From the monthly archives:

April 2017

UK GE17 Open Thread

by Maria on April 18, 2017

Well in fairness, it hardly feels like summer is coming unless there is a massive, polarising electoral campaign in the UK.

On watching the PM call the election, issuing the death knell for Labour – a sentence the party is only to happy to carry out on itself – I had the same grim satisfaction I remember from boarding school, when the head-nun blasted apart a girl we all knew was innocent. We all stood in a semi-circle around the weeping victim of the precision tongue-lashing and watched as we’d been instructed to, sympathetic, appalled but also weirdly thrilled. Not by the spectacle itself, but by a grim gladness that even the pretence of even-handedness had finally been dropped. The bully in a habit was no longer acting otherwise. There’s always a next victim, and a next one, and in that place, the subsequent victim was me (public verbal demolition AND a face-slapping – from a great height, you fall a long way), but I can’t deny there was satisfaction, then, too.

Let’s watch this nasty show play out as what it really is.

Not Nothing and Speculating Late

by Ada Palmer on April 14, 2017

The “Not Nothing” in Thomas Carlyle’s Protagonization of History

a response to

John Holbo “Heroes and Aliens”

John Holbo’s essay is a masterwork of hinting without revealing, discussing pieces while keeping the veil across the whole.  As I read it, a visual kept entering my mind, of great hands reaching under the belly of a Leviathan, lifting it toward the ocean surface, not high enough to expose its shape or color, just enough for the many reefy knots and house-sized barnacles that stud its skin to poke up through the dark waves like an island chain, so the spectator on the shore can just make out that there is a living vastness in the deep whose structure connects makes many new-bared lands one.

My first contact with Carlyle’s Heroes, Hero Worship and the Heroic in History came suddenly, in my second year of grad school.  The title lurked on my list of required historiographical background reading, preparation for my oral exams, amid so many histories of Italian city-states, and rebuttals of Hans Baron.  My cohort and I were wolfing down a book a day in those months, looting each for thesis and argument, so we could regurgitate debates, and discuss how our own projects fit with the larger questions of the field.  Only two books refused on that list to be so digested: Carlyle’s, and Burkhardt’s The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy. [click to continue…]

The poverty of psychology, again

by John Quiggin on April 14, 2017

Chris’ post on psychological theories of anti-egalitarianism reminded me of one I’ve been meaning to write for a while, responding to a whole subgenre of the Haidt school of political psychology dealing with the question: why do people maintain false beliefs in the face of contrary evidence? There seems to be an article in the papers on this every week or two (unsurprisingly, given the political situatin), and they are nearly always much the same.

Given the assumption that this is a matter of individual psychology, the answer must be applicable to everyone, and, in the US context, “everyone” means “both Republicans and Democrats”. The answer is some irrational/antirational feature of individual belief formation, such as confirmation bias. I’m not going to pick on any particular writers; examples abound.
The obvious problem here is that, to a first approximation, people believe what members of their social groups believe. So, the relevant questions are:
*How do social groups maintain, or correct, false beliefs in the face of contrary evidence ?
* Under what circumstances do people break with false beliefs held by other members of their social group? If this happens, does it involve a break with the social group or the emergence of a dissident subgroup?

Once we look at things this way, it’s obvious that not all social groups are the same, Scientists have a social process for dealing with evidence, which differs from that of (to pick a group with almost zero overlap) Republicans. Obviously, scientists collectively are much better at correcting false beliefs than Republicans, even though, as individuals, both scientists and Republicans exhibit forms of motivated reasoning such as confirmation bias.

The question of how the members of groups change their beliefs seems like an obvious topic for study by social psychologists. And perhaps it is, but if so, their work has had no impact on the asocial psychologists I’ve seen talking about it.

Unusual Experience and Second-Hand Plato

by Ada Palmer on April 13, 2017

Unusual Experience

a response to Maria Farrell “In Good Hands”

I love micro-autobiography.  I love autobiography too, but micro-autobiographies like Maria Farrell’s essay here, a closely-narrated experience in which you get to know a new human being through what that person shares about a small, relatable experience of real time, are just so tender, and intimate, celebrations of the art that goes into every tiny part of being human, like the little hidden faces tucked between the tracery of a gothic archway, through which the architect shares with every visitor a small slice of play.  That’s why my favorite thing, when I meet a new person who has read Too Like the Lightning is to say nothing beyond some periodic approving “oohs” so as not to interrupt the beautiful flow of this new reader’s unique and beautiful experience. [click to continue…]

Reappropriated Histories

a response to Neville Morley, “Future’s Past.”

I was very excited looking forward to a classicist’s response to these books, and very satisfied that the references to antiquity loomed large for him as I expected. My use of the Enlightenment is intentionally conspicuous, even ostentatious, throughout the book. Antiquity is a quieter presence, but still, as Morley observed, deeply pervasive, in the Masons, and in Mycroft’s own thought and imagery.

I actually worked in an intentionally cumulative momentum to the presence of antiquity in the book, and especially the presence of the Iliad, as Mycroft’s references to Homeric imagery become more frequent, and as his use of grand Homeric similes become more frequent and more explicit over the course of the first two books. Ganymede is the Sun in the first book but Helios in the second, and the first time dawn has “rose fingers” as she always does in Homer is the morning of the Sixth Day of Mycroft’s history, the irrevocable day when civilization’s rose-tinted daydream breaks. This momentum builds toward the revelations of the book’s end, both the final revelation in the chapter “Hero,” and final solidification of that word which Mycroft begs Providence not to bring into his history: war. Like many subtle writing things, I don’t expect most people to be conscious of it, or for it even to have a strong effect on everyone, but especially for a classicist its presence was intended to add a more epic feeling as momentum built, and to make the end of Seven Surrenders feel, not predictable, but correct, as when a long, elaborate algebraic exercise yields a solid 1=1. [click to continue…]

Yesterday Dan Drezner said it was embarrassing that US Attorney General Jeff Sessions called illegal aliens “filth.” Today Drezner apologized, because while the word “filth” was in prepared remarks, Sessions didn’t say it, and because even in the prepared remarks, “The context is clear: Sessions was going to use ‘filth’ to describe MS-13 and drug cartels, not all illegal immigrants crossing the border.”

While I admire Drezner’s forthrightness in admitting a mistake I think he has made another one. He should make only the first half of this apology, because, in fact, the context is not clear—as, I can only suspect, is indicated by Sessions’s decision not to say the word aloud.

[click to continue…]

The Dystopian Question and Minorities of One

by Ada Palmer on April 11, 2017

The Dystopian Question: Is There a Place For Me?

a response to

Ruthanna Emrys “Falling Through the Cracks of Identity”

I was delighted to see Ruthanna touch on a number of the tensions within the Hive system that I crafted intentionally, and am setting up for further resolution in the second half of Terra Ignota. The Utopian’s isolationism, the pressure of those caught between Hives as personified by Cato Weeksbooth, and the particular awkwardness of the Cousins having what feels like a forced politico-cultural monopoly on caregiving and such huge slices of our society, and our curiosity about the Hiveless.

I was interested to see the characterization of Hiveless as “second-class citizens” and the assumption that they don’t participate in government, or inform the laws that govern them. Such guesses do indeed follow reasonably from what’s in the first two books, particularly since Mycroft makes so much of Hive power, so I’m very excited to see how Ruthanna and other readers expand their impressions of the three Hiveless groups on Book 3, when we see a lot more, both of them and of how they’re integrated into the politics of Romanova. In the first books we hear hints in that we know J.E.D.D. Mason is, among other things, a “Graylaw Hiveless Tribune” but we don’t know yet precisely what that entails, or just how powerful the Hiveless Tribunes are within the Alliance. [click to continue…]

What’s It Like In Lombok In The Morning?

by Belle Waring on April 11, 2017

I just got back so I can tell you. Lombok is the next island over from Bali in the chain and the straits between them form the Wallace Line, which separates Asian from Austronesian flora and fauna. People are coming back from fishing because they went out early, of course. The boats are narrow with two pontoons on either side that are attached to the boat by two struts per side, each an angle of two bits of wood; the effect is of brightly colored water striders. They are all painted in a riot of pink and green and blue and white.

Old ladies and men are sweeping the sidewalks and lanes and parking spaces and packed-earth yards with stiff brooms that are proper besoms of twigs, pushing each leaf and empty Happytos bag into the gutter. This seems a futile gesture towards cleanliness sometimes if the sidewalk is on a busy road and the neighboring empty bale has no one tending it but isn’t, really, and it produces what I consider the most distinctly Southeast Asian morning sound as the thinnest ends of the twigs chuff and scrape against the concrete. Some men are just sitting around in bales (those raised platforms of bamboo that are open on all four sides and have a thatched roof) smoking, because that’s a thing everywhere. Clove cigarettes, mostly, which smell wonderful and taste…also wonderful. I have never been a smoker but occasionally have a few when I am in Indonesia alone. I went with Violet this time so no dice. People are vaguely lining up to buy fried snacks from little carts.

Men with the white caps that indicate they have been on the hajj are strolling towards mosques. Lombok is very poor and I often wonder how they made their way all the way there, dignified in batik shirts and plastic slippers. Tours with their mosques, I guess; there was one in the airport with everyone dressed the same and nametags hanging down and three carts piled so high with matching black luggage it looked like tumbled black bricks. The towns and villages compete with their mosques so they are beautiful: green and gold domes, green-and-white diamond tiles, slender minarets.

There is no other feeling of pleasure and self-satisfied minor vice quite like listening to the first call to prayer before it is light and then promptly going back to sleep. Especially if it is raining. The calls to prayer are long and beautiful, reminding you that god is great five times a day. I wonder if people don’t sometimes think, “I literally just prayed!” Some people clearly do as Lombok has an awesome heretical “Three Prayer” sect in which, as you may guess, you only need to pray three times a day, and just, whenever you’re feeling it. Their Ramadan lasts only one day and I think they might even be able to drink too. I guess by the time the news got to Lombok things were a little muddled.

Lombok is home to Balinese people too (about ten percent, and they used to run the place, which local Sasak people seem still to resent.) There are yellow ribbons around big fig trees to tell you they are sacred, and narrow carved gates opening off the road at high places and descending into temples you cannot see. And so there are festivals almost every day and beautiful young women with baskets of fruit on their heads in the early morning, and gamelan music that has been playing the whole night. There are some Chinese people too, there have to be, running little stores, and so I passed by a Chinese graveyard with its distinctive horseshoe graves and a few people burning grave goods and sweeping the graves clean. (Folk songs always want someone to see that the singers grave is swept clean; I want to go to Bonaventure Cemetary next time I am in Savannah and sweep my grandmother’s grave, and Annie Washington’s.)

Of course, there is rice. Of all the things people grow in the world, rice seems like the most trouble. You do pass the odd field empty but for a feeble scarecrow of a plastic scrap tied to a piece of bamboo, but for the most part there is always someone working in the field, ceaseless toil under a straw conical hat. You would think it would all be growing in tandem but it’s not. I saw the neon green of new rice shoots in the wet paddies, and the golden haze over dry fields ready to harvest, and fields stubbled but for stacks of hay, and people doing the tedious task of pulling up every growing shoot of new rice, arranging them into bundles, and re-planting them in rows, all while ankle-deep in water, and women spreading out harvested rice on tarps laid at the edge of the roads to dry. I see why they do this–the heat on the black tarmac must make quick work of it, but I always worry it will blow away, or someone will drive into it, and I don’t imagine it’s the least polluted rice in the world, but clearly they know better than I.

Lombok has many people living on $2 a day, but has very little malnutrition because the volcanic soil is so rich and the sun and rain so abundant. So I also passed fields of corn and runner beans and tomatoes and rows of papaya plants. It’s funny sometimes to think of food traveling so far, all the way from the Americas. In the evenings people in Lombok drive their scooter up to scenic points along the coast, peaks falling away to perfect palm-fringed beaches on either side, and the sun setting right behind the three mountains of Bali, and they eat grilled corn with lime and chili.

This song has nothing to do with Lombok (or Perth for that matter) but I was listening to day before yesterday. It will help you imagine that you are in a black rental SUV with all these things gilding, pulled past the glass on an infinite string, now a little painted cart drawn by a thin-ribbed pony just near enough to touch, and now a green mountain far away over endless shining paddies.

Asylum-seekers have to eat too

by Chris Bertram on April 10, 2017

The Guardian has [a piece today on the asylum-system in the UK](https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/apr/09/its-a-shambles-data-shows-most-asylum-seekers-put-in-poorest-parts-of-britain), attacking the policy whereby asylum-seekers are dispersed to areas of the country with a lot of empty and cheap housing on the grounds that this is burdensome to poor areas and that Labour-controlled local authorities have to host more people than Tory ones do. The entire drift of the piece is to see asylum-seekers as a cost unfairly imposed on poor communities, and an [accompanying article about Rochdale](https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/apr/09/rochdale-town-conflicted-large-asylum-seeker-population), represented by Simon Danczuc MP (the sort of Labour MP who goes drinking with Nigel Farage), has the predictable white working-class local complaining:

>“[Immigrants] get everything given to them, everything for free; I don’t get anything. It just seems to me that the working class, working people, are being hit the hardest by immigration.”

Well, there’s an obvious point to be made, both to him and to the authors of the main article. Asylum-seekers are provided with accommodation that nobody else wants and made to live on £5/day. If they got more then our bitter member of the “white working-class” would complain more about the unfairness, but if you are going to have to live on that kind of money they you had better not be made to live in Kensington and Chelsea. I’d support increasing the allowance (a lot) for asylum seekers, maybe making it variable depending on area of the country, providing more resources to local authorities to help with schooling and permitting asylum-seekers to work (banned by Labour). Apart from giving more money to local authorities, none of these sensible changes is backed by Labour, no doubt worried about being seen to give people “something for nothing”, yet they are essential if you are going to have anything like a different system of geographical dispersal. There is the further issue, of course, that many of the asylum-seekers are in fact refugees who the government hasn’t got round to recognizing as such yet, and keeping refugees in limbo for years is a stain on the UK’s human rights record.

An unhappy coincidence ?

by John Quiggin on April 10, 2017

The other day my incoming email included an invitation from an Olla Galal, special issue developer at Hindawi publishers, to be the Lead Guest Editor for a Special Issue of Occupational Therapy International. Nothing too surprising in that, although my knowledge of occupational therapy would barely extend to a paraphrase of the name. I’m always getting invitations like this, and while I had the impression that Hindawi was a cut above the kind of predatory publishing house that does this kind of thing, I wasn’t too sure. (I have received previous invitations of this kind from them, but in fields where I could at least be a plausible candidate.

What made me pay attention was this

In June 2016, Wiley and Hindawi entered into a new publishing partnership that converted nine Wiley subscription journals into Open Access titles. The journals will be published under both the Wiley and Hindawi brands and distributed through Hindawi’s online platform

So, if this is accurate, I could become a guest editor for a Wiley journal in a field in which I am totally unqualified. More seriously, authors of papers in the old version of Occupational Therapy International “very well respected in its field with an impact factor of 0.683” according to Olla Galal, will now be associated with the new one.

Having got this far, I thought I should check Beall’s list of predatory journals, only to discover that it went dark on 17 January* for unexplained reasons. This is certainly depressing. It seems that even supposedly reputable academic publishers are now engaged, with only the fig leaf of a “partnership”, in seriously predatory behavior. How long before we see them pandering to the demand for “alternative fact” journals to give proper credibility to creationism, climate science denial, antivax and so on, if they are not already?

* Only a couple of days before Trump’s inauguration. Coincidence?

The poverty of psychology

by Chris Bertram on April 9, 2017

Political philosophers have been arguing about equality for a very long time. We’ve argued about whether equality is a fundamental value or whether what matters is better captured by a focus on priority or sufficiency. We’ve argued about whether egalitarians should focus on securing equal amounts of something or on assuring people that they stand in relationships of equality of status toward one another. We’ve argued about the currency of egalitarian justice, and whether we should assess equality in terms of welfare, resources, opportunity for welfare or “advantage”. Luck egalitarians have argued that people should be rendered equal with respect to their unchosen circumstances but that inequalities that result from choices people freely are ok. All of these are arguments within the egalitarian camp.

So it is frustrating [to read a paper](http://www.nature.com/articles/s41562-017-0082) in *Nature*, written by some psychologists from the Pinker/Haidt school of public pontificating that claims that people don’t care about equality but about “fairness”, where the inequalities that people tolerate turn out to be (a) inequalities in money and (b) inequalities that result from choices people make. Nobody working in poltical philosophy thinks that inequalities in money matter fundamentally, and lots of people think that the value of equality, properly understood, not only allows but *requires* differences in outcome that result from choice. There’s one reference to Rawls in the paper (simply to mention the veil of ignorance) and one of Frankfurt’s sufficiency view, but Dworkin, Cohen, Sen, Anderson, Arneson et al are entirely absent. Perhaps *Nature* needs to pick its peer reviewers from a wider pool.

Sunday photoblogging: Staircase in a mirror

by Chris Bertram on April 9, 2017

Staircase

Some Weekend Music – Live Performances On Video

by John Holbo on April 8, 2017

Live performances often don’t translate well to the medium of tiny YouTube videos … but: [click to continue…]

Syria

by John Holbo on April 8, 2017

I don’t have much to say; perhaps you do. The hell of it is (as several commentators have noted): it doesn’t seem like a distinctively Trumpish response – fire off missiles, let God sort ’em out. That bit seems as American as apple pie, and President Clinton might well have done the same. The Trumpish part is: willingness to bear the expense of Tomahawks, plus the imponderable downside risks such action entail; plus unwillingness to accept any Syrian refugees – comparatively simple, easy, open, safe, hence morally logical as the latter course of action would seem to be.

The attitude that you can mix mandatory harm-infliction with humanitarianism is less baneful than the attitude that you must do only harm, by way of achieving good ends. But neither attitude is what I would call sane.

Do pundits take some hypocritic foreign policy oath before they are allowed to opine: first, do some harm? Literally no one thinks Trump has any plan for improving the situation in Syria. That would be crazy. Why would you be heartened to see someone blowing things up without any plan? Why would the sight of huge gouts of American hellfire ever seem like a heuristic indicator of increased human welfare?

China, me old China

by John Quiggin on April 5, 2017

One of the reasons I like blogging and opinion writing is that I’m better at thinking up ideas than at the hard work needed to turn them into properly researched journal articles, which is the core business of being an academic. So, it’s great when an idea I’ve floated in a fairly half-baked form in a blog or magazine article gets cited in a real journal article. Even better when it’s a colleague or, in this case, former colleague who cites me.

James Laurenceson, formerly of UQ and now Deputy Director of the Australia-China Relations Institute at UTS, has an article just out in the Australian Journal of International Affairs (paywalled, unfortunately, but well reading if you can get access), on Economics and freedom of navigation in East Asia, which cites a short piece I wrote last year and reproduced here. My key points were
* Contrary to many claims, China has no interest in blocking trade in the South China Sea, since most of it goes to and from China
* For the smaller volume of trade between other countries, the cost of taking a more roundabout route is so small that China could not exert any significant leverage by restricting access to the South China Sea
* There’s nothing special about this case. The whole idea that navies are vitally needed to keep sea lanes open is nonsense

Where I based the first two claims on a bit of Google searching and a couple of academic papers, James has developed the argument in convincing detail, addressing a wide range of possible counterarguments. If I could find someone to do the same thing for my third claim, I’d be very happy.