Blogging Europe

by Henry on June 8, 2005

I’ve just spotted via Fistful of Euros‘ blogroll that Richard Corbett, a Member of the European Parliament, has a “blog”:http://www.corbett-euro.demon.co.uk/blog/. While this will mean absolutely nothing to 99% of CT readers, Corbett is one of the most interesting figures in EU politics. Over the last twenty years, the Parliament has been extraordinarily successful in “grabbing new competences”:http://www.henryfarrell.net/governance.pdf – often in the teeth of opposition from the Council (which represents the interests of the member states in day-to-day law making). Corbett has been one of the key figures in the Parliament’s ascent to power – he’s got an extraordinarily keen sense for how dull-sounding procedures can be manipulated to produce substantive political gains. His blog, unsurprisingly, is vigorously in favour of more European integration – but he makes points that nicely undermine some of the common wisdom on the EU in the English speaking world. For one nice example, see his post arguing (correctly) that “France”:http://www.corbett-euro.demon.co.uk/blog/2005/05/common-wisdom-has-it-that-france-has.html has never been as pro-European as it’s to be; by and large, it’s only been in favour of those bits of the EU that directly benefit French interests. For another, see this “one”:http://www.corbett-euro.demon.co.uk/blog/2005/06/adam-smith-institute-is-right-leaning.html, which links to a report from the frothing right-wingers in the Adam Smith Institute arguing in favour of “dumping UK business regulation”:http://www.adamsmith.org/publications/pdf-files/Deregulation.pdf in favour of a reliance on EU Regulations (which they also propose to reform to make more business friendly). There’s a widely spread belief in the US and UK that the EU is a vast, all-devouring Socialist Moloch. In fact, its primary goal over the last twenty years has been to build a single marketplace and dismantle national regulation (often, in so doing, weakening the ability of member states to maintain traditional forms of social-democratic control of the market). If you’re interested in EU politics, this is definitely going to be a very useful blog.

Academic blogroll

by Henry on June 8, 2005

I’ve updated the “academic blogroll”:https://crookedtimber.org/academic-blogs/, for the first time in a couple of months – there are many additions. My apologies to all those who have been waiting to be added – a combination of other responsibilities, and the fact that changing the blogroll is a little more painful in our new WordPress incarnation than in MT have led to me keeping on putting off the evil day of updating it. That, and the fact that it’s increasingly becoming impossible for one person to keep up with every new academic blog out there. If I’ve inadvertently left someone out, or if there’s someone else I ought to add, please let me know in comments or by email.

A Barrel of Bad Apples

by Kieran Healy on June 8, 2005

“Ted’s open letter”:https://crookedtimber.org/2005/06/08/an-open-letter-to-the-new-republic/ and “this post from the Poor Man”:http://thepoorman.net/?p=162 make the point that outrage at Amnesty International’s use of the word “gulag” seems to have provoked more response from the Administration (and some parts of the media) than any amount of confirmed evidence or clear moral argument about the actual practice of torture and other human rights abuses by the U.S. government. A standard official response to the criticisms has been the “bad apple” defense that only a few low-ranking people were involved in isolated cases, and those individuals will be punished. Let’s leave aside the fact that, in Amnesty International’s words, “an archipelago of prisons, many of them secret prisons in which people are being … held in incommunicado detention without access to the judicial system” and where we know prisoners have been “mistreated, abused, and even killed” could hardly have been created by a few bad apples. While I share Ted’s and the Poor Man’s fear that U.S. public opinion — and especially Republican talking-heads — are still willing to swallow whole barrels of bad apples, I wonder how long this excuse can play within the military itself. I’m reminded of the discussion in chapter 9 of Victor Davis Hanson’s _The Western Way of War_ (an excellent book, by the way, despite the author’s recent output). Hanson opens the chapter (“A Soldier’s General”) with this epigraph from Gabriel and Savage’s _Crisis in Command: Mismanagement in the Army_:

bq. In Vietnam the record is absolutely clear …: the officer corps simply did not die in sufficient numbers or in the presence of their men often enough to provide the kind of “martyrs” that all primary sociological units, especially those under stress, require if cohesion is to be maintained.

The chapter argues that the best generals are battlefield generals who stand and often die with their men. Leadership from well behind the front lines is much less effective in this respect. Is it plausible to think a similar process might apply to repeated use of the bad apple defense by military officials? How long, in other words, can the officer corps and high command wash their hands on the shirts of their own enlisted soldiers before morale starts to suffer?

A use for blogging

by Ted on June 8, 2005

While blogosphere triumphalism is one of my least favorite forms of triumphalism, this is pretty neat. Harper’s Magazine wrote a story about Colorado Springs’ large evangelical New Life Church. Colorado Springs blogger Non Prophet wrote about the article, and attracted the attention of both Jeff Sharlet, the author of the article, and Rob Brendle, associate pastor at the Church. Non Prophet ended up interviewing both; he asked Brendle what errors he thought Sharlet had made, then let Sharlet answer those criticisms. It’s an interesting exchange, and one that just wouldn’t have happened a few years ago.

An open letter to the New Republic

by Ted on June 8, 2005

To the editors of the New Republic:

I am a former subscriber to your magazine who has let my subscription lapse. I’m one of the people who periodically receives invitations to resubscribe as an “old friend”. I should explain that when I let my subscription lapse, I was simply choking in reading materials and not reacting in horror to your non-left positions. (For what it’s worth, my most-read weekly nowadays is BusinessWeek.). The New Republic is excellent far more often than it’s infuriating, and we’d be better off if all journals of political opinion shared your willingness to seriously consider the arguments of the other side. Unfortunately, not all arguments are worthy of serious consideration.

Recently, Amnesty International released its 2005 annual report of human rights violations around the globe. In connection with this report, Irene Khan, the Secretary General, made a wide-ranging speech criticizing the United States, the UN, Western Europe, and the governments of Sudan, Zimbabwe, China, and Russia, among others. In this speech, she made an overheated and historically ignorant comparison of Guantanamo Bay to the Soviet gulags. In response, Bush administration officials joined the ignoble ranks of leaders who have responded to Amnesty International reports of human rights abuses with spin and self-pity. President Bush said, “I’m aware of the Amnesty International report, and it’s absurd.” Vice-President Cheney said that he didn’t take Amnesty seriously, and Donald Rumsfeld called the description “reprehensible”. A small army of pundits rushed forward to attack Amnesty International’s credibility.

We had a truly remarkable debate. On one hand, we had an organization with a 40-year history of standing up for human rights regardless of borders and ideology, criticizing the United States for holding prisoners without due process and torturing them. Only a fool would deny that this is, in fact, happening. On the other hand, we have an Administration accusing Amnesty International of poor word choice. Your contribution to the debate was a piece criticizing Amnesty for the use of the term “gulag”.

I completely understand the objection to the term. After all, the gulags were a vastly larger evil, and a part of a far more sinister and omnipresent system of repression. However, I have to question your priorities. Your magazine supported the war on Iraq on the basis of human rights. (Like the Administration, you used Amnesty’s reports of Saddam’s tyranny without hesitation in arguing for the war.) Surely human rights abuses performed in our name, by our elected government, deserve scrutiny and criticism, even if such abuses don’t approach the depths of Stalin or Saddam. It seems obvious to me that Amnesty doesn’t deserve your sneers.

We have seen horrors, great and small, in the past century. There have always been some who have done what they could to oppose them. History will not look kindly on those who made excuses, looked the other way, or told the supporters of justice to keep their damn voices down. I expect no better from the alleluia chorus of movement conservatives. Too many have shown that their interest in human rights ends when it ceases to be a useful club against domestic opponents. But I expect more from the New Republic.

As I mentioned, I’m frequently invited to resubscribe to your magazine. I see that a digital subscription to the New Republic can be had for $29.95. I’m not going to buy one. Instead, I’m going to send that money to Amnesty International, who have done more for human rights than perhaps any volunteer organization existing. And I’m going to encourage my readers to do the same thing.

Sincerely,

Ted Barlow

P.S. You can imagine a world in which the term “gulag” had not been used in that speech. In that world, do you imagine that the Amnesty report would have set off a serious effort on the part of the Bush Administration to correct its abuses? Or do you think that they would find another excuse- any excuse- to belittle and ignore the report? The question answers itself, doesn’t it?

Fascinating Hitchens

by Harry on June 8, 2005

I’ve been puzzling about Hitchens recently, partly as a result of listening to his session at the Hay On Wye festival with the Greatest Living Englishman on blasphemy (courtesy of Norman Geras). He veers in that debate between inspiring brilliance and unfunny rudeness — I cannot imagine what the GLE made of it. I disagree with him about the war in in Iraq, and find myself wondering how he squares his support for Bush with many of his other apparent beliefs. He often sounds shrill in his attacks on the left, even when he can beat his immediate opponent on reason and evidence alone. I thought, for example, that he got the better of Chomsky by a mile in the polemics over Afghanistan, but was taken aback by the energy he put into alienating himself from the left in general. Maurice Isserman quotes one of the Socialist Party leaders who negotiated the merger with Max Shachtman’s group in the late ’50’s as saying something like the following “as soon as it was over I realised that this guy was going to move as far to the right as fast as he could” and that was certainly how Hitchens seemed at the time. He hasn’t exactly fulfilled that promise (nor, IMHO, did Shachtman), though he certainly tries to give that impression from time to time. But I still find his prose, almost always, compelling; I’d certainly sooner read almost anything by him than anything by any other journalist working today. Norm quotes Ophelia Benson (with permission) as follows:

[click to continue…]