From the monthly archives:

April 2015

The migrant crisis in the Mediterranean is a tragic variation of a phenomena we have seen time and again around the world: the indifference, deep ambivalence or, at worst, rage directed at “others” from homogeneous, native populations in the advanced nations. This is a defining social condition of Western Europe, the UK, and Scandinavia today and there is no need to rehearse here the many episodes that fall into this category. Influential splinter parties from UKIP in the UK to the venerable National Front in France to the Danish People’s Party to the Netherland’s Party for Freedom have constructed potent working class voting blocs around anti-immigrant and anti-Islamist platforms. [click to continue…]

No Justice For Rekia Boyd, Either

by Belle Waring on April 28, 2015

I had been planning to write this post in part about the killing of Freddie Gray in Baltimore before rioting broke out there. My mom was in Baltimore on Monday, actually, at Johns Hopkins; I talked to her and my sister and aunt in the morning. Goddamn. Then I thought I would post about a number of killings of unarmed black citizens by police and this one case in particular was so messed up that my post got too long, so I’ll leave it here for the moment. On Monday the 20th, Chicago police officer Dante Servin was found not guilty of all charges in a directed verdict from a bench trial for the fatal shooting of 22-year old Rekia Boyd. He was charged with involuntary manslaughter, reckless discharge of a firearm, and reckless conduct after shooting two people, one fatally, on March 21 of 2012. Servin lives near a park where people often gather at night and hang out. He had called in a noise complaint to 911 and then went out in his car (passing by on his way from getting food in one account, though this wasn’t clear, since most other articles discuss him putting his trash out (which involves one’s car in Chicago?!). They were right behind his house, it seems, and it’s a pity that, as lead detective on the case Officer Ed Heerdt said, Servin did have cameras mounted on his home but “he told me the system was inoperable and I was satisfied with that.” [So you didn’t check, then, or anything? Ah.] He took with him an unregistered 9mm handgun, and drove by slowly telling people to keep it down.

A bystander, Antonio Cross, who was on the phone with his cousin, says that he thought Servin was trying to buy drugs and said “f$%k you.” The cousin confirms this. Then Servin, thinking the phone in Cross’s hand was a gun, pulled out his weapon and fired over his shoulder into a group of people, shooting Cross in the hand and Rekia Boyd in the head. By this description people mean, I take it, that Servin was sitting in the car with the window down, drew the gun and fired over his left shoulder, turning around in the seat. He claimed via lawyers to have felt something “touch the back of his head”–i.e. his contention is that Cross put the phone there pretending it was a gun, just to scare him. Maybe that’s his contention? He also claimed (via others) that Cross merely “waved” the phone in such a way as to make it look like a menacing gun. The defence also, separately and quite at cross-purposes, argued that Cross’s cousin thought he heard 8-12 shots, while Servin only shot five times–so they muttered darkly about an undiscovered gun. (I think it is otiose for me to say no gun other than Servin’s was ever recovered at the scene.) The thing is, there sort of would have been shells, too, and places that got hit by bullets, and stuff like that. And if there had in fact been a gun barrel touching Servin’s head and then the gun were fired the results would have been noticeable. Well, when I say the defence said this and the defence said that, they didn’t have to work too hard, because this was a directed verdict from a bench trial. The judge (no jury) just stopped it right there after the witnesses had testified, said not guilty, and sent Officer Servin (yeah, he’s been a cop this whole time) home a free man. Why wasn’t it a jury trial? Apparently the accused can choose a trial before a judge. And what a prince of a guy Judge Porter is, because this is a totally reasonable thing to say to a grieving family:
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Real liberals fight fascism

by Eric on April 27, 2015

TLS
Now, or recently, at newsagents

In the TLS for 17 April, you can find my essay on Nicholas Wapshott’s The Sphinx, about the presidential election of 1940, the isolationists, and how Franklin Roosevelt engineered the US shift toward war. The essay starts like this:

Franklin Roosevelt recognized the threat Adolf Hitler posed from the moment of the German Chancellor’s appointment. In January of 1933, Roosevelt—not yet inaugurated, though already elected, President—told an aide that Hitler’s ascent was “a portent of evil”, not just for Europe but “for the United States”. He “would in the end challenge us because his black sorcery appealed to the worst in men; it supported their hates and ridiculed their tolerances; and it could not exist permanently in the same world with a system whose reliance on reason and justice was fundamental:. From then onward, Roosevelt’s policies raced Hitler’s: the New Deal was not merely a programme for recovery from depression, but one to rebuild economic strength while preserving democracy in the United States so the nation would be ready to fight Nazism when the time came.

The New Deal gave Americans not only the material capacity to fight fascism, but faith in American institutions. Which is why, of course, the prevalence of remarks like this one remains so appalling.1


1Despite John’s extensive work; e.g.

Greg Grandin called me on Friday.

Greg: What are you doing?

Me: Working on my Salon column.

Greg: What’s it on?

Me: George Packer.

Greg: Low-hanging fruit.

Me: Did you see that article he wrote in The New Yorker, where he says he’s bored of American politics?

Greg: Uh oh. Bombs away.

Me: That’s the first line of my column! “When George Packer gets bored, I get worried. It means he’s in the mood for war.”

So here is said column, just out this morning. Packer did say he was getting bored of American politics. In fact, he wrote a whole article on it. So I examine how his political ennui so often gives him an itch for heroism, sacrifice, and war.

Packer belongs to a special tribe of ideologically ambidextrous scribblers — call them political romantics — who are always on the lookout for a certain kind of experience in politics. They don’t want power, they don’t seek justice, they’re not interested in interests. They want a feeling. A feeling of exaltation and elation, unmoored from any specific idea or principle save that of sacrifice, of giving oneself over to the nation and its cause.

It’s not that political romantics seek the extinction of the self in the purgative fire of the nation-state. It’s that they see in that hallucination an elevation of the self, a heightening of individual feeling, an intensification of personal experience. That’s what makes them so dangerous. They think they’re shopping for the public good, but they’re really in the market for an individual experience. An experience that often comes with a hefty price tag.

Perhaps that’s why, after the Charlie Hebdo murders, Packer was so quick to man the ideological ramparts.

You can finish it here.

 

Sunday photoblogging: Puces de Vanves

by Chris Bertram on April 26, 2015

Rolleiflex T, Ilford HP5+

“That Notoriously Picky Publication”

by Henry on April 25, 2015

Gene Wolfe, from the introduction of his collection, Storeys from the Old Hotel:

Perhaps the best way to explain it is to tell you something about “In the Old Hotel,” a short piece you’ll read not far from the end. At about the time the winter of 1980-81 was fading, my wife Rosemary and I rode a crack train called the Empire Builder from Chicago (where we live) to Seattle and back. Sitting in the observation car in the back, I wrote six very brief stories. When we got home, I typed them up and sent them with no great hope to The New Yorker.

With no great hope. One tends to gamble with short pieces – if they are accepted, they will bring a noticeable gain in prestige; if they are not, little has been lost. All in all, I suppose I’ve submitted at least twenty stories to The New Yorker.

This time I got a surprise – one of the six, “On the Train,” had found a home; it’s still the only success I’ve had with that notoriously picky publication. Furthermore, the letter of acceptance revealed that the junior editor who had read all six had wanted to accept another, “In the Old Hotel,” but had been overrruled. Needless to say, “In the Old Hotel” at once became a great favorite of mine.

This is a very long winded way of saying that Gene Wolfe clearly cares about The New Yorker. Which makes it even nicer that they have just published a very good profile of his work and life. I’ve written about Wolfe before – if you like this passage you’ll very likely fall in love with his work, and if you don’t, then you probably won’t. Whichever way you end up, he has written many great books and stories, and I’m happy to see him getting a little of the recognition he deserves from a publication that he clearly values.

Hello once more! This episode of my travelogue takes in Tahiti/Moorea and Easter Island. I’m writing this from Chile, where the next episode might be quite dramatic

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Columbia University has a renowned department of Latin American and Iberian Cultures. It boasts a faculty of 36 professors and lecturers. In the last five years, they’ve produced 52 publications on topics ranging from the regional novel to medieval heresy. This year alone, they’ve offered 119 classes, where hundreds if not thousands of students speak Spanish (as well as other languages).

The Spanish language—written and spoken—is clearly prized by Columbia University.

Unless you’re a worker.

According to a petition being circulated by the Columbia Dining Workers and the Student Worker Solidarity group, the executive director of Columbia Dining, Vicki Dunn, has banned dining hall workers from speaking Spanish in the presence of students. The students don’t like it. She also banned the workers from eating in the presence of the students, forcing the workers to dine in a closet instead. (Mercifully that ruling was revoked.) And more generally she seems to take random student complaints as an opportunity to issue arbitrary and ever-changing edicts.

The two groups are circulating a petition with the following demands:

1. Columbia dining appears to have temporarily reversed the closet rule, but continue to discriminate against workers for speaking Spanish. This must cease immediately.

2. We as students demand that Columbia administration stop using individual student complaints to justify racist and degrading policies such as the prohibition of specific languages and the relegation of workers to cramped and unsanitary spaces.

“This shouldn’t be happening in student’s names, own your own decision, don’t try to pin this on students” – Anonymous Columbia Dining Worker

3. Workers ask that from now on, all new workplace policies be written down, publicly visible, and negotiated with their unions so as to prevent continued abuses.

Please read it and sign it.

 

Music Everywhere

by Belle Waring on April 24, 2015

Sister Rosetta Tharpe! I think I’ve already made a whole post telling you to listen to more Sister Rosetta Tharpe before, but that doesn’t matter! Because the defect of her recorded sessions is that the guitar is mixed down way low and you can’t hear her rock out on the guitar. But I found these live sessions that just…

You weren’t expecting that old lady to play that solo were you? She has a goddamn (sorry Sister) whammy bar on that thing!
What about this? And, goddamn, not sorry, did they not let any black people even come to this concert? That’s stone cold, fellow white people. Stone. Cold.

This is from when she was younger.

The version of this song I know says “when you see a man jump from church to church/you know the conversion don’t amount to much,” and I have uncharitably said this about Rod Dreher.
Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s frequent performance of all these songs in nightclubs were obviously ironic and different…
This short BBC documentary about her and her influence is interesting (just 15 minutes).
UPDATE: OK you can click through and there is a whole hour of BBC documentary. I haven’t watched it. Also, she didn’t sing straight gospel in nightclubs, she sang other songs, but she also had ironic versions of the gospel songs like “This Train”, in which she sang no whiskey-drinkers or cigar-smokers would make the cut while in The Cotton Club!

Krautmas came two weeks early this year

by Henry on April 22, 2015

Today is Charles Krauthammer day, the twelfth anniversary of the day when Charles Krauthammer opined:

Hans Blix had five months to find weapons. He found nothing. We’ve had five weeks. Come back to me in five months. If we haven’t found any, we will have a credibility problem.

We’ve had five months and five months and five months and five months and five months and five months and five months and five months and five months and five months and five months and five months and five months and five months and five months and five months and five months and five months and five months and five months and five months and five months and five months and five months and five months and five months and five months and five months and another four months on top since then. But still no nuclear weapons. Some time in the last twelve months, the transcript of Krauthammer’s remarks finally slipped into the AEI’s memory hole; fortunately, the remarks are preserved for posterity at the Internet Archive.

Unfortunately, Charles Krauthammer is still writing pieces like this one on the proposed Iran deal, from April 9. Krauthammer complains of Obama:

You set out to prevent proliferation and you trigger it. You set out to prevent an Iranian nuclear capability and you legitimize it. You set out to constrain the world’s greatest exporter of terror threatening every one of our allies in the Middle East and you’re on the verge of making it the region’s economic and military hegemon.

This is a … remarkably un-self-aware … set of fulminations coming from a pundit who advocated invading Iraq as the second stage of a Grand Master Plan which would precipitate regime change in Iran by demonstrating “the fragility of dictatorship” next door. How exactly did that work out? Right. And I think we’ve already touched on Charles Krauthammer’s magisterial grasp of anti-proliferation issues – the man who confidently opined that we needed to go into Iraq, because Saddam “is working on nuclear weapons [and] … has every incentive to pass them on to terrorists who will use them against us,” should really just shut up. Forever. And not only shut up, but devote the rest of his life to doing whatever pathetically inadequate things he can to make up for the strategic and humanitarian catastrophe that he helped cheer-lead. Of course, Charles Krauthammer has no intention of shutting up. Which is why I’m marking this squalid anniversary yet again.

Entitlements and expropriation

by John Quiggin on April 22, 2015

An interesting feature of politics in the US, Australia and probably elsewhere is the attack on “entitlements”, coming almost entirely from people who regard themselves as committed to defending property rights. The term refers to rights to receive payments such as Social Security that are entrenched in legislation and cannot be changed, at least without great difficulty.

As the term “entitlements” suggests, this legal security is precisely what distinguishes property rights from other kinds of claims on resources, such as those associated with the receipt of public or private charity, which may be granted or withheld at will.[^1] So, the objection to entitlements is that discretionary payments are being replaced by property rights.

What is going on here? Part of the story is that (as with Bismarck’s remark on sausages) those who approve of property rights mostly prefer to avert their eyes from the process by which they are created. Except when pressed, the operating assumption is that property rights arose from some sort of immaculate conception, as in the mythical story told by Locke.

But the real reason, today as with Locke, is that the attack on entitlements is precisely about expropriating some holders of rights (for example, beneficiaries of Social Security) for the benefit of others (for example, the corporate executives who fund organizations like Fix The Debt). The more property-like are the rights you want to expropriate, the harder the job becomes.

[^1]: Similarly the income derived from holding a job, which at least in the US, can be ended at the will of the employer.

Migrant deaths: who is responsible?

by Chris Bertram on April 21, 2015

Yesterday, in response to a series of tragedies involving migrants drowning in the Mediterranean, the EU issued [a ten-point plan](http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_IP-15-4813_en.htm?locale=en) with a lot of emphasis on taking action against people smugglers and a range of further measures, such as fingerprinting migrants, that seem irrelevant to events. British Prime Minister David Cameron, whose government last year refused to back search and rescue plans on the grounds that they encouraged people to take risks, is now [blaming](http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-32382962) “the human traffickers and the criminals that are running this trade.” The one group European politicians are not blaming, by and large, is themselves. Yet they, and the electorates they appease, bear most of the responsibility.

The reason for this is simple, and it is obvious. All European states are signatories to the Refugee Convention and that places obligations on them to offer sanctuary to people who arrive on their shores and who have a “well-founded fear” of persecution (on various grounds). Although politicians like to claim that their countries have a proud history of taking in the persecuted — as Cameron claimed in a speech last year — they now do everything in their power to make it as hard as possible for those seeking asylum to arrive on their territory. Devices such as heavy financial penalties on airlines and other carriers and ever tighter visa restrictions mean that people fleeing countries such as Syria and Eritrea simply cannot arrive in Europe by safe routes, and if they do so by using false documents they are often prosecuted and imprisoned. People from these countries make up a significant proportion of those trying to cross from Libya to Italy. Because people cannot travel via safe routes, they travel via dangerous ones, just as they do in other parts of the world. They put themselves in the hands of people smugglers and they take the risk of crossing the Mediterranean in flimsy boats. But the people smugglers, though no doubt unscrupulous criminals on the whole, are simply responding to a demand that European politicians and their electorates have created.

There is more. Whilst politicians from all of Europe are culpable, many those in northern Europe are particularly so. They have put in place a system in the EU that means that those people who do arrive and claim asylum must do so in the country they first enter. It is very hard to enter the UK, and most of those arriving turn up in countries such as Italy, Greece, Malta and Spain, southern European countries hardest hit by the economic crisis. Countries such as the UK can disclaim responsibility and have no incentive to agree to a fair system of burden sharing.

Fingers pointed at people-smugglers and “traffickers” are pointed in the wrong direction. Europeans need only look in the mirror to see those responsible.

Least Trumps

by Belle Waring on April 21, 2015

I mentioned a little while ago that I had an excellent plan for a project. I have always wanted to make my own Tarot deck, since I was a young teenager. Well, I say this, but probably since I was nine or ten. At the time I imagined that I would have to successfully pull a wood-block print for all the backs, and paint each one, perfectly, all 78, and then if a drop of water got on them later? I would die. So I imagined having them laminated, but then I considered the state of much-used laminated papers such as those employed in classes, and I thought it unwise to entrust to the process anything about which I cared greatly. Yellowing, bubbling, peeling; these are all terrible. Now many things exist which can facilitate my devising of a deck of cards, such as the use of photoshop to create perfectly symmetrical arabesques for the reverses based on only one properly-inked section. But of course the infinitely more pleasing prospect is that of getting my designs printed on card stock, and the edges trimmed, and then all shared with others! I had only ever intended my own version of the designs in the Waite-Smith deck,* but then I remembered that I had had another idea, which was to make a set of cards based on Great-Aunt Nora Cloud’s deck in John Crowley’s Little, Big. Truly it’s Violet’s deck, but we see it used by Nora Cloud in the course of the book. (Violet is my younger daughter’s name; mine can be her deck also.) Those who have read the book will know that the deck, its reading, and physical disposition figure greatly in the work, and those of you who have not SHOULD GO READ IT NOW DEAR GOD READ LITTLE, BIG FOR THE FIRST TIME I ENVY YOU! Really, it’s maybe my single favourite book.

UPDATED below
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There has been a lot of discussion about the deteriorating prospects of Humanities PhDs. Many insiders have argued that it is increasingly hard for those gaining a PhD in the humanities to find a decent job in academia – and that seems to be the place most humanities PhDs would like to end up.

In the Netherlands, we have also had discussions recently on whether there are not too many Philosophy PhD students (and more broadly humanities PhDstudents), and whether those pursuing a Philosophy PhD have realistic expectations of their chances of getting a job in academia. In those debates, one often hears the rough number that about 9 out of 10 PhD students aspires to have an academic job, yet only between 1 and 2 end up in academia. If that is true, there is a serious mismatch between expectations and objective outcomes. Moreover, there is also the impression that the situation has become worse due to the budget cuts for higher education.

I am setting up a small project in order to gain a better understanding of the expectations of Philosophy PhD students in the Netherlands. To the best of my knowledge, we totally lack any information on the career expectations of Philosophy PhD students in the Netherlands, and the career outcomes of those who acquired a Philosophy PhD in the past. At present, there is no systematic information about what Philosophy PhD students expect or hope for after graduating. Neither do we know the extent to which this fits with the opportunities they will encounter.
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Sunday photoblogging: sculls in the Floating Harbour

by Chris Bertram on April 19, 2015