Thursday, November 29, 2007


Matt Yglesias follows up Megan McCardle's entirely justified complaint about the dearth of decent bagels in DC. The two New Yorkers commiserate about how New York has the only respectable bagels, though Matt rightly praises Bodo's in Charlottesville. (My wife is a UVA alumna, and pilgrimages to Bodo's are part of each return visit.)

But Matt, amusingly, illustrates his New Yorker's complaint with a picture that is undoubtedly of Montreal bagels coming out of a Montreal oven-- and that might well be from the St. Viateur six blocks from my house. If you're insisting on the evils of the huge puffy bread that passes for bagels in most of America, you want a picture of something visibly different-- something well-boiled with a hole that takes up half the total bagel-space. That means Montreal; New York bagels aren't so visually distinctive.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007


Noam Scheiber, over at TNR's Stump, notes the following from Barack Obama's Nightline appearance.

I think there's no doubt that the fact that my name is Barack Obama and that my father was from Kenya and that I grew up in Hawaii that there's that whole exotic aspect to me that people, I think, have to get past. But they also, surprisingly enough, even in rural Iowa, recognize the opportunity to send a signal to the world that, you know, we are not as ingrown, as parochial as you may perceive or as the Bush administration seems to have communicated, that we are, in fact, embracing the world, we are listening, we are concerned, we want to be engaged.

Noam reasonably notes that 'the "even in rural Iowa" part could stick in some people's craws' as unappealingly condescending. What jumped out at me was ingrown. As far as I know there's no use for the word "ingrown" that refers to people. So the question is what word Obama was reaching for to describe a stereotype about rural people (since the context is "they prove themselves better than that by supporting me")-- and I can't think of any possibility other than "inbred."

Update: I understand perfectly well that what Obama meant was something like "inward looking." But there's not a word that means that which is readily confused with "ingrown." As far as slips of the tongue go, it's better to have called people toenails than to have called them cousin-marrying yokels-- but I think the slip of the tongue has to have gone with a slip of the brain that thought there was some "in-" word that fit into the sentence.
Wishful thinking alert

November 15: France's Conseil constitutionnel judges unconstitutional a proposed law authorizing social scientists to gather statistical information on ethnicity, on grounds that it would violate Article 1 of the French Constitution:

"La France est une République indivisible, laïque, démocratique et sociale. Elle assure l'égalité devant la loi de tous les citoyens sans distinction d'origine, de race ou de religion."

(This is the same article that was used to strike down a law on Corsican autonomy/ As Jeremy Waldron has been telling us for years, an active court enforcing a written constiution will not necessarily protect minorities, nor will a democratic legislature necessarily imperil them. The complaints that follow are agnostic about whether the CC correctly interpreted Article 1; I'm willing to believe that it did, but am sure that Article 1 is the source of much constitutional mischief. If it means what the CC says it means, it ought to be amended.)

The last two nights: Immigrant-populated Parisian banlieues erupt in violence, again, this time with rioters bringing out guns. 77 police officers injured overnight, after two teenagers of African descent were allegedly (though the allegation doesn't seem very persuasive) killed by police in a hit and run.

While good social science analyzing the multiply-caused multiple ills of the banlieues won't by itself solve those ills, it well might be a prerequisite to such solutions. To the degree that the research can't seriously consider ethnicity because it can't ethnicity, the social science will be seriously impaired. There's a real level of ostrichness here.

That the French state normatively aspires to the irrelevance, invisibility, and non-existence of ethnic and racial distinctions within French society doesn't make such distinctions sociologically irrelevant. No matter how "imagined" categories like race and ethnicity are, they do not become unimagined just on the state's say-so.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Onto the reading list

Andrea Sangiovanni
"Justice and the Priority of Politics to Morality"
Journal of Political Philosophy (OnlineEarly Articles)

IT is uncontroversial that the limits imposed by existing institutions and practices are relevant in determining how best to implement a particular conception of justice. The set of precepts, rules, and policies that best realize the demands of justice (whatever one thinks they are) in Corsica will be different from those required in Poland. It is uncontroversial, that is, that information about institutional and political context is needed in coming to a concrete judgment regarding a particular course of action or policy. No one disagrees that constraints derived from particular institutional forms and practices should play a crucial role in the application of a theory to the ‘real world’.

Less well understood, by contrast, is whether existing institutions and practices should play any role in the basic justification and formulation of first principles.1 A common view holds that, in setting out and justifying first principles of justice, one should seek a normative point of view unfettered by the form or structure of existing institutions and practices. To assign any greater role to institutions and practices—to allow them, as I have said, to influence the formulation and justification of first principles of justice—is a fundamental mistake: constraining the content of justice by whatever social and political arrangements we happen to share gives undue normative weight to what is, at best, merely the product of arbitrary historical contingency or, at worst, the result of past injustice itself.

This article aims to bring to light, clarify, and defend the opposite view: existing institutions and practices, I shall argue, should play a crucial role in the justification of a conception of justice rather than merely its implementation. Our task is to explain both why and how. What I call the ‘practice-dependence thesis’ in its most general form is as follows:

Practice-dependence Thesis: The content, scope, and justification of a conception of justice depends on the structure and form of the practices that the conception is intended to govern.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

CFP: International Society for Utilitarian Studies

ISUS X – 11-14 September 2008
U.C. Berkeley - Berkeley, California, U.S.A.

The Tenth Conference of the International Society for Utilitarian Studies will be held on 11-14 September 2008, at the University of California, Berkeley (Berkeley, California, U.S.A.). The meeting is co-hosted by the U.C. Berkeley School of Law and its Kadish Center for Morality, Law and Public Affairs.

The conference seeks paper and panel proposals concerning the study of utilitarianism and the utilitarian tradition broadly conceived. This includes scholarship (both positive and critical) on contemporary utilitarianism and consequentialism, as well as more wide-ranging scholarship concerning figures within the utilitarian canon and the leading social and political issues – such as democracy, law reform, political economy, welfare and equality, colonization and international law – which have figured centrally in the utilitarian tradition.

Scholars representing all disciplines in the humanities and social sciences are encouraged to participate. Past ISUS meetings have included faculty and graduate students in philosophy, political science, law, economics, history and literature. Conference highlights will include distinguished plenary lectures and panels, as well as monetary prizes awarded to the best graduate student papers presented at the meeting. Papers from younger faculty and advanced graduate students are encouraged.

The conference welcomes proposals for individual papers and encourages proposals for panels of 2-3 papers or round-table discussions linked to a common theme. All proposals should include a 200-word abstract for each paper and a 1-page C.V. for each participant, including current contact information and email address. Proposals for panels of papers and round tables also should include a brief précis of the panel topic as a whole. Please place the proposal and C.V. in electronic format and submit as an email attachment to: ISUS@

The deadline for application is February 18, 2008. Notification of conference participation will be made by the end of March 2008. Additional information concerning the conference program and travel information is available at Please send any inquiries concerning the conference or call for papers to: ISUS@

The University of California, Berkeley, is located in the beautiful San Francisco Bay area of northern California, and provides easy access to San Francisco and other regional attractions. The conference convener is David Lieberman ( Those unable to submit proposals electronically should mail their proposals to: Professor David Lieberman; School of Law; U.C. Berkeley; Berkeley, CA 94720-7200; U.S.A.