Archive for September, 2016

Murray Bookchin and the Rojava revolution

September 30, 2016

I first heard of Murray Bookchin when I read that his philosophy had been adopted by the Kurdish fighters in Syria.

kurdistan-cock01_3805_01The Kurds are the only faction in the current struggles in the Middle East that I root for.

The Kurds of Rojava in northern Syria fight ISIS, the so-called Islamic State, while defending themselves against the Syria government.

They practice religious freedom and shelter persecuted ethnic minorities, including Assyrians and Turkmen, and religious minorities, including Christians.  They recognize equal rights for women.

Abdullah Ocalan, the leader and co-founder of the rebel Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in Turkey, was a Communist and a nationalist leader who fought to create an independent Kurdish state.

After his arrest in 1999, he read Bookchin and adopted a philosophy he called “democratic confederalism,” which he thought would enable the Kurdish people to achieve freedom and true democracy on a local basis while remaining within the borders of Turkey.

Ocalan’s followers in Syria have adopted his ideas.  The Turkish government sees them as a threat and has them under an economic blockade.

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The Ecology of Freedom: epilogue

September 30, 2016

THE ECOLOGY OF FREEDOM: The emergence and dissolution of hierarchy by Murray Bookchin (1982, 1991, 2005).  Epilogue.  This concludes my chapter-by-chapter review of Murray Bookchin’s great work, which I began last April.  I could and should have completed this project in a few weeks.   But the exercise was worth doing from my standpoint, and I will be pleased if I have stimulated interest in Bookchin’s ideas.

Western philosophers, from the ancient Greeks to the European Renaissance, maintained that human values should be rooted in nature.  Their problem, according to Murray Bookchin, was that they called upon an external factor—God, Spirit, what Henri Bergson later called the “vital force” to bring them together.

murraybookchin.ecologyoffreedom512T99r4GjL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_The truth is, according to Bookchin, that no external factor is necessary.   Mutualism, self-organization, freedom and awareness are present in nature, and evidently were latent in the universe from the very beginning.  Matter has self-organizing properties that cause it to become more complex.  Life has self-organizing properties that generate fertility, complexity and interdependence.

The evolution of life is as much a matter of developing new forms that fit in with the whole as it is competition between individuals and species.

Some biologists think that the biosphere itself is like a huge organism, which is able to regulate its internal processes and keep itself in balance.

The cruelty of nature is exaggerated, Bookchin wrote.  Wolves bringing down a sick or aged caribou is part of the cycle of life.  There is nothing in the natural world that is comparable to organized human warfare.

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Murray Bookchin: an ecological society

September 29, 2016

This is part of a chapter-by-chapter review of THE ECOLOGY OF FREEDOM: The emergence and dissolution of hierarchy by Murray Bookchin (1982, 1991, 2005).  Doing this has been harder and taken longer than I expected.  The effort is worthwhile for me, but I fear I am not doing justice to the breadth and depth of Bookchin’s thought.  I hope videos and links will partly make up for this lack.

chapter twelve – an ecological society

In previous chapters, Murray Bookchin explained his ideas about humanity’s original organic societies, which were family-based clans in which everyone was valued, everyone contributed what they could and there supposedly was neither coercion nor selfish individualism.

He went on to explain his ideas of how hierarchy arose through priesthoods and warrior bands, and the permutations of hierarchy through human history, and how universal religious and philosophical ideals arose as both a product of hierarchy and a reaction against it.

In this, his final chapter, he outlined his hopes for a future society which embodies the best ideals and practices of the original organic society and the newer universal ideals.

He didn’t provide a detailed outline of an ideal anarchist society not a strategy for bringing such a society into being.

Rather he provided a way of thinking that leads me to question my assumptions about what the world has to be like and to realize that things have to be the way they are now.

A good society rejects the idea that humanity and nature are antagonistic, Bookchin wrote.  Although the idea that humanity is nature made conscious is only a figure of speech, it is the case that individual human nature is rooted in biological nature and human society is rooted in ecological nature.

Down through history, underneath the layers of domination, there have been “layered membranes” of freedom and community, he wrote.  We need a modern vision of freedom that is intentional and not based on tradition and custom, although it will be hard to improve on the virtues of pre-literate societies.

Civilization historically has rested on scarcity, so that the freedom of the elite rested on the labor of the many.   From scarcity arose the notion of contract, so that people could protect themselves from being cheater of their fair share.

Pre-literate societies rejected the idea of contract as the basis of society, Bookchin wrote.  When you live in fear of being short-changed, you short-change others.

He said we should cease to identify freedom with domination.   We should admire Michelangelo, not Gilgamesh, Achilles, Joshua and Julius Caesar.

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Should we be intolerant of the intolerant?

September 29, 2016
Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Nassim Nicholas Taleb, a writer and thinker whom I greatly respect, wrote an interesting theoretical explanation of how it is that an intransigent minority can impose its will on an apathetic minority.

He argued that the only way for the majority to protect itself is to refuse to tolerate the intolerant.

I have thought about this issue most of my life.  I came of age in the 1950s, when liberals as well as conservatives said we should outlaw the American Communist Party inasmuch as the Communists themselves rejected freedom of speech and other democratic norms.

One problem with this is: Who decides what intolerant minority should not be tolerated?  Aren’t the deciders likely to be an equal and opposite intolerant minority.

How do you identify the intolerant?  Do you assume an individual is intolerant because of that person’s political affiliation or religious heritage?

If you outlaw the intolerant, they do not necessarily disappear.  How do you identify the hidden intolerant?  Doesn’t it then become necessary to become intolerant of those who are tolerant of the intolerant?

Then, too, effective intolerance of the intolerant is possible only when the allegedly intolerant are a powerless minority.   When the intolerant are powerful enough to actually threaten freedom, they cannot be suppressed.

But I don’t deny that it’s possible for an intolerant minority to impose its will on the majority.  It’s complicated.  I thank Peteybee of Spread an Idea for linking to Taleb’s articles.

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If Trump & Clinton were D&D characters

September 28, 2016

If the presidential contenders had Dungeons & Dragons alignments, Hillary would be lawful evil, and Trump would be at best neutral evil, at worst, chaotic evil.

Source: Rod Dreher | The American Conservative

Do black people have Second Amendment rights?

September 28, 2016

Bruce Webb posted an article on the Angry Bear web site asking whether Second Amendment rights apply to black people.

Supporters of Open Carry and ‘Must Issue’ Concealed Carry insist that no one should be afraid of someone exercising his or her 2nd Amendment Rights whether that be in some public park or the aisles of your local Wal-Mart.

Yet right along side that we have a doctrine that everyone should comply with every request made by a Peace Officer without question and without hesitation and if refusal to comply ends up with the application of force up to and including deadly force, then a sufficient defense is “I feared for my life”.

[snip]  North Carolina is an Open Carry State.  Anyone has the right to carry a handgun in or out of a holster as long as they are not actively threatening someone.  Which you think at a minimum would mean pointing the weapon at someone with some apparent hostile intent.

But instead a man who was NOT the subject of the particular police search action stepped out of his car while visibly armed and after a disputed set of events was gunned down.  Because police “feared for their lives”.

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The computer era and productivity statistics

September 28, 2016

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chart-2-us-labour-productivity

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If factory automation, artificial intelligence and data tracking are doing all that much to improve productivity, why don’t we see it in the productivity statistics?

It’s true that productivity is growing, and the continual growth in productivity should not be taken for granted.  Maybe productivity would be less or even fall if not for the computer revolution.

Maybe the computer revolution hasn’t gone far enough as yet.  Maybe, as the linked articles suggest, it is confined to just a few industries—electronics, communications and finance.  Maybe it is offset by disinvestment in American industry, as CEOs spend profits on stock buybacks rather than productivity improvements.

The fact remains that productivity was increasing at a faster rate in the United States before the 1980s, which is when Wired magazine proclaimed a new economy.

LINKS

Technology Isn’t Working by The Economist.

Robots, Growth and Inequality by Andrew Berg, Edward F. Buffie and Luis-Felipe Zanna for the International Monetary Fund.

Hillary Clinton as the more effective evil

September 27, 2016

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In last night’s debate, Hillary Clinton demonstrated that she is more fit to be President than Donald Trump in terms of temperament, experience and understanding of the issues.

She is able to rule her emotions.  She has the background knowledge required of a world leader.  She would not be a national embarrassment to the United States on the world stage.

But I don’t think these qualities will, in fact, make her a good President.  They will make her a more effective evil.

Compared to Trump, she would face fewer obstacles in leading the United States into war, and she would be better able to defuse opposition to Wall Street and the monopolization of wealth by a tiny elite.

Trump, by reason of his inexperience, ignorance, lack of self-control and lack of allies in the Washington establishment, would be easier to stymie—which is not to say that a Trump administration would be harmless.

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Russia is losing an economic war

September 26, 2016

The Russian Federation is in economic crisis.

The economy is shrinking.  Although unemployment is low, poverty is increasing,  Inflation is at double-digit rates.   The exchange rate for the ruble is falling.  Russia’s trade deficit is widening.  The Russian government is cutting spending on public services.

While Russia has serious internal economic problems, the immediate cause of the crisis is the economic war being waged by its foes.

  • The United States and European Union boycott many Russian individuals and institutions, including cutting off credit to Russian banks and cutting off sales of equipment to Russian oil companies.
  • Saudi Arabia has stepped up production of oil, driving down oil prices worldwide and hurting Russia’s oil exports.
  • The United States has begun a new arms race with Russia, forcing the Russian government to either divert resources from the civilian economy or admit inferiority.

03-bust-boom-bustIn waging economic war against Russia, the United States and its allies hurt themselves as a price of hurting Russia more.

  • Europe and Russia are natural trading partners, with Europeans buying Russian gas and oil and Russia buying Europe’s, especially Germany’s industrial products.   Cutting off this trade hurts both.
  • Saudi Arabia is using up a large but limited resource at a fast rate without getting the best price for it.
  • The United States, too, is diverting resources from our civilian economy and domestic needs.

In many ways, this is a replay of the economic war waged against the Soviet Union in the 1980s.

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If the USA and Russia could change places

September 26, 2016

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My experience and knowledge of foreign countries is limited, but I try to understand foreign leaders by putting myself in their place, and imagining what I would do if I were them.

Peter Hitchens, a Briton who was a foreign correspondent in Moscow for many years, invites us to imagine how we would feel if we were Russians, a nation that, unlike the USA, has been invaded not once, but many times, and lost millions, not thousands, of lives to invaders within living memory.

Safety, for Russians, is something to be achieved by neutralizing a danger that is presumed to exist at all times.  From this follows a particular attitude to life and government.

If the U.S. had China on the 49th Parallel and Germany on the Rio Grande, and a long land border with the Islamic world where the Pacific Ocean now is, it might be a very different place.  There might even be a good excuse for the Patriot Act and the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI.

If Russia’s neighbors were Canada and Mexico, rather than Germany, China, Turkey, and Poland, and if its other flanks were guarded by thousands of miles of open ocean, it might have free institutions and long traditions of free speech and the rule of law. It might also be a lot richer.

As it is, Russia is a strong state with a country, rather than a country with a strong state.  If it were otherwise, it would have gone the way of the Lithuanian Empire or, come to that, the Golden Horde.

Source: Peter Hitchens | First Things

That is not to say that life in Vladimir Putin’s Russia is good, or that Putin is a benign ruler.  But he is no worse than many of the despots with whom the United States is allied, and life in the Russian Federation is infinitely preferable to live in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republicans.

Far from being a new Hitler, Hitchens wrote, his goal is to keep territories formerly controlled by the USSR from joining anti-Russian alliances.  Whatever you think of this, it is not a threat to the United States or any other Western nation.

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Vladimir Putin’s 9/11

September 26, 2016

In September, 1999, Russia was wracked by a series of explosions that President Vladimir Putin blamed on Chechen terrorists.

It solidified Putin’s power and popularity, and enable him to launch his own “war on terror” against the breakaway province of Chechnya.

But unlike with the 9/11 attacks on the United States two years later, there is strong circumstantial evidence that the explosions were a false flag carried out by Russian intelligence services.

russiancaucasus6c12bc2184e7943ba065218a5bfb947bDavid Satter, a former foreign correspondent in Moscow, summed up the evidence in a recent article in National Review.

The Chechens are a fierce Muslim warrior people whose homeland is in the Caucasus.   They were conquered by the Russian Empire in 1859 and declared independence in 1991 when the Soviet Union broke up.  The Russian Federation tried and failed to reconquer them in 1994-1996.

At the time of the explosions, Vladimir Putin, formerly head of the Russian Federal Security Services (FSB), had just become prime minister of Russia.   He used the explosions as a justification for starting a new war, in which Chechnya was defeated and reincorporated into Russia.

There were four apartment bombings in all, in which a total of 300 people were killed.   One was in an apartment building in Buinaksk in Dagestan in the Caucasus, two  in apartment buildings in Moscow (9/9 and 9/13) and one in Volgodonsk in Rostov province to the south (9/16).   All the explosions involved hundreds of pounds of an explosive called RDX.

Suspicious characters with traces of RDX on their persons were arrested in an apartment building in the southern Russian city of Ryazan.   They turned out to be FSB agents.    The FSB said they were conducting a training exercise.

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A giant statue of Chinese warrior hero Guan Yu

September 24, 2016

giant-war-god-statue-general-guan-yu-sculpture-china-9

This 190-foot tall, 1,450-ton [*] statue represents Guan Yu, a heroic general and warrior who lived during China’s Three Kingdoms period (220-280 AD).   His famous Green Crescent Dragon Blade weighs 150 tons [*].  For comparison, the Statue of Liberty is 111 feet tall and weighs 225 tons.

Guan Yu was so fierce and righteous that he is worshiped as a god.  This statue, one of many in China, was erected last summer in the Chinese city of Jingzhou in Hubei province.  There is an even larger statue, 292 feet high, in his home town of Changping in Shanxi province.

He was a character in the famous Chinese historical novel, The Romance of the Three Kingdoms, which became the basis of many a Chinese movie and video game and is said to be one of the favorite reading of Mao Zedong.

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What would a Trump presidency be like?

September 23, 2016

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I’m coming to realize Donald Trump has a good chance of being elected President.  He at least promises to make things better.  Even though his ideas are mostly bad, a majority of voters may prefer him to the status quo.

If elected, he would face the opposition of Congress, the courts, the federal bureaucracy and the establishment press.  But precedents set by Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and their predecessors give the President considerable power to wage war, selectively enforce the law and suspend Constitutional rights in the name of fighting terror.

President Trump would have unilateral authority to put the USA on nuclear alert, ban immigration from majority-Muslim countries and order the Justice Department to give priority to certain offenses, and certain targets.

The Iran nuclear agreement was an agreement to suspend United Nations sanctions against Iran, and that is a done deal.  But President Trump would have authority to step up American sanctions against Iran, giving Iranian hard-liners an excuse to resume development of nuclear weapons capability.

Trump proposes tax cuts tilted toward the upper brackets, to which a Republican Congress probably would be sympathetic.

He proposes abolition of the Environmental Protection Agency and the Food and Drug Administration, which they might not go along with.  But as President, he would have the power to render the EPA and FDA ineffective through policy and appointments.

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War, peace and absurdity: links 9/23/2016

September 23, 2016

An Obsolescent Military: Bombing Everything, Gaining Nothing by Fred Reed for Fred on Everything.

You Must Be Kidding! Adventures in an American world of frustration by Tom Englehardt for TomDispatch.

Deep State America: one explanation why U.S. policies serve no national interests by Philip Giraldi for the Unz Review.

Kevin Kelly’s technological determinism

September 22, 2016

Kevin Kelly is a smart and influential thinker who has good insight into the potential of advanced technologies such as artificial intelligence, virtual reality and data tracking.

He has written popular books on technology with titles such as Out of Control, What Technology Wants and his latest, The Inevitable.  I haven’t read them; they’re no doubt worth reading.  I quarrel with the assumptions reflected in the titles of the books.

His mistake, in my opinion, is in treating technology as an autonomous force to which human beings must adapt, whether they like it or not.

Technology is not out of control.  The fact that we the public don’t control it doesn’t mean that nobody does.   Technology didn’t develop itself.  It developed they way it did because it served the needs of corporations, governments and other institutions.

Technology doesn’t want anything because it isn’t sentient.    Only human beings want things.   Technology ought to exist to the wants and needs of people.   People do not exist in order to serve the requirements of technology

There is nothing inevitable about the path of technological change.   Which technologies are developed is a matter of choice—by somebody.   Devices such as the steam engine existed for centuries before they were put into us.

Ned Ludd would not have destroyed weaving machines if the weavers had owned the machines.  As a Marxist would say, it all depends on who owns the means of production.  Technology works to the benefit of those who own it.

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What I think about Donald Trump

September 21, 2016

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Source: Joel Pett, Lexington (Ky) Herald-Leader.

The passing scene: Deplorables, debt and Osama

September 21, 2016

Donald Trump Doesn’t Understand White People by Jason Johnson for The Root.

Progressives Are Targets of Hillary’s ‘Basket of Deplorables’ Speech by John V. Wash for Counterpunch.

Donald Trump tries to reassure supporters they’re not really racist.   Hillary Clinton tries to reassure supporters it’s okay to be elitist.

The Coming European Debt Wars by Michael Hudson for Defend Democracy Press.

The European Union is in crisis because it insists on repayment of debts that are too great to ever be repaid.

An Anniversary of Shame by Michael Hirsch for POLITICO.

Some in the CIA say the “war on terror” could have been won in six months if the U.S. government had not given “regime change” priority over capturing or killing Osama bin Laden.

Who’s deplorable?

September 19, 2016

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Racism is the belief that certain races, such as black people, are genetically inferior or that they should not enjoy equal rights.   David Duke, a neo-Nazi and former Klan Wizard, is a racist.  Steve Bannon, Jared Taylor, and Richard B. Spencer, supporters of the Alt-Right movement, are racists.

It’s not just deplorable, but despicable, that Donald Trump has accepted their support, and even appointed Bannon to head his campaign.

Racial prejudice consists of judging an individual based on beliefs about average behavior of that person’s race.  That, too, is deplorable.   It is deplorable even if the belief has some basis.

The chart above shows that certain beliefs are common to white Americans across the political spectrum.  It is not a measure of racism.  It may or may not be a measure of prejudice.

For example, it is a statistical fact that violent crime is more common among black Americans than among white Americans.  It is not racist or racially prejudiced think that African-Americans are, on average, more violent than white Americans.

What would be deplorable would be to assume that assume that any African-American you encounter is a threat, possibly deserving a preemptive violent response.  What would be deplorable would be to ignore the fact that the vast majority of black people are peaceful and law-abiding.

The problem with being overly quick to charge racism is that it provides cover for the real racists.  If almost all white people are racists, then David Duke and Jared Taylor aren’t be so bad.

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Everybody needs a hug

September 17, 2016

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Hat tip for these to Elizabeth Mummert and Joyce Mummert Ireland.

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Hard choices and lesser evils: links 9/15/2016

September 15, 2016

The Clinton Foundation’s Problems Are Deeper Than You Think by Nathan J. Robinson for Current Affairs.

The Question No One’s Asking About the Clinton Foundation by David Corn for Mother Jones.  [Added 9/22/2016]

How Donald Trump retooled his charity to spend other people’s money by David A. Fahrenthold for The Washington Post.

Guess which candidate’s foundation was caught in illegal campaign funding by David A. Fahrenthold for The Washington Post.

Trump used $258,000 from his charity to settle legal problems by David A. Fahrenthold for The Washington Post.  [Added 9/20/2016]

American Greed: Trump’s Economic Team Is a Who’s Who of What’s Wrong by Richard Eskow for Campaign for America’s Future.

Hillary Clinton’s National Security Advisers Are a ‘Who’s Who’ of the Warfare State by Zaid Jilani, Alex Emmons and Naomi LaChance for The Intercept.

How The Trump Organization’s Foreign Business Ties Could Upend U.S. National Security by Kurt Eichenwald for Newsweek.

A graphic history of global climate change

September 14, 2016

Source: xkcd: Earth Temperature Timeline

How I became radicalized

September 14, 2016

For most of my life, I thought my country was fundamentally sound and moving in the right direction.

I knew there were serious problems and injustices in American life, but I thought that these were aberrations, contrary to our democratic ideals, which under our democratic system would be reformed over time.

radicalismstock-photo-fake-dictionary-dictionary-definition-of-the-word-radicalism-180290102I rejected the Communist belief that the crimes of capitalism are systemic, while the failures of Communism are failures to correctly understand or follow Marxist doctrine.

But my own beliefs were the mirror image of this.  I believed that the crimes of Communist countries were the inevitable result of a bad system, while the crimes of Western countries were aberrations that could be corrected.

The first step in my radicalization was the passage of the USA Patriot Act in October 2001.  I was shocked at how fundamental liberties, such as habeas corpus and trial by jury, could be simply wiped off the blackboard, and the majority of Americans would see nothing wrong with this.

I always thought of torture as the ultimate crime against humanity, because it destroys the mind and soul while leaving the body alive.   Torture became institutionalized, and even popular—possibly because of the illusion that it would be limited to people with brown skins and non-European names.

But I still thought of this as an aberration, part of a scheme by Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and others to restore executive power that had been lost after the Watergate hearings.  I voted for Barack Obama with great enthusiasm in 2008, not because I believed he would be a strong reformer, but because I thought he would restore the country to normal.

I soon learned that there was a new normal, one that was different from what I thought it was.

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How neoliberalism feeds political correctness

September 14, 2016

Maximillian Alvarez, a graduate student at the University of Michigan, wrote in the current issue of The Baffler that the real driver behind “political correctness” on American university campuses is the neoliberal idea that students are customers, and that the job of the university is to give the customers what they want.

education-in-liberal-artsThe traditional idea of the university was that the professors were the custodians of knowledge, that their job was to impart knowledge and wisdom to students and that their work should be judged by their peers.

The neoliberal idea of the university is that professors are vendors and students are customers, and that the measure of a university’s success is the ability to maximize enrollment and tuition.

Alvarez wrote that the conflict over “political correctness” is a conflict over which of the university’s customers are more important—the students and parents, or the wealthy donors.  (In the case of public colleges and universities, there is a third customer—the businesses that depend on public institutions to provide vocational training.}

Here’s what Alvarez had to say:

When professors today say they fear their students, they’re really saying that they’re afraid their students’ reviews and complaints will get them fired.

What professors fear are the changing administrative policies that have pinned the fate of their job security to the same unstable consumer logic behind Yelp reviews and the reputation economy.

The image of the wise, hard-nosed professor who upends her students’ assumptions about the world, who provokes and guides heated debates in class about subjects that may offend as much as they enlighten, rests on a whole host of factors that no longer enter into the crabbed, anxiety-driven working life of the casually employed academic.

Nor do such factors typically emerge in our debates about political correctness at universities.

Three in particular are worth highlighting.

First, tenure for faculty is disappearing—and along with it the sort of job security that once made university teaching an attractive long-term career.

Now the lion’s share of college teaching jobs goes to part-time (adjunct) instructors and non-tenure-track faculty.

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Hard choices and lesser evils: links 9/14/2016

September 14, 2016

These linked articles provide worthwhile information and food for thought.   I don’t necessarily agree with the writers in all respects.

If Libertarian Gary Johnson Was President, Here’s What Would Happen to the U.S. Economy by Emily Stewart for The Street.

If Donald Trump Was President, Here’s What Would Happen to the U.S. Economy by Emily Stewart for The Street.

If Hillary Clinton Is Elected President, Here’s What Will Happen to the U.S. Economy by Leon Lazaroff for The Street.

What Jill Stein, the Green presidential candidate, wants to do to America by Max Ehrenfreund for the Washington Post’s Wonkblog.

What Gary Johnson, the Libertarian nominee for president, wants to do to America by Max Ehrenfreund for the Washington Post’s Wonkblog.

What Donald Trump wants to do to America by Max Ehrenfrend and Jim Tankersley for the Washington Post’s Wonkblog.

What Hillary Clinton would do to America by Max Ehrenfreund and Jim Tankersley for the Washington Post’s Wonkblog.

Is Jill Stein Worth Voting For? by Robert Nielsen for Whistling in the Wind.

Could Gary Johnson Be Relevant in 2016? by Robert Nielsen for Whistling in the Wind.

Hard choices and lesser evils: links 9/13/2016

September 13, 2016

The Perfect G.O.P. Nominee by Maureen Dowd for The New York Times.   Hillary Clinton, the ideal Republican.

The Only Shocking Things Donald Trump Has Yet to Do by David Rees for The Baffler.

Here’s what happens if a presidential nominee has to drop out of the election by Jeff Stein for Vox.