I stayed up on election night to watch the results come in (can’t wait till June 8th, that’s going to be a thriller!). I had a bad feeling about the whole thing starting the moment I walked on campus that morning, and I had pretty much resigned myself to the result by about 7.30 pm (Central). But I stayed up anyway, partly because I that’s just what I do, and partly because the first test match between England and India started at 10 pm, and I couldn’t wait to see Haseeb Hameed, whom everyone was talking about. And, indeed, you could see why they were talking about him (as Aggers said, in frustration at the England camp trying to dampen down pressure: “Are we supposed to pretend we’re not seeing what we are seeing?”; or, imagine being 19 and hearing Geoffrey describe you as “a proper opening bat”).

But the player who really shone that night was Moeen Ali, who, fortunately, was still in when I awoke the next morning. And that seemed particularly fitting to me, because he seems to be the embodiment of everything Donald Trump isn’t.

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Drug Wars

by John Quiggin on May 25, 2017

I got a preview of Drug Wars by
Robin Feldman and Evan Frondorf
. It’s not about the War on Drugs, but about the devices used by Big Pharma to maintain the profits they earn from their intellectual property (ownership of drug patents, brand names and so on) and to stave off competition from generics. Feldman and Frondorf propose a number of reforms to the operation of the patenting system to enhance the role of generics. I’m more interested in a fundamental shift away from using intellectual property (patents and brand names) to finance pharmaceutical research.
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A couple months ago I made fun of an ‘inspired by Steely Dan’ Apple Music playlist that seemed to be basically a random assortment of tracks by bands, all of which had covered one Steely Dan song at some point. As I put it at the time: “Also, the Mountain Goats?”

How wrong I was! Their new album, Goths, is out. It’s a glorious, slick, lounge jazz-tinged demonstration that Danliness is next to godliness, albeit not gothliness. It also sounds like Prefab Sprout circa Steve McQueen, yet another good thing. YouTube has not hoovered up the tracks yet, but here’s a nice acoustic cover of “Andrew Eldritch Is Moving Back To Leeds” (an early release from the album that didn’t quite do it for me; but the acoustic version sounds great. John Darnielle does the deceptively-simple-counter-rhythm strumming thing, which keeps life interesting, and his voice is sweet and clear. No guitar on the album itself.) From the album, I recommend “The Grey King and the Silver Flame Attunement”; also, “Wear Black”; also, get all your Gene Loves Jezebel nostalgia out with “Abandoned Flesh”.

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Prickly questions

by Henry on May 22, 2017

Many CT readers will already be familiar with the recent effort by two scholars to repeat the Sokal hoax, as they understood it, by getting a bottom-feeder journal to publish a piece on imagined penises and global warming. Steven Pinker declared a smashing victory


albeit maybe slightly prematurely. James Taylor at Bleeding Hearts Libertarians

The first journal that Bognossian and Lindsay submitted their hoax paper to, and that rejected it, was NORMA: The International Journal for Masculinity Studies. This journal doesn’t even hit the top 115 journals in Gender Studies. So, what happened here was that they submitted a hoax paper to an unranked journal, which summarily rejected it. They then received an auto-generated response directing them to a pay-to-publish vanity journal. They submitted the paper there, and it was published. From this chain of events they conclude that the entire field of Gender Studies is “crippled academically”. This tells us very little about Gender Studies, but an awful lot about the perpetrators of this “hoax”…. and those who tout it as a take down of an entire field.

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The fidget spinning fad and disability discrimination

by Ingrid Robeyns on May 21, 2017

Here’s an important article by Aiyana Bailin, who argues that the recent fidget spinning fad shows something disturbingly:

Something that was considered entirely pathological and in dire need of correction when done by disabled people is now perfectly acceptable because it is being done by non-disabled people

So here we see disability discrimination at work. For some neuro-atypical and disabled people, stimming is a way to reduce stress, and indeed also to concentrate better. But often they are told not to do this. The same holds for other forms of behaviour that neurotypicals consider ‘abnormal’. The fidget spinning just shows how much of a social convention, and hence form of domination, those social norms regarding ‘normal behaviour’ are, and that at least some of those conventions are biased against the needs of some groups of disabled people and neuro-atypicals.

Earlier this week, I came across another example. A therapist told me that social skills training for autistics entails, among other things, that they learn to look at the eyes of another person when talking to them. But why would that be a desirable good? What, except for some social convention, would make it that it is considered inappropriate not to look at the person you’re talking to? Why can’t we just accept it to be as it is – that for some people, it’s easier to have a conversation if they do not have to look you into the eyes?

But the good news is that the article by Aiyana Bailin gives us an opportunity to learn something. I suspect it will eye-opening to many of us. It’s an example of how disability discrimination works, and examples may well be more effective in showing the working of disability discrimination than some abstract theory. Yet it’s an example of a more general problem that Bailin wants to draw our attention to:

But the power structure is still there. There’s still a rigid hierarchy of who gets to decide which behaviors are normal or pathological. There’s still a societal subtext that tells people who are different “be less like yourself and more like us.” We need to work on that.

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Would you eat bugs? How about a dog?

by Eszter Hargittai on May 21, 2017

In my German class in Zurich this week, we read a piece about how important bugs may be to the future of feeding the planet thanks to being high in protein and having considerably lower environmental costs for production. Several of my classmates seemed visibly disturbed by this. I don’t think I’ve ever eaten bugs before – have you? – but I don’t have a problem with the concept. I’m not a vegetarian and don’t see why I should be any more put off by bugs than a cow or a chicken. If I think about the origins of a cow or a chicken, I may wince, but I still like the food. Why would that be different with bugs?

In the domain of animal consumption, Switzerland tends to garner outrage, because it is legal to eat cats and dogs. This may be disgusting to many Europeans and Americans, but it’s not at all uncommon in countries elsewhere such as in Asia. It is clearly in many ways a cultural issue. While many Europeans and Americans don’t think twice about eating cows and pigs, they are not on the menu elsewhere. (I purposefully said “cow” and “pig” in that last sentence instead of “beef” and “pork”. Why don’t we just say the animal at hand? I enjoyed the ponderings on this MetaFilter thread about that question although didn’t really get a satisfying answer.)

Growing up in Hungary, I ate cow tongue on occasion, something quite tasty, but clearly revolting to some who had never considered it (I base that on personal experiences talking to folks elsewhere about it). Unless you are a vegetarian, it seems it would be hard to make the case that one animal is okay while another is not as long as it is produced and prepared under healthy conditions. (And let’s not even get started on how much of the meat we consume anyway would not qualify as such!) Should pet Miss Piggy be an easier case for dinner than pet dog Spot?

Curiously, the author of the piece advocating for bugs as a source of nutrition and who herself eats them said that she is a vegetarian due to ethical reasons. I cannot reconcile then, how she can justify eating bugs. Anyone want to defend her position?

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Runner bean field in Herefordshire

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I’m packing for a short trip to Berlin, where I’ll be giving a public lecture on Monday on the question whether there should be an upper limit to how much wealth a person should morally be able to hold (it’s open to the public so you’re welcome!). The lecture will draw from a paper I wrote that was just published in the most recent volume of NOMOS, which was edited by Jack Knight and Melissa Schwartzberg, and which is entirely on Wealth (there is a link to the PDF of my chapter online too, though I’m not sure whether that will stay there for long). I haven’t been able to read the other papers in the Volume, but a quick skim suggests the other chapters should really be very interesting. I’ll write more about the volume after the Summer, when I will have embarked on a 5-year ERC-funded research project investigating the plausibility of upper limits on ecological and economic resources. [click to continue…]

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Every Picture Tells A Story

by John Holbo on May 19, 2017

Col. A. Miller, Maj. C. Spatz, Mrs. C.B. Spatz, Anna Spatz, Sgt. Tanner (LOC)

Wonder what this one is. Please offer your best attempt at Maj. and Mrs. Spatz fanfic in comments. (I love the Flickr Library of Congress photo feed.)

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Huh, so that happened.

by John Holbo on May 19, 2017

It’s been a couple days since we had fresh Trump thread – mayfly life cycle of the news cycle, pegged to POTUS attention span! (Trump: the shallow state vs. the Deep State!) [click to continue…]

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Grade compression and elite schools

by Harry on May 17, 2017

A very interesting piece by Catherine Rampell prompted by a consortium of elite prep school planning to to phase out grade altogether and replace them with qualitative evaluations. The piece is really about grade compression/inflation in elite colleges. Her thesis, which, she says, game theory would predict, is that grade compression is much more pronounced at elite colleges than at non-elite colleges, because elite colleges want to make it difficult to identify their weaker students who, thereby, have a labor market advantage over students from less elite colleges by virtue of the brand; whereas less elite colleges want to make it easy to identify their stronger students who, otherwise, might be overlooked because employers (grad schools, etc) assume they are weaker.


If you’re a top-ranked school, having more “noise” in your grading system reduces the ability of potential employers (or admissions officers) to accurately judge particular students. On average, this can boost your school’s job/admissions placement rate. That’s because the impressive school name does the work of signaling a student’s abilities, rather than a more finely grained assessment of the student’s actual abilities.

By contrast, lower-ranked schools really want superstars to stand out, lest they get written off because of the less-elite brand. To be sure, students at these lesser-ranked institutions are still pressuring grades upward, but administrators know they need some segmentation at the very top.

Thoughts?

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House of Cards

by John Quiggin on May 17, 2017

So, we finally joined the 21st Century and got Netflix. We are watching House of Cards (US version), an episode most nights. Based on one season per year of time passed in the show, that’s about four weeks of dystopian fantasy per night. But, when we wake up in the morning, the day’s news almost always has more and crazier stuff packed into it than that, with subplots and story arcs being passed over for lack of space ( will the emoluments clause come back to bite Trump? did he suggest that Comey should imprison journalists? Who can keep track of it all).

Looking at the main plotline of Season 1, what would it take for life to imitate art and elevate Pence to the White House? There’s clearly no likelihood that the House Repubs will impeach Trump as long as they still hope to push through a big tax cut for corporations (which apparently depends, for arcane procedural reasons, on passing some kind of repeal of Obamacare). As Liam Donovan says in Politico

The criticisms may grow louder with each unforced error by the White House, but as long as the legislative dream is still alive it’s hard to imagine any sort of full-scale break. If that dream dies, however, it’s every man for himself.

But maybe this really is a house of cards. Suppose that three Republican Senators defected to the Democrats. That would kill the dream, at which point lots of Republicans might start thinking that a fresh start with Pence would offer them a better chance of survival in 2018. And, hey, they got Gorsuch. Once a dozen or so jumped, it would indeed by sauve qui peut for the rest.

It’s easy to name two Repub Senators (McCain and Collins) for whom it would make personal and political sense to switch sides. Given two, there must surely be a third. Still, I can’t see it happening any time soon. On the other hand, every day brings a new humiliation. Perhaps someone will find a hidden reserve of decency, or just frustration, and say that enough is enough.

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Jane Jacobs, the tyranny of experts and Brexit

by Chris Bertram on May 16, 2017

Last night I watched Citizen Jane, a recent biopic about Jane Jacobs and her long fight against Robert Moses’s plans for New York. Of course, Jacobs was largely correct: Moses’s grand utopian schemes wrecked the ecologies of street and community and eventually produced neighbourhoods worse than the ones they replaced, whilst failing to solve even the problems, like traffic congestion, they seemed best suited to. But being already familiar with the substance of the dispute, and with Jacobs’s great work, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, what struck me most forcefully was the rhetoric. On the one hand, there were the self-proclaimed “experts”, on the other, ordinary people with their lived experience, sceptical about whether the “experts” had their best interests at heart (or if they did, whether they shared the same conception of their interests). A great irony of the Jacobs case is that though she was right about Moses and his plans, the net result of her activism has not been, in the end, to preserve those neighbourhoods for the kinds of people who lived there then, but rather to give them an afterlife to be enjoyed by the people who can now afford to live in them.

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My department just held its second annual ceremony celebrating our graduating majors and, again, the chair was kind enough to ask me to make some remarks (you can find last year’s remarks here). Again I followed two of our majors, whose talks were excellent.

I’m posting the comments here, again, partly because it was fun, and partly as a resource for others. Last time I invited people to use whatever they want without attribution and, again, feel free though in this case the two personal examples make that a little more difficult.

I have omitted four jokes that went down particularly well, three of which don’t look quite right in writing, the other of which was spontaneous. But the video of the speech is up on facebook and shouldn’t be hard to find (it’s public) so you can watch/listen there, and critique my delivery. Maybe someone else can figure out how to embed it here (I can’t).

A tranche of about 10 students graduated this year, all of whom took a class with me in their first semester as freshmen, and who have taken (or attended without taking) classes with me on and off throughout. I saw 9 of them (plus a boyfriend) the night before the event, and realised that not only are none of them Philosophy majors, but none of them are even graduating from my college (Letters and Science). But two of them (and a mum) kindly attended the Philosophy reception, non-awkwardly. The comment about liking, admiring, and respecting at the end—well, that’s how I feel about lots of our majors too, but it was formulated with those others in mind.

Here are the comments:

First I want to congratulate the students who are graduating, and thank the parents, friends, and supporters who are here to celebrate with you. And to thank especially whoever has been paying tuition the past few years. We’re all sad that we don’t get to teach the students any more, but somebody at least is glad that the paying is over.

Last year I reassured the parents about how well prepared philosophy graduates are for the labor market. That was an exercise in futility – if you are here, you either know that they are well-prepared for the labour market, or you don’t care or, perhaps, you are just really pissed off with them, and going through this whole weekend with gritted teeth; and nothing much I say will convince you otherwise.

So this year I thought I’d explore how well-prepared they are to be leaders in our democracy. Now, in saying that, I don’t want you to think they have a high chance of being elected. Probably not, in fact. But they are well-trained and well-prepared to contribute to changing the way the culture of our democracy works.

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Kenneth Clark on Velazquez

by John Holbo on May 15, 2017

No one is willing to wait in moderation for God-knows-how-long on a Sunday to see their comments to my Samurai Jack post finally show. Evidently, it’s just not worth the trouble! Well, here’s some more elevated art criticism. I’m reading a Kenneth Clark essay on Velazquez, and he’s remarking on how we prefer the buffoons and dwarfs. “Take away the carapace of their great position, and how pink and featureless the King and Queen become, like prawns without their shells.” That’s true! He looks like a prawn. Her, too. How did I miss it before? [click to continue…]

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