Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Steven Cook on Israel, the PA, and Hamas

From S. Cook's blog post for The Times of Israel:
Instead of using the period after the 2012 cease-fire to help Abbas by giving him a political win and boosting his narrative about the promise of negotiations, Jerusalem did nothing. When Secretary of State John Kerry launched a push for peace in 2013, the Israeli government went along, but never gave Abbas anything he could use to close the gap between what he was telling Palestinians about talks and their objective reality, which unfortunately for the Palestinian Authority president included Jerusalem’s announcement of new settlement building and failure to honor its commitment to release Palestinian prisoners.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Of bad captions

Someone recently referred me on a particular issue to the site Sharia Unveiled, with which I was unfamiliar (though the name rang a bell). Without passing definitive judgment on the site on the basis of a brief visit (I read only a particular post, not the site's mission statement), I must say I was not struck favorably by the sidebar, which features among other things the picture of a young girl with the caption "Fight Islam for me" beneath it. Not "Fight extremism for me," not "Fight Salafism for me," but "Fight Islam for me." This kind of thing is politically irresponsible and unacceptable and, frankly, stupid.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

A Most Wanted Man

I saw the movie A Most Wanted Man last night, having just read the LeCarré novel on which it's based. Among my several criticisms of the movie, the main one is that it considerably tones down the political edge of the book, which was published in 2008 and is a strong critique of certain facets of the 'war on terror'. The political message is not absent from the movie, but it is muted. Philip Seymour Hoffman is good in his last major role and there are a couple of other good performances, but on the whole I found the film disappointing.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

"The fever-dream stage of superpowerdom"

The quote is from Timothy Burke's post on that guy who claimed a "country" for his daughter on a small piece of land in southern Egypt. As Burke points out, the only reason it's unclaimed terra nullius is that Egypt and Sudan, "still fencing with each other about their postcolonial border," each has a reason not to claim it. 

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Quote of the day

Following a link provided by a commenter on the USIH roundtable led me to Paul Kramer's historiographical essay in American Historical Review (Dec. 2011), for which a pdf is available. I've only glanced through it, but I like Kramer's opening paragraph enough to quote it here:
When U.S. historians begin to talk about empire, it usually registers the declining fortunes of others. The term’s use among historians in reference to the United States has crested during controversial wars, invasions, and occupations, and ebbed when projections of American power have receded from public view. This periodicity—this tethering of empire as a category of analysis to the vagaries of U.S. power and its exercise—is one of the striking aspects of empire’s strange historiographic career. When it comes to U.S. imperial history, one might say, the owl of Minerva flies primarily when it is blasted from its perch.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Y. Levy on Israel's casualty aversion

The latest headline from Gaza -- 60 Palestinians, 13 Israeli soldiers killed in the latest clash -- reminded me that I'd seen reviews of this book by Yagil Levy. A glance at the introduction confirms that the book was the author's dissertation. One of his arguments is that increased sensitivity to military casualties among the Israeli middle class helps explain the use of "excessive force" (the phrase is Levy's) in the 2009 Gaza offensive (Operation Cast Lead).

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

USIH Roundtable on U.S. Foreign Policy and the Left

The foreign-policy roundtable at the U.S. Intellectual History blog, taking off from Perry Anderson's NLR essays, has begun; Andrew Hartman's opening remarks are here. Other contributions will follow, including mine (to which I'll be adding a link, in the self-promoting tradition of the blogosphere). Update: My piece is here; essays by the other participants to follow. 

Further update (7/17): Three pieces (counting the introductory post) in the roundtable are now up, and there is some discussion in the comments.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Nadine Gordimer

The Guardian obituary.

I think Burger's Daughter and The House Gun, and possibly a couple of short stories (the collection Not for Publication was on my parents' shelves when I was a kid), is all I've read of her work. Burger's Daughter was very good, though at this remove I have a clear memory of one scene, and that's about it.    

Monday, June 30, 2014

A further note on laissez-faire

Another thing: If Repubs are going to oppose Ex-Im Bank on grounds that it is interference with the 'free market', one might think they would have to take on a big chunk of the U.S. economy, where oligopoly reigns (h/t). Unless their position is that oligopoly and monopoly are fine, provided that they arise from 'free-market' competition. If competition leads to one or two or three firms dominating an industry, so be it. But heaven forfend that government should "pick winners and losers." No, we can't have that.

Friday, June 27, 2014

More evidence of "the business-populist split" in the Repub. party

Signing off the computer for the evening, I just ran across this WaPo piece about Tea Party and other right-wing opposition to reauthorization of the U.S. Export-Import Bank. This is a Chamber of Commerce vs. Club for Growth fight, to name two groups on opposite sides. Moreover, the new House majority leader, McCarthy, has announced he is opposed. Another Republican congressman, according to the piece, recently gave a speech at the Heritage Foundation in which he said the party had to come down firmly on the side of "free enterprise" (as opposed to "mercantilism" or "industrial policy"). Does that mean he opposes all government subsidies to business? All provisions of the tax code tilted in a pro-business direction?  There are probably various angles from which one could gloss all this, but I'll let readers provide their own. Btw, the phrase in this post's title that's in quotes is taken from the article.

Added later: If you want to oppose 'corporate welfare', fine. But wrapping oneself in the rhetoric of a pure laissez-faire, free-market system is just political flummery, because there is no such thing. Modern economic systems require some degree of state involvement, and businesses and the state have been intertwined forever, going back at least to the 'long 16th century'. I view these points as being obvious, but sometimes saying the obvious can't hurt.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Note to readers

Posting here is likely to be very light or absent for the rest of this month.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

The difference that not running for re-election makes

In a Senate hearing today, Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.V.) criticized the proposal to have NSA ask the telecom companies for specific pieces of data it wants, rather than have NSA store all the 'metadata' itself, as it now does. Rockefeller said that the plan makes no sense, for several reasons, among them that the telecom companies don't want to do this (and, he implied, will mess it up). Whereas, he said, the NSA has not abused its power in this regard yet, though people fear it might, he added. (Hmm, so much for Snowden, Greenwald, et al.)

If Sen. Rockefeller were running for re-election this year rather than retiring from the Senate, would he say this? (You have two options: yes or no. Congratulations -- you've just won, well, something or other.) 

Wednesday, June 4, 2014


Derek Gregory, a geographer who writes a lot about war, has a recent post discussing an essay of his about "cartography and corpography," which is mostly about the Western Front in WW1 and ends with "some reflections on [war in] the 21st century."

(This reminded me that some months ago I picked up a used copy of Richard Cobb's book on France under German occupation in the two world wars. Haven't done more than dip into it.)

Btw, some other recent posts of Gregory's are worth a look, including this, on the Syrian war. 

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Preview of USIH roundtable on U.S. foreign policy and the Left

In July I'm participating in a roundtable on U.S. foreign policy and the Left at the U.S. Intellectual History (USIH) blog. Andrew Hartman has a preview of it here, with abstracts from the nine participants. It looks like there'll be a nice mix of contributions.

[P.s. My abstract is short and perhaps a bit harsh in tone, so pls wait for the actual essay before rushing to judgment.]

Monday, June 2, 2014

U.S. food aid and civil conflict

An article (via) in the current American Economic Review finds U.S. food aid "increases the incidence and duration of civil conflicts." A commenter in the thread at the linked blog questions the data analysis. In any case, I think it's true, as the linked post says, that U.S. food aid is generally more concerned with disposing of domestic grain surpluses than anything else. In an overhaul of U.S. development assistance, the food aid program should be one of the first things to be reformed. (Are there political obstacles? Of course. There are obstacles to everything. That's no reason not to raise the issue.)


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