So the big push for World War Z is clearly afoot. The second trailer for the film was released a week ago:
So this trailer isn't all that different from the first trailer, which means my qualms about the film version of Max Brooks' masterpiece remain. Still, that airplane sequence at the end was well executed, and offers some promise.
But then we get to the Entertainment Weekly cover story -- out today -- about the long, laborious process of getting World War Z from page to screen. It's a good article that details the myriad screenwriters involved, the location difficulties, and the reshoots. One definitely gets the sense of how Brad Pitt warmed to the subject matter over time. Hell, in the EW article he referenced All The President's Men as his template for the story -- which, if you've read World War Z, you know isn't the craziest comparison.
Which is great, until we get to this long quote from Pitt at the end of the story explaining how the final version of the movie has changed from his original conception:
At the time, I was really interested in a more political film, using the zombie trope as a kind of Trojan horse for asking, 'What would happen to sociopolitical lines if there was a pandemic like this? Who would be on top? Who would be the powerful countries and who would be the most vulnerable?
We wanted to really explore that, but it was just too much. We got bogged down in it; it was too much to explain. It gutted the fun of what these films are meant to be.
Excuse me, I need to go do this for a while:
Here's the thing -- the very reason that World War Z the book is better than every other zombie novel ever written is the global scope and the reasonably realistic take on the politics of a zombie apocalypse. There is action galore in the book, but there's something more as well. The politics that "bogged down" the movie? That is the fun!
Will I go see World War Z? Probably out of sheer professional obligation. But let's be clear -- based on the evidence to date, the odds seem very likely that the movie version of World War Z will be a garden-variety big-budget disaster flick. It's not gonna be great.
While Pitt plans a trilogy of films, methinks this World War Z would have worked even better as a miniseries for HBO or FX. Too bad. Should some shameless huckster desire to procure the film version of Theories of International Politics and Zombies -- which is all about the politics -- then they should contact Princeton University Press.
Am I missing anything?
Over at the Guardian, Ed Pilkington notes a rather curious silence from a powerful American interest group:
The National Rifle Association is so tied up fighting new gun restrictions in the wake of the Newtown shooting that it has failed so far to mount its expected lobbying blitz against a new international arms control control treaty.
With just a few weeks to go until the world's first Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) is put to a final vote at a UN conference in New York campaigners have voiced surprise at the NRA's relative silence on the issue. Until the Newtown tragedy, in which 20 young children died in their classrooms on 14 December, the UN's attempt to contain the loosely regulated international trade in weapons had been one of the gun lobby's biggest targets....
[A]head of the final ATT conference, which opens on 18 March, the NRA has been notable by its absence. Though the organisation continues to vow that it will do all in its power to prevent the arms trade coming into effect – arguing that it is a "ticking time-bomb" and "the most serious threat to American gun owners in decades" – it has not been applying the same strong-arm tactics as it did in 2012.
So what's up? Pilkington suggests that the NRA is so distracted fighting against domestic gun control measures that it's taken its eye off the ball of this treaty -- particlarly since, according to the American Bar Association, there's nothing in the ATT to infringe on Second Amendment rights.
That might be true, but let me suggest an alternative hypothesis based on LaPierre's own rhetoric. The standard NRA defense against gun control has been concern about a Leviathan stripping citizens of their right to bear arms. Based on LaPierre's recent Daily Caller essay, however, I think they've switched arguments. The concern is no longer about creeping totalitarianism; it's creeping anarchy:
Hurricanes. Tornadoes. Riots. Terrorists. Gangs. Lone criminals. These are perils we are sure to face—not just maybe. It’s not paranoia to buy a gun. It’s survival. It’s responsible behavior, and it’s time we encourage law-abiding Americans to do just that....
Responsible Americans realize that the world as we know it has changed. We, the American people, clearly see the daunting forces we will undoubtedly face: terrorists, crime, drug gangs, the possibility of Euro-style debt riots, civil unrest or natural disaster.
Gun owners are not buying firearms because they anticipate a confrontation with the government. Rather, we anticipate confrontations where the government isn’t there—or simply doesn’t show up in time.
To preserve the inalienable, individual human right to keep and bear arms—to withstand the siege that is coming—the NRA is building a four-year communications and resistance movement (emphasis added).
They say "communications and resistance movement," I say "doomsday preppers."
I'm hardly the only one to notice this kind of doomsday prepper rhetoric from LaPierre. What's interesting is that the NRA's allies in Congress are talking the same way. Gail Collins offers up the following Lindsey Graham quote:
The senator from South Carolina wanted to know what people were supposed to do with a lousy two-shell shotgun “in an environment where the law and order has broken down, whether it’s a hurricane, national disaster, earthquake, terrorist attack, cyberattack where the power goes down and the dam’s broken and chemicals have been released into the air and law enforcement is really not able to respond and people take advantage of that lawless environment.”
Do you think Graham spends a lot of time watching old episodes of “Doomsday Preppers?” Does he worry about zombies? That definitely would require a lot of firepower (emphasis added).
I don't know if Graham worries about zombies, but I've given this matter some thought, and I do wonder if there's a fusion of various apocalyptic fears going on in some political quarters.
To get back to the Arms Trade Treaty, since Newtown the NRA appears to have shifted tactics in its arguments about the necessity to bear arms. But the fear of state collapse is a very different logic from a fear of an overpowering state. If you believe that governments will simply crumble at the first sign of a threat, then you're not gonna bother lobbying against some silly international treaty. It's not like the ATT will make a difference when the s**t hits the fan. Rather, groups like the NRA should be more concerned with declining gun ownership rates in the United States.
In the argot of international relations theory, a leader or organization that finds itself trapped by its political rhetoric is suffering from "blowback." In an irony of ironies, I wonder if the NRA's shift in rhetoric has hamstrung its lobbying efforts on the Arms Trade Treaty.
Your humble blogger gave a talk at the "Sex, Tech and Rock & Roll" TEDx event at Binghamton University last month. My talk was entitled "Metaphor of the Living Dead" and was in part prompted by my prior work on zombies, as well as this blog post from last December.
Here's the TED talk:
I look forward to The Onion trying to satirize that talk.
Your humble blogger is taking a vacation at an undisclosed zombie-proof redoubt for the next ten days, so blogging will be on the lighter side.
Speaking of the lighter side, juuuuuust a few friends and colleagues have informed me that zombie preparedness has become a political issue up in Canada. From BuzzFeed's Ellie Hall:
The Canadian government has gone on the record about the zombie apocalypse. In an amazing exchange on the floor of the House of Commons today, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird was asked if he was working to "develop an international zombie strategy so that a zombie invasion does not turn into a zombie apocalypse."
New Democratic Party Parliament Member Pat Martin applauded the United States Center for Disease Control's emergency preparedness measures premised on a zombie outbreak and wanted to know how Canada would act to protect its citizens.
Here's the clip:
For the entirety of Baird's response, click over to Huffington Post Canada.
Now, to be honest, I'm a bit disturbed by this exchange. First of all, there were so many better puns that Baird could have uttered.
Second of all, both the NDP representative and the Foreign Minister were poorly briefed. Sure, Martin knew about the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and the Quebec government's counter-zombie efforts, but why no mention of British Columbia's aggressive campaign against the living dead?! That seems like rank prejudice against Canada's Western provinces.
Third, how in the name of all that is reanimated could the Canadians have this debate without discussing Canada's distinguished contributions to the zombie genre? No mention of Pontypool? No mention of Fido?! Come on!!!
Fourth, the claim that zombies could effortlessly cross borders echoes a leading Canadian perspective on this issue ... but where's the expert testimony? Why no international relations perspective? It's not like Theories of International Politics and Zombies isn't available in Canada.
This is serious business. Winter has come. The White Walkers could be emigrating down from the North at any moment. Until Canada gets its house in order, secures its strategic maple syrup reserve from waffle-eating ghouls, and starts consulting experts on this issue, I for one, am taking my family south.
In recent weeks there's been a low hum of pretty interesting and not-so-interesting essays asking why there has been so much attention paid in the zombie apocalypse, and what that attention signifies.
I bring this up because the Discovery Channel will be airing it's Zombie Apocalypse documentary this evening. The New York Times' Neal Genzlinger reviews it and finds it... pretty wanting:
Thank goodness we’ll all be wiped out by the Maya doomsday by week’s end. That will spare us the discomfort of having to go through the impending zombie apocalypse....
The National Geographic Channel’s “Doomsday Preppers,” among others, has already introduced viewers to people who go to seemingly extreme lengths to get ready for terrorist attacks, the collapse of the financial system, nuclear power plant disasters and more, so perhaps it’s no surprise that, at least according to this program, there are some among us who are seriously preparing for a zombie attack. What makes this program different is that among clips of the preppers spewing nonsense about how to shoot a zombie, it intercuts interviews with credentialed academics who say that, yes, a virus or some such that attacks the brain could find its way into humans, disseminate rapidly and cause symptoms that would make us resemble all those zombies we know and love from the movies....
The program also gives you the rare experience of hearing a professor (Daniel W. Drezner of Tufts University) described as the “author of ‘Theories of International Politics and Zombies’ ” — on Monday, No. 40 on Amazon’s list of best sellers in its sub-sub-subcategory of international and world politics. And it provides a new entry for the list of you-must-be-joking organizations: apparently there actually is something called theKansas Anti Zombie Militia.
But it’s hard right now to take this program in the pop-culture way it was intended, especially the idiocy that comes out of the mouths of the various preppers. “Some people’s epiphany,” says one, Matthew Oakey, “is when they realize that the guy that lives on their block with all the guns and ammo isn’t crazy.”
I haven't seen the documentary yet, so I can't really comment on it except what I recall from their interview of me three months ago. Three thoughts, though:
1) Given the reported claim that Nancy Lanza was in fact a doomsday prepper, I have to share Mr. Genzlinger's concern about the unfortunate timing of this broadcast. Some television networks have made alterations to their broadcasts because of the Sandy Hook attack. I'm not sure this program rises to that level, but the timing makes me wince, which is probably not a good sign.
2) Damn, I need to update my Fletcher page. Seriously, that thing is at least three years out of date.
3) Regarding my participation in the documentary, well, I'll just reprint what Newsday's Verne Gay wrote:
One of the "experts" quoted here is in fact a respected scholar in foreign policy at Tufts who has written widely on zombies, though largely as metaphors for chaos in world markets and how people adapt. In an email, I asked Dan Drezner about the program, and he responded that a book he had written on the subject was "intended to be funny [but] one of the points I make is that fears about zombie apocalypses are exaggerated because people underestimate the adaptability of humans." He added, "I have no idea if that got in or not."
Sorry, professor -- it did not get in, and the documentary is not funny.
That's unfortunate... and it gives rise to an almost sacrilegious question: have we hit the law of diminishing marginal returns on the living dead? On the popular culture front, when Twilight-like books and films are being made about zombies (though I gotta admit I like what I see from the trailer) and the sign of Nick's loserdom in The New Girl is that he's working on a lame zombie novel, I fear we've hit saturation point.
On the utility-of-the-metaphor front, I will defend the use of fictional analogies as a way of stimulating creative thinking and calling attention to useful policy measures until my last undying breath. I wrote Theories of International Politics and Zombies because I thought it would make some people laugh and make some people think; it was a subversive way to get some book-learning into the cerebellum. Since the book has come out, however, I find that the questions I get from reporters and documentarians about the living dead have morphed from seriocomic to just dead serious.
I share Alyssa Rosenberg's concern that people are focusing way too much on being in the apocalypse as opposed to how we get to the apocalypse and whether it can be stopped. Analogies free up certain pattens of thought while also constraining others. Because so many zombie narratives assume that no matter what humans do, we wind up in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, there's a tendency to presume that this must and always be so. That constraint is starting to become more prominent.
So to sum up: I'm in a zombie documentary this evening, it's apparently not that great, I'm quite confident that the zombie apocalypse won't happen, and my Fletcher page is badly in need of updating. That is all.
We might live in an era of globalization, but its is nevertheless true that travel abroad leads to some odd news gaps when one returns. Last year I took a transatlantic flight and while I was incommunicado, Hosni Mubarak stepped down as the President of Egypt. During yesterday's trip, David Petraeus resigned after... after.... well, insert your own pun involving Petraeus and Paula Broadwell here, but only if you think you can top the New York Post.
Still, I think the biggest shock I encountered upon my return was the new trailer for World War Z, starring Brad Pitt and based on the best zombie novel ever written (by Max Brooks).
I once asked Max -- yeah, I know him, I get to call him Max, just f***ing deal with it -- how he was handling the movie version of his book, and he told me that his strategy was to simply sign over the rights and then not pay an iota of attention to what happened. Once it became clear that the producers weren't interested in his input, he figured that it was the only way to stay sane.
After watching the trailer, I think his strategy is sound, because it looks like what they're doing to World War Z is a travesty:
Now, let me preface my reaction to this trailer with the following caveats:
1) All movies that are inspired by books will deviate from their source material. That doesn't make the films bad (see my review of Argo, for example).
2) This is a trailer, and very often trailers are designed to misdirect your perceptions of how the film will play out. So maybe the movie will play out differently.
3) Even this trailer has hints of the book I love -- there are suggestions of the sweeping global canvas that made the book so great.
All that said, this looks pretty bad.
First off, there's the fast CGI zombies. One of the great pleasures of World War Z the novel was the way in which the degree of threat slowly creeped up, just like the walkers that Brooks used for his zombies. Switching to the 28 Days Later style of ghouls changes the nature of the threat in ways that undercut one of the central pleasures of Brooks' novel. The trailer looks like a globalized version of 28 Days Later. Which would be OK if the zombies in the movie version of World War Z were as scary as that movie's Infected. Which they ain't. You know a movie's Big Bad is in trouble when the Dark Seekers from I Am Legend look positively life-like.
Second, the trailer and the casting make it seem pretty clear that the movie is about how former government badass Brad Pitt reluctantly decides to leave his family for a spell to save the world. Which is pretty much the total friggin' opposite of what happens in the book.
Again, one of the pleasures of World War Z was the almost-pointillist way that Brooks told dozens of small stories about what happened across the world -- and how the sum of myriad small actions paved the way to victory. Indeed, the closest thing to a strategic savior in the book is a despised Afrikaaner who modified a decades-old plan to preserve the apartheid government into a ruthless strategy to retrench and then defeat the undead hordes. Brad Pitt ain't that guy. So instead this looks like your standard reluctant-hero-saves-the-day narrative.
Finally, over 90% of the trailer looks at the U.S. Again, the best thing about the book was how it started with a global perspective and how it managed to keep a global perspective (as opposed to, say, Contagion).
In the course of writing Theories of International Politics and Zombies, my admiration for what Brooks pulled off in his book only grew with time. I hope I'm wrong about how the movie version of World War Z turns out. At this point, however, I have more optimism about Star Wars Episode VII than this bastardization of Max Brooks' magnum opus.
Am I missing anything?
Greetings from Great Britain, land of delicious clotted cream and no campaign ads. In other words, pure bliss.
On this electuon day, I'm glad to see that others here at Foreign Policy are thinking about the possible catastrophes that might befall our next leader. I see that "rise of the undead" was not listed among those possible catastrophes, however.
Fortunately, Jeffrey Goldberg is on the case. For his Bloomberg column we chatted about whether Obama or Romney or someone else would be the better leader to fight the undead menace. Read the whole thing to see our takes. And happy election day!
While your humble blogger was wending his way back from Paris to the States, everyone and their mother emailed, Facebooked or tweeted me the following campaign video from geek god Joss Whedon:
Now, as much as I've dissected both candidates' foreign policies and foreign policy statements, I hadn't really thought about which one of them would be more likely to trigger the zombie apocalypse.
masks reveals a flaw in Theories of International Politics and Zombies. In that book, I argued that any measures by governments to prevent the creation of zombies were likely to fail. The problem was that the origins of zombies are so multifaceted -- biological, radiological, supernatural -- that it was foolish to deevote resources to trying. Furthermore, the very nature of "normal accidents" could mean that preventive measures could actually increase the probability of flesh-eating ghouls.
But Whedon is onto something different and altogether more interesting in his video. Are there domestic policies that would increase the likelihood of a true zombie apocalypse? He lists serious cuts in health care and social services, as well as Romney's commitment to "ungoverned corporate privilege" that would foment the undead apocalypse.
Now I give Whedon points for acknowledging that we don't know which kind of undead are coming -- "no one knows for sure if they'll be the superfast 28 Days Later zombies or the old school shambling kind." But is Whedon's hypothesis actually true? One could posit that he's got it backwards. After all, the key to preventing the spread of the zombie apocalypse is to slow down the infection rate and spread of the undead contagoion. Cuts to public services might actually discourage the 47% from congregating in public places, thereby making it that much harder for the initial cluster of the undead to be able to spread their pestilence and hunger for human flesh to others. Similarly, it is likely true that giving corporations a freer hand might incentivize one of them to take the Umbrella path to global domination, Romney's tough stands on immigration will likely restrict the H1-B visas necessary to hire the Eurotrash that always seems to be a the top of the corporate ladder when Things Go Wrong.
Stepping back, if you think about it, the relationship between economic inequality and the zombie apocalypse is kinda complicated. On the one hand, consistent with Acemoglu and Robinson, more politically and economically egalitarian societies are likely to invest in the public goods necessary to mitigate the spread of the deadites. On the other hand, unequal societies are likely to have elites invest in worst-case scenarios -- mountaintop redoubts, vast underground laboratories, panic rooms, evil volcano lairs -- that guarantee a minmax outcome in which the human species will continue to exist in some form. Of course, on the third, undead, dismembered, delicious hand, those last redoubt solutions never seem to work out as planned.
Still, as I contemplate a
revised revived edition of Theories of International Politics and Zombies, I thank Whedon for bringing this important issue to the fore -- just as the massive zombiestorm prepares to strike the Northeast Corridor.
Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to stock up on canned goods and imagine the dialogue that a movie treatment of Night of the Living Dead meets Atlas Shrugged would inspire.
Readers are warmly encouraged to proffer their suggestions for policies that would trigger/foment the zombie apocalypse in the comments.
For the past ten days your humble blogger has been doing some intense work on a project that will see the light of day in the spring of 2013. This project has left your humble blogger's brain in a state that most likely resembles tapioca pudding. So today's post is not gonna be about the abstruse nature of the global economy. Instead, I wanna talk about a bad TV show.
The NBC/J.J.Abrams/Jon Favreau show Revolution earned respectable ratings in its premiere and follow-up episode. Your humble blogger must confess that he was intrigued enough by the trailer to check out the pilot to see what all the fuss was about. As a self-identified expert in the political economy of the apocalypse, however, I'm afraid that I must conclude that Revolution is a pile of derivative crap.
So, the basic setup of the show is that at some point in the near future, something happens that causes all electricity to stop working, everywhere. Revolution then fast-forwards fifteen years. In the interim the United States has fallen apart, replaced with authoritarian militias like the Monroe Militia currently trying to control the Midwest. In that area, gun ownership is banned.
The basic problem with Revolution is that it wants to to get to the post-apocalyptic world of, say, The Walking Dead, with the anarchy and the chaos and the bloddletting, but it cheats way too much on its premise to earn its world.
I kinda like the idea of a reset in which electricity simply stops working for some malevolent reason, so I don't exactly have the same problem that the physics geeks have with the show. But Revolution's premise simply neither considers nor respects the lessons from history in trying to create it's post-apocalyptic world. Consider the following historical facts:
1) Countries and empires managed to maintain something resembling territorial integrity prior to the invention of electricity;
2) There's this little invention called the "steam power" which really only needs fire to be able to work, that the show completely elides. This matters one whole hell of a lot. Steam engines can power railroads, steamships, and even cars. So a blackout would have put some crimps in cross-country and cross-border communication -- but it wouldn't have slowed transportation all that much. Steam power would also allow things like industrial factories and foundies to continue -- albeit with considerable retooling. All told, the odds of state collapse are actually pretty remote.
3) Everyone in this show is either walking or riding a horse to get around. Now let's assume that everyone in the world developed historical amnesia about steam power. It's stupid, but OK. Where are the f**king bicycles?! Are those not working as well?
Now I realize that the show's creators are more interested in promoting
anything that gives this show a whiff of that Hunger Games vibe swordplay and hot young archers -- not that there's anything wrong with that. Still, this seems like a wasted opportunity.
Coming up next time in Drezner's TV round-up -- I'll review Last Resort.
Posting will be intermittent for the next few days, as your humble blogger is headed to... Comic-Con 2012 in San Diego. I will be going in two capacities:
1) An expert for the Zombie Research Society panel at 7:00 PM on Thursday;
2) The World's Most Awesome Dad for taking the official Twelve-Year Old Blog Son to Comic-Con.
Beyond that, Comic-Con mostly holds a sociological curiousity for me. As a detached social scientist, I will be closely observing whether attendees have different kind of foreign policy worldviews that ordinary folk, and OMG, THERE'S A FIREFLY REUNION PANEL??!! JOSS WHEDON WILL BE THERE?! AHH!!!!!! OMG!! ZOMG!!
So, anything IR-related that happens in San Diego, I'll be FP's reporter on the scene for the next few days. Otherwise, I'll just be crossing off "Presenting at Comic-Con" off my bucket list.
As a first-time attendee, tips from any veteran Comic-Con-goers will be greatly appreciated in the comments.
Your humble blogger has returned from Shanghai, and would like to apologize profusely for the lack of blogging this past week. Conspiracy theorists might be wondering if it was because of The Great Firewall or rising anti-foreigner sentiment in China (which, based on personal experience and media reportage, appears to be vastly exaggerated) or whether I was some top-secret emissary of the U.S. governmment. The truth is much more banal: my laptop's power cord died during this trip, so my computer had no juice for blogging.
I will post something about Sino-American relations in due course, but in the meanwhile I see that over the past week, my departing zombie joke became... a big enough zombie story to require a CDC public response. The Huffington Post's Andy Campbell reports:
Your humble blogger is headed to Shanghai this week for the "12th Dialogue on Sino-U.S. Relations, Regional Security and Global Governance," co-organized by the CSIS Pacific Forum, the Asia Foundation, and Fudan University's Center for American Studies.
This trip has been planned for several months. I raise that because the fact that I'm leaving the country as this story makes the top of The Drudge Report is just a coincidence:
It was a scene as creepy as a Hannibal Lecter movie.
One man was shot to death by Miami police, and another man is fighting for his life after he was attacked, and his face allegedly half eaten, by a naked man on the MacArthur Causeway off ramp Saturday, police said.
The horror began about 2 p.m. when a series of gunshots were heard on the ramp, which is along NE 13th Street, just south of The Miami Herald building.
According to police sources, a road ranger saw a naked man chewing on another man’s face and shouted on his loud speaker for him to back away.Meanwhile, a woman also saw the incident and flagged down a police officer who was in the area.
The officer, who has not been identified, approached and, seeing what was happening, also ordered the naked man to back away. When he continued the assault, the officer shot him, police sources said. The attacker failed to stop after being shot, forcing the officer to continue firing. Witnesses said they heard at least a half dozen shots.
You know, I'd feel a lot safer if they confirmed that the guy who got shot a lot multiple times is... how to put this... no longer animated.
That this happens just when the Bilderburg group is meeting in the States is, I'm sure, also... just a coincidence.
Concerned readers should stock up on duct tape, water, and plenty of copies of this. I'm sure everything will be fine, however,
if by the time I return.
In the meanwhile, I feel the blog has been a bit top-heavy on the 2012 campaign and China as of late. What other topics, dear readers would you like me to blog about?
[Um... does tha fact alone merit a blog post?--ed.] Good point. There are two other zombie-and-me events this week.
From 7-9 PM EST this Wednesday, I'll be the "Expert to Discuss How Theories of International Relations Could Salvage Humanity from Global Zombie Apocalypse" according to this press release. That's because I'll be delivering the Centre for International Governance Innovation's Signature Lecture on Zombies, the G20 and International Governance in Waterloo, Canada. Not any old zombie lecture -- the signature one. If you don't live in Waterloo, don't worry, you can sign up for the free, live webcast of the lecture.
As a warm-up for that lecture, however, might I suggest, the night before, watching Zombies: A Living History. It will be aired on the History Channel on Tuesday, October 25, at 8 PM. The filmmakers interviewed me for half a day, so I'll pop up now and again.
Here's the extended trailer:
Enjoy your weekend!
Late last month, Princeton University Press informed me that Theories of International Politics and Zombies had crossed the 10,000 sales mark just six months after its release. By commercial publishing standards, this represents a modest successs. By academic publishing standards, well, it's the kind of thing that makes this sort of behavior very tempting.
Why has it dome so well? Well,
I was extraordinarily lucky it has been marketed in many unusual venues. Still, I suspect the biggest reason for these numbers is that TIPZ is now being assigned in college courses (and in some rather disturbing instances, in lieu of college class sessions). Indeed, its popularity has led to juuuuust a wee bit of blowback from a few students and faculty.
Which leads me to the purpose of this blog post. Consider this an open request to both students and faculty who are using the book ij their classes. Is it useful? Not so much? Too many puns? Not enough? Are there ways to make it more useful for students? I've already received some very positive pedagogical feedback, but negative feedback -- i.e., anything that needs to be changed -- is welcomed as well.
I ask because, more likely than not, I'll be working on a
revised revived edition of TIPZ in about a year or so. Such a revision will, of course, add in more topical zombie references (Both comic book and TV versions of The Walking Dead, or MTV's Death Valley), recent policy developments (the CDC weighing in on the zombie menace), follow-on research, and a fleshing out of additional theoretical paradigms as well. Plus more drawings, because they're awesome.
So, let me know what you'd like to see in the new edition to make it even more useful in a classroom setting. And if you insist on telling me that the text is completely perfect as is, well, I can bear hearing that too.
Your humble blogger went to see Contagion over the weekend for two reasons. First, Slate movie critic Forrest Wickman concluded his review by calling it, "the most believable zombie movie ever made." He's not the only one to make the zombie connection, and well, now I've got some skin in that game. Second, the FP editors have asked me to review other disaster scenarios, so I figured I'd just pre-empt their request and join the legions of moviegoers who
get their ya-yas seeing Gwyneth Paltrow die on film be entertained.
So, let me provide the MASSIVE SPOILER ALERT klaxon here and get to the assessment. How well did Steven Soderbergh and company portray what would happen if a lethal pandemic were to break out?
OK, good news first: in terms of both accuracy and suspense, Contagion is a far, far better film than, say, either Outbreak or The Andromeda Strain. The first reason is that Soderbergh does not bother with the anti-government paranoia that those earlier films possessed in their DNA. Instead, the treatment of the Centers for Disease Control, Department of Homeland Security, and World Health Organization officials is fair. They are depicted as flawed but well-meaning bureaucrats, getting some decisions right and some wrong. They also speak in jargon, a surprising amount of which makes its way into the film. I fully expect to see the term "R-0" bandied about by news anchors the next time a flu bug breaks out. A CDC official utters the two most chilling words in the entire movie -- "social distancing" -- to describe the necessary freak-out by citizens to avoid human contact with other humans as a way of slowing the spread of the virus. That's the perfect dash of bureaucratese.
The second reason is that Soderbergh almost perfectly nails the first stage of the pandemic. Unlike, say, most zombie or other apocalyptic films, Soderbergh doesn't get to the breakdown of social order in the first reel. He takes his time, which helps to amp up the pressure and make it seem all the scarier when things do seem to break down (Matt Damon's character is the perfect vessel here; Damon's best work is in his reaction shots to other people behaving badly). He also deftly demonstrates in the first ten minutes how globalization would abet the spread of any kind of superbug.
Despite this slow ratcheting up, I haven't seen a director kill off so many Hollywood starlets since Joss Whedon.
The third reason is that the movie, intriguingly enough, does not end in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. Consistent with the arguments I made in Theories of International Politics and Zombies, humans prove to be just as adaptable as the biological threats to humans.
That said, here are my beefs:
1) Really, the blogger is the Big Bad in the movie? Really? The villian of the piece is Jude Law's crudely-named Alan Krumwiede, who detects the spread of the virus early but hawks a homeopathic remedy to enrich himself. Exactly how he gets rich doing this is not entirely clear -- he has some shady meetings with a hedge fund manager, but it's not entirely clear why, after gaining fame and fortune, he doesn't start acting differently as more attention gets paid to him. It's also presumed that Krumwiede has the monopoly of blogging on the issue -- I'm pretty sure that as he gained popularity, a few other health bloggers would try to cut him down to size.
Neither Soderbergh nor his screenwriter Scott Z. Burns like bloggers, like, at all. At one point the virologist played by Elliott Gould tells Krumwiede, "Blogging is not writing. It's graffiti with punctuation." Hah! That shows what Soderbregh knows -- us bloggers are lucky if we remember to use commas, much less semicolons.
Look, as a founding member of the International Brotherhood of Policy Bloggers, I can't claim that actors like Krumwiede don't exist. My skepticism is over whether they'd really wreak as much havoc as Soderbergh thinks. Myths and rumors can spread on the Internet, but so can the corrections of those myths. In the end, someone like Krumwiede would affect a very narrow, already paranoid subculture -- the larger effect would be minimal.
Even if Krumwiede is an absurd villain, I also didn't buy it when the DHS official let him go free once he made bail. At a minimum, they'd hold this guy for 48 hours without charging. I'd also wager that they'd try to deport him too.
One final note: I'd love to see Lee Siegel hire Sodebergh to direct and Aaron Sorkin to write a movie about the Internet, just to see the final dystopic product.
2) Where the hell is the Chinese central government? The most absurd subplot is when a WHO official gets abducted by her translator as collateral to protect his infected village. She's held hostage for at least six months -- during which time she goes native -- until the WHO barters some (fake) vaccine for her life.
Apparently during this entire time, the Chinese central government does not bother to intervene to try to rescue her. This seems juuuuuuust a bit implausible. It also leads to the next problem....
3) Where the hell is the rest of the WHO? Beyond Marion Cotillard's character, the WHO does not really appear in the film. It's the CDC's show, and only their show . They act in Contagion pretty much how they promised they would act if the zombies arrive. Maybe that's how things would play out, but I suspect other governments and IGOs would still matter more than this film suggests. Given that the movie virus started in China, and that the head of the WHO is also from China, they might be useful in this kind of situation.
4) Few second-order effects. The virus leads to looting, crime, and other social ills, but I wish they had said something about the total economic devastation that would have occurred. At one point after a vaccine has been developed, Matt Damon's character walks through a mall to buy his daughter a prom dress -- and 80% of the mall looks to be closed. Soderbergh suggests a bunch of unions going on strike because they don't want to ge sick. I'm curious what happens once they find themselves unemployed as well.
Forget the domestic discord however, there's also...
5) No international conflict whatsoever. After the first 15 minutes, almost all of the action takes place in the USA. Once a vaccine is discovered, there is no discussion of the international wrangling that would take place over scarce supplies. No diversionary wars happen. And so forth. Soderbergh doesn't really address possible problems in world politics. Because of this, the film implicitly assumes a liberal institutionalis kind of a world. I hope he's right, but I'm not so sure myself.
To be fair to Soderbergh and his collaborators, I'm not sure it's possible to get everything right in such a film. Unless it's a television series I'm not sure it's possible to get all the nuances and complexities right. Given these limitations, Contagion is a movie worth seeing. Just bring your own Purell.
I was all set this morning to blog more about high-falutin' theoretical IR debates or what's happening in Libya or whether Hugo Chavez can really move all of his gold without these guys somehow stealing it, when, well.... this happened:
So instead, today your humble blogger was busy stockpiling supplies like
vodka fresh water, whiskey, batteries, bourbon, dry goods, etc.
This might seem like an overreaction, and hopefully, it will be. However, I learned a valuable lesson from the last time I labeled an event like this as "hurricane porn." Never again will I trivialize hurricane warnings. Even if, nine times out of ten, a hurricane/tropical storm/tropical depression turns out to be less than advertised, there is that one time that the worst case scenario nis actually realized. And in that event, better to be prepared than not.
Of course, the problem with this approach is that after each iteration in which a natural disaster warning does not come to fruition, one is tempted to be more blasé about the next one. It's the meteorilogical equivalent of festering foreign policy problems -- unless and until a slow-motion problem becomes an acute crisis, attention will not be paid.
Still, on a day when parts of New York are being evacuated, I am grateful that this is unlikely to happen:
Earlier this week Walter Russell Mead blogged about the mortal danger facing a prominent international relations theory:
American fast food continues to worm its way ever deeper into Pakistani affections. Hardee’s recently joined McDonald’s in Islamabad and both are doing well, says the Washington Post.
Since McDonald’s is also thriving in India, an IR theory is about to be put to a test. The “McDonald’s theory” holds that no two countries with McDonald’s in them will ever go to war. Once you have a middle class big enough to support hamburger franchises, the theory runs, war is a thing of the past.
I wish. The 2008 war between Russia and Georgia dealt the theory a blow; an India-Pakistan war would be the end.
Whether or not that happens, the theory is a bust. Countries often become more militaristic as their middle classes rise.
A touch a touch, I do confess it!! It appears that the collective reputation of international relations theory has been tarnished, yet -- wait a second, who came up with that theory in the first place?
As it turns out, it was not some academic IR theorist like me, but rather a Prominent Foreign Affairs Columnist of Some Renown … kinda like Mead (but not really). Yes, it was indeed Tom Friedman who first suggested "The Golden Arches Theory of Conflict Prevention."
Mead concludes that the theory is a bust, and Wikipedia appears to back him up:
(Actually, Wikipedia is underestimating how many times the Golden Arches Theory of Conflict Prevention has been falsified … according to Wikipedia. The Kargil War was in 1999, not 1998, and according to casualty estimates, there were more than 1,000 battle deaths, which meets the standard definition of a war.)
Empirical quibbles aside, this certainly falsifies Friedman's original "strong" hypothesis of "no two countries that both have a McDonald's have ever fought a war against each other." The thing is, international relations theories are kinda like … er … zombies. Even if you think you've killed them off, they can be revived.
Let's water down Friedman's strong hypothesis a bit. Is it true that, "two countries that both have a McDonald's are significantly less likely to fight a war against each other?" Mead thinks the answer is no, but my hunch is that it would be yes. A cursory glance at the scholarly literature suggests that no one has actually tested it, so … get to it, aspiring MA thesis writers!!
That said, even if the weaker version was true, would it be useful from either a theoretical or policy perspective? I think the answer here is no, and this is one important way in which academic IR theorists do better than, say, Tom Friedman. The comparative advantage of the Golden Arches Theory is pedagogical -- it's easy to explain to anyone. The problem is that McDonald's is really an intervening variable and not the actual cause of any peace. And while IR scholars sometimes roll their eyes at democratic peace theory, the literature has produced significant progress about the ways in which that hypothesis is constrained (in a world of democratizing states, for example).
Mead is correct to observe that this particular IR theory is in trouble. I'm marginally more sanguine about the state of academic IR theory overall, however.
MIRA OBERMAN/AFP/Getty Images
For your weekend amusement, check out my latest Bloggingheads diavlog with Daniel H. Wilson, author of How to Survive a Robot Uprising and the released-last-month-and-now-a-New-York-Times-bestseller Robopocalypse. If you're not familiar with Robopocalypse now, you will be when Steven Spielberg turns it into the must-see blockbuster of 2013. We talk about the challenges of writing a book when you know it will be a movie, the future of self-driving cars, and whether zombies or robots are the perfect 21st-century threat through which to think about international relations (Wilson's answer will surprise
Charli Carpenter you!)
Wilson's enthusiasm for the genre is quite infectious, and let me state for the record that a) Robopocalypse is the perfect summer read; and b) despite my strong desire to loathe anyone who stumbles into Spielberg money, Wilson was a great and gracious interview).
The rest of FP's hard-working, award-winning contributors will provide plenty of reactions to Obama's Afghanistan speech from last night. I don't have anything new to add that I didn't say, oh, about a year ago to the week.
So let's talk about.... Game of Thrones!!!
Set in a fictional medieval-type world (that looks juuuuust a bit like England) with a wisp of fantasy, there's a lot for culture vultures and international relations geeks to like. Based on a series of novels by George R.R. Martin, the first season on HBO just ended on a ratings high. Essentially, Game of Thrones consists of a lot of palace intrigue, a healthy dollop of transgressive sex, and a whiff of zombies. So you can see the attraction to your humble blogger.
Having finally caught up with the entire first season, however, I'm still puzzling out the show's applicability to current world politics. I think there are a few, but there's a bias in the show that does suggest some serious constraints [WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD].
On the one hand, Game of Thrones' best feature has been demonstrating the importance of strategic acumen in politics. The first season's protagonist, Ned Stark, is a stalwart friend, accomplished soldier, and dogged bureaucrat. He was also a strategic moron of the first order, which was why I didn't bewail his beheading in the season's climactic moment. Yes, it's a shame that the good man died. The thing is, he had so many, many opportunities to avoid that end, had he only demonstrated a bit more ability to think about how his rivals would react to his actions. Important survival trip: don't reveal all of your plans and information to your rival until you have engaged in some rudimentary contingency planning. Or, to put it more plainly:
On the other hand, I'm just not sure how much the world of Westeros translates into modern world politics. Realists would disagree, of course. Cersei Lannister makes the show's motto clear enough: "in the game of thrones, you win or you die." That's about as zero-sum a calculation as one can offer. In this kind of harsh relative gains world, realpolitik should be the expected pattern of behavior.
Which is also part of the problem with Game of Thrones. World politics is about the pursuit of power, yes, but it's not only about that. What do people want to do with the power they obtain? Social purpose matters in international affairs as well, and there's precious little of that in Game of Thrones. Sure, there are debates about dynastic succession, but there are no fundamental differences in regime type, rule of law, or economic organization among the myriad power centers in this world. I hope this changes in Season Two.
My favorite touch in Game of Thrones is the words of each house in Westeros. For House Stark, "winter is coming"; for House Lannister, "hear me roar"; for House Baratheon, "ours is the fury"; and my favority, House Greyjoy, "we do not sow." In case you were wondering, for House Drezner, our words are, "it is time to read." Alternatively, "Chinese food is coming."
Readers are warmly encouraged to proffer the words of House Obama, House Clinton, House Bush, House Saud, House Putin, House Chavez, or House Singh in the comments.
Since May is Zombie Awareness Month, I thought I would be worth noting a factual statement in Theories of International Politics and Zombies that will have to be changed in the
revived revised edition of the book.
On pages 5-6 of the introduction, I wrote:
The government of Haiti has laws on the books to prevent the zombification of individuals. No great power has done the same in public—but one can only speculate what these governments are doing in private.
Are you prepared for the impending zombie invasion?Actually, had he interviewed a zombie expert, [Cough, cough!!--ed.] I'm sure the Fox News reporter would have learned that this is not all that surprising. Indeed, I found research on the political economy of disasters to be the most useful sources in researching Theories of International Politics and Zombies.
That's the question posed by the Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention in a Monday blog posting gruesomely titled, "Preparedness 101: Zombie Apocalypse." And while it's no joke, CDC officials say it's all about emergency preparation.
"There are all kinds of emergencies out there that we can prepare for," the posting reads. "Take a zombie apocalypse for example. That's right, I said z-o-m-b-i-e a-p-o-c-a-l-y-p-s-e. You may laugh now, but when it happens you'll be happy you read this, and hey, maybe you'll even learn a thing or two about how to prepare for a real emergency."
The post, written by Assistant Surgeon General Ali Khan, instructs readers how to prepare for "flesh-eating zombies" much like how they appeared in Hollywood hits like "Night of the Living Dead" and video games like Resident Evil. Perhaps surprisingly, the same steps you'd take in preparation for an onslaught of ravenous monsters are similar to those suggested in advance of a hurricane or pandemic.
Never Fear – CDC is Ready
If zombies did start roaming the streets, CDC would conduct an investigation much like any other disease outbreak. CDC would provide technical assistance to cities, states, or international partners dealing with a zombie infestation. This assistance might include consultation, lab testing and analysis, patient management and care, tracking of contacts, and infection control (including isolation and quarantine). It’s likely that an investigation of this scenario would seek to accomplish several goals: determine the cause of the illness, the source of the infection/virus/toxin, learn how it is transmitted and how readily it is spread, how to break the cycle of transmission and thus prevent further cases, and how patients can best be treated. Not only would scientists be working to identify the cause and cure of the zombie outbreak, but CDC and other federal agencies would send medical teams and first responders to help those in affected areas (I will be volunteering the young nameless disease detectives for the field work). (emphasis added)
One could argue that the offer of international technical assistance would be consistent with the liberal paradigm, in which a robust counterzombie regime was created.
The question is, would other countries welcome the assistance? Would other countries suspect the CDC of being the very progenitor of the zombie pandemic? Would Pakistan protest if Seal Team Six was dispatched to a Karachi suburb to put down an initial zombie outbreak?
These are Very Deep Questions, and I, for one, encourage further research in this area. In the meantime, however, I would like to applaud the Assistant Surgeon General and the Center for Disease Control for joining the State of New York in thinking about the unthinkable.
Indeed, I would encourage even more CDC transparency. For example, the scenario that's sketched out that the final episode of the first season of The Walking Dead -- could that, um, you know, actually happen?
Indeed, I would encourage even more CDC transparency. For example, the scenario that's sketched out that the final episode of the first season of The Walking Dead -- could that, um, you know, actually happen?
Yesterday Rush Limbaugh asked a former U.S. serviceman who called into his show a totally-hypothetical-and-not-in-any-way-designed-to-impugn-the-patriotism-of-the-sitting-president-kind of question:
Are you aware of any military contingency plans for a president who might not be your prototypical pro-America president? Are there contingency plans to deal with a president who may not believe that the United States is the solution to the world's problems?
Marc Ambinder provides both a succinct ("No.") and a more detailed answer. Now, some readers might take umbrage at the partisanship of Limbaugh's question, but I think it dovetails nicely with some recent research interests of my own. In particular: what would happen if the president was under threat of turning into a zombie?
Let's break this down into two phases: A) a president who's been bitten but is still clearly human; and B) an undead POTUS.
The first situation could distort the government's initial policy responses. After all, the actors with the most immediate stake in sabotaging any attack on zombies are those who have been bitten by zombies, and the human relatives of zombies. By definition, the moment humans are bitten, they will inevitably become zombies. This fact can dramatically alter their preferences. This change of mind occurs in many zombie films. In George Romero's Land of the Dead (2005), the character of Cholo has the most militant anti-zombie attitude at the outset of the film. After he is bitten, however, he decides that he wants to "see how the other half lives." In Peter Jackson's Dead Alive (2002), as well as Romero's Dawn of the Dead (1978) and Survival of the Dead (2010), family members keep their undead relatives hidden from security and paramilitary forces.
Clearly, soon-to-be-ghouls and their relatives can hamper policy implementation. One would expect a soon-to-be POTUS to order research efforts on finding a cure rather than focusing on prevention, for example.
If the situation is unclear when the president is infected, all hell breaks lose once he becomes a member of the differently animated. The law here is extremely murky. From Ambinder:
The Presidential Succession Act of 1947 spells out a procedure. Let's look at 3 USC 19, subsection "E." We're dealing with a situation where there is no President, no Vice President, no Speaker of the House and no President Pro Tempore. The law then appoints the Secretary of State as President until either the end of the current president's term in office OR someone higher in the chain of command suddenly re-appears or recovers from injuries and is able to discharge the powers of office. (The Secretary of Defense is sixth in line, after the Secretary of the Treasury.)
This seems clear: If it's not clear, after some sort of decapitation attack, whether the President, the Vice President or the two Congressional successors are alive, or if they're all alive but disabled, then the Cabinet secretaries become acting President -- until and unless a "prior entitled individual" is able to act.
Let's say that the POTUS, the VPOTUS, the Speaker and the President Pro Tempore are all injured; only the Vice President recovers. As soon as that person is eligible, he or she can "bump" the Acting President aside whenever he wants....
The problem is that, in a catastrophic emergency, the people who need to know who is in charge might not have the resources to find this out immediately. These people are, in particular, the Secret Service, and the folks who execute lawful orders from the National Command Authority (which is another name for the commander in chief's executive powers).
Well, then what the hell happens if a president is bitten by a zombie, dies, and then becomes a zombie? It seems to me that the Presidential Succession Act of 1947 doesn't cover this contingency.
There is also the question of the conflicting bureaucratic imperatives that some organizations, like the Secret Service, would face in this scenario. For example, in Brian Keene's The Rising, the U.S. government falls apart almost immediately. A key trigger was the Secret Service's difficulties altering their In divining bureaucratic preferences, where you stand depends on who you eat. standard operating procedures. After the president turned into a zombie, he started devouring the secretary of state. As a result, "one Secret Service agent drew his weapon on the undead Commander-in-Chief, and a second agent immediately shot the first."
I think the lesson to draw here for Rush and others is that in divining both bureaucratic and presidential preferences, where you stand depends on who you eat.
I hereby applaud Rush for being brave enough to highlight this troublesome question during a week when nothing else is going on in the world.
Compared to the exciting developments in the Middle East, the 2011 Oscars telecast had all the excitement of watching wallpaper paste harden. To be fair, however, even judged in a vacuum, these Oscars were galactically boring -- which is saying something given Melissa Leo's tres bleu acceptance speech. The patter was boring, the gowns were boring, and Celine Dion's
braying singing ruined the memorial montage. I got so bored during the actual telecast that I had to make up a scenario whereby former Oscar hosts started massive protests against the current Oscar regime to maintain any interest in the proceedings.
[So, why are you blogging about it?--ed.] To demonstrate my ability to wring world politics insights from even the most mundane of sources, of course!! And they are:
1) Last year I noted that films leaning towards security studies trounced the more global political economy-friendly films. Obviously, The King's Speech (which is about leadership and great power politics) beating out The Social Network (which is about intellectual property rights and network externalities) for Best Picture is a continuation of that theme. Still, the overall results were more mixed. The Social Network did pick up a few Oscars, including Best Adapted Screenplay, and in the Best Documentary category, Inside Job upset Restrepo -- which meant a real-live-honest-to-goodness political scientist now owns an Academy Award. NOTE: This doesn't mean all political scientists are happy about this.
2) I've been a longtime supporter of drug legalization as a way to eliminate multiple foreign policy headaches -- but based on the behavior of many Oscar presenters and winners, I'm now wondering if there should be drug testing before the Academy Awards.
3) Here's a thought -- if the Brits keep giving the best acceptance speeches, then maybe the Academy should just outsource the awards hosting duties to them as well? I mean, after that show, suddenly all the carping about Ricky Gervais seems churlish. I could see Russell Brand and Helen Mirren doing at least a passable job at it.
4) As for the Best Picture Winner, I myself would have preferred The Social Network -- but I enjoyed The King's Speech decently enough despite the massive historical revisionism in the film. It's not like The Social Network was a straight re-creation of history either. If the controversy about historical accuracy prompts a deeper discussion about the period under question, so be it. And let me stress that this position has nothing to do with the fact that the Official Blog Wife feels about Colin Firth the same way I do about Salma Hayek.
Did I miss anything?
Your humble blogger is
media whored out taking a small vacation with the Official Blog Family at an undisclosed location somewhat removed fron the interwebs. Blogging will happen only if thew Official Blog Wife lets me near a computer be intermittent for the rest of this week.
In the meantime, for your consideration, I give you a link to an article from the February 2011 issue of International Studies Perspectives: Derek Hall, "Varieties of Zombieism: Approaching Comparative Political Economy through 28 Days Later and Wild Zero."
This paper argues that the frequent references to zombies in analyses of the recent global financial crisis can be harnessed as a “teachable moment” for students of Comparative Political Economy. I claim that two zombie movies in particular—Britain’s 28 Days Later and Japan’s Wild Zero—can be viewed as if they were allegories of two different national forms of capitalism that are integrated into, and affect, the global political economy in different ways. While 28 Days Later displays remarkable similarities to Marxist accounts of the origins and dynamics of capitalism in England, Wild Zero can be seen as an account of the post-1985 dynamics of the Japanese political economy and its engagement with Asia. This paper gives concrete suggestions for the use of zombie films in the classroom. It concludes with the argument that these two films help to explain why references to “zombie capitalism” cross ideological lines.
Enjoy devouring it!
[We're walking away now.--ed.] No, wait!! This diavlog is worth watching for two reasons:
1) It has, hands down, the most awesome opening of any Bloggingheads diavlog in history. Really. I'm not exaggerating.
2) There's a prize for watching it! Hidden in the diavlog are five different images from well-known zombie features (four movies, one TV show). The first Bloggingheads fan to correctly identify when those zombie scenes appear in the diavlog and from what movie or TV show they were taken, gets a copy of my book. For a chance to win: send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. In the body of your email, include a link to this
diavog blog post, the five different times (minute and second) in the diavlog when the zombie images appear, and the movie/show from where the images were taken. Contest ends at midnight on March 1, 2011.
So, watch carefully, keep an axe nearby, and enjoy!
In Theories of International Politics and Zombies, I noted that "one can only speculate" what great power governments were doing to prepare for the contingency of an attack of the undead. One could argue that the absence of any mention of zombies in the Wikileaks cables suggests that no planning has taken place -- but one would assume that scenarios involving the undead would be classified as Top Secret or higher.
Courtesy of the New York Times' William Glaberson, however, we now know that the State of New York is thinking seriously about this problem:
Major disasters like terrorist attacks and mass epidemics raise confounding issues for rescuers, doctors and government officials. They also pose bewildering legal questions, including some that may be painful to consider, like how the courts would decide who gets life-saving medicine if there are more victims than supplies.
But courts, like fire departments and homicide detectives, exist in part for gruesome what-ifs. So this month, an official state legal manual was published in New York to serve as a guide for judges and lawyers who could face grim questions in another terrorist attack, a major radiological or chemical contamination or a widespread epidemic.
Quarantines. The closing of businesses. Mass evacuations. Warrantless searches of homes. The slaughter of infected animals and the seizing of property. When laws can be suspended and whether infectious people can be isolated against their will or subjected to mandatory treatment. It is all there, in dry legalese, in the manual, published by the state court system and the state bar association.
Uh-huh... this is for "radiological" or "chemical" contaminations. Ok. Right. Wake up and smell the rotting corpses of the undead, people!!!!!
Seriously, fhe foreword of the New York State Public Health Legal Manual (.pdf) opens with the following explanation/justification:
In today's world, we face many natural and man-made catastrophic threats, including the very real possibility of a global influenza outbreak or other public health emergency that could infect millions of people. While it is impossible to predict the timing or severity of the next public health emergency, our government has a responsibility to anticipate and prepare for such events. An important element of this planning process is advance coordination between public health authorities and our judicial and legal systems. The major actors in any public health crisis must understand the governing laws ahead of time, and must know what their respective legal roles and responsibilities are. What is the scope of the government's emergency and police powers? When may these be invoked, and by which officials? What are the rights of people who may be quarantined or isolated by government and public health officials?
These questions must be researched and answered now-not in the midst of an emergency-so that the responsible authorities have a readymade resource to help them make quick, effective decisions that protect the public interest.
Are planning documents like this useful? Yes and no. On the one hand, this kind of thing is a classic example of what Lee Clarke would refer to as a "fantasy document." In Mission Improbable: Using Fantasy Documents to Tame Disaster, Clarke argued that plans like these have little chance of success, because an actual crisis contains too much randomness to plan out in advance. They serve primarily as a way for the state to soothe the the public that Someone Is In Charge and will provide control, order, and stability. Similarly, Anthony Cordesman argued in October 2001 that pre-crisis government efforts to handle this kind of emergency are likely to disintegrate once the actual crisis emerges.
On the other hand, as many contributors argued in Avoiding Trivia, even if the plans themselves never work out, the effort to plan can be useful both for crisis and non-crisis situations. This kind of exercise forces bureaucrats and officials to think about what standard operatijngf procedures won't be so standard in a post-disaster environment. It also serves as a form of mental aerobics to prepare to the truly unknown unknowns.
So, on the one hand, kudos to the New York State legal community for thinking about these questions. On the other hand, I doubt that things will go according to plan. Plus, I'm really curious to hear whether they think habeas corpus applies to the living dead.
This week I'll be
media whoring talking about Theories of International Politics and Zombies in a lot of venues. For example, I have an essay in the Chronicle of Higher Education about what it was like to write a book about the living dead. Here's the opening paragraph:
Regardless of what parents tell their children, books are routinely judged by their covers. Indeed, many book titles encapsulate a premise so obvious that the text itself seems superfluous. I'm talking about the literary equivalents of Hot Tub Time Machine or Aliens vs. Predator. I should know—I'm the author of Theories of International Politics and Zombies.
In the interest of getting Media Whore Week off to a good start, here's a brief rundown of reviews so far.
[A]n intriguing intellectual conceit to explain various schools of international political theory…. Drezner is fascinated with zombies–he’s seen all the movies and read the books–and writes with clarity, insight, and wit…. This slim book is an imaginative and very helpful way to introduce its subject–who knew international relations could be this much fun?
Whatever else it may be, an attack by bloodthirsty ghouls offers a teachable moment. And Drezner, who is a professor of international politics at Tufts University, does not waste it. Besides offering a condensed and accessible survey of how various schools of international-relations theory would respond, he reviews the implications of a zombie crisis for a nation’s internal politics and its psychosocial impact. He also considers the role of standard bureaucratic dynamics on managing the effects of relentless insurgency by the living dead. While a quick and entertaining read, Theories of International Politics and Zombies is a useful introductory textbook on public policy — as well as a definitive monograph for the field of zombie studies…. I can’t recommend it highly enough.
Josh Rothman, The Boston Globe
Political science isn’t really a science at all – it’s more like a collection of disparate and even contradictory world-views. Daniel Drezner… has hit upon the perfect way to weigh those world-views against one another…. the detail with which Drezner can apply international political theory to the zombie apocalypse is striking.
Adam Weinstein, Mother Jones:
A light, breezy volume, TIPZ is a valuable primer in international relations theory for laypeople, and thank God for that—it’s been a long time coming. But Drezner’s real genius is that he’s written a stinging postmodern critique of IR theorists themselves…. It’s both a pedagogical text and a lampoon of pedagogy.
All of these reviews raise interesting questions, as does Charli Carpenter's recent post. I promise a response to these criticisms later in the week (just as soon as I can find Hosni Mubarak's soeechwriter, because that guy was comedy gold).
In the meantime, just buy the friggin' book already.
Theories of International Politics and Zombies is now available for order, not pre-order, but order, at Amazon.com. Right now -- blink and it will change -- TIPZ is in the top 20 ranking among Amazon's international relations books.
To celebrate, and given the ongoing hullabaloo over the Chinese way of parenting, the subsequent claim that the Wall Street Journal Got It Wrong, and the inevitable response by the Jewish mothering clan, let me offer the following zombie perspective:
Why Zombie Moms are Superior
(as told to Daniel W. Drezner behind protective glass)
A lot of people wonder how zombie parents raise such stereotypically ravenous kids. They wonder what these parents do to produce so many biters and gnawers, what it's like inside the family, and whether they could do it too. Well, I can tell them, because I've done it. Here are some things my daughters were never allowed to do:
• attend a sleepover with breathing humans
• have a playdate with humans
• be in a school play, unless the eating of humans was called for
• complain about not being in a school play with humans
• watch TV or play computer games, especially Left 4 Dead
• choose their own extracurricular activities -- zombies have no extracurricular activities
• bite anything less than grade A braaaaaaaaaaaaaiiiiiinns
• not be the No. 1 student in keeping their teeth razor sharp
• play any instrument.
I'm using the term "zombie mother" loosely. I know some members of the Donner Party, West African, Papua New Guinean, Maori, and vampire parents who qualify too. Conversely, I know some mothers, almost always born in Haiti, who are not zombie mothers, by choice of their voodoo master or otherwise. I'm also using the term "human parents" loosely. Human parents come in all varieties and tastes....
Even when human parents think they're being strict, they usually don't come close to being zombies. For example, my human neighbors who consider themselves strict make their children bus their plate to the sink when they've finished dinner. Maybe. For a zombie mother, cleaning the plates is the easy part. It's teaching the children to go forage for live human braaaaaaiiiiiiins, drag them back to the house, and then devour them in full that gets tough. They never like to finish the frontal lobe....
There are all these new books out there portraying zombie mothers as scheming, callous, overdriven people indifferent to their kids' true interests. For their part, many zombies secretly believe that they care more about their children and are willing to sacrifice much more for them than humans, who seem perfectly content to let their children turn out badly. I think it's a misunderstanding on both sides. All decent parents want to do what's best for their children. The zombies just have a totally different idea of how to do that.
Human parents try to respect their children's individuality, encouraging them to pursue their true passions, supporting their choices, and providing positive reinforcement and a nurturing environment. By contrast, the zombies believe that the best way to protect their children is by preparing them for the future, letting them see who they're capable of eating, and arming them with skills, work habits and inner confidence that no breather can ever take away.
And if none of that works, we will always be prepared to have our limbs shot off to secure a tasty braaaaaaiiiiiiin for our children. Would human parents to that for their kids? I didn't think so.
The scary part of this is how little I had to do to adapt the source material for this post.
UPDATE: Chas Homans alerts me to the fact that Chinese mothers might have more incommon with zombie moms than I originally thought:
In [Lac Su's] case, PTSD, which stands for post-traumatic stress disorder, could easily mean "parental trauma stress disorder." His parents, thinking he was "slow," subjected him to hours of supplemental tutoring -- and when he still failed to meet their standards, tried a different kind of intellectual supplement, making him eat an entire cow brain every Saturday until he was eight years old (emphasis added).
Of course, zombie moms are way more unrelenting than Chinese moms. That kid would have had to consume brains every day in a zombie household.
Last year I discovered, to my embarrassment, that I had
not updated my online cv in four years let my personal website atrophy just a wee bit.
my cv really rocks now things have been spruced up a bit now, as you can see. Just as important, I've acquired a very valuable piece of online real estate -- www.theoriesofinternationalpoliticsandzombies.com. This site includes scheduled events, favorite zombie links, and, or course, ways to order the book.
A hearty thank you to Brian Degenhart at bloggingheads for the spiffy new site.
Oh, speaking of which, my latest diavlog is with The American Prospect's Adam Serwer, and covers Wikileaks, assassinations, the debt ceiling, and, of course, The Walking Dead.
Both Chuck Klosterman and Johann Hari wrote zombie trend stories this week. This comes on the heels of a prior batch of these essays -- and I know there's gonna be at least a few of these in the future. As a public service for writers contemplating these kinds of essay, here's the generic template for the "Zombies are hot. Why?" story:
Section 1: Set up premise that zombies are culturally hot right now. Mention The Walking Dead/zombie flash mobs/spike in movie releases/Minnesota court case. Ask why. Note: try to put as many references to "shambling," "shuffling," etc. as possible.
Section 2: Compare zombies to vampires. Mock Twilight series. Point out that vampires = sex and zombies = death. Observe that zombie renaissance is surprising, because individual zombies are not interesting characters like vampires. Note: if artsy essay, be sure to name-check White Zombie.
Section 3: Propose that interest in zombies is a metaphor for something else that's rotting through American/global society. Possibilities include:
Section 4: Conclude that the current era stinks, and only when things improve will these zombies disappear. Note: try to end with joke.
[And how is this template different from your book?--ed. Um... footnotes. Footnotes and international relations theory. The ingredients for a smash hit! -- ed.]
Daniel W. Drezner is professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.