From the monthly archives:

July 2016

Sunday Photoblogging: Sunflower Symmetry

by Ingrid Robeyns on July 31, 2016

Sunflower Since it seems unlikely that Chris will be posting one of his marvellous pictures today, I made this with my iPhone this afternoon – taken from the side of the road somewhere in the South of France.

Ever since my oldest son has developed a deep interest in flower arrangements, I’ve seen more flower art in my house than in my entire previous adult life. But the sunflower doesn’t need arranging: it’s most beautiful standing by itself, or with a few other sunflowers – each of them being a little piece of art in themselves.

So Donald Trump Jr. went to the Neshoba County Fair in Mississippi this week, where he said, vis-a-vis the Mississippi state flag, which is the only state flag that still invokes the Confederacy, “I believe in tradition.” Those Neshoba County fairgrounds are just a few miles from Philadelphia, Mississippi. The place indelibly associated with the murder of Chaney, Goodman, and Schwerner in 1964. So that tells you a lot about Donald Trump. Junior and Senior.

But it also tells you a lot about the Republican Party. Thirty-six years ago, almost to the day, Ronald Reagan, then a candidate for the presidency, also went to the Neshoba County Fair in Mississippi. There, he said, “I believe in states’ rights.” That, of course, had been the slogan for decades of racial segregation and Jim Crow. Like father, like son; like Reagan, like Trump.

But it also tells you something about the Democratic Party. [click to continue…]

Pre and Post-Scarcity Ecotheonomics

by John Holbo on July 29, 2016

Erick Erickson:

In Genesis, God put Adam and Eve to work in the garden. There is something soul nourishing about work. When we all get to Heaven we will all have jobs. Getting people comfortable not working sucks their souls away and destroys their families.

Two questions here. [click to continue…]

DNC Open Thread

by John Holbo on July 29, 2016

Thoughts and feelings. You know you have them.

Gag Me With Calhoun

by Corey Robin on July 27, 2016

After weeks of embarrassing publicity and political mobilization, Yale University has been forced to rehire Corey Menafee, an African American employee who was fired for smashing a stained glass window at Yale’s Calhoun College that depicted slaves shouldering bales of cotton. For over a year, Calhoun College has been the subject of intense national controversy because it is named after one of America’s foremost defenders of slavery and white supremacy. Menafee’s actions, firing, and now rehiring gave expression, and amplification, to the controversy.

But now there’s a new source of controversy: one of the conditions of Menafee’s rehiring is that he keep his mouth shut about the case.

But in a move more familiar in corporate labor proceedings than in an academic setting dedicated to free discourse, the university included in the agreement to rehire Menafee a provision that he will no longer be able to speak publicly about his case, the university confirmed….Provision #8 in the agreement reads: “The parties agree that neither Mr. Menafee, the Union, nor the University, nor counsel for any of these, will make any further statements to the public.”

The provision sparked outrage from demonstrators who stood in support of Menafee over the past two weeks.

While gag orders like this are indeed routine in corporate litigation and settlements, the restriction on employee speech is even more routine in workplaces across America. Indeed, for workers in the United States, it is the rule rather than the exception.

But that’s not what makes this particular gag order so interesting. [click to continue…]

Donald Trump: Moosbrugger for President

by David Auerbach on July 26, 2016

There is a void at the heart of Donald Trump. The critic Carlos Lozada found it by reading all of his books:

Over the course of 2,212 pages, I encountered a world where bragging is breathing and insulting is talking, where repetition and contradiction come standard, where vengefulness and insecurity erupt at random…But, judging from these books, I’m not sure how badly he really wants the presidency. “For me, you see, the important thing is the getting, not the having.”

Trump has spent his life building a brand, not defining the brand. The Trump brand is Donald Trump, master of the amorphous “deal.” All that matters in the deal is that you win, or more precisely, that you are seen to win. That he no longer owns most of the buildings bearing his name is of no matter; that most banks and developers refuse to work with him is irrelevant. That he has failed to accomplish much of anything besides being known is exactly his goal. But it raises an irksome question around his political candidacy: how do you build a cult of personality around someone without a personality? [click to continue…]

Do climate sceptics exist?

by John Quiggin on July 25, 2016

June 2016 was the hottest month globally since records began in 1880, and marks the fourteenth record month in a row. For the great majority of people who’ve been following scientific findings on climate, there’s no great surprise there. There is very strong evidence both for the existence of a warming trend due mainly to emissions of carbon dioxide, and for the occurrence of a peak in the El Nino/Southern Oscillation index. Combine the two, and a record high temperature is very likely.

But suppose you were a strongly sceptical person, who required more evidence than others to accept a scientific hypothesis, such as that of of anthropogenic climate change. Presumably, you would treat the evidence of the last couple of years as supporting the hypothesis. Perhaps this supporting evidence would be sufficient that you would regard the hypothesis as confirmed beyond reasonable doubt, perhaps not, but either way, you would be more favorably inclined than before. And, if you were a public commentator, willing to state your views honestly, you would say so.

Does such a sceptic exist? I haven’t seen one, although I follow the debate fairly closely. In fact, in the 25 years or so in which I’ve been following the issue, I can only recall one instance of someone described as a “sceptic” changing their view in the light of the evidence. And of course, his fellow sceptics, who’d been promising that his research would reveal massive errors in the temperature record, immediately decided that he’d never really been one of them. In any case, while Muller was and remains a scientific sceptic, he’s no longer a climate sceptic.

Operationally, it’s clear that the term “climate sceptic” means someone whose criteria for convincing evidence are those set out by the Onion.

I’d be happy to be proved wrong (by counterexample), but as far as I can see, if the ordinary usage of the term “sceptic” is applied, the world population of genuine climate sceptics is zero.

Last night, Donald Trump shocked the world, or at least the pundit class, when the New York Times published a wide-ranging interview Trump had given the paper on the subject of foreign policy.

Trump said some scary things: that he didn’t think, for example, that the US should necessarily come to the aid of a NATO country if it were attacked by Russia.

But he also said some things that were true. Like this:

When the world sees how bad the United States is and we start talking about civil liberties, I don’t think we are a very good messenger.

And while the article makes a muchness of Trump’s refusal to pressure Turkey over its response to the failed coup, the fact is that Obama hasn’t done anything concrete on that score either (as the article acknowledges). Nor did Obama do much about the coup in Egypt or Honduras. To the contrary, in fact.

But that wasn’t the focus of last night’s chatter on Twitter. Instead, the pundits and experts were keen to establish the absolutely unprecedented nature of Trump’s irresponsibility: his recklessness when it came to NATO,  his adventurism, his sheer reveling in being the Bad Boy of US Foreign Policy: this, it was agreed, was new.

In a tweet that got passed around by a lot of journalists, Peter Singer, senior fellow at the New America Foundation (who’s written a lot of books on US foreign policy), had this to say:

Hmm, let’s see. [click to continue…]

Regular readers know that I have a bit of a bee in my bonnet about improving the quality of teaching and learning in universities like mine. I believe that instruction in research institutions is suboptimal. What I mean by suboptimal is something like “quite a bit less good than it could be without large investments of time energy and attention”. Why do I believe that it is suboptimal, given that we have neither the measures of learning nor an agreed benchmark against which to make judgments about optimality? Simply because i) I think teaching (by which I mean making students learn) is really pretty difficult and requires a complex set of skills that need to be learned and practiced; and ii) teachers in higher education receive little or no training, engage in little or no professional development specifically devoted to improving their skills as teachers, and are not hired for their skills as teachers. I also believe that we operate in a highly imperfect market that does not press us to become optimal, because one of the main revenue sources – state legislators – do not really understand our business so even when well-willed they are not very good trustees of the public interest, and the other – payers of tuition – are as much interested in prestige as they are in learning. I don’t mean any disrespect to plumbers in saying this, but I think that teaching is at least as difficult as plumbing, and in general it would be surprising if someone with no training in plumbing, and no professional development relating to plumbing, and who had not been hired for their skills as a plumber, turned out to be an optimally good plumber. I don’t see why teaching should be any different.

Mostly, on CT, I’ve written about things I’ve done, or others have done, that seem to improve instruction or, more precisely, to make more learning happen: offering ideas of what seem to me like good practices for people to adopt, adapt, or criticize. I’ve been trying to think lately, though, about what an institution, with the will, and the resources, might do to create more systematic improvement. When I say ‘more systematic’ improvement, I mean ‘more systematic than not systematic at all’, which is what most of my posts have been – i.e., what I’m trying to think about is something more than just blog posts sharing good practices, and which can reach people for whom improving their instruction is not already a high priority.

In addition to wanting to be more systematic, though, I have reasonably modest aspirations. I don’t see how any institutional leaders, however great, could change the incentive structure and the culture around instruction at institutions like mine overnight – or even over a handful of years. What I am interested in are initiatives that would raise the average level of instruction, without large expenditures, and without substantial changes to the way we hire or tenure faculty or recruit TAs. (Not, I hasten to add, because I think those shouldn’t be changed, but because changing them would take a long time, and I want initiatives that can have effects right now, and because I hope that some such initiatives would be effective, anyway, in a system where hiring, tenure and TA-recruitment had been changed).

So here are some scattered and incomplete thoughts, which I hope will improve with time, and with input from readers. I’m especially interested in examples of institutional initiatives you know of that you think have worked reasonably well. And pretty much everything here is conjectural, and I’m open to it being quite wrongheaded.

[click to continue…]

Life in the party

by Henry on July 20, 2016

This rather unconvincing effort by Paul Ryan to lipstick the pig in his speech at the second day of the Republican convention:

We Republicans have made our choice. Have we had our arguments this year? Sure we have. You know what I call those? Signs of life. Signs of a party that is not just going through the motions, not just mouthing the words from the same old stuff.

reminds me of an old and likely apocryphal story about Daniel O’Connell’s time as a barrister:

One of O’Connell’s great displays of forensic acuteness took place at Tralee.

The question in dispute touched the validity of a will that had been made almost in articulo mortis. The instrument seemed drawn up in due form, the witnesses gave ample confirmation that it had been legally executed. One of them was an old servant. O’Connell cross-examined him, and allowed him to speak on in the hope that he would say too much. Nor was the hope disappointed. The witness had already sworn that he saw the deceased sign the will. ‘Yes,’ he went on, ‘I saw him sign it and surely there was life in him at the time.’ The expression frequently repeated led O’Connell to suspect that it had a peculiar meaning. Fixing his eyes on the old man, he said ‘You have taken an oath before God and man to speak the truth and the whole truth; the eye of God is upon you, and the eyes of your neighbours are fixed on you too. Answer me by virtue of that sacred and solemn oath which has passed your lips. Was the testator alive when he signed the will?’

The witness quivered; his face grew ashy pale as he repeated, ‘There was life in him.’ The question was reiterated, and at last O’Connell half compelled half cajoled him to admit that, after life was extinct, a pen had been put into the testator’s hand, that one of the party guided it to sign his name, while, as a salve for the consciences of all concerned, a living fly was put into the dead man’s mouth, to qualify the witnesses to bear testimony that ‘there was life in him’ when he signed the will. This fact, literally dragged from the witness, preserved a large property in a respectable and worthy family.

Also, Ryan’s claim that Republicans are “not just mouthing the words from the same old stuff” seems rather poorly phrased, considering. But your mileage may vary.

Nuclear math doesn’t add up

by John Quiggin on July 20, 2016

Writing in the National Review, Robert Bryce< of the Manhattan Institute criticises the Democratic Party platform for omitting any mention of nuclear power, and accuses the Democrats of failing to “do the math”. Unfortunately, although he throws some numbers about, he doesn’t do any math to support his key conclusion

But even if we doubled the rate of growth for wind and solar — and came up with a perfect method of electricity storage (which of course, doesn’t exist) — those renewables aren’t going to replace nuclear energy any time soon

So, I’ll do the math for him.
[click to continue…]

Winners at the RNC

by John Holbo on July 20, 2016

Well, Slavoj Zizek. He’s now only the world’s second most famous Slovenian plagiarist.

Sunday photoblogging: Hunter

by Chris Bertram on July 17, 2016

Maybe after Henri “le Douanier” Rousseau.

Hunter

A small story

by Henry on July 17, 2016

This Granta article, which I came across via The Browser, talks about the Irish War of Independence and Civil War, and family memories thereof. It reminded me of a small story that I meant to write about when the Easter Rising had its 100th anniversary a few months ago, but didn’t quite get around to. My grand-uncle Seamus, who died about 20 years ago, told me once that when he had been a small boy, he had wanted to go to a big parade of the Irish Volunteers with his older brothers (his father was nominally the Commander-in-Chief of the organization) but wasn’t allowed to, because he was too little. However, shortly after they had all left, Patrick Pearse called by the house, saw my grand-uncle crying, and picked him up and carried him into the center, to watch the parade on his shoulders. Obviously, this was an entirely trivial incident in itself, but its very ordinariness brought home to me how Pearse, despite all the posthumous mythologization and/or vilification, was an ordinary human being, who saw a child in distress, and wanted to comfort him.

Zarathustra and Kierkegaard

by John Holbo on July 15, 2016

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

I’ve been using my keyboard-free time to read news and be horrified, also to read as many hundreds of pages of Kierkegaard as I can before August. (When I get tired, I read Lord Dunsany, pagan palate-cleanser, when the Kierkegaardian Christianity gets too much.) So far I’ve gotten all the way through Either/Or, in the Penguin Classics edition, which is slightly abridged but – you know what? – I’m not complaining. (Have YOU ever read all the way through both volumes of Either/Or, as opposed to skimming “The Diary of a Seducer” for naughty bits, then getting disappointed and bored?) I have also made it through Philosophical Fragments, which is shorter but even more head-scratching. [click to continue…]