From the monthly archives:

May 2020

Sunday photoblogging: fox news

by Chris Bertram on May 31, 2020

This character has been ruling over the local allotments recently. Bold, but very quiet, and you don’t see it coming until you do. Looks to be in good condition.

Fox at the allotments

Backlash Politics

by John Holbo on May 31, 2020

Will Trump be able to make white backlash politics work for him re: riots?

The situation sure suits his vicious temperament. “Unlimited use of the military” against US citizens. I’m sure that’s what his hard-core base wants to hear. But does the ‘silent majority’ – a.k.a. enough white people in suburbs – want to hear it? Will enough of them watch the news and think ‘holy shit, those people are out of control and we need law and order. Maybe that cop went too far but they arrested him. These riots show sometimes you gotta get rough.’ Or will more of them start to think, ‘a vicious culture of cop impunity, capped off by plainly unconstitutional qualified immunity and deliberate gutting of civil rights protections by right-wing judicial activists and the Trump administration have finally come to this.’ [click to continue…]

The coronavirus public

by Henry Farrell on May 28, 2020

From a new article in Stat.

In a four-day blitz at the end of April, they swabbed and drew blood from 4,160 adults and children, including more than half of the residents in the 16 square blocks that make up San Francisco Census Tract 229.01. In the heart of the Mission District, it is one of the city’s most densely populated and heavily Latinx neighborhoods. While Havlir expected to see the Latinx community hit hard by the virus, the actual numbers came as a shock. About 2% of people tested positive for the coronavirus. Nearly all of them — 95% — were Latinx. The other 5% were Asian or Pacific Islander. Not a single white person tested positive, though 34% of the tract’s residents are white, according to the U.S. Census; 58% are Hispanic.

… One of Havlir’s motivations for the testing was to understand how the virus was being transmitted even after the city had been locked down for six weeks. Questionnaires administered with the tests gave her an answer: 90% of those who tested positive could not work from home. Most were low-income, and most lived in households with three or more people.

“What really comes out of these data is that low-wage essential workers are victims of this disease,” Havlir said. Many of those infected were working in food service, making deliveries, or cleaning offices despite shutdown orders. “These people were out working the entire time,” she said.

“Anecdotally, we knew this, but the hard data is heartbreaking,” said Susana Rojas, executive director of the Calle 24 Latino Cultural District and a leader of the Latino Task Force for Covid-19 that partnered with UCSF to run the study. “Our community was out working, keeping the city moving and fed. Of course they were more exposed and getting sick.”


by John Holbo on May 28, 2020

OK, I’m really trying not to do the long Twitter thread thing. But let’s start from a tweet.

Rush Limbaugh is a moral monster, of course. ‘Demeritorous’ would be the word. But it’s interesting to think about the semantic fate of ‘moralizing’.

Limbaugh is using the term to mean ‘getting on your high horse’, ‘morally grandstanding’. Now: it is not true that, if someone is sitting on their moral high horse, that gives you a license to torture innocent 3rd parties, and cause them gratuitous pain, as Limbaugh supposes. But it is also interesting that this familiar, derogatory sense of ‘moralize’ isn’t even in the OED, although Google definitions catches it at the primary sense. [click to continue…]


by Maria on May 26, 2020

What grinds my gears the most about the Dominic Cummings affair (Cumgate, oh how we laughed) is his insistence that a routine childcare problem was a circumstance so exceptional it required him to decide, as the Man of the Household, to flout the rules everyone else has endured. But this piece is not about childcare. It is not about the extreme lengths to which elite men will go to avoid looking after their own goddamn kids. It is about male violence.

The exceptional circumstance which Cummings claimed as his excuse to flee London while contagious with a deadly virus was a hard-won exception, fought for by activists and experts in the face of initial government indifference and then belated, patronising acquiescence. But let me put into words the bit about the “exceptional circumstance” we assume doesn’t need saying because it’s as obvious as air; this exception is to deal with men’s violence against the women and children of their household.

When lockdown started and required everyone who wasn’t a key-worker to stay at home, women’s shelters around the UK pointed out at first calmly – assuming it was just an oversight by the Prime Minister’s all-male inner team – and then increasingly loudly, the obvious truth our society thinks too normal to plan for or even mention; that violent men routinely injure, rape and kill the women and children locked into their households. Lockdown meant lock-in for the women and children shut in with angry, confined and – as consumption patterns quickly showed – drunk men.

Do you remember the half news cycle back at the start of lockdown, the violent deaths of a whole family for which the police were not seeking a suspect? Probably not. Two women a week, dead. It’s just normal. The operation and ultimate outcome of male authority and rage in the confines of the family home is so normal it’s not news, it’s not exceptional, it’s not even worrying or problematic. It’s just a one-off tragedy, every single time. Twice a week. Every week. So you see, after a while, don’t you, that it is effectively government policy.

Which is why activists had to strain every muscle and shout as loud as they could to get the exception introduced into lockdown that women and children may still flee violent men. Even if the government had long since shut most of the shelters they could flee to.

So for the architect of lockdown, the “brains” behind the policy that didn’t for a moment consider it significant or worrying that more women and children would be murdered, to use this hard-won, life-saving exception as the justification for fleeing London because he couldn’t find a babysitter, is disgusting. I write for my living and I don’t have a better way to describe how grotesque that is. [click to continue…]

Our Ontologies, Our Selves

by John Holbo on May 26, 2020

I need to establish better Twitter/Blog balance in my life. I switched over to Twitter because the kids know where it’s at. This Twitter joint is hopping and bopping. I do feel Twitter has been good for my writing style. That sounds strange. But I have these terrible, more or less Montaignean habits of starting in one place, arcing around, seemingly aimlessly, only to return to the one place. That’s not good, academic prose. And it doesn’t work on Twitter, so I’m forced to cut down. It has its literary charms, my loopy prose stye, but, late in life, I’ve decided I need to get better control over it. I should rule it, not it me! Yet long twitter threads, even if they are direct in their way, are such a mockery of literary form. Like serving a pint of beer in a long row of eyedroppers. So I’m swearing off the long stuff, on Twitter. So I’d better get back here to CT.

Right, to get back started in a traditional way, I’m going to complain about Rod Dreher, like it’s Old Home Week. (Just so you know I may be on Twitter now, but I haven’t changed.) It must seem strange I’m so fixated on Dreher, but, fact is, sometimes he looks to me like sort of my mirror universe opposite. Frequently he will report he’s reading authors I’ve read. We see the same things, just opposite-style. Today it’s Modris Eksteins. I read his Rites of Spring years ago and was really excited by it. Good book. Dreher likes it because he thinks it will help him shift the charge that he’s just too fussed about sex. [click to continue…]

Sunday photoblogging: San Francisco

by Chris Bertram on May 24, 2020

San Francisco: alley


by Eszter Hargittai on May 23, 2020

Four years ago, some of you wondered whether there would really be that much of a difference between a Clinton and a Trump presidency. Imagine.


by Chris Bertram on May 22, 2020

One thing I’ve found a bit more time to do under lockdown is to listen to more music, and on the back of reading Richard Powers’s The Gold Bug Variations, I’ve been listening to different recordings of Bach’s Goldberg Variations every day. Very calming and sometimes transporting. The trouble is, though, that as someone who likes music, who has read quite a bit about it, who goes to the occasional concert, I am also somewhat unmusical. My attempts in middle-age to learn the piano were not crowned with success and my elderly teacher was really quite vocal in his denunciations of my incompetence. (A welcome side-effect though was that my children have managed to become musicians.) So how, among the bewildering variety of performances on different instruments – all of which are available at the click of a mouse – to pick what is “good” to listen to? How far do you trust the experts and their recommendations? And what if you find yourself liking things that the musically competent condemn and disliking things that they praise as exsquisite. Such are the anxieties of the aesthetic inadequate faced with art and the judgement of the acknowledged cognoscenti.

So what have my listenings prompted so far by way of inexpert conclusions? First, that I am pretty allergic to the sound of the harpsichord — something I knew already — though I accept that you sometimes hear things in the music that you don’t when listening to a piano performace. Second, that neither of the celebrated performances by Glenn Gould really do it for me: the first sounds too dry, in the second I find the humming too distracting. Third, that there is an extraordinary degree of variation in the playing, such that it can seem like different pieces of music are being performed (most obviously in something like Wilhelm Kempff’s ornamentless performance of the Aria as contrasted with most others). Finally, that it turned out to be really important to me how a particular variation (XIII) is performed. Some of the renditions are extraordinarily soulful and affecting and some seem like technical exercises that lack such meaning. For what its worth, I’ve most enjoyed performances by Tatiana Nicolaeva (a concert in Stockholm), by Murray Perahia, and by Maria Tipo. I have on LP or CD the 1955 Gould, a Rosalyn Tureck and the Charles Rosen, but I haven’t revisited the last two yet. What do Crooked Timber readers suggest?

Indefinitely Ill – Post-Covid Fatigue

by Maria on May 18, 2020

What to do when your body forgets how to be well

OK well this is going to be tricky to write because I’m not a doctor and it’s not medical advice, and the more I read around in the displacement activity I often do ahead of a difficult task, the more it becomes plain that striking the balance between speaking anecdotally from, in fairness, somewhat bitter experience, paying due heed to current but still unbelievably partial and fragmentary research, and employing the observational/confessional mode in an attempt to paint myself as a useful cautionary tale suddenly seems so much more complicated than it really needs to be.

Because I really only want to say one thing; if you have had Covid-19 (tested or not), and are getting to a month or two on and still feel like you’ve been hit by a bus, please, for the love of God, rest.


Stop what you are trying to do and listen to your body as it tells you it needs to be quiet now. You will not ‘fight’ your way out of this. It is not a test of your character or your will. You need to stop and listen to the only body you will ever have.

Print out a fact-sheet from the Internet and press it into the hands of your loved ones whose patience with your infirmity is beginning to ebb – perhaps they are beginning to talk about it being ‘just stress’ or how ‘we’re all TIRED’, and withdraw in whatever ways you can to slowly, vitally heal.

If you can remotely afford it, and even if you can’t, really, take the time off work and school, church or party or volunteering of all kinds, withdraw indefinitely from every not-essential-to-life activity and commit an uncapped amount of time to your recovery. Maybe you can’t quite afford to, or maybe you really, really don’t want to ask for whatever financial help and longer timelines you need, but try and take the fatigue, brain-fog, sore throat, ringing in the ears, swollen glands, weird headaches, all-over body-ache and all manner of covid symptoms still lingering long after the blood-work says your body has cleared it, and, I’m sorry this is scary, but it may help try to imagine still feeling like this a year from now, or five years or even twenty, and think about the finances of that.

Now calmly regard that fear and ask what it demands. See how this re-orders your priorities. Now thank your fear and put it away.

Think of post-viral fatigue as climate change for the human body. It’s here but not here; you acknowledge the immediate effects but haven’t really got your head around their implications. You need to invest heavily up-front and in the face of widespread disbelief to avoid medium and long-term catastrophe. Understand the threat is both insidious and in your face. Some symptoms are obvious and acute, but others you’re too mired in to even fully see. As you’re dealing with the thing itself, you’re also enmeshed in a struggle of knowing, trying to figure out what is real. Understand that recognising and dealing with this illness with the urgency and seriousness it demands may give you the best chance of coming out strong and whole. Understand that whether this happens is not entirely in your hands. [click to continue…]

Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain

by Harry on May 18, 2020

CB’s visit to Madison a couple of years ago coincided with a concert by the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain, which I had managed to convince my entire family to attend, so he came too. Also in attendance were the only two undergraduates whom I’d convinced to come along. They both said, later, that they only came to humour me, and had assumed it wouldn’t be very good. But during the interval they were both wide-eyed and one said “why doesn’t everybody come to this? Why aren’t they really famous?”.

Both those students graduated this month, having both taken the smaller class referred to here. They, and I, convinced a remarkably large number of their classmates to get tickets for a performance in late March. (I think they were more persuasive than I was: one of them insisted that “Harry Brighouse told me to go to this concert and now I know that I should always do what he tells me to do, and so should you”). The plan was to all go to dinner beforehand, and then attend the concert as a kind of field trip. On the final occasion we all met in person nobody was quite sure whether we’d meet again (maybe that’s not true — I think I knew, because I asked one of the seniors if it was the last time I would see her) but we all knew that the concert was vanishingly unlikely, and in subsequent zoom class sessions several people said, several times, that was one of the things they regretted.

I know that plenty of people deserve more attention than my students (though — while all of them are healthy, several of them have been through awful things this semester). But when I noticed that the UOGB was producing some wonderful lockdown performances on youtube, I thought I’d just contact them and ask if they’d consider dedicating something to my students, just to cheer them up. In my letter I gave them ample opportunity to decline — indeed, I deliberately wrote the letter so that it would be easy to ignore. But after a couple of weeks their manager got back to me saying she’d talked to several members and that although they never do request they were considering doing something. Then last week she told me that something would be posted online on Sunday and I should watch it. It did seem slightly awkwardly phrased and cryptic, but I just thanked her and prepared to watch it and send the link to my students. And its not exactly what I had expected. I got a text from a student after the video went live saying: “Hi wait I can’t believe you had already emailed the orchestra!!! I emailed them last week to give you a shoutout in the video! you were one step ahead of me!”

Work. Democratize, Decommodify, Remediate

by Ingrid Robeyns on May 16, 2020

What follows is a manifesto that has been published today in its original in French in Le Monde and translated and published in 37 other places, which will be listed at the end of the text.

Working humans are so much more than “resources.” This is one of the central lessons of the current crisis. Caring for the sick; delivering food, medication, and other essentials; clearing away our waste; stocking the shelves and running the registers in our grocery stores – the people who have kept life going through the COVID-19 pandemic are living proof that work cannot be reduced to a mere commodity. Human health and the care of the most vulnerable cannot be governed by market forces alone. If we leave these things solely to the market, we run the risk of exacerbating inequalities to the point of forfeiting the very lives of the least advantaged. How to avoid this unacceptable situation? By involving employees in decisions relating to their lives and futures in the workplace – by democratizing firms. By decommodifying work – by collectively guaranteeing useful employment to all. As we face the monstrous risk of pandemic and environmental collapse, making these strategic changes would allow us to ensure the dignity of all citizens while marshalling the collective strength and effort we need to preserve our life together on this planet.

Why democratize? Every morning, men and women rise to serve those among us who are able to remain under quarantine. They keep watch through the night. The dignity of their jobs needs no other explanation than that eloquently simple term, ‘essential worker.’ That term also reveals a key fact that capitalism has always sought to render invisible with another term, ‘human resource.’ Human beings are not one resource among many. Without labor investors, there would be no production, no services, no businesses at all.

Every morning, quarantined men and women rise in their homes to fulfil from afar the missions of the organizations for which they work. They work into the night. To those who believe that employees cannot be trusted to do their jobs without supervision, that workers require surveillance and external discipline, these men and women are proving the contrary. They are demonstrating, day and night, that workers are not one type of stakeholder among many: they hold the keys to their employers’ success. They are the core constituency of the firm, but are, nonetheless, mostly excluded from participating in the government of their workplaces – a right monopolized by capital investors.

To the question of how firms and how society as a whole might recognize the contributions of their employees in times of crisis, democracy is the answer. Certainly, we must close the yawning chasm of income inequality and raise the income floor – but that alone is not enough. [click to continue…]

Whataboutery and the pandemic

by John Q on May 15, 2020

Among the many consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic, and the measures taken to control it, there has been an epidemic of whataboutery. The starting point is the claim “we have locked down the entire economy to reduce the number of deaths from Covid-19, but we tolerate comparably large numbers of deaths from X”. Popular candidates for X include smoking, road crashes and influenza. In most, though not all, cases, the inference is that we should accept more deaths from the pandemic. Indeed, the majority of those using this argument are also opposed to any proposal to do more about the various examples of X they cite

I’m going to take the contrapositive, and argue that the inconsistency pointed out here should be resolved by taking stronger action to reduce avoidable deaths from a wide range of causes, with the primary examples being road deaths and smoking.

[click to continue…]

Reflections on moving to teaching online

by Harry on May 13, 2020

Nobody knows what will happen with US colleges and universities in the fall, but it’s a fair guess that at least some, probably most, and not unlikely all, teaching will be online. Whatever is online in the fall will be unlike what was online in the spring: on the one hand people will have had a chance to prepare and train; on the other, classes will lack the glue that in-person meetings prior to going online made possible.

I’ll post some thoughts soon about how we might think about going forward in the fall, but for now I’m just assuming that some or much of our teaching will be online. In the spirit that learning about what seems to have worked and what seems not to have worked for different people will help us prepare, here are some reflections on my experience. I’d welcome your advice, but also your reflections on your own experiences!

I taught two classes last semester. One was 150 students, with 2 TAs, the other was 30, no TA’s. Let’s start with the smaller one.

Although it is a 3-credit class, we had 4 full hours (120 minutes) of class time per week. This proved fortuitous: I scheduled 4 hours for 2 reasons. 1) The class involves a group project, and in my experience students find difficulty coordinating out-of-class time to work together, so this provided them with that. 2) The cap was 22 but I anticipated (correctly) that it might be raised to 30 and wanted to be able to meet with them in reasonable-sized groups. So my plan was really that I’d meet them for 4 hours most weeks, but most of them would meet me for only 3 hours most weeks.
[click to continue…]

“Public” choice

by Henry Farrell on May 12, 2020

XKCD chart showing public agreement about the coronavirus

An addendum to my earlier post, to explain more directly why I am skeptical of the argument that public choice is a useful lens to understand the politics of the public during coronavirus. Shorter version: if the “public” is indeed some kind of equilibrium, then the underlying game is unlikely to be the kind of game that public choice scholars like to model. [click to continue…]