Glenn Reynolds should not be disciplined

by Henry on September 23, 2016

Glenn Reynolds is a piece of work. Much of his blogging is in the ambiguous borderland between right wing hackery and active depravity. Even so, I was disturbed to see this in Inside Higher Ed:

The University of Tennessee at Knoxville says it’s investigating a law professor’s tweet suggesting that motorists “run down” protesters blocking traffic following a fatal police shooting in Charlotte, N.C. The professor, a popular blogger with the Twitter handle @Instapundit, says he hasn’t been contacted by the university directly … On Thursday, Melanie D. Wilson, dean of Tennessee’s College of Law, posted a statement to the university website saying that she was “aware of the remarks” and of the “serious and legitimate concerns expressed by members of the [law college] family and the University of Tennessee community, as well as concerned citizens across the country.”Wilson said Reynolds’s comments “do not reflect my views and opinions, nor do they reflect the values of the college and university,” and that she, administrators and faculty members are “investigating this matter.”
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Worse than the Bourbons

by John Quiggin on September 23, 2016

I have a couple of pieces in The Guardian. The first, which came out a few days ago, points out the consistent failure of market competition and for-profit firms to deliver human services effectively and equitably. The second gives the mainstream economic analysis of the problem, in terms of market failure and the mixed economy, developed 40 to 50 years ago, and ignored by the policy class of today, which takes the assumptions of market liberalism (aka neoliberalism) for granted. My summary:

The problem is that the political class, along with much of the economics profession, have done worse than the Bourbons, of whom Talleyrand observed “they have learned nothing, and forgotten nothing”. … Our leaders, and the economists who advise them, have not only shown themselves incapable of learning from experience, they have forgotten much that we once knew.

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I love it when two ideas come together. At lunchtime, I was talking about Roger Taylor’s new book on open data, public policy and how to grab back some little part of our human agency from the maw of big data. Last night, already three hours delayed by that corporate gaslighter Ryanair, I was shuffling through the endemically slow passport queue at Stansted, soon to brave even further delayed luggage, and wondering why an airport that has just had millions spent on it is so utterly crap.

This morning, as I stood in a District/Circle line caterpillar train– the ones whose lack of carriage dividers always makes me guesstimate the unimpeded range of a bomb blast (I’m cheerful, that way) – it came to me. Facebook/Google/WhatsApp are bad for consumers in just the same way Stansted is.

Bear with me.

I wanted to go to Girona, a city in Catalunya, to spend a few days with a group of women brought together by an old army-wife friend to do running, cycling and general fitness. All good. The only way to get there from London was with Ryanair. So already, I felt a bit let down by capitalism. Where was all the market choice and innovation to translate my myriad human desires into a competitive range of options for me to choose from and pay for? Then it turned out that Ryanair would only leave from Stansted, which I dislike, so I had to satisfice like some too-lazy-to-compare consumer or a half-arsed social democrat.

So that’s the first similarity. Any colour as long as it’s black. Any social media, search or advertising platform as long as it’s Google or Facebook. (Before anyone starts, I use DuckDuckGo for search, subscribe to an actual hard copy newspaper as an alternative business model to PPC advertising, and have been on Ello for two years, making it just under two years since I’ve interacted with anyone on Ello.)

By now we all know the saying, ‘if you’re not the customer, you’re the product’. If you are a passenger in Stansted Airport, you are most definitely the product. It is said the RAF calls soldiers ‘self-loading freight’. Well, I’ve been in Brize Norton and it’s a lot nicer and better run than Stansted.

Passengers in Stansted are not people who have paid for a service (except of course they have paid for it, but in a disintermediated way that means the service provider doesn’t give a stuff about them). They are not even freight that needs efficient through-put. If you delay them, they will spend money, topping up those useless five euro vouchers only good for MacDonalds. What you want to do, if you run Stansted Airport, is extract every further penny you can from them. This is why once you stagger out of security with your shoes half-tied and your still belt in your hand, you have to run the gauntlet of a curving shopping mall hard-selling perfume, booze, sweets and cigarettes. [click to continue…]

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Why have classroom discussions anyway?

by Harry on September 19, 2016

A couple of people observed that, in this post about making classroom discussions actual discussions, I didn’t give any reasons why students actually should discuss. And, I have to say, that when I first started teaching I didn’t understand why, either. Here’s why.

I was a voracious reader and an intent listener. I used to (from age 4 at the latest) demand that my parents let me go to bed early so that I could listen to the radio (not music – but Radio 4: documentaries, comedies plays and, when I was 9, a 13×1 hour radio dramatization of Nicholas Nickleby, on Sunday evenings. By the time I was in college, listening to someone talk about philosophy for an hour was almost effortless – I did the reading, listened carefully, and took extensive notes. I also wrote a weekly essay… So who needed classroom discussion?

And when I started teaching, in the US, as a TA, leading discussion sections, I guess I assumed my students were much the same. I know that sounds ridiculous, but I lived a lot in my own head, and was not especially perceptive about people or the way they learned (despite having been to a good number of different schools, each with quite different demographic profiles; I even managed to attend two different colleges in my 3 years, the first one having closed down while I was there!). The first class I TA-ed had an excellent professor, who was friendly, engaging, and clear. And in section I supplemented her lectures, which more, mini-lectures, focused on details and, to be fair, allowing students to talk more than they could in lecture. The best students did the reading, and were on top of what was going on; and many of the rest remained confused, often because they hadn’t done the reading, but sometimes even when they had. This was clear in their writing, which I graded, and was often quite confused even though they had been in class and section.

How could this be? I have a much better sense of the answer 30 years later (as one might hope).

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Brexit and bigotry

by John Quiggin on September 19, 2016

Following my previous post, I’d like to add a bit more to the debate about Brexit and migration. On this issue, a common defence of the Leave campaign is that the central concern was about the need to cut the number of migrants to the UK so as to reduce competition for jobs. The plausibility of this defence has been undercut by recent negotiations, widely reported in the Australian press, but largely ignored by British media.
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I’ve got an essay in Raritan about Edmund Burke, Adam Smith, and the problem of value.

The essay is part of my long-term book project, on the political theory of capitalism, which I’ll be coming back to once I’m done with my book on Clarence Thomas (though I’ve been periodically teaching on the topic at the Graduate Center as a preparatory to writing the book). You could read the essay as a kind of prequel to this other essay I wrote on Nietzsche and Hayek and the problem of value.

The idea of the book is to look at how theorists and philosophers (and even some economists) conceived of capitalism less as an economic system and more as a political system, at several junctures in time. Part I will look at the idea of capitalism in the so-called Age of Democratic Revolution, from 1776 to 1848, mostly focused on Britain and France, with an extended detour through Haiti. Part II will turn to the US and the Americas, with a special focus on the idea of capitalism during the Age of Slavery and Emancipation, roughly 1830 to 1876. Part III will return to Europe, taking us from 1865 to 1945, with a focus on the idea of capitalism during the rise of fascism and the radical right as a counter to socialism and the left. Part IV will take us across the globe, in the post-1945 era, as we look as the idea of capitalism during the slow ascendancy of neoliberalism as a second counter, or answer, to socialism and the left.

This Raritan essay, on Burke and Smith, reflects some of the ideas I intend to explore in Part I. Among other things, it challenges the widespread notion of Burke the traditionalist as somehow a steadfast critic of the emerging order of the monied man. It is Smith rather than Burke, as we’ll see, who offers the more scathing critique of that emerging order.

Here are some excerpts: [click to continue…]

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Sunday photoblogging: Gothic portico, Laguardia, Spain

by Chris Bertram on September 18, 2016

Gothic portico, Laguardia

This polychrome gothic portico is in the church of Santa Maria de los Reyes in Laguardia and dates from the 14th century. It used to be the on the outside of the church but has been inside for several centuries and was probably painted this way in the 14th century. I took the picture hand-held at 6400 ISO, 1/30sec, f4 (the maximum aperture on the lens) in very dark conditions (flash prohibited), which tells you what cameras can do now.

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A Double-dose of Thymos!

by John Holbo on September 16, 2016

Welp, I guess The Claremont Review is bidding fair to be the intellectual organ – gland, call it what you will – of Trumpism:

The Flight 93 guy is back, and scolding critics for their lack of appreciation of ancient Greek rhetoric techniques. How ungracious to have missed that!

And there’s this:

Trump is a very American character, a very New York character, the businessman who understands the world: the sophos who could bring efficiency, toughness (his favorite quality), and common sense to politics, if only he were listened to.

Yeah, now that you mention it, he does kind of look like one! “These philosoph shoes, are longing to stray! … If I can think it there, I’ll think it anywhere!” But there is a threat!

Every republic eventually faces what might be called the Weimar problem. Has the national culture, popular and elite, deteriorated so much that the virtues necessary to sustain republican government are no longer viable?

Yeah, come to think of it, I liked it better under the Kaiser. After they moved it to Weimar? I dunno … it was like everyone just forgot what had made the Republic great. All those ancient, civic virtues Tocqueville had praised in Democracy in Prussia were just swirling the drain. Bismarck must have been spinning in his grave to see such a sad remnant of once vibrant Republicanism. And today we are seeing something like that again. It’s like people just don’t study history anymore.

As a sophos might say: sad.

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1. Walking pneumonia is really not a big deal any more. I’ve had it maybe 10 times; it is very annoying indeed, but, normally, like HRC, I have not bothered telling anyone about it. Indeed, whereas she apparently told close friends and family, I sometimes don’t bother (its not as though anyone is going to have any sympathy—“Go get antibiotics and steroids, now, you idiot”). [1] Her failure to tell the world she has a minor ailment is not part of a pattern of secrecy.

2. Or maybe she doesn’t even have the ailment. Could it be that there is nothing wrong with her, and this is just a rumour spread by her campaign i) to make her seem a bit more like a normal person and ii) to panic people (like the Bushes, for example[2]) who think they can sit this out without having to take responsibility for the deranged performance artist becoming President, and move them into positive action?

[1] A tip—Since I started getting a regular 8 hours sleep the colds that previously would turn into pneumonia occur about 1/4 as often, and last about half as long. Another tip: avoid children.

[2] with apologies to the excellent senior Mrs Bush, who has made it clear that she is not going to stand by.

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50 years and one day later…

by Harry on September 13, 2016

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Recognising racism

by John Quiggin on September 13, 2016

Back in 2004, I wrote that

There is only one real instance of political correctness in Australia today and that is that you are never, ever allowed to call anyone a racist.
This was one side of an unspoken agreement among mainstream politicians, the other being that no one would ever make a statement that was overtly and undeniably racist (this was the central content of “political correctness” in its normal usage). Both the use of overtly racist language and the use of the term “racist” in political debate put the speaker outside the Overton Window. The official debate was undertaken in terms of “dog whistle” coded appeals to racism on one side and euphemisms such as “prejudiced” or “racially charged” on the other. The peace was maintained by the fact that the political class as a whole shared a broad neoliberal[^1] consensus in which marginal differences over economic issues were central, and where social/racial issues were primarily seen as a way of motivating the base to vote the right way.

With the rapid rise of tribalism on the political right this tacit agreement is breaking down.
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In this post I mentioned a time that I had my small (21 person) discussion based class recorded, and then watched the video with several colleagues (and 3 students I invited who were actually in the class). Someone observed, pretty quickly, that the discussion had a kind of ping-pong feel. The students were all willing to talk (event the student who told me in the previous class that she was ok with being recorded as long as she didn’t have to speak in the discussion), but they were all just talking to me. We were in a circle, so it was entirely possible for them to talk to the whole class, but something I was doing was preventing that, and doing it, anyway, was not what they were used to (all but one were first-semester freshmen). What I was doing, specifically, was affirming, or rephrasing, or gently correcting, or responding to, what each of them said, preventing a flow of conversation. And, of course, responding to interesting things each one said, with something else interesting for the whole class. So, it wasn’t wholly bad, and clearly my motives were good. But it was a failure, something like 21 separate and not that great tutorials, all happening at the same time – and I would say it was a fair representation of my classes up to that point.

So, how to change that? One commenter said “I would love to hear, either in the comments here or in a separate post, what strategies you’ve developed to get past (or to some extent deal with) this problem.” I held off partly because it was summer, but mainly because I wanted to wait till I had, as it were, watched myself in action, to see what I do now that makes class discussions real, full on, discussions, in which students are giving one another reasons, listening to one another (not looking for my approval) and improving as thinkers and talkers. So, the semester has started again and, luckily, I am teaching two smallish classes (one has 26 students, juniors and seniors; the other has 22 freshman).
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William F. Buckley, Totalitarian Bureaucracy Apologist?

by John Holbo on September 11, 2016

So I’m reading Right Wing Critics of American Conservatism, by George Hawley.

The most important issue of the day, it is time to admit it, is survival. Here there is apparently some confusion in the ranks of conservatives, and hard thinking is in order for them. The thus-far invincible aggressiveness of the Soviet Union does or does not constitute a threat to the security of the United States, and we have got to decide which. If it does, we shall have to arrange, sensibly, our battle plans; and this means that we have got to accept Big Government for the duration — for neither an offensive nor a defensive war can be waged, given our present government skills, except though the instrument of a totalitarian bureaucracy within our shores.

– William F. Buckley, “The Party and the Deep Blue Sea”, Commonweal, January, 1952, 391-2

Huh. You can read the original here. The subtitle was, “Ideally, the Republican platform should acknowledge an internal enemy, the State”. But – Nock on wood – that’s a non-starter, given the Soviet threat; so totalitarianism it is! Weird piece.

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It’s not much of a mystery to me why tenured faculty oppose graduate employee unions. What is a mystery is why otherwise intelligent, accomplished, and careful scholars suddenly feel liberated from the normal constraints of argument—reason, evidence, that kind of thing—when they oppose those unions.

Take this recent oped by Valerie Hansen, a professor of history at Yale. In the course of setting out her reasons against the recognition of Local 33 at Yale, Hansen says: [click to continue…]

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This “Flight 93 Election” essay is getting linked around. Apparently Rush Limbaugh performed it on air. Some conservatives are dismayed, others delighted.

It’s the first political tract I have ever read that singles out Chicken Little, by name, as a conspicuous squish on the pressing ‘sky is falling’ issue of the day.

Yet we may also reasonably ask: What explains the Pollyanna-ish declinism of so many others? That is, the stance that Things-Are-Really-Bad—But-Not-So-Bad-that-We-Have-to-Consider-Anything-Really-Different! The obvious answer is that they don’t really believe the first half of that formulation. If so, like Chicken Little, they should stick a sock in it.

If only Chicken Little had nominated Foghorn Leghorn, for President, that would have proved he was taking this ‘sky is falling’ issue seriously. Actions speak louder, I say, LOUDER than words! “Pay attention to me, boy! I’m not just talkin’ to hear my head roar!” [click to continue…]

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