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.    

Friday, November 14, 2014

"Give us the facts, we will take care of the philosophy"

From Jason Frank, Constituent Moments (2010), p.230 (endnote omitted):
In My Bondage [and] My Freedom [Frederick] Douglass describes his painful break with [William Lloyd] Garrison.... While Garrison and others initially lionized Douglass and relied heavily on his personal experience in slavery to mobilize support for their cause, they actively resisted his attempts to do more than speak from personal experience, his attempts not to be reduced to "experience" and "testimony." Douglass described white abolitionist attempts to pin him down to his "simple narrative" as yet another effort to keep blacks in their place. "Give us the facts," said one of his white abolitionist supporters, "we will take care of the philosophy." For Douglass this well-meaning advice from white abolitionists relying on the sentimental authenticity of his experience was all too reminiscent of the meticulous orchestration of subservience and place under the "organization of slave power."

Thursday, November 13, 2014

The global scope of WW1

Christopher Nichols writes a reminder that the effects of WW1 extended far beyond Europe. The only thing I would differ with is his description of WW1 as "the first total war," which it was not.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Wed. eve. linkage (abbreviated)

-- The Disorder of Things recently ran a series called "The Global Colonial 1914-1918." Lucian Ashworth's post, the first in the series, looks to be worth reading, though I've not done more yet than glance at it. [Update: I've now read it; see the discussion in comments.] The other contributions also seem worth a look.

-- There's a post and discussion at the USIH blog about a review in New Left Review of The Great Persuasion. Since I've read neither the review nor the book, I don't have a lot to say about it right now.

-- Craig Lambert's profile of Orlando Patterson (in Nov./Dec. Harvard Magazine) is interesting, though I raced through it. A more careful reading might be in order at some point. [Update: Read it properly now. A good piece.]

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Everything becomes an acronym

I heard, via C-Span radio, part of a briefing session for reporters (conducted by academic or think-tank types) on the Pres.'s upcoming trip for the APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation) meeting and the G-20 meeting. One of the speakers, in discussing the G-20 economic agenda, referred to "[tax] base erosion and profit shifting," or as he put it: "'BEPS' in the terminology." With a trillion dollars flowing out of developing countries (broadly defined) each year as a result of tax evasion and other illegal practices, and with corporations always searching for ways to escape paying taxes, BEPS is a serious problem for governments. But I guess everything has to become an acronym, irrespective of its seriousness (or lack thereof).   

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Post-election reflections

Thanks to a tip from a Twitter feed, I just read this piece by Molly Worthen in yesterday's NYT. She correctly (in my opinion) criticizes what passes for the Left in mainstream U.S. politics for avoiding serious discussion of the sources of economic inequality (while it embraces progressive stances on social issues). As Worthen says, the 2014 election was not about "nothing"; rather, it was about  a deliberate effort to avoid genuine debate: basic philosophical (ideological) differences and their connections to policy were largely bypassed. Thus the election [in my view, at any rate] was indeed about "something": namely, it was about the continuation of the degradation and trivialization of elections and the evacuation of substantive debate from politics.

These are not, of course, new features of U.S. politics. With one or two exceptions, politicians who hold national-level offices avoid frankly discussing the philosophical (i.e. ideological) roots of their positions. Instead, they speak in sound bites and code words, while pursuing agendas that appear on the surface to be ideologically neutral but actually are not. Thus, for instance, the current Democratic governor of Virginia goes on a 'trade mission' to Asia, trying to entice Japanese, Korean, and Chinese companies to invest in his state, and in some cases succeeding (see Jenna Portnoy, "McAuliffe: Asia Trip Will Spur Deals, Spark Economy," Wash. Post, Oct. 23, 2014, p.B5 [print edition]). States vie with each other to see which can create the most "business-friendly" climate. But even in a 'business civilization' and a world dominated by those entities referred to by the cryptic phrase 'the markets', there are different ways to "solve problems," not just one supposedly neutral way.

Ever since the Democratic Party embraced an agenda of deregulation in the Carter administration and then proceeded to accommodate some of the key premises of Reaganism by moving further right in the 1990s, U.S. electoral politics has lacked the kind of real ideological debate that should be one of the distinguishing characteristics of a mature, well-functioning political system. Instead, U.S. electoral politics are dominated by code words and sound bites, while elite groups (i.e., corporations and their lobbyists) exercise what often amounts to a stranglehold on the making of policy. That Pres. Obama, while managing to achieve certain things, has not been able to alter these basic pathological features of U.S. politics and, to a large extent, has not even tried to do so, shows how deeply entrenched they are in the fabric of the country's warped, diseased political culture.

Added later: for a more upbeat assessment of various things, you can listen to the Pres.'s news conference of today.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Quote of the day (Gouverneur Morris)

Too bad that the following doesn't really seem to apply to the present...

Gouverner Morris to Thomas Penn, 1774:
These sheep [the people], simple as they are, cannot be gulled as heretofore.... The mob begin to think and to reason. Poor reptiles! it is with them a vernal morning, they are struggling to cast off their winter's slough, they bask in the sunshine, and ere noon they will bite, depend upon it. The gentry begin to fear this.
(As quoted, at more length, in Jason Frank, Constituent Moments, Duke Univ. Press, 2010, pp.86-7.)

Wielding executive power

Even a casual follower of the news knows that Pres. Obama has used, as have other Presidents, executive orders to accomplish things that a gridlocked Congress has been unable to (in the environmental area, for instance, or with certain measures affecting government contractors). With the Senate seemingly poised to slip into Republican hands, one would expect the Pres.'s reliance on the levers of executive power to increase for the remainder of his term.

[edited slightly after initial posting] 

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

A dumb name for a drink

From a good reporter, Juliet Eilperin, a less-than-earthshaking piece about Takoma Park (Md.) and (among other things) its connections to the upper reaches of the Obama admin. A brief excerpt:
The elevation of this community of fewer than 18,000 residents to the highest echelons of government speaks to the influence of progressives in the administration — a bent that will become more pronounced during Obama’s final two years in office, even if Republicans make major gains in next week’s elections. But it also underscores how, for all of its radical leanings, the city has moved closer to the mainstream than one might think. Its residents are no longer fighting the power; they are the power.

A decade ago, Takoma Park’s downtown economic anchors included a yoga studio, a pet food store that sponsored animal rescues and a music store. Those businesses have survived, but that strip now has two coffee shops, three restaurants that serve alcohol and a hardware store. Where Murphy’s Auto Parts once stood is now the upscale restaurant Republic, which offers not just a duck confit Cubano sandwich but a “Fascist Killer” specialty cocktail that features Old Scout bourbon, Amaro Averna, basil and lemon peel.
Bourbon, basil, and lemon peel = yuk. And "fascist killer" is a stupid name for a drink.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

"To be a citizen is to have an ideology"

One of the commenters at Crooked Timber has been on a crusade lately against "ideology," not against any particular ideology but against some phantom in his head that he sees as bad and to which he attaches this word. I've never read Karl Mannheim or done any deep study of the notion of ideology, but the word has no negative connotations for me. I think virtually everyone has, in some sense, an ideology, whether it's conscious or not, sophisticated or not, elaborate or not.

I'm reminded of something Judith Shklar wrote in a festschrift for Stanley Hoffmann, describing the latter's attitude toward ideology and ideologies:
He sees [ideologies] not only as inevitable, but as necessary functions of democratization and of democratic public life once it has been institutionalized.... Ideology [in Hoffmann's view] is as positive as it is a necessary part of political action. To be a citizen is to have an ideology. Without ideology there would have been no resistance to Nazism, no heroism of the few who had a faith that led them to risk their lives to save the persecuted, and no will to defend human rights.
(Judith N. Shklar, "Teaching Ideologies with Stanley," in Ideas and Ideals: Essays on Politics in Honor of Stanley Hoffmann, ed. L. B. Miller and M. J. Smith, Westview Press, 1993, p.62)

Monday, October 27, 2014

Quote of the day (pre-election division)

I take it as proved that those who consider universal suffrage as a guarantee of the excellence of the resulting choice suffer under a complete delusion. Universal suffrage has other advantages, but not that one.
-- Tocqueville, Democracy in America, vol.1, pt.2, ch.5 (quoted in the G. Lawrence trans.)

P.s. This is not to say Republican attacks on voting rights don't matter; they do, obvs.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Comment of the day

One of the angles in a WaPo story about Justices Thomas, Sotomayor, and Alito returning to Yale Law School to receive awards was that Thomas seems to have "made his peace" with the law school. To which a commenter, one "Publius38," remarked:
To really, really make peace with Yale, Thomas should resign as soon as possible from his current job and go teach there. 

Friday, September 26, 2014

"The army of lawyers will be annihilated"

From S. Walt, Revolution and War (1996), p.71:
Prussia's desire for action [in 1792] was based on the same sort of optimistic beliefs that the Girondins had promulgated so effectively within France.... The belief that the revolution had sapped French [military] strength was widespread.... [O]ne of Frederick William's chief advisors predicted, "The comedy will not last long. The army of lawyers will be annihilated in Belgium [i.e. the Austrian Netherlands] and we shall be home by the autumn."  

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Degrade, not destroy

You (a generic "you") may notice that I haven't been writing recently about what's going in the world now, preferring instead to meander through the French Revolution and Napoleon. Ok. Time to opine on ISIS and the air campaign. Actually I don't have much to say about it beyond the thought that Obama should not have set the goal as being to "destroy" the group. That's too high a bar, and also not necessary. "Degrade seriously" would be enough.    

Tocqueville and Napoleon

Alexis de Tocqueville was born in 1805, the year of Napoleon's victory over Russia and Austria at the battle of Austerlitz (one of the consequences of which was that, the following year, the Holy Roman Empire finally went out of existence).

Was Tocqueville one of the many caught up, retrospectively, by Napoleon's mystique, one of those who breathed in what David Bell (see the previous post) refers to as the "intoxicating fumes" of Napoleon's legend?  Apparently yes, at least to some extent.  In Tocqueville's Discovery of America (pb. ed., 2011), Leo Damrosch writes (p.187) that Tocqueville "was quite starstruck by the memory of Napoleon, much though he deplored his imperial rule," though Damrosch doesn't cite a passage from Tocqueville in this connection. 

Damrosch does, however, quote Tocqueville's reaction to hearing the Duke of Wellington speak in the House of Lords: "La gloire is invested with such extraordinary prestige that when I saw him take off his hat and begin to speak, I felt a shudder run through my veins" (Voyage en Angleterre, 1833).  T. evidently had a weak spot for generals, especially perhaps titled ones, who had won famous victories. Damrosch: "Tocqueville believed that only great generals, like ... Napoleon and Wellington, deserved political eminence" -- unlike Andrew Jackson, whom T. did not see in that light.