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Sunday Book Review: The Plundered Planet

[ 3 ] August 15, 2010 |

This is the sixth installment of an eight part series on the Patterson School’s Summer Reading List.

  1. Hide and Seek, Charles Duelfer
  2. The Accidental Guerrilla, David Kilcullen
  3. The Limits of Power, Andrew Bacevich
  4. Huang Yasheng, Capitalism with Chinese Characteristics
  5. Walter Laqueur, The Last Days of Europe
  6. Greg Mortenson, Stones into Schools
  7. Paul Collier, The Plundered Planet

Although Paul Collier’s The Plundered Planet purports to be about environmentalism and economic growth, it really has very little to say about the concerns of environmentalists.  Invoked only as part of some ritualistic denunciations of anti-capitalist traditionalists, environmentalists really exist as a foil for Collier’s extractive resources case.  His first chapters involve a set of philosophical meanderings that are embarrassing, tendentious, and altogether boring.  Collier’s main interest is in the resource curse, and he argues that while the resource curse creates substantial problems, it can be tamed by sensible state policy.

The resource curse is not, I should hasten to note, a theory about how brown people can’t manage their natural resources.  Rather, it’s about how the exploitation of resource wealth can have negative economic and political implications, especially in states without diverse economies and with weak governance.  Resource bonanzas create lots of problems.  First, the export of high value extracted resources causes currency appreciation, making agriculture and other industries less competitive on the international market.  Because of the influx of foreign currency, local industries also face greater competition from imports.  The best paying jobs tend to center around resource extraction, meaning that human capital gets allocated in an inefficient manner; people who could become doctors or educators become miners or oil workers.  The state, suddenly flush, is tempted to borrow against future earnings and spend heavily on a variety of programs that it may not be able to support.  Moreover, resource bonanzas produce high levels of corruption, in addition to drastic income inequities across class and region.  Added up, the “resource curse” often means that resource rich states grow poorer in the long run because of their “good luck”.

Like the Bottom Billion, Plundered Planet attempts to set forth a template for how states can manage their natural resource wealth without either completely plundering resource stocks in a short period of time, or yielding to destructive political effects.  He gives advice for how to deal with extractive corporations that provide the capital, equipment, and expertise necessary for most such extraction.  The nature of interactions with these corporations is complex, because the corporations have the best sense of the value of the resource bonanza.  This creates obvious problems for states negotiation extraction contracts.  On the other hand, the corporations do take on considerable risk, both in terms of the uncertainty of commodity price and local resource size (the bonanza may be quickly exhausted), and because states can renege on their obligations more easily than companies.  On the financial question, long story short states need to be very careful about how they spend and save the money generated by a resource bonanza.  Now, this should be read in the context of Collier’s skepticism of health and education programs, and his general disdain for human capital.  Poverty alleviation can pay off in growth terms (in addition to moral terms) if it generates healthier, smarter, more economically capable individuals.  However, Collier is correct to caution that such programs must be designed with an eye towards sustainability and metrics of effectiveness, and that the influx of cash following a resource bonanza makes this difficult.

I’ll confess that I find Collier tremendously annoying for a variety of reasons.  He’s an arrogant writer and researcher, less interested in making contributions to the development literature than in inventing his own literature.  Nevertheless, just as Bottom Billion set forth a few sensible thoughts on how states, NGOs, and IOs ought to approach development in poverty-stricken states, Plundered Planet includes some reasonable suggestions about how poor states facing a resource bonanza should approach managing their fiscal futures.  Those who focus on development and resource extraction will find this book useful, if hardly the last word on the issue.

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There Goes My Dreame

[ 37 ] August 15, 2010 |

I like Donalde Douglas. He teaches at a fine community college, and published an important article eight years ago in the prestigious journal PS: Political Science and Politics entitled “Tenure-Track Employment Opportunities at the Community College Level: A View from the Job Candidate’s Perspective”.

He also blogs, and comments avidly on other people’s blogs, even those with which he doesn’t agree – something few bloggers do. I think I first saw his comments on some of my posts at Duck of Minerva, and our earliest email exchange consisted of his requests that I read his posts and engage him in “blog wars” – a flattering and humbling invitation given that his skill, renown and interest in that activity far exceeds mine.

He’s also a genuinely nice guy. For example, he once called me a “nice women” on his blog, and he publicly refers to me as his “good friend,” even though we’ve never met.

But Donalde’s finest quality by far is his unflagging patience with young, wet-behind-the-ears academic bloggers like myself, his concern for our professional welfare, and his generosity with advice and mentorship. He rarely agrees with me politically, and he doesn’t much care for my drinking buddies friends. Yet despite all I’ve done to earn his dislike, he has refused to give up on me, unfailingly encouraging me to become a better political scientist, blogger and neoconservative.

For example, some time back when I joined the roster at LGM he expressed fatherly concern for my “reputation” and has continued to patiently remind me that I’m running with a crowd dangerously threatening to my respectability as the neoconservative femme fatale I could surely be if only I would accept his guidance. In fact, when “speaking to me” recently (I think he must be referring to a brief email exchange prompted by my accidental erasure of one of his comments on my Wikileaks posts) he even extended a gracious offer to assist in my conversion to neo-conservatism. Such acts surely indicate his honest concern for my well-being (if not his comprehension of my actual foreign policy perspective). I can only assume he has seen some potential in me that I had not dared to recognize in myself, and could only dream of living up to.

As you can imagine, my heart jumps a little whenever someone of Donalde’s stature offers me a scrap of intellectual kudos along with his usual helping of taunts constructive criticism. So I was truly crushed to learn when reading this that he thinks I lack the potential to become the “feminist ‘Charli’ Krauthammer” I’ve always aspired to be. Indeed, I expect few readers realize that this has actually been my most cherished goal since leaving graduate school, second only to securing American Power’s approval of my professional choices.

I’ve clearly failed in both, and I only hope, for America’s sake, that sometime Donalde can find a prominent (high-traffic) blogger that’s a better fit for his vision, and whose name is not so tricky to spell.

Legitimate Questions for Sarah Palin

[ 69 ] August 15, 2010 |

Sarah Palin’s latest inane statement, “Legitimate Questions for the President,” may be inane, but it demonstrates quite nicely how those on the left lost the rhetorical battle concerning what she calls “this Ground Zero mosque.” As Eric Rauchway pointed out, Manhattan Island is a small place—only about 13 miles long and 2.3 wide—that looms larger in our collective imagination because of its social and cultural importance. If you asked Palin or any of the others who have temporarily abandoned their disdain for all things East Coast and elitist whether it would be acceptable if someone built a mosque within a 1.5 mile radius of where the Twin Towers once stood, they would likely continue protesting because they are utterly ignorant of the fact that that roughly eliminates everything south of NYU.*

To their minds, New York City is less of a teeming than an endless metropolis, one that begins on the southern tip of the island and extends beyond the horizons to the north and east and west. They fail to recognize that there was a reason New Yorkers stopped building out and started building up—there is only so much room on an island 22 square miles in area—and so they assume that renovating a Men’s Wearhouse into a community center must, perforce, be an insult to the memories of the victims of 9/11. Their reaction to learning that the mosque being built on Ground Zero is actually a community center being built two blocks away is a stubborn spectacle couched in deliberately deceptive language.

Palin’s rhetorical transformation of “the mosque being built on Ground Zero” into “this Ground Zero mosque” would be brilliant if intentional. It draws a scar across an infinite island and declares everything to its south to be sacred American soil. The area she calls “Ground Zero” is a fictional place in whose name she and her ideological brethren can express their xenophobia without fear of being called xenophobic. She and they can claim to support the good Muslims—the ones who know that their place, literally, is not in lower Manhattan—safe in the knowledge that, with a wink, their fear of people with strange names from foreign lands can arguably be something other than it is.  In her mind and theirs, “this Ground Zero mosque” is less of a building than a psychological representation of the controversy caused by their ignorance of the island’s geography, i.e. they have retooled their own stupidity into a potent rhetorical feint whose truth is undeniable because it refers to the debate about an imaginary building on an infinitely large island. For Palin and those like her, the “Ground Zero” in “this Ground Zero mosque” functions not as a reference to the former site of the Twin Towers, but as a simple adjective that identifies the particular “mosque” in question.

That it happens not to be located on Ground Zero is, at this point in the conversation, irrelevant.

Palin proves this by obfuscation. Her concern about “this Ground Zero mosque” is not that it will be located on Ground Zero, but “steps away from” it. Twice in her short post she uses the phrase “steps away from” to describe the distance of “this Ground Zero mosque” from Ground Zero. Part of me wants to chide her with a simple reminder that, despite being in Southern California, I am “steps away from” her front door in Wasilla, Alaska. Granted, I’m many millions of steps away from it, but steps away nonetheless. Another part, however, wants to ask her to define her terms. How many “steps away from” something she considers “hallowed ground” must American citizens of Islamic faith be required to take before they can enjoy their constitutionally guaranteed right to religious freedom? How many “steps away from” must they be before they can exercise their constitutionally guaranteed right to assemble freely?

I have a feeling that waiting for specific answers will be a fruitless waste.

*I write “roughly” because superimposing a circle on a grid and describing the results hurts my head.

ConDemed Coalition and Thatcherism

[ 3 ] August 15, 2010 |

William Keegan draws some chilling parallels in The Observer today.  Broadly in agreement, Left Foot Forward offers evidence suggesting that the emergency budget is hurting the economy.

Troubling to me is the sustained fall in housing prices, while my house sits on the market . . .

The World Is Falling Down

[ 0 ] August 15, 2010 |

Abbey Lincoln, R.I.P.

Tendentious people are tendentious (and frequently dumb).

[ 39 ] August 14, 2010 |

It will surprise no one who read my previous post to learn that the folks at Big Hollywood loved The Expendables exactly as much as they are ideologically required to anticipated. Still, John Nolte’s review is a teleological marvel. What he likes about the film is

the simple straight-forward plot, all the B-movie mayhem you could possibly ask for, and two unapologetic hours of masculinity—which may be two hours more than we’ve seen in all of the last decade put together. These boys smoke cigars, drink beer while piloting airplanes, and return us to those glorious pre-Oprah days when stoicism was still a virtue and real men didn’t gush about their inner-emotional lives like 13 year-old girls drunk on Dr. Pepper at a slumber party.

Maybe someone should tell him that the reason flat characters don’t “gush” about “their inner-emotional lives” is because they don’t have them. Maybe I should. I suppose I will. Please, Mr. Nolte, continue:

Sylverster Stallone’s glorious throwback to the brawny 80s is also about something, and it’s not Bourne-ian self-discovery. It’s about something that actually matters. And in this age of nihilism when believing in anything bigger than self is considered old-fashioned, unsophisticated and naïve, that’s both refreshing and important.

If you insist on italicizing the word “about,” you might want to indicate what that “something” that it’s about actually is. Sorry, I’m being rude. Mr. Nolte, you may continue:

The story opens with a well-crafted action sequence involving Somalia pirates that not only establishes how deadly competent our guys are, but also that they’re not cold-blooded killers. These are men with a moral code and one of their own breaking that code will be the root cause of deadly complications and a couple over the top action sequences to come.

So these are mercenaries who only ever fight the good fight? If I may, Mr. Nolte, let me recommend my friend Adam Roberts’s post on Iron Man, in which he notes that that film adheres to

the dream narrative of US military involvement in the Middle East: one American is able to go to Afghanistan, kill only the bad Afghans, leave all the good Afghani men women and children alive and leap away into the sky.

That “dream narrative” isn’t the product of a moral code, but simply a denial of the reality of reality. But I should let you finish:

The plot gets a nudge courtesy of a self-referential Meeting of The Titans. Ever in search of a job, Barney meets with “Church” (Bruce Willis), a CIA spook in need of some housecleaning that won’t make headlines and Arnold Schwarzenegger, a long-time rival. Cinematically this is far from a great scene—

First, stop pretending to be German. Second, I think you’re starting to realize that you didn’t even like the film. You call it a “B-movie,” rate its action scenes as “over the top,” and now you’re criticizing how it films a conversation. What did you think of the dialogue?

[T]hese aren’t men who talk a whole lot, and when they do it’s usually in the form of affectionate crowd-pleasing insults that might not move the plot or add character dimension, but once again Stallone (who co-wrote the screenplay with Dave Callahan) knows his audience.

I definitely think you hated this film. I mean, you’re praising dialogue that neither advanced the plot or added depth to the characters because, to your mind, Stallone’s audience consist of people who prefer pointless banter. I can’t even tell whether you’re insulting them more than your own intelligence here or vice versa. Wait, I have a test:

There’s also a kind of validation that comes with the price of admission, especially for those of us who couldn’t figure out why in the hell anyone would call metro-sexuals angsting over calling evil what it is and apologizing for America an action movie.

“The Expendables” proves us right.

Matt Damon sucks and the eighties freaking ruled.

I’m still not sure, but I will say this: your intelligence deserves to be insulted, because the reason you’re saying “Matt Damon sucks” is that he starred in movies with “Bourne-ian self-discovery,” whereas The Expendables “freaking ruled” because it was of the 1980s. Guess what? So’s The Bourne Identity (1980) and, of course, The Bourne Identity (1988).

Hate to burst your bubble, Mr. Nolte, but your precious ’80s were a bit smarter and more “inner-emotional” than you’ve chosen to remember them as.

Ten Stupid Things Women Do to Mess Up Their Lives

[ 8 ] August 14, 2010 |

I wonder where this rates?  Sadly, this sort of invective, especially the advice to not marry out of one’s race, will likely enhance her ratings.

And hell, we have a black President, right, so racism is over now, not worse, right?

The Right Thing

[ 8 ] August 13, 2010 |

Good:

“I understand the emotions that this issue engenders. Ground zero is, indeed, hallowed ground,” the president said in remarks prepared for the annual White House iftar, the sunset meal breaking the day’s fast.

But, he continued: “This is America, and our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakable. The principle that people of all faiths are welcome in this country, and will not be treated differently by their government, is essential to who we are.”

In related news, the wanker of the day would once again be Charles Krauthammer.

see also. Coming out for what’s correct on the merits rather than worrying about “winning the day” is reminiscent of some of his best moments in the primary campaign.

Who does Aaron Burr have to blow to get on this list?

[ 53 ] August 13, 2010 |

Via John Cole, I see that an intrusion of C-list wingnut bloggers have compiled a 1list of the worst Americans evah. It’s just as unimaginative as you’d expect — James Earl Carter secures top honors, with almost four times as many votes as Mr. and Mrs. Clenis, both of whom share 23rd place with a guy most right wingers had never heard of until two years ago. And though you’d assume a list of “Worst Americans” would by definition have to include a healthy number of Confederates, there are, alas, none. The closest we get is John Wilkes Booth, who barely defeats Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid in the middle of the pack. Hell, they don’t even put Jewel on the list.

Amateurs.

We provide a complete set of 70-523 test questions and 70-671 that guides you in exact way so you will pass your real 70-297 exam & MB6-291 with flying colors of 70-513.

It’s here! It’s finally here! Today I can be a proud white man again!*

[ 68 ] August 13, 2010 |

And by “it,” I mean the day when white men and white male interests are finally represented in American cinema again, for today is the day that The Expendables is released. Given my interests and the past few months of my life, you might think I’d be more excited about the film based on a graphic novel in which dialogue like this appears:

You would be wrong.  The good folks at Big Hollywood have spent the past week convincing me that if I fail to appreciate the manly awesomeness of The Expendables my penis will fall off.  The assault on my manhood began on Monday, when Ezra Dulis reminded me of the true purpose of film itself:

All you’re doing is marveling at the most sensible use of a medium that consists of moving images: incredible feats performed by tough, charismatic men.

The dearth of action films designed for and marketed to men since the 1980s actually had made me forget how intimately the medium of the film and the genre of the 1980s action film were related.   As Leo Grin wrote in the second installment of “Bring on ‘The Expendables'”:

Rumor has it that Sylvester Stallone’s The Expendables marks a return to the glory days of 1980s action mayhem and pro-American machismo. Its appearance on the cultural horizon has certainly stirred up memories of my mid-Eighties, Midwestern suburban adolescence.

Fly-over country is back!  After years of being denied films that represent the “action mayhem and pro-American machismo” native to 45-year-old white men from the Midwest who once “papered over [their walls] with posters and photos of oversize he-men,” beauty school drop-out and former porn star Sylvester Stallone has directed a film that revels in the fact that the “inherently brutal nature of males isn’t a design flaw but a feature.”** But the best part about The Expendables, according to the author of the third installment in the series, is that despite being a movie geared toward men who “love seeing stuff blown up,” there is “relatively little profanity” in the film.  Because God-fucking-Forbid someone embodies the inherent brutality of maleness while cursing.

Just ask the author of the most recent entry in the series, Kurt Schlicter, who claims that the 1980s represent the high watermark in American cinema because of, for example, films like the “great 48 Hours (1982), [which] blew minds with violence and profanity.”  But for Schlicter, the “archetypal specimen” for manly male films in the 1980s was Lethal Weapon (1987), because it was the first movie to prove that Hollywood could do something correctly; namely, produce “slick popcorn adventure/comedies with memorable action set-pieces paired with laugh-out-loud hilarity and featuring big stars and top shelf production values.”  That he writes this about 1987’s Lethal Weapon despite Beverly Hills Cop having been released three years earlier is beside the point—as is the fact that he spends the majority of the review gushing about Mel Gibson—which is that all of those movies would have improved if, as Darin Miller writes of Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, “[e]very F-word [was] bleeped out by a computer game sound effect with a black bar over the offender’s mouth” and all “references to sex [were] humorous and relatively innocuous.”***

Granted, pointing out examples of ideological impurity on group blogs is about as difficult as dismantling a Jonah Goldberg article, but in this case, where they agree is more significant than where they don’t.  That’s because the to-this-point-exclusively-white-male-contributors of Big Hollywood have spent the past week convincing themselves, to quote from Steven Crowder’s paean to morally unambiguous children’s fare, that because of The Expendables “it seems that every self-respecting male has caught 80’s fever.”  His category of “male” reflects the limitations of his imagination to a damning degree:

I watched the cartoons he praises and the films the others loved, but my friends and I have not “resorted to re-visiting old B-movie beauties such as Cobra, Road House and Tango and Cash” because those are terrible movies.  All of these white men are nostalgic for an era in which the category of “mainstream black film star” only included Eddie Murphy because they’re unable to muster up much sympathetic identification with black men more complex than happy-go-lucky darkies in a minstrel show.  (Which, obviously, isn’t sympathetic identification.)  In other words, although these men may not be racist, they certainly pine for a time in which white actors were more ostentatiously manly and fewer black men graced the silver screen.****

Read more…

Perry and Standing

[ 9 ] August 13, 2010 |

Doug Mataconis notes an interesting aspect of yesterday’s important ruling that will permit same-sex marriages to go forward in California later this month unless the Circuit Court intervenes:

If neither Brown nor Schwarzenegger chooses to appeal the case, and no law requires that they do as far as I know, then an appeal by the people who helped put Prop 8 on the ballot and get it passed isn’t an appeal by the state and that by itself could be sufficient grounds to dismiss the appeal on the grounds that it was not brought by a party with proper standing.

Assuming that the state continues with its salutary decision not to defend Prop 8 in court, the question of whether Prop 8 supporters could have standing to appeal the ruling holding it unconstitutional lands squarely in a doctrinal gray area. To oversimplify only very slightly, a higher court will be able to grant standing if it wants to do so and refuse to grant it if it wants to do so. It’s possible that the 9th Circuit could see a refusal to grant standing as a “minimalist” way of avoiding a difficult issue, and perhaps insulating a decision they like from immediate Supreme Court review. As a means of keeping Judge Walker’s decision away from the Supreme Court, a refusal to grant standing would only be very temporary. As long as there’s a federal precedent holding that bans on same-sex marriage violate the Constitution there will be a flurry of lawsuits in other states, and the Supreme Court is going to step in, probably sooner rather than later.

Having said that, kicking the can even a little bit down the road would be good for proponents of same-sex marriage — as long as same-sex marriages are permitted to go forward in California. The more Californians that have legal same-sex marriages and the longer the right remains in force, the harder it will be for Kennedy and other moderate conservatives who aren’t entirely hostile to gay and lesbian rights to vote to rule same-sex marriage illegal. Going forward, then, the most important question may not be whether the 9th Circuit finds standing but whether it chooses to stay Walker’s ruling.

UPDATE: More here.

Rand on the Playground

[ 4 ] August 13, 2010 |

Good one:

When little Aiden toddled up our daughter Johanna and asked to play with her Elmo ball, he was, admittedly, very sweet and polite. I think his exact words were, “Have a ball, peas [sic]?” And I’m sure you were very proud of him for using his manners.

To be sure, I was equally proud when Johanna yelled, “No! Looter!” right in his looter face, and then only marginally less proud when she sort of shoved him.

The thing is, in this family we take the philosophies of Ayn Rand seriously. We conspicuously reward ourselves for our own hard work, we never give to charity, and we only pay our taxes very, very begrudgingly.

[Via Nancy Nall.]