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Archive for February, 2010

Stop the Presses!

[ 0 ] February 20, 2010 |

Apparently, defense lawyers may have represented people accused of crimes. This is truly shocking in its own right, but here’s something more shocking: they’re being permitted to work in the Obama administration! Oh the humanity!

I suppose it’s difficult for anything else to be the dumbest winger faux-scandal of the week given the assertions that anti-communist books about communism being in the White House library prove that Michelle Obama is a Maoist, but York sure has given it an Olympic-caliber effort.

ISA Blogging Panel Redux

[ 0 ] February 20, 2010 |

Alex Parets live-blogged yesterday’s ISA panel on blogging, policy, and the political science discipline. Check it out. I should further note the blogs of the various questioners and participants, including Steve Walt, IPEatUNC’s Will Winecoff, Peter Feaver, and Duck of Minerva’s Stephanie Carvin.

Al Haig

[ 0 ] February 20, 2010 |

A life like Al Haig’s couldn’t help but to touch so many people. I most fondly remember his failed 1988 campaign for the Republican nomination for President, where he managed to place substantially behind Pete du Pont in the Iowa caucus. In comments, feel free to share your own memories of Al Haig…

Point of trivia: This drops us to nine living Secretaries of State. I’d give roughly a 50% chance of getting back to ten, but only about a 10% chance of breaking the record of ten living SecsState.

Great Moments in Misprision; or, Why I always thought Lost in Translation was an anti-racist film, not the other way around.

[ 0 ] February 20, 2010 |

I’m having one of those moments in which I wonder whether I was watching the same movie everyone else was. At Racialicious, Thea Lim discusses Complex Magazine‘s list of The 50 Most Racist Movies You Didn’t Know Were Racist, and while the majority of the list disappoints (on account of me already knowing the overtly racist films listed were racist), some of the entries simply baffle me. Foremost among them is Bulworth, Warren Beatty’s film about the centrist penchant to use blacks as electoral pawns—Bulworth won’t die in defense of his principles, but he will commit suicide for a lobbyist payday, at least until he realizes that black people are really people, at which point American political logic demands he be assassinated—but not far behind is Sopphia Coppola’s Lost in Translation, which Lim glosses thus:

[T]he whole point of the movie disgusts me. As in, the nauseatingly self-indulgent focus on the deep, brooding subjectivity of two Anglo-Americans, against a backdrop of depthless Japanese people who, with their hilariously absurd subcultures, bizarre language and affinity for bowing, are all exactly the same.

Lim then quotes a section about self-involved white cluelessness from Restructure!:

[W]hat disgusts me about Lost in Translation is that it centers on the lives of white people in a country where they are the minority, and it suggests that the social isolation that comes from being a minority is something that could only happen to white people.

I’m not sure why either writer assumes that the experience Coppola describes in the film is something that can only happen to white people, because to me, the film seems to do the exact opposite: it demonstrates that white Americans are emotionally and intellectually unprepared to understand the non-majoritarian social experience. So maybe it does describe an experience that can only happen to white people—but only because white people are alone in being unable to recognize their privilege for what it is. Neither Bill Murray’s “Bob” nor Scarlett Johansson’s “Charlotte” have given a moment’s thought to the plight of non-whites in American society, so the events of the film represent their first encounter with any form of double-consciousness—even one in which their whiteness still affords them privileged social stature.

The film begins with caricature and absurdity because these characters are incapable of understanding Japanese society, or their roles as others in that society understand them to be; e.g. Bob is baffled by the arrival of an escort because he is unfamiliar with the sexism endemic in traditional Japanese business culture. Charlotte knows one of her roles—that of the tourist in exotic Japan—and indulges in some Orientalist fare, visiting a temple to watch some monks chant. Their relationship, such as it is, is only possible in an environment in which their previously stable and unquestioned identities have dissolved in the face of their own otherness. I took this to be a criticism of American insularity and arrogance, not an assertion of its eternal provenance.

To an American audience, it may seem as if the Japanese in the film are the foreigners; but from the Japanese perspective, the film registers as a story of two unmoored Americans bumbling through a culture they can’t understand on its own terms. Unlike most films in which the white interlopers have adventures with the natives, Lost in Translation never demands its audience believe that white culture is inherently superior. Bob and Charlotte are not bequeathed the preternatural ingenuity or Rooseveltian ruggedness so common among American characters abroad; they are, in fact, technologically illiterate representatives of an ostensibly superior culture who, in a reversal of the minstral trope, sing the songs of their ancestral homeland, England, from whence Brian Ferry and Roxy Music came.

All of which is only to say, I never realize how contrarian my reading of the film was until I read the Racialicious and Restructured! posts, because I had always thought Lost in Translation a remarkable feat: for white audiences, it only works as a film if they force themselves to imagine a subject position in which they are foreign but not superior—a situation in which white characters are not there to civilize noble savages or ravage native cultures with tongues, guns, or both. These are privileged white people who are, to quote “More Than This,” “hopefully learning” that their identities are contingent upon a social structure and that that social structure is different, but not superior, to the one in which they currently find themselves. For non-white audiences, I can understand why this revelation would feel underwhelming; after all, Bob and Charlotte are learning late in life what they’ve known, exquisitely, for the entirety of theirs.

The Japanese in the film are depthless, but only in the first act—as the Americans learn more about Japanese culture, these characters become slightly less inscrutible. Were this the sort of film in which the white anthropologists almost instantly acquire intimate knowledge of the primitive culture in which they’re immersed, the film would have closed with scenes of Bob and Charlotte conversing with three-dimensional characters in fluent Japanese; but because the pair’s otherness and ignorance is so great, it ends with Japanese characters who are only marginally rounder than they were when it began. Put differently: if we were to impose this narrative onto, say, The Last Samuri, Tom Cruise would have arrived in Japan, been thoroughly confused by what he found, then fled the country feeling alienated and unconvinced of his cultural superiority.

Which, I think, would have been a good thing. In all seriousness, how many movies subvert white America’s innate sense of superiority on the sly?

Ronald Reagan: Soft on terrorism

[ 0 ] February 19, 2010 |

Scott Horton interviews Will Bunch about his book Tear Down This Myth. Bunch’s most interesting contention is that, on terrorism-related issues such as torture, “collateral damage,” and treating terrorism within the confines of the ordinary criminal justice system, Reagan was far to the left of the contemporary GOP (Bunch doesn’t put it this way but, if his description of Reagan’s positions is accurate, he was also to the left of Barack Obama on these issues).

5. Ronald Reagan signed the Convention Against Torture, and his Justice Department indicted and prosecuted a Texas sheriff for waterboarding. How can his views about torture be reconciled with the current Republican pro-torture dogma?

It’s important not to nominate Reagan for sainthood in the arena of human rights. His “Reagan Doctrine” in Central America, leaving the fight to anti-Communist thugs and death squads that the then-president called “the moral equivalent of our Founding Fathers,” is arguably the gravest moral failing of his tenure. That said, back on U.S. soil, Reagan was far to the left of the 2010 Republican Party on issues such as torture. The convention that he signed in 1988 holds that there is no circumstance of any kind that permits torture, which certainly would include the 9/11 aftermath and related anti-terror efforts today.

But it goes even deeper than that. As I noted in an early 2010 blog post: “Reagan would not have approved of drone-fired missile attacks aimed at killing terrorists; as president, he several times rejected anti-terrorism operations for the sole reason that civilians would have been killed by collateral damage. In 1985, he surprised aides such as Pat Buchanan by ruling out a military response to a Beirut hijacking for fear of civilian casualties; Lou Cannon reported then in the Washington Post that Reagan called retaliation in which innocent civilians are killed “itself a terrorist act.” And the idea of trying terrorists in military tribunals as opposed to a civilian court of law? The Reagan administration was completely against that. Paul Bremer (yes, that Paul Bremer) said in 1987, “a major element of our strategy has been to delegitimize terrorists, to get society to see them for what they are — criminals — and to use democracy’s most potent tool, the rule of law, against them.”

It’s almost tragic—when you go back to the very recent history of the 1980s—when you realize how seriously an American consensus on human rights and the power of our criminal-justice justice system has been trashed by the modern conservative movement. It’s going to take a long time to get that back—although the words that Reagan and his aides left behind could help America get past this.

Just To Clarify

[ 0 ] February 19, 2010 |

People arguing that civilian trials are never appropriate for terrorist suspects are arguing from a position well to the right of the Bush administration (at least the 2006 version.) And if you have less respect for due process than the Bush DOJ…I think this point makes itself.

Cafeteria Catholics

[ 0 ] February 19, 2010 |

Apparently torture is on the menu over at the National Review

British Pub Culture on the Rocks

[ 0 ] February 19, 2010 |

As several of our august LGM colleagues are attending some high-falutin International Relations junket in New Orleans (as well as one of my colleagues from my department here at Plymouth), I figured I’d lighten the mood a bit with a post on . . . beer. It is Friday, after all.

Before I became an academic, I was an accomplished amateur brewer, two pursuits that ran in parallel until I got my Ph.D. and moved to Europe. I was also a judge and a critic, and had (have — it’s still live) a beer review page on the web that I updated between 1994 and 2003. Indeed, my first two “peer reviewed” articles were on beer, not political science, and they remain proudly on my cv (if at the very end). OK, those are my bona fides out of the way; suffice it to say I know my way around a pint.

One thing I love about Britain is the pub culture, and this isn’t limited to just those pubs that are featured in the annual CAMRA Good Beer Guide, but the culture and concept of the “local”, which is not as common in the United States. Here, most pubs are locals — populated by a core of regulars who are known to all and especially to the staff. There are three pubs in Plymouth where I am always warmly welcomed, and there is a certain comfort in that. Furthermore, at nearly every pub, it’s not only accepted, but expected, that if you’re standing at the bar, you strike up a conversation with those near you. You’re expected to be social; pubs are social spaces. This is less prevalent in the U.S. — though it does exist most everywhere in the States; I immediately think of the Big Time Brewery in Seattle, where I spent the better part of my graduate career (indeed I listed it in the acknowledgments of my dissertation), and the Tugboat Brewery in Portland, Oregon. But it’s the exception, not the norm.

This is one of the cultural features that make British pubs appealing. Sadly, they’re dying a slow death, which prompted CAMRA to present a report to Parliament discussing the “vital social role of the community pub”. According to the British Beer and Pub Association, pubs are closing at 39 per week in the UK. This is down from a high of 52 during the first half of 2009, so at least it’s attenuating (pun explicitly intended). However, in March of 2008, the closure rate was only 57 per month.

When on Monday my good friend Tandleman posted this about his local, the Tandle Hill Tavern (north of Manchester) I became concerned. It’s not a death sentence, but considering the local climate of the business, and the remoteness of the Tandle Hill, it is cause for concern. I’ve been to this pub numerous times over the years (indeed if one were to do a google image search on it, there appear to be several of me, including this one: Tandleman himself is on the left, I’m on the right) and it exemplifies all that is good about British pub culture.

Politically, what can be done? It’s well known that the smoking ban in England and Wales has hurt business, but that’s not going to be rescinded. What can be done is an adjustment to tax policy. Pubs are being hammered by super markets that sell booze as a loss-leader. Why go to your local when you can go to Tesco and get a 12 pack of Stella Artois (nicknamed “wife beater” on these islands) for the cost of three or four pints in the pub? In nearly every annual budget since I moved to the UK, the government has raised the duty on a pint. This can be reversed (although in the current fiscal climate, I can’t see how any British government can justify lowering any tax) and greater weight of responsibility accorded to store-bought crap lager.

I’d drink to that. As it’s Friday, pushing 5pm, it’s time to do my part to keep the culture alive. I’m about to leave my office and make the treacherous 30 second walk to my local here, to join in with several colleagues for a post-work pint.

Or five.

IR Blogging and Policy

[ 0 ] February 19, 2010 |

In about an hour, Charli and I will sit on a roundtable titled “Do International Relations Blogs Inform Practice? Theory? Both? Neither?” with Stephen Walt, Dan Drezner, William Winecoff, and Joseph Nye. I will make a half-hearted effort to live-tweet the proceedings from my personal account. Regardless of the success of the live-tweeting effort, both Charli and I should have substantive reaction posts later today, tomorrow, Sunday, or at some future unspecified time.

We is a serious news organization what demands you retract tweets now.

[ 0 ] February 19, 2010 |

The following sentence actually appears in a post on the site of a darling of conservative media:

We have identified yet another tweet we would like [Roger Ebert] to retract[.]

The “yet another” is delicious, as it indicates that Andrew Breitbart has initiated a campaign to compel people to retract their tweets. The vicious slur of a tweet in question reads:

Breitbart’s bright bulbs know that’s a lie:

We have established that we differ on the last sentence, but his claim he did not know that “teabaggers” is a pornographic term until the MSM (mainstream media) told him is provably false. We know it’s false because in 1998, Prof. Ebert reviewed a film containing this scene[.]

How can you not respect a corporate non-entity who insists on granting Ebert a doctorate for the sole purpose using “Prof.” as a diminutive? More to the point: how can you not pity the poor Breitbart intern who, I hope, is pretending to misunderstand Ebert’s patently sarcastic remark in order to score points with his boss? Because that’s what this all adds up to: some minion being forced to impersonate a tweet-retracting mountain camel in order to impress Andrew Breitbart. Because this is what impresses Andrew Breitbart: the retraction of tweets in which people call tea-baggers by the doubly ignorant name they chose for themselves.*

The demand to stop calling tea-baggers the name they gave themselves is, remarkably, not the dumbest part of this tweet-retraction crusade: that would be the faux-outrage Pam Meister musters upon learning that Ebert’s tweets don’t rise to the level of “informed commentary.” She suggests, with a straight face, that the lack of sustained commentary by Ebert is a grave failure of character, not a feature inherent in the Twitter’s 140 character limit; and she does this, of course, without acknowledging the vast archive of his writing freely available online. Granted, Meister might not be any better acquainted with Google than her fellow tea-baggers, but the point remains: she thinks Ebert should write tweets with more characters than Twitter allows, and until he does, she will be very, very cross with him.

Which is terrible, terrible news, as the odds of someone as soft as Ebert weathering this tweet-retraction campaign are slim indeed.

*They can pull down their site in an effort to deny it, but Google remembers that they were the ones who started using “tea-bag” as a verb, so they need to live with the consequences of their laziness and sexual stolidity. Liberals didn’t claim the Founding Fathers threw tea-bags into Boston Harbor, nor were they the ones who insisted on compounding the error of that anachronism by naming their movement without performing a precautionary Googling. For a movement so concerned with personal responsibility, you’d think someone in it might take some.

When is crashing a plane into a building in an act of explicit political violence not terrorism?

[ 0 ] February 18, 2010 |

There must be some fundamental difference between this guy and the 9/11 terrorists (besides sheer scale), but somehow I can’t quite put my finger on it.

(CNN) — An Austin, Texas, resident with an apparent grudge against the Internal Revenue Service set his house on fire Thursday and then crashed a small plane into a building housing an IRS office with nearly 200 employees, officials said.

Federal authorities identified the pilot of the Piper Cherokee PA-28 as Joseph Andrew Stack, 53.

Two people were injured and one person was missing, local officials said. There were no reported deaths.

A message on a Web site registered to Stack appears to be a suicide note.

See iReport photos and videos from the scene

“If you’re reading this, you’re no doubt asking yourself, ‘Why did this have to happen?’ ” the message says. “The simple truth is that it is complicated and has been coming for a long time.”

In the lengthy, rambling message, the writer rails against the government and, particularly, the IRS.

See text of the note (PDF)

The building into which the airplane crashed is a federal IRS center with 199 employees.

Two F-16 fighter jets were sent from Houston as a precaution, but federal authorities said preliminary information did not indicate any terrorist connection to the crash.

“We do not yet know the cause of the plane crash,” the Department of Homeland Security said in a release. “At this time, we have no reason to believe there is a nexus to terrorist activity. We continue to gather more information, and are aware there is additional information about the pilot’s history.”

Giving Away The Show

[ 0 ] February 18, 2010 |

The first thing one is likely to notice about the Mount Vernon Statement is that a manifesto supported by many John Yoo-era Republicans asserts that their constitutional conservatism “applies the principle of limited government based on the rule of law to every proposal.” Sure. But Jack Balkin notices something even more striking — the statement is not willing, even on the most abstract level, to commit itself to any form of equality or equal protection of the law. So I think David Frum isn’t going far enough when he posits this hypothetical about a voter examining the statement:

  • Do you generally agree with conservatives – but wonder whether there is room in the conservative world for nonwhites, or the disabled, or the secular-minded, or the gay? The statement does not say “no,” but it does not say “yes” either.

I dunno, I’d have to say that the lack of mention of equal protection or any equivalent principle as a major value is a pretty clear “no.”

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