Personal Statements

by Harry on November 20, 2017

When I’m writing a letter of recommendation for an undergraduate applying for graduate school (one of the many parts of my job for which I have received no training and my skill in which has never been assessed by anyone), I pretty much always want to look at the personal statement (or, their answers to the program-specific questions which many professionally-oriented programs ask). If I don’t know the student really well, the personal statement helps me write the letter, just because it keeps them fully in my head; and if I do know the student really well it seems wrong not to offer to comment on/offer editorial advice, especially if I know (as I often do) that the student doesn’t have a parent who will be able confidently to do this. For all I know my own confidence is misplaced, but I don’t think it is – I have read thousands of personal statements over the years {mainly for nursing school, clinical psych, teacher ed, school counseling, medical school and law school and, of course, philosophy), and although I only know directly what other people (my immediate philosophy colleagues) think about the statements of students who apply to Philosophy PhD programs, I have observed the fate of those students whose statements I’ve looked at.

The main thing I want to say about personal statements is that in my experience many candidates agonize over them and spend far too much time trying to get them exactly right. In philosophy the main purpose of the personal statement is to convey that you know what you are doing, that you are genuinely interested in the program you’re applying to, and that you are not a complete flake. Some people, it is true, have genuinely interesting stories behind their desire to X, whatever it is, but most really don’t.[1] But they usually seem compelled to tell a story as compellingly as possible. Here’s a quote from a recent email (used with permission):

Hi Brighouse, I hope you had a nice weekend and that you have a good week ahead of you! I wanted to email you to ask for your help with my personal statements. I have spent a lot of time attempting to write some of them and I am really struggling. They feel very cliched to me and I am not sure how to make myself stand out as an applicant in so few words!

[click to continue…]

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Sunday photoblogging: Paris, Rue Bonaparte

by Chris Bertram on November 19, 2017

Paris: Rue Bonaparte

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Shadowgraph of a Mouse

by John Holbo on November 19, 2017

I’m reading a fun book, Shadow of a Mouse: Performance, Belief and World-Making In Animation, by Donald Crafton. The author is an animation historian/film studies scholar. I’m interested in the history but also – as is the author – the theory of animation ‘performance’. I’ll snip a nifty bit from Chapter 4, about the evolution of devices, conventions and styles for handling space. The author uses the evolution of the treatment of shadows as a nice hook, per his book title. [click to continue…]

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Versailles et Paris en 1871, by Gustave Doré

by John Holbo on November 16, 2017

15

I am a serious lover of, semi-serious scholar of (hemi-demi-semi-serious practitioner of) caricature. I’m here to deliver the goods.

Honoré Daumier is crowned 19th Century French master of this form. For so he is. But Gustave Doré, better known for his Dante, Bible and fairy tale illustrations, is as good, I say. The Internet Archive has a decent copy of Versailles et Paris en 1871, published in 1909. (Oddly, Wikipedia doesn’t even know it exists.) The Archive interface is ok, but this one needs a thumbnail gallery. Also, their PDF is messed up. So I made three Flickr galleries for the three sections of the book. First is “L’ Assemblée Nationale”. Next is: “La Commune”. Last is “Magistrature”. Then I realized I had nowhere to put the artist himself. Here he is. A Crooked Timber exclusive. [click to continue…]

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Clerihew corner (sport edition)

by Harry on November 15, 2017

Clerihews explained here.

This week, we have a sporting edition. Now, there is a slight problem here: I am only interested in one sport. However, my son’s irrational obsession with American Football has at least provided me with one subject (and my son, to my surprise, approved).. And I think I may have composed the first ever clerihews about women cricketers. You, the readers, are entirely welcome to write clerihews about one of the lesser sports—indeed, I hope you will!

Football:

Ha Ha Clinton Dicks was cursed
With a name that made him burst
Out with laughter whenever it was said
So he changed his name to Fred instead.

Cricket:

Elyse Perry
Makes Australians merry
As she dashes
England’s hopes to regain the Ashes

Than Moeen Ali, the spinner
Few cricketers were ever thinner;
Beefy and Freddie in fact
Were, not infrequently, fat.

Boycott was never out
But he wouldn’t clout
A ball for six
Even when his team was in a fix. [1]

Geoffrey never scored runs too fast
In matters of style he was often outclassed
But with steely rumination
He went about accumulation

When considering Alex Blackwell
The selectors have not checked their facts well
She scores tons of runs, so in the absence of Lanning
Why the hell isn’t she Australia’s captain? [2]

[1] He actually did hit eight 6s in Tests, half of them in 1973.
[2] This one was, obviously, written before the start of the Ashes series.

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The Reactionary Mind, 2nd edition – Meet The New Boss

by John Holbo on November 15, 2017

If you haven’t heard, there’s a new edition out [amazon] of our Corey’s The Reactionary Mind. I have duly purchased the updated version. He didn’t just drop Palin and add Trump. It’s better put together, as he says in the Preface. I bought the basic argument first time round. I found some things quite clear and compelling that I know others did not. Perhaps this time the more benighted shall see the light. Here’s hoping this new edition wins over skeptics.

It would have been funny if the new subtitle were: ‘I totally told you so and now LOOK!’ But I guess Oxford doesn’t play that way.

Let me try to be frank and blunt about the standard complaint against the book and why I think it misses the mark. Robin’s line seems too reductive, too quick to cast all philosophical conservatives as moustache-twirling villains. Conservatism is a bunch of reactionary bastards punching down. Always has been, always will be. But surely – especially in the realm of ideas! – better can be said on its behalf, hence should be said. Doesn’t he miss the interest and sophistication of the best conservative thinkers? Even the fact that, yeah, Trump fits the model may fail to seem so powerfully predictive. A stopped clock is right twice a day. Someone standing on the corner shouting ‘hey asshole’ at everyone isn’t necessarily a prophet or great student of the soul, even if he’s right a lot. (I’m looking you, Bob McManus!)

Passages like this set readers off: [click to continue…]

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Law and Political Economy blog

by Henry on November 13, 2017

A new blog and a new intellectual movement, launched by David Singh Grewal, Amy Kapczynski and Jed Purdy:

This is a time of crises. Inequality is accelerating, with gains concentrated at the top of the income and wealth distributions. This trend – interacting with deep racialized and gendered injustice – has had profound implications for our politics, and for the sense of agency, opportunity, and security of all but the narrowest sliver of the global elite…. Law is central to how these crises were created, and will be central to any reckoning with them. Law conditions race and wealth, social reproduction and environmental destruction. Law also conditions the political order through which we must respond. … We propose a new departure – a new orientation to legal scholarship that helps illuminate how law and legal scholarship facilitated these shifts, and formulates insights and proposals to help combat them. A new approach of this sort is, we believe, in fact emerging: a coalescing movement of “law and political economy.”

The approach we call law and political economy is rooted in a commitment to a more egalitarian and democratic society. Scholars working in this vein are seeking to reconnect political conversations about the economic order with questions of dignity, belonging, or “recognition” and to challenge versions of “freedom” or “rights” that ignore or downplay social and economic power. …We pursue these egalitarian and democratic commitments through a set of theoretical premises. Politics and the economy cannot be separated. Politics both creates and shapes the economy. In turn, politics is profoundly shaped by economic relations and economic power. Attempts to separate the economy from politics make justice harder to pursue in both domains…. Our project is hopeful in spirit. Rigorous criticism is the precondition of viable hope. To think realistically about the ways that another world is possible, we have to understand the ways that our own has been made, with all of its hierarchies and harms, and to see how the same tools that made it might remake it differently. The point is to understand the world in order to change it, which begins by making it less resistant to both change and understanding.

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Paris Photo

by Chris Bertram on November 13, 2017

We spent a few fun hours at the Paris Photo exhibition at the Grand Palais on Saturday. The first time I’d been. Lots to see and lots to like, but also quite a lot to dislike. My attention was caught by a copy of Kertesz’s Chez Mondrian, which is one of my favourite photos of all time (#2 after Cartier-Bresson’s Madrid) on the stall of Bruce Silverstein, the New York dealers. I sauntered up to the assistant and asked how much it was going for, knowing already that it would be beyond my budget: “1.2 million” she said. I’m not clear whether that was dollars or euros, but it doesn’t matter much. It was a print made for an exhibition in 1927, and as such, unique, though it looks like most other renderings of Chez Mondrian.

There is something, to my mind rather off about the enormous sums being paid for photographs. After all, with the exception of daguerreotypes and similar they are actually produced for reproduction and largely only exist in the form of copies of themselves (the negative being rarely for sale). Some of what was on sale for large amounts were shots of really poor and suffering people taken by photographers acting from moral or political motives: all grist to the mill of the gallerists.

Having looked around several stalls containing vintage photography, I asked one assistant why I had not seen a single autochrome. Apparently they have very little commercial value because of doubts about the long-term stability of the originals. I still think it anomalous there aren’t any, I said, pointing out that we were in Paris, where the Albert Kahn Museum (perpetually fermé pour travaux) has perhaps the world’s largest collection. Alas, she had never heard of Albert Kahn.

(For myself, I bought and was bought, some books by Harry Gruyaert, a Belgian colourist at Magnum whom I really rate very highly.)

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Sunday photoblogging: Puces St Ouen

by Chris Bertram on November 12, 2017

Puces St Ouen

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Armistice Day, 2017

by John Quiggin on November 11, 2017

Another Armistice Day and the prospects for peace are bleaker than they have been for years. Not only are militaristic demagogues in the ascendancy just about everywhere, but the cult of the military is increasingly unchallenged, even in countries generally seen as peaceable, like Canada. Then there’s the threat of nuclear war posed by a much more capable North Korea, and the erratic responses of the Trump Administration.

It’s a day on which I feel increasingly alone. It seems obvious to me, 100 years after the bloodiest year of war in Australia’s history and the revolutions the war produced, that war and revolution are almost invariably a pointless waste of life and human potential, usually ending in disaster for all, and that even grave historical and social injustices are better resisted by peaceful means than by resort to force. But every military anniversary reminds me that this is the view of a small and shrinking minority.

One day, perhaps, peace will come. But not today.

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Saudi, Lebanon, Iran …WTF?

by Maria on November 8, 2017

That’s kind of it, really.

What on earth is this new Saudi prince thinking? That he can enlarge the sphere of the existing proxy war to fight and win a conventional war against Iran..? Despite vast spending, SA barely has an military – and no, buying lots of shiny weapons, equipping a few militias, renting mercenaries, and fighting a partial air-war in Yemen won’t much count against Iran if SA succeeds in picking the war it seems to so badly want. The rhetoric and posturing seem to go significantly beyond sabre-rattling for national unity. What can the game-plan possibly be?

If the Aramco thing isn’t going ahead, soon – clearly – then where will the $$ come from for all this?

And why make Hariri resign on the same day as the Saudi putsch? Was the plot against him real? And is he at liberty? (Slightly more than averagely curious as I very briefly met him, seven or eight years ago, with some Lebanese friends in Washington. Charismatic man.) And, oh gods, WTAF was the son-in-law of the US president doing, sniffing around just before all this?

What does the approaching end-game in Syria have to do with it all? Will Russia stay out of any widening of the Yemen conflict? And is anyone who sold SA its mountains of weaponry and aircraft and the people to operate them – God knows actual Saudis couldn’t be expected to do the heavy-lifting – feeling just a tingle of ‘oops’..?

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Bendis?

by John Holbo on November 8, 2017

Congrats to Democrats on their wins! It’s a good day. Virginia ain’t for haters after all!

But before that news broke, my Facebook feed was taking note of the big news that ‘Marvel suffers ‘gut punch’ of losing Bendis’; ‘Bendis Signs Exclusive Deal With DC’. Some people where all ‘what’s Bendis?’ You could read the NYTimes article. Or you can just take my word for it that it’s all footnotes to Plato. Bendis is a Thracian huntress/moon goddess, so DC is showing it is committed to serving its ancient Thracian readership. This is the biggest move for Bendis since … well, there’s some controversy about it. Then as now, the comics world was abuzz. As the geographer Strabo wrote in the 1st Century BCE: “Just as in all other respects the Athenians continue to be hospitable to things foreign, so also in their worship of the gods; for they welcomed so many of the foreign rites that they were ridiculed for it by comic writers.” As in ancient Athens, where the point seems to have been a kind of deliberate, syncretic blurring (Artemis/Bendis), so today we read in the NY Times interview: “I was trying to break down that Marvel vs. DC craziness that some fans have.” That’s smart. Obviously all this is crucial to Plato’s Republic, because Book I begins with Socrates ‘going down to Piraeus’ to celebrate the civic ratification of the Bendis move deal. In Republic Book I the focus is not (yet) on justice but more injustice, as exemplified by the confused thinking of the three interlocutors – Cephalus, Polemarchus and, above all, Thrasymachus. DC, of course, has a major series focused on the theme of injustice and gods among mortals.

You can read about it all in my book [Amazon], especially pp. 281-88. Or you can read it for free here. You want Chapter 9.

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What Am I Seeing?

by John Holbo on November 7, 2017

BoingBoing sent me here. Then I was down the rabbit hole to this. This was an interesting explainer. But then this (I watched so you don’t have to. Really, you probably don’t want to.) I’m struck by the weird parallel with the story I linked in my previous “What Can I Say?” post. Failures across cognitive platforms and all. It’s the combination of randomness and infectiousness that is so skin-crawling. If only a few kids found and watched these videos, that would be one thing. It’s not surprising that kids like to watch weird, violent gross-out stuff to do with toys. If your kid acted out some of this stuff with toys it would just be funny. Dr. Hulk needs to give the Minion a shot because he cut his foot, or whatever. But somehow the algorithmic weaponization of that is just alarming. So pardon me while I have a moral panic. The clowns aren’t helping. (I hope I can laugh about it in 20 years. “Remember how, in 2017, everyone thought YouTube Kids would warp little minds? And, by the way, it turns out President Pregnant Spider-Man isn’t really authoritarian, he’s more just incompetent.”)

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Clerihew corner (politics edition).

by Harry on November 6, 2017

I introduced clerihews last week (post here) and was stunned by the response—you are great at this! Most in that thread were about philosophers, though there were a good number about other types of people. I’ll return to philosophers (one of my colleagues has been quietly supplying me with his own contributions so I’ll have to find a way to publicize them). This week’s challenge is to write clerihews about politicians—broadly conceived. Here are my efforts (including Montgomery, not strictly a politician I guess):

Edward Clerihew Bentley
did his satire gently.
Would he have kept to that precedent
with this President?

After the white van man picture Emily Thornberry
Said she was sorry, but she wasn’t very.
Now that Boris behaves like a gooseberry
Even white van man wants her as Foreign Secretary.

Field Marshall Bernard Montgomery
Eschewed entirely involvement in mummery.
Instead he devoted himself to Irish dance
Which he performed to his troops at every chance

When the loathsome Morrison asked Ernest Bevin,
After Labour’s great win,
To stand against Clement Attlee
Bevin said, “That’s just not me”.

Some people say of Julie Burchill
That she’s a distant relation of Winston Churchill
Unlikelier cousins there may not be
(Apart from Lady GaGa and Clement Attlee). [1]

[1] I wrote this one immediately after learning that not only is Angela Lansbury a red diaper baby and lifelong leftwinger, but also the granddaughter of George Lansbury (and daughter of communist Edgar), cousin to Oliver Postgate, and in some complicated way related to Malcolm Turnbull.

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Sunday photoblogging: Uppsala, stormy sky

by Chris Bertram on November 5, 2017

Uppsala - stormy sky

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