09 October 2009

Cornel West channels Frank Stark AND Adam Wunker

1. Above, forthcoming from Princeton University Press, Dr. West clearly exceeds his quota of one title and one subtitle. Note (a) that "Brother West" at the top is part of the title - the author is "Cornel West" at the bottom - and (b) that it says "A Memoir" in small print immediately beneath "life".

2. Adam Wunker, you say? Well, for that you have to go to the web site advertising said book:


12 September 2009

Paris mayoral feud blocks street

Verbatim from the BBC:

There has been traffic chaos in two Paris suburbs after their feuding mayors declared the same busy road one-way, but in opposite directions.

Patrick Balkany, the conservative mayor of Levallois-Perret, initially made the D909 one-way to reduce the amount of commuter traffic through his district.

But Gilles Catoire, the Socialist mayor of neighbouring Clichy-la-Garenne, said this increased congestion in his area.

He made his section of the road one-way in the opposite direction.

With the contradictory road-signs in place, the unsurprising result was gridlock, prompting the deployment of municipal and national police to direct traffic away from the area.

"What Clichy has done is not a long-term solution, but it is a response to a unilateral decision by the town of Levallois," Clichy's deputy mayor, Alain Fournier, was quoted as saying by AFP news agency.

But Mr Balkany insisted: "The mayor of Clichy has taken a position that is unreasonable and is hurting his own constituents."

Thousands of motorists pass between the two suburbs each day on their way into and out of the French capital.


08 July 2009

Photoshop could not do it better



The latest in a long line of Conservative political farragos may also be the most bizarre. No doubt at this moment the Prime Minister is muttering "tabernac" sotto voce - please, pardon his French.

SACRISTIE-MERDE UPDATE: Wafergate hits the big time. (You'll notice that while the PMO asserts that the host was indeed consumed, they never quite categorically state when).

It's a shame, though, that the whole sordid contretemps is drawing attention away from the other religious fracas consuming Ottawa at the moment.


16 June 2009

Executive Decision

Since Andrew Sullivan has done it, so have we - Hoboken Group is green for Iran.


15 June 2009

The Revolution will be Tweeted

Who knows how things in Iran are going to turn out? Andrew Sullivan has been invaluable; Juan Cole's comment has been exceedingly informed.

At Progressive Realist, Dan Nexon asserts that autocratic regimes are learning to get one step ahead of modular mass movements.

That being said, Twitter, a tool that really only makes sense when you have something both important and urgent to say, has finally come into its own.

It should be acknowledged that, whatever the particulars of the results, there are thousands - maybe millions - of Iranians attempting to change their country through peaceful means. And that truth needs to be supported by progressives and realists of all stripes.

God, we hope, truly is great.


12 June 2009

Situation Normal...

...Charles Krauthammer is still a twerp.


03 June 2009

Golden State

The US Capitol permits each state in the Union to place two statues honouring notable figures in a state's history on permanent display as part of the National Statuary Hall Collection. Today, California replaced one of its statues, honouring the Rev. Thomas Starr King, with a 7-foot tall figure of Ronald Reagan.

Who was the Rev. Thomas Starr King?

The Rev. King was a Unitarian minister, an ardent supporter of the United States Sanitary Commission - now the Red Cross - and the man credited by Abraham Lincoln with "saving the Union" by convincing Californians, through oratory, not to secede as a separate republic during the American Civil War. The Rev. King has two mountains, two San Francisco streets, a middle school and a Unitarian theological seminary named after him.

I'll leave you to judge for yourself as to which is more deserving.


27 May 2009

25 May 2009

Reimagination-inspired teamwork during the last four years has reinforced the value of a more collaborative way of managing our business

So there is a change of staff at the top of the Globe and Mail, with Edward Greenspon out and John Stackhouse in. First, I wonder what this means for the Globe and Mail. Second, this was announced in the worst-written item of writing I have seen in some time, an office e-mail from publisher Phillip Crawley seemingly leaked to Macleans' Paul Wells. Some choice selections in bold below.

The need to restructure our business, to meet the challenges of the
current economic environment and the rapid changes in media
consumption habits, has been our overarching goal during FY09.

Reimagination-inspired teamwork during the last four years has reinforced the value of a more collaborative way of managing our business. By drawing on the collective strengths of the team, we are all better able as individuals to contribute to the success of The Globe and Mail. With that objective in mind, I have reviewed the composition of the Executive Team, and identified priority areas for improvement.

New skills and different styles of leadership are needed to take The Globe and Mail to levels of achievement which meet the ambitions of our shareholders, to cement our standing as the best in Canada at creating high-quality content for consumption on whatever platform is most desirable for our readers, users and advertisers.

We are building on a position of strength not enjoyed by many of our competitors. The executive changes outlined below are intended to ensure that The Globe and Mail is in the prime spot to take advantage of the market opportunities that will arise when the recession eases.

To deliver the required results, I am adding one extra position to the senior team and changing responsibilities and reporting lines in three other parts of the business.

Ed Greenspon, who has been our Editor-in-Chief for almost seven years, is stepping down and is succeeded by John Stackhouse, the Editor of Report on Business since 2004.

John, 46, who is a Queen’s commerce graduate, joined The Globe and Mail in 1989, and has proved himself to be a strong team leader in our cross-functional business initiatives, especially during the last two years when he championed the relaunch of our Globe Investor site.

He brings a high-class pedigree to the Editor-in-Chief position, having been a distinguished foreign correspondent before taking up executive roles as Foreign Editor and National Editor. He has raised Report on Business to levels of excellence in print and online which are unsurpassed.

There will be other occasions to pay tribute to Ed Greenspon’s outstanding service to The Globe and Mail, which he joined in 1986. He made his reputation as an astute observer of Canadian politics and turned the Ottawa bureau into a powerhouse of coverage. Since 2002 he has spearheaded our editorial transformation, particularly in exploring new ways to tell stories. The record of awards won under his leadership is second to none. I know you will join me in thanking Ed and wishing him well as he moves on to new challenges.

In addition, I expect to make an early announcement that we have recruited a Vice President of IT, having conducted an external search in recent months.

We need a dedicated leader in the IT Department to enable us to choose the right path forward in our use of technology and choice of systems. Given that most of our annual capital expenditure is devoted to this area, I need the best possible guidance and expertise.

He/she will take over responsibility for IT from Perry Nixdorf, whose triple-headed responsibilities as VP of Operations have become impossible to sustain. Perry will now be able to concentrate exclusively on preparing for the transition to our new presses in 2010 – one of the biggest undertakings in The Globe’s long history – and to continue with the revitalization of the Circulation Department, which has undergone radical reform under his leadership. Perry will remain VP of Operations, looking after the Circulation and Production departments.

The importance of the digital revolution affecting our business is well understood, but remains the most demanding issue we face in terms of the complex options ahead of us.

From next Monday, June 1, the role of VP Digital will be filled by Angus Frame, who has proved that he has the skill and determination to lead this department since his move from Editorial last summer. Angus, 37, who graduated in political science from McMaster and from Ryerson in journalism, has worked for The Globe and Mail since 1996
and was Editor of globeandmail.com before switching to Digital. He will work closely with the new VP of IT and with Roger Dunbar, who has headed Digital for the last two years, and now takes up the new position of VP of Business Development and Marketing.

The reorganization of departmental responsibilities which has been under way since the start of the year means that some staff who currently report to Roger will move with him to help him fulfill his new role. The main aim of Roger and his team, which includes management of co-brand products, will be to identify new revenue streams across all our properties, and lead the process of launching and supporting new business initiatives. He will continue to head our marketing, promotions and research efforts.

Details of the staffing arrangements in IT, Digital and Business Development will be announced shortly by departmental heads.

All of these changes are an expression of my determination to ensure the long-term health of The Globe and Mail. With the backing of our shareholders, I am confident that we can be among the best in the world at what we choose to do. I look forward to your support and advice in making those wise choices.

If you have any immediate questions or comments, please email me at pxxxx.xxxx@xxxxx. I will be holding Town Halls in each department to discuss these changes.



15 May 2009

Elemental Strategy

Is Barack Obama afraid of his generals?

If so, he wouldn't be the first US President to be overly beholden to the Pentagon. But what's going on?

Tom Ricks:

I am told that General Odierno's objections to the timing of the release of a new round of photos of detainees being abused in Iraq were decisive to President Obama's decision Wednesday to reverse himself and decide against the release of those photos...

...[Obama] must think he is running up some pretty big chits with them [the Pentagon]. I know he is trying to do the right thing but at some point he is going to have to say, My way or the highway.

Because I'm an eternal optimist, I'll suggest that major nuclear disarmament and a repeal of DADT are two of the policies Obama is building up Pentagon good will for.

But as Ricks points out, at some point you stop looking savvy in the eyes of your supporters, and just start looking weak. Or worse, lame - when you're losing John Stewart, you're losing.

UPDATE: The more I think about it, the more I find myseslf agreeing with Andrew Sullivan that the appointment of Stanley McChrystal as the commander of US forces in Afghanistan is a major reason that the Obama administration is delaying release of the detainee photographs. And that's a very bad.


26 April 2009

Public Service Announcement

The flu pandemic is here, guys!

The government of Ontario's pandemic website is here. The United States government's pandemic website is here.
Take a look at this website for helpful information regarding your own individual preparations. You might also want to stock up on kimchi, just in case.


24 April 2009

West Robinwood Street, Detroit

60 out of 66 houses on this street have been abandoned. On both sides.
The following are two stitched together panoramas of the street.

North Side

South Side

Read more about it here.

Google maps view here.


21 April 2009

The Prosperity of the Wicked

The Senate Armed Services Committee has just released, as of an hour ago, a report entitled Inquiry Into the Treatment Of Detainees In U.S. Custody, November 20, 2008. It will, if you'll pardon the phrase, kick up the mother of all motherfucking shit storms.

Just read the Executive Summary and Conclusions. And call The Hague.

Conclusion 13:

"Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's authorization of aggressive interrogation techniques for use at Guantanamo Bay was a direct cause of detainee abuse there. Secretary Rumsfeld's December 2,2002 approval of Mr. Haynes's recommendation that most of the techniques contained in GTMO's October 11, 2002 request be authorized, influenced and contributed to the use of abusive techniques, including military working dogs, forced nudity, and stress positions, in Afghanistan and Iraq."

But worse, in a way, is this detail:

(U) On December 2, 2002, Secretary Rumsfeld signed Mr. Haynes's recommendation [for enhanced interrogation techniques, otherwise known as torture], adding a handwritten note that referred to limits proposed in the memo on the use of stress positions: "I stand for 8-10 hours a day. Why is standing limited to 4 hours?"

Donald Rumsfeld is a war criminal. For sure. Abso-fucking-lutely. 100%. It's time for the media to call him out as such.


20 April 2009

Second Opinion

Though I share with Luke a healthy cynicism about the manipulation of personal and familial introspection as a political marketing ploy, I have to admit it is an effective one, in that as a reader (1) I'm interested and (2) I can begin to form an image of who the next Prime Minister thinks he is. Both of which are to say more than I can about Stephen Harper, (1) about whom I am profoundly uninterested and (2) of whose self-image I remain consequently ignorant.

But more importantly, I have to dissent on Luke's negative or dismissive reading of Ignatieff on the freedom/community problematic.
From the little I can gather from the Globe interview and the book excerpt, I would say instead that Ignatieff can be read as having a properly late modern notion of both concepts that is, well, Liberal enough, but not too liberal. Immediately following from a quote Luke deployed:

Why I value these kinds of societies is actually not that I think they're godless, it's that they leave you the choice of your gods, the responsibility of choosing your gods, the responsibility of leading a moral and disciplined and purposeful life — faced with pluralism, faced with a series of choices, some good, some bad. I like that. I'm at home in this world. He [George Grant] was deeply and profoundly not at home in that world.
I actually think this is a very intelligent take on the condition that not only we Canadians, but all other Westerners are faced with today. Paired with Iggie's invocation of Benedict Anderson's Imagined Communities, all this amounts to is an understanding that all that late moderns can hope for is, as Luke puts it negatively, to be "citizens [with] nothing in common but their need to imagine - without any commonalities regarding the capacity or content of their imaginings."

Good. Rather than pretending that we are one organic whole united by devotion to a common deity or reverence for a mythologized common past, what we share instead is an imperative to imagine ourselves as a community with the full knowledge that, at an ironic distance, this is all we can ever be - an imagined community. This is not distinctly Canadian, of course. Who today thinks that communities are anything more than imagined? More importantly: Imagined on the basis of what? We live in a disenchanted world in which God, our shared genetic roots, or our chauvinistic attachments to a self-image based on superiority, simply have lost all their plausibility as common meanings. Community is not automatic; and this is perhaps what is new about our lives - we need to actively seek - no, create - what marks off our difference in the context of a notion of universal human equality (that we thankfully do share).

I don't think anybody is arguing that an imagined community need exist only in individuals' heads (ontological atomism). But even if I were to argue that, individuals' sharing of community is still common because, even if one is wrong in her belief in some putatively common meaning, she must still by definition imagine that you also share it. This is still atomist, but the normative consequences are communitarian, in the sense that I identify collectively with you and so take your interests as my own. It is enough to generate a common good, even on atomist assumptions.

I think it's better, and more plausible, to read Ignatieff's contentions this way: Yes, the free market is chilly, but that chilliness only provides the opportunity for bringing ourselves consciously together to share in warmth. We still need to engage in that project. Indeed, market society is a constitutive condition of late modern community, not its overriding aim. Ignatieff may be wrong that the market is necessary for our freedom, but he is right in viewing the market instrumentally - a means not an end - which is encouraging enough for me.


Tendebantque manus ripae ulterioris admore

"They were holding their arms outstretched in love toward the further shore"
-Virgil, quoted in George Grant's Lament for a Nation

"So the question that [the founders of Confederation] asked and answered, in their fashion, demands an answer in our time: what exactly is being Canadian worth to us, in dollars and cents? How much are we prepared to invest to keep our country in one piece?"
-Michael Ignatieff

"Money has no motherland"


The Idea of North

I'm still digesting Michael Valpy's conversation with Michael Ignatieff from this weekend's Globe.

Iggy on the imagined community of Canada:

What we know is only a fragment of what is there. We have to imagine the expanse we have not seen. We have to imagine the ties that bind us to our fellow citizens, many of whom may not even speak the same language. ...

We engage in this act of imagination because we need to. The lives we live alone do not make sense to us unless we share some public dimension with others. We need a public life in common, some set of reference points and allegiances to give us a way to relate to the strangers among whom we live.

How does this observation square with Ignatieff's statement that freedom trumps community in market societies? Badly, I think.

I read Ignatieff's meaning to be that the lynchpin of our relationship with others is an exchange built more on the individual's subjective imagining of the other than the shock and humility of engagement with the other's authentic life. An atomized society in which citizens have nothing in common but their need to imagine - without any commonalities regarding the capacity or content of their imaginings.

Fine, you say. Cogito ergo sum. Yet we know that for Ignatieff freedom in the market economy trumps all else. So the freedom to imagine a community precludes any need to subsume freedom to that community: the nation becomes whatever the market economy will bear. The imagination becomes a commodity, and the saleability, self-interest, and self-promotion of an imagined community becomes paramount to success. Chilly, indeed.

I think Ignatieff's obsessive examination and rexamintion of his own family mythology speaks not only to his own fraught attraction to the worst excesses of the Canadian post-colonial inferiority complex, but to his awareness that this complex provides a cagey marketing opportunity. The Ignatieff brand is built on personality: on his intellectual and personal forbearers and on his own genius for cooly revelatory self-analysis in books like The Russian Album and Scar Tissue. Yet this reconstitution of the past is highly selective: a repackaging of Candian history to support the claims of Ignatieff as Canada's "Imaginer-In-Chief."

Ignatieff wants Canadians to see him "as a patriot, someone who is anchored in the country and whose investment in the country is more than a personal matter, more than just a matter of my personal career...a four-generation project." Methinks the fellow doth protest too much.


Cold Snap

As part of the weekend Globe and Mail's Iggypalooza, Michael Valpy speaks with the Prime-Minister-in waiting.

Money quote, at least for me:

...he [George Grant, Canadian philosopher and Ignatieff's uncle] thought capitalism is godless, materialistic and morally relativist. It's not my problem. It never was my problem. I don't mean to dismiss that lightly. But this is where we had substantial arguments when I was young and he was older and wiser.

I like market society because I like its freedoms, and freedom is a very chilly thing. It doesn't give you a metaphysics. It doesn't give you a community. But it gives you freedom. And then you have to decide which of these values in life you want.

He longed, I think, for community. Community mattered maybe more to him than freedom. Freedom matters more to me than anything else.
Pardon me if I find this view unimpressive, unpersuasive, and uninformed to boot.


17 April 2009

Portion Control

The repellantly fascinating intersection of two ostensibly distinct spheres of life in one biopolitical technique:

"While detainees subject to dietary manipulation are obviously situated differently from individuals who voluntarily engage in commercial weight-loss programs, we note that widely available commercial weight-loss programs in the United States employ diets of 1000 kcal/day for sustain periods of weeks or longer without requiring medical supervision," read the footnote. "While we do not equate commercial weight loss programs and this interrogation technique, the fact that these calorie levels are used in the weight-loss programs, in our view, is instructive in evaluating the medical safety of the interrogation technique."

(Hat tip: HuffPo. Read the full memo, in all its sickening banality and faulty analogy, here.


Terrorism = Crime

Recently released memos confirm what we all already knew: the United States has been in the business of torturing human beings ostensibly for reasons of national security. We know that terrorism, while it leads to an unnecessary loss of life, is far from a grave threat quantitatively [PDF] or, I would argue, qualitatively. Some of the prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay did not appreciate Obama's directive that the camp be closed and "prosecutions" suspended - they wished for the death penalty as they wanted to be martyred. Methinks that the obvious solution, which should have been implemented form the get-go, is simply to treat terrorists as criminals. Accuse them of murder, conspiracy to commit murder, vandalism, and so on. Grant them the full protection, scrutiny, and punishment of the criminal justice system. We all know that that system is far from flawless; but to treat terrorism as a seaparate category has already brought out the worst aspects of liberal political community.

Here's hoping to better days for our liberal project?


14 April 2009

Famous People Are Weird (a.k.a.: Megalove goes Mainstream)

It was recently drawn to my attention that some readers of the Hoboken Group may not be familiar with one of the gems of the internet, Laura Snelgrove's blog Famous People Are Weird on the web site of the free daily Metro.

Thus: Famous People Are Weird.


Brand Appeal

Just who is this ad campaign targeting?

I mean, really: interactive shirtless rugby players? Not work-safe - especially the slow-mo shots. Sullivan:

For some reason, I was distracted and mistook the sport in this ad for soccer.
Distracted? Can't think why, Andrew...can't think why.




Across Canada, six federal prisons operate functioning farms. About 300 inmates take part, doing everything from milking cows to fixing equipment to producing food that’s fed to fellow offenders. This summer could be their last harvest: the government recently announced that Canada’s prison farms will be shut down over the next two years. “We determined very few ex-inmates were obtaining work in agriculture,” says Christa McGregor of the Correctional Service of Canada, adding that the CSC spends about $4 million annually on the program.
Idiocy. Unmitigaged, ideological idiocy. Is anybody "obtaining work in agriculture"? Is that really the point? Is farming given so little respect by an ostensibly rural-friendly Conservative government that the skills and work ethic taught through working the land are not considered transferable?

This news is offensive in the worst way. The actions of the current government reach new heights of appaling, self-serving and short-sighted destructiveness on a weekly basis. Meanwhile, our putative PM-in-waiting is busy complimenting an erstwhile one - and it's not Trudeau.


13 April 2009

The Fly in the Ointment

...and the one major problem thus far with the Obama administration. Greenwald:

Simply put, there is no excuse, justification or mitigation for advocating blatantly unconstitutional and tyrannical powers or claiming that secrecy shields the President from the rule of law. Nor is the faith-based belief that Obama is a Good Person who therefore deserves trust even remotely rational or relevant. As Professor Turley put it on Countdown: "It doesn‘t matter if you are a good person doing bad things. You are doing bad things." These secrecy and detention powers are among the most dangerous and tyrannical powers a President can seize, and Obama's attempt to cling to them is deplorable no matter his "motives."
Bagram, like Guantanamo, is an iteration of what Giorgio Agamben, after Schmitt, calls the "state of exception" - the prison camp, in which law and fact become one thing, to the detriment of the humanity of the inmates.

In a way, a hijacked plane is much like a prison camp - its passengers also hostage to the blurring of law and fact. That the West chose to reproduce larger scale sites of exceptions to combat the actions of the 9/11 terrorists does, I think, prove the horrible effectiveness of al-Qaeda's strategy - and the blindness, or at least the acute anxieties, of even a state possessing an administration as enlightened as the current one.

What to do? States of exception are theoretical "black holes" - so perhaps we should let them evaporate, as those in nature do. How would a conceptual "black hole" lose more matter than it gained? And I'm not just talking about releasing the inmates - because that's the easy part.


12 April 2009

Attention Conservative Malcontents

"It's supposed to taste like a shit taco."


Culture Truce

So apparently some Notre Dame alumni and sundry angry Cathos are getting all up in the University's grill about inviting Obama to commencement and granting him an honorary degree while he is so obviously godless in his defense of women's rights. Quoth one alumnus (and Reaganite) in the Times:

[I]t’s important to remember that Notre Dame is a Catholic institution. The school openly flouts the guidelines of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops when it bestows an honorary degree upon a president who supports something anathema to the faith: abortion. Catholic doctrine holds that life begins at conception; as a candidate, Mr. Obama said that determining when life begins “is above my pay grade,” not an answer at all. There is every sign that his administration has a pro-abortion orientation.

The moral conflict could not be clearer. But here’s a solution: Notre Dame should welcome President Obama as its principal commencement speaker but should not give him an honorary degree. You see, policy positions do matter when it comes to honorary degrees, because the degrees honor something.
Win-win right?

But I have the really perfect solution to this "problem." Obama should attend the commencement at Notre Dame, give a gracious but steadfast speech in support of the right to choose, and then decline the honorary degree from the University. That way, a Catholic University doesn't have to hold its nose while begrudgingly handing him a degree, Obama won't be tainted by owning a piece of paper granted by an institution that supports the oppression of women, and yet he will be able to display his magnanimous empathy for the sensitivities of a herd of reactionary morons.



09 April 2009

Volcano Effect (II)

My earlier post on Silvio Berlusconi's abject idiocy expressed some confusion as to why the bigoted crypto-fascist buffoon is still in power - returned to it, even!

Well, now I know why:

Through his media group, Mediaset, Berlusconi and his family control three private national television channels (the family advertising company Publitalia supplies most of the others as well), two newspapers, a fleet of magazines, the biggest cinema circuit, and the country's largest book publisher. Conflict of interest? Ironed out of existence by self-serving legislation that the former hard-pressed and short-lived centre-left government of Romano Prodi never got round to abolishing. Thanks to another trademark law, Berlusconi overruled the constitutional court and legalised his virtual monopoly while consolidating absolute political control over the public service broadcaster RAI.
It turns out few in Italy know what kind of toxic garbage spews out of Berlusconi's mouth - or anything else negative relating to the government, for that matter.

The cradle of western civilization, reduced to North Korea with sweat stains and a pasta maker.


Violence Covereth Them as a Garment

From Larry Hurtado's article in Slate on the historical Jesus:
...Jesus' crucifixion posed a whole clutch of potential problems for early Christians. It meant that at the origin and heart of their faith was a state execution and that their revered savior had been tried and found guilty by the representative of Roman imperial authority. This likely made a good many people wonder if the Christians weren't some seriously subversive movement. It was, at least, not the sort of group that readily appealed to those who cared about their social standing.
No shit. Matthew 10:24-27:
The disciple is not above the master, nor the servant above his lord. It is enough for the disciple that he be as his master, and the servant as his lord. If they have called the good man of the house Beelzebub, how much more them of his household? Therefore fear them not. For nothing is covered that shall not be revealed: nor hid, that shall not be known. That which I tell you in the dark, speak ye in the light: and that which you hear in the ear, preach ye upon the housetops.
At Tenebrae last night, glancing at the crucifix draped amorphously in black during the singing of Psalm 73, the famous image above taken at Abu Ghraib came suddenly to mind.

Anyone who questions the relevance of faith in contemporary public life might consider these things side by side - and also wish the church were louder, and more often heard, when speaking in the light.


08 April 2009

Volcano Effect

Silvio Berlusconi, touring the wreckage of earthquake-ravaged L'Aquila:

They have medicaments. They have hot food. They have shelter for the night...of course, their current lodgings are a bit temporary. But they should see it like a weekend of camping.

In all honesty: how is this man the leader of a European democracy? His mouth is a weapon of mass destruction. At least he didn't cause the earthquake - this time.


07 April 2009

At least the release doesn't start with "Canada's New Government"...

I hope that this will be my final post relating to l'affaire Galloway (because I really do think think the whole thing is best put to bed), but a line in Linda McQuaig's otherwise off-point and fairly unedifying column from today's Star caught my attention:

In March 2008, the Harper government signed a broad-ranging security pact with Israel.

The pact, which has received scant attention in Canada's Parliament or media, established close Canada-Israeli co-operation in "border management and security," under a management committee comprised of Canada's deputy minister of public safety and Israel's director general of public security.
McQuaig's implication is that the Canadian and Israeli governments were somehow in contact regarding banning Galloway.

Frankly, this notion strikes me as silly (not least because the scoundrel would have received a tenth of the publicity had he been allowed into the country), but I was interested in the pact McQuaig refers to. So, off to the Public Safety Canada website! News release is here, and the text of the thing itself is here - it's a Declaration of Intent, not a pact.

As for the documents contents, judge for yourself. The piece explictly declares itself not legally binding. Is it diplomatic bumf? My own instinct is that bumf is usually produced by governments for some specific reason - but as to what that reason is, I can't say. Likely not to explicitly bar loud-mouthed British MPs.

Thoughts? Aldous, what is the precedent for these sort of quasi-binding thingies?


It's Tuesday! Time for the Apocalypse!

Several points in defense of the thesis that if the world isn't going to hell, it's not for lack of trying:

1. Members of the Washington Post op-ed staff - not only Bill Kristol, but Anne Applebaum too! - think that getting rid of nuclear weapons is...a waste of time? I won't bother with Kristol. Applebaum:

...there is no evidence that U.S. nuclear arms reductions have ever inspired others to do the same. All of the world's more recent nuclear powers -- Israel, India, Pakistan -- acquired their weapons well after such talks began, more than 40 years ago.

Doesn't this strike you as both simplistic and a little sophistical? Yet even more bewildering:

...nuclear weapons, while terrifying in the abstract, are not an immediate strategic threat to Europe or the United States.

Except if they go off accidentally - or someone gets the wrong idea. Never mind the creeping normalization of the concept of nuclear war in our cultural psyche. To criticize Obama for the most progressive stance on disarmament in the past twenty years seems laughable - as at least some WaPo columnists have pointed out.

2. Maclean's magazine's Andew Potter links to a post by Vancouver writer Terry Glavin inveighing darkly against l'affair Galloway (in case you haven't been following, a variety of perspectives can be found here, here and here). Glavin:

The bigger story...is a kind of defining moment involves a phenomenon that is playing out on the same tectonic scale as the emergence of a distinctly Canadian democratic socialism in the 1930s, the Quiet Revolution in Quebec in the 1960s, and the rise of libertarian prairie populism in the 1990s. As is often the case in such upheavals, journalists are the last to notice.

Something wholly new is emerging in Canada, in all the spaces where the Left used to be, in its activist constituencies, its traditional institutions, and its lexicon. Whatever name you want to give the thing, its noticeable features include a betrayal of progressive internationalism, a pathetic weakness for conspiracy theories, and a routine apologetics for antisemitism and terror. Its outlook is generally parochial, but its global engagements tend to align with fascism’s contemporary Islamist variants, even to the point of objective support for the Taliban.

My sense is that Galloway is a smooth-talking, opportunistic rogue who adapts his popular demagogery to suit the times, and isn't worth all the fuss. I don't dismiss Glavin's broader point entirely out of hand because I have first-hand experience of the kind of attitudes he's talking about - when you're dressed down by a high-ranking person in an avowedly progressive student union for defending the free speech rights of a pro-life group (see Voltaire), you get a sense that the left can sometimes be as heedless of the means used to achieve their ends as the right. These particular battles have raged quietly at the University of Toronto and explosively at York U for at least a decade or more.

On the other hand, the very perpetuity of of these disputes makes me less concerned than Glavin that this sort of sea change is endemic on the left, or even exclusive to the left. I wish Glavin would explain what he meant by "a betrayal of progressive internationalism" -hasn't every Canadian government since Trudeau been variously guilty of that particular sin? As for apologists, they're rife it's true, on both sides of the political aisle. But the Quiet Revolution? I don't think so - in fact, cheering or fulminating against George Galloway is as good a recipe for long-term political irrelevance as I can come up with, and doing anything other than dismissing him quickly and neatly is a waste of time.

3. George Monbiot has an eye-popping piece in the Guardian about the criminally disingenuous favoritism inherent in the UK government's private finance initiatives (PFIs) or as we call them in Canada, public-private partnerships (PPPs). For a good Ontario example of what Monbiot's talking about, take a gander at this Auditor General of Ontario report on the construction of the William Osler Health Centre in Brampton - particularly page 113.

4. David Brooks declares philosophy dead.



Rationalists beware! Obama is a secret constructivist!

"[M]oral leadership is more powerful than any weapon... That is why I am speaking to you in the center of a Europe that is peaceful, united and free — because ordinary people believed that divisions could be bridged; that walls could come down; and that peace could prevail." (Obama Prague, Sunday)

"Human destiny will be what we make of it" (Obama, Prague, Sunday)

"Moving the ship of state is a slow process... States are like big tankers. They’re not like speedboats." (Obama, Istanbul, Monday)


06 April 2009

Why Not Democratize Away Our Mores?

See Luke's post immediately below for context. I really have no idea what Poulos is going on about;I'm not sure what this "legalism" is that's supposedly forcing children to be more sensitive to one another, though I suspect that Luke's right in identifying it with that perennial bogeyman of the American right (sometimes misguided, sometimes not, on this issue): political correctness. And Poulos seems to be saying that this social reprogramming is helping implode the conventional liberal public/private distinction. Apparently, gone are the days when your child's soccer coach could utter an insensitive remark about the mentally disabled without reproach, but gone too are the days when what goes on in the bedroom stays in the bedroom. Why the two phenomena are supposed to be linked, sadly, is likely to escape any reader who has the misfortune of glancing at Poulos' drivel (seriously, do not follow Luke's link, do not pass Go, do not collect $200, if you want to maintain your mental faculties at their optimal levels).

I also don't have much of a grasp of what Luke is saying, but in this case it's probably because I haven't read Foucault carefully, and more importantly because I don't really understand why it is so important, so good in itself, to curtail our human nature (read: "beastly appetites") or even regard it as "human nature," and not merely contingent patterns of behavior no more eternal than current tastes (which I share) for rather vapid indie music or the passing fad of divine right monarchy.

Poulos seems to be worried that contemporary liberals and progressives have turned the public-private distinction on its head by policing the way children are taught to interact with their fellows while adopting licentiousness towards the "sexual mores of the young" (and what about the sexual mores of the old?). Again, I don't see how this is supposed to work, but it seems to me the problem here is simply that Poulos would like the former to be "re"inscribed in the private realm (and so cast outside the purview of scheming liberal social engineers) and would like the latter to be policed a little, at least to the extent that it is public.

I could point out, additionally, that progressive licentiousness isn't actually such an overwhelmingly totalizing force, given some fairly obvious (and counterproductive) policing practices that have seemed to survive it: the war on drugs and the absurd censorship of movies that masquerades as "content ratings" are the two most obvious examples. But I won't take that road because that argument is too easy to make.

Of course all of these distinctions become pseudo-distinctions when we realize that the "private" is simply what we hold to be felicitous to leave purely to individual judgment and the "public" is simply what we hold to be felicitous to have out in the public forum for deliberation and legislation, and the content of the two is going to shift according to where we think we would like to go as a political community. I don't fear for liberalism, and I don't worry that giving our children a sentimental education by promoting empathy for the feeling of others is going to somehow topple our structure of individual rights (which seems to be Poulos' fear, for I don't know what else it could be). Similarly, I don't fear for the salvation of humanity, and I don't worry that insufficiently policing our children's sexual mores is somehow going to undermine liberalism either.

The bottom line is this: there are some aspects of human life that we generally feel are a matter of public concern, and some that we feel are obviously not, and the content of those two spheres is continuously renegotiated. As long as that renegotiation is carried out in the name of two overriding liberal-democratic principles - "let's not be cruel to others" ; "let's prevent human suffering" - I'm not going to lose sleep over the future of our liberal virtues and values.

Postscript, to make more concrete what I mean: If there comes a day when the country's basements are converted into personal meth labs that are causing a lot of mass suffering, even if personally inflicted, it will make sense for the state to make the content of those basements a matter of public concern, if only to preserve the integrity of the nation's teeth. If there comes a day when bigotry and discrimination become such minute factors in the life of the polity that virtually nobody suffers it at the hands of her fellows, then sentimental education aimed against such behavior may become superfluous and we might safely relegate it to the dustbin.


Postmodern Wha?

I hadn't had the dubious pleasure of reading anything by James Poulos, an apparently prodigiously prolix (or prolixly prodigious?) young conservative blogger, until Andrew Sullivan (whom I generally like and agree with surprisingly often given our respective political leanings) linked to one of his more recent essays, suggesting as he did so that it "prods the left." Since I'm feeling a little understimulated at the moment I decided to take a finger in the midsection and give the piece a read.

Doing so has given me a welcome opportunity to complain, so I guess I've been duly prodded.

The piece in question decries the fact that liberal "legalism" has blurred the line between public and private space while accentuating the urges of of the lower bodily strata (to use a Bakhtinianism) through repression in the cause of political correctness. Money quote - I think:

...our public obsession with security and health parallels our ‘private’ tastes for risk and self-poisoning, and our loving, de-eroticized pieties concerning Respect for All grow apace with our beastly appetite for erotic impieties.

In the face of all this, small-l liberal politics largely bites its lip. The ultimate hero of our civilization is a sixteen-year-old sexpot who saves Darfur and bitchily destroys her rivals, all in a day’s work — Lolita Borgia in a reality-TV production of Legally Blonde 4: Barely Legal Bottle-Blonde Beasts of Prey.
Right. Right?

I'm not going to deny that pinching some late-70s Foucault and throwing in a dash of crypto-titilatory prurience dredges eyeballs- at least, I think it does? - but what all this has to do with "small-l liberal politics" is beyond me.

Poulos is right that the realms of public and private are problematic at the moment, and our capacity to communicate often outstrips our capacity to act maturely - I don't think you'd find a liberal or progressive who didn't agree with that assessment. But does the proscription of public conduct make private conduct worse? And why is said proscription a small-l liberal phenomenon?

Part of the trouble here is that "liberal," "progressive" and other political descriptors are so contested by all sides that I'm at risk, as is Poulos, of making erroneous analogies left, right and centre - if you'll pardon the pun. But I think Poulos has constructed a straw man in the person of the sixteen-year old Darfur-saving, Lindsay Lohan-trashing sexpot - because in whose eyes, other than perhaps those of a coke-addled TV pitch writer desperate not to lose their job - would such a person be attractive?

Let's be clear: the worst aspects of our human natures - those closest to the animal - are now broadcast and rebroadcast, available at any hour for almost anyone to see. But it's the paradoxically distancing and binding effect of the electronic media - disengaging us from the reality of the images or words before us yet connecting us to an amorphous world of fellow viewers - that separates us from the full consciousness of the extent of our culture's abdication of its progressive responsibilities, not the attempts made by progressive politicians, educators and authors to soften the savage breasts of chidren with a little empathy.

If Poulos had read his Foucault carefully, he would know that the rise of the legible citizen - the citizen free to exercise whatever libertinage is permitted by the central power, be it the state, its capitalist symbiotes, or both - is older than the political Left broadly defined. And I would add that liberals and progressives, far more often than conservatives, have sought to curtail power's hold over the individual while harnessing authority's capacity to create the conditions for social and economic improvement.

In other words, I sure as hell am not biting my lip.

Poulous' postmodern conservatism seems, at least from this particular article, to amount to a hyperloquacious plea for the good old days when pastoral power was transmitted through the patriarchal, mystifying and often repressive suasions of official religion instead of through the (at least nominally) democratic mechanisms of the state. The latter is a little - only a little - better than the former, but to imply that the exercise of public power over private mores didn't take place before the era of Big Government - and that our contemporary vices are a direct result of liberal democracy's avowed acceptance of diversity - is sloppy.

I think few actually on the ground attempting to do progressive work - in government, schools, NGOs, wherever - are blind to the challenges posed by our human appetities. To tar these people as misguided at best and hypocritical at worst misses the real problems with power and authority that we, both left and right, face.


The Criminalization of Poverty

As the NYT observes, it's almost Dickensian:

Edwina Nowlin, a poor Michigan resident, was ordered to reimburse a juvenile detention center $104 a month for holding her 16-year-old son. When she explained to the court that she could not afford to pay, Ms. Nowlin was sent to prison. The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, which helped get her out last week after she spent 28 days behind bars, says it is seeing more people being sent to jail because they cannot make various court-ordered payments.


05 April 2009

A Rebuttal (II)

Aldous' earlier post on the Russian leadership's apparent irrationality put me in mind of the following learned opinion:

At bottom of Kremlin's neurotic view of world affairs is traditional and instinctive Russian sense of insecurity...for Russian rulers have invariably sensed that their rule was relatively archaic in form fragile and artificial in its psychological foundation, unable to stand comparison or contact with political systems of Western countries. For this reason they have always feared foreign penetration, feared direct contact between Western world and their own, feared what would happen if Russians learned truth about world without or if foreigners learned truth about world within. And they have learned to seek security only in patient but deadly struggle for total destruction of rival power, never in compacts and compromises with it.
You'd think that the author of this quote would back up the Real Clear World piece. Unfortunately, George Kennan has been dead for four years, and the quote above is taken from his famous "Long Telegram" on US-Soviet relations written in 1946 - which is where I would consign any analysis that makes unsubstantiated claims regarding the supposed intractability of Russian strategic aims.


Welcome to Asuncion! Yes, we have no bananas!

If I were a Toronto Star columnist...

...I'd write columns a bit like this. (Or, maybe this?)


03 April 2009

A Rebuttal

The overzealous simplification of complex analytical issues for popular consumption is everywhere and gets me hopping mad most of the time, but here's one case in which I can't let it slide without an appearance on the glorious pages of HG:

Just like the Obama administration, the Bush administration went about seeking to play a “win-win” game with Moscow, pointing out common interests and priorities. It found out the hard way the perils of playing a win-win game when faced with a zero-sum opponent. The Obama administration will surely learn the same lessons; let us hope that it will do so sooner than its predecessor did.
According to the author, the U.S. can't hope to "reset" its relationship with Moscow because the latter is motivated by virulent "anti-Americanism at the heart of the 'Putinist' ideology." This anti-Americanism supposedly obscures or overwhelms the long-term national interests of Russia.

Of course this falls apart if the alternatives aren't "win-win" versus "zero-sum." Obviously the United States and Russia do not have a complete harmony of interests, else cooperation would be irrelevant or trivial, and they do not have a complete conflict of interests, else cooperation would be completely impossible and it would be irrational to attempt to pursue it. Rather, the reality is, as Obama's foreign policy seems to clearly recognize, that the Americans and Russians converge and diverge over a broad spectrum of issues. So, for example, the Russians might not want NATO to win an easy victory in Afghanistan, but to stabilize the country and do so at a high enough cost that they do not remain in the region afterward. And that's precisely why there is room for cooperation.


23 March 2009

From my inbox: [Fwd: RUINS WORKSHOP]

----- Original Message -----
From [deleted by JM so some random Columbia administrator doesn't get spammed]
Date Mon, 23 Mar 2009 16:25:25 -0400
To many recipients;

The Ruin Theory Group at Columbia University presents:

The Ruination of the Social and The Social Lives of Ruins

A one-day interdisciplinary workshop exploring the social significance
and impact of ruins




All are welcome «» Lunch will follow

This event is sponsored by the Columbia Center for Archaeology and
Barnard Art History Dept.


15 March 2009

Talk to Hamas

Sure, its continued non-recognition of Israel may be a barrier to any lasting and secure settlement... sometime down the road. But it's a position that could also shift down the road, and since coercion and exclusion haven't worked so far to shift it, we should try something new.

Sure, Hamas has yet to renounce the use of force against civilians in the name of political struggle... but that could also change. And the prospects for peace are so bleak right now that we can ill afford to close off future options based only on past behavior.

Both points above are premised on the simple notion that we should not expect the future to be completely like the past, especially if we change our own behavior (to believe the opposite would be to deny our own agency). Neither will the future be radically different; all I am saying is that the simple act of engaging in a dialogue does not foreclose the goal of changing Hamas's commitment to these two unacceptable strategies and positions. But more to the point, there are two positive reasons to expect talking to Hamas to have positive relative payoffs.

First, I don't agree that talking to a previously excluded party doesn't concede anything. In this case, it concedes to Hamas something it has already: some minimal claim to represent some population roughly bounded by some territorial delimitation. Yes, it to some degree would legitimize Hamas as an actor - but with the act of legitimation comes the coupling of responsibility. The act of recognition embeds the party in a constellation of expectations and rules which did not apply to the previously excluded party (even if it would be naive to expect full or even partial compliance). Over time, the normative power of recognition could shift the very interests and identity of Hamas. This is boilerplate constructivism. (Yay! A policy application!)

Second, prospect theory would seem to indicate that granting even minimal concessions could deradicalize some members of the Hamas leadership independent of the goal of changing their preferences. Very roughly, prospect theory basically holds that as an individual moves from the "domain of losses" to the "domain of gains" - basically, as her feeling that she has something to lose increases - she also becomes less risk acceptant and more risk adverse. We obviously don't know where the tipping point is for any given individual, but when dealing with a collection of individuals, granting them ownership over something they did not have before could make them, on average, less willing to adopt radical strategies. Now, I'm sure there are a number of counterarguments from prospect theory that would be important caveats here (e.g perhaps Hamas is mostly composed of individuals whose subjective framings shift quickly back into the domain of losses no matter what gains you give them. But we could find out, by giving them something).


12 March 2009

Reflections on The Israel Lobby in a Post-Freeman America

1. Maybe they had a point?
2. End of list.

[Update: Oh, and the msm clues in.]


10 March 2009


Seems to me that making an exception for religious headdress falls well within the bounds of reasonable accommodation:

A Muslim woman was asked to leave her place in line at a credit union in Southern Maryland and be served in a back room because the head scarf she wore for religious reasons violated the institution's "no hats, hoods or sunglasses" policy, the woman said yesterday.


06 March 2009


Luke's link to Thomas Friedman's failures of foresight was excellent, but I am more entertained by John Tory's by-election defeat!

Failingest UTS graduate-cum-politician?


05 March 2009

Underachieving Your Country*

Things don't look particularly rosy:

During a three-hour televised hearing in San Francisco, only Justices Carlos R. Moreno and Kathryn Mickle Werdegar suggested that the court could overturn the marriage ban as an illegal constitutional revision.
*With apologies to Richard Rorty.


04 March 2009

Hindsight is always 20/20? 20/10? 20/09?

Thomas Friedman's biggest fuckups, here.

Aldous, rejoice!


03 March 2009

Is it possible to discriminate against a state? (IV)

Another obnoxious editorial raises the question in a slightly different, more specific, form: is it possible to be anti-Semitic against a state?

The weirdness of this question is perhaps made even more obvious. The poster is clumsy, perhaps hackneyed - just as, in my perception, much "Israeli Apartheid Week" activity tends to be - but is there any reasonable sense in which it's racist?

Israel Apartheid Week Poster
The state is represented by an object, suggesting it is more like a helicopter - an inorganic object - than a person or people. The author, of course, calls this a "fig-leaf": the helicopter is implicitly "the Jew." Of course, the state is, physically, neither an inorganic object nor a person or people. At least in this context, the state is not really physical in any non-trivial way. But the state is still plausibly an object: a symbol or social fact or collective identity or [insert generic constructivist-scientific-realist platitude here].

Therefore, it is at least possible to attack or negatively depict a state without attacking any person or group, except to the extent that citizens of a given state or external groups that shape state policy can be held responsible for the state actions in question. But the latter kind of attribution of responsibility is an empirical and moral question, not one to be a priori dismissed as discriminatory and racist. To what extent are Americans responsible for torture and cruelty? That would be a perfectly reasonable question for debate, and not racist or discriminatory in any meaningful way.


02 March 2009

Ill Tidings for NYU Abu Dhabi?

George Mason Ras al Khamyah to close.


28 February 2009


Predictably, the WSJ finds Obama's budget plan dubious:

Mr. Obama is very good at portraying his agenda as nothing more than center-left pragmatism. But pragmatists don't ignore the data. And the reality is that the only way to pay for Mr. Obama's ambitions is to reach ever deeper into the pockets of the American middle class.


25 February 2009

Is it possible to discriminate against a state? (III)

Well, I was going to write a longer reply that involved various platitudes about the social self and the impossibility of meaningful discrimination that does not refer to a collective identity, but instead, it seems that said discrimination has been brought to an end.


Is it possible to discriminate against a state? (II)

Thanks, Aldous, for drawing attention to the upcoming Durban Review of the United Nations World Conference Against Racism, Xenophobia and Related Intolerances (which, it seems our own country will not be attending). I remember the hysterics surrounding Durban I quite well, not least because 9/11 proved them touchingly fatuous, and also, in their own way, oddly idealistic.

Can one discriminate against a state? I think, to paraphrase the Rev. Lovejoy, the long answer is yes with an "if, and the short answer is no with a "but."

An individual qua individual can, I think, be "discriminated" against. In fact, we do it all the time - through friendship, love, catty comments, etc. This discrimination (the word comes from the Latin root to "divide" after all) stems from some inherent questions surrounding individual agency and communication with the "other," and can be, frankly, what makes life universally interesting. You can (and should) debate on the level of values whether some discrimination is "good" (e.g. smarts over dullness, etc) but in any case, to be "discriminating" is still a positive term.

Discrimination in a racial sense is, following Christopher Hitchens, a bit of a misnomer. It's division based on...what? It's not profound biological difference (which is a whole other kettle of fish - think of cases around those with developmental disabilities, for instance), but it's not wholly a cultural division either. To me, racism has always seemed to be centred on proximity - not just physical proximity, but also cultural, personal, and emotional, to someone, who, for whatever reason, is "not on your side/team/race/." A proximate understanding of racism explains how some people can reconcile irredeamably racist views of groups with a positive personal view of individual members of those groups.

Anyway, this is a roundabout way of saying that of course Israel, like any other state, can be "discriminated" against by other states - the difference between the system of states and the system of personal relationships being, as I think Aldous' putative supervisor would argue, not all that different.

Unfortunately, the broader crisis underlying the issue is that according to biopolitical models, the modern state elevates the ordering of life - and by extension, race, which is one ordering of life - to the centre of the state's raison d'etre. So perhaps Durban II should be devoted to more honestly discussing the various institutional tactics and strategies by which all states - including the United States, Israel, Iran and our own - order life, and the relative merits and demerits of each.

The Forbes commentary fails mightily on that score in two respects: first, it conflates all criticism of Israeli policy (as a state) with blanket anti-Semitism (towards a group, the Jewish people, that do not universally believe Israel speaks for them). This is a very old - not to say hackneyed - observation

Second, and to me more interestingly, the piece only inadvertantly and obliquely refers to the fact that it's proximity or its lack - with terrorists, with "Arabs," with a the idea of a Palestinian state, with the idea of Palestinians themselves, with the wall, with Iran" - that's at the root of the regional problem.

My questions is, where does the opposition to Israel from Arab or Islamic states coming from (because remember, these aren't quite the same thing). Is it opposition to the Jewish people's existence - opposition that the Quran at endorses any more than the Bible does? Or is it opposition to the Israeli state, for a wide variety of reasosn? I guess this is the $64,000 dollar question.

That's my two cents. John? 'Dous?


23 February 2009

Is it possible to discriminate against a state?

This discussion question is prompted by a hyperbolic, outraged (and outrageous) Forbes commentary on American participation in preparations for Durban II, and specifically the following passage:

No matter that discrimination against the Jewish state, and against Jews for supporting the Jewish state, is the major form of anti-Semitism today.
(Background question: is it possible to discriminate against an individual qua individual, as opposed to an individual as a member of a group?)


18 February 2009

North-East Corridor'd!

Luke got into Steinhardt, guys.

En, why, you?


17 February 2009

Democratic Astronomy...

...is outstanding.


16 February 2009

Sacriligious Thoughts

Haaretz Reports:

Defense Minister Ehud Barak told senior military leaders on Monday that Iran's development of nuclear weapons was likely to "threaten the existence of the State of Israel."

Barak told the top Israel Defense Forces commanders that should Iran achieve nuclear capability, it would enormously strengthen the immunity of groups aided by Tehran and dramatically boost the efforts of enemy regional elements to develop the same capabilities.

"It will be very difficult to stop the trickling if nuclear capabilities, even if primitive, to terrorist organizations," he said. "We have already received our first sign of such from Pakistan.
I just want to make three comments. First, obviously, Barak's statement was really that Iran's development of nuclear weapons is likely to "threaten the existence of the State of Iran."

Second, if Iran actually developed nuclear capabilities together with adequate delivery systems, the risk of nuclear proliferation should not necessarily increase at all. Nuclear weapons are a powerful bargaining chip between rivals when they have secure control over them, not when they are handed over to non-state actors who are pursuing complementary strategies with divergent aims.

And so, third, and most importantly, the real Israeli fear is precisely that once another regional power gains nuclear capabilities, the bargaining terms are going to change. Israel's regional nuclear monopoly will no longer be a decisive factor (we already know that it is no good as a conventional deterrent against terrorist groups; in the possible future we are imagining - assuming Iran is developing nuclear weapons at all - it will also be no good as a conventional deterrent against Iran). The potential Iranian threat of nuclear attack or of proliferation to groups like Hamas and Hezbollah - a threat which would be irrational but paradoxically powerful - would also alter the bargaining situation between Israel and aspirant rulers of a future Palestinian state (e.g. Hamas). Barak points to the real considerations at play here beneath the rhetoric of existential threats and irreconcilable enmities: "it would enormously strengthen the immunity of groups aided by Tehran."

What I want to highlight is that the fear is not of increased regional instability exactly, but a change in the terms of regional stability which would be less favorable to (a certain interpretation of) Israeli interests. Whether this is desirable or undesirable is actually not as obvious as we have been primed to believe. The persistence of protracted conflict over Palestine and the use of asymmetrical violence by Palestinian militants (with the usual disproportionate IDF response), we can all probably agree, seems pathological. And perhaps it is due to the fundamental disproportion in the bargaining situation, in which the Palestinians lack the power to achieve a solution that meets their minimum threshold and so the Israelis feel no compulsion to gift them that bargain. If this is the case, and Iran is actually intent on developing nuclear weapons because it wants to alter its and its allies' bargaining power with Israel, and the U.S. has a separate (non-Israel-related) interest in seeing a non-nuclear Iran, then a plausible policy recommendation is for the U.S. to distance itself from Israel, achieving a similar shift in bargaining power without the need for Iran to nuclearize.

Pure speculation, of course, and there are many good arguments against this point of view.


15 February 2009

Vacuous Paragraphs, I

Richard Florida in the latest Atlantic:

Worldwide, people are crowding into a discrete number of mega-regions, systems of multiple cities and their surrounding suburban rings like the Boston–New York–Washington Corridor. In North America, these mega-regions include SunBelt centers like the Char-Lanta Corridor, Northern and Southern California, the Texas Triangle of Houston–San Antonio–Dallas, and Southern Florida’s Tampa-Orlando-Miami area; the Pacific Northwest’s Cascadia, stretching from Portland through Seattle to Vancouver; and both Greater Chicago and Tor-Buff-Chester in the old Rust Belt. Internationally, these mega-regions include Greater London, Greater Tokyo, Europe’s Am-Brus-Twerp, China’s Shanghai-Beijing Corridor, and India’s Bangalore-Mumbai area. Economic output is ever-more concentrated in these places as well. The world’s 40 largest mega-regions, which are home to some 18 percent of the world’s population, produce two-thirds of global economic output and nearly 9 in 10 new patented innovations.

Yes, when you get to define "mega-region" according to whatever criteria you feel like, you'll find you can associate a bunch of impressive figures with the top-40. Hmm, you might even define "mega-region" in order to maximize those impressive figures. Of course, like all concepts, regions are regions because people think of them as regions (nominalism, roughly). But in this case, many of these mega-regions are mega-regions because Richard Florida thinks of them as mega-regions. For the record, the "Shanghai-Beijing Corridor" stretches over 1000 kilometers:

View Larger Map


14 February 2009

"Generational Theft"?

It's probably too obvious to require stating, but the Republicans' recent anti-stimulus slogan would be a whole lot more rhetorically powerful if anybody was convinced that the Republicans were at all concerned about social justice.


12 February 2009

Buy American!

A discussion on a Times blog that provides a variety of different positions on the issue (though some of the positions are pretty silly or unhelpful, in my reading - those of the "local union official" and Sherrod Brown in particular):

Things I hadn't realized that are useful to point out:

1. Only 38 countries plus the U.S. are party to the WTO agreement that ensures non-discrimination in government procurement. For the U.S. to fulfill its international obligations, then, it only has to not discriminate against those 38 countries.

2. That agreement allows countries to discriminate in particular country-specific pre-agreed sectors; or, to put it another way, the agreement only applies to certain pre-specified sectors. So, the U.S. can discriminate even against signatories in sectors it did not sign on to open up.

To me, "Buy American" needs to be framed as a very specific issue rather than an argument about the broader merits of or problems with "free trade" versus "protectionism." True, as one contributor claims, there's a lot of room for protectionist policies while abiding by the letter of international trade law. But as another of the writers points out, today we have a broad network of international agreements and commitments which, if followed fairly closely, defend against a beggar-thy-neighbor spiral of protectionism. They serve as a line which leaders are wary to cross, since crossing it changes the game from a matter of protectionism within the law to an abandonment of the regulatory regime altogether. There's a huge difference there. Moreover, I'd add that any negative consequences of loopholes in the law can just as well serve as incentives for deeper cooperation in the future (i.e. when the economic crisis is over).

It's only if leaders believe the "Buy American" clause to be part of a more general protectionist turn that it could undermine cooperation on international trade. Then, the argument that the "Buy American" clause will encourage a spiral of trade wars will become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Economists and politicians who frame the issue in terms of this deeper danger, perversely enough, contribute to the risk of that outcome. It will be crucial for the U.S. to engage in smart public relations and public diplomacy to prevent this prophecy from being fulfilled.


10 February 2009

I reject your metaphysical assumptions!

1. W. V. Quine, Two Dogmas of Empiricism, in the possible world where it is a book.
2. Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations
3. W. V. Quine, “Two Dogmas of Empiricism”, in the actual world, where it is only an article.
4. Saul Kripke, Naming and Necessity.
5. Saul Kripke, “Semantical Considerations on Modal Logic”.
6. David Kaplan, “Demonstratives”
7. Richard Rorty, Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature.
6. Noam Chomsky, Aspects of the Theory of Syntax
5. John Rawls, A Theory of Justice
4. Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology of Perception
3. Those works which would be ranked “7-10” on this list if it were ordered according to the standard >-relation on the positive integers.
2. Jorge Luis Borges, “The Analytical Language of John Wilkins”
1. W. V. Quine, Two Dogmas of Empiricism, in the possible world where it is a book.

Discussion question: (3) was published in 1951. Would (1) therefore also have been published after 1945, had it existed?


Self-Undermining Sentences, I

The Kremlin's geopolitical games, moreover, serve no tangible national interest, unless one counts a huge ego trip around the world - and consolidation of power at home.
(Russia Punches U.S. in the Nose, RealClearWorld)


09 February 2009


In my inbox this morning. At least one word, I submit, is out of place:

DATE: February 9, 2009
TO: Princeton University Graduate Student Community
FROM: Kim Jackson, Director, Transportation & Parking Services

Graduate Students,

Unfortunately last week, as the new semester began, the morning Express Line experienced both delays and overcrowding. The overcrowding caused many students, especially Hibben/Magie residents, to miss a scheduled run and remain waiting for the next bus, in the inclement, arctic weather. We apologize for the inconvenience and want to thank you for your patience.

We have developed an interim solution to alleviate overcrowding on the morning Express. Beginning today, February 9, a dedicated bus will start at Hibben/Magie, at scheduled times, and a "tag along" bus will follow the entire line at critical service hours, picking up any passengers remaining at a stop due to overcrowding.

Additionally, the Campus Circulator will now stop at Graduate College throughout the day. From 7 am to 11 am the frequency of the Campus Circulator will be every 30 minutes. From 11 am to midnight the frequency will be every 15 minutes. This change provides Graduate College residents with direct access to and from campus.

New Campus Circulator schedule and Route maps are available on the transportation web site: http://www.princeton.edu/transportation/tigertransit.html

We will continue to work on modifications and improvements as we move forward.

Kim Jackson

Please note: This notice was sent to a new opt-out e-mail list, transit-alert@princeton.edu for important alerts and service disruptions notices for the TigerTransit shuttle system. We will use this list for more frequent updates for shuttle riders. To unsubscribe, use the link below or send an e-mail to listserv@lists.princeton.edu with the following in the body:
signoff transit-alert


08 February 2009

Books that actually matter

Right, so, after being cajoled by Aldous, here is my top 10 list of the most impact-full Art History books (NOT collections of essays) from the post-war period. You'll note that Panofsky's best work was actually formulated before the war and, like Schapiro, is mostly in essay form, so is doubly non-admissible according to the rules. So the former's entry here is really a product of the intellectual migrations of the 30s, not the second Vienna school. Still, good ol'ofsky deserves to be on this list, if only for his impact on others.
Martin Jay is a wildcard but probably necessary reading for those who still might believe in the explanatory power of Discipline and Punish.

1. Hans Belting, Likeness and Presence: A History of the Image before the Era of Art (1994)
2. Erwin Panofsky, Renaissance and Renascences in Western Art (1955)
3. David Freedberg, The Power of Images: Studies in the History and Theory of Response (1991)
4. Michael Baxandall, Painting and Experience in Fifteenth-Century Italy: A Primer in the Social History of Pictorial Style (1972)
5. Meyer Schapiro, Romanesque Architectural Sculpture (1967)
6. T.J. Clark, The Absolute Bourgeois: Artists and Politics in France, 1848-1851 (1973)
7. Rosalind Kraus, The Originality of the Avant-Garde and Other Modernist Myths (1985)
8. Georges Didi-Huberman, Fra Angelico: Dissemblance and Figuration (1995)
9. W.J.T. Mitchell, Iconology: Image, Text, Ideology (1985)
10. Martin Jay, Downcast Eyes: The Denigration of Vision in Twentieth-Century French Thought (1994)


"Indignation has often been a substitute for research."

Why it’s good that the Middle East loves European Orientalist painting

As the art market tanks, western triumphalism becomes more credible, sortof.


06 February 2009

Throwing Down the Gauntlet


Earlier today I was challenged by a colleague to name 10 monographs on politics that could count as major contributions. (Strangely, the challenge fell to me even though I was the one who claimed that we have nothing to offer the world...) I will also take this opportunity to challenge my fellow Hoboken Groupers to forward their own lists from their own fields following basically the criteria I lay out below (see "Methodology"). The two readers of this blog are also encouraged to chime in.


The initial criteria discussed were:
1. Truth;
2. Importance;
3. Applicability to non-specialists (i.e. the wider educated public).
In turn, these criteria entail a fourth:
4. Familiarity to the subject (i.e. me).
5. To make the task harder, the books must be whole works rather than edited volumes or collections of essays.
6. Finally, a sixth criterion of temporal scope seems necessary, else the list would probably not include anything published after 1900. So the books must be published roughly in the period post WWII.

(1.) seems immediately problematic: here I take "truth" to mean nothing more than "on balance, given the era and context in which it was written, the work makes normative, interpretive, positive, and/or empirical claims that seem warranted." "Truth" does not imply infallibility or unassailability to valid criticism. As an arbitrary and post facto objective "measure" of importance, all of the works on my list have a Google Scholar citation count of well over 500. More importantly, they seem important to me. As for (3.), "applicability" requires accessibility and also means that the work is not disciplinary navel-gazing or of interest only to those familiar with the details of the debates in the (sub-)field in question. Finally, (4.) ensures that the results will be biased: you will note that there are basically no works on domestic (American or otherwise) politics included.


1. John Rawls, A Theory of Justice (1971)
2. Mancur Olson, The Logic of Collective Action (1965)
3. Jürgen Habermas, Between Facts and Norms (1992)
4. Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities (1983)
5. James Scott, Weapons of the Weak (1985)
6. Thomas Schelling, The Strategy of Conflict (1960)
7. Charles Tilly, Coercion, Capital and European States, AD 990-1992 (1990)
8. Karl Polanyi, The Great Transformation (1944)
9. Michael Walzer, Just and Unjust Wars (1977)
10. Hendrik Spruyt, The Sovereign State and its Competitors (1994)


Notably, the majority of the authors are not political scientists primarily: there are 3 philosophers, 2 economists, 1 sociologist, and 1 of whatever Polanyi counts as. I guess this says as much about my own tastes as about our sorry discipline... Had I restricted the list to works of political science, the task would probably have been impossible. Strictly speaking, I don't think political science has produced 10 "true, important, widely applicable" books.

Too harsh?


05 February 2009

List of things not to cut from the stimulus

$50 million for the National Endowment for the Arts, $14 million for cyber security research by the Homeland Security Department, $1 billion for the National Science Foundation, $400 million for research and prevention of sexually transmitted diseases, $850 million for Amtrak and $400 million for climate change research.
Unfortunately, these are exactly the changes being pushed by "two centrist senators" this afternoon.

Maybe they should show up to the vote wearing "I'm with stupid" t-shirts.

I'm not signing up for post-, bi- or anti- partisanship if this is what it's supposed to mean.

Update: More here.


They Move In Real Time!

In a perhaps questionable choice of recession spending priorities, the campus shuttle has truly entered the space age.


03 February 2009

Will Iraq explode again?

Marc Lynch has a sobering insight:

One of the main reasons that the U.S. pushed so hard for the provincial elections in the first place was as a reward for the Awakenings groups which had cooperated with the U.S. against al-Qaeda. For over a year the Anbar Salvation Council and various tribal groupings have been engaged in a nasty political battle with the Iraqi Islamic Party. The IIP controlled the provincial council after most Sunnis boycotted the election, and the Anbar Salvation Council wanted power for itself as a reward for its service against AQI. It almost came to violence at several points -- but it was always tamped down (in part) by the U.S. pointing to the elections as the moment for power to be transferred peacefully and legitimately.

I kept warning, publicly and privately, that they might not actually win those elections: that tribal influence may be exaggerated, that the Awakenings were internally divided, that the Islamic Party could draw on state resources. But I was told again and again by military sources and others that this was impossible, that the tribal groups controlled the streets, and that the IIP had no chance.

Well, early returns suggest that the Islamic Party has won at least a plurality in Anbar. Turnout was only 40%. Ahmed Abu Risha, formerly of the Anbar Salvation Council and now of the Iraqi Awakenings Conference [corrected], has been telling everyone who will listen that there was massive electoral fraud in Anbar, and that if the IIP is declared the winner the province will look "like Darfur." Another leader, Hamed al-Hayes of the Anbar Salvation Council, is warning that if the IIP is declared the winner his men will turn the province into a graveyard for the IIP and its collaborators. The Iraqi military has declared a curfew to prevent outbreaks of violence.


Iran launches satellite

And now we know which side of the mind-body controversy Mahmoud Ahmadinejad lies on:

Mr Ahmadinejad said the satellite was launched to spread "monotheism, peace and justice" in the world.
(Via BBC, with video)


Moving Help


28 January 2009

Ideology 1, Pragmatism 0

Not that I'm keeping count...
(From the Times):

The White House encouraged other gestures as well. As the House version of the legislation came to the floor on Tuesday, Democrats stripped from it a provision that Republicans had ridiculed as having nothing to do with economic stimulus, one expanding federal Medicaid coverage of family planning services. (The Congressional Budget Office had estimated that the provision would actually save the government $200 million over five years by reducing pregnancy and postnatal-care expenses.)
So I know that $40 million a year of savings is peanuts compared to the multi-trillion dollar deficits that are coming up. Still, if a tiny family planning program expansion that could easily have been forwarded as a cost-restraining measure is defeated because the Republicans frame it (and get it thrown out by an accomodating president) in ideological terms, we don't have much to look forward to in this new era of bipartisanship.