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Archive for February, 2010

Esteemed architecture critic Warren Ellis on the new US Embassy in London

[ 0 ] February 23, 2010 |

I think perhaps this building says a little more than it was intended to. In fact, let’s admit it. IT’S A FORTRESS WITH A FUCKING MOAT. It doesn’t say “welcome to a little piece of America, one of the best ideas the world ever had and a country that welcomes the tired and poor and afraid.” It says “if you even look at us funny we’ll pour boiling oil on you from the roof. Raise the drawbridge! Release the Mongolian Terror Trout!”



Thinking About Gender and Security Studies at ISA

[ 0 ] February 23, 2010 |

Among events I attended last week at the International Studies Association Annual Conference: an informal discussion on the relationship between IR feminist theory and security studies, organized by my Duck of Minerva co-blogger Laura Sjoberg. Some of the questions posed to the participants in advance: What (if anything) can feminist theory teach security studies? What (if anything) can security studies teach IR feminism?

My key answer to the first of these questions has typically been: feminist theorists can show security folks how a gender lens can help solve problems that matter to security studies.

The foreign policy community and defense establishment gets this, I think. The US Army has recently begun requiring all soldiers, male and female, to undergo resiliency training so they can learn to “talk about emotions” as a bulwark against morale problems, suicide, domestic violence and divorce. Top Pentagon brass are urging the Obama Administration to repeal the “don’t ask don’t tell” policy not just because “it’s the right thing to do” but because the discharge of numerous gay and lesbian servicemen and women has deprived the military of key assets.

What the foreign policy establishment often doesn’t get is how to do “gender” well. This is because their efforts to craft more gender-friendly policies are themselves so based on gender assumptions rather than gender analysis. So for example, the State Department has seized upon “women’s empowerment” as a benchmark for its democracy promotion efforts – with mixed results. I think there’s a tremendous opportunity right now for feminist IR scholars studying gender dynamics in post-conflict zones and the roles of gender discourse in national identity and international negotiations to have an important effect in creating sounder policy options.

The key to having that effect, though, is to speak to the interests of those states involved. The US interest may not be “Iraqi women’s betterment” in and of itself; it may be “effective stability operations.” But if you can make the case that protecting Kurdish women from honor killings or ensuring Shi’a women equal protection under a national constitution supports the broader goal of the “nation-building” then you may have a much better chance of harnessing the support of powerful actors for feminist ends than if you limit yourself to “critiquing the hegemonic discourse.”

And this is where my answer to Question Number Two comes in: Security Studies can teach IR feminists how to communicate with the defense establishment more effectively. As I pointed out at the discussion, very few IR feminists I know – (and I am obviously poking fun at some of my own writing here as well) – can utter the sentence “the US needs to revamp its force structure to ensure power projection in anti-access environments” without snickering much less talk or write seriously about the kinds of issues raised in the QDR that was released last month – on terms that are actually likely to be taken seriously by military bloggers, defense intellectuals, or men and women in uniform. Certainly most of Laura’s posts at the Duck do not.

I think this is a shame and that it could easily be changed if IR feminists accept the validity of a genuine exchange with security studies on its own terms, rather than on some asymmetric cross-paradigmatic battlefield.

P.S. Peter Feaver from Shadow Government crashed this discussion and made a few choice points. I hope he blogs about them…

[cross-posted at Duck of Minerva]

Nihilists and Wets

[ 1 ] February 23, 2010 |

Bart Stupak is happy to blow up health care reform, denying countless people medical care and hence unnecessary illness and death, if access to abortion can’t be made more inequitable. Just another reminder, pace Charles Lane, who actually stands in the way of a health care bill.

In other news, Jay Rockefeller now seems to oppose the public option because it would be too “partisan.” Yes, it would be a shame if excessive partisanship caused the number of possible GOP votes in the Senate for health care legislation to go from zero to zero. (And, yes, this really is a case where Obama deserves considerable blame for a lack of leadership.)

Belly of the Beast

[ 0 ] February 23, 2010 |

Today I’m at the Air Command and Staff College at Maxwell AFB in Montgomery, Alabama. I’m speaking on one panel and in two seminars. No idea what the topic might be. Full report tomorrow or the next day.

Slightly Brainier Notes from ISA

[ 0 ] February 23, 2010 |

Some initial tidbits from conference papers I read or heard presented while AWOL:

1) At a panel on pirates: Isaac Kamola: The recent securitization of Somali piracy is a pretty big mystery given how few vital interests are at stake. Peter Andreas pointed out that it’s therefore also a mystery that no major IR journal has published a serious IR paper on this topic yet.

2) At a panel on war law: Sebastian Kaempf quoting Charles Law of UC Berkely: “Going to war actually saves US troops’ lives.” (Relative to gun violence, car wrecks etc associated with life on the civilian front.) Still trying to track down the original study that shows this is true to see how the risk assessment is computed.

3) At the Battlestar Galactica panel: Iver Neumann has written a paper arguing Battlestar Galactica is all about Mormonism. (Check out the full paper in the ISA Archive.)

[cross-posted at the Duck]

Congratulations! Friday Night Lights has leveled up.

[ 0 ] February 23, 2010 |

I have no actual proof that Peter Berg, Brian Grazer and David Nevins—the production team responsible for the NBC drama Friday Night Lights—play role playing games, but having watched the first season of their show, I have a hard time believing that they don’t. Solid narrative involves character development, that’s a given; but rarely is that development so abrupt that it seems as if the characters have reached a new level. For example, when the paralyzed former quarterback, Jason Street, teaches the new quarterback, Matt Saracen, a fade pattern that Saracen insists he lacks the arm strength to throw, his first two attempts prove that he does, in fact, lack the arm strength to throw that outside fade. Then, as if throwing it two times earned him enough experience points to level up, Saracen hits his receiver’s outside shoulder not once, not twice, but consistently, and for the remainder of the season.

I initially thought this phenomenon was limited to the acquisition of greater physical gifts, and chalked it up to the production team’s desire to show improvement without having to regularly resort to montages; but as the season progressed, it became clear that this logic also applied to the character’s emotional and intellectual development. For example, when the wildly irresponsible Tim Riggins first encounters the annoying son of the single mother who moved in next door, he treats the child like all wildly irresponsible teenagers treat annoying third-graders; then, on a day when he is spectacularly hungover, Riggins converses with the boy and temporarily fortifies his Intelligence attribute enough to provide him the mana required to cast an ensouling spell, which he does, resulting in a permanent +1 bump to his total magicka.

Has there ever been another series in which character development was this aggressively tiered?

Five Things I Learned at ISA

[ 0 ] February 22, 2010 |

Apologies for the long absence during my foray to the wireless-dead-zone of the New Orleans Riverside Hilton. Brainier post-ISA posts to arrive as soon as I’ve settled back in with the kids and dealt with those angry students in my class who believe good grammar is only important in English classes.

But meantime, here are a smattering of “insights” from the ISA conference:

1) Academic conferences get a great deal more fun as you get closer to having tenure.

2) It is very hard to find good vegetarian food in New Orleans. Even harder to find good vegetarian food service.

3) The International Studies Association is a very, very white organization. Nobody talks much about this. They do like to talk about how male and how heterosexual it is.

4) If in an effort to out-geek your geek friends you plan to show up to a panel on science fiction and world politics in full Colonial dress, beware of purchasing costumes on the Internet and having them shipped to your hotel – or at least, be prepared to improvise. (Lesson learned. Lt. Starbuck would never wear skin-tight leather pants and high-heels…)

5) Joseph Nye likes my “Blog Wars” video. Snap.

When We Define Our Politics Primarily Through Loathing

[ 0 ] February 22, 2010 |

This is mildly amusing. Jamie Kirchik:

Just when you thought Joe Lieberman couldn’t frustrate and perplex liberals any further, he is going off to become chief sponsor of the most significant piece of socially progressive legislation that Congress will deal with this year.

Myself, I don’t find it frustrating at all that Holy Joe has decided to sponsor DADT-killing legislation. Perplexing, yes; it’s bloody difficult, from day to day, to try to figure out precisely where Holy Joe’s Independent Moral Compass is going to lead him, but it’s generally sensible to bet on “evil.” In any case, however, I suspect that the central problem is that Jamie is mirror-imaging liberals. Jamie has made a career of anti-liberal contrarianism; he’s not terribly bright and doesn’t have any ideas of his own, but when he can manage to successfully figure out what progressives think, he astutely takes the opposite position. While this doesn’t differentiate him from most other contemporary conservative journalists, he is almost striking in his emptiness; there’s literally nothing there beyond the hatred for whatever he believes liberals want. As such, it’s very hard for Jamie to understand that anyone could be motivated by an actual policy concern. Most progressives, however can distinguish between a policy they like (ending DADT), and a politician they don’t like (Holy Joe Lieberman).

Conservatives…. not so much. Indeed, (and this is just a crazy thought experiment) I suspect that if liberals came out against something as nasty as, say, torture, that conservatives might even be for it…

Does "to Rob" Require Some Kind of Physical Coercion?

[ 0 ] February 22, 2010 |

Doesn’t this imply that I should have become a burglar, or at least a stick-up artist?

I recently came across a psychological study showing that Americans tend to choose careers whose labels resemble their names. Thus the name Dennis is statistically overrepresented among dentists, and the ranks of geoscientists contain disproportionately high numbers of Georges and Geoffreys. The study ascribed these phenomena to “implicit egotism”: the “generally positive feelings” that people have about their own names. I wonder whether some of the Dennises in dentistry school ended up there by a different motivation: the secret wish to bring arbitrary language in tune with physical reality.

Don’t Count Your Money While You’re Sitting at the Table

[ 0 ] February 22, 2010 |

While I can understand the enthusiasm about the first American win against Canada since 1960, I think prudence dictates leaving this kind of post until after the medal round.

Still, the game amplifies two points that could be seen before the tournament. One the one hand, the Americans aren’t as good player for player as Canada or Russia, but Miller is as good as any goalie in the world right now, which makes the Yanks as live an underdog as they looked tonight — one can see something like the Czechs in Nagano happening. On the other hand, the game won’t comfort any Canada rooter who (like me) was concerned about the team dipping into its nostalgia file. It’s pretty hard to argue that at 37 the immortal Brodeur is as good as Luongo. But it’s even more clear that Brodeur’s former teammate and fellow aging player of immense career accomplishment Scott Niedermayer (-17 this year) isn’t close to being an elite defenseman anymore, but seems to be on the ice at crucial moments. (This isn’t just about age, of course; the unlikely American star Rafalski is 36 too, but unlike Niedermayer is having an excellent year.) They’re certainly good enough to win anyway — and playing these declining first-ballot Hall of Famers is nowhere near as egregious as, say, going with a washed-up Todd Bertuzzi in ’06 — but these marginal choices mattered tonight and may keep mattering.

Glenn Reynolds suggests defaulting on the federal debt as a way to balance the budget

[ 0 ] February 20, 2010 |

Reynolds will probably claim he was joking, but he seems to forget that a lot of people these days aren’t getting the joke.

I have a vague memory of some Werner Herzog film set in Wisconsin in the winter, in which a couple of developmentally disabled fellows are sold a Winnebago RV even though they have no money. It’s repossessed and sold at an auction during an incredibly bleak midwinter afternoon. In the course of the auction one of them turns to the other and says something like, “You know, I thought we might have to pay for that thing one day.”

UPDATE [SL]: His response is actually worse than Paul guessed. Needless to say, it contains no defense of his idiotic idea on the merits, but does claim that Obama is “trying to turn the United States into Zimbabwe.” (This is even more hilarious when you remeber that Reynolds calls Bartlett’s substantive response “intemperate.”) Let’s leave aside the problems with comparing a program that would leave the United States with a smaller state than such failed states as Canada, the UK and Germany to Zimbabwe. If running deficits makes you Robert Mugabe what does that make Reynolds, who favors upper-class tax cuts (they allowed him to buy a six-burner grill, so they must be good public policy!), many more ruinously expensive wars, and as far as I can tell no non-trivial specific spending cuts?

Sarah Palin’s Murphy Brown Moment?

[ 0 ] February 20, 2010 |

Of course, it’s Family Guy, not Murphy Brown, which is suitable for the new century.

Like any right minded curious individual with a shred of a sense of humor, I’m a big fan of Family Guy. Indeed, for my first 18 months or so on facebook, Brian was my profile picture (because, well, I guess I identify with a cynical, lecherous alcoholic dog, but at least he talks) until my partner insisted that I have a picture of me instead of some cartoon dog. What was she thinking?
I’m not going to weigh into this more than superficially, but in my quick read, the balance of sympathy is squarely with the cartoon, and not the cartoonish ex governor of Alaska.
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