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Sunday photoblogging: hello!

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 23/11/2020 - 3:22am in

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Fox at Alderman Moore's allotments, Bristol BS3

Will Conferences Recover? Should They?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 17/11/2020 - 4:47am in

With promising news of a vaccine, one might hope not just for saved lives, but a return to “normal life,” including the regular features of academic work. Among these are the typically in-person events of conferences, workshops, and talks.

The pandemic has resulted in these academic gatherings being either cancelled or moved online (for example), the development of technology and norms for online events, and thoughts about how to organize virtual events well.

There is no doubt that the familiarity with online events forced upon us by the pandemic has its good side. Such events can be less costly, more convenient, more accessible to a broader range of participants, and better for the environment—and that we are all used to them means we will see more and more of them.

But it would be a pity if the pandemic killed off all in-person conferences.

We can see this by asking, first, what do we want out of conferences? Some of these things online events can provide, such as the opportunity to present one’s work to others for criticisms and suggestions. But that is not all that conferences are about. There are the professional friendships that develop by being in the same place for for an extended period of time, talking philosophy but also getting to know each other as persons, which in turn can inform, enrich, and encourage subsequent philosophical interactions.

But we can also ask what we want out of our jobs as academics. Being able to see parts of the world you otherwise might not be able to afford to travel to is part of the attraction of job that pays relatively modestly for the amount of time spent training for it. For many, travel is a key perk of the position, and for some, travel funds are part of the compensation package. If virtual events supplant in-person ones, then many professors’ jobs get worse.

Helen De Cruz (St. Louis University) recently conducted an informal poll on Twitter about whether online conferences are a viable alternative to in-person events:

She discusses the results at The Philosophers’ Cocoon. I agree that, as she says “online conferences can be a viable, carbon-friendly supplement to conferencing we do in person.”

I just hope that once it is safe to meet in person again, our employers see the value in facilitating and funding our ability to do so.

The post Will Conferences Recover? Should They? appeared first on Daily Nous.

Sunday photoblogging: chairs

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 15/11/2020 - 9:51pm in

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Chairs

Worst Colleague Ever

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 14/11/2020 - 2:19am in

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In my New Yorker piece on Max Weber, which came out yesterday, I alluded to Weber’s many, often failed, forays into political life. Several folks on social media have expressed surprised about these expeditions. The facts of Weber’s political involvement don’t seem to fit with the aura of political detachment that surrounds his writing. Indeed, some of Weber’s writing can make him seem almost hermetically sealed off from the barest of political obligations, which is to communicate clearly.

But Weber was intensely involved in the political life of his day. In fact, I had an entire section of my piece devoted to these involvements, and was originally going to open the essay with that as a kind of set piece. For a variety of reasons, my editor and I decided to kill it.

But I thought I’d share it here.

* * * *

Max Weber, a scholar of hot temper and volcanic energy, longed to be a politician of cold focus and hard reason. Between the 1890s, when he launched his academic career, and his death from pneumonia in 1920, Weber made repeated incursions into the public sphere of Wilhelmine and Weimar Germany—to give advice, stand for office, form a party, negotiate a treaty, and write a constitution.

Most of these forays were failures. Officials didn’t listen; opportunities disappeared; proposals were rejected; amendments were ignored. Time and again, particularly after defeat, Weber would disavow any political ambition. But in the end, he couldn’t deny, as he confessed to a friend, that his “secret love” was for “the political.”

Why did Weber never manage the transition from pen to power? He was a riveting speaker, attracting legions of listeners from inside and outside the academy. He had good instincts and enviable judgment. His political antenna was so finely tuned, his map of the terrain so expertly drawn, he seemed to know, at every corner, which way to turn.

Despite a nervous breakdown in 1898, which drove him from the classroom for twenty years, and crippling bouts of depression that sent him to spas and sleeping pills, he rarely suffered from the thought that others might know better than he. “If one is lucky” in politics, he observed toward the end of his life, a “genius appears just once every few hundred years.” That left the door wide open for him.

Even in the delirium of his final days, Weber could be heard declaiming on behalf of the German people, jousting with their enemies in several of the many languages he knew. So appointed for politics did he seem that the philosopher Karl Jaspers, his close friend and most ardent fan, wondered whether Weber hadn’t “unconsciously” arranged his own derailment of destiny.

The truth is less exotic. Simply put, Weber was impossible to work with. His “intellectual superiority was a burden,” sighed his wife Marianne. His “ethical standards were inordinate.” Though offered as exoneration, as if Weber were too good for this world, the comment suggests how exasperating he could be. “The Germans,” Goethe said, “make everything difficult, both for themselves and for everyone else.” Weber made things very, very difficult.

Every move, every maneuver, had to be just so. After agreeing, during World War I, to speak publicly on behalf of a propaganda outfit for the war, Weber complained that he had been instructed not “to be too precise” in his formulations. “That is not my way.” What was his way? “Taking things to an extreme; I cannot do otherwise.”

For a man so clear-eyed about the larger questions of power, both its shifting balances and long-term tendencies, Weber could be myopically exacting about the minutia of a moment. “A politician must make compromises,” he announced after withdrawing from yet another party to which he had been briefly attached; “a scholar cannot justify this.” But that was just a fancy way of saying nobody did anything right—which in politics, as in families, may be the wrongest position of all.

Weber’s refusal of compromise put him into frequent, often needless, conflict with comrades and colleagues. “He bubbles over,” one scholar remarked, “but he bubbles over for too long; first he should bubble, then he should flow.” Weber never flowed. Even Marianne acknowledged that his “constant criticism of the political conduct of his own group was disquieting.”

Far from making him look principled, his intransigence made him seem unsteady, even explosive. Weber could blow up anything. Anticipating his arrival at what was slated to be a tense meeting of the faculty, a historian commented to the art historian sitting next to him, “The most excitable man in the world is about to storm in.” As it happens, Weber was the picture of calm at that meeting, delivering what the art historian would call a “Hellenic” performance.

But there’s a reason, beyond mental illness, that he was thought of as unstable and inconstant. A supernova of energy, Weber lacked the critical element that distinguishes the dilettante from the professional: staying power. Every burst of light left behind a black hole.

* * * *

If you missed the New Yorker piece, you can check it out here.

Max Weber, man of our time?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 13/11/2020 - 2:54am in

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Max Weber died at the tail end of a pandemic, amid a growing street battle between the right and the left. What could he possibly have to say to us today?   I try to answer this, and some other questions, in my review this morning, in The New Yorker, of an excellent new translation, by Damion Searls, of Weber’s Vocation Lectures.

I have to confess, a little guiltily, that I get in a few shots against older leftists, of the ex-SDS type, who like to use (or misuse) Weber’s “ethics of responsibility” against the putative transgressions of younger leftists who are allegedly in thrall to an “ethics of conviction.” It’s one of those tropes in contemporary argument that I really don’t like.

Anyway, this piece took me a year and a half to write, and went through eleven drafts. I’ve never worked so much on a shorter piece of prose, I don’t think.

Many thanks to our Henry, who read an earlier draft, and to the awesome editors and fact checkers (who saved me from a critical error in translation) and production folks at The New Yorker. I also highly recommend the new book on Weber, Arendt, Habermas and more, by political theorist Steven Klein, which I discuss in the piece, and which informed my critique.

A taste:

Weber delivered the first of the two lectures, on the scholar’s work, on November 7, 1917, the day of the Bolshevik Revolution. One year later, a wave of revolution and counter-revolution swept across Germany. It didn’t break until after Weber delivered his second lecture, on the politician’s work, on January 28, 1919. Weber makes occasional, if oblique, reference to the swirl of events around him, but the dominant motif of both lectures is neither turbulence nor movement. It is stuckness. The particles of academic and political life have slowed to a halt; all that was air has become solid.

Weber’s complaints will sound familiar to contemporary readers. Budget-strapped universities pack as many students as possible into classes. Numbers are a “measure of success,” while quality, because it is “unquantifiable,” is ignored. Young scholars lead a “precarious quasi-proletarian existence,” with little prospect of a long-term career, and the rule of promotion is that “there are a lot of mediocrities in leading university positions.” Every aspiring academic must ask himself whether “he can bear to see mediocrity after mediocrity promoted ahead of him, year after year, without becoming embittered and broken inside.” The “animating principle” of the university is an “empty fiction.”

The state is equally ossified. …

When Weber constructed his theory, it was less a description than a prayer, a desperate bid to find friction in a world supposedly smoothed by structure. He was hardly the only social theorist to over-structure reality, to mistake the suspended animation of a moment for the immobilisme of an epoch. Tocqueville suffered from the same malady; Marcuse, Arendt, and Foucault shared some of its symptoms as well. But Weber needed the malady. The question is: Do we?

You can read the rest here.

Remembrance – Excerpt from The Law of Kindness

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 11/11/2020 - 11:10pm in

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I posted this a few days ago and took it down, but I’m giving it another go because it’s 11/11 and nonfiction doesn’t really get at my feelings about Remembrance and what it’s used for. Below is an excerpt from my novel in progress, The Law of Kindness.

It’s about an Irish woman who’s married a British army officer and can also write letters back through time to her younger selves. She’s probably a bit cattier than I am about the whole thing, and she’s writing this diary entry while ill and sometimes confused, but it gets at some of the complexity of feeling about Remembrance and its uses that people may feel when they have particular and very recent soldiers in mind who ‘shall not grow old’.

Wiltshire, November 2011

Robert’s back three weeks from Afghanistan and he can still hardly look at me. It’s all ‘babes’ and soft touches on the back of the hand, but will he look me in the eye or kiss me on the lips? He will not.

Christ, it’s all death around here all the time. Remembrance Sunday. I’d forgotten how brutal they are. Or is it like mercury. It builds up over time till you’re poisoned for life? We’d a nice few years of just hanging around, squashed into a pen within range of the Cenotaph and chatting to whoever was nearby, waiting for Robert to go past. When he’d find us afterwards, he’d be pink-cheeked with cold and glowing with this odd swirl of pride and the sweeter kinds of sorrow. He’d quickly squeeze the baby, give me one of those kisses that’s more like a question and peel off for an afternoon drinking with the boys. Back when we were in London, semi-detached from the army. And last year we were here, but pre- not post-tour, so I didn’t know any of this battalion’s injured or dead, and the bereaved parents only come for the first year or two, after. And with all my appointments and tests and all the rest of it, I barely paid attention, anyway.

But this one. Fuck me but it nearly did for us. Only a week after the post-tour medals parade. Whose idea was that? The wheelchair parade, more like. What a wretched, wretched tour. I’d kept up with the deaths, just a couple, thank God, but I’d no idea there’d been so many life-changing injuries. I don’t know why Robert barely mentioned them, or Angela. At least I had a chair and a blanket for the first parade, the medals one. Angela and me, sitting up like queens. And Camilla even came, so that made three. She sent her attendant off twice to refill my hot water bottle. God be with the days of having three nervous wees before meeting her and phoning Dad to tell him and tease his can’t-help-himself pride. Irish people and the royal family. Honest to God. Angela and me giggling as we go over the cleaning lady’s work in the CO’s downstairs loo, then seal it off three days before Camilla comes because royalty can’t possibly relieve themselves where we mortals have recently been. But she couldn’t do enough for the families during this tour and she was lovely to me at medals parade, commanding mugs of tea and asking was it the proper Irish one. Builder’s tea, she says, like it’s an ironic joke. I’d to tell her to stop being so nice or she’d make me cry.

And no one face-planted, no guardsman’s jaw. The usual only half-joking remarks there should be a wives’ medal. General on a mission to talk for five minutes to each of the injured. Two and a half hours. Six degrees Celsius. Children keening with boredom and cold, but the littlest ones in the warmth of the welfare at least, looked after by the 2 Fusiliers wives. Cake after, and fizz in the Mess, not that I could touch it. Robert wanted me to skip medals parade altogether. He was afraid I’d get pneumonia. Weird how ‘you’ll get pneumonia’ goes being a mad thing people say when it’s cold to something that could actually happen. ‘It’s an invitation, not a summons’. Sounds like something he read. But people will feel sorry for him in a not-good way if he doesn’t have a wife in a smart coat looking admiring then oblivious as the men mess up an overly complicated drill, never a strong point, forget about post-tour, a couple of stragglers losing the run of it, then a whole section gone the wrong way altogether, the RSM’s voice cracking into a strangled squeak as he sorts them out and us three queens in our big leather chairs brought out from the mess, trying to lighten the moment but not giggle too obviously. But I said that already.

I can hear my voice as I write and I don’t like her. Who is she? Brittle, selfish little madam. But when I try to change it I can’t. It’s far from this I was born. Armchairs on tarmac and us under rugs as everyone else huddles and shushes the kids. I don’t know why they did such a complicated drill. Well, I do. It’s make-work till they’re fit to be sent off with us on post-tour leave. They’re not exactly known for their drill, are they, Fast and Bold, not polishing kit and posing for tourists. Anyway, medals parade. Last week. This week was the other one.

Remembrance Sunday. What’s it all for. Politicians wrapped in the Union Jack on a nice sentimental holiday into our lives, then straight back to Monday morning’s tough choices and selling our homes from under us. Anyone with something to remember, with actual people in mind at the going down of the sun, they don’t want to remember, do they. Not in public, not in front of their colleagues, risking more than the acceptable crack in their voice or a glint of something truly metallic in the eye. Mad to think the bloody royals get it more than that shower of users ever will.

I know Robert’s seen and done things. Of course he has. He doesn’t talk to me about them. The odd comment but no details and I don’t ask for them, either. He needs me to be what he comes home to. For Róisín and me to be what it’s all for. So we don’t let it into the house. Ever. He has his brother officers for that, just not his chain of command. And it’s not as bad as people think. Not like the Americans with their mega-long tours and Jesus and wife-beating. Well, there’s a bit of the last one, I suppose. But we’ve only known two or three full-blown PTSDs. Managed out, all but one. From Robert’s intake back in the day, but not a close friend. I won’t say his name. He acted so cold, like he was an inanimate object, this weird kind of model soldier, but then it would flare up into these. Well anyway. Something happened on exercise, his risk awareness completely out of whack. A couple of his guys could have died. They didn’t, but still. Investigation. Career flatline. Marriage over. But it’s not an epidemic. More like a bad cold doing the rounds, everyone sneezing and feeling sorry for themselves but basically fine, and just the odd poor bastard gets meningitis and cops it. There but for the grace of God. Neither the day nor the hour.

And we’ve been at this a long time. Iraq and Afghanistan.Ten years of constant tours. No surprise people get a bit messy around the edges, forget where the edges even are, a decade in. That’s just life, isn’t it. Especially if there’s drink involved which with the army there generally is.

Not Robert, though. He’s gotten religious about not drinking since the week after he got back. Not religious, thank God. Just obsessive. That and the running. Ten or twelve miles a day, the more hills the better, on top of PT. Fifteen years older than most soldiers in the battalion but in the top ten every morning. First man ever to lose weight after he came home. It clears his head, he says. Buttoned up. Locked down. Straight home after Remembrance, no, the other one. Medals parade. Not a drop of fizz taken.

Sunday photoblogging: Houses in Bedminster, Bristol

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 08/11/2020 - 10:51pm in

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Bedminster

Remembrance Sunday

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 08/11/2020 - 9:12pm in

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I’m revising a novel about a woman who can write letters back through time to her younger self. She’s an Irish woman who marries a British army officer (surprise!) and lives through that decade of chosen wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. A bit towards the end is about Remembrance Sunday and the complicated feelings you might have about it, many tours and homecomings in. Excerpting it here for the day that’s in it.

“Wiltshire, November 2011

Robert’s back three weeks now and he can still hardly look at me. It’s all ‘babes’ and soft touches on the back of the hand, but will he look me in the eye or kiss me on the lips? He will not.

I know better than to push him. The thing with men is don’t let them know you’re on to them. That pushes them into a corner and you can’t tell how they’ll react. We learn that the hard way, don’t we. I mean, I wasn’t ever. Not me. But all of us. We all remember. We all know. Obviously he’s not one of those, but still, keep your room for manoeuvre, as Grier would say, Keep ‘em guessing. There’s your power, right there.

Christ, it’s all death around here all the time. Remembrance Sunday. I’d forgotten how brutal they are. Or is it like mercury. It builds up over time till you’re poisoned for life? We’d a nice few years of just hanging around, squashed into a pen within range of the Cenotaph and chatting to whoever was nearby, waiting for Robert to go past. When he’d find us afterwards, he’d be pink-cheeked with cold and glowing with this odd swirl of pride and the sweeter kinds of sorrow. He’d quickly squeeze the baby, give me one of those kisses that’s more like a question and peel off for an afternoon drinking with the boys. Back when we were in London, semi-detached from the army. And last year we were here, but pre- not post-tour, so I didn’t know any of this battalion’s injured or dead, and the bereaved parents only come for the first year or two, after. And with all my appointments and tests and all the rest of it, I barely paid attention, anyway.

But this one. Fuck me but it nearly did for us. Only a week after the post-tour medals parade. Whose idea was that? The wheelchair parade, more like. What a wretched, wretched tour. I’d kept up with the deaths, just a couple, thank God, but I’d no idea there’d been so many life-changing injuries. I don’t know why Robert barely mentioned them, or Angela. At least I had a chair and a blanket for the first parade, the medals one. Angela and me, sitting up like queens. And Camilla even came, so that made three. She sent her attendant off twice to refill my hot water bottle. God be with the days of having three nervous wees before meeting her and phoning Dad to tell him and tease his can’t-help-himself pride. Irish people and the royal family. Honest to God. Angela and me giggling as we go over the cleaning lady’s work in the CO’s downstairs loo, then seal it off three days before Camilla comes because royalty can’t possibly relieve themselves where we mortals have recently been. But she couldn’t do enough for the families during this tour and she was lovely to me at medals parade, commanding mugs of tea and asking was it the proper Irish one. Builder’s tea, she says, like it’s an ironic joke. I’d to tell her to stop being so nice or she’d make me cry.

And no one face-planted, no guardsman’s jaw. The usual only half-joking remarks there should be a wives’ medal. General on a mission to talk for five minutes to each of the injured. Two and a half hours. Six degrees Celsius. Children keening with boredom and cold, but the littlest ones in the warmth of the welfare at least, looked after by the 2 Fusiliers wives. Cake after, and fizz in the Mess, not that I could touch it. Robert wanted me to skip medals parade altogether. He was afraid I’d get pneumonia. Weird how ‘you’ll get pneumonia’ goes being a mad thing people say when it’s cold to something that could actually happen. ‘It’s an invitation, not a summons’. Sounds like something he read. But people will feel sorry for him in a not-good way if he doesn’t have a wife in a smart coat looking admiring then oblivious as the men mess up an overly complicated drill, never a strong point, forget about post-tour, a couple of stragglers losing the run of it, then a whole section gone the wrong way altogether, the RSM’s voice cracking into a strangled squeak as he sorts them out and us three queens in our big leather chairs brought out from the mess, trying to lighten the moment but not giggle too obviously. But I said that already.

I can hear my voice as I write and I don’t like her. Brittle, selfish little madam. But when I try to change it I can’t. It’s far from this I was born. Armchairs on tarmac and us under rugs as everyone else huddles and shushes the kids. I don’t know why they did such a complicated drill. Well, I do. It’s make-work till they’re fit to be sent off with us on post-tour leave. They’re not exactly known for their drill, are they, Fast and Bold, not polishing kit and posing for tourists. Anyway, medals parade. Last week. This week was the other one.

Remembrance Sunday. What’s it all for. Politicians wrapped in the Union Jack on a nice sentimental holiday into our lives, then straight back to Monday morning’s tough choices and selling our homes from under us. Anyone with something to remember, with actual people in mind at the going down of the sun, they don’t want to remember, do they. Not in public, not in front of their colleagues, risking more than the acceptable crack in their voice or a glint of something truly metallic in the eye. Mad to think the bloody royals get it more than that shower of users ever will.

I know Robert’s seen and done things. Of course he has. He doesn’t talk to me about them. The odd comment but no details and I don’t ask for them, either. He needs me to be what he comes home to. For Róisín and me to be what it’s all for. So we don’t let it into the house. Ever. He has his brother officers for that, just not his chain of command. And it’s not as bad as people think. Not like the Americans with their mega-long tours and Jesus and wife-beating. Well, there’s a bit of the last one, I suppose. But we’ve only known two or three full-blown PTSDs. Managed out, all but one. From Robert’s intake back in the day, but not a close friend. I won’t say his name. He acted so cold, like he was an inanimate object, this weird kind of model soldier, but then it would flare up into these. Well anyway. Something happened on exercise, his risk awareness completely out of whack. A couple of his guys could have died. They didn’t, but still. Investigation. Career flatline. Marriage over.

But it’s not an epidemic. More like a bad cold doing the rounds, everyone sneezing and feeling sorry for themselves but basically fine, and just the odd poor bastard gets meningitis and cops it. There but for the grace of God. Neither the day nor the hour. And we’ve been at this a long time.No surprise people get a bit messy around the edges, forget where the edges even are, a decade in. That’s just life, isn’t it. Especially if there’s drink involved which with the army there generally is.

Not Robert, though. He’s gotten religious about not drinking since the week after he got back. Not religious, thank God. Just obsessive. That and the running. Ten or twelve miles a day, the more hills the better, on top of PT. Fifteen years older than most soldiers in the battalion but in the top ten every morning. First man ever to lose weight after he came home. It clears his head, he says. Buttoned up. Locked down. Straight home after Remembrance, no, the other one. Medals parade. Not a drop of fizz taken.”

US Elections open thread

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 03/11/2020 - 8:54am in

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Just about 24 hours until results start coming in. As was said when the same two sides (with different names) faced off in Kansas more than 150 years ago, may victory go to the side which is stronger in numbers, as it is in right.

Sunday photoblogging: ladder shadow (from 2007)

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 02/11/2020 - 12:13am in

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Ladder shadow

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