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.)


"People don’t take hurricanes as seriously if they have a feminine name[,] and the consequences are deadly, finds a new groundbreaking study."

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

From economic growth to a 'steady state' economy

I don't write a lot here about environmental and resource issues, mostly because I feel I lack the required expertise to say something valuable. But I recently looked at this piece by an Australian philosopher named Rowan (E. Loomis linked to this which in turn linked to it), and it raises some questions that need to be discussed more widely. As Rowan points out, even the most resource-efficient, 'clean' versions of economic growth are not sustainable propositions in the long term: eventually the world will run out of physical space (for the "stuff" that people are using plus the non-bio-degradable "stuff" they have thrown out), and well before that happens raw materials will have been depleted. The way to avoid this is to transition over time to a non-growth, steady-state global economy, while ensuring, or so one would hope, that it is also marked by considerably less poverty and more material equality than the present system. Sounds like a tall order, but the alternatives if it doesn't occur will be very unpleasant. Such a transition might (probably will, I suspect) require the wealthy and the upper-middle-classes in the 'developed' world to give up some of the "stuff" that they currently view as either necessary or desirable props of their existence. 

The alternative to thinking about these issues and doing something about them will be an eventual (note "eventual" not "imminent") collapse of civilization. If it does happen, it will occur, I would guess, several hundred years after I am no longer around. But that isn't too much consolation. Humans, probably uniquely among animals, have the capacity to think about the long-term future, and that really is something more of us should do more often.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Robert Kagan's realist irrealism

From Kagan's piece (h/t S. Lemieux) in New Republic (which I've bookmarked for actual reading, as opposed to skimming, later):
In fact, the world “as it is” is a dangerous and often brutal place. There has been no transformation in human behavior or in international relations. In the twenty-first century, no less than in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, force remains the ultima ratio. The question, today as in the past, is not whether nations are willing to resort to force but whether they believe they can get away with it when they do. If there has been less aggression, less ethnic cleansing, less territorial conquest over the past 70 years, it is because the United States and its allies have both punished and deterred aggression, have intervened, sometimes, to prevent ethnic cleansing, and have gone to war to reverse territorial conquest. The restraint showed by other nations has not been a sign of human progress, the strengthening of international institutions, or the triumph of the rule of law. It has been a response to a global configuration of power that, until recently, has made restraint seem the safer course.
The first sentence is obviously correct: the world is indeed an often brutal place. The second sentence, particularly the second part of it, is  more questionable. And the portion in which the "U.S. and its allies" are credited with the decline of territorial conquest is very, very incomplete (to put it charitably), and w/r/t the GW Bush admin, downright weird. Territorial conquest (of the 19th/20th-cent-and-before sort) has declined because most states (I said "most" not "all") are no longer interested in conquering territory. It's not something their leaders think about and plan for. They know (they have learned) that invading other countries does not, as a rule, tend to solve their problems. That's a main reason why territorial conquest has declined since WW2, imho, though there are also other reasons, which I've written about here before.     

Obama's foreign policy week

A speech at West Point is to be followed by one in Poland: see here. Meanwhile, WaPo ran a one-year retrospective on the National Defense Univ. speech; I haven't read the piece yet but will be posting something on it in the beginning of June. [ETA: Well, maybe. June is shaping up to be rather busy.]

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Two little words

Via this apparently conservative-of-some-sort site:
Columbia University has received nearly $6 million in taxpayer funds that are being used, in part, to create climate change games that include fake voicemails that portray a dire future, including warnings that "neo-luddites" will be murdering global warming advocates by 2035 (emphasis added).
Without reading further, I suspect the two words I've italicized are doing a lot of work here. Why "neo-luddites" would have it in for "global warming advocates" is a question I don't even want to waste time thinking about.