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.