From the monthly archives:

September 2015

Alternative MacArthurs

by Henry on September 29, 2015

So the MacArthur ‘genius’ awards were announced today; I’ve always thought of them as tottering on a Bourdieuian knife-edge between two different kinds of legitimation. On the one hand, they are supposed to have consequences, to publicly recognize people who would otherwise be less well known, and giving them financial and symbolic support that they can then go on to use to do good and wonderful things. This means that it would be weird to give one e.g. to someone like Paul Krugman, who already is doing very nicely in terms of public recognition. On the other, they are supposed to go to people who are creative and brilliant – but in socially legitimated ways so as to maintain the status of the award. This means that they are unlikely to go to genuinely unsung geniuses, not simply because the selection process can’t find brilliance if it isn’t publicly well known, but because the legitimacy of the awards partly depends on their social validation by a variety of elite networks.

Hence, for example, we get today’s decision to give an award to Ta-Nehisi Coates. In one sense this is unquestionably awesome – Coates is fantastic. However, it would be unquestionably much more awesomer if they had given an award to Coates five years before, or gave it today to someone where Coates was five years ago. But the sociology of the process doesn’t seem to be set up to do that – like most institutions, it gravitates towards safe choices. A more risky symbolic venture capital approach – say giving grants to people earlier in their career in the expectation that 80% of them will flame out, 10% will do well, and 10% will be just wonderful would probably not be sustainable over the longer term (or at the least, it would make the prizes very different in status and connotation). Hence the current set up, which I suspect is mostly aimed to support safe bets – people who are either famous or very well regarded in their specific discipline – with perhaps a couple of riskier ones thrown in here and there, where they really strike fire with one of the selectors.

So if we were giving out awards rather than the actual selection committee, who would we give them to? It’s not likely, but it is possible that actual real people involved in the selection process will read this (Crooked Timber doesn’t have Vox-level readership, but it does have its own odd forms of cultural capital; stranger things have happened). So it’s possible that this thread could have consequences. Comments are open. My own two nominees (I can think of other very deserving candidates, but they’re personal friends; I’m also sure I’ll kick myself about all the people I should have mentioned as soon as I’ve posted this) would be Astra Taylor and Tom Slee. Both are writers in the hinterlands between technology and culture, neither is so high profile as to be a likely candidate at the moment. But both are just fantastic – brilliant writers (and in Taylor’s case, documentary maker and musician too) who could do wonderful things with MacArthur level exposure. Who else?

Trenchant Music Criticism

by Belle Waring on September 29, 2015

Did you used to love the least google-able band in the world, Fun.? Probably you will also like the guitarist’s new (-ish) band Bleachers. I love this song right now. 80s synth riffs ftw.

Conservatism!

by John Holbo on September 29, 2015

Link.

RUSH LIMBAUGH: There’s so much fraud. Snerdly came in today ‘what’s this NASA news, this NASA news is all exciting.’ I said yeah they found flowing water up there. ‘No kidding! Wow! Wow!’ Snerdly said ‘flowing water!?’ I said ‘why does that excited you? What, are you going there next week? What’s the big deal about flowing water on Mars?’ ‘I don’t know man but it’s just it’s just wow!’ I said ‘you know what, when they start selling iPhones on Mars, that’s when it’ll matter to me.’ I said ‘what do you think they’re gonna do with this news?’ I said ‘look at the temperature data, that has been reported by NASA, has been made up, it’s fraudulent for however many years, there isn’t any warming, there hasn’t been for 18.5 years. And yet, they’re lying about it. They’re just making up the amount of ice in the North and South Poles, they’re making up the temperatures, they’re lying and making up false charts and so forth. So what’s to stop them from making up something that happened on Mars that will help advance their left-wing agenda on this planet?’ And Snerdly paused ‘oh oh yeah you’re right.’ You know, when I play golf with excellent golfers, I ask them ‘does it ever get boring playing well? Does it ever get boring hitting shot after shot where you want to hit it?’ And they all look at me and smile and say ‘never.’ Well folks, it never gets boring being right either. Like I am. But it doesn’t mean it is any less frustrating. Being right and being alone is a challenging existence. OK so there’s flowing water on Mars. Yip yip yip yahoo. You know me, I’m science 101, big time guy, tech advance it, you know it, I’m all in. But, NASA has been corrupted by the current regime. I want to find out what they’re going to tell us. OK, flowing water on Mars. If we’re even to believe that, what are they going to tell us that means? That’s what I’m going to wait for. Because I guarantee, let’s just wait and see, this is September 28, let’s just wait and see. Don’t know how long it’s going to take, but this news that there is flowing water on Mars is somehow going to find its way into a technique to advance the leftist agenda. I don’t know what it is, I would assume it would be something to do with global warming and you can — maybe there was once an advanced civilization. If they say they found flowing water, next they’re going to find a graveyard.

I dunno. I’m going to wait for the movie. I figure in 20 years, they’ll do a remake of The Martian, with Chris Farley’s re-animated corpse as Rush Limbaugh, in Matt Damon’s role. Only this time, NASA will be trying to keep him on Mars so he can’t talk radio back about how the lack of flowing water on Mars proves there’s no global warming on Earth. But then Deja Thoris falls in love with him, because the lighter atmosphere makes him a tremendous golfer. And he teams up with Tars Tarkas – who has four arms, ergo can hit two golf balls at once.

Lynsey Addario’s autobiography, recommended

by Chris Bertram on September 28, 2015

I spent a good chunk of yesterday reading the second half of Lynsey Addario’s [*It’s What I Do: A Photographer’s Life of Love and War*](http://itswhatidobook.com/). I’d been reading it a few pages at a time for the previous week, but then I just got carried away and had to read right to the end. As CT readers know, I’m keenly interested in photography, but it is also the case that reading accounts from war photographers (and seeing their pictures) has changed the way I think about war and conflict.

After September 11th 2001, the blogosphere erupted into being a thing, and several hundred part-time pundits spent a good period of their time arguing with one another about Afghanistan, Iraq, the Islamic world, military tactics and a thousand other things they knew virtually nothing about. Some of them are typing still. I penned what I now regard as an unfortunate essay on just war theory and Afghanistan, unfortunate because there I was applying abstract principles to conflicts where I hadn’t a clue about the human reality. I hope I’d be more careful and less reductive today, and that’s partly as a result of people like the photographer Don McCullin, and his autobiography *Unreasonable Behaviour*. I’d heard of Addario’s book a few months ago, but then I saw some of her pictures at a festival of documentary photography in Perpignan, France, and decided I had to read it.
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The migration industry

by Chris Bertram on September 27, 2015

If you want to understand what’s going on in the world of migration, one thing you need to do is to read [Hein de Haas’s blog](http://heindehaas.blogspot.co.uk/). His [latest post](http://heindehaas.blogspot.co.uk/2015/09/dont-blame-smugglers-real-migration.html?m=0) is a sharp corrective to the people who believe that the smugglers are to blame, that inward migration threatens cost the taxpayers on wealthy nations billions, that the solution to the desperate people from the Middle East or Central America is to build bigger and higher fences and to militarize our borders. As he argues, increased border security simply generates a market for the services of smugglers to evade the new measures, and pushes desperate people to seek even more dangerous routes. This, in turn, leads politicians to pledge more border security, leading the cycle to repeat itself.

Who profits from this? Not migrants or refugees, certainly. The smugglers, a little. And the big contractors and militarized agencies who “defend” the borders, run the detention centres and other facilities a lot. And the people who are paying for all this financially are the citzens of wealthy nations who then get a “solution” that makes the problem worse.

We urgently need to explore alternatives, such as flying refugees to Europe, as [Alexander Betts argued in the New York Times](http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/25/opinion/let-refugees-fly-to-europe.html?_r=0) the other day.

Sunday photoblogging: Boulangerie-Patisserie

by Chris Bertram on September 27, 2015

Boulangerie-Pattisserie

Income redistribution: Where should we start ?

by John Quiggin on September 26, 2015

Here’s another draft extract from my book-in-progress, Economics in Two Lessons, looking at income distribution. The entire draft section on this topic is available here. And the introduction, describing the general approach of the book is here.

Praise is welcome, and useful criticism even more so. As a reminder, this is an extract. If you think a crucial point has been missed, point it out, but bear in mind that it may be addressed elsewhere in the book.

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Conspiracy Theory

by Belle Waring on September 24, 2015

The recent news about VW has made me question some pretty fundamental things. I think cheating on this scale required, not just massive amounts of fraud, but a massive amount of complicity. No one at a lower level in the organization would take on the risk of freelancing a scheme of this nature. The benefits coming to you would be attenuated, and the danger would be great. This means that (minimally, some) people at the very top of the organization had to know about the software. Software powerful enough to determine when the car was being tested is complex and requires input from many sensors. This means (minimally, not a small number of) people had to know about the software. The person writing the proprietary code governing the steering wheel’s performance would have to be involved at least enough to have been told, “create an alert when the wheel hasn’t been moved in 2 minutes but the engine is running hard.” But it has always been my belief that, by and large, complex, dangerous conspiracies involving many people simply don’t happen. The more danger attaches to a criminal conspiracy–and here the danger seems in the worst case scenario actual dissolution of the company–the more the conspirators must be benefiting. Why would they do it otherwise? So, price-rigging among a small number of cartel members, for example, is easy to understand. But the larger the number of people involved in the conspiracy becomes, so, too does the benefit incline to decrease, but more obviously, the likelier it is that someone will screw up. If you are the director for a certain division of engines you might get a bonus that rises and falls with sales, or with the time and ease with which you meet projected goals. But it will have to be a pretty damn good bonus to risk being put in jail, right? And on the second point, each new person who knows about the conspiracy seems to exponentially increase the odds someone will blow the whistle. And yet here no one talked. They were only discovered by a pro-diesel group who wanted to tout the idea of getting more diesel cars on the road in the interests of cleaner energy expenditure! What the hell? And, do we think everyone else’s proprietary software is soft and rotten and fretted by maggots beneath a smooth and impenetrable DCMA surface? One can only imagine the EPA will be having a look…

A migration veil of ignorance

by Chris Bertram on September 24, 2015

I’ve been invited to give a TED-style talk tonight on whether there’s a right to free movement. Given the format, I don’t have a text and I’ll be speaking to a series of slides. But here are the basic points I’ll be making, for better or worse. (There’s no great claim to originality here, and my final slide will tell people to read Carens. Lots of undotted “i”s and uncrossed “t”s too.)

At the present time, they key norm governing the international migration regime is that states have a discretionary right to allow or not allow non-members onto their territory and to grant such members rights of residence, or not. The global refugee and asylum regime is a partial exception to this rule, but only a partial one because states have voluntarily agreed to be bound by the provisions of the Convention and could, if they chose, renounce it.

Clearly, most politicians and most voters, at least in rich countries, believe the norm is justified, with a lot of public debate focusing on whether the refugee regime is too permissive. Any party that tried to run on a policy favouring more open borders would get slaughtered at the polls, because more people think that democratic electorates have the right to exclude. But just because most people believe something, doesn’t make it true. And past consensuses on slavery, women’s suffrage and against gay marriage now look like the moral abominations they are.

But border and citizenship regimes have a *prima facie* case to answer because of the fatefulness of citizenship for life chances and the way in which they coerce people. Whilst some people are lucky enough to be born in, say, Belgium, others have the comparative misfortune to end us as citizens of Burundi or Bolivia. Some people get the valuable citizenships of states with wealth and which respect human rights; others end up with North Korea or Eritrea.

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The last Trump …

by John Quiggin on September 24, 2015

… has blown for any notion of “sane Republicans”. Comment seems superfluous, but I will repost some older pieces, going back to 2004, which I think stand up pretty well

Science versus the Republicans
Ignorance is strength
Has vaccination become a partisan issue?

Help Me Decide Which of These to Get For Rod Dreher

by Belle Waring on September 23, 2015

Hey, do you want a look at Vatican City’s hottest priests? Someone will totally sell a calendar to you. Right there next to the 10,000 other tackiest items for sale along the street that leads to St. Peter’s Basilica. It’s just black-and-white prints of photos taken on the streets in the Vatican during special days. Less appropriate sexy funtimes can be found in the Orthodox Church; the video is mildly unsafe for worth in that the camera ogles shirtless young men while they are laved from a font by a man wearing a chausuble, and that sort of thing, but the still photos are…wait, do you work in a cubicle? You don’t want to seem like this guy from the Key and Peele sketch as you’re surfing the Gaily Grind. I’ve gone tacky figurines and blessed amulets shopping there before, to buy things for Margaret, my granddad’s…maid, sort of? Housekeeper? She lived with him for more than 30 years. She was an adorable, tiny old Irish woman with a number of teeth fewer than is commonly seen, and would always fuss over how much you’d grown and make you (this was mandatory) “just a cup of tea and an English muffin with a bit of butter on it.” She planned to retire at 75. She didn’t actually know exactly how old she was, until my grandfather went to her hometown while in Ireland and looked her up in the parish church. She was older than she thought, a fact which pleases, as Agatha Christie notes, only those younger than 16 and over 80. Her three children put her in an old folk’s home as soon as she turned up. That was some King Lear shit. She called and pleaded with my grandfather to bust her out of this crummy place in New Jersey. And so she returned to her room next to the kitchen, with the old TV and the crucifixes, and the framed photos of Pope John Paul II, and performed increasingly light duties like making breakfast until she was in her late 80s or even early 90s and she needed nearby assisted living for real because she couldn’t manage the stairs. Mildly disjointly, I think the vast majority of the breakfasts my grandfather consumed during his life were brought to his bedroom on a tray and included fresh-squeezed orange juice. Sometimes he would go retrieve the prepared tray himself, but I count this the same. And WWII obviously dragged the numbers down a bit. This is a noble life goal to which we should all aspire.

Even then my grandfather would drive over to see her every Sunday. He would pick her up, take her to church, go to church himself which was shorter because he had the common sense to be an Episcopalian (though it seemed at times he actually believed, a thing likely to cause a furrowed brow among his friends) and then take her back. He didn’t even want to go to church in town! After she died he started to go to the closer Bridgehampton church he preferred, mostly IMO because they have a half-hour service at 8 a.m. without hymns, and one can get the whole thing over with and get a good tee time with leeway for a Bloody Mary, all quite early in the day. The hymns are the best part, though, so going to this service sucked. Also it was too early. Yet one felt obliged to go. But the priest there is a lovely person who married me and John and also baptized both our children. “But why, Belle, that seems like a lot of trouble to go through seeing as you’re not, in fact, a Christian?” Look, being Episcopalian is a social thing, like being a secular Jew, but with a bit more ritual effort required. Anyway it made my grandfather happy. That was the main point. Also, there’s this one awesome part where the priest anoints the kid with chrism and says “CHRIST CLAIMS YOU FOR HIS OWN.” One definitely gets the sense then that if the post-death regions exist and are not quite as one has imagined them, nonetheless one will be on firm ground. You should think of it as an excuse to throw a catered betting party with your friend-with-benefits Pascal.

Sometimes it seems as if Richard Dawkins is on a crusade to prove that atheists can be just as narrow-minded as religious people. He’s winning. He’s a hyuuuge, classy winner at this crusade. (Of crusades generally, the Children’s Crusade is at the bottom, because it was a loser crusade. For LOSERS! Barely any of those kids even made it back. Ask Donald Trump about whether POWs can be heroes. TIP: THEY CAN’T.)

As you assuredly know, a young man in Texas was recently arrested for a “bomb hoax.” Some people think it’s hoaxes all the way down. Dawkins and his compadres are making extraordinary claims, which require…well, any evidence at all, one feels. Let us imagine Ahmed Mohamed’s family has engineered a stunt. Ahmed makes (for some value of make which includes tinkering with maker modules or disassembling and reassembling old electronics. I mean, if you call that making. Which, tbh, I do.) Wait, that wasn’t a sentence. Anyway, he makes a ‘looks-like-a-bomb-on-purpose-but-is-a-clock.’ This thing, note, is in fact: a clock. Although the young man claims deep insight into the nature of time, he is obviously just aping Heidegger in a juvenile fashion, but so be it–so long as it be noted that I have noted he didn’t provide the police a fully satisfactory answer about what the passage of time really entails, I mean, what does the clock tell you when it tells you that another minute has passed and that now, it is now. My rigorous honesty compels me to denigrate his “clock,” simply because I am devoted to The Truth. It’s like this asshole some guy says:

Because, is it possible, that maybe, just maybe, this was actually a hoax bomb? A silly prank that was taken the wrong way? That the media then ran with, and everyone else got carried away? Maybe there wasn’t even any racial or religious bias on the parts of the teachers and police.

I don’t know any of these things. But I’m intellectually mature enough to admit I don’t know, and to also be OK with that. I don’t feel a need to take the first exit to conclusionville. But I do like to find facts where I can, and prefer to let them lead me to conclusions, rather than a knee jerk judgement based on a headline or sound bite.

Wow. Much openminded. So scientific. OK, sorry, I keep getting off-track for some reason. Right, this hoax is designed to get Ahmed Mohamed reprimanded at school, then arrested, and then become an internet cause celébrè, and then get invited to the White House. First of all, Ahmed and his family have to have judged the over/under for “young brown man thought armed with deadly weapon getting shot by the police” vs. “grievance-mongerer fêted by liberal elitists” a safe bet. I, like, would not take those odds at all. Secondly, for this plan to work, the teachers and police officers have to act like morons all up and down the line. There’s no other way. Really, it has to be a Confederacy of Dunces down there. Do these Clock Truthers realize their grim vision of Texan society is far, far more cynical than mine? Dawkins’ zealotry has obviously clouded his judgment, something which often befalls fundamentalists. To be undeservedly fair, Dawkins has perhaps been walking this back but, you know how it is. You’re a well-respected biologist–but ONE pig. It happens to, like everyone. It’s an experimental phase!

OK for real this is maybe the best thing in a newspaper ever: “David Cameron will not ‘dignify’ allegations that he once ‘inserted a private part of his anatomy’ into a dead pig’s mouth with a response, Downing Street has said.”

Also, this is why I could never be elected to higher office. If I had a wang I would so totally have stuck it in a roast suckling pig by now.

Sunday photoblogging: fountain

by Chris Bertram on September 20, 2015

Fountain

Rugby World Cup Open Thread

by Kieran Healy on September 18, 2015

The competition just kicked off with England v Fiji. (Come on you Pacific Islanders.) I don’t have strong views on who’s likely to win, just the usual quiet self-confidence in the robust predictive value of national stereotypes. More informed commentators than I can weigh in below about the likely outcomes. As always, though, the one constant truth of all sporting competition remains clear and strong: Anyone but England.

Why Corbyn won, the Peter Mair explanation

by Chris Bertram on September 15, 2015

Over at the Monkey Cage, our very own Henry Farrell [sets out how Peter Mair’s brilliant *Ruling the Void*](http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/monkey-cage/wp/2015/09/14/this-book-explains-why-jeremy-corbyn-now-leads-labour-its-author-died-in-2011/) helps explain Corbyn’s recent triumph. A shout-out too for my friend [Martin O’Neill’s treatment of Corbyn’s victory at Al Jazeera](http://america.aljazeera.com/opinions/2015/9/the-unexpected-rise-of-jeremy-corbyn.html).