in proportion to such true nutritional content as I may add.

Going forward, let it be so! Fresh truths and stale falsehoods served! [click to continue…]