27 December 2007

R. I. P.

Merry Christmas, world.


12 December 2007

Good news?

A week ago in Slate, Christopher Beam ("Have You Heard the Good News?") parodied three brief blurbs on the nonexistence of an Iranian nuclear threat (I'm willing to stick out my neck and call it that), the "ending" of the stem cell debate, and the slowing spread of the AIDS epidemic. Beam adds rosy predictions about: the end of socialism in Venezuela, the gross overstatement of genocide in Darfur, and so on.

Beyond the humor, the Iranian news is really the one bright spot in what is shaping up to be another, well, terrible month for, uhh, humanity.

From my morning headline browse:

- Of course, the new Balkan powderkeg. Explosion set for circa February 2008.

- The bombing in Algeria. "Al Qaeda" in Algeria is really nothing new, but this seems to represent at least a resurgence.

- The bombing in Beirut. They still don't have a proper government.

- The fiasco that is shaping up in Bali. I hope the governments at least understand that we basically have until 2015 to arrest greenhouse gas emissions increases.


07 December 2007

These people also definitely need to read Aquinas

Even more urgently than the previous guy.

(via CT)


06 December 2007


These people need to read Aquinas.


05 December 2007

An important metaphysical detail, though unfortunate for the fish

G. W. Leibniz, from New System of Nature (1695):

I begin with the distinction that must be drawn between a substance and a collection, or an aggregate of several substances. When I say "me," I speak of a single substance; but an army, a herd of animals, a pond full of fish (even if it is frozen solid with all its fish) will always be a collection of several substances.


04 December 2007

For those of you who are not Aldous...

...but would still like a sense of what it's like to visit the culinary Mecca that's Spain's San Sebastián, Slate is running a series of articles (with slides) by wine columnist Mike Steinberger on the town that has the most Michelin stars per capita in the world.

Highlights so far: Juan Mari Arzak's spice chamber, and the fact that the exterior of Restaurante Arzak wouldn't look out of place in Brooklyn, as Steinberger suggests, or failing that, Etobicoke.


03 December 2007

One of the mysteries of life

Why are "Your Pictures", just advertised as a weekly collection of photos sent in by BBC News online readers, not specifically on the Scottish section, always from Scotland? Click through the photos from a given week, and go through previous weeks - the locations are always Caledonian.


01 December 2007

Breaking the "Democratic" Peace?

So, it's happened. Turkey has attacked the PKK in Iraq (possibly without actually crossing any borders), and the Turkish government has authorized the army to take cross-border action - not quite carte blanche but a significant move from the October parliamentary vote. Bruce Russett, Michael Doyle, et al. probably won't lose too much sleep over this one, though (Iraq being barely a state, much less a democracy).


30 November 2007

Bad News for Climate Change

They're sitting down in Bali to try to save the world. And while I'm completely on board with more drastic emissions cuts, the inclusion of the U.S. and developing countries, and transfers to poor farmers and low-lying countries to help offset the ill effects anthropogenic climate change has already produced, in the priorities the EU is bringing to the table I also see the expansion of folly.

Still, in addition to helping poor countries deal with climate change, the UNFCCC also wants to help them take their share of the burden. While industry in most developing countries still doesn't emit much carbon dioxide relative to the world's biggest polluters, deforestation has developed into a major problem. Not only do healthy forests serve as "carbon sinks," absorbing carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen in its place, but deforestation in tropical countries now accounts for 20 percent of the carbon released into earth's atmosphere each year. A study released in August concluded that current programs to cut emissions, including the Kyoto Protocol, provide little incentive for leaders of tropical nations to keep their forests intact.


One such incentive would be to funnel funding to nations with tropical forests through an international carbon trading market. In such a system, richer, higher-polluting nations would be able to fund the preservation of carbon-rich forests to offset their greenhouse gas emissions. The European Union is piloting a similar emissions trading scheme, and according to UNFCCC, trading on that market was worth $30 billion in 2006.
We've already seen perverse effects of the carbon trading regime, most notably perhaps in the short-run, often chaotic, and under-regulated mechanism of planting trees as carbon offsets.* Now to add the preservation of existing forests to this scheme strikes me as a little disastrous; that is, it is a measure that will be taken to give the short-term appearance of "doing something" that is actually a suboptimal long-term solution.

If this brief blurb accurately describes what policymakers might have in mind, what I see is some sort of institutionalized "save a tree" scheme in which emitters will be able to purchase parts of, say, the Amazon rainforest to save it from destruction. Now, I have nothing against such a "save a tree" scheme and think it an unadulterated good that individuals and companies should spend money on such activities. Should such activities be allowed as carbon "offsets" though? I think it is prima facie an idiotic idea that we should equate preventing the destruction of an existing tree with reducing emissions - this is, after all, what the carbon offset scheme is supposed to be doing.

Sure, deforestation contributes to global carbon emissions and preventing it would then lower emissions, just as planting new forests is supposed to increase the sequestration of atmospheric carbon (moving us in the opposite direction). But to institutionalize paying states or owners of forests to protect forests as an "offset" makes the assumption that the forests would otherwise completely disappear. This is not a terrible assumption, given the alarming rate of deforestation.

However, it allows a rich state (say, Canada) to "offset" its emissions by X over the period of the agreement (say, between 2012 and 2020). Canada buys from Brazil enough trees cover X emissions. But over that 8 year period the requisite number of trees have a probability P < 1 of being cut down (P being the "natural" rate of deforestation in Brazil compounded over the 8 years). Do you see what I'm getting at? Brazil's emissions from deforestation, without the credit scheme, would have been PX < X.

Obviously this is so perverse that it can't be what policymakers have in mind. But then what do they have in mind? The obvious solution would be to discount the value of the offset so that Canada can only offset its emissions by PX, now where X represents emissions from cutting down all the trees Canada would buy. But then we have to decide on a baseline rate of Brazilian deforestation (P). Would we hold Brazil's rate of deforestation to an average over a prior period, and then allow countries to pay Brazil to deforest itself at a lower rate? Would they allow countries to pay Brazil not to cut down trees that they "otherwise would"? I just can't think of a satisfactory way to do this without creating perverse incentives and effects. I'm sure the technocrats who have developed carbon offset schemes have a very acceptable answer in mind. Still, I'd be pleased to hear somebody explain how this might work (admitting that my rudimentary reasoning above might be completely off base).

Besides, whatever the effects of such a scheme, it would not itself create new incentives "for leaders of tropical nations to keep their forests intact." It only creates incentives for rich countries to preserve tropical forests; it assumes that the leaders of "tropical" countries are indifferent between taking the cash and cutting down the trees. The only way to create incentives for anybody to quit deforestation is to bind them to an emissions-reduction scheme (or a more targeted anti-deforestation scheme).

*One of the PhD candidates in my department makes this argument as part of a larger project.


28 November 2007


It is probably a symptom of my feeble and simple mind that I find the following video endlessly fascinating:


27 November 2007

Guerilla restoration

This is the most outstanding thing I have seen in considerable time.
(via Crooked Timber)


23 November 2007

Canada: the worst of the Commonwealth

So, with Australian PM Howard on the ropes in an election he's likely to lose, Harper is the only remaining Commonwealth leader refusing to bind his country to greenhouse gas reductions. Maybe we should be a bit more charitable; after all, we can't be sure whether, if Pakistan hadn't been suspended, Musharraf would have been in Canada's corner. Great.


20 November 2007

Tomorrow's itinerary

A long journey tomorrow: below the fold. As you can see, public infrastructure in North America is abject. But I will be able to get considerable work done.

1. New Jersey Transit: Princeton Shuttle ("Dinky")
5:26 Princeton
5:31 Princeton Junction
2. New Jersey Transit: Northeast Corridor
5:37 Princeton Junction
5:51 New Brunswick
5:55 Edison
5:59 Metuchen
6:04 Metropark
6:20 Newark Penn Station
6:27 Secaucus Junction
6:42 New York
3. Amtrak: Maple Leaf
7:15 New York
7:39 Yonkers
7:58 Croton-Harmon
8:37 Poughkeepsie
8:52 Rhinecliff-Kingston
9:15 Hudson
9:45 (ar)-10:00 (dp) Albany-Rensselaer
10:23 Schenectady
10:40 Amsterdam
11:39 Utica
11:53 Rome
12:40 Syracuse
1:58 Rochester
2:56 Buffalo-Depew
3:09 Buffalo-Exchange St. Sta.
4:10 Niagara Falls, NY
4:30 (ar)-5:45 (dp) Niagara Falls, ON
6:07 St. Catharines
6:25 Grimsby
7:00 Aldershot
7:15 Oakville
7:44 Toronto


High Stakes in Canadian Trade Policy!

Algerians rejected potatoes unfairly, PEI exporter says


18 November 2007

Numbers numbers numbers...

I've been following the polling for the Democratic race for the presidential nomination ever since this absurdly long campaign got kicked off. Now, I know next to nothing about American politics, but that doesn't seem to stop anybody else from gassing off about it, so here's my best shot, in brief.

First of all, many of the polls continue to include Al Gore in the results. This strikes me as somewhat confusing. Numbers are available excluding Al Gore as well, and those numbers by my calculation are not simply a matter of dumping every respondent who chooses him; rather, when they knock him out of the numbers they must be distributing his supporters' second choices. I don't think it makes sense for pollsters to keep including Gore as an option, except as a normative choice to keep voters thinking about global warming (which, unfortunately, I don't think is the primary motivation here).

Judging by a lot of recent polls, even pooling Obama and Edwards' supporters together doesn't top Clinton, though I presume it puts them within the margin of error. On that note, the N for most of the polls seems pretty small, so the margins of error are substantial (for example, the most recent Gallup poll has a margin of +/-5%). All this to say: Obama'd better hope that some of the other candidates throw in the towel and jump on his bandwagon before too many primaries are decided. As for Edwards, if I were facing these numbers I'd start shopping around for a VP deal.

On the plus side, maybe, for Obama (and Edwards), the latest polls show undecideds at 9, 10, 12, 14, and so on. In general, these numbers are for Democrats/Democratic leaners. Which brings up a final interesting point: I hope somebody is watching the numbers for all likely Democratic primary voters in the states that allow Republicans to vote in Democratic primaries.


16 November 2007


From Der Spiegel's Zeitgeist section, a heartwarming article about Petra, the black swan that last year "fell in love" with... a plastic white swan paddle boat.

I love that Der Spiegel online has a Zeitgeist section. (As far as I can tell, this is only a feature of the International, English language part of the website.)


14 November 2007

Best in the World!

Normally, I'm not particularly sympathetic to Canadian regional resentment of any kind, but when I see articles like this, I get it. The actual content: the City of Toronto will announce a plan to refurbish Union Station, which will be good for commuters but which is not as elaborate as a previous proposal by architect Jack Diamond. But no, we can't just say that. Diamond advises us that "we could have probably the best interconnected, intermodal transit terminal in the world, in the centre of Toronto". City councillor Gloria Lindsay Luby is a bit more modest, proposing only that "Union Station should be recognized as the premier multi-modal transportation hub in North America".

This fits Harry Frankfurt's definition of bullshit in the strictest sense. Unlike the liar, who knows and consciously disregards the truth, the bullshitter has no regard for truth or falsity at all. None of these people actually thinks that it's important or likely that Union Station be a "better interconnected, intermodal transit terminal" than the newly refurbished St. Pancras, or the Gare de Lyon or Shinjuku Station. Nobody is going to actually assess whether Grand Central Terminal and Penn Station are only North America's "secondary multi-modal transportation hubs". The point is not to assert anything meaningful at all, but merely to express the feeling that Toronto is better than you. You only have to read the Toronto Star or listen to our city council for five minutes before you'll hear an utterance of this kind. No wonder the rest of the country is sick of us.


13 November 2007

It Takes One to Know One

"Let's face it, there's no whore like an old whore. If I'd been in Bryce's place, I would have been the first with my nose in the trough, just like all the rest of them."

-Former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney on the 1984 appointment of Liberal Bryce Mackasey as Ambassador to Portugal, as reported by CBC journalist Neil Macdonald


Pronunciation and the Art of Faking It*

So, it appears that academics and academic-wannabes including grad students are susceptible to impostor syndrome, also known as that-sinking-feeling-you-get-every-day-because-you're-worried-that- higher-ups-will-realize-you're-an-incompetent-hack. Sometimes the syndrome is no pathology: you genuinely have little grasp of that which you are currently talking about / the article you were supposed to read but were instead blogging / your professor's highly respected research that you just wrote an essay on.

Or, take another case: those sub-sub-subfield-specific terms that are not quite jargon but not far from it, and the pronunciation thereof. There's not quite anything like the feeling of fraudulence that comes from that relatively simple yet sophisticated term that you just stumble over every time you encounter it (often because there is more than one way to pronounce it - one for the vulgar and one for the noble.) "Operationalization." "Constitutive." "Purposive." "Hobbesian." You know what the words mean, damnit. You just can't pronounce them with the easygoing flow of... a non-phony.

*Bears no relation to Strauss, Leo. 1952. Persecution and the Art of Writing. Glencoe: Free Press. (I have not even read this book).


11 November 2007


A few readers have voiced concerns that the majority of posts here at Hoboken Group are incomprehensible. To prove that our blog should be accessible to most of our readership, I submitted the site to a (respectably scientific, I'm sure) online readability test. Its certification:

EDIT: John has noted that the our blog's readability rating seems to be endogenous to... itself. Or, the rating is reactive to our acknowledgment and publicization of it. That is, my posting of Hoboken Group's readability seems to have bumped us up one level of comprehensibility. Therefore:

cash advance


10 November 2007

The rich get richer...

Alumni and friends gather to kick off $1.75 billion campaign
Good to see it's going to the component of the American education system most in need of extra funds.


09 November 2007

The Name of the Rose

On Wednesday, Mississauga city council declared the Hazel McCallion rose - "a pink mini-floribunda with shades of soft white on the petals and a mild fragrance" - the official flower of Canada's sixth-largest city, a bastion of North American suburban culture.

On the same day, Mississauga city council also passed - after an hour of debate and by a vote of 9-2 - a five percent property tax surcharge, on top of a four percent property tax increase.

This in a country where raising taxes is supposed to be political suicide, where Canada's largest city - Toronto - can't lift a finger to increase revenue without it being bitten off.

Hazel McCallion, the Mayor of Mississauga, is 86 years old. She hasn't been pilloried for claiming to need the money - if anything, her fellow suburban mayors are protesting that McCallion's new "Cities NOW" campaign to pry infrastructure money out of the federal government is weakened by McCallion's move to try to Mississauga's budget issues on its own. In other words, they seem to be advocating McCallion deliberately expose the city to financial crisis - which was what everyone was criticizing Toronto Mayor David Miller for doing three months ago.

Hazel McCallion, to paraphrase a quote about Napoleon, is the only politician in Canada - apart from Stephen Harper, and possibly Danny Williams - who wills and acts. If only a few other people in positions of political authority had balls like hers.


08 November 2007


Upon closer inspection, the following do not exist in Columbus, OH:

Club Monaco
H&M (Women's store only, automobile necessary)

There is, however, a Brooks Brothers... at the airport.

(I also believe that I will have a problem with sizing in this state/region/country.)


07 November 2007

Corn (or, How I Learned to Embrace Terrible Public Policy and Love the Crop)

A bookforum post today links to several interesting items on corn and biofuels (and why corn makes Americans fat, why corn makes America evil, why corn is evil, corn evil corn corn corn).

All of the posted stories are worth reading, but my personal recommendation is the Mother Jones teaser (a subscription seems to be required to actually read the article), because of its awesome infographic. You can't argue against a well-composed infographic.


04 November 2007

The day after the recoup


The New York Times says that this is the latest disaster for the Bush administration (and, adds the BBC, the British). Peter Howard seems to agree. Indeed, the state of emergency makes Bush's support for Musharraf look unfortunate if not tremendously foolish. But isn't all of that a little beside the point?

This is probably a good time to worry first and foremost not about how X crisis in Y third world nominally-democratic autocracy affects the fortunes of Western governments. (Though, I can't help adding, the contradiction between what the White House and 10 Downing Street want and the reality in Pervez Musharraf's state of emergency does highlight quite elegantly the remarkable tension facing sovereignty today - a subject that's the quotidian whipping boy of this particularly unimaginative blogger).

We might be mildly concerned that this is at some level a nuclear crisis. We might wonder where Benazir Bhutto will stand in all of this, and how Musharraf will react to her reaction. We might even wonder whether Musharraf will get through the state of emergency (or, at least, whether a mildly democratic Pakistan will get through it). We might want to ask Bruce BdM to figure out how it's all going to go down. All this before speculating on how much this damages Z or W Western government.


01 November 2007

Podhoretz v. Zakaria on Iran

Time to join the bandwagon of bloggers who've posted this video. One does get the sense that Prodhoretz is fighting the last, last, last war (I mean, come on, how long is appeasement going to keep getting the bad rap it does?) Zakaria gives a pretty boilerplate Realist deterrence spiel. Throughout, Prodhoretz seems to miss the point; deterrence and appeasement are simply not the same thing. Of course, Zakaria sort of misses a point as well: what the Americans are doing in North Korea is not (just) deterrence, but also (a bit of) appeasement in the form of (a lot of) fuel oil.

Dan Drezner, while going nowhere near endorsing the idea of attacking Iran, worries that we're not dealing with a situation as simple as deterring Iran, but avoiding spillover into an all-out Mideast arms race and the uncontrolled proliferation that might result.

True enough, the situation with Iran is not Cold War bipolarity - or even a regional bipolarity like India-Pakistan (where, I would be happy to argue while my Realist hat is still on, I think we indeed see higher stability because of nuclearization). Israel's - and the United States' - deterrent threats would prevent Iran from using its potential nuclear capability, but that would not necessarily dissuade Iran's other neighbors from going nuclear as well. And deterrence may not actually prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear capabilities, because pre-emption might not be a credible existential threat. Especially if (admittedly reasonable) positions like Zakaria's are overtly taken by decision-makers.

But does any of this matter? Keeping the Realist hat on for a few moments, even if the whole Middle East goes nuclear, I don't think the world would be necessarily more unstable or that any of these weapons would actually be used, unless the United States or Israel first lose their cool and break the nuclear taboo (Realist hat off, momentarily for rhetoric's sake).

This is true even if Ahmadinejad is actually evil or, in better IR Theoretical terms, a revisionist. If Iran is a revisionist or revolutionary state, whether it or any other non-nuclear Middle Eastern country acquired nukes or not, it will still be deterred from using them, by the assurance of destruction by the United States. Iran can probably revise Middle East politics in important ways, but can't pose an existential threat to anybody. Now, if Ahmadinejad is actually crazy (doesn't value his own existence, political position, his fatherland, or his coreligionists) we have far greater problems on our hands.

So even though, as Drezner says, there's a possibility that some Middle Eastern countries will transform their nuclear energy desires into nuclear weapons desires, nothing seems to say that this is a problem for the world. (Oh, and in case anybody was worried about nuclear terrorism, read this working paper by John Mueller of OSU.) The real policy prescription in all of this - especially if we choose to maintain our (healthy?) level of fear about a nuclear Iran - would be controlled nuclear proliferation. But that's stretching out my Realist hat a bit too much.

Anyhow, in light of all of this, I find this BBC article pretty interesting, all the more so if the initiative had any hope of getting off the ground.

[Edit: It looks like Obama's making more sense on foreign policy, according to this NY Times article. Not talking to leaders has never been a smart foreign policy move. Ever.]


29 October 2007

Judt vs. Rotten

Excerpt from Tony Judt, Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945, Chapter XIV: "Diminished Expectations":

If one strand in the heritage of the Sixties was high-cultural pretension, the other, its intimate inversion, was a hardening crust of knowing cynicism. The relative innocence of rock and roll was increasingly displaced by media-wise pop bands whose stock in trade was a derisive appropriation and degradation of the style forged by their immediate precursors. Much as popular romances and tabloid journalism had once fastened on to mass literacy for commercial advantage, so 'punk' rock appeared in the Seventies in order to exploit the market for popular music. Presented as 'counter-cultural' it was in fact parasitic upon mainstream culture, invoking violent images and radical language for frequently mercenary ends.

The avowedly politicized language of punk rock bands, exemplified in the Sex Pistols' 1976 hit 'Anarchy in the UK', caught the sour mood of the time.
But the punk bands' politics were as one-dimensional as their range, the latter too often restricted to three chords and a single beat and dependent on volume for its effect. Like the Red Army Fraction, the Sex Pistols and other punk rock groups wanted above all to shock. Even their subversive appearance and manner came packaged in irony and a certain amount of camp. 'Remember the Sixties?' they seemed to say; 'Well, like it or not, we are what's left.' Musical subversion now consisted of angry songs decrying 'hegemony', their counterfeit political content masking the steady evisceration of musical form.

Excerpt from John Rotten, Met Podcast, "AngloMania: Tradition and Transgression in British Fashion":
The Sex Pistols have had an enormous influence on fashion, media, in fact everything ever since we first started in '75-'76. Everybody's copied from us, and nobody's really bothered to acknowledge where they took those ideas from. Our ideas came out of the catastrophe that we can call the British Empire falling apart. Royal family, class warfare, and a complete lack of consideration from any government then or since, is what really, really created the Sex Pistols. Out of intolerance came something perfect, like honesty. The lyrics to "God Save the Queen", they may not be eloquent, but they are not ignorant either. They are common sense from a common man. God Save the Queen. I'm neither anarchist nor monarchist, I'm a monanarchist.

The lyrics, as such: God save the Queen/the Fascist regime/it made you a moron/potential H-bomb/God save the Queen/she ain't no human being/there is no future/in England's dreaming/don't be told what you want/don't be told what you need/there is no future/no future for you/God save the Queen/we mean it, man/we love our Queen/God saves/God save the Queen/'cause tourists, their money/and our figurehead is not what she seems/oh, God save history/go save your mad parade/Lord God have mercy/'cause all crimes are paid/when there's no future, how can there be sin?/we're the flowers in the dustbin/we're the poison in the human machine/we're the future/we're your future/God save the Queen/we mean it, man.

To my mind, these lyrics are self-explanatory; if you have no comprehension where I stand on the subject, then you are not really clearly listening. I was brought up in poverty abject, as most people I have ever known were. What the Sex Pistols managed to do was combine children from many different social structures, and created something exceptionally different. We created equality amongst ourselves, and we did this without monarchy or government indulgence.


I'm gonna cut taxes and I'm angry as hell...


22 October 2007

Too easy

Right-wing Facebook is too funny. Thanks to Crooked Timber for pointing me there.


21 October 2007

More Canadians in Kandahar II

From a Canadian Press puff-piece (via the Globe) on anecdotal accounts of the attitudes of about a half dozen Canadian soldiers (and one American Marine) in Afghanistan:

A U.S. marine making a pit stop at a Canadian base brings a totally different perspective.

“The problem with the Canadians is that they always have to be worried about what people think at home,” he says.

“When the Canadians are attacked, they worry about civilian casualties. When we're attacked, we hunt them down and kill them.”
Think what you will about the Canadian Press, the Afghanistan Mission, or this poorly-researched article, but one thing's for sure: if it is really true that the Canadian approach to the mission is to worry about civilian casualties, and the American approach is to "hunt them down and kill them," then there is a humanitarian advantage to our presence, assuming America plans to stay indefinitely.


20 October 2007

Paging Carl Schmitt...

NSPD-51 and Rosenbaum's take on it from Slate.

Just the latest incidence of the ongoing tension between sovereignty and liberalism in international politics. (Am I overly obsessed with a question from this year's IR qualifying exams?)

"Sovereign is he who decides the exception..."

It is the policy of the United States to maintain a comprehensive and effective continuity capability composed of Continuity of Operations and Continuity of Government programs in order to ensure the preservation of our form of government under the Constitution and the continuing performance of National Essential Functions under all conditions.

[...]The President shall lead the activities of the Federal Government for ensuring constitutional government.


Fearing Crime, Japanese Wear the Hiding Place

Quite literally.


19 October 2007

Sarko: How Machiavellian?

There's a problem in his country, and that problem is transport divorce.


18 October 2007

Why Dion Has Problems

1. His deputy's inability to avoid looking evil and treacherous.
2. Belinda's frown says that all is not well.
3. That jacket, tie, and shirt color combination, which has me wondering whether Stephan needs part of John Manley's $1400 per diem. I mean, I know Luke said the Liberals were having money problems, but I didn't think they were that bad.

Wow, Canadian politics is fun!


16 October 2007

At Issue

Allen Gregg is terrible...

...and so is Andrew Coyne.

Frankly, the CBC's At Issue panel is...well...terrible.

Pairing a former Conservative strategist and an avowadly neoliberal newspaper columnist with a reasonable, but fairly centrist, journalist (Chantal Hebert) is not representative of the breadth of Canada's political public opinion. Full stop.

Stephan Dion, bring down the government. Let's hit the hustings: I've had enough of this shit.



From a letter from Gottfried Leibniz to Antoine Arnauld, dated 23 March 1690:

And subsequently I saw the letter from the Reverend Father Mabillon to one of my friends, in which it was said that the Reverend Father Le Tellier's Apology for the missionaries against the practical morality of the Jesuits had given a favourable impression of these Fathers to many, but that he had heard that you had replied to it and that it was said that you had therein geometrically annihilated this Father's arguments.


13 October 2007

Assistant to the Curator

So I started working at the Library and Museum that is undoubtedly one of New York's greatest cultural institutions. My official title is Curatorial Assistant, but the rest of the staff has just taken to calling me "the new Michelle." I'm not sure who the old Michelle was, but I do know that she hasn't been around for six months, so there is a considerable backlog of work to do. My job, essentially the only one I'll ever be qualified to do, is to examine and decipher illuminated manuscripts, mostly books of hours, and pass on my observations to a cataloguing team at the second-closest Ivy league. Pretty soon I'll have handled more illuminated manuscripts than... well than most people. My professor calls it "a foot in the door," but he didn't mention that the door would open automatically with a wave of my high-tech ID tag. Well, the doors I have clearance to, anyhow.

All this is quite glorious, really.


Come on, Dion

Bring down the government over climate change. Make the campaign about it. Al Gore has your back.

I mean - really - can the Conservatives expect to win a majority by running against our strongest sentiments and fears? Perhaps by taking advantage of Liberal weaknesses in Quebec they will pull off another minority, but Dion should be able to rake them over the coals on climate change if he can pull the party together.


12 October 2007



More Canadians in Kandahar

Who knows what it means that Steven Harper appointed John Manley to head a panel on Afghanistan? Moreover who knows what it means for John Manley to have accepted? This is the next play in Harper's book to defuse the increasingly toxic Afghanistan issue, but exactly how is it intended to do so? Is it a deft cut at the Liberals, who might end up seeing one of their party stalwarts backing their opponents? Is it a way to further implicate the Grits in their responsibility for the mission? Or is it simply a stunt that will be spun in all sorts of beneficial ways to the Tories in an upcoming election campaign?


10 October 2007

LiveBlogging the 2007 Ontario Provincial Election

Yes, it's the night of nights you've all been waiting for. The night of destiny. The night of danger. The night the CBC Election Desk will call the result less than an hour into the ballot counting.

That's right. It's election night in Ontario. If you are in the province and eligible to vote, do it now! I'll be liveblogging the results throughout the evening, if anybody's interested...

8:07pm- Polling has apparently been light across the province - the weather probably hasn't helped (it's 11C and raining here in Davenport) but the zombie-like tenor of the election campaign is likely more to blame. WIth recent polls showing the centre-right Progressive Conservatives under John Tory plummeting thanks to Tory's ill-advised decision to support the funding of religious schools, Dalton McGuinty's centrist Liberal party is probably going to win another majority. Probably, but not likely: what with the bad weather and aparent voter disconnect, there might be a few surprises along the way.

8:34pm- If voter turnout is low, the party that stands to benefiit most may be the centre-left New Democratic Party. NDP voters may have an additional motivation to vote as they're generally more likely to support a referendum being run in conjunction with the election that asks Ontarians to choose between the current modified British parliamentary electoral system and a new system, a form of proportional representation. Voters are likely to reject the new system, victim of an aneamic PR campaign and lack of endorsement by media, political and business elites.

8:50pmTuned in to the CBC, and was confronted by a number of cold, scared-looking duffers about to do something drastic off a boat in what looks to be freezing water. A fate worse than having breakfast with the Progressive Conservative caucus tomorrow morning. In fact, a situation that probably fits PC fortunes at the moment - off the deep end.

8:58pm- CBC is now showing people in scuba gear swimming with sharks. I don't think I need to exp bother explicating how perfect this is as a political reference.

9:00pm- And we're on! And...Diana Swain is the host? Man, talk about the CBC B-list!

9:03pm- Oh no. Allen Gregg is a panelist? Alright - the first results are in - ten ridings reporting, and the PCs are in the lead. In six. Apparently the riding of Haldemand-Norfolk has 156 separate hamlets within it. I think I need a drink.

9:21pm- In the early going, the PC vote seems slightly higher than predicted. Of course, when your analysis is based on one poll with 47 votes in it, that's not saying much.

Biggest peeve so far: why isn't the CBC counting the Green vote in a separate category from "Other"? It's neglect bordering on conspiracy. Out of the 7.8% of votes the CBC (and all the major networks, in fact) are lumping as "Other," the Greens have 6.2% of them.

9:35pm- Allen Gregg just called the NDP a "minor party." Someone get the hook - even Chantal Hebert would be preferable.

9:38pm- The CBC Election desk calls a majority for the Liberals, 38 minutes after the polls close. This is always a depressing moment. Never mind that the NDP and the Greens have 10% more vote than in 2003. Allen Gregg continues to insult the NDP. I really need that drink.

9:53pm- The NDP is three seats up despite being behind in several Toronto ridings it currently holds. Hold on to your hats - several seats will probably bounce back and force all night.

10:01pm On CTV, Olivia Chow is getting aggressive flack from an anchor that seems personally offended that the New Democrat vote has increased 4%. I'm going to get that beer.

10:16pm- CBC is interviewing David McGuinty, MP for Ottawa South, and the Premier's brother. "We manage our relationship well," said McGuinty. "My brother the Premier is a disciplined person." Meanwhile, the Green Party has 8.3% of the vote...and no seats. Not to mention no little green bar.

10:25pm- Randy Hillier is appaling. You have no idea.

10:29pm- The Elections Ontario website is currently down due to a "high volume of traffic." It's nice to see that the bureaucrats are hip with this "interweb" doohickey.

10:39pm- More on Randy Hillier. I was once at a press conference featuring Randy Hillier, Jamie Kennedy, and a farmer who advocated drinking unpasteurized milk for health. Hillier, who was President of the Ontario Landowners Association at the time, rambled incoherently about Ayn Rand and the tyranny of government. The OLA, in protest of an Ontario law increasing protection for endangered species, later instructed its members to destroy protected woodlands and wetlands they owned so that the government couldn't, theoretically, confiscate them. That's right: the OLA advocates proactive destruction of the environment.

Randy Hillier is the new MPP for Frontenac-Lanark. Look out, bunnies.

10:44pm- The crowd at Liberal headquarters is chanting "Four more years." Better make it four more beers. Dalton looks cheery, which is hardly surprising, given the result.

10:48pm- Dalton desperately needs a new speechwriter. " We Ontarians have come together with conviction, and we have said: we are Ontario." I am not making this up.

Also, apparently there's a Dalton, Jr. Suddenly those sharks from earlier are looking good.

10:53pm- "We are parents who love our children, and children who need your love." Did I mention four more beers? McGuinty's speech is one of the worst I've ever heard. Ontario Liberal Party, I'd be happy to come on as a speechwriter. You can make it worth my while, I'm sure.

10:57pm- A Hoboken Group colleague has pointed out that Kathleen Wynne's victory in Don Valley West is partially a result of NDP voters rallying behind the LIberals to ensure John Tory's defeat. Why else would the Green Party be in third place?

11:01pm- John Tory looks like he's going to cry.

11:16pm- Allen Gregg continues to make things up about the NDP, which have gained four seats from their result in 2003 (though only one, so far, from the Legislature's dissolution). A bigger windbag has never existed in the annals of Canadian politics.

11:22pm- Howard Hampton looks like he might be drunk. But the CBC has just cut away to talk to the Premier...who can't hear the CBC. And now Allen Gregg is talking...again.

11:24pm- I actually helped write some of the propaganda points that the Premier is spewing in his "interview" with Diana Swain, who would have been more hardhitting if she'd been blowing cotton balls through a straw.

11:30pm- Allen Gregg is outrageous. Apparently taking pictures with Enza "Supermodel" Anderson is a sign of the NDP's weakness? Why? Cause "real" political parties only fraternize with "real" men? The CBC should be ashamed for dredging up a man who's not only biased, but bigoted as well.

11:41pm- I wonder how Peter Shurman, who strikes me as an upright, articulate, principled and reasonable Progressive Conservative and who looks to be elected in Thornhill, will get along with the Randy Hilliers of the PC caucus. I wish the CBC would ask him about that.

11:45pm- Howard Hampton seems to be signalling that he'll resign the leadership of the NDP within the year. I'm all for Cheri DiNovo for Premier in 2011.

11:48pm- So Canada's finished with proportional representation, eh Allen Gregg? It's nice to know that's been decided for us.

12:00am- And the CBC signs off.


09 October 2007

No Comment

A hard hitting blurb from Radar Magazine.

[EDIT: The most interesting thing about the series is that the poll, as of October 9, shows that respondents disagree that "China as an Economic Threat" is overrated.]


06 October 2007

The Inevitable Mearsheimer and Walt Post

So, since the book came out earlier this year, since I am the Hobokenite who nominally studies such things, and moreover since I've been reading the extended version of the LRB article of the same title for class, I think it falls on me to give some sort of comment. And I must (perhaps shamefacedly) admit that I'm spurred to do this by Mearsheimer's appearance on the Colbert Report.

Caveat: I haven't read The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy in book form, but since this isn't a review in any real sense I think that's all right - call it commentary on commentary instead. Warning: this post will inevitably become excessively long.

The argument should be pretty familiar and can be stated in a sentence: United States foreign policy since 1967 has been influenced by a collection of pro-Israel lobby groups and individuals in directions that actually run contrary to national interests. It's not so much this essential argument that has generated controversy, but Mearsheimer and Walt's approach to making it - though to the extent that it has drawn unnecessary vitriol, those reactions have in a funny way simply fulfilled the authors' prophecy that their work would raise charges of antisemitism and all other sorts of hoopla.

Of course, controversy generates sales and run-of-the-mill academic titles don't tend to yield profits, so we can understand that Mearsheimer and Walt are doing something slightly different from the norm to justify their $750,000 advance. All of this to say: we oughtn't read The Israel Lobby as a regular academic tract (and thus should give it the benefit of the doubt in terms of academic rigour, cogency of argument, etc.).

From The New Republic, Jeffrey Goldberg launches an assault on Mearsheimer and Walt's work. Many of the substantive points Goldberg raises are fair ones: the most common criticisms of The Israel Lobby have been about poor research and misreadings of history. But lax scholarship (if the allegation is correct) does not translate into the accusation of antisemitism that Goldberg not-so-implicitly brings on the authors' argument:

Mearsheimer and Walt have set themselves a similar goal [to Joseph Kennedy's cowing of Jewish Hollywood executives]: to convince non-Jews that their Jewish fellow citizens do not have their best interests at heart, and, further, to harass or to rattle or to embarrass American Jews into silence. Their book is not an act of scholarship, but an act of intimidation.
Commending Goldberg's attack, TNR's Jeffrey Herf implicitly compares The Israel Lobby to those "Judeocentric" conspiracy theories that helped shape Nazi antisemitism.

These particular charges hinge largely on reading Mearsheimer and Walt's focus on the Israel lobby as an attack on Jews - which prima facie seems unlikely, since that is the very thing that the authors would be trying assiduously to avoid. Of course there will be a degree of straw-manning in situations like this, but still I'm partially surprised by these kinds of attacks, especially since there seem to be a lot of legitimate substantive grounds on which to refute the argument. I think that those familiar with the longstanding and still-dominant Realist paradigm in International Relations can't have read The Israel Lobby (italicized or in quotes) in the same light that these reviewers have.

Mearsheimer and Walt, in their academic work (and as far as I can judge) view the world in the power-politics terms employed by their scholarly camp. There are important differences between the two, but undoubtedly their common theoretical framework questions the usefulness and advisability of an array of foreign policy choices that do not increase the United States' security or power (the Vietnam War was a favorite target of Realists). The United States' Middle East policy fits that bill, according to the authors, since the degree to which America supports Israel, the "dual containment" of Iraq and Iran from 1991 to 2003, and the 2003 war in Iraq have worked against America's security needs and strategic interests. (I should add in the way of explanation that many Realists don't share the popular view that the Iraq war was about strategic resources like oil.) What, then, could be driving the United States to engage in such unwise activities? Mearsheimer and Walt look to American domestic politics - admittedly not their primary subfield of expertise - and think they've found an answer: the Israel lobby.

There are of course problems in the argument (beyond the huge problems that have led many to conclude that the work is just bad social science) and here is where the authors' fiercest detractors must find their ammunition. First, they set out to show that supporting Israel does not benefit American national security. Especially since the end of the Cold War (or, as Realists should really argue, far before the end of the Cold War) this assertion seems like a no-brainer. Unfortunately, the authors suggest that support for Israel contributed to the motives for the terrorist attacks in 2001, and that the Israel lobby is partially responsible for America's misadventure in Iraq. Of course these suggestions, if true, would be powerful evidence for Mearsheimer and Walt's argument, but since they cannot be shown to be true (or false, for that matter) they are sure to draw attacks. It would be much better to make the more limited argument that American acquiescence to or support of Israel's actions in the West Bank and Gaza helps the recruitment efforts of terrorist groups and to show directly that AIPAC lobbied for the Iraq war - and leave it at that.

Second - and more seriously, I think - Mearsheimer and Walt attempt to show not only that America doesn't have a security interest in unconditionally backing Israel, but that it also doesn't have a moral motivation to do so. Consequently, they have to make the case for the moral equivalence of Israel and its Palestinian and Arab neighbors/subjects. They do this by drawing on Israeli history, making the familiar but obviously controversial claim that Israel's actions as a state have been no better than the actions of its (once or present) enemies. Because their history is contested - and often shaky - and the subject matter very sensitive, this line of reasoning was sure to draw fire. What is more, they didn't have to follow it.

Mearsheimer and Walt's work unfortunately mixes normative and explanatory claims in a way that would be sure to generate the criticism I've cited. To show that the influence of the Israel lobby explains misguided U.S. foreign policy, they think (rightly) that they have to show that national security is not served by this policy, and (wrongly) that they must show that the United States doesn't actually have a moral reason for backing Israel's actions. Walt and Mearsheimer might have shown that the United States is not morally justified in backing Israel, but that doesn't mean that moral justifications don't explain U.S. policy. One can believe, falsely, that one is doing the right thing - and that false belief can be the cause of action. What they have accomplished is to argue that the U.S. ought not back Israel on moral grounds - but Realists going back to Machiavelli would have been able to make that claim without even looking at Israel's (im)moral policies. As Realists, their claim should be simply that moral reasons are improper reasons, and that the country should tend to its security and strategic interests (and so should not unquestioningly back Israel).

In this case, justificatory or moral reasoning can't be separated from the supposed other cause of American policy - the Israel lobby. What sets a state's "moral compass"? Some possible answers include: philosophical tradition, custom, and in a democracy the beliefs of citizens and elites. Or put another way, all sorts of forces - including domestic forces like lobby groups - help construct a state's identity in its external relations. In this light, the Israel lobby and its influence can't be separated from the question of whether America has been acting on moral grounds in its support of Israel: of course it has, and part of what has defined its moral reasoning has been the interaction of domestic interests, including the Israel lobby.

The normative current in Realism has never claimed that states should allow moral considerations to lead to action contrary to security interests - and that's what Mearsheimer and Walt should have stuck to as good Realists. But of course, that argument's not going to sell books. And moreover, it's a pretty bad argument that runs so contrary to what we know about how states act that it would be the Realists that look like they have their heads in the sky, hoping for a world of pure, security-seeking rational actors that they will never see. (Rodger Payne makes this point more convincingly and less facetiously than I do.)

But maybe the confusion generated when scholars engage in more popularly accessible projects such as Mearsheimer and Walt have done is best shown in these lines from Goldberg's review:
When did it become legitimate in American political science to explain complicated phenomena by single causes? Not even the blizzard of footnotes at the end of their book can disguise the fact that it is an exercise in simplification.
That quote is a criticism, by the way.


04 October 2007

WHY am I blogging rather than sleeping at 2:25 am on a weekday?

Because the person in the apartment next to me is playing some Arabic or Middle Eastern music at HIGH VOLUME in the MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT, that's why.


03 October 2007

Ahmadinejad Love Song

To continue the tradition of multimedia blogging:


01 October 2007

Facebook engagement?

In this morning's edition of his biweekly New York Times column, Roger Cohen attempts both to be young and hip and and to dispatch a punchy rhyme, and falls flat in both regards (my emphasis added):

The most critical is a switch from the politics of anxiety to the politics of confidence. Bush and Cheney never emerged from the 9/11 bunker. Their attack-dog snarl alienated a globe asked to step in line or step aside. The expectation of fealty must give way to the entertainment of dissent. The next leader has to be curious. Presidential body language needs to say "I'm one of you." Facebook engagement must supplant fearful estrangement.

Forget real diplomacy, Hillary can just diffuse international crises by adding the relevant leader as a Friend. NATO can be replaced by a Network. And rather than economic sanctions, the likes of Iran and Myanmar can just receive a Poke when behaving badly. Then I'd really be forced to join.


30 September 2007

Storm Troopers in Fashion Mishap

Burmese Boy Scouts

Did it strike anybody else that the Burmese military resemble your typical boy scout troop?


29 September 2007

The game's afoot

I am throwing down the gauntlet:

The first one of us to publish an article in an academic journal gets all Toronto beers paid for, for one year, care of the three others.



27 September 2007

Thanks, Peanut Gallery!

In a copy of Experimental and Quasi-Experimental Designs for Research (Campbell and Stanley 1963):

When such studies show freshman women to be more beautiful than senior women, we recoil from the implication that our harsh course of training is debeautifying, and instead point to the hazards in the way of a beautiful girl's finishing college before getting married. Such an effect is classified here as experimental mortality.
Marginalia left by somebody between book's acquisition by The Ohio State University's library system (1969) and today (2007): "sexism rears its ugly head."


26 September 2007

Other People

Oh hair tossing chiquita,
Browsing Jimmy Choo shoes and turquoise handbags on the Graham Library computer,
While I stew, desperately needing to use MSWord to type up lessons plans,
Shopping, at this university, is not an academic pursuit .

Oh intimidating mature student,
Who looks to pump iron fairly often,
And who sits in my tutorial section sounding smart,
Please believe that I am not as young and callow as I look.

Oh friendly gym-goer,
At least sixty-five and buck naked,
With the locker next to me at Hart House,
Please put on some clothes, and then be friendly!


25 September 2007


In response to a search about a certain (unrelated) event at Princeton, Google draws my attention to the review of the university for prospective undergrads posted at epinions.com:

Princeton University: Review Summary
Your reward for hard work in high school (five stars)

financial aid, atmosphere, academics, focus on the undergraduate

weird grad students


24 September 2007

Making me regret Columbia...

So, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad visits Columbia to make an address and gets a rough reception from university president Lee Bollinger and a whole crowd of protesters.

Now, I know that his pass to address the UN only lets him stray within a 25-mile radius of Columbus Circle, but I sure wish he had come to Columbus, Ohio...


23 September 2007

Reed His Lips

Democratic Leadership Council President and former Clinton domestic policy adviser Bruce Reed (please, for the love of Pete, don't confuse him with Ralph Reed), writes an amusing and moderately pointed blog, "The Has-Been," for online mag Slate.com.

Reed seems to have a bit of a thing for (or against) Mitt Romney, and has been lampooning the Stormin' Mormon and his American-as-apple-pie family at every opportunity. Reed's latest exploit has been to hijack a poorly-received contest organised by the Romney campaign to design a television ad from scratch in support of the candidate. Thanks to the exposure it's received via Slate, Reed's ad is now #1 - it would appear to the chagrin of Romney organisers.

So without further ado, check out "Way!"

Oh well. At least Tagg Romney didn't end up getting tied to the top of the family station wagon.


Thomas Friedman Is an Idiot

So far nothing in this post is that controversial and I plan to keep it that way. Friedman's writing often begs the question: is it better for people to remain ignorant about the world than to be misinformed about it? His latest NY Times op-ed is a stellar example of the puff-pieces that he churns out on a regular basis (and which he has on more than one occasion turned into books).

Exhibit A:

[C]an China really undertake the energy/environmental revolution it needs without the empowerment of its people to a whole new degree — à la the Orange Revolution in Ukraine in 2004?
Mr. Friedman, I know that your article hinges on a pretty cheesy play on colors, but did it occur to you that orange is not really the universal color of democratic revolution? (Did anybody ever hear of orange velvet?) Do you have any real parallels to draw between Ukraine and China?

Exhibit B:
For China, going from communism to its state-directed capitalism, while by no means easy, involved loosening the lid on a people who were naturally entrepreneurial, risk-taking capitalists. It was tantamount to letting a geyser erupt, and the results of all that unleashed energy are apparent everywhere.
Sorry did I just read an appeal to national character? The Chinese are naturally entrepreneurial, risk-taking capitalists? Take note, social scientists: economic man is not only real but he is Chinese. Nobody profit-maximizes like an Oriental, eh Tom?

Exhibit C:
Going from dirty capitalism to clean capitalism is much harder. Because it involves restraining that geyser — and to do that effectively requires a system with some judicial independence, so that courts can discipline government-owned factories and power plants. It requires a freer press that can report on polluters without restraint, even if they are government-owned businesses. It requires transparent laws and regulations, so citizen-activists know their rights and can feel free to confront polluters, no matter how powerful. For all those reasons, it seems to me that it will be very hard to make China greener without making it more orange.
I get it. China's not a clean, green place. Did Mr. Friedman do some digging into the historical record of industrial revolution in other (say, democratic) countries? Was the road to wealth lined with clean-air bills and emissions standards? Is reining in environmental degradation a unique problem for authoritarian regimes, or does liberal-democratic corporatism also present a formidable barrier to regulation? (The answers: No. No. No, yes.)

It's simply a shame that Mr. Friedman's work appears prominently in a widely-read, highly respected publication and is collected into inexplicably popular books, so that impressionable young American students might more easily run afoul of it. For more on Friedman's tomfoolery, Dan Nexon wrote something a while back; his last paragraph says it more eloquently than I have.

And for the record: I try to restrict the ad hominem to responses to anti-rational appeals (to national character, for example).


22 September 2007

Dove Michele?

A friend of mine who rather enjoys the party life is visiting from Italy. He left my place at about midnight last night to go to this club in Manhattan, and is not back yet.

It is 9:15 AM.

He also has my cell phone.



20 September 2007

Wolf Blitzer, Here We Come!

Patriot Media's exclusive offer for Princeton students: Full Basic for just $29.95 a month (for the first 12 months), rather than $56.80. I've just had it installed. Most American TV is garbage; this is probably a waste of money, even with the 47% discount.


Offline / So this is the new year

The first day of classes in the 2007 Fall Quarter at The Ohio State University has come and passed. My upcoming, stress-inducing, caffeine-addled, boilerplate-for-the-most-part quarter shall consist of:

Research Design
Theories of International Relations
Political Obligation
Political Theory from (before) Socrates to (before) Machiavelli (Audit)

So there you have it: from KKV to Christine Korsgaard. Should be a wild time.

In other news, my computer seems to be on its last legs. I shall be shutting down operations in order to try to format it to get some more life out of it.


18 September 2007

Will freedom fries be served?

In my inbox this morning:


September 28-30, 2007
Princeton University

Sponsored by
Princeton University
Leibniz Society of North America
Ecole Normale Supérieure - Lettres et Sciences Humaines
Centre d'Hautes Etudes en Rhétorique, Philosophie et Histoire des Idées (UMR 5037)

This will be the second of two events in a Franco-American collaboration, organized by Daniel Garber (Princeton University), Pierre-François Moreau (ENS-LSH), Mark Kulstad (Rice University), and Mogens Laerke (University of Chicago). The first conference took place on March 15-17 at the Ecole Normale Supérieure—Lettres et Sciences Humaines, Lyon.

The two conferences aim to put in place a truly international group working toward a common project. Organized around a well-defined philosophical and historiographical problem, these conferences aim to establish a forum for the comparison, confrontation, and coordination of divergent historiographical and philosophical national traditions, and thus to reinforce the relations between the scholarly communities in the U.S. and Europe.

The precise scholarly objective of these two conferences is to reevaluate the nature and the importance of the biographical, historical and philosophical relations between these two major figures in the history of philosophy.


Spin That

So, the Liberals lost Outremont. Okay, I promised myself when I started writing this post that I would try to avoid engaging in any political spin at all, but I already have in that first sentence. So to neutralize things, I should also add that the Bloquistes lost Roberval—Lac-St. Jean and the Tories lost in St-Hyacinthe—Bagot. And to quickly come back to polemics: does anybody care about these godforsaken backwaters?

Speaking more generally, should anybody care about these Quebec by-elections at all? (My answer, in my best David Brent: obviously not).


17 September 2007

Bombes en haut de Tehran?

Apparently (the unlikely?) Bernard Kouchner is saber-rattling over the Iranian nuclear program. I wouldn't make too much of such statements. The most that can be said is that the French are signaling to the Iranians that they understand and are prepared for an American attack on a nuclear Iran sometime in the future (if all diplomatic avenues are blocked). That is, there won't be noisy protestations coming from the French - or, I suspect, the rest of the European Union - if Iran completes and tests an atomic bomb and America (or Israel, which I speculate is also likely) responds militarily.

The French don't want Iran to build the bomb and they recognize Iran as an actual threat (unlike Iraq circa 2003). This much is rather obvious; the position should surprise nobody. Nor do I think this is evidence for a "New France." Chirac, before the end of his presidency, had gone much further in suggesting that the force de frappe could be used against a nuclear Iran.


16 September 2007

On Liberty and Education

An article in the Wall Street Journal (from 11 days ago - I apologize for staleness) by Peter Berkowitz restates a familiar Straussian argument: America's colleges have abandoned the values of a liberal education and as a result are failing their graduates and society as a whole. Though the argument may be familiar, brief as it is the article deserves to be read in full - far more so, at any rate, than my response.

Berkowitz's Straussian chops are established by his academic texts, including one on Beyond Good and Evil which I had the misfortune of attempting to read for a seminar last year (misfortune not because of the quality of Berkowitz's text, but the lack of quality of my comprehension). And liberals (that's what we Canadians must call ourselves here in America) will perhaps shudder at his Hoover Institution / George Mason pedigree as well as the appearance of this commentary in the Wall Street Journal.

No matter. As graduate students we are strongly predisposed to reflect on our particular educations and thus on education in general. The Straussian perspective presents, at the very least, a powerful foil.

The common ground of the members of the Hoboken Group, I'm happy to say, is a liberal education at a (privileged) Toronto private school and diverging, unstructured, self-chosen programs at the University of Toronto. Because we partook in most aspects of the classically-grounded core which Berkowitz espouses prior to college, any malformation from the lack of a liberal education in university was mitigated. We are thus more properly positioned to reflect and argue on the value of liberal education than your typical Harvard graduate - according to Berkowitz's position, at least.

If it is true that the program at such a prestigious college as Harvard leaves graduates rudderless and lacking in the essentials of an education, it is doubly true for graduates in the arts and sciences at public Canadian universities such as the University of Toronto. Breadth requirements are a joke - specifically tailored courses in the humanities for science students and vice versa. "The Magic of Physics" is not the worst of it - your philosophy major can get away with taking a philosophy of science (generally considered, to the best of my understanding, a subfield of philosophy) credit to fulfill the science requirement. Apart from one's undergraduate major, there are no required courses - no foundations, no core. This freedom, which Berkowitz implies "uneducated" undergraduates cannot responsibly use, can lead to extreme specialization (say, 3/4 of one's courses taken in Political Science) or lack of direction (a degree cobbled together from specialized but unrelated courses).

Of course, for those devoted to a life in academia, the absence of a core or generalist program - even without a liberal education in high school - is perhaps not such a bad thing. We who are damned to low salaries and onerous research production requirements shall have the opportunity to read and learn far and wide for the rest of our lives.

These two elements from my own experience - a liberal education in secondary school and the prospect of lifelong education - shed some light on the problems with Berkowitz's argument, even if one accepts (as I mostly do, with minor reservation) the value of a canonical, generalist liberal education.

First, why assume that the typical undergraduate (at Harvard or elsewhere) enters college as a blank slate, requiring a broad education to gain the essential knowledge that every educated person possesses? It may be true that today North American secondary schools fail their students even more egregiously than universities do, but to build this assumption into an argument on education seems to give up too much ground. Many high school graduates don't make it to college; many of those who do cannot afford the luxury of four years of generalist learning. If there is an essential "educated person," ideally a good chunk of that essential education should take place in high school. If this essential education is invaluable to liberal democracy, it needs to be available to most of the democracy's citizens - and that means starting and mostly finishing with secondary school.

Second, and similarly, why assume that the role of colleges is to produce well-educated, responsible citizens, who then spend their lives prior to retirement not reading much? Lifelong learning can't and shouldn't be the exclusive domain of graduate students and well-heeled, leisurely elites. If one semester of foreign language training does not an educated person make, four semesters of training should not an educated person satisfy, nor should just four years of broad-based reading and discovery. An argument that restricts education to four years of college denies education to those who don't or can't attend college and to those who are finished with their formal learning. It denies that education can be viewed as a good-in-itself.

I agree with Berkowitz that a well-functioning liberal democracy requires the possession and exercise of responsible reason by far more than a small minority. But the exercise of reason fades soon in those who have stopped learning and cannot exist if liberal education does not begin far prior to one's college years.


15 September 2007

Big Game

It's Saturday in Columbus and that means one thing for me and another for the vast majority of Columbusites: reading Hollis and Smith (for me) and watching Washington attempt to upset OSU in Seattle (for the rest). Okay, I'll recant. I'm hoping for a nice 50%+ (play money) payoff on newsfutures if the upset doesn't happen, and probably I'd watch the game if I had cable...

Of course, with each passing gameday the gap in cable coverage for Big Ten contests grates on the denizens of Columbus and mid-Ohio. The battle is corporate, complex, and confusing, but these are the basic issues as far as I understand them:

The recently inaugurated Big Ten Network wants cable companies to offer their channel on basic cable service and pay $1.10 per customer per month for the privilege (a no-brainer way to optimize profits). The largest cable provider in central Ohio, Time Warner, doesn't want to pay that much and in any case argues that the network has a niche market, qualifying it for expanded packages which users can opt in or out of - transferring the hefty cost to the consumer.

The Big Ten Network's main advantage for a rather indifferent graduate student like myself is that its revenues will go to the members of the conference (I'm not saying that I'll see a stipend jump from TV ads, but maybe they'll add an expansion to OSU's already absurd athletic center.) The network's official line is available here. Time Warner is spinning out its own propaganda against the Big Ten Network. And it's not just a problem in Ohio, where the network is at least in "productive" negotiations with Time Warner.

Luckily (for some), the game today is being broadcast on ESPN anyhow.


14 September 2007

Academics: in touch with the common man

Highlights from my reading lists for COL5040F ("Displacements: From Petersburg to Los Angeles") and HIS1020F ("Cultural Theory/Cultural History"):

  • Tim Cresswell's Place: An Introduction
  • Katherine Verdery's The Vanishing Hectare: Property and Value in Post-Socialist Transylvania
  • Carlo Ginzburg's The Cheese and the Worms: The Cosmos of a Sixteenth Century Miller
  • Anne McClintock's Imperial Leather: Race, Gender and Sexuality in the Colonial Context
  • Thomas Laquer's Solitary Sex: A Cultural History of Masturbation

There's more. Lots more. In three weeks we will be talking about African Vampires in HIS1997F ("The Practice of History"), and several weeks after that, about food; two upcoming classes will be taken up with tours of the library; and on October 16 my "reading" is to watch 3 Chinese art films, and take notes.

I love graduate school.


13 September 2007

Tyler Lyme - I Hate New York

Since nobody has done it yet:



Split Personality

Over the past two days I've discovered that there are two of me.

The tumultuous eddies and undertows of the OSU Bureaucratic estuary are forces so great that they have rent me in two. On the one side, I exist - and have existed since February - as a student at America's largest university. On the other, a separate me has been created as an administrative unit with the graduate fellowship office and the human resources department. These two "me"s have different Social Security Numbers (that reified almighty of all American bureaucracies).

There's more to the story. Neither "me" actually has an SSN, since Canadians on fellowship are not actually considered "employed" and cannot acquire them. Of course, it would take a human being of below-average intelligence to realize that the likelihood of the existence - let alone attendance at one school in one university - of two individuals with my unique combination of given and family names is very small indeed. But of course, before the existence of two records ran afoul of the ultra-efficient Information Technology administrators, who do not appreciate such messiness, no human being had bothered to take a second look.

On an existential level, of course, it would actually be quite a bit nicer for one self to exist as a student and another self to receive pay, benefits, and tax withholdings, thus keeping scholarly pursuits and practical considerations deservedly separate.


12 September 2007

Not Ka-blamo

Somewhat terrifying footage of a new Russian bomb from the BBC. Apparently it's a thermobaric device. More from the Australian ABC.


11 September 2007

Dirty Sexy Money...

... is exactly the reason why the hallowed Institute where I study allowed the filming, last April, of Fall 2007's most hyped-up new television series. For the purposes of the shoot the foyer of our Duke Mansion, which briefly became the home of the fictional and absurdly wealthy Darlings, was festooned with $20,000 worth of flower arrangements, while ours and several other Upper-East side Manhattan blocks were cordoned off. An all-star cast jostled for space with somewhat dazed art historians. I, for one, found myself literally bumping into Donald Sutherland as I exited a seminar on Representations of the Medieval Body, c.1100-1400 (my professor likes dates). It was one of those only-in-New-York type collisions that one of my fellow bloggers might describe as "glorious".

So our mansion, one of the last and greatest remnants of Fifth Avenue's gilded age, is to be the marble-clad backdrop for the intrigues and misadventures of New York's richest TV family, the Darlings. The show begins with the mysterious death of the clan's much-loved lawyer, who helped smooth over the many scandals and skeletons hiding beneath of such lives of extreme privilege. The family Patriarch then enlists the full-time help of the lawyer's son, the altruistic Nick George, who is torn between his vow to never be a part of the sordid, moneyed world his father knew and an enticing offer of a ten million dollar salary, to be used for charitable causes, of course. Hilarity and big-budget poignancy ensue, though after the pilot episode was endorsed by the network it was decided that it would be more economical, and doubtless more convenient, for a replica of the Duke Mansion to be built in an LA studio. How poignant to think of that parallel world being played out by actors, a world that will be far more real to millions of people than the cloistered life of an endeavouring art historian.

In any case I thought this would be an appropriate story with which to restart my blogging career (though the limelight I think I once enjoyed is now to be split four ways), as most of you I'm sure have already seen the adverts for the new show, with their catchy tag line: "When you're filthy rich, you have to get a little dirty". Those who haven't can check out the show's slightly overproduced website.

Dirty Sexy Money premiers on ABC at 10 PM, September 26, 2007.


10 September 2007

"Your art was the best art of all the... art"

Fair Columbus boasts her fair share of attractions, but I am sad to say that upon inspection of its website, the art museum is not one of them. A proper verdict would require an actual visit (were I to be empirically rigorous), of course.

The collection's highlights, it appears, include (apart from a range of American shlock) six Monets and a Picasso. Tell me: what boondocksville art gallery doesn't have six Monets and a Picasso? Perhaps my colleagues in Art History shall do their public service practicum (those exist, don't they?) in Columbus and put things to rights. I mean, come on, not even one lousy Agnolo Gaddi?

Full disclosure: the title quote clearly comes from the lovable Roy, season 3 episode 17 of the U.S. Office.


Just what the boreal forest needs

Heaven forbid that on our first day of orientation for first-time TA's, we should receive only the two normal booklets printed on regular paper, one a general all-purpose handbook on being a TA and the other on plagiarism. No, we must also receive a very elegantly designed and glossy pamphlet in Princeton orange entitled Inspired Conversations: The Princeton Precept, this being after all such a different beast from such lowly cousins as say, the Toronto Tutorial. Compared to the other two booklets, this one contains not so much in the way of actual, useful information, but it puts them to shame for inspirational quotations in the margin. A sampling below the fold:

"Most fundamentally . . . the preceptor is a catalyst". (ellipsis from original) - preceptor

"The precept is particularly vulnerable to failures in listening". - preceptor

"We should take classes because we are excited, interested, and dedicated, and professors should teach them for the same reason. With this sense of shared purpose, we can embark on a shared purpose, we can embark on a common educational journey in precepts". - student

It brings to mind the UTS agenda at its best.


09 September 2007

Is Wolf Blitzer worth $42.00 a month?

So, I currently have a TV which appears to receive zero channels. And, as you probably already know, there isn't that much to do in Princeton. As a result, I am thinking of getting myself some cable. Wolf Blitzer, here we come. Or, maybe, here we don't come. The local cable outfit, Patriot Media, charges a quite reasonable $14.80 a month for their "Limited Basic" package, which gets you the following extensive but rather duplicative assemblage:

  1. (nothing)
  2. New York CBS
  3. Philadelphia CBS
  4. New York NBC
  5. Philadelphia FOX
  6. Philadelphia ABC
  7. New York ABC
  8. the cable company's own "Patriot 8"
  9. New York "MyNetwork TV" (what?)
  10. Philadelphia NBC
  11. New York "CW" (this)
  12. Philadelphia PBS
  13. New York PBS
  14. WFMZ-TV (wikipedia: "a general-interest independent television station in Allentown, Pennsylvania")
  15. a "family-friendly" channel called ION
  16. New York FOX
  17. Philadelphia MyNetworkTV
  18. "NYC-TV" (seemingly a generic CItyTV-like item)
  19. WMBC ("an independent full-power independent station licensed to Newton, NJ")
  20. the Spanish-language Telemundo
  21. the Home Shopping Network
  22. Telefutura (another Spanish station)
  23. New Jersey PBS
  24. Shop NBC
  25. Educational TV
  26. Mercer County Community College TV
  27. the Princeton University Channel (who knew?)
  28. Princeton Borough Government Access
  29. Princeton Township Government Access
  30. TV30 (can't figure out what this is)
  31. Philadelphia CW
  32. a Christian channel
  33. Chicago CW (just what I need)
  34. TV Guide
  35. a Philadelphia-based non-PBS public station
  36. another Christian channel ("Sonshine" (sic): clearly these people need to read Aquinas)
  37. CSPAN
  38. CSPAN2
  39. the Lehigh Valley's PBS
  40. "Local Access" (whatever that means)
  41. Univision (also in Spanish)
  42. QVC (home shopping).
But no Wolf. This requires "Expanded Basic", including the Wolf's own CNN, the Weather Channel, the sports channels - basically, anything with a specific theme, and anything I would actually spend much time watching - which takes an additional $42 for a total of $56.80 a month. Fifteen bucks a month is quite reasonable; fifty-seven, not so much. It equals two round trips to New York, say. Or 45 bottles of Papst Blue Ribbon at the D-Bar. But as anyone who has seen Wolf Blitzer knows, the value of Wolf Blitzer is high indeed. Every weekday, three hours of eight video screens at once, of token critics of American hegemony being shut down at high volume, of an unmatched electoral circus: it's only September 2007, and already there is a team live in Iowa and one live in New Hampshire.

We have in the Group both a scholar of Media Ecology and a social scientist for whom economics is an allied discipline, so we should be able to determine this with the utmost precision: how much is Wolf Blitzer worth?


Journalistic Whimsy

In a Canadian Press article via The Globe and Mail on the meeting of NATO defense chiefs and the future of the organization:
"I'm here to say, 'no, to NATO,' so that Canada can maintain its peaceful reputation," said Janet Hawksley.

Ms. Hawksley, 86, said she attends every anti-war protest she can, because "it's the only world we've got."

She said she wore a green leaf over her nose to protect herself naturally from the sun.

"I've got Irish skin," said Ms. Hawksley.
I understand that your typically underthought, underwritten Canadian Press article (which, by the way, will probably make it into 80% of Canada's daily print media market one way or another) needs to show itself to be "fair and balanced" by - in this case - bringing in the protesters' perspective.

A green leaf over her nose? Irish skin? Did those two lines really deserve to make it into the paper?


07 September 2007

The Economist v. Belgium

The Economist is a well known weekly collection of editorials masquerading as "news" articles. But a new piece suggesting that Belgium's time has come may take the cake.

Quoth The Economist:

When it was created in 1831, it served more than one purpose. It relieved its people of various discriminatory practices imposed on them by their Dutch rulers. And it suited Britain and France to have a new, neutral state rather than a source of instability that might, so soon after the Napoleonic wars, set off more turbulence in Europe.

[...] No doubt more good things can come out of the swathe of territory once occupied by a tribe known to the Romans as the Belgae. For that, though, they do not need Belgium: they can emerge just as readily from two or three new mini-states, or perhaps from an enlarged France and Netherlands.
Citing the bitter animosities between Flemings and Walloons, The Economist declares that "in short, Belgium has served its purpose" and proposes a "praline divorce," consoling patriotic Belgians (who must be in short supply, according to the article's logic) that "countries come and go."

In fact, countries don't simply come and go. They live far longer than any "purpose" would appear to dictate (a curious notion if there ever was one, since many would argue that a state's most basic purpose is survival) . That state death occurs rather infrequently has long been noted.

Indeed, The Economist is on to something, but it's a point that is wholly left out of that article. If states are going to fade away peacefully anywhere, it's likely to be in Belgium's neighborhood. How typical for the still-quite-Eurosceptic (dare I insert the pejorative "Anglo-Saxon"?) publication to ignore the most salient factor outmoding a unified Belgian state: Europe.

NATO has long placed Belgium's external security in the hands of the North Atlantic security community; in the past two decades the EU has seen the unprecedented pooling of its members' "exclusive" authority to govern. But on that score, if shared sovereignty and collective security mean that it's time to say goodbye to Belgium, why not the United Kingdom as well? That state has seen its share of devolution, it's entrenched in NATO, and it's enmeshed in Europe - whether Britons like it or not.


On a completely different note, I fell upon an intriguing discovery on Amazon, from Routledge, publisher of the 2006 volume containing "Social Theory as Cartesian Science."


It's only Kellogg Canada that is insane

On my first trip to the grocery store today I was pleased to see that Crispix in the United States are still called just "Crispix" and have not been rebranded "Crispix Krispies" in order to indicate that they are now part of the Krispies family of cereals along with the more traditional Rice Krispies.


03 September 2007


I rolled into Columbus, Ohio (not to be confused with the other 17 cities and towns across the fair United States named after the sailor from Genoa) on a hazy Tuesday afternoon. I would like to write that I came to study International Relations but I stayed for the... but, truly, the city itself is underwhelming in a pinot grigio meets Mitt Romney kind of way. Perhaps it is simply a matter of time before I see the essential charm of suburban mega-malls (or suburbs that are mega-malls) and tailgate parties, but until then, I am here for purely academic purposes.

Which is probably just as well. It's a heady time to be a poli sci grad student, what with building tremors regarding Iran, stray nuclear missiles, and major football upsets.

Query of the week: if a positivist collapses in a forest of interpretivists, will anybody measure the result?

P.S. Can't resist adding links to the various commentaries on sartorial issues at APSA this year.