Sunday, May 31, 2009

Pakistan and India: the costs of habitual hostility

The Pakistani army has now driven the Taliban from the city of Mingora in the Swat valley -- something which has happened before and has not lasted. Even if it proves a more durable victory on this occasion, questions will remain about Pakistan's capacity to prosecute an offensive against (portions of) the Taliban as long as its strategic focus remains glued on India.

As Graham Usher writes in the June 8 issue of The Nation:

"Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari has said that after Swat, the army will take the war to South Waziristan. But that is hyperbole. The overstretched army has about 150,000 men fighting on five fronts. Holding these territories and extending the fight to South Waziristan would be possible only if reinforcements came from the 250,000 men stationed on the eastern border with India. And that's not going to happen.

....Pakistani army chief Gen. Ashfaq Kayani has reportedly told Washington he would move troops from the border if India did the same. Delhi's response was to mount three days of 'war games.' On May 15 Kayani told Parliament there would be no movement of troops from east to west.... Parliament applauded.

In other words...Pakistan's 'threat recognition' hasn't changed. The tactical foe is the Pakistani Taliban, but the strategic adversary remains India. The Pakistani army will act ruthlessly against those who challenge the state, such as the Taliban in Swat and Al Qaeda-linked militants elsewhere. But it will not act against those who, like the Afghan Taliban [headquartered in the Pakistani city of Quetta], seek only a haven from which to fight America and NATO in Afghanistan. On the contrary, should the cold war on the eastern border become hot, such militants could again be proxies to hurt India's interests in Afghanistan or Kashmir."
The decades-long animosity between India and Pakistan has taken on a routinized, habitual quality, perhaps lending credence to the argument that such persistent enmities can provide states with "ontological security" in which a fixed adversary becomes part of the state's identity (see Jennifer Mitzen, "Ontological Security in World Politics: State Identity and the Security Dilemma," European Journal of International Relations, v.12 n.3, 2006). Some outside shock may be needed to disrupt this routine, but if a full-fledged insurrection by extremist groups posing a direct challenge to the government has not sufficed, it is hard to know what would. Mitzen (op.cit., p.363) suggests that "calling on states to justify publicly their actions...should foster habits of reflection, which offer the potential to de-rigidify attachment to competition." Unfortunately, such "habits of reflection" seem not to have taken hold yet in either Islamabad or Delhi.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

A tangled web

Anyone who thinks the U.S. Supreme Court's Miranda-related jurisprudence (for lack of a better phrase) has not become a convoluted area should take a look at yesterday's opinions in Montejo v. Louisiana (5-4; Scalia wrote the majority opinion, Stevens the dissent).

Here is a case where the defendant apparently confessed to a murder under interrogation, having (again apparently) waived his rights to counsel and to remain silent, then was appointed a lawyer by the court at an arraignment, then later was read his Miranda rights again by police officers and ended up riding in a car with them and writing an incriminating letter on the way. How confusing it must be (as the dissent pointed out) to be given a lawyer in the morning and then 'mirandized' again in the afternoon. One might imagine the accused thinking: "Why are you saying I can request a lawyer? The court just appointed a lawyer for me. I already have a lawyer."

The Supreme Court in Montejo was mostly absorbed, as is not infrequently the case, with doctrinal disputes and acrobatics and parsing the meaning of phrases in precedents and dueling footnotes (and see Alito's rather bitter and personal concurring opinion), and thus left mostly unanswered, as far as I could tell, such practical questions as: How much did the accused understand of what was being said to him? How carefully were his rights read and/or explained? Beneath the somewhat arcane arguments (to those not used to them) about the proper application of stare decisis and the interaction of the Fifth and Sixth Amendments, the real question is: Under what circumstances can a defendant be said to have validly waived his rights? And, as in all such cases, where should the balance be struck between the defendant's rights and the societal interest in solving crimes (and solving them fairly and not by convicting the wrong person)?

[For a clearer explanation of the legal issues involved here, see my remarks in the comments. The key issue is whether the police can initiate questioning of someone who has a court-appointed lawyer without the lawyer being there.]

At a time when the criminal justice -- or if you prefer, criminal "justice" -- system continues to be plagued by very deep flaws, it is cases like these that show how important it is to have at least a few justices on the Supreme Court who have had at least some exposure to the world outside of middle-class (or upper-class) life and elite institutions and who therefore presumably can grasp in the deepest sense that actual lives are often at issue, not only logic and doctrinal niceties. ("The life of the law has not been logic but experience," as Holmes famously put it.) Sotomayor's background and personal story augur well in that respect. But then so too, arguably, did Clarence Thomas's story, and we all know how that turned out. Not of course that I'm suggesting any similarity in views between Thomas and Sotomayor -- just raising a little cautionary flag about inferring too much from someone's life history. That said, she seems to be a good choice and should be confirmed fairly easily.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The North Korean test

Q. Why did North Korea decide to carry out a second underground nuclear test (the first one was in 2006) now?
A. Joshua Pollack points to the North Korean foreign ministry's April 29 statement warning that such a test would occur if the UN Security Council did not rescind its condemnation of a previous missile launch.

Q. Why has South Korea now decided to become a full member of the U.S.-led Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI)?
A. Not sure. Considering that North Korea has said that such a move would be tantamount to a declaration of war against it by the South, and considering that North Korean statements cannot be dismissed as empty rhetoric (see above), the South Korean move would appear to be somewhat risky -- not because it will lead directly to a North Korean attack (though such a possibility cannot be totally excluded) but because it will ratchet up tensions further.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

A bit more on the '60s

Further to this post: I just became aware of a 2007 book by James Piereson called Camelot and the Cultural Revolution: How the Assassination of John F. Kennedy Shattered American Liberalism (Encounter Books).

Though I've not read the book, its thesis, as expressed in the subtitle, leaves me somewhat skeptical. To the extent that there was a "liberal consensus" on foreign and domestic policy in the '50s, the Vietnam War and the convulsions of 1968 had a lot more to do with "shattering" it than Kennedy's assassination, or so I'd be inclined to argue. (Don't forget that some of the greatest domestic triumphs of liberalism, such as the Voting Rights Act and Medicare, occurred during the Johnson administration. Not bad for a supposedly "shattered" movement.)

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Light posting again I need to finish writing an article and attend to some other things.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Netanyahu, Obama, and the NYT

The New York Times' treatment of the Obama-Netanyahu meeting was, to put it delicately, less than accurate, according to David Bromwich.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

'Recruitment tool'

One of the points at issue in the speeches today of Pres. Obama and former VP Cheney is whether Guantanamo Bay, use of "enhanced interrogation techniques" and so forth have been a "recruitment tool" for jihadists. Cheney, in particular, ridiculed the idea.

Actually, no one really knows whether or to what extent Guantanamo has been a "recruitment tool," because people signing up for terrorist activity do not usually write neat little explanations of their motives. In some cases, their motives may not be entirely clear even to themselves. (How many of us understand exactly why we do what we do?) My hunch is that civilian casualties from U.S./NATO operations in Afghanistan, as well as civilian casualties in Pakistan, are more powerful "recruitment tools" than Guantanamo Bay has been.

The main case for closing Guantanamo is not that it is a recruitment tool but that holding people indefinitely or for very long periods in a kind of legal limbo violates basic principles of the American legal and constitutional order, and jettisoning those principles here is unnecessary. Practically, the situation is a "mess," as Obama said today, and cleaning it up is not going to be easy. And with Democratic senators unwilling to show political courage in this context, the problem becomes that much more difficult.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

An artifact from the early 1960s: The Duke's Men of Yale on the New Frontier

Some time ago, a friend who is an alumnus of two Yale a capella groups, the Duke’s Men and the Whiffenpoofs, gave me a multi-CD compilation that he had produced of recordings by “Da Doox” going back to the early 1950s. One of the songs on the first disc is “New Frontier,” which pokes fun at JFK, Camelot, and (of course) Harvard, and which the Duke’s Men first recorded in 1963. The song is interrupted by a monologue in which one member of the group does a more-than-passable Kennedy imitation. Although the flavor of the song cannot be captured entirely by the lyrics alone -- indeed, the music and the lyrics are very well matched -- I thought the lyrics in themselves were clever and evocative of the period. And in light of what happened in November 1963, the last lines take on a certain poignancy. So here are the lyrics.

New Frontier
First recorded by the Duke’s Men of Yale in 1963
Music and lyrics by
Carl Kaestle and Gurney Williams
(Lyrics reproduced by permission)

We sing of the pioneers of old
Who ventured forth so brave and bold
Far from their rightful homes so dear
They slept beneath the stars on the old frontier
And the rocky campground’s peaceful glow
Cheered the hearts and souls of the men below.

But the old frontier is dying
The old frontier is gone.
Yet behold the low clouds passing
To hail another dawn.
Yes it’s a new frontier
Put your money on the sunny boy from Hyannis
Hail to the sod where Kennedy trod
A hunter on the new frontier.

Oh we love the walls of ivy
That surround the new frontier
[JFK monologue]
Jack is the king of the new frontier
Jack is the fellow who makes folks cheer
Massachusetts' favorite son
Hah-vad moved to Wa-shing-ton.
And though he began as the un-der-dog
Now he's considered a vi-tal cog.
Let John Harvard fade a-way
Jack Harvard's here to stay.
It’s young Jack Harvard so shout hoo-ray Hooray-hoo_eee.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Souter goes out in style

From Justice Souter's dissenting opinion in Ashcroft v. Iqbal, issued today:
"...[for purposes of a motion to dismiss] a court must take the allegations [in a complaint] as true, no matter how skeptical the court may be.... The sole exception to this rule lies with allegations that are sufficiently fantastic to defy reality as we know it: claims about little green men, or the plaintiff's recent trip to Pluto, or experiences in time travel. That is not what we have here."

Sunday, May 17, 2009

McGovern and the card check legislation

The May 13 issue of Politico carries an article by Ben Smith about George McGovern's public opposition to the Employee Free Choice Act, which "would give workers the option of joining a union by signing cards rather than by voting in a secret ballot." Smith notes that McGovern, in a Wall Street Journal op-ed, compared his opposition to the legislation to "my early and lonely opposition to the Vietnam War."

It's too late in the evening to write at any length about this, but I find it really quite sad.

A famous photograph

Remember the picture of a long line of people waiting to try to get onto a helicopter departing from a rooftop as Saigon "fell" in 1975? The Hong Kong-based Dutch photographer who took the picture, Hugh Van Es, recently died. As this BBC piece notes, the photo is sometimes mistakenly thought to depict the roof of the U.S. Embassy in Saigon. (In fact, it was another building, not the embassy.)

Friday, May 15, 2009

The blog wishes itself happy birthday (a bit in advance) and thanks its readers

On May 23, Howl at Pluto will turn one year old. I take this opportunity to thank the blog's readers and commenters.


Coming next week:
An artifact from the early 1960s.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Lingeman and Disch's 'St. Nicholas: A Textual Scandal'

Prefatory note: In going through some papers recently at the home of my late aunt and late uncle, I came across an envelope containing a copy of “St. Nicholas: A Textual Scandal,” which I had mailed to my uncle.

For several months in the late 1980s (probably ’87 and/or ’88, though without checking I can’t be sure), the letters column of the New York Review of Books carried a series of rather vitriolic exchanges about a revised/new edition of Joyce’s Ulysses. The antagonists were the project’s main editor, Hans Walter Gabler, and, if I recall correctly, several scholars who were critical of his edition (whose names I can’t remember).

In its issue of January 2, 1989, which subscribers probably would have received just around Christmas, The Nation published an elaborate spoof of the Ulysses exchange. Written by Richard Lingeman and the late Thomas Disch, “St. Nicholas: A Textual Scandal” debates which version of the poem commonly known as “’Twas the Night Before Christmas” is more authoritative and definitive: a version written on a cocktail napkin while the author, Clement Moore, was in his cups, or a version Moore wrote the next day (“the so-called Morning-After Holograph”). The antagonists in this debate are Dr. Sebastian Ramsforth and Dr. Hartvig Ludendorff, editor of “A Visit from St. Nicholas”: A New Definitive Synoptic Corrected Edition Collated From Original and Collateral Sources, published by Kansas Institute of Mining and Science Press.

The exchange opens with Ramsforth’s attack on the Ludendorff edition of the poem. Selective quotation cannot convey how clever Lingeman and Disch were here, but I will quote an excerpt to give an indication of the flavor:

“…Ludendorff and his drones have concocted an entirely spurious version of the poem, riddled with erroneous emendations. This saturnalia of textual deviation takes as its provenance the controversial holograph indited by Moore on a cocktail napkin from the Fraunces Tavern. (Footnote: Now in the Howard Hughes Collection, University of Las Vegas. It measures 4 by 6 inches and is imprinted with, in addition to the establishment’s name, silhouttes of a wine glass emitting bubbles and several scantily clad females, and the words ‘George Washington Made Whoopee Here.’ ”) Considerable scholarly debate has been expended on the authenticity of this paper most foul…. [which] could not be the authoritative text. Take for instance the lines:

With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.

In the Fraunces version, which Ludendorff et al. have now enshrined as the ‘final’ and ‘authentic’ text, we see:

With a red-suited Jehu, so droll and ridiculous,
I knew at once it must be St. Nicholas.

Never mind that the first line does not scan, and forget the Victorian cliché ‘Jehu’ for driver. Consider instead how the word ‘ridiculous’ alters the point of view of the poem, which is otherwise reverential toward the scarlet-clad saint. Worse, we lose the religious double-entendre of ‘St. Nick’ (as in Old Nick – Scratch, the devil).”

And here is an excerpt from Ludendorff’s reply:

“I am shocked that the editors of this once-distinguished journal should have seen fit to lend their pages to the scurrilous insinuations and pseudo-philological maunderings of Dr. (sic) Sebastian Ramsforth….

[Ramsforth] has gone so far as to project his own fevered imagining on the Rorshach-like wine stain on the recto side of the Frances Holograph, in which he pretends to see a ‘wine glass’ and ‘scantily clad females.’ No doubt it was this disposition to sniff out pornographic implications in the most innocent images that prompted Ramsforth to maintain in his notorious farrago of errors that disgraced the pages of Elsewhere that Moore’s beautiful and chaste lines,

The moon on the crest of the new-fallen snow
Lent a semblance of sunlight to th’icy tableau

should ‘properly’ take the form familiar to us from the later, corrupt editions of the work:

The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow
Gave a lustre of midday to objects below.

Can Ramsforth really suppose that a man of such delicate sensibilities that he always scrupled to speak of ‘white meat’ and ‘dark meat’ when he dined on poultry would have wantonly endowed snow with breasts and rimed the entire landscape of his poem with a lubricious ‘lustre’? Of course not! Only the Satanic dipsomaniac of ‘Doc’ Ramsforth’s obsessed imagination could have conspired to introduce such immodesties into the innocent bowers of American childhood.”

And so on. The whole thing is available from The Nation’s archives (though not for free).

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Annals of (apparently) bad predictions

Economists have been doing some soul-searching recently (see recent posts, for example, at Crooked Timber and Brad DeLong's blog for discussion and references), but economists aren't the only ones who have some less-than-great predictions to their (dis)credit.

I remember reading political scientist Steven Weber's article "The End of the Business Cycle" when it appeared in Foreign Affairs in 1997 (July/August issue). Here are the first two sentences of the summary: "The waves of the business cycle are becoming ripples. The recent American combination of minimal inflation and very low unemployment may not be an aberration, but the beginning of a new worldwide trend."

If you have a login and password, you can read the whole article at the Foreign Affairs site. Just search on the author's name.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Sri Lanka: civilians caught in the war zone

Perhaps the last phases of civil wars are often the most brutal. That certainly seems to be the case in Sri Lanka, where the LTTE (Tamil Tigers, for short) are making what may be a last stand in a 2.4-mile-long coastal area. Tragically, there are 50,000 civilians in the area, at least 378 of whom were killed by shelling last night. According to an AP report (in the Express edition of today's Wash. Post): "A rebel-linked Web site blamed the attack on the government, while the military accused the beleaguered Tamil Tigers of shelling their own territory to gain international sympathy and force a truce." Reaction from Ban Ki-moon and others is reported here.

Robert Lawrence on why the U.S. auto companies have loved to build trucks

A very interesting story, which I did not know and which goes back to the U.S.-E.C. trade quarrels of the '60s.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Why is Cuba still on the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism?

As Greg Weeks implies, the short answer appears to be that no one knows, not even the State Department people who maintain the list.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Is Pakistan's anti-Taliban offensive coming too late?

Interviewed from Islamabad tonight on the NewsHour, Pamela Constable of the Wash Post said she thinks the current offensive is an indication that leading elements of the Pakistani government and army are beginning to take the Taliban threat seriously. But have they left it too late? The answer may not be known for some time. It also sounds, from what Constable said, as if the Taliban's strategy of playing on class divisions to increase its appeal may be reaching a limit. Again, probably too soon to tell.

Meanwhile, the joint appearance of the three presidents (Obama, Zardari, and Karzai) somehow was not the kind of photo op that inspires enormous confidence. Despite some apparent American flirtation with Nawaz Sharif, however, there don't appear to be any very obvious alternative leaders in the wings.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

If wishes were horses then beggars would ride

Economic crises, while bad for those living through them, are often good for the reputations of past radical thinkers. There has been some talk recently of the renewed relevance of Marx and perhaps also some talk about the old Marxist debates on "finance capital." The phrase came to mind when I read Jason Schulman's review of Robert Reich's Supercapitalism in the spring '09 issue of Democratic Left. Schulman writes:
"Today, capitalism is dominated by finance capital, abstract capital.... Subordinating productive capital to itself, finance capital makes the economy function on a short-term and unproductive basis. It is therefore fundamentally predatory and parasitic, increasing investment in circulation rather than production -- spending vast levels of resources on income property [sic], commodity, equity and bond speculation."
To the fairly standard complaint about excessive speculation, Schulman adds the morally charged epithet "parasitic," and he goes on to say that the U.S., where only 15 percent of the labor force "is directly involved in actual production," acts as "a parasite in the world economy."

While I happen to agree that it would be better if a larger percentage of people in the U.S. made things as opposed to pushing paper (or -- dare I say it -- writing blogs!), I'm not sure I entirely buy the notion that the production of tangible goods is non-parasitic and all other economic activity is parasitic upon it. This is a quibble, however, since I do not of course want to speak up in favor of short-term speculation (who does?).

Writing in a democratic socialist publication, Schulman asserts, not surprisingly, that Reich in his book displays the timidity characteristic of New Deal liberals. Reich notes trends but fails to explain them (Schulman says), and "Reich fails to understand...that the American very much a capitalist state...part of an international state system, subject to the world market, through which capital reigns."

Oh boy. Anyone up for a re-run of the Miliband-Poulantzas debate? Hmm, not right now, I'm not even typing this at my home computer.

Moving right along, we come to the very end of Schulman's review (a longer version of which is apparently going to appear in the journal New Political Science). Here there is this sentence: "...the fight for economic democracy is intrinsically tied to the fight for greater political democracy than capitalists and their political representatives will ever be willing to accept: to go beyond the freedoms of speech, assembly, association, movement, etc., and onto democratic control of the economy and real control of the state."

Now, I agree with Schulman on the need for "democratic control of the economy." (I wouldn't be a member of the organization that publishes Democratic Left if I didn't.) There's just one little problem: leftists have been calling for democratic control of the economy for decades, with distressingly little to show for it in terms of results. Am I blaming the left for all the malign world-historical events, from the breakdown of the Keynesian accommodation to the rise of neoliberalism, that have occurred in the last 30 years? Of course not. But I do think that, as someone who read Michael Harrington as a teenager and joined DSOC when I was in high school, I am entitled to be just a little bit weary when, roughly 35 years later, I read yet another series of clarion calls for "democratic control of the economy," having read quite a few such calls in the intervening years.

Democratic control of the economy. Democratic control of investment. Genuine political and economic democracy. Transcending capitalism.

Great. I'm all for it. But I'm not holding my breath.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Iraq: troubles not over

There has been an upsurge of violence against civilians -- mostly Shiites -- in Iraq in the last month or so, with a number of car bombings in Baghdad, for example a wave of bombings that killed 34 people on April 6 and a more recent wave that killed an even larger number. And nineteen U.S. soldiers died in Iraq in April, more than in any month since last September.

Recently an Iraqi in army uniform shot and killed two U.S. soldiers and injured three others on a base south of Mosul. Apparently the attacker was an Iraqi soldier who also worked as an imam at a mosque on the base.
"Mosul is seen as the last remaining urban stronghold of al-Qaeda in Iraq," to quote the BBC report.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Pakistani brothers in an unlikely line...

...the manufacture of garments used by Americans and Europeans into bondage and fetishes.

They complain that their profits have fallen since trade unions, illegal under Musharraf, are now legal. Can't say I feel sorry for them on that score.

[Hat tip: Chris Blattman]

Fleeting expletives, foolish nonsense, and some other reflections

In a culture where daily exchanges are often saturated with expletives, a culture where a four-year-old can hear more "bad words" on a pre-kindergarten playground than in a whole day of watching TV, the U.S. government has a regulatory agency, the Federal Communications Commission, which makes it its business to police the broadcast airwaves for expletives. The Supreme Court recently held that the FCC's fining of Fox in connection with the broadcast of "fleeting expletives" does not represent an "arbitrary and capricious" exercise of agency authority.

Some Supreme Court cases are important; many others are not very important, except for the parties immediately concerned; and some cases are just foolish nonsense. The fleeting expletives case is in the last category. It is a largely pointless case about a pointless, irrational, and probably unconstitutional policy (the constitutionality of the policy was not passed on by the Supreme Court in its recent decision, which dealt solely with the question of whether the agency had acted unlawfully). That time and resources were expended in adjudicating this nonsense is a travesty. The FCC's indecency policy is irrational and should be removed from the books.

This is partly by way of prelude to a comment on the recent news that Justice David Souter is retiring from the Court. I remember when George H.W. Bush nominated him. No one outside a small group of legal scholars knew much about him. No one imagined he would turn out to be the kind of justice he has been. Does his replacement matter? Yes, but probably not quite as much as many people think. Elaboration of the reasons for my saying that will have to be left for another day, but I can offer a hint of the reason: the importance of the Supreme Court is usually exaggerated. What?!! What about Bush v. Gore? Roe v. Wade? U.S. v. Nixon? Boumediene v. Bush? Brown v. Bd. of Education? Etc. What about the entire period of the Warren Court? Good questions. Re-read what I said: "importance is usually exaggerated" does not equal "unimportant." Sorry, that's all the elaborating I have time for right now.

The "Detroit of higher learning"?

A recent NYT op-ed by Mark Taylor, which opens by declaring graduate education to be "the Detroit of higher learning," has been generating lots of comment in the blogosphere (see here, just for starters). Taylor suggests, among other things, abolishing permanent departments (even at the undergrad level) and replacing them with "problem-focused programs." These two measures, however, need not be connected: you can create problem-focused programs without getting rid of departments. Indeed, I suspect many universities are doing just that.

It is well to remember that, as a group of social scientists wrote more than a decade ago, "the U.S. has had a long history of structural experimentation in [its] university systems" (I. Wallerstein et al., Open the Social Sciences [1996], p.99). Perhaps it is time for a new round of such experimentation, given economic pressures, dwindling resources, overproduction of doctorates in many fields, and increasing (and increasingly exploitative) use of adjunct and other temporary instructors. What form such experimentation should take is the key question, one to which yours truly has neither the time nor expertise to propose an answer at the moment.