Friday, January 30, 2015

"Or was the Spaniard less hardened than the Jew...?"

Slowly making my way through Melville's "Benito Cereno."  The character Capt. Delano is quite something, given among other things to interior monologues about the supposed characteristics of "the negro" (whom, we are told, he is drawn to in some ways despite regarding "the negro" as intellectually inferior to "the white man").  Then I reach this passage, where Delano is trying for the umpteenth time to figure out Don Benito's behavior:
Why was the Spaniard, so superfluously punctilious at times, now heedless of common propriety in not accompanying to the side his departing guest?  Did indisposition forbid?  Indisposition had not forbidden more irksome exertion that day.... [Benito's] last glance seemed to express a calamitous, yet acquiescent farewell to Captain Delano forever.  Why decline the invitation to visit the sealer [Delano's ship] that evening?  Or was the Spaniard less hardened than the Jew, who refrained not from supping at the board of him whom the same night he meant to betray?
An obvious reference to Judas and the Last Supper.  But what with "the negro," "the mulatto," "the Spaniard," and "the Jew," Delano's mind, externalized on the page, is a riot of unexamined stereotypes.  (I know that the story, written in the 1850s, is set in 1799.  But still.) 

Monday, January 26, 2015

Saudi Arabia's border wall

Via Pub Editor, an item about the wall Saudi Arabia is building on its border with Iraq.  Wendy Brown, a political theorist at Berkeley, wrote a book several years ago on the wall-building trend: Walled States, Waning Sovereignty (2010; Zone Books paperback, 2014).  Happen to own the book but haven't really read it.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Quote of the day (Melville)

Reading an unannotated version of a classic has more drawbacks than advantages, but one of the latter is that it allows one occasionally to pick up allusions for oneself, without aid of an editor's note.  Here's a passage from Melville's Benito Cereno:
But ere long Captain Delano bethought him that, indulgent as he was at the first, in judging the Spaniard, he might not, after all, have exercised charity enough.  At bottom it was Don Benito's reserve which displeased him; but the same reserve was shown towards all but his faithful personal attendant.  Even the formal reports which, according to sea-usage, were, at stated times, made to him by some petty underling, either a white, mulatto or black, he hardly had patience enough to listen to without betraying contemptuous aversion.  His manner on such occasions was, in its degree, not unlike that which might be supposed to have been his imperial countryman's, Charles V., just previous to the anchoritish retirement of that monarch from the throne.
As some will know, the reference is to the abdication of the Habsburg emperor Charles V and his subsequent retirement to a monastery (hence "anchoritish").

Thursday, January 22, 2015

MidEast open thread

Developments in the broader Middle East -- Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Libya (there was a WaPo editorial about the last not too long ago that I was thinking of linking to, though not necessarily because I agreed with it) -- might ordinarily call for comment here, but I'm somewhat preoccupied at the moment, plus I'm not sure I can add much 'value', so to speak, not being a regional expert.  But in the unlikely event someone is passing through and wants to comment on the developments, please feel free to do so.  (Or on anything else for that matter, assuming it's roughly within the blog's remit.)  

Friday, January 16, 2015

Sri Lanka election

From a week ago: here (h/t).


I haven't read the J. Fallows piece on the U.S. military in the current Atlantic (though I bought the issue), but the NewsHour had a couple of segments about it last night, in case someone here is interested. There were no COIN proponents represented (true, it was a total of only three: Fallows, and then two people commenting on Fallows), but I still thought that was noteworthy.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The problem with an IR 'must-read' list

Since putting up the previous post, I've been toying with the notion of a 'must-read' list for graduate students in International Relations. I even have something in draft. But the more I think about it, the more uneasy I am with the whole idea. The field seems to have become so fragmented that I'm not sure there are any books or articles that every grad student simply must read. Fifteen or twenty years ago, I suppose one might have said that every IR grad student had to read, say, Waltz's Theory of International Politics, but I'm not sure that's true anymore. So what one is left with is a it-would-be-nice-if-you-had-read-this list, rather than a you-must-read-this list, and the former kind of list is not going to excite anyone much, it seems to me.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

R.P. Wolff's '25 must-read books for philosophy grad students'


Of course I'm not a philosophy grad student or philosopher, but for parlor-game purposes I could mention which I have read and haven't. But I think I won't, unless someone asks me to, in which case I'll do it in comments.

What might really get the traffic going here (relatively speaking, of course) would be an analogous list of 'must-read books/articles for grad students in IR'. Maybe I'll turn my thoughts to that at some point.

A photo is worth...

I haven't written anything here about the recent events in France, partly because I can't add much or anything to what has been said elsewhere; however, I just saw, via WaPo, the photograph of Hollande at the mass demonstration flanked by various notables, including Netanyahu and Abbas. Just thought it worth mentioning the presence of the latter two.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

A missed comment

Looking back over some old posts last night, I ran across a comment I don't think I had seen before. It showed up in the comment file, which I check periodically, but for some reason I missed it.

The post, from Sept. 9, 2014, was this:
Why has Kissinger, at 91, published a 400-page volume called World Order that seems, judging from this review, to be mostly a repetition of things he's said before?
And the comment by 'anonymous', from Nov. 19:
Why are people actually giving it publicity? (and I don't mean you) What does that say about the reviewers?
I think the answer is that any book by Kissinger automatically gets publicity. In the case of the NYT, for example, some editor probably made the decision to review it and then assigned it to the reviewer, so I wouldn't especially blame the reviewer in that case.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Facts of the day

In a the-world-in-2014 discussion several days ago, David Miliband mentioned that "one refugee occurred every four seconds in 2014" and that half of all people living on less than $1.25 a day "are in conflict or fragile states." (Btw, what's the definition of a fragile state? Is there a generally accepted one? Possibly, but I'm not going to look it up right now.) 

Monday, January 5, 2015

A note about this year at this blog

I want to mention to the few regular readers of this blog that the pace of posting here in 2015 will likely be much slower than in previous years.  Since there will be longish stretches when there is nothing new here, it may be convenient to put the blog on a feed, for which see "Subscribe" at the sidebar.  (I don't use feeds myself, but I gather they may have certain advantages.)  Anyway, however you choose to access the blog, please be advised that there will almost certainly be less posting here this year than in the past.

Saturday, January 3, 2015


Joseph Bara, once (and maybe still?) a widely-known name in France, was a drummer boy in a French republican force fighting in the Vendée when he was killed at the age of thirteen in December 1793, having refused to surrender some horses when captured. Helped along by a speech by Robespierre, who portrayed the boy as having died crying "Vive la république!," Bara became a republican martyr.

I ran across Bara's name last year in David Bell's The First Total War, which carries as one of its illustrations J.-L. David's painting of the death of Bara. Then the other evening I happened to pull from my bookcase Robert Gildea's The Past in French History, saw the book's cover painting, said to myself "what is that?," turned to the back of the paperback, and discovered that it is J.J. Weert's painting Death of Bara, done in the 1880s. The Wikipedia entry on Bara reproduces both of these paintings (as well as a third one). The Weerts in particular should be viewed full size (click on the image).

Added later: For those too busy to click through to the Wiki entry, here is the Weerts painting:

Thursday, January 1, 2015

The executive-congressional balance

Listening some days ago to a broadcast of a panel discussion about Pres. Obama's welcome move to normalize relations with Cuba, I heard one of the panelists imply that the absence of congressional involvement in the initiative is noteworthy.  I don't think so.  American presidents, certainly in recent decades but also throughout U.S. history, have typically conducted foreign policy by doing what they want and then consulting Congress afterward, if at all. 

Although I think the balance between Congress and the President has tipped too far in the latter's direction when it comes to decisions about the use of force, as a general matter it makes sense for Presidents to have a somewhat greater scope for independent action in the area of foreign affairs. That's not necessarily to say that the well-known (in certain circles) Supreme Court case (Curtiss-Wright) that held that the President has "inherent power" to conduct foreign relations was correct, but that's a somewhat different point. (Not taking the time to look the case up and refresh my memory.)

Whether Pres. Obama has made, on the whole, wise use of his power to conduct foreign affairs is also a separate question, one I won't take up in this post. But the Cuba move is unquestionably a good step, in my view.   

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Note to readers

I'm taking a break from posting for the rest of this month. Happy holidays, and I'll see you in 2015.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Spheres of influence

Loomis reminds that today is the anniversary of the Monroe Doctrine: here (plus comment thread).

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Quote of the day (Virginia Woolf)

[Parson James Woodforde] was a quiet man, a man without ambition, and it is more than likely that his niece found him a little dull. It is the niece Nancy, to speak plainly, who makes us uneasy. There are the seeds of domestic disaster in her character, unless we mistake.... No suitor has yet appeared. It is but too likely that the ten years of Parson Woodforde's life that still remain will often have to record how Nancy teased him with her grumbling.

The ten years that remain -- one knows, of course, that it must come to an end. Already the Custances have gone to Bath; the Parson has had a touch of gout; far away, with a sound like distant thunder, we hear the guns of the French Revolution. But it is comforting to observe that the imprisonment of the French king and queen, and the anarchy and confusion in Paris, are only mentioned after it has been recorded that Thomas Ram has lost his cow and that Parson Woodforde has "brewed another Barrell of Table Beer today." We have a notion, indeed -- and here it must be confessed that we have given up reading Parson Woodforde altogether, and merely tell over the story on a stroll through fields where the hares are scampering and the rooks rising above the elm trees -- we have a notion that Parson Woodforde does not die. Parson Woodforde goes on. It is we who change and perish. It is the kings and queens who lie in prison. It is the great towns that are ravaged with anarchy and confusion. But the river Wensum still flows; Mrs. Custance is brought to bed of yet another baby; there is the first swallow of the year. The spring comes, and summer with its hay and its strawberries; then autumn, when the walnuts are exceptionally fine, though the pears are poor; so we lapse into winter, which is indeed boisterous, but the house, thank God, withstands the storm; and then again there is the first swallow, and Parson Woodforde takes his greyhounds out a-coursing.

-- Virginia Woolf, "Life Itself," 1927 (a review of Woodforde's diaries), reprinted in The Captain's Death Bed and Other Essays (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1950).

Friday, November 28, 2014

The toll of the Boko Haram conflict

Via. A takeaway figure is 7,000 deaths connected with the Boko Haram insurgency between July 2013 and June 2014. More than that die every day in sub-Saharan Africa of preventable poverty-related causes, a fact that does not diminish the number's significance but perhaps helps put it in perspective.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Tuesday linkage (abbreviated)

-- Corey Robin on a panel discussion with Steven Salaita and Katherine Franke at Brooklyn College: here.

-- J.W. Mason on Coriolanus (plus comment thread): here.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Maps and myths

See here and my (Disqus) comment.

Friday, November 21, 2014


I see from a long WaPo piece (link to be added later) that Boehner claims the reason he couldn't take up immigration measures in the House is that the Pres. had issued "too many" executive orders w/r/t the health care law, supposedly creating an environment of mistrust. Makes perfect sense, doesn't it? (Meanwhile, the House Repubs' lawsuit, filed in federal district court in D.C., argues the Pres. could not delay the individual mandate, the very provision of the law they unsuccessfully tried to get SCOTUS to declare unconstitutional.)

Mysteries of the publishing industry

In 2013 Richard Overy's The Bombing War: Europe 1939-1945 was published in the UK. In 2014 Overy's The Bombers and the Bombed: Allied Air War Over Europe 1940-1945 was published in the U.S. A note on the inside cover indicates it's the same book. The practice of changing titles is fairly common, I think, but since in this case the publisher, The Penguin Group, can't possibly have had a sensible marketing reason for the title change, one is left to conclude that the publisher's main goal was to sow confusion.
Update: TBA in comments points out it's not the same book: the U.S. edition is shorter.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

The Pres.'s immigration speech

One of the best addresses he's given in a long time, I thought. Very effective on the level of language, both impassioned and conversational in tone: has a President ever used the phrase "here's the thing" in a prime-time speech before? I am not too impressed with the argument that he's overstepping executive authority, but will let the constitutional lawyers quarrel over that.