Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Noted

Laura Seay on Mali (h/t).

Monday, January 28, 2013

Argentina and Iran headed for closer ties?

Not sure exactly what to make of this -- whether the 'truth commission' is more-or-less a figleaf to make possible closer relations between Iran and Argentina, or something more than that. Since one of those accused by Argentinian prosecutors is the current Iranian defense minister, it does make one wonder.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

A call to end 'extreme wealth' by 2025

This is offered without comment, as I don't have much time right now, except to say that it might have been framed in terms of ending extreme inequality. But the point of the 'extreme wealth' phrase is the symmetry with 'extreme poverty.'

Saturday, January 26, 2013

A soldier's video goes viral

I'm linking this without any remarks because it's late (and I'm tired). I thought some readers might find it interesting.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Stray thoughts on revolution

A somewhat meandering discussion of revolution at Crooked Timber (CT) prompted me to open Skocpol's States and Social Revolutions (1979), which I hadn't looked at in a while. The distinction between political revolution and social revolution is central to that book's framework, and at the end of it Skocpol suggested that social revolutions -- i.e. those which transform not only political structures but social or class structures as well -- would be relatively unlikely to occur in postcolonial states whose "modern military establishments," while they might stage coups, would generally act to suppress upheavals from below (cf. p.290).

With the benefit of more than thirty years' hindsight, it appears that this forecast probably overestimated the strength and independence of postcolonial militaries. Skocpol herself, in an essay written several years later, i.e. in the early 1980s, about the 1979 Iranian Revolution, noted that "in most contemporary Third World countries, it is hard to distinguish political and social revolution in any firm way, because the state and its incumbent elites are so central to the ownership and control of the economy." But she judged the Iranian Revolution to be more like the great social revolutions of the past than "simply a political revolution, where only governmental institutions are transformed." [1]

Which brings one to the revolutionary upheavals of the last couple of years in Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya. (Not to mention the ongoing civil war in Syria, which is also a kind of revolution.)

The news summary on the NewsHour this evening contained this:
There were clashes in Egypt today as anti-government rallies marked the second anniversary of the revolution. At least four people were shot and killed in the city of Suez. The scene in Cairo's Tahrir Square was reminiscent of the massive crowds who helped topple President Hosni Mubarak. Street battles with police broke out in Cairo and elsewhere, and well more than 300 people were hurt. The protesters said the revolution was hijacked by Islamists, who now control the government.
Was the toppling of Mubarak a political revolution or a social revolution? I haven't been following events in Egypt very closely, but my impression is that it has been a political but not a social revolution. The upper classes, so far as I'm aware, have not fled the country en masse or been expropriated, whereas the Iranian Revolution by contrast did see "the dispossession of many (especially politically privileged) capitalists...." [2] The basic elements of the state apparatus in Egypt -- the judiciary, the army, the presidency, parliament -- are still in place, and the current struggles have to do, it seems, with the relative influence of Islamist versus liberal/secular forces in the framing of the new constitution, etc. Faced with popular protest, Morsi had to scale back his attempt of a month (or so) ago to seize extraordinary powers, but obviously the non-Islamist (or anti-Islamist) forces protesting in the street on this second anniversary feel that their hopes have not been realized.

In light of this, it is interesting that only one lone commenter on the CT thread, at least the last time I checked, had mentioned the Arab Spring and the associated upheavals. Whether this says something about the CT commentariat or about the difficulty of grasping a process that has yet to reach a conclusion (or both), I'll leave to others to judge.

------
1. T. Skocpol, "Rentier state and Shi'a Islam in the Iranian Revolution" (1982), reprinted in her Social Revolutions in the Modern World (1994), p.241.

2. Ibid., pp.240-41.

------
Added later: A commenter on CT points helpfully to this bibliography on the Arab Spring, compiled by the Project on Middle East Politics based at George Washington Univ.
------
Note: This post was edited slightly on 6/19/15.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The second inaugural

Apart from its content, i.e. considered purely as a piece of oratory, Pres. Obama's speech at his second inauguration was a beautifully crafted address, beginning with the central pillar of the national creed -- the single most famous sentence Jefferson ever wrote -- and ending in precisely the same place, with a reference to citizens' obligation to lift voices "in defense of our most ancient values and enduring ideas."

The basic conceptual content of the speech is firmly rooted in two major strands of the American political tradition: Enlightenment liberalism on the one hand and civic republicanism on the other. The former's emphasis on individual freedom is linked with the latter's emphasis on civic duty: thus "we have always understood that... preserving our individual freedoms ultimately requires collective action." And as citizens "you and I...have the power to set this country’s course."

The speech was seen by many commentators as an expression of full-throated liberalism (or progressivism). Richard Norton Smith called it "the most ideologically assertive" speech since Reagan's first inaugural, "this being the un-Reagan." Harold Meyerson (with whose politics I am more likely to agree) also made the Reagan contrast. Yet one should not overlook that there were certain parts of the speech, notably the emphasis on support for democracy abroad and the line about one person's freedom being inextricably linked to everyone's in the world, that would have been perfectly at home in a speech by Reagan or George W. Bush. The big difference from Reagan is in how Obama sees the role of the government, as an enabler and protector of, rather than threat to, individuals -- but this distinction is of course nothing new. And what some commenters called a "communitarian" emphasis in the speech is perhaps better seen, as I already suggested, as an expression of civic republicanism.

The commentators who stressed the speech's liberalism were using 'liberalism' in its contemporary U.S. political sense. Obama's speech, however, can also be seen as liberal in a more philosophical sense, as I indicated above. It is important here to distinguish liberal from radical. A very brief excursion into intellectual history may help. 

We don't have to go back to the Enlightenment philosophes or to those writers, discussed in J.G.A. Pocock's The Machiavellian Moment, who carried the tradition of Florentine civic republicanism into the Atlantic world. We can go back instead just a half-century, to Louis Hartz's 1955 book The Liberal Tradition in America

Hartz argued, among other things, that the U.S. had escaped many of the travails of the Old World because it had no indigenous feudal past. As Samuel Bowles and Herbert Gintis summarized it thirty years later, Hartz maintained that "the history of class antagonism in liberal capitalism is due not to inherent properties of the system itself but rather to its emergence from a system of feudal privilege...." (Bowles & Gintis, Democracy and Capitalism, 1986, p.30)  Lacking a feudal past, the U.S., in Hartz's somewhat rose-colored view, had escaped the history of class conflict and violent social upheaval that characterized large parts of Europe; the U.S. was thus "the archetype" of liberal capitalism, which Hartz saw, in Bowles and Gintis's words, as "intrinsically harmonious" (ibid.). Bowles and Gintis, by contrast, saw liberal capitalism as marked by a conflict between "the expansionary logic of personal rights" and "the expansionary logic of capitalist production" (ibid., p.29).

The much remarked-upon passage in Obama's speech in which he mentioned landmarks in the progress of civil rights for oppressed groups -- Seneca Falls, Selma, Stonewall -- traces this "expansionary logic of personal rights."  But unlike Bowles and Gintis in Democracy and Capitalism, Obama sees no conflict between the rising trajectory of personal (or group) rights and the imperatives of capitalism, provided that it's a capitalism whose worst excesses (including tendencies toward destruction of the environment) are curbed by state action, a capitalism enabled, not stifled, by legislatively enacted rules of the road. 

On the basic issue of whether liberal democratic capitalism is inevitably prone to internal conflict and contradiction, Obama thus is closer to Hartz. This President clearly is a believer in the possibility of harmony, of reason, progress, freedom, and all the other keywords of the Enlightenment. He also made a point of saying, toward the end of the speech, that fidelity to the founding ideals "does not require us to agree on every contour of life. It does not mean we all define liberty in exactly the same way or follow the same precise path to happiness." But action cannot wait for these never-ending debates to be resolved, he went on, implying that the thought of a resolution of those particular questions is an illusion anyway. In all these senses, Obama is a liberal, not some kind of radical. But then, we knew that already.

P.s. (added later): There were some omissions, I thought; for instance, Obama should have acknowledged the unacceptably high incarceration rate in the U.S.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Democracy and individual capacities: a postscript on Knight & Johnson

Before returning Knight & Johnson's The Priority of Democracy to the library, I want to mention something I neglected to mention in my earlier post on the book. It concerns K&J's reference to Rawls in their discussion of "the relevance of individual capacities" in ch.8. They write:
Our pragmatist defense of democracy envisions active participation by citizens in processes of mutual discussion and persuasion. Such participation requires that each citizen be able to advance arguments that others might find persuasive. Thus, equal opportunity of political influence must attend to the conditions under which all citizens would be able to engage in discussion at this level. The depth of the anticipated participation highlights the importance of the effects of individual-level capacities for effective institutional performance. (p.234)
In other words: One of the requirements for democratic institutions to work properly is that individuals must have the capacities (abilities) to participate effectively in deliberation. Presumably that means that most adults must be able to speak and/or write coherently enough to have the possibility of persuading others of their point of view.

Knight & Johnson proceed to criticize Rawls for paying "no explicit attention to issues of equality of capacity" (p.236). Citing Rawls's Political Liberalism [PL] (1993), they note Rawls's statement that everyone must have "a fair opportunity...to influence the outcome of political decisions" (PL, p.327). But, K&J continue, Rawls
limits analysis of [this] fair opportunity to the ownership of the minimum threshold of primary goods and merely assumes that actors possess the capacities needed to effectively use these resources.... On the dimension of moral and intellectual capacities and skills, Rawls concludes that any variations above the minimum threshold [of primary goods] are acceptable and consistent with the principles of justice as fairness. Ultimately, Rawls treats as an assumption what equality of capacity treats as a fundamental feature of political equality. (p.236; footnotes omitted)
Perhaps Rawls would indeed be untroubled by some inequalities in capacities or, to put it differently, perhaps he doesn't focus explicitly enough on ensuring that individuals engaged in democratic deliberation have roughly equal capacities ("roughly" because obviously some inequality in capacities is unavoidable: not everyone has the eloquence of a Martin Luther King).

However, it's worth considering in this connection an implication of Rawls's views as expressed in A Theory of Justice [TJ]. There he says that "the primary social goods, to give them in broad categories, are rights and liberties, opportunities and powers, income and wealth," and -- importantly -- self-respect, i.e. "a sense of one's own worth" (TJ, 1971 ed., p.92). The sense of one's worth depends on a number of things, and one of them, Rawls suggests, is an ability to participate in the public life of one's society, as the following passage (p.101) indicates:
...the difference principle [i.e. the principle that social and economic inequalities must benefit the least advantaged] would allocate resources in education, say, so as to improve the long-term expectation of the least favored.... And...the value of education should not be assessed solely in terms of economic efficiency and social welfare. Equally if not more important is the role of education in enabling a person to enjoy the culture of his society and to take part in its affairs, and in this way to provide for each individual a secure sense of his [or her] own worth. (emphasis added)
Thus, given the importance of self-respect in Rawls's view and the effects of the difference principle, the Rawlsian just society, at least as described in A Theory of Justice, would likely be one in which the large majority of adults would have the capacities needed to participate effectively in democratic deliberation and, more broadly, in their society's public affairs.

Book notes

--  Forthcoming books by A. Scott Berg (a Woodrow Wilson bio) and Robert Stone.

-- A prize-winning novel (it's on this list) about the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich.

Bad Brooks

Brooks calls for "learning to crawl" but predicts that the nasty Dems will play hardball instead. (H/t: HC)

P.s. S. Lemieux got there first.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Voices from Mali

This post (by two political scientists from Notre Dame) reports data from surveys of 500 Malian villagers conducted in Jan. 2012 and summer 2012.

The main message:
...while the international media has fixated on political crisis, the respondents actually cared much more about a different sort of crisis: daily survival in the context of increasing desertification and unprecedented drought....We hope that their testimony is a reminder of the many underpublicized crises that rural citizens experience every day, regardless of political instability. Coups and rebellions incite international action and capture headlines, but [lack of] access to food, clinics, and potable water continually create life-or-death situations for many Malians.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

McChrystal interview

With Margaret Warner: here. Note, among other things, his somewhat odd, at least to my ears, description of the Marshall Plan as 'counterinsurgency'. YMMV.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The airport as nightmare

Reflections by Joe at The Disorder of Things.

A smidgen of autobiography

An outfit called Kashmir Tour Packages has left a comment on the previous post (actually it's an ad, not a comment, but whatever...). [Note added later: I have deleted the ad.]

I've been in Kashmir once, as a child traveling with my family; we were living in what was then East Pakistan and the Kashmir excursion was part of a vacation. We stayed on a houseboat for part of the time; I don't remember the trip very well. The landscape in Kashmir is indeed beautiful; however, these days I wouldn't want to travel in the immediate vicinity of the Line of Control, since Indian and Pakistani soldiers have been exchanging fire there, with resultant fatalities, in the last week or two. Tourists are presumably never allowed to get near the LoC anyway.

Btw, what about the UN observing/monitoring contingent in Kashmir? There is one, I believe, and has been for many years. But unless I'm mistaken, their terms of engagement, which are less 'active' than those of certain UN contingents elsewhere, don't permit them to do  anything once firing starts. It's strictly an observational mission. The rationale is that the presence of UN observers, even if they're not empowered to do much of anything, will have a pacifying effect. This proposition is non-falsifiable, since we don't know exactly how much more violence, if any, would have occurred if the UN weren't there. But on balance I suppose it's better to have them there than not.

Added later: For the LoC clashes through the prism of 'the spiral model', see here. (H/t D. Nexon)

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Tourism (sic) in Afghanistan

Courtesy of yesterday's 'AfPak Daily Brief', this NYT story about tourism in Afghanistan. A Canadian man and his pregnant American wife have been missing in Wardak province since October and are likely being held by the Taliban, though this has not been confirmed. The article also refers, among other things, to a hotel in Bamian province known for its "improbable but excellent sushi."

There is something incongruent, for lack of a better word, about being a tourist in a country at war. According to the article, however, a small number of tourists do travel to Afghanistan every year, including, for instance, a wealthy Russian couple who hired their own armored car and bodyguards.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Unequal 'justice'

Re the tragic death of Aaron Swartz: I thought this remark by a commenter at Crooked Timber was much to the point:
I do not understand why downloading a slew of academic articles was a crime worthy of up to 50 years in jail + a million dollar fine – and people who crashed the economy and laundered money are not at all held accountable.
And this is poignant.

(Update: He was apparently offered a plea bargain involving a half-year's jail time, but the larger point about how prosecutors exercised their discretion stands.)

Friday, January 11, 2013

Friday miscellany

-- The bombings in Quetta: analysis.

-- P. Kennedy vs. P. Kennedy?: Paul Kennedy's new book on WW2, Engineers of Victory, due to be released at the end of this month, is reviewed very favorably in the current Foreign Affairs by Lawrence Freedman. The book's focus is the contribution to the Allied victory of (quoting Freedman's capsule review) "middle managers, such as...logisticians, engineers, and operational analysts...." So it wasn't just the top commanders or "superior productivity" that led to success. Now this is interesting, because if I had to sum up, in one oversimplified line, what I took away from Kennedy's The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers when I read it some years ago, it would be: Superior productivity explains just about everything when it comes to war, or at least great-power war, in the industrial age.
[note: edited slightly after initial posting]

Thursday, January 10, 2013

The Yorba Linda brigade

From a piece (WashPost) in what used to be called, many years ago, the 'society pages'  -- the subject is the Nixon Centennial Gala:
Thirty-nine years after the scandal that ended his presidency, Nixon’s family, staffers, and friends gathered for what would have been his 100th birthday at the Mayflower Hotel — site of his inaugural balls in 1969 and 1973. The night was a curious mix of family reunion (with birdhouse replicas of his Yorba Linda [California] birthplace as decor), defiant pep rally and time capsule (old campaign posters and old campaign staffers). “There’s a wax museum in there,” teased one former staffer walking into the party.
Somehow I think no comment is required.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

A new version of structural realism

In their recent article "The Struggle for Autonomy: A Realist Structural Theory of International Relations," International Studies Review v.14, Dec. 2012, pp.499-521 [gated; abstract here], Richard Harknett and Hasan Yalcin propose "a new variant" of structural realism (p.499). 

Harknett and Yalcin (H&Y) replace the struggle for power (or the struggle for power and peace, as Morgenthau's famous subtitle has it) with a 'struggle for autonomy'. Rather than assuming that states always want power or security, H&Y say that the only motive that can be derived from structure -- i.e. from 'anarchy' (lack of a central authority) and the distribution of capabilities -- is a desire "to possess the capacity to act in a sustained manner that preserves and enhances [units'] capacity to act into the future -- they merely want to remain autonomous" (p.506; italics omitted). However, if units (states or non-state actors) don't survive they can't remain autonomous, a point to which I'll return.

Before getting into the weeds, I'll try to give a brief overview of H&Y's approach. Some of their points, when put simply, seem cogent clear enough, if debatable. A problem with the article, though, is that the points are usually not put simply but wrapped up in verbiage and often inelegant sentences. (In some -- not all -- scholarly IR journals, there seems to be no copy-editing to speak of, which means that stylistically everything is left to the authors.)

H&Y argue that states respond to shifts in the distribution of power by adjusting their behavior, based on a calculation of what they want and what they think it's possible to get. When one state has a much larger share of power than all the rest, the other states will not embark on a likely fruitless revisionist quest to change the system. Rather, they will maneuver within it, seeking to enhance their freedom of action without directly challenging the leading state. (This, incidentally, is close to the situation Stephen Walt describes in Taming American Power, a book H&Y don't cite.) Conversely, when the distribution of capabilities is more even, states, H&Y say, will seek to advance their positions more directly and less subtly, leading to the likelihood of intensified security dilemmas and increasing the chances of major war. Put in this way, the argument is plausible enough to be tested, at least in a loose sense, through historical inquiry. The authors don't undertake such a test, though they do have a brief section at the end applying their theory to the Cold War, which they split into three periods characterized, they say, by different distributions of power between the U.S. and USSR.  

The authors distinguish their approach from the extant varieties of structural realism, i.e. defensive and offensive realism, on the grounds that those approaches supposedly assume invariant state motivations (i.e., states always seek to maximize either security or power). According to H&Y, both defensive and offensive realism have erred by taking motives as given, rather than seeing motives as shaped by structure. They write:
[S]tructure shapes not only behaviors but also identities and orientations of agents. In offensive and defensive realist theories, state identities and motivations are defined and assumed independently from the shaping power of structural factors. States are taken to have a specific motivation whatever the constraints and opportunities of structural conditions. Structure does not affect the survival motivation in neorealist theories of IR, which assume that even if there is no direct threat to state survival, it is a survival instinct that is driving action. In contrast, in the structural autonomy theory developed here, units rearrange not only their behaviors, but also their identities and motivations in response to the distribution of power (p.502; italics in original).
The description of structural realist theories in this passage is not, I think, entirely accurate. There is more going on in offensive realism than "a survival instinct." True, Mearsheimer does write that "the only assumption dealing with a specific motive that is common to all states says that their principal objective is to survive" (The Tragedy of Great Power Politics, p.32), but in an endnote (p.414, n.8) he writes: "Security concerns alone cannot cause great powers to act aggressively. The possibility that at least one state might be motivated by non-security calculations is a necessary condition for offensive realism, as well as for any other structural theory of international politics that predicts security competition."

H&Y insist that "one could assume a survival motivation" only in "an environment with no opportunity but full of threats" (p.509). The problem here, however, is that the word "motivation" has more than one meaning. "Motive," according to the dictionary I have at hand, can mean "some inner drive, impulse, intention, etc. that causes a person to do something or act in a certain way," but "motive" can also mean simply a "goal." And units can have a goal of surviving regardless of whether the environment is threatening or non-threatening. Indeed, as I mentioned before, a unit that doesn't survive obviously can't remain autonomous. In this sense autonomy presupposes survival. Now it is true that the rate of state death in the present international system is very low and thus survival is not often a motive in the causative meaning of "motive"; but survival can remain a goal even when the desire to survive is not an immediate driver of behavior. H&Y seem wrong to assert that the "traditional realist-ascribed motive of survival implies a logic in which helpless states would eventually require the delegation of state autonomy to a higher authority in a fearful environment populated by units wishing for survival" (p.509). Where do they get the notion that states in a "self-help" system are or may become "helpless"? It doesn't follow.

H&Y proceed to distinguish between "diffuse" and "concentrated" power structures. In diffuse power structures, a category that includes both bipolarity and multipolarity, gaps in power between units are relatively small; in concentrated power structures, as one might guess, power gaps are large and one unit is clearly more powerful than the rest. Diffuse structures are more war-prone, they argue, and against Waltz they maintain that bipolar systems (and balanced multipolar systems) are not more stable than the alternatives. They write:
In what in Waltzian terms would be considered a balanced system, states will feel less threatened (or more secure), but this does not translate into behavior promoting stability. Since the primary motivation is not security (or survival) but autonomy, "balanced" systems will not necessarily be stable, but rather have strong structurally induced incentives to change the power structure (and the relative distributions within it) to gain autonomy. The Cold War behavior of the two superpowers became more change-oriented during periods in which their power was more "balanced" with each seeking a breakout capacity via military technology, additional allies, exploitation of minor states (the competition over the Third World), or expanded realms of competition (the Space Race). The structure, itself, induced intense change-oriented policy, not stability-seeking on the part of the superpowers. (p.514)
This is interesting, but there is at least one problem with the argument in this section: H&Y maintain that a diffuse power structure decreases autonomy ("the very existence of other actors with equal capabilities decreases the level of autonomy for all" -- p.514), but it's not clear why this should be the case given their definition of autonomy, quoted above, as "the capacity to act in a sustained manner that preserves and enhances...capacity to act into the future" (p.506). What seems to happen in this part of the argument is that H&Y take autonomy to mean the degree of a unit's freedom of action, but that's not how they define autonomy at the beginning of the piece.   

***

Reading "The Struggle for Autonomy" raises, among other questions, the issue of what is the most promising direction for realist (or realist-inflected) theorizing about international politics. In their first footnote the authors say that "neo-classical realists with their multi-causal and multi-level frameworks are increasing the number of factors across the realist paradigm. This is a degenerative process from a structuralist perspective."  Yet neoclassical realism emerged precisely because structural realism is limited both in what it can explain and how well it can explain it. Waltz's main substantive generalization -- that given states-under-anarchy there is a strong tendency toward balancing -- has received sustained and quite persuasive criticism, and Mearsheimer's view that supposed uncertainty about intentions pushes great powers to act aggressively (albeit calculatedly) to each other is, if anything, even more questionable. Harknett and Yalcin think the problem, in effect, is that Waltz and Mearsheimer are not structural enough. But is this indeed the problem, or does it rather lie in structural realism's inability to take into account factors that matter -- domestic politics, regime type, ideology, bargaining, to name several? Parsimony is not desirable if parsimonious theories can't explain important outcomes.

Neoclassical realists bring in perceptions and domestic politics not because they want a "hybrid" theory for its own sake but in order to explain outcomes more satisfactorily. Even sticking with H&Y's example of the Cold War, as Lobell et al. observe (see the introduction to this edited volume) the system's structure by itself can't explain why the U.S. after 1945 opted for containment rather than "competitive cooperation" with the USSR. (In the interest of keeping this post shorter than a mini-treatise, I will not go into H&Y's discussion of the Cold War in detail. Suffice to say it is open to criticism.)

In short, it's far from clear, at least to me, that a "refinement of structural realism" (H&Y, p.499) in an even more structural direction is the way to go. To be more direct, I think it's not.  Those interested in these matters can of course read the article and reach their own conclusions.

Added later: There is another issue (well, lots of them but one I should have mentioned): The decreased likelihood of major war in the present period may have very much less to do with structural factors (i.e. with the "concentrated" power structure) and much more to do with  long-term trends and factors that are not structural. Since I've discussed this fairly extensively elsewhere on the blog (see the "decline of war" label under topics), I won't harp on it further here.

Added still later: For Waltz on the survival motive, see Theory of International Politics, pp.91-2.    

Sunday, January 6, 2013

On a roll

I've put up two ephemeral posts today -- might as well write a quick third before calling it a night.

One "roger," commenting on this Erik Voeten post at The Monkey Cage, wonders why American IR scholars calling for a "lean forward" posture (as opposed to "pull back") haven't learned anything from postcolonial theory. Yes, that's what 'roger' asks, no doubt rhetorically, but I'll take it non-rhetorically.

It's hard to know whether to laugh or cry. Maybe they haven't learned anything from po-co theory because they haven't read any; maybe they've tried to read some and been turned off by the style of much of it. (Or maybe whatever one might learn from po-co theory would not necessarily affect one's policy views.)

A few months ago I took Inayatullah and Blaney's IR and the Problem of Difference out of the univ. library where I can borrow books. I thought it was something I should look at. The copy had been extensively underlined and scrawled in, always a turnoff, but I can't honestly claim that's the main reason why I only dipped into it as opposed to reading it. It was more: "do I really want to read this?" Answer: Not right now. I wonder how many of the authors whom 'roger' criticizes have read it. How many of those authors have read Hardt and Negri? How many have read the people who post at The Disorder of Things? How many read journals other than IO, IS, Foreign Affairs, and maybe APSR or EJIR or JCR occasionally?

So, 'roger', that's my off-the-cuff 'answer' to your question.

By the numbers: Howl at Pluto vs. Lawyers, Guns and Money (LGM)


2012 LGM in numbers (link):
Posts: 2,723
Comments: 163,243
Visits: 3,934,352
Unique Visitors: 803,173
Pageviews: 7,459,130


2012 Howl at Pluto in numbers:
Posts: 148
Comments: [number not counted]
Visits: 7,273
Unique Visitors: 4,108
Pageviews: 11,391

Sources for Howl numbers
# of posts: Blogger
all other #s: Google Analytics

The JFK tapes

The other night I spent 15 or 20 minutes with Listening In, which contains selections from John F. Kennedy's White House tapes. (Didn't buy it, partly because I'm on a fairly tight budget for such things.) There is a good deal here that will interest those students of the history of U.S. foreign policy who haven't already had access to the tapes (not sure of the details, but I think the Kennedy Library has now made a lot of them available online, though perhaps the audio is not always great; with this book, however, you get transcripts, Ted Widmer's comments as editor, plus a couple of CDs).

There are, among other things, sections on nuclear weapons, Vietnam, and the Cuban missile crisis. Looking through it quickly, I was particularly struck by a phone conversation between Kennedy and Harold MacMillan in which JFK several times calls the considerably older MacMillan 'Prime Minister', while the latter, without in any way seeming to give affront, manages to avoid calling JFK 'Mr. President'.

The book has a foreword by Caroline Kennedy, who refers to her father as the "first truly modern president." There are various ways in which I think that's true (one thinks here in terms of style, the opening of the White House to artists (e.g. the Casals concert) and intellectuals that was so much a part of the Camelot aura, and the fact that JFK was the first president born in the twentieth century ("the torch has been passed to a new generation, born in this century....")). However, it was during his predecessor Eisenhower's administration that the U.S. became recognizably 'modern' in some ways that persist (e.g., the centrality of the car, the rise of the suburbs).

As Widmer points out, the tapes would have been used by Kennedy as raw material for his memoirs, had he lived to write them. The fact that he didn't makes them all the more valuable to historians and the interested public.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Friday evening quote

From Sonia Faleiro's essay "The Book Boys of Mumbai", in the current NYTimes Book Review:

The tragic irony of Mumbai’s illicit book trade is that its best salesmen will never fully understand the value of what they’re selling. They can rattle off book titles and the names of best-selling authors. But because they forgo school for work, they can’t read, and so view books as no different from anything else they’ve sold — like boxes of tissues or bags of oranges. The pleasure, indeed the magic, of literature that shapes so many avid readers as children, defining who we are and influencing what we make of our lives, is beyond their reach. Yakub is poignantly aware of this. “I’ve grown up with novels,” he told me. “But I have never read one.”

The fiscal crisis of the state

Listening just now, on the radio version of the PBS NewsHour, to Shields and Brooks bemoaning the country's inability and/or unwillingness to make difficult choices on spending and taxes, I was reminded that a leftist scholar named James O'Connor wrote a book many years ago called The Fiscal Crisis of the State. Never read it; one of the many things I probably should have read and never did. First published in 1973, the book was reissued in 2001, according to a glance at Amazon, by Transaction (a publisher not at all known for leftism but known for reissuing important works of social science).

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Drone strikes continue, but who are the casualties?

I've started to get in my inbox, as of this a.m., Foreign Policy's 'AfPak daily brief' and also the more general 'morning brief' (not sure I'll continue with the latter). Since I haven't been following the international news through other means as closely as I might, these roundups may be useful.

The 'AfPak brief' cites various news reports about a drone strike that killed "top Pakistani militant commander" Maulvi Nazir, who staged attacks on U.S./ISAF forces in Afghanistan. The brief mentions that this same strike also killed nine people in a house in S. Waziristan but says nothing about their identities. Also mentioned is a drone strike in N. Waziristan that "killed four people whose identities could not be verified." This sort of thing highlights how difficult it must be for those journalists and analysts who try to keep track of exactly who the drone strikes are killing, and underlines why there is no definitive count of civilian casualties.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Paraphrase of the day (fiscal cliff edition)

This might read "quote of the day" but I just returned the book from which I could have taken the verbatim. D.W. Brogan, referring to the French Third Republic, described it as having so many brakes that it slid toward immobility (the actual sentence is rather more elaborate but that's the gist). I hadn't been following the fiscal cliff drama very closely but the way in which it was "resolved" and the prospects for further showdowns (cf. the summer '11 debt ceiling 'crisis') after the new Congress is seated -- estimates of which admittedly vary depending on the analyst -- made Brogan's remark jump out when I ran across it.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Happy (?) new year

Slated for deletion in next day or two, absent a comment. Treat it as a very ephemeral  'happy new year'.