Group Blogs

Freedom of the Press (if you own one?)

Crooked Timber - Sat, 2014-08-23 23:36

Until I got the boot a couple of years ago, I had a regular column in the Australian Financial Review. Since then, I’ve been freelancing, with mixed success. Friday was a good day, with two pieces appearing within a few hours of each other. This one, at the Guardian is on the obsolescence of the late 19th and 20th century idea of the Press (or the media) as an institution with special rights and responsibilities.

The other was a reply to an editorial in the local Murdoch paper, pushing the case for privatisation. They printed it, which is more than the national Murdoch rag (The Australian) has done in similar cases. It’s over the fold

In a recent editorial, the Courier-Mail bemoans the fact that nearly thirty years after Paul Keating began the privatisation agenda, three in four Queenslanders are still opposed to the sale of public assets. In fact, the situation is more dire than that. Back in the 1980s when Keating ‘instinctively’ grasped the case for privatisation, opinion polls suggested that much of the public was receptive to the idea: publicly owned utilities were seen as slow and stodgy and didn’t have much of a reputation for public service.

Public opposition to privatisation isn’t the result of fear of the unknown or misunderstanding of the arguments. Rather, it’s the product of decades of experience. Far from producing lean, innovative and customer focused organizations, privatisation and corporatisation have given us bloated and overpaid management, higher prices, and customer service that ranges from limited to appalling.

On the other hand, privatisation has been a boon for the financial sector and for the various associated services (legal, accounting, consulting and so on) that dominate the CBD, and the thinking of those who work there. The result is a deep, and enduring, disconnect between the views of the policy elite and those of the general public.

The core of the editorial is the sentence “It does seem amazing that three out of four Queenslanders still can’t accept what is a pretty basic argument that governments don’t have any business running ports or selling electricity”. There are two big problems here.

First this isn’t an argument but an ideological assertion. While the ideology of privatisation is almost universally accepted among the policy elite and in the financial sector, it’s the reverse of the view that prevailed in Australia for most of our history, and worked well enough to provide us with the assets we are now arguing about.

The idea that governments should get out of the infrastructure business, leaving the funding of new investments to the financial sector came into vogue during the economic crisis of the 1970s. For a while, it seemed to be working well, as financial markets boomed in the 1990s. But, in the wake of the Global Financial Crisis, the idea of leaving everything to the financial sector looks less appealing.

More seriously, the public has never been given any serious opportunity to debate the free-market case for privatisation, presumably because politicians realised it was unsaleable. Although the statements of former ministers make it clear that the Bligh Labor government was fully convinced of the free-market case, nothing of the kind was presented to voters.

Instead, we got a spurious case based on the idea that we could sell income-generating public assets and use the proceeds to fund investments in schools and hospitals. The question of how the income flow from the privatised assets would be replaced was never addressed. The Bligh government’s case was so misleading that more than 20 leading economists, including advocates of the free-market argument for privatisation, signed a statement condemning it.

Treasurer Tim Nicholls has gone one better. In his presentation, embodied in the ‘Strong Choices’ website and echoed in the Courier-Mail editorial, we can not only use the proceeds of asset sales to build infrastructure, we can simultaneously use the same money to pay down debt and then spend the interest savings on schools and hospitals.

The Courier-Mail suggests that critics of privatisation are telling us we can have our cake and eat it. But the pro-privatisation case is even worse. It is a magic pudding that we can it seems, slice and eat, however many times we want.

The sad truth, admitted even by the government’s own Audit Commission, and recognised by the public response to the Strong Choices website is that there are no magic puddings.

Successive governments have sold us the myth that Queensland can be a low tax state while still enjoying public services of the same quality as high-tax southern states. While the mining boom lasted, this might have been true. But now we face a clear choice: either pay the same taxes as other states, or accept overcrowded schools and second-rate health services. This choice, and not the financial chicanery of ‘Non–Share Equity Interests’ is what we should be debating at the next election.

Categories: Group Blogs

Republicans see Ebola, think DDT

Crooked Timber - Sat, 2014-08-23 23:04

I wrote not long ago about the zombie idea that the US ban on agricultural use of DDT, enacted in 1972, somehow caused millions of people elsewhere in the world (where DDT remains available for anti-malaria programs) to die of malaria. A thorough refutation is now available to anyone who cares to look at Wikipedia, but the notion remains lurking in the Republican hindbrain.

So, with the recent outbreak of Ebola fever (transmitted between humans by direct contact and bodily fluids), the free-association process that passes for thought in Republican circles went straight from “sick people in Africa” to “DDT”. Ron Paul was onto the case early, with stupid remarks that were distilled into even purer stupidity in a press release put out by his organization. Next up, Diana Furchgott-Roth, of the Manhattan Institute.
And here’s the American Council on Smoking and Health.

Checking up, I found that Furchgott-Roth was formerly chief economist of the US Department of Labor, a position I associate with sober wonkery. Others to hold the position include Laurence Katz, Jesse Rothstein and Betsey Stevenson, none of whom have ever said anything crazy, at least to my knowledge. But it turns out that all of these, and other sensible economists I’ve heard of in this job, were appointed by Democrats, while Furchgott-Roth was appointed by George W. Bush. The only other Repub appointee I could find, Morgan Reynolds, turns out to be a truther, who believes that that the mainstream versions of the JFK assassination, the Oklahoma City bombing, and the 9/11 attacks are all lies. Since Reynolds was appointed in 2001, and left the job in 2002, he was obviously not a known truther and presumably not a known conspiracy theorist at the time, but his publication list makes it clear that he has long been a rightwing crank. He’s currently adjunct scholar with the Ludwig von Mises Institute in Auburn, Alabama.

Categories: Group Blogs

2700 Scholars Boycott UI; Trustees to Meet Tomorrow; Salaita’s Teaching Evaluations Superb; Philosopher Cancels Prestigious Lecture (Updated) (Updated Again)

Crooked Timber - Thu, 2014-08-21 20:36

I’m still on vacation and mostly staying offline but I wanted to do a quick update on the Salaita affair.

1. Tomorrow, August 22, the Executive Committee of the University of Illinois Board of Trustees is scheduled to meet again. The Executive Committee met on Monday, August 18. In an email, Phan Nguyen wrote to me, “According to the listing of BOT Executive Committee meetings on the website, there haven’t been two such meetings held within four days of each other” in quite some time, if ever. But where the Monday meeting agenda explicitly stated that employment and litigation matters would be discussed, the agenda for tomorrow’s meeting specifies no topics for discussion. And where Monday’s meeting was listed a closed meeting, this meeting doesn’t say if it’s closed or not.

2. Going into Monday’s meeting, many of us thought something —a decision, a deal, something—was afoot. But according to this report in the local media, no decisions were made at the meeting.

“There are a number of issues being discussed,” President Bob Easter told The News-Gazette after the meeting, but trustees are “not at a place where I can say” if resolution is close. He declined to talk further because it was a closed session about personnel.


Ali Abunimah has some further news:

 

However two sources familiar with the case separately confirmed that there has been no discussion of a settlement and no proposal of a settlement from either the university or from Salaita.


Both sources asked not to be identified as neither is authorized to speak publicly about the matter.


3. One of the issues that comes up frequently among the University of Illinois’s defenders is that Salaita’s tweets suggest he might create a hostile environment for students, that he’s not fit for the classroom. It’s a strange claim to make under any circumstance—how I am on Twitter bears little relationship to how I am in the classroom or in my interactions with students; all of us have different relationships with different people, and we act differently in different circumstances—but in Salaita’s case it’s especially strange because he actually has a demonstrated track record as a teacher that the University of Illinois could consult.

Salaita taught for eight years at Virginia Tech, and like most professors, he was evaluated by his students every semester. According to this report, these were the results:

The student evaluations for Steven Salaita are stunning.


In Fall 2009, 29 of 30 students responding rated Salaita’s “knowledge of subject” as “Excellent”.  In the same course, 93 percent of students rated Professor Salaita’s “overall rating” as “excellent,” and 2 as “good.”


In the same term, another group of students gave Salaita nearly identical—though even better —marks: 29 of 30 rated him “excellent” for knowledge of subject, 30 of 30 graded him excellent for grading fairness, and 93 percent rated him “excellent” for overall rating, 1 good.


These numbers repeat consistently over all six of the courses Professor Salaita submitted for review.  The lowest rating he received in the “excellent” category for “overall rating” was 86 percent.  Salaita never received, in any of the six courses evaluated, a single rating of “poor” for any of ten categories of teaching reviewed.  In his lone graduate seminar, he scored a perfect 100 percent rating of “excellence” in the category of “overall rating.”


But for purposes of our argument, it is especially important to note student evaluations of Professor Salaita in the category of “concern and respect” for students.  Here is where students evaluate their professor for professional empathy, respect for diverse points of view, and sensitivity to student opinion and student lives.


In the six courses reviewed Professor Salaita scored as follows in this category:


# of Students


30 Total: 28 Excellent  2 Good


30 Total:  30 out of 30 Excellent


10 Total: 10 out of 10 Excellent


29 Total: 28 Excellent 1 Good


28 Total: 28 out of 28 excellent


28 Total: 25 out of 28 excellent, 2 good, one No Response


In addition to these metrics, Professor Salaita submitted a peer review letter of his teaching by a Virginia Tech colleague in English.   This colleague visited Salaita’s classes to provide the department an assessment of Salaita’s teaching.


The letter cites Salaita’s numerical excellence in student evaluations, but goes on to praise his teaching in terms that would be the envy of Professors everywhere:


While the numbers are impressive, the student comments bear out in detail how deserving Steven is of the high ratings.  The students are acutely aware that they are privileged to be studying with a well-regarded scholar, who draws his knowledge from years of study and experience.  Steven is perceived as being knowledgeable and accessible—he takes time to talk with students and to encourage them in preparing their writing assignments… When asked questions in class, Steve gives factual and thoughtful replies.  It is clear to all that the teacher has mastery of his field.



Salaita’s colleague goes on to say:


The classes I visited focused on several very contemporary bodies of literature, most specifically Arab-American literature.  These works are difficult to understand and appreciate fully without the help of a good guide who knows the turf.  Professor Salaita is extremely well-informed on the history and current status of the many nations, political parties and religious sects of the Middle East.  This subject matter is urgently important not only for specialists in international affairs, but for anyone seeking to better understand the violent and volatile contemporary world.



This record shows only one thing: that Steven Salaita is an outstanding classroom teacher.


4. The campaign on behalf of Salaita has gathered steam. Yesterday, philosopher David Blacker canceled his scheduled appearance at the prestigious CAS/MillerComm lecture series at the University of Illinois. In a letter to the university, he wrote:

I regret to inform you that I must cancel my CAS/MillerComm lecture at the University of Illinois scheduled for September 29….


I have decided I must honor the growing worldwide pledge of academics not to appear at U. of I. unless the Salaita matter is acceptably resolved….


…Instead of choosing education and more speech as the remedy for disagreeable speech,the U. of I. has apparently chosen “enforced silence.” It thus violates what a university must stand for—whatever else it stands for—and therefore I join those who will not participate in the violation. In my judgment, this is a core and non-negotiable issue of academic freedom.


My hope is that the U. of I. will relent and restore its good name.  I would be delighted to reschedule my talk if and when this happens.


5. I haven’t got complete updates on the boycott campaign, but here are some new numbers (if I don’t have new numbers, I don’t list the petitions here; for a fuller list, go here):

 

Anthropology: 121


Latino/a and Chicano/a Studies: 70


Communications: 73


Sociology: 242


Philosophy: 241 (including our very own Chris Bertram)


English: 256


Political Science: 169 (including our very own Henry Farrell and myself)


Rhetoric/Composition: 32


Contingent academics: 210


Along with our other signatories on other petitions (for which I do not have updated numbers), we’ve got 2716 scholars committed to not engaging with the University of Illinois until Steven Salaita is reinstated.

A more general petition calling on the University of Illinois to reinstate Salaita has over 15,000 signatures.

Updated (9 pm)

An entire conference scheduled at the UI has now been officially canceled.

The Education Justice Project at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has been carefully observing the growing international academic boycott of our campus and weighing the potential impacts upon our Strategies for Action National Conference on Higher Education in Prison. After thoughtful deliberation, we have canceled the national conference.


This decision has not been easy.


We reached this decision after consulting with conference presenters and attendees, directors of other prison education programs, members of the higher ed in prison listserv, and with members of the Education Justice Project. We concluded that for EJP to host the conference at this time would compromise our ability to come together as a national community of educators and activists.


Updated (10 pm)

Yet another scholar has pulled out from a distinguished lecture series at the University of Illinois. This time it’s Allen Isaacman, Regents Professor of History at the University of Minnesota.

Categories: Group Blogs

How can we convince rightwingers to accept climate science …

Crooked Timber - Thu, 2014-08-21 20:24

… persuade them to stop being rightwingers[1]

(This is a cross-post from my blog)

I have a piece in (Australian magazine) Inside Story arguing that the various efforts to “frame” the evidence on climate change, and the policy implications, in a way that will appeal to those on the political right are all doomed. Whether or not it was historically inevitable, anti-science denialism is now a core component of rightwing tribal identity in both Australia and the US. The only hope for sustained progress on climate policy is a combination of demography and defection that will create a pro-science majority.

With my characteristic optimism, I extract a bright side from all of this. This has three components
(a) The intellectual collapse of the right has already proved politically costly, and these costs will increase over time
(b) The cost of climate stabilization has turned out to be so low that even a delay of 5-10 years won’t render it unmanageable.
(c) The benefits in terms of the possibility of implementing progressive policies such as redistribution away from the 1 per cent will more than offset the extra costs of the delay in dealing with climate change.

I expect lots of commenters here will disagree with one or more of these, so feel free to have your say.

fn1. Or, in the case of young people, not to start.

Categories: Group Blogs

Lincoln in Manchester

Crooked Timber - Thu, 2014-08-21 16:57

The statue of Abraham Lincoln in Westminster arrived in 1920. The former US Secretary of State Elihu Root presented it in July, noting its place of honor on Parliament Square among “memorials of British statesmen” and in a place “where the living tides of London will ebb and flow about it.”1 The somber and elegant piece is a product of the great sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens – son of a French father, Root noted, born in Ireland – artist of the memorial to the 54th Massachusetts and the Double Eagle as well as the Adams memorial. Saint-Gauden’s Lincoln is a fine sculpture.

It is also a bit of a cuckoo: it took the place meant for George Barnard’s Lincoln, which now stands in Manchester, because Barnard’s Lincoln was alleged to look like a “tramp with the colic.”

The Lincoln who stands in Manchester is a copy of the Lincoln who stands in Cincinnati. An American Peace Commission originally meant to send this Lincoln to London. But Robert Todd Lincoln, the president’s son, hated it – “grotesquely absurd,” he said; he thought it a “general deformity.” Others who remembered Lincoln described the Barnard as “uncouth and slouchy,” and “ungainly,” as well as “too lugubrious.”

Speaking for himself, Barnard had said he wanted a Lincoln who looked like a laborer, and took for his model a man who had cut wood for a living until the age of 40.2

Ultimately the Barnard-haters won, and secured the Saint-Gaudens statue for London. The Barnard would go to another suitable British city. Manchester stepped forward. The Guardian welcomed it, saying it

is anything but conventional, and to those accustomed to the sentimentalism which marks most of the statues in our squares and buildings it comes as something of a shock.… the sculptor almost fiercely thrusts forward the clumsiness and disproportion of Lincoln’s figure, as though to say, ‘Here is a man who needs no sentimental treatment.’…

[N]othing could better recall that great, self-sacrificing complement to the civil war which Americans will never forget, when the Lancashire [mill] operatives were content to go hungry that America might be united and free.3

The dearth of southern cotton during the US Civil War deprived Lancashire’s mills of their raw material. Workers did indeed suffer. But at the end of 1862, the mill workers met at Free Trade Hall in Manchester and passed a motion in support of Lincoln, the blockade, and the end of slavery.

Lincoln replied, saying he had “reckoned on the forbearance of nations” on the supposition that “[a] fair examination of history has served to authorize a belief that the past actions and influences of the United States were generally regarded as having been beneficial toward mankind.” But the gesture of the Manchester workers, in the depth of their own suffering, he thought “an instance of sublime Christian heroism” and “an energetic and inspiring assurance of the inherent power of truth and of the ultimate and universal triumph of justice, humanity, and freedom.4

Manchester’s Lincoln arrived earlier than London’s, in September 1919.5 But it was not until 1986 that Manchester’s local council (with a Labour majority) moved the statue to a new location, near Bright and Cobden.6

At the moment, if you wander by the Lincoln statue, you can touch your mobile phone to it and get a telephone call from the man, voiced by Tom Conti, as part of the Talking Statues project. Or you can hear it here.


1“Elihu Root’s London Address on Abraham Lincoln,” NYT 8/22/1920, p. X6.
2James T. Hickey, “Some Robert Todd Lincoln Letters on the ‘Dreadful Statue’ by George Grey Barnard,” Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society 73:2 (Summer, 1980): 132-139.
3“Wants Barnard’s Lincoln,” NYT 1/3/19, p. 4.
4“To the Working-Men of Manchester, England,” January 1863, Papers and Writings of Abraham Lincoln vol 6, accessed via Project Gutenberg.
5“Barnard’s Lincoln Set Up,” NYT 9/4/19, p. 10.
6Anthony Hutchison, “’All The Men of Great Affairs’: The Barnard Statue, Manchester Liberalism, and Lincoln Intellectual History,” American Literary History 21:4 (Winter 2009): 793-809.

Categories: Group Blogs

Coming soon, to a city near you

Crooked Timber - Thu, 2014-08-21 10:42

The University of California, Davis, is located immediately next to – across the street from – the city of Davis, California. Davis has a population of about 66,000, about 70 percent of whom have completed at least a bachelor’s degree from university. It is a low crime area.

The Davis police force has recently acquired a Mine-Resistant, Ambush-Protected vehicle (MRAP) from the Defense Department under the program described here.

The acquisition “is a reflection of the reality that officers need protection as they try to subdue gunmen barricaded inside buildings and elsewhere,” police say.

Categories: Group Blogs

The Laffer Event Horizon?

Crooked Timber - Wed, 2014-08-20 21:43

Reading Jon Chait this morning:

With predictable fury, supply-siders have denounced this heresy [that Reagan-era supply-side policies might not be optimal today, even granting that they were in 1980]. You can get a flavor of the intra-party debate in columns appearing in places like Forbes or The Wall Street Journal, the later of which retorts, “Good economic policy doesn’t have a sell-by date. (Adam Smith? Ugh. He is just so 1776.)”

The quote is a few months old, but – wow! – what an evergreen formula for zombie economics!

Good economic policy need not be formulated with reference to the economy.

I think maybe we need something a bit more science-fiction-y. Instead of the Laffer Curve, we have the Laffer Event Horizon, which is located in 1974, when Laffer sketched his famous curve on a napkin. After 1974, the economy fell into a black hole, for tax purposes. Specific facts about it could no longer cross the boundary of the Laffer Event Horizon, for policy purposes. A bit more precisely: within the black hole, all tax-like-paths – must be warped down and down, eventually to zero. Especially taxes on the rich.

Just a thought.

Categories: Group Blogs

Ferguson, disorder, and change

Crooked Timber - Wed, 2014-08-20 07:25

Watching the nightly demonstrations and confrontations from Ferguson, I was reminded of James C. Scott’s discussion in chapter 1 of his Two Cheers for Anarchism of the role of riots, confrontations, violence and disorder in effecting social change. They don’t always, or even usually, make things better. They sometimes makes things worse. But police violence, racism and radical social inequality are not going to be ended just by voting for the US Democratic Party, or even by a black President.

Scott:

It is a cruel irony that this great promise of democracy is rarely realized in practice. Most of the great political reforms of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries have been accompa­nied by massive episodes of civil disobedience, riot, lawbreak­ing, the disruption of public order, and, at the limit, civil war. Such tumult not only accompanied dramatic political changes but was often absolutely instrumental in bringing them about. Representative institutions and elections by themselves, sadly, seem rarely to bring about major changes in the absence of the force majeure afforded by, say, an economic depression or international war. Owing to the concentration of prop­erty and wealth in liberal democracies and the privileged ac­cess to media, culture, and political influence these positional advantages afford the richest stratum, it is little wonder that, as Gramsci noted, giving the working class the vote did not translate into radical political change. Ordinary parliamen­tary politics is noted more for its immobility than for facilitat­ing major reforms. (pp. 16–17)

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“Bad Cess”

Crooked Timber - Sun, 2014-08-17 17:00

Patrick Nielsen Hayden on Twitter today wished bad cess on a Hugo nominee apparently belonging to the richly-deserving-of-the-worst-cess-possible class. ‘Bad cess’ is an Irish expression; I suspect Patrick got it from Flann O’Brien, but I wouldn’t put it past him to have come across it somewhere else. This reminded me that I’ve been meaning for years to record a couple of Irish country expressions, mostly from my father and through him, from Gid, a Westmeath woman who worked at the farm he was born on, and who died when I was ten or so.

Gid was fond of two maledictions. One is a little opaque to me; “May the curse of Scotland be on you.” If I were to guess, I’d say it was a reference to the fact that multitudes Irish farm labourers had to go to Scotland to find seasonal work; many of them stayed and ended up, sooner or later, in the slums of Glasgow or other cities. The other is more transparent; “May the curse of the seven snotty orphans be on you.” ‘Snotty’ here means ‘badly behaved and presumptuous,’ rather than with noses in need of a good wiping. It wasn’t unusual for relatives to have to take orphans in unexpectedly- my own father’s father was brought up by two bachelor uncles after his parents died when he was an infant. And of course, he was very lucky – the history of orphanages in Ireland is a wretched one indeed.

Gid would also say that someone was “that hungry, he’d eat a chap’s arse through a chair,” a chap being country argot for a small child. Stephen King uses the word “chap” in a similar way in one of his novels, suggesting that the slang made its way to Maine (and of course, ‘chappie’ is a somewhat dated English diminutive for a very young boy). And of someone knocking on death’s door for a long while, but never quite managing to expire, “it’s the creaking door that hangs the longest.” This last seems from an Internet search to have had some circulation in nineteenth century England, where likely it originated.

I like these sayings; there’s some flavor to them. Feel encouraged in comments to provide your own, if you have any.

Categories: Group Blogs

Ferguson, Missouri, update

Crooked Timber - Sun, 2014-08-17 14:08

(Previously)

Yesterday evening, Missouri Governor Jay Nixon declared a state of emergency, including a curfew, for Ferguson.

On Friday, Ferguson police had released the name of the officer who shot Michael Brown. They did not release details of the shooting, but did release a report indicating Brown was a suspect in a strong-arm robbery, including photographs and video showing someone resembling Brown in a physical altercation with a convenience-store clerk.

Last night there were arrests of people violating the curfew.

This morning, on Meet the Press with Andrea Mitchell, Nixon criticized the police report.

Yeah, we and our security team and the highway patrol did not know that was going to be released. I don’t think the attorney general knew that. And quite frankly, we disagree deeply I think for two reasons. Number one, to attempt to in essence disparage the character of this victim, in the middle of a process like this is not right. It’s just not right. And secondarily, it did put the community and quite frankly the region and the nation on alert again. These are old wounds. These are deep wounds in these communities. And that action was not helpful.

Meet the Press included a report beginning with the note, “Prison sentences for black men are 20% longer than those for whites convicted of the same crime. And on average, 100 black people are killed each year by white police officers.”

Also today, US Attorney General Eric Holder has ordered a federal medical examiner to conduct a further autopsy of Michael Brown’s body.

Eyewitness accounts of the shooting have begun to emerge.

Categories: Group Blogs

The road from Sinjar to Tilbury is blocked

Crooked Timber - Sun, 2014-08-17 10:49

Two stories are very prominent in the UK media at the moment. The Yazidis and Christians fleeing from the “Islamic State” group in Iraq, and the death of a man in a container on Tilbury docks. One story is presented as human tragedy, the lives of ordinary human beings destroyed by sectarian bigotry; the other has been spun as a tale about criminality, illegality and “human trafficking”.

This morning, the details of the Tilbury case were not entirely clear. The 35 people in the container there were reported to have come from “the Indian sub-continent”. They might have been economic migrants or they might have been Tamils fleeing from persecution in Sri Lanka, or Shia or Christians fleeing persecution from Sunni fanatics in Pakistan. As it turns out they seem to be Sikhs from Afghanistan, that is, a persecuted religious and ethnic minority. This didn’t stop the UK’s immigration minister, James Brokenshire from opining that this is “a reminder of the often devastating human consequences of illegal migration”. His Labour shadow, David Hanson was also clear that this was “a stark reminder of ‎the human consequences of the trafficking trade”. And the “human trafficking” charities and campaign groups such as Unseen have been calling for increased vigilance. It seems they all already knew what was going on, even in advance of an investigation and independently of whether the people in the container sought asylum and asked for refugee status (which they may or may not do [UPDATE: in fact they have all now claimed asylum). The former head of the UK Border Force, Tony Smith, shared in this consensus about what had happened. He also offered a solution:

"We really need to get a message out to migrants that if they want to come to this country there are legal routes that they need to explore and they need to apply for visas and permits."

It is somewhat shocking that a former senior immigration official should be so ill-informed. Everything in UK policy is oriented to keeping the vulnerable out.

Matthew Gibney in his superb book The Ethics and Poltics of Asylum recalls that back in 2002 the then UK Minister of State for Immigration, Jeff Rooker was asked

"whether there existed any legal avenues by which legitimate refugees might enter the UK. [He] answered bluntly ‘No’.” (p.153).

In the intervening twelve years, things have become still more difficult. As soon as the Syrian conflict blew up, for example, British Home Secretary Theresa May took action to stop Syrians from transiting via UK airports for fear that they might claim asylum. (Many of those trapped in camps at Calais and subject to violence there are Syrians who cannot get into the UK.)

Though the UK (like many other states) is a signatory to the Refugee Convention and though its politicians make lots of fine noises about persecuted minorities overseas, it also does it best to make sure that people suffering persecuting can never get here to claim asylum. It does this by a variety of measures: by refusing visas for travel, by fining airlines and shipping companies who transport people without adequate papers, and by enforcing the EU’s Dublin protocol that keeps those who do reach Europe in their first country of entry. If those Yazidis or Iraqi Christians do want to make it to the UK, they will almost certainly have to depend on traffickers or people smugglers, they will have to risk drowning in the Mediterranean, being crushed under a lorry or being asphyxiated in a container. If they do arrive, they will be stigmatized as “illegal” and their stories of rape, murder and persecution will be treated with the utmost scepticism by the UK Border Force and the Home Office. But just so long as they stay in Iraq they will elicit words of concern from Brokenshire, Hanson and their ilk.

Categories: Group Blogs

A myriad of posts

Crooked Timber - Sun, 2014-08-17 03:15

This is the ten-thousandth post we’ve published on Crooked Timber and we thought we ought to mark that moment. I’ve been looking for suitable music, but the best I’ve come up with is the incomparable, tragic and heroic Nic Jones singing “10,000 Miles”. Since the lyric includes “fare you well, I’m going away, but I’ll be back …” that probably sends the wrong message! In truth, I’d rather have used the Proclaimers (one of the best live bands I’ve ever seen), but they only walked 500 miles, which would have got them rather wet, even though they declared their willingness to walk 500 more.

Ten thousand is a lot of posts, a lot of words. Wikipedia tells me that there’s even a Greek word for it, μύριοι, the source of “myriad” in English. Henri Cartier-Bresson apparently said that “Your first 10,000 photographs are your worse”, and if Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hours rule counts for anything, we probably ought to be quite good at this blogging business by now.

Here’s to a myriad more!

Categories: Group Blogs

The end of a glittering career ….

Crooked Timber - Sat, 2014-08-16 12:01

And so, as readers of my Twitter account might be aware, I’ve had a life event recently. As of today (I’m posting this from the WiFi at Geneva airport) and for the next year, I am doing less of the stockbroking, and more of the travelling round the world with my family.

It is often traditional for articles by downshifting investment bankers to do a big deal about how they have got tired of the iniquity of the industry, want to seek meaning in their lives and so on. Don’t go looking for that here. I’m not at all bitter about the industry (probably because I wasn’t sacked), and if I had thought it was an intrinsically immoral or destructive business I was in, I wouldn’t have done it for sixteen years. We bought and sold shares – if you wanted some shares we’d sell you some, and if you had some shares you didn’t want any more we’d make you an offer for them.

My job was what is called a “sell side equity analyst”. Which is to say, “a writer of a very specialist news service, covering somewhere between three and twelve companies, provided by a stock brokerage firm for the benefit of its clients”. Every day I used to be responsible for knowing anything that was going on in the world which might be relevant to the advisability or otherwise of an investment in banking sector stocks, and then either write it down for distribution to our full list of clients, or call up a couple of dozen of the most important ones if I knew they’d be specifically interested in it. Once a quarter, clients would file a “broker review”detailing how useful they had found our brokerage firm and if they had liked my research that quarter they would say so.

It was also my job to make sure that my own firm’s trading desk was as well-informed as we possibly manage, because as a brokerage firm, we provided firm quotes for clients to deal against. If you’ve just agreed a price for a block of shares, and then some negative news comes out before you’ve had a chance to move them on, you can lose a lot of money. And one reason why a client might be looking for a firm price om a block of shares is that he or she has a strong suspicion that something nasty might be about to happen to them. So it was always in the interests of my employers to ensure that we were better informed than the clients – basically an impossible task since there were dozens of them and some of them were bloody sharp cookies, but we tried.

That’s the nature of the business of being an analyst – protect your market-maker as much as you can, and try to produce material that will reflect well on your firm’s reputation as good people to deal with. From dot com bubble to high-frequency and beyond, it really didn’t change all that much as long as it was there. Lots of people thought that we didn’t add any value – an opinion to which they were entitled, although personally if I had been regulating the industry I’d have made more of an effort to find out what I was talking about. While I was there, average commission levels fell from 0.2% to around 0.008%, so I don’t think people can really claim to have been ripped off too badly by the agency brokers at least. From day one to day 5500, people constantly foretold the end of equity research – it was going to be done in by quant funds, index trackers, buy-side hiring their own analysts, hedge funds poaching all the talent, the Global Settlement regulations on capital markets business and finally by high frequency trading (ie, quant funds, again). But equity research is still here, although many of the people who forecast its demise are no longer. In the final analysis, I always took comfort from the fact that my own part of the industry, along with M&A advisory, had the distinction of being the only part where anyone had ever set up a new business using their own money – there are no boutique CDO traders, no startup derivatives structurers and no offices with two men and a dog originating subprime securitisations. But there are loads of small research firms and stockbrokers, and I was happy to work at a few of the best.

Some of my recommendations were great and some were awful, but on average I don’t think I can have been too bad because people kept giving me jobs and bonuses. Towards the end of my career, I was part of a research organisation that was voted best in Europe in two years’ industry surveys and that’s pretty much the level where I topped out; sports fans would probably recognise me as a John Toshack figure – a solid contributor to some great teams, the kind of guy who would always be promoted to Director (because of good specialist knowledge) but never to Managing Director (too weird, too disorganised). I’m happy with the results.

But it’s not such a great job that you’d keep doing it if you didn’t have to – none of them are, hence the name “job”. So I’ve taken my various bonuses, plus the profits from the London housing market and so on, and used them to move on to a new big adventure. Watch this space, but as far as investment banking is concerned, I am imagining a tinny loudspeaker ringing out above the screaming crowds with a calm voice saying “Davies has left the building”.

Categories: Group Blogs

A libertarian moment, after all ?

Crooked Timber - Sat, 2014-08-16 00:26

One of the really fun (?) things about blogging is that you get to make confident assertions that are permanently recorded and subject to immediate disproof. So, almost as soon as I suggested that (propertarian) libertarians were running out of issues on which they could distinguish themselves from Republicans in general, we saw the police occupation of Ferguson. The issue of police militarization is one that has been pushed for years by Radley Balko at Reason (and more recently at the Washington Post), and this (rather than the older left-liberal framing around “police brutality”) has informed much of the reaction both from the centre-left and the libertarian right[^1]. On the other hand, mainstream Republicans have either ducked the issue or backed the police.

There’s certainly some room for common ground here, and perhaps even some actual progress. But I still think there are some pretty big obstacles. Most obviously, there’s the militarization of the far-right, represented by “open carry” and the heavily armed mobs that have been seen backing Cliven Bundy and threatening immigrant children, with the enthusiastic support of Fox News.

To their credit, writers at Reason haven’t gone along with the presentation of these thugs as heroic defenders of the Second Amendment. On the other hand, they have been concerned to play down the threat they pose, as against that represented by warrior police. This piece, suggesting that licensing restrictions and teacher unioons are more racist than Bundy (described, fairly enough as a racist “federal lands moocher”), is fairly typical.

So, while it would be great to see libertarians of all stripes combining against the over-reach of the security state, the idea that weapons proliferation (and, for that matter, comprehensive surveillance) are only a problem when governments get involved is likely to impose some severe limits to progress.

[^1]: Politicians of all stripes were slow out of the gate, and cautious in their wording, understandably perhaps given the backlash against Obama last time he sided with a black man against a cop. But Justin Amash, Rand Paul and even Ted Cruz have issued statements questioning police militarization, as have Obama, Holder and (Missouri Dem Senator) Claire McAskill.

Categories: Group Blogs

Some notes on Ferguson, Missouri

Crooked Timber - Thu, 2014-08-14 11:12

Following the police shooting of Michael Brown, protesters have taken to the streets of Ferguson, Missouri. Police deployed there wear uniforms and carry weapons that look more like the desert camouflage and armaments of US armed forces in recent Central Asian wars than like the traditional uniforms of American peace officers.

Indeed, military gear used by the US overseas has been finding its way to American streets. Police forces in the US receive surplus military gear from the Defense Department under a program whose motto is “From Warfighter to Crimefighter.”

Proper training in tactics does not always accompany the equipment, according to Rise of the Warrior Cop by Radley Balko.

Veterans on Ferguson” has become something of a social media phenomenon devoted to former soldiers’ (and other members of the armed forces) criticism of police tactics in Ferguson.

Last night, Ferguson police arrested reporters and a St. Louis alderman. Network news crews withdrew their satellite trucks, according to at least one account, on orders.

Major news outlets report the protesters threw Molotov cocktails at police.

Governor Jay Nixon, a Democrat, has issued a statement of concern and will visit Ferguson this morning.

The governor may relieve the police of duty.

Ferguson’s police chief says “it’s a lot of outside agitators causing the violence.” He also says they police will shortly release 911 recording from the time of the Michael Brown shooting, following the release of what is supposed to be the dispatcher recordings.

US Attorney General Eric Holder has said the Department of Justice will investigate the shooting and is to talk with Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri today.

I don’t see any point in adding my comments, but you should add yours…

Categories: Group Blogs

Nearly 300 Scholars Declare They Will Not Engage With the University of Illinois

Crooked Timber - Wed, 2014-08-13 12:05

In the last week, the campaign for the University of Illinois to reinstate Steven Salaita has gained momentum. Over 14,000 men and women have signed a petition demanding his reinstatement. Many have sent emails and letters of protest to Chancellor Phyllis Wise.

And over the weekend, scholars began to organize discipline-specific campaigns of refusing to engage with the University of Illinois until Salaita is reinstated.

Philosophers have organized their own statement of refusing to come to the University of Illinois; political scientists have organized a similar statement. English Department faculty across the country have upped the ante, saying they will not “engage with the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign as speakers, as participants in conferences or other events, or as reviewers for the tenure and promotion of your faculty.” Finally, just this morning, historians, scholars of composition/rhetoric, and sociologists organized their own campaigns of refusal to engage.

All told, nearly 300 faculty—including Michael Bérubé, Jacob Levy, Paul Boghossian, Jeff Goodwin, Adolph Reed, Bruce Robbins, Judith Butler, Bonnie Honig, William Connolly, Jason Stanley—are refusing to engage with the University of Illinois until Salaita is reinstated.

If you are a historian, and wish to sign a historians’ statement, go here.

If you are a political scientist, and wish to sign a political scientists’ statement, go here.

If you are a sociologist, and wish to sign a sociologists’ statement, go here.

If you are an English professor, and wish to sign an English professors’ statement, go here.

If you are a philosopher, and wish to sign a philosophers’ statement, go here.

If you are a rhetoric/composition professor, and wish to sign a rhetoric/composition professors’ statement, go here.

Meanwhile, Cornell Law Professor Michael Dorf has an excellent analysis of the legal and constitutional aspects of Salaita’s dehiring.

Some ​ supporters of the university’s decision point to the often-important distinction between firing and not hiring. Academic freedom, they point out, is mostly a matter of contract law, and because Salaita had not yet been formally hired by the University of Illinois, he was not entitled to the same protection as someone who was already a member of the faculty.


But that view appears to be false as a matter of contract law. Like many other states, Illinois law offers protection to people who, in reasonable reliance on an offer that falls short of a fully enforceable contract, take actions to their detriment. The Illinois Supreme Court affirmed this principle of “promissory estoppel” as recently as 2009, in the case of Newton Tractor Sales v. Kubota Tractor Corp.


Salaita has an almost-classic case of promissory estoppel.



Yet even in the unlikely event that Virginia rather than Illinois law governs the contractual issues, Salaita could still have a valid claim, under federal constitutional law.



Does that conclusion make sense? Putting aside the freestanding First Amendment issues, one might think that academic freedom should only extend to a faculty member’s speech in an academic capacity. After all, the point of academic freedom is to encourage free inquiry within the academic environment.


But in fact academic freedom has generally been seen to be much broader. The American Association of University Professors (AAUP) 1940 Statement of Principles of Academic Freedom and Tenure sets out the general understanding of academic freedom. It proclaims that when professors “speak or write as citizens, they should be free from institutional censorship or discipline.”



Thus, it is possible in an extreme case for a faculty member’s external statements to render him or her unfit to teach. Overtly insensitive and repeated racist, sexist, or homophobic statements might fall into this category. But in order for the concern for student sensitivities not to swallow up academic freedom, the threshold must be very high.


Did Salaita cross that threshold? In short, no.

Some ​ supporters of the university’s decision point to the often-important distinction between firing and not hiring. Academic freedom, they point out, is mostly a matter of contract law, and because Salaita had not yet been formally hired by the University of Illinois, he was not entitled to the same protection as someone who was already a member of the faculty.

But that view appears to be false as a matter of contract law. Like many other states, Illinois law offers protection to people who, in reasonable reliance on an offer that falls short of a fully enforceable contract, take actions to their detriment. The Illinois Supreme Court affirmed this principle of “promissory estoppel” as recently as 2009, in the case of Newton Tractor Sales v. Kubota Tractor Corp.

Salaita has an almost-classic case of promissory estoppel.

– See more at: http://verdict.justia.com/2014/08/13/academic-freedom-salaita-case?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+Verdict+%28Verdict+%7C+Legal+Analysis+and+Commentary+from+Justia%29#sthash.q7aR0FLF.NmoIoVOt.dpuf


Some ​ supporters of the university’s decision point to the often-important distinction between firing and not hiring. Academic freedom, they point out, is mostly a matter of contract law, and because Salaita had not yet been formally hired by the University of Illinois, he was not entitled to the same protection as someone who was already a member of the faculty.

But that view appears to be false as a matter of contract law. Like many other states, Illinois law offers protection to people who, in reasonable reliance on an offer that falls short of a fully enforceable contract, take actions to their detriment. The Illinois Supreme Court affirmed this principle of “promissory estoppel” as recently as 2009, in the case of Newton Tractor Sales v. Kubota Tractor Corp.

Salaita has an almost-classic case of promissory estoppel.

– See more at: http://verdict.justia.com/2014/08/13/academic-freedom-salaita-case?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+Verdict+%28Verdict+%7C+Legal+Analysis+and+Commentary+from+Justia%29#sthash.q7aR0FLF.NmoIoVOt.dpuf


Some ​ supporters of the university’s decision point to the often-important distinction between firing and not hiring. Academic freedom, they point out, is mostly a matter of contract law, and because Salaita had not yet been formally hired by the University of Illinois, he was not entitled to the same protection as someone who was already a member of the faculty.

But that view appears to be false as a matter of contract law. Like many other states, Illinois law offers protection to people who, in reasonable reliance on an offer that falls short of a fully enforceable contract, take actions to their detriment. The Illinois Supreme Court affirmed this principle of “promissory estoppel” as recently as 2009, in the case of Newton Tractor Sales v. Kubota Tractor Corp.

Salaita has an almost-classic case of promissory estoppel.

– See more at: http://verdict.justia.com/2014/08/13/academic-freedom-salaita-case?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+Verdict+%28Verdict+%7C+Legal+Analysis+and+Commentary+from+Justia%29#sthash.q7aR0FLF.NmoIoVOt.dpuf


Some ​ supporters of the university’s decision point to the often-important distinction between firing and not hiring. Academic freedom, they point out, is mostly a matter of contract law, and because Salaita had not yet been formally hired by the University of Illinois, he was not entitled to the same protection as someone who was already a member of the faculty.

But that view appears to be false as a matter of contract law. Like many other states, Illinois law offers protection to people who, in reasonable reliance on an offer that falls short of a fully enforceable contract, take actions to their detriment. The Illinois Supreme Court affirmed this principle of “promissory estoppel” as recently as 2009, in the case of Newton Tractor Sales v. Kubota Tractor Corp.

Salaita has an almost-classic case of promissory estoppel.

– See more at: http://verdict.justia.com/2014/08/13/academic-freedom-salaita-case?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+Verdict+%28Verdict+%7C+Legal+Analysis+and+Commentary+from+Justia%29#sthash.q7aR0FLF.NmoIoVOt.dpuf


Some ​ supporters of the university’s decision point to the often-important distinction between firing and not hiring. Academic freedom, they point out, is mostly a matter of contract law, and because Salaita had not yet been formally hired by the University of Illinois, he was not entitled to the same protection as someone who was already a member of the faculty.

But that view appears to be false as a matter of contract law. Like many other states, Illinois law offers protection to people who, in reasonable reliance on an offer that falls short of a fully enforceable contract, take actions to their detriment. The Illinois Supreme Court affirmed this principle of “promissory estoppel” as recently as 2009, in the case of Newton Tractor Sales v. Kubota Tractor Corp.

Salaita has an almost-classic case of promissory estoppel.

– See more at: http://verdict.justia.com/2014/08/13/academic-freedom-salaita-case?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+Verdict+%28Verdict+%7C+Legal+Analysis+and+Commentary+from+Justia%29#sthash.q7aR0FLF.NmoIoVOt.dpuf

Categories: Group Blogs

Origami

Crooked Timber - Wed, 2014-08-13 04:25

The NY Times is running a debate on whether (home) 3-D printers are the Next Big Thing. My guess is not, partly for reasons advanced in the debate (making plastic shapes is limited, handling other materials is messy and dangerous) and partly from the observation that home 2-D printers have proved pretty much transitory. I suppose most people have one or two sitting around, but I only use mine when someone makes a mistake: typically sending me a non-editable PDF that needs to be printed out, filled in, signed and scanned. This happens rarely enough that I usually need to download a new driver, which is a real pain (honestly, after 30 years, we still need drivers!?). My guess is that if 3D printing becomes a Big Thing, it will be on the basis of same-day delivery from a special-purpose facility to which we send our customised product requests.

But what really interested me was a piece bagging out the paperless office on the basis that it was first predicted in the 1970s, but that US businesses are using more paper now than they did then. This struck me as probably true but misleading for two reasons
(i) the population has grown, as has the proportion of workers who deal with text in one form or another
(ii) the two point comparison conceals a rise and fall.

Point (i) is obvious. A quick check reveals that (ii) is also correct. Paper consumption peaked in the late 1990s and has fallen sharply since 2005. I’m pleased with this because back in 2007, I noted that the much-mocked “paperless office” was become a reality, and predicted that the trend would accelerate (reprinted over the fold)>


The myth of “The Myth of the Paperless Office”
The “paperless office” is one of those catchphrases that gets bandied about for a while, only to disappoint and eventually be used in a purely derisive way. As Wikipedia says, it has become ‘a metaphor for the touting of new technology in terms of ‘modernity’ rather than its actual suitability to purpose’. The death of the phrase was cemented by a 2001 book, by Sellen and Harper “The Myth of the Paperless Office”. Here’s a good review from Kirk McElhearn.

This book wasn’t a snarky debunking but a fairly sophisticated analysis, pointing out that a sensible analysis of task requirements could allow a significant reduction in paper use. But it was the title that stuck. No one would ever again refer to the paperless office with a straight face.

Six years later, though, looking at my own work habits, I find that I have virtually ceased to use paper, in all but a couple of marginal applications.

The office is still full of paper, but a lot of it hasn’t been looked at for years. For example, I have filing cabinets full of photocopied journal articles, and a good indexing system for them, but I hardly ever use them. It’s easier to download PDFs for all the articles I want on a topic, and read them onscreen, rather than checking to see if I already have a file copy. And I’ve hardly added any in the last five years, so it’s only inertia that keeps them in place.

There are still a couple of exceptions. For example, I still use paper in intra-office editing, where it’s easier to handwrite suggested changes on a draft than to use digital markup (especially as I avoid Word wherever possible). But I could easily do without paper altogether, whereas without email I would be crippled.

So, I wonder if I’m an outlier, or just on the leading edge of a broader trend. A bit of digging produced the finding that (US) office paper consumption peaked in 1999, and has been in decline since then.

The annual rate of decline (-0.9 per cent) is unimpressive in itself, but striking when compared to the growth rate of 5.7 per cent observed from 1985 to 1999, at a time when talk of the paperless office was particularly prevalent. Compared to the ‘Business as Usual’ extrapolation of the previous growth rate, office paper consumption has declined by around 40 per cent. My guess is that the decline is accelerating. Academic journals have nearly abandoned paper submission procedures for example, and I assume that similar things are happening in other lines of work. The disappearance of faxes is another illustration.

Of course, the “paperless office” myth wasn’t just a prediction that digital communications would replace paper one day. It was a sales pitch for a top-down redesign of work processes, which, for the reasons given by Sellen and Harper, was never going to work. Some uses of paper became obsolete long before others. For example, it was a decade or so after the widespread adoption of email that it became generally feasible to use PDF attachments (still a problem of you’re on dialup and some fool sticks a 2Mb glossy ad into their FYI circular!).

I’m interested in this story in itself, but also because of its implications for energy use. Just as with paper, there’s a widespread assumption that energy-intensive methods of doing things are essential. This is assumption is reinforced by the long lag between the point at which things become technically feasible and the point at which the necessary infrastructure is in place for their widespread adoption. For example, videoconferencing has been a feasible alternative to business travel for decades, but as long as you need to book a special building and equipment at both ends, it’s not going to happen on any significant scale. When every office computer has a high-quality digital videocamera attached to a gigabit capacity network, things might be a bit different.

Categories: Group Blogs

New Spoon – Good!

Crooked Timber - Tue, 2014-08-12 09:35

The world is an awful mess but the new Spoon album, They Want My Soul, is amazing! Best Spoon album since … well, at least since Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga. (Better than Transference, then.) They did a live, 9-song performance for KEXP, Seattle, including many of the new songs. You can watch that here. But I think the studio versions sound better.

So here’s the thing: they’ve always had a Beatle-y thing going on, Spoon, but “I Just Don’t Understand” is – after the first few seconds – such a Lennon/McCartney Please Please Me kind of 1963 tune. Right? Pleasant! [UPDATE: Aaaand it turns out actually to be a cover of a song the Beatles covered, which I never heard before, because I don’t own Live at the BBC.] But “Knock Knock Knock” – correct me if I’m wrong – sounds a bit like, I dunno, Pink Floyd mid-70’s. (After the first few seconds.) Kinda David Gilmour guitar, then swoopy anthem stuff. Sort of a different sound for Spoon. I like it.

Now everyone tell me it doesn’t sound like Pink Floyd at all.

Categories: Group Blogs
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