From the monthly archives:

November 2014

Confessional Brezhnevism and Brian Farrell

by Henry on November 12, 2014

The Boston Review have just put up a piece I wrote on Ireland’s internal Cold War, which wasn’t about politics, but religion. My generation (and Kieran’s; and Maria’s) grew up in an Ireland where the Catholic Church’s control of politics and society was visibly rotting away from inside, but still strong enough to foreclose the alternatives. It was like Brezhnevism – a dying system, but one strong enough to make it difficult to imagine what life would be like if it were gone.

One vignette from the piece, describing the moment when Bishop Eamon Casey was revealed to have had a long term relationship and child resulting from same.

The day the news broke, I met one of my professors, who had a sideline as a scrupulously evenhanded television host, wandering across campus in dazed delight. “It’s over,” he said. “They’ve lost.” He was right.

I didn’t name the professor, although I didn’t exactly make it hard to figure out who he was. He was Brian Farrell (no relation), a very well known academic, intellectual and television host and interviewer, who died a couple of days ago at the age of 85. I don’t know what he’d have made of the piece – he very carefully kept his politics to himself. This is the only moment when I ever saw him break cover. Yet I don’t think this revealed any political or religious animus on his part, so much as a small-l liberalism, a straightforward pre-political desire that people be allowed to live their lives and love whom they wanted to, without having to live in fear of social ostracism or of losing their job. It must have been very hard to be gay, or living in an unmarried relationship in Ireland in the 1970s, and it still wasn’t especially easy in the 1990s. The Eamon Casey scandal undermined the religious and social institutions which made it so very hard, so that prejudice, while it continued, mostly went underground. This, I think, is why he was so happy.

That brief conversation with Brian, beside the ugly artificial lake at the center of University College Dublin, is the moment when it became clear to me that Ireland was finally, irrevocably, changing. It’s a different memory of Brian than most people who grew up watching Irish TV will have – his public persona was as a rather formal and mildly acerbic interviewer, who regularly grilled evasive politicians. Yet in person, even if you didn’t know him particularly well (I just knew him as a student taking his MA class on Irish politics) his decency and kindness came through. He will be very much missed.

Planet saved … in Brisbane!

by John Quiggin on November 12, 2014

It’s hard to overstate the significance of the agreement announced today by Barack Obama and Xi Jinping to limit US and Chinese greenhouse gas emissions. The limits are significant in themselves: not enough to guarantee stabilization of greenhouse gas levels at the agreed target of 450 ppm, but enough that we can get there just by ratcheting up an existing agreement rather than by looking for something new.

I’ll write more later, but I wanted to note this event as soon as I could

Lud-in-the-Mist

by John Holbo on November 12, 2014

Hope Mirrlees’ 1926 fantasy novel/fairy tale, Lud-in-the-Mist, has a funny old publication history. An unauthorized version appeared in 1970, again in 1977, because publishers couldn’t figure out whether the lady – who died in 1978 – was alive. (Here’s Michael Swanwick, trying to sort it out.) I just noticed Amazon has a cheap Kindle edition available. I think you would be quite mad to read any other fantasy novel or fairy tale first, if you have so far failed to read this one, and are looking for anything of the sort with which to stock your electronic device.

It’s a fable of alienation and reconciliation. I’ll quote from chapter 1. Our proper Master Nathaniel has a strange secret, tucked into his soul. [click to continue…]

Adventures in Sexual Implicature

by John Holbo on November 12, 2014

OK, let me see if I got this straight. (Here’s a copy of Limbaugh’s lawyer’s complaining letter to the DCCC, via TPM.)

OSU instituted a strong, positive ‘affirmative consent’ policy for student sexual relations.

‘No’ means no, and only ‘yes’ means yes.

Clear? [click to continue…]

Remembrance Day

by John Quiggin on November 11, 2014

Every year on this day, I post on the futility of war, arguing that wars and armed revolutions are almost never justified. I haven’t convinced anyone, and there are probably more wars, frozen conflicts and insurgencies now than there were when I started blogging.

And I realise I haven’t even convinced myself. Intellectually, I know that wars will always turn out badly, but still when a new conflict erupts, I find myself picking sides and cheering for the good (less bad) guys.

Why do we fall for the spurious appeal of a simple, violent solution to complex and intractable problems? And why is it so hard to end a war once it has started? I have some half-formed ideas, but I’ll leave it to others to discuss.

In the meantime, Lest we Forget.

So I know I wrote this in The Reactionary Mind:

Beyond these simple professions of envy or admiration, the conservative actually copies and learns from the revolution he opposes. “To destroy that enemy,” Burke wrote of the Jacobins, “by some means or other, the force opposed to it should be made to bear some analogy and resemblance to the force and spirit which that system exerts.”

This is one of the most interesting and least understood aspects of conservative ideology. While conservatives are hostile to the goals of the left, particularly the empowerment of society’s lower castes and classes, they often are the left’s best students.

Sometimes, their studies are self-conscious and strategic, as they look to the left for ways to bend new vernaculars, or new media, to their suddenly delegitimated aims. Fearful that the philosophes had taken control of popular opinion in France, reactionary theologians in the middle of the eighteenth century looked to the example of their enemies. They stopped writing abstruse disquisitions for each other and began to produce Catholic agitprop, which would be distributed through the very networks that brought enlightenment to the French people. They spent vast sums funding essay contests, like those in which Rousseau made his name, to reward writers who wrote accessible and popular defenses of religion.

…

Even without directly engaging the progressive argument, conservatives may absorb, by some elusive osmosis, the deeper categories and idioms of the left, even when those idioms run directly counter to their official stance. After years of opposing the women’s movement, for example, Phyllis Schlafly seemed genuinely incapable of conjuring the prefeminist view of women as deferential wives and mothers. Instead, she celebrated the activist “power of the positive woman.”…When she spoke out against the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), she didn’t claim that it introduced a radical new language of rights. Her argument was the opposite. The ERA, she told the Washington Star, “is a takeaway of women’s rights.” It will “take away the right of the wife in an ongoing marriage, the wife in the home.” Schlafly was obviously using the language of rights in a way that was opposed to the aims of the feminist movement; she was using rights talk to put women back into the home, to keep them as wives and mothers. But that is the point: conservatism adapts and adopts, often unconsciously, the language of democratic reform to the cause of hierarchy.

Still, I was surprised to read this in the International Business Times:

White supremacist organisation, the Ku Klux Klan is rebranding as the “new Klan” by trying to increase membership to Jews, black people, gays and those of Hispanic origin.

Some black people have already expressed an interest in joining, after John Abarr organised a summit with civil rights groups.

Abarr, who has claimed that he is a former white supremacist, told the Great Falls Tribune, “The KKK is for a strong America. White supremacy is the old Klan. This is the new Klan.”

Abarr has organised a peace summit with religious groups and the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP) next summer.

The KKK organiser from Great Falls, Montana told the Associated Press that he filled out a membership card to NAACP, not only paying the $30 enrollment fee but also adding a $20 donation.

Jimmy Simmons, a president of the Montana NAACP chapter, said that while he questioned the use of the letters KKK, if the peace summit took place, he would “take a strong look” at joining the Rocky Mountain Knights.

“If John Abarr was actually reformed, he could drop the label of the KKK,” said Rachel Carroll-Rivas from the Montana Human Rights Network. “They know that their beliefs aren’t popular, so they try to appear moderate. I think it’s just a farce. Our mission for the last 24 years has been to shine a light on hatred.”

However, the more traditional elements of the organisation were unhappy about the direction Abarr is heading in.

Bradley Jenkins, Imperial Wizard of the KKK, said: “That man’s going against everything the bylaws of the constitution of the KKK say. He’s trying to hide behind the KKK to further his political career.”

In 2011 Abarr, describing himself as a former KKK organiser, ran as a Republican for Montana’s seat in the US House of Representatives, reportedly believing there would be a backlash against President Obama’s re-election.

According to an Associated Press report at the time, Abarr’s manifesto included “promises to legalize marijuana, increase mental health programs, keep abortion legal, abolish the death penalty… and ‘save the White Race.'”

At the time mainstream Republicans denounced Abarr as a racist. “There’s no room for racism in our party,” said Rich Hill, a former Republican congressman who lost the 2012 election for Montana’s governor. “That is not what we are about, and we have never been about that.”

In the post just before me, Chris writes:

Yesterday I was listening to BBC Radio 4, and they were remembering the people who died, shot by East German border guards. It doesn’t seem to occur to our official voices of commemoration that there are parallels today with the thousands who die trying to escape tyranny, war or poverty and who drown in the Mediterranean, perish from thirst in the Arizona desert, or with those who the Australian government turns back at sea or interns offshore.

He’s right. Years ago, I reviewed two books on migration, immigration, and exile—one by Caroline Moorehead, the other by Seyla Benhabib—for The Nation. Here’s a factoid from that review:

 

Between 1994 and 2001, at least 1,700 migrants from Mexico died trying to reach the United States. Throughout its entire existence, by contrast, exactly 171 people died trying to cross the Berlin wall.

And that, mind you, was under the Clinton regime, before the last decade and a half of agitation around the extension and elaboration of a security wall between Mexico and the United States.

And just in case anyone missed the parallels between the Berlin Wall and the separation wall in Israel, Palestinian activists are on the case (not that anyone in the Western media noticed them, as Chris notes). [click to continue…]

Sunday photo(re)blogging: the Wall then, and borders now

by Chris Bertram on November 9, 2014

Yesterday I was listening to BBC Radio 4, and they were remembering the people who died, shot by East German border guards. It doesn’t seem to occur to our official voices of commemoration that there are parallels today with the thousands who die trying to escape tyranny, war or poverty and who drown in the Mediterranean, perish from thirst in the Arizona desert, or with those who the Australian government turns back at sea or interns offshore. Nor do such barriers as the “separation wall” in Palestine seem to evoke such horror in those voices as the Berlin Wall did then. These newer barriers are treated as necessary and normal and those deaths as self-inflicted by people naive enough to believe that a better life awaits in prosperous liberal democracies. Not that free movement is the only thing where official attitudes have changed. It isn’t long since the comprehensive surveillance of citizens depicted in Anna Funder’s *Stasiland* and in the film *Das Leben der Anderen* was emblematic of how communist states would trample on the inalienable rights of people in pursuit of state security. Today we know that our states do the same. I’m not making the argument that Western liberal democracies are “as bad” as those states were, lest any commenter come along and moan about “moral equivalence”. But I note that these kinds of violations were not seen back then as being impermissible because those states were so bad in other ways — undemocratic, dirigiste — but rather were portrayed to exemplify exactly why those regimes were unacceptable.

Here’s my photoblog from five years ago:

Berlin Wall

Swords into ploughshares

Two photos today. My partner, Pauline Powell and I visited East Germany and West Berlin in 1984. The first picture is a shot of the Berlin Wall from the western side, and seems appropriate as tomorrow is the 20th anniversary of its fall. The second shot, taken inside the Nikolaikirche in Leipzig, announces one of the prayers for peace meetings that helped to build the popular movement that would eventually contribute to the fall of the regime. Both pictures are Pauline’s, not mine (all rights reserved etc). We believe the swords into ploughshares picture is unique on the web, though perhaps others exist as prints. As such, it is something of a historic document.

Inequality, migration and economists

by Chris Bertram on November 8, 2014

Tim Harford has [a column in the Financial Times claiming that citizenship matters more than class for inequality](http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/d9cddd8e-6546-11e4-91b1-00144feabdc0.html). In many ways it isn’t a bad piece. I give him points for criticizing Piketty’s default assumption that the nation-state is the right unit for analysis. The trouble with the piece though is the immediate inference from two sets of inequality stats to a narrative about what matters most, as if the two things Harford is talking about are wholly independent variables. This is a vice to which economists are rather prone.

Following Branko Milanovic, Harford writes:

> Imagine lining up everyone in the world from the poorest to the richest, each standing beside a pile of money that represents his or her annual income. The world is a very unequal place: those in the top 1 per cent have vastly more than those in the bottom 1 per cent – you need about $35,000 after taxes to make that cut-off and be one of the 70 million richest people in the world. If that seems low, it’s $140,000 after taxes for a family of four – and it is also about 100 times more than the world’s poorest people have. What determines who is at the richer end of that curve is, mostly, living in a rich country.

Well indeed, impressive stuff. And as Joseph Carens noticed long ago, and Harford would presumably endorse, nationality can function rather like feudal privilege of history. People are indeed sorted into categories, as they were in a feudal or class society, that confine them to particular life paths, limit their access to resources and so forth. But there’s a rather obvious point to make which rather cuts across the “X matters more than Y” narrative, which is that citizenship isn’t a barrier for the rich, or for those with valuable skills. It is the poor who are excluded, who are denied the right to better themselves in the wealthy economies, who drown in the Mediterranean, or who can’t live in the same country as the love of their life. Citizenship, nationality, borders are ways of controlling the mobility of the poor whilst the rich pass effortlessly through. It isn’t simply an alternative or competitor to class, it is also a way in which states enforce class-based inequality.

Learning Japanese; I Really Think So

by Belle Waring on November 6, 2014

John and I have stayed in Singapore so long for a number of reasons–mainly he has tenure in Philosophy now and prior to that a good tenure-track job with excellent housing benefits, which is not the easiest thing to find ever. But also it is a really good place for children, even if it might be a boring place for…older children? People in their twenties? Pure physical safety is an underrated quality. I can remember once when I was walking back home the 750 metres to our house from the children’s hospital, where Violet, then four, was deathly ill with a norovirus (she was either vomiting or having diarrhea every 45 minutes for the first five days; she would have died if she weren’t on an IV drip, and we had to carefully clean her up and change the sheets each time. And again. She was so brave. I couldn’t stop thinking about all the mothers in third-world countries whose babies were dying in their arms right then for want of this same simple treatment.) I stayed with her in the hospital all seven days, sleeping with her in her single bed, but John was spelling me so I could shower at home. The walk involves a trip under a big highway overpass. It’s decently lit, but not to way back up under the eaves of the ground and the ceiling of the thudding road. First of all, it doesn’t even smell much like pee! (I know, right?) It smells a little like pee. A little. Usually it smells like wet dirt after rain, or like dried-out leaves, or coppery mud, or stale exhaust from an idling double-decker bus (they pull a vicious U-turn there; it’s sort of magnificent, like the hippos doing ballet in Fantasia.) Like smoke, if Sumatra has been improvidently, per usual, set on fire. Like the water in the canal that runs between the two directions of the lower road, either uniform turbid red and two metres deep after the rain, or here and there transparent with skrims of various weeds and slimes that blossom instantaneously, and tadpoles that the egrets stalk in the hand-span deep water at the slack.
[click to continue…]

Do philosophers dream of saving electric cats?

by John Holbo on November 6, 2014

I have a horrible cold. Getting better, but as of Monday fever was pretty bad, thanks for your concern. I was trying to get some work done – any work. What I proved capable of was: reading Save the Cat, which I’m planning to discuss in my science fiction and philosophy class (yes, I’m lucky like that. I get paid to teach such stuff.)

Why Save The Cat? [click to continue…]

What Do You Tell Your Children About The Internet?

by Belle Waring on November 3, 2014

When Zoë was maybe 10 and old enough to start randomly looking at things on the internet without much supervision other than Google SafeSearch (well, such a thing was likely to occur; I’m not sure she was old enough per se) I had a little talk with her. And Violet, but Violet wasn’t paying attention. I re-had the talk with Violet later. It went like this: don’t ever go to 4chan, OK? OK. Also, there are weirdos on the internet who are grownups but want to have sex with children. Her: “Whaaaaa–??@? I thought people had sex so that–” Ya, I know. Just, roll with me. They pretend to be other kids so they can talk to kids. So don’t talk to weirdos who ask you a lot of personal questions, and don’t ever tell anyone on the internet where you live, and later when you have photos and an email and attachments don’t send them to anyone. But also if somehow something weird happens and you get scared of someone or feel like something is wrong you should always tell me, and I’ll never be mad at you even if you didn’t do 100% “the right thing,” and it’s never too late to say something is making you scared or feel weird, like, there’s not a crucial window that goes by and then if you miss it you can never speak up because it’s your fault now, because you didn’t say anything before. Also, don’t go to 4chan. Shit, don’t even go to reddit. I’m not saying this because it’s cool and fun, it’s just gross. [Dear CT reader who frequents a perfectly nice and informative knitting sub-reddit that isn’t even sexist at all: them’s the breaks.]

I oke-bray the ules-ray by getting Zoë an FB account for Xmas one year that–her age being the number after ten–was not one of the approved years. It was her top request on her list to Santa. (And free!) I made myself a page administrator, set the privacy settings myself, and said she couldn’t put pictures of herself up. I couldn’t issue a blanket “no anything-chan” rule because of course zerochan.net has all the best pictures in the world. For several years she has obsessively searched for and downloaded both official and (moreso) fan art, and then uploaded it again into massive albums on her FB page. There’s over 5K images on there!
[click to continue…]

Sunday photoblogging: Under the L

by Chris Bertram on November 2, 2014