Tuesday, November 23, 2010

A note to readers

I intend to take a break from now to the end of the year. Thanks to all who've stopped by here in 2010.

Monday, November 22, 2010

We've got class, baby (and the classics)

Just discovered: the blog of the right-wing artsy, lit-crit-y, bellettristic (take your pick) The New Criterion is called Armavirumque. As in Arma virumque cano. As in 'of arms and a man I sing'. As in the Aeneid.

Now I did not have a classical education (cough, choke), but my mother attended Girls' Latin School, and as a kid/teenager/youth/young adult the one and only line of Latin I can recall hearing her utter was Arma virumque cano. I never read the Aeneid in English, one of many gaps in my supposedly (supposedly) first-class secondary and college education. And it was not until a bit later on that it dawned on me that vir means "man". As in "virility". As in virtú. As in Machiavelli. (Oh yeah, right....)

P.s. I am reliably informed by Wikipedia that Girls' Latin is now called Boston Latin Academy, and it probably has been for a long time (I'm too lazy to actually read the entry right now). O tempora O mores. Whatever.


I've been in the library this afternoon, looking at some journals electronically (which I can't do from home) and have run across something worth mentioning. The current issue of Review of International Studies (vol. 36 no.4) carries a piece by Oded Lowenheim called "The 'I' in IR: an autoethnographic account." On a quick glance it appears to be both interesting and quite different from the usual fare in IR journals. Those readers with access should check it out. Perhaps I will write a post on it later, probably early next year, as I'm about to go on a break.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Moments in the history of male chauvinism

From Cyril Connolly's Enemies of Promise (1938, revised pb. edition, 1988), p. 127:
"Marriage can succeed for an artist only where there is enough money to save him from taking on uncongenial work and a wife who is intelligent and unselfish enough to understand and respect the working of the unfriendly cycle of the creative imagination. She will know at what point domestic happiness begins to cloy, where love, tidiness, rent, rates, clothes, entertaining, and rings at the doorbell should stop, and will recognize that there is no more sombre enemy of good art than the pram in the hall."

Friday, November 19, 2010

The Ghailani verdict

"The face of the embassy had sheared off in great concrete slabs. Dead people still sat at their desks. The tar-covered street was on fire and a crowded bus was in flames. Next door, the Ufundi Building, containing a Kenyan secretarial college, had completely collapsed. Many were pinned under the rubble, and soon their cries arose in a chorus of fear and pain that would go on for days.... The toll was 213 dead...; 4,500 were injured, more than 150 of them blinded by the flying glass. The ruins burned for days."
Thus Lawrence Wright in The Looming Tower, describing the aftermath of the August 1998 bombing of the American embassy in Nairobi. There's no question that this and the bombing of the embassy in Dar es Salaam were reprehensible acts. Ayman al-Zawahiri had an al-Qaeda operative throw a stun grenade into the embassy courtyard in Nairobi, thereby drawing people to the windows. Wright notes: "One of the lessons Zawahiri had learned from his bombing of the Egyptian Embassy in Islamabad three years before was that an initial explosion brought people rushing to the windows, and many were decapitated by flying glass when the real bomb went off." (Looming Tower, p.307)

Despite the depraved character of these acts, however, it's not clear that the conviction of Ahmed Ghailani in New York federal district court on only one count (of conspiracy) as opposed to 200-some counts matters very much. As it is, he may well get a life sentence. Meanwhile Zawahiri, the mastermind of the operations, continues to reside ... somewhere (maybe North Waziristan, maybe not...).

The real issue that should be under discussion is why it has proved so difficult to close Guatanamo Bay (a myopically reluctant Congress deserves a fair amount of blame, no doubt), not the issue of whether detainees should be tried in civilian courts or military tribunals. That has already been debated ad nauseum, positions have hardened, and arguably the main beneficiaries of the entire discussion have been the lawyers, legal analysts, and other talking heads whom it has kept employed. When the definitive history of this whole episode is written, complete with endless litigation, the Supreme Court striking down the original military tribunals legislation, Congress rewriting and re-passing it, etcetera, not to mention the meager results to date -- unless I'm forgetting something, exactly one detainee so far has completed the military tribunal process, pleading guilty in a plea deal [added later: I am forgetting something; it's more than one] -- it will go down as one of the more monumental wastes of resources spawned by the 'war on terror'. It is hard to avoid the feeling that there had to have been a better way than this drawn-out mess. The British government has even concluded that it must pay compensation to several British citizens who were held in Guantanamo. And the talking heads on American TV go on discussing this is in little amnesiac bites, failing to see the larger picture and failing to remind people that they have been having these same factitious debates for years. All in all, a rather appalling spectacle.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Shorter and clearer, s.v.p.

I read some of this NYT piece on the Roberts Court's bloated, often ambiguous opinions. (H/t: Erik Voeten at The Monkey Cage.) The article notes, among other telling points, that the Citizens United opinions are roughly the length of The Great Gatsby (and less fun to read, one might add). The article draws on political-science research on the Court, as Voeten observes. Fine and dandy, except perhaps for that study using anti-plagiarism software to detect passages from the parties' briefs in majority opinions. Um, I'm sorry to inject a note of reality, but why the **** do parties write briefs? They want their writing to be lifted by the Court, and if litigant X (or its legal team, to be more precise) puts something well, then why shouldn't the Court take it? Sometimes you will see quotation marks in an opinion around a phrase from a party's brief, but I'm sure there are other cases where the language is closely paraphrased and you don't see quotation marks. So what? This is one of those very rare cases in which standard notions of plagiarism don't really apply.

Note: The original post has been modified slightly.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Truth-stranger-than-fiction dept.

Via B. DeLong, here.

Hounshell on Kaplan

From Oct. 27 [Reader: A little behind on things, are we? Me: Kindly shut up, thanks], this Blake Hounshell post on Robert Kaplan's new book and Kaplan's "seeming about-face on China." [H/t: IPE@UNC]

Monday, November 15, 2010

'In Flanders Fields'

An interesting post by Tim Kendall on his War Poetry blog. (Some other good stuff here too.)

Noted in passing

I used to subscribe to Dissent but I haven't in a long time. Glancing at its website just now, however, I spot several articles in the current issue that may be of interest to some readers, including one about Minnesota. They're all gated, i.e., to read them you have to shell out twenty bucks to subscribe. Just thought I'd mention it, fwiw.

Friday, November 12, 2010

R. Payne on one aspect of the Bush memoirs


P.s. And if you missed it, Stephen Walt's "Delusion Points" is a catalog of Bush's atrocious foreign policy mistakes. Except for the U.S.-India civil nuclear agreement, which I thought was sensible and one of the very few non-horrible Bush foreign policy moves, the rest of the Bush record is as bad as Walt says.

Filkins interview

Dexter Filkins interviewed on Fresh Air on Afghanistan (it's the Thursday show: Nov. 11).

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The UK-France defense deal

Britain and France, in an agreement reached last week, decided to co-operate on nuclear warhead testing and to set up a joint 'expeditionary' (read: intervention) force, as well as to co-operate when it comes to aircraft carriers. Britain presently has two carriers, France has one, and they've agreed that at least one of these will be at sea at any given time. According to a summary at Spiegel Online: "Britain will install catapults on a new aircraft carrier under construction so that both French and British jets can operate from it. By the early 2020s the two nations aim to combine their carrier operations." This makes some sense, inasmuch as it must be damned expensive to keep one aircraft carrier, let alone more than one, buzzing around in circles in the Mediterranean or the Atlantic or wherever.

An IR scholar who happens to be a friend was saying, when this came up in a recent conversation at a slightly drunken (on my part at any rate) dinner, that the agreement to share aircraft carriers shows that Britain and France have now established a "joint identity" -- well, maybe he didn't say that precisely, but the word "identity" was definitely used. I'm a bit skeptical about this, partly because I'm not totally sure what it means (though I have a reasonably good idea) and partly because this agreement seems to be driven primarily by budgetary considerations. Some in Britain are apparently worried about whether the French carrier, if that were the one at sea, would deploy to the Falklands if that were required. Others dismiss this concern.

The nuclear agreement would "establish a centre in the UK to develop testing technology and another one in France to carry out the testing" (BBC), starting in 2014. This is being called revolutionary and unprecedented. But is it that surprising? It's not like either country is going to use its nuclear weapons against the other. Actually, the chances of their ever using their nuclear weapons at all are, mercifully, infinitesimal. The British and French nuclear arsenals are largely status symbols, signs that their possessors are great powers, and from a security standpoint it would probably make no difference if every British and French nuclear warhead were dismantled and destroyed tomorrow. Who, after all, are they deterring? They don't work against people like the 2005 London subway bombers. You can't threaten to drop a nuclear bomb on an individual's house, for example. That would be absurd and crazy. Nonetheless, we have to at least pretend that this whole deal is a noteworthy development. Otherwise IR types would have less to argue about at drunken dinners.

Monday, November 8, 2010


Pres. Obama's endorsement of a permanent seat for India on the UN Security Council has a significance that goes well beyond the question of India's membership: it is an explicit, highly public announcement of U.S. recognition that the Security Council is in need of reform generally. I could be wrong, but my impression is that this is the clearest statement on the matter that a U.S. president has made. It was overdue. I guess one thing this shows is that eventually, after thousands of analysts and pundits write thousands of words about something (in this case, the need for Security Council reform), someone in the government may notice. (Yes, that last sentence is unfair. But not completely.)

P.s. More on this in a future post.

P.p.s. Erik Voeten, The Monkey Cage's man on these matters, offers his take here.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Timothy Egan on "how Obama saved capitalism and lost the midterms"

Can't resist linking to this before shutting off the computer for the night. I don't agree with every single statement in it but the last few paragraphs are spot on.

And btw, if you're wondering whether Citizens United affected the elections, the answer is a resounding yes, according to Norman Ornstein. Earlier today I heard him (at an AEI thing broadcast by CSpan radio) say it could have changed the outcome in as many as 20 House races.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

No fixed ideology?

"I don’t think people carry around with them a fixed ideology. I think the majority of people, they’re going about their business, going about their lives. They just want to make sure that we’re making progress. And that’s going to be my top priority over the next couple of years."
-- President Obama, at today's press conference

The majority of Americans may not "carry around with them a fixed ideology," but they do carry around some powerful, if usually unarticulated, assumptions and beliefs. These stem from America's history and the mythical narratives and images that have become firm, one might even say fixed, elements of the national psyche. Without positing some historically-derived, widely shared political impulses ("ideas" would be perhaps too formal a word), it is hard to understand why so many Americans are susceptible (and have been susceptible for a long time) to rhetoric about "tax-and-spend liberals," "big government," "government interfering in our lives," "a government takeover of health care," etc. etc., when such rhetoric masks the facts that the U.S. taxes its citizens less than most other 'developed' countries and that its welfare provisions are less generous than those of most other 'developed' countries.

Why is the phrase "class warfare" such a toxic label in U.S. political discourse that it can be trotted out at a moment's notice to delegitimize attempts to address income and wealth inequality, which has grown to frightening and obscene levels in this country over the last 30 or so years? Why can struggling and economically hard-pressed voters be persuaded to vote for candidates who, far from proposing solutions to their problems, talk in the same breath about reining in spending and creating jobs (without bothering to explain how it is possible to do both simultaneously) and who spout slogans like "take back the government" without bothering to explain what that means? How was Ronald Reagan, a professional actor devoid of any notable grasp of issues, able to build an enormously successful career by uttering slogans like "let's get the government off our backs"? It's hard to answer these questions without positing a shared mythology holding that the genius of the American people lies in self-reliance, entrepreneurial initiative, and sheer determination to overcome all odds, and that this genius can only fully flourish and work its magic when the evil entity called "the government" located in that alien place called "Washington DC" removes its dead hand from individuals and corporations and allows them to mobilize the creative energies which, once unleashed, can assure that the U.S. remains, in the rather astoundingly hyperbolic albeit no doubt sincere words of several candidates in their victory speeches, "the greatest country ever known in the history of the world" [sic].

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The worst result so far...

...is the (apparent) defeat of Russ Feingold. :(

Of course, there are other bad results, but this one I think is a particular loss for the Senate.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Documentary examines war's 'human terrain'

While looking for something else, I stumbled across an article about the new documentary Human Terrain (one of whose directors is James Der Derian, whose name will be known to some readers). Rather than quoting or taking the time to summarize, I'll just give the link: here.