Language Choice

by Henry on June 10, 2010

Eugene Volokh, in a “brief post”:http://volokh.com/2010/06/10/party-of-geert-wilders-leading-critic-of-islam-gains-heavily-in-dutch-election/ on the Dutch election, characterizes Geert Wilders as a ‘leading critic of Islam.’ This is a fascinating terminological choice. If a European politician who had angry views about Israel went ahead to advocate a ban on the Torah, a five year ban on the building of Jewish temples, a permanent ban on preaching in Hebrew, and a government program aimed at paying Jews to leave the country, would Eugene Volokh describe him as a “leading critic of Judaism?” I suspect, perhaps incorrectly, that he might use slightly different language.

Update: The title of Volokh’s post has now been changed (I imagine in response to this post) to characterize Wilders as a “Leading Critic of Islam (and Advocate of Restrictions on the Practice of Islam).” Whether this constitutes a substantial improvement or not I leave open to debate.

Alan Dershowitz

by Henry on June 10, 2010

As a sort of coda to Chris’s post of a couple of days ago, _02138_ magazine ran an article a few years ago on how various well known Harvard professors used research assistants. The magazine has since gone belly-up, but the article has been preserved “here”:http://harmonicminor.com/2007/12/09/a-million-little-writers/ and a few other places on the Internets. This bit on Dershowitz seems relevant to his various forays into public intellectualism:

Several of his researchers say that Dershowitz doesn’t subscribe to the scholarly convention of researching first, then drawing conclusions. Instead, as a lawyer might, he writes his conclusions, leaving spaces where he’d like sources or case law to back up a thesis. On several occasions where the research has suggested opposite conclusions, his students say, he has asked them to go back and look for other cases, or simply to omit the discrepant information. “That’s the way it’s done; a piecemeal, ass-backwards way,” says one student who has firsthand experience with the writing habits of Dershowitz and other tenured colleagues. “They write first, make assertions, and farm out [the work] to research assistants to vet it. They do very little of the research themselves.”

When one student couldn’t find a desired source for an HLS professor’s project, a Harvard research librarian commented, “Isn’t that the opposite of how you’re supposed to do it?” Other students point out that Dershowitz has been at the law school for four decades, and thus even his most apparently off-the-cuff suppositions are based on a long career of reading and practicing law. And Dershowitz does acknowledge researchers in his books.

The international community

by Henry on June 10, 2010

The “juxtaposition”:http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/15cd24ee-73c4-11df-bc73-00144feabdc0.html of two quotes in an article on Turkey in today’s _FT_ is pretty interesting.

bq. Susan Rice, US ambassador to the UN, attacked the “very unfortunate choices” by Turkey and Brazil, the other country to oppose the measures. “They are now the outliers,” she said of the two traditional US allies. “They are standing outside of the rest of the Security Council, outside of the body of the international community.” Russia and China, long doubtful about sanctions, voted in favour after a dogged US campaign for support.

and

bq. On Wednesday, Robert Gates, defence secretary, suggested European Union reluctance to admit Turkey as a member could be pushing it away from the west and expressed concern about the deterioration of Turkish-Israeli ties. “If there’s anything to the notion that Turkey is moving eastwards, it is in no small part because it was pushed, and it was pushed by some in Europe refusing to give Turkey the kind of organic link to the west that Turkey sought,” he said while visiting London.

American notions of ‘international community’ are pretty weird if you look at them at all closely. On the one one hand, Rice’s quote suggests that the ‘international community’ more or less reduces down to ‘states that are prepared to agree, however reluctantly, with the US belief that Iran needs to be punished.’ Turkey and Brazil are members of the UN in good standing – and on various counts (democracy etc), they have a lot more legitimacy than e.g. Russia and China. On the other, Gates’ view (entirely apart from its rather dishonest failure to acknowledge that US support for Israel may have done a wee little bit to alienate Turkey) suggests that membership of the European Union isn’t very much more than a generic recognition of Turkey as part of the ‘west’ (whatever the ‘west is construed to be). I’m very strongly in favor of Turkey becoming a member of the EU – but like everyone who has looked at this at all closely, I recognize that this would involve big changes to both Turkey and the EU, and that the EU is not a standard international organization. So on the one hand the US sees the international community as nothing more or less than the states which are prepared to go along with its priorities, and on the other hand, when the US encounters _actual_ communities in the international sphere, it thinks that they should hand out membership of this community without any debate because it would serve the US’s geostrategic interests. As I say, weird.

Update: see also “Charlemagne”:http://www.economist.com/blogs/charlemagne/2010/06/turkey_and_eu.