Monday, June 27, 2016

An ill-timed sentiment

In a post at Duck of Minerva, J. Stacey writes: that the UK is packing up and politically retreating back across the Channel, the admiration Americans hold for Britain will also falter as the openness and tolerance of our British cousins will increasingly be called into question.
This is an ill-phrased and possibly ill-timed remark, it seems to me.  I would have voted Remain, but I don't think "packing up" and "retreating" really capture what's going on here -- at best, it's a partial description.  

Moreover, I don't see sentiment about Britain in the U.S. being affected that much.  Americans who were anglophiles before Brexit will still be anglophiles.  British history and 'high' culture, e.g. literature (by which I mean to include the history/culture of the UK's constituent parts), are, to a large extent, what American anglophiles admire, and I wouldn't anticipate that feeling changing drastically, if at all.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Headlines of the day

Should say something about Brexit but I think it's all being said elsewhere, so I'm not going to bother.  Except to say that HRC should nip in the bud Trump's "I love Britain, we're going to be closer under my admin" thing before it becomes one of his standard talking points.  

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Quote of the day

George Eliot, Middlemarch, ch. LXI:

"There is no general doctrine which is not capable of eating out our morality if unchecked by the deep-seated habit of direct fellow-feeling with individual fellow-men."

Friday, June 17, 2016

Soft landing: July 31

This blog has been running for more than eight years -- the first post went up on May 23, 2008 -- and I believe the time has arrived to wind it up or, to use a cliché, bring it in for a soft landing.   For one thing, my impulse to blog has weakened and I'm increasingly busy with  other things.  Second, the readership has shrunk from small to minuscule.

There may or may not be a little more posting in June or July -- I'm not sure.  The last day of active operation for Howl at Pluto will be July 31, 2016.  I'll leave the site up but I don't plan to post anything after that.  My thanks to those who have read and commented here over the years, as well as to those who wrote guest posts -- HC and Peter T.

ETA: And I should acknowledge and thank Hank F_M_ as the most faithful reader from the blog's very beginning to now, even though he and I often disagree on politics and other matters.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Obama on the phrase 'radical Islam' and why he doesn't use it

Good statement on that: here (latter portion, starting at around 14 minutes in).

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Fraser, Harris, and the memory holes of contemporary history

The prose in this piece is sufficiently smooth that one might almost be carried away by its perhaps slightly-too-clever argument that "limousine liberalism" -- to blame for many current woes -- is finally meeting its comeuppance.  The piece's message is that the real villain is not liberalism, limousine or otherwise, but the capitalism that it has served.  Consider this passage:
Brave and audacious as they were, rarely had the rebel movements of the fabled sixties or those that followed explicitly challenged the underlying distribution of property and power in American society. And yet if liberalism had proved compatible enough with liberty, equality, and democracy, capitalism was another matter.
A case could be made that some of the sixties movements did challenge "the underlying distribution of property and power in American society."  But since Fraser in this piece never bothers to define capitalism, he is free to argue, or at least to imply, that the only movements in recent years that have challenged "the underlying distribution of property and power in American society" have done so under an anti-capitalist banner.

The implication is, at best, dubious.  In 1976, Sen. Fred Harris ran for the Democratic presidential nomination on the message that what was needed was "a fairer distribution of wealth and income and power."  Harris framed that message in terms of left-populism rather than (explicit) anti-capitalism.  Bernie Sanders has framed a similar message against the backdrop of a stated commitment to democratic socialism.  But that commitment has been mainly a matter of ideological self-labeling rather than program, since, as Fraser himself notes, Sanders's proposals have been mostly a left-tinged version of the New Deal, not anything notably more radical.

Btw, this is not to deny that Sanders is a socialist: within certain wide limits, a socialist is anyone who calls himself or herself that, and Sanders, who joined the Young People's Socialist League as a student, has long embraced the label.  But Fraser the historian, in ignoring Fred Harris and his left-populist presidential campaign -- one that occurred after the New Left had burned itself out and when 'limousine liberals' for their part were somewhat in retreat -- can reasonably be faulted for having fallen into one of the memory holes of recent history.         

Recent events

I have nothing original or especially insightful to say about what's going on right now (whether in Fla. or elsewhere) but on the off-chance someone passing by wants to leave a comment, feel free to do so.  The unwritten comments policy here is that I can delete whatever I want, though except for obvious spam I've not found it necessary in the past. 

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Peasants and patriotism

It is sometimes useful to distinguish nationalism from patriotism.  Nationalism often carries overtones of aggression, exclusivity, and/or xenophobia that patriotism doesn't.  A 1971 article by Jacques Godechot embodies the distinction in its title: "Nation, patrie, nationalisme et patriotisme en France au XVIIIe siècle."  

Godechot is cited by Rogers Brubaker in Citizenship and Nationhood in France and Germany (1992) for the argument that French nationalism, as opposed to patriotism, emerged only in 1792 with the revolutionary wars.  Before that, "nationalism existed neither as a 'blind and exclusive preference for all that belongs to the nation' nor as a 'demand in favor of subject nationalities.'" [1]  According to Godechot, "it is...absurd to speak of French nationalism during the first years of the Revolution; patriotism is an entirely different thing." [2]

Patriotism was certainly in evidence long before the Revolution.  I've lately been dipping into Jay Smith's 2011 book on 'the beast of the Gévaudan,' a notorious predatory animal (or animals) that ravaged a remote part of south-central France in the mid-1760s.[3]  In two separate episodes, two people -- a shepherd boy and a middle-aged woman -- stood up to the beast when it attacked rather than running away, thereby becoming not only local but national heroes.  The king, Louis XV, rewarded them monetarily, and the boy, theretofore illiterate, was given an education at state expense and went on to a successful military career (abbreviated prematurely by his death in 1785). 

Smith writes:
Their feats [i.e., the feats of the boy and the woman] were folded into a potent cultural initiative evident in many corners of French public life in the 1760s.  In the wake of a disheartening war [i.e., the Seven Years' War], many writers -- government propagandists, historians, educators, moralists, journalists, novelists, and pamphleteers -- worked to boost national morale and encourage new sentiments of national pride.  Their project grew out of the hardening conviction that even "subaltern heroes," or persons of inferior status, could rise to the level of patriotic paragon, and it reflected the belief that a French identity based on proud sentiments of honor should inspire "patriotic enthusiasm" throughout the "mass of the nation." [4]       


1. Brubaker, Citizenship and Nationhood, p.8, quoting Godechot, "Nation, patrie..." in Annales historiques de la Révolution française v. 206 (1971).

2. Godechot, "Nation, patrie...", p.498, as quoted in Brubaker, Citizenship and Nationhood, p.193 n.28. 

3. Jay M. Smith, Monsters of the Gévaudan: The Making of a Beast (2011).

4. Ibid., p.160 (endnote omitted).

Sunday, May 29, 2016


Not posting anything re Memorial Day partly because busy etc. right now, but the comment thread attached to this post has some interesting contributions, mostly the personal stories about parents' and relatives' WW2 experiences, etc.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Spats & corrections

In the unlikely event anyone was following the unpleasant exchange between me and b.s. (initials) at CT: I'm not going to deal in detail with all of b.s.'s misrepresentations about what went on at b.s.'s  blog.  Suffice to say that b.s. misrepresented both the length and, to some significant extent, the substance of the comments I left there. My comment about the novels (to which b.s. referred) never even appeared. 

And although this is semantics, I did not say that b.s. had "banned" me, as b.s. claimed; rather, in my earlier post here on the matter, I wrote: "Ordinarily I might have left this as a comment on [b.s.'s] blog rather than writing a post here, but she's made clear that my comments aren't welcome there."

That's what I wrote: I didn't use the word "banned."  Whether the accuracy of b.s.'s recollection in this respect reflects on the accuracy, or lack thereof, of b.s.'s recollection in other respects I will leave to the reader's judgment. I am going to try hard to avoid any future interaction with b.s.

Friday, May 27, 2016

A policy nightmare

The nightmare of policy makers is a situation where every option appears bad and there is no good outcome in sight for the foreseeable future, and this seems to describe the situation in Syria.  This post by R. Farley on the Obama admin's strategy underscores the point.  There are those who have argued that an early U.S. intervention (without ground forces) would have allowed the Free Syrian Army to topple the Assad regime, but (1) this must remain at least somewhat speculative and (2) as Farley points out, the Obama admin had reasons for fearing what might happen in the wake of a rebel victory.  J. Stacey, who has made the (necessarily counterfactual) argument about early intervention, also contended that a large UN peacekeeping operation would likely have followed the fall of the Assad regime, but, for reasons I gave in a brief exchange with Stacey at Duck of Minerva, I'm not persuaded of this.

Saturday, May 21, 2016


Since I just linked to this in a Crooked Timber thread, I might as well also link it here, though I've not read it thoroughly yet (it's a review of B. Milanovic's Global Inequality):

Monday, May 16, 2016

Sykes-Picot anniversary

A couple of academic-style events mark the 100th anniversary of the Sykes-Picot agreement (there are probably more, but these are two I noticed): a symposium tomorrow (May 17) at the Wilson Center (find it here; live webcast) and a symposium that was held this afternoon (May 16) at AEI (here; video apparently available).  

Sunday, May 15, 2016

A certain magazine in 1846 on slavery

W.L. Burn, The Age of Equipoise (Norton pb., 1965), pp.69-70 (endnotes omitted):
The entrenched humanitarians of an older generation might deplore, as Lord Denman did in 1848, the fact that public opinion on the subject of slavery had suffered "a lamentable and disgraceful change".  They might note as evidence of a narrowing of sympathy the remark of the Economist of July 25, 1846, that "the duty of England is to its own subjects, not to the natives of Africa or the slaves of the Brazils" and its yet more forthright assertion on February 26th that the slave trade was "the only practical mode which has yet been discovered by which a communication can be opened and maintained between Africa and the civilized world".
Context: Parliament abolished the slave trade in 1807 and abolished slavery everywhere in the Empire in 1833.  The issue here, as Burn notes, was the future of the West Africa Squadron, which (per Wiki), "[b]etween 1808 and 1860, ... seized approximately 1,600 slave ships and freed 150,000 Africans who were aboard."


ETA: Off-topic but not perhaps enough for a separate post so I'll stick it here. I was at the Boston Review site just now and on their "most read" list there's a piece by James Galbraith from 2003 arguing the JFK-had-ordered-a-withdrawal-from-Vietnam thesis.  I didn't take the time to read it, just scrolled through, but was interested given the persistent harping on this point by a particular Crooked Timber commenter who doesn't seem to be posting there anymore. Call me a snob or something, but a lengthy piece by James Galbraith makes me take notice a bit more than a pseudonymous blog commenter does. Not expressing a view on the substance.   

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

The 1997 E. Asian financial crisis and world trade

Loomis in a Lawyers Guns & Money post linked to this piece that in turn linked to this piece by Dean Baker.  I was particularly interested in Baker's point that many poorer countries started running large trade surpluses with most of the developed world after the '97 East Asian financial crisis.  Governing elites in the S.E. Asian countries after the crisis felt they needed to build up large foreign exchange reserves (and were also, in effect, told to by the IMF); hence, the need to increase their exports as much as possible to the rich countries.  The U.S., unlike Europe and Japan, was running a trade deficit with these countries before the '97 crisis, but the U.S. trade imbalance with them got larger after that, peaking in 2005.  One result was increased loss of U.S. manufacturing jobs.  Anyway, you can read the links for the details of the argument.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Crick, Laski, and Trump

Ordinarily I don't read David Brooks (I listen to him occasionally on the NewsHour and that would seem to be, well, more than enough -- though someone so inclined can search this blog [there's a search box in the upper left corner] and find that I have discussed a Brooks column now and then in the past).

Anyway, I noticed at Duck of Minerva that Josh Busby was tweeting a Brooks column and I said "what's that all about"?

So I zipped through the column.  The basic message is that Trump is the culmination of 'anti-political' trends of the last several decades in the U.S.  The column is bookended with quotes from Bernard Crick and Harold Laski.  In between the quotes the column is fairly predictable -- not wrong, but also not very deep.

In particular Brooks does not delve into why some people dislike the compromise and messiness of democratic politics, apart from the suggestion that authoritarianism is on the rise worldwide.  Could it be that democratic politics has not served a portion of the population especially well, and their reaction is, not too surprisingly, to say **** it?

One thing's for sure.  You're not going to sway most Trump supporters with quotes from two Brits (Laski and Crick), both of whom were (gasp) socialists (of one sort or another).

Friday, May 6, 2016

Adam Smith on Trump

"The rich man glories in his riches, because he feels that they naturally draw upon him the attention of the world.... At the thought of this, his heart seems to swell and dilate itself within him, and he is fonder of his wealth, upon this account, than for all the other advantages it procures him."

-- Adam Smith, The Theory of Moral Sentiments, ed. D.D. Raphael and A.L. Macfie (Clarendon Press), pp.50-51, as quoted in Nicholas Xenos, Scarcity and Modernity (Routledge, 1989), p.15     

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Reflections on Trump

I just heard (props to C-Span radio) a bit of Trump's speech in Charleston, W.Va.  It was a series of disconnected assertions of the sort that typify his speeches: "we're going to win, win, win"; "we're going to negotiate great trade deals"; "we're going to have lots of people enter the country, but legally"; "we're going to bring back jobs"; "we're going to get rid of Common Core"; "we're going to repeal Obamacare"; "we're going to crush [or some similar verb] ISIS"; and, of course, "we're going to make America great again."  And he said to West Virginia miners: "get ready, you're going to be working your asses off [i.e., when Trump becomes President]." 

The slogan "we're going to make America great again" is empty without some conception of what makes a country great.  Does Trump have such a conception?  Would America be great if the coal industry were again engaged in large-scale strip mining and laying waste to the landscapes that Trump has probably never spent any time in?  Where does Trump stand on controls on emissions from coal-fired power plants?  How can one give a speech in West Virginia, a state whose economy is probably just as dependent on tourism as it is on coal (if not moreso) and not even nod in the direction of saying something about the state's physical beauty and natural attractions (if he did, it wasn't in the part of the speech I heard)?  Does Trump realize that climate change means that doing little or nothing to transition to non-fossil-fuel energy sources is signing a death warrant for future generations?

Instead of flying from New York to Charleston, giving a speech, and leaving, Trump should go to some small, depressed towns in southern West Virginia, for example in McDowell County, and he should talk to people who live there and actually know something about the region and the challenges facing those communities.  But that would require a degree of curiosity and openness to experience that Trump shows no evidence of possessing.  His entire career has been a matter of "winning" and attempting to advance the fortunes of Donald Trump.  Fans of Trump like to point out that as a businessman Trump has hired thousands of workers.  Who are they?  How are they treated and paid?  What is the turnover rate?  Are they going to vote for Trump?

A central question in this election is whether the way to "make America great again" is to hire as President a demagogic misogynist who embodies the worst aspects of a system that generates waste, inequality, and environmental destruction on a planetary scale.


Paul Campos (here):
The French revolution’s slogan was “liberty, equality, fraternity.” The Reagan revolution’s guiding principles have been “stupidity, celebrity, plutocracy” – and Trump is the ultimate example of all three.
Whether this is exactly right might be debatable, but it's snappy and, as they say, close enough for jazz (do they still say that?).

Sunday, May 1, 2016

The first dog in space

In October 1957, the Soviet Union launched Sputnik.  Soon after that, the U.S. tried to match the feat, unsuccessfully.  To quote Rick Perlstein's description in Before the Storm, p.69:
In 1957 Khrushchev announced that the Soviet Union would imminently catch up to the United States in the production of meat, milk, and butter.  The Soviets began testing an intercontinental ballistic missile.  Then, in October, Russia sent its bleeping medicine ball around the planet.  America's space-race debut was rushed to the launching pad, where it rose five feet before disintegrating into a fireball (headline: "FLOPNIK").
Compare the somewhat different impression of this episode given by Martin McCauley's Russia, America and the Cold War, 1949-1991 (Longman, 1998):
The space age was launched on 4 October 1957 when Sputnik circumnavigated the globe every 96 minutes.  It was a staggering achievement for Russian science to propel an 83.6 kg satellite into space for three months.... It was followed by another eight Sputniks which scored a dazzling list of firsts, the first dog in space, and so on.  Russian rocket technology was the best in the world and threatened to alter the balance of world power.... As events were to show, Khrushchev became dangerously over-confident.  Everything was not as it seemed.  Eisenhower had actually prevented America from being the first in space.  The capacity had been there but the U.S. President was concerned about sending a space vehicle over enemy territory.  He wanted the Russians to go first and then the Americans would follow.  Had the U.S. gone first, it might have lowered the tension of the ensuing five years. [p.31]
Eisenhower wanted the Russians to go first?!  No wonder Robert Welch (founder of the John Birch Society) thought Ike was a tool of international Communism (note to the humor-impaired: joke).             

More seriously, why, if the capability was there, did the first U.S. effort to match Sputnik disintegrate practically on the launch pad?  Presumably because the capability hadn't been operationalized (or actualized, if you prefer that word), and then the U.S. rushed its response, with predictable results.

By the way, I feel sorry for the first dog in space (mentioned in the McCauley quote above); I hope it was given a suitable reward.  Ditto for the terrified-looking monkeys that the Soviets launched into orbit -- at least as I recall, from seeing pictures.

Here's Rousseau: "...since... [animals] share to some extent in our nature by virtue of their having sensations, it will be judged that they must also participate in natural right, and that man is subject to some kind of duties toward them.  Indeed, it seems that if I am obligated to do no evil to my fellow man, it is less because he is a rational being than because he is a sentient being -- a property that, because it is common to both animals and men, should at least give the beast the right not to be needlessly mistreated by man." (Discourse on Inequality [Preface], Oxford World's Classics edition, trans. Franklin Philip, p.18)


Btw, Russia has a new cosmodrome, i.e. space launch site. 

ETA: A bit of cursory research reveals that a lot of books have been published in the last 25 years or so on the space race in general and Sputnik in particular.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Reading between the lines

From South Asia Daily for April 25:
Officials confirmed on Monday that the Indian government canceled the visa of Chinese dissident leader and Uighur activist Dolkun Isa on April 23 after pressure from Beijing (Reuters, Time, BBC). Isa is the chairman of the Germany-based World Uighur Congress and was due to attend a conference next week in the northern Indian town of Dharamsala. Uighurs are an ethnic minority community from China's western Xinjiang region and have a long history of discord with Beijing. They are Muslims and regard themselves as culturally and ethnically close to Central Asian nations. Chinese authorities consider Isa as a terrorist and criticized India when the visa was issued. Previous media reports indicated that Delhi granted Isa a visa after China blocked India's bid to get the UN to put Jaish-e-Muhammad chief Masood Azhar on its terrorist list.
And why would China have blocked India's effort to put Azhar on the UN terrorist list? Presumably because Pakistan opposed the move, and China was doing Pakistan, in effect, a favor.  I can't imagine what other reason Beijing would have.

Monday, April 25, 2016


Ever had one of those "****, I haven't heard that song in ******* decades!" moments?  If you're of a certain age, you probably have, even if, like me, your connections to pop music are tenuous.  Anyway, I had such a moment this afternoon, when this
came on at the end of Fresh Air.  (The occasion was the death of Billy Paul, who sang it.)  I could do without all the strings in the recorded version, but it's a sufficiently good song that no orchestration can spoil it.