Category Archives: Readings

Ta-Nehisi Coates

Have I mentioned recently that Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national treasure? His series on learning French alone would make the case, and it’s not even his most important work. Latest piece at Departures, Cont. I loved the ending.

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Eno Worries

Edge.org asked Brian Eno what we should be worried about. I like his answer (and really like his music):

We Don’t Do Politics

Most of the smart people I know want nothing to do with politics. We avoid it like the plague—like Edge avoids it, in fact. Is this because we feel that politics isn’t where anything significant happens? Or because we’re too taken up with what we’re doing, be it Quantum Physics or Statistical Genomics or Generative Music? Or because we’re too polite to get into arguments with people? Or because we just think that things will work out fine if we let them be—that The Invisible Hand or The Technosphere will mysteriously sort them out?

Whatever the reasons for our quiescence, politics is still being done—just not by us. It’s politics that gave us Iraq and Afghanistan and a few hundred thousand casualties. It’s politics that’s bleeding the poorer nations for the debts of their former dictators. It’s politics that allows special interests to run the country. It’s politics that helped the banks wreck the economy. It’s politics that prohibits gay marriage and stem cell research but nurtures Gaza and Guantanamo.

But we don’t do politics. We expect other people to do it for us, and grumble when they get it wrong. We feel that our responsibility stops at the ballot box, if we even get that far. After that we’re as laissez-faire as we can get away with.

What worries me is that while we’re laissez-ing, someone else is faire-ing.

Part of the series 2013 : WHAT *SHOULD* WE BE WORRIED ABOUT?

(Thanks to DF for the pointer.)

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Guess Who

In my world, you don’t get to call yourself “pro-life” and be against common-sense gun control — like banning public access to the kind of semiautomatic assault rifle, designed for warfare, that was used recently in a Colorado theater. You don’t get to call yourself “pro-life” and want to shut down the Environmental Protection Agency, which ensures clean air and clean water, prevents childhood asthma, preserves biodiversity and combats climate change that could disrupt every life on the planet. You don’t get to call yourself “pro-life” and oppose programs like Head Start that provide basic education, health and nutrition for the most disadvantaged children. You can call yourself a “pro-conception-to-birth, indifferent-to-life conservative.” I will never refer to someone who pickets Planned Parenthood but lobbies against common-sense gun laws as “pro-life.”

“Pro-life” can mean only one thing: “respect for the sanctity of life.”

Who said or wrote that this week?

Answer below. I wouldn’t have guessed.

Continue reading

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Random Citation Watch

I have a search on Google Scholar that lets me know when a paper of mine has been cited. It’s very interesting to see the odd places my work washes up. But every so often there’s a truly mysterious citation, and today’s is a new contender for the bizzaro record holder: Ravshan Rakhmanov and Nigora Safarova Olimovna, Sources Of Violence Seen In Biosocial Nature Of Man, 1 Asian Journal Of Social Sciences & Humanities 142 (2012).

The authors, who identify as being from the Department of Social Studies, Navoi Pedagogical Institute, Republic Of Uzbekistan, have written a short (3.4 page) paper on, well, something. Here is the conclusion:

However, the violence generating terror is effective only for the solution of tactical problems. In the strategic plan, sooner or later it leads to psychological exhaustion: people get tired of being afraid and then a long terror seldom happens to be effective. Anyway never happens to be constant. Any violence should be proved – the nature of human thinking demands it. Especially it is related to political violence. Certainly the relation of a society and a state to violence is defined by many reasons – history and cultural traditions of the people, a certain political and economic situation, personal qualities of those who have power, the level of development or structures of the civil society or on the contrary. However abstracting from concrete conditions and features of this or that country, it is possible to allocate some factors promoting the fact that violence becomes not extreme but a necessary action and norm and a part of official political ideology of the state. The relation of a democratic state to violence is connected with such sight at the person. It is supposed to be only as an exclusive measure in relation to minority of the population. The mass political violence is essentially rejected. An opposite view on a person, disbelief that people are inclined to voluntary follow the standard norms of behaviour and they are silly and aggressive by nature, of course leads to a conclusion about the necessity to constrain the destructive tendencies inherent in people by force or threat to apply it. The consequence of such approach is justification of political violence and, as a whole, orientation to dictatorship. Really, if to agree that historical process is chaotic and leads to destruction and death, the violent measures used to resist such chaos and destruction can be perceived not only as quite comprehensive but also as even humane and necessary and the accompanying violence to the victim – as inevitable.

I’ve read it twice and am afraid to do so again in case I get cross-eyed.

The citations are gloriously multi-lingual (English, German, and something Cyrillic) and I suspect beautifully random. In addition to my Wrong Turn in Cyberspace article the bibliography includes works with titles such as “Network-Centric Operations Case Study: Air-to-Air Combat With and Without Link”, “Handbook of Telecommunications Economics” and — my favorite — “Skew-Tolerant Circuit”.

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Books Received: Failing Law Schools by Brian Tamanaha

The University of Chicago Press has sent me an unsolicited review copy of Failing Law Schools by Brian Tamanaha, his much-awaited, and already much-discussed, account of what’s wrong with legal education.

My plan is to read it as soon as I get over the current hump of backed-up work, and to blog my reactions. This post is thus not just a thank-you to the Press, but a mild precommittment strategy, since now I’ll be a bit embarrassed if I don’t.

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The Incredible Sinking Economist

In The Economist fails the Turing Test again, the estimable Henry Farrell pokes at the Economist’s gormless and unpersuasive attack on François Hollande. Here’s part of Henry’s takedown:

I’ve no idea what Hollande is going to be like (except that he’s certainly going to be disappointing). But I do know that this is one of the most exquisitely refined examples of globollocks that I’ve ever seen. It’s as beautifully resistant to the intellect as an Andropov era Pravda editorial. A few more years of this and the Economist won’t have to have any human editing at all. Even today, I imagine that someone with middling coding skills could patch together a passable Economist-editorial generator with a few days work. Mix in names of countries and people scraped from the political stories sections of Google News, with frequent exhortations for “Reform,” “toughminded reform,” “market-led reform,” “painful reform,” “change,” “serious change,” “rupture,” and 12-15 sentences worth of automagically generated word-salad content, and you’d be there.

It’s gotten harder and harder to resubscribe to the Economist. I started having doubts back in 2004, they got worse in 2006. I thought maybe it had improved a bit in the past year, but this right-wing-relfex hatchet job on Hollande (in support of the economic and social barbarian Nicolas Sarkozy) may finally get me to drop the thing, even if they pass the Albania test. And I’ve been a subscriber continuously since the late 70s or early 80s, and was a regular reader even farther back than that.

But frankly, I don’t even read it regularly any more except for the special sections, the science coverage, and the book reviews.

PS. Don’t mistake me for a fan of Hollande. I’ve seen his puppet on Les Guignols de L’Info too often to ever be that.

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Open Access Research – The Money Quote

The NIH public-access policy has substantially increased public access to research results with benefits as described below that far outweigh the costs. Similar benefits can be expected from extending such a public access policy to other major federal funders.

from Committee for Economic Development, The Future of Taxpayer-Funded Research: Who Will Control Access to the Results? issued last week.

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