Conservatism at Yale

by Corey Robin on March 12, 2016

GESO, the graduate employees’ union at Yale, took a quantum leap forward this week when it was chartered as Local 33 of the UNITE-HERE international union. It now joins Yale’s two other unions: Local 34, the clerical and technical workers’ union, and Local 35, the service and maintenance workers’ union. Though Yale has yet to recognize Local 33, this is a big step.

As the Washington Post reports:

On Wednesday evening, something happened that generations of graduate students at Yale University had awaited for nearly two decades: The founding of a union. With about 1,500 members present, amidst New Haven’s other unions and with the support of a who’s who of Connecticut public officials, the international president of UNITE-HERE arrived to certify their majority support and grant them a charter.

“It’s a really historic and amazing event, and something that will bring a new local to the UNITE-HERE family at Yale for the first time in 30 years,” says Aaron Greenberg, a graduate student in political science who chairs the Graduate Employees and Students Organization. “We’re not waiting for the administration to come to the table.”

The only correction I would add is what my friend Kristi Starr said on Facebook: the grad students at Yale have not been “awaiting” this move for nearly two decades. They’ve been fighting like hell for this move for nearly two decades. The grad union drive began in the late 1980s, and if all goes well, it will come to a conclusion in the coming year.

Speaking of the union’s history, my friend Nikhil Singh, who’s now a professor at NYU but who was one of the founders of GESO, sent the founders of Local 33 a letter on this historic occasion. This excerpt really captures what’s so special about the unions at Yale: [click to continue…]

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Pilgrim

by Harry on March 11, 2016

Sebastian Baczkiewicz’s Pilgrim is one of the best things in the past decade or so that I have been able to hear on Radio 4 regularly. William Palmer was cursed about 1000 years ago with eternal life, by the king of the grey folk (how does that work out at the end of the universe?), and wanders the country (he seems to be restricted to the British Isles) dealing with conflicts between the magical and the regular world, while longing for an end to his sojourn. A kind of Adam Eterno for adults. The final season starts here. For those who need to catch up…. you need to get a move on, but start here. It’s sublime.

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Parallel universes

by John Quiggin on March 11, 2016

Of the 20 years or so that I’ve been observing climate change policy, global developments over the past year have been the most hopeful I can remember, particularly as regards electricity generation

  • The Paris Conference was a big success, at least relative to expectations
  • Coal-fired power stations are shutting down around the world
  • China has reduced its coal use for two years in a row
  • India has increased its coal tax, and greatly expanded use of renewables

Whether emissions reductions will be big enough and fast enough remains to be seen, but at least we are going in the right direction.

As far as climate science is concerned, the string of temperature records broken recently has killed any idea that we are in a ‘pause’ or ‘hiatus’. Even the favorite source of deniers, the satellite data from UAH, is now showing a new record. The only remaining issue is the second-order debate over whether there was a pause or perhaps slowdown at some point in the first decade of the 2000s.

At the same time, following the US election, I’ve been paying more attention than usual to rightwing blogs, most of which run climate denialist pieces fairly regularly. Given that nearly all the major US coal companies are now bankrupt, and that coal-fired electricity is declining rapidly, I’d have expected a lot of “wrecking ball” pieces on the supposed damage to the economy (in reality, the effects are small and mostly offset by the expansion of renewables) now that mitigation policies of various kinds are taking effect.

But I don’t see anything like that. Rather, most of the articles I’m reading are claims of victory in the debate over both science and policy. Here’s a fairly typical example, with the title “Is the Climate Crusade Stalling?

We really do live in parallel universes.

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Since the dawn of time, man has wondered: what are p-values? [click to continue…]

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Bitcoin Frenzy

by Henry on March 10, 2016

I’ve a piece in today’s Financial Times about the political fights racking the Bitcoin community.

Bitcoin, the decentralised, mainly digital currency that is neither issued nor guaranteed by central banks, has always seemed like a magic trick. … Radical libertarians have desperately wanted to believe in it … Politics disappears and a combination of technology and cryptographic proofs is conjured up in its place. Unfortunately, the magic is wearing off. Some of the technological innovations associated with bitcoin will stick around. The political project will not. … As more people have started to use bitcoin, the system has grown more unreliable.The problem is that coming up with a fix requires political agreement. Because there is no centralised authority within bitcoin, there is no one who can impose a mandate. … This free-for-all demonstrates the main problem of technological libertarianism. It does not escape politics but temporarily displaces and conceals it. … The apparent value of bitcoin depends on a suspension of disbelief. It is hard to see how the illusion can work when the magicians are punching each other out on stage.

NB one error which crept in (completely my fault) during the editing process: “protocols to make the blocks bigger so that more bitcoin are released at one time, speeding up transactions” should just read “protocols to make the blocks bigger, speeding up transactions.” NB also, more interestingly, this piece by Ben Thompson at Stratechery, which I wish I’d seen before writing my own, especially since it has a couple of lovely and apposite quotes. [click to continue…]

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The Politics of Hair

by Belle Waring on March 9, 2016

I recently learned something that I had been totally ignorant about: black and Creole women pre-Emancipation were required by law in many places to wear a headwrap in public. Obviously I’m familiar with the image of Aunt Jemima in her checkered kerchief. And my family has some etchings in S.C. of women hawking food on the street in Savannah, calling “swimpee, swimpee, nice and fresh” and the like. (The Gullah word starts with the voiceless alveolar /s/ and then has the rest said like we all say shrimp—according to the dictionary, but the mangled spelling of the etchings is actually a good approximation of how it sounds.) All the women depicted are wearing headscarves—and the women who sell sweetgrass baskets on the street in Charleston, wear them today. (People actually did hawk food on the street when my dad was a kid, which is kind of funny to think about.) Women in Louisiana were subject to the “tignon” law, which mandated a headwrap, starting in 1785. You will not be surprised to learn that the one-drop rule applied to the tignon law, so the many beautiful only-one-black-great-grandparent-having ladies in New Orleans also had to have them on. However, as this great, lavishly illustrated writeup details, it didn’t work out quite as planned,

In an effort to maintain class distinctions in his Spanish colony at the beginning of his term, Governor Esteban Rodriguez Miró (1785 – 1791) decreed that women of color, slave or free, should cover their heads with a knotted headdress and refrain from “excessive attention to dress.” In 1786, while Louisiana was a Spanish colony, the governor forbade: “females of color … to wear plumes or jewelry”; this law specifically required “their hair bound in a kerchief.” But the women, who were targets of this decree, were inventive & imaginative with years of practice. They decorated their mandated tignons, made of the finest textiles, with jewels, ribbons, & feathers to once again outshine their white counterparts.

Nice try, dicks. Free blacks were almost 20% of the New Orleans at the time of the Louisiana Purchase, but both enslaved and free black women had to wear the tignon. And, thinking about it, lots of women in the Caribbean wore/wear this style. You should definitely go read this post which is very detailed and has some superlative turban/hat combos to admire.

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Repeal Taft-Hartley

by John Quiggin on March 9, 2016

Assuming that the US Presidential election is between Trump and Clinton (or, for that matter, Sanders) the voting bloc that’s most obviously up for grabs is that of working-class whites[^1]. Relative to expectations, working class whites have done worse under neoliberalism/market liberalism than almost any other group in the population. So, they ought to be more solid than ever against the right. But it’s easy for tribalists like Trump to blame migrants and minorities for the losses that working class whites have suffered.

What’s needed to turn this around, I think, is something, in Trump’s words “yuge”. My suggestion is repeal of the Taft-Hartley Act. Way back in 1948, Taft-Hartley prefigured anti-union laws that were passed throughout the English-speaking world[^2] from the 1970s and have spread even further since then. Its repeal would, at a minimum, be a huge symbolic step. [click to continue…]

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Feminist Philosophy – Open Access resources

by Ingrid Robeyns on March 8, 2016

Happy International Women’s Day, everybody!

This year my small contribution will be to try to be a broker in (semi-) Open Access feminist philosophy. I’ll post a few links to a few good sources in feminist philosophy, and you add yours in the comments section (including your own, don’t be shy!) – deal?

First, before anything else, let’s be grateful for the philosophers at Feminist Philosophers who have, over the years, created a superb source of information on gender (and other diversity) issues in academic philosophy, but also on topics in feminist philosophy.

Then, under ‘my favorite readings’, I want to list Harry’s brilliant experiment that can be used whenever young people believe that gender justice within the family is an issue of the past, no longer of the present. Harry, did you do any recent replications, or do all students of yours already know what you’re after and hence you can no longer conduct the experiment?

And I want to list Anca Gheaus’s article giving a theoretical account of gender justice in the Open Access Journal of Ethics and Social Philosophy. Also excellent is the work on the gendered division of labour by Gina Schouten, but it seems you need to be signed up to Academia.edu if you want to read her papers on Gina’s Academia website.

The indispensable Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy has a wide range of entries on feminist philosophy. And, there’s now also a fully Open Access journal, Feminist Philosophy Quarterly, run by some great feminist philosophers.

What would you like to add to this list of (semi-) open access feminist philosophy resources?

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Pretty much every woman who’s ever called out sexism and sexual harassment has met the same kind of response; ‘he didn’t really mean it’, ‘it’s just a misunderstanding’, ‘you must have misinterpreted it’, ‘I don’t mean this the wrong way, but are you sure you’re not exaggerating just a little?’.

It goes deeper than just a bit of mansplaining suggesting to women that what just happened to them actually didn’t. Many people simply don’t see sexual harassment, even when it’s happening right under their noses. It seems normal that young and often not so young women* should spend part of their professional efforts graciously fending off unwanted sexual attention in a way that doesn’t damage anyone’s ego or their own reputations.
Here is a definition of sexual harassment:

“Sexual harassment is any unwanted or unwelcome sexual behaviour, which makes a person feel offended, humiliated or intimidated.”

(Note to readers: if sexual behaviour is something you are trying to make happen in the workplace, it is almost certainly unwanted. Do you want to risk your colleague’s sense of wellbeing on the sub-1% chance that she really ‘wants it’?)

Another kind of response to complaints about sexual harassment at work is to flip it back onto the person who is calling the behaviour out and try to undermine them or make them seem less credible.

Another response – one that goes irrationally alongside saying something didn’t happen or isn’t happening – is to say it’s not such a big deal anyway.

Another response is to say that all women it happens to have a responsibility to report it, putting the onus on individual women to solve a widespread social and political problem.

Yet another response is to tell them to stay quiet as saying something will ruin their reputation because they will forever be ‘that woman’. [click to continue…]

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Cory Doctorow links to a nifty graphic design project: crowdsourced covers for public domain classics. If you know anyone teaching a relevant art class at the high school level, or above, I think this might make a fine class project. Everyone pick a title and go for it!

Cory: “I can’t figure out what license the new covers are under and whether anyone can use them as covers in their own collections of public domain books, or whether permission must be sought for each design.” I wondered about that as well. The info page doesn’t cover rights. I signed up to see what one would have to agree to. Answer: a CC license. (Cory will be gratified to hear it!) [click to continue…]

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Nancy Reagan: Straight Outta Dreiser

by Corey Robin on March 7, 2016

A thousand years ago, back when I was writing book reviews for Newsday, Laurie Muchnick and Emily Gordon asked their stable of regular reviewers to make a summer reading recommendation. Mine was Kitty Kelley’s unauthorized biography of Nancy Reagan. Before I retire, I still plan to teach a course on American Politics where Kelly’s biography is the only text on the syllabus. In the meantime, here’s what I said back in 2000, about Kelley’s biography.

A friend of mine in graduate school, a member of the Communist Party even after the collapse of the Soviet Union, liked to brag that when he taught American politics he would assign only Kitty Kelley’s unauthorized biography of Nancy Reagan. I thought he was crazy. Until I read the book.

Authored by a reporter dubbed “the Saddam Hussein of privacy invasion,” Nancy Reagan: The Unauthorized Biography (Pocket Books, out of print) was more than a nasty assault on a nasty woman. It was also a poignant chronicle of America’s hidden history: the obsessive quest for privilege in a country that denies its existence. Through Reagan’s persona, Kelley profiled those Americans who reinvent their pasts, invoking imagined genealogies of gentility as cover for working-class backgrounds. Not since Alexis de Tocqueville had anyone produced such a devastating cultural biography of a nation committed in theory to equality but in practice to elitism.

“Two entries on Nancy Reagan’s birth certificate are still accurate—her sex and her color. Almost every other item was invented then or later reinvented.” So begins this merciless epic, straight out of Dreiser, of a poor, unhappy girl who lies her way to the top. The detritus along the way is extensive: the hushed-up suicide of an uncle broken by a miserable marriage; a birth father spurned and an adopted father embraced, all for the sake of money; a desperately engineered marriage to a second-rate actor with a wandering eye, wayward heart and shared penchant for ambitious fantasy.

“Nancy Reagan” suggests that the cost of social climbing in America goes beyond personal unhappiness. Because of our ache for aristocracy, we’ve suffered a terminal case of collective self-deception in this country, refusing to acknowledge that the poor are one of us, that a society built as a monument to personal success means that only a few can achieve it, that wealth is not a measure of merit but luck, power and personal connection.

As the Greek tragedians understood so well, an act of deception—particularly about one’s family—can wreak havoc upon the body politic. In this regard, Kelley’s biography remains a work of unfulfilled prophecy, anticipating not the Clinton impeachment scandals but the conflict that is to come when America wakes up and realizes the inequalities created in the name of Nancy.

Having said that, I found “Nancy Reagan” to be an exceedingly funny book—maybe because it was a pleasant distraction from a summer of lethal reading in preparation for my PhD qualifying exams, or because I was amused at the thought of my friend’s forcing rich kids to read it. Whatever the case, I giggled my way through a hot July. Who says Communists don’t have a sense of humor?


Actually, if you’re interested in the wider cultural ramifications of Nancy Reagan (and would like a little historical perspective to avoid the canonization that has already begun; live long enough, and you really do see everything), I’d also recommend another book: Deborah Silverman’s Selling Culture: Bloomingdale’s, Diana Vreeland, and the New Aristocracy of Taste in Reagan’s America.

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Sunday photoblogging: monochrome tulips

by Chris Bertram on March 6, 2016

I’ve not done any film photography for a while now, but I bought myself a couple of rolls of HP5 last week as a prompt. This is another prompt: Rolleiflex T, HP5+

Monochrome Tulips

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Trump Talk

by Corey Robin on March 5, 2016

I’m writing a much longer piece on Trump. In the meantime, some clips from the cutting-room floor.

1. At last night’s debate, Trump said of Rubio, “And he referred to my hands—if they are small, something else must be small—I guarantee you there’s no problem. I guarantee you.” Lest you think we’re tumbling down a new rabbit hole here, once upon a time, the king’s body and the body politic were thought to be, if not one and the same, then in some kind of alignment. Trump’s reference is as much pre-modern as it is post-modern. Ernst Kantorowicz’s classic book on the topic, The King’s Two Bodies, was subtitled “A Study in Medieval Political Theology.”

In any event, I’d rather hear Trump’s opinions about his penis than his views on Muslims and Mexicans.

2. You often hear that the rhetorical brutality of Trump is unprecedented. Never before have we seen a candidate so cruel. I’m not so sure.

Screen Shot 2016-03-03 at 12.21.23 PM

You also hear that we’ve never had a leading politician who so shamelessly, if rhetorically, flirted with violence. Again, I’m not so sure. [click to continue…]

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Oral Majority

by John Holbo on March 5, 2016

This Dahlia Lithwick piece on the Supreme Court abortion case, Whole Woman’s Health v Hellerstedt, is interesting in itself, and suggestive for the near future. We have an even 4-4 conservative-liberal split on the court but Thomas doesn’t talk, and Roberts, the Chief, regards it as his duty to be Chief. Roberts seems to care about being remembered as an effective Chief Justice more than he cares about being remembered as a reliable ideological partisan (like Scalia); this significantly constrains his self-presentation in oral argument. Anthony Kennedy is – Anthony Kennedy. Libertarian, hence mostly conservative, in that idiosyncratically reliable way of his. That leaves Alito, the rock-ribbed Republican voice on the court, if you will. On the other hand, we have Breyer-Kagan-Sotomayor-Ginsburg. Their collective partisan profile is moderate-left Democrat. They are much more judicially restrained than, say, Scalia. But the very fact that they do not espouse philosophically extremist positions – they are not judicial philosophical activists, to coin a phrase – means there are fewer cross-currents and counter-currents within their overall, moderate-left flow. They aren’t going to make bold, contrarian leaps; they’ll keep right on saying moderately liberal things, more or less in unison.

So we may see more cases in which the oral optics (pardon a synaesthetically mixed metaphor!) are: Republican Party (Alito) double, triple or even quadruple-teamed by the Democratic Party. Oral argument isn’t voting. It’s still 4-4 for voting, most days. I doubt Clarence Thomas is going to start voting with the liberals, even if he sees liberals dominating oral argument. I also don’t suppose Roberts will stand for seeing his partisan side being out-talked in some dramatic way. But his position constrains him. Possibly we will be hearing more from Thomas. That would be interesting, to say the least.

Scalia always had enough oral argument in him for any three Justices. Now it occurs to me that might have been literally the case.

I don’t really have a good sense about how the dynamics of oral argument feed into the obviously much more extensive, behind closed doors activities that result in decisions. But I’m sure it means something, if the character of oral argument shifts dramatically. What do you think?

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The making of a popular photo app

by Eszter Hargittai on March 4, 2016

On Wednesday, I had the great fortune to attend the closing keynote at the annual CSCW conference given by Mike Krieger, co-founder of Instagram, a photo-sharing site now owned by Facebook, but still operating largely independently, at least from the user’s perspective. In case you’ve been living under a rock, Instagram now has 400 million active users (75% outside the US) sharing 80 million photos and videos daily. Those are some serious numbers folks. And while they require considerable technical chops, I am glad Mike spent his time at CSCW talking about the design elements and human-computer interaction aspects. I share some nuggets below. (I failed to take notes so I’m skipping all sorts of info, sadly, and welcome corrections/additions in the comments.)

As old-timers here may recall, I am a big photo enthusiast and was a huge Flickr fan for quite some time. More recently, however, I have started getting into Instagram and now use it daily. Having thought about how these services differ and how I ultimately ended up using Instagram so much more these days than Flickr, it was a real treat to hear the brains behind the service share many of the conversations and decisions that went into making it what it is today. It was genuinely interesting to learn about the many aspects that he and his collaborators discussed and continue to ponder as they enhance the app.

In the first few minutes Mike shared some of his background, including his failure to get a paper into CSCW during his early days. I mention that as a reminder that people should not take the occasional setback too seriously.

Mike and his co-founder Kevin Systrom had worked on an earlier app called Burbn. The Atlantic has a few notes on this. This was the era of check-in apps so they focused on check-ins, but the app barely took off (we’re talking no more than about a thousand users). The aspect of the app that seemed to appeal to folks most was its photo-sharing capability. So they set out to focus on that primarily.
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