>> Sunday, February 28, 2010

When this blog was launched nearly six long years ago, it was a Seattle-based blog, as all three 'founders' were graduate students in the political science department at the University of Washington. Shortly thereafter my two founding co-bloggers headed east to take tenure track positions in New York and Kentucky. I remained in Seattle, and spent the next several years adjuncting all over town and not finishing my dissertation. Eventually, in 2007 and 2008 respectively, I managed to get a full time non-tenure track lecturer position and finish my dissertation. These two accomplishments were a tremendous relief, emotionally and financially. However, the funding for my position has been increasingly difficult for my department to sustain, and it became clear it would not be renewed forever.

In the Fall of 2010, this blog will lose its last connection to the city of its founding. I will leave the persistent and urgent uncertainty of my career to date behind (at least for six years) as I will make the increasingly and distressingly rare leap to the ranks of tenure track faculty. I will be taking up this position at the University of Dayton in Ohio, where I will teach a range of political theory courses as well as an introductory course in comparative politics and a course on comparative democratization. Academically, this is an improbably ideal step for my career; the teaching/research mix and general intellectual environment at UD is just about perfect for my tastes and talents, and I'm remarkably fortunate, and given how many talented, sharp and accomplished people in my field who remain un- and under-employed, humbled to have been offered this job.

The difficulty, though, is leaving Seattle, a place that is very much my home. I have never lived outside Western Washington, and the city and region have become constituitive of my identity to no small degree. With the exception of my whirlwind 36 hours of a campus interview, my only experience with the state of Ohio has been a couple of hours on a layover in the Cleveland airport, and my only experience with the midwest has been a handful of visits to Chicago. So I'll be heading east this summer with some trepidation. So, people of the internets: the purpose of this thread is to solicit advice, suggestions, warnings, and endorsements regarding any and all aspects of life and living in Dayton, SW Ohio, and the midwest more generally.


The law according to Yoo

Some thoughts on what John Yoo will teach his students.

Yoo's constitutional theories regarding presidential power raise some interesting jurisprudential and moral issues. If we assume Yoo isn't a moral monster, we have to assume he doesn't actually favor machine-gunning a village of civilians or crushing the testicles of a child merely because the POTUS thinks such actions will "keep us safe." Yoo's position, I'm assuming, is that such things, while morally monstrous, wouldn't be illegal under certain circumstances.

It's tempting to dismiss this view as absurd on its face (I happen to think that in this instance it is absurd on its face, because Yoo's position regarding the extent of presidential powers in wartime is extreme to the point of absurdity), but the only way to avoid the possibility of finding oneself arguing for something similar in some other situation is to claim that "the law" never permits politicians to engage in grossly immoral practices. That seems to me very implausible. To take an obvious example, slavery was a grossly immoral practice in 19th century America, and also perfectly legal until 1863.

The moral dilemma lawyers in the situation Yoo (ex hypothesi) found himself in 2002 face is this: Suppose you believe it's legal to do something which is very immoral, and you're asked your professional opinion on whether it would be legal to do this very immoral thing, by people who are asking you precisely because they intend to do it. What do you do?

The two easy escapes from this dilemma are to take the view that nothing that is very immoral can actually be legal, or to take what appears to be Yoo's position, which is that he was just being asked for his professional opinion, and what more powerful people chose to do with that opinion was their affair. Neither of these escapes seems legitimate to me. The first position is fairly incredible, while the second dodges the question of moral responsibility altogether.

The first escape appeals to what could be called legal utopians, while the second appeals to authoritarian personalities. For other people, the possibility of this sort of ethical dilemma remains very real.


"If We're Going To Bet, Why Don't We Make It Interesting?"

Thers seems to be under the brave but very mistaken idea that the Americans' fluke victory over Canada will be replicated. (Despite the Ygleasias curse!) Hence, he will be generously donating $50 to a Canadian charity of my choice (readers who current reside there are welcome to provide suggestions of good ones.) In the vanishingly unlikely event of an American win, I will do likewise to an American charity of his choice.

In all seriousness, this should be a hell of a game. Canada has one major advantage (depth among their forwards) and one advantage of unknown importance (I'll take Babcock over Wilson behind the bench in a big game for sure), and with Luongo properly in net no real disadvantages on paper. But Switzerland and Slovakia nonetheless gave Canada all it could handle and the American team that's already beat Canada once is certainly much better than they are, so...let's hope the game is as great as it should be.


Corner Comedy Classics

Andrew McCarthy, ladies and gentlemen!

Today's Democrats are controlled by the radical Left...

Ok, the second-biggest supporter of capitalism among major liberal democratic political parties controlled by the radical left, funny stuff. But do you have a punchline?

...and it is more important to them to execute the permanent transformation of American society than it is to win the upcoming election cycles.
[rimshot] Try the veal!

The remarkable thing is that I don't think this is just propaganda...I think he believes this abject nonsense. Sad.


The fact that Hawaii still exists proves global warming is a hoax.

>> Saturday, February 27, 2010

When I mentioned to a friend I was writing a post with that title, he responded by betting his mother's life that someone had already made that claim and set out in search of that idiot. That was five minutes ago but have no fear his mother can breathe easy. Only now I'm not sure what to do with the rest of the post I'd planned to write. I thought it'd be amusing to demonstrate how the deliberately (and defiantly) uninformed worldview of those who think scientific progress is teleological (for example) creates an environment in which any failed hypothesis represents further proof of gross negligence or professional misconduct. But it isn't amusing: it's depressing.

Because of these pig-ignorant people, any scientific finding that doesn't correspond to the dominant scientific paradigm becomes "another nail in the coffin" for that paradigm. That the tsunami that struck Hawaii didn't manifest as a 300-foot-tall wall of water is, for such luminaries, further proof that scientists simply suck at predicting anything that involves heightened sea-level. They leap from a televisually disappointing tsunami to stock global warming denialism because they believe a single failure undermines an entire enterprise, i.e. they have no understanding of or investment in the scientific method.

Like I said: it's depressing.


A Partial Victory

>> Friday, February 26, 2010

You may remember the case in which the Texas sentenced a man to death after a trial in which the judge and prosecutor were literally in bed together, and the state's abominable appellate courts created a series of transparent procedural Catch-22s to insulate the state from its gross violation of due process. Earlier in the week, the Texas courts threw out his death sentence without addressing the central issue:

A Texas court threw out the death sentence on Wednesday of a man whose double murder conviction gained international attention because of revelations that the judge and prosecutor had had an extramarital affair.

But the decision from the State Court of Criminal Appeals did not mention the affair, focusing instead on whether jurors had been blocked from getting information that might have helped them deliver a less severe sentence.


The new opinion, on a separate writ, focused on whether the jurors should have been able to fully consider issues like Mr. Hood’s learning disabilities, and the fact that he had been gravely injured at 3 years old when a truck backed over him, crushing his legs.

Such questions about jury instructions are an area of legal dispute that has bounced from state courts to the United States Supreme Court and back over the past 20 years. Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. has called the result “a dog’s breakfast of divided, conflicting, and ever-changing analyses.”

With the equivalent of a textual sigh, Judge Cathy Cochran wrote in the Texas court’s majority opinion that, “We wade once more into the murky waters” of jury instruction; and the majority ruled that Mr. Hood deserved a new hearing on the question of punishment.

Since it only affects sentencing, this decision shouldn't make the pending appeal to the Supreme Court moot. Whether the Supremes will grant cert or not, I have no idea.


The Final Four

Today's games should both be interesting. The Miller/Kiprusoff matchup this afternoon should be fun. As a Canada rooter, I'm actually a little leery about the Slovakia matchup; just as people overreacted to the loss to the U.S. (particularly given the extent of Canada's territorial advantage), it's almost as if thing got set up a little too perfectly. As Switzerland has been twice in a row, I would expect Slovakia to be a tough opponent. But forced to pick I think we'll see a rematch of '02..., I meant to say that by the time I turned the game on the Americans would already have completely blown out Finland.


"I am never wrong about anything, and all the pains I have taken to verify my notions have only wasted my time."

I'm no G.B. Shaw, as my previous post makes plain.* But since it turned into a version of Humiliation, I say we all should play. What lesson drilled into your head by someone you trusted later turned out to be hilariously misguided? I can start the festivities again by pointing you to an account of the undergraduate honors seminar in which I learned to never trust the Jews.

*The quotation is from a letter to H.G. Wells in which Shaw chided him for being too sanguine about the future of Stalinist Russia.


Libel laws

Like any good traitorous socialist lefty, I am supposed to treat European culture and politics as decidedly superior to the American alternative. And I often do! But on the subject of libel laws, it seems quite clear to me that Americans have a much more sensible approach than, at a minimum, the English and the French. The appalling nature of English libel laws became known to me through McDonald's decision to turn a couple of environmental activists into free speech martyrs with a libel suit in 1990. This was, predictably, a bit of PR fiasco for McDonalds, and many of the claims made by the activists were determined in court to be true. Still, it's appalling that McDonalds was able to drag a couple of protesters into court for the better part of a decade, and the burden of proof fell squarely on the defendants.

In looking up the case I'm pleasantly reminded that five years ago the European Court of Human Rights agreed with me:

The ECHR ruled that the lack of official funding had effectively given rise to procedural unfairness and denied the litigants a fair trial. It was held to have contributed to an unacceptable inequality of arms with the Corporation. The court ruled that there had been a violation of Article 6.1. The award of damages ordered against the litigants was deemed disproportionate to the legitimate aim served. The court found that the damages awarded “may also have failed to strike the right balance”, The subsequent awards were £36,000 for Steel and £40,000 for Morris.

Now, via Henry Farrell, I learn the French appear to have similar issues. Henry's post and the EJIL summary and statement are well worth reading, but the executive summary is: Karin Calvo-Goller writes a book, it recieves a negative review in the European Journal of International Law, she demands the editor take down the review from the website, he refuses, she sues him for libel, and now he will be forced to defend himself in a criminal proceeding at his own expense. The substance of her complaints seem quite specious to this non-expert on her subject, and the review itself is a pretty run of the mill negative review. In the pretrial hearing, he was told by the examining judge that she couldn't rule on substance and the case would be going to trial. Obviously, the idea that book review editors could be subject to criminal sanction, or even defending themselves against criminal charges, could certainly have a chilling effect on free speech and academic freedom.

As with the McDonalds case, it's difficult to grasp why the complainant finds this particular course of action wise. Even if the book review in question contained actionable libelous claims, which seems doubtful, the notoriety of effectively declaring oneself an enemy of academic freedom will surely do more damage to her reputation than a couple of unfair critical remarks in a book review.

I'd certainly be curious to hear a defense of the "burden of proof lies on the defendant" approach to libel law on the merits, because it's not easy for me to imagine what that would look like.

In the EJIL editorial linked above, the editor who is headed to court makes the following appeals for assistance:
a. You may send an indication of indignation/support by email attachment to the following email address Kindly write, if possible, on a letterhead indicating your affiliation and attach such letters to the email. Such letters may be printed and presented eventually to the Court. Please do not write directly to Dr Calvo-Goller, or otherwise harass or interfere in any way whatsoever with her right to seek remedies available to her under French law.
b. It would be particularly helpful to have letters from other Editors and Book Review Editors of legal and non-legal academic Journals concerned by these events. Kindly pass on this Editorial to any such Editor with whom you are familiar and encourage him or her to communicate their reaction to the same email address. It would be
especially helpful to receive such letters from Editors of French academic journals and from French academic authors, scholars and intellectuals.
c. Finally, it will be helpful if you can send us scanned or digital copies of book reviews (make sure to include a precise bibliographical reference) which are as critical or more so than the book review written by Professor Weigend – so as to illustrate that his review is mainstream and unexceptional. You may use the same email address

I think I'll send in Brian Barry's review of Nozick, and perhaps Okin on Sandel or Nussbaum on Butler.


How About, "They've Earned The Right To Act However They Want"?

Alas, it's not just that this silly Newsweek article attempts to establish mistress etiquette, it's the latest example of someone attacking Elizabeth Edwards for not responding to being betrayed in the right way:

His wife was "Saint Elizabeth," who suffered on through the death of a child and an incurable-cancer diagnosis to help her husband do good. Now she looks like an artful manipulator, ruled by vengeful hysteria.
Well, first of all, the last time I checked she did suffer the loss of a child and was diagnosed with bone cancer, and I'm enough of a softie to even think they remain relevant when one is tempted to pass judgment on her behavior. I trust that the sexism inherent in saying that a woman who reacts with some measure of emotion when she finds out that her husband is cheating on her is ruled by "hysteria" is self-evident, and if any of her interactions with campaign workers would be worthy of notice if they were the work of a male campaign operative I'm not aware of them. And, to repeat what I've said before, I remain puzzled by people who think that adultery is serious enough to disqualify a man* from public office, but if his wife is visibly upset about said adultery she must be completely nuts.

*Well, not any man. Lacking the fine-tuned moral sensibility of a Villager, I remain unclear about why Edwards is worse than Hitler, while America's Mayor (TM) -- who not merely cheated on his wife but seemed to take malicious pleasure in humiliating her and their children in public -- remains a respected public figure and (by the media) presidential candidate.



Paterson not running for re-election as governor. Apparently, it's a long way down responsibility road.

One thing worth noting is that, while it will get much less attention (especially nationally), the scandal that seems to have ended Paterson's political career would in any rational world be considered much more serious than those that have presumably ended the political careers of the likes of Mark Sanford or John Edwards. (Or, although the commercial transaction makes it slightly trickier, Elliot Spitzer.) Without getting in to moral comparisons, abusing the powers of your office to protect a domestic abuser strikes me as much worse than consensual adultery from the standpoint of one's fitness to stand in office.


Outliers to the fore!

>> Thursday, February 25, 2010

Because I teach rhetoric, not statistics, I chose not to have my students run standard deviations and what-not on the results of their final surveys. (Discipline-specific research classes further down the line will teach them the correct arcane maths to perform upon their data.) Instead, I thought I'd teach them how to present their oversimplified results in a professional manner, i.e. how to couch the results of their small surveys in language that acknowledges the limitations of generalizing from scant data. Since the majority of their citations came from the Ed Diener-edited Journal of Happiness Studies, that seemed like the best place to filch examples from. But what I found there dismayed me as both an academic and a former baseball player.

My baseball career was not illustrious: I was a defensive specialist whose slugging percentage mirrored a batting average that occasionally threatened to break the Mendoza line. Despite rarely making contact and having no power to speak of, during the summer of my junior year I slugged a Ruthian .640 and flirted with a .500 batting average ... for 52 non-consecutive at bats against pitchers whose deliveries I knew intimately from having played behind them for three seasons.* To extrapolate my true talent from that five-game series would be the height of folly for the simple reason that the sample size would be hilariously small. Even for something as statistically quantifiable as hitting ability, a data set of fifty-two captures nothing of statistical significance.

Or does it? Because today I learned that I could have been the greatest hitter in the history of the game: the aforementioned journal considered the results of a survey of fifty-two people important enough to warrant publication. If that's all that's required to establish statistical significance in academia, it should be more than enough to demonstrate the same in a silly children's game. By those standards, proof of the illustrious career I would have had can be derived from the self-reported data above so long as I include a paragraph like this one in the "Discussion" section:

The study has limitations which must be taken into account when findings are interpreted. According to common statistical guidelines, the present sample size was small, resulting in modest effect sizes, so the findings should be viewed as preliminary, and requiring replication in a larger sample. Interpreting this evidence is by no means straightforward, but the way we interpreted our findings were consistent with the theoretical position we entertained. In sum, preliminary investigation indicates that Scott Eric Kaufman likely would have been the best hitter in the history of professional baseball.

So my assignment for my students is to isolate ten examples of the rhetoric of dubious-but-professionally-acceptable hedging in the Journal of Happiness Studies and employ them in their discussion of the results of their surveys. If their pool of 52 students happens to contain two homosexual women of African-American descent who are also on the dean's list, they can generalize about the academic achievement of all African-American lesbians so long as they couch their conclusions in the speculative rhetoric found in the journal. This may seem irresponsible of me, but remember that my purpose here is to teach them how to write well and read critically, and if they're parroting the prose of established scholars and learning to mistrust certain rhetorical tics, I've done my job.

*I went something like 26-52 with 10 doubles, all of which were pulled down the line. They tipped the breaking pitches they couldn't throw for strikes, so I sat on the two-seamers that never really sank, started swinging outrageously early and yanked them down the line.

Update: Read the comments before you decide to SMASH. Apparently my undergraduate statistics teacher pushed the anecdote-is-not-data argument a tad too enthusiastically, so my annoyance with a sample size of 52 is unjustified. Fortunately, as they say: Blogs is for learning.

Update 2: Despite the manner in which I flubbed the discussion of sample sizes, the exercise described in this post had its intended effect (which just goes to show why I should not be teaching statistics, as was suggested in the comments, and stick to what I know how and was trained to do).


Where Do You Draw The Bright Line?

For the second time this week, the Supreme Court issued a ruling applying its famous Miranda ruling. A lower court had ruled that because two years had elapsed between a suspect first invoking his right to ask for a lawyer and his decision to waive his Miranda rights and admit a crime, his confession was admissible. This holding is reasonable, and the fact that crime he confessed to was molesting his 3-year-old son made the outcome overdetermined: the Supreme Court's unanimously held that the confession was admissible. The Court also held that an initial invocation of Miranda rights essentially expires after 14 days.

Two concurrences in the case, however, point to an interesting issue about how to apply broadly-worded constitutional rights. When applying a right like the Fifth Amendment's right against self-incrimination, some (often called "minimalists") argue that appellate judges should issue narrow rulings based on the particulars of a case, while others argue that appellate jobs should create clear rules that will govern a wide array of cases. Antonin Scalia is the Court's strongest advocate for creating "bright-line" rules that minimize judicial discretion. (It should be noted that this doesn't make preferring non-minimalist jurisprudence is inherently "conservative"; Miranda itself is also an example of the Court replacing a standard that gave wide discretion to other judges with a relatively clear rule.) Scalia's position is attractive in many respects, and all things being equal I'm inclined to agree that it's preferable for the Supreme Court to set rules that are as clear as possible.

The twin concurrences of Stevens and Thomas, however, do point to a paradox inherent in Scalia's approach. One of the most important selling points of creating clear rules is that giving excessive discretion to lower court judges can make their rulings essentially arbitrary. One of the most significant drawbacks to the approach is that the rules themselves can be arbitrary; as Thomas argues, the Court "does not explain why extending the Edwards presumption for 14 days following a break in custody—as opposed to 0, 10, or 100 days—provides the 'closest possible fit' with the Self-Incrimination Clause." And the potentially arbitrary nature of the rule can be seen by comparing the opinions of Stevens and Thomas. The former argues that the 14-day period is probably too short and fails to consider other relevant factors, while Thomas at least implies that invocations of Miranda rights should expire as soon as custody is broken. This isn't to say that the Court's decision to create a clear rule is wrong, just that any means of applying a general right to specific cases has its strengths and weaknesses.


I now expect to be the Arthur Bellow-Goode Distinguished Chair in Funny Book Studies someday.

Rob Farley might not have been born to burgle, but perhaps what we study influences what endowed chair we earn. Consider the curious case of Dr. Ed Diener:

Professor Diener is listed as one of the most highly cited psychologists by the Institute of Scientific Information, with over 12,000 citations to his credit ... [His] research focuses on the measurement of well-being; temperament and personality influences on well-being; theories of well-being; income and well-being; and cultural influences on well-being. He has edited three recent books on subjective well-being, and a 2005 book on multi-method measurement in psychology. Diener is currently writing a popular book on happiness ...
What endowed chair does this expert in psychological metrics of happiness hold?
Ed Diener is the Joseph R. Smiley Distinguished Professor of Psychology at the University of Illinois.
Of course he is.*

*I'm sure this joke has been beaten into the ground in the circles in which Diener runs, but those circles are neither these circles nor my circles.


Establishment media discovers establishment critics are really DFHs after all

Stop the presses!

I swear if I read one more thing about spoiled Baby Boomers not understanding the gloriousness of The Greatest Generation I'm going to move from dissent to resistance.

Also, 1968 was 42 years ago, so anybody much under 60 wasn't really around for "the Sixties." Listening to Disraeli Gears in your dorm room in 1982 doesn't actually count, as I know from first-hand experience.


Galactica Actual?

The best event I attended at ISA this year wasn’t the panel on pirates, nor the panel on war law, nor the panel on blogging, nor the gender and security discussion group, but Saturday morning’s panel entitled “Galactica Actual: How Battlestar Galactica Explains World Politics.” A series of fascinating and witty papers detailed representations of genocide, heterosexuality, techno-determinism, and religion in the show.

Unfortunately the panel turned out to be misnamed however, for none of the papers really spoke to the question of whether BSG has an impact on actual world politics. (Iver Neumann’s paper I mentioned earlier on religion was really about the impact of Mormon doctrine on the show, not the other way around.)

Admittedly, the papers weren't really trying to do that kind of explanatory work - the panel really was misnamed - so this isn't a criticism as much as an observation. But reversing the independent variable does lead to some very interesting questions.

Consider this speech by Edward Olmos last year at a United Nations panel discussion on Battlestar Galactica:

Here, Olmos is critiquing and attempting to reconstitute the concept of “race” in United Nations discourse, and through the United Nations, in global discourse. And in so doing he was drawing directly on his identity as constituted by the show, and also invoking his authority as constituted by the show. But the question for social scientists is, to what extent did this speech have an impact on world politics? Can we identify an influence on reshaping the discourse of race at the UN? Are there other influences? How would we know?

Similarly, Dan Nexon prefaced his remarks as a discussant by pointing out that BSG is by far the most frequent topic of discussion around his DoD cubicle. To what extent does the salience of the show in defense circles influence our national conception of grand strategy, civil-military relations, assumptions about gender normativity in the military, dilemmas regarding the field of military robotics, the ethics of interrogations in detention, and other pressing security issues directly dealt with on the show?

Arguably, questions of this type – and a serious research agenda on Battlestar Galactica as a cultural artifact – needs to go beyond interpreting the show and begin studying the effects of those interpretations on national political institutions and global society as a whole.

This raises all kinds of interesting methodological questions to which I don’t have answers. Perhaps my colleague Patrick Jackson, who appeared on the panel and has a forthcoming book on how to do social science, will have some ideas. Over to you, Prof PTJ.


An Olympics Rah-Rah Buzz Kill

No, I'm not discussing a Canadian perspective on the ignominy of losing to an inferior team, in their national sport, during the Olympics, in Canada. Though that must still sting a little, even following their destruction of the Russians and concomitant return to their rightful place as gold medal favorite.

Back in July I marvelled at the marvellous claims made about the new Cowboys stadium as an economic stimulus package for, well, the entire planet. I took the logical leap in speculating that the 2012 Olympics to be held in London will stimulate the solar system, at bare minimum, and hopefully the entire galaxy. It had better considering how much it's going to cost.

It seems that the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver will cost $1 Billion (Canadian) for security alone (presumably shared across federal, provincial, and municipal levels) and potentially cost Vancouver and British Columbia something around $1 Billion in addition due to faults in another much-vaunted public-private partnership. Hell, even NBC will lose around $200 million in broadcasting the games (and considering what I've read of NBC's coverage, they deserve it).

This is to be expected. Every Olympics since Montreal in 1976 has been susceptible to haemorrhaging public money utilizing new and innovative techniques. Some have broken even or been profitable (I haven't found a breakdown), but Sydney 2000 and Athens 2004 both lost heaps of cash. While Montreal can bask in the delight of having settled their tab in 2006, Athens stands out as ironic given the current mess of Greek finances. Nobody has the foggiest clue how Beijing did in 2008, but the safe bet is on a huge deficit.

Yet, history is not a guide to the Olympic hopeful.

This all makes my mouth water at the prospect of England earning the right to host the 2018 World Cup, for which my current home of Plymouth was inexplicably selected as a host city. Of course, a new stadium will have to be built as Home Park currently seats only 19,500. While the local newspaper is breathless in its reporting that serving as a host city "could net Plymouth a staggering £292 million", I'll refer readers back to my post on the Cowboys: the economic empirical literature seldom if ever supports these claims. However, what is necessary is that Home Park would need substantial expansion to a capacity of 46,000, which while projected to cost around £50 million, promises to give Plymouth the "Wembley of the West".

A 46,000 seat stadium for a club that has never been in the top division, now five points from safety in the relegation zone of the second tier (this despite a recent good run of form where Plymouth have not lost in three matches), and is currently averaging under 10,000 per match.

Clearly, Plymouth should build on this success and bid for the Olympics.


But There is No Pirate-Terrorist Nexus

>> Wednesday, February 24, 2010

David Axe at War is Boring critiques the latest Navy strategy document for conflating piracy, terrorists and national insurgents.

There are no proven links between Somali pirates, based in northern Somalia, and the major, “terroristic” insurgent groups operations based in southern and central Somalia. Anyway, Shabab and pirates are separate, even conflicting, entities. Shabab even promised to fight pirates who last year seized a Saudi oil tanker carrying $100 million in crude. Wider, more entrenched Islamic control in Somalia could actually decrease piracy, as it did during the previous Islamic rule three years ago. Piracy thrives in the absence of law and order, and law and order happen to be exactly what Islamists are good at.
He's right, as far as I can tell. In fact I just sat on a panel at ISA where three separate paper authors made this point.

In addition to the facts-on-the-ground that Axe mentions, there's also the basic distinction in the strategic and moral logic of the two types of actors. Jihadist networks are attempting to disrupt and overthrow the global trading system; pirates rely on it for profit. Jihadist networks aim for spectacular media coverage; piracy works best when it's under the radar. Jihadist networks aim to kill as many people as they can with each attack; pirates, at least in the Gulf of Aden, are after ransom and make every effort to spare lives.

Given the difference in the preferences of both sets of actors, it stands to reason (at least from a strategic choice perspective) that very different policy approaches are needed to deal with them.

[cross-posted at Current Intelligence]


Tanker Stuff

Let me recommend the excellent work of Amy Butler at Ares on the new Air Force tanker contract bid situation. Long story short, Northrup-Grumman/EADS/Airbus is claiming that the new requirements are tilted so heavily towards Boeing that the former may not submit a bid. It wouldn't be terribly surprising if this were true; Boeing has been trying to buy the process since before the first tanker announcement hit. Obviously, if Airbus withdraws its bid, the DoD loses a substantial amount of leverage over Boeing. Again, this is rather the point of buying the process.

I'd like to thank the good folks at Tanker USA for keeping me updated about all this through the unsolicited e-mails that they keep sending. I can't seem to find the organization on the web (although they appear to have a twitter feed), but they're pretty obviously a piece of Boeing astroturf. At least they get the rhetoric right; it's all about not sending US jobs overseas, and democracy, and national security, and so forth. I think that this re-emphasizes the fact that fears about the influence of "foreign corporate money" rather miss the point; US corporations pose a far greater danger to US democracy than do foreign corporations.

For what it's worth, I asked some tanker pilots yesterday at the Air Command and Staff College about the competition, and they said that they preferred the Airbus 330 hands down. Not a scientific survey, of course, but worth thinking about.



Col. Mustard, among many others, accuses Democrats of being hypocrites for planning to use the majority rules votes that govern pretty much every other legislature in the world to pass health care reform in the Senate. This kind of procedural tu quoque is useless even if accurate because it almost always cuts both ways. Which makes it especially pathetic that the charges are simply false even on their own terms; since Democrats aren't planning to use the "nuclear option," but rather a banal procedural tool more often used by Republicans, they've got nothing. Sad.


All Things Olympic Open Thread

And in anticipation of what should be the highlight of the Games, hopefully Joe Thornton is being told to channel the spirit of John Tonelli.

Most importantly of all, let's hope there aren't any (&%%&* shootouts.


Single Women Can Be Happy

Lori Gottlieb's argument about why women should panic if they're not married at some particular age makes claims that are not consistent with the data. It's also a prominent example of the Maureen Dowd fallacy, i.e. blaming feminism for idiosyncratic relationship problems that have nothing to do with feminism. And I think Ruth Franklin and Liesl Schillinger make an even more important point: Gottlieb doesn't seem to consider the obvious possibility that being in a crappy relationship is substantially worse than being single. And as Franklin says, especially for women failure to consider this is not merely suboptimal but potentially dangerous.


What Norms Should Guide Academic Bloggers?

As Rob mentioned already, I spoke at an ISA panel on blogs and the academy last week. Key questions included whether or not blogs matter for policy, to what extent academic blogging is reshaping the profession as a whole, and how to mitigate the perils of blogging especially for junior faculty members. (The background paper for the panel was an article I co-authored with Dan Drezner. It won’t be published in International Studies Perspectives until this summer, but it’s in the ISA paper archive if you want to check out the current version here.)

Anyway, Stephen Walt pointed out that the blogosphere remains an essentially lawless place. Although Dan has written before about some emerging norms of blog etiquette, I think it’s safe to say that adherence to these so-called “norms” are hit and miss among political bloggers, including academics. They’re also often up for debate – remember the uproar last year over whether or not the institution of anonymous or pseudononymous blogging is good or bad for the blogosphere. Joseph Nye left us with a set of questions about what academic norms in the blogosphere should look like.

Having already used up considerable time during discussion playing a YouTube video for illustrative effect, I yielded my time to the other panelists on that question, but here’s how I’d answer it today:

Academic bloggers should acknowledge their brokerage position between the academic world and the public, and they should strive to set a good example for both communities. Vis academics, this means modeling the ability to communicate complicated concepts intelligibly. Scholars should be unafraid to do so with wit and even snark at times. Vis non-academics, scholars should model the ability to communicate in an intelligent, fact-based way that respects the right of others to disagree, that enhances deliberation instead of polarizing, and that raises the level of public discourse instead of lowering it.

And though I hardly live up to the ideal of "intelligent intelligibility" in this long-winded and not-very-snarky post, these are the strategies I will strive for as I blog here and elsewhere.


No War Over Oil (in the Falklands . . . )

The British are searching for oil just off the coast of some small islands far away from anywhere, though I understand that Argentina is relatively near by, thinks the Falklands go by some other name, and are, in fact, theirs. They are bemused that the British are drilling, baby.

International law on the issue is sketchy, which is about as far as international law ever really gets us (please correct me if I'm wrong). However, in terms of self determination, the population of roughly 3100 would probably opt to remain a British protectorate. Hell, sarcasm doesn't work here -- it wouldn't be close. Argentina might get five or six votes. While Argentina claim that the Falklands are an archaic colonial outpost, I'm not sure the definition of colony is consistent with a population who wants to remain British. Under that definition, Alaska could be considered a colony (Hawaii is a much better example, but there's greater humor value in using Alaska).

Of course, there is also that small issue of the 1982 war between the UK and Argentina. 28 years on, neither the Royal Navy nor the RAF really have the capability to match that campaign. It won't get that far, now that Hugo Chavez has weighed in with his own idiosyncratic diplomatic skills . . .


Today At The Court

>> Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Some thoughts on the Miranda-application ruling handed down today.


Esteemed architecture critic Warren Ellis on the new US Embassy in London

I think perhaps this building says a little more than it was intended to. In fact, let’s admit it. IT’S A FORTRESS WITH A FUCKING MOAT. It doesn’t say "welcome to a little piece of America, one of the best ideas the world ever had and a country that welcomes the tired and poor and afraid." It says "if you even look at us funny we’ll pour boiling oil on you from the roof. Raise the drawbridge! Release the Mongolian Terror Trout!"



Thinking About Gender and Security Studies at ISA

Among events I attended last week at the International Studies Association Annual Conference: an informal discussion on the relationship between IR feminist theory and security studies, organized by my Duck of Minerva co-blogger Laura Sjoberg. Some of the questions posed to the participants in advance: What (if anything) can feminist theory teach security studies? What (if anything) can security studies teach IR feminism?

My key answer to the first of these questions has typically been: feminist theorists can show security folks how a gender lens can help solve problems that matter to security studies.

The foreign policy community and defense establishment gets this, I think. The US Army has recently begun requiring all soldiers, male and female, to undergo resiliency training so they can learn to “talk about emotions” as a bulwark against morale problems, suicide, domestic violence and divorce. Top Pentagon brass are urging the Obama Administration to repeal the “don’t ask don’t tell” policy not just because “it’s the right thing to do” but because the discharge of numerous gay and lesbian servicemen and women has deprived the military of key assets.

What the foreign policy establishment often doesn’t get is how to do "gender" well. This is because their efforts to craft more gender-friendly policies are themselves so based on gender assumptions rather than gender analysis. So for example, the State Department has seized upon “women’s empowerment” as a benchmark for its democracy promotion efforts – with mixed results. I think there’s a tremendous opportunity right now for feminist IR scholars studying gender dynamics in post-conflict zones and the roles of gender discourse in national identity and international negotiations to have an important effect in creating sounder policy options.

The key to having that effect, though, is to speak to the interests of those states involved. The US interest may not be “Iraqi women’s betterment” in and of itself; it may be “effective stability operations.” But if you can make the case that protecting Kurdish women from honor killings or ensuring Shi’a women equal protection under a national constitution supports the broader goal of the “nation-building” then you may have a much better chance of harnessing the support of powerful actors for feminist ends than if you limit yourself to "critiquing the hegemonic discourse."

And this is where my answer to Question Number Two comes in: Security Studies can teach IR feminists how to communicate with the defense establishment more effectively. As I pointed out at the discussion, very few IR feminists I know – (and I am obviously poking fun at some of my own writing here as well) – can utter the sentence “the US needs to revamp its force structure to ensure power projection in anti-access environments” without snickering much less talk or write seriously about the kinds of issues raised in the QDR that was released last month – on terms that are actually likely to be taken seriously by military bloggers, defense intellectuals, or men and women in uniform. Certainly most of Laura’s posts at the Duck do not.

I think this is a shame and that it could easily be changed if IR feminists accept the validity of a genuine exchange with security studies on its own terms, rather than on some asymmetric cross-paradigmatic battlefield.

P.S. Peter Feaver from Shadow Government crashed this discussion and made a few choice points. I hope he blogs about them...

[cross-posted at Duck of Minerva]


Nihilists and Wets

Bart Stupak is happy to blow up health care reform, denying countless people medical care and hence unnecessary illness and death, if access to abortion can't be made more inequitable. Just another reminder, pace Charles Lane, who actually stands in the way of a health care bill.

In other news, Jay Rockefeller now seems to oppose the public option because it would be too "partisan." Yes, it would be a shame if excessive partisanship caused the number of possible GOP votes in the Senate for health care legislation to go from zero to zero. (And, yes, this really is a case where Obama deserves considerable blame for a lack of leadership.)


Belly of the Beast

Today I'm at the Air Command and Staff College at Maxwell AFB in Montgomery, Alabama. I'm speaking on one panel and in two seminars. No idea what the topic might be. Full report tomorrow or the next day.


Slightly Brainier Notes from ISA

Some initial tidbits from conference papers I read or heard presented while AWOL:

1) At a panel on pirates: Isaac Kamola: The recent securitization of Somali piracy is a pretty big mystery given how few vital interests are at stake. Peter Andreas pointed out that it's therefore also a mystery that no major IR journal has published a serious IR paper on this topic yet.

2) At a panel on war law: Sebastian Kaempf quoting Charles Law of UC Berkely: "Going to war actually saves US troops' lives." (Relative to gun violence, car wrecks etc associated with life on the civilian front.) Still trying to track down the original study that shows this is true to see how the risk assessment is computed.

3) At the Battlestar Galactica panel: Iver Neumann has written a paper arguing Battlestar Galactica is all about Mormonism. (Check out the full paper in the ISA Archive.)

[cross-posted at the Duck]


Congratulations! Friday Night Lights has leveled up.

>> Monday, February 22, 2010

I have no actual proof that Peter Berg, Brian Grazer and David Nevins—the production team responsible for the NBC drama Friday Night Lights—play role playing games, but having watched the first season of their show, I have a hard time believing that they don't. Solid narrative involves character development, that's a given; but rarely is that development so abrupt that it seems as if the characters have reached a new level. For example, when the paralyzed former quarterback, Jason Street, teaches the new quarterback, Matt Saracen, a fade pattern that Saracen insists he lacks the arm strength to throw, his first two attempts prove that he does, in fact, lack the arm strength to throw that outside fade. Then, as if throwing it two times earned him enough experience points to level up, Saracen hits his receiver's outside shoulder not once, not twice, but consistently, and for the remainder of the season.

I initially thought this phenomenon was limited to the acquisition of greater physical gifts, and chalked it up to the production team's desire to show improvement without having to regularly resort to montages; but as the season progressed, it became clear that this logic also applied to the character's emotional and intellectual development. For example, when the wildly irresponsible Tim Riggins first encounters the annoying son of the single mother who moved in next door, he treats the child like all wildly irresponsible teenagers treat annoying third-graders; then, on a day when he is spectacularly hungover, Riggins converses with the boy and temporarily fortifies his Intelligence attribute enough to provide him the mana required to cast an ensouling spell, which he does, resulting in a permanent +1 bump to his total magicka.

Has there ever been another series in which character development was this aggressively tiered?


Five Things I Learned at ISA

Apologies for the long absence during my foray to the wireless-dead-zone of the New Orleans Riverside Hilton. Brainier post-ISA posts to arrive as soon as I’ve settled back in with the kids and dealt with those angry students in my class who believe good grammar is only important in English classes.

But meantime, here are a smattering of "insights" from the ISA conference:

1) Academic conferences get a great deal more fun as you get closer to having tenure.

2) It is very hard to find good vegetarian food in New Orleans. Even harder to find good vegetarian food service.

3) The International Studies Association is a very, very white organization. Nobody talks much about this. They do like to talk about how male and how heterosexual it is.

4) If in an effort to out-geek your geek friends you plan to show up to a panel on science fiction and world politics in full Colonial dress, beware of purchasing costumes on the Internet and having them shipped to your hotel - or at least, be prepared to improvise. (Lesson learned. Lt. Starbuck would never wear skin-tight leather pants and high-heels...)

5) Joseph Nye likes my "Blog Wars" video. Snap.


When We Define Our Politics Primarily Through Loathing

This is mildly amusing. Jamie Kirchik:

Just when you thought Joe Lieberman couldn't frustrate and perplex liberals any further, he is going off to become chief sponsor of the most significant piece of socially progressive legislation that Congress will deal with this year.

Myself, I don't find it frustrating at all that Holy Joe has decided to sponsor DADT-killing legislation. Perplexing, yes; it's bloody difficult, from day to day, to try to figure out precisely where Holy Joe's Independent Moral Compass is going to lead him, but it's generally sensible to bet on "evil." In any case, however, I suspect that the central problem is that Jamie is mirror-imaging liberals. Jamie has made a career of anti-liberal contrarianism; he's not terribly bright and doesn't have any ideas of his own, but when he can manage to successfully figure out what progressives think, he astutely takes the opposite position. While this doesn't differentiate him from most other contemporary conservative journalists, he is almost striking in his emptiness; there's literally nothing there beyond the hatred for whatever he believes liberals want. As such, it's very hard for Jamie to understand that anyone could be motivated by an actual policy concern. Most progressives, however can distinguish between a policy they like (ending DADT), and a politician they don't like (Holy Joe Lieberman).

Conservatives.... not so much. Indeed, (and this is just a crazy thought experiment) I suspect that if liberals came out against something as nasty as, say, torture, that conservatives might even be for it...


Does "to Rob" Require Some Kind of Physical Coercion?

Doesn't this imply that I should have become a burglar, or at least a stick-up artist?

I recently came across a psychological study showing that Americans tend to choose careers whose labels resemble their names. Thus the name Dennis is statistically overrepresented among dentists, and the ranks of geoscientists contain disproportionately high numbers of Georges and Geoffreys. The study ascribed these phenomena to "implicit egotism": the "generally positive feelings" that people have about their own names. I wonder whether some of the Dennises in dentistry school ended up there by a different motivation: the secret wish to bring arbitrary language in tune with physical reality.


Don't Count Your Money While You're Sitting at the Table

>> Sunday, February 21, 2010

While I can understand the enthusiasm about the first American win against Canada since 1960, I think prudence dictates leaving this kind of post until after the medal round.

Still, the game amplifies two points that could be seen before the tournament. One the one hand, the Americans aren't as good player for player as Canada or Russia, but Miller is as good as any goalie in the world right now, which makes the Yanks as live an underdog as they looked tonight -- one can see something like the Czechs in Nagano happening. On the other hand, the game won't comfort any Canada rooter who (like me) was concerned about the team dipping into its nostalgia file. It's pretty hard to argue that at 37 the immortal Brodeur is as good as Luongo. But it's even more clear that Brodeur's former teammate and fellow aging player of immense career accomplishment Scott Niedermayer (-17 this year) isn't close to being an elite defenseman anymore, but seems to be on the ice at crucial moments. (This isn't just about age, of course; the unlikely American star Rafalski is 36 too, but unlike Niedermayer is having an excellent year.) They're certainly good enough to win anyway -- and playing these declining first-ballot Hall of Famers is nowhere near as egregious as, say, going with a washed-up Todd Bertuzzi in '06 -- but these marginal choices mattered tonight and may keep mattering.


Glenn Reynolds suggests defaulting on the federal debt as a way to balance the budget

>> Saturday, February 20, 2010

Reynolds will probably claim he was joking, but he seems to forget that a lot of people these days aren't getting the joke.

I have a vague memory of some Werner Herzog film set in Wisconsin in the winter, in which a couple of developmentally disabled fellows are sold a Winnebago RV even though they have no money. It's repossessed and sold at an auction during an incredibly bleak midwinter afternoon. In the course of the auction one of them turns to the other and says something like, "You know, I thought we might have to pay for that thing one day."

UPDATE [SL]: His response is actually worse than Paul guessed. Needless to say, it contains no defense of his idiotic idea on the merits, but does claim that Obama is "trying to turn the United States into Zimbabwe." (This is even more hilarious when you remeber that Reynolds calls Bartlett's substantive response "intemperate.") Let's leave aside the problems with comparing a program that would leave the United States with a smaller state than such failed states as Canada, the UK and Germany to Zimbabwe. If running deficits makes you Robert Mugabe what does that make Reynolds, who favors upper-class tax cuts (they allowed him to buy a six-burner grill, so they must be good public policy!), many more ruinously expensive wars, and as far as I can tell no non-trivial specific spending cuts?


Sarah Palin's Murphy Brown Moment?

Of course, it's Family Guy, not Murphy Brown, which is suitable for the new century.

Like any right minded curious individual with a shred of a sense of humor, I'm a big fan of Family Guy. Indeed, for my first 18 months or so on facebook, Brian was my profile picture (because, well, I guess I identify with a cynical, lecherous alcoholic dog, but at least he talks) until my partner insisted that I have a picture of me instead of some cartoon dog. What was she thinking?

I'm not going to weigh into this more than superficially, but in my quick read, the balance of sympathy is squarely with the cartoon, and not the cartoonish ex governor of Alaska.


Stop the Presses!

Apparently, defense lawyers may have represented people accused of crimes. This is truly shocking in its own right, but here's something more shocking: they're being permitted to work in the Obama administration! Oh the humanity!

I suppose it's difficult for anything else to be the dumbest winger faux-scandal of the week given the assertions that anti-communist books about communism being in the White House library prove that Michelle Obama is a Maoist, but York sure has given it an Olympic-caliber effort.


ISA Blogging Panel Redux

Alex Parets live-blogged yesterday's ISA panel on blogging, policy, and the political science discipline. Check it out. I should further note the blogs of the various questioners and participants, including Steve Walt, IPEatUNC's Will Winecoff, Peter Feaver, and Duck of Minerva's Stephanie Carvin.


Al Haig

A life like Al Haig's couldn't help but to touch so many people. I most fondly remember his failed 1988 campaign for the Republican nomination for President, where he managed to place substantially behind Pete du Pont in the Iowa caucus. In comments, feel free to share your own memories of Al Haig...

Point of trivia: This drops us to nine living Secretaries of State. I'd give roughly a 50% chance of getting back to ten, but only about a 10% chance of breaking the record of ten living SecsState.


Great Moments in Misprision; or, Why I always thought Lost in Translation was an anti-racist film, not the other way around.

>> Friday, February 19, 2010

I'm having one of those moments in which I wonder whether I was watching the same movie everyone else was. At Racialicious, Thea Lim discusses Complex Magazine's list of The 50 Most Racist Movies You Didn't Know Were Racist, and while the majority of the list disappoints (on account of me already knowing the overtly racist films listed were racist), some of the entries simply baffle me. Foremost among them is Bulworth, Warren Beatty's film about the centrist penchant to use blacks as electoral pawns—Bulworth won't die in defense of his principles, but he will commit suicide for a lobbyist payday, at least until he realizes that black people are really people, at which point American political logic demands he be assassinated—but not far behind is Sopphia Coppola's Lost in Translation, which Lim glosses thus:

[T]he whole point of the movie disgusts me. As in, the nauseatingly self-indulgent focus on the deep, brooding subjectivity of two Anglo-Americans, against a backdrop of depthless Japanese people who, with their hilariously absurd subcultures, bizarre language and affinity for bowing, are all exactly the same.
Lim then quotes a section about self-involved white cluelessness from Restructure!:
[W]hat disgusts me about Lost in Translation is that it centers on the lives of white people in a country where they are the minority, and it suggests that the social isolation that comes from being a minority is something that could only happen to white people.
I'm not sure why either writer assumes that the experience Coppola describes in the film is something that can only happen to white people, because to me, the film seems to do the exact opposite: it demonstrates that white Americans are emotionally and intellectually unprepared to understand the non-majoritarian social experience. So maybe it does describe an experience that can only happen to white people—but only because white people are alone in being unable to recognize their privilege for what it is. Neither Bill Murray's "Bob" nor Scarlett Johansson's "Charlotte" have given a moment's thought to the plight of non-whites in American society, so the events of the film represent their first encounter with any form of double-consciousness—even one in which their whiteness still affords them privileged social stature.

The film begins with caricature and absurdity because these characters are incapable of understanding Japanese society, or their roles as others in that society understand them to be; e.g. Bob is baffled by the arrival of an escort because he is unfamiliar with the sexism endemic in traditional Japanese business culture. Charlotte knows one of her roles—that of the tourist in exotic Japan—and indulges in some Orientalist fare, visiting a temple to watch some monks chant. Their relationship, such as it is, is only possible in an environment in which their previously stable and unquestioned identities have dissolved in the face of their own otherness. I took this to be a criticism of American insularity and arrogance, not an assertion of its eternal provenance.

To an American audience, it may seem as if the Japanese in the film are the foreigners; but from the Japanese perspective, the film registers as a story of two unmoored Americans bumbling through a culture they can't understand on its own terms. Unlike most films in which the white interlopers have adventures with the natives, Lost in Translation never demands its audience believe that white culture is inherently superior. Bob and Charlotte are not bequeathed the preternatural ingenuity or Rooseveltian ruggedness so common among American characters abroad; they are, in fact, technologically illiterate representatives of an ostensibly superior culture who, in a reversal of the minstral trope, sing the songs of their ancestral homeland, England, from whence Brian Ferry and Roxy Music came.

All of which is only to say, I never realize how contrarian my reading of the film was until I read the Racialicious and Restructured! posts, because I had always thought Lost in Translation a remarkable feat: for white audiences, it only works as a film if they force themselves to imagine a subject position in which they are foreign but not superior—a situation in which white characters are not there to civilize noble savages or ravage native cultures with tongues, guns, or both. These are privileged white people who are, to quote "More Than This," "hopefully learning" that their identities are contingent upon a social structure and that that social structure is different, but not superior, to the one in which they currently find themselves. For non-white audiences, I can understand why this revelation would feel underwhelming; after all, Bob and Charlotte are learning late in life what they've known, exquisitely, for the entirety of theirs.

The Japanese in the film are depthless, but only in the first act—as the Americans learn more about Japanese culture, these characters become slightly less inscrutible. Were this the sort of film in which the white anthropologists almost instantly acquire intimate knowledge of the primitive culture in which they're immersed, the film would have closed with scenes of Bob and Charlotte conversing with three-dimensional characters in fluent Japanese; but because the pair's otherness and ignorance is so great, it ends with Japanese characters who are only marginally rounder than they were when it began. Put differently: if we were to impose this narrative onto, say, The Last Samuri, Tom Cruise would have arrived in Japan, been thoroughly confused by what he found, then fled the country feeling alienated and unconvinced of his cultural superiority.

Which, I think, would have been a good thing. In all seriousness, how many movies subvert white America's innate sense of superiority on the sly?


Ronald Reagan: Soft on terrorism

Scott Horton interviews Will Bunch about his book Tear Down This Myth. Bunch's most interesting contention is that, on terrorism-related issues such as torture, "collateral damage," and treating terrorism within the confines of the ordinary criminal justice system, Reagan was far to the left of the contemporary GOP (Bunch doesn't put it this way but, if his description of Reagan's positions is accurate, he was also to the left of Barack Obama on these issues).

5. Ronald Reagan signed the Convention Against Torture, and his Justice Department indicted and prosecuted a Texas sheriff for waterboarding. How can his views about torture be reconciled with the current Republican pro-torture dogma?

It’s important not to nominate Reagan for sainthood in the arena of human rights. His “Reagan Doctrine” in Central America, leaving the fight to anti-Communist thugs and death squads that the then-president called “the moral equivalent of our Founding Fathers,” is arguably the gravest moral failing of his tenure. That said, back on U.S. soil, Reagan was far to the left of the 2010 Republican Party on issues such as torture. The convention that he signed in 1988 holds that there is no circumstance of any kind that permits torture, which certainly would include the 9/11 aftermath and related anti-terror efforts today.

But it goes even deeper than that. As I noted in an early 2010 blog post: “Reagan would not have approved of drone-fired missile attacks aimed at killing terrorists; as president, he several times rejected anti-terrorism operations for the sole reason that civilians would have been killed by collateral damage. In 1985, he surprised aides such as Pat Buchanan by ruling out a military response to a Beirut hijacking for fear of civilian casualties; Lou Cannon reported then in the Washington Post that Reagan called retaliation in which innocent civilians are killed “itself a terrorist act.” And the idea of trying terrorists in military tribunals as opposed to a civilian court of law? The Reagan administration was completely against that. Paul Bremer (yes, that Paul Bremer) said in 1987, “a major element of our strategy has been to delegitimize terrorists, to get society to see them for what they are — criminals — and to use democracy’s most potent tool, the rule of law, against them.”

It’s almost tragic—when you go back to the very recent history of the 1980s—when you realize how seriously an American consensus on human rights and the power of our criminal-justice justice system has been trashed by the modern conservative movement. It’s going to take a long time to get that back—although the words that Reagan and his aides left behind could help America get past this.


Just To Clarify

People arguing that civilian trials are never appropriate for terrorist suspects are arguing from a position well to the right of the Bush administration (at least the 2006 version.) And if you have less respect for due process than the Bush DOJ...I think this point makes itself.


Cafeteria Catholics

Apparently torture is on the menu over at the National Review...


British Pub Culture on the Rocks

As several of our august LGM colleagues are attending some high-falutin International Relations junket in New Orleans (as well as one of my colleagues from my department here at Plymouth), I figured I'd lighten the mood a bit with a post on . . . beer. It is Friday, after all.

Before I became an academic, I was an accomplished amateur brewer, two pursuits that ran in parallel until I got my Ph.D. and moved to Europe. I was also a judge and a critic, and had (have -- it's still live) a beer review page on the web that I updated between 1994 and 2003. Indeed, my first two "peer reviewed" articles were on beer, not political science, and they remain proudly on my cv (if at the very end). OK, those are my bona fides out of the way; suffice it to say I know my way around a pint.

One thing I love about Britain is the pub culture, and this isn't limited to just those pubs that are featured in the annual CAMRA Good Beer Guide, but the culture and concept of the "local", which is not as common in the United States. Here, most pubs are locals -- populated by a core of regulars who are known to all and especially to the staff. There are three pubs in Plymouth where I am always warmly welcomed, and there is a certain comfort in that. Furthermore, at nearly every pub, it's not only accepted, but expected, that if you're standing at the bar, you strike up a conversation with those near you. You're expected to be social; pubs are social spaces. This is less prevalent in the U.S. -- though it does exist most everywhere in the States; I immediately think of the Big Time Brewery in Seattle, where I spent the better part of my graduate career (indeed I listed it in the acknowledgments of my dissertation), and the Tugboat Brewery in Portland, Oregon. But it's the exception, not the norm.

This is one of the cultural features that make British pubs appealing. Sadly, they're dying a slow death, which prompted CAMRA to present a report to Parliament discussing the "vital social role of the community pub". According to the British Beer and Pub Association, pubs are closing at 39 per week in the UK. This is down from a high of 52 during the first half of 2009, so at least it's attenuating (pun explicitly intended). However, in March of 2008, the closure rate was only 57 per month.

When on Monday my good friend Tandleman posted this about his local, the Tandle Hill Tavern (north of Manchester) I became concerned. It's not a death sentence, but considering the local climate of the business, and the remoteness of the Tandle Hill, it is cause for concern. I've been to this pub numerous times over the years (indeed if one were to do a google image search on it, there appear to be several of me, including this one: Tandleman himself is on the left, I'm on the right) and it exemplifies all that is good about British pub culture.

Politically, what can be done? It's well known that the smoking ban in England and Wales has hurt business, but that's not going to be rescinded. What can be done is an adjustment to tax policy. Pubs are being hammered by super markets that sell booze as a loss-leader. Why go to your local when you can go to Tesco and get a 12 pack of Stella Artois (nicknamed "wife beater" on these islands) for the cost of three or four pints in the pub? In nearly every annual budget since I moved to the UK, the government has raised the duty on a pint. This can be reversed (although in the current fiscal climate, I can't see how any British government can justify lowering any tax) and greater weight of responsibility accorded to store-bought crap lager.

I'd drink to that. As it's Friday, pushing 5pm, it's time to do my part to keep the culture alive. I'm about to leave my office and make the treacherous 30 second walk to my local here, to join in with several colleagues for a post-work pint.

Or five.


IR Blogging and Policy

In about an hour, Charli and I will sit on a roundtable titled "Do International Relations Blogs Inform Practice? Theory? Both? Neither?" with Stephen Walt, Dan Drezner, William Winecoff, and Joseph Nye. I will make a half-hearted effort to live-tweet the proceedings from my personal account. Regardless of the success of the live-tweeting effort, both Charli and I should have substantive reaction posts later today, tomorrow, Sunday, or at some future unspecified time.


We is a serious news organization what demands you retract tweets now.

>> Thursday, February 18, 2010

The following sentence actually appears in a post on the site of a darling of conservative media:

We have identified yet another tweet we would like [Roger Ebert] to retract[.]
The "yet another" is delicious, as it indicates that Andrew Breitbart has initiated a campaign to compel people to retract their tweets. The vicious slur of a tweet in question reads:

Breitbart's bright bulbs know that's a lie:
We have established that we differ on the last sentence, but his claim he did not know that “teabaggers” is a pornographic term until the MSM (mainstream media) told him is provably false. We know it’s false because in 1998, Prof. Ebert reviewed a film containing this scene[.]
How can you not respect a corporate non-entity who insists on granting Ebert a doctorate for the sole purpose using "Prof." as a diminutive? More to the point: how can you not pity the poor Breitbart intern who, I hope, is pretending to misunderstand Ebert's patently sarcastic remark in order to score points with his boss? Because that's what this all adds up to: some minion being forced to impersonate a tweet-retracting mountain camel in order to impress Andrew Breitbart. Because this is what impresses Andrew Breitbart: the retraction of tweets in which people call tea-baggers by the doubly ignorant name they chose for themselves.*

The demand to stop calling tea-baggers the name they gave themselves is, remarkably, not the dumbest part of this tweet-retraction crusade: that would be the faux-outrage Pam Meister musters upon learning that Ebert's tweets don't rise to the level of "informed commentary." She suggests, with a straight face, that the lack of sustained commentary by Ebert is a grave failure of character, not a feature inherent in the Twitter's 140 character limit; and she does this, of course, without acknowledging the vast archive of his writing freely available online. Granted, Meister might not be any better acquainted with Google than her fellow tea-baggers, but the point remains: she thinks Ebert should write tweets with more characters than Twitter allows, and until he does, she will be very, very cross with him.

Which is terrible, terrible news, as the odds of someone as soft as Ebert weathering this tweet-retraction campaign are slim indeed.

*They can pull down their site in an effort to deny it, but Google remembers that they were the ones who started using "tea-bag" as a verb, so they need to live with the consequences of their laziness and sexual stolidity. Liberals didn't claim the Founding Fathers threw tea-bags into Boston Harbor, nor were they the ones who insisted on compounding the error of that anachronism by naming their movement without performing a precautionary Googling. For a movement so concerned with personal responsibility, you'd think someone in it might take some.


When is crashing a plane into a building in an act of explicit political violence not terrorism?

There must be some fundamental difference between this guy and the 9/11 terrorists (besides sheer scale), but somehow I can't quite put my finger on it.

(CNN) -- An Austin, Texas, resident with an apparent grudge against the Internal Revenue Service set his house on fire Thursday and then crashed a small plane into a building housing an IRS office with nearly 200 employees, officials said.

Federal authorities identified the pilot of the Piper Cherokee PA-28 as Joseph Andrew Stack, 53.

Two people were injured and one person was missing, local officials said. There were no reported deaths.

A message on a Web site registered to Stack appears to be a suicide note.

See iReport photos and videos from the scene

"If you're reading this, you're no doubt asking yourself, 'Why did this have to happen?' " the message says. "The simple truth is that it is complicated and has been coming for a long time."

In the lengthy, rambling message, the writer rails against the government and, particularly, the IRS.

See text of the note (PDF)

The building into which the airplane crashed is a federal IRS center with 199 employees.

Two F-16 fighter jets were sent from Houston as a precaution, but federal authorities said preliminary information did not indicate any terrorist connection to the crash.

"We do not yet know the cause of the plane crash," the Department of Homeland Security said in a release. "At this time, we have no reason to believe there is a nexus to terrorist activity. We continue to gather more information, and are aware there is additional information about the pilot's history."


Giving Away The Show

The first thing one is likely to notice about the Mount Vernon Statement is that a manifesto supported by many John Yoo-era Republicans asserts that their constitutional conservatism "applies the principle of limited government based on the rule of law to every proposal." Sure. But Jack Balkin notices something even more striking -- the statement is not willing, even on the most abstract level, to commit itself to any form of equality or equal protection of the law. So I think David Frum isn't going far enough when he posits this hypothetical about a voter examining the statement:

  • Do you generally agree with conservatives – but wonder whether there is room in the conservative world for nonwhites, or the disabled, or the secular-minded, or the gay? The statement does not say “no,” but it does not say “yes” either.

I dunno, I'd have to say that the lack of mention of equal protection or any equivalent principle as a major value is a pretty clear "no."


Kevin Smith and MeMe Roth

I have a piece in The Daily Beast on the Kevin Smith Southwest Airlines incident. What happened to Smith, who was apparently aribtrarily thrown off a flight for being too fat, is the kind of humiliating incident to which bigger than average people are subjected to constantly. Some day they're going to start getting mad.

(MeMe Roth's birth name was Meredith. I wonder if anyone has ever pointed out to her that changing your name to MeMe is like sticking a post-it note on your forehead saying "I have narcissistic personality disorder.")


You shall not crucify mankind on a cross of fiat currency...

Faster, South Carolina, faster!

South Carolina will no longer recognize U.S. currency as legal tender, if State Rep. Mike Pitts has his way.

Pitts, a fourth-term Republican from Laurens, introduced legislation earlier this month that would ban what he calls “the unconstitutional substitution of Federal Reserve Notes for silver and gold coin” in South Carolina.

If the bill were to become law, South Carolina would no longer accept or use anything other than silver and gold coins as a form of payment for any debt, meaning paper money would be out in the Palmetto State.

Pitts said the intent of the bill is to give South Carolina the ability to “function through gold and silver coinage” and give the state a “base of currency” in the event of a complete implosion of the U.S. economic system.
The bill itself is a model of hilarity that justifies a return to 19th century monetary policy by insisting that such a move would be an essential first step to "protect the safety, health and welfare of the people of this State." If I read it correctly, the bill would not only permit the good people of the Palmetto Republic to use gold and silver coins minted outside the United States, but -- given that the US hasn't really minted silver for general circulation in four decades -- it would essentially require that everyone pay their state income taxes using dental amalgam and novelty coins. Since the former are somewhat impractical for voluntary use and the latter are exceedingly rare and valuable, I would expect that South Carolina will rapidly spiral into a lawless hellhole, governed by ferocious criminal gangs specializing in hit-and-run tooth harvests and numismatic home invasions. Only time will tell if South Carolina's Black Friday gun-tax holiday -- the fruit of Mike Pitts' last great idea -- will help restore public order.


Why does everyone on the first season of 30 Rock have such a huge head?

>> Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Because it's not impolite to bump your own post down, I'll throw up this link to me wondering how the titular embiggening happened (or was allowed to happen) on network television.* I'm really looking for mechanics, as I can see the effect, but I'm not sure exactly what transpired to create it.

*This being related to my general interest in visual rhetoric, as I thought it was an intentional gimmick along the "actors and their inflated egos" line until I realized that everyone was being shot that way. Please save all the-blog-jumped-the-shark-here posts for something more substantially vapid.


The sort of cultural criticism you notch all the way to the top.

We here at Lawyers, Guns and Money are solidly in the Roman Polanski belongs in prison camp, but we are also rank pedants, and the following sentence is something up with which we shall not put:

When Franz Kafka wrote “The Metamorphosis” he may have had someone like Roman Polanski in mind.
Because Jeffrey Jena is a very serious thinker who "has been seen on Murder, She Wrote, Hunter, appeared in shows with Jenny McCarthy and Weird Al Yankovic and in several films including Raising the Dead with Allison Eastwood," we must consider the implications of this literary reference very seriously, as there is no chance he inserted it solely to make people think he reads important books.

Jena's complaint is that, much like Gregor Samsa in Kafka's novel, Roman Polanski rapes children—only Samsa did nothing of the sort. Let us try again: Jena's complaint is that, much like Gregor Samsa in Kafka's novel, Roman Polanski awoke one morning to find himself transformed into einem ungeheueren Ungeziefer, a monstrous vermin—only that would absolve Polanski of moral responsibility for his crimes, as he had no hand in his transformation and, more importantly, no one expects monstrous vermin to abide by human law. Jena's complaint must be that, like Gregor Samsa, Roman Polanski is not being treated by the Swiss courts in the manner their American counterparts treated John Wayne Gacy, who murdered thirty-three people—only that makes no sense at all. We are officially stumped. We have no clue what Jena hoped to accomplish by dropping that reference. Unless:
[Pierce] Brosnan went on to say that in order to work with Mr. Polanski, “You have to know your onions.” I am not really sure what that means but it tells us two things about Mr. Brosnan, he’s not great with metaphors and he may be a little dense. Brosnan is the poster boy for the term “limousine liberal.” He claims to have become an American citizen during what he terms “the atrocity of the Bush years” to help his family “endure the hypocrisy and stupidity of the man’s power.” His power is stupid? His power is filled with hypocrisy? How do you figure that?
Of course! Jena was priming the Pump of Irony. Had he not dropped in a completely random, utterly irrelevant reference in that first sentence, readers may have breezed over his criticism of Brosnan without realizing how ironic it is when someone with Jena's linguistic facility criticizes someone else for mouthing an infelicitous metaphor. We're not sure whether we should thank him or file this away with all the other examples of cultural conservatives whose knowledge of the culture they aim to conserve is as wide and deep as a playa lake.


Why ISA is Different from the Olympics

Blogging will be light over the next week while I and many colleagues descend upon the city of New Orleans for the International Studies Association Annual Conference – or, as I explained cheekily to my students yesterday, the “Olympic Games of IR geekdom” – a gathering where scholars from different schools of thought and methodological perspectives contend for the limelight, pitted against one another through the force of sheer intellect and passion for the study of world politics.

Upon further thought however, this probably ranks among the worst metaphors I’ve ever employed, for if there are any international relations scholars as megalomaniacal about their craft as are the athletes skating and boarding and luging their way toward gold up in BC, there is certainly no one in the academy cheering them on to such excess the way NBC has done the past few days.

Consider the coverage pair-skating competition, which I watched night before last before departing. So maybe it’s a sign of devotion to their careers that gold-winning pair-skaters Shen Zue and Zhao Hongbo had to forego normal married life to live out of separate dorm rooms as they traveled to competitions; and that sweethearts on separate pairs of the US figure-skating team spent Valentine’s Day competing against one another on the ice; and that pair skater Yuko Kvaguti gave up her Japanese citizenship to pursue her Olympic dream. But valorizing the fact that Yao Bin, coach of the winning Chinese team, devoted his life to coaching a gold-medal winning team to the exclusion of being present for his son’s birth and childhood? (Because of his travel schedule, his wife named the child “Far Away” in Chinese.) I read such tales as signs of the dreadful interpersonal imbalance inflicted upon athletes and their families by the vissitudes of Olympic culture, but to sports commentators, these stories apparently signify Olympian credentials and global greatness.

I cannot imagine the President-Elect of the ISA, David Lake, being introduced to give his address this Thursday with commendations for neglecting his children, partner and country in the service of his commitment to the study of world politics. On the contrary, the ISA as a profession now includes childcare at its conferences, publishes articles in its journals on how to make the tenure, promotion and publishing process in the profession more amenable to families, and includes panels and workshops on work-life balance.

Why I wonder do we valorize athletes for exhibiting the very dysfunctional Type A tendencies that most of us are lobbying in our own professions and personal lives to counteract?

[cross-posted at Duck of Minerva]


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