The Stone City

Words Made to Last

Monday, January 31, 2005

Favorite Son

Tom Wolfe, in Look Homeward, Angel, on the mythology of the South:
And this desire of his was unquestionably enhanced by all he had read and visioned, by the romantic halo that his school history cast over the section, by the whole fantastic distortion of that period where people were said to live in "mansions", and slavery was a benevolent institution, conducted to a constant banjo-strumming, the strewn largesses of the colonel and the shuffle-dance of his happy dependents, where all women were pure, gentle, and beautiful, all men chivalrous and brave, and the Rebel horde a company of swagger, death-mocking cavaliers. Years later, when he could no longer think of the barren spiritual wilderness, the hostile and murderous intrenchment against all new life -- when their cheap mythology, the legend of the charm of their manner, the aristocratic culture of their lives, the quaint sweetness of their drawl, made him writhe -- when he could think of no return to their life and its swarming superstition without weariness and horror, so great was his fear of the legend, his fear of their antagonism, that he still pretended the most fanatic devotion to them, excusing his northern residence on grounds of necessity rather than desire.
[The mountain towns of North Carolina are rather more proud of Wolfe than he was of them. In Asheville, streets and auditoriums are named after him.] This attack on the myths to which the South clung -- especially the myth of their warlike potency, really invincible but somehow defeated anyway -- was needed but came before its time.

That myth was seeded in the last days of the Civil War, as Lee attempted amends for his disastrous love of his home State by using his near-mythic stature to end the rebellion, preventing a descent into guerilla war. What Lee did was to blunt the humiliation of surrender, by separating the laying down of arms from the renunciation of the myth of the unvanquished. That myth flourished and spread its roots into the past, so that a lifetime later Wolfe still felt its "swarming superstition" all around him, but Lee's decision cannot be faulted.

The South's resistance to change, and the romanticization of the era of slavery, probably arose following the war. Times were hard enough that the prewar days probably looked very rosy in retrospect, perhaps even for some of the freed slaves -- just as Eastern Europeans are said to be nostalgic for the firm hand of Soviet rule.

Friday, January 28, 2005

A Quick Dose of Hysteria

A movie review by John MacArthur from the Providence Review. Especially funny when he says

But I'm neither hysterical nor right-wing...

One out of two ain't bad.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

He Can't Exist!

[Contains spoilers for Buffalo Soldiers.]

With only two hours to convey a complex plot, we can understand the pressure on movie makers to rely on a stock set of characters. And when part of that precious time is budgeted to fires, explosions, and sex in automobiles, this pressure can only increase.

But more interesting than the stock characters are those which are forbidden, or are strictly confined to their native genre. The leading example is the tough, honorable soldier (THS, for short). In his genre, he is the leading man, often played by Bruce Willis (e.g., in Tears of the Sun). But outside his genre, in a cynically "realistic" movie like Buffalo Soldiers, he may not tread.

Thus, when about 20 minutes into the movie we meet an apparent THS (played by Scott Glenn, no less), our first reaction is startlement. How has he escaped from the reservation? A little analysis (we have neurons to spare during the vapid swimming-pool scenes) shows the answer: he is not a THS, but a Deranged Militarist Killer in THS clothing! And behold, an hour or so later the THS disguise is cast away, in what is apparently meant to be a surprising twist.

There are two points here. The first is that the drama of what is, after all, a decent movie was deeply undercut by its adherence to the conventions of its "realistic" genre; and how this evidences that this genre has in fact no special advantage in worth or breadth of view.

The second is the possibility that the writers of these films truly believe that there are no honorable soldiers in the world. Despite the repeated examples set in the real world, for anyone with eyes to see, there are apparently people who cannot believe.

They are real, in a way that should humble all of us.

Update [27 Jan]: Clarified in response to Mr. Lindsay's comment. I will also add that honoring enemy warriors is in no way heterodox -- as long as their conduct is not intrinsically dishonorable.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

The Exhaustion of Exhaustion

Reviewing a biography of the unfairly neglected American novelist John Champlin Gardner [another John Gardner wrote James Bond books when the franchise was resurrected some years after Ian Fleming's death], Baltimore's City Paper focused on the ideological and personal dispute between Gardner and Johns Hopkins professor and novelist John Barth.

Gardner championed "primary art", writing directly about life, and aggressively disparaged the "secondary art" of overtly form-oriented and self-referential novels. Barth, on the other hand, was perhaps the nation's leading practitioner of secondary art. Two things are notable about Barth's works; the first is the extent to which the writing is about words and the characters' own writing, and the second is the flippant and trivial treatment given to the "real" subject matter -- mass murder, incest, homosexuality, and the like. [The equal billing of homosexuality in this pageant of deviancy is, I believe, present in Barth's work -- bear in mind this writing dates from the early 1960's.]

Barth spent decades afterward [after The Literature of Exhaustion was published] trying to explain that in his essay on "exhaustion," he wasn't saying that literature was "used up."
More accurately, Barth's "exhaustion" meant that known storytelling forms of established efficacy had been damaged through overuse. The literature of exhaustion is not exhausted literature, but literature which examines the exhausted field and finds, based on the obstacles there, new forms. The canonical example is Borges's "Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote". [Hat tip: Electronic Labyrinth.]

However, even in this optimistic formulation, literature will inevitably become steadily more recondite, spiralling inward in a maze of stylistic innovations sparked by stylistic obstacles. Gardner, while not Barth's equal in the abstract duels of postmodern academia, was perceptive enough to recognize this prescription for writing which would be more and more about other writing.

This is reminiscent of the distinction between science and engineering. Barth's ideal writer, like a scientist, must always be doing something new -- what is repeated is no longer science. Gardner's ideal writer is an engineer, using established methods as a means toward some external end of value.

The question of whether writing should be primary is still under debate. I am not able to tell which way the tide is running, though I know what I would prefer. Barth, despite his manifest intelligence, never wrote with the predatory zest of Grendel or the painstaking humanity of The Sunlight Dialogues. He remained a consummately clever wordsmith and verbal trickster, who had nothing at all to say. I would trade all 330,000 words of The Sot-Weed Factor for a single sentence from "Winged Figure Carrying Sacrificial Animal" (ch. XX):
She had underestimated hate.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Ratcheting toward Extremism

German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder is again seeking to ban the National Democratic Party (which apparently has a platform combining xenophobia with economic populism), after its members walked out of a session of Saxony's state parliament rather than endure a moment of silence to honor Holocaust victims.

[This is almost hilarious:

Mr. Schroeder and Mr. Schily have already tried to ban the NPD once, arguing that it incited hate crimes against foreigners and Jews.
In 2003, however, Germany's highest court refused to hear the case because the government cited inflammatory statements and writings by party members who were later unmasked as paid informers for state authorities.

In other words, the government inflamed extremism in an attempt to maneuver an opposition party into committing offenses for which it could be banned.]

Now suppose, for the sake of argument, that this ban succeeds. What would the result be? The members of the NPD will not be less radical, less xenophobic or more respectful of the past. They will naturally seek to group together again, and the logical site for nucleation will be the next-most-extreme xenophobic party. This party's existing strength will then combine with that of the former NPD, and its policies and rhetoric will change to more resemble those of the NPD. This is "divide and conquer" in reverse.

As the suppression of offensive speech is applied to larger and larger parties, they will become more extreme and more monolithic. When will they be too large to attack? Belgium has just cut state funding to Vlaams Belang, which is supported by "20 to 30 percent" of Flemish Belgium, but not banned it; but it is at least plausible that Vlaams Belang's steadily growing strength is due to state-enforced accretion of the sort we have just discussed.

There has been a lot of talk, in the days since Mr. Bush's inaugural speech, about the consequences of following democracy wherever it may lead in the Islamic world. But there is only one nation where democracy has already led to the greatest ruin the world has ever seen; and there is no inherent guarantee that it cannot happen again.

Monday, January 24, 2005

Heat of the Melting Pot

Belmont Club has an appreciative post about Neil Prakash, an American soldier of Indian descent, including:
Prakash, who comes from a family of doctors (his mother, father and older brother are all physicians) was set to follow in their footsteps at Johns Hopkins when he attended an orientation course for reserves. He was awed by a stylish colonel in a Stetson and spurs and resolved to join the forces. Although born in India and maintaining strong ties to the Indian community, he was raised in Syracuse, New York, in what he says is a very patriotic American household.
This is a tremendous American success story with two components, economic and ideological. A skilled and gifted family followed the current of brain drain to the United States, and here prospered, and that is good (for America anyway). But this story happened because the Prakashes did not simply use America as a stepping stone for their own economic self-interest; they became American.

It is possible to imagine an alternative, and there are certainly many people who, if their stories were made public, would exemplify the opposite of this one. Participating in America's economy is no guarantee of true assimilation. But, as a vital matter of national interest, we should be working to ensure as much assimilation as possible.

This could be characterized as unfair; we are asking immigrants to give up or submerge large parts of their own cultural heritage. However, this criticism is unjustified, because it assumes that America has the obligation to offer economic benefit without asking for cultural assimilation. Instead, we should offer a single package: the immigrants we desire are those who desire to be Americans in every sense. If assimilation seems like an unpleasant word, remember that there is only one good name for its opposite: ghettoization.

It is more difficult to name specific policies which would work to increase assimilation, beyond the obvious one of ensuring that English is the first language of all education, thus destroying the native-instruction ghetto.

Friday, January 21, 2005

Not-Too-Intelligent Design

The recent debate on teaching of "intelligent design" (for example, here) is premised on the offering of ID as an alternative to, and contradicting, Darwinism. If your version of intelligent design also included the idea that Earth was created about 6100 years ago, then this contradiction is very much alive. [This version of fundamentalism should not be too hard to combat in the educational system, since it also contradicts grade-school-level knowledge in geography, history and astronomy.]

For those less fundamentalist, only one premise is needed to unite the two views:
God is smarter than you are.

Armed with this axiom, we need not suppose that God directly designed the phenotypes of today's creatures. This attributes to God the intelligence of Man, which is a common enough error but, to my mind, more offensive than determined atheism. Instead, He would only have to choose the parameters of His universe so that they would, in the fulness of time and acting according to their own natures, bring forth the creatures he desired, having the requisite attributes to be imbued with souls.

This idea has appeared in literature, most notably in Stanislaw Lem's A Perfect Vacuum, most explicitly in Iain Banks's (otherwise otiose) Excession.

[Update (9 Feb): Kevin Drum links to this John Derbyshire commentary.]

Data on Gender Differences

There's not much point in my writing substantially about the Summers flap, since Mrs. McArdle has already covered all the important points, with help from Mar.Kleiman.

For those actually interested in the data, most of the relevant work was done by Julian Stanley's Study of Mathematically Precocious Youth, at Johns Hopkins University. SMPY and its offshoots have continued their curious mix of study of, and assistance for, the precocious; an interesting follow-on study is here.

Those Pesky Senators

No, this post is not about confirmation hearings. It's about senators, and the fact that there are two of them from each State, be it never so insignificant. [For the record, I think that this leads to better government, and would not wish to see it changed.]

That this leads to an imbalance of per-head political power, favoring small States, is so obvious that it hardly bears stating. But two important and obvious consequences seem to generally go unnoticed.

The first is that the studies purporting to show that "red" States are subsidized are weaker than they seem. The small States are subsidized because their political power is disproportionate to the tax base they provide. A complaint that 7 of the 10 most-subsidizing states is pointless, unless we note that 4 of those 7 states are among the 10 most populous. [In fact, a cursory linear regression suggests that the red state subsidy is not fully explained by population; population alone, or electoral results alone, each can explain about 15% of the variation. The combined R^2 is only 22%, so either explanation seems weak. These results exclude D.C., which of course is off the charts along both axes.]

The second is that calls (such as this) for a "new blue Federalism" are off the mark; the only thing they can hope to control is the total size of the federal government. Given that, the small states will inevitably be subsidized to an extent commensurate with the total of federal expenditures. [Somewhat surprisingly, regressing on 1/population suggests that a Senator is only worth 0.19 representatives in budgeting.]

There should be no debate on whether to subsidize the small states; our Constitution guarantees that we will do so. Currently, I would guess that most of this comes in the form of agricultural subsidies and price controls, which are uneconomic and (given their impact on the Third World) immoral. How can we better subsidize the small states?

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Hoffmann on Exceptionalism (1/03)

One of the academic leaders of the War Against World War IV is Harvard University's . Here are some of Hoffmann's words during the debate over invading Iraq, from The American Prospect. [This is a long fisking of a long article. I had hoped to present Hoffmann's words with minimal comment, but I was more annoyed than I had anticipated by his claims.]

Every nation sees itself as being in some way exceptional. Only the United States, though, has tried to develop foreign policies that reflect its exceptionalism. While other countries are content -- or obliged -- to practice a balance-of-power politics in the world, from the beginning most American leaders have argued that the United States, by dint of its unique geography and the superiority -- indeed, the universality -- of its democratic values, can and should pursue a loftier policy.
This sense of special mission has always left ample room for contradiction. It never, for instance, stopped the United States from pursuing national advantage just as fiercely as any other country did.
This is simply ridiculous. For example, when intervening in the two World Wars, did the U.S. act to maximize its own national advantage? Yes, we obtained some concessions from England in return for supplies, but the fiercest pursuit of national advantage would have balanced both England and Russia on the brink of bankruptcy.

... And it drove American policy in two different directions at once. One, which became less tenable as the United States' might grew, was toward isolationism. The other, more crusading impulse was toward making the world safe for democracy, which entailed working in concert with other nations, though not relinquishing American distrust of cynical European-style alliances. But until now, the debate over what kind of foreign policy American exceptionalism demands was always conducted in those terms: geography and democracy, distance and engagement, realism and idealism. With the coming of the Bush administration, American exceptionalism has become something entirely new and particularly troubling.
The first indication that America's strategic thinkers were working on a radically new foreign-policy doctrine for the post-Cold War world came in 1992 with the Defense Planning Guidance draft, a tract that's been called "Dick Cheney's masterwork." It produced such an outcry that it had to be toned down before it was published. The draft, however, assumed that the most important of America's unique qualities was its military dominance. The Cheney draft also introduced the idea that unilateral military action, the preemptive use of force and the maintenance of a U.S. nuclear arsenal strong enough to deter the development of nuclear programs elsewhere were now appropriate U.S. policies. This was a major departure from anything exceptionalism had meant before. It called on the United States neither to cultivate its own garden nor to pursue a world mission through multilateral organizations that would define and legitimize common goals. Instead, it demanded of America only that it be, remain and act as the world's sole superpower.

This is a dazzling rhetorical leap. Assuming that Hoffmans's aggressive characterization of the draft aims is correct, still it says nothing about U.S. predominance over other powerful nations.

It was a doctrine with puzzling gaps. For instance, it proposed to deter challengers and carry out interventions but provided little guidance about where the more dangerous challenges and the more necessary interventions might occur.
Perhaps this is because it was a doctrine, a template for analyzing whatever concrete problems might arise in the future. The Monroe Doctrine, as applied in American policy, did not refer to any specific European power.

... Nor did it explain how the unilateralism it favored could be reconciled with the many international agreements the United States had reached over the previous 40-plus years. Nonetheless, the Cheney approach found a great deal of support in the present administration.
Among the many criticisms of Bush administration policy, I cannot think of any case in which the administration was even accused of violating a written treaty obligation, with the exception of the abrogation of the ABM treaty. Bush's unilateralism, despite Hoffmann's wishes, simply does not conflict with America's existing international agreements; rather, it conflicts with the agreements Hoffmann wishes we would make.

When George W. Bush came to power, the doctrine that seemed to be in favor among his advisers was realism: a concentration on those conflicts that could impair the global balance of power or important regional balances, and a retreat from involvement in conflicts either devoid of such significance (as in Africa) or entirely hopeless (such as the Palestinian issue). However, the Republican mood was not calculating so much as it was deeply distrustful of others. This was the mood that brought us the rejection of the Kyoto Protocol, the withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, and the scuttling of the Land Mine Treaty and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. The extraordinary vendetta conducted (largely but not exclusively by John Bolton, Bush's controversial undersecretary of state) against the International Criminal Court revealed not just the administration's paranoia -- conjuring nightmares of a malevolent United Nations indicting innocent American soldiers and officers -- but also how punitive it could be against countries (allies or not) unwilling to meet its demands.
All you need to know about the International Criminal Court has already been written: here, here and here. If the Bush administration needed a "vendetta" against the ICC, that is noteworthy only in that it has proved so difficult to extinguish such a hideously bad idea.

The "new exceptionalism" perfectly suited this mood, and four types with significant clout in the Bush administration have pressed the doctrine forward. There are, first of all, the sheriffs, such as Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, who see the world as a High Noon struggle between foes and friends. They were disappointed when Ronald Reagan turned from his evil-empire days to embrace Mikhail Gorbachev, which they felt softened the Soviet Union's fall.
Second, and with an equally black-and-white view of international actors and events, there are the new imperialists -- the pundits Charles Krauthammer and William Kristol, for instance -- who believe that the good the United States does for the world justifies all means. These were the thinkers who were frustrated by the (in their eyes truncated) ending of the Gulf War in 1991.
A third and less important group sees in everything a contest between America's traditional political and religious values and all who attack them, be they secular and dissolute liberals or Islamic terrorists. This group I call the American fundamentalists.
And finally there is a loose collection of friends of Israel, who believe in the identity of interests between the Jewish state and the United States -- two democracies that, they say, are both surrounded by foes and both forced to rely on military power to survive. These analysts look at foreign policy through the lens of one dominant concern: Is it good or bad for Israel? Since that nation's founding in 1948, these thinkers have never been in very good odor at the State Department, but now they are well ensconced in the Pentagon, around such strategists as Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle and Douglas Feith.
Here again we find the tried-and-true libel that Perle and (latterly) Wolfowitz are serving Israel, not America. What slime.

A discerning reader might object that many of my new exceptionalists are no more than realists drunk with America's new might as the only superpower. This is true, but that headiness makes all the difference. Whereas the hallmark of past realists -- theorists and diplomats such as Reinhold Niebuhr, Hans Morgenthau, George Kennan, even Henry Kissinger -- was the kind of discerning prudence and moderation that Thucydides once praised, the new voices are nothing if not excessive and triumphalist.
What are the new exceptionalists' main arguments for liberating the United States from the constraints imposed by allies and treaties? Most bizarre may be the claim that the U.S. Constitution allows no bowing to a superior law, such as international law, and no transfer, pooling or delegation of sovereignty to any international organization. Also far out there is law professor W. Michael Reisman's argument that because the United States, as a result of its strength, is responsible for world order, it is justified in rejecting whatever parts of international law it decides would make order more difficult.
In rejecting both of these "bizarre" and "far out" ideas, Hoffmann relies on the unstated assumption that international law (whatever that means) is superior to our national law -- not in the sense of taking precedence, but in the sense of being a preferable way to run any given part of the world. If parts of the "international law", like the ravings of the Durban conference and the pronouncements of the U.N. Human Rights Commission, are deemed by the U.S. to work against world order, I see nothing wrong with America's disregarding them. Hoffmann's thesis appears to be that international "law", once created, should be above questioning.

Somewhat subtler is the claim of benevolent imperialism, developed in particular by the policy analyst Robert Kagan, who has called the United States "a Behemoth with a conscience." In an article in which valid criticisms of current European policy are mixed with a great deal of condescending hubris, Kagan explains that Europeans think they approach problems with "greater nuance and sophistication" than the United States, but their concentration on "challenges" such as "ethnic conflict, immigration, organized crime, poverty and environmental degradation," rather than on the kinds of "threats" that preoccupy the United States, demonstrates their weakness -- and their reliance on the protection of American military power.
And then there is the argument of brute force: We have it in abundance, others do not. Hence allies, when they do not bend to our will, are both nuisances and unnecessary, and international laws and organizations that stand in our path can be ignored. This case has been made by Bolton and Rumsfeld.
It should be noted that these voices, though they all agree about the prerogatives of American power, offer no consensus concerning its mission. In Bolton and Rumsfeld's view, U.S. might should be deployed only on behalf of a very narrowly defined national interest (and not squandered in humanitarian flings), while some of their colleagues would make the United States responsible for maintaining order throughout the world.
If exceptional U.S. might pursues only the U.S. national interest, then the resulting practice can hardly be called "exceptionalism". Thus this characterization of Bolton and Rumsfeld is tantamount to a statement that they should not have been lumped in with the exceptionalists above.
Kagan's "hubris" consists in noting (as does Hoffmann) that U.S. might is unparalleled; in noting that the U.S. economy has grown more rapidly than that of the non-English-speaking developed world for roughly the past 30 years; and then in assuming that there are structural reasons for this differential. To eschew hubris, we are forced to assume that the apparent success of the U.S. (or, more broadly, the English-speaking world) is causeless.

Indeed, until September 11, the new exceptionalism was a doctrine in search of a cause. But after that traumatic day, Americans were called to wage a "war" on global terrorism, a cause as compelling as any administration could ask for. This was a mission that would define the Bush presidency; it would be the great simplifier. It also had the advantage of providing a lever for domestic mobilization (and diversion from controversial domestic issues). It flattered exceptionalists of all tendencies by emphasizing the indispensable role of the United States. And it appealed especially to the more idealistic among them by stressing that America's cause -- the defense against terrorism -- was also the world's. As they had been in the Cold War, self-interest and morality, power and values, the sheriff and the missionary were back together again.
But there are signal difficulties. Just as many issues in the Cold War-era could not be squeezed into the corset of the Soviet-American conflict, it is unlikely that all important problems now can be fitted into this new straitjacket. And even those that can may not be best addressed by primarily military means. The phenomenon of terrorism is extraordinarily heterogeneous. If terrorism is defined as deliberate, deadly attacks on the innocent, it must encompass not only "private" suicide bombers but also state terrorism -- from carpet bombings to totalitarian police tactics. And it must encompass the multiplicity of reasons for the resort to terrorism: a will to self-determination (as in the case of the Palestinians or the Chechens), a fight over territory (as in Kashmir), a form of domestic action against a repressive regime (in the Sudan, in the Algeria of the 1990s), a religious holy war (al-Qaeda) and so on.

Obviously one size doesn't fit all, yet responding to acts of terrorism and ignoring their causes could well contribute to the global destabilization sought by the terrorists.

These are good points. For more, see the detailed recent post by Gregory Djerejian.

Moreover, when the enemy is so ill-defined, there is the danger of continual extensions of the "war." Since September 11, the Bush administration has widened it from a fight against transnational terrorists to a fight against the regimes that give them shelter. (Never mind that al-Qaeda has found hiding places in many nations, the United States included.) More controversially, the administration has since expanded the target from countries that aid terrorists to countries with weapons of mass destruction (so long as they are also hostile to the United States -- unlike, say, Israel, Pakistan or India).
The aside about hiding places is disingenuous in the extreme. [The invaluable Belmont Club has in fact posted quantifications of the importance of state sanctuaries to terrorists.]

The result is a world order rendered even shakier than it was before, as other countries are incited to use the capacious new American doctrine for their own ends: the Indians against the Pakistanis, the Russians against the Chechen rebels (and occasionally the Georgians), Ariel Sharon's government in Israel against not only Palestinian terrorists but the Palestinian Authority and Yasir Arafat. The war on terrorism has become a vast tent under which all kinds of settlements of accounts can fit -- including our own quarrels with the bizarre "axis of evil."
This obviously begs the question of how shaky the world order was before the Bush Doctrine. Based on observations before and since, one would have to say that it is empirically less shaky now. Also, note the amusing assumption that "Palestinian terrorists" should exclude Mr. Arafat? Which of the two conditions failed, again?

Bush, during the campaign of 2000, spoke about the need for modesty in foreign affairs. How far from this we are now can be seen in the new National Security Strategy of the United States of America, dated September 2002. This is the final avatar of Cheney's 1992 defense draft. It is something of a hodgepodge, speaking about primacy and balance of power, as well as using traditional Wilsonian language ("We will actively work to bring the hope of democracy, development, free markets, and free trade to every corner of the world."). It talks about organizing coalitions but also about not hesitating to act alone in self-defense.
Still, in the main, the 2002 strategy statement codifies all the new aspects of exceptionalism: It adopts the doctrine of preemptive action -- while warning others not to use preemption as a pretext for aggression -- and, making no mention of the United Nations in this context, presumes that the United States is the sole judge of the legitimacy of its own or anyone else's preemptive strikes. The document emphasizes the deadly threat posed by weapons of mass destruction -- should they fall into the hands of rogue states that "reject basic human values and hate the U.S. and everything for which it stands." It promises to maintain whatever military capability is needed to defeat any attempt by any state to impose its will on the United States or its allies, and to dissuade potential adversaries from building up their own forces to equal or surpass ours. Last but not least, it reaffirms the determination to protect U.S. nationals from the International Criminal Court. In sum, the Bush doctrine proclaims the emancipation of a colossus from international constraints (including from the restraints that the United States itself enshrined in networks of international and regional organizations after World War II). In context, it amounts to a doctrine of global domination.
There is something breathtakingly unrealistic about this grand exceptionalism -- what the French scholar Pierre Hassner has called "Wilsonianism in boots." Take the promise that American leaders are now making under the rubric of "regime change," the promise that we will try to replace the tyrannical regimes of the world with democracies. If actually attempted, this would topple friendly tyrants on whom the same U.S. policy makers rely. But in any case, we don't have the skill or the knowledge it would take to manipulate the domestic politics of many countries, or even to choose the right leaders for other people. It is blind hubris to assume that we will "improve" the world by projecting on others a model of democracy that has worked -- not without upheavals -- in the rich and multicultural United States but has little immediate relevance in much of the rest of the world. The successful "regime change" in Germany and Japan after World War II is no model. It required a prolonged occupation and followed a devastating total war. These are not the circumstances today. Today what we would see as a selfless or benevolent policy of democratization would be received as a policy of satellitization and clientelism.

Twenty years ago, the countries of South and Central America were almost uniformly dictatorships, most of them military. Today we are worried about Venezuela's slide toward dictatorship. Did U.S. policy have nothing to do with this? Does democracy have "little immediate relevance" to the people of Brazil or Chile?

And how long would the American public support a strategy of frequent preemptive uses of force -- and concomitant "wartime" restrictions on liberties at home? Sooner rather than later, Americans would suffer from battle fatigue, especially if officials continue to tell them that their nation is both the most powerful in history and the most threatened.

world that is tamed by American might but whose imperial master has little enthusiasm for peacekeeping operations and little patience with nation building would be doomed. To have a chance of stability, an international system dominated by one superpower would require a code of cooperation among its states, with restraints on the mighty as well as the weak. Otherwise, the United States will appear more threatening to the rest of the world than the enemies we hope to defeat. But, alas, all the new exceptionalism offers is a mix of force and faith -- a huge force that is often unusable or counterproductive and a grandiose faith in the appeal of an American model that is actually as widely resented as admired.

The only alternative model we have been offered is one which harnesses the mighty to the desires and whims of the weak, where any American autonomy is too much. Given that the U.S. is manifestly able to project force unilaterally, the responsibility to seek an acceptable compromise lies with America's critics and would-be restrainers, not with the Bush administration.

Iraq is seen by the new exceptionalists as the best place to test the new doctrine: It has a horrid regime, a record of aggressions and violations of UN demands, and a history of relentless questing for weapons of mass destruction. Where better to demonstrate what the journalist Mark Danner has called an "evangelical" determination "to remake the world" and deal with the "evil of terror" by making new "the entire region from which it springs"? (Iraq also has oil, which is certainly a potent factor at a time when our alliance with Saudi Arabia is in trouble.)
But while the threat that Saddam Hussein poses to his neighbors and to U.S. interests is undeniable, is this a threat that calls for and justifies preventive action? After all, we contained the Soviet Union, its huge army and its enormous arsenal of weapons for almost 50 years without preemptive military action.
The Soviet Union was, as Hoffmann's reference to it here reveals, a state. The principles of deterrence against states were developed in the Cold War, and worked (acceptably) in practice. But we are not in the Cold War. This is a non sequitur, but a cherry-picking one as well, considering how much the U.S. did intervene in the world order then.

In truth, our attempt to eliminate Hussein and his weapons may well provoke the very disaster that we say we want to prevent. The optimism of those who tell us that we'll win easily, that Hussein's regime will crumble and democracy will then prevail in a liberated nation, is eerily reminiscent of the disastrously wishful thinking of the Vietnam War. And even if militarily victorious, a U.S. administration with deep doubts about nation building and very little help from other nations would then be stuck running a vast Muslim country racked by ethnic and religious divisions and aspirations for revenge -- a sure formula for further anti-Americanism and terrorism in the Muslim world. Meanwhile, our unilateral action would have shaken many of our carefully built alliances in Europe and the Middle East.
Neither the most optimistic nor the most pessimistic were correct.

These are alliances that even a sole superpower needs. What the unilateralists forget is that we cannot achieve any of our new goals -- from finding terrorists to creating democracies -- alone. But if we want those alliances to last, it is in our interest to concentrate on the Israeli-Palestinian issue and the war on terrorism before we turn on Iraq. (Indeed, for some of the hawks in the Bush administration, one of the attractions of an early war on Iraq is that it would postpone and render even more difficult an evenhanded solution to the Palestinian problem.)
This argument -- we shouldn't tackle that until we've solved the Palestinian problem -- ought to have a name. Mathematicians used to joke that you should just prove Fermat's Last Theorem, and the result you were currently working on would follow as a corollary. But the Palestinian problem turned out to be less tractable than that.

As for the "the moral clarity" that Bush's supporters say he wants to impose on world politics and believes a confrontation with Hussein's regime will provide, I quote the valuable words of Bryan Hehir, the former head of the Harvard Divinity School: "The invocation of moral reasoning for any contemplated policy decisions is to be welcomed as long as the complexity of moral issues is given adequate attention. Moral reasoning can indeed support military action, at times obligate such action. It also, equally importantly, can restrain or deny legitimacy to the use of force. To invoke the moral factor is to submit to the full range of its discipline."
Hehir was also an outspoken opponent of the invasion of Iraq.

The questionable moral character of a preemptive strike, an intervention and a unilateral action is compounded by a policy that involves all three. Moreover, the fact that great powers set precedents in world politics means that each choice they make must be measured by the consequences of the precedent they set.
Eroding at one stroke the established international principles of deterrence, nonintervention and international authorization of military action is -- at the least -- morally reckless.
After all, there is an alternative available for dealing with Iraq: It is a collective, UN-supported policy of containment, including a strong border-monitoring system and thorough weapons inspectors. The United States, in other words, could present itself not as the lone sheriff but as the trustee of the society of states. And it should do just that. The greatest chance of success in the task of eliminating Iraq's arsenal lies not in attacking Hussein now (and thereby activating his capacity to destroy quasi-hostages -- Iraq's Kurds -- and neighbors) but in creating a coalition that will press for this elimination. The Bush administration, obviously divided, does show signs of understanding this, but it still insists on preserving the possibility of unilateral action.
I gloat. I pause long enough to point out that any sensible administration -- any administration taking seriously its duty of acting in America's interest -- would preserve, not discard, the possibility of unilateral action. I resume gloating.

Empire, or the dream of empire, has invariably gone to the heads of the imperialists. Today's American dream of a benevolent empire is sustained by an illusion of the world's gratitude, but in fact it rests only on America's ever more flattering self-image. Given its preponderance in all forms of power, hard and soft (to use Harvard University Dean Joseph Nye's useful distinction), the United States is bound to remain the most important state actor in the world. But it does have a choice. In the words of Pierre Hassner, "The choice is between an attempt at authoritarian, global U.S. rule tempered by anarchic resistance, on the one hand, and, on the other, hegemony tempered by law, concert and consent."
Or by lack of consent, which would seem to have the potential to "temper" a hegemony.

Monday, January 17, 2005

Swinging from the Heels

The American Bar Association publishes a quarterly called The Compleat Lawyer. There is a particularly interesting article in the Summer 1997 issue, Strategies for Representing the Plaintiff.

There is plenty of tactical advice for plaintiff's lawyers here. For example: "Defendants usually do not have many people to depose in a plaintiff's case. Plaintiffs do. Don't do it. All you will get is a costly dress rehearsal, benefitting only defendant."

But the real meat is strategic. Near the start of "Evaluate the Case":
... You need an ongoing "inventory" of cases in the pipeline. Not every potential plaintiff who walks through your front door is the one with the case that will let you retire.
There is another problem with being too choosy. You risk turning what was once upon a time the practice of a noble profession, worthy of the name "counselor," into a mercenary business. If you do that, you may have trouble looking at yourself in the mirror each morning as you brush your teeth. Besides, you will be missing out on the best fun in the practice of the law: taking a sow's ear of a case and turning it into a silk purse filled with gold, i.e., a good monetary recovery and a grateful client.
[Emphasis mine.] I have included the second paragraph solely for entertainment value; keep your self-respect and make big money from low-quality complaints!

And in the closing section, "Focus Your Practice":
Every once in a while, there will be the case where the liability is great, the damages are substantial, and the plaintiff has the emotional and economic staying power to go for broke. Go for it. Take the case to trial. That case is your home run. But don't make the mistake of thinking that these ingredients will be present in each and every case.
For the bulk of cases in your office, you can only focus your practice by obtaining the most realistic settlement for the largest amount of money in the shortest period of time possible.

What a profession it must be, when those in it are motivated mainly by the prospect of retirement. Perhaps we should pity them.

Friday, January 14, 2005

Salvation by Faith

[Contains spoilers for the movie Antonia. This was meant as part of a post on people seeking personal validation through lawsuits, but it has moved off that topic.]

Antonia is probably the worst movie I have ever seen. It combines utter lack of intellectual honesty, ham-fisted artistic taste, sentimental composition and editing, and a cookbook mixture of standard hard times and lame escapism. Amazingly, I watched all the way to the end of it, so I got to find out what happened to the priest.

You know the priest, even if you haven't seen the movie: he is hopelessly repressed by the Church, and has sex with an underage virgin in the confessional. For the happy ending, he leaves the Church, marries the girl, and becomes a social worker. Now he is happy. He has been saved!

Thinking on this little story, two things come clear. The first is that the State is considered by the writers as a drop-in replacement for the Church. He was in the wrong, and now he is in the right, simply by switching employers.

The second point is that this is the purest kind of salvation by faith. If a man is a lecherous hypocrite in one role, it is not his own fault but that of the Church he made the mistake of serving. With no internal change nor even penance, he attains (worldly) salvation. He is offered the highest nirvana the writers can conceive -- cheerful contentedness on Earth -- simply for embracing the True Faith.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Chirac in 2003

Jacques Chirac, President of the Republic of France, spoke at the September 2003 opening of the 58th session of the United Nations General Assembly. His full speech was quite long; you can read it here. I have tried to strip out the nonsubstantive parts (such as praise of the late Sergio de Mello) and focus on Chirac's aims.
The United Nations has just weathered one of the gravest trials in its history. The debate turned on respect for the Charter and the use of force. The war, embarked on without Security Council approval, has undermined the multilateral system.
Having taken stock of this crisis, our Organization can now resume its onward march. For it is above all in this forum, which is the crucible of the international order, that it behooves us to exercise our responsibilities to the world of today and to future generations.
In an open world, no one can live in isolation, no one can act alone in the name of all, and no one can accept the anarchy of a society without rules. There is no alternative to the United Nations.
It is not difficult to see what is being said here, but the concentrated praise of the UN is impressive. "Respect for the Charter" is the respect due immutable holy writ, and the last sentence is an attempt at self-fulfulling prophecy.

Multilateralism is the key, for it ensures the participation of all in the management of world affairs. It is a guarantee of legitimacy and democracy...
This post was not intended as a fisking, so I'll let this pass.

... It is also up to the United Nations to assist with the gradual transfer of administrative and economic responsibilities to the present Iraqi institutions according to a realistic timetable and to help the Iraqis draft a constitution and hold elections.
Lastly it is up to the United Nations to give a mandate to a multinational force, commanded naturally by the main troop contributor, in order to ensure the security of Iraq and all those helping with the country’s reconstruction.

I read this as a quid pro quo -- influence for mandate.

In the Middle East, undermined by despair and hate, only firm political resolve to apply, on both sides, the law as formulated by the United Nations will pave the way to a just and lasting solution.
Again, the United Nations is the formulator of law.

The fight against international terrorism is another key challenge. This is well in hand, under Security Council auspices and within the framework of our various treaties.
No comment.

In the face of proliferating weapons of mass destruction, we reject all “faits accomplis”.
We must stand united in ensuring the universality of treaties and the effectiveness of non-proliferation regimes. We must strengthen our means of action in order to ensure compliance. France has proposed the creation of a permanent corps of inspectors under the authority of the Security Council. We need to give fresh impetus to this policy. Let us call a summit meeting of the Security Council to frame a genuine United Nations action plan against proliferation.
For the present, we must demand that North Korea dismantle its military program completely, verifiably, and irreversibly. We must demand that Iran sign and implement, unconditionally and without delay, a strengthened nuclear safeguards agreement with the IAEA.
This starts out very well: rejection of "faits accomplis" is a powerful and welcome warning. Chirac also gives a realistic mention to "means of action", though his "corps of inspectors" sentence weakens its deterrent value.

Chirac next discusses structural change in the UN.
Chief responsibility for the maintenance of peace and security lies with the Security Council. It is therefore essential to its legitimacy that its membership reflect the state of the world. It must be enlarged to include new permanent members, for it needs the presence of major countries. France is thinking, naturally, of Germany and Japan, but also of some leading countries from Asia, Africa and Latin America. It needs additional elected countries as well, in order to make the Council more representative still. Under the resolute impetus of the five permanent members, each of us must take up this discussion with the general interest in mind.
This reform should be accompanied by a strengthening of the Council’s authority. It is the role of the Council to set the bounds to the use of force. No one is entitled to arrogate to himself the right to utilize it unilaterally and preventively. Conversely, in the face of mounting threats, States must have an assurance that the Council has appropriate means of evaluation and collective action at its disposal, and that it has the will to act.
We all place a high premium on national sovereignty. But its scope can and must be limited in cases of gross violations of human rights and humanitarian law.

In sum: a larger Security Council, with not fewer veto-holding members, should nonetheless have more ability to veto the use of force.

Meanwhile, crimes against humanity are being punished more effectively, with the establishment of the International Criminal Court, whose jurisdiction is universal.
Another attempt at self-fulfilling prophecy.

Effectiveness also depends on increased financial resources. France calls for two changes.
First, a reversal of the trend toward raising voluntary contributions at the expense of mandatory contributions. Failing that, we will end up with a pick-and-choose United Nations, an outdated vision, and a harmful one.
Second, we need to make progress in harnessing funds for development.... France therefore supports the innovative concept of an International Financial Facility. I would also like us to give pragmatic consideration to the idea of international solidarity levies, a kind of tax on the wealth generated by globalization.
I'm not sure whether this is directed at the US or not. It might be directed at America's unpaid back taxes, or at making it more difficult for America to avoid future dues. On the other hand, it could also be directed at newly wealthy nations on the Pacific Rim.

To advance on these issues, I approve the Secretary-General’s intention to gather around him a committee of independent wise men and women entrusted with making proposals.
Be my guest.

Recidivism (was: Lane Holmes)

Are this Lane Holmes and this one the same person?

Are this Richard Overton and this one the same person?

Or are random stupid crimes and frivolous lawsuits so common that a Google search for one plaintiff will generally find another sociopathic fool of the same name?

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Distilling Wealth

The excellent Coyote Blog (newly blogrolled), in a thoughtful and comprehensive post on Respecting Individual Decision Making, accurately deconstructs anti-globalization:

Progressives do not like American factories appearing in third world countries, paying locals wages progressives feel are too low, and disrupting agrarian economies with which progressives were more comfortable. But these changes are all the sum of actions by individuals, so it is illustrative to think about what is going on in these countries at the individual level. One morning, a rice farmer in southeast Asia might face a choice. He can continue a life of brutal, back-breaking labor from dawn to dusk for what is essentially subsistence earnings. He can continue to see a large number of his children die young from malnutrition and disease. He can continue a lifestyle so static, so devoid of opportunity for advancement, that it is nearly identical to the life led by his ancestors in the same spot a thousand years ago.
Or, he can go to the local Nike factory, work long hours (but certainly no longer than he worked in the field) for low pay (but certainly more than he was making subsistence farming) and take a shot at changing his life.

I agree with Mr. Meyer about the contemptible, patronizing and casually evil nature of the anti-globalization movement, which is largely based on the feeling that subsistence farmers in faraway countries are cute. The hopeless reality is too distant to be considered. "The seasons pass today over the toil of the peasants, just as they did three thousand years before Christ; no message, human or divine, has reached this stubborn poverty." [Carlo Levi, in the preface to Christ Stopped at Eboli, 1945.] However, there is another facet of globalization, less visible when we zoom in on the individual opportunity seeker; I call it distillation of wealth.

First, consider the situation of a wealthy agrarian, or even of a wealthy nobleman at Versailles, in the 18th century. What could their wealth buy? At a guess, their largest expenditures would be on house, transportation, furnishings, and clothing, probably in that order. That is, they would require the services of masons, carpenters and joiners, grooms and ostlers, wheelwrights, smiths and more carpenters, tailors and seamstresses. The key here is that, once Europe escaped from the largely non-monetary feudal economy, the enjoyment of wealth necessarily entailed its dispersion. [Jewelry is the obvious exception, but I assume it was substantially less than those named.]

For the wealthy few in today's poor countries, this dispersion mechanism is no longer operative. Wealth, once gathered, is not dispersed back into the country, but instead is exported in exchange for highly concentrated luxuries (e.g., private jets). This is even more deleterious than the hoarding of hard valuables would be, because these luxuries deteriorate with time and depend on skilled labor for their maintenance. The wealth of poor nations is distilled into a concentrated form, and in that form it tends toward the further impoverishment, not the enrichment, of that nation.

The poor of the third world, thanks to globalization, have the opportunity to compete for the business of the first world's wealthy masses; but, thanks to globalization, they must also compete (against long odds) for the business of their own wealthy few.

Of course, the current "anti-globalization" protesters are not motivated by this knowledge, nor would their policies prevent the distillation and export of wealth. They want to throw out the baby and keep the bathwater.

Monday, January 10, 2005

The New Yokels' Times

Stephen Green, in an energetic fisking of the eminently risible Paul Krugman, brushes against an important point.
Question is, how did we find this column in the venerable New York Times? Oh, yeah - Iokiyale: It's O.K. if you're a liberal economist.
... hypocrites, cranks and scoundrels of the right, empowered by the public's credulity... [ellipses mine]
As opposed to the credulity of people who believe Krugman's stuff?
We must not underestimate Mr. Krugman's intelligence. It is safe to assume that he is actively aware of hypocrisy on both sides of the political spectrum, and in particular of the high-profile examples pointed to by Mr. Green. Yet he has chosen to write this column anyway.

I will make the further assumption that, in so writing, Mr. Krugman was rationally motivated; i.e., that he wrote with the expectation of helping his career, not of sacrificing his career to the outpouring of a personally satisfying rant. This means that Mr. Krugman is writing the column he is paid to write. His continued tenure at the Times supports this axiom.

Given this, the problem is now obviously not with Mr. Krugman himself, but with the Times; and, since the Times tends to please its readers [by its own choosing or theirs, it does not matter], the readers are pleased with Mr. Krugman's works. They do not want balance, or to hear the flaws of their own side pointed out.

Those who are still reading the Times have chosen to do so. They have chosen a paper which is obviously substantially left of center compared to the country as a whole, and whose significant bias has been documented in many other forums. They continue reading because they do not care.They do not seek knowledge or new thought, but confirmation of prejudice. They are the new yokels, and the Times is their collective voice.

Update [11 Jan]: I should also point out that the strong bias of the editorial page provides cover for the less blatant bias of the news pages. For example, during a previous election campaign, suppose a Times editorial had reviewed the Swift Vets' charges and supported some of them. This would have vitiated the Times's strategy of always presenting them as "discredited" without ever airing their allegations.

Update [24 Jan]: Maureen Dowd throws some more candy to the kids. (Via Belgravia Dispatch.)

Update [30 Aug]: Mickey Kaus aims the same criticism at the New Yorker:
Like many New Yorker policy articles, Gladwell's reads like a lecture to an isolated, ill-informed and somewhat gullible group of highly literate children. They are cheap dates. They won't think of the obvious objections. They won't demand that you "play Notre Dame," as my boss Charles Peters used to say, and take on the best arguments for the other side. They just need to be given a bit of intellectual entertainment and pointed off in a comforting anti-Bush direction.

No Ego Problem Here

The Times of London has a weekly "Style" section, which contains an advertising leaflet for itself. This is already odd, but their slogan is "Divine Inspiration Every Sunday." Sic.

[The cover of yesterday's "Style" shows a nude woman immersed in a vat of whole tomatoes, so it is clear that they are seeking inspiration from the usual deities of modern Britain.]