I know so little about rap music* that I can't directly comment on Marc Lynch's marathon post on Jay-Z and American hegemony. [You could comment on Beyoncé, though, right?--ed. Let's just say that I am in complete agreement with Marc that this is one of the most awesome display of soft power on the Internet]
Which made me think about what's going on in Iran again. Najmeh Bozorgmehr's Financial Times story today suggests that Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei can't seem to find the necessary proxy to push back against his opposition:
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, warned the country’s opposition leaders on Monday that they faced “collapse” if they continued to incite protests over the disputed presidential election.
The warning came amid an unprecedented war of words between the regime’s senior leaders and looked like a retort to Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, the influential former president who has backed the opposition. Mr Rafsanjani said on Friday the country was in “crisis” and the regime had to regain people’s trust....
“The [political] elite should be careful,” warned Ayatollah Khamenei. “They [the opposition leaders] are in an exam session; a big exam. Failing in this exam does not mean getting one [academic] year behind. It will lead to [their] collapse.
“Anyone under any title and position who pushes the society toward insecurity would be a hated figure in the eyes of the majority of Iranian nation,” he said, in a clear reference to the top opposition figures including Mr Rafsanjani.
Meanwhile Mr Ahmadi-Nejad, who has been largely silent on the unprecedented dispute over his re-election, is preparing to swear in his new cabinet (emphasis added).
Pretty ominous words from Khamenei, to be sure -- but it's interesting that he's the guy who has to make these threats. In doing so, Khamenei has brought himself down to the level of Rafsanjani and Khatami. Like Jay-Z, I'm not sure he can maintain his hegemonic leadership status without throwing away almost all of the structural power that comes with being acknowledged as the Supreme Leader. Now he just looks like the rapper with the biggest posse.
Of course, the supreme irony is that Khamenei might have triggered his invitable downfall by pulling out all the stops to bolster a proxy.
Question to readers familiar with Iran, rap, and IR theory -- did the above make any sense whatsoever? Because at this very late hour, the parallels seem surprisingly strong.
*Seriously, I'm not acting faux out-of-touch here. This is the last rap song I remember enjoying from beginning to end.
Blogging will be light the next week or two as I first go to a conference in England, and then onto a family vacation.
Your humble blogger is fully aware that everyone and their mother has been blogging and writing about the big Obama speech from yesterday. Why, you might ask, have I been silent? [I might, I might indeed!--ed.]
It's a combination of four things:
To observe that they inhabit no recognizable American social reality is only to say that this is a film by Sam Mendes, a literary tourist from Britain who has missed the point every time he has crossed the ocean. The vague, secondhand ideas about the blight of the suburbs that sloshed around American Beauty and Revolutionary Road are now complemented by an equally incoherent set of notions about the open road, the pioneer spirit, the idealism of youth.
Clearly, Sam Mendes is not the film equivalent of de Tocqueville. This, of course, leads to a vital film question: who is the cinematic equivalent of Alexis de Tocqueville?
In FP's sister publication Slate, Fred Kaplan critiques Steve Walt's list of top ten international relations films, as well as my own ("neither of them gives our own film critic, Dana Stevens—or, for that matter, Gene Shalit—the slightest cause for worry.") In an act of sheer bravado, Kaplan then goes on to list 25 other films that he thinks are better than any of either Walt's film or mine.
To which I say -- oh, it is so on now, Kaplan!! You want to throw down on films? Let's throw down!!
[Wouldn't this have been a more succinct reply?--ed. Yeah, I was going for more Jack Nicholson-crazy voice, but that works, sure.]
First of all, what act of hubris could make Kaplan claim that any film on his top-25 list is better than Dr. Strangelove? It's like making a top ten best film list and consciously omitting Citizen Kane. There's no point to it except sheer bloody-mindedness. Dr. Strangelove captures all of the absurdities of the Cold War in one neat package ("Gentlemen, you can't fight in here, this is the war room!"). I didn't elaborate on that point in my original post for the same reason the world doesn't need another essay extolling Orson Welles' masterpiece -- it's an exercise in redundance.
Second, Kaplan reacts to my fave flick, The Lion in Winter, as follows: "Um, OK: a strange choice, especially for the top of the list, but there's a daring quality about it." This leads me to wonder if Kaplan has actually seen the film (and, full disclosure, I haven't seen some of the films on Kaplan's list, such as The Lives of Others. From what I've heard, many of these films would likely have been on my list had I seen them. To paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld, however, you make top ten lists with the films you've seen, not the films you wish you've seen). This is a movie about a powerful but aging leader desperate to ensure that the gains his country has achieved under his rule persist after he is gone. To do this, he has to outwit a foreign leader and plenty of domestic (in both senses of the word) adversaries. This movie is filled with strategizing, backroom dealing, bluffing, backstabbing, balacing, bandwagoning, and an waful lot of shouting. In other words, a typical day in world politics.
Third, and more interesting, is defining what makes a movie a movie about international relations. Kaplan nitpicks at Wag the Dog because "it's more about domestic politics than international affairs." He similarly picks on Seven Days in May because it "isn't really about international politics." Part of studying global affairs, however, is investigating the interplay between domestic politics and and international relations. Wag the Dog is about how domestic difficulties can translate into foreign policy escapades (or staged foreign policy escapades). Seven Days in May is clearly about civil-military relations, but on an abstract level it's about the difficulties of implementing international agreements over the resistance of powerful domestic interests.
Now, all this said, I can't deny the quality of some of Kaplan's selections. The moment I posted my list, I started kicking myself because I forgot about The Godfather. It really is the perfect metaphor about international relations -- alternating levels of tension and calm punctuated by occasional bouts of violence.
As for Kaplan's other films, Goodbye, Lenin! is also an inspired choice. Thirteen Days is less inspired -- I could never get past Kevin Costner's atrocious accent. On the other hand, I do have a soft spot for 1974's The Missiles of October.
Finally, a few other films that got omitted from all of our lists but merit further conversation:
1. A Fish Called Wanda (1988): One could argue that the Anglo-American alliance was the most significant relationship for much of the twentieth century. This film, on the cultural differences that exist within the special relationship, is worth multiple viewings. In a perfect world, watch this with a mix of Americans and Brits -- they laugh at different parts.
2. Traffic (2000): The debilitating effects of drugs -- and the drug war -- on both sides of the Rio Grande makes for interesting viewing. Plus, there's a terrific Salma Hayek cameo.
3. Henry V (1944) and Henry V (1989): Alex Massie makes a good point here: "the Olivier and Branagh versions remind one that an individual text may be subject to more than one interpretation. Plus, of course, there's an awful lot of Just War theorising to be done on the back of Henry V."
As a film buff, I was keen to see Steve Walt's top ten list of "movies that tells us something about international relations more broadly."
Someone once said that the only proper way to critique a film is by making another film. Following that logic, I think the only way to critique Steve's list is to make my own.
Using Steve's criteria, the overlap between our top ten list is pretty small: Dr. Strangelove and Casablanca. It's not that I hate the other films -- I just think there are better, more entertaining movies out there that highlight some interesting aspects of world politics. Here are eight other films I think are essential watching for international relations junkies:
8. Burnt By the Sun (1994)
The tension in Nikita Mikhailkov's film comes from the juxtaposition of the terror that comes from living in a totalitarian society and the beauty on screen that comes from a family vacation in the Russian countryside.
7. Seven Days in May (1964)
This Rod Serling-scripted, John Frankenheimer-directed movie is the film to watch when musing about civil-military relations, particularly in the United States.
6. Y Tu Mamá También (2001)
Buried within this romp about two Mexican teenagers going on a road trip with a very attractive woman is a lot of subtext about the ways in which globalization has affected Mexico. I'm not sure I agree with all of it, but director Alfonso Cuarón is quite deft in making his points without banging you on the head repeatedly to do it.
5. Conspiracy (2001)
Hannah Arendt wrote about the "banality of evil." This movie -- a real-time recreation of the 1942 Wansee Conference -- is the best evocation of Arendt's theme. Plus, any movie where Colin Firth plays a Nazi is guaranteed to shock.
4. The Americanization of Emily (1964)
An absurdist tale about bureaucratic politics and public relations during wartime. James Garner was the perfect actor to play the protagonist. Possibly the only movie ever made to extol cowardice as a virtue.
3. The Day After (1983)
An ABC television movie that sparked a great deal of controversy when it aired during one of the peaks of Cold War tensions. It's far from a perfect film -- I mean, c'mon, Steve Guttenberg is in it -- but I actually prefer it to Dr. Strangelove on one important dimension. It does a much better job than Kubrick's film at evoking the latent dread that people felt during the Cold War about the possibility of global thermonuclear war. I'm glad this dread has largely disappeared from global consciousness, but there's a part of me that wants younger generations to see this movie periodically just to remember what it feels like.
2. Children of Men (2007)
No top ten list about IR films is complete without a good dystopia flick. The premise (global infertility) is a bit of a stretch, but if you accept that, the rest of the movie seems like an effortless, logical extension of how civilization would respond to such a pandemic. Also directed by Alfonso Cuarón, incidentally. The action sequences are jaw-dropping.
1. The Lion in Winter (1967)
How do you make a movie about the strengths and limits of rational choice in international politics? It helps if you have Peter O'Toole, Katherine Hepburn, Anthony Hopkins, and Timothy Dalton, and biting dialogue.
OK, readers, which flicks did I miss?
I received an e-mail this week that, properly condensed, read as, "Hey, Drezner, stop talking about policymakers and academics and tell us something really important -- what did you think about the third season of Friday Night Lights?!"
I think the following five things (SPOILER ALERTS):
For more on FNL Season 3, do check out the Slate discussion between Hanna Rosin, Emily Bazelon, and Meghan O'Rourke.
I'm attending a conference on YouTube and the 2008 Election. This being a tech-friendly conference, the organizers have courteously placed plugs under the tables for people to plug in their laptops.
What's odd about this is the number of people dressed in business clothes crawling under tables to plug in or plug out of the sockets. It looks perfectly normal now, but perhaps a decade ago one would have looked askance at someone ducking under such a table.
Similarly, I lived in the South Side of Chicago when the handless cell phone got hot. Before its use, there already were a number of people talking out loud to no one around them. After its use, it was difficult at times to distinguish between the tech crowd and the... differently mentally abled crowd.
There should be a name for technological innovations that make what appears to be abnormal behavior normal. Readers are requested to:
OK, so let's review: The world is on the brink catastrophe. The Russians are acting all frisky again. Then I read this CNN report:
Everything about Jupiter is super-sized, including its colorful, turbulent atmosphere. But there's fresh evidence that one of the planet's most recognizable features, the Great Red Spot, is shrinking.
The spot, which is actually an ancient monster storm that measures about three Earths across, lost 15 percent of its diameter between 1996 and 2006, scientists at the University of California, Berkeley, have found.
It shrank by about 1 kilometer (about 0.6 miles) a day during that time period, said Xylar Asay-Davis, a postdoctoral researcher who was part of the study....
The researchers do not know why the storm is shrinking. In fact, little is known about the Great Red Spot at all. Even the exact cause of its distinctive color is a mystery.
The following tidbit of information, however, suggests how serious things really are:
Of course, this could be because his speaker profile is a bit out of date.
Due to travel snafus, your humble blogger was unable to post his traditional pre-Oscar predictions post. Suffice it to say that I correctly predicted all of the major awards but, as always, screwed up the best documentary short and best foreign language film.
Ten quick points, both positive and normative:
I think that's it.
I don't have any big thoughts about yesterday's dramatic water landing and safe rescue of everyone aboard USAir flight 1549. Of course, I do have two not-so-big thoughts:
First, as this USA Today story makes clear, what makes this event particularly unusual is the increasing safety of air travel:
For the first time since the dawn of the jet age, two consecutive years passed — 2007 and 2008 — without a single passenger death on a scheduled airline flight carrying 10 or more seats, according to USA TODAY research of government and industry data. During those two years, airlines carried about 1.5 billion passengers.
That's pretty miraculous as well.
Second, despite this safety record, Michelle Maynard of the New York Times chronicles the persistent menace that birds pose to jetliners:
Since 2000, at least 486 planes have collided with birds, according to the Federal Aviation Administration. Of those incidents, 166 led to emergency landings and 66 resulted in aborted takeoffs.
The earliest known fatal airplane crash involving a bird took place in 1912, nine years after the first flight by the Wright Brothers at Kitty Hawk, N.C. That plane crashed into the surf off Long Beach, Calif., pinning its pilot under the wreckage
While most birds probably wish to peacefully coexist with humans, it is becoming increasingly clear that a small group of radicalized avians are hell-bent on destroying our way of life. These radical birdists hate us for our freedom. This can not stand.
I, for one, look forward to President Bush's declaration of a War on Birds. Unfortunately, this will last only four days, after which President Obama will no doubt appoint this guy as special envoy to the avian community.
Slumdog Millionaire won the Golden Globe for Best Drama this past Sunday, presaging a strong run for the Best Picture Oscar -- provided it can deal with the inevitable blowback. And there will be blowback.
Without giving anything away, the movie is undeniably the feel-good flick of the year. The love story at its core, however, is tissue-thin. Dev Patel really does deserve an Oscar nod for Best Supporting Actor, because he manages to give his character's motivations far more emotional longing than the story justifies.
What I'm very curious about, however, is how the film will play in India. The movie has yet to be released on the subcontinent. According to the Associated Press, the film will open there on January 23rd. The story also explains why it might not play too well in India:
[S]cenes of Mumbai's filthy vast slums have drawn criticism from some viewers. Indian poverty is a delicate issue here, particularly when it is raised by outsiders [Danny Boyle, the director of Slumdog Millionaire, is British-DD]. While India has gone through spectacular economic growth over the past decade, about 400 million people — more than the entire population of the United States — are believed to live on less than $1 a day.
This is serious -- if Indians pan the movie, its shot at an Oscar is... er... shot.
Still, I suspect that the Dickensian fable will play well in the country where it is set. One criticism of the movie is that it paints the slums of Mumbai as too colorful and sanitized.
Readers who have seen the movie: does it deserve the Best Picture Oscar?
Last week I blogged about an study conducted by the American Academy of Arts & Sciences suggesting that book-reading declined between the early 1990s and the early 2000s.
Well, good news, the National Endowment of the Arts released their own study today, and it suggests that this trend has been reversed:
For the first time in more than 25 years, American adults are reading more literature, according to a new study by the National Endowment for the Arts...
"At a time of immense cultural pessimism, the NEA is pleased to announce some important good news. Literary reading has risen in the U.S. for the first time in a quarter century," said NEA Chairman Dana Gioia. "This dramatic turnaround shows that the many programs now focused on reading, including our own Big Read, are working. Cultural decline is not inevitable."
Among the highlights of the study:
So maybe Oprah and Harry Potter are having an effect after all.
UPDATE: Here's a link to the actual report (.pdf).
The great Bono-as-columnist experiment has started at the New York Times.
And, I have to say, his debut column is a smashing success. In just his first effort, Bono has already managed to combine the worst tropes of Thomas Friedman and Maureen Dowd and fuse them together into some new alchemy of awfulness. At this rate, by March, he will have already progressed to Advanced Op-ed Babble, a state of nirvana heretofore only achieved by A.M. Rosenthal's "On My Mind".
Contest to readers: read Bono's column and, in 20 words or less, explain its theme in the comments. Here's my effort:
Did you know that I knew Frank Sinatra?"
The American Academy of Arts & Sciences has developed a Humanities Indicator prototype to track the state of the arts and humanities over time and compared to other countries. The inspiration appears to be the National Science Board's Science and Engineering Indicators.
Some of the more interesting findings from their press release:
That last data point provides a nice cautionary note about the dangers of extrapolating from pop culture trends. Given that the early part of this decade was the peak of the Oprah Book Club and the Harry Potter frenzy, I would have guessed a different trend line.
There are some guests who simply refuse to go on the air with other particular people or with anyone at all. Likewise, there are some people who no one else wants to appear with. It's rarely discussed, because the bookers who mediate these ego wars are bound by contract—and their own interests—to keep quiet. And hosts rarely mention the snubs on-air, since they want guests to come back. But snubbing happens all the time, and conversations with bookers, producers, and guests reveal that some divas are especially notorious.This part stood out for me:
The biggest offenders are usually the ones whose egos are too big to accommodate any company: Henry Kissinger, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Alexander Haig, and others who figure they have better uses for their time than debating some flack on the air. "They would only go on if they could do the show alone," says a former producer for Crossfire. "Brzezinski won't debase his cable currency by being a two-box," explained a current booker, referring to the practice of displaying guests on a split screen. Another booker cited Brzezinski's refusal to go on with Pat Buchanan—"probably because he thinks he's an anti-Semite." (An assistant to Brzezinski says: "It isn't true that he will only appear alone. He has appeared many, many times with other guests." Maybe so. But bookers say he doesn't do so willingly.)Here's a piece of advice to TV bookers -- surprise these mooseheads with another guest just before they're going to go on. Why? Because, in my experience, when mooseheads at the Kissinger-Brzezinski level are alllowed to pontificate at will, they are unbelievably boring and rote. On the other hand, they are at their best precisely when they are challenged by someone. Maybe they get riled up at having their authority questioned, or maybe they want to smack down the young whippersnapper tring to unseat the Pundit King. All I know is, when they are poked and prodded, the analytical sharpness that got them to their exalted position comes out, and then the fun starts. I've seen this in person -- but Josh Marshall David Kurtz captures an example of this on video. Zbigniew Brzezinski doesn't like it when he's challenged on the Middle East -- watch what happens:
Oh, and it makes for good TV -- though in this case it has the added frisson of Mika Brzezinski's uncomfortable body language.
If you can fake authenticity in the new year, you will have it made. Authenticity was already a buzzword in business and politics before the credit crunch. It will become an essential virtue following the curtain twitch that revealed so many Masters of the Universe to be Wizards of Oz. At one executive leadership seminar I attended recently, the trainer explained that authenticity was the main attribute delegates needed to radiate, including “different types of authenticity for different audiences”. This means being a technocrat in the boardroom, a pragmatist among middle managers and an Average Joe on the shop floor.One does wonder if this increases the likelihood of bloggers -- who were in on the ground floor of this whole "constructed authenticity" deal -- making it in the corporate world.
Sweeping and icy statements dominate Huntington's books. These blunt judgments contrast sharply with Huntington's unimposing physical presence and unaffected demeanor. He looks like a character from a John Cheever story, someone you might forget that you had ever met. He blinks. He plays nervously with keys. He is balding, and stares intently at his palms as he talks. The fragile exterior conceals a flinty core. "Sam is very shy," Brzezinski says. "He's not one of those guys who can shoot the breeze at a bar. But get him into a debate and he is confident and tenacious." A former student says, "Sam is a geek with a backbone of steel." Another of his students demurs: "Sam isn't a geek. He's a quintessential Victorian man of honor—very quiet and contained, yet extraordinarily tough when the occasion demands."I don't know if there's an afterlife, but if there is I hope that Wolf and Huntington are having a rip-roaring debate. UPDATE: Here's the Boston Globe's obituary (surprisingly, the New York Times just runs the AP version). As pointed out in the coments, most of the write-ups of Huntington focus on The Clash of Civilizations, which is unfortunate, since The Soldier and The State is probably his best book. Of course, even if Soldier had the greatest effect on political science, Clash has probably had the greatest effect on world politics. ANOTHER UPDATE: Foreign Affairs has a nice tribute page to Huntington, consisting of his Foreign Affairs articls and reviews of his major books.
I am deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Rabbi Arnold Jacob Wolf, who was not just our neighbor, but a dear friend to Michelle and me. We are joined in this time of grief by the entire Hyde Park community, the American Jewish Community, and all those who shared Rabbi Wolf's passion for learning and profound commitment to serving others. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family. Throughout Chicago and in Jewish homes and classrooms across our country, Rabbi Wolf's name is synonymous with service, social action and the possibility of change. He will be remembered as a loving husband and father, an engaging teacher, a kindhearted shepherd for the K.A.M. Isaiah community, and a tireless advocate of peace for the United States, Israel and the world.
Four new power brokers—Asian sovereign investors, petrodollars, hedge funds, and private equity firms—are having a growing impact on global capital markets. In this update to a 2007 report, MGI examines how the new power brokers have fared since then, during the turmoil of skyrocketing oil prices, evaporating liquidity, and disappearing leverage.
MGI finds that the financial and economic events since mid-2007 have, if anything, accelerated the trends identified earlier: The power brokers' wealth and clout have grown. They have adapted by expanding their investment strategies. And they have increased the use of private financing as an alternative to public markets. Their actions have brought clear benefits in containing the financial market crisis but also have highlighted the risks associated with their rise....
Despite the financial crisis, MGI projects that the power brokers will continue to grow in wealth and clout. Under a conservative, base–case scenario, their combined assets will grow to $21 trillion (excluding overlap between them) by 2013. If, instead, they grow more briskly, at their 2000 to 2007 pace, their wealth would rise to $31 trillion, equivalent to roughly 60 percent the expected size of global pension funds or mutual funds in 2013.
The rapid rise of the new power brokers also poses potential risks. The report examines four main concerns: that the additional liquidity might foster asset price inflation; that state investors might use their wealth for political purposes; that hedge fund failures might destabilize the financial system; and that private equity firms' heavy leverage might increase credit defaults. MGI concludes these concerns remain on the table and justify careful consideration and monitoring. But overall, the rise of these new power brokers has been largely beneficial to global capital markets.
The possibility of hedge funds destabilizing the system certainly remains in play, but most of the rest of this looks pretty silly. Of MGI's four new power brokers, only Asian sovereign investors still look like their power will be growing.I really don't mean to pick on McKinsey. In fact, readers are strongly encouraged to comb through the archives of danieldrezner.com to see what I got wrong. Here's my prediction post from the end of last year -- I only batted .500, but I do think I got the big things right.
Mr. Obama compared his infrastructure plan to the Eisenhower-era construction of the Interstate System of highways. It brings back the Eisenhower era in a less appealing way as well: there are almost no women on this road to recovery. Back before the feminist revolution brought women into the workplace in unprecedented numbers, this would have been more understandable. But today, women constitute about 46 percent of the labor force. And as the current downturn has worsened, their traditionally lower unemployment rate has actually risen just as fast as men’s. A just economic stimulus plan must include jobs in fields like social work and teaching, where large numbers of women work (emphasis added).There's a word to describe Hirshman's argument here. I think the word is "wrong," since it's based on a faulty premise:
Men are losing jobs at far greater rates than women as the industries they dominate, such as manufacturing, construction, and investment services, are hardest hit by the downturn. Some 1.1 million fewer men are working in the United States than there were a year ago, according to the Labor Department. By contrast, 12,000 more women are working. This gender gap is the product of both the nature of the current recession and the long-term shift in the US economy from making goods, traditionally the province of men, to providing services, in which women play much larger roles, economists said. For example, men account for 70 percent of workers in manufacturing, which shed more than 500,000 jobs over the past year. Healthcare, in which nearly 80 percent of the workers are women, added more than 400,000 jobs. “As the recession broadens, the gap between men and women is going to close somewhat,” said Andrew Sum, director of the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University. “But right now, the sectors that are really getting pounded are intensely male.”Click here for more background information on the data provided above. Now, maybe this is unfair -- maybe more women have entered the labor force, and therefore their unemployment rate has risen as fast as men. Nope, that's not it. Monthly data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that Hirschman's assumpton is a flat-out falsehood. Immediately prior to the start of the recession (November 2007), the unemployment rate for men was 4.7%; the rate for women was 4.6%. As of November 2008, the unemployment rate for men has increased to 7.2%, while the unemployment rate for women has only risen to 6%. So, to sum up: there is no way to spin this data to support the assumption that drives Hirschman's op-ed. Readers are invited to proffer their reasons for a) how Hirshman could be so wrong in her premise; and b) why the New York Times op-ed page did not fact-check this out of the essay. UPDATE: Hirshman provides her rationale for this assumption in a comment over at Megan McArdle's site:
Here is the data from the November report of the BLS, available to anyone with a click of the mouse, showing the female unemployment rate rising as the downturn worsened, and, coincidentally, the jobs stimulus rose to the top of the political pile as the salient issue. Since extracting information from printed sources does not seem to be your strong suit, allow me to summarize the data: From October to November 2008, men's and women's unemployment rate rose .2. From September, 2008 to November, 2008, which was when the downturn worsened, men's unemployment rate rose .4 and women's .6.This is, at best, cherry-picking the data, because it ignores the massive gender splits of the eight months of the recession prior to September. If the recession started in December of last year, I don't see a reason for looking only at a couple of months of data. ANOTHER UPDATE: Hirshman posts another comment below, which is essentially a reprint of what she wrote at McArdle's site. My response:
Since visiting Cuba a few weeks ago, I’ve been thinking about the visual assault on our lives. Climb in a New York taxi these days and a TV comes on with its bombardment of news and ads. It’s become passé to gaze out the window, watch the sunlight on a wall, a child’s smile, the city breathing. In Havana, I’d spend long hours contemplating a single street. Nothing — not a brand, an advertisement or a neon sign — distracted me from the city’s sunlit surrender to time passing. At a colossal price, Fidel Castro’s pursuit of socialism has forged a unique aesthetic, freed from agitation, caught in a haunting equilibrium of stillness and decay. Such empty spaces, away from the assault of marketing, beyond every form of message (e-mail, text, twitter), erode in the modern world, to the point that silence provokes a why-am-I-not-in-demand anxiety. Technology induces ever more subtle forms of addiction, to products, but also to agitation itself. The global mall reproduces itself, its bright and air-conditioned sterility extinguishing every distinctive germ.OK, first of all, Roger Cohen has never ridden in a NYC cab with small children -- because those little TVs are godsends when traveling with little ones who might ordinarily get carsick being in a real New York cab. Now, as it happens, I have also spent significant amounts of time in empty spaces as well. And while the aesthetic along certain boulevards of an absence of advertising and neon can be lovely, the fact is that 90% of these places would really benefit from some of the global mall. Paris has its charms, but the rest of the world is not Paris. Having lived in Donetsk, Ukraine fore a year, I kept thinking, "at least some advertising would bring a little color to a drab part of the globe." So, no, I didn't feel a "why-am-I-not-in-demand anxiety" when I was in these places -- I felt bored.
Paris, of course, has resisted homogenization. It’s still Paris, with its strong Haussmannian arteries, its parks of satisfying geometry, its islands pointing their prows toward the solemn bridges, its gilt and gravel, its zinc-roofed maids’ rooms arrayed atop the city as if deposited by some magician who stole in at night. It’s still a place where temptation exists only to be yielded to and where time stops to guard forever an image in the heart. All young lovers should have a row in the Tuileries in order to make up on the Pont Neuf. Yet, for all its enduring seductiveness, Paris has ceased to be the city that I knew. The modern world has sucked out some essence, leaving a film-set perfection hollowed out behind the five-story facades. The past has been anaesthetized. It has been packaged. It now seems less a part of the city’s fabric than it is a kitschy gimmick as easily reproduced as a Lautrec poster. I know, in middle age the business of life is less about doing things for the first than for the last time. It is easy to feel a twinge of regret. Those briny oysters, the glistening mackerel on their bed of ice at the Rue Mouffetard, the drowsy emptied city in August, the unctuousness of a Beef Bourguignon: these things can be experienced for the first time only once. So what I experience in Paris is less what is before me than the memory it provokes of the city in 1975. Memories, as Apollinaire noted, are like the sound of hunters’ horns fading in the wind. Still, they linger. The town looks much the same, if prettified. What has changed has changed from within.What I love about this section is the 100% certainty that, fifty years from now, some op-ed columnist will write an essay containing the exact same nostalgia about the anaesthetized, packaged Paris of today. Similarly, fifty years ago I guarantee you someone wrote this exact same essay, complaining that the Paris of Roger Cohen's fond remembrance is merely an anaesthetized, packaged version of the "true" Paris. This section is not about Paris changing -- it's about Roger Cohen aging (which, to his credit, he kind of understands).
At dinner with people I’d known back then, I was grappling with this elusive feeling when my friend lit a match. It was a Russian match acquired in Belgrade and so did not conform to current European Union nanny-state standards. The flame jumped. The sulfur whiff was pungent. A real match! Then it came to me: what Paris had lost to modernity was its pungency. Gone was the acrid Gitane-Gauloise pall of any self-respecting café. Gone was the garlic whiff of the early-morning Metro to the Place d’Italie. Gone were the mineral mid-morning Sauvignons Blancs downed bar-side by red-eyed men. Gone were the horse butchers and the tripe restaurants in the 12th arrondissement. Gone (replaced by bad English) was the laconic snarl of Parisian greeting. Gone were the bad teeth, the yellowing moustaches, the hammering of artisans, the middle-aged prostitutes in doorways, the seat-less toilets on the stairs, and an entire group of people called the working class. Gone, in short, was Paris in the glory of its squalor, in the time before anyone thought a Frenchman would accept a sandwich for lunch, or decreed that the great unwashed should inhabit the distant suburbs. The city has been sanitized.I've visited parts of the global that have been sanitized and parts of the globe that have not. I vote for sanitation. For every charming pungent aroma that Cohen claims has disappeared, there are five aromas that I'm happy to see diminish in scope: no one misses the pungency of stale urine, vomit, moldy beer, rotting garbage, and worse smells, but they tend to parallel the ones Cohen claims to miss. I'll take that tradeoff without blinking. And, apparently, so will the rest of Europe.
But squalor connects. When you clean, when you favor hermetic sealing in the name of safety, you also disconnect people from one another. When on top of that you add layers of solipsistic technology, the isolation intensifies. In its preserved Gallic disguise, Paris is today no less a globalized city than New York.Likely true, and if Cohen wants to bemoan the cultural cost of globalization, I'm not so blinkered as to suggest it doesn't exist. But I'll trade the minor cost to Paris for the massive culinary benefit that globalization has had on other metropolises, like, say, London.
Havana has also preserved its architecture — the wrought-iron balconies, the caryatids, the baroque flourishes — even if it is crumbling. What has been preserved with it, thanks to socialist economic disaster, is that very pungent texture Paris has lost to modernity. The slugs of Havana Club rum in bars lit by fluorescent light, the dominos banged on street tables, the raucous conversations in high doorways, the whiff of puros, the beat through bad speakers of drums and maracas, the idle sensuality of Blackberry-free days: Cuba took me back decades to an era when time did not always demand to be put to use.For Pete's sake, you can go lots of island resorts without a Stalinist economy and still experience that kind of slowing down. Hell, there are even, dare I say, commercials that make this point.
I thought I’d always have Paris. But Havana helped me see, by the flare of a Russian match, that mine is gone.I've visited a lot of communist locales that preserve Cohen's pungency. As a general rule, all of them are better off after the pungency has gone.
Ever asked an academic about their research only to be subjected to 20 minutes of nonsensical droning? Thanks to YouTube, it just got a whole lot easier to explain a complicated thesis at a cocktail party. In early October, Ph.D. students worldwide were challenged by Gonzo Labs/AAAS to re-create their dissertations through interpretive dance and post the videos on YouTube. Dozens of performances were submitted, ranging from tangos to Lindy Hops to night-vision hula-hooping. The choreography was scored on its ability to bridge the gap between art and science, though you should feel free to judge based on levels of jubilation and pure absurdity.I think "The Role of Vitamin D in Beta-Cell Function" was my personal favorite: I would have loved to have seen some social science contributions. Think of these possible topics for interpretive dance:
A Wal-Mart employee in suburban New York was trampled to death by a crush of shoppers who tore down the front doors and thronged into the store early Friday morning, turning the annual rite of post-Thanksgiving bargain hunting into a Hobbesian frenzy. At 4:55 a.m., just five minutes before the doors were set to open, a crowd of 2,000 anxious shoppers started pushing, shoving and piling against the locked sliding glass doors of the Wal-Mart in Valley Stream, New York, Nassau County police said. The shoppers broke the doors off their hinges and surged in, toppling a 34-year-old temporary employee who had been waiting with other workers in the store's entryway. People did not stop to help the employee as he lay on the ground, and they pushed against other Wal-Mart workers who were trying to aid the man. The crowd kept running into the store even after the police arrived, jostling and pushing officers who were trying to perform CPR, the police said.Let's hope that Healy and Macropoulos find a story where they manage to use the phrase "Kantian bliss" appopriately. Readers are encouraged to write their own lead paragraph for a story that involves their favorite philosophical concept -- Lockean civility, Nietzschean absurdity, Machiavellian lust, etc.
Readers are encouraged to improve upon Entertainment Weekly and discuss which sexy movies were thoughtlessly omitted from the list.
In the Travel and Entertainment category, you will find that fewer requests to eat in restaurants will be approved, and requests for desserts in restaurants, particularly, will not be approved (unless they are included in the cost of a kid’s meal). In the case of Cabot’s or The Cheesecake Factory, where ice cream or cheesecake, respectively, is kind of the point, sharing is strongly encouraged. An additional benefit of this will be improved health. Netflix has been put on hold for 90 days, and we will reconsider that offering then; unopened red envelopes left on top of the TV indicate a lack of demand at present. Newspaper and magazine subscriptions are subject to elimination as well. Executives, including myself, are being asked to purchase regular coffee in place of more expensive coffee drinks while traveling, and to utilize meals from our on-site food service provider whenever possible.... Lastly, note that we have no plans to add human resources. Requests for non-human resources (i.e., pets) may be considered in a future fiscal year.
Daniel W. Drezner is professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.