From the monthly archives:

February 2017

Pézenas, street

by Chris Bertram on February 26, 2017

Pézenas: street

Decent conservatives

by John Quiggin on February 26, 2017

Since Trump’s election victory, there’s been a lot of concern trolling (and maybe some genuine concern) that resistance to Trump will alienate decent conservatives who held their noses while voting for Trump, but might be attracted away from him by a suitably respectful presentation of a centre-right Democratic agenda. A notable recent entry is a piece in the New York Times by Sabrina Tavernise, which profiles three such voters, only one of whom has any criticism to make of Trump. The others complain that liberals have been mean to them, but make it pretty clear they would vote for Trump regardless. As is inevitable in such a piece, Jonathan Haidt gets a run – he’s the only expert quoted by name.
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Russell Hardin has died

by Henry on February 26, 2017

Russell Hardin died last night. I’m not competent even to begin to assess his overall intellectual contribution. What I can do is talk about what his work meant for me. I read – like pretty well every political science graduate student of my generation, and others previous and since – his seminal book on collective action theory. But how I really got to know him was through his work on trust as an encapsulation of interest. Thanks to the kindness of Margaret Levi, I became involved in the project that she, Russell and Karen Cook were running on trust for the Russell Sage Foundation, and a larger orbit of left scholars interested in rational choice. It was the making of more or less everything that I’ve written since, both directly, and through the people it introduced me to. My dissertation and subsequent book were in large part applications of Russell’s ideas. The single cleanest paper I’ve written not only was a riff on Russell’s arguments, but came out of his suggestion that I should take up an off the cuff comment and develop it to see where it goes. He was far kinder to me than he needed to be.

There was a period at the University of Chicago when Russell, Adam Przeworski and Jon Elster were all teaching in the political science department, arguing with each other, and creating through their agreements and disagreements a vision of what the left should be. I think that vision still has an awful lot to say for it. Of Russell’s later work, the book I like the most is How Do You Know? It’s not as perfect in itself as his books on collective action and trust, but it’s quite characteristic of the ways in which (like Brian Barry) he mixed analytic philosophy with a very practical interest in concrete problems. The questions that he raises – of how our knowledge depends on social and collective structures that we do not really understand – seem very relevant now that many of these structures are behaving perversely or breaking down completely. He will be missed and remembered.

He Took It All Too Far/But This is an Excellent Article

by Belle Waring on February 25, 2017

This is an amazing article at Medium (h/t Paul Campos) that obviates my unexpressed need to write about Gamergate or Milo Thingface. I wanted to write about the former at the time, and John said there was almost no upside (I wrote a post about dickweasels!) and infinity downside (I became the target of a random whirling roulette wheel of internet and even IRL destruction because I am a woman who wrote about dickweasels.) Compelling! Likewise he counsels me not to write about the crazy MRA bloggers with whom I have such an unfortunate obsession. I, like, have a problem. I know way too much stuff about the manosphere. I read reddit threads, you guys. But whatever, let’s just read this article about 4chan that explains everything! (And truly, if you don’t know about the rare Pepe memes, here’s your better than Vox explainer). Whenever you say something’s full of fail, you owe a debt to 4chan, you know. (Plain People of Crooked Timber: we never say that, Belle. Me: well…dang.) The author has the inside scoop.

As someone who has witnessed 4chan grow from a group of adolescent boys who could fit into a single room at my local anime convention to a worldwide coalition of right wing extremists (which is still somehow also a message board about anime), I feel I have some obligation to explain….

Again, here we can understand this group as people who have failed at the real world and have checked out of it and into the fantasy worlds of internet forums and video games. These are men without jobs, without prospects, and by extension (so they declaimed) without girlfriends. Their only recourse, the only place they feel effective, is the safe, perfectly cultivated worlds of the games they enter. By consequence of their defeat, the distant, abstract concept of women in the flesh makes them feel humiliated and rejected. Yet, in the one space they feel they can escape the realities of this, the world of the video game, here (to them, it seems) women want to assert their presence and power.

If this sounds hard to believe, take for example Milo Yiannopoulos, the “Technology Editor” at Breitbart News, whose scheduled lecture this month at Berkeley spawned massive riots and protests. Yiannopoulos rose to prominence via Gamergate. He is not a “technology” editor because he compares the chip architectures of competing graphics cards. [This is the sickest of burns–BW] Rather the “tech” here is code for the fact that his audience is the vast population of sad young men who have retreated to internet communities. Likewise the mainstream press sometimes describes him as troll as a way of capturing his vague association with 4chan. This term, too, is inaccurate. He is 4chan at its most earnest, after all these men have finally discovered their issue — the thing that unites them — their failure and powerlessness literally embodied (to them) by women….

Here Yiannopoulos has inverted what has actually happened to make his audience feel good. Men who have retreated to video games and internet porn can now characterize their helpless flight as an empowered conscious choice to reject women for something else. In other words, it justifies a lifestyle which in their hearts they previously regarded helplessly as a mark of shame.

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Hospitals Are Terrible

by Belle Waring on February 23, 2017

Being in a multi-bed room overnight, or being in the OR, or even sometimes when the chemotherapy room is crowded over-full and they are putting people in cheap plastic chairs before hooking them up to clear bags of poison–this is the worst. And the worst thing about being in the hospital overnight is that you can’t sleep. I understand intellectually that your doctors need to know what your blood pressure is. I mean, sort of. What if you don’t have any heart problems? Why always with the blood pressure? But between your IV bag running out and beeping and the irrational fear that air bubbles will get inside you and kill you, and the checking of the temperature and blood pressure every four hours, and the breakfast you actively don’t want being slammed down at 6:30, and the cleaning staff, well, you don’t sleep. No knitting up the raveled sleeve of care for you! And this is true even in a private room! This article in the NYT explores a very obvious point, namely that multi-bed wards are a terrible idea all the time. I felt vindicated to read that the decrease in hospital-borne infections outweighs the cost of constructing a hospital with individual rooms.

As a doctor, I’m struck daily by how much better hospitals could be designed. Hospitals are among the most expensive facilities to build, with complex infrastructures, technologies, regulations and safety codes. But evidence suggests we’ve been building them all wrong — and that the deficiencies aren’t simply unaesthetic or inconvenient. All those design flaws may be killing us.

It’s no secret that hospital-acquired infections are an enormous contributor to illness and death, affecting up to 30 percent of intensive care unit patients. But housing patients together very likely exacerbates the problem. Research suggests that private rooms can reduce the risk of both airborne infections and those transmitted by touching contaminated surfaces. One study reported that transitioning from shared to private rooms decreased bacterial infections by half and reduced how long patients were hospitalized by 10 percent. Other work suggests that the increased cost of single-occupancy rooms is more than offset by the money saved because of fewer infections. Installing easier-to-clean surfaces, well-positioned sinks and high-quality air filters can further reduce infection rates.

The whole thing is worth a read. Perhaps unsurprisingly, having a window out of which you can look at trees or nature has a huge impact on recovery time. I personally have always wanted to get the Magic Mountain treatment in which I am bundled in specially folded blankets and put out on a lounger to enjoy a view of the Alps.

The author doesn’t discuss bad fluorescents, though the commenters do. New compact bulbs can mimic the warmer light of incandesents reasonably well now, and that is another terrible hospital thing that could be fixed. I feel I should note two things here. One, the staff at hospitals is almost uniformly composed of kind helpful people who are working very hard. Nurses are great. The sub-nurses who are supposed to be just emptying bedpans or whatever are delightful. But let’s be honest: the actual doctors are the least friendly. Sorry actual doctors. I know you are busy. (But so are the ladies emptying the bedpans, probably?) Two, I am not in the hospital or accompanying anyone to same at the moment and this is just a general complaint so don’t worry about me; more importantly my migraine treatment worked. Since I made it to the first week (at which the Botox takes full effect) I have used my migraine meds only once. John was disappointed that I can have a headache at all but he doesn’t know that not having a real migraine every day after having had that happen for months oh God is a fairy wonderland (I don’t know why I’m not being more sparkly and cheerful all the time; I’m sorry, beloved family. I have terrible jet lag still). I asked my neurologist if there were any side effects and he said, “you’ll be running back here every twelve weeks begging me to do it again, but other than that, no.” OMG Dr. Fineman you are right. Thanks for the Tinkerbell-clapping, everyone! Now tell me of your experiences with flimsy curtains separating you from people with dementia shouting all night. The airing of grievances can be therapeutic; anyway it’s better than reading articles about politics amirite?

Bastiat anticipates climate science denialism

by John Quiggin on February 23, 2017

I’m working on the environmental policy chapter of my book-in-progress, Economics in Two Lessons, which is a reply to Hazlitt’s Economics in One Lesson, which in turn is a repackaging of Bastiat’s What Is Seen and What Is Not Seen. Hazlitt was aware of the difficulties posed for laissez-faire by pollution, and chose to avoid the issue. But, on Googling Bastiat + pollution, I came across a remarkable package in which Bastiat anticipates the climate change debate and takes the denialist side in advancee.

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Kenneth Arrow has died

by Henry on February 22, 2017

Arrow was a wonderful economist and from all accounts that I’ve heard, a very good guy. Others are much better able to evaluate the technical contribution than I am. Still, It always gave me a little pleasure that the person who had co-discovered the foundational account of general equilibrium, and more than anyone else, had built the basics of social choice theory was a cheerful social democrat. My old co-supervisor, Colin Crouch, told me about the time that he met Arrow at a conference in the Vatican and wandered off together with him to chat about their bemusement at the odd life chances that had brought two left-wing Jewish boys together to roam the corridors of the Catholic Church’s sanctum sanctorum. Arrow was also a one-time Crooked Timber seminar participant – we’re lucky to have had him, and I’m glad of the contact, however slight and glancing, that editing the piece involved.

Sunday photoblogging: crane

by Chris Bertram on February 19, 2017

Crane

Durkheimian Utilitarianism

by John Holbo on February 19, 2017

This post continues what has evolved into my critical series on Jonathan Haidt (see parts 1 and 2). The burden of the first two posts was: probably a good time to talk about justice, eh? So let’s. I’m going to split it into two, so I can kvetch about how Haidt is confused about Mill (this post), then try to do better myself (next post).

I got email about my last post (not just comments!) suggesting Haidt could do better than I give him credit for. I am 100% sure this is correct. I reconstructed Haidt’s argument with a conspicuously cloudy Premise 3: “something something plurality something pluralism something diversity?” I am sure Haidt could tighten that one up. Yet it does not seem to me he, in fact, has. In this post I am going to lay out textual evidence. Having done my best to expose the logical worst, I’m going to close this post by trying to say how he got into this hole. Honestly, I think I get it. He wants to have his Mill and eat his Durkheim, too. Best of both. I also get why he might feel his bridge from Durkheim to Mill might be load-bearing.

First, a basic point about the sense of ‘justice’ at issue in this post. (A sense we will have to broaden if and when I get around to the follow-up.)

Haidt is, we know, concerned about under-representation of conservatives in academe. There are two possible grounds for such concern.

1) It’s distributively unfair, hence unjust to conservatives, if there is viewpoint discrimination against them, as a result of which they fail to gain employment (or they lose employment).

2) It’s intellectually damaging to debate to have few conservatives present in conversations in which, predictably, liberals and conservatives will find themselves at odds.

I have no idea what Haidt thinks about 1. His arguments concern 2, so I’m going to focus on that. Justice as in: optimal intellectual balance. Epistemic justice. Justice as in justification. Not distributive justice.

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Not-Normal, To Be Sure. But How Normal Is That?

by John Holbo on February 18, 2017

Trump is not normal. He should not be treated as normal. I quite agree. But how normal has it been in US politics for a not-normal possibility to loom, as a real possibility?

We don’t write histories of the New Deal as “The Period When, But For An Assassin’s Bullet, Huey Long Might Have Changed Everything”. We call that period: The New Deal.

We don’t write histories of the Clinton Era as “The Period When, If He Hadn’t Dropped Out, Before Getting Back In, Ross Perot Might Have Been President”. We call those years: The Clinton Years.

If Trump had lost in 2016, I don’t know what era we would be in but it wouldn’t be “The Almost-Trump Years”.

We don’t do Almost Black Swan, when it comes to labeling eras. But, as in horseshoes and hand-grenades, ‘almost’ ought to count for something. Huey Long and Ross Perot are the populist ringers that occur to me as obvious Trump analogs. How many radical ‘almosts’ have their been, over the years? Suppose you went back through your US history textbook, reheading all the chapters. What are the biggest, craziest ‘almosts’ that barely weren’t?

This is, to repeat, not an argument for regarding Trump as normal.

What Are We Doing to Stay Sane?

by Belle Waring on February 17, 2017

Plain People of Crooked Timber: we’re not, you great idiot. We do ordinary things for up to fifteen minutes at a time and then suddenly the reality of the political situation comes rushing back to us and our forehead prickles with cold sweat and our heart bangs like Charlie Watts is going at it in a particularly vigorous live version of “Bitch,” or something. OK, no, you’ve got us, Belle Waring, it’s drinking.
Me: that’s nice for you probably sometimes but I picked the wrong life to stop drinking (apparently). Solange makes a lot of good suggestions in the following song, but starts with the obvious: “I tried to drink it away…”

This song is so good it will keep you sane for over four minutes.
Plain People of Crooked Timber: we love you but you have terrible taste in music, Belle Waring. Oh wait, damn, that song is great. We reserve the right to hate future songs, however, and we still have questions about your judgment.
Me: I don’t know that that’s so nice. What am I doing to stay sane, you didn’t particularly ask? Listening to music, that’s good, and hiking in the desert, and beading, and making a needlepoint of the opening screen of Super Mario Bros for Violet, and playing Animal Crossing, and having migraines. Can’t care about the body politic when you’ve got the old Boethius hat on, can you? However, I do not recommend this terrifying mighty distractive tool to anyone not currently serving in the Trump administration. That dead-eyed D-List-Goebbels/Pee Wee Herman guy, frex; he could be trying to puke out a headache right now and I’d feel fine with that. I had a nice neurologist inject my head with deadly botulin toxin on Monday afternoon and you must all do a save-Tinkerbell clapping thing for me whereby you wish very hard that this start to work soon. It very well should might better! So, what are you, the Plain People of Crooked Timber, doing to stay sane slowly inch away from the precipice of panicked madness? It’s ok if you’re huffing paint; no hate.

UPDATE: other things, called to mind by ozma and the Solange song: playing with adorable children; going alternately in the insanely hot hot tub and then the cold pool; changing my hair, which has been pastel blue, and then lavender, with white in between (needed prep) about 6 times each.

A double disaster for science and public health (updated)

by John Quiggin on February 16, 2017

Zombies never die, and that’s even more true of zombie ideas. One of the most thoroughly killed zombies, the myth that Rachel Carson is responsible for millions of deaths from DDT, has recently re-emerged from the rightwing nethersphere where it has continued to circulate despite repeated refutation. That wouldn’t be worth yet another long post except for the source: Dr Paul Offit, a prominent pediatrician and leading pro-vaccination campaigner, writing in the Daily Beast. Offit’s revival of the DDT ban myth is a double disaster for science and public health.

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Happy Valentine’s Day

by Belle Waring on February 14, 2017

Doilies! Glitter! Overpriced prix fixe menus! But there are songs too.

Is this the best soul song ever? Wait, no, the most beautiful? The way he makes his voice break on “please hear my cry” blows my mind every time.

I hope you all eat chocolate or enjoy the highest pleasure of souls entwined who, the modeling the other on Zeus, begin to grow wings because of their intense attraction to and vivid memory of the Forms, or whatever. But with less physical restraint? (The Phaedrus is not crystal clear on this point.) I’m going to finally see my honey at 10 pm on Monday!

Sunday photoblogging: steps

by Chris Bertram on February 12, 2017

Steps

Howl’s Moving Castle

by John Holbo on February 11, 2017

It’s good to see that National Review is awakening to the threat of one branch of government being afflicted by lunacy and threatening to ride roughshod over the other branches, and the Constitution.

I’ve been seeing much Facebook bemusement this morning over this opinion piece by Eugene Kontorovich.

More broadly, constitutional structure supports examining only executive statements to interpret executive action. When Trump made his most controversial statements, he was private citizen. He had not sworn to uphold the Constitution, or to take care that the laws be faithfully executed. He was, in this sense, a legally differently obligated person. His policies and their relation to the Constitution would presumably be affected by his oath — that is why the Constitution requires it.

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