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      1. Art Young and Dr. Seuss

        by John Holbo on January 28, 2019

        I don’t have time for a full appreciation of Art Young today, but I’ll re-recommend the new Fantagraphics book about him [amazon associates link] and advance one art historical thesis: Young was a significant influence on the style of Dr. Seuss. I have never seen this point made before. I didn’t realize it myself until a week ago. As an avid, amateur Seussologist, and student of lines of graphic influence in American cartoon art in the early 20th Century, I’m interested to see it. [click to continue…]

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        Sunday photoblogging: Diner

        by Chris Bertram on January 27, 2019

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        Fake news: the medium is not the message

        by John Quiggin on January 27, 2019

        A study of fake news on Twitter Facebook has found that the biggest propagators are Republicans over 65. No surprises there, but the researchers muddy the waters by suggesting that this group is prone to believing and spreading lies because they are “digital immigrants”, rather than “digital natives”, a distinction I thought had disappeared.

        A moment’s thought should have suggested a different interpretation. The same group, after all, constitutes the primary audience for Fox News and (globally) the core readership of the Murdoch press. Even before the emergence of a distinctively partisan rightwing media, evangelicals eagerly spread fake news by word of mouth.

        And this study defined fake news in the narrow sense covering reports that Obama is a lizardoid Muslim and similar. A more accurate definition, encompassing deliberate denial of overwhelming evidence, would encompass the entire rightwing media universe, going beyond the Murdoch press to include the output of thinktanks like AEI, Cato, Heritage and Heartland. The extreme cases studied on Twitter are the core of an onion wrapped in multiple layers of denial and defense mechanisms.

        Until recently, the most obvious case was that of climate change, but now they have Trump. It’s now impossible to survive on the right without giving Trump a pass for his thousands of glaring lies. In these circumstances, it’s scarcely surprising that Republican activists who have been steeped in this environment for decades. see it as virtuous to circulate talking points regardless of their truth or falsity. Far from misleading this cohort, Twitter Facebook simply provided them with an amplifier.

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        There’s worse things, no doubt

        by John Holbo on January 27, 2019

        I got on Twitter.

        Honestly, I deserve some credit. I joined a couple years back because, suddenly, every time I landed on any Twitter page it was all in Arabic. Weird. I figured if I signed in I could adjust the language setting. But then the problem resolved itself. I never bothered. But I follow enough people I should be on the platform, but if I’m on the platform … So I logged in. Erased the Arabic script handle Twitter had wisely chosen as my default. Reset my country of origin from the default: Hungary. And Bob’s your uncle!

        So what do we think of the ethics of Twitter? I mean: how can one live a flourishing life on Twitter?

        It’s just the worst, right? I’ve made a terrible mistake.

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        Belief In Hell As The Basis For Faith

        by John Holbo on January 26, 2019

        Our Corey is in The New Yorker! I was going to boost it for him but he got to it first.

        But I’ll do it anyway.

        The political convert was the poster child of the Cold War. The leading ideologues of the struggle against Communism weren’t ancient mariners of the right or liberal mandarins of the center. They were fugitives from the left. Max Eastman, Arthur Koestler, Whittaker Chambers, Sidney Hook, James Burnham, and Ignazio Silone—all these individuals, and others, too, had once been members or fellow-travellers of the Communist Party. Eventually, they changed course. More than gifted writers or tools of Western power, they understood what Edmund Burke understood when he launched his struggle against the French Revolution. “To destroy that enemy,” Burke wrote of the Jacobins, “the force opposed to it should be made to bear some analogy and resemblance to the force and spirit which that system exerts.”

        Corey’s puzzle, per the subtitle: “defectors from the left have often given the right a spark and depth. Why doesn’t it work the other way around?”

        We’ll get to that. But first I would like to report a coincidence. I’ve just been brushing up on Max Eastman myself. (Here’s a good Dissent piece, in case you need a refresher or introduction.) That’s because I’ve been reading about a different fotten figure — the great cartoonist Art Young! Young is the subject of a new Fantagraphics books that is absolutely tops, and if you are the sort of person who might be remotely interested in anything of the sort, you should get it. It is To Laugh That We May Not Weep: The Life and Art of Art Young [publisher]. The Kindle version is cheap on Amazon [amazon associates link]. I don’t know how long that happy condition will last. If you don’t wanna pay, this site is pretty ok, too. The thing is: the new book contains lots of high quality reproductions of the original art, rather than just scans of the poorly printed originally published versions. The original art, properly reproduced, just pops to an incredible degree. The crosshatching. I’m in awe. Tomorrow or the next day I’m going to try to work up an appreciation of Young’s art. He was a pen and ink master. Just look at this nice stuff!


        But politics. First, politics. [click to continue…]

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        The Problem of Max Boot

        by Corey Robin on January 25, 2019

        I’ve been thinking about political converts for a long time. At The New Yorker, I take up the problem of Max Boot, who probably needs no introduction, and Derek Black, who was a leading white supremacist and then renounced it all.

        Here’s a taste:

        Max Boot, a longtime conservative who recently broke with the right over the nomination and election of Donald Trump, registered as a Republican in 1988. At the time, Boot writes in “The Corrosion of Conservatism: Why I Left the Right,” he wanted to join the “party of ideas.” A movement of highbrows, conservatism was the work of the “learned, worldly, elitist, and eccentric lot” of writers at National Review, “far removed from the simple-minded, cracker-barrel populists who have taken control of the conservative movement today.” It was a movement, Boot explains at the outset, “inspired by Barry Goldwater’s canonical text from 1960, The Conscience of a Conservative. I believed in that movement, and served it my whole life.” A hundred and seventy-five pages later, Boot inadvertently lets slip that reading Goldwater’s “actual words” was something he hadn’t done until after Trump’s election. Throughout his three decades on the right, it appears, Boot believed in the tenets of a book he never read.

        But it turns out that the problem of Boot and Black goes much deeper than what books were or weren’t read. If you compare the conversions from left to right—think Arthur Koestler, James Burnham, Whittaker Chambers, and so on—with those from right to left, you find something interesting.
        Curiously, the movement from right to left has never played an equivalent role in modern politics. Not only are there fewer converts in that direction, but those conversions haven’t plowed as fertile a field as their counterparts have.

        Why is that? Find out here.

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        Save the nukes

        by John Quiggin on January 25, 2019

        I’ve written numerous posts pointing out that expansion of nuclear power is not a serious option in decarbonizing the electricity supply. In a sense, there’s no need to make the case, as no profit-oriented corporation is ever likely to start a new plant. The recent abandonment of two proposed plants in the UK, despite the offer of massive subsidies, illustrates the point. The only purpose of talk about new nuclear power is to attack the only realistic options, wind and solar PV.

        On the other hand, nuclear power is a lot less dangerous than coal. So, it’s worrying to see nuclear power plants closing down in the US and elsewhere, when there are plenty of coal-fired power plants still in operation. The worse case is Germany, where the phaseout of nuclear power has left lots of lignite-fuelled power stations still in operation.

        The sensible policy is first, to abandon any idea of closing nuclear power stations by direct regulation and second, to impose a substantial carbon price, putting coal-fired power stations first in the “order of demerit” for closure.

        [click to continue…]

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        Erik Olin Wright 1947-2019

        by Harry on January 23, 2019

        I’m sorry to report that Erik Olin Wright has died. He was diagnosed with an acute form of leukemia last spring, and, after various interventions, has been in decline for the past few weeks. He spent his last weeks mainly in the hospital, surrounded by his family, and plentiful visits from numerous friends and former students, socializing to the end. I apologize if what follows is a little incoherent: I wasn’t really ready for the news.

        My own first memories of Erik long predate meeting him. The first is regular visits to the EOA bookshop on the Cowley Road when I was 16, and sitting on the floor reading Class, Crisis and the State, because it seemed kind of expensive to buy (John Carpenter was watching me and really not seeming to mind that I was reading an entire book though, I should say, without ever creasing it in the slightest). I later, in graduate school, wrote an essay on Analytical Marxism which I sent to Socialist Review only to receive a very kind rejection on the grounds that they were just about to publish an essay by Erik on the same topic (which seemed, entirely reasonable to me; even more so when I read the essay). When I later told these stories in graduate seminar we taught together he expressed disbelief that I was so much younger than him, something that might have been insulting except for the fact that, even then, he had twice the life force I have ever had. I met him on January 22nd 1992 just after my job talk at Madison: he kindly invited me to stay on for the subsequent 2 days to attend the conference on Associations and Democracy.

        [click to continue…]

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        Radically Transformative Virtue Ethics

        by John Holbo on January 23, 2019

        I have an idea that there is sort of a hole in the ethics literature. I could be wrong! So tell me where I’m wrong.

        The idea is this: transhumanism is virtue ethics. But no one seems to call it that. “Man remaining man, but transcending himself.” That’s Huxley, introducing transhumanism, and it specifies a delicate virtue balance to be maintained, if I make no mistake. Yet ‘virtue ethics’ is associated with conservative opposition to this sort of radical change option. (Here is Steve Fuller saying so. Not that him saying so proves it is so. But he says exactly what I expect lots of people to say, and it was the first Google hit.)

        It’s like there’s this open question: what sort of people should there be? [Amazon – damn, Glover used to offer it free from his personal site, but it appears to have evaporated.] And ‘virtue ethics’ names only views that answer conservatively. Virtue ethics says: the sort we’ve already got. A subset of that.

        Why not also call it ‘virtue ethics’ if the answer is: some new sort we haven’t got yet?

        It isn’t mysterious that virtue ethics is associated with conservative attitudes towards virtue, given its connection with natural law thinking and grumpy old After Virtue and a bunch of other stuff. But that ought to be regarded as a contingent link.

        Glover has an epigraph from Olaf Stapledon, Last and First Men: [click to continue…]

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        The Material Power of Ideas and Knowledge

        by Henry on January 22, 2019

        Attention conservation notice: long (nearly 5,000 words long) essay on the economic power of ideas. To its credit, the questions discussed are plausibly important. To its detriment, the arguments are less arguments than gestures, and the structure is decidedly baggy.

        For the last couple of weeks, I’ve been wanting to write a response to Aaron Major’s (paywalled) article on ideas and economic power for Catalyst. Now there’s a second piece by Jeremy Adelman in Aeon on Thomas Piketty and Adam Tooze. I think they’re both wrong, but in different ways. Major’s piece suggests that economic ideas don’t really matter very much – it’s the economic base, not the superstructure that’s doing the work. Adelman, in contrast, think that ideas are super important – he just thinks that Piketty and Tooze have ones that are leading us in the wrong direction.

        These arguments come from radically different places, but they have one thing in common. They both substantially underestimate the role that ideas have played in getting us to where we are on the left, and what they they’re likely to do for us in the near future. [click to continue…]

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        Getting on beneath the vaulted sky

        by Chris Bertram on January 22, 2019

        Early last year, I began to experience some pains in my hands. I associated them with bringing a large turkey back from the butchers. Hadn’t taken the car, because parking, but it was heavier than I appreciated and I struggled with the bird as the handles of the plastic bad tore on my fingers. I went to the doctor. Tendons, probably, he said. Most likely be better in a few months.

        Then in September, back from a touring holiday in France which had involved a lot of lugging of boxes and cases up and down stairs, the pain was back, worse. I lacked the strength to open cans and bottles. Some movements were fine but turning a knob or using a key sometimes — ouch! [click to continue…]

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        Maps and Legends

        by John Holbo on January 21, 2019

        I’m seriously enjoying two new books. [click to continue…]

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        Sunday photoblogging: Bedminster Lantern Parade

        by Chris Bertram on January 20, 2019

        One of the regular fixtures since I moved south of the river in Bristol has been the Bedminster Lantern Parade. It is supposed to happen in December, but quite often gets rescheduled to January because of the weather. Paper lanterns don’t do well in torrential rain. As well as all the local schools parading with their lanterns in fantastic shapes (dragons, leopards, the Clifton suspension bridge) there are troupes of dancers, drummers and the rest who make their way through the terraced streets. Here’s a shot from last night:

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        Would you read “Goodnight Moon” to Baby Hitler?

        by John Holbo on January 20, 2019

        Defend your answer with reasons.

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        Socialist utopia 2050 …

        by John Quiggin on January 18, 2019

        what could life in Australia be like after the failure of capitalism?

        That’s the title of my latest piece in The Guardian . It’s had quite a good run, but of course, plenty of pushback, mainly along the following lines

        • General objections to any kind of utopian thinking, even the very modest version in my article
        • Political impossibility
        • What about Stalin/Venezuela ?

        What I haven’t seen, interestingly, is any suggestion that continuing expansion of financialised capitalism (aka neoliberalism) would produce a better outcome. Feel free to discuss this and other issues

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