Saturday, April 19, 2003

blogroll additions

Three new additions to the scholar blogger roll. Cosma Shalizi, doing a post-doc at U of Michigan (Ann Arbor), who works on agent based modelling, complexity theory and the like. This is stuff which I only understand the rudiments of, after playing around with Rudy Rucker's toy cellular automata software, but which gets fantastically complex very quickly. A very nice blog, with further links to two other academics. Juan Cole is in the University of Michigan history department, working on Middle East issues: has very good stuff on Middle East politics and Islam, and knows what he's talking about. John Holbo teaches philosophy at the National University of Singapore, and comments on pretty well everything.

Update: and a whole clatter of analytic philosophers, courtesy of Brian Weatherson.

Update 2: poorly phrased tautology of the week: I just noticed that I suggested above that complexity theory gets complex very quickly.

Friday, April 18, 2003

Blogroll changes

My attempts to keep track of scholar bloggers (term (c) Jacob Levy, 2002) are leading to an increasingly cumbersome blogroll, so I've done some reorganizing. Scholar bloggers are now grouped according to academic discipline, to make it easier for readers to pick and choose the ones they might be interested in. Of course, I've made some arbitrary choices; if anyone thinks that they've been misclassified, and cares enough to email me, I'll make the necessary changes. My criteria for scholar bloggers are threefold - either (a) holding a position at a third level institution, or (b) pursuing a Ph.D. or equivalent degree at same, and (c) not propagating an ideological position that I find downright revolting (racist, fascist, homophobic, advocating forcible deportation of Jews/Arabs/whoever). Feel free to email me with nominations for other scholar-bloggers that I should be listing. As this means that I will sometimes list blogs that I don't necessarily read all that often, I've picked out a few blogs that I think are of particular interest, and added two stars after them. Maria will likely be making a couple of additions of her own in due course, and I'll be chopping and changing meself, as I figure out which ones I -really- read.
Limbaugh of the lost

"Little Dick Promises Fascism If Reelected." Via this extraordinary article by Rush Limbaugh, claiming that Gephardt's (rather mild) proposals for healthcare reform smack of Fascism. Even seasoned Limbaugh watchers will be entertained by his claim to have "the intellectual chops" to discuss Fascist political ideology; his "research" on the subject apparently consists of having looked the term up in the Merriam-Webster dictionary. Or, what's more likely, having dispatched a flunkey to look it up. What I find interesting is how Limbaugh repeatedly describes people whom he doesn't like in similar terms. Most notorious is his coinage, "feminazi," used to describe modern day feminists, who in Rush's little world are "obsessed" with perpetrating the "modern Holocaust" of abortion. I once co-wrote a paper (semi-spoof, semi-serious) with my friend Barb, "From Sex-Vixens to Senators - Representation in Nazi Porn and the Discourse of the American Right Wing," discussing this tendency at greater length. The paper was rejected by a UC Berkeley cultural studies conference for being "too weird" - perhaps the proudest moment in my academic career to date. We were eventually accepted for another conference at York University, after heated debate among the conference organizers as to whether we were CIA plants or not (Georgetown University, where we were based, has a reputation for strong ties with aforementioned organization). The organizers eventually decided that no CIA stooge would have the unmitigated chutzpah to propose a topic as outre as our one, so we were in. It's a little depressing to see that Limbaugh is still at the same game, seven years later.

Update: for a complementary take on fascism today, see this UPI bozo, who resurrects the trope that European anti-war protesters are surreptitiously practicing their goose-steps. Go figure.
Boys will be boys.

I just took the Guardian's 'essential difference' test. The premise of the test (one on empathy and the other on systems) is that women's brains are hard-wired for empathy and men's for understanding and building systems.

The girly one (i.e. the empathy test) is full of questions like 'does it bother you when people do nasty things to furry little animals?', 'do you cry watching the news?', and 'can you always tell when someone is feeling excluded from a group?'. The manly test wants to know if, 'when buying a sound system/computer/camera do you read all the geek mags so you know about all the features?', 'do you like league tables?', 'can you read maps?', 'do you avoid housework?'. It's a few years since I took a course in qualitative research methods, but aren't these questions just a little ittle bit prescriptive? How circular can this logic get? Did they think; OK, so men are geeks who avoid housework, and women are great, big, blurry crying things who talk lots on the phone. Let's devise a test that decides if you're a man or woman according to how you answer questions based on those assumptions (so far so good). BUT, then let's call that test an independent indicator of gender differences...

Perhaps this test would ring true in a world where all the women are Bridget Jones and all the men are Nick Hornby characters. It's certainly not far above the level of the quizzes I take in Cosmo and Glamour all the time. (I wish Marie Claire would do more of them.) But at least women's mags don't pretend to be vaguely useful research.

Maybe I'm just miffed because I got a scary 46 on each test. 46 on the empathy scale means I'm probably a girl - fair enough. 46 on the systems test means I'm not just a man, but could be a man with autism or Asperger's. Could the real answer be that I am simply a nerd?

These quasi-scientific (i.e. completely bogus) tests that career counsellors, personnel departments and their ilk make people take drive me crazy. These people seem to exist in a world where people are either empathic or analytical, people people or systems people, schmoozers or nerds. Wake up! Most people don't fit neatly into these silly little boxes, no matter how prescriptive the survey design is. And, by the way, the questions are so obviously skewed one way or the other that most test-takers can recognise them and rig their own results anyway if they want.

It's bad enough that these things exist at all, but going and pegging them to some half-baked, pre-cooked gender determinism....ngngngnghhhhh!!!

Update: Teresa Neilsen Hayden has taken the same test, and Kieran Healy and Matthew Yglesias also have thoughts.

Update2: And Eszter Hargittai has lots to say about the the importance of socialization in explaining why women sometimes think they're worse at math than men.

Update 3: Chris Bertram, meanwhile, dug a little deeper and wondered, if men and women did turn out to be hard-wired differently, whether that would necessarily lead to reactionary outcomes. Kieran Healy counter-argued that methodologically flawed surveys try to shoe-horn common sense into scientific theories, and correlations are still weaker than the average magazine editor would like. At least that's what I think they said. I'm high-tailing it back to Venus.
Bah bloody humbug indeed

As an ex-student debater, I can tell you the Chafetz piece would probably have been rewarded with applause but low scores if it was a competitive speech!

But Chafetz' justifying counter-claim that there's been no conflagration in the Middle East because of the war reminded me of something I read in the Robert Littrell thriller about the CIA. Litrell quotes a revolutionary (Chinese I think) who was asked in the early 20th century what the effects of the French Revolution were. The revolutionary replies 'it's too soon to say'. This true story is told in the fictional 1950's context of a senior CIA person regaling the New York Times with the CIA's successes installing pro-US leaders in Guatemala and Iran. Litrell's nod to the present day reader, who knows all too well how these success stories panned out, is as wry as it is regretful.

I sometimes wonder how many of today's war hounds' already selective historical memories stretch back any further than WWII. Of course the cliche goes that Americans are too dismissive of history and the Europeans entirely captured by it. But it seems to me that what's happening in the Middle East today is being shaped by deeper historical forces than are given much notice, at least in the popular media. This last 100 years is marked by wars to end all wars, treaties to end all wars, revolutions that set the clock back to zero, new deals, and new world orders (the latest being in today's Economist). If all these new beginnings share anything, it's that they set the scene for the next war, conflict, or conflagration. There's nothing really new under the sun.

Bah, humbug

It may just be crankiness on my part, but this article by Josh Chafetz gets on my nerves. It's got all the silliness and tendentiousness of a mediocre-to-middling student debater, who isn't quite sure of his case, and hopes that that self-righteousness and bluster will paper over the weak spots. Or perhaps it's less an exercise in Oxford Union roundhousing than a maiden political speech: its mix of bombast, preening and empty rhetoric is almost Gladstonian in scope. See the Grand Old Man's notorious exercise in humbug, The Bulgarian Horrors and the Question of the East for comparison; it too expresses moral fervor on behalf of peoples very far away, who are primarily interesting insofar as they illustrate an abstract point. There's an argument to be made that the US was right in going to war; Chavetz isn't interested in making it. This is an exercise in grandstanding pure and simple. It drips with smugness.

Update: I posted at 1.30 am last night after 90 minutes spent in voicemail hell trying to book a plane ticket, so my language may have been a wee bit intemperate. Still, the basic point stands: the ratio of self-satisfaction to argument in the piece is overwhelmingly lopsided. Chafetz responds to criticism this morning (I suspect he's primarily addressing an equally grumpy post by Julian Sanchez), but there are problems in his reply too. The Oxbloggers are nice guys and all, but if they want their democracy project to be taken seriously, they need to moderate their triumphalism and be a lot more self-critical.

Wednesday, April 16, 2003

The Land that Time Forgot

Brett Marston posts on the Kelly Family; a very horrible phenomenon that is thankfully confined (mostly) to Germany and immediate environs. Think Osmonds. Think Irish-American Osmonds. Think Irish-American Osmonds with twee little bits nicked from Riverdance and every ghastly diddley-iddely faux-Celtic showband that ever plagued the Val Doonican show. The Kelly Family did a big show in Ireland a few years back; it was a miserable flop. We have enough Cultic Tweelight of our own, and no need for the ersatz Continental variety, thank you very much. The Germans lap it up of course, but they have very odd taste in popular music. Bands that the outside world has forgotten twenty years ago (New Model Army, anyone?) subsist in a sort of twilight netherworld of tours through German provincial cities, where they sell out concert halls to legions of fans with odd hair cuts. What makes this grim devotion to the outer fringes of schmaltzpop, goth and schlager songs even more bizarre, is that it coexists with a thriving, inventive electronic music scene, which is as up to date as anywhere else that you'd care to name. Check out the scenes in Cologne and Berlin in particular (I recommend Liquid Sky in Cologne to visitors).

Update: Brett responds; while Mrs. Tilton has further thoughts on Oirishry abroad.
Fahrenheit 451

Teresa Neilsen Hayden says it all better than I ever could ...
E-commerce and constructivism

My article on e-commerce, and the EU-US Safe Harbor arrangement has just come out in International Organization. Briefly, it argues that standard IR theories of bargaining can't explain how Safe Harbor came into being, and that you have to turn to constructivist theory in order to explain observed outcomes. I happily anticipate being attacked by rat choice people (for being constructivist) and by mainstream constructivists (for being too sympathetic to the rationalists). But if you're interested, see for yourself, either on the main IO site (if you have an institutional subscription), or on my home server (my contract with Cambridge U P allows me to put a version up there: most enlightened of them).

Perfidious France

I'm disappointed at the tone of recent comments by Amitai Etzioni in his recent debate with Mark Kleiman over France. It all started to go wrong when Etzioni quoted Charles Krauthammer in a post, to the effect that the French had famously accommodated the Germans in 1940. Kleiman gently pointed out that this was, to put it mildly, historically inaccurate; the French had declared war against Nazi Germany at a point when the US had been quite happy to sit on its collective hands. Etzioni's reply: maybe the French did resist "for five minutes or so," but the Vichy regime had a lot of collaborators, the Resistance was largely fictional, and Charles De Gaulle was egotistical, and hard for the Allies to work with. Kleiman responds, politely but firmly, that the French took 300,000 casualties (120,000 killed) fighting against the Germans, and that the Resistance wasn't fictional, even if it was smaller in number than it was later made out to be. People in the Resistance faced the risk of torture and death, and it's "wrong to deny those who risked much worse than death the honor that is their due." Which is precisely what Etzioni goes on to do in his final post, where he doesn't try to answer Kleiman's point, instead harking to current French hypocrisy and shenanigans in the Ivory Coast. He concludes 'A good summary of what the French did not do in WWII is found in the following quote, from the book Shibumi by Trevanian, courtesy of Clayton Cramer: "Every French innkeeper who overcharged a German officer, and every French woman who gave the clap to a German soldier, fancies themselves as having been part of the Resistance."'

Bluntly, I expected a whole lot more of Etzioni. Like Kleiman, I'm not too upset when the Steven Den Bestes and Clayton Cramers of this world spout ahistorical nonsense and prejudice; I am worried when people like Etzioni, who is clearly a very thoughtful guy in other respects, start to do it. I'm even more worried when they're called on their claims, and they don't respond with serious arguments, instead resorting to further slurs, exaggerations and cheap shots. Etzioni's final resort to the authority of a mediocre* writer of James Bond rip-offs is not only offensive; it's a reiteration of a point that Kleiman has already rebutted. It's the kind of argument that you'd expect from one of the beerhounds propping up the counter in Moe's Tavern, not from someone who is undoubtedly one of the most serious social theorists of his generation. As Kleiman says, it's also symptomatic of something pretty nasty in what passes for political discourse in America today. Why do people have to attribute French behavior to something mean, sneaky and accommodationist in the French (or European) national character, rather than to the standard push and shove of relations among nations? There's something very weird and unpleasant going on.

* OK - maybe Trevanian's "The Eiger Sanction" wasn't too bad. But that was thirty years ago.

Tuesday, April 15, 2003

European Parliament and the Third Pillar - Round II
"National security concerns, albeit legitimate, must not compromise the principles on which the (European) Union is founded, including democracy, equality and human rights."

So says the European Parliament which passed a resolution on 'progress in implementing an area of freedom, security and justice'. It was actually passed on 27 March but a friend forwarded me the link today. The EP has called for an end to the 3rd Pillar and the introduction of qualified majority voting in the JHA Council. I'll be checking out the precise status of this opinion, but as far as I know, it is part of the EP's formal reporting requirement on 3rd Pillar issues and doesn't refer to any new proposals or developments. Nonetheless, it sets out the EP's stall vis a vis the Convention discussions, and is generally good to see.

Regular readers of this blog will know that I have two great interests in life these days; traffic data retention and the undemocratic nature of the European Third Pillar. This EP opinion is a round-up of similar frustrations;
- 9/11 fall-out has caused a huge increase in activity on justice and home affairs at the EU level,
- the EP's role in decision-making on justice and home affairs is limited to rubber-stamping and provides no real democratic accountability,
- member states are using the JHA Council to advance domestic agendas and do policy-laundering,

On 3rd Pillar decision-making in general, Parliament said; "The lack of public accessibility, together with a lack of democratic control over Council,is leading to an unacceptable restriction of the principle of democracy. This calls into question the legal legitimacy of Council measures with a bearing on constitutional law."
An interesting point. Not being a lawyer myself, constitutional or otherwise, I'd love to hear more about this question and whether constitutional challenges might be brought to bear on the applicability of decisions made by the JHA Council.

Parliament also says changes in criminal justice policy are not being subjected to the relevant European legal instruments protecting human rights:
- proper safeguards of individual rights (under Article 13 of the EC Treaty) must temper criminal justice co-operation, especially on the European Arrest Warrant,
- a framework decision on procedural safeguards is needed for suspects and defendants in criminal proceedings.
- a 'EuroRights' body of independent defence practitioners in criminal law should be set up.
- there should be full democratic scrutiny of Europol, so it is fully accountable to the EP in partnership with national parliaments and subject to judicial control of the European Court of Justice.

The EP also warned the Council and Member States of the danger of "an overwhelming obsession with illegal entrants."

And, my favourite, the EP stated categorically that:
"it is unjustified to grant sweeping data retention powers through a blanket EU instrument. The collection and transfer of personal data in all measures relating to judicial and police cooperation must be carried out according to sound data protection rules." This is a shot across the bows at the Commission's Proposal That Has No Name - a harmonising measure on data retention which is much rumoured but has yet to see the light of day. They won't even say what kind of legal instrument it is.

Of course, some of the EP's criticism of the JHA Council must be taken with a few chunks of salt. Like all other EU institutions, the EP is manouevring to get a bigger slice of the decision-making pie in the current negotiations on constitutional reform. There are plenty of criticisms that can legitimately be made of the EP's own processes and accountability, but it is still a better bet than the closed Ministers' Club that currently decides on EU policy in police and judicial co-operation.

Now let's hope the EP can follow up this opinion with some useful actions.

quick update I've just been told this EP opinion isn't part of any ongoing work programme and so is a relatively spontaneous expression of the EP's views on the 3rd Pillar.
Trots in space

Patrick Neilsen Hayden has a recent post suggesting that we're living in a Ken MacLeod novel (Brad de Long picks up on this too). And the empirical evidence seems unassailable; political actors who are driven by a bizarre mixture of ideology and personal ambition, vast wobbly conspiracies that are nearly, but not quite, comprehensible; shadow-wars conducted with futuristic weaponry.

But what does Ken MacLeod think himself??? You can now find out for yourself: check out Ken's very own personal blog (found via BoingBoing). Very interesting, if infrequently updated.

On a personal note, if there are any awards out there for Most Gratuitous Reference to Ken MacLeod in a Purportedly Academic Work, I hereby claim first dibs for this piece. It was written for a volume edited by Russell Hardin, who is quite fond of using high culture references in his books and articles on political theory; I thought that some good genre fiction would counterbalance things a bit.

Monday, April 14, 2003

What goes around comes around

I'm enjoying Sinn Fein's discomfiture at the refusal of the British and Irish governments to publish their peace plan for Northern Ireland until SF and the IRA come up with the goods. Long term observers of Sinn Fein's hardball approach to negotiation, will be familiar with its practice of demanding "clarification" after "clarification" of government proposals until they get what they want. Clearly, they don't enjoy it nearly so much when the (jack) boot is on the other foot.
More on political science and Iraq

Like Paul McDonald, Dan Drezner, and Julian Sanchez, I'm interested in the potential contribution of political science to understanding how best to stabilize countries like Iraq. And Charles King at Georgetown has some pertinent observations in an article published in World Politics a couple of years ago. King is an expert on Moldova and the other failed states of Russia's "near abroad," but his findings seem to me to be generalizable to other settings. King is interested in how many of these states have settled down into quasi-stable arrangements in which secessionist movements have gained control over geographic areas within the state, without being able to create an internationally recognized state of their own. It's commonly believed that these situations stem from continued distrust between different ethnic groups within the state. King shows that the situation is much more complicated than that. It is actually in the interests of all the powerful actors to maintain a situation of controlled chaos; ""war economies" allow elites in both the dominant state apparatus, and in the pieces controlled by secessionist movements, to profit enormously from smuggling and corruption. Powerful actors on both sides have an interest in preventing things from becoming too stable. They occupy a role that is analogous to that of the Mafia in Southern Italy, as described by Diego Gambetta; essential middlemen in a setting of institutionalized chaos.

What does this have to do with Iraq? Quite a lot, actually. Iraqi politics have all of the required ingredients for this kind of long term instability - poisonous relations between ethnic groups, a thriving black economy, lack of any clear center of control, corrupt old state elites who look like reassuming an important role in political life. The relationship between the Kurdish part of Iraq and the rest is likely to be unsettled for quite some time; the same may be true of the Marsh Arabs (nb that I'm going on media reports here; I'm not an expert on the internal make-up of Iraq). Addressing them is going to require a much more pro-active, and engaged US policy than was displayed in Afghanistan, where the administration's attitude seemed to be that everywhere outside the immediate environs of Kabul could go hang. It's also going to require something a bit more sophisticated than the "boys will be boys" tone of mild reproof that the US and British have taken whenever journalists are impertinent enough to bring up the problem of looting.

On which last, I also have strong personal feelings. I visited the museum in Baghdad several times (I spent a month in Baghdad when I was fourteen), and have pretty clear memories of many of the artifacts that have been stolen. It was one of the great world museums; not quite up there with the British Museum or the Smithsonian; but quite extraordinary in its own way. It hurts to think that most of this material is likely to be lost, melted down, or sold on the black market to private collectors.
around the blogosphere

Quick round up of things seen

First, a new blog on EU-related issues. Of great interest to those, such as meself, who take a direct interest in EU politics. Should also be of interest to those like Glenn Reynolds, who blog frequently on the EU without the slightest idea of what it is or how it works. But probably won't be.

The mysterious Insurgent, who seems pretty good at getting to the parts that other warbloggers don't get to; he(???)'s pretty well versed on the minutiae of Middle East/Eurasian politics.

And speaking of warblogging, Casus Belli still doesn't get near the attention that it deserves; thoughtful analysis of what's going on, rather than the more usual thirty posts a day of unfiltered quasi-garbage.

Sunday, April 13, 2003

The pleasures of exile

I'm spending the weekend in Washington DC (will be here again soon for the whole summer - my wife still lives here) and was delighted to discover that Marvellous Market, just off Dupont Circle, now stocks Kerrygold butter. This is probably something that can't be explained very well to a non-Irish person; basically, North American butter sucks (tho' y'all have the ice cream thing figured out out waaaay better than we do). When I first visited the US, during the summer of 1990, I literally used to dream about Irish butter, now I can spread it to my heart's content. All I need for my happiness to be complete is to find a shop that sells Tayto salt and vinegar crisps and Barry's Tea at reasonable prices. These are of course silly things to get worked up about; but it's a universal experience for expatriates to miss the little things as much (if not more than) the greater ones. Dante, who was exiled from Florence, speaks of how

You shall leave everything you love most dearly:
this is the arrow that the bow of exile
shoots first. You are to know the bitter taste
of others' bread, how salt it is, and know
how hard a path it is for one who goes
descending and ascending others' stairs.

He's talking about two things here. First, as an exiled Florentine, he doesn't like salty bread. Florentines don't use salt when baking (the result, as far as I remember, of an extended period when the Pisans cut off their salt supplies), so that their bread tastes like blotting paper to non-natives (I lived in Florence three years: my advice to outsiders is to order "pane Pugliese" in the local bake shops when possible). Second, spiral staircases in Florence tend to curve around the opposite way from staircases elsewhere. Dante's main point is unassailable; as an exile, you feel longing for the small and unexceptional parts of daily life in your home country, and a quite extraordinary degree of comfort whenever you find them again. Which is why my fridge is now stocked up with Kerrygold.