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. J├╝rgen 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