Thursday, July 30, 2009

Those parasite blues

Just glanced at Michael Massing's New York Review piece on the blogosphere, which he appears to defend against its critics. He notes approvingly that some blogs (mostly fairly big operations, often with staffs) actually break news rather than just comment on it in "parasitical" fashion.

This particular blog is, of course, parasitical in the sense that I do not break news or do original reporting (nor would anyone be likely to send me a 'hot tip' since this blog's audience is quite tiny: why send it to me when you can send it to TPM or a zillion other more-read places than here?) On the other hand, as regular readers (all two or three of them) are aware, I don't limit myself to commenting on current events but have been known to throw in the occasional post about a scholarly article, the occasional essay about one subject or another, and even the occasional post on poetry. (And I must nod here in the direction of HC, whose guest commentary on that Longfellow poem has attracted a steady, if modest, stream of interest ever since its publication.)

Being a "parasite" in the Massing sense doesn't bother me too much. In a (very) former existence, I wrote (for pay) pieces about court decisions and other products of the legal-governmental bureaucracy. In that existence or incarnation I was a paid parasite but also a heteronomous (ooh big word!) one: they (my superiors) told me what to write about and I wrote about it. As a blogger, by contrast, I am unpaid and autonomous, but still, much of the time, parasitical. That's how the cookie crumbles.

U.S. defense budget: same old story

See today's WP article "Pork-Padded Defense Bill Weighed by House."
It has garnered 500 comments (as of this writing) on the Post's website.

India's behavior on its border with Bangladesh

Not good. Via Christopher Albon.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

More on the Indian sub launch and U.S-Indian relations

NightWatch for July 27 writes that the U.S. missed "a strategic opportunity" by not helping India with its nuclear submarine development, leaving this to the Russians instead.

But it's not as if the U.S. has been ignoring its relationship with India. On the contrary. The Bush admin negotiated the nuclear power deal with India, and the Obama admin is following the same basic policy of strategic engagement. Sec of State Clinton's recent visit to India resulted in what is called an end-use monitoring agreement, which helps to pave the way for weapons and reactor sales. To quote the BBC story:

"India is seeking to buy fighter aircraft and nuclear reactors - deals that are expected to generate multi-billion dollar contracts, for which several US companies are bidding.

India also announced on Monday that it had approved sites where American companies will build two nuclear power plants."

In light of this, I find it hard to get very exercised about the Russian-Indian cooperation on submarine development. Sometimes it pays to ask naive, simplistic-sounding questions, like: What does difference does it make? Here the answer, it seems to me, is: Not very much. The only consideration that occurs to me is that if the Indian subs are based on Russian designs it may be harder for the U.S. Navy to do certain collaborative things with them. I'll leave it to others who know about such technical things to argue about this.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Update: Card check

This happened a while ago, but I just now found out that Senate Democrats have dropped the card check provision from the Employee Free Choice Act. See here and here. (And for my earlier post on this, here.)

Anchors away

About a year ago, I noted (citing an LGM post) that India had leased a Russian nuclear submarine. Now India has launched its own nuclear sub, which was built with Russian help.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The 'cultural' roots of attitudes toward redistribution

The June 6th Economist carried a summary of a study exploring whether "cultural" factors influence opinions about redistribution. The authors of the paper, Erzo Luttmer and Monica Singhal, looked at data from the European Social Survey "on the attitudes of over 6,000 immigrants who have moved from one of 32 countries in the survey to another." Their bottom-line finding, in the Economist's words, is that "views about redistribution in an immigrant's home country are a strong predictor of his own opinions," even if he (or she) left the home country twenty years before. So, for example, a Pole or Romanian living in Britain probably would be more likely to favor more redistributive policies than a native Briton of roughly the same educational and income level. The effect also holds for children of immigrants, though not as strongly. This is interesting, although judging from the summary the paper does not address what precisely it is about one national "culture" that makes it more (or less) pro-redistribution than another.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Cronkite and Vietnam

We've been reminded in recent days of Walter Cronkite's broadcast of Feb. 27, 1968, when he declared, after having traveled to Vietnam in the wake of the Tet Offensive, that the war was going to end in a stalemate and the U.S. should embark on negotiations.

Kathleen Parker, in an appreciative column about Cronkite, notes that his critics say the Tet Offensive was a defeat for the Viet Cong (the NLF) and that his famous broadcast ushered in an era of supposed media bias. (Actually Parker refers to the North Vietnamese not the NLF, but it was mainly an NLF operation.) In truth, the Tet Offensive was both a defeat and a victory for the NLF: in strictly military terms it was a defeat, but in psychological terms it was a victory. It showed that the NLF, after several years of being subjected to American air power and
fighting American ground soldiers, was capable of launching and carrying out a sustained operation against a large number of population centers in the South, and the NLF's penetration of the U.S. embassy in Saigon was a major propaganda coup. Cronkite's reaction was entirely understandable in view of the official American assurances that the war was being won and that the enemy was on the run.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

The attack on "foreign law"

Today's Judiciary Committee hearings on the Sotomayor nomination featured a lot of discussion about the supposed evils of making reference to international law and the law of other countries in constitutional adjudication. At the end of today's proceedings, two conservative law professors delivered statements on this issue; I may have occasion to say more about those statements after I've had a chance to read them (or re-listen to them). Regrettably, the Democrats missed an opportunity to come to the defense, so to speak, of international law and foreign law. They did not invite a witness to counter specifically the testimony of the two law professors I referred to. None of this will affect Sotomayor's confirmation prospects, of course, but it may affect the broader debate on this topic.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The latest issue of PSQ, etc.

That's Political Science Quarterly. I don't subscribe but happened to see the current issue in a bookstore today. It carries, among other things, pieces by Juan Cole (on Pakistan and Afghanistan), Christopher Fettweis (a historical analysis of terrorism), and John Mueller (war is nearly extinct, or on the road to extinction, or whatever). I almost bought it but in the end decided not to shell out the thirteen bucks. It does appear to be an interesting issue, however.

On a lighter, indeed somewhat frivolous note: What's up with the weather in D.C.? While all eyes (or many eyes) are on that increasingly meaningless ritual known as a Supreme Court confirmation hearing, the meteorological gods are bestowing some totally atypical, gorgeous days: sunny, not very humid, slightly breezy; in a word, idyllic -- especially by the standards of the swamp that is Washington and environs. I'm sure we've done nothing to deserve this, but I hope the masters of meteorological fortune remain so gloriously confused.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Civilians can return to Swat, Pakistan govt says

Since I've written in previous posts about the Pakistani army's (apparently completed) operation in the Swat valley (as well as about its anti-Taliban offensive more generally), this is just a quick line to note that I heard, in a passing mention in a news summary a couple of nights ago, that the government has now said it's safe for millions of displaced civilians to return to the area. That's all I've heard about the official announcement, however; those who are interested should be able to find out more with a little effort.
Update: see here.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

McNamara: some suggested reading

Having said that I'm not going to be writing very much in July or August (see post for July 2 below), I think I can be excused for not making any substantive comment on McNamara in the wake of his death.

For those who may be interested, however, I'll mention a few books that might be worth a look. Deborah Shapley's biography of McNamara Promise and Power is well regarded but I haven't read it so can't comment directly; Paul Hendrickson's The Living and the Dead I've read bits and pieces of; Halberstam's The Best and the Brightest I haven't looked at in a long time. I also have not read most of McNamara's Vietnam apology In Retrospect.

Two books that I have read, both of which contain interesting material on McNamara and Vietnam and both of which I can strongly recommend, are:

Yuen Foong Khong, Analogies at War: Korea, Munich, Dien Bien Phu, and the Vietnam Decisions of 1965 (Princeton U.P., 1992; also in paperback). This was the author's dissertation, so not all of it is easy going, but especially for those interested in how policymakers use and misuse historical analogies, it's very valuable.

David Milne, America's Rasputin: Walt Rostow and the Vietnam War (Hill & Wang, 2008). This excellent, impressively researched work on Rostow is interesting on a number of points, including the relationship between Rostow and McNamara. (I reviewed this book in the Winter 2009 issue of New Politics; the review itself is not available for free but some other parts of that issue, as well as parts of the current Summer 2009 issue, are. The NP website is here.)

"A true world political authority"

The new papal encyclical on social/political matters calls, among other things, for a strengthened UN and "a true world political authority."

Monday, July 6, 2009


Just saw the news of his death. I may have some comment later.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Ilie Nastase, anyone?

So I'm watching the quite amazing Federer-Roddick Wimbledon final. The NBC announcer has noted several times the presence of Borg, Laver, and Sampras in the past champions' seats near the court. Yet who is sitting behind Borg, clearly visible? Why, none other than Ilie Nastase. OK, he was no Borg, Laver or Sampras, and he had a temper and he was controversial. But he was still a pretty darn good tennis player. Yet neither Ted Robinson, the announcer, nor John McEnroe, commenting with him, has seen fit to mention Nastase's presence.
P.s. Manuel Santana was also there; I believe Robinson did mention him once.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

July and August at H/P

July and August are probably going to be largely downtime here. I do have one or two posts planned, but I don't expect to be posting very often.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Technology and accidents

Several recent highly publicized plane crashes, along with the accident on the D.C. subway system (Metro), have got me thinking, albeit not very coherently, about accidents and technology. The Metro accident hits closest to home for me. Was it the kind of thing bound to occur sooner or later given the (presumed) pitfalls of reliance on an automated computerized system, or could it have been prevented by, say, a back-up system? Such a back-up would no doubt have been expensive, but I believe airplanes have them, at least in a rudimentary form, and so do, I believe, nuclear power plants, so why shouldn't subways? Perrow's work on 'normal accidents', which I've heard about but not read, suggests that not all accidents can be eliminated, especially in technologically complex environments; still, that is no reason not to try to make transport and other systems as safe as possible.

The Metro accident is a tragedy, obviously, for those who were killed and injured and for their families; it also will inconvenience everyone who uses, either regularly or occasionally, the Red line, as service on that line will be slower than usual. Moreover, because the whole Metro system is going to be operating in manual (non-automatic) mode for an indefinite period (at least according to what I heard last night on the news), the service on the system as a whole will be slower. Of course, safety matters more than speed, but in a metropolitan area already choking on its traffic -- an area where one can easily get the impression that no one does anything except drive around all day and clog up the roads -- anything that makes the subway less fast and efficient is bound to be unwelcome, to say the least.

On a related issue: See this post on the projected high-speed rail line between San Francisco and L.A.