From the monthly archives:

June 2016

Podcasts I just listened to

by John Holbo on June 30, 2016

Anyone have podcasts they like? I listen to a lot. Always up for something new and good. Or even something bad, maybe.

I just listened to an interview with Leslie Reagan, on On The Media. She’s a historian of abortion politics (here’s her book). She talks about how the movement to legalize abortion in the US got a double push, first from fear of rubella-related birth-defects, then from fear of thalydomide-related birth defects. (This is the late-50’s, early 60’s.) In a nutshell, ‘dangerous pregnancy’ had to be made vivid – pictorially vivid – as something that could happen to ‘good’ white women. I’m not sure whether this makes a difference to how we think about the politics of abortion today in the US. (There’s a zika virus hook, for the podcast. Will Catholic countries facing zika outbreaks lift bans on abortion?) But I found it very interesting because if you’d asked me about the US politics of abortion in the 50’s and 60’s I would have drawn a total blank. I would have said ‘something about the sexual revolution?’ and then realized, as the words left my mouth, that this didn’t sound right.

Second, I just listened to a Federalist podcast interview with Randy Barnett. Not my cup of tea, usually, but I have an interest in Barnett’s stuff. The guy really has a bug in his ear about John Roberts. A couple months back he was blaming Roberts for Trump and I was like – fine, fine, you lost your Obamacare case. You are a bit bitter, venting steam. But he’s still banging on about how Roberts is the betrayer-in-chief of the Constitution, hence to blame for Trump. This is polemically unfair, in ways I could spell out, but won’t. (If you really want to ask, that’s what comments are for.) But I’ve got to wonder whether this sort of thing isn’t really pissing off Roberts. It would piss me off, if I were Roberts. Barnett isn’t just some guy. He’s like the brain and soul of the Federalist Society, these days. A bit of on-again, off-again grousing about Roberts’ ‘bad’ decisions is one thing. But Roberts is shaping up to be this consistent, vile Judas in the conservative imaginary. Roberts is going to be Chief for a while, I expect. Dale Carnegie would suggest that the way to work the refs effectively is not this. If Roberts actually turns into some flaming Living Constitutionalist slave-to-the-democratic-mob in 20 years, maybe you can give Barnett half credit.

Boris Johnson

by Henry on June 28, 2016

The first time I heard the name Boris Johnson was in the early 1990s. I was in graduate school, and one of the ways I made a little money during the summer was by helping shepherd tours of American policy people around Brussels to be lectured by various dignitaries and then writing up reports. One year, my Americans were treated to a performance by a prominent UK member of the Brussels press corps, who was clearly enjoying himself immensely. The larger part of his talk focused on Boris Johnson, who was then the Daily Telegraph’s Brussels correspondent. The journalist told of how Johnson clearly was completely at sea in Brussels, and at a loss for what to report on. Other reporters quickly noted that he had a sweet tooth for stories about this or that regulatory horror that Brussels bureaucrats were about to inflict on unsuspecting Britons. They started an informal pool, to see what was the most ridiculously exaggerated story that they could stuff into Boris, which he would then relay as gospel truth to Telegraph readers. The speaker suggested (perhaps exaggerating for effect) that they hadn’t yet been able to find a story so ludicrous that Boris wouldn’t gulp it down.

It’s Boris who’s having the last laugh though, isn’t it.

PSA: ATM skimmers

by Eszter Hargittai on June 28, 2016

I suspect – hope – many have heard of ATM scammers, people who try to get information about your card while you are withdrawing cash from an ATM. I will usually look at a machine to see if it looks like someone has tampered with it and I always use my other hand to cover the one entering the PIN. Perhaps that’s silly, but it’s not much of an inconvenience and it’s routine for me now. But as far as I know, I have never encountered an actual ATM skimmer, thankfully.

A security expert happened upon one during his travels recently and captured it on video. In addition to reading his account of it, I highly recommend a careful look at this image from another observer who breaks down very carefully how some components of the ATM (most importantly the section next to where you insert the card) was different from the adjacent ATM that did not have a skimmer. That is likely where the camera resided. In addition to the skimmer, there is usually a camera nearby that captures your motions entering the PIN (if I am understanding this correctly, but do correct me if I am wrong), which is why I tend to cover my hand (and have noticed that now some machines supply some coverage themselves). Snopes has pictures of another version, an older model.

I found the video interesting as I find actual examples of such things helpful thus this public service announcement. Hopefully no one here has related experiences, but if you do, please share.

The Schengen option ?

by John Quiggin on June 28, 2016

Like most people outside Britain (and, it seems, like most British people, politicans and pundits as well as voters) I hadn’t paid a lot of attention to the detailed implications of a Leave vote until it actually happened. Now that it has happened, the details matter. In particular, it seems that Boris Johnson and other leaders of the Leave campaign (though presumably not UKIP) are hoping to promote either the “Switzerland” or “Norway” options. I thought I’d check on the implications of these options for migration policy and AFAICT, both Norway and Switzerland are Schengen visa countries. So, on the face of it, those Leavers who supported continued market access on the Norway/Switerland model have voted for removal of existing controls on migration rather than the imposition of new ones.

I assume that Johnson and others have in mind a negotiation in which Britain (or England) gets the market access bits of the Norway/Switzerland options, while maintaining the existing opt-outs negotiated as an EU member. But why should the EU offer this? In particular, if Scotland becomes independent and joins the EU, the Scots will presumably want to maintain free access to England, while the rest of the EU would be unlikely to allow Scotland to remain under English border controls. In any case, the whole logic of the EU position is that Britain should not be able to pick and choose.

On the basis of an admittedly perfunctory search, I haven’t been able to find more than passing discussion of this question. Can anyone point me to more comprehensive analysis?

Kierkegaard: Jokes, Ideals, Revise and Resubmit

by John Holbo on June 27, 2016

Jokes first. This one is not so funny. Kierkegaard’s life basically was a “Hark! A Vagrant” strip. So what’s there to work with? But this one nails it. I think there should be a good one about “The Seducer’s Diary” and pick-up artistry. Negging and Hegelian negative? Can’t put my finger on it.

This one is ok, but, here again, the trouble with turning Kierkegaard into jokes is that, honestly, it was as funny in the original. Example: [click to continue…]

Reaping the Whirlwind

by John Quiggin on June 26, 2016

I’ve been trying to make sense of the Brexit (or rather E-exit) vote in terms of the “three-party system” analysis I put forward a while back. The result, over the fold, is a piece in Inside Story, an Australian magazine.

The key point is, that, in the absence of a coherent left alternative, neoliberalism (hard and soft) is being overwhelmed by a tribalist backlash. Writing this, I realise it might be construed as criticism of Corbyn for failing to develop and propose such an alternative in the referendum campaign. That would be a bad misreading. The context of the referendum meant that it was always going to be a choice of evils: between the racism and bigotry that animated so much of the Leave campaign, and the neoliberalism of both the Cameron government and the EU. The option of a social democratic, or even soft neoliberal, EU was not on the ballot.

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Sunday photoblogging: Floating Harbour in Bristol

by Chris Bertram on June 26, 2016

Floating Harbour

So, first off all, the main blame falls on Cameron and his friends. He called an entirely unnecessary, and for most of the electorate unwanted, referendum, which risked the Union (and how anyone can now resist a second Scottish independence referendum with a straight face now is beyond me) solely for reasons to do with the interests of his party. The result is exactly the one anyone would have predicted (and many of our pro-Brexit commentators did) after a Brexit campaign that has lasted about 25 years, and knowing the the Remain campaign would be led by a bunch of out-of-touch toffs with a history of public dishonesty. (Of course, the Brexit campaign was led by similar types, but had a 25 year head start).

Then, unsurprisingly, the Remain campaign, led by those toffs, started scaremongering in ways that were dishonest and implausible. No, this will not provoke war in Europe. This was always going to be a Tory-led campaign (because they are the government), and unfortunately the leaders were people whose every appearance rankled with anti-establishment voters. Corbyn could (if he were a different kind of person) have joined the chorus and campaigned in the same vein. But there’s no reason to believe that would have helped. From what I heard from Labour canvassers in pro-exit wards they were overwhelmed by the anti-EU sentiment on the doorstep. Of course they argued, but even when you ‘win’ an argument like that (which maybe you can if, as in some cases, they have known you as their councillor for the last 30 years) you cannot be sure they are going to vote your way.

When the Northeastern votes started coming in, commentators were blaming Labour for not getting out the vote. But the thing about GOTV operations is that it is they make a lot of sense when you expect your voters to vote for you but they are really quite spectacularly stupid you know they will vote against you. If Labour MPs and council members in the Northeast did sit on their hands, they did exactly the right thing — the thing that maximized the chances for Remain to win.

Imagine Labour had been led by a former SPAD, establishment, Oxbridge-type euro-enthusiast instead of Corbyn. Knowing what you know now, do you think that would have been better? (Don’t imagine, instead, that Alan Johnson had been leader — he was not on offer!). For much of the 25 years of the Brexit campaign, the Labour mainstream has been gently assisting it by expressing contempt for, and disregarding the interests of, exactly the kinds of Labour voters who have started defecting to UKIP, and who voted for leave. The ‘blame Corbyn’ movement says that it has been entirely irresponsible of Jeremy Corbyn, and shows his lack of competence, that he has failed, in his 9 months as leader, to turn the tide and win all those people back not just to voting Labour, but to supporting the EU with enthusiasm. No doubt Andy Burnham or Yvette Cooper or Liz Kendall would have succeeded!

And now England has voted for Exit, and Scotland will, presumably, secede. And Corbyn’s enemies are seizing on this chance to do him in. But how will replacing Corbyn with a former-SPAD establishment, Oxbridge-type, euro-enthusiast help Labour’s position in this new environment? I’m curious what the sensible story is about this. Or, maybe, they are planning to replace him with McDonnell.

Brexit: the bloodbath

by Chris Bertram on June 24, 2016

Went to bed feeling optimistic, believing the late polls and the bookies, and turned the radio on at 4.20 to hear Nigel Farage gloating. A coalition of English and Welsh voters, advanced in years, low in education, and xenophobic in attitude, have enabled the worst and most reactionary people in British society, made it extremely likely that Scotland will secede, undermined the peace settlement on the island of Ireland, and destroyed the UK’s access to the single market. They have made it likely that their children and grandchildren will be deprived of the right of free movement within the EU. The pound is tanking and the stock market too. Imports will be more expensive, inflation will rise, house prices will fall but interest rate rises will keep the cost of being housed high. Immigration will probably fall, but not because “we” regained “control of our borders” but because immigrants come for jobs and there will be way fewer of those. Already we have the farce of areas of the country, like Cornwall, that voted for Brexit demanding that central government guarantee that the EU subsidies they get will be replaced. And then the horrible lying politics of the whole campaign, with Leave claiming that money saved on the EU would be diverted to the NHS (a commitment Farage repudiated within hours of the result). Little England with Wales is a poorer, narrower, stingier place. Cameron, the most incompetent Prime Minister in British history and the architect of this disaster is walking away, to be replaced by a hard right Tory administration under the leadership of Gove, May or the Trumpesque clown Johnson. People, we are well and truly fucked.

From the same stable as some of Harry’s recommendations, the song that I had always meant to post in this eventuality:

The New St George?

by Harry on June 24, 2016

I said to a student that the British were deciding whether to leave Europe and she said, with shocked puzzlement on her face, “But where will they go?” She’s quite funny.

Discuss away. Please be civil and polite to those you disagree with (and those you agree with, for that matter) — unless you are a Tory addressing another Tory, in which case I guess that bird has flown and you should just enjoy yourself.

On Beyond Zarathustra – Z Speaks!

by John Holbo on June 23, 2016

[UPDATE March 21, 2021]: Looking for the latest On Beyond Zarathustra? It’s here. I’m updating old posts with outdated links.

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Why we should sign the Thomas Pogge Open Letter

by Ingrid Robeyns on June 22, 2016

In some circles, there have been rumours going around for a while that Thomas Pogge, the hugely influential global justice philosopher, has been having sexual affairs with several students, and has been engaging in inappropriate sexual behaviour towards other female students. Earlier this week, the academic community seems to have lost its faith in the formal institutions being able to adequately deal with the complaints by the accusers, and more than 160 (mainly philosophy) professors have signed an Open Letter “to express [their] opposition to sexual harassment and sexual misconduct in higher education” and condemning Pogge’s “harmful actions against women”. (Anyone not knowing enough about the Pogge case can find the relevant background information via the links in the Open Letter). In the meantime several hundreds have added their signature to the Open Letter, and many others have been invited to do so.

There are many academic philosophers who hold the view that as a scholar Pogge has made important contributions to the literatures on theories of justice, and global justice in particular. And for decades Pogge has generously supported scholars, without regard of institutional affiliation or their fame or seniority – often opening opportunities that helped these people pursue their careers. Many of these collaborators or mentees of Pogge (including young women) never had unpleasant encounters with him, and in fact have regarded him as a highly valued colleague. So naturally they feel this is all very painful and tragic – an unfolding of events that is harming not just the victims, but everyone. Pogge’s reputation is deeply damaged, but also the reputation of the fields to which he has been a major contributor has been damaged, and perhaps even the activist causes he has been trying to advance.

The letter has been circulating widely, and many individuals have been invited to sign. It will increasingly be difficult for people to not have heard about the Open Letter at all. This has led many to ask themselves: should we sign this letter?
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Forgetting Oneself

by John Holbo on June 22, 2016

Per this post, I’m preparing to teach Kierkegaard. My main frustration with The Concept of Anxiety is that I really, really have a hard time telling what Kierkegaard’s concept of anxiety is. Journal entries like this don’t exactly narrow it down: “All existence [Tilværelsen], from the smallest fly to the mysteries of the Incarnation, makes me anxious.” So I’ll dodge that for now. Here’s another Notebooks quote. [click to continue…]

Philosophy and Smarts

by John Holbo on June 22, 2016

Interesting interview with Joshua Knobe (via Daily Nous).

At present, you are appointed in both the cognitive science program and philosophy department at Yale. Your office is located in the Yale psychology department and you work with psychology students. How do the values of these different academic cultures differ?

It has been fascinating to experience these two quite different cultures up close. The two disciplines differ in numerous ways; and I think that each of them has a lot to learn from the other. I’ll focus here on just one difference that strikes me as especially important.

Within philosophy, there is an almost absurd value placed on intelligence. Just imagine what might happen if a philosophy department were faced with a choice between (a) a job candidate who has consistently made valuable contributions in research and teaching and (b) a candidate who has not made any valuable contributions in either of these domains but who is universally believed to be extraordinarily smart. In such a case, I fear that many philosophy departments would actually choose the latter candidate.

In psychology, it is exactly the opposite. When people are trying to decide whether to hire a given candidate, the question is never, “How smart is she?” Instead, the question is always, “What has she actually discovered?” If you haven’t contributed anything of value, there is basically no chance at all that you will be hired just for having a high I.Q.

This cultural difference results in a quite radical difference in the atmosphere that one finds in graduate education. Philosophy students experience constant anxiety about whether they are smart enough. Psychology students also experience a lot of anxiety, but it is about a completely different topic. They have this ever-present sense that they absolutely must find some way to make a concrete contribution to the field.

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