Group Blogs

If she weighs the same as a duck … she’s made of wood … and therefore

Crooked Timber - Tue, 2014-09-23 19:23

… an Alinskyite!

Unless I’m missing something, Kurtz’ actual argument that Hillary has consistently remained an Alinskyite radical is that, for decades, she has consistently done absolutely nothing whatsoever to suggest this is true – as one would expect! She is, to all appearances, moderate, incrementalist and pragmatic. Just like Barack Obama, who is such a model Alinskyite radical that he is on track to govern for eight years and retire to private life without once doing anything to suggest he’s got a radical bone in his body.

How much more sinister would The Manchurian Candidate have been if the trigger word were never spoken. The sleeper never wakes! (A lone hero tries to warn the world but, because there is literally nothing to warn people about, he is ignored.)

Back to Kurtz.

With Obamacare and much else besides, the legal and bureaucratic groundwork has already been laid for a leftist transformation of America. It is naïve to believe that Hillary would roll any of this back.

OK, now that would be a twist ending. Suppose Hillary is elected and we find out how just how deep the rabbit hole goes. She was, and has remained, a Goldwater Girl. After 1964 she knew that sort of commonsense conservatism could not win openly. It was too easy for opponents to tar you as a radical. The whole Alinsky phase was then a ruse, to establish a veneer of political acceptability. This was deep cover, to get close to Bill Clinton and, through him, the levers of power. Flash forward. It’s been a long road but finally, in 2016, all the ‘naive’ people who expect from Hillary a radical rollback of Obamacare, and much else he and other Democrats have done for decades in a seemingly moderate, incrementalist, pragmatic spirit – after all, she says she’s a moderate! – are proved right! President Hillary confesses to the American people that she has only seemingly been supporting a consistently seemingly moderate politics all these years, because secretly she advocated a consistently moderate politics. But she knew the American people, who don’t like radicalism, would only go for moderation if it was cloaked as radicalism cloaked in moderation. She joins the Tea Party and goes down in history as a truly moderate Democrat.


“That’s a new one, blue skies on Mars.”

Categories: Group Blogs

From derp to denial

Crooked Timber - Tue, 2014-09-23 17:24

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve seen four major reports (details over the fold) from very different sources, all making the same point: decarbonizing the world economy will involve economic costs that are
(a) small; and
(b) far outweighed by the benefits
And, the empirical evidence so far is strong. The EU and US have both reduced CO2 emissions significantly, at negligible or even negative economic cost. The measures announced by Obama, including vehicle emissions standards and restrictions on coal-fired power stations appear set to achieve further substantial reductions, again while yielding net economic benefits.

Against the expectations of doubters, wind and solar PV are steadily increasing their share of electricity generation, to the point where they constitute the majority of new installations in many countries. Again, the costs have been trivially small: in Australia’s case, made up almost entirely of the reduction in asset value imposed on existing generators.

There is as far as I am aware, no credible analysis to support the opposite claim (call it the economic armageddon hypothesis) that decarbonization will involve economic costs sufficient to greatly reduce living standards, or, for poor countries, prevent catchup to the developed world. (Again, more detailed argument over the fold.

Nevertheless, past experience suggests that lots of people are sufficiently wedded to the economic armageddon hypothesis that neither this, nor any other evidence will change their minds. I have previously analyzed this unwillingness to respond to evidence in terms of Noah Smith’s Bayesian definition of “derp“: “the constant, repetitive reiteration of strong priors”.

But I no longer think this is sufficient. A central concept of Bayesian decision theory is the separation of preferences from beliefs. That is, your subjective belief about the probability that a proposition is true should be independent of whether (because you have bet on it, or for some other reason) you want it to be true. This is the opposite of what is often called “motivated reasoning” or, less politely, “wishful thinking”.

This, I think, is the central distinction between “derp” and “denial”. Both involve the rejection of factual evidence that would (to a person without strong preconceptions) be overwhelmingly strong. This must involve strong prior beliefs. Denial differs from derp in that these factual beliefs derive from preferences, and are unlikely to undergo any updating. If anything, denial may be strengthened by evidence of the proposition being denied.

This in turn suggests different possible cures. Derp may eventually, if very slowly, be overcome by an accumulation of evidence. By contrast, denial can only be addressed by changing the source of wishful thinking; for example, by convincing rightwingers to stop being rightwingers.

That brings us to the question of why, if the case is so overwhelming, the political resistance to action on climate change has been so strong, and whether it can be overcome. I have a go at this in another post on my blog, where this one was already posted. It might be worth reading the comments threads to these posts before jumping in here.

As promised above, here are my sources for the proposition:

First, there’s Pathways to Deep Decarbonization an international collaborative project under the auspices of the UN.

Second, the Better Growth Better Climate report from the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate

Third, this report on Green Growth from the Center for American Progress (covers the US only)

And, most strikingly, this report from staffers at the International Monetary Fund, long the guardian of fiscal rectitude has concluded that for most countries, the local side benefits of reducing pollution would be sufficient to offset the costs for carbon prices up to $50/tonne.

There are lots more analyses making the same point, which can easily be checked with an upper bound calculation.

On the other side, I haven’t seen anything that comes close to being a credible source for the economic armageddon hypothesis. What I have seen are

  • Lawyerly quibbles with evidence, not internally consistent and always supporting one side of the case (these are too numerous to bother linking)
  • Attempts to make small numbers look big, for example by converting annual flows into present values
  • Amateur exercises by committed non-experts, riddled with errors. Ted Trainer is probably the archetypal example
  • Rectal extraction: confident pronouncements based on nothing whatsoever

All of these are, of course, the standard argumentative practices of climate science denialists, who are entirely consistent in their treatment of economic issues. Unfortunately, there are also many who, like Trainer, regard themselves as being on the environmental side of the debate but give aid and comfort to its enemies by backing their bogus claims of economic armageddon. At these point, it is necessary to extend the denialist label to cover this group as well.

Categories: Group Blogs

Digital Rhetoric

The Blogora - Tue, 2014-09-23 15:40

The Communication Department at the University of Colorado, Boulder invites applications for a tenure track position, open rank, in the study of Digital Rhetoric working from one or more of the following perspectives: (1) publics, social movements, or formally organized politics; (2) race, ethnicity, gender, or sexuality; (3) contemporary Continental social theory; (4) comparative, cross-cultural, postcolonial, or anthropological studies. Applicants must have a Ph.D. in communication or a related field, a record of high quality scholarship, and a strong teaching record.

read more

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Every single IT guy, every single manager …

Crooked Timber - Tue, 2014-09-23 07:19

I’m sure that this point has been made somewhere or other in the general debate on email spying and the NSA/Snowden revelations, but in my opinion not often enough or forcefully enough. People who want to dismiss the whole thing as “no big deal” are, in my view, totally underestimating the scale of the blind trust that’s required of them. In other words, even opponents of ubiquitous surveillance (like Kieran in this worked example) tend to assume that the institution which has access to your information is the institution which collected it. But that’s not necessarily the case at all.

The Leveson Inquiry in the UK demonstrated that the Police National Computer could be accessed by more or less any tabloid journalist with a phone and an account with a crooked detective agency (which served as the conduit to crooked insiders). The Manning and Snowden revelations, whatever else they’ve shown us about the world, have made it clear that mid-level employees can get access to huge amounts of top secret data as long as they’ve got the wit to smuggle it out on a thumb drive.

So the question is not so much “do you trust the CIA/NSA/MI6/etc?”. It’s “Do you trust every single sysadmin working for these organisations? Every single analyst? Every single middle manager?”. The CIA might not be interested at all in my dull mobile phone conversation metadata, but someone else might – the Leveson inquiry was told how the UK’s PNC was used by one copper to check out his daughter’s new boyfriend. In terms of our personal data, the kind of uses which the agencies want to be allowed to make, while worrying enough in themselves, are the tip of the iceberg. And all the policies which might prevent it from being accessed by blackmailers, tabloid journalists, nosey neighbours and basically anyone else, are themselves top secret and not subject to any sort of legal oversight.

This isn’t a conspiracy theory, as you can see; it’s based on the fact that big and complicated systems are set up to malfunction, particularly if they are able to declare themselves above any regulation at all. And the way in which this particular system is set up to malfunction is easily predictable and potentially very damaging to innocent people. I am personally not at the stage where I trust every single person who might be hired for a low level IT job in a security agency, and I’m not sure that I trust an entirely opaque set of safeguards with no accountability either.

Categories: Group Blogs

You have got to see this

Crooked Timber - Tue, 2014-09-23 01:58

Feminism, social activism, eye-catching stunt made eye-catching because it’s not a stunt.

About a dozen single mothers kicked out of their hostel in east London have occupied a ‘show-flat’ in the former Olympics estate that Newham Council is trying to flog while it has 24,000 households on its waiting list.
Instead of doing what they were told and being socially cleansed 200 miles away from family, friends, children’s schools and job prospects, these incredible women subverted one of London’s great middle class pleasures, the architectural Open House (I put my hand up, I go on it every year to gawk at other people’s houses), and occupied one of hundreds of empty, new-build flats. They set the place up as a community centre and are campaigning for the council to house the actual people it’s responsible for, showing they are real, articulate people with needs and rights, not a worthless blob of social problems.

Increasingly, I just can’t justify the amount of volunteer time I spend on Internet rights. Yes, we are handing over control of every aspect of our lives to insidiously corrupt and obviously ineffective states, and that is a terrible, terrible thing. But I live in a city of dirty billionaires and hungry children. This made me cry. Something has got to give.

@FocusE15 #occupiedE15

Categories: Group Blogs

Thomas Piketty has power that heterodox economists never had

Crooked Timber - Mon, 2014-09-22 14:54

Long-time readers of this blog know that I am an apostate of the economics discipline. When I was 17, I wanted to study something that would be useful to help make the world a better place. I thought that economics would meet that requirement, and it also seemed natural since I always had a strong interest in politics, in particular the question how to organize society. For reasons explained here, I eventually gave up the hope that economics (as I studied it in the 1990s) could give me that knowledge, and diverted to political theory/philosophy and later also ethics, where I’ve been happy ever since.

But for the first time since many years, I felt a shiver of regret for having left economics – and that was when in April this year I started reading Capital in the Twenty-first Century, the best-selling book by Thomas Piketty. Reading Capital was a great intellectual adventure, while at the same time enjoyable to read (many have said the translator, Arthur Goldhammer, deserves part of the latter credits). It is hard for academic economics to evoke positive feelings in its readers, but Capital did so with me for at least two reasons.

One is that the book is extremely interesting and rich, as by now many have pointed out. It brings economics back to the wider public, and gives the reader a true sense of what is at stake in studying the economy and hence engaging with economics. It opens up economics to all those for whom the study of economics is relevant – that is, all of us.

The second source of excitement came from my sense of what this book could do to change the economics discipline. Students of economics have been advocating for years that economics is too narrow, too much focussed on elegance and mathematical beauty, insufficiently rooted in both history of economic thought and empirical economic history, and insufficiently aware of the institutional and cultural context. None of this applies to Capital. In fact, I think that by putting forward such a strong, historically-based, empirically-grounded, and theory-rich account of the workings of capitalism and the resulting inequalities, Piketty is offering us a concrete alternative for how to do economics.

Heterodox economists have tried for years to say how economics as a discipline should change. In my view, overall they have failed to make much of a difference (that is not the same as saying that their arguments were bad or unconvincing!). Economics by now is a science where the mainstream is extremely powerful; other social sciences are much more internally pluralistic/heterogenous. Hence, it is hard to be a happy heterodox economist working in an economics department (with the exceptions of the handful of heterodox departments that are left). So I am not surprised that many heterodox economists left the economics discipline – and moved to economic history, development studies, economic geography, political theory, even philosophy.

Thomas Piketty has the power that heterodox economists never had. He has shown how economics can be done differently. He is a professor of economics at a prestigious university, hence he is situated squarely within the center of the economics discipline. He hasn’t used elaborate meta-theoretical critiques to show why mainstream economic models and methods fall short, but simply put into practice a different way of doing economics – while en passant noting that some of his findings are beyond the radar screen of mainstream economics because of their built-in assumptions. Sure, he’s not the first to have worked with such methodological commitments, but with the success of Capital, and building on the academic credibility gained by his earlier scholarly articles and books, Piketty may have the power to make a real difference to how the economics discipline in the near future will look like.

Categories: Group Blogs

Workplace Freedom: A Primer for Alan Dershowitz

Crooked Timber - Mon, 2014-09-22 10:19

Alan Dershowitz expresses his opinion on academic freedom, the Salaita case, and why UIUC natural scientists appear to have been less likely than social scientists and humanities people to support him.

Some, including Alan Dershowitz, a Harvard law professor who backed Summers and opposed the tenure bid of Norman Finkelstein, the controversial former political scientist at DePaul University, have a more cynical take. Dershowitz said that in his experience, academics working in STEM tend, “in general, to be more objective and principled, and those in the humanities tend to be ideologues and results-oriented, and believe it’s the appropriate role of the scholar to use his or her podium to propagandize students.” Dershowitz said he believed personal opinion had influenced how those human sciences viewed both the Salaita and Summers cases, and that scientists were likelier to examine the evidence impartially. “I would bet anything that 99 percent of the people who are demanding that [Salaita] be restored tenure would be on the exact opposite side of this if he’d been making pro-Israel but equally uncivil statements,” he said.

There is a very strong case to be made against “results oriented” ideologues in the academy but I think that it isn’t quite the case that Dershowitz is making.

To illustrate this case, let’s turn to some relevant quotes from an article in the now defunct Harvard student magazine 01238, preserved at The Faculty Lounge.

Dershowitz is, however, notorious on the law school campus for his use of researchers. (The law school itself is particularly known for this practice, probably because lawyers are used to having paralegals and clerks who do significant research and writing; students familiar with several law school professors’ writing processes say that Dershowitz reflects the norm in principle, if to a greater degree in practice.) … Several of his researchers say that Dershowitz doesn’t subscribe to the scholarly convention of researching first, then drawing conclusions. Instead, as a lawyer might, he writes his conclusions, leaving spaces where he’d like sources or case law to back up a thesis. On several occasions where the research has suggested opposite conclusions, his students say, he has asked them to go back and look for other cases, or simply to omit the discrepant information. “That’s the way it’s done; a piecemeal, ass-backwards way,” says one student who has firsthand experience with the writing habits of Dershowitz and other tenured colleagues. “They write first, make assertions, and farm out [the work] to research assistants to vet it. They do very little of the research themselves.”

I don’t recall that Dershowitz was himself quoted in the article in question; quite possibly he wasn’t asked. If he had been asked, he might very well have contested the description of his research practices that the article attributes to several of his former researchers. But imagine that a scholar in a department in the hard sciences (or social sciences or humanities for that matter), tenured or otherwise, conducted his research in the manner that the article attributes to Dershowitz. That scholar would deserve to be fired, regardless of whether his or her political leanings (or research findings) leaned hard left, hard right, centrist or whatever. He or she would be guilty of the most flagrant abuse of research standards. In the hard sciences, if you’re caught throwing out inconvenient data in order to justify a conclusion, you will be disgraced, and ought to be compelled to resign. The social sciences, likewise. If you’re a humanist, and you write articles claiming e.g. that the historical sources say x, when you have carefully and deliberately omitted the sources that say not-x, again you’re likely to be drummed out of the profession.

This is academic misconduct. Put more simply, you are cheating on the job you are supposed to be doing. You are not a scholar, but a hack and propagandist. Perhaps this kind of conduct is ubiquitous in law schools (the article claims that other colleagues of Dershowitz also do this), although I personally would be surprised. Outside of academia, there may, very reasonably, be different standards. Litigators are supposed to make the best case they can under the law for their clients. However, if my understanding is correct, they too have obligations as officers of the court, not e.g. to knowingly omit relevant information or citations. It is honorable for a litigator to be a hack, but only up to a point.

Holding unpopular opinions or saying harsh things on Twitter is not academic misconduct. I personally find some of the views that Alan Dershowitz has expressed (e.g. on torture) to be repulsive and indeed, actively depraved. I wouldn’t press to have him fired for saying those things, and if his job were threatened because he had said these things I would defend his right to employment, while holding my nose. If he had reached these opinions through real academic research (rather than outsourced hackish opportunism), it would be part of his vocation- academics are supposed to follow their search for knowledge wherever it leads them. If he were expressing those opinions outside an academic context, it would be his own private business.

As per Chris, Alex Gourevitch and Corey’s broader analysis, the Salaita case is best seen as an instance of a broader phenomenon: how control over people’s employment opportunities is being used to deny them ability to express their political beliefs. It’s in the same class as this case in which a foreman at a West Virginia mine was pressured to make contributions to GOP candidates (through a centralized process, in which her boss would be able to see who contributed and who did not), and alleges that she was fired when she failed to comply.

Academics, obviously, have self interested reasons to defend against abuses of the sort that we saw in Salaita’s case. But they also should want to see these freedoms extended to the workplace more generally, even in instances where the results may seem individually obnoxious to them. Employers shouldn’t have any control, express or implicit, over their employees’ political activities outside the workplace. That they do have effective control in many US states, is more a hangover from feudalism, than anything that is justifiable in principle in a democratic state.

Categories: Group Blogs

Jim Henley needs your help

Crooked Timber - Sun, 2014-09-21 17:20

People who’ve been reading this blog for a long time won’t need to be told who Jim Henley is. He’s been blogging longer than we have (if we’re a product of the mid-Cretaceous, he’s been doing it since the early Jurassic). He’s also a wonderful guy. And he’s been dealing with a recurrence of his cancer, the loss of his job when his employer went under, the need to pay medical and transport bills and keep his equally wonderful family going. In short, he could use your help. If you would like to provide it, please go here.

Categories: Group Blogs

Expand your perspective

Crooked Timber - Sun, 2014-09-21 09:21

The very insightful Ethan Zuckerman recently gave a convocation speech at his alma mater, Williams College. While his specific angle was not about this, I read it as a nice call for the importance of international students on campus, and of studying abroad (among other things).

One of the things I’ve learned in my research is that it’s much easier to pay attention to people than to places. If there’s someone you care about who’s from Haiti, if you’ve had the chance to travel there and meet people from Haiti, you’ll watch the news differently. You’ll have a connection to that place, a context for a story you hear. The events will be more real to you because Haiti is more real to you through the people you know there.

It is important though that international student recruitment not be restricted to international students who can pay full tuition. Personally, I remain extremely grateful to Smith College for its generous support of international student financial aid. When I was applying to US colleges from Hungary in the early 90s, it was the only school that came even close to offering enough aid to allow me to study in the US.

By the way, if you haven’t read Ethan’s book Rewire, you should. It’s a quick and very pleasant read with lots of interesting material and important insights on just how not connected we are in meaningful ways despite infrastructural connections.

Categories: Group Blogs

Sunday Photoblogging: On The Water

Crooked Timber - Sun, 2014-09-21 07:21


Sailboat and biplane!

Categories: Group Blogs

Sunday photoblogging: garlic

Crooked Timber - Sun, 2014-09-21 05:14

Categories: Group Blogs

Twitter Feed: Doing Rhetoric at Minnesota Conference

The Blogora - Sun, 2014-09-21 00:50

Today, there was an interdepartmental rhetoric conference sponsored by the student chapter of RSA at the U of MN.
Below is the schedule, then the Twitter feed. It was an excellent conference.

12:00: Keynote speaker, Jeanne Fahnestock
1:45: Afternoon refreshments
2:12: Panel, "Object Oriented Criticism"
Respondent: Arthur Walzer
3:45: Panel, "Rhetoric Theory in and through the Ages"
Respondent Jeanne Fahnestock
5:00: Adjourn for the day

9:00: Panel, "Argument and Authority"
Respondent: Cate Palczewski

read more

Categories: Group Blogs

Scottish Voter Turnout

Crooked Timber - Fri, 2014-09-19 08:54

So, Scotland remains part of the United Kingdom. This morning on the bus (I should run a series called “Idle Data Analysis on the Bus”) I looked at how the high turnout compared to other Scottish elections. Data on turnout is easily available back to 1970. Here are two views of it.

You can get a larger image or a PDF version of the figure if you want a closer look at it.

As you can see, turnout for the Independence Referendum was both astonishingly high and way off-trend. In addition to the long-term decline in participation, there seems to be a hint of a discontinuity in turnout post-1997, maybe after the second Devolution referendum. (Perhaps those more knowledgeable about Scottish politics can say more.) And of course you can also see that nobody cares about European elections.

Categories: Group Blogs

Scotland Referendum Open Thread.

Crooked Timber - Thu, 2014-09-18 18:49

I’ll be open about my preference, only in order to tell a story. The issue came up last week in a class of mine which contains a student from the UK. I made an off-hand comment (overstating the case) that I was a bit shocked to find out that I am a hard line unionist. Two minutes later the student, sounding quite distressed, said “Yes, that’s what I’ve found out too”. I said “what, in the course of the campaign” and she said “No. 2 minutes ago”. I felt guilty. Still do.

However things go, if you want a really fun read, try CJ Sansom’s Dominion. Well, if the No vote wins, and you are very disappointed indeed, you might want to wait a year or so.

Anyway go ahead. Please be polite—at some point I will go to bed and stop monitoring.

Categories: Group Blogs

The Infinite Leisure Theory of Chattel Slavery

Crooked Timber - Thu, 2014-09-18 00:36

So, I was reading The Carolina Low-Country, published in 1931, which is a multi-author description of the physical beauty and lost culture of chivalric uh whatever of the Low Country, with a large section of Negro Spirituals in Gullah. (In practice this means they look as if they were written in old-timesy ‘let’s make fun of black people’s accents’ speak, but since no one knew the IPA and it is a real creole I’m inclined to let it slide.) Naturally its opening contribution is by a Ravenel, Charleston’s most prominent family. One of my father’s favorite stories is of the two drunk men walking along the river in Charleston: one sways and falls, clutching at the other, and they both go into the river, at which point one of them shouts “save me, for I am a Ravenel!” Since this is a True Tale of the Old South it’s almost certainly actually true; that’s just how these things work. If it included more, less probable elements it would be likelier. Like if he was bit by an alligator near Colleton or something. In any case, I came upon this gem (it has been previously established that “most important, and most purely African, is the negro’s highly developed sense of rhythm”):

To say that the spiritual is entirely or exclusively the work of the negro, or that it is “purely African in origin” is absurd. To its development, the negro brought certain highly essential qualities. Other factors necessary for the development of the spiritual he found on this side of the water. The blending and developing required infinite leisure. [emphasis mine] And this he had, for his many and varied tasks required of him in the main purely physical labor. He could, at all times, apply himself to singing while he worked.

I was ready to chuckle over the frontispiece and the second Ravenel and the two Pinckneys on the eleven-author list (one of my brothers best schoolfriends, and our next-but-three neighbor in S.C. is a Thomas Pinckney) when I looked a leeetle more closely and saw #5: Thomas R. Waring. Well, at least I’m not a white person who pretends I never personally benefited from slavery! Below, the salt-water marsh of the May River in Bluffton, which opens up to the sea behind Hilton Head Island. They never could grow anything on that. That’s just a place to hunt deer and ducks on the hammocks, and fish, and shrimp, and get oysters and crabs. I say “just” but it’s so beautiful back in there. One place across from us we call “the Lost World,” because the brackish water gets even less salt as it forms a lagoon next to black-water swamp, and the water is clear but dark like strong tea, and every bald cypress and palmetto and pine and little water oak has tattered festoons of spanish moss gray hanging down, and everything doubled in the still mirror of brown-black water. Cicadas are the only noise, making it alternately deafening and loudly silent. I saw the biggest water moccasin in the world back there one time, crazing the black mirror with S-curves. Leisurely, like. Not the rice-planting kind, the other kind.

Categories: Group Blogs

The Freedom of the University

Crooked Timber - Wed, 2014-09-17 15:05

In January 1951, Robert Maynard Hutchins, President and later Chancellor at the University of Chicago, published a short paper in Ethics, called “The Freedom of the University”. Any academic who hasn’t read it, should read it. And if you are currently engaged in the protests against the hirefire of Steven Salaita (see Corey’s posts here and here and here and here and here and here and here), or if you worry about what Corey rightly called a contemporary instance of McCarthyism, or if you are worried about the influence of money on the universities as Henry discussed here recently, this paper, of a mere ten pages, may be even more interesting for you.

Here’s what Hutchins said in 1951.

Hutchins defined the university as “a center of independent thought” and held the view that “a university faculty is a group set apart to think independently and to help other people to do so”. He was very clear that even if faculty members make arguments and statements that are not popular with the public, they should retain the freedom to do so. Yet more importantly, Hutchins argued that this freedom of the university is important for society itself, rather than only for the faculty:

Such centers [of independent thought] are indispensable to the progress, and even to the security, of any society. Perhaps the short lives that dictatorships have enjoyed in the past are attributable as much to this as to any other single thing: dictatorship and independent thought cannot exist together; yet no society can flourish long without independent thought.

Independent thought implies criticism, and criticism is seldom popular in time of war or of danger of war. Then every effort is made to force conformity of opinion upon the entire population, and the country often goes into an ecstasy of tribal self-adoration. This loss of balance is unfortunate for the country.

The context in which Hutchins wrote was historically a very specific context, in which anyone suspected to have communist sympathies, was no longer sure they could keep their job. Hutchins argued that this great good of independent thought was under threat, since there was a “general atmosphere of repression” caused by ‘McCarthyism’ at American universities.

Hutchin’s argument that the freedom of the university is not only crucial for the very essence of the university itself, but also for a healthy democracy and society, are still valid. They are applicable to other forces trying to attack the university as the center for independent thought, and the institutions established to protect that independence, such as tenure and the democratic governance structures.

When I first read this paper (about a year ago), it struck me that its arguments can be used to analyze the threats against the ‘public university’, since we live in a climate where research is increasingly co-funded by industry (on Industry’s terms and conditions) and where the managerial structure and values of the firm have taken over the way the university is run, and are replacing the democratic governance structures and intellectual values of a center of independent thought. But Hutchins’ arguments are in fact pertinent to all instances where the essential freedom of the university is in danger – and an important current case is the hirefire of Professor Salatai, and the effects this has on other scholars in the US who hold non-mainstream views and want to express them, as well as the ridiculous case of the list of 205 (or 218 or whatever) allegedly anti-Israel professors whom students should avoid.

If you have access, read the whole paper and circulate it. It will show the Chancellor of the University of Illinois that University Presidents/Chancellors can make different decisions then simply to bow for public opinion, majority thinking or other forms of power (like big bags of money). In fact, it is not only that they can resist those pressures – it follows from Hutchins’s arguments that they should. Perhaps someone can send the Chancellor of the University of Illinois a copy of Hutchins’s article, so that she can read it for herself?

Categories: Group Blogs

Night Will Fall and German Concentration Camps Factual Survey

Crooked Timber - Wed, 2014-09-17 13:40

André Singer (the documentarian who made The Act of Killing) appeared on Radio 4’s Front Row yesterday to talk about his new documentary, Night Will Fall, a film about yet another documentary – this one the previously unreleased German Concentration Camps Factual Survey, the film produced by the Ministry of Information in 1945 to record what became known as the Holocaust.

German Concentration Camps Factual Survey, produced by Sidney Bernstein with help from Alfred Hitchcock and a script by Richard Crossman and Colin Wills, was commissioned by SHAEF in April 1945 and meant to be shown to Germans immediately after the war.

Singer explains on Front Row that Hitchcock contributed several aspects of the film meant to emphasize the proximity of the camps to German cities, to demonstrate that the German citizens must have known what was going on there. These devices include maps like the below.

Singer says the film was never shown because only a few months after its commissioning the Allied leadership wanted the German population to cooperate in rehabilitating their country so that it could be a bulwark against the Soviet Union, and therefore thought it counterproductive to showcase ordinary Germans’ complicity in the Holocaust. His account of why the film was never shown is different from the drier one given by the Imperial War Museum.

Singer’s Night Will Fall is being shown at the BFI, as is the restored Ministry of Information documentary, German Concentration Camps Factual Survey.

If, like me, you’ve no easy way to get to the BFI, you can watch Memory of the Camps, which seems to draw from about 5/6 of the original footage, on PBS’s website; this version has narration by Trevor Howard.

(Related, in recent books: Joachim Fest places considerable emphasis on the “everybody knew” argument in his memoir, Not I. And there’s an interesting account of the shootings of SS officers during the liberation of Dachau in Alex Kershaw’s The Liberator.)

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Eine Bundesrepublik Britannien?

Crooked Timber - Wed, 2014-09-17 03:10

There’s a day to go before the Scottish independence vote. The opinion polls are fairly even; the bookies are backing “no”. But it could go either way. I’ve swung both ways on the issue, but I’m now firmly hoping that “no” will win, though I think that the campaign has demonstrated that the United Kingdom is broken, and needs a comprehensive constitutional fix, which may be hard to achieve.

My reasons for favouring “yes”, initially, were sort-of quasi-Rousseauvian. Democracy thrives better in small states where government is closer to the people; large anonymous states, whatever their political form, have distant governments often captured by special interests. That’s a general inclination, to which I would add a sympathy for Scots who are sick of being ruled by Tories they didn’t vote for and who hope for a more inclusive and socially just society. I doubt their hopes will be realized in an independent Scotland though.

For me, though, the balance of reasons decisively favours “no”, for three reasons: abhorrence of nationalism, a dislike of the idea that smaller entities claiming full state sovereignty should proliferate, and disbelief at the economics of separation, which will not turn Glasgow into Stockholm.

First, though the nationalists have kept the Braveheart references fairly muted during the campaign, there’s a strong sense that some of the emotional impetus behind the campaign draws on nationalist myth and nativist sentiment, coupled with resentment at the English. This sense has been bolstered by the way some of the “yes” campaigners have treated their opponents, as “traitors” and “quislings”. The image, tacitly encouraged by nationalists, of Scots as the victims of English colonial oppression, on a moral par with such victims elsewhere (Kenya, India etc) is hogwash. The Act of Union was the result of Scotland’s own colonial failures but launched a partnership in imperialism in which Scots played a leading role. No clean hands there. There’s some ground for Scottish resentment at their experience under Thatcher (poll tax, deindustrialization) but these are, generally speaking, experiences that they share with their northern English counterparts. This resentment grounds the myth that Scots are naturally or essentially more leftie and social democratic than people elsewhere on the island. But go back a few decades and the Tories were the majority party in Scotland. The dynamic there is the same as in places like Liverpool, where people like to think of recent political sentiment as an expression of a deeply rooted local culture, even though it pretty obviously exists as a recent reaction to relative decline. Resentment at getting Tory governments they didn’t vote for also seems misplaced: there was a Scottish Labour Prime Minister as recently as 2010, and many in the south of England didn’t vote for him (that’s just the way things work out in a democracy). Far from being disadvantaged, Scotland enjoys higher per capita public spending than England (and lots more that many places in northern England do). Finally, though Scottish nationalism builds on myths of English oppression and indifference, its modern source is the discovery of North Sea oil in the 1970s and a desire to assert national rights over natural resources: i.e. local greed. The general principle isn’t a good one.

Second, though I have a prejudice in favour of small countries, I don’t necessarily favour a proliferation of small fully-sovereign states. Given global problems, both economic and environmental, small independent sovereign states can get in the way of the kind of cooperation necessary. What we need is less-than-sovereign entities embedded in larger structures … like the UK or the EU. Devo-max (more devolved powers to a Scotland within the UK), the probable outcome of a “no” vote gets us closer to that outcome; “yes” takes it further away. Scotland won’t necessarily find a place in the EU easily (given what other states such as Spain want) and it makes EU exit for the rUK and the rise of a nasty English nationalism more likely. Additional sovereign states also mean additional hard borders. I agree that it looks unlikely that free movement within the island of Great Britain would be restricted, but there’s a complex and unpredicable interplay with other issues (the EU treaties, Schengen, the rise in English nativism). International human rights law only recognizes a right to free movement within the boundaries of states, and states have (unfortunately) full rights to regulate cross-border movement. That puts the freedom of Scots to seek work in England (and the English to seek work in Scotland) in the hands of venal and opportunistic politicians, and there are no guarantees of how that would work out.

Third, the “yes” campaign hasn’t been able to come up with any convincing arguments on the currency question. In any post independence negotiations, rUK will play hardball, bolstered by a rise in anti-Scottish sentiment. If rUK is unwilling to form a currency union, Salmond has the options of simply using sterling unilaterally, of launching a Scottish currency or joining the Euro. None of these options looks great, all of them look likely to be accompanied by the kind of austerity that would make dreams of Scandinavia-on-the-Clyde look even more ridiculous than they already are. (If there’s a yes, I predict a spate of books in about ten years by embittered Scottish lefties complaining about their “betrayal”.)

So I hope there’s a “no”; “yes” could turn things very nasty, both in Scotland and elsewhere in the UK. But DevoMax brings its own problems. If Scotland gets so much devolved power, then why should similar local control not be vested in other parts of the UK? In short, what we need is a federal structure with Scotland, Wales and a selection of English regions being the constituent Länder. Eine Bundesrepublik Britannien, in fact. If Ed Miliband and Labour are smart, then they will make the call for a UK-wide constitutional convention part of their campaign for 2015. If not, then the question of Scottish independence will keep on coming back until “yes” wins.

Categories: Group Blogs

Krautmas only comes once a year …

Crooked Timber - Tue, 2014-09-16 15:04

But here are two belated presents – take your choice as to which one you put beneath your poisonwood tree.

George Scialabba tries to see (as George always does), the good side.

For the tragic waste of Krauthammer’s considerable talents represented by Things That Matter, a good deal of the blame should doubtless go to the bad habits fostered by op-ed writing and talk-show commenting. Krauthammer is an expert simplifier, summarizer, and close-quarters scrapper. His skill at producing zingers is enviable. But remarks are not literature, and zingers are not political wisdom. You can’t surprise yourself, breathe deeply, get to the bottom of things in 800 words or 20 seconds.

By and large, the quality of the eighty-eight pieces in Things That Matter is proportional to their length. Hearteningly, Krauthammer mentions that he is, at long last, writing a book: two books, in fact, one on domestic policy and one on foreign policy. Perhaps in the course of them he will, at least occasionally, surprise himself and us, vindicating Mill’s generous hope.

Mark Liberman doesn’t.

It’s a tribute to our nation’s culture that a man like Krauthammer, who so consistently expresses blatant quantitative falsehoods about national leaders, is not only out of jail but comfortably established as a commentator for a major media outlet.

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Announcing special discounted presales for A Century of Communication Studies: The Unfinished Conversation.

The Blogora - Tue, 2014-09-16 09:17

Announcing special discounted presales for A Century of Communication Studies: The Unfinished Conversation. Until the end of October, pre-registration for the NCA convention includes an option to purchase the book at nearly half off.

Introduction. A Brief History of the National Communication Association
-Pat J. Gehrke & William M. Keith
Discovering Communication: Five Turns toward Discipline and Association
-J. Michael Sproule
Paying Lip Service to "Speech" in Disciplinary Naming, 1914-1954
-Gerry Philipsen
The Silencing of Speech in the Late 20th Century

read more

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