Sunday, March 14, 2004

Othellos and Prosperos

I like this article in the Financial Times because manages to show fundamental similarities among apparently dissimilar perspectives. It seems to me that this task is an important accompaniment to the project of learning--as Wittgenstein would have us learn--to see differences.

Otherwise, though, it's also an interesting exploration of the ongoing To Be An Empire, Or Not To Be An Empire discussion.

(Link via Glenn.)

Sunday, February 08, 2004

Cricket and morality

Jeremy's interview is here.
Collin May’s "France Falling" series, updated
Nicolas Baverez
1. Introduction
2. Three Transformations in Economics and Strategy
3. Society and Politics
4. Failures and Solutions

André Glucksmann: Ouest contre ouest
1. Civilization contre Nihilism
2. Shakespeare contre Sartre
3. The Cowboy contre the Tsar

Alain Finkielkraut on Anti-Semitism
1. Introduction
2. Vigilances
3. le Matin Brun
4. The Provincial Cosmopolitans
5. The Varieties of Anti-Semitism

Stephen Launay on War
1. Introduction, Part One
2. Introduction, Part Two

Jean-François Revel
A review of Revel’s Anti-Americanism

To whom it may concern:

For the last several weeks, lincoln cat (me and a few of my selves) and Elephant-Rabbits (a group blog, but still a gang of one) have been regrettably inactive. We were in the midst of a labor-intensive move, westward to Maryland. (So long, Belgium, and thanks for all the croquetjes.)

Since we’ve spent the past six years in Europa, and since things have become, of late, rather interesting here and there, the subject of Transatlantica will be making repeat visits to both of these sites over the coming months. For now, we’ll point ya’ll to a thread still spinning out of Davids Medienkritik about German and American culture. (Various other topics have also woven themselves in, and the kite has flown so high there are now three whole rolls of string beneath it: one, two, three.)

Meanwhile, Marc F. Plattner is saying that the EU is trying to get medieval on all our asses (via John Coumarianos).

Monday, January 12, 2004

Walter Russell Mead on the Bush administration's past year

Gregory Djerijian of The Belgravia Dispatch says that Walter Russell Mead is "pretty much right on throughout" this assessment of the Bush administration's foreign policy record in 2003.

For more from Mead, try this conversation with Harry Kreisler at the Institute of International Studies at UC Berkeley. Among other things, Mead discusses his personal background -- including the impact of the civil rights movement on his life -- and his division of American foreign policy into four strains: Hamiltonian, Jeffersonian, Wilsonian, and Jacksonian.

If you like that, you'll love his book.

Thursday, December 04, 2003

Vive la différance:
Belief in the stable identity of the product, wherever in the world it may be consumed, is one of the conditions of its success. Stability across space and time is central to both the notion and the value of a brand, and the McDonald's brand, or the more specific brand of the Big Mac, is worth a lot.

Note, however, that the homogeneity of the globalised product is necessarily a relative matter, and belief in its stability may not be supported in reality. Though it is evidently a great secret, I'm told that McDonald's buns have a lot more sugar in Britain than they do in the States; there is, of course, no beef (Hindu sensibilities) or pork (Muslim) in the Indian "Maharaja Mac"; the mayonnaise has no egg in it (for vegans); and, when Bové did his splendid work on the Montpellier McDonald's, the local company representative was at tactical pains to stress difference, assuring the demonstrators that the burgers were an authentically local product, containing only French beef "from the farm".
And what about McCamembert? Does its career work as a metonym for modernity, Steven Shapin asks? (Yes, the same Steven Shapin who's co-responsible for this important book.)

(Link via Oxblog.)

Human sacrifice

Ideofact links to an article in the Washington Post about tantric human sacrifice in India. (According to a report in the Hindustan Times, in the last six months there have been 25 cases in western Uttar Pradesh alone.) The piece begins with a horrific story which reminded me of this one about one of Louis XIV's mistresses:
One of the women whom the king favored obtained her post by a means unique in modern times. On the road from Paris to Orleans stood a château in the chapel of which a priest named Guibourg officiated from time to time. His notion of the service was peculiar. On a certain day near the mid-century the alter in that chapel, covered with a black cloth, supported the semi-naked body of a woman in her twenties. The priest placed the chalice on her midriff and intoned the black mass, winding up with the ritual kiss bestowed on Satan's new recruit. Then came the sacrifice of a live offering to the lord of Evil, to ensure the fulfillment of a petition shortly to be made. The live victim this time was unusual: an infant who had been bought for a few francs. And the petition was also out of the common: "I want the king's affection so that he will do everything I ask for myself and I want him to give up La Vallière and look with favor on my relatives, my servants, and my retainers." The infant's heart was set aside to be burnt and reduced to powder "for the king's use."

The woman on the alter was Athènais de Mortemart, Marquise de Montespan. She became lady-in-waiting to the queen and acknowledged mistress of the king at 27. Her reign lasted 14 years.

During that time she was eulogized in verse by many, and notably by Racine and La Fontaine. They did not know, of course, any more than the king, the unorthodox means by which she had made her way to the foot of the throne. She produced eight children and managed to get two legitimized, inevitably creating permanent dissension between partisans of the true line and of the bastards. Before being supplanted by the formidable (and pious) Mme de Maintenon, Montespan had been converted by Bishop Bossuet--or so he believed--but she still showed a restless spirit and nursed the ambition of recapturing her long-forgotten husband--in vain. He was one of the few who kept away from the circus at Versailles.

(Jacques Barzun, From Dawn to Decadence, p. 291.)

Also at Harry's Place, a post about people to people solidarity which ends by expressing a desire to go retro:
I know charities are busy doing their best for people in Iraq and elsewhere but it is a shame that this kind of direct people-to-people solidarity seems to have disappeared.

I am pretty sure a parcel with a letter inside from a far-away family is a better experience than standing in a queue at the charity warehouse.

If anyone knows of programmes of this kind involving Iraq or anywhere else for that matter please leave a comment and I'd be happy to use the blog to publicise such initiatives.

There's a discussion over at Harry's Place about how to characterize the current split in the left. Has one swath of the left moved to the right over the Iraq war? Is what is happening analogous to the split of 1956? Here's one of the views:
I think the break is between leftists who hold anti-imperialism to be the main action, and leftists who hold anti-fascism to be the main action. These two groups are now markedly at odds.

The anti-imperialists *are* open to the charge of being "objectively pro-fascist" if that's what you mean by "conservative", though they remain philosophically anti-fascist. But the anti-fascists actors are even more open to the charge of being "pro-imperialist", so equally open to the charge of being "conservative"; though they (well, those that actually understand what the term means, and therefore admit to supporting it in current circumstances) would say that their support for imperialism is temporary and in a good cause (of course, that's what Gladstone said).

The question now, I think, is how to reunite the blanket opponents of imperialism with the active opponents of fascism.

Via Winds of Change, here's BlogAfrica, a collection of links to loads of blogs with coverage of Africa.
Big picture stuff

Thomas P.M. Barnett, The Pentagon's New Map

John Lewis Gaddis, A Grand Strategy of Transformation

Wednesday, December 03, 2003

France Falling?

Collin May of Innocents Abroad is reflecting on French decline via a discussion of several French thinkers:
The French problem, more or less, is a lack of political moderation. At the same time, there have been exceptions, people such as Tocqueville, Renan and Clemenceau. Similarly today, there are exceptions among French thinkers. It is these thinkers, these moderates that I will consider in this series. Each week, for the next month or so, I plan to present a discussion of a book written by those who inhabit what could be called the moderate centre of the political and philosophic spectrum. This will include liberals, conservatives and moderate socialists. The common link is their reasoned and thoughtful expression of discontent with the state of modern France.

The authors I will cover include: Nicolas Baverez, André Glucksmann, Alain Finkielkraut, Stephen Launay and Jean-François Revel. Each of these authors deals with an aspect of contemporary France of interest to the non-French observer, ranging from the domestic economic and political scene (Baverez) to the international and ideological (Glucksmann) to anti-Semitism (Finkielkraut), war (Launay) and anti-Americanism (Revel). In addition, I plan to consider a literary example from noted French author Michel Houellebecq. Finally, I will provide some of my own reflections on France after six years working, living and studying among the French.

As the reader can no doubt glean, I tend to share the concerns registered by the authors I treat. My hope is that France will do as it has done in the past and correct its current decline with what Nicolas Baverez refers to as “shock therapy.” If not, however, it will remain vitally important that the other western democracies learn from the French decline, both to avoid it and to understand what happens when democracy parts ways with political prudence.
Here's what's up so far:

Nicolas Baverez
1. Introduction
2. Three Transformations in Economics and Strategy
3. Society and Politics
4. Failures and Solutions

André Glucksmann: Ouest contre ouest
1. Civilization contre Nihilism
2. Shakespeare contre Sartre
3. The Cowboy contre the Tsar

Alain Finkielkraut on Anti-Semitism
1. Introduction

Wednesday, November 26, 2003

The Nathan Hale foreign policy discussion group has been talking about the Euro-American relationship. There's a report from the Oxford chapter, suggestions for framing the issues for the Washington chapter's discussion, and finally a summary of the DC discussion.

Meanwhile, at a different level of discourse, Oskar van Rijswijk posts this idea in the comments under a blog post at Winds of Change on dialogue frustration:
If we just stick to facts and some deeper moral values -- and avoid political labelling and bashing and generalizations -- we might very well beable to start some sort of transatlantic connections within the blogosphere and a dialogue on the major issues of world politics.

Sunday, November 23, 2003

Will it be Belgrade 2000 or Bucharest 1989?

Cinderella Bloggerfeller has lots on the situation in Georgia.

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

George W. Bush goes to London and a hullabaloo ensues. At Lincoln Cat, you can see how London saw the first Republican president.

Friday, November 14, 2003

Germans reveal hate of Americans.

Cinderella Bloggerfeller has translated an interesting article about the grammatical gender of rivers. Apparently, the Danube is a sweet transsexual. Well, after all, it's partly from Transylvania.

Wednesday, November 12, 2003

Although it's a few months old now, this column on "Parallel Universes" by Anne Applebaum is still timely, and it struck me with particular force since I am apparently one of the few to inhabit, simultaneously, more than one of them.
America and Britain -- along with America and France, America and Russia, America and Botswana, America and anywhere, really -- live in parallel informational universes. By that I mean that the media produced in different cultures don't merely reflect different opinions about the news, they actually recount alternative versions of reality.

Different countries have always had different perspective on the news, of course. But in the world of globalized information, where just about any newspaper or television program in any language is available at the click of a mouse, this isn't supposed to happen anymore. Nowadays we're all supposed to know what everybody else is thinking, to have access to the same images and information, and some of us do. Peasants in rural India gather around village television sets to watch reruns of "Dallas." In different time zones, Japanese and German bankers watch the same images on their Reuters screens. It is often said now that events are monitored around the world in "real time," or that we all live in a "global informational village," as if such a thing had already come to pass.


Strangest of all, the availability of alternative points of view doesn't appear to have mellowed anyone's prejudices -- quite the contrary. Nowadays, we all live under the illusion that we are receiving many different types of information, but that we select only the most plausible. In fact, as information multiplies, it grows ever easier to choose to read (or watch) whatever best matches your particular bias, whether national or ideological. If you hate network television's right-wing bias, you can click onto, say, www.globalexchange.org or www.moveon.org. If you hate network television's left-wing bias, you can always watch Fox. Having done so, you'll labor under the illusion that you've picked the most truthful version of events -- but how would you know? Have you actually compared and contrasted the arguments of both sides and come to a judicious conclusion?

I was reminded of this column when I read the following comment on Bjørn Stærk's blog:
Leif Knutsen, New York | 2003-11-08 22:44

There's nothing more American about Bush than there is about Clinton, Gore, Dean, Clark, or for that matter Nadler or Buchanan. And just as most of my Republican friends find Coulter to be distasteful (to put it mildly) most of my Democratic friends have a hard time taking Michael Moore seriously.

But it is interesting how many Norwegian commentators one moment are broadly dismissive of "American" politics and the next use dissenting American views as evidence that Bush is all wrong. They obviously don't believe that Americans are capable of serious political thought unless they completely agree with left-wing Europeans.

Bjørn is right - Norwegians (and probably Europeans as a whole) make very little effort to actually read the American political discourse but have no problems stating very categorical opinion.

Bush was admitted to Yale as a legacy that goes back to (at least) his grandfather. He was admitted to Harvard Business School after having been turned down at the U. of Texas business school at Austin. His career in the Air National Guard included one year being AWOL for no apparant reason. He is certainly a smart man, but not the way Clinton or Carter or for that matter Bush senior were. I think he is the worst president in living memory - possibly in history. But that doesn't mean that a) everything he does is wrong (he has done some things right); or b) he should lose his bid for actually being elected president for the wrong reasons. All the reasons I typically read in the Norwegian media are wrong, and I am so disgusted by it that I find myself overcome with the irony of often having to defend the guy.

There are a lot of things Bush has done that any responsible president - Republican or Democrat - would have done. Destroying Taliban is one; establishing the Department of Homeland Security is another (Clinton was the first one to propose it, but neither went far enough); aggressively pursuing Al Qaeda across the world is yet another (Clinton had this well underway until Condi Rice shut it down between the election and September 11th in spite of - or maybe because of - Clinton officials' insistence that Al Qaeda was a serious threat).

Maybe Bush isn't doing enough to understand the European point of view. But neither are Europeans trying to understand the American perspective.

Norm Geras has a post on Jeremy's call for papers.
Ideofact finds the bright side of being sick: revisiting Scooby Doo.
As a kid (a five year old kid -- the same age my son is now -- when the show premiered), several things impressed me about Scooby-Doo. First, the smartest one in the gang was Velma, a gasp...a girl. Remember, this first aired in 1969, and the intellectual of the group was female. I found it odd that Fred was the leader, but it was soon apparent why -- he was the one who could persuade anyone -- even the recalcitrant Shaggy and Scooby -- to go into the scary house, and later, to try to catch the "ghosts". (Plus he drove the van.) He was intelligent, certainly, but not nearly as smart as Velma -- clearly, leadership involved something else, something that couldn't be reduced to SAT scores or IQ points (this is a useful lesson for intellectuals everywhere -- intelligence, in and of itself, does not necessarily make one a leader). Daphne, whom the group occasionally teased for being "Danger Prone Daphne," was nevertheless brave. She was more intuitive than the rest, but at the end -- when the gang had foiled the crooks and offered the explanation to the police -- she always showed that she had gotten it too. As for Shaggy, he's the loyal opposition, the one who questions the wisdom of going into the haunted house. Yes, he's cowardly at times, but he and Scooby draw most of the fire from the ghosts while Velma, Freddy and Daphne go about the hard work of solving the mystery. Scooby was the comic relief (along with Shaggy), but something more as well. The late Don Messick, the original voice of Scooby Doo, put it this way:
I've loved Scooby from the inception, and so has everyone else. I think it's because he embraces a lot of human foibles. He's not the perfect dog. In fact you might say he's a coward. Yet with everything he does, he seems to land on his four feet. He comes out of every situation unscathed. I think the audience - kids and more mature people as well - can identify with Scooby's character and a lot of his imperfections.

I should add that when the chips are down, when things are most dangerous, a Scooby snack is all it takes (well, or two or three) to get him to put life, limb, and tail on the line.

Tuesday, November 11, 2003

In Flanders Fields

As part of the "Conversations with History" series from the Institute of International Studies at UC Berkeley, here's a conversation with Ahmed Rashid, the Pakistani journalist who wrote Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil and Fundamentalism in Central Asia and Jihad: The Rise of Militant Islam in Central Asia. There's an hour-long video, and also a transcript of the interview. A lot of important ground is covered.

(But see also Adil Farooq's criticism of Rashid's exposition of the historical meaning of "jihad.")

Here is an excerpt (I think) from Jihad.
In the current issue of New Perspectives Quarterly, there's an interesting conversation between Samuel Huntington and Anthony Giddens of the LSE about the division of the West and related matters. This bit from Giddens links up with the last post:
To reinforce your point, I would say that the issue of transatlantic divisions, to my mind anyway, doesn't come primarily from disagreements about Iraq. Rather, this disagreement about Iraq-this tremendous fissure-came primarily from unresolved problems which we haven't thought through and which are essentially left over from the Cold War period. I would call these the residual problems of 1989. I think we have only gradually come to realize how thoroughly the Cold War defined our institutions. There are three such residual problems which I consider the biggest: first, the meaning of the West; second, the identity of Europe (because Europe developed essentially in some part as a Cold War formation and now has to face up to a massive process of globalization); third, US military power in relation to Europe.

Now I think that there are two senses of the West which I would separate: I'll call these West One and West Two. In the first sense, the West refers to a constitutional, juridical system, a set of individual rights, the rule of impersonal law, civil liberties and so on. I believe passionately that in this sense, the West is still the West. I believe passionately that the principles which have emerged in Western democratic systems are generalizable systems to the rest of the world, and I believe that you can show that these principles can spread to most societies throughout the world.

West Two, however, is what most discussions about divisions concentrate on. West Two is a geopolitical formation, and here there are serious problems. I still think they are mainly ex-Cold War problems, rather than specific problems about the recent turn of events, but there remain important issues to come to terms with-starting with the fact that Europeans must acknowledge the nature of the new threats, and this has yet to be done sufficiently.

There is a major difference between the kinds of terrorism which we are familiar with here in Europe (local, reasonably confined, with the objective of forming national identities), and the new geopolitical terrorism. This new terrorism leverages the power of civil society.

There are also interesting thoughts on the culture gap and the role of religion.

Monday, November 10, 2003

Tony Judt has a review of Eric Hobsbawm's autobiography in The New York Review of Books. Here's how he concludes (the emphasis is mine):

Hobsbawm closes his memoirs with a rousing coda: "Let us not disarm, even in unsatisfactory times. Social injustice still needs to be denounced and fought. The world will not get better on its own." He is right, on every count. But to do any good in the new century we must start by telling the truth about the old. Hobsbawm refuses to stare evil in the face and call it by its name; he never engages the moral as well as the political heritage of Stalin and his works. If he seriously wishes to pass a radical baton to future generations, this is no way to proceed.

The left has long shied away from confronting the Communist demon in its family closet. Anti-anticommunism —the wish to avoid giving aid and comfort to cold warriors before 1989, and End-of-History triumphalists since —has crippled political thinking in the Labor and Social Democratic movements for decades; in some circles it still does. But as Arthur Koestler pointed out in Carnegie Hall in March 1948,
You can't help people being right for the wrong reasons.... This fear of finding oneself in bad company is not an expression of political purity; it is an expression of a lack of self-confidence.

If the left is to recover that self-confidence and get up off its knees, we must stop telling reassuring stories about the past. Pace Hobsbawm, who blandly denies it, there was a "fundamental affinity" between extremes of left and right in the twentieth century, self-evident to anyone who experienced them. Millions of well-meaning Western progressives sold their souls to an oriental despot—"The ludicrous surprise," wrote Raymond Aron in 1950, "is that the European Left has taken a pyramid builder for its God." The values and institutions that have mattered to the left—from equality before the law to the provision of public services as a matter of right—and that are now under assault—owed nothing to communism. Seventy years of "real existing Socialism" contributed nothing to the sum of human welfare. Nothing.

Perhaps Hobsbawm understands this. Perhaps, as he writes of James Klugmann, the British Communist Party's house historian, "he knew what was right, but shied away from saying it in public." If so, it isn't a very proud epitaph. Evgenia Ginzburg, who knew something about the twentieth century, tells of blotting out the screams from the torture cells in Moscow's Butyrki prison by reciting over and over to herself Michelangelo's poem:
Sweet is't to sleep, sweeter to be a stone.
In this dread age of terror and of shame,
Thrice blest is he who neither sees nor feels.
Leave me then here, and trouble not my rest.

Eric Hobsbawm is the most naturally gifted historian of our time; but rested and untroubled, he has somehow slept through the terror and shame of the age.

For a rather less sympathetic review of Hobsbawm, there's this one by David Pryce-Jones. A nugget:
Not long ago, on a popular television show, Hobsbawm explained that the fact of Soviet mass-murdering made no difference to his Communist commitment. In astonishment, his interviewer asked, “What that comes down to is saying that had the radiant tomorrow actually been created, the loss of fifteen, twenty million people might have been justified?” Without hesitation Hobsbawm replied, “Yes.”

I've added an interesting link to the list, Last Superpower.net. Judging by their introductory blurb, perhaps one might consider describing them as part of the left opposition:
The current anti-war movement developed in the absence of serious discussion and analysis. Opposition to a US initiated war in Iraq was more of an intuitive reaction than a thought-out response.
If the US is doing it, then it's bad

This has been the basic rule-of-thumb for as long as most left-wingers can remember - and it has generally worked quite well. But does it point us in the right direction with regard to US policy in Iraq and the Middle East?

That's what this web-site is about. Our aim in setting it up is to initiate a serious debate about whether it is really left-wing and progressive to oppose the US initiated war against the Ba'th regime in Iraq.

If you would like to discuss these issues you can do so on this site. You can explore what we have to offer just by following the links on this page. But better still, you can become a member of the site simply by registering a user name and a password. Signing up as a member will enable you to contribute your own material to the site (documents, links etc).

Cinderella Bloggerfeller has translated a recent piece by Pascal Bruckner entitled "The Blackmail of Islamophobia." He's responding to a book by Vincent Geisser, La Nouvelle Islamophobie:
...his aim is first and foremost to penalise those so-called moderate or agnostic Muslims who want to free themselves from fundamentalism. It's here that the concept of Islamophobia reveals itself to be a pernicious war machine in the hands of vested interests: it consists in stigmatising those intellectuals, religious figures, journalists and philosophers of North African origin who dare to criticise the principles of their faith, by appealing to a re-reading of the Koran or pleading for a separation of temporal and spiritual powers. This allows them to be exposed to the public condemnation of the extremists within their own religion by establishing a veritable proscription list (in which you will find, to take some names at random, Dalil Boubakeur, Soheib Bencheikh, Malek Boutih, Rachid Kaci, Latifa Ben Mansour, Mahammed Sifaoui, Abdelwahab Meddeb and many others).

Vincent Geisser's book amounts to what we must call a contemptible police operation worthy of the Stalinist era: by treating democrats as villainous Poujadists [right-wing chauvinists], opportunists, careerists, crude secularisers, persecuted figures from operetta, it turns them into quasi-apostates, traitors to their religion, even harkis [Muslims who worked with the French during the Algerian war], collaborators, enemies of Islam (even if these words are never employed).

They are guilty then, the Arab women who want to rid themselves of the veil, guilty all those children of immigrants who demand the right to religious indifference, the right to believe in nothing and who do not automatically feel Muslim because they come from Moroccan, Algerian or Tunisian backgrounds? The invention of Islamophobia fulfills several functions: to deny, in order to give it more legitimacy, the reality of an Islamist offensive in Europe, to intimidate and silence bad Muslims, those who impiously seek change and, finally, to block any hope of a religious transformation in the lands of Islam.

So it’s a matter of reintroducing crimes of opinion in order to muzzle the contradictors and to transfer the issue from the intellectual to the penal plane, any objection or reservation being immediately subject to legal action. We are witnessing the invention of a new crime analogous to the one the Soviet Union once created against the enemies of the people *. But confusing the spirit of inquiry with racism is mistaken: just as the latter attacks people for their very existence, for who they are, Jews, blacks or Arabs, so critical discussion is concerned with shifting and variable concepts, ideas, dogmas, principles, always susceptible to transformations.

He concludes:
There's something stupefying in seeing an "anti-racist organisation" criminalising the adversaries of fanaticism and superstition. If Voltaire were alive today, we can bet that certain "anti-racists" would have him thrown in prison.

The Russian Dilettante comments on somebody else's comments on Tarantino.

Sunday, November 09, 2003

And another: Iraq at a glance.

Another Iraqi blog--The Messopotamian--has been added to the links, joining Healing Iraq (Zeyad), Baghdad Burning, Where is Raed (Salam Pax), G. in Baghdad (Abdul Ghaith), and Ishtar Talking (Nawar).

Saturday, November 08, 2003

Here's an example of how stories are formulated according to local issues. The Times of India has a piece on Bush's speech entitled "Pak not a democracy: Bush."

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