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Pakistani Taliban Leader Threatens Attack on Washington

Compellence in its purest form: a threat to inflict pain if an adversary does not alter their current behavior. Is the threat credible? It’s unclear at this time, although US officials are publicly dismissing it. Other threats of late seem more credible–although the FedEx strategy is an example of deterrence, not compellence.

And no, I am not morally equating FedEx and Mehsud–just pointing out examples of strategy.

I haven’t actually seen a study which looks at the success rate of terrorist or non-state deterrent/compellent threats against states (then again, I haven’t looked through the literature for a while). Would be interesting to see…


Killer Robot Blogging at Complex Terrain Lab

Complex Terrain Lab’s Symposium on Peter Singer’s Wired for War kicked off today with opening comments by Singer and my post on the politics of global norm construction re. autonomous weapons. They’ve got a fantastic line-up of bloggers over there, including Ken Anderson of Opinio Juris and Matt Armstrong of Mountain Runner, so check it out.

Expedient at What?

Suzanne Katzenstein and Jack Snyder are calling for “human rights pragmatism” in this month’s The National Interest. Their article, “Expediency of the Angels,” draws on quantitative human rights literature showing the limits of “naming and shaming” and specifying the conditions under which human rights strategies can be most effective – in particular when activists speak to the power and interests of “spoilers” and construct schemes that enable local communities to “escape perverse incentive traps.”

This argument is right on the money. But Katzenstein and Snyder miss an important element in a human rights pragmatism that would tread a middle ground between principle and politics: the trade-offs between different rights and rights-bearers themselves that can come from making these hard choices.

For example, the authors’ discussion of female genital cutting draws on Gerry Mackie’s landmark comparison of genital cutting and foot-binding as largely a collective action problem among families who might prefer to stop cutting, but who worry about disadvantaging daughters on the marriage market. The solution both in early twentieth century China and today in some parts of Africa was not to “name and shame” but to create systems of public pledges by parents to allow their sons to marry only un-mutilated girls.

This is indeed an excellent example of a pragmatic approach that can be effective at reducing the incidence of cutting – but notice the rights trade-offs. The scheme described relies on the assumption that parents can choose their children’s marital partners in advance – a violation of the UDHR. And as in China, girls in such communities who were cut before the pledges took place will now be disadvantaged; their economic survival and social status in the community will now be compromised as a result of the human rights campaigners’ success, coupled with being born at just the wrong time. While this does not invalidate the goal of reducing cutting or the strategy, it suggests that the recognizing the externalities of these strategies is important if the goal is to blend principle and pragmatism, rather than subordinate one to the other.

Human rights pragmatism is not, therefore, just a set of tradeoffs between principles and power or between universal standards and local realities. It can also involve balancing the needs of particular vulnerable groups, and privileging particular kind of rights.

Katzenstein and Snyder would no doubt respond that the perfect should not be the enemy of the good: reducing mutilations in Africa is worth certain trade-offs; some rights are less important, some abuses more terrible, some problems more amenable to solution now, and that campaigners should be pragmatic in setting their priorities. And I would agree. My concern is that such hard choices be recognized and evaluated in the context of promoting human rights pragmatism, for too often they go unacknowledged until it is too late.

Shadow War comes to light

Another mysterious air strike has come to light. Via the NYT, we have links to reports that in January, a “major power” conducted a significant air strike in Sudan on a convoy of trucks supposedly transporting weapons from Sudan to Hamas in Gaza. CBS reports that while Sudanese officials have accused the US of carrying out the strike, US officials hint that Israel was behind the attack. Haaretz reports that Israeli officials, while not confirming the report, certainly are denying it. According to CBS:

In the airstrike in Sudan – said to have been “in a desert area northwest of Port Sudan city, near Mount al-Sha’anoon,” according to – 39 people riding in 17 trucks were reportedly killed….

If Israeli airplanes carried out the attack in Sudan, it would suggest that there is a shadow war against Hamas and its weapons sources that is wider than the Israeli or U.S. government has revealed.

Who could have undertaken such an attack? Its a pretty limited group consisting of mainly the US and Israel and perhaps Egypt, given the proximity to the Egyptian border. Conceding that Egypt is a stretch at best, the likely suspects include the US and Israel. Israel’s F-15I, a long range ground attack aircraft, is designed for just such missions–long range precision attack. The US has bases in Djibouti as well as carrier-based aircraft that could launch any number of platforms. The scope of the attack (17 trucks) suggest a multiple-plane strike package, probably ruling out attack by US drones.

The most significant element in this strike is the actionable intelligence that produced it. The attacking power must know that this particular convoy is carrying arms, and know where the convoy is and where its heading. That type of intelligence suggests either a very robust HUMINT capability on the ground in Sudan, or, more likely, a robust satellite surveillance capability that could identify the convoy and follow it, pinpointing its exact location at the time of the strike.

The wider implications of this strike could be significant. It shows the depth and difficulty of the Israeli – Hamas conflict. Hamas has a robust global supply network and cooperative governments willing to allow such a network to exist. It also shows the depth of involvement by Sudan and Iran in the issue. It also is a clear signal from Israel to Iran–we are monitoring your actions and have the ability to strike your activities. The F-15I’s range includes Port Sudan, and thus a good chunk of Iran as well.


Overseas contingency operations

Two months ago — before the Inaugural — I blogged “The ‘war on terror’ is over.” At that time, the British Foreign Secretary said that the UK no longer used the phrase.

Now, apparently, the US will stop using the phrase as well:

The Obama administration appears to be backing away from the phrase “global war on terror,” a signature rhetorical legacy of its predecessor.

In a memo e-mailed this week to Pentagon staff members, the Defense Department’s office of security review noted that “this administration prefers to avoid using the term ‘Long War’ or ‘Global War on Terror’ [GWOT.] Please use ‘Overseas Contingency Operation.’ ”

The Washington Post story quotes some government officials who seem to be less-than-certain that this shift in rhetoric has occurred.

On February 16, a report issued by the International Commission of Jurists recommended that the US and other states back off of their war on terror. This is from their press release:

The Eminent Jurists Panel on Terrorism, Counter-Terrorism and Human Rights, established by the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), has based its report “Assessing Damage, Urging Action” on sixteen hearings covering more than forty countries in all regions of the world.

“In the course of this inquiry, we have been shocked by the extent of the damage done over the past seven years by excessive or abusive counter-terrorism measures in a wide range of countries around the world. Many governments, ignoring the lessons of history, have allowed themselves to be rushed into hasty responses to terrorism that have undermined cherished values and violated human rights. The result is a serious threat to the integrity of the international human rights legal framework,” said Justice Arthur Chaskalson, the Chair of the Panel, former Chief Justice of South Africa and first President of the South African Constitutional Court…

The report calls for the rejection of the “war on terror” paradigm and for a full repudiation of the policies grounded in it. It emphasises that criminal justice systems, not secret intelligence, should be at the heart of the legal response to terrorism.

Plenty of domestic critics have critized the framework as well:

“Declaring war on a method of violence was like declaring war on amphibious warfare,” said Jeffrey Record, a strategy expert at the US military’s Air War College in Alabama.

“Also, it suggested that there was a military solution, and that we were at war with all practitioners of terrorism, whether they threatened American interests or not. ‘War’ is very much overused here in the United States – on crime, drugs, poverty. Everything has to be a war. We would have been much smarter to approach terrorism as the Europeans do, as a criminal activity.”

Anyone interested in Dan’s work on empire would also want to note that the “war on terror” framing made it easier for America’s disparate foes to work together. From the Post story quoted up-top:

John A. Nagl, the former Army officer who helped write the military’s latest counterinsurgency field manual, said the phrase “was enormously unfortunate because I think it pulled together disparate organizations and insurgencies.”

“Our strategy should be to divide and conquer rather than make of enemies more than they are,” said Nagl, now president of the Center for a New American Security, a defense policy think tank in Washington. “We are facing a number of different insurgencies around the globe — some have local causes, some of them are transnational. Viewing them all through one lens distorts the picture and magnifies the enemy.”

Search the Duck archives, and you’ll find ZERO uses of the phrase in the title of this post. I wonder how much that will change in the next four years?

Tim Burke responds to Jake DeSantis

Tim Burke expresses his outrage at the oversized sense of entitlement reflected in Jake DeSantis’ letter of resignation from AIG. Next, two commentators show up and demonstrate not only a sense of entitlement, but a total disconnect from the way the economy works for most Americans, that makes DeSantis look like Francis of Assisi.

All worth reading, except for my own comment. Tim wrote a better one, apparently at the same exact time I crafted mine.

Corporate realpolitik

What should we call this?

FedEx in January announced it had renegotiated a deal to buy 777 Freighters from Boeing over the next decade. The company increased its order to 30 planes from 15 and agreed on an option for another 15 planes.

The labor-related cancellation provision came to light in FedEx’s filing on third quarter earnings. “Our obligation to purchase these additional aircraft is conditioned upon there being no event that causes FedEx or its employees not to be covered by the Railway Labor Act.”

The overwhelming number of commentators on the article see FedEx’s move as a blow on behalf of economic freedom; a kind of first-shot in the revolution against the liberals.

So what is the connection between this battle and ditching Boeing for Airbus? None, really. Airbus is pretty unionized, and few would argue that European labor laws are more pro-corporation than US labor laws

In truth, this is simply corporate extortion. A All FedEx cares about is continuing an unfair advantage over UPS. Because FedEx was founded as an airline, its truck drivers are covered by the Railway Labor Act. UPS is subject to no such quirk. So how to maintain this exemption? Threaten American jobs at another corporation–and unionized ones at that.

It all amounts to a pretty stark demonstration of the stakes of the current battle over the economic policies of the country, and of the correctness of underlying rationale for a new progressive agenda.

(H/t Josh Marshall)

Replace the Dollar?

A friend writes,* “What the end of hegemony looks like…”

In another indication that China is growing increasingly concerned about holding huge dollar reserves, the head of its central bank has called for the eventual creation of a new international currency reserve to replace the dollar.

In a paper released Monday, Zhou Xiaochuan, governor of the People’s Bank of China, said a new currency reserve system controlled by the International Monetary Fund could prove more stable and economically viable.

A new system is necessary, he said, because the global economic crisis has revealed the “inherent vulnerabilities and systemic risks in the existing international monetary system.”

On the one hand, true. China’s over $1 trillion in dollar-denominated reserves aren’t as safe as they once were, and a devaluation of that asset through inflation would not be good for China. But, where else are they going to go?

While few analysts believe that the dollar will be replaced as the world’s dominant foreign exchange reserve anytime soon, the proposal suggests that China is preparing to assume a more influential role in the world. Russia recently made a similar proposal.

Lets look at this more closely. The Dollar has its privileged position in the world economy because a) many economists believe that the world economy needs some sort of stable reserve currency, b) the US is willing and can afford to maintain such a strong currency, and c) the rest of the world has left this arrangement unchallenged and benefits from it. Much of this is classic Kindleberger–the world economy needs a stabilizer, one stabilizer, to stabilize the global economy as market, currency, and lender of last resort. The US is that stabilizer.

The third of those reasons–acceptance by other world powers–is now under some degree of threat as China starts to fret about its dollar position. However, absent another actor willing and able to play the role of stabilizer, everyone–China included–risks putting themselves in a significantly worse position should the dollar lose its pride of place in the international economic system.

China suggests that the IMF’s SDR form a new reserve currency. This indicates they really aren’t all that serious about actually doing anything to dislodge the dollar. For one, to have a currency able to act as a reserve currency requires backing of a stable, authoritative, empowered entity that can manipulate fiscal and monetary policy as needed to protect the value of its currency. We call this a sovereign state. To give the IMF such rights would make the IMF a de-facto global economic sovereign. China has no demonstrated desire to create supra-national authority, not at the UN, nor the IMF. Moreover, there is a significant and real cost to maintaining a strong reserve currency. The strength of the dollar makes the US a great destination for products–we can afford to buy others’ cheap stuff. A significantly de-valued dollar (coupled with an increased value of other currencies like the Yuan or Yen or Won) would be a disaster to economies that rely on exports. China would need to show that it is willing and able to take on a stabilizing role in the global economy, which just doesn’t seem in the cards as of yet.

Perhaps, though, this might be read as an attempt to gain leverage:

The timing of the Chinese announcement, analysts said, could also be aimed at giving Beijing more leverage to negotiate with the United States and other nations in London on trade and on proposals about how to stabilize the global economy.

All that said, it would be foolish for US policy planners to simply ignore China’s (and others) growing dissatisfaction with the Bretton Woods legacy system that now constitutes the global economy. The fundamental bargains that made such a hegemonic system possible (cf Ikenberry) have become frayed, and while neither China nor the EU (nor India, for that matter) are poised to overthrow US hegemony in the short term, they can clearly erode US hegemony by driving up the cost of acting as a stabilizer. In the medium term, this imposes a cost on everyone, as the global economy (and security order) falters without a clear stabilizer, but from a realist perspective, the relative gains (or in this case declines) could benefit the challengers to US hegemony–at least that’s what they are betting on.

*as in, a friend of mine forwarded me a link to that article with the caption. I have never met David Barboza, the author of the NYT article.

W(h)ither balance-of-power theory?

I already pimped it, but my review essay, “The Balance of Power in the Balance,” just came out in World Politics (abstract). Unlike a number of other journals, World Politics subjects review essays to peer review and insists that they include original argumentation.

Two of my conclusions:

Balance of power theory, at least in its stronger variants, cannot survive the combined weight of arguments and evidence presented in these four volumes. while a case exists for preserving a weak balance of power theory, such a theory ultimately works by decoupling the mechanisms specified by Waltz from his predictions about system-level outcomes. Indeed, even contemporary variants of hegemonic order theory, let alone neoclassical realism, hold that anarchy shapes and shoves units so as to make relative power and power transitions crucial factors in international relations. It is therefore not at all clear that realists can eliminate weak variants of balance of power theory without calling into question why realism enjoys any status as a general account of world politics.


These considerations should not obscure more immediate implications for the field concerning the study of the balance of power. The works reviewed here carry an important lesson: the field is long overdue for a time when we firmly decouple the study of balancing and the balance of power from the broader debate about realism. Both phenomena deserve our attention as objects of analysis in their own right. as I discussed earlier, a number of extant and possible theories of balancing and of power balances start from other than realist premises. But we have yet to see, for example, a well-developed constructivist research agenda on balancing. Given that, as skeptics of the existence of contemporary balancing note, leaders now find it useful to legitimate their policies with reference to balance of power considerations, we need much better understandings of, for example, the significance of balancing as rhetorical commonplace or normative orientation.

My major regret is that I didn’t develop my categorization of different forms of what we mistakenly call “soft balancing” in a full-blown typology, which is something rectified (I hope) in my current work.

After reading Emile Hafner-Burton’s and James Ron’s excellent essay on the state of research on human rights, I find myself with one additional shoulda-woudla-coulda about my own piece: that I wound up including a summary of the books; my original plan called for a straight “New York Review of Books” style piece, and the other essay demonstrates that this would have been acceptable.

Academia and “JournoList”

Yesterday, Michael Calderone ignited a media brouhaha with his Politico piece, “JournoList: Inside the echo chamber.”

For the past two years, several hundred left-leaning bloggers, political reporters, magazine writers, policy wonks and academics have talked stories and compared notes in an off-the-record online meeting space called JournoList.

Lou Dobbs and Keith Olbermann talked about the email listserv on their TV programs yesterday.

On the right, bloggers had a field day talking about conspiracy theories and speculating about high profile members of JournoList. Red State’s Erick Erickson:

I’m told such luminaries as David Shuster at MSNBC, Keith Olbermann, Rachel Maddow, a host of New York Times magazine writers, Frank Rich, and others all collaborate on this list….

And it’s not just them. There are writers from the Nation, Newsweek, Huffington Post, New Republic, and a host of other left wing media sites on the list. They would have us believe that it is innocent — a gathering of intellectuals for stimulating debate.

i’m told otherwise. I am told, quite reliably I might add, that left wing bloggers and policy guys use this site as an express train to get their ideas into the mainstream media. And with sympathetic reporters who take the presuppositions made as truth, then add to those some original reporting, you have not an objective media, but a left wing echo chamber dominating print journalism and mainstream television journalism.

List founder Ezra Klien, of “juice box mafia” fame says that none of the named journalists are on JournoList. Olbermann said on his program that neither he nor Rachel Maddow are listmembers.

Later in the day, on his blog, Calderone explained the motivation for his story:

JList seemed to be a more comprehensive gathering of left-of-center opinion writers, mainstream reporters, bloggers, policy people, and academics than other private lists. As someone writing on the intersection of media and politics, I hoped to provide a window into how ideas—-large and small—-can be discussed daily in an informal, OTR way before making their way into the public conversation through blogs and print publications.

Now that’s a topic that might spark interest here at the Duck.

Should academics mingle privately “with several hundred left-leaning bloggers, political reporters, magazine writers, [and] policy wonks” to sound out ideas and potentially insert their scholarship into media reporting and/or policy?

Hamilton Nolan of Gawker buys the intellectual argument for the list — though he focuses on the benefit to the media:

“JournoList is the adult diaper of the liberal media world, soaking up the bullshit before it reaches the outside world. Carry on!”

David Sirota likewise says the story is about “Elite Media On Elite Media Talking to Elite Media About Elite Media.”

JournoList critics — speculating wildly, I should note — make it sound as if the listserv is an “echo chamber,” where “left-leaning bloggers, political reporters, magazine writers, policy wonks and academics” get together to craft a singular message to serve to the unwitting masses. They see JournoList as simply a conduit for progressive “groupthink.”

Member Brad DeLong, however, disagrees vehemently:

It’s not an echo chamber. I have never seen a less echo chamber-like space in my life. The headline is simply wrong….Basically, Ezra Klein’s Journolist is the Juice-Box Mafia: it is the people whom Ezra thinks are smart enough, committed enough to discussion and learning and education, and good-hearted enough to be worth emailing regularly–and the rest of us free-ride on the virtual space that is Ezra’s network.

Klein also makes the list sound far more interesting:

As for sinister implications, is it “secret?” No. Is it off-the-record? Yes. The point is to create a space where experts feel comfortable offering informal analysis and testing out ideas. Is it an ornate temple where liberals get together to work out “talking points?” Of course not. Half the membership would instantly quit if anything like that emerged. There are no government or campaign employees on the list.

I don’t have a lot of first-hand “on the record” experience interacting with the “elite media,” but my limited direct encounters with particular journalists aren’t great. I was on MSNBC with anchor Chris Jansing off-and-on for a couple of hours in fall 2001 when Colin Powell visited Louisville to give a speech on the Middle East. Though we sat next to each other for several hours in a makeshift studio, we rarely spoke to one another when we weren’t on camera. We certainly did not have the kind of exchange that apparently occurs on JournoList.

On my blog, I have explained my somewhat frustrating experiences interacting with journalists who have sought out my take on U.S. foreign policy or international politics. Though I offered fairly nuanced explanations of some complex issues to a reporter who used to write for Cox News Service, she typically used brief pithy quotes and little else. I’m certain that others in academe have had this experience with reporters.

These exchanges do not seem to serve the function of making our democracy more deliberative. It usually seems better just to write something and seek publication.

Does the blogosphere fare better? Over the years, a few prominent bloggers have occasionally picked up tidbits I’ve posted — usually the spicier political ones that I do not post to the Duck. Of course, I’ve written hundreds of more substantive posts read by a much smaller audience. This blog, like my own, isn’t necessarily meant to influence policy, but I’ll acknowledge that it would be nice to think that Duck members are making valuable contributions to dialogue in the public sphere.

In my scholarship, I’m typically critical of institutions that make decisions secretly and without the input of broader audiences. If I thought JournoList was doing that, I’d be more critical of it. However, it seems to be a place for genuine discussion so that ideas can be tested and improved before they are fully formed and embraced. Individual reporters, bloggers, magazine writers, policy wonks, and yes, academics can then take the benefits of those discussions and present them publicly to be tested in a wider public sphere — even a classroom. The “off the record” policy serves to open discussion in a particular forum and would not seem to limit discussion in a broader forum.

Conceivably, JournoList might serve as a valuable “counterpublic sphere.”

Those were the days

Yesterday as I drove to work, two stories on NPR caught my attention with how completely out of touch the interviewees sounded about their particular fields. These are people who are highly trained, performing what used to be important–if not vital–services, and well rewarded professionally for their accomplishments. And yet, listening to them talk about the importance of preserving the culture, practices, and institutional arrangements that enabled their profession, their claims rang so hollow, so 20th century, that I was struck that they would even say such things on radio.

The culprits? Bankers and Fighter Pilots. The Bankers were all upset about the “strings attached” to the TARP bail-out money they had received. Of particular concern was the limits on executive pay, and how this was going to cause a talent drain in the financial sector. All I could think was how tone-deaf the bankers sounded–while some of these guys may have had talent, it was a talent for destruction, not necessarily talent that you want to keep around. And, have they tried looking for jobs lately? There are quite literally thousands of finance professionals out of work, ready to step in to the jobs these supposed talents are vacating.

The Fighter Pilots were not quite as egregious, but still sounded like relics of a day gone bye. Morning edition has a nice 2 part story (yesterday and today) about fighter pilots and the changing fighter pilot culture. I’m not quite going to give the full Farley here, but listening to these guys, who sound as if they stepped off the set of Top Gun and into the story, you wonder if they are living in a bygone era (yes, I know one is AF and the other USN, but half of the first NPR segment is all about Top Gun, check it out, they even have the great music).

So why is there such an emphasis on training fighter pilots?

“None of us, I think, can really say with certainty who it is that we may end up having to fight next or what their capabilities are or what weapons systems they’ll have,” [Lt. Col. Dan “Digger” Hawkins, the deputy commander at Red Flag] says. “And so that’s why we keep our skills honed with exercises like Red Flag — so that we can be ready to defend the country at a moment’s notice against whoever it is who may try to attack us.”

No one who is currently training at Red Flag has ever been in a dogfight, but the training they receive is what Hawkins calls “very realistic dogfights.”

“As far as actual live combat, I’ll believe that some of the last air-to-air kills that the U.S. Air Force had was in Bosnia back in the 1990s.”

That was before these students were even pilots.

It sounds like such a valiant culture, much like the Pony Express was a valiant way to deliver cross-country mail in its day. For the past SIX years, the US has been engaged in two wars, actual ongoing combat operations, in one case against a real enemy that had actually attacked the United States, and fighter pilots have had no place to operationalize all that wonderful training at Red Flag. Instead, they have been pushed aside by robots. These days, Drones are the US weapon of choice in fighting Al Qaeda:

Pentagon officials say the remotely piloted planes, which can beam back live video for up to 22 hours, have done more than any other weapons system to track down insurgents and save American lives in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The planes have become one of the military’s favorite weapons despite many shortcomings resulting from the rush to get them into the field.

There is a near insatiable demand for more Predators and Reapers, but none of the “pilots” don’t want to actually fly them. Its just not the same–pulling 9Gs vs sitting in a small room playing video games–they say.

Bankers and Fighter Pilots. Heroes of the 80’s and 90’s. Sounding like relics of bygone era. It would be cute, if it wasn’t so darn expensive to maintain the institutions that facilitate their cultures.

End the monstrous and grotesque hybrid

And just complete the nationalization process.

In return for the bailout, the government took an 80 percent ownership stake in the company. Liddy was recruited by former Treasury secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr. to run the company. Since then, the rescue package has ballooned. But both the Bush and Obama administrations have been reluctant to completely and explicitly nationalize the company, though this could have avoided the current flap over bonus payments….

I know the administration is worried about the political backlash, but the backlash will ultimately be worse if they don’t do it.

Or sic Robin Hood on ’em.

Robin “Just Another Hood”? Really?

An AP article claiming that “legendary outlaw Robin Hood wasn’t as popular as folklore suggests” has been picked up by a number of media outlets. Presumably one Professor Julian Lukford of the UK has drawn this conclusion based on a monk’s scrawl in a history book circa 1460:

“Writing in Latin, the monk accuses Hood of “infesting Sherwood and other law-abiding areas of England with continuous robberies.”

OK, so Robin Hood was perceived as a thief by authorities during the period. What’s so surprising about this? And how does it prove he was ‘unpopular’ just because certain members of the clergy objected to his activities? Show me the equivalent of a 13th century Gallup poll demonstrating antipathy by the commoners, and then you’re talking. Until then, you’re just generalizing to the entire population of the area an opinion based on one data point – by a historian who actually lived two centuries later.

Luxford’s rather contradictory comments themselves suggest as much, leading me to wonder whether the press has quoted him out of context to sell a story. The BBC quotes him as saying:

“Rather than depicting the traditionally well-liked hero, the article suggests that Robin Hood and his merry men may not actually have been ‘loved by the good’. The new find contains a uniquely negative assessment of the outlaw, and provides rare evidence for monastic attitudes towards him.”

But the longer version of the AP article quotes the following more nuanced interpretation of the findings, one that doesn’t support headlines claiming Luxford has debunked the myth:

Luxoford “said it was not entirely surprising that monks, as part of England’s clerical establishment, harbored negative feelings about the bandit.

Luxford said Robin Hood stories from the Middle Ages paint him as an ally of “good knights and yeomen — salt-of-the-earth type people. But they are not so positive about his relationship with the clergy.”

In other words, does this finding confirm, rather than debunk, the classic narrative?

Luxford’s work is probably more important for clarifying the exact time period in which the famous outlaw lived. According to the Minneapolis Star Tribune:

“Luxford said the note is the earliest known reference to the outlaw from an English source and supports arguments that the historical Robin Hood lived in the 13th century, even though most popular modern versions of the story set him in the late 12th century reign of King Richard I.

Luxford said his discovery also may help settle debates in England about exactly where Robin Hood lived. The northern England county of Yorkshire has long claimed he was based there, but folklore has most commonly placed Hood in Sherwood Forest.

But I was still waiting for my turn to participate in world domination….

Anthony Weiss in The Forward:

Elders of Zion to Retire

The Elders of Zion, the venerable and shadowy Jewish organization that controls the international banking industry, news media and Hollywood, has announced that it is disbanding so that members can retire to Florida and live out their golden years on the golf course.

“We had a good run,” said one senior Elder, reminiscing over old photographs of world leaders in his musty, wood-paneled office at an undisclosed location. “Maybe we ran the world for just a little too long. Anyway, now it’s Obama’s problem.”

After a humiliating year left most of its financial holdings, as well as the entire civilized world, on the verge of collapse, the organization has re-defined its mission in terms of bridge games and making it to restaurants for the Early Bird Special.

The announcement comes after a year in which many of the Elders’ most prized institutions suffered disheartening failures. The vaunted global banking system, which lay at the heart of Jewish world domination for almost two centuries, collapsed with astonishing rapidity, requiring trillions of dollars in bailout funds. The newspaper industry, through which the Elders have controlled world opinion, is in shambles, with prominent papers declaring bankruptcy and forcing millions of readers to form their own opinions. And, in the unkindest cut, Hollywood suffered the humiliation of losing the Oscar for Best Picture to Indian film “Slumdog Millionaire.”

The organization’s reputation for financial probity had also taken a hit amidst rumors of billions in losses in private Kalooki games against Sheikh Hamad bin ‘Isa of Bahrain. According to inside sources, the organization also lost close to $1 trillion with disgraced investor Bernard Madoff.

Even before this past year, though, the Elders were facing hard times as they struggled to stay relevant and attract young members. The organization has tried to project a more youthful image, setting up a Facebook page and founding a new “Hipsters of Zion” youth division, which has sponsored a number of singles nights. But youngsters haven’t been interested.

Read the rest.

(h/t Mark Blyth)

“Overheard” on Political Science Job Rumors

Direct from the website that makes us all ashamed to be Political Scientists, I bring you this gem from a discussion about eliminating Political Theory to conserve resources in Political Science departments (yes, that’s a not an uncommon sentiment in the field, PTJ’s views notwithstanding).

The whole discussion between realists, constructivist, etc. has dissapeared from the top journals (IO, World Politics, etc.) since the 80s

I can only sigh, even though the poster is one of those who seems supportive of political theory.

A quick JSTOR search suggests that the first use of the term “constructivism” (or “constructivist”)–at least in the way we now use the term in the field—in a major IR journal occurred in Review of International Studies in 1991. The occasion? Alex Wendt’s review of Nick Onuf’s World of Our Making. This should come as little surprise, since Onuf is responsible for our current use of these terms.

Also in 1991, Peter Haas edited a special issue of International Organization (IO) on “epistemic communities.” In his introduction, he noted that a “limited constructivist” view informs most of the articles in the issue. The next reference appears in Alex Wendt’s 1992 IO article, “Anarchy is What States Make of It,” which many scholars believe was the defining moment for the emergence of the label to describe “the big tent” of the new culture turn.

The three-cornered “paradigm wars” pitting realists against liberals against constructivist simply did not exist, as such, in the 1980s. Many of the arguments were already there (via, in very different forms, scholars such as John Ruggie and Richard Ashley), but there was, at the time, no self-identified “constructivist” movement to struggle against realism and liberalism.

I suppose a charitable reading of this remark would be that “since the 80s” is more of a claim about trajectory: that this particular variant of the paradigm wars has been in decline since the 1980s. But that too is impossible to reconcile with accurate disciplinary history: the paradigm wars peaked in the 1990s. Katzenstein’s The Culture of National Security only came out in 1996. I remember Iain Johnston telling me about the project’s “road show” when I was an undergraduate at Harvard.

The wars really only began to ebb within the last half-dozen or so years, in no small measure because constructivism effectively established itself as a legitimate activity, i.e., constructivist work is now more or less insulated from being rejected out of hand in the US.[*] And, in consequence, the impetus for the paradigm wars began to dissipate.

Another major factor has been the proliferation of journals and the general fragmentation of the field. It is difficult to have big theoretical struggles if no one bothers to seriously engage with anyone doing anything different from what they do.

Indeed, the consensus in the field seems to be that the “paradigm wars” are better left behind. In some respects, I agree. Most of the theoretical aggregates (to borrow a phrase from the Elmans) we called “paradigms” really didn’t qualify as such, and treating them in Kuhnian or Lakatosian terms created real problems for the field. But the “paradigm wars” also prevented the field from devolving into a landscape composed of little islands without much intercourse between them, and I would not say that the growing trend in that direction comprises a positive development.

Finally, the increasing availability of fast and cheap computers over the last two decades has been lowering the barriers to doing advanced quantitative work… and thereby ushering in the current triumph of “mixed methods” as a dominant “paradigm” in IR, even if its proponents don’t recognize it as such.

*But a number of people who were on the front lines of that fight still bear the scars, and continue to operate like part of an embattled movement. I should also note that, at least in the US, constructivist approaches are much less established in International Political Economy (IPE) than in other subfields. US-based IPE refects what my colleague, Kate McNamara, calls a “monoculture” of econometrics and formal models.

YouTube and Politics Part 4: Digital Methods

One more bit of coolness from the YouTube conference before I move on to other things.Richard Rogers of University of Amsterdam gave the keynote here in Amherst this past week. It included this very intriguing video produced by

The Colonial Fleet Colonizes UN Headquarters

I kid you not. The Chicago Tribune reports the following:

“On March 17, there will be a “Battlestar” retrospective at the U.N. in New York and a panel discussion of how the show examined issues such as “human rights, children and armed conflict, terrorism, human rights and reconciliation and dialogue among civilizations and faith,” according to Sci Fi.

The “Battlestar” contingent on the panel will consist of executive producers Ronald D. Moore and David Eick, as well as stars Mary McDonnell (who plays president Laura Roslin on the show) and Edward James Olmos (Admiral William Adama).

UN representatives on the panel are Radhika Coomaraswamy, special representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict; Craig Mokhiber, deputy director of the New York office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights; and Robert Orr, assistant secretary-general for policy planning, executive office of the Secretary-General.

The panel will be moderated by “Battlestar” fan Whoopi Goldberg.”

Comment away.

P.S. Hat tip to Greg Niermeyer, Polsci 121-A student and bigger geek than me.

Israeli threat inflation?

Over the weekend, the AP ran a story based on high-level Israeli sources suggesting that Iran’s nuclear program has “crossed the threshold,” which implied that the program is now militarized:

Iran is now capable of producing atomic weapons, Israel’s top military intelligence officer said Sunday, sounding the highest-level warning that Israel’s archenemy has achieved independent nuclear capability.

At a Cabinet meeting, the chief of military intelligence, Maj. Gen. Amos Yadlin, did not say Iran already has an atomic bomb, participants said. However, he said, Iran has “crossed the threshold” and has the expertise and materials needed for one.

Meanwhile, American intelligence sources disagree and reported their dissent to a US Senate committee this week. The Post today quoted Director of National Intelligence Dennis C. Blair:

“The overall situation — and the intelligence community agrees on this — [is] that Iran has not decided to press forward . . . to have a nuclear weapon on top of a ballistic missile,” Blair told the Senate Armed Services Committee. “Our current estimate is that the minimum time at which Iran could technically produce the amount of highly enriched uranium for a single weapon is 2010 to 2015.”

Readers may remember that I pointed out similar apparently contradictory statements about Iran’s nuclear material recently delivered on weekend TV progams by high-level US officials just last week.

What’s going on?

Iran has demonstrated that it can enrich uranium. So far, none of the uranium has been enriched to weapons-grade, but the technological skill required isn’t all that substantial. This is a huge flaw in the Nonproliferation Treaty and I’ve previously discussed the much-needed Additional Protocol to the NPT, which would improve verification.

Some experts, like Harvard’s Graham Allison, call for an end to nuclear enrichment. The big mistakes were made when Ike promoted Atoms for Peace and the NPT reflected his guarantee allowing non-nuclear states to pursue a wide range of “peaceful” technologies.

As for the moment, Blair notes that the Israelis are engaged in classic worst-case planning:

“The Israelis are far more concerned about it, and they take more of a worst-case approach to these things from their point of view,” he said.

Israel wiped out Iraq’s Osirak nuclear plant in 1981 and destroyed something mysterious in Syria in 2007.

Israel has often hinted that it might attack Iran, so this story isn’t over by any means — even if the Obama administration worries more about Pakistan.

Not At All Shiny

On the Report tonight, Stephen Colbert gave a long, funny, monologue about how he is more hip-hop-pop-cultural-savvy than Michael Steele.

Then, in the following segment on Node 3 of the International Space Station, he (and his screenwriters) seemingly demonstrated a surprising lack of cultural literacy. How else to explain their disbelief at the fact that “Serenity” beat out “Colbert” as one of the most-recommended names for Node 3? Watch the clip and tell me if I’m misinterpreting this.

Oh, and you can go here to vote.

One less department

In other depressing academic-job-market-related news, Wisconsin Lutheran College has apparently decided to eliminate its entire Political Science department. Indeed, they appear to be removing Political Science entirely from their list of offerings:

[A spokeswoman] noted that current majors will be able to take political science at other colleges in the area, at Wisconsin Lutheran’s expense. And she said that the college determined it wasn’t necessary to its liberal arts mission to offer political science. “We have interdisciplinary majors and other majors that can get you where you are going with your career and aspirations, whether it’s law school or whatever after your undergraduate degree,” she said.

Even though Wisconsin Lutheran College was probably not at the top of many people’s list of dream academic jobs (it may have been for some, but a college that — according to its mission statement — “integrates God’s truths into every discipline, helping students relate their faith to life in today’s world” is probably appealing to a very specialized segment of the professoriate), and even though it doesn’t grant tenure, the elimination of the two full-time jobs formerly in the Political Science department places some small increased pressure on other positions around the country.

But what’s really striking here is less the minor impact on the job market caused by the disappearance of these two positions, and more the general point made by the college’s determination that a Political Science department is not necessary to its “liberal arts mission.” Speaking as a card-carrying political scientist, I have to agree: a department of Political Science, which would have to be plugged into the contemporary discipline of Political Science, is not a particularly essential part of a liberal arts education. I maintain this despite basically agreeing with Michael Brintnall, the Executive Director of the American Political Science Association, who commented of the study of politics:

“It would be thought to be a central component of a liberal arts education. . . . The subject matter is too central to civic life and understanding where we are going in the world to not offer the content.”

The problem is that the contemporary discipline of Political Science doesn’t really do any of these things; it doesn’t promote civic awareness, doesn’t really offer undergraduates much in the way of helping them understand the world, and is a lot less concerned with any content at all than it is with increasingly narrow measurement criteria and abstruse quantitative techniques.

Put yourself in the position of the administrator of a small religiously-affiliated college for a moment. You’re facing a $3 million budget shortfall, and you have to cut an academic department. Now, if you try to get rid of one of the natural sciences, the public backlash is likely to be tremendous: whatever the economic situation, the press would not be able to get past the juicy headline “Christian College Opposed to Science.” Similarly, eliminating one of the humanities departments would likely provoke charges of cultural puritanism. So the safest bet is to eliminate one of the social sciences, since none of them have an overarching philosophy that might look like the real target of any such move.

Now, consider that in order to staff a department, one is in important ways beholden to the relevant academic discipline. This happens in at least two ways. First, the majority of easily reachable job candidates for a department are those that have been professionally trained — meaning: have earned a PhD in — the relevant academic discipline. (Full disclosure: one of the two full-time positions in the Political Science department at Wisconsin Lutheran College which was apparently occupied by someone without a PhD; the other held a PhD in Political Science.) That’s because of the tight coupling between disciplines and departments: people trained in and socialized into a discipline recognize other members of their tribe more easily, so political scientists hire other political scientists, while sociologists hire sociologists, etc. Job markets are also organized by discipline, by and large; when a Political Science department lists a job, it uses APSA’s e-jobs service, which is read by — no surprise here — political scientists.

But staffing a department is only half of the issue. Once people are hired, they also have to figure out what to assign to their students; for that purpose, they need books and articles. Naturally, people want to assign the current, contemporary research in their field if they can, but not only does that not say much about civic engagement or the future of the political landscape, but it doesn’t even say what it does say in a way that is particularly accessible to undergraduate students. “The Role of Parties’ Past Behavior in Coalition Formation,” to pick just one of the articles from the most recent issue of the American Political Science Review, doesn’t exactly sound like a page-turner. And yes, I know full well that other disciplines also have a dichotomy between their contemporary research and the kinds of things that one assigns to undergraduates, but the gulf is particularly pronounced in contemporary Political Science. (At least Anthropology and Sociology have classics that can be profitably read by undergraduates; once one gets outside of the social sciences, the humanities have works of art and literature, and the natural sciences have textbooks and laboratories.) I remember serving as a TA for an American politics class while in grad school; the professor told a lot of stories about how actual politics worked, but the reading material talked about such scintillating topics as fire-alarms versus trip-wires in governmental oversight regimes. So the students, not surprisingly, ignored the reading and listened to the stories.

I think the students were on the right track. If one wants to actually do much serious thinking about civic life and one’s individual responsibility within it, one would be well-advised to stay as far away from the last several decades of Political Science scholarship as possible. Undergraduate education in politics shouldn’t be about learning how to solve extensive-form games; it should be about learning how government works. But contemporary Political Science isn’t much help to that task. This implies that if we want students to come to articulate their own sense of civic engagement, we ought not send them to the Political Science department, but could achieve the same effect by sending them elsewhere. And to make matters worse, people trained in Political Science probably aren’t likely to know how to facilitate this for undergraduates, which further undermines the need for a Political Science department in a liberal arts college.

Now, I’m not saying that every liberal arts college ought to go around eliminating its Political Science department. (In fact, Political Science departments at most liberal arts colleges I know are actually quite far removed from the mainstream of the discipline; I don’t think this is an accident.) But I am saying that the decision makes a certain amount of sense, since the discipline of Political Science is so far away from the goals of a liberal arts undergraduate education. And that’s too bad — bad for Political Science, not bad for the liberal arts.

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