From the monthly archives:

August 2007

Quo Vadis, Belgium?

by Ingrid Robeyns on August 31, 2007

I’ve been meaning to write a post on the political chaos in Belgium – but my absence on CT in the last weeks already revealed that I haven’t had a decent chunk of time yet. For those of you in countries where there hasn’t been any reporting – it’s day 82 after the federal elections, and the Flemish and Walloon parties are so bitterly opposed to each other’s demands, that commentators are talking aloud of “the end of Belgium” (which is not going to happen soon, since neither of them wants to give up Brussels – but there are signs that the crisis between the Dutch/Flemish-speaking and Francophone regions is deeper than it has been in decades).

And the more I thought about what I should write, the more it became clear that it’s a complicated issue to write about. One problem is that the interpretations of the political events differ dramatically between the Dutch-language and the Francophone Belgian press – truly as if they are from two different planets – so any (foreign) journalist/reader who masters only one of those two languages will almost inevitably get a distorted or one-sided pictured. Then there is the question whether, as a Flemish person, I can write sufficiently neutral about this. One of the many dimensions of the Belgian drama is the historical disrespect of Francophone Belgians for the Flemish, especially their language; and part of the interpretational differences is whether this is still the case today, and whether one should bother. I’ll keep my own views for another time, but one thing that I noted in international conversations is that it seems hard for most non-Flemish to appreciate why language can be such a big deal (“this francophone Belgian philosopher”: is the Great Exception, and he’s writing a book on linguistic justice). I don’t know what would work as good international comparisons, but in any case there are plenty of other national political sensitivities that are not always easy to understand for outsiders, and where one does need to have some minimal historical knowledge to appreciate present-day sensitivities.

So I will try to write a piece next week trying to explain, as neutrally as I can, the facts and background info; and, if I have some time left, I’ll give my views in another post. But now I first have to mark the essays of my Walloon students.

The End of MaxSpeak

by Kieran Healy on August 31, 2007

I missed this earlier this week. No more MaxSpeak as of September 3rd. Boo. Max’s posts felt like a very pure form of blogging: his prose style had a way of temporarily wiring you in to his thought process as it was happening. Not many people can convey that feeling well, either because there’s too much post-processing (and it all gets polished up) or there’s not enough (and its incomprehensible). Max hit the sweet-spot a lot more than most. The results weren’t pretty, but they were usually dynamic, direct and right on target more often than not. Soon, the interwebs will be just a bit more boring.

Evil, capitalist airports

by Maria on August 30, 2007

Here are the things most people would happily pay for at an international transit airport:
– a shower
– clean underwear (for those of us who habitually forget to pack it)
– daylight
– an exercise facility to help with the jetlag and minimise DVT
– nutritious but not too heavy food
– a nap, lying flat, somewhere quiet.

And here’s what is generally available:
– Gucci
– Chanel
– l’Occitane
– Bodyshop
– Lacoste
– Nike
– a few plastic seats
– McDonalds, dougnuts, and the local variety of fried, sugary dross to add a sugar hangover to your jetlag.

Sometimes there’s a shower, and I’ve even heard of napping capsules – though never in the terminal I’m in. But generally, the big transit airports totally mismatch the actual desires of travellers, and instead lay on miles of the same over-priced globalised tat (Swarovski, anyone?) for the miserable and jetlagged to wander about in.

Is the idea that we’ll buy a Cartier watch because we’re so tired and addled? Or are ‘we’ such wealthy and time-poor businessmen that we’ll buy any shiny expensive thing we see for our neglected wives and mistresses? At Bangkok airport recently, most of the travellers were wearing tracksuits and carrying babies. Chanel, Prada and the rest of them were completely empty. Though at least there are showers and a spa in that airport. But all I wanted to buy was clean knickers and a mobile phone – and the result was 2-nil to the airport. At least I didn’t succumb to those silk and wool scarves they have in every airport in the world, but that only French women wear.

So why the complete mismatch of trapped and exhausted consumers to luxury goods? Surely the airports have woken up to the fact that travelling is mass market. Or are travellers such a captive market that airports can completely ignore what they actually want…?

Bald men, comb

by Henry Farrell on August 29, 2007

Or perhaps rather, _Clash of the Titans_; only Ray Harryhausen could properly depict a “stand-off”: of such magnitude – intellectual (and I use the term in its _very_ broadest sense) fisticuffs between Dinesh D’Souza and Alan Wolfe.

Now, D’Souza says Boston College is withholding videotape of a debate on the book he conducted there with the scholar Alan Wolfe — because it shows that the college’s “intellectual emperor has no clothes.” …But the producers of the video maintain that it was an embarrassment for both debaters. “It was uncivil, they talked over each other, they … cast aspersions on each other’s character, they made jokes at each other’s expense, it was a snipe job, it was a street fight, it was a brawl. And frankly it doesn’t meet Boston College’s intellectual standards,” said Ben Birnbaum, the executive producer of Front Row. While it was clear that the taping was intended for an online audience, the written agreement with the debaters left the decision on what to do with the video in the college’s hands.

Boston College’s media people should be warmly congratulated for protecting us from this abomination. On the one hand, not much can be said about Dinesh D’Souza that hasn’t “been said already”:’Souza. On the other, it seems to me that Alan Wolfe doesn’t come in for anywhere near as much flak as he deserves. Not that he’s a D’Souza, or anything like him, but he _is_ Gertrude Stein’s Oakland in human form, a sort of Lowest Common Denominator of liberal wuffle. Wolfe is the source of relentless waves of book reviews, opinion articles, magazine squibs and monographs; in short, of ideas journalism of all kinds except the kind that actually has ideas. I have a friend whose cure for writer’s block is to pick up the latest Wolfe emanation in the _New York Times Book Review_ or wherever it might be, and use it as a class of a purgative. As he reads it, he gets increasingly furious that this sort of guff can _get published_ by apparently serious journals; this anger serves to clean out the system. It may be that sometime, somewhere, Alan Wolfe has said something that is both interesting and true; if so, I have yet to see it (readers who believe that they have spotted insightful Wolfe articles in the wild should of course feel free to link to them in comments).

Where the Smarm hits the Road

by Kieran Healy on August 29, 2007

For those inclined to think that a willingness to grind up real people’s lives in the pursuit of grand political causes is a distinctively left-wing vice, we present Mr Bill Kristol.

Suspicious timing

by Henry Farrell on August 28, 2007

So, was Gonzales’ resignation yesterday specifically timed to happen just as the _Daily Show_ started a two week hiatus? Inquiring (and very disappointed) minds would like to know. Not even to mention the revelations about Larry Craig’s bathroom misdemeanours. It’s _very suspicious_ that the court judgment should have been handed down on August 8 – but that _Roll Call_ should only have published the details yesterday. I seem to recall that the last time the _Daily Show_ went on holiday, there was a similar outbreak of political scandals (the Libby case judgement etc). As they say, developing …

Global warming as a partisan issue

by Henry Farrell on August 27, 2007

One bit of the Snyder, Shapiro and Bloch-Elkon “paper”: that I linked to last week was overshadowed by the discussion of the Iraq war. They report survey evidence saying that:

Since September 11, there is not only a wider gap between Republicans and Democrats across a broad range of foreign policy issues, but their views have moved in opposite directions in response to new information. In 1998, 31 percent of Republicans believed that the planet was warming, but by 2006
only 26% did, whereas Democrats increased from 39 to 46% and Independents from 31 to 45%.1

To my mind this suggests2 some interesting connections between new information, the dynamics of opinion change and partisanship. This same period saw an unmistakable convergence of scientific opinion, as many scientists who had previously been agnostic or skeptical came to accept mounting evidence that climate change was occurring. It also saw a clear convergence between Democratic voters and independents. But Republicans, if anything, would appear to have become _less_ likely to believe strongly that climate change was happening during the same period. Either they weren’t getting the same information as scientists, Democrats and independents, or they were interpreting this information in different ways. My best guess (and I am not a public opinion specialist by any stretch of the imagination) is that two things are going on here. First, some Republicans _are_ being exposed to different information than other voters, through talk radio, targeted mailings, frothing-at-the-mouth blogs and other media. Second, even those Republicans who _aren’t_ (or who are only minimally exposed to this information) are increasingly coming to treat global warming as a partisan issue, where conceding that it is happening is in some sense giving ground to ‘the other side.’

1 A summary of the poll evidence is available in PDF form “here”:

2 The one proviso I have here, is that the summary only reports differences over whether Republicans, Democrats and Independents are ‘sure’ that global warming is happening. They don’t report differences over whether people with different partisan alignments think that global warming is ‘probably’ happening. If there aren’t major differences in the ‘probably happening’ figures, then obviously there is much less going on here.

In case you missed it

by John Q on August 26, 2007

A website run by the neocon thinktank the Center for Security Policy (members include Frank Gaffney, Richard Perle and Doug Feith) has published (then removed) a piece calling for Bush to use his military powers to become “the first permanent president of America” and “ruler of the world”. Along the way he suggests that the population of Iraq should have been wiped out. The website Family Security Matters also runs pieces by Newt Gingrich, Judy Miller and other luminaries.

The full piece is preserved here at Watching the Watchers. I found it via Wikipedia.

As someone would say (though maybe not in this case) “read the whole thing”. It’s impossible to tell if this is satire by someone who has cleverly infiltrated FSM over a lengthy period (quite a few other pieces by the same author, Philip Atkinson were also removed), a sudden outbreak of insanity (unlikely since Atkinson previously published stuff almost as extreme as this, with the endorsement of FSM), or the actual views of CSP/CFM, accidentally revealed and clumsily concealed.

As things stand, there’s a presumption in favor of the last of these views. The piece was published by CSP/FSM and constitutes, at present, their last word on the subject. If they repudiate Atkinson’s views they should say so openly, and live with the embarrassment of having published him and praised his ideas until now.

Chris Mooney’s Storm World

by Henry Farrell on August 25, 2007

I did an interview with Chris Mooney on his new book, _Storm World_ (“Powells”:, “Amazon”: ); it’s now up at “”: for those who are interested. I think it’s a very good book – much less on the relationship between science and politics than his old book, and much more about the politics within science, and especially within scientific debates that get sucked into wider public controversies.

John Cole is driven into shrill unholy madness

by Henry Farrell on August 24, 2007

John Cole’s _Balloon Juice_ was one of those blogs on the other side of the spectrum that I used to read to balance my left wing blog diet a bit; he was one of the reasonable pro-war bloggers, back in the day when there was such a thing as a reasonable pro-war blogger. Things seem to be … “a little different”: at Balloon Juice these days than they used to be:

I am firmly convinced it is only going to get worse from this administration and the nutjobs at the Weekly Standard. That is, unfortunately, a given, as we know how low they will go- as low as they possibly can. The only interesting question for me is how far will the lunatic fringe 28% crowd in the blogosphere go? How outrageous will the rhetoric have to get before the Malkins, the Hewitts, and all the rest of them say “Wait a minute- that crosses the line?”

I am betting they will never find a line they will not cross- this is not about Iraq or domestic politics anymore. This isn’t about the soldiers and it isn’t about the prospect of Democracy in Iraq. This is about being “right” in the face of evil leftists. This is about “winning.” This is not about what these policies and this vile rhetoric are doing to this nation and our standing- this is about saving face and their own personal stake in what they have attached themselves to in the course of achieving “victory.” My guess is Bush and his speechwriters and Kristol and those mutants at the Weekly Standard and other rags feel comfortable saying this stuff because they know that out there in the blogosphere and the world there are ample knuckledraggers willing and happy to cover for them.

Sadly, they are probably right. It doesn’t matter what type of filth you churn out- The Powerline will have your back. Remember- the Democrats are worse.

At the very _least_ that’s worth transmogrification into an unspeakable tentacular horror. But he’s not the only rightwinger who’s angry. Which makes me wonder. If we discount the out-and-out hacks, my entirely unscientific impression that apparently smart1 pro-war bloggers who were/are genuinely right wing have been much more likely than apparently smart pro-war bloggers who were (or who claim to have been) left of center to accept that they were wrong and that their former comrades appear to be increasingly deranged. To the extent that I’m right, I suspect that there’s some psychological mechanism involving the sunk costs of ideological conversion here (but I could of course be wrong).

1 By ‘apparently smart’ I don’t mean ‘seems to be smart but isn’t,’ I mean ‘appears to be smart as best as one can tell from their writings on the Internets.’

Do you know what this blog needs? More posts about the constraints of international law on American foreign policy!

My two pence worth on this subject (which probably doesn’t really merit a full post but I can’t find the right one to append it to as a comment) is that although the criterion “America can unilaterally decide to invade anywhere in the world if it feels like its interests are threatened” looks like something of an insane recipe for perpetual war, it would potentially be an improvement on the current situation.
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Corporate Republicans v. Corporate Democrats

by Henry Farrell on August 23, 2007

“John Edwards”: reminds me of why I’d vote for him in a heartbeat, if I had a vote in the forthcoming primaries.

It’s not just that the answers of the past aren’t up to the job today, it’s that the system that produced them was corrupt — and still is. It’s controlled by big corporations, the lobbyists they hire to protect their bottom line and the politicians who curry their favor and carry their water. And it’s perpetuated by a media that too often fawns over the establishment, but fails to seriously cover the challenges we face or the solutions being proposed. This is the game of American politics and in this game, the interests of regular Americans don’t stand a chance.

Real change starts with being honest — the system in Washington is rigged and our government is broken. It’s rigged by greedy corporate powers to protect corporate profits. It’s rigged by the very wealthy to ensure they become even wealthier. At the end of the day, it’s rigged by all those who benefit from the established order of things. For them, more of the same means more money and more power. They’ll do anything they can to keep things just the way they are — not for the country, but for themselves.

… The choice for our party could not be more clear. We cannot replace a group of corporate Republicans with a group of corporate Democrats, just swapping the Washington insiders of one party for the Washington insiders of the other.

[nb. that this is a purely personal statement – I have no idea of where those of my fellow CT-ers who live in the US stand on this]

The British Museum

by Jon Mandle on August 23, 2007

I recently visited the British museum for the first time. The very little I saw really was astonishing. I found it surprisingly moving, in fact – especially the Rosetta Stone, for whatever reason. But despite the sense of amazement, I also had the gnawing and depressing feeling that the last 3500 years of human history really just boils down to one damn war after another. Another (related) feeling was the more inchoate discomfort with how all that stuff managed to arrive in London.

In chapter 8 of Cosmopolitanism, Kwame Anthony Appiah asks “Whose Culture Is It, Anyway?” He points to an ambiguity in the term “culture.” Sometimes it refers to artifacts – “whatever people make and invest with significance through the exercise of their human creativity.” Other times it refers to “the group from whose conventions the object derives its significance.” He struggles with the relationship between these two senses of the term – specifically with the question of the return of ancient cultural artifacts to people who claim them as their “cultural patrimony”.

Appiah has lots of sensible and interesting things to say on the issue. He holds that it is “a perfectly reasonable property rule that where something is dug up and nobody can establish an existing claim on it, the government gets to decide what to do with it.” But the government should think of itself as a trustee “for humanity”. This cosmopolitan perspective breaks any kind of special tie to geographic location. “However self-serving it may seem, the British Museum’s claim to be a repository of the heritage not of Britain but of the world seems to me exactly right.”

But he also quotes Major Baden-Powell (founder of the Boy Scouts), who after looting the palace of the Asante King Kofi Karikari in 1874 1895 [thanks, rea – see comment 14.] wrote: “There could be no more interesting, no more tempting work than this. To poke about in a barbarian king’s palace, whose wealth has been reported very great, was enough to make it so. Perhaps one of the most striking features about it was that the work of collecting the treasures was entrusted to a company of British soldiers, and that it was done most honestly and well, without a single case of looting.” Appiah obviously recognizes this as theft, and wants a negotiated restitution, but this is because “the property rights that were trampled upon in these cases flow from laws that I think are reasonable. I am not for sending every object ‘home.’ … I actually want museums in Europe to be able to show the riches of the society they plundered in the years when my grandfather was a young man … Because perhaps the greatest of the many ironies of the sacking of Kumasi in 1874 is that it deprived my hometown of a collection that was, in fact, splendidly cosmopolitan.”

There certainly is something very attractive about the ideal of a grand cosmopolitan museum, whether in London or Kumasi. But I just couldn’t shake the thought that most of the artifacts were taken with an attitude that Britain – as opposed to the world – was entitled to them.

The sources of international law

by Henry Farrell on August 23, 2007

As an international relations scholar (sort of; I began in comparative politics, but gradually shuffled sideways into IR) who believes that international law can be a meaningful constraint on state action, I’m somewhere between “Dan”: and “John”: on the question of whether the US should (or should want to be) bound by international law. The core insight of international relations is that international politics differs from domestic politics because there isn’t any actor with a monopoly on the use of legitimate violence to enforce the law. Thus, whatever international law there is flows from states or from organizations created by states. This doesn’t mean that international law doesn’t exist or that international law can’t have some degree of relative autonomy from states (international organizations aren’t perfect agents of states, and have some wriggle-room to shape law in ways that states might not initially have intended). It does mean that international law is fundamentally limited by the willingness or unwillingness of states to enforce it, except under relatively unusual circumstances (such as the European Union). However, within these limits, quite a lot is possible.

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Comments policy

by Chris Bertram on August 23, 2007

It seems like a reminder of our “comments policy”: is in order. (Maybe we should have a permanent link to it from the front page.)