From the monthly archives:

March 2022

Why is competition omni-present in children’s sports?

by Miriam Ronzoni on March 28, 2022

In Defense of Non-Competitive Sport | EcoParent magazineAs a small child, for a series of biographical reasons (I was mainly raised by, and lived with, my grandparents, while my parents lived and worked abroad, until the end of primary school) I was not offered the option of engaging in regular extra-curricular activities, including sports. Then, by the time I was old enough to take the initiative myself, I was convinced that I was not good enough to engage in any organised sports. I wanted to play volleyball, but all the kids in the local girls volleyball club had been playing for years and were much better than me. Most importantly, training was important, of course, but fixtures were the main event…and I was terrified by the idea of playing in a real match. [click to continue…]

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Sunday photoblogging: Chicago

by Chris Bertram on March 27, 2022

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Twigs and branches

by John Quiggin on March 26, 2022

A new Twigs and Branches post, open for comments on any topic. The usual rules on civil discussion apply.

The future of Crooked Timber and its comments

by Chris Bertram on March 25, 2022

A couple of days ago we had an online get-together of many of the Crooked Timber writers. Although we’ve been around for nearly nineteen years, this is the first time this has happened, and it probably never would have but for the pandemic and the possibilities that Zoom has opened up. Some of us were approaching our bedtime and others had to make a really early start as participants came from Brisbane, Singapore, Exeter in England, the south of France, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and various parts of the US. We should do it again soon.

One thing we discussed was how to improve the volume and variety of our contributions. Things have changed a lot since 2003, not least the variety of channels of communication, including social media. Many of the people who read Crooked Timber tell us what they like and don’t like using Twitter, Facebook, email and the like. On-site comments, on the other hand, are not what they were. Though we retain a small cadre of dedicated commenters, the quality of discussion is not always that great and there are too many drive-by and borderline insulting interventions from anonymous accounts. Figuring out how and whether to respond to a misdirected comment can be a significant overhead for writers who can’t know whether the original engagement was in good faith. So we’ve decided to change our default to having comments turned off, with writers having the option to turn them on if they like. Open threads and “Twigs and Branches” will have comments enabled, but we will not tolerate people using open comments on one focused post to comment on a post where the writer decided not to open them. Long-term readers, feel free to show your appreciation (or not) via those other routes. Comments on this post are open [now timed out].

Art for Ukraine

by Eszter Hargittai on March 23, 2022

I’ve donated some of my art to a fundraiser to benefit various charities supporting Ukrainians. I’m inviting you to participate. If my art doesn’t speak to you – I get it, it’s a very particular style – then I hope you’ll consider bidding on other works representing diverse media from oil to watercolor to mixed media in numerous styles depicting varied topics. Sunflowers are popular, but there is lots of other content to choose from. Don’t think of this as frivolously (is there such a thing?;-) buying art, think of it as making a donation while getting a piece of art in return.

Auction items

The auction is hosted by the great art site Daily Paintworks. They are letting artists list their pieces for free and are not taking any commissions. Once you pay for your piece, the artist donates to the charity they designated and ships you your piece. (I will send proof of donation to Médecins Sans Frontières.)

More auction items

Ukrainians need our help, both those still in Ukraine as well as the millions of refugees (over 3.5 million in less than a month!) who’ve left everything behind. There are countless ways to lend support and if this approach doesn’t inspire you, I hope you are helping in other ways. For those living in Europe, chances are refugees are already in your town. You can donate housing, food, furniture, kitchen appliances, your time, money, the list is endless. Those of you elsewhere can probably help best through donations. Whatever it is, please do assist and encourage others to do the same. Thank you.

Note that when I post this on CT, the second set of images will only have 17 hours left of the auction so by the time you read this, they may be gone. (I’m thrilled to see that they’ve all been bid on already so I won’t be relisting them.) There is lots of other art to choose from so please check out all the work. Or if you are an artist yourself, consider donating your own art.

My favourite pun.

by Harry on March 23, 2022

My school, Burnham (the ‘h’ is silent, and the ‘a’ sounds like a ‘u’) Grammar School, although founded in 1962, had Houses (you know, sort of like Harry Potter). They meant almost nothing, really only being the basis for intra-school sports. There was no loyalty at all, maybe because their names were Red, Yellow, Blue and Green. Or perhaps just because we didn’t care anyway.

In 1977 our charismatic, high Anglican, Tory, gay History teacher, Mr. Thomas, pressed for them to be renamed. So they were, after 4 martyred Bishops, all of whom died at the stake: Latimer, Ridley, Cranmer and Hooper (I was in Hooper, which I remember because a friend in the year above me called J. Cooper was also in Hooper; I also remember knowing that Hooper was the odd one out). No explanation was given of why the Bishops were chosen, and in a way none were needed, we all knew that Mr. Thomas was the force behind the change, he was quite eccentric and much loved, and we knew church history was bound to be an interest of his.

Have you gotten the joke yet? I got it in 2002. It is just fantastic to have a joke layed down by someone who would be completely fine if you didn’t ever get it, and only get it 25 years later, over dinner with old school friends, one of whom did, at some point, get it [1].

Well? Look again at the name of the school. And think about the fate of the Bishops. If you need to, the answer is below the fold.

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War – what can we do?

by Ingrid Robeyns on March 21, 2022

I recall that a few years ago, when Israel bombed the Gaza strip in the middle of the (Northern Hemisphere-) Summer, I felt angry and powerless. People, locked up in what was essentially an open air prison, had nowhere to escape or hide. The war in Syria similarly has led to horrible suffering. There have been many other wars or armed conflicts, but most of them hardly receive sustained reporting. And now there is the Russian war in Ukraine.

I am sure many of you ask, in such circumstances: “What we can do?” And I’ve heard some say “There is nothing we can do”. But that is not true. I’ve come up with the following answer to that question for myself, and am interested in learning how you answer that question for yourself. [note: trolls don’t even need to try; in case of doubt, I’ll delete]. [click to continue…]

Nuclear power and the Ukraine war

by John Quiggin on March 21, 2022

Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has upended all kinds of certainties, created new possibilities, and closed off old ones. We can certainly see this in relation to nuclear power. Here are a few developments related to the war

  • Russia’s capture of the Chernobyl plant, and the associated fire, have raised new concerns about nuclear safety
  • Belgium has announced that its planned closure of a nuclear plant will be deferred, possibly until 2035, in order to reduce reliance on Russian oil and gas. There have been hints that Germany might do something similar
  • Finland has cancelled its proposed Fennovoima nuclear plant which was to be built using Rosatom’s VVER technology. Coincidentally, a few days ago, the Olkiluoto EPR plant was connected to the grid, twelve years late and way over budget

My guess is that the need to wean Europe off Russian gas over the next few years will outweigh enhanced concerns about safety.

On the other hand, the implications for new nuclear power are unambiguously bad. Projects started now can’t come in time to help with the transition from Russian gas, and the safety concerns will add to cost

Looking ahead, no one will want to deal with Rosatom any time soon, and Chinese proposals are also coming under more scrutiny. The cost over-runs on EPR plants create huge difficulties there also. These come together in Hinkley C (EPR) where hte UK government is trying to push China’s CGN out of the project, but having trouble attracting private finance to replace it.

The great remaining hope is Small Modular Reactors, most notably those proposed by Nuscale. But this hope has been around for a long time, with the arrival date always about 8 years in the future.

Sunday photoblogging: Clifton suspension bridge

by Chris Bertram on March 20, 2022

Contre-jour suspension bridge

Adventures in Teaching First Year Students.

by Harry on March 18, 2022

Last week I met with a student, B, who took my class as a freshman in 2007, and was making a brief visit from Australia, where she has settled. Shortly after her freshman class ended she made a suggestion to a classmate, which has been rather fateful for me. She’s forgotten that it was her suggestion.

My university has a program called First Year Interest Groups (FIGs). The design is simple: 20 students opt into a 20-person seminar with a specific theme, and are required to take two other, thematically linked, courses in other departments. B took my first offering, in Fall 2007 on the topic Children Marriage and the Family. (Students also took a sociology course on marriage and the family, and an Ed Psych course on human development.) I would see them all in class twice a week, but they would see each other 5 additional times a week. Students opt into the program, but first generation students and students from low-income backgrounds and other underrepresented groups are heavily counselled into them, so participate disproportionately present. About 20% of the incoming first year students participate.

I’ve written a bit elsewhere about how dreadfully I taught that first FIG, and how the experience influenced my pedagogy in the classroom. It has had just as much influence on my interactions with students beyond the classroom.

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Sunday photoblogging: man smoking in Florence

by Chris Bertram on March 13, 2022

Florence: man smoking

In Ukraine people, mainly women and children, are leaving their homes. This means leaving, probably forever, the private spaces in which they have constructed lives. It means leaving carefully planned gardens, or collections of books or objects, of projects of home decoration on which thought and labour was expended, of knives, sieves, pots and cookery books. For children it means leaving all those toys and books that can’t be carried. In short all the everyday things that people make from their lives. It means ruptures, perhaps permanent, in personal friendships and acquaintances, with those left behind to fight, with playmates, with cousins. It means the loss of familiar landscapes with their distinctive weather and their animals and plants. And then a trudge through danger and the possibility of instant death to put oneself at the mercy of strangers, as an object perhaps of their solidarity, but also of their pity. Paths trodden by other refugees, by Palestinians, Syrians, Afghans, Iraqis, Sudanese and Somalis in the recent past, by many in Ethiopia right now.
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Russian University leaders support Putin’s war

by Ingrid Robeyns on March 7, 2022

My university’s online newspaper reported earlier today that the Rectors of Russian Universities (their presidents/chancellors) have posted a statement of support for Putin’s war. Below the fold you find the translation that Deep-L made for us from Russian to English. (I don’t read Russian but my other experiences with Deep-L are pretty good).

So, the Rectors support the war, and adop the rethorics of the need for the “denazification” of Ukraine. The give their support to president Putin, and say they “support our President, who has made perhaps the most difficult decision of his life, a hard-won but necessary one.” Sadly, they also see it as their “fundamental duty, … to teach our students to be patriotic and to strive to help their motherland.”

I only hope that the Rectors had to do this because they could not do otherwise – a scenario so bad that, say, they would be put in prison and tortured, or their students endangered and universities put on fire. If no threats and coercion as serious as that made them write such utter horror, they should ashamed of calling themselves ‘academics’. Not just because they support Putin whose regime is massively violating human rights, not just because they support a brutal and unnecessary war, but also because they have not understood what the University is for.

Translation below the fold.
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Sunday photoblogging: Royal Liver Building, Liverpool

by Chris Bertram on March 6, 2022

Another shot of the Royal Liver Building

Crimea

by Maria on March 2, 2022

I visited Crimea in 2005, and just this morning found a half-written piece about it from ten years later. There was a whole strange adventure that followed in the fragrant midnight streets of Yalta. Maybe I’ll finish it some day. It’s not like any of us is ever going back there.

Yalta

The official story is that Kruschev gave Crimea to Ukraine in 1954 to commemorate three hundred years of Russian and Ukrainian togetherness. But I heard he was drunk and sentimental one night and got carried away with a grand gesture. The story is better than the truth.

We were a group of academics, journalists, teachers and policy wonks traveling Ukraine the autumn after the Orange Revolution. In Kyiv, we met the student-leaders of Maidan Square, now focusing at their studies. They spoke MBA-accented English and fluent Powerpoint. They planned a bright future in a prosperous and west-facing Ukraine.

Breakfast in Kyiv cafes was cream with cream. Sometimes cream with pastry. But mostly cream. Kiev was like Petersburg, but smaller and more charming, with cobbled streets, markets stalls selling country produce and Soviet memorabilia, whimsical Orthodox architecture in primrose yellow. In city bars we skipped dinner and ate garlic-infused lard laid a centimetre thick on black rye bread, sliding it down with neat vodka.

I got chatted up at a reception by an attractive, louche man. His side line – everyone had one – was starting political parties in the north east of the country, around Donetsk. That was where votes were cheapest. Once they had enough support to elect a couple of MPs, He would sell them, just like Twitter farms raise and sell puppet accounts. The going rate for a political party was about a million US dollars, which seemed expensive if you thought of it as a way to buy influence. It was mostly a way to become and MP and buy immunity from prosecution. I asked him what his day-job was. Official at the Ministry of Justice, it turned out. It was all a great joke that everyone seemed to be in on. The only person not laughing was our guide, Valentin, a somewhat forlorn pro-Russian professor.

Come on, I told him a few days later in Crimea, These are just teething problems. Democracy will flourish. The Kremlin’s ‘political technologists’ have been sent packing. We were walking on a raised path decked in early autumn wildflower, by the deep and curved strait from the Black Sea into Balaklava. From the 1950s till the fall of the Soviet Union, submarines had coursed silently down the strait from a vast underground facility. They would lurk in the Black Sea, nuclear missiles armed and pointed silently at Europe’s capitals. Valentin gestured across the grassy hill that hid the underground caverns the subs had slept in, though the base had long since had its copper ripped out and sold to the new telecoms companies.

This won’t end well, he said. It never does. [click to continue…]