12 December 2011

From the Illinois Governors' Wing of the Federal Penitentiary:

The flu is so much more fun at one remove with remoras also going through end-of-semester panic...

  • So EyeOfNewt doesn't think that "Palestinian" is a "real" ethnicity worthy of political recognition, eh? I was always taught that glib generalizations should have at least some basis in fact, unless they're being used solely for comic relief. This one must have been for comic relief.

    The most obvious, relatively nearby counterexamples to EyeOfNewt's lie only a few hundred kilometers due north of Palestine: Kurds and Armenians. Of course, the implicit comparison of Israel to the atrocities committed by the decaying Ottoman empire as it sank into a two-class society consisting of a decadent, "religiously correct" ruling class determined solely by ancestry and a randomly oppressed peasantry isn't exactly what EyeOfNewt intended, now, is it? One could also point to the "former Yugoslavia" (or, if one is feeling particularly whimsical, the "former Austro-Hungarian/eastern Hapsburg domain") for exactly the same problems with self-designation of ethnic groups seeking political independence. Gavrilo Princip, anyone?

    More to the point — especially if one likes one's political rhetoric like Turkish coffee (which is to say strong, black, and bitter) — EyeOfNewt's denigration of Palestinians as an "invented people" exactly matches Georgia during the civil rights era (and I mean EyeOfNewt's home state, not the former Soviet Republic — although come to think of it...). It also exactly matches the idea of "Americans" as a distinct "people." More to the point, it also matches the idea of consolidating all of the various tribal factions on the eastern seaboard of North America into "Native American" or "Indian", and then adding to the designation by later conquest so that it includes tribes that would have slaughtered each other on sight. Somehow, I don't think that EyeOfNewt has ever considered the kinds of animosities between pre-Balfour Declaration "native residents" of Galilee and the Negev... or, for that matter, considered the friction between Ashkenazim and Sephards, or the undercurrents in the story of "the Good Samaritan." No, it's all just another version of manifest destiny, because the implicit presumption is that arch-Zionist dominance of the region and displacement of its population is right... and has no exceptions or limitations.

    EyeOfNewt's position would have been more defensible if he had extended it to its extreme: All "ethnicity" is an invented psychosocial construct that changes substantially over time and geography. That's a position I could, and do, agree with... but it contradicts "American exceptionalism," and in particular "white christian American exceptionalism," so you're just not going to see it considered seriously in American political debate. From or by anyone.

  • On a lighter note, how about invented languages to go along with the invented ethnicity?
  • One of the downsides of patronage as a model for supporting the arts is that sometimes it's a choice between starving and sleazebuckets. At least in the marketplace one can pretend that it's just the handing over of greasy currency — or, these days, electronic banking transfers — in an arms'-length transaction. I, too, though, have seen PBS acknowledgements of Koch "charitable foundations" on science shows that skewed away from discussing climate change...
  • Of course, that also brings up the problem of the buggy-whip industry — that is, the existing publishing apparatus, and in particular that devoted to scholarly works. The problem here is not transition to different models while retaining the (imperfect, but better than the alternatives) peer-review system, such as SSRN and arXiv and PLOS, but the destructive effects on some of Schumpeterian creative economic destruction — that is, the casualties/collateral damage of change. For some reason, those whose personal interests are most directly intertwined with the status quo always seem to be most strongly set against changing it... even, or perhaps especially, when change is inevitable.

    Conversely, it also implicates antitrust problems in the existing industry subsegment, and the fact that no matter where one comes down on the question, the answer isn't going to be quick. Or cheap. Or casualty-free.

  • Professor Bambauer describes one response to Facebook's facial-recognition software in startlingly clear terms:

    One proposal raised was to provide people with copyright in their faceprints or facial features. This idea has two demerits: it is unconstitutional, and it is insane. Otherwise, it seems fine.

    More than anything else, this points out just how difficult it is to adapt the common-law model to rapid change in context.

  • On another lighter note, smoking may make your nipples fall off. That I'm calling that a "lighter note" may tell you more about my sense of humor and prediliction for multilayered puns than you really want to know.