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Showing posts from September, 2015

The Whitaker/plagiarism matter

In July, I wrote here about public exposure of the plagiarism of Matthew Whitaker, which that month led to Whitaker's demotion from full professor to associate professor.

Whitaker had been a rising star in the world of Black Studies, for example as the author of PEACE BE STILL, a history of African-Americans since 1945. But large chunks of that book turn out to come from such unacknowledged sources as the Archive of American Television.

I quoted the AAT lifting last time I discussed this case. Another quite blatant example involves an edited collection of writings on African American Icons of Sports. Whitaker was the editor. As is the case with many editors of such works, he also included some work of his own. Or that he presented as his own, anyway. And that material came largely from wikipedia. Plagiarizing from such a widely used and easily accessible source just seems stupid but, hey, it's done.

The new news: Whitaker isn't going to get away with a mere demotion.  Ari…


A recent issue of THE FEDERAL LAWYER contained a review of a book on religion and the state, Brian Leiter's WHY TOLERATE RELIGION?

Okay, the title is rather provocative. But that's how one sells books nowadays. ANyway, I confess that everything I know of the book comes from the review, all the following quotations are second hand. Shame on me.

The heart of the book:

"[I]t is not obvious why the state should subordinate its other morally important objectives -- safety, health, well-being, equal treatment before the law -- to claims of religious conscience."

Related (but distinct) claim is that "religious claims of conscience have no greater entitlement to exemptions than other nonreligious claims of conscience."

It is appropriate, Leiter thinks, for a government "to say, the law is the law, and there will be no exemptions for claims of conscience, religious or otherwise."

But Leiter approves of this no-exemptions stance only with a caveat. "A…


All this digging about in the dusty corners of a building whence I am departing has dug up some books that I bought years ago, put aside essentially unopened, and never got back to.

One of these is THE NAZI CONSCIENCE (2003), a book by a professor of history at Duke University about the various intellectual veneers created for National Socialism during its heyday.

So I'm skimming it now.  Koonz links Martin Heidegger,Carl Schmitt, and Gerhard Kittel as three tenured intellectuals, none of whom had supported Nazism before 1933, each of whom clambered in his own way on board the bandwagon.

"The reactions of these three quite different men illustrate the ecumenical attractiveness of a charismatic force so plastic that listeners could fashion their own myths of the Fuhrer. To Heidegger, Hitler was authenticity personified, to Schmitt he was a decisive leader, and to Kittel, a Christian soldier," three ideas that "converged on one point -- the desire for moral rejuvenat…

Petrobras and Brazil

Not yet prominently covered by the finance media in the US: boardroom troubles at Petrobras, the company that was once the national oil company of Brazil, that was privatized in 2010 but that remains of great importance there (and in the South American continent in general) -- this looks like something that could explode into big front page headlines soon. (Its impressive looking HQ building in Rio is portrayed here.)

The chairman of the board has taken a temporary leave of absence, after only five months on the job. The company isn't saying why, except for a terse reference to "personal reasons." Does this mean he is retiring, and simply hopes to play a lot of golf? Almost certainly not. After all, Murilo Ferreira remains a member of the board of Vale SA< Brazil's big mining corp., a task which one presumes also cuts into golf time.  So what is there specific about Petrobras that  requires he be absent?

Petrobras contends these days with a bid rigging and briber…

Will Yellen Pull a Bernanke?

As you may recall, just a little over two years ago there was a great deal of fuss which seems likely to go down in history as the "Taper Tantrum."

Fed chief Ben Bernanke committed to the idea that the Federal Reserve would taper off its bond buying (that is, its new money creation)in the fall of 2013. In the late spring of that year, some market traders, especially in the bond markets, began to get the idea that "he might really go through with it" and they weren't ready.

The Federal Reserve was itself spooked by the volatility in the bonds markets, and it backed off: Bernanke started in with "I didn't really mean it" statements. And left office the following year.

Now we have a new Fed chief, Janet Yellen, and she too has proposed what she is calling a "normalization" of Fed policy.

This time, too, as the date approaches, some markets get volatile. This time the tantrum is in equities rather than bonds. Why? Mumble mumble pseudo-expla…

Mr. Badger and his Lobbyist Friends

I'm looking at the August issue of Harper's.

There is a weirdly fascinating tidbit in the "readings" section about His Royal Highness Prince Charles.

In May of this year, various memos that HRH wrote to various government officials, including the Prime Minister, in the period 2004-09 became public under the UK's Freedom of Information Act.

The weird bit is the notion of a "badger lobby." HRH says that not only is there a badger lobby, but it has political strength to a degree that distresses him.

He says that the "most pressing and urgent problem" facing British agriculture today is "the rising number of TB cases in cattle," and that this cannot be addressed without "a proper cull of badgers," who apparently spread TB to the bovine set.

But the badger lobby stands in the way of this proper cull, and in a letter to the PM, Charles said that their interest in saving badgers at the expense of slaughtering "thousands of e…

Dorothy Sayers

Going through my head today for no good reason is a two-sentence passage of Dorothy Sayers', in an essay explaining some of the basic concepts of medieval scholastic philosophy, including "matter" and "form."

The sentence, which I'm quoting from memory, went something like this: "A cat is not simply a bunch of cat-stuff arranged in the form of a cat. Such a being exists, but its a dead cat."

She goes on to say that the difference between the dead and live cat is the latter's possession of certain faculties (of perception and nutrition): a living cat recognizes the world around it and feeds itself.

All of this reminds me, too, of a line in one of the Harry Potter books. One character has been killed through dark magic. The muggle police have found the body, and the coroners report that the body seems perfectly normal and healthy, excerpt for the fact that it is dead.

There is some sort of fallacy in the original Sayers passage that the HP pass…

Solidarity Forever!

Celebrating tomorrow, Labor Day, let's sing the song together.

And then let's think about that fervent communist, Emma Goldman, who once wrote as follows:

"There is no greater fallacy than the belief that aims and purposes are one thing, while methods and tactics are another. This conception is a potent menace to social regeneration. All human experience teaches that methods and means can never be separated from the ultimate aim. The means employed become, through individual habit and social practice, part and parcel of the final purpose; they influence it, modify it, and presently the aims and methods become identical."

My Disillusionment in Russia (1923).

Death of two local journalists

This story strikes me harder than most of the many stories along the lines, "idiots kill innocent people" with which newspapers, TV news, and the internet sites dedicated to such stuff are always crowded.

Alison Parker and Adam Ward died Wednesday morning, August 26, covering a story. Not a BIG story. Nothing involving ISIS or extreme volatility on the world's stock markets or exposing corruption or fraud. No, these two young journalists at Roanoke Virginia's teevee station WDBJ were doing what it is fair to call a routine interview with a woman on a local Chamber of Commerce (the Smith Mountain Lake Regional Chamber of Commerce) about lake-front tourism. 

Journalists sometimes do die covering the Big stories. The guys at the Charlie Hebdo office in Paris were killed for their satiric take on contemporary Islamofascism, as big a story as there is. But this? It reminds me of the way Alexander Hamilton died, not for any reason connected to his political or financial gen…

Time: The A Team

Philosophers who discuss the nature of time sometimes talk of the "A series" view versus the "B series" view. Here's the Wikipedia link:

The terminology goes back to the work of Scottish Hegelian McTaggart, writing a little more than a century ago. But the 21st century meaning of the labels may be a bit different from what McTaggart had in mind.

"A-series" includes any view to the effect that the intuitive non-philosophic notion of time is more-or-less correct --there is a moving "now" and things that weren't real yesterday will become real tomorrow when the moving "now" gets there. The "B-series" view (again, in my imperfect understanding) is the view that there is only a single block universe already including tomorrow and next century etc. -- and the moving "now" is an illusion.

McTaggart's work neatly coincided (in whatever time is) with Albert Ei…

The continuing attack on irony

Irony has been out of fashion in some quarters since 9/11/2001.  Later in that awful September, TIME published an essay by Roger Rosenblatt that began, "The one good thing that could come from this horror: it could spell the end of the age of irony."

Yet irony has hung in there, as have critiques thereof. Christy Wampole has written the latest such attack, THE OTHER SERIOUS.

She titles it that because in her view the problem with her contemporaries -- me and you, dear reader -- is not just that we over-use irony as a literary device but that irony is the default mode we adopt when we are being "serious." She wants a "recalibration" of what it means to be serious.

She also, like so many writers before her, doesn't quite understand what the kids today are up to. "As a Gen-Xer, I wonder how it must be to grow up in this environment today. What does it feel like to be in high school, for example, where your life is constantly available for comment …