Democratic snake-oil

by Henry Farrell on April 1, 2004

The newest political scientist in the blogosphere, Daniel Geffen, brings up an “important reason”: why Iraq is unlikely to become a democratic exemplar for the Middle East. Oil. Heavy oil exporters have a miserable democratic record, with the sole exception of Norway. There’s little reason to expect that Iraq will be any different.

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Carl Schmitt

by Ted on April 1, 2004

Reader Ted Clayton brings an interesting article to my attention from the Chronicle of Higher Education. It’s about the fascist political philosopher Carl Schmitt. Just a sample:

Schmitt argued that liberals, properly speaking, can never be political. Liberals tend to be optimistic about human nature, whereas “all genuine political theories presuppose man to be evil.” Liberals believe in the possibility of neutral rules that can mediate between conflicting positions, but to Schmitt there is no such neutrality, since any rule — even an ostensibly fair one — merely represents the victory of one political faction over another. (If that formulation sounds like Stanley Fish when he persistently argues that there is no such thing as principle, that only testifies to the ways in which Schmitt’s ideas pervade the contemporary intellectual zeitgeist.) Liberals insist that there exists something called society independent of the state, but Schmitt believed that pluralism is an illusion because no real state would ever allow other forces, like the family or the church, to contest its power. Liberals, in a word, are uncomfortable around power, and, because they are, they criticize politics more than they engage in it…

If Schmitt is right, conservatives win nearly all of their political battles with liberals because they are the only force in America that is truly political. From the 2000 presidential election to Congressional redistricting in Texas to the methods used to pass Medicare reform, conservatives like Tom DeLay and Karl Rove have indeed triumphed because they have left the impression that nothing will stop them. Liberals cannot do that. There is, for liberals, always something as important, if not more important, than victory, whether it be procedural integrity, historical precedent, or consequences for future generations.

I certainly don’t agree with this point of view; it’s a little too David Brooksish and a lot too black and white. Liberals are certainly capable of playing ugly, a good portion of movement conservatives are disgusted with naked power plays, and so on. But it’s a better whetstone for political argument than much of what I’ve read lately. Check it out.

Big Blair is watching you

by Daniel on April 1, 2004

Great news for British people who occasionally worry that they might be stranded away from the comforting gaze of a CCTV camera, or who think that the police force has too many restraints placed on it in the name of civil liberties.

As of a speech yesterday, our blessed Prime Minister has decided that telephone tapping (an investigation methodology more usually associated with terrorists and international drug gangs) should be permitted for investigations into criminals suspected of offences which would carry a sentence of less than three years if convicted. I know the civil liberties crowd will whine, but as far as I’m concerned, the prospect of not knowing who might be listening in to my phone calls is a small price to pay in the fight against dangerous driving, carrying a knife in public, graffiti and similar massive threats to our lives and liberty.

Even better news, though, is the introduction of “individually targeted CCTV”. It’s horrendously wasteful to just put CCTV cameras up in public places and hope that someone happens along to commit an offence in front of them. Similarly, to wait until an offence is reported and then find out who did it is a waste of scarce resources that could be spent on the NHS. What you need to do is select people who the police think are criminals, put a CCTV camera in their house, then watch them like a hawk until they do something illegal. Then you can swoop down and whizz them off to jail without bothering with a costly and time-consuming jury trial. Since the British State has recently become perfect and never makes mistakes, it’s flawless. Hurray for Tony!

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by Daniel on April 1, 2004

Oh bloody hell he’s annoying me now. In the course of an insanely annoying piece of Globollocks (summary: Mexico went through hell to get ready for NAFTA and ended up hardly benefiting, so now what it needs is more neo-liberalism and what a shame it is that they aren’t able to impose it from above like the Chinese!), Thomas “Airmiles” Friedman[1] manages to come up with this gem.

“While China and India each send tens of thousands of students to be educated abroad every year in science and engineering, particularly in the U.S., Mexico sends just 10,000”

Could anyone tell me why this might be the case? Anyone? Bueller?

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In IT news

by Eszter Hargittai on April 1, 2004

After noting yesterday that “Diebold electronic voting machines are a danger to our democracy”, it makes all the sense in the world that Avi Rubin would announce today that he is joining Diebold to become its Chief Security Officer. Well, it makes all the sense in the world as long as that announcement came today of all days.;-)

More news of interest thanks to Freedom To Tinker.

Flags and posters

by Chris Bertram on April 1, 2004

My visit to the US was my first since 9/11 and, thankfully, the tonality of New York doesn’t seem to have changed all that much. I’m sure, though, that many foreign visitors are struck by the sheer number of US flags on display. This was less noticeable in Manhattan, but a drive around Brooklyn revealed many such flags on private houses. From a British point of view this is odd, since the union jack has been appropriated by the far right since forever and someone flying one on their house would be considered some kind of nut. But the US context is clearly different and I understand people’s need for such patriotic affirmation. More disturbing, though, was a poster about security I encountered at Newark (now renamed “Liberty”) airport. The poster assured travellers that various agencies were working to protect the security of “all Americans”. Very comforting, no doubt, if you happen to be one. It really is unimaginable that a similar poster at a British or European airport would speak of “all Britons” or “all Europeans” — it would seem weird and exclusionary. Such a poster would say “all passengers” or “all our customers” or some such.

US trip

by Chris Bertram on April 1, 2004

I’m just back from a trip to the US, which I greatly enjoyed. The main reason for going was the annual conference of the “American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies”: at Boston, where I’d organised a panel which included blogger Chris Brooke of the “Virtual Stoa”: . I also caught an excellent seminar on Rousseau at Columbia given by Fred Neuhouser of Barnard and met up with the “Patrick”: and “Teresa”: Nielsen Hayden for a rather good sushi lunch one day (thanks!). Patrick and Teresa encouraged me enormously when I first started blogging so it was good to meet them in the flesh. More reflections on matters arising as and when, but meanwhile, thanks to everyone who helped to make it a memorable visit.


by John Q on April 1, 2004

Among the offerings in today’s special edition of TidBITS, the long-running online Macintosh magazine, I found this item particularly appealing.

Canned Spam Can Can Spam with CAN-SPAM — Hormel is expected to announce today their campaign to can spam using their canned Spam with the aid of the CAN-SPAM legislation. Starting today, Hormel will print the phone number, email addresses, and other information about unsolicited email senders on cans of Spam along the lines of the “Have you seen me?” photographs published on milk cartons. Canned Spam buyers who help to can spam by canning spammers can receive cans of Spam as a reward.

Other important news includes a report that the US Department of Homeland Security is responding to the threat of Windows-specific cyberterrorism, most notably through Trojans such as Phatbot by standardising on Macs.

Unfortunate names

by Daniel on April 1, 2004

I don’t often make predictions, but I have to say I’m not optimistic for the survival of “Air America Radio“, the new liberal answer to right-wing talk. I have no real knowledge of whether the presenters are any good, or what the demographics are, but I’ve always thought that you can tell a lot about a business enterprise by the name. Specifically, you can often gauge how much time, effort and intelligence people spent in thinking up the name, and this usually carries over into how they’re going to run their business.

In which context, it is perhaps unfortunate that the “Air America” people have (presumably unintentionally) named themselves after the CIA’s heroin trafficking operation in Southeast Asia (the subject of a movie which, in a beter world, would have crushed Mel Gibson’s career before it took root). The well-meaning liberal radio types must be taking lessons from these guys.

UPDATE: I am told there’s an interview with Al Franken going round the place in which he says they were being ironic … to be honest this seals my belief that they’re doomed as I can think of maybe three people in the world who might find that joke funny and none of them live in America.