Get a Job!
James Madison, Federalist 51:
The constant aim is…that the private interest of every individual may be a sentinel over the public rights.
Elia Kazan, on why he named names:
Reason 1: “I’ve got to think of my kids.”
Reason 2: “All right, I earned over $400,000 last year from theater. But Skouras [head of Twentieth-Century Fox] says I’ll never make another movie. You’ve spent your money, haven’t you? It’s easy for you. But I’ve got a stake.”
Call for Awards for NCA Rhetorical and Communication Theory Division
The Rhetorical and Communication Theory Division of NCA invites nominations for the 2014 New Investigator Award, the 2014 Distinguished Scholar Award, and the 2014 Faculty Mentorship Award. Nominations are due by June 2, 2014.
February 17, 2014
The Summer Institute in Madison will be held from Monday June 1 through Sunday June 7, 2015.
I was born and raised (for the most part) in Budapest, my parents and other family and friends still live there, but I rarely comment on its politics. I couldn’t stay silent on a particular aspect any longer, however. Please read this piece I wrote, one that is very political, but also very personal. The place is a mess and the world needs to know. And it needs to care.
The Long Tail is the principle that, as more and more product is available and findable by customers, less and less demand will be placed on "hits" and more and more demand will fall to the mid-level and niche products. The rise of web-searchable databases for books and of ebooks means that more and more book sales come from the very deep backlist and the very small publisher, instead of from the bestseller. In some ways, desire for access to that backlist made Amazon and the Big Box retailers of the 1990s possible, in the book world.
For the last few months, I’ve had a draft post sitting in my dashboard listing all the words and phrases I’d like to see banished from the English language. At the top—jockeying for the #1 slot with “yummy,” “closure” and “it’s all good”—is “public intellectual.”
I used to like the phrase; it once even expressed an aspiration of mine. But in the years since Russell Jacoby wrote his polemic against the retreat of intellectuals to the ivory tower, it’s been overworked as a term of abuse.
What was originally intended as a materialist analysis of the relationship between politics, economics, and culture—Jacoby’s aim was to analyze how real changes in the economy and polity were driving intellectuals from the public square—has become little more than a rotten old chestnut that lazy journalists, pundits, and reviewers like to keep in their back pocket for whenever they’re short of copy. Got nothing to say? Nothing on your mind? Not to worry: here’s a beating-a-dead-horse-piece-that-writes-itself about the jargony academic who writes only for her peers in specialized journals that only a handful of people read.
SOME of the smartest thinkers on problems at home and around the world are university professors, but most of them just don’t matter in today’s great debates.
Yet it’s not just that America has marginalized some of its sharpest minds. They have also marginalized themselves.
But, over all, there are, I think, fewer public intellectuals on American university campuses today than a generation ago.
Professors today have a growing number of tools available to educate the public, from online courses to blogs to social media. Yet academics have been slow to cast pearls through Twitter and Facebook. Likewise, it was TED Talks by nonscholars that made lectures fun to watch (but I owe a shout-out to the Teaching Company’s lectures, which have enlivened our family’s car rides).
I write this in sorrow, for I considered an academic career and deeply admire the wisdom found on university campuses. So, professors, don’t cloister yourselves like medieval monks — we need you!
Those are the bookends of Kristof’s piece. In between come the usual volumes of complaint: too much jargon, too much math, too much peer review, too much left politics. Plus a few dubious qualifications (economists aren’t so bad, says Kristof, because they’re Republican-friendly…and, I guess, not jargony, math-y, or peer-review-y) and horror stories that turn out to be neither horrible nor even stories.
Erik Voeten at The Monkey Cage has already filleted the column, citing a bunch of counter-examples from political science, which is usually held up, along with literary theory, as Exhibit A of this problem.
But we also have all of us—sociologists, philosophers, historians, economists, literary critics, as well as political scientists—here at Crooked Timber, which is often read and cited by the mainstream media. There’s Lawyers, Guns, and Money: judging by their comments thread, they have a large and devoted audience of non-academics. My cohort of close friends from graduate school write articles for newspapers and magazines all the time—or important research for think tanks that gets picked up by the mainstream media—and books that are widely reviewed in the mainstream media. (And what am I? Chopped liver?) Kristof need only open the pages of the Nation, the New York Review of Books, the London Review of Books, the Boston Review, The American Conservative, Dissent, The American Prospect—even the newspaper for which he writes: today’s Times features three opinion columns and posts by academics—to see that our public outlets are well populated by professors.
And these are just the established academics. If you look at the graduate level, the picture is even more interesting.
When I think of my favorite writers these days—the people from whom I learn the most and whose articles and posts I await most eagerly—I think of Seth Ackerman, Peter Frase, Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, Lili Loofbourow, Aaron Bady, Freddie de Boer, LD Burnett, Tressie McMillan Cottom, Adam Goodman, Matthijs Krul, Amy Schiller, Charles Petersen, Tom Meaney…I could go on. For a long time.
(And though Belle Waring has long since ceased to be a grad student, can someone at Book Forum or Salon or somewhere get this woman a gig? We’re talking major talent here.)
Whenever I read these folks, I have to remind myself that they’re still in grad school (or just a few months out). I sometimes think they’re way smarter than we ever were when we were in grad school. But that’s not really true. It’s simply that they’re more used to writing for public audiences—and are thus better equipped to communicate ideas in intelligible, stylish prose—than we were.
When I was in grad school, my friends and I would dream of writing essays and articles for the common reader. I remember when one of our cohort—Diane Simon—broke into The Nation with a book review (of Nadine Gordimer?). We were totally envious. And awestruck. Getting into that world seemed impossible, unless you were Gordon Wood sauntering into the New York Review of Books after having transformed your field.
The reason it seemed so difficult is that it was. There just weren’t that many outlets for that kind of writing. None of us had any contacts. More important, aside from, maybe, a local alternative weekly, there were no baby steps to take on our way to writing for those outlets. There really was no way to get from here—working on seminar papers or dissertation proposals—to there: writing brilliant essays under mastheads that once featured names like Edmund Wilson and Hannah Arendt.
I remember all too well writing an essay in the mid 1990s that I wanted to publish in one of those magazines. When I looked around, all I could see was The New Yorker, Harper’s, The New York Review, that kind of thing. I sent it everywhere, and got nowhere.
Today, it’s different. You’ve got blogs, Tumblr, Twitter, and all those little magazines of politics and culture that we’re constantly reading about in the New York Times: Jacobin, The New Inquiry, the Los Angeles Review of Books, n+1, and more, which frequently feature the work of graduate students.
Now there are all kinds of problems with this new literary economy of grad student freelancers. And from talking to graduate students today (as well as junior faculty), I’m well aware that the pressure to publish in academic venues—and counter-pressure not to publish in public venues—is all too real. Worse, in fact, than when I was in grad school. Because the job market has gotten so much worse. I often wonder and worry about the job prospects of the grad students I’ve mentioned above. Are future employers going to take a pass on them simply because they’ve written as brilliantly and edgily as they have?
Back to Kristof: Even from the limited point of view of what he’s talking about—where have all the public intellectuals gone?—he doesn’t know what he’s talking about.
So what is he really talking about, then?
You begin to get a clue of what he’s really talking about, then, by noticing two of the people he approvingly cites and quotes in his critique of academia: Anne-Marie Slaughter and Jill Lepore.
Kristof holds up both women—one the former dean of Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public Affairs, the other the holder of an endowed chair at Harvard—as examples of publicly engaged scholars. In addition to their academic posts, Slaughter was Obama’s Director of Policy Planning at the State Department (George Kennan’s position, once upon a time) and a frequent voice on the front pages of every major newspaper; Lepore is an immensely prolific and widely read staff writer at The New Yorker.
(Incidentally, as an editor pointed out on Facebook, Slaughter and Lepore, along with Will McCants, who Kristof also cites approvingly, are all published by Princeton University Press. So much for academic presses churning out “soporifics.”)
Now I happen to know Jill rather well. She and I first met in the summer of 1991, when she was looking for a housemate and I was looking for a temporary place to stay. I moved in for a time—one of our other housemates was Mary Renda, who would go on to write a kick-ass book on the US invasion and occupation of Haiti, which it would behoove a trigger-happy Kristof to read—and later got in on the ground floor of her dissertation. She’s a truly gifted historian.
But there are a lot of gifted historians. And only so many slots for them at The New Yorker.
The problem here is not that scholars don’t aspire to write for The New Yorker. It’s that it’s a rather selective place. Kristof says that Lepore “is an exception to everything said here.” She is, but not in the way he thinks. Or for the reasons he thinks.
If you’re flying so high up in the air—Kristof tends to look down on most situations from 30,000 feet above sea level—you’re not going to see much of anything. And Kristof doesn’t. He only reads The New Yorker, and then complains that everyone doesn’t write for The New Yorker. He doesn’t see the many men and women who are in fact writing for public audiences. Nor does he see the gatekeepers—even in our new age of blogs and little magazines—that prevent supply from meeting demand.
And to the extent that he’s right about the problem of academics publishing for other academics he doesn’t identify its real causes:
A basic challenge is that Ph.D. programs have fostered a culture that glorifies arcane unintelligibility while disdaining impact and audience. This culture of exclusivity is then transmitted to the next generation through the publish-or-perish tenure process. Rebels are too often crushed or driven away.
Not really. The problem here isn’t that typically American conceit of “culture” v. nonconformist rebel. It’s the very material pressures and constraints young academics face, long before tenure. It’s the job market. It’s the rise of adjuncts. It’s neoliberalism. Jacoby understood the material sources of the problem he diagnosed. Kristof doesn’t.
But the material dimensions of Kristof’s oversight (or lack of sight) go even deeper. When we criticize Kristof or other academics-don’t-write-for-the-public-spouting journalists, we tend to do what I’ve just done here: We point to all the academics we know who are writing in well established venues and places and cry, “Look at them! Look at me!”
But there’s an entire economy of unsung writers with PhDs who are in a far worse position: Though they want to write, and sometimes do, for a public audience, they don’t have a standing gig the way I or The Monkey Cagers do. They’re getting by on I don’t know what. And while most of the people I mentioned above, including many of the graduate students, are getting their work into fairly mid- to high-level places, these folks aren’t. Certainly not in high enough places to pay the bills or to supplement whatever it is they’re doing to get by.
Take Yasmin Nair. Yasmin’s a writer in Chicago, with a PhD from Purdue. She’s also an activist. She’s impatient, she sees things the rest of us don’t see, she’s intemperate, she’s impossible, she’s endearing, and she’s unbelievably funny. Think Pauline Kael, only way more political. (Actually, Freddie deBoer did a pretty damn good job describing her work, so read Freddie.) She’s got two essays that I think are, as pieces of prose, brilliant: “Gay Marriage Hurts My Breasts” and “Why Is America Turning to Shit?“
In my ideal world, Robert Silvers would reach down from his Olympian heights and snatch up Yasmin to write about or review, well, anything. (Didn’t that kind of happen to Kael with The New Yorker?) But that’s not going to happen.
And that not happening doesn’t even begin to describe the real challenges facing a writer like Nair. Somehow she’s got to pay the bills. But unlike professors like myself or even graduate students who’ve got fellowships or TA positions (and happen to be lucky enough to live in places with a low cost of living), at least for the time being, Yasmin doesn’t have a steady-paying gig.
This isn’t just an issue of precarity or justice; it’s intimately related to the Kristofs of this world bleating “Where have all the public intellectuals gone?” Yasmin is a public intellectual (there, I said it). But without the kinds of supports the rest of us currently have or will have in the future, her pieces in The Awl or In These Times or on her blog—which is how the rest of us academics make our beginnings in the public writing world—can’t give her the lift she needs to get her work up in the air where it belongs. Because she’s always got something else, here on the ground, on her mind: namely, how to pay the rent.
And she’s not alone. Anthony Galluzzo has a PhD in English from UCLA. He’s also been adjuncting—first at West Point, now at CUNY—for years. He’s written a mess of academic articles. Two years ago he wrote an article in Jacobin that I thought was pure genius. It was called “Sarah Lawrence, With Guns,” and it was about his experience teaching English at West Point. That’s a topic that another English professor at West Point has written about, but Anthony’s treatment has the virtue of being coruscating, funny, ironic, honest, and not boosterish. Like Mary Renda’s book, the kind of writing Kristof could profit from.
When Anthony’s piece came out, I thought to myself, “This is the beginning for him.” But it hasn’t been. Because he’s been adjuncting around the clock, sometimes without getting paid on time, and worrying about other things. Like…how to pay the rent.
I had to smile at Kristof’s nod to publish or perish. Most working academics would give anything to be confronted with that dilemma. The vast majority can’t even think of publishing; they’re too busy teaching four, five, courses a semester. As adjuncts, as community college professors, at CUNY and virtually everywhere else.
I don’t ever expect Kristof to look to the material sources of this problem; that would require him to raise the sorts of questions about contemporary capitalism that journalists of his ilk are not inclined—or paid—to raise.
But Kristof’s a fellow who likes to save the world. So maybe this is something he can do. Instead of writing about the end of public intellectuals, why not devote a column a month to unsung writers who need to be sung? Why not head over to the “Sunday Reading” at The New Inquiry, which features all the greatest writing on the internets for that week? Why not write about the Anthony Galuzzo’s and Yasmin Nair’s who deserve to be read: not as a matter of justice but for the sake of the culture? Who knows? He might even learn something.
(Special thanks to Aaron Bady for reading a draft of this post and contributing some much needed additions.)
Update (4:30 pm)
I mentioned Boston Review in my post. But as a friend reminded me, they deserve a special shout-out. Because not only do they regularly introduce and publish academics like myself—one of my earliest and IMHO most important pieces was chosen and championed by Josh Cohen, the magazine’s editor—but they often solicit work from graduate students like Lili or Aaron and non-academically employed PhDs. So if you’ve got that gem of a piece and are wondering where to send it, send it to Boston Review.
Update (5:45 pm)
Also, I should have said this in the piece, but this line—”He only reads The New Yorker, and then complains that everyone doesn’t write for The New Yorker.”—was something Aaron Bady wrote to me in an email. I should have quoted it and credited to it to him in the post. My apologies.
A colleague has recently accepted a position at another university. I anticipated this day would come -- she is devastatingly successful as both an administrator and a scholar. There was no way, I knew, when she applied, she would not be a finalist. And unlike many successful academics, who present well on paper but who have hardened in their self-presentation (and so appear crusty or careerist or curmudgeonly), she is polished, professional, and kind. So I knew that, when she became a finalist and would be flown to campus, she would win the offer.
Salon magazine reports another instance of CP Snow’s observation that all ancient traditions date from the second half of the 19th century. This time, it’s the Tooth Fairy. As you would expect, the Tooth Fairy turns out to be a codification and modification of a bunch of older local practices, many involving a mouse or rat.
This seemed like a good time to rerun one of my posts that stirred up plenty of trouble at the time, making the point that we are “now living in a society that’s far more tradition-bound than that of the 19th Century, and in some respects more so than at any time since at least the Middle Ages”.
I’ll just add that CP Snow was writing in the 1950s, pretty much equidistant between the late 19th century and the present day, strengthening my observation that the “invention of tradition” is now something of a traditional concept (though the phrase itself, due to Hobsbawm and Ranger, is a mere 30 years old).
As was pointed out in the comments to my karate post, the observation that most traditions are invented is getting somewhat traditional itself, going back as it does to the exposure of the Donation of Constantine as a forgery.
So maybe it’s time to turn all this around, and make the point that we are now living in a society that’s far more tradition-bound than that of the 19th Century, and in some respects more so than at any time since at least the Middle Ages.
The traditionality of modernity
It’s striking, if you’re not aware of it already, to observe that Christmas, as we now know it, was invented in the 20 years or so between 1840 and 1860, However, what is even more striking that it’s barely altered in the succeeding 150 years. Even the complaints haven’t changed in decades.
And what’s true of Christmas is true of most of the favourite examples of invented tradition. Clan tartans were invented out of whole cloth (as it were), as soon as the actual clans had been destroyed by the Clearances, but this process was pretty much complete by 1850, and the system is now as inflexible as if the Scots wha’ wi’ Wallace bled had done so in defence of a dress code. Moreover, at 150 years or more of age, these traditions really can claim to be ancient (at least in the eyes of a non-indigenous Australian).
A variety of cultural niches, once subject to the cycles of fashion, seem now to have been filled once and for all. Elvis, Marilyn Monroe and James Dean have all been dead for decades, but all are more instantly recognisable than any putative successor.
More significant institutions show the same kind of stability. Political systems and national boundaries are becoming more stable over time, not less. The collapse of the Soviet Empire led to the breakup of some federal states, but nothing like the wholesale resurgence of irredentist claims predicted by many.
One obvious factor assisting all this is technology. Just as printing has fixed languages once and for all, radio, TV and recorded music and video have a powerful effect in fixing cultural traditions of all kinds. Of course, this is the opposite of the usual story in which technology drives us to a postmodern condition of constant change. But that’s enough for me. It’s time to see what’s on at the (75-year-old) Commonwealth Games.
Within a week or so, I will start writing a series of posts on the capability approach, a theory/paradigm/framework that is used in philosophy and the social sciences for a variety of purposes (wiki, IEP, SEP). This Capability Project is in part a self-binding mechanism to make sure that by the end of the Summer I will not have to write to my editor at Open Book to tell them that, for the third year in a row, I need another year to finish my book on the capability approach; and the post series is also in part a chance to publicly respond to some issues that students and others have been emailing me about privately, or issues that have popped up in seminars or teaching.
If you have topics that you want to see discussed, or if you have questions about the capability approach, you can send them to me at ingrid.robeyns [at] gmail.com; I will most likely not respond to those emails [apart from possibly acknowledging safe receipt] but hope to address all or most of them in due course here on our blog. Other Timberites have also done some work on the capability approach, so perhaps they may also join the party at some point.
Toward the end of his life the legendary French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan would lead his seminars in almost absolute silence. Though he suffered from some kind of aphasia, Lacan’s silences are often held to signify more than silence. In keeping with his theory, they mark a presence. Silence speaks.
My sadness is that we are probably today more race and difference-conscious than I was in the 1960s when I went to school. To my knowledge, I was the first black kid in Savannah, Georgia, to go to a white school. Rarely did the issue of race come up. Now, name a day it doesn’t come up. Differences in race, differences in sex, somebody doesn’t look at you right, somebody says something. Everybody is sensitive. If I had been as sensitive as that in the 1960s, I’d still be in Savannah. Every person in this room has endured a slight. Every person. Somebody has said something that has hurt their feelings or did something to them — left them out.
Critics of Thomas like Chait see this kind of talk as either outright lies or utter foolishness. Can Thomas really believe that the segregated South of his youth was less race-conscious than today? Does he really believe that not talking about race (if southerners did in fact not talk about race) signifies the absence of race consciousness?
But the immediate pairing of these two sentences in Thomas’s talk—”I was the first black kid in Savannah, Georgia, to go to a white school. Rarely did the issue of race come up.”—is too suggestive to leave it at that.
Look carefully at what Thomas is saying: I personally desegregated a white school; we never talked about race. The juxtaposition is so jarring, it can only be read as a kind of Lacanian gap. That fissure is precisely where the secret of the sentences is to be found. However unintentional or unconscious, it signals the connection between absence and presence, silence and segregation.
If you think I’m over-reading this, remember that silence has long been a racially fraught topic for Clarence Thomas. He doesn’t ask questions during oral argument at the Supreme Court. Why? Because, he has said, he was teased when he was younger for speaking English in the Geechee/Gullah dialect of black slaves and their descendants. So he learned to keep quiet, as an undergraduate, at Yale Law School, and now on the bench. Silence was a protective mechanism against racist humiliation, a marker not of the absence of race but of the presence of racism.
There’s a structural, even causal, relationship between those two sentences of Thomas. And, despite his protestations, he knows it. Somewhere, somehow.
Last year I wrote, somewhat tongue in cheek, that socialism is about converting hysterical misery into ordinary unhappiness.
This is what I meant.
Socialism won’t eliminate the sorrows of the human condition. Loss, death, betrayal, disappointment, hurt: none of these would disappear or even be mitigated in a socialist society. As the Pirkei Avot puts it, against your will you enter this world, against your will you leave it. (Or something like that.) That’s not going to change under socialism.
(Oh, by the way, Happy Valentine’s Day.)
But what socialism can do is to arrange things so that you can deal with and confront these unhappinesses of the human condition. Not flee from or avoid them because you’re so consumed by the material constraints and hassles of everyday life.
I was reminded of that post reading this wonderful piece by Anya Shiffrin about the death of her father.
Last spring, André Shiffrin, the legendary publisher, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer (he died in December). A New Yorker through and through, he nevertheless decided to spend his last months in Paris, where he and his wife had an apartment and where he had been born. It proved to be a wise move, as Anya explains.
So imagine my surprise when my parents reported from Paris that their chemo visits couldn’t be more different [than they had been at Memorial Sloane Kettering in New York]. A nurse would come to the house two days before my dad’s treatment day to take his blood. When my dad appeared at the hospital, they were ready for him. The room was a little worn and there was often someone else in the next bed but, most important, there was no waiting. Total time at the Paris hospital each week: 90 minutes.
There were other nice surprises. When my dad needed to see specialists, for example, instead of trekking around the city for appointments, he would stay in one room at Cochin Hospital, a public hospital in the 14th arrondissement where he received his weekly chemo. The specialists would all come to him. The team approach meant the nutritionist, oncologist, general practitioner and pharmacist spoke to each other and coordinated his care. As my dad said, “It turns out there are solutions for the all the things we put up with in New York and accept as normal.”
One day he had to spend a few hours at Cochin. They gave him, free of charge, breakfast and then a hot lunch that included salad and chicken. They also paid for his taxi to and from the hospital each week.
“Can’t you think of anything bad about the French healthcare system?” I asked during one of our daily phone calls. My mom told me about a recent uproar in the hospital: It seems a brusque nurse rushed into the room and forgot to say good morning. “Did you see that?” another nurse said to my mom. “She forgot to say bonjour!”
As Anya notes, it wasn’t that her father “was getting VIP treatment or had a fancy private plan. Not at all. He had the plain vanilla French government healthcare.” She also points out that health care spending is much lower in France than it is in the United States.
I should acknowledge here that I know relatively little about health care policy, and the comparative merits of France versus Britain versus the US. So I can’t really comment on that element of Anya’s argument.
I want to make a different point.
French health care couldn’t stop André Shiffrin from dying; nothing in this world could. Instead it created a space for him and his family to deal with his dying, without the distracting mayhem of our system.
When my dad began to get worse, the home visits started. Nurses came three times a day to give him insulin and check his blood. The doctor made house calls several times a week until my father died on December 1.
The final days were harrowing. The grief was overwhelming. Not speaking French did make everything more difficult. But one good thing was that French healthcare was not just first rate — it was humane. We didn’t have to worry about navigating a complicated maze of insurance and co-payments and doing battle with billing departments.
Every time I sit on hold now with the billing department of my New York doctors and insurance company, I think back to all the things French healthcare got right. The simplicity of that system meant that all our energy could be spent on one thing: caring for my father.
That time was priceless.
In my Freudian (late Freud) moments of despair, I sometimes wonder if the madness of American capitalism isn’t one massive contrivance to avoid the sad finitude of the human condition. Filing our insurance claims, haggling on the phone, waiting for doctors, we don’t have time or space to deal with death. At least not properly. That’s what socialism—or whatever variant of state-provided/delivered/guaranteed/ensured health care we’re talking about—might help us do. Perhaps that’s why we don’t want it.
Patri Friedman, grandson of Milton, says that libertarian imago and Paypal entrepreneur Peter Thiel “wants to end the inevitability of death and taxes.” That seems about right. And a useful way to distinguish libertarianism from socialism, with taxes meant only as a signifier of the reality principle. Marx, at his most utopian, thought we were “suffering, conditioned and limited creature[s].” And that that was an essential part of our humanity, the necessary and productive delimitation of our liberation.
Socialism is not a flight from the human condition; it’s a direct and unsentimental confrontation with that condition.
Edited Collection: Best Practices in Writing Assignment Design
Britain’s Tory Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, is today threatening pro-independence Scots that if they secede then they can’t have the pound sterling as their currency any more. This is a problem for SNP leader Alec Salmond because he’s been peddling the idea that an independent Scotland will continue to enjoy a common currency, a notion that appeals to risk-averse Scots. A few years ago, the euro might have looked an appealing alternative to sterling, but now it looks much less so. But though Salmond has rather painted himself into a corner on this one, I’m struggling to see why an independent Scotland having its own money would be such a bad idea. After all, the various Scandinavian countries seem to get by perfectly well with their different kroner, so why not Scotland? Scotland’s economy is significantly different from England’s anyway, with natural resources playing a bigger part in one, and financial services in other. Better for everyone to have separate currencies, with different interest rates and floating exchange rates so as to adjust to circumstances. (Having a different currency for the north of England and Wales might be nice too … or alternatively grant independence to London as a new Singapore.)
The other major worry about independence from the official Great British point of view is that “we” would have far less weight and influence in the world. The UK already has less influence that its political elites delude themselves that it has, but at least an independent Scotland would end that delusion. Facing up to reality probably means that the UK would be less tempted to waste billions on the post-imperial accoutrements of military power (new fighters, nuclear weapons and the like). And then not having that stuff would make the UK less able, and therefore less willing, to join in with rash invasions and interventions, and to to send task forces to recapture distant outposts. Further, without the delusion that the UK is a great power, its politicians would be forced to adopt a more co-operative relationship with neighbouring countries, both in the EU and the various states that would compose our Atlantic archipelago. No longer able to go it alone: the UK would have to work with others.
So Scottish independence, what’s is there not to like about it? Well, nationalism, I suppose. But having more and smaller democratic nations, forced to rub along with their neighbours for pragmatic reasons of mutual-self interest. Sounds good to me. Of course the English left worry about the prospect of permanent Tory government if Scotland secedes. This concern is probably exaggerated. The political dynamics of a weakened Anglo-Welsh rump would be different over time and the demographics probably favour the left, as younger voter are considerably more liberal and cosmopolitan in their attitudes than the over 55s. So here’s hoping for the end of the UK and its replacement by a post-imperial patchwork of smaller countries.
This morning, European Commissioner Neelie Kroes released the EU’s long anticipated response to the seismic changes in Internet governance caused by the Snowden revelations. In six hundred words, it throws down the gauntlet at United States over control of the Internet for the third time in fifteen years. This time it just might work.
Last October, the technical bodies that coordinate the Internet released the Montevideo Statement. Implying that trust in the Internet’s American stewardship had been fatally damaged by the Snowden revelations, the I*s (‘i-stars; Internet organisations) called for “the globalization of ICANN and IANA functions, towards an environment in which all stakeholders, including all governments, participate on an equal footing” and for the overall improvement of global multi-stakeholder Internet governance.
It was an astonishing development. For the US-born ICANN, ISOC, ARIN and IETF to say the US government’s monopoly of control over the Internet root must end was a break few of us saw coming. It didn’t stop there. Within days, ICANN’s CEO, Fadi Chehade, announced that ICANN and the Brazilian government would organize a meeting in early 2014 to start figuring out how this transfer of control might work.
For ICANN, although the story of its arranged marriage with Brazil has changed as many times as Fadi has told it, the partnership is a way to grab some autonomy and symbolic distance from its smothering and dysfunctional relationship with the US Department of Commerce. It also bigs up ICANN’s status as two hundred person California nonprofit that just happens to be best buddies with one of the biggest economies in the world.
Before the Montevideo statement, Internet governance had rumbled on in the same way for a decade: the US and its allies staunchly defendied the status quo; Russia, China and a bunch of countries they’d bullied or paid off made noise and occasionally accumulated victories at the International Telecommunication Union; and the large swathe of middling and middle income countries in between batted haplessly back and forward between them. Once a year, everyone would gather and complain at the Internet Governance Forum, a toothless talking shop tolerated and attended by everyone precisely because it has no power.
Europe had tried twice before to move the US away from its controlling grip on the domain name system. First, before the creation of ICANN, when the EU’s late 1990s suggestion that the United Nations get involved was slapped down. Later, just before the 2005 World Summit on the Information Society in Tunis, the EU suggested a purely intergovernmental cooperation model to replace the Department of Commerce’s contractual control of the root. That didn’t fly, either.
Nonetheless, the EU went on thinking of itself as the honest broker between the US – which brooked no challenge to its historic dominance – and Russia et al – who reflexively disliked the open Internet and spotted a chance to hobble it with the added benefit of curbing America’s global influence. What the EU achieved with its stance is hard to pin down; basically more of the same.
The only thing that’s changed in Brussels is a largely rhetorical shift from inter-governmentalism to multi-stakeholderism. The EU started off saying government should sit down around the table and sort things out, and more recently has shifted to saying the private sector, civil society and the technical community should be invited, too. But, as Kevin Murphy points out, the Commission’s true love for the ICANN multi-stakeholder model only goes so far as liking the decisions it agrees with and insisting on a right of veto over everything else. For the Commission, government stakeholders are still an awful lot more equal than the other ones. And so it would have continued, if those pesky Brazilians hadn’t stuck their nose in.
The EU wasn’t just caught on the back foot by the I* Montevideo statement and the subsequent Brazil meeting announcement. Europe’s raison d’etre in Internet governance as the diplomatic force maintaining an ideological balance between Internet extremes was destroyed. Being an honest broker in a struggle between a dominant power that just wants to keep the status quo versus a host of multi-hued malcontents basically just means upholding a flawed balance. There’s no future in it.
Brazil grabbed the ball when no one else even realized it was in play. (Probably via a sneaky pass from ICANN with a hand-off in Uruguay) Then everyone else rushed home to celebrate victory, drown defeat and train for the next match, while Neelie and co. stood muddy and alone in the empty stadium whining that the winners were offside.
So today’s announcement can be read as an attempt by the EU to look like it’s still driving the agenda, even though it never really was. It’s the concluding act of a lame duck commissioner who has disappointed in both her terms. And it’s raddled with the customary non-sequiturs that cast pet Commission projects as ‘concrete actions’ that will drive brave reforms. Put it this way, if you have to put out a press release saying you are the honest broker – the kind that work silently but manically behind the scenes to stitch the last-minute, life-saving deal together – then you’re almost certainly not one.
None of this means we should discount what the EU has to say. The things it asks for now seem sensible and even necessary; a timeline for globalizing ICANN/IANA, strengthening the IGF, keeping the Internet open and unfragmented and its decision-making accountable, transparent and inclusive.
Although Europe is speaking from a position of weakness, these proposals are powerful, and shared by more people every day.
As I am certain every one of you knows, the extraordinarily talented actor Philip Seymour Hoffman died recently of a heroin overdose in New York City. In what is a very heart-wrenching aspect of the story, he had been clean and sober for over 20 years before relapsing onto prescription painkillers and booze a few months back (people say.) He had been going to 12-Step meetings even close to the time of his death, and he’s leaving three young children behind. A total bummer.
What’s weird is that the police decided to go on a manhunt for the specific people who sold the drugs he OD’ed on, and then arrest those people in particular. Why? People must die of heroin overdoses in NYC all the time, right? More than one a day, surely. Does it matter especially much if a famous person OD’s on your drugs? As opposed to, say, a struggling single mother, or a homeless person? They first tested his body to see if the heroin had been laced with fentanyl, a pharmaceutical heroin analog, which has caused deaths in nearby Pennsylvania. It hadn’t. He had just gotten good old regular drugs, from his dealer, who did him a solid there. The internet briefly hyperventilated about how there were 50 bags of heroin found in his apartment. This also seemed stupid. He’s rich and famous—he’s supposed to walk out in the freezing cold to Avenue C every single day? The man can’t stock up? Isn’t there a polar vortex or something?
The actor’s apparent overdose set off a special manhunt for the source of the narcotics due to his celebrity status. “An internal email went out to all supervisors [!? what, even?—ed] asking if anyone has had any experience with those brand names of drugs,” a police source told the New York Post. The dozens of baggies of heroin found in Hoffman’s West Village apartment were marked “Ace of Hearts” and “Ace of Spades,” although the drugs found in the Mott Street apartment were reportedly not stamped with the same names. The investigation is continuing, the Times reports.
“Spades” or not, Robert Vineberg, 57, and Thomas Kushman, 48, were charged with felony drug possession, while Max Rosenblum and Juliana Luchkiw, both 22, were charged with misdemeanor drug possession.
The high-profile death has put a spotlight on the existence of branded bags, “a fevered underground marketing effort in a city that is awash in cheap heroin.” Just last week, a Bronx bust included a creative collection of stamps including “Lady Gaga” and “Government Shutdown.” (Historically, brands also include “Grim Reaper; a skull and crossbones; D.O.A.,” according to the Times.) Heroin seizures are up 67 percent in New York over the last four years.
John was wondering whether these unfortunates could use, in their defense at trial, that ain’t nobody never would have bothered with them at all if their famous friend hadn’t screwed them over by accidentally on purpose dying like that. Because, seriously, what? Now, I favor decriminalization of all drugs, so I’m unusual, and recognize that heroin dealers are not the most popular people in the world. But look, someone’s got to sell heroin otherwise no one will get any heroin. Really. Somebody would have sold Mr. Hoffman those drugs. If they weren’t laced with anything then he maybe killed himself (it’s a sort of suicidal hobby anyway) or he maybe got a batch from one source that was much purer than that from another source, or maybe he just f#$ked up really bad and got greedy when he was heating up that spoon. But why these patsies? Was there going to be a national outcry?
Also, the “feverish underground market” thing is ridonk, NYC has always had this. I have to admit “Government Shutdown” is really winning my heart right now, though. New York Magazine interviews a heroin blogger here if you want to read about this weirdly fascinating branding. There was a famous bust of a dealer when I lived in NYC in the 90s who had gotten his glassine envelope stamp, “Poison” in a Coca-Cola font, done in blue on the bottom of his pool in the Dominican republic. That was how the DEA caught him. There was a photo in the Village Voice, it was hilarious. Named after the nauseating perfume, I think, in an ouroboros of death-wish imagery that was liable to make you puke your guts up. He was an up-and-comer because so many people were dying using Poison that it was a form of advertising! Lines around the block for his unusually pure goods, apparently. That guy I can see going after. The schmucks of Hearts up there on Mott St who weren’t even holding the right brand? I would be willing to bet a lot of money that they were just using buddies who copped for him because he was rich and paid for their dope. What did they ever do but sell the bullets someone put in a revolver and spun to play Russian roulette time after time after time? And then take the revolver out of his hand and put it to their own temples and spin the cylinder and dry-fire? And then hand somebody else the revolver and another .45 calibre bullet? And then…? (and here I must say there are many more than 6 chambers in this venomous pistol.)
Obligatory, but I’m really getting a ‘using the product vibe’ off these people that disqualifies them from being Superfly. Nonetheless, you got to get mellow y’all.
Paul Krugman has an interesting piece in which he argues that huge disparities in incomes undermine the dignity of the worst-paid workers. This sentence struck me most:
we live in the age of the angry billionaire, furious if anyone should suggest that his wealth doesn’t entitle him to acclamation as well as luxury.
On that topic, I’m inviting all American billionaires to attend a talk at the Stanford Center for Ethics in Society on Thursday where I will be arguing that the billionaire has a duty not to be rich. [If you’re not a billionaire, you’re equally welcome.] I think there are a couple of good arguments to give for this view, including arguments along the line that Chris wrote here recently. I’ve presented these arguments before to British, Dutch and mixed European audiences, and am curious whether the reactions of Americans will be different.
I’m prepared to be surprised. Even more so given a scene that happened on Sunday at a plantation in Louisiana that I visited, after a great tour in which I learnt a lot about the horrible conditions under which slaves had been working so that the plantation owners could build their wealth:
Me [asking a sales person in the plantation shop]: “How much should I tip the tour guide? What is the custom?”
Now if even an ordinary American, working on a former slavery plantation where he is every day reminded of a past of exploitation and gross violations of human dignity, believes that ‘decent wages’ implies ‘socialism’, then I start to understand that Krugman faces an uphill battle generating a reasonable debate about income inequality and human dignity. Let’s just hope that my encounter at the plantation wasn’t representative for the range of categories in which people are thinking.
Pat Arneson, firstname.lastname@example.org
New Book: COMMUNICATIVE ENGAGEMENT AND SOCIAL LIBERATION: JUSTICE WILL BE MADE
Communicative Engagement and Social Liberation: Justice Will Be Made recognizes limitations in contemporary understandings that separate history and rhetoric. Drawing together ontological and epistemic perspectives to allow for a fuller appreciation of communication that shapes lived-experience, facets of the two academic disciplines are united in acts of communicative engagement.
Bill Coggin died on February 9, 2014, at his home in Bowling Green. He was born on December 3, 1948 in Malvern, Arkansas, to Bertha (Davis) and William Coggin. He is survived by his wife, Betty. He is also survived by their two sons, Robert and Martin; daughter-in-law, Hadley, four beloved grandchildren, Grace, Maggie, Emmett and Colleen; and brother, Charles.