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The sort of cultural criticism you notch all the way to the top.

[ 0 ] February 17, 2010 |

We here at Lawyers, Guns and Money are solidly in the Roman Polanski belongs in prison camp, but we are also rank pedants, and the following sentence is something up with which we shall not put:

When Franz Kafka wrote “The Metamorphosis” he may have had someone like Roman Polanski in mind.

Because Jeffrey Jena is a very serious thinker who “has been seen on Murder, She Wrote, Hunter, appeared in shows with Jenny McCarthy and Weird Al Yankovic and in several films including Raising the Dead with Allison Eastwood,” we must consider the implications of this literary reference very seriously, as there is no chance he inserted it solely to make people think he reads important books.

Jena’s complaint is that, much like Gregor Samsa in Kafka’s novel, Roman Polanski rapes children—only Samsa did nothing of the sort. Let us try again: Jena’s complaint is that, much like Gregor Samsa in Kafka’s novel, Roman Polanski awoke one morning to find himself transformed into einem ungeheueren Ungeziefer, a monstrous vermin—only that would absolve Polanski of moral responsibility for his crimes, as he had no hand in his transformation and, more importantly, no one expects monstrous vermin to abide by human law. Jena’s complaint must be that, like Gregor Samsa, Roman Polanski is not being treated by the Swiss courts in the manner their American counterparts treated John Wayne Gacy, who murdered thirty-three people—only that makes no sense at all. We are officially stumped. We have no clue what Jena hoped to accomplish by dropping that reference. Unless:

[Pierce] Brosnan went on to say that in order to work with Mr. Polanski, “You have to know your onions.” I am not really sure what that means but it tells us two things about Mr. Brosnan, he’s not great with metaphors and he may be a little dense. Brosnan is the poster boy for the term “limousine liberal.” He claims to have become an American citizen during what he terms “the atrocity of the Bush years” to help his family “endure the hypocrisy and stupidity of the man’s power.” His power is stupid? His power is filled with hypocrisy? How do you figure that?

Of course! Jena was priming the Pump of Irony. Had he not dropped in a completely random, utterly irrelevant reference in that first sentence, readers may have breezed over his criticism of Brosnan without realizing how ironic it is when someone with Jena’s linguistic facility criticizes someone else for mouthing an infelicitous metaphor. We’re not sure whether we should thank him or file this away with all the other examples of cultural conservatives whose knowledge of the culture they aim to conserve is as wide and deep as a playa lake.


Why ISA is Different from the Olympics

[ 0 ] February 17, 2010 |

Blogging will be light over the next week while I and many colleagues descend upon the city of New Orleans for the International Studies Association Annual Conference – or, as I explained cheekily to my students yesterday, the “Olympic Games of IR geekdom” – a gathering where scholars from different schools of thought and methodological perspectives contend for the limelight, pitted against one another through the force of sheer intellect and passion for the study of world politics.

Upon further thought however, this probably ranks among the worst metaphors I’ve ever employed, for if there are any international relations scholars as megalomaniacal about their craft as are the athletes skating and boarding and luging their way toward gold up in BC, there is certainly no one in the academy cheering them on to such excess the way NBC has done the past few days.

Consider the coverage pair-skating competition, which I watched night before last before departing. So maybe it’s a sign of devotion to their careers that gold-winning pair-skaters Shen Zue and Zhao Hongbo had to forego normal married life to live out of separate dorm rooms as they traveled to competitions; and that sweethearts on separate pairs of the US figure-skating team spent Valentine’s Day competing against one another on the ice; and that pair skater Yuko Kvaguti gave up her Japanese citizenship to pursue her Olympic dream. But valorizing the fact that Yao Bin, coach of the winning Chinese team, devoted his life to coaching a gold-medal winning team to the exclusion of being present for his son’s birth and childhood? (Because of his travel schedule, his wife named the child “Far Away” in Chinese.) I read such tales as signs of the dreadful interpersonal imbalance inflicted upon athletes and their families by the vissitudes of Olympic culture, but to sports commentators, these stories apparently signify Olympian credentials and global greatness.

I cannot imagine the President-Elect of the ISA, David Lake, being introduced to give his address this Thursday with commendations for neglecting his children, partner and country in the service of his commitment to the study of world politics. On the contrary, the ISA as a profession now includes childcare at its conferences, publishes articles in its journals on how to make the tenure, promotion and publishing process in the profession more amenable to families, and includes panels and workshops on work-life balance.

Why I wonder do we valorize athletes for exhibiting the very dysfunctional Type A tendencies that most of us are lobbying in our own professions and personal lives to counteract?

[cross-posted at Duck of Minerva]

The Most Farcical Part of the Farce…

[ 0 ] February 17, 2010 |

Matt Duss shoots, guts, dries, and renders into tasty beef jerky the Chalabi-supporting wing of the neoconservative movement:

Even after the invasion, after it became clear that there were no WMD and no Saddam-Al Qaeda alliance, and that, despite his claims of a massive following, Chalabi had no genuine political base in Iraq, the neocons — such as Michael Rubin and Eli Lake himself — continued to promote him as Iraq’s savior. That became a lot harder after Chalabi’s party — which ran on the slogan “We Liberated Iraq!” — received a pathetic 0.36 percent of the vote in Iraq’s December 2005 elections, not even enough to secure a single seat for Chalabi himself.

Eventually, Chalabi was disavowed by the Bush administration, judged to be an “agent of influence” of Iran, suspected of having tipped off the Iranians that the U.S. had broken secret Iranian codes, as well as passing Iraqi government documents to Iranian agents. The Defense Intelligence Agency concluded — in 2004 — that “Iranian intelligence has been manipulating the United States through Chalabi.” Needless to say, none of this speaks very well of the judgment of Chalabi’s neoconservative fans.

Now consider the recent neoconservative attacks on Trita Parsi of the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) and Flynt and Hillary Mann Leverett of the New America Foundation for their advocacy of U.S.-Iran engagement. Back in November, Lake published a piece that suggested, on the flimsiest of evidence, that Parsi was an agent of the Iranian regime. The piece was hailed as a blockbuster in neoconservative circles, in some cases by the very people who had boosted Ahmad Chalabi.

On the one hand, you’ve got a guy whose double-dealing and treachery helped get Americans killed. On the other, you’ve got people who think that attempting to achieve rapprochement between the U.S. and Iran is in the U.S. interest, and should therefore be pursued (though, at least in Parsi’s case, not to the exclusion of human rights concerns). It’s interesting who the neocons think the real villains are. And it’s amazing that they should consider themselves credible to attack the integrity of others after having been duped by an IRGC-connected swindler like Ahmad Chalabi.

Quizzical Defense Rhetoric (QDR)

[ 0 ] February 17, 2010 |

Finally had a look at the 2010 QDR on the plane to New Orleans yesterday. I don’t mean to poke fun of our defense establishment’s hard work. I promise I’ll have some kind of substantive comment on the human security dimensions of the QDR once I’ve fully digested it. But until then, I can’t help but pass along – just for fun – these rhetorical nuggets that jumped out at me:

p. v: “America’s enduring effort to advance common interests without resort to arms is a hallmark of its stewardship in the international system.”

Given the number of armed conflicts in which the US is currently embroiled – and the fact that its use of arms without UN backing is one of key reasons for the decline in US soft power over the last decade – this seemed like an oddly out-of-touch statement.

p. vi: “Until such time as the Administrations’ goal of a world free of nuclear weapons is achieved, nuclear capabilities will be maintained as a core mission for the Department of Defense.”

Oxymorons, anyone?

Finally, readers familiar with Carol Cohn’s work on the sexual politics of defense jargon might have fun with this quotation:

p. x: “US naval forces will continue to be capable of robust forward presence and power projection operations, even as they add capabilities and capacity for working with a wide range of partner navies.”

In pursuing these robust forward power projections with multiple “partner navies,” the QDR directs the following “enhancements” to US “force structure” on p. ix:

“Exploit advantages in subsurface operations;

Increase the resiliency of US forward posture and base infrastructure;

Enhance the robustness of key ISR capabilities;

Secure vulnerable nuclear materials…”

And finally my favorite, a section on pg. 31 entitled “Deter and Defeat Aggression in Anti-Access Environments”

“Anti-access strategies seek to deny outside countries the ability to project power into a region, thereby allowing aggression or other destabilizing actions to be conducted by the anti-access power. Without dominant US capabilities to project power, the integrity of US alliances and security partnerships could be called into question, reducing US security and influence and increasing the possibility of conflict.”

Go wild, commenters.

Whose Dream?

[ 0 ] February 17, 2010 |

Peter Beinart’s reaction to Bayh’s resignation is…odd:

Obama’s general-election win in Indiana, along with his victories in North Carolina and Virginia, were central to his claim that he was transcending the red-blue divide, creating a new, less-polarized political map, an enduring Democratic majority of the kind that had been lost when Robert Kennedy was gunned down.

It’s this dream that, for the foreseeable future, Evan Bayh’s retirement likely forecloses. Republicans will probably take the seat, giving them both of the Hoosier State’s seats in the Senate, along with its gubernatorial mansion. Obama’s climate-change agenda is unpopular in Indiana and his health-care reform effort is not faring much better. If a conservative Democrat like Bayh fears he can’t win reelection in the state, it’s hard to imagine how Obama himself can win it again, absent a major shift in economic conditions.

Three points:

  • By all accounts, Bayh’s resignation wasn’t driven by a fear that he would lose, and he had a commanding lead in the polls.
  • I’m not sure who, exactly, dreamed that Obama’s narrow victory in Indiana was anything but an anomaly. Anyone remotely knowledgeable about politics would have made the GOP overwhelming favorites there in 2012, and putting together a viable Democratic coalition hardly requires that party carry one of the most consistently Republican states in the country. I’m also not sure what RFK’s ability to assemble a winning coalition in a Democratic primary has to do with anything.
  • One suspects that the real “dream” here is the same one that causes people who actually get paid to write about politics for a living to indulge in ludicrous fantasies about Evan Bayh mounting a credible primary challenge to an incumbent president from the right. That is, the dream seems to be a political landscape in which one party appeals to the median voter of Indiana while the other appeals to the median voter of Alabama. Those of us who regard this as a nightmare are less likely to be broken up about Bayh picking up his ball and crying all the way home about President Obama not letting conservative Democrats and Republicans completely control Congress.

Profiles in something

[ 0 ] February 17, 2010 |

Jon Chait takes an amusing tour of Harold Ford’s fantasy world. Ford’s level of whorishness is almost weirdly admirable — there is apparently nothing he won’t say or do in his pursuit of whatever it is the Harold Fords of the world are pursuing:

In a New York Times interview, Ford attempted to put a slightly more populist sheen on his candidacy:

[T]he response I have gotten is overwhelming, from different categories, the spectrum of political leaders, people involved in politics, people representing different social and income classes in the city, be it the cabdriver on the way down here, who had positive things to say, and wanted to take a picture with me before I got out of the taxi, to people who are business leaders and leaders in the entertainment industry and media industry based here.

Truly, this is a trans-class coalition, ranging from rich businessmen to rich entertainment businessmen to rich media businessmen to cabdrivers–who, like all members of tip-based professions, are known for their frank assessments of their customers.

Ford has come out against the current health care legislation and in favor of “a huge tax-cut bill for business people, not only in New York but across the country.” Ford has chosen to label himself an “independent voice,” independence being defined as total subservience to Wall Street. (Ford promises, in an interview with The Wall Street Journal, “I would support no bill that does harm to New York’s financial industry.”)

Ford’s candidacy is an epiphenomenon of Wall Street’s retreat into a fantasy world. In this alternate reality, the titans of finance are innocent victims of a freakish accident, the Democrats’ struggles result from their hostility to these victims, and the people are clamoring for a leader who will openly cater to their demands. The notion that Democratic primary voters in New York will embrace Ford may be more fantastical than the wildest investment scheme that predated the crash.

Rhetoric amounts to more than what you advocate.

[ 0 ] February 17, 2010 |

The title should go without saying, but even among intelligent conservatives, sometimes it doesn’t:

The fact that a homicidal maniac shares your goals doesn’t make you responsible for his methods.

I never claimed otherwise. In point of fact, I didn’t say that the ideological brethren of homicidal maniacs are responsible for the actions of homicidal maniacs. Quite the opposite. I claimed that there exists “a non-incidental relation of particular ideologies with acts of violence,” a fact no one who’s ever opposed Islamic fundamentalism can deny. I further claimed that:

conservatives do inspire those on their fringes to engage in politically motivated violence. The politics of the George Tiller murder are an indictment against conservative rhetoric because that rhetoric made Tiller a target[.]

So as to this:

Is it fair to say that I “inspired” Scott Roeder’s actions if I have engaged in full-throated condemnation of partial-birth abortion (and I have)? If I accurately describe the horrific acts of violence involved in that monstrous process, does that rhetoric “make” an abortion doctor a “target”?

My question would be, “Have you, Patrick Frey, ever said anything like the following from mainstream conservative figure Rush Limbaugh?”

One of the things I strongly believe is that we are not going to, as individuals, erase evil from the world. That is God’s task. But we can be soldiers in that process, and we can confront it when we see it. Now, is child abuse an evil? Of course it is. Child abuse is an evil, and we confront it, and we take children away from parents who are abusive all day, do we not? Well, if child abuse is evil, as Mr. Morrissey points out here, then infanticide is even more evil.

In this comment, Patrick notes that both of us can point to cases on the right and left in which fringe figures “advocate” violence, and I’ll concede that. But openly advocating violence isn’t the issue here (if only because those who do so are immediately dismissed as the cowardly cranks they undoubtedly are). The issue is the rhetoric of violence, and I don’t think anyone will deny the violence inherent in Limbaugh’s rhetoric there.

The phrase “soldiers in that process,” in which that “process” is stopping “infanticide,” is not neutral language. Envisioning opposition in martial terms encourages the mentally unstable to think of themselves in grandiose terms, e.g. as God’s soldiers. Is Limbaugh encouraging people to murder abortion providers? Not directly. (Plausible deniability is the order of the day.) Is he encouraging those people invested in the cause of stopping infanticide to imagine that they’re “soldiers” in a “process” who should “confront [evil] when [they] see it”? Of course he is. How do I know that?

Because that’s what he said. He may not have meant it that way, but that’s what he said. Trace the logic of his comment:

God’s task is to erase evil from the world. We can be soldiers in the process of erasing evil from the world. We should confront evil in the world when we see it. Because abusing children is evil, infanticide is more evil.

What conclusion might an unstable person draw from it?

"We’ve plenty of hearsay and conjecture. Those are kinds of evidence."

[ 0 ] February 16, 2010 |

Ann Althouse wishes to emphasize that, while Glenn Reynolds based his assumption that Amy Bishop is a left-wing radical on a single RateMyProfessor comment, her own evidence is absolutely airtight:

LGM expends much effort trying to make it look as though the only source for Bishop’s politics was some student review on RateMyProfessors. But — I’ve already linked to this — here’s the Boston Herald:

A family source said Bishop… was a far-left political extremist who was “obsessed” with President Obama to the point of being off-putting

Well, I can understand why Althouse is proud of citing two whole pieces of what can charitably be called “evidence.” After all, she once wrote an op-ed asserting that Sam Alito was a moderate who deserved liberal support that had no evidence at all. But it should be obvious that this anonymous quote is scarcely better evidence of Bishop’s politics than isolated RateMyProfesors comments. I know “family sources” who consider my partner a radical leftist because she eats vegetables other than iceberg lettuce and drives a Subaru; without knowing who the family source is or how well he/she knows Bishop the quote isn’t reliable evidence of anything. Moreover, the quote is self-refuting — a radical leftist obsessed with Barack Obama? It’s better evidence that the “family source” considers anybody to the left of Jim DeMint a “far-left political extremist” than that Bishop had radical politics.

Of course, even if this highly unconvincing “evidence” was accurate, it doesn’t really matter, as Althouse leaves the other Scott’s central point untouched. Scott Roeder’s murder was explicitly and admittedly political in purpose, while Bishop’s homicides seem to have resulted from an apolitical personal grievance. To argue that the MSM is biased because they’re not treating these cases the same way is idiotic.

Google Plays Defense

[ 0 ] February 16, 2010 |

Google is backpedaling amid the buzz about Buzz, apologizing for its premature launch and the privacy issues it created, and promising to make Buzz more like other social networking sites, where users can choose the friends they associate with.

The brou-ha-ha goes to show that “privacy is still a social norm,” to contradict the claim of Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg last year that people these days want the whole world to see what they put online. It’s heartening to see Google acknowledge this openly and take immediate remedial steps. Will they be enough? Keep watching to find out…

[cross-posted at Duck of Minerva]

More on Corpse-Counting

[ 0 ] February 16, 2010 |

The HSR study I mentioned before on the declining toll of war has attracted a number of criticisms. Les Roberts at Making Sense of Sudan argues that their result is an artifact of the way in which the authors have defined the term “war.” HRDAG argues that if HSR applied the standards to their own data that they apply to the Congo death data, they couldn’t argue that they know anything about whether deaths are declining or not. The IRC has been quick to defend its Congo death toll estimate, which the HSR report says is inflated.

Some threads of these arguments dovetail with an ongoing academic debate about how to most accurately measure war deaths. (For example, is it better to estimate war deaths by counting the reported deaths in media accounts, or by doing surveys of war-affected populations?) But parts of the criticisms instead seem based on a belief that challenging conventional statistical wisdom is bad for human rights. Georgianne Neinaber of the Huffington Post claims:

It is far beyond unfortunate that this academic debate stands to produce a possible humanitarian aid backlash for the Congolese people. This debate should not be conducted in the press, and it is highly unfortunate that the headlined 900,000 number may become the new “fact,” because of an academic paper whose authors readily admit that they “do not know” the real numbers.

Similarly, Les Roberts, who contributed to the “debunked” IRC Congo report, called the HRS’ study “A Major Blow to Humanitarian Accountability.”

I have my own scholarly issues with the HSR report – in particular that the authors don’t really back up their assertions about why national mortality rates have declined, though their hypotheses are certainly plausible. But as a scientist, I’m leery of this narrative that somehow, even if the findings were accurate, it would be unethical to publish them on humanitarian grounds.

Would it be? Is it really the job of social scientists to publish counter-intuitive data only if they can be absolutely certain it won’t be misinterpreted? Or is it merely their job to do their best to lay out the evidence as accurately as they see it, in language as likely as possible to be understood, and to correct misinterpretations when they inevitably arise? (Andrew Mack has taken pains to correct the alleged perception that his report is arguing “only” 900,000 have died, which it certainly does not – though nor have I found evidence of this “headlined 900,000 number” beyond Nienaber’s Huffington Post essay.)

And is the international community really so fickle as to withdraw aid from the DRC on the basis that “too few” millions have died? I don’t see evidence of that either, but if they are, should a single research team be blamed for this outcome? Or should we be blaming the international community itself for its complacency?

Which graphic novels would you teach in a visual rhetoric course?

[ 0 ] February 16, 2010 |

The plan for the book I’m co-authoring is to have three or four substantial chapters focusing on 1) rhetoric generally, 2) the history of the medium, 3) the mechanics of comics, and 4) the rhetoric of comics, followed by ten chapters devoted to particular novels that instructors compel their students to purchase. The problem, as you can probably guess, is deciding which ten books should we subject to sustained close-reading. We’re going to be leaning hard on McCloud’s Understanding Comics throughout, but as for the ten other books, the list we’ve compiled so far includes:

The idea is to provide a wide variety of central texts to teach—as well as a template for doing so—which is why we have American comics, European comics, and manga; autobiographical works and books decked in tights; novels with readily available film adaptations (300, Watchmen, Persepolis) or companions (Miyazaki’s Nausicaä and his animated features like Howl’s Moving Castle or Spirited Away); etc. In short, our concern is not to represent the best-and-brightest the medium has to offer, but to offer a selection of novels that will be useful to the greatest number of potential teachers.

For example, this list lacks an overtly political book like Joe Sacco’s Palestine; Gaiman is absent, as the narrative complexity of the Sandman trades would force him to be represented by a minor work like Black Orchid; Batman is nowhere to found, as we already have a Miller and a Moore, so The Killing Joke and The Dark Knight Returns are out, which means the Nolan films have no natural pair; etc.

In an ideal world, what other works would you like to see us cover?

Joementum 2: Electric Boogaloo

[ 0 ] February 15, 2010 |

Obviously, the idea that Evan Bayh has any chance of winning a national Democratic primary is funny stuff (or pathetic, when the person making the argument is actually paid to write about politics; it’s funnier coming from hapless amateurs.) But I especially enjoyed this from Lane’s tribute to Bayh:

For months now, Bayh has been screaming at the top of his voice that the party needs to reorient toward a more popular, centrist agenda — one that emphasizes jobs and fiscal responsibility over health care and cap and trade. Neither the White House nor the Senate leadership has given him the response he wanted.

Leaving aside the feigned shock about the fact that the Democratic leadership was unenthusiastic about adopting the agenda of the second-most conservative Democratic senator, you have to enjoy the idea that the “popular” strategy for the Democrats would apparently be a “jobs” program…of the “fiscally disciplined” kind adopted by Herbert Hoover and Martin Van Buren. If Congress actually adopted Bayh’s ideas, his choice to run or not would be moot, given that his chances of winning would be roughly zero given the state of the economy…