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)

Categories: Group Blogs

“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

What’s left of libertarianism? (slightly updated)

Crooked Timber - Sat, 2014-08-09 05:20

The NY Times has a lengthy thumbsucker from Robert Draper, repackaging claims by Nick Gillespie of Reason that the “libertarian moment” has finally arrived. Jonathan Chait takes out the garbage on the dodgy opinion poll that is the primary factual basis for the story. Taking the implicit definition of libertarians as voters who take a hard-right line on economic issues (and are therefore Republicans or Republican-voting independents), but are liberal on drugs and sexual freedom issues, it seems to me that if anything, the chance of a libertarian moment is over. That’s because:

(i) the equal marriage fight has pretty much been won by Democrats, with libertarians mostly on the sidelines or, to the extent that they have been part of the Republican coalition, on the wrong side 1

(ii) the same will probably be true for marijuana legalisation, and broader drug law reform before long. The recent legalization of marijuana in Colorado and Washington follows a steady expansion of legal access under “medical marijuana” laws. Again, this has been done almost entirely by Democrats. Libertarians were more vocal on this issue than on equal marriage, but they stayed within the Republican coalition, and did nothing much to shift the position of that coalition.

Once the issues of drug law reform and equal marriage are off the table, there’s no obvious distinction between “libertarians” like Nick Gillespie and Republicans in general2. The possibility of a libertarian moment, if it ever existed, has passed.

Update Some libertarian commenters are upset that I didn’t give their side enough credit on drug law reform (no, AFAICT, has made such claims on equal marriage). But bragging rights aren’t really relevant. When equal marriage and legalisation are faits accomplis the fact that some Republicans supported them all along won’t be an important point of difference with those who are still unhappy about it.

Further update A reader on my Facebook post points to this technolibertarian event, in which Nick Gillespie, billed as a “conservatarian”, features, along with Rand Paul and racist homophobe Cathy McMorris Rodgers. Relevantly for this post, the article mentions the tactic of emphasising libertarian support for drug law reform and hiding links to the Republicans. As I’ve argued, this is a tactic which will become obsolete once drug law reform becomes a reality .

  1. There’s still a chance of a loss at the Supreme Court, in which case the issue will come down, for the medium term, to whether the Democrats win the 2016 Presidential election and the Senate, thereby getting to replace the inevitable retirements. In this context, anyone who votes Republican, whatever their views on social issues, is effectively opposing equal marriage. 

  2. On immigration, the libertarian line is much the same as that of big business. As regards scepticism about war, the same is true of the realist school associated with The National Interest (they publish me, and some libertarians as well as old-school realists). Moreover, as Iraq showed, the bulk of self-described libertarians turned out to be shmibertarians when the war drums started beating (see Glenn Reynolds). On gender issues, the libertarians are at best ambivalent (on abortion for example) but more often than not, on the wrong side. Notably, on issues like Hobby Lobby, property rights trump the personal freedom of employees

Categories: Group Blogs

Reagan and the Great Man in history

Crooked Timber - Thu, 2014-08-07 23:26

The latest controversy about Rick Perlstein’s new book is an opportunity to post a couple of thoughts I’ve had for a long while.

First, the outsize Republican idolatry of Reagan is explained in part by the fact that there’s no one else in their history of whom they can really approve. The Bushes are a bad memory for most, Ford was a non-entity and Nixon was Nixon. Eisenhower looks pretty good on most historical rankings, but he’s anathema to movement conservatives: Eisenhower Republicans were what are now called RINOs. Going back a century, and skipping some failures/nonentities, Theodore Roosevelt is problematic for related but different reasons. Going right back to the beginning,and skipping more nonentities and disappointments, some Repubs still try to claim the mantle of the “party of Lincoln” but that doesn’t pass the laugh test. As many others have observed, the “party of Jefferson Davis” is closer to the mark. So, they have little choice but to present Reagan as the savior of the nation.

Something of the opposite problem is found on the left. I haven’t read Perlstein yet, but a lot of the discussion is based on an implicit or explicit assumption that the shift to the right in the US since the 1970s can be explained by the successful organizing efforts of movement conservatism, culminating in Reagan’s 1980 election victory. That’s an explanation with a lot of contingency attached. Suppose, for example, that the attempted rescue of the Iranian embassy hostages in April 1980 had been a success. That, along with some fortuitous good economic news, might have been enough to propel Carter to victory. By 1984, Reagan would have been too old to run as a challenger, and Bush senior would probably have been nominated.

I don’t think, however, that this would have had a huge effect on economic-political developments in the US. Other English-speaking countries, with very different political histories followed much the same route, ending up, by the late 1990s, with a hard-line rightwing conservative party driving policy debate and a “Third Way” centre-left alternative trying to smooth off some of the rough edges. The election of Carter, a conservative by the standards of the times, was a step towards that outcome.

I don’t want to overstate the determinism here. Individuals matter, and national circumstances differ. Still, I think we are talking about variations on a common theme, driven by global economic events, rather than a US-specific story beginning with Reagan’s 1964 address in support of Goldwater.

Categories: Group Blogs

Shit and Curses, and Other Updates on the Steven Salaita Affair (Updated)

Crooked Timber - Thu, 2014-08-07 13:47

1. Yesterday, University of Nevada professor Gautam Premnath called the University of Illinois to protest the hirefire of Steven Salaita. A giggly employee in the Chancellor’s office told Premnath that Salaita was “dehired.”

2.Within 24 hours, nearly 8000 people have signed a petition calling on the University of Illinois to reinstate Salata. You should too. While you’re at it, please make sure to email the chancellor, Phyllis Wise, at at pmwise@illinois.edu. Please cc Robert Warrior of the American Indian Studies department (rwarrior@illinois.edu) and the department itself: ais@illinois.edu.

3. Personally, I disagree with the notion that anti-Semitism can be explained, justified, or understood in light of Israel’s actions. But if you think an academic should be hiredfired for saying something like that, you would have had to have been prepared, back in 2002, to fire Nathan Glazer for saying just that at a conference at NYU:

Nathan Glazer, the well-known Harvard University sociologist sometimes associated with neoconservatism, suggested that whereas historically antisemitism was rooted in “illusionary” beliefs about Jews, today’s antisemitism is often a reaction to Israeli actions. And he said that such “hostility can be reduced and moderated by [Israel’s] policies.”


Glazer, as I recall, said considerably more than that. Among other things he said that since Israel claims to speak in the name of all Jews across the globe, its defenders should not be  surprised when its enemies apply that claim to all Jews and begin opposing them as Jews.

4. This morning, the Chronicle of Higher Ed has a fuller report on the Salaita affair. Among the new facts revealed: First, it was a tenured position that Salaita was offered. Second, the offer was made last October by the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. Third, the national AAUP has distanced itself from Cary Nelson, saying he “does not speak for the association.” (In this statement, the AAUP distances itself even further.) And, last, in the faculty’s deliberations on hiring Salaita, his tweets did not come “up as a topic of concern or conversation” on the reasonable ground that they did not deem “social media as being somehow scholarly content.”

5. On December 27, 2013, Chancellor Wise had this to say about academic freedom:

The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign opposes the boycott of Israeli academic institutions and endorses the statement made by the AAU. At Illinois, we value academic freedom as one of our core principles and cherish the critical importance of the ability of faculty to pursue learning, discovery and engagement without regard to political considerations.


And just in case anyone was confused about how important the principle was to her, she had this to say on January 30, 2014:

 

Of all places, a university should be home to diverse ideas and differing perspectives, where robust – and even intense – debate and disagreement are welcomed. How do we foster such an atmosphere? Only through an unwavering and unrelenting commitment to building truly diverse communities of students and scholars.


6. The Illinois AAUP Committee A has a very strong statement on the affair:

The AAUP 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure states in reference to extramural utterances: “When they speak or write as citizens, they should be free from institutional censorship or discipline.” It affirms that “The common good depends upon the free search for truth and its free exposition.” While Professor’s Salaita’s tweets are construed as controversial, the 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure affirms the virtue of controversial speech.



Professor Salaita’s words while strident and vulgar were an impassioned plea to end the violence currently taking place in the Middle East. Issues of life and death during bombardment educes significant emotions and expressions of concern that reflect the tragedy that armed conflict confers on its victims. Speech that is deemed controversial should be challenged with further speech that may abhor and challenge a statement. Yet the University of Illinois cannot cancel an appointment based upon Twitter statements that are protected speech in the United States of America.



Furthermore, there is nothing in the Salaita statements about Israel or Zionism that would raise questions about his fitness to teach. These statements were not made in front of students, are not related to a course that is being taught, and do not reflect in any manner his quality of teaching. What one says out of class rarely, in the absence of peer review of teaching, confirms how one teaches. Passion about a topic even if emotionally expressed through social network does not allow one to draw inferences about teaching that could possibly rise to the voiding or reversal of a job appointment.


One must not conjecture about a link between extramural statements and the quality of classroom teaching, absent an unmistakable link that would raise issues of competence. None exist here. Indeed, we affirm that fitness to teach can be enhanced with conviction, commitment and an engagement with the outside world.


7. Our very own Michael Bérubé also has a strong statement:

While I do not share Professor Salaita’s sentiments with regard to content, and find them to be often intemperate expressions of opinion on the Israel-Palestine conflict, I urge you to reconsider your decision. Indeed, I urge you to reconsider precisely because I do not share Professor Salaita’s sentiments. It is a truism that academic freedom is meaningless unless it covers unpopular (and even intemperate) speech; and that, finally, is what is at stake here– the question of whether academic freedom at the University of Illinois will be meaningless.


8. It occurs to me that if tweets are now going to be taken into consideration in academic hires, I want my entire social media presence included in all future considerations of my career. I want the number of tweets and FB posts I do per year to be included in my publication count. I want the number of retweets and “likes” that I get to be included in my citation count. And I want my friend Doug Henwood to be considered for an academic appointment. As he says, “With my Klout score, I’m on my way to an endowed chair.”

9. Glenn Greenwald tweets that there’s “lots more coming on this.” If I were Chancellor Wise, I’d be nervous. Very nervous. If Glenn’s on the story, I have little doubt what the ultimate outcome will be.

10. And last, this report,  from today’s Guardian, on the most moral army in the world:

When Ahmed Owedat returned to his home 18 days after Israeli soldiers took it over in the middle of the night, he was greeted with an overpowering stench.


He picked through the wreckage of his possessions thrown from upstairs windows to find that the departing troops had left a number of messages. One came from piles of faeces on his tiled floors and in wastepaper baskets, and a plastic water bottle filled with urine.


If that was not clear enough, the words “Fuck Hamas” had been carved into a concrete wall in the staircase. “Burn Gaza down” and “Good Arab = dead Arab” were engraved on a coffee table. The star of David was drawn in blue in a bedroom.


It’s a strange universe we live in, where high-minded professors fret more about the “foul-mouthed” tweets of a scholar than the shit and curses soldiers leave in the destroyed homes of civilians.

Update (3:30 pm)

Just received a copy of a very strongly worded letter from the Center for Constitutional Rights. In addition to making all the right arguments re academic freedom and the First Amendment, it contains three factual statements, which I had not read anywhere else

The first:

As you well know, in October 2013, the University’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences made an offer to Professor Salaita for an appointment, with tenure, in the College’s American Indian Studies program; he soon after accepted your offer (which the University confirmed in writing) and resigned from his tenured position in the English Department at Virginia Tech University. Your offer letter expressly stressed the University’s adherence to the American Association of University Professors’ Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure….His views (which he has long aired passionately and openly in many forums, including social media) are no doubt considered highly controversial by many in this country, but Professor Salaita could rest assured that his tenured position and the foundational principles of academic freedom and expression would permit him to share his views without fear of censure or reprisal.


That express affirmation in the offer letter of the AAUP principles seems like it could pose a potential problem for the University.

The second:

Nevertheless, despite Professor Salaita’s obvious reliance on the terms of the University’s appointment – by resigning from his tenured position at Virginia Tech, renting his Virginia home and preparing his entire family to move – you summarily terminated his appointment to a tenured position, without notice or any opportunity to be heard or to object. Your August 1, 2014 letter references your Office’s failure to seek or obtain final authorization from the Board of Trustees as the reason for the termination of Professor Salaita; yet, leaving aside the procedural irregularities in your rationale,³…


And then, in the footnote, comes this:

 

Although Professor Salaita’s appointment was effective August 16th, your termination letter stated that his appointment would not be recommended for submission to the Board in September, after his start date.


In other words, even under the best of circumstances, Salaita’s appointment was scheduled to be effective before the Board was scheduled to vote to approve it.

Last, the CCR letter references a letter from the Simon Wiesenthal Center, expressly requesting that the University of Illinois rescind its offer. I wasn’t aware of this letter, but it’s discussed here. The letter states:

We strongly believe that a person… with such aberrational views cannot be trusted to confine his discussions to his area of study. We urge you to reconsider his appointment and look forward to immediately discussing this serious matter with you.


Aberrational views. They used to be the pride and joy of the Jewish people, from Abraham to Kafka and Freud. Now we fire people for having them.

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