Monday, November 23, 2009

Note to readers

That's it for this month. I'll be taking a break and will resume posting sometime in December.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The City of the Jugglers

Although I don't do it very often, it can pay to glance at journals that have nothing to do with one's field: you never know what interesting things you might turn up. The other day in the library I happened to look at the Spring 2009 issue of The Victorian Newsletter, which is devoted to William North (1825-1854), whose 1850 novel The City of the Jugglers is described by Patrick Scott as "the least known but most relevant novel of the 19th century" and "perhaps the only English novel fully to take up the challenge of 1848 and the revolutions elsewhere in Europe."* It's available as a print-on-demand paperback from the University of South Carolina Press and also available in a digital version. (Incidentally, North was also, among other things, the author of Anti-Coningsby, a satire of Disraeli and the Young England movement.)
*Patrick Scott, "Introducing a 'Lost' Victorian Novel: The Elusive William North and The City of the Jugglers (1850)," The Victorian Newsletter #115 (Spring 2009): 7-15.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Presidents, resentment, and the news

John Sides blogs about research (by C. Karpowitz) suggesting that Nixon's consumption of news via prepared summaries fueled his resentments and that first-hand news consumption may be necessary for "healthy presidential leadership." Maybe, but LBJ, I believe, managed to stoke his resentments without relying solely (or at all?) on summaries; in his case, reading the newspapers and watching the TV news proved very adequate for that purpose.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Caspar Weinberger's books

As some may recall, Caspar Weinberger (1917-2006) presided over the Reagan administration's military build-up as Reagan's Secretary of Defense from January 1981 until November 1987. (Weinberger began his political career in California and then served as Nixon's director of OMB and Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare.) Weinberger was indicted on charges of lying to Congress in the Iran-Contra affair on the eve of the November 1992 presidential election, but just before leaving office Pres. George H.W. Bush pardoned Weinberger before he could stand trial (Bush also pardoned five other former Reagan administration officials at the same time). In denouncing the pardons, the independent counsel (i.e. investigating prosecutor) Lawrence Walsh sharply criticized Weinberger for having withheld his contemporaneous notes on Iran-Contra, which, according to Walsh, contained evidence of a conspiracy by "the highest-ranking" Reagan administration officials to lie to Congress and the public.

Why rake this up now? Not long ago I happened to be in a used bookstore which was selling part of Weinberger's library.
From conversation with a store employee, I learned that the more "valuable" (and possibly more interesting) part of the library, mainly books with Weinberger's signature, was in another branch of the store. A number of the books I saw here were review copies that publishers had sent to Weinberger; some of these dealt with international politics (e.g., Hugh Thomas's 1966 book on the Suez crisis). Other books clearly had been acquired by Weinberger himself, either during his student days or after. These included some on British history, especially biographies of politicians and statesmen; memoirs of American public officials (e.g., Dean Acheson's Present at the Creation, Henry Stimson's On Active Service in Peace and War [written with McGeorge Bundy]); and some books on U.S. politics (I particularly remember an anti-New Deal polemic published in 1937 warning against "the collectivist state"). There was also a complete set of Churchill's The Second World War. And there were one or two items reflecting Weinberger's Harvard connections (he was an alumnus of both the college and the law school), e.g., William Bentinck-Smith (ed.), The Harvard Book. In short, this part of the collection was not all that revealing; perhaps the part in the other branch of the store would have been more so. Or perhaps not.

All these books, virtually all of which were hardcovers, had the same price ($15). As I was leaving I asked the employee about this pricing policy; he replied that they didn't have time to "psychoanalyze each book."

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Should KSM and the four others be tried in federal court?

I have two brief things to say on this:

1) While the decision can legitimately be questioned, Republican senators' criticisms today (to the extent I heard them) -- e.g., Lindsay Graham saying something like 'this makes horrible history' or sets a horrible precedent -- were overblown.

2) If it was going to be a federal court, better to do it in the Southern District of New York than in the Eastern District of Virginia which, as I understand it, was the other federal venue considered. Some years ago I observed part of a trial in the Eastern District of Virginia. Based on that and some other things, I think Manhattan is the better choice.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Brazil on the move

At the beginning of October, just after Rio was awarded the 2016 summer Olympics, T. Greer collected a bunch of headlines showing Brazil's assertiveness in regional and world affairs. His verdict: "For the first time in modern history Brazil has banished enough of its inner demons to become a true force in international politics, and [has] a president who is ready to play the role of Statesman-in-chief."

Round and round

Those who are tired of reading about Afghanistan (and if you are I don't blame you) should skip what follows.

Stephen Walt is having none of the various possible "middle courses" on Afghanistan that have been in the air. "Trying to split the difference on this issue is not leadership; in fact, it is a recipe for failure," Walt writes. (He favors getting out.) This may be right but, as Walt knows, the all-or-nothing approach is not consistent with what seems to be Obama's general style. If they read Walt's blog in the White House -- and who knows, someone may -- this is likely to go, so to speak, in one ear and out the other. The recent moves to put more public pressure on Karzai re corruption, and Karzai's apparent efforts to respond, suggest that quick withdrawal is not going to be the decision. But Gordon Brown, for one, does seem to be thinking ahead to an eventual NATO exit.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Gallenberger's John Rabe

Last night I saw Florian Gallenberger's film about John Rabe, the German businessman who was instrumental in saving the lives of more than 200,000 Chinese during the Japanese occupation of Nanking (Nanjing) in 1937 (a/k/a the Nanking Massacre). The movie premiered last February at the Berlin Film Festival (hat tip, Wikipedia) and has won German film awards. I almost didn't go but I'm glad I did, because it was absorbing, instructive, well-acted, and at times moving. Recommended, but not for those who are squeamish about graphic depictions of brutality.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Friday, November 13, 2009

A little F. Scott Fitzgerald

John Quiggin's post on Armistice Day led one commenter to quote Tender Is the Night, providing a reminder of how well Fitzgerald could write. It's #33 in the comment thread.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

African Union Convention on Displaced Persons

The African Union recently adopted a Convention for the Protection and Assistance of Displaced Persons, the first legal instrument to define states' obligations toward their own displaced citizens. There are roughly 12 million internally displaced people in Africa. The convention needs to be ratified by a minimum of 15 countries before coming into force. More details here and/or by googling "convention on displaced persons."

You might ask whether conventions like this have any practical effect. The safe, albeit perhaps unsatisfying, answer is that it varies: some have more impact than others. But at a minimum they can help focus attention on a problem, and that in itself can be useful.

Quotes for the day: Paul Kennedy; Eric Hobsbawm

Today being the ninety-first anniversary of the end of World War One (Nov. 11 being marked as Veterans Day in the U.S., Remembrance Day in Canada, and Armistice Day in Europe), two quotations for the occasion:

"...what that struggle meant and did changed the course of history more than any other in modern times.... It brought the end of the Romanovs, the rise of the Bolsheviks, and the emergence of a Communist system that blighted so much of humanity for the rest of the century. The war also made possible the growth of Fascism.... [The war] shattered a Eurocentric world order, shifted the financial center of gravity to New York, nurtured Japanese expansion in East Asia, and, at the same time, stimulated anticolonial movements from West Africa to Indonesia.

The aerial bomber, the U-boat, and poison gas brought mechanization to...killing.... Industrialized labor, trade unions, and socialist parties gained in power, while the landed interest declined. The social and political position of women was transformed in various aspects.... The war produced a cultural crisis, in the arts, ideas, religion, literature, and life styles. It also exacerbated ethnic and religious hatreds, in Ireland, the Balkans, and Armenia, that scar the European landscape today. The Great War is therefore not some distant problem about dead white males on and off the battlefield. Its origins, course, and consequences are central to an understanding of the twentieth century. Any high school, college, or university that does not accord importance to teaching its meanings is shortchanging the present generation of students and discrediting itself."
-- Paul Kennedy, "In the Shadow of the Great War," New York Review of Books, August 12, 1999

"On the 28 June 1992 President Mitterand of France made a sudden, unannounced and unexpected appearance in Sarajevo, already the centre of a Balkan war that was to cost many thousands of lives during the remainder of the year. His object was to remind world opinion of the seriousness of the Bosnian crisis. Indeed, the presence of a distinguished, elderly and visibly frail statesman under artillery and small-arms fire was much remarked on and admired. However, one aspect of M. Mitterand's visit passed virtually without comment, even though it was plainly central to it: the date. Why had the President of France chosen to go to Sarajevo on that particular day? Because the 28 June was the anniversary of the assassination, in Sarajevo, in 1914, of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary, which led, within a matter of weeks, to the outbreak of the First World War. For any educated European of Mitterand's age, the connection between date, place, and the reminder of a historic catastrophe...leaped to the eye. How better to dramatize the potential implications of the Bosnian crisis than by choosing so symbolic a date? But hardly anyone caught the allusion except a few professional historians and very senior citizens. The historical memory was no longer alive."
-- Eric Hobsbawm, The Age of Extremes (1994), pp.2-3

Monday, November 9, 2009

Fall of the Berlin Wall: 20-year anniversary

The other 9-11, and in the long-run scheme of things the more earthshaking one: 9 November 1989.
See also here.
And here.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

New blog on Pakistan; F. Kagan analysis of Waziristan campaign

Via Charli Carpenter: the Pakistan Conflict Monitor.

Also, a couple of weeks ago the Wash Post's Walter Pincus summarized an analysis of the Waziristan campaign produced by Frederick Kagan and others connected with Am. Enterprise Institute. The paper emphasizes the Pakistani army's successful pre-campaign efforts to negotiate deals with tribal leaders and groups who might otherwise have actively opposed the current campaign against the Mehsud group in South Waziristan. (Despite my general dislike of AEI, this analysis, judging from the Post article, seems well-informed.)

Friday, November 6, 2009

Effects of partisanship

Interesting (if you're interested in this sort of thing).

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Afghan government and corruption: is there any hope?

Gerard Russell, writing at FP, thinks the answer is 'yes' (or at least 'maybe'), urging Karzai to set up a body modeled on the Electoral Complaints Commission -- i.e., composed largely of non-Afghans -- to investigate government corruption. On the other hand, Abdullah Abdullah, Karzai's former challenger, sounded quite pessimistic earlier this evening in an interview with Margaret Warner on the NewsHour.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Tracking a phrase: "Speak truth to power"

A commenter on this post at The Monkey Cage discusses the phrase "speak truth to power," which, according to the commenter, stems from "a Quaker assertion of the eighteenth century" which was echoed in an American Friends Service Committee publication from the 1950s. The commenter also notes that the phrase was used by political scientist Aaron Wildavsky in the title of a 1979 book.

Another use of the phrase, one that predates Wildavsky, was in Hans J. Morgenthau's collection Truth and Power: Essays of a Decade, 1960-70 (Praeger, 1970). Morgenthau dedicated the book to one of his mentors: "to Hans Kelsen, who has taught us through his example how to speak Truth to Power." And in the prologue Morgenthau wrote:
"In the long run..., the voice of truth, so vulnerable to power, has proved more resilient than power. It has built empires of the mind and the spirit that have outlasted, and put their mark upon, the empires of power. On January 22, 1967, about thirty people demonstrated in Pushkin Square in Moscow against the arrest of four persons who had transcribed the court records in the trial against Andrei Sinyavsky and Yuri Daniel. One of the organizers of the protest, Khaustov, who was sentenced to three years at hard labor, admitted at his trial that he had read Kant and Hegel and that his reading of Kant 'made me see a lot of things in a new light.' The experience of the 1960's has dispelled the illusion that truth can show power the way in direct confrontation. But historical experience reassures us that truth can indeed make people 'see a lot of things in a new light.' And when people see things in a new light, they might act in a new way."
Not exactly the side of Hans Morgenthau that most students get in their introductory international relations classes, is it?

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Horatio Alger re-exploded

How much socioeconomic mobility is there in the U.S.? Not as much as many Americans believe. From a piece in Wash Post today by Isabell Sawhill and Ron Haskins:
"...recent research shows that in the Nordic countries and in the United Kingdom, children born into a lower-income family have a greater chance than those in the United States of forming a substantially higher-income family by the time they're adults.

If you are born into a middle-class family in the United States, you have a roughly even chance of moving up or down the ladder by the time you are an adult. But the story for low-income Americans is quite different; going from rags to riches in a generation is rare. Instead, if you are born poor, you are likely to stay that way. Only 35 percent of children in a family in the bottom fifth of the income scale will achieve middle-class status or better by the time they are adults [middle class being defined here as an income of $50,000 a year for a family of three]; in contrast, 76 percent of children from the top fifth will be middle-class or higher as adults."

Sawhill and Haskins go on to qualify this picture by noting that the U.S. "is exceptional" in the opportunities it offers to immigrants, relative to other 'developed' countries. But the basic data on mobility should not come as a big surprise. It is, of course, possible, as the 35 percent figure given in the quotation suggests, to rise from a poor or working-class family into the ranks of the middle-class or the affluent, but it's not likely. It probably requires a combination of individual talent, work, and luck (with "luck" construed to include the traits that one is born with and the quality of parenting one receives, among other things).

Anyone who doubts that the reproduction of social class takes place in the U.S., and who wants to consult something livelier and more anecdotal than the abundant academic literature on the topic, can browse through, say, a 30th anniversary Class Report from an elite college or university and note where the alumni's children are going to college. Anecdotal? Sure. Probative of anything in a strict social-scientific sense? No. But nonetheless quite revealing.

P.s. Last year I noted a piece by William Deresiewicz which bears on this last point.