the US-Mexican border: where the American past chokes on itself

Grandin_historyssinkhole_img_0Greg Grandin at The Nation:

Exhausted migrants crawl into caves and die, their remains never recovered or their bones, picked clean by carrion birds and other animals, disappearing into the sand. A Texas rancher recently told a reporter that only one out of every four bodies is found, which would put the death toll at well over 20,000. Patrick Ball, a statistician who works with human rights groups to count the victims of mass atrocities—93,000 in Syria, 69,000 in Peru, 18,000 in Timor-Leste—says that in order to arrive at an accurate ratio of total dead migrants to known remains, one would need “several independent enumerations of people you can identify as having died in the way you’re studying.” Each list would have to survey roughly the same area of the desert and include the name of the victim and the approximate location and date of death.

But migrants often don’t travel with identification, and the reliable data that do exist are spread out over California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas, fragmented among morgues, hospitals, police departments and the Border Patrol. Some of those who perish during the trek don’t do so until they are well into the United States or have staggered back into Mexico.

more here.

The assassination of J.F.K., fifty years later

131104_r24201_p465Adam Gopnik at The New Yorker:

The nation really did get turned inside out when Kennedy was killed, as nations do at the death of kings. But what altered? In many ways, it was a time more past than present. Though it’s said that the event marked the decisive move from page to screen, newspaper to television, all the crucial information was channelled through the wire-service reporters, who, riding six cars back from the President’s, were the first to get and send the news of the shots, and were still thought of as the authoritative source. Walter Cronkite’s two most famous moments—breaking into “As the World Turns” to announce, “In Dallas, Texas, three shots were fired”; and his later, holding-back-tears “From Dallas, Texas, the flash, apparently official: President Kennedy died at 1 p.m. Central Standard Time”—were in both cases simply read from the wire-service copy. You can see the assistants ripping the copy from the teleprinter and rushing it to the anchorman.

Yet an imbalance between the flood of information and the uncertainty of our understanding—the sense that we know so much and grasp so little, and that reality becomes an image passing—does seem to have begun then: the postmodern suspicion that the more we see, the less we know. A compulsive “hyperperspicacity,” in the term of one assassination researcher—the tendency to look harder for pattern than the thing looked at will ever provide—became the motif of the time.

more here.

Whither pragmatism?

by Dave Maier

Last month, a couple of commenters on my post on Dennett's plea for “respect for truth” asked what pragmatists I like, and for a general elaboration of my pragmatism. I had to think about the best way to respond, and this is what I have finally come up with. Sorry for the delay!

There's a famous article called something like “Thirteen Types of Pragmatism”. This is a typically pragmatist attitude: forget universal definitions, just tell me what we've got. That's what we'll do here; but even so, we'll be keeping an eye on why we want to call these things “pragmatism” at all. After all, that same attitude tells to abandon “pragmatism” if it stops being useful, and I'm happy to call myself something else if it helps.

1) Pragmatism as practice over theory

We don't need to be exhaustive here, just to link some ideas together. A good place to start in characterizing pragmatism is the ordinary not-necessarily-philosophical idea of giving priority to practice itself over any theoretical understanding of that same practice. Pragmatists of this sort say: forget the operating manual, just do what experience tells you about what works. Engineers revel in the perceived virtue of this attitude: dirt under the fingernails and all that.

2) Pragmatism as science over metaphysics

But this is stacking the deck. Naturally even theorists recognize the priority in this sense of that which is represented over the necessarily merely derivative representation of same. If the manual says the engine will explode if you use such-and-such type of fuel, but experience shows otherwise, then the manual is wrong. A related but more philosophically consequential pragmatist attitude pits the empirical world of our experience against a purported “metaphysical” world of abstractions and essences.

There's only one world, of course; the question instead concerns the best method of investigating it. Theory is okay on pragmatist grounds if it is scientifically respectable, as after all Newton's laws of motion are as theoretical as you can get, and we're not giving those up. This is better than the previous thought, but it still stacks the deck. Here too metaphysicians recognize the importance of connecting what they say about the world with what we experience. Still, metaphysics isn't science, and can't be dismissed on those grounds alone, if at all.

3) Pragmatism as anti-Cartesianism

On the other hand, “metaphysics” remains a natural term of abuse for pragmatists, as is the idea of a world beyond experience. Historically, pragmatists have attacked that “metaphysical” idea most directly in its Cartesian manifestation, for example as implicated in that version of skepticism. Cartesians are best known for mind-body substance dualism, but they don't need that particular idea to motivate their skepticism. All they need is a more general conceptual dualism of subject and object.

Now this sort of pragmatism looks like the kind I like: the kind dedicated to rooting out the many pernicious manifestations of that Cartesian idea. Unfortunately, however, in combating each of these one by one (e.g. skepticism in particular), by my lights pragmatists have often failed to stay focused on the dualism itself. I actually think this was unavoidable, and I don't want to take any credit away from our honored ancestors. I just want to distinguish this sort of pragmatist “anti-Cartesianism” from later versions (like mine, below).
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by Tasneem Zehra Husain

DownloadOver the past two years, the Higgs Boson has seeped into the popular consciousness, and with the announcement of this year's Nobel Prize, it is in the limelight once again. Yet, many people are still not quite sure what this particle is, and what, if anything, it has to do with Pakistan's only Laureate, Abdus Salam.

The 2013 Nobel Prize for Physics recognized a mechanism whereby the breaking of symmetry causes a field to pervade the vacuum. To get a sense of what that means, think of the vacuum as the blank canvas upon which our universe is painted, and the Higgs field as a color wash covering the canvas. Had the canvas been pure white, the 'true' colors of our painting would show up; instead, we experience colors after they have been tinted by the background – the Higgs field taints our perception. Just because the canvas is blank doesn't mean there's nothing on it!

Vast ideas have many sides, and often, a different metaphor is needed to explain each facet. One catch phrase regarding the Higgs Boson is that it explains the origin of mass. To understand the connection, consider how we experience mass. When asked to judge how heavy something is, an instinctive reaction is to try pushing the object in question. Intuition tells us that if the same force is exerted on two objects, the heavier one moves slower than the lighter. If two balls, pushed with equal force across a flat surface move with the same speed, we conclude their masses are equal.

But what if the balls carry electric charge, and we perform this experiment in the background of a constant electric field? We might find one ball moves slower than the other, and mistakenly conclude that it is heavier, whereas in truth the masses of both are the same. The discrepancy arises because first ball is pushed in a direction where its motion is resisted by the field, whereas the second ball is pushed in an unaffected direction, and so, proceeds at its natural speed.

In a symmetric universe no direction would be singled out, and regardless of its orientation, very ball would whizz around equally fast. If, however, we introduce a field that violates symmetry, we can pick out a 'special' direction, along which balls will move slower, and hence, appear more massive.

Just as an electric field can be oriented along any axis, the Higgs field too, is free to choose a direction. An illustrative example is that of a marble in a Mexican hat. Poised on the hump of the sombrero, the marble is surrounded with infinite possibilities, each as good as the next, but its position is precarious and almost impossible to maintain. Sooner or later, it will roll down into the circular rim, spontaneously breaking the symmetry. The direction in which the marble falls is completely random; the point on the rim where it lands is not distinguished in any way, until by virtue of the marble landing, it becomes the point of reference for everything that happens from then on.

Mass, which we had thought of as an intrinsic attribute, turns out to be a perceived quantity, a manifestation of the interaction between an object and the background. Particles which appear identical in the absence of a field can take on a variety of appearances in its presence.

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Rashid Rana. Red Carpet 1, 2007.

Edition 1/5; C-print + DIASEC. H. 95 x W. 135 in. (241.3 x 317.5 cm). Collection of Pallak Seth. Image courtesy of Gallery Chemould and Chattertjee & Lal Mumbai.

Red Carpet 1 when looked at from a distance is a beautiful deep red carpet. Upon closer inspection, it is revealed that the carpet is made up of images taken in a slaughterhouse. The work reflects the duel existence of Pakistan as a purveyor of beauty and violence.

More here and here.


by Brooks Riley

ScreenHunter_380 Oct. 28 11.34I have to confess to being a reader of Huffington Post’s Living section, a Lourdes for lovers of self-help lit: a bloated site offering problem-solving, self-improving, happiness-inducing, health-enhancing, sleep-promoting, fat-melting, age-dropping, toxin-flushing, confidence-boosting, success-guaranteeing, quick-fix, net-bite, how-to advice for a seemingly endless array of real or imagined shortcomings, most of which, sadly, are hardwired into human nature.

Huffpo isn’t the only one out there offering self-improvement on a massive scale: Lifehack, Lifehacker, Unclutterer, and many others can keep you trolling for days among the archives of perceived deficiencies and their inspirational antidotes.

I’m a sucker for any reading material that promises to solve the one problem which keeps me from fulfilling my potential, whatever that problem or potential may be. In reality, I strive to be better than I can be. I keep on tilting at windmills, seeking perfection in an imperfect world. And why? I can’t change the world, so I try to change myself.

Reading ‘how-to’ articles is an honorable distraction, better than staring into the abyss, and one that I fall prey to, especially when things aren’t going well. I click on titles like “The one-minute insomnia cure,” and “Three ways to spring clean your brain,” even though I sleep like a baby and have no intention of putting a broom to my brain. I check out “7 Steps to Overcome Perfectionism”, just to reassure myself that perfection is worth pursuing after all. More often than not, a headline that heralds a new way to change my life unfolds as a regurgitation of clichés I’ve heard so often, they have their own genetic sequence in my ear.

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The Syncretic Crucible: Another Trip To Medieval Deccan

by Gautam Pemmaraju

Aib na Rakhe Hindi bola

Maine to chak dekhe khola

Hindi bola kiya bakhan

Je gur Prasad tha muje gyan.

[Don't think bad if I speak in Hindi,

What I experience I speak openly

In Hindi I have preached in detail

All the wisdom from my teacher's blessing]

– From Burhan ‘al Din Janam's Irshad-Nama (Oudesh Rani Bawa, Deccan Studies, 2009)

Rauza1The rich, complex synthesis of the arts, culture, mysticism, shared sentiments, and indeed, of serendipitous winds passing through the open doors of history and influence, are more than amply evident at Ibrahim Rauza, the mausoleum of the medieval sultan of the Bahmani succession state of Bijapur, Ibrahim Adil Shah II. From the striking domed entrance gateway, the serene lawns, to the two structures upon a plinth (the tomb and the adjacent mosque), all fecund with the intense intermingling of a staggering range of ideas, Ibrahim Rauza is truly, a feast for the eyes. “If you look up sir, you will see a carved phanas ka phal (jackfruit)”, says our immaculately dressed elderly guide in the regional Dakhani Urdu, coloured gently with a practiced lilt. “There, sun rays, lotus forms, and there, almost faded away, you will see painted in the alcove, a kalash” he points out, adding that one finds numerous features of southern temple design in the structure. This new phase of Bijapur architecture, “almost synchronizing with the reign of Ibrahim II”, writes Z.A Desai in History of Medieval Deccan (ed. Sherwani & Joshi, 1974), “was marked by better and more refined forms”. From more deftly integrated minars, elaborate bracketed cornices, to foliated parapets and refined arches, Ibrahim Rauza is widely considered to be one of the most glorious examples of syncretic Indo-Persian architecture. The lavishness of the Bijapur style “had reached its culmination” with Ibrahim Rauza, and the “most striking feature of the tomb”, Desai writes on, “is the amazing wealth of surface decorations, comprising of low relief carvings in a variety of geometric and foliage patterns, as well as in the form of beautifully interlaced inscriptions of the entire exterior walls of the central chamber.”

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Monday Poem


Falling's weightlessness is a troubled one
It's not like the airtime of up-drafting hawks
or homosapient gliders hung on wires under
silk billows out of their element
snubbing gravity putting on airs,
nor like the honking camaraderie
of southbound geese chasing solar flares

To know that speeding mass
in collusion with collision brings bereavement
in worlds of muscle blood and bone
is usually enough to keep most breathers
from dancing on edges or diving off ledges

By a wise prescience we understand
that freefall without orbit
must be a heavy weightlessness
no matter how long its freedom lasts
if gravity's die is cast

Bodies are more fragile than stone and steel.
In falling minds minutes are surreal
and time expands as down mind coasts

—as future shortens past grows richer
and now's edge is honed so fine
as to split the hairs of ghosts,
and life 's full-tipped to spill last hours out
which cling to sides of tissue pitchers

Past becomes a fuller world, more here,
which is why old fallers often go there more
than fresh fallers do, who, still green,
in exhilarated falling feel only wind in hair
the sheen of mornings crisp and new
being blessed to not fully grasp
that they are falling too
by Jim Culleny

Manhattan and the Mephistophelean Mind

by James McGirk

The-fountain-of-prosperityI learned about the MONIAC in my high school marco-economics class: a.k.a. the Financephalograph or the Philips Hydraulic Computer, MONIAC was a massive machine, the size of two grandfather clocks bolted together, only instead of gears there was colored fluid inside, sluicing through tubes, pushing valves open and filling cisterns. Here, fluid was a metaphor for money, and by manipulating how much trickled through the system (pour in investments, drain out expenditures…) MONIAC could model Great Britain’s fiscal policy. Hence its name: the Monitary National Income Analogue Computer. This was absolutely an idea borne of its time (which would be New Zealand circa 1949, when feedback loops and whole systems were to Big Business what networks and disruptive capitalism are today) and as an idea was quickly repurposed from oracle-like pronouncements on fiscal policy to the teaching spotty undergraduates studying intro to Economics. My instructor—I don’t remember her name—mentioned the MONIAC as a way to demonstrate the hubris of economic models. It was inconceivable to her that a bunch of transparent pipes filled with dyed water could model something so complex as a national monetary policy. I think that was the point. But I found the MONIAC quite appealing.

Psychiatrists refer to a patient’s system of belief. This is like a personal philosophy only it goes deeper than that; it refers to how a patient conceives of reality on a granular level. A paranoid schizophrenic might have a system of belief that relies on malevolent imps who undermine his every attempt to function in society. Or if you take enough acid and close your eyes as you peak and glimpse the whirling clocklike machinery undergirding reality and believe it is still there once you come down: well, that too would fit, albeit in a slightly more subtle way. At the time I was thus afflicted. A peculiar fellow, obsessed with control panels, who decorated his jeans and filled notebooks with doodles of speedometers and squignometers and gauges and switches and rows of buttons; a guy who re-read William Gibson’s Neuromancer forty times and gobbled cognitive enhancing Nootropic drugs (and pined for girls who reminded me of the main character Molly, a neo-noir villainess with retractable claws; wan, freckled redheads especially reminded me of her, but thanks to the aforementioned eccentricities, the female of the species was really more of an abstraction at the time).

So MONIAC was delicious concept to me. The idea that there could be a machine explaining everything and allowing you to manipulate reality like engineer manning a locomotive slotted neatly into my personal system of belief[1], and stayed there until I moved to New York City at the age of 22.

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Governance of Mineral Revenues for Ending Poverty

by Maniza Naqvi

ProsperityandabundanceTwo previous posts on mineral wealth sharing have discussed what should be done, who has done it and where and why it should be done. Now let's sketch how it should be done.

One of the critical decisions in setting up a fund is how much to invest for now, how much to save for current generations (e.g. pensions), and how much to save for future generations (when, presumably, the natural resources have dried up). Examples of such funds include the Alaska Permanent Fund Corporation (APF), the Alberta Heritage Fund, Iran's Citizen Income Scheme, The Future Generations Funds in Kuwait (here and here); Norway's Government Pension Fund Global, the Pula Fund in Botswana and Wyoming's Permanent Wyoming Mineral Trust Fund .

Another set of questions are: How would such mineral revenues be managed and distributed to all citizens? And who would manage them and on what basis? What should be the guiding principles for the governance and management structure? The choices in structures for the governance and management of mineral revenues for direct dividend transfers and investments could determine whether the wealth gets transferred to all citizens, changes their lives and grows for future generations or whether it becomes an opportunity lost.

Pointers to what works for good governance and management:

· Decision for setting up an institution which can manage, invest and distribute mineral wealth is ratified by parliament as good economic and social policy. This institution can for the sake of description be called a Citizens' Wealth Fund (CWF).

· Legislation through Parliament for mineral wealth revenues management is based on the principle that it is the right thing to do because mineral wealth revenues are viewed as the property of all of the citizens of a country.

· Management of the CWF is set up on the principle that mineral wealth revenues should be grown through sound money management and capital investments to safeguard and create wealth for current and future generations.

· Citizens are viewed as clients who receive the benefits on their investment and income through Direct Dividend transfers, which they have the right to do with as they choose on the principle that each citizen can invest in their future as they wish.

· Governance of the CWF as a public institution is legislated by Parliament. The operations team of the Fund would be recruited competitively. The fund would have oversight from an independent Board chosen from members of academia, unions, private sector, and civil society. The Board should report to the Parliament. Media provides a watch dog and informative role of close scrutiny. The relatives of the President, Prime Minister and other officials of the Government would be ineligible to become members of the Board or on the staff of the fund.

· Sound economic and social policy underpins the sharing of revenues with all citizens. Policy depending on poverty and demographics could lead to a decision to transfer cash dividends to all citizens regardless of wealth immediately or as savings and pensions; or to target only the poor using mechanisms of poverty targeting; or they could be divided into various streams of investments: cash transfers to the poor, savings and pensions funds for all investments in education, health, agriculture, infrastructure, art and culture for all.

· Demographic targeting leads to choices on whether, if the population is young, direct dividend transfers now would benefit citizens' health, education and income outcomes. An aging population would benefit from pensions.

· Diversification of investments to benefit citizens includes providing a portion of each citizen's share as a monthly direct dividend transfer, while a portion of the dividend for each citizen would be withheld for the purpose of mandatory savings. The mandatory savings portion could be available to each citizen by a certain age and the pension fund would be made available at the retirement age in a country. All of the investment activities: dividend transfers, mandatory savings and pensions would be managed by the same money management team managing the investments for the overall funds so that citizens would benefit from their expertise in growing their wealth.

· Responsibilities and roles for different units in the CWF include: direct dividend transfers and money management; investments in education, health and social protection, investments in infrastructure investments; investments in arts and culture and science. Decisions on allocations to each area of responsibility and management would be approved by the Board and reported to Parliament.

Proposal for what else might work well:

A soundly managed CWF would need to have the attributes outlined above which are based on the experience of existing funds. Here is something that has not been tried and perhaps should be: An experienced and reputable international institution with both Investment Finance and Development experience could be the custodian and manager of such a CWF on behalf of a country. Similarly, philanthropists could contribute funds to such a CWF earmarked to a particular country to be managed on behalf of the poorest citizens of that country and the investment income from the contribution could be distributed as a direct dividend transfers. An ideal manager of CWFs would be an entity which has experience in: managing large trust funds on behalf of development partners; channeling these funds for development on their behalf; designing and supervising, poverty targeted cash transfers and community based investments.

The managing entity of the CWF would earn a fee in order to cover its management and operating costs for supervision and technical assistance on investments. This is normal practice for managing funds or trust funds. A mineral rich country with a high poverty head count could choose to provide a trust fund to such an entity to manage on its behalf. Direct dividend transfers would be made from this CWF to the citizens of the country. The rest of the investment income could be used for projects in health, education, social protection, housing, agriculture and infrastructure in that country. A Citizens Wealth Fund resourced by mineral wealth from so-called poor countries might just be the no strings and no aid attached easiest, fastest and most transparent way to end poverty.

Sunday Poem

It is Autumn

It is autumn
a plum is falling, apples,
the fruit falls
and the soul's engineer
is measuring the universe with a teaspoon
It snows in the snow, snows in the rain,
it snows in your back
Stars falling.

by Tone Hødnebø
from Mørkt kvadrat
publisher, Aventura forlag , Oslo, 1994
translation: Cecilie Dahl and Tone Hødnebø
First published on Poetry International, 2013


Stuart Kelly in The Guardian:

Friends--008Friendship, like forgiveness, modesty and tolerance, is a concept which we all instinctively recognise but which buckles under the pressure of philosophical definition. In this little study, AC Grayling charts the history of attempts to understand what friendship is; how a friend differs from a lover, an acquaintance or an ally; and how friendship relates to wider moral and ethical propositions. Beginning with Plato and Aristotle, and progressing via Cicero and Augustine to Montaigne, Kant and Godwin, Grayling assesses a formidable array of sources before turning his attention to literary depictions of friendship: Achilles and Patroclus, David and Jonathan, Nisus and Euryalus, Tennyson and Hallam. He concludes with his own insights into the idea of friendship, drawn from his own experience.

…Friendship does have a political dimension – Aristotle said: “When men are friends there is no need for justice.” This idea was taken up by Jacques Derrida in The Politics of Friendship, a book absent from Grayling's bibliography. Derrida argues, to my mind convincingly, that the discourse around friendship has surreptitiously promoted it as a private, not public, virtue. There is a chasm between EM Forster's “If I had to choose between betraying my country and betraying my friend I hope I should have the guts to betray my country” and Carl Schmitt's notorious idea that “every totality of people looks for friends because it has already enemies”.

More here.

The Man Who Would Teach Machines to Think

James Somers in The Atlantic:

Doug“It depends on what you mean by artificial intelligence.” Douglas Hofstadter is in a grocery store in Bloomington, Indiana, picking out salad ingredients. “If somebody meant by artificial intelligence the attempt to understand the mind, or to create something human-like, they might say—maybe they wouldn’t go this far—but they might say this is some of the only good work that’s ever been done.” Hofstadter says this with an easy deliberateness, and he says it that way because for him, it is an uncontroversial conviction that the most-exciting projects in modern artificial intelligence, the stuff the public maybe sees as stepping stones on the way to science fiction—like Watson, IBM’s Jeopardy-playing supercomputer, or Siri, Apple’s iPhone assistant—in fact have very little to do with intelligence. For the past 30 years, most of them spent in an old house just northwest of the Indiana University campus, he and his graduate students have been picking up the slack: trying to figure out how our thinking works, by writing computer programs that think. Their operating premise is simple: the mind is a very unusual piece of software, and the best way to understand how a piece of software works is to write it yourself. Computers are flexible enough to model the strange evolved convolutions of our thought, and yet responsive only to precise instructions. So if the endeavor succeeds, it will be a double victory: we will finally come to know the exact mechanics of our selves—and we’ll have made intelligent machines.

The idea that changed Hofstadter’s existence, as he has explained over the years, came to him on the road, on a break from graduate school in particle physics. Discouraged by the way his doctoral thesis was going at the University of Oregon, feeling “profoundly lost,” he decided in the summer of 1972 to pack his things into a car he called Quicksilver and drive eastward across the continent. Each night he pitched his tent somewhere new (“sometimes in a forest, sometimes by a lake”) and read by flashlight. He was free to think about whatever he wanted; he chose to think about thinking itself. Ever since he was about 14, when he found out that his youngest sister, Molly, couldn’t understand language, because she “had something deeply wrong with her brain” (her neurological condition probably dated from birth, and was never diagnosed), he had been quietly obsessed by the relation of mind to matter. The father of psychology, William James, described this in 1890 as “the most mysterious thing in the world”: How could consciousness be physical? How could a few pounds of gray gelatin give rise to our very thoughts and selves? Roaming in his 1956 Mercury, Hofstadter thought he had found the answer—that it lived, of all places, in the kernel of a mathematical proof. In 1931, the Austrian-born logician Kurt Gödel had famously shown how a mathematical system could make statements not just about numbers but about the system itself. Consciousness, Hofstadter wanted to say, emerged via just the same kind of “level-crossing feedback loop.” He sat down one afternoon to sketch his thinking in a letter to a friend. But after 30 handwritten pages, he decided not to send it; instead he’d let the ideas germinate a while. Seven years later, they had not so much germinated as metastasized into a 2.9‑pound, 777-page book called Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid, which would earn for Hofstadter—only 35 years old, and a first-time author—the 1980 Pulitzer Prize for general nonfiction.

More here.



Eric Rauchway on Joshua Freeman’s American Empire in Dissent:

Joshua Freeman’s American Empire is the second volume in Penguin’s History of the United States, after Alan Taylor’s American Colonies. If this publication schedule suggests a lack of chronological discipline, it makes for a pleasing set of bookends: the nation that emerged from imperialism became an empire of its own, as diverse and difficult to characterize as the colonies from which it developed. But the history of the modern United States, unlike the history of the colonial era, is not over. We do not know how or why it ends. We do not even know when it ends.

Until the 1980s it made sense to teach courses titled “The History of the United States Since 1945.” Normally, lecturers and professors taught such twentieth-century surveys as the history of “what happened to the New Deal?” In classrooms around the country, students heard that the limited program of social insurance adopted under Franklin Roosevelt expanded under presidents of both parties until it began to encompass the civil rights of African Americans in the mid-1960s. And then, or perhaps a little later, the program for social democracy became something called the “rights revolution”: not a series of rights at all, but a set of querulous demands that the nation could not afford to recognize. Once women, Hispanics, and gays began asking recognition for their particular rights, middle (also known as “straight, white, male”) America took a step back toward what textbooks call “The Age of Limits.” Suddenly the expansions of the New Deal became expensive and Americans had to learn to live more modestly (or so their white, southern president told them in the 1970s).

In this story, foreign relations mattered inasmuch as the Cold War was also terribly expensive.

More here.

Questions for Free-Market Moralists

Roll 22 - Neopan 1600 (Microphen) 046-Edit

Amia Srinivasan in the NYT's the Stone:

In 1971 John Rawls published “A Theory of Justice,” the most significant articulation and defense of political liberalism of the 20th century. Rawls proposed that the structure of a just society was the one that a group of rational actors would come up with if they were operating behind a “veil of ignorance” — that is, provided they had no prior knowledge what their gender, age, wealth, talents, ethnicity and education would be in the imagined society. Since no one would know in advance where in society they would end up, rational agents would select a society in which everyone was guaranteed basic rights, including equality of opportunity. Since genuine (rather than “on paper”) equality of opportunity requires substantial access to resources — shelter, medical care, education — Rawls’s rational actors would also make their society a redistributive one, ensuring a decent standard of life for everyone.

In 1974, Robert Nozick countered with “Anarchy, State, and Utopia.” He argued that a just society was simply one that resulted from an unfettered free market — and that the only legitimate function of the state was to ensure the workings of the free market by enforcing contracts and protecting citizens against violence, theft and fraud. (The seemingly redistributive policy of making people pay for such a “night watchman” state, Nozick argued, was in fact non-redistributive, since such a state would arise naturally through free bargaining.) If one person — Nozick uses the example of Wilt Chamberlain, the great basketball player — is able to produce a good or service that is in high demand, and others freely pay him for that good or service, then he deserves to get rich.

More here.