Crooked Timber

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Out of the crooked timber of humanity, no straight thing was ever made
Updated: 1 hour 22 min ago

Breaking News! Wise to Forward Salaita Appointment to Trustees! Updated

Mon, 2014-09-01 21:44

We are getting reports out of the University of Illinois that Chancellor Wise is going to forward the Salaita appointment to the Board of Trustees for a vote on September 11. A group of Gender and Women’s Studies students reports the following:

From GWS Undergraduate Stephanie Skora’s report back on meeting with Chancellor Wise on Monday, September 1, 2014:

The meeting with Chancellor Wise was a success, and we have gained some valuable information and commitments from the Chancellor!

We have discovered that the Chancellor HAS FORWARDED Professor Salaita’s appointment to the Board of Trustees, and they will be voting on his appointment during the Board of Trustees Meeting on September 11th, on the UIUC campus! Our immediate future organizational efforts will focus around speaking at, and appearing at, this Board of Trustees meeting. We will be attempting to appear during the public comment section of the Board of Trustees meeting, as well as secure a longer presentation to educate them on the issues about which Professor Salaita tweeted. Additionally, we are going to attempt to ensure that the Board of Trustees consults with a cultural expert on Palestine, who can explain and educate them about the issues and the context surrounding Professor Salaita’s tweets. It has been made clear to us that the politics of the Board of Trustees is being allowed to dictate the course of the University, and that the misinformation and personal views of the members of the Board are being allowed to tell the students who is allowed to teach us, regardless of who we say that we want as our educators. We will not let this go unchallenged.

Additionally, Chancellor Wise has agreed to several parts of our demands, and has agreed upon a timeline under which she will take steps to address them. The ball is currently in her court, but we take her agreements as a gesture of good faith and of an attempt to rebuild trust between the University administration and the student body. She has not agreed unilaterally to our demands, and but we have made an important first step in our commitment to reinstating Professor Salaita. In terms of his actual reinstatement, the power to make that decision is not hers. This is why we have shifted the target of our efforts to the Board of Trustees, because they alone have the power to reinstate and approve Professor Salaita’s appointment at the University. In regards to the rest of our demands, which we have updated to reflect the town hall meeting, we have made progress on all of those, but continue to emphasize that it is unacceptable to meet any of our demands without first reinstating Professor Salaita.

We have made progress, but we all have a LOT of work left to do. We must organize, write to the Board of Trustees, and make our voices and our presences known. We will not be silent on September 11th, and we will not stop in our efforts to reinstate Professor Salaita, regardless of what the Board of Trustees decides.

Please keep organizing, please keep making your voices heard, and please‪#‎supportSalaita‬!

Also, feel free to message or comment with any questions, comments, or concerns.

Assuming the report is accurate, I can think of two interpretations of what it means.

If the UIUC is thinking politically, it would be an absolute disaster for them to open this can of worms, to act as if Salaita’s appointment is now a real possibility, to raise expectations for two weeks or so, to encourage all the organizing this will encourage (I can imagine the phone calls and emails that will now start pouring into the Board of Trustees), only to have the Board vote Salaita down. From a political perspective, this would be a disaster for the university. The strongest weapon the UIUC has always had is the sense that this is a done deal, that they will not budge, that we can raise all the ruckus we want, but they simply don’t care. Opening the decision up again calls that into question. Where does this line of reasoning lead us? To the possibility that the UIUC Trustees will vote to appoint Salaita on September 11, throw Chancellor Wise under the bus (remember, the Executive Committee that upheld her decision is only comprised of three Trustees, not the full Board)*, and say it was all a misunderstanding wrought by an incompetent chancellor. Who’ll then be pushed out within a year. The advantage of this approach is that it will effectively bring this story to a close. There will be angry donors, but everything I’ve ever read and experienced about that crew suggests that their bark is often worse than their bite. The ongoing atmosphere of crisis and ungovernability on campus is not something any university leader can bear for too long, and this threatens to go on for a very long time.

The other possibility is that the UIUC is thinking legally. One of the many weak links in their legal case was that Wise never forwarded Salaita’s appointment to the Board of Trustees for a vote. She basically did a pocket veto. Salaita’s offer letter stated that his appointment was subject to approval by the Board of Trustees, but Wise effectively never allowed the Board to approve or disapprove. So the UIUC’s lawyers could have decided that the better thing to do would be simply to carry out the full deed.

Many questions remain, not least of which is how accurate is this report. Stay tuned. But assuming the report is true, we have to operate on the assumption that the first interpretation is a very real possibility and that we have a lot of work to do in the next ten days.

*John Wilson reminds me in this post that all the members of the Board did sign a letter supporting Wise’s position, which I had forgotten about.

Update (11:15 pm)

Just to clarify my blog post: Like all of us, I have no idea what Wise and the Board are thinking (though we can assume that they are making this decision together). But while I think we have to be as strategic and smart about this as possible (fyi: John Wilson thinks I’m wrong; he may have a point), and gather as much information as we can, there’s always a tendency in these situations to play armchair strategist, to try and read the tea leaves, to figure out the pattern of power, as if we didn’t have hand or a role in shaping that pattern of power. Particularly when questions of law get involved (in a country of lawyers, Louis Hartz reminded us, every philosophical question is turned into a legal claim.) We have to resist that tendency. We have to treat this announcement, assuming it’s true, as a golden opportunity. To use the next 10 days as a chance to shift the balance of power on the ground. Remember the Board will be meeting and voting on campus. There are students, faculty, and activists on and around that campus. That’s an opportunity. Remember these trustees are individuals who can be called and emailed round the clock. That’s an opportunity. Between now and 9/11 (they really chose that date), let’s be mindful of the constraints, but also be thinking, always, in terms of opportunities.

Categories: Group Blogs

Salaita By the Numbers: 5 Cancelled Lectures, 3 Votes of No Confidence, 3849 Boycotters, and 1 NYT Article (Updated Thrice)

Sun, 2014-08-31 22:17

The New York Times has weighed in with a strong piece on the Salaita affair. This is significant for two reasons. First, while we in academia and on social media or the blogosphere have been debating and pushing this story for weeks, it hasn’t really broken into the mainstream. With a few exceptions, no major newspaper has covered it. Now that the Times has, I’m hoping Salaita’s story will get even more attention, possibly from the networks as well. Second, in addition to covering the basics of the case, the piece shows just how divisive and controversial Chancellor Wise’s decision has been, and how it has isolated the University of Illinois.

The decision, which raised questions about contractual loopholes and academic freedom, almost immediately drew pushback from the academic community. Thousands of scholars in a variety of disciplines signed petitions pledging to avoid the campus unless it reversed its decision to rescind the job offer. A number of prominent academic associations also urged the university to reconsider.

In the past few days, several people have followed through on promises to boycott the institution. Two scholars declined invitations to speak at the prestigious Center for Advanced Study/MillerComm Lecture Series this fall, and a campus-based project called off a four-day national conference that it was scheduled to host there in October.

David J. Blacker, a professor of philosophy and legal studies at the University of Delaware, notified the Center for Advanced Study on Aug. 20 that he no longer wanted to participate. His lecture had been scheduled for Sept. 29.

“Instead of choosing education and more speech as the remedy for disagreeable speech,” he wrote to the committee, the University of Illinois “has apparently chosen ‘enforced silence.’ It thus violates what a university must stand for — whatever else it stands for — and therefore I join those who will not participate in the violation. In my judgment, this is a core and nonnegotiable issue of academic freedom.”

Mr. Blacker added that he “would be delighted to reschedule my talk” if the university should decide to reinstate its offer to Mr. Salaita.

The following day, Allen F. Isaacman, a professor of history at the University of Minnesota, also pulled out of the series, offering a similar message. His talk had been scheduled for Oct. 30.

“The University of Illinois’s recent decision to disregard its prior commitment to appoint Professor Salaita confirms my fear of the administration’s blatant disregard for academic freedom,” Mr. Isaacman wrote in a letter to Wayne Pitard, a professor of religion and head of the lecture-series committee. “I do hope that the university administration will reverse its decision before it does irreparable harm to your great institution.”

That same day, the Education Justice Project, which is part of the department of education policy, organization, and leadership at Urbana-Champaign, announced that it was canceling the National Conference on Higher Education in Prison, which it had been scheduled to host.

“This decision has not been easy,” Rebecca Ginsburg, an associate professor in the education policy department, said in an announcement posted on the project’s webpage. The project’s leaders reached the decision only after speaking with would-be presenters and attendees, she wrote. “We concluded that for EJP to host the conference at this time would compromise our ability to come together as a national community of educators and activists.”

Ms. Ginsburg could not be reached for comment Friday; university administrators also did not respond to calls for comment.

On the campus, tensions are just as high.

That evening, however, faculty members in the American Indian studies program, a unit of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, cast a unanimous vote of no confidence in Ms. Wise’s leadership, criticizing her handling of the last-minute withdrawal of the offer to Mr. Salaita.

“In clear disregard of basic principles of shared governance and unit autonomy, and without basic courtesy and respect for collegiality, Chancellor Wise did not consult American Indian studies nor the college before making her decision,” reads a statement posted on the program’s webpage.

“With this vote of no confidence, the faculty of UIUC’s American Indian studies program also joins the thousands of scholars and organizations in the United States and across the world in seeing the chancellor’s action as a violation of academic freedom and freedom of speech,” the statement says.

The note goes on to encourage other departments to do the same, and to question whether the chancellor deserves the confidence of Illinois’s full faculty.

My only objection to the piece is that its numbers are out of date.

Cancelled Lectures

As of today, five scholars, not two, have canceled lectures or turned down an invitation to a University of Illinois campus. (And there may be more I am not aware of.)

In addition to David Blacker and Allen Isaacman, Eric Schwitzgebel has canceled a talk he was due to give on campus in December and also notified the organizers of a conference on experimental philosophy that he would not be able to deliver the keynote address, as he had been invited to do.

Jonathan Judaken, a humanities scholar, was asked to deliver the keynote address at conference at the UIUC in October; he was also scheduled to speak, while on campus, at the Program in Jewish Culture and Society. He has turned down the invitation. Despite his opposition to the idea of an academic boycott of Israel, and despite his visceral reaction to Salaita’s tweets, he believes the academic freedom issues in this case are so vital that he must boycott the UIUC.

[Chancellor Wise’s] new doctrine of civility ostensibly created to foster a climate where open dialogue, discourse, and debate must be respected has actually planted the latest land mine in this academic battlefield. The result will be opposite of what she intends. Now faculty and students will feel more anxious than ever that views or viewpoints that go beyond the policed confines of what administrators—or worse, the lapdogs of the watchdog groups—define as the norm, will be able to be expressed as part of an open conversation.

It is consequently on the basis of the principles of faculty governance, academic freedom, and freedom of speech that I will not speak at Illinois until Salaita’s job offer is upheld.

This all could have been avoided if Chancellor Wise trusted faculty governance procedures. The faculty who hired Salaita were fully aware of his position on Israel and Zionism and fully equipped to determine if it would negatively impact his ability to teach his classes. There are international experts on the faculty who could have aided the administration in assessing Salaita’s tweets. It is faculty as the leaders of the communities of inquiry in universities and colleges that are best equipped to judge in such cases.

Contrary to the muddled ways it is being used today as a political cudgel, academic freedom is about the right of academics to say what they will without the interference of groups outside the academy policing their positions. Faculty governance is about giving faculty the right to make all decisions within the academy pertaining to their domains of expertise, most significantly hiring decisions. And freedom of speech is our most basic right as Americans.

Campus watchdogs who monitor the academy claim they do so to uphold what is best in higher education. But Salaita’s case shows once more that they threaten to turn campuses from refuges of critical inquiry into battlegrounds of political correctness and narrow norms.

And Julie Livingston, a Rutgers historian and MacArthur Fellow, has canceled a talk at the University of Illinois at Chicago (a UIUC sister campus, whose chancellor came out in support of Chancellor Wise). Livingston writes:

With great sadness I am writing to cancel my upcoming talk at UIC scheduled for September 17, given your chancellor’s recent statement of support for the actions of Phyllis Wise and the U of I Board of Trustees in the Steven Salaita case. While I had been looking forward to engaging with colleagues and students at UIC, I cannot in good conscience visit your campus until the Steven Salaita matter is resolved in a manner that upholds the principles of academic freedom and shared governance that are fundamental to American higher education and the necessary exchange of ideas, especially where difficult and potentially polarizing issues are concerned. I very much hope that your leadership will listen to their faculty and to the several thousand scholars (including myself) who have signed a pledge to boycott the University of Illinois, reflect on their actions, and reverse the errant course on which they have embarked in this matter. Should that happen I would welcome very much the chance to come and speak.

So five cancellations or refusals of an invitation.

No Confidence Votes

In addition, three departments at the UIUC, not one, have taken a vote of no confidence in the leadership of UIUC. In addition to the American Indian Studies department vote discussed by the Times, the Asian American Studies department and the philosophy department have voted no confidence in the chancellor. The philosophy department resolution states:

Whereas the recent words and actions of Chancellor Phyllis Wise, President Robert Easter, and the Board of Trustees in connection with the revocation of an offer of employment to Dr. Steven Salaita betray a culpable disregard not only for academic freedom and free speech generally but also for the principles of shared governance and established protocols for hiring, tenure, and promotion, the faculty of the Department of Philosophy at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign declares its lack of confidence in the leadership of the current Chancellor, President, and Board of Trustees.


The philosophy vote is especially important, to my mind, because it demonstrates the power of the boycott. Of all the disciplines, philosophy has been the strongest in defending academic freedom at the UIUC. Over 530 philosophers have joined the boycott, more than any other field. Why that’s the case, I’m not sure. But the fact that philosophy is the only department at UIUC—besides Asian American and American Indian Studies (where Salaita’s  connections are strong)—to have voted no confidence is symptomatic of the power of the boycott. Seeing so many of their colleagues across the country and around the world take this strong stand, the philosophers at UIUC have now communicated to the administration that the campus is growing increasingly ungovernable. Chancellor Wise will not get any peace on campus till she and the trustees reverse their decision. As even this generally negative piece in a local paper acknowledges.

This is why I  want to press one of the newer boycott initiatives, from Alan Sokal of NYU, for natural scientists. Getting support among the natural scientists is critical, as they are often a favored constituency at big research campuses like UIUC. They draw the big money from federal grants; they have a lot of power. I want to urge any one of you who is a natural scientist to join this boycott pledge and to urge your friends and colleagues in the natural sciences to do the same. With just the right amount of pressure from all of you, we might see something similar to the philosophy vote on the natural sciences side of the UIUC campus.

For a complete list of the boycott statements, go here. While I haven’t gotten a complete update on the numbers, we have at least 3849 signed up for the boycott as of tonight.


The American Association of University Professors has issued a strong statement on the Salaita affair. Here are some of the highlights.

The letter details the extensive dealings between Salaita and the University of Illinois subsequent to his signing of the offer letter he received in October 2013. Among other things, the AAUP reveals that Chancellor Wise invited Salaita to a welcome reception for new faculty.

Toward the end of January, Professor Salaita wrote to Professor Byrd about scheduling a visit to Urbana-Champaign in order to make arrangements for a place to live for him and his family. He states that they visited the area in March and subsequently initiated the purchase of an apartment, including payment of “earnest” money, which was subsequently forfeited when the agreement was voided following the abrupt notification regarding his appointment. During this visit, the AIS faculty hosted a dinner for him and his family to welcome him to the faculty. In early April he was notified of his fall teaching assignment, and he finalized his course book orders in mid-summer.

In the intervening months between his October 2013 acceptance of the appointment and early August 2014, when you notified him of its termination, Professor Salaita received information from various offices of the university, indicating that they had been informed of his appointment, including an invitation from your office to attend your August 19 reception “welcoming faculty and academic professionals who joined the Illinois community in 2014,” as the invitation stated. Nothing was said to Professor Salaita about board action still to come, and we are informed that it is not uncommon for board action on new appointments to take place only after the appointment has begun and the appointee is already at work.

Because the AAUP recognizes that Salaita was in fact hired by the UIUC, they reach a vastly different conclusion about what Chancellor Wise has done to him and what Wise must now do.

Aborting an appointment in this manner without having demonstrated cause has consistently been seen by the AAUP as tantamount to summary dismissal, an action categorically inimical to academic freedom and due process and one aggravated in his case by the apparent failure to provide him with any written or even oral explanation.

Until these issues have been resolved, we look upon Professor Salaita’s situation as that of a faculty member suspended from his academic responsibilities pending a hearing on his fitness to continue. Under the joint 1958 Statement on Procedural St andards in Faculty Dismissal Proceedings, any such suspension is to be with pay. As detailed earlier in this letter, Professor Salaita has incurred major financial expenses since he accepted the University of Illinois offer. We urge–indeed insist–that he be paid salary as set in the terms of the appointment pending the result of the CAFT proceeding.

Brian Leiter has an interesting followup on the AAUP letter, which I urge you all to read, along with the fascinating comment thread that ensues.

The AAUP brings up the issue of Salaita’s financial standing. If you haven’t donated to the fund set up by his friends and colleagues to help him fight his case and support his family, please do so now. Click on this link and then go to the right-hand side of the page. People often urge individuals in Salaita’s situation to sue. He may have to. But lawsuits cost money. Like a lot of money. Unless you’re independently wealthy, they’re hard to paid for. Like really hard to pay for. So please help Salaita out. And while you’re over there, check out these awesome testimonials from his former students. You know, students: the very people Chancellor Wise and Salaita’s critics claim to be protecting.

Update (midnight)

Someone on Facebook just brought to my attention that there is a sixth lecture cancellation. This one by Pomona English professor Kyla Wazana Tompkins, who was scheduled to give a talk at UIUC in September.

Update (12:30 am)

I should have also mentioned to other cancellations. The first, which the Times discusses in that excerpt and which I’ve mentioned in a previous post, is that the National Conference on Higher Education in Prison, which was scheduled to be hosted at UIUC, was canceled. The second is that Columbia Professor Bruce Robbins canceled a screening of a film that was supposed to take place at UIUC. I should have remembered this one especially, as it was what inspired my original call for a boycott of UIUC.

So the title of this post should really be: “Salaita By the Numbers: 6 Cancelled Lectures, 1 Cancelled Screening, 1 Cancelled Conference, 3 Votes of No Confidence, 3849 Boycotters, and 1 NYT Article.”

Update (September 1, 10:30 am)

Change that headline to “Salaita By the Numbers: 7 Cancelled Lectures, 1 Cancelled Screening, 1 Cancelled Conference, 3 Votes of No Confidence, 3849 Boycotters, and 1 NYT Article.”

I was just informed that Karma Chavez, associate professor of communication arts and Chican@ and Latin@ Studies at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, canceled her lecture at the UIUC Center for Writing Studies, which was scheduled for September 18.

Categories: Group Blogs

Sunday Photoblogging: The Last Day of Summer

Sun, 2014-08-31 09:27

For some people, anyway. I don’t normally post photos with people, but this little girl was born right on this blog and look at her now! All grown up and going to Martha’s Vineyard. Everyone’s glad to be home in Singapore eating roti prata and murtabak, though. Well, no, I miss real summer like that. High dunes and cold water and fresh corn and berry cobbler and lobster rolls. But if you read my aunt Laura Wainwright’s book Home Bird you can hear that it gets wickedly cold in the wintertime.

Later when I’m not tired I’ll make it be so you can click on a high-res version, this one is kinda lame but it busts the margins otherwise…

Categories: Group Blogs

The peculiar status of PhD-employees

Sun, 2014-08-31 08:32

One thing that has struck me for years is the peculiar status of people taking a PhD-degree in the Netherlands (and in a few other continental European countries – I don’t know how many exactly). They are hired by the university, as employees, to write a dissertation, and help teach about one course a year, during four years (in Belgium they may have to teach more, but in those cases they have 6 years, of which one third has to be spent on teaching, and two thirds on working towards the PhD-degree). I call this category of people pursuing a PhD-degree PhD-employees: they have a wage, the legal status and corresponding right of civil servants, rights to paid holidays and paid parental leave, and everything else that a civil servant has (except that the contract is temporary). They pay no fees for their PhD studies, and most of the additional courses they take will be paid for by their employer – the university. All universities in the Netherlands are publically funded, and hence while the employers are the universities, the funds are overwhelmingly government funds – although in principle a private party could also sponsor a PhD-employee at a university. This sometimes happens in the natural sciences – when Philips or Shell fund a PhD-position on a project that benefits them too. The cost of such a PhD-employee for 4 years is about 200.000, if we don’t count material costs and overhead at the university (some claim it’s closer to 280.000 if we include the latter).

The contrast with the status of PhD-students in England and the US is quite big, where those who are pursuing a PhD-degree are students, pay (often significant) fees in order to get training and supervision, and if they do teaching or research assistance, they get either an additional contract or they are paid by the hour. In addition to the National research councils and the universities, there are also a number of public and private organizations that provide (modest) bursaries for those PhD students.

I have, for many years, thought that there is nothing wrong to treat those pursuing a PhD-degree as students rather than as employees. In my view, they are not primarily having a job but rather pursuing a degree. And given the general scarcity of funds in the public sector, and universities in particular, it would be better if we didn’t have PhD-employees but rather PhD-students, and reallocate those funds to create additional lectureships.

Since the university wouldn’t have to pay social security and all the employer-related taxes and insurances, it would cost the Dutch government/university not about 200.000 Euro per PhD, but rather would cost them the amount of the PHD scholarship which the Dutch government (until recently) gave to non-EU students taking a degree in the Netherlands– which was about 70.000 Euro for 4 years. One could argue that this amount is too low, since one can’t live a decent life on 1460 Euro a month (which would imply that the non-EU students have been given a too small bursary in the past), and raise that amount to 100.000 Euro, which would give the PhD-students 2000 Euro a month. For the present discussion I don’t care about the exact numbers – what’s relevant is the claim that a significant amount of money could be saved if those PhD-employees became PhD-students.

The money that would be saved should be invested in hiring new lecturers, especially in those disciplines where over the last decades student numbers went up without more funds being allocated to lecturers. More lecturers are, given the vastly increased workpressure in the faculty, really badly needed. But, equally importantly, it would increase the chances of those getting a PhD degree to stay in academia within the Netherlands. And those chances are currently very low, which is generally recognized (I recall numbers that about 1 in 10 PhDs can stay in academia, whereas about 9 in 10 would like to do so).

And, what I personally find very important, in the UK and the US, PhD-students can in many (most?) cases choose their own topic, whereas in the Netherlands they have to work on the topic for which the professor could raise funds. There are exceptions, but to the best of my knowledge most PhD-employees in the Netherlands have not chosen their own topic. And since the PhD-student is an employee, she can’t change supervisors if she’s not happy, let alone transfer to another university.

Earlier this week Roland Pierik and I published an op-ed piece in the major Dutch newspaper NRC-Handelsblad, making these arguments. Reactions have been very mixed and also quite intense. The reaction of many is to say that this will worsen the socio-economic and legal position of those taking a PhD degree and is therefore a bad proposal. Yet I think it is clear that the real dispute is whether the research that the PhD-employees do is work that deserves a wage, or rather training that should be supported with a study grant. (Just to avoid misunderstandings: Our proposal would give PhD-students decent wage contracts for the research assistance or teaching which they would do).

An important argument against our proposal is that it may be impossible to get the best MA students pursue PhD-degrees if they no longer can do so as PhD-employees, but have to do so as PhD-students. If that were true, it could be a reason to go for the more expensive system. But that’s an empirical claim, for which I haven’t seen any evidence. And it still doesn’t solve the problem that they may have good working conditions while pursuing their degrees, but only a very small chance at staying in academia afterwards.

One striking observation is that those who emailed me to express support are generally scholars based in the Netherlands who got their degrees elsewhere, or who spent a long time abroad. So perhaps we Dutch academics take our PhD-system for granted, just like the Americans and the British take their system for granted?

Categories: Group Blogs

Hoover channels LaRouche

Sun, 2014-08-31 04:31

Despite my attempts at zombie-slaying, the myth that Rachel Carson advocated and caused a worldwide ban on DDT, leading to the deaths of millions, keeps being reanimated. I came across an example that is interesting mainly because of its provenenance. It’s by Henry I Miller of the Hoover Institute and Gregory Conko of the Competitive Enterprise Institute. CEI is hack central, so nothing it produces ought to surprise anyone. But Hoover boasts a Who’s Who of (what remains of) the right wing intellectual apparatus: Hnery Kissinger, Condi Rice, John Taylor and Harvey Mansfield, among many others. And Miller was apparently ” founding director of the FDA’s Office of Biotechnology”. So, the fact he can run this kind of thing is good evidence of total intellectual collapse on the right.

The two main authorities cited by Miller and Conko in their critique of Carson are “San Jose State University entomologist J. Gordon Edwards” author of “The Lies of Rachel Carson” and “Professor Robert H. White-Stevens, an agriculturist and biology professor at Rutgers University”. Unfortunately, Miller and Conko don’t reveal that Edwards’ piece was published (like much of his work on environmental issues) in the LaRouchite journal “21st Century News”. And, while describing White-Stevens academic affiliation (dating to the 1950s as far as I can tell), they don’t inform readers of the more relevant fact that, when he offered a patronising critique of “Miss Carson’s ideas”, he was a spokesman for American Cyanamid. That’s right: as refutation of Rachel Carson in 2012, this Hoover Institute Fellow is offering the PR put by a pesticide company in the 1960s, along with a screed by a far-right loony.

I suspect the reason these facts weren’t revealed is that Miller and Conko weren’t aware of them. Their piece looks to have been cobbled together from various bits of flotsam in the rightwing blogosphere.

I’d be interested to see if any of the rightwing luminaries associated with the Hoover Institute is willing either to criticise or endorse this piece. My guess is that tribal solidarity will preclude the former and residual intelligence the latter.

Categories: Group Blogs

American Exceptionalism – A Double-Edged Word

Sat, 2014-08-30 00:19

I’m not surprised some conservatives are upset about the AP American History test. But I am bemused by the strength of the axiom Stanley Kurtz would oblige us to adopt, to keep things from getting politicized: “America is freer and more democratic than any other nation.” (Although, grant the axiom, and postulates about military strength, and theorem 1 – “[the US is] a model, vindicator, and at times the chief defender of ordered liberty and self-government in the world” – enjoys high probability.)

This is a comparative thesis about the international order, so it is noteworthy that Kurtz simultaneously forbids the ‘internationalization’ of US history. Comparative ‘transnational narratives’, the only sort of thing that could empirically support the validity of Kurtz’ exceptionalist axiom, are out! But I suppose Kurtz is just trying to avoid confusion. (It is wrong to allow that there could be empirical disconfirmation of any aspect of a result that has been transcendentally deduced from an impulse to amour-propre.)

Precisely because I associate the phrase ‘American exceptionalism’ with this sort of lather, I do not associate it with the study of history. So I’ve never really wondered, but suddenly I do: what do students of American history say about ‘American exceptionalism’? I ask Wikipedia and am a bit surprised to read that it is widely accepted! And then I realize what is widely accepted is some version of the old Tocqueville-to-Louis-Hartz-and-beyond line I spent a semester in college studying. Oh, that thing! (Well, you can forgive me for not associating that with this stuff Kurtz is banging on about.)

Also, more weakly: “American exceptionalism is the theory that the United States is qualitatively different from other nation states.”

I know, I know, it’s just a Wikipedia entry. Still, this looks like a term born to do the terrific two-step of triviality!

1) We’re #1! We’re #1!
2) There is no danger of the US collapsing into, say, Switzerland, via Leibniz’ principle of the Identity of Indiscernables.

What we obviously want is:

3) It makes sense to single out for special study features that make (or seem to make) the US an outlier, among nations, relatively speaking. Culturally, politically, geographically, in terms of not having its industrial base shattered after W.W. II, on and on and on.

Studying 3), in a serious way, is incompatible with catechizing students to chant 1), while depriving them of any comparative basis for judgment. 1) is only good for doing the one thing Kurtz says he doesn’t want to do: “ensure that students think a certain way about contemporary events.” The approach Kurtz rules out is perfectly compatible with 3). Comparing nations is not incompatible with contrasting them. It really is that simple.

I hadn’t realized that, in a scholarly sense, ‘American exceptionalism’ is apparently most strongly associated with Seymour Martin Lipset. Thus, I haven’t read his book – American Exceptionalism: A Double-Edged Sword [amazon]. But just Googling up this page is enough to separate Lipset’s line from Kurtz’.

Tocqueville’s Democracy, of course, is the best known [work that takes this exceptionalist line]. As we have seen, he noted that he never wrote anything about the United States without thinking of France. As he put it, in speaking of his need to contrast the same institutions and behavior in both countries, “without comparisons to make, the mind doesn’t know how to proceed.”

Tocqueville was a transnationalist.

To conclude: Kurtz is just kicking up partisan dust, obviously. But perhaps I can make a proposal, for future reference. In a geopolitical sense, America is exceptional, and it really is right to see that as a double-edged sword. (I don’t know exactly what Lipset means by that, but I can privately attach a perfectly sensible sense to the phrase, I think.) But, intellectually, ‘exceptional’ is a double-edged word. There is the scholar’s sense and the jingo’s sense. These are different enough that we can’t do without two words. Going forward, let’s call Kurtz’ sense ‘American suprematism’ – an alloy of moralism and power highly distinct from the more neutral ‘exceptionalism’, that is Tocquevillean, so we should leave it to the transnationalists who, for better or worse, are apparently writing the AP American History tests.

As a final note: while penning the present post, I find this post at Powerline (wow, haven’t visited in years!)

A goodly chunk:

Obama put it this way:

I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism.

This is vintage Obama. He stands above America — putting us in a “global perspective” as just another country that considers itself exceptional.

This, as I tried to show in my post [he means this one], is the same perspective that gives rise to the way the College Board wants AP U.S. History to be taught.

Still, I agree with Obama that Brits probably believe in British exceptionalism and Greeks in Greek exceptionalism. And I knew first hand that the French believe in French exceptionalism.

Nor is this phenomenon limited to citizens of countries like Britain, Greece, and France, whose histories indisputably are exceptional. When I talk to immigrants from Central and South America, they speak proudly of “my country,” the nation they left to come to the U.S.

I don’t probe deeply enough to learn whether they consider their country “exceptional” or to discover what version of their national history they are taught in school. But it’s clear that they don’t view their country as just a province among the provinces that make up the world.

When I visited the Dominican Republic this past winter, I discovered a narrative of that nation’s history (which I gather is taught) that holds that its patriots thwarted the U.S. when we intervened militarily in 1965. In reality, the U.S. was not thwarted.

The U.S. accomplished its goal of preventing a left-wing takeover of the DR and saw its preferred presidential candidate, Joaquín Balaguer who had been closely associated with the dictator Trujillo, elected president under a plan for forming a new government imposed by the U.S. (Balaguer went on to serve 22 years as democratically elected president, presiding over stunning economic growth and development).

If the Brits, the Greeks, the French, and the Dominicans believe in the exceptionalism of their respective countries, then, as Yossarian might say, Americans would be damned fools to feel any other way.

Since Mirengoff (the author) is hereby not merely admitting but actually arguing that his favored approach will conduce to more historical falsehoods being taught (on the alleged Dominican Republic model), I suppose the point must be that we have to guard against any transnational Hack Gap, historiographically speaking. We can’t allow the citizens of other countries to be bigger fools than we are, due to their natural, human desire to believe they are better than we are.

In short, I’m not sure Mirengoff is right about what Yossarian would say:

Dunbar sat up like a shot. “That’s it,” he cried excitedly. “There was something missing – and now I know what it is.” He banged his fist down into his palm. “No patriotism,” he declared.

“You’re right,” Yossarian shouted back. “You’re right, you’re right, you’re right. The hot dog, the Brooklyn Dodgers. Mom’s apple pie. That’s what everyone’s fighting for. But who’s fighting for the decent folk? Who’s fighting for more votes for the decent folk? There’s no patriotism, that’s what it is. And no matriotism, either.”

As G. K. Chesterton remarks: “’My country, right or wrong,’ is a thing that no patriot would think of saying except in a desperate case. It is like saying, ‘My mother, drunk or sober.’”

Lipset quotes Chesterton, as a believer in American exceptionalism. “America is the only nation in the world that is founded on a creed.” Even so, in fairness, I think we will have to put him, too, on the Tocqueville pile rather than the Kurtz pile.

Categories: Group Blogs

Rescuing the miners and the babies

Fri, 2014-08-29 18:09

On Monday I was having dinner with Robin Celikates and a bunch of PhD students who were this week attending a Summerschool on Dirty Hands and Moral Dilemmas. Someone came up with the following case (none of us was quite sure about the author, but Derek Parfit seems like a likely candidate):

Case A: Rescuing the miners:
Imagine 100 miners who are stuck in a mine. They are divided in two groups. You can either rescue 50 (with certainty), but then the other 50 will be lost (this is strategy 1). Or you can try a different rescue strategy, which may potentially save all of them, but only at a 50% probability; there’s another 50% chance that all will die (strategy 2). Which strategy would you choose?

The people around the table had conflicting views, and the reasons we believed to have for a certain view did not convince the others at all. My choice was for strategy 2, since that gives everyone an equal chance to be rescued, and thus treats the miners morally equally in a certain sense. But Robin said that miners themselves would choose strategy 1, since they have a strong collective ethos/identity which includes that you save whom you can save. He claimed that we can deduce this empirical claim from some accidents that happened with miners who were actually locked up in a mine. (this is my recollection of the discussion, but Robin is very welcome to correct me !)

In the case of miners, we are dealing with adults and respecting their agency could plausibly be taken to overrule other reasons to choose for a certain strategy. But what if agency didn’t play a role? We could change the example, by turning the people-to-be-rescued into babies, who are too small to have anything resembling group-identity and agency:

Case B: Rescuing the babies:
Suppose 100 babies are stuck in a mega-crèche which is on fire. They are two floors with 50 babies on each floor. There are two rescuing strategies. Under strategy 1, you can rescue 50 babies for sure, but the other 50 will die. Alternatively you can try another strategy in which all 100 babies have a 50% chance of being rescued (strategy 2).

Which strategy do you choose, and why? And if you choose differently in case A and case B, then why so?

Categories: Group Blogs

The “Other Operation” (crossposted at my blog)

Tue, 2014-08-26 19:37

Like others, I’m mystified by the “ice bucket challenge” in which, as I understand it, people agree to have a bucket of ice water dumped over their heads, rather than giving money to charity. This is reminiscent of the famous Piranha Brothers’ “Other Operation”, in which they threatened not to beat their victims up if they did not pay them the so-called “protection money”.

Still, it seems as if there is some interest in variants on the standard fundraising challenge in which you pay money to charity to encourage friends, bloggers, C-list celebrities to do difficult, painful or humiliating things. It’s struck me that my upcoming participation in the Sunshine Coast 70.3 Triathlon provides a nice twist on the ice bucket challenge. My target time is 7 hours, which would imply doing the run leg (21.1 k) around midday. As the name implies, the Sunshine coast weather is likely to be sunny and warm, even in early spring. So, when I’m finished I will be positively glad to have a bucket of ice water tipped over me. It will take a bit of effort to arrange this though, so here’s the challenge:

Donate as much or as little as you like to the charity or cause of your choice and record it in comments (honor system). If the total exceeds 10001, I’ll do my best to organize the icebucket and a photo.

  1. I’m just going to add $A and $US, pounds and euros without conversion. If you want to give in other currencies a round $A equivalent would be helfpul. 

Categories: Group Blogs

The World Is Squared: Episode 1 – “Switzerland, Country of Joyce”

Tue, 2014-08-26 16:43

Thanks to P O’Neill in comments to my last post, for suggesting both the idea for this poor-man’s Friedman travelogue and its title. The first installment comes to you from the youth hostel in Grindelwald.

1. Telemachus

I don’t really have much need of apocryphal taxi drivers to serve as sources of information and/or mouthpieces for my own views for this one. I got to know the Swiss (or at least, a fair number of a particular and possibly unrepresentative class of them) when I was working for Credit Suisse, for five years which were roughly coincident with the first phase of the Global Financial Crisis. CS wasn’t, and isn’t, recognisably a “Swiss Bank” in its London office, or at least not in the way that you could tell that ABN Amro was a “Dutch Bank” or BNP Paribas is a French one. Credit Suisse was basically an American investment bank – lots of people, including those who named the servers in the IT system, still hadn’t got the message that “First Boston” had been dropped from the name years earlier. The Swiss were almost like mythical creatures, who lived on the floors above the cafeteria, only dealt with the world’s super-rich and all knew each other. Then there were the equally mysterious people of “head office”, who were mentioned once a quarter at the time of the annual results; I presume that the fact that these announcements tended to roughly coincide with Samhain, Beltane, Lughnasadh and Imbolc was coincidental. But then there was “our Zurich office”, a little bit of First Boston in the heart of Credit Suisse, and these guys were our kind of people, although at the same time interestingly foreign. I also ended up making a good friend in the private bank, who probably doesn’t need her name dragged into this, but she was one of the most impressive people I met and is presumably scheduled for higher things within the bank at some time in the future.

2. Nestor

Switzerland is one of those small countries of Europe, the existence of which makes a lot more sense when you consider that the alternative would have been for one Empire to let another have control of the territory. If you want to know what I mean, consider a map of the stretch of North Sea coast stretching up from Normandy in the direction of the Baltic and ask yourself why it is that such a huge country as Germany only has a scant few dozen miles of coastline and only two or three usable ports. What is it, the man wondered, about small, independent, trade-oriented countries like Denmark and the Netherlands that has made France, Sweden and Britain so keen on protecting their independence? To ask the question is to answer it, particularly when I gave such a strong hint. Similarly, the independence of Switzerland is not really underwritten by its geography, and the Swiss Army knows it – most of the big cities are located on easily accessible plains and the Swiss national defence plan has always been to abandon them. After all, Switzerland was actually ruled by Austria as recently as the days of William Tell. The independence of this little country is assured by the fact that it has long been understood by all the great powers bordering on the Alps that it’s probably in everyone’s best interests in the long term to have the key trade routes owned by a gang of ornery peasants who don’t want to be bothered by outsiders rather than having to fight over them all the time.

3. Proteus

I often used to win bets by asking people how important they thought banking was to Switzerland’s GDP. Few people, even Swiss natives, guessed less than 20%; most common guesses were above 30%. The actual answer is around 12% (roughly the same percentage as the UK), and that’s for total financial services – since there’s quite a lot of insurance, that would mean that classic “Swiss banking” is even less important. What makes people think that banking is more important than it is seems to be the huge global operations of Credit Suisse and UBS. But, of course, the majority of these activities take place outside Switzerland and go into the GDP of the places where they happen – mainly the UK and USA. Which means that the Swiss government’s too-big-to-fail liability is massively out of proportion to the economic benefit of the banking industry to Switzerland. This fact was not lost on the Swiss in the aftermath of the 2008 UBS bailout; the report of their Experts’ Group on Too-Big-To-Fail remains the best thing written on the subject and has formed the (badly imitated) template for a lot of other policy responses. Actually, Switzerland’s largest industry, by quite a way, is pharmaceuticals and chemicals manufacturing, which traces its heritage in the country back to the arrival of a bunch of Huguenot dyers, running away from religious persecution in the 17th century.

4. Calypso

The rumours of Swiss life being a little bit staid are not wholly unfounded. It’s a country where you can have a major political controversy when the Bourgeois Party splits from the Middle-Class Party. I have heard natives of Zurich claim that they would honestly prefer to live in Mogadishu than in Geneva; boredom is, after all, a form of pain. But I’ve also (thanks to a somewhat misguided attempt to save money on hotel reservations) sat in Geneva and eaten shashlik sitting next to guys with wrinkly blue tattoos. Even surprisingly small towns in Switzerland will have their Casa Dos Santos, or similar, serving specialitas Portuguesas for the immigrants who make up a large proportion of the country’s working class; in the chalet towns the garages and the vans driven by plumbing companies will have names like Da Sousa on the side of them.

Of course they’re not actually called the “Bourgeois Party” and “Middle Class Party”. But the slogan of the SVP is “Swiss People’s Party, the party of the middle class”, and the French name of the BDP is the “Parti bourgeois democratic Suisse”, so I think I can be allowed my joke.

5. Lotus Eaters

I suppose I ought to explain the title of this piece. It’s my suggested slogan for the Swiss tourism authorities – while Dublin makes a reasonable amount of capital out of Bloomsday and the setting of Joyce’s masterpiece, he actually lived elsewhere for most of his life. Along with Paris and Trieste, Zurich was one of the places where he lived for quite a while – from 1915 to 1919 and then again from 1941 until his death. He’s buried there, a factoid which rather obsessed me for a while; I visited his grave once during an afternoon when I had a couple of meetings cancelled. Ulysses and Portrait of the Artist were both published while he was living in Zurich. Joyce wasn’t the only misfit and artistic oddity to wind up in Switzerland; a fairly large percentage of the Berlin cabaret movement shifted there in the 30s. There’s quite a tradition of people ending up in Switzerland when their particular vision of the world started causing them problems back home.

6. Hades

The Swiss tradition of hospitality to free-thinkers and oddballs, of course, has its roots in the Reformation. As does the counter-tradition of hostility to and violent persecution of free-thinkers and oddballs. Driving down from Geneva to Interlaken, I saw a banner up for an exhibition of Amish art and furniture, the Amish of course being (as I’m sure you’ll remember) a name originally derived from the followers of Jacob Amman, an Anabaptist leader from Bern. Most of the American Amish are actually members of the theological lineage of Menno Simmons, a Dutch Anabaptist, or of some other group related to the Anabaptists, but the movement got its first big break in Switzerland, at the time calling itself the Swiss Brethren. Ulrich Zwingli (himself a religious oddball to begin with, and so was John Calvin; they did better at playing the political game) was deputed by the Zurich town council to meet with them every couple of weeks to see whether or not any progress could be made on this infant baptism business; the Protestant cantons had just finished kinda-sorta losing the Kappell Wars against the Catholic cantons, and were keen to avoid any further schisms.

Then the terrible business in Muenster happened (summary for people who didn’t do the Reformation for A-level history – Anabaptist sect took over in Muenster, went a bit cultish, started executing people for not being Anabaptists, much panic, town retaken, genitals nailed to city gates, massive disaster in which some hopeful socialist historians claim to be able to see the beginnings of class consciousness), and the political weather changed decisively in terms of people’s willingness to put up with the Swiss brethren, who now looked less like earnest god-botherers and more like worrying bearded freaks. Setting in chain a set of events which led to that Harrison Ford film and so on.

The modern parallels are presumably so obvious as to not need labouring.

7. Aeolus

The villain of the William Tell legend was, of course, a foreign tax collector (specifically, the Austrian reeve, but the causes of the historical rebellion which formed the Swiss Confederation was tax). It’s probably a little bit ridiculous to try and draw a direct link from this to the Swiss policy on tax evasion that prevailed between the end of the Second World War and the mid 1990s, but that isn’t the reason not to try – the reason why one shouldn’t bother with this analogy is that the policy in question is dead. It was never a specific Swiss thing – banking across a lot of Europe was secret in the postwar period, and for very good and obvious reason. The Swiss did have a particular issue with their tax law which never failed to enrage American tax collectors, which was that they made a distinction between “tax fraud”, a felony which involved a fraudulent document, and “tax evasion”, a misdemeanour offence. Misdemeanours weren’t extraditable and Switzerland wasn’t prepared to make exceptions in its domestic banking secrecy law for them either. Fundamentally, Switzerland didn’t for the longest time see any real role for itself as an unpaid law enforcement officer for other countries.

8. The Lestrygonians

A strange reminder of how much national boundaries matter even in this allegedly globally connected world – in the kitchen of my chalet is a roll of aluminium foil. An incredibly commoditised product, with huge economies of scale in its manufacture, and here we are, less than fifty miles from the border with France. But no, this was made in Bern.

9. Scylla & Charybdis

I’m surprised that the country of Switzerland doesn’t have a more prominent place than it does in the bestiary of the John Birch Society, the LaRouche movement and similar exemplars of the paranoid tendency. Twentieth centry reactionaries tended to be marked out by their horror and fear of the decline of absolute standards in anything; Switzerland provided the modern and post-modern era with the destruction of classical physics with Einstein, and with radical change to the concept of the narrative novel with Joyce. Even LSD was first synthesised by the Sandoz laboratory in Basel. Switzerland has always been a country where the law is malleable and changeable rather than an absolute standard, simply because of the importance of referenda in the constitution, and the history of federal government. The national character has always been based on a kind of pragmatism and compromise which is easy for an outsider to mistake for relativism.

10. Wandering Rocks

One thing that you tend to pick up pretty soon when working for a Swiss company, unless you are very unobservant indeed, is that the senior Swiss guys all know each other because they’re all in the Army together. It is possible to opt out of continuing service in the Swiss Army reserve after you’ve done your compulsory duty (and even that can be done in non-military service). But this doesn’t seem to be the way to a successful career if you want to stay in Switzerland and be a business executive. So Switzerland has an army of middle managers, which in my opinion is probably a pretty frightening prospect for anyone thinking of attacking them, as these are middle managers who have been given a single aim (defend Switzerland) for decades, plenty of time to practice and budgets which have to be considered for practical purposes to be inexhaustible. That’s the sort of situation that can get aircraft hangars built into the sides of mountains, tunnels that double as horrific tank-traps and Alpine passes that can be rendered impasses at the touch of a button. Even the low-lying cities like Basel would, according to highly classified rumour, be able to provide a number of nasty suprises to any machanised army which decided to detour through them.

The thing that the Swiss Army hates above all else, of course, is helicopters.

11. The Sirens

Arguably, a number of Switzerland’s other industries have, to say the very least, developed symbiotically with the offshore banking industry. If you have a load of money stashed away in Switzerland which you haven’t declared to your domestic taxman, then it’s surprisingly hard to spend it; bringing the stuff onshore is always going to raise questions. But on your annual visit to Switzerland, this secret stash of money at the end of the rainbow turns into a proper, spendable balance of liquid assets! So you can have a really slap-up holiday with all the treats you can force into yourself. You can get your teeth straightened or your tummy tucked. You can even get your kids put through a really posh education. If you’re looking for examples of how the financial services industry can support a number of other cluster specialties, the in flight magazine of Swissair is a fine place to look.

Another thing you can do is buy yourself a really really expensive watch, and presume that the fellow at Customs on your return won’t get impertinent about asking whether it’s the same one you were wearing when you flew out (he almost never does). The Swiss watchmaking industry dates back a long time earlier than the offshore banking industry, but it seems very likely to me that the development of the high-end watch market into basically a jewellery segment wasn’t substantially aided by the fact that watches are probably the best way known to man of smuggling a few multiples of the US$10,000 money laundering reporting limit.

12. Cyclops

The ban on construction of minarets, imposed by referendum in 2009, is a reliable source of embarrassment to the “international class” of Switzerland – the people who you tend to meet in the course of business or banking. In my experience, German-speakers tend to blame it on the French (“terrific racists, the lot of them”) while French-speakers tend to blame it on the inner cantons (“people whose surnames end in li and le, hillbillies, basically”). The fact that the ban passed is, of course, a useful reminder to the rest of us that the international, outward-oriented business class of Switzerland is by no means the entire population and in this case at least, wasn’t even a majority.

The minarets ban was the proximate cause of the split between the Bourgeois Party and the Middle Class Party, but I can’t remember which one was against it. Its supporters claimed that it was not a measure against Islam per se, but against all forms of fundamentalism in religion, which is something that makes a little bit more sense if you put it in the context of the history of Switzerland and extremist religious movements. Albeit that “makes a little bit more sense” still leaves the measure in the realm of making more or less no sense at all.

13. Nausicca

It can be presumed that the Saudi and Emirati billionaires who are the current growth segment for the Swiss private banking industry are not stowing their money in Switzerland in order to avoid Saudi and UAE income tax. My reason for believing this is that neither Saudi Arabia nor the UAE have any income tax. They’re putting it there because Switzerland has been a politically stable, neutral country for several hundred years now, while the Gulf states have existed for only a little bit more than half a century and have fairly obvious political tensions surrounding them. This is one of the very important points made by Taleb in “Antifragility” – that a good basis for guesstimating how long a political or social institution is going to last is to ask how long it’s lasted already.

This stability, neutrality and reliability seems to be very important to the Swiss conservative temperament – for the kind of people who vote in favour of banning minarets, the bankers of Geneva and Zurich seem to be regarded as untrustworthy, destructive and bad in and of themselves, but valuable simply because they’ve been around for such a long time and are therefore symbols of the eternal persistence of the Swiss Confederation. Certainly, when I was following the debate about bank regulation in Switzerland, one of the chief sources of populist rage against the banks in Switzerland was that they had damaged the reputation of the banks in Switzerland. The right-wing party in the parliament was often in the odd position of simultaneously allying with the socialists to demand public flogging and supertax, but also decrying any movement at all in the direction of compromise with the US tax authorities.

14. Oxen of the Sun

If I had sufficient spare time and a wholly warped sense of priorities, I think I could trace the boundaries of the wars of religion by driving around and listening to regional radio. As far as I can tell, Catholic cantons really go for snare drum backbeats and 2/4 time – if Mumford and Sons aren’t huge in Vaud, they are really missing an opportunity. Protestant cantons are much more into generic AOR. Everywhere in Switzerland gets a signal for the Europop collossus that is RTL2. However, the country does not seem to have any local attempts at hip-hop, for which I greatly respect them.

15. Circe

Of course, the position of Switzerland in the global economy means that the “fortress in the Alps” myth has to be a myth – there are really not many countries in the whole world that are more at the mercy of international forces, and by the hegemony of the USA specifically. The drugs industry in Switzerland, like everywhere else in the world is entirely driven by FDA approval. The banking industry’s self-anointed sense of independence lasted roughly five minutes after the US authorities decided to make a priority out of doing something about it.

Because Switzerland is a politically stable and neutral country with a good reputation for trustworthiness, it’s a good place to locate your trade association or standards organisation. Partly, this is an industry that’s grown up synergetically with the United Nations; in the immediate postwar period it must have made sense to have FIFA, the WIPO and similar bodies based there too. One of the more interesting companies I looked at was SGS, the Societe Generale de Surveillance, which will inspect your tanker loads of olive oil to see if someone has switched them for seawater, test your machine parts by the ten thousand to see if they’re made to the advertised tolerance, and generally carry out all sorts of services that have grown out of its original business model as the site inspectors at the massive bonded warehouses in the commercial zone outside Geneva. There are a lot of things that happen in Switzerland which don’t make any sense at all outside of the context of the global economy. It’s a country that is proudly independent, but which knows that it can’t really be too independent if it wants to be prosperous..

16. Eumaeus

The median Swiss private banking customer is, according to the industry joke, “every year, getting older and more female”. It’s a description of the gradual death of the European offshore banking franchise, basically from a mixture of two parts international tax treaties to eight parts demographic change.

What happens is this; consider Olaf, who survived the war and took his part in industrial reconstruction. As his manufacturing business grew, he kept sticking a bit of money away in Switzerland; if the memory of the 1930s wasn’t enough to make him cautious, the overhanging threat of Communism would. Life goes on and so does the world, but Olaf never changes his policy of sticking a proportion of his savings into his Swiss account – why would he change? He’s been given truly excellent service from his trusty account manager since the early days. Olaf has a great suntan, beautifully educated kids and a really nice watch.

Then he dies. Not much changes as the estate is passed on to Gerta, but sadly, she doesn’t live much longer. So now the estate, including the offshore account, has to be dividend up five ways between the kids; possibly even including the grandkids or nephews and nieces. These people of course knew that Olaf was a rich man, but they tend to be somewhat surprised to find out exactly how much a regular savings account can build up to if it’s kept pace with stock market returns and been largely invested in hard currency.

Unfortunately, there is now an awkward moment, where a Swiss lawyer expresses his condolences, and then informs the grieving children that they have a maximum of 48 hours to decide whether they want to start a career as tax evaders. What would you do? Particularly since Olaf’s fortune needs to be split up; a pot of $10m is a borderline ultra-high-net-worth account, but when you split it into units of $2.5m, and each of the heirs pays off their mortgage, what’s left isn’t so much of a fee income generator. And so the old European money which was the bedrock of Swiss banking profitability declines, and they have to seek out new markets.

17. Ithaca

The railways are, of course, a source of wonder to the rest of the world and no less so for being such a cliche. They don’t actually always run on time; mine were generally between five and ten minutes late. But they go everywhere; the SBB, great though it is, is not the real miracle of Switzerland compared to the dozens of little cantonal and sub-regional railways that serve even the smallest little towns on rails carved into the roads or running alongside them. This sort of infrastructure asset doesn’t depreciate if maintained properly, and it keeps providing the services for which it was intended in all economic climates. It’s a classic illustration of a point that John Quiggin has regularly made – that classic “risk-adjusted” discounted cash flow analysis will always overstate the risks of government spending and result in underprovision of infrastructure.

18. Penelope

As we drove from the airport, we turned away from Lake Geneva to go up into the Alps. Before the road turns up into the col, it goes along a valley floor, which stretches out ahead of you, seemingly endless until it turns up into forests and rocks. Way out in the distance, we saw a plume of white smoke rising, dead vertical in the windless valley. About half an hour later, we saw it was rising from a chemical refinery.

Categories: Group Blogs

Follow the Money at the University of Illinois

Mon, 2014-08-25 08:30

Inside Higher Ed has gotten some of the preliminary documents on the back and forth between Chancellor Wise, officials at the University of Illinois (including a top person in charge of fundraising), and a high-level donor, before Wise made her initial decision to dehire Steven Salaita. There’s still a lot we don’t know about the external and internal pressure that went into this decision (though from my own experience with this issue I can only assume that that fear of external financial pressure was very very high on the part of the university’s administrators), and as the article notes, none of these emails tells us what ultimately prompted Wise to make the decision she did. Still, it’s telling that in the days leading up to her decision, she received 70 communiques (in one instance from a very high-level donor), regarding the Salaita hire, only one of which was urging her to keep him on board.

The communications show that Wise was lobbied on the decision not only by pro-Israel students, parents and alumni, but also by the fund-raising arm of the university.

For instance, there is an email from Travis Smith, senior director of development for the University of Illinois Foundation, to Wise, with copies to Molly Tracy, who is in charge of fund-raising for engineering programs, and Dan C. Peterson, vice chancellor for institutional advancement. The email forwards a letter complaining about the Salaita hire. The email from Smith says: “Dan, Molly, and I have just discussed this and believe you need to [redacted].” (The blacked out portion suggests a phrase is missing, not just a word or two.)

Later emails show Wise and her development team trying to set up a time to discuss the matter, although there is no indication of what was decided.

At least one email the chancellor received was from someone who identified himself as a major donor who said that he would stop giving if Salaita were hired. “Having been a multiple 6 figure donor to Illinois over the years I know our support is ending as we vehemently disagree with the approach this individual espouses. This is doubly unfortunate for the school as we have been blessed in our careers and have accumulated quite a balance sheet over my 35 year career,” the email says.

These revelations follow on the heels of the University’s announcement on Friday that it was sticking to its guns on the Salaita dehire. The basis of this decision, at least rhetorically, is this statement from Wise:


What we cannot and will not tolerate at the University of Illinois are personal and disrespectful words or actions that demean and abuse either viewpoints themselves or those who express them. We have a particular duty to our students to ensure that they live in a community of scholarship that challenges their assumptions about the world but that also respects their rights as individuals.

It’s a strange and strained position, as many have noted. Particularly that tender if rather solicitous regard for protecting the feelings of “viewpoints themselves.” Notice that Wise’s statement does not make any distinctions between tenured, non-tenured, prospective faculty, or students. It’s simply a statement that “what we cannot and will not tolerate at the University of Illinois are….words…that….” It’s a rather breath-taking assertion. In the words of University of Chicago professor Brian Leiter:


As a matter of well-settled American constitutional law, the University of Illinois must tolerate “words… that demean and abuse either viewpoints themselves or those who express them.” The University has no choice, both as a matter of constitutional law and as a matter of its contractual commitment with its faculty to academic freedom. Scathing critiques of both viewpoints and authors abound in almost all scholarly fields; it would be the end of serious scholarly inquiry and debate were administrators to become the arbiters of “good manners.” More simply, it would be illegal for the University to start punishing its faculty for failure to live up to the Chancellor’s expectations for “civil” speech and disagreement.

In many of my courses, I teach Nietzsche, who heaped abuse on viewpoints and the individuals who expressed them. So did Marx and Hobbes, for that matter. On the chancellor’s standard, I or one of my counterparts at the University of Illinois should not be allowed teach Nietzsche, Marx, or Hobbes at the University of Illinois: too disrespectful of other viewpoints, too demeaning of those who hold them. And “what we cannot and will not tolerate at the University of Illinois are….words…that….”

In the meantime, the boycott of the University of Illinois grows stronger. As of Saturday, we had over 3000 scholars declaring their refusal to engage with the University until Salaita is reinstated. If you want to join a specific pledge from a discipline (philosophy’s going like gang-busters; John Protevi emailed me after I came up with these numbers below saying that they’ve now got over 450 philosophers signed up) or wish to sign the general statement, here are the critical links:

  1. General, non-discipline-specific, boycott statement: 1402 and counting!

  2. Philosophy: 340. Email John Protevi at or add your name in a comment at this link.

  3. Political Science: 174. Email Joe Lowndes at

  4. Sociology: 248.

  5. History: 66.

  6. Chicano/a and Latino/a Studies: 74

  7. Communications: 94

  8. Rhetoric/Composition: 32.

  9. English: 266. Email Elaine Freedgood at

  10. Contingent academic workers: 210.

  11. Anthropology: 134

  12. Women’s/Gender/Feminist Studies: 54. Email Barbara Winslow at

The university is banking on the notion that more than 3000 scholars boycotting it are the end of the story; we have to make it the beginning of the story. If you’ve already joined the boycott, get someone else to join. If each one of you did that, we’d double our numbers in no time. And if you’re not an academic but want to tell the UI to reinstate Salaita, you can sign this petition. More than 15,000 have.

Most important, it looks like Salaita is now going to have file a lawsuit against the UI. The university has time and money. Salaita has neither. As his friends and colleagues who are organizing a campaign to raise money on his behalf note:

Salaita now has no job nor does his wife who quit her job in Virginia to support the family’s move, no personal home to live in, and no health insurance for their family, including their two year-old son.

So Salaita needs our financial support; we can give it to him. Even a little bit. His friends and colleagues have organized a page where you can donate money to his legal campaign. Please click on the Paypal link on the right-hand side of the page. I’ve made a donation; please make one, too.

Lastly, if you haven’t read Bonnie Honig’s letter to Phyllis Wise, do it now.

Categories: Group Blogs

Sunday photoblogging: Bristol, the centre

Sun, 2014-08-24 14:20

Categories: Group Blogs

Freedom of the Press (if you own one?)

Sat, 2014-08-23 23:36

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories: Group Blogs

Republicans see Ebola, think DDT

Sat, 2014-08-23 23:04

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

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

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

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

Thu, 2014-08-21 20:36

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

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

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

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

Ali Abunimah has some further news:


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

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

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

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

The student evaluations for Steven Salaita are stunning.

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

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

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

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

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

# of Students

30 Total: 28 Excellent  2 Good

30 Total:  30 out of 30 Excellent

10 Total: 10 out of 10 Excellent

29 Total: 28 Excellent 1 Good

28 Total: 28 out of 28 excellent

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

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

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

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

Salaita’s colleague goes on to say:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Anthropology: 121

Latino/a and Chicano/a Studies: 70

Communications: 73

Sociology: 242

Philosophy: 241 (including our very own Chris Bertram)

English: 256

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

Rhetoric/Composition: 32

Contingent academics: 210

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

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

Updated (9 pm)

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

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

This decision has not been easy.

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

Updated (10 pm)

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

Categories: Group Blogs

How can we convince rightwingers to accept climate science …

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

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

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?

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

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.


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

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