From the monthly archives:

November 2012

World War II movies, and not Civil War ones

by Eric on November 30, 2012

As recreation while teaching a new course on World War II, I was watching The Great Escape, and it occurred to me, this is the same movie as Cool Hand Luke except Cool Hand Luke has rednecks in place of Nazis.

Which suggested the possibly wrong or maybe trivially true observation that the echt World War II movie is a pop culture treatise on existentialist philosophy, and not about the war at all. Or rather, it is about the war as an existentialist experience and not as a world-historical event. [click to continue…]

The Madonna/Whore Complex in American Politics

by Corey Robin on November 28, 2012

One of the lines of argument about Lincoln that has intrigued me most is this one, which Will Boisvert states in the comments section to my post on the film:

But the movie’s focus is on…snakey retail politics. That’s what makes the movie interesting, in part because it cuts against the grain of Lincoln hagiography by making him a shrewd, somewhat dirty pol.

Will isn’t alone in this. I’ve seen David Denby, Anthony Lane, Geoffrey O’Brien, and Chris Hayes offer eloquent statements of the same thesis: that what makes Lincoln great is that it shows how his greatness consists of so many acts of smallness. Politicking, horse-trading, compromise, log-rolling, and the like. [click to continue…]

The Great Oil Fallacy

by John Q on November 27, 2012

That’s the headline for a piece I published in The National Interest last week. Opening paras

Among the unchallenged verities of U.S. politics, the most universally accepted is that of the crucial strategic and economic significance of oil, and particularly Middle Eastern oil. On the right, the need for oil is seen as justifying an expanded and assertive military posture, as well as the removal of restrictions on domestic drilling. On the left, U.S. foreign-policy is seen through the prism of “War for Oil,” while the specter of Peak Oil threatens to bring the whole system down in ruins.
The prosaic reality is that oil is a commodity much like any other. As with every major commodity, oil markets have some special features that affect supply, demand and prices. But oil is no more special or critical than coal, gas or metals—let alone food.

This piece expands on my earlier argument that the US has no national interest at stake in the Middle East, just a set of mutually inconsistent sectional interests and policy agendas. I don’t talk about climate change explicitly, but we’ll never have a sensible debate about climate change until oil is demystified.

Upcoming Seminars

by Henry Farrell on November 26, 2012

We have a few seminars here at Crooked Timber over the next eight or nine months. The first, which will be coming out in a few weeks, is on Jack Knight and James Johnson’s recent book _The Priority of Democracy_ ( Amazon, Powells). It proposes a pragmatist understanding of how democracy works because, not despite of, the stark conflicts of interest and ideas within it. It’ll make for some good arguments.

In addition, we have advanced plans for the much delayed Erik Olin Wright _Real Utopias_ event, for Ken MacLeod’s various novels, for Felix Gilman’s _The Half Made World_ and its about-to-be-published sequel, _The Rise of Ransom City_, and Strongly Formulated Intentions for a couple of other events to be announced at a later date. Those who haven’t read Gilman’s book yet may want to take advantage of a Tor deal for the e-book edition – for this week, and this week only, it can be purchased for $2.99 at “Amazon”:, “Barnes and Noble”: and “Apple”: In Cosma Shalizi’s words:

A splendidly-written high-fantasy western. (It is by no stretch of the imagination “steampunk”.) Gilman takes great themes of what one might call the Matter of America — the encroachment of regimented industrial civilization, the hard-eyed anarchic men (and women) of violence, the dream of not just starting the world afresh but of offering the last best hope of earth — and transforms the first two into warring rival pantheons of demons, the third into a noble lost cause. (I think Gilman knows _exactly_ how explosive the last theme is, which is why he manages to handle it without setting it off.) Beneath and behind it all lies the continuing presence of the dispossessed original inhabitants of the continent. A story of great excitement and moment unfolds in this very convincing world, tying together an appealing, if believably flawed, heroine and two finely-rendered anti-heroes, told in prose that is vivid and hypnotic by turns.

Sickness unto death

by Chris Bertram on November 26, 2012

Since today is movie day at Crooked Timber, I thought I’d share. If you haven’t yet seen Michael Haneke’s Amour then you probably should make the effort. Emmanuelle Riva’s performance as Anne is one of the most brilliant pieces of screen acting I’ve ever seen. On the other hand, this is an almost uncompromising portrayal of aging and dying and of incomprehension across the generations with the end in plain view. When we left the cinema, several people outside were in tears and when I started to talk about the film I found I couldn’t without starting to dissolve myself. Some audience members sat in their seats staring at the screen for a while afterwards, and some of those were quite elderly. So if you go, and, as I say, it is a great work, do so knowing that you’ll probably be somewhat upset by the end. As you should be.

Steven Spielberg’s White Men of Democracy

by Corey Robin on November 25, 2012

Two weeks ago I wrote, “When Steven Spielberg makes a movie about the Holocaust, he focuses on a German. When he makes a movie about abolition, he focuses on a white man. Say what you will, he’s consistent.” [click to continue…]

In which I agree with Megan McArdle

by John Q on November 23, 2012

For quite a while, I’ve been arguing that the simultaneous occurrence of sustained depression in most developed countries provides fairly conclusive evidence that both new classical macroeconomics and standard versions of real business cycle theory cannot explain actual macroeconomic outcomes. That argument is directed both against US-based economists like Casey Mulligan and Narayana Kocherlakota, who are trying to explain the US experience in terms of problems specific to the US labor market[1] and to European advocates of austerity who blame the crisis in peripheral European countries on (mostly falsely) alleged government profligacy in those countries.

An immediate implication, drawn out here by Paul Krugman, is that the success or otherwise of the limited stimulus undertaken by the Obama Administration should be assessed by comparison to the performance of other countries, most of which undertook less stimulus, returned to austerity faster, and have experienced correspondingly weaker growth (as some Oz tweeps are pointing out, he might have mentioned Australia, which undertook a big stimulus and avoided recession altogether).

But, as Megan McArdle snarks here, there’s an implication more appealing to Republicans. If Obama can’t be blamed for a global recession, neither can Bush. Although McArdle’s argument isn’t watertight (the US is big enough that US actions have a big effect on the world as a whole), the conclusion is broadly correct. There’s plenty of blame to go around for the Global Financial Crisis and the subsequent depression, and the Bush Administration deserves only a small share. Bush’s main contribution was to introduce unfunded tax cuts at a time when the budget should have been in surplus, thereby reducing the fiscal space available for stimulus when the crisis came. But, given the weakness of the stimulus and the ferocity of the political response, it’s not clear that was a binding constraint in any case.

The primary culprit is market liberal economics, which may be considered both as a set of ideas with its own internal logic and as an expression of the class interests of those who benefit from the finance-dominated form of capitalism that produced the crisis and has prevented any recovery. My book Zombie Economics is a critique of market liberalism considered as an economic theory, showing how market liberalism produced the crisis. Colin Crouch’s Strange Non-Death of NeoLiberalism gives more of the class interpretation, explainign why these discredited ideas remain dominant.

Metaphysical MacGuffins and Benjamin Button

by John Holbo on November 21, 2012

For some strange reason, Amazon is selling a Criterion Collection 2-disc set of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button for $1.99. I would like to hear the extensive Fincher commentary, so maybe I’ll buy it at that price, even though I already own it. Thing is. I didn’t like the film. It didn’t make any sense to me. It seemed very self-serious, in an Oscar-fodder-ish way. Without having anything serious to say. It seemed to commit the elementary fallacy of assuming that, because the story doesn’t make any ordinary sort of sense, it must make some extraordinary, deep kind of sense. [click to continue…]

Conservatives: Who’s Your Daddy?

by Corey Robin on November 20, 2012

In his column this morning, David Brooks has a roundup of young conservative voices we should be listening to. He divides them into four groups: paleoconservatives, lower-middle reformists, soft libertarians, and Burkean revivalists. I want to focus on the last, for as is so often the case with Brooks, he gets it wrong—but in revealing ways. [click to continue…]

Violence against women near the US-Mexican border

by Eszter Hargittai on November 20, 2012

I saw an exhibit about a very disturbing matter concerning violence against women near the US-Mexican border. The exhibit addresses the rape, torture and violent killings of hundreds of girls and young women in Ciudad Juárez since 1993 and the fact that there has not been much movement on behalf of the Mexican authorities to prosecute the perpetrators.

“Wall of Memories” by Diane Kahlo “is an installation of painting, sculpture and video about the epidemic of violence against women and girls in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.” (source)

Throughout the history of western art, typically only those of wealthy and noble class were immortalized through portraiture. By painting the faces of these young victims in the form of a small icon, Kahlo was able to memorialize the young women whose social and economic status would not typically be the subject of a painted portrait. Other aspects of this exhibition bring together Aztec and Meso-American civilizations and symbols of death and rebirth. The artist wishes to draw attention to the fact that to this date, the violence against women continues with impunity.

I wasn’t familiar with this situation, but reading up on it briefly, I see that it has gotten some coverage although in rather specialized outlets for the most part. I wanted to spread additional awareness. Here are a few more images from the exhibit.

“Decisive conclusion”

by Chris Bertram on November 19, 2012

I last paid attention to the Jerusalem Post when it was running apologetics for Anders Behring Breivik. It seems to have gone one better yesterday, with an article by Gilad Sharon entitled “A Decisive Conclusion is Necessary”, a sample:

We need to flatten entire neighborhoods in Gaza. Flatten all of Gaza. The Americans didn’t stop with Hiroshima – the Japanese weren’t surrendering fast enough, so they hit Nagasaki, too.

As one person remarked to me, maybe “decisive conclusion” could be one rendering of Endlösung.

Meanwhile, the President of the United States has this to say:

… there’s no country on Earth that would tolerate missiles raining down on its citizens from outside its borders.

Well then, can we expect Pakistani tanks on the White House lawn imminently?

Perhaps not.

And so the familiar litany of “justifications” goes on, most predictably about Hamas being to blame for any civilian deaths because their “operatives” “hide among the civilian population”. Those of us who have been paying attention during recent wars in Libya and Syria will note that nobody thought Gadaffi and Assad any the less responsible for the babies they killed (and in Syria, continue to kill) from the air because those resisting their tyrannies did so from populated areas such as Misrata and Aleppo. Do different principles apply when it is the IDF doing the killing? It would seem so.

And there seem to be a lot of “surgical strikes”. You know, the ones that magically discriminate between the innocent and the guilty in urban area, except when they don’t.

So it goes.

Roth and Satz on repugnant/noxious markets

by Ingrid Robeyns on November 19, 2012

Repugnant markets is one of the research topics of Alvin Roth, one of the two winners of the 2012 Nobel Prize in Economics. These are markets where a ‘yuck’-factor constraints them from being accepted by the public as legitimate. Examples are the markets in human organs or markets in babies. We (or perhaps better: most of us) find such markets repugnant, and this repugnancy works as a constraint on such a market. Roth argues that economists should take this repugnancy constraint into account when studying markets, but also argues that economists have “an important education role of pointing to inefficiencies and trade-offs, and costs and benefits” [of the persistence of such repugnancy] (p. 54).

What struck me when reading Roth’s paper, is that he doesn’t explicitly include values in his analysis. [click to continue…]

Mark Steyn, Texas Sharpshooter

by John Holbo on November 19, 2012

Mark Steyn: “Just to be clear: I think Obama won the election, and his victory represents the will of the American people. Which is why the Democrats should have heeded Mubarak’s words and not over-stolen it.”

Glad we cleared that up!

By contrast, it actually is clear what fallacy Steyn is committing in his post. He’s a Texas Sharpshooter, if there ever was one. [click to continue…]

Radicals for Capitalism

by Henry Farrell on November 17, 2012

Some of the bits of the Web that I pay close attention to are trying to figure out how to react to the “Republican Study Committee’s new thinkpiece on copyright”:–_three_myths_about_copyright_law_and_where_to_start_to_fix_it_–_november_16_2012.pdf. On the one hand, they want to cheer on every word of the document, even if it is written from a more directly market-oriented perspective than their own. E.g.:

bq. Copyright violates nearly every tenet of laissez faire capitalism. Under the current system of copyright, producers of content are entitled to a guaranteed, government instituted, government subsidized content-monopoly … It is a system implemented and regulated by the government, and backed up by laws that allow for massive damages for violations. These massive damages are not conventional tort law damages, but damages that are vastly disproportionate from the actual damage to the copyright producer. … we do know that our copyright paradigm has … Retarded the creation of a robust DJ/Remix industry … Hampering scientific inquiry … Stifling the creation of a public library … Free 12-year copyright term for all new works – subject to registration, and all existing works are renewed as of the passage of the reform legislation. If passed today this would mean that new works have a copyright until 2024.

On the other … Republican Study Committee. Republican Study Committee claiming the mantle of protector of DJ culture, scientific inquiry and public library. But still. Republican Study Committee.

I don’t know anything about the motivations of the aide who wrote this paper. However, I think it’s reasonably safe to speculate that if the Republican party takes this up, it will be less because of its burning desire to promote a healthy remix culture (‘tho perhaps their desperation to appeal to the kids might play a small role), and more because they’d like to screw an industry largely composed of people who give to the Democratic party (think movie stars and record industry executives as trial lawyers). One could be more cynical still, and see this as a shakedown intended to encourage entertainment industry people to give lavishly to Republican PACs so as to sway them away from the cause of righteousness (personally, I doubt this was the rationale for the paper, but it certainly might end up describing the outcome).

Even so, it poses an interesting question. Would we be better off in a world where this position prevailed, so that (a) copyright law was much looser, (b) the entertainment industry was much poorer, and (c ) giving to the Democratic party and other liberal causes was significantly lower as a result? Personally, my answer is emphatically yes, but there is a tradeoff here, where others might reasonably disagree (and perhaps even convince me that I’m wrong …).

‘Southern White’ as an ethnicity

by John Q on November 16, 2012

A while ago, I posted about the supposed capture of the ‘white working class’ by Republicans, pointing out that the term was being used to refer to those with less than college education. On more traditional measures of class, such as income, the Democrats do much better, though still getting only about half the vote.

In response to this post a number of commenters pointed out that the data was not disaggregated by region, and that the South was anomalous. A couple of things I’ve seen recently support this. Here’s Charles Blow, reporting that 90 per cent of white voters in Mississippi supported Romney. Kevin Drum observes that Obama won about 46 percent of the white vote outside the South and 27 percent of the white vote in the South. Here’s a bit more from The Monkey Cage.

It strikes me that the best way to understand the distinctive characteristics of US voting patterns is to to treat “Southern White ” as an ethnicity, like Hispanic. With that classification each of the major parties becomes an coalition between a solid bloc vote from an ethnic minority and around half the votes of the “non-Southern white” ethnic majority, which is more likely to vote on class lines. The question then is which ethnic/class coalition is bigger. As in other countries, voting for the more rightwing party is correlated, though not perfectly with higher incomes and (conditional on income) lower education, and to shift according to broader ideological movements.
[click to continue…]