Charles Tilly, 1929-2008

Charlestilly The great sociologist Charles Tilly died today.  I did not have the good fortune of being one of his advisees, but he was certainly a presence in my old department.  Kieran Healy over at Crooked Timber:

Tilly was a comparative and historical sociologist, an analyst of social movements, a social theorist, a political sociologist, a methodological innovator—none of these labels quite capture the scope of his work. I think of him as someone who was interested in the general problem of understanding social change, and he attacked it with tremendous, unflagging energy.

And Dan Nexon, who was one of his students, from the acknowledgments of his forthcoming book:

What can I possibly say about Chuck Tilly that an endless number of his students and peers have not already written in their prefaces? I hope the others I thank will take no offense if I describe him as the most powerful intellect I have ever encountered in the social sciences. I expect that people will still be reading and debating his enormous and varied corpus of work for decades to come. Yet Chuck treats all of his students as members of an intellectual community of equals. He seeks out their opinions; he discusses his own views with humility and an open mind.

Columbia University’s announcement:

President of the Social Sciences Research Council Craig Calhoun called Tilly “one of the most distinguished of all contemporary social scientists,“ adding: “He is the most influential analyst of social movements and contentious politics, a path-breaker in the historical sociology of the state, a pivotal theorist of social inequality.”

“His intellectual range and level of productivity are virtually unrivaled in the social sciences,” said Columbia sociology Professor and Chair Thomas DiPrete.  Adam Ashforth, professor of anthropology and political science at Northwestern University, described Tilly as “the founding father of twenty-first century sociology.”

Behavioral Genetics and the End of Freudianism

In the TLS, Carol Travis reviews Daniel Nettle’s Personality:

What a difference a century makes. One hundred years ago, Sigmund Freud’s answer to Daniel Nettle’s question – “What makes you the way you are?” – would have begun with your unconscious mind: the unique pattern of fantasies, defences, and instinctual conflicts that create your neurotic insecurities and self-defeating habits. These unconscious mechanisms would, in turn, have been profoundly influenced by your parents, who overpunished you or underappreciated you, who told you too much about sex or not enough. You can’t do much about your personality, though you can tweak it a bit with years of psychoanalysis.

Today, personality researchers almost uniformly agree that the things that make you the way you are consist of a combination of your genes, your peers and the idiosyncratic, chance experiences that befall you in childhood and adulthood. Your parents influence your relationship with them – loving or contentious, conflicted or close – but not your “personality”, that package of traits we label extroverted or shy, bitter or friendly, hostile or warm, gloomy or optimistic. Your genes, not your parents, are the reason you think that parachuting out of planes is fun, or, conversely, that you feel sick to the stomach at the mere idea of doing such a crazy thing voluntarily. You can’t do much about your personality, though you can tweak it a bit with cognitive therapy.

The Return of Liberation Theology

Nikolas Kozloff in the wake of the Fernando Lugo electoral victory, in

During the 1980s and 1990s Benedict, then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, acted as John Paul II’s doctrinal czar. At the time, John Paul was in the midst of a fierce battle to silence prominent Church liberals. “This conception of Christ as a political figure, a revolutionary, as the subversive of Nazareth,” the Pontiff once said, “does not tally with the church’s catechism.”

In 1983 the Pope wagged his finger at Sandinista government minister and Nicaraguan priest, Ernesto Cardenal on a trip to Managua, warning the latter to “straighten out the situation in your church.” Cardenal was one of the most prominent Liberation Theologians of the Sandinista era.

Originally a liberal reformer, Ratzinger changed his tune once he became an integrant in the Vatican hierarchy. As prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican’s doctrinal watchdog agency, Cardinal Ratzinger warned against the temptation to view Christianity in an exclusively political light. Liberation Theology, he once said, was dangerous as it fused “the Bible’s view of history with Marxist dialectics.”

Calling Liberation Theology a “singular heresy,” Ratzinger went on the offensive. He blasted the new movement as a “fundamental threat” to the church and prohibited some of its leading proponents from speaking publicly. In an effort to clean house, Ratzinger even summoned outspoken priests to Rome and censured them on grounds that they were abandoning the church’s spiritual role for inappropriate socioeconomic activism.

Azra Raza invites you to attend…Update

Dear 3quarksdaily Readers,

Thank you for the overwhelming response to The Sixth Harvey Preisler Memorial Symposium invitation, I am deeply moved. Unfortunately, because of limited space, we can only accommodate the first 25 responders along with their guests. Please check in the comments section to make sure whether you belong to this group or not. A guest list has been submitted to the New York Academy of Sciences and if your name is not on the list, security will not allow you to enter. I am deeply sorry if I am causing any disappointment to you. Hopefully, next year we will be able to arrange a bigger venue. Please accept my apologies once again and my gratitude for your kind responses.

Azra Raza.

sofia, fluid city


There is no memory and all signs of the immediate past are carefully erased – democrats dynamited Dimitrov’s mausoleum as the authorities did with the last of the mosques after the liberation in 1877; tourist guides replace the communist past with references to Roman ruins. Why should memory block the freedom of the present to move, reinvent itself? Foreign friends often tell us that the charm of the city is in its disorder, its dirt, its chaos, in the liberty it allows to paint one’s house or not to paint it, to plant roses in the yard or tomatoes. The ethos of modernization is probably the reason why we locals resist such a vision and refuse to accept that what surrounds us could be real.

Sofia is growing – who knows whether it won’t soon reach the three-million mark? It flows elusively in a southeasterly direction and up the mountain, producing pleasant towered mansions and postmodern office blocks, leaving behind the ugly northern part of the city, with the one-storey houses, the misery, abandoning even its cemeteries. The city is flowing, fleeing itself. If its inhabitants have become fluid, working part time in Spain or Greece and part time at home, if they are half-way between village and city, between capitalism and state socialism, then what else could one expect than a fluid city?

more from Eurozine here.

frida: homemade surrealism


What one takes away from Kahlo’s art, however, is a less wide-ranging or exalted experience. She found a way to show a certain emotion, at once accusatory, nervy, furious, a little adolescent, and, as Fuentes says, funny. She is giving the world the finger, whether in The Suicide of Dorothy Hale, where she does it with a masterful complexity, in some of her folk art– like self-portraits of the 1930s, where she can be raw or charming about it, or even in her less spirited self-portraits of the following decade, when illness was getting the better of her. It was an emotion, in any event, that she never quite lost, as it is there in the last words of her diary when she wrote, “I hope the exit is joyful—and I hope never to come back.”

more from the NYRB here.

germaine greer on the miley cyrus dust up


When Miley Cyrus was asked about the picture of herself clutching a satin sheet to her chest that Annie Leibovitz has taken for the current issue of Vanity Fair, she said it looked “pretty and natural” and that she thought it was “really artsy”. If by this she meant artistic, rather than artsy-fartsy, she was right on the money. In western art most of the women portrayed semi-clad or totally nude are children. Their nipples are pallid and undeveloped, their breasts hard and veinless, their pubes unfurred. When Lucian Freud paints girl children, nobody cares; when Leibovitz photographs them, everyone goes ballistic. When Botticelli paints the yet-to-be-enjoyed goddess of love emerging from the sea, people come from all over the world to gape at her. The Greeks and Romans liked their goddesses meaty; our preferred Venuses are children. Hardy perennials such as Diane de Poitiers held their sway as long as they did because their bodies never matured.

more from The Guardian here.

Wednesday Poem

Poet Gary Snyder is the winner of the 2008 Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize. Established in 1986 and presented annually by the Poetry Foundation, the award is one of the most prestigious given to American poets, and at $100,000 it is one of the nation’s largest literary awards. Christian Wiman, editor of Poetry magazine and chair of the selection committee, made the announcement today. The prize will be presented at an evening ceremony at the Arts Club of Chicago on Thursday, May 29.

In announcing the award, Wiman said: “Gary Snyder is in essence a contemporary devotional poet, though he is not devoted to any one god or way of being so much as to Being itself. His poetry is a testament to the sacredness of the natural world and our relation to it, and a prophecy of what we stand to lose if we forget that relation.”


The Rabbit
Gary Snyder

A grizzled black-eyed rabbit showed me
irrigation ditches, open paved highway,
………white line
to the hill. bell
chill blue jewel sky
Banner clouds flying,
The mountains all gathered, trees on the flanks
……..cone buds,
…..the snug bark scale
…….in thin powder snow
…..over rock scrabble, pricklers, boulders,
..pines and junipers,
The trees all singing.

The mountains are singing
To gather the sky and the mist bring it down snow-breath
..and gather it water
Sent from the singing peaks
….flanks and folds
Down arroyos and ditches by highways the water
The people to use it, the
….mountains and juniper
Do it for men,
Said the rabbit.


Crimes of the Heart

From The Washington Post:

Book “History works itself out in the living,” says a character in Louise Erdrich’s new novel, and, indeed, the history in The Plague of Doves is something of a workout. She’s challenged us before with complex, interconnected stories about the Ojibwe people of North Dakota, but here she goes for broke, whirling out a vast, fractured narrative, teeming with characters — ancestors, cousins, friends and enemies, all separated and rejoined again and again in uncanny ways over the years. Worried about losing track, I started drawing a genealogical chart after a few chapters, but it was futile: a tangle of names and squiggling lines. That bafflement is clearly an intentional effect of this wondrous novel; the sprawling cast whose history Erdrich works through becomes a living demonstration of the unfathomable repercussions of cruelty.

In the creepy, one-paragraph chapter that opens The Plague of Doves, a man murders five members of a white family in Pluto, N.D., near the Ojibwe reservation in 1911. The chronology of the stories that follow is radically jumbled, but the massacre in Pluto precipitates another one: When four hapless Indians come upon the dead family, they discover that a baby has been left alive in the house. Determined to save the child from abandonment but worried they’ll be held responsible for the murders, they leave an anonymous note for the sheriff. Their plan backfires, though, and a gang of white men lynches the Indians in a heartbreaking scene that is among the most moving and mysterious in the novel.

More here.

Study Shows Brain Power Can Be Bolstered–Maybe

From Scientific American:

Brain In the market for more brain power? In what’s being touted as “a landmark” result, University of Michigan at Ann Arbor (U.M.) researchers report that a specific memory exercise may improve so-called fluid intelligence—the capacity to succeed at new cognitive tasks and in new situations. The finding flies in the face of conventional wisdom in psychology that training for one brain task cannot be transferred to improvement in other mental abilities. If proved, the finding could lead to new therapies and prevention of learning disorders and age related memory loss.

The study contradicts decades of research showing that attempts at crossover training effects, known as far transfer, do not work well. Previous research has shown that improving on one kind of cognitive task does not improve performance on other kinds—for example, memorizing long strings of numbers does not help people learn strings of letters.

Researchers gave 35 volunteers a standardized intelligence test and gave them another such test after training them on a complex memory task for a variable number of days (eight, 12, 17 or 19). Thirty-five other study participants simply took the tests. Both improved on the second one, but those who did the exercise showed far more improvement—and the more they trained, the better they got.

More here.

Azra Raza invites you to attend…


Last year, the annual lecture in memory of my sister Azra’s late husband, Harvey David Preisler, was delivered by Medicine Nobel laureate Craig Mello. I wrote about that lecture here.

This year, the lecture will be delivered by Richard Dawkins. The lecture is entitled “The Purpose of Purpose,” and Professor Dawkins will make himself available for a question/answer period afterward. If you are in the New York City area (or can be on Saturday), I urge you to attend. I myself will be flying in from Italy for the lecture and hope to see you there.

RSVP in the comments section to me to be put on a complimentary list, courtesy of my sister.

[Dawkins photo from the BBC.  More about this site here.]

The Man Who Ended Slavery

Christopher Hitchens in The Atlantic Monthly:

Book_2 John Brown, Abolitionist: The Man Who Killed Slavery, Sparked the Civil War, and Seeded Civil Rights by David S. Reynolds.

When Abraham Lincoln gave an audience to Harriet Beecher Stowe, he is supposed to have greeted her by saying that she was the little woman who had started this great war. That fondly related anecdote illustrates the persistent tendency to Parson Weemsishness in our culture. It was not at all the tear-jerking sentiment of Uncle Tom’s Cabin that catalyzed the War Between the States. It was, rather, the blood-spilling intransigence of John Brown, field-tested on the pitiless Kansas prairies and later deployed at Harpers Ferry. And John Brown was a man whom Lincoln assiduously disowned, until the time came when he himself was compelled to adopt the policy of “war to the knife, and the knife to the hilt,” as partisans of the slaveocracy had hitherto been too proud of saying.

David Reynolds sets himself to counter several misapprehensions about the pious old buzzard (Brown, I mean, not Lincoln). Among these are the impressions that he was a madman, that he was a homicidal type, and that his assault on a federal arsenal was foredoomed and quixotic. The critical thing here is context. And the author succeeds admirably in showing that Brown, far from being a crazed fanatic, was a serious legatee of the English and American revolutions who anticipated the Emancipation Proclamation and all that has ensued from it.

More here.

Noble Eagles, Nasty Pigeons, Biased Humans

Natalie Angier in The New York Times:

Ang The other day I glanced out my window and felt a twinge of revulsion delicately seasoned with indignation. Pecking at my bird feeder were two brown-headed cowbirds, one male and one female, and I knew what that meant. Pretty soon the fattened, fertilized female would be slipping her eggs into some other birds’ nest, with the expectation that the naïve hosts would brood, feed and rear her squawking, ravenous young at the neglect and even death of their own.

Hey, you parasites, get your beaks off my seed, I thought angrily. That feeder is for the good birds, the birds that I like — the cardinals, the nuthatches, the black-capped chickadees, the tufted titmice, the woodpeckers, the goldfinches. It’s for the hard-working birds with enough moral fiber to rear their own families and look photogenic besides. It’s not meant for sneaky freeloaders like you. I rapped on the window sharply but the birds didn’t budge, and as I stood there wondering whether I should run out and scare them away, their beaks seemed to thicken, their eyes blacken, and I could swear they were cackling, “Tippi Hedren must go.”

More here.

The Possibility of Disappointment as Hope

In the Left Business Observer, Henwood on Obama:

Super Tuesday II, as Fox dubbed it, took some steam out of the Obama bandwagon, but he’s still the likely Democratic nominee, and therefore the likely president-to-be. Which is remarkable, really—a nonparticipant can only stand slackjawed in awe of Obamamania. Previously rational people whom LBO admires, like Barbara Ehrenreich and Christopher Hayes, have fallen in love with the Senator’s brand of change we can believe in, a slogan that has to be one of the emptiest since Sandburg’s “The people, yes!,” that the New Party used in New York in the early 1990s. Obama has become the Tokio Hotel of politics.

On what is this mania based? Obama is inspiring the young, lifting the alienated off their couches, and catalyzing a new movement for…change, presumably one we can believe in. The content of this change is hard to specify. Some serious leftists we know and love point to Obama’s roots as a community organizer in Chicago, though many people in a position to know say he didn’t rock many boats in those days. He was embraced by foundation liberals, however, who greased his way into the Harvard Law School via a lakefront condo.

All of which doesn’t make Obama uniquely bad: he’s just another mainstream Democrat with a sleazy real estate guy in his past. Though he’s being touted as an early opponent of the Iraq war, he told the Chicago Tribune in 2004: “There’s not that much difference between my position and George Bush’s position….” He voted to renew the PATRIOT Act, campaigned for happy warrior Joe Lieberman against Ned Lamont in 2006, and wants to increase the size of the U.S. military. He supports Israel’s continuing torture of the Palestinians penned into the Gaza Strip. A Congressional Quarterly study found his Senate voting record was virtually indistinguishable from Hillary Clinton’s; the only major difference in their votes is a surprising one: a move to limit class actions suits against corporations, which Clinton voted against, and Obama for. Obama’s vote was against the preferences of a Dem financial base, trial lawyers, but pleasing to the Fortune 500 and Wall Street.

In this binary world, when you criticize Obama, people immediately include you’re a Hillary Clinton fan. Uh, no. Her politics are bellicose and neoliberal. Her “experience” consists largely of having watched her husband be president for eight years, though it’s likely they were sleeping in separate bedrooms for much of the time. A plague on all their houses.

Smoking and non-smoking

David Sedaris in The New Yorker:

Screenhunter_03_apr_29_0949When my sister Lisa started smoking, I forbade her to enter my bedroom with a lit cigarette. She could talk to me, but only from the other side of the threshold, and she had to avert her head when she exhaled. I did the same when my sister Gretchen started.

It wasn’t the smoke but the smell of it that bothered me. In later years, I didn’t care so much, but at the time I found it depressing: the scent of neglect. It wasn’t so noticeable in the rest of the house, but then again the rest of the house was neglected. My room was clean and orderly, and if I’d had my way it would have smelled like an album jacket the moment you remove the plastic. That is to say, it would have smelled like anticipation.

When I started smoking myself, I realized that a lit cigarette acted as a kind of beacon, drawing in any freeloader who happened to see or smell it. It was like standing on a street corner and jiggling a palmful of quarters. “Spare change?” someone might ask. And what could you say?

More here.

A mistake to fete repentant members of Islamist cults

Ziauddin Sardar in The Guardian:

Ziauddin_sardarI am troubled by the fact that former extremists are seen as the only people who know how to deal with extremism. Just because you have been an inmate of a mental hospital does not mean you are an expert in clinical psychology. But former extremists are being lionised because they confirm the basic tabloid prejudice that violence is a natural part of being a Muslim. So whose ignorance is being vindicated? Certainly the potential of an open, unapologetic belief in Islam as a valuable part of British society is not on the agenda.

At every stage of dealing with extremism, the government has made the wrong choice. First, only British-trained imams were to be promoted, though how and what they were trained in was not examined. Then there were to be roadshows at which religious scholars selected for their moderation and tractability, rather than an understanding of the problems of young British Muslims, would explain the error of extremist ways. Then Sufism was touted as the solution, and the Sufi Muslim Council was created as the voice of moderation. Now the way forward is with sinners who were once mouthpieces for jihadi propaganda and advocated the violent rejection of all things western.

The thing nobody has suggested is engaging the silenced and diverse majority of Muslim communities. If the debate of the mainstream is ignored, there is nowhere for those rescued from extremism to go. The silent majority is supposed to be groomed to embrace quietism – which explains why Sufi mysticism is in vogue – and, most important, to be put off politics for life.

More here.  [Thanks to Manas Shaikh.]

Environmental Cost of Shipping Groceries Around the World

Elizabeth Rosenthal in the New York Times:

Screenhunter_02_apr_29_0934Increasingly efficient global transport networks make it practical to bring food before it spoils from distant places where labor costs are lower. And the penetration of mega-markets in nations from China to Mexico with supply and distribution chains that gird the globe — like Wal-Mart, Carrefour and Tesco — has accelerated the trend.

But the movable feast comes at a cost: pollution — especially carbon dioxide, the main global warming gas — from transporting the food.

Under longstanding trade agreements, fuel for international freight carried by sea and air is not taxed. Now, many economists, environmental advocates and politicians say it is time to make shippers and shoppers pay for the pollution, through taxes or other measures.

More here.