Month: July 2011 (Page 1 of 3)

Abdullah Khadr, Human Rights and Counter-Terrorism: Or what I was really trying to say

I was quoted in Canada’s Globe and Mail today about a trial involving a Canadian citizen, Abdullah Khadr, who the US has requested for extradition on terrorism charges. (This is the older brother of Omar Khadr who is still in Guantanamo prison.) It’s an interesting case for a variety of reasons so I thought I would expand upon my thoughts here – and the fact that I’m slightly concerned that the summary of my comments in the article were slightly crunched in a strange way.

The facts of the case seem to be that Khadr, operating in Afghanistan/Pakistan was sought by the United States in 2004. They placed a $500,000 bounty on his head and was captured by Pakistan and detained in a prison for 14 months. Khadr argues that during his time in Pakistani custody that he was routinely abused and tortured. He was interrogated for several days by US agents in Pakistan, before being released. Khadr was then repatriated to Canada in December 2005 and arrested a few days later by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police on the basis of an indictment by a court in Boston Massachusetts on terrorism charges. 

Unsurprisingly, Khadr and his lawyers claim that he will not have a fair trial as the evidence garnered against him was obtained after he was tortured and his right of due process was seriously violated through his treatment. The case has been working its way through the Canadian justice system and earlier this year it was determined that he should be extradited to the US because of the way he was treated. Khadr then walked free. Yesterday, the Canadian government filed a ‘leave to appeal’ stating that “This case raises issues of national importance that require consideration by this court,” and that principles of fundamental justice “should not be used to impose the technicalities of our criminal law on a foreign partner.”

A couple of points that I made in my discussion with the reporter that didn’t quite make the story, but I think are important.

First, I think it that what the Courts are being asked to ultimately decide on is whether Canada’s obligation to fight international terrorism (found in various UN Security Council resolutions, etc) trumps its obligations to ensure the human rights of individuals, including the right to a fair trial and due process (found in Human Rights agreements). Fundamentlally, the right to a fair trial is a non-derogable  right. A state can’t suspend it, even in the wake of threats or emergencies, so I think the Court’s choice here is pretty clear. (Hence my comment about human rights taking precedence.)

Second, the part that may have gotten a bit mangled in editorial translation, is that this is an interesting case because Canadian courts have, by and large, been very sympathetic to the needs and concerns of the government/security service. For example, they have sided with the security service when it comes to not disclosing evidence that is of a sensitive/secretive nature in terrorism trials. However, in this case the Courts have effectively drawn a line in the sand and said that while they are sympathetic to the need to fight terrorism, that the treatment of Khadr is a step too far.

Third, a point I was really trying to get across but did not make it into the article, is that the Canadian government is in the position that it is in because of the terrible Bush administration policies on detention and enhanced interrogation. If the Bush administration had ensured that Khadr had fair treatment, this wouldn’t have been a problem – his due process would have been followed and he could have been extradited and prosecuted. And, perhaps if Canada had worked harder to ensure that his rights were being protected (though the historical record here is somewhat vague), they’d have an easier time mounting their case for extradition. 

Let’s face the facts – Khadr ain’t Mr. Rogers. He holds terrible views, probably did some terrible things and is not a great guy to be walking around on our streets. I would very much like to see him go on trial for the allegations that have been presented against him – but I know that ultimately he shouldn’t be sent because of the fact that his case was so incredibly poorly handled. It would be a complete and utter violation of everything the Western criminal justice system is supposed to be. 

Basically, without trying to sound like a poor man’s Human Rights Watch, the key lesson is that when stated do not following human rights, suspected terrorists can walk free. Not following human rights has made fighting terrorism in this case a lot harder. This is something that must constantly be borne in mind when the temptation to engage in “enhanced interrogation” exists. You often hear arguments about following human rights because ‘it’s the right thing to do’ or it reflects our values, etc. but this is a hard case which demonstrates the real national security interests at stake in ensuring the rights of terrorist suspects are accounted for.  

In Defence of Flawed Giants

OK, its confession time. I don’t really agree with them much, but I loved reading the post-Cold War ‘blockbusters’ of Samuel Huntington, Francis Fukuyama and John Mearsheimer, (all beautifully surveyed a little while ago by Richard Betts).

I was psyched to read Fukuyama’s prophecy that with the American-led era of market democracy, humankind had overcome the historical dialectic struggle of ideologies and had hit upon an ultimate way of being that would satisfy its fundamental longings, both material and psychological.

Samuel Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations was also audacious, in its opposite claim that far from the triumph of the Atlantic, world history was entering a period of dangerous pluralism where the global forces driving us all together would accentuate difference, and where unless we were careful, disparate cultural identity would fuel conflict and fragmentation.

And John Mearsheimer’s case for Realpolitik was a great read, making the case that no new paradigms were on the horizon, but that a multipolar power-struggle between nation-states would resume, even with the prospect of Germany and Japan unlearning their new peaceable ways and going nuclear.

So what? Go on Patrick, tell us more, I hear you thinking (get on with it, Ed).

Certainly on the UK side of the pond, academics routinely dismiss these works and other biggies like them. Not, one suspects, primarily because they, gasp, made bad predictions or were wrong on the main point.

To be sure, it seems slightly too early to proclaim the final triumph of democratic capitalism, or at least this form of it. The global financial crisis gives Fukuyama’s Hegelian ontology a day at the races, while it seems that dictatorship and the appeal of authoritarian solutions is still seductive in crisis, including in the West.

Contra Huntington, most conflicts since the Cold War have between within, not between, the civilizations and metacultural blocs that he identified. No matter how hard he argued that the first Gulf War was a signpost of the cultural clashes to come, the most impressive pattern of that conflict was how willing many Islamic states were to side with the great American Satan against the would-be Saladin to check his bid for power in the region. Not to mention the fact that in the ‘Arab Spring’, many protesters have shouted universalist, humanist and democratic slogans, not parochial or ethno-religious ones.

And against Mearsheimer’s anticipation of a return to muscular balance of power politics, EU nations aren’t yet reapplying to go back to the nineteenth century.

No, academics like to dismiss these works because the authors have appealed to a mass market, made meta-scale interpretations and predictions, and come as close to intellectual celebrity as possible for anyone who isn’t Stephen Hawking or Albert Einstein. In an academic world that cherishes specialism and hair-splitting, that largely devotes its energy to internalised dialogues in exclusionary language, and which looks on fame and glory with envious suspicion, its no wonder that the mention of all three causes respectable scholars to roll their eyes.

Most strikingly of all, many folk who pronounce on these books simply haven’t read them. Huntington wasn’t issuing a racist call to arms. His book was written as a warning of the cultural complacency and triumphalism of America’s ‘unipolar moment’ and arguing that only a restrained sense of pluralism and cultural spheres of influence could lead to peace between civilisations. Ok, civilizations do not really exist in the hermetically sealed, unitary ways he told it, but there’s some value in a sense of the limits of power, the vastness of the world and the multitudes it contains.

Fukuyama’s End of History, for heaven’s sake, didn’t actually announce the end of history as a literal claim where stuff wouldn’t happen much any more. He meant history as an evolutionary, traceable process of competing ideas, and his account built consciously on Hegelian dialectics, not to mention the belief that the thymotic desire for recognition was critical to understanding why other systems had failed. He did think the rest of history would be probably quite boring, managing the gradual conversion of the world to the Atlantic way. On the other hand, the work was tinged with an apprehension that the boring-ness of market democracy would itself contain the seeds of violent revolt…

And Mearsheimer may have overstated his case for the reversion to old school power struggle, but if we migrate his interpretations Eastward, the large-scale investments in blue water navies, the scramble for bases and listening posts, the buying up of commercial clients, and the resumption of territorial rivalries in East Asia doesn’t exactly destroy his argument. There is an insecurity that seems persistent in the anarchical condition of world politics, and nation-states themselves are proving resilient both in their determination to reassert control and in the increasing demands we make of them.

Finally, a cruder point, hard to make politely. Some who dismiss these works aren’t really fit to clean the closet of a Fukuyama, a Mearsheimer or a Huntington. There is probably more virtue in their error, in terms of prompting richer and deeper debate, than in the safe, marginal and unaudacious output of most of the rest of us.

So hooray for flawed giants. Their minds might be mistaken occasionally but their shoulders are still worth climbing on.


Anders Breivik: Isolated Mad Man or Tip of the Far-Right Racist Iceburg?

Co-authored with Alison Howell, author of Madness in International Relations: Psychology, Security and the Global Governance of Mental Health

The recent events in Norway have revealed the pitfalls of speculation within a 24-hour new cycle/instant social media environment. Almost immediately after information about the bombings and the shootings emerged, facebook, twitter, and media outlets were saturated with possible theories on the source of the violence- with most of the speculation focused on radical Islam and Al-Qaeda (The Atlantic immediately re-posted a great article on Al Qaeda in Norway).

In the ensuing days, a new kind of speculation has become common in reporting on these events: that is, speculation about the psychology of the man who admits to committing these acts (if not his guilt).

Much of this started with Breivik’s own attorney vowing that his client must be insane and that he would only continue to represent him on the condition that he submits to psychological testing. But a number of news outlets, and indeed psychiatrists and psychologists interviewed in the media, have decided not to wait for these kinds of assessments, preferring instead to speculate about Breivik’s psyche based on the very limited information that we now have.

One particularly troubling example of this kind of psychiatric speculation includes a July 25 BBC Europe article, which asserts that “a deep level of mental disturbance” underlies Breivik’s motivations. The article quotes a professor of forensic psychiatry stating: “The bottom line is that we don’t at this moment know enough about his motives to diagnose his mental state. However, while there are all sorts of cross-cutting with right-wing ideology, I believe he is likely to be suffering from a mental disorder.” The article then goes on, to compare Breivik to David Copeland (the 1999 London ‘Nail Bomber’), citing the same professor as saying that “The Norway attack is on the same lines – where extreme right-wing beliefs merge with paranoid psychosis, or delusional disorder….”
The article also quotes a forensic clinical psychologist, who, based on Breivik’s ‘manifesto’ is willing to authoritatively avow that Breivik must have been a ‘shut away,’ ‘insane’ and ‘deluded.’ These kinds of highly speculative pseudo-diagnosis are not confined solely to the BBC report: the Telegraph described Breivik as a “blond psychopath;” another source wonders if Breivik is insane or just evil; and Time magazine has recently published a piece in Breivik entitled “An Interview with a Madman.

Similarly, West Side Republicans– a Republican blog recently sported the headline “NORWAY – Breivik is a politically isolated sociopath. Not A Christian Fundamentalist as the Media & Left would have you believe.” The main conclusion of the post is that “Breivik’s murder spree did not result from classical liberal influences any more than it resulted from Christian influences: It resulted from his own evil and twisted mind.” The blog also takes issue with the way that the New York Times has portrayed Breivik as a Christian extremist, claiming: “The problem is this: There is no “Christian extremist” movement in the way that there is an Islamist or “Islamic extremist” movement. There are bad Christians, to be sure; but they have no modern-day intellectual and political movement that supports and sustains them — modern-day Islamists, or Islamic extremists, do…”

This kind of psychological speculation evident here is highly dangerous, for at least 3 reasons.

1. The idea that he was a solitary monster ignores clear evidence of a wider political community sharing his ideals. We now know that Breivik sent his manifesto out to over 250 individuals just before the bombs in Oslo were detonated, including several far right politicians and the anti-Islamic English Defence League (EDL). It was reported in the Foreigner that “several supporters of the EDL admitted they met Breivik at rallies in Britain and the attacker even confessed he had over 600 EDL members among his Facebook contacts.” Even Breivik’s lawyer has stated that Breivik is part of a wider community of right wing fundamentalists- referencing two additional cells in Norway. Breivik was also a prolific contributor to right wing blogs, and pointed to extreme right wing political parties such as Germany’s far-right National Democratic Party, and the Netherlands’ Freedom Party as sources of inspiration.

It isn’t the thought of Breivik as an isolated monster that is disturbing, rather it is the realization that he has is part of a broad community that share his ideals- if not his tactics. Just Wednesday a member of France’s far-right Front National was suspended for referring to Breivik as an “icon” and a “defender of the West.” Even more disturbing were comments made by a faction of the Europe of Freedom and Democracy group in the European Parliament: “One hundred per cent of Breivik’s ideas are good, in some cases extremely good. The positions of Breivik reflect the views of those movements across Europe which are winning elections.”

2. This kind of psychological speculation perpetuates the pervasive myth that violence is a characteristic of madness, when in fact people diagnosed with mental disorders are no more likely to commit violent crimes than those who are considered sane. It’s no surprise that the two experts called on in the BBC report mentioned above include a forensic psychologist and a forensic psychiatrist: these are highly problematic disciplines dedicated to tying together crime and madness. It is time, once and for all, to dispel this myth (which is particularly attached to people diagnosed with schizophrenia). Like the term ‘queer,’ the term ‘madness’ is increasingly being reclaimed by organizations such as MindFreedom International and activists in the Mad Pride and psychiatric survivor movements, who are working to claim their rights against often coercive systems of mental health governance. Casting violent acts as evidence of insanity makes it more difficult for such activists to get us to see that madness is just another form of difference (like race, gender or sexuality), and that mental health should be understood in terms of social justice.

3. Psychological speculation renders Breivik’s motivations exceptional and irrational, rather than placing them in the broader context of political debates — especially as they concern multiculturalism in Norway, Europe, or more broadly the West. Regardless of Breivik’s mental state, we should listen to what he lists as his motivations and view his actions primarily as a form of violence motivated by racism. If we pay attention to the way that right wing media outlets are spinning this story it becomes apparent that the underlying anti-immigrant racist ideals of Breivik have traction across the globe. The highlights (or low-lights) of Pat Buchanan’s insights into the attacks in Norway Breivik shows a defiant and impassioned defence of the motivations expressed by Breivik:

“Though Breivik is being called insane, that is the wrong word….Breivik is evil – a cold-blooded, calculating killer – though a deluded man of some intelligence, who in his 1,500-page manifesto reveals a knowledge of the history, culture and politics of Europe. … Angela Merkel of Germany, Nicolas Sarkozy of France and David Cameron of Britain have all declared multiculturalism a failure. From votes in Switzerland to polls across the continent, Europeans want an end to the wearing of burqas and the building of prayer towers in mosques….awful as this atrocity was, native-born and homegrown terrorism is not the macro-threat to the continent. That threat comes from a burgeoning Muslim presence in a Europe that has never known mass immigration, its failure to assimilate, its growing alienation, and its sometime sympathy for Islamic militants and terrorists.”

People are justified in wondering about the mental state of Breivik- or anyone that could commit such atrocities. However, writing Breivik’ off Breivik’s actions as isolated, irrational and crazy closes out space for talking about the potential iceberg of racists anti-immigration attitudes that his actions sit atop of.


SSRN Bound Editions

The question before us: does SSRN now include a Vanity Press option, or it the new AllAcademic?

In the email box:

SSRN recently released our Purchase Bound Hard Copy Service. Authors and readers can now order printed copies of select papers in the SSRN eLibrary, which provides another format for users to access research papers. The Free One-Click Download option is not affected by this new service.

For $9.99 plus shipping, the reader will receive a black and white printed and “perfect bound” copy of the PDF document with a glossy color cover. The cover includes the title of the paper, and the authors with their affiliations. A sample cover and additional details about the Purchase Bound Hard Copy service, including details on which papers are eligible, are available on our FAQ.

We invite you to try this new service and share your experience with us.

Gregg Gordon
Social Science Research Network

Of course, AllAcademic trolled for papers from conferences rather than hosted a searchable database. But still.


On Paradigms, Policy Revelance and Other IR Myths

I had every intention this evening of writing a cynical commentary on all the hoopla surrounding Open Government, Open Data and the Great Transparency Revolution. But truth be told, I am brain-dead at the moment. Why? Because I spent the last two days down in Williambsurg, VA arbitrating codes for a Teaching, Research and International Politics (TRIP) project (co-led by myself and Jason Sharman) which analyzes what the field of IR looks like from the perspective of books. It is all meant as a complement to the innovative and hard work of Michael Tierney, Sue Peterson and the TRIP founders down at William & Mary, who have sought to map the field of IR by systematically coding all published articles in the top 12 peer-reviewed disciplinary journals for characteristics such as paradigm, methodology, epistemology and policy relevance. In addition, the TRIP team has conducted numerous surveys of IR scholars in the field, the latest round capturing nearly 3000 scholars in ten countries. The project, while not immune from nit-picky criticism about its methodological choices and conclusions, has yielded several surprisingly results that have both reified and dismantled several myths about the field of IR.

So, in the spirit of recent diatribes on the field offered by Steve and Brian, I summarize a few of the initial findings of our work to serve as fodder for our navel-gazing discussion:

Myth #1: IR is now dominated by quantitative work

Truth: Depends on where you look. This is somewhat true if you confine yourself to the idea that we can know the field only by peering into the pages of IO, ISQ, APSR and the like. Between 2000-2008, according to a TRIP study by Jordan et al (2009), 38.8% of journal articles employed quantitative methods,while 30.4% used qualitative methods. [In IPE, however, the trend is definitely clearer: in 2006, 90% of articles used quantitative methods — see Maliniak and Tierney 2009, 20)]. But the myth of quantitative dominance is dispelled when we look beyond journals. In the 2008 survey of IR scholars, 72% of scholars reported that they use qualitative methods as their primary methodology. In our initial study of books between 2000-2010, Jason and I found that 58% of books use qualitative methods and only 9.3% use quantitative (the rest using mainly descriptive methods, policy analysis and the rare formal model).

Myth #2: In IR, it’s all about PARADIGMS.

Truth: Well, not really. As much as we kvetch about how everyone has to pay homage to realism, liberalism, constructivism (and rarely, Marxism) in order to get published, the truth is that a minority of published IR work takes one or more of these paradigms as the chosen framework for analysis. Surveys reveal that IR scholars still think of Realism as the dominant paradigm, yet realism shows up as the paradigm of choice in less than 10% of both books and article. Liberalism is slightly more prevalent – it is the paradigm of choice in around 26% of journal articles and 20% of books. Constructivism has actually overtaken realism, but still amounts to only 11% of journal articles and 17% of books in the past decade. Instead, according to the TRIP coding scheme, most of the IR work is “non-paradigmatic” (meaning it takes theory seriously, but doesn’t use one of the usual paradigmatic suspects) or is “atheoretic”. [Stats alert: 45% of journal articles are non-paradigmatic and 9.5% atheoretic, whereas books are 31% non-paradigmatic and 23% are atheoretical).

So, Brian: does IR still “really like” the isms?

Myth #3: Positivism rules.

Truth: Yep, that one is pretty much on the mark. 86% of journal articles AND 85% of books between 2000-2010 employed a positivist methodology. Oddly, however, only 55% of IR scholars surveyed report to see themselves as positivists. I’m going to add that one to the list of “things that make me go hmmmmm…..”

Myth #4: IR scholarship is not oriented towards policy.

Truth: Sadly, true. Only 12% of journal articles offer policy recommendations. [Ok, a poor proxy, but all I had to go on from the TRIP coding system]. Books are slightly more likely to dabble in policy, with 22% offering some sort of policy prescriptions – often quite limited and lame in my humble coding experience. Still, curiously, scholars nonetheless perceive themselves differently. 29% of scholars says they are doing policy-oriented research. This could be entirely true if they are doing this outside the normal venues of published research in the discipline and we’re simply not capturing it in our study (blogs, anyone?). All of which begs several questions: are IR scholars really engaging in policy debates? If so, how? Where? If not, why not? (Hint: fill out the next TRIP survey in the fall 2011 and we’ll find out!!)

(Note to readers: I was unable to provide a link to the draft study that Jason and I conducted on books, as it is not yet ready for prime time on the web. But if you have any questions about our project, feel free to email me).


“Sure I’m against war and exploitation- but don’t make me feel guilty about my diamond ring”

Wanna know a guaranteed conversation stopper- great for engagement parties or wedding receptions? Mention the politics of diamonds.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not into being a political Debbie Downer at social events. God knows I have the ammunition. Yet, in my experience women and men are more comfortable with discussions of wartime sexual violence, amputations, and children born as a result of rape than they are about clear gems.
So what gives?

This has been a question plaguing since I finished several months of field work in Sierra Leone in my late 20s- the same time that everyone around me was getting engaged and getting married. This also coincided with the peak (and, it turns out, the rapid decline) in attention to conflict/blood diamonds by human rights organizations and the media.

No one wants to be that self-righteous white girl who has just returned from the global south with lessons to impart on anyone who will listen- so I tried to reserve my rants about diamonds for my husband (bless him), my single friends (‘who wants diamonds anyway!’), or people who were already convinced that diamonds are a source of international exploitation.

To me, three main arguments against diamonds were clear and irrefutable.

  1. The obvious argument (to me, at least): many diamonds are blood diamonds or conflict diamonds. It has been shown time and time again that the money from the sales of diamonds has been used to buy arms, support rebel groups, and sustain oppressive leaders in places like Sierra Leone, Angola, and Liberia. Buying diamonds help support civil wars and continued exploitation.
  2. There is no such thing as ethical diamonds. I swear, the next time someone tells me they bought a 100% genuine conflict free diamond I will break my diamond rant silence. I’m Canadian. I know that there are diamonds that come from Canada and other parts of the world that are marketed as ethical. Here’s the Debbie Downer reality. De Beers owns over a 51% share in half of Canada’s diamond mines. This is the same cartel that was established by former colonizer Cecil Rhodes and that has been lilnked with supporting apartheid, allowing slave labor conditions, and price fixing (amongst other charges). The extra money someone pays for the ethical diamond still supports a cartel that also sells diamonds mined in conflict zones, and under conditions of exploitation and slave labor. So when someone buys an ethical diamond it is like they are buying a Lexus while those buying ‘non-ethical’ diamonds are choosing the Echo- either way, both are supporting Toyota. The ethical buyer just happen to be the high end client. Another bummer for diamond lovers is the fact that the majority of diamonds are cut and polished in India (yes even ethical diamonds); there is mounting evidence of child labor being used to do this. I know, it keeps getting worse….so it’s like buying a Lexus that was put together using child labor?…
  3. Finally. If the blood/conflict argument and the non-ethical arguments don’t work, there’s always the ‘you are just paying WAY too much money for a common stone marketed as a rare gem‘ argument. In other words- smart people are getting duped by the best ad campaign in history (more on that in another post).

So there is no shortage of arguments against diamonds. In fact, new ones seem to emerge all the time (have a look at a fantastic blog about this topic at Al Jazeera). For example, there have been recent discussions of the abuse of diamond miners in Zimbabwe. Why is Zimbabwe allowed to sell diamonds legally through the Kimberly process with thief Mugabe as a leader? Good question.

Despite all the arguments against diamonds, discussing any of them is still a social taboo of sorts. What is even more interesting has been watching- one by one- friends who were also passionate about this issue, people whom I know have worked in countries with the diamond resource curse, and friends who used to cheer ‘who needs diamonds?’ go to the dark side. That is, beam with joy and give me the ‘please don’t make me feel guilty about this’ look when they get a diamond engagement ring.

And I don’t say anything. But with recent developments in Zimbabwe, and a virtual closed door on discussions about diamonds and exploitation internationally I can’t help but send out my frustrations here and ask the questions again, that I have been asking myself for over a decade: How is it possible that gems linked to slave labor, wars, amputation, environmental destruction, and cartels continue to be the symbol of everlasting love? and Why does the personal desire for a symbol of wedding fairy tales trump any logical arguments about the reality behind diamonds? I’d love to hear your ideas and I’m going to try to tackle this question in a second blog….coming soon.


Tears of Appreciation (and McDonald’s) in North Korea

Sorry for the blogging hiatus, I’ve been on the road in South Korea and Japan for the past six weeks and not able to blog. I’ve spent quite a bit of time talking to folks in Seoul about the situation in North Korea and whether or not we are likely to see any movement in the relationship. North Korea is again suffering acute food shortages and another famine appears to be unfolding.
The poster above, according to North Korean Central Television as reported in the Korea Times

was reportedly made by soldiers working at a construction site, contains an image which shows that soldiers wipe away their tears, and the word, “Oh, bulgogi!!!” and “Soldiers are choked by Kim’s ‘passionate love’ toward them.”

In another image, a group of soldiers sit down together and eat bulgogi.

While North Korean Central Television was reporting on all of this “passionate love” for the glorious leader, the international media uncovered a different story. Last week we heard news that the regime (in defiance of the international sanctions) has increased its level of importing luxury goods from China — including having McDonald’s hamburgers flown in and delivered to the homes of key government and military officials (to ensure their loyalty to Kim Jong Il during the on-going planning for power transition to Kim’s son).

The real question here in Seoul is the vulnerability of Kim Jong-Il’s regime. Almost no one thinks we’ll see any kind of “jasmine revolution” in North Korea — there is no functioning civil society. There is a general sense that at some level Kim Jong Il and others in Pyongyang understand that the country needs to open up to save the country, but doing so would almost certainly threaten the regime by exposing its lies, propaganda, and dysfunctions.

Yet there is clear anxiety here about the future of the regime — especially in the midst of the power transition that is now underway. Seoul is bracing for more provocations from the North as power is transferred in the coming months/years and the current South Korean government under President Lee plans to respond aggressively. The defense establishment here has a plan for that.

What the South Koreans don’t have a clear plan for, and the cause of significant anxiety, is what happens if the regime — under the weight of another famine and apparently being held up by McDonald’s hamburgers– simply collapses.


Stuff Political Scientists Like #7, International Relations edition: Isms

Lest you ask, I do understand the irony of me writing this particular post and risking being a one-hit blogger with the continuation of this series. But I haven’t read a single Harry Potter book, so there is not much I can do. Enjoy!

If you show up at the bar at a conference of international relations scholars, you will immediately stumble upon a conversation about paradigms or ‘isms.’ You will quickly learn that almost all of those same scholars hate the isms and believe the field would be better off without them. Yet this conversation is the same one that has occurred at every hotel bar at an IR conference for 20 years. You are confused. This is because you must first recognize that international relations is like reality TV. This particular species of political scientists claim not to like the ‘isms,’ but the ratings speak otherwise.
If you are an international relations scholar and you want to get published in a big IR journal with a high impact factor, the odds are low, somewhat less than the chances of becoming the next American Idol. And even if you do get this type of network TV facetime, people still might not notice you. Do you remember who the second Bachelor was? The most important thing to do is to say something really crazy, like you can explain war and peace merely by reference to the size of the ‘selectorate.’ From this, you can build your ‘ism,’ your very own IR brand. This ensures a high citation count, the academic equivalent to press coverage, on which all reality TV contestants depend to keep their celebrity alive after their series end.

It is best if you contrive a feud with another, equally mental international relations scholar. Take lessons from Kanye West. This strategy is the same as what TV tells us is the best way to establish street cred in prison – sucker punch the biggest guy in jail on the first day. All academics like a good fight. Even the constructivists. Even feminists will watch female mud wrestling. You can’t look away.
You are now an instant celebrity, the Snooki of the field. (Wear underwear at all times.) It is obvious to non-celebrity academics (the TV audience) that you couldn’t possibly believe such nonsense, but they will not be able to stop talking about you (People magazine). Gossip sites like Political Science Job Rumors (Perez Hilton) will allow internet trolls to post spiteful things about your success, but this only ensures that your reputation grows. Soon you will have a prestige book series to edit (line of fragrances) and an endowed chair (development deal) with which you can train graduate students to be just like you but who inevitably fizzle out as they are always lesser versions of the original (Temptation Island, Hogan Knows Best, the Real Wives of Orange County).
International relations scholars like ‘isms’ for the same reason that television execs like reality TV. They have much lower production costs, as they are much less arduous and cognitively taxing than intense empirical work, which is the equivalent of scripted television. For regular workaday scholars, they are just the kind of brainless thing to sit down and read after a long, mentally tiring day. ‘Iron Chef’ trumps ‘The Wire’ any day. They might feel guilty about it, but this is what they end up talking about at the hotel bar at conferences, which is closest thing to a water cooler that international relations scholars have.
There are still outlets for non-‘ism’ work in excellent niche journals with a more narrow readership, where nuance and sophistication are still important, much like cable TV. But whatever you do, do not start blogging. That is a ticket straight to the D-List.

Key Constraint on Policy Relevance

Dan Drezner has a great post today about how the foreign policy smart set (his phrase) gets so frustrated by domestic politics that they tend to recommend domestic political changes that are never going to happen.

I would go one step further and suggest that one of the key problems for scholars who want to be relevant for policy debates is that we tend to make recommendations that are “incentive incompatible.”  I love that phrase.  What is best for policy may not be what is best for politics, and so we may think we have a good idea about what to recommend but get frustrated when our ideas do not get that far.

Lots of folks talking about early warning about genocide, intervention into civil wars and the like blame “political will.”  That countries lack, for whatever reason, the compulsion to act.  Well, that is another way of saying that domestic politics matters, but we don’t want to think about it.

Dan’s piece contains an implication which is often false–that IR folks have little grasp of domestic politics.  Many IR folks do tend to ignore or simplify the domestic side too much, but there is plenty of scholarship on the domestic determinants of foreign policy/grand strategy/war/trade/etc.  Plenty of folks look at how domestic institutions and dynamics can cause countries to engage in sub-optimal foreign policies (hence the tradeoff implied in my second book–For Kin or Country).

The challenge, then, is to figure out what would be a cool policy and how that cool policy could resonate with those who are relevant domestically.  That is not easy, but it is what is necessary.  To be policy relevant requires both parts–articulating a policy alternative that would improve things and some thought about how the alternative could be politically appealing.

Otherwise, we can just dream about the right policy and gnash our teeth when it never happens.


Pirates, Hackers, and Terrorists

A hypothesis: Pirates, hackers, and terrorists are perennial actors in international relations. They will never be permanently defeated; the frontier will never be permanently settled.

The underlying material reason that these actors exist is actually quite simple. Each of these (Weberian) ideal type actors emerges as a consequence of the (proto-capitalist or industrial-capitalist) overproduction and networking of standardized technologies. [I am considering them as separate types even though they may overlap in practice.] Overproduction and networking creates vulnerabilities as access is dispersed and familiarity increases. Technologies may be reverse engineered, hijacked, or even commandeered if there is sufficient familiarity with the operational system. As technologies that connect people and places experience a paradigmatic shift, waves of piracy, hacking, and terrorism will recede until the new technology once again becomes overproduced, common, and accessible.

Although each type of actor has occasionally been licensed and/or supported and sheltered by state actors, state support for terrorism, hacking, and pirating is not critical. State support may enhance the lethality and frequency of activities but the activities are not dependent on state support. It is worth considering that the withdrawal of state sponsorship may actually create greater instability as happened in the Caribbean for example from the 16th to the 18th century when unemployed privateers would turn to piracy in peacetime. While some of these activities can be materially lucrative (e.g. ship piracy and ransom), they may be motivated by other psychological factors such as an anti-social disposition or a politico-religious ideology for example. State counter-actions may work to displace the physical and virtual sites from which pirates, hackers, and terrorists operate, but new sites will always emerge even if particular actors or organizations are dismantled. The reason is that the panoptic powers of states are never uniform and cooperation between states is often ephemeral in global politics.

Computer or cell phone hacking seems to be a relatively new and distinct activity, but before hacking there was phreaking of the 2600 Hz variety and hacking is basically a new label for burglary, espionage, and sabotage.  As computer programs are merely solvable mathematical equations, any computer system can be hacked — just as any lock can be picked — if there is the possibility of access. And access is always a possibility.

Okay, so what does all of this mean? I am not sure, which is why this is just being posted as a hypothesis, but here are some tentative thoughts…

First, it means that those who believe that drones and biometrics will pacify the “non-integrated gap” fail to understand the political economy of technology. While technology and biopolitics may temporarily calm a restive area, that technology will eventually be overcome. Drones and biometric devices will be hacked and pirated. These technologies which are currently giving states an advantage, if they continue to proliferate, will most likely be used against state actors in the future.

Second, while ideology or religion may matter in recruiting/retaining individuals in these types of activities, it is important to think through the material forces that enable these activities. The argument is not to replace one form of mono-causal thinking (i.e. ideational) with another (i.e. materialist), but to think through the ways in which material resources facilitate certain types of ideologically motivated political action in a dynamic manner.


Explosion in Norway (Updated/Updated Again)

A likely bombing near the PM’s office in Norway. I don’t have time to write at the moment, but there are a number of policies and political factors that make Norway a target for jihadists. But there are also reasons why those of other ideological stripes are very unhappy with the current red-green government.

Concerns, prayers, and sympathies to our many friends in Oslo.

UPDATE: Follow the news on your source of choice. The small-arms attack on a Labour-Party Youth Camp is appalling, but consistent with shifting tactics of transnational jihadist. I find the combination of large vehicle bomb and small-arms attack elsewhere a bit surprising, but I suppose it (1) leaves no doubt about the orientation of the attack and (2) screams “no one is safe.”

DOUBLE UPDATE: right-wing extremist. Death toll at 80. Should have backtracked much earlier. I sent out a tweet six hours ago querying about whether the Norwegian far right had a militant strain. Should have raised that on the blog. Anyway, shades of Oklahoma City. Makes sense of the non-standard operating procedure and the dual targeting.


Friday Nerd Blogging: Robopo-collapse

I am less impressed with Daniel Wilson’s new book than my frenemy Drezner appears, and quite possibly because I so wanted it to be what Wilson admits, at the end of this diavlog, that it is certainly not: World War Z for anti-zombites, a fictionalized near-future scenario that throws lights on present-day socio-political conditions through the metaphor of killer robots rather than supernatural threats.

How Wilson fails so spectacularly is the subject of my latest essay in Current Intelligence:

In my view, there is almost no politics involved: nothing about how political institutions or political actors respond to or enable zero hour, or how they relate to one another as the war unfolds. International relations scholars will be particularly disappointed: the only nations that figure prominently (America, the UK and Japan) operate largely without one another yet in seemingly perfect coordination. It is a techno-utopian scenario brought about by… technological collapse. Really? Who would have thought a book about a zombie plague would have seemed realistic by comparison?

What passes for political narrative is remarkably unsophisticated. Humans appear to have only a single identity after zero hour, that of ‘non-machine,’ quickly banding together in all sorts of unrealistic combinations to fight ‘Rob’. The argument seems to be that when faced with an existential threat dumb city-dwellers will perish or hang their hopes on Red America… one waits in vain for predictable tensions to emerge among the human characters as life becomes increasingly brutish and short, but any that arise are quickly resolved, leaving the book plotless and dry. Factionalism among the robots themselves is somewhat more interesting but ultimately unexplained.

The most interesting aspect of the book is Wilson’s depiction of human vulnerability to technological dominion. His emphasis on specific technological foils with which to critique humanity’s increasing reliance on robotics – which as Wendell Wallach and Colin Allen phrase it in their book Moral Machines, might be termed “bonds, bondage and bombs” – is curiously selective. True, Wilson explores sex-bot culture and the genuine emotional ties humans are developing with electronic objects, detailed more by David Levy’s recent nonfiction work Love and Sex With Robots. And he mocks humans’ emerging reliance on smart cars and smart houses, though in the diavlog he quite rightly points out that these are no doubt positive trends from a human security perspective.

But Wilson barely explores cyborgism at all – or rather how knowledge and socio-political identities themselves are being mediated by humanity’s interface with machine intelligence… and Robopocalypse is largely disconnected from the trend in real-life robotics that has most brought the debate over artificial intelligence and killer machines to the fore: the movement toward the development of autonomous lethal robots.

Read the rest here.


Terror, Counter-Terror, and Insurgency in Harry Potter, or Why Harry Won

In the waning days of classes, one of my colleagues asked a student if she’d been among those celebrating outside of the White House the night that President Obama announced the killing of Osama Bin-Laden. “Of course,” she responded, “I mean, they got Voldemort!”

For many readers who aged along with its titular hero, the Harry Potter series inextricably intertwines with the war on terrorism. This connection stems from more than a mere accident of timing. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2000) provides readers their first glimpse of the Death Easters as they carry out a terror attack against the wizarding’s greatest sporting event, the Quidditch World Cup. The Goblet of Fire also expands upon themes first introduced in The Prisoner of Azkaban (1999): state policies of arbitrary detention, torture, wrongful imprisonment, star-chamber style justice, and the use of all four by officials to advance their careers.

Such tropes surely already resonated in the United Kingdom—the “Good Friday” accords were, after all, signed in 1998—but they took on new dimensions with the attacks of September 11, 2001 and the Bush Administration’s policy responses. Indeed, for those inclined to see Harry Potter as, at least in part, a parable for terrorism, counter-terrorism, and the flawed responses of the state, the Goblet of Fire’s sequels—Harry Potter and the Order of the Pheonix (2003) and Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2006)—do not disappoint.

In Order of the Pheonix we find the Minister of Magic, Cornelius Fudge, refusing to accept that Voldemort has returned. This denial extends to Dolores Umbridge’s efforts to discredit and vilify Harry Potter. These failures of leadership allow Voldemort and his Death Eaters to wage a low-level campaign of terror, murder, and intimidation. Although fans disagree about whether or not the Death Eaters retain their cellular organization from the previous conflict, the only evidence to the contrary concerns Voldemort’s inner circle. It is clear, however, that power and authority among the Death Eaters is highly centralized in Voldemort’s hands.

As is so often the case in politically unstable environments, Fudge worries most not about the possible threat posed by Voldemort, but that Dumbledore seeks to replace him as head of the Ministry. Given Dumbledore’s own political views, particularly with respect to the treatment of sentient magical creatures, Fudge’s attitude made a certain amount of pervese sense. Rowling’s account of the politics of the wizarding world suggest that the Death Eaters’ ideology—essentially one of wizard racial supremacy over muggles and muggle-born wizards and witches—is, in some ways, less revolutionary than that of Dumbledore’s embrace of radical inter-species equality. And, of course, Dumbledore does lead a clandestine paramilitary organization: the Order of the Phoenix.

The Order operates as a secret counter-terror squad determined to stop the Death Eaters even without help from the Ministry. Its structure is, in fact, rather similar to that of the Death Eaters. Through both Order of the Phoenix and Half-Blood Prince, the two groups fight a shadow war that extends into the ranks of the ministry itself. The Order’s main advantage in this struggle involves superior intelligence: that provided by Severus Snape and by Dumbledore’s investigations. Indeed, the film version of the Half-Blood Prince’s (2009) main contributions to advancing the series’ arc center on Harry’s and Dumbledore’s efforts to gain intelligence necessary to defeat Voldemort—the nature, existence, and number of his horcruxes.

Even after indisputable proof of Voldemort’s return at the end of Order of the Phoenix costs Fudge his job, the Ministry remains, at best, an uncertain ally of the Order. The Ministry proves unwilling to take concerted action against a number of likely Death Eaters—not out of a concern for due process, but rather an unwillingness to overly antagonize powerful members of the community. Instead, it engages in ineffectual “security theater,” including incarcerating innocent wizards and witches as suspected Death Eaters. The film version of the Half-Blood Prince drives the resulting fear and uncertainty home by adding a scene in which two of Voldemort’s most powerful lieutenants—Belatrix Lestrange and Fenrir Greyback—attack the Burrow, lure its defenders away, and then burn its upper floors to the ground.

The Ministry’s preference for counter-terror show over substance allows the Death Eaters to subvert it from within. The nature of the conflict changes radically in The Deathly Hallows, Part I (2010), and not simply because of Dumbledore’s (willing) defenestration at Snape’s hands. Voldemort, through his agents, seizes control of the British wizarding government. His followers turn the Ministry’s coercive and propagandistic capacity—augmented by their own equivalent of brownshirts, the Snatchers—toward suppressing opposition to their new order. Taken together, the two parts of the Deathly Hallows films chart a government crackdown on dissent, a growing insurgency waging asymmetric warfare against the state, and Voldemort’s personal Stalingrad, i.e., the Battle of Hogwarts.

As much as I enjoyed The Deathly Hallows, Part II, there’s not much in the way of international politics in the film; it deals almost exclusively with the final stages of the second Voldemort war. From this perspective, Part II involves three major events of concerns to scholars of international security:

  • The raid on Gringott’s to seize a crucial enemy resource (a horcrux) that nearly ends in disaster for the resistance;
  • The clandestine incursion to seize another horcrux that unexpectedly prompts an open revolt in Hogwarts; and
  • Voldemort’s attempt to crush the rebellion once and for all in a single battle.

Harry’s, Hermione’s, and Ron’s attack on Gringotts reflects the tactics they perfect over the courses of the series; these tactics fit squarely within the tradition of guerilla and asymmetric warfare. They rely on stealth and deception; they operate as a small mobile strike team. The three show no remorse about using the imperious curse—one of the three “Unforgiveable Curses”—to forward their goals. When detected, they exploit a weakness in their enemy’s defenses: they liberate an imprisoned dragon and use it as a means of escape. In their efforts they are aided by a network of supporters, including Aberforth Dumbledore, who conceals them in Hogsmeade, and, unbeknownst to them, Snape, who, in Part I, goes so far as to provide them with an important weapon—the Sword of Gryffindor and, in Part II, passes on crucial intelligence even as he lies dying.

Behind their success lies the superior intelligence and planning of the Order, and of Dumbledore in particular. Although Dumbledore’s role in the Order appears superficially comparable to Voldemort’s in the Death Eaters, Dumbledore takes extensive steps to ensure that his followers retain operational capability after his demise. He prudently conceals his plans by parceling out information among his agents, and by often encrypting that information to render it unusable by their enemies. He encourages Harry to share key intelligence with Ron and Hermione. Indeed, his efforts to guide the three since their arrival at Hogwarts wield them into a proficient covert operations teams. In the Order of the Phoenix, he does nothing to prevent Harry from training an army of students; “Dumbledore’s Army” provides one of the major fighting forces in the Battle of Hogwarts. In sum, Dumbledore builds an organization capable of surviving decapitation, and one that proves willing to fight on even in the face of Harry’s (apparent) death.

These advantages in intelligence and motivation are not, in of themselves, enough to overcome the Death Eater’s superior firepower, experience, and numbers. But the Death Eaters themselves suffer from a number of weaknesses. The Death Eaters’ problems, in fact, partially overlap with those we often associate with failed counterinsurgency campaigns.

First, Voldemort places far too much strategic emphasis on, and faith in, technological fixes—most notably his horcruxes and the Elder Wand. The former fail, the latter betrays him. Harry, on the other hand, seeks strength in the loyalty of his allies and the force of his cause.

Second, the Death Eaters reliance on fear as a tool of rule gives their regime, like those of Middle Eastern despots, an underlying fragility. Although they quash most dissent, they remain vulnerable so long as resistance continues. Thus, Harry, Ron, and Hermione remain potent symbols of opposition. Events at Hogwarts highlight the fragility of the Death Eaters’ regime, particularly in pockets of ideological opposition. There, Harry’s open defiance of Snape encourages the remnants of Dumbledore’s staff to rebel; previously unaligned students affiliated with Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, and Ravenclaw immediately follow suit.

Indeed, Machiavelli claims that it is better to be feared than loved, and councils rulers to inflict their injuries at the outset so that they can appear beneficent later, this advice fails miserably for Voldemort. Narcissa Malfoy’s betrayal of Voldemort—a consequence of his cruel treatment of her family for Lucius’ failures—ensures that Harry survives to defeat him. Voldemort’s overtures to the students of Hogwarts after they believe Harry dead provoke resistance rather than capitulation. Or, to paraphrase Rowling, Voldemort does not understand the power of love, only of fear and hatred.

Third, Voldemort’s egocentrism and overdeveloped will-to-power lead him to build, in direct contrast to the Order, an organization that cannot function in his absence. After the end of the first war, his supporters scatter, renounce him, or go into hiding. In the second war, his iron-fisted rule, unwillingness to cultivate replacements, and generally poor people skills ensure that the Death Eaters cannot outlive him. Voldemort’s death shatters the Death Eaters because of their lack of organizational resilience—a direct consequence of their over-centralized leadership structure and reliance on Voldemort’s personal ability to inspire terror.

Voldemort compounds these problems by committing a major strategic blunder: he actively participates in a direct assault on a well-fortified enemy position, one in which his adversaries enjoy superior local knowledge. These are common mistakes made by fictional tyrants. The Padishah Emperor Shaddam Corrino IV allows himself to be lured to Arrakis where the Fremen, led by Paul Maud’Dib, defeat his supposedly invincible Sardukar; Emperor Palpatine, placing far too much faith in his so-called “Death Star,” engineers a final battle in which his forces fall before the rebels and their newfound indigenous care-bearish allies.

Palpatine’s death at the hands of his chief adjutant one might argue, stems from his inability to appreciate the power of love and compassion.

In the books, the tide of battle is turned by the intervention of magical beings, including Centaurs and the House Elves—both of which lack civil and political rights in wizarding society and face an even worse time from Voldemort’s regime. This omission from the film raises questions about the Death Eaters’ defeat. In the real world, insurgencies almost always lose when they attempt to transition to conventional warfare. Only those guerilla leaders that wait until they have state-like manpower and resources (for example, Mao Zedung, Fidel Casto, and Ho Chin Minh) succeed. This does not seem to be the case for Harry and his allies: the students, teachers, and members of the Order at Hogwarts are significantly overmatched by the Death Eaters and their auxiliaries. Whether in the books or the films, the Battle of Hogwarts is a near thing; we should not assume that Voldemort’s defeat was preordained.

Especially in the absence of third-party intervention on behalf of our heroes, Voldemort’s best course of action is straightforward: allows his forces to crush resistance, or at least settle in for a long siege, while he watches from safety. But his reliance on a fearsome reputation to hold his coalition together, combined with his narcissism, compel Voldemort to face Harry himself. Indeed, Harry only survives numerous confrontations with Death Eaters because of Voldemort’s unwillingness to delegate key tasks to his subordinates. And here, again, we see the superiority of Dumbledore’s and Harry’s approach to leadership, let alone their specific command decisions.

If audiences can merge Voldemort and Osama Bin Laden as embodiments of evil, this becomes more complicated once the Death Eaters achieve military superiority. Their terrorism ceases to be that of a weapon of the weak; it takes the form of state terrorism—directed against the state’s own citizens. The most obvious analogy here, both with respect to ideology and to style, is with Nazi occupation governments. But we might also draw parallels with the Taliban regime in Afghanistan or, in fact, with what an Al-Qaeda inspired regime in the Middle East might look like. For their part, once Harry and his friends find themselves reduced to the position of insurgents, (and branded as terrorists, no less), they prove willing to adopt some of their opponents’ tactics, including the use of Unforgiveable Curses.

To the extent that the comparison continues to instruct, it does so in two ways. On the one hand, the series of events that climax in The Deathly Hallows, Part II stand as a powerful indictment of the worst excesses of the war on terrorism. Rowling’s deliberate condemnation of the repression she worked against while at Amnesty International resonates with recent experiences of arbitrary detention, torture, and incarceration of political dissidents. On the other hand, we can only hope that the Death Eaters’ pathologies are those of Al-Qaeda and other terrorist networks. In the real world, however, few leaders prove as indispensible to a violent movements’ persistence as Voldemort. Given our tendency to personalize and personify our enemies, we would do well to remember that the Deathly Hallows, Part II, is, in the final analysis, just a movie.

This is a different stab at an international-affairs discussion of The Deathly Hallows. Be sure to read the other attempt.


Harry Potter and Foreign Policy, or Voldemort is not Osama Bin Laden

One draft of a piece that will not be appearing anytime soon. I will post the other version, a strategic-studies analysis of the outcome of the Deathly Hallows, later on.

The sixth Harry Potter film, the Half-Blood Prince (2009), opens with Harry standing side-by-side with his mentor, recently reinstated Hogwarts Headmaster Albus Dumbledore. Blinding flashbulbs illuminate Harry’s vacant stare, rendering the scene a literal, as well as figurative, flashback to the immediate aftermath of the Battle of the Department of Mysteries, in which three clandestine forces clashed within the Ministry of Magic itself: Voldemort’s Death Eaters, Dumbledore’s Order of the Phoenix, and Dumbledore’s Army (the “DA”)—students trained in secret by Harry in “defense against the dark arts.” Harry’s indifference stems from shock: his godfather, Sirius Black, died in the battle, and in the background we hear the voices of Voldemort and Black’s killer, the insane Bellatrix Lestrange.

Flash forward to a modern glass-and-metal office building in London. Disbelieving office workers leave a conference table and walk to its picture window as storm clouds appear from nowhere. Darkness rapidly engulfs the sky. The camera tacks into the thunderous clouds themselves as they form into the image of a skull: the Death Eater’s Dark Mark. Three inky-black vaporous streams emerge from it. They look and move like the trails of impossibly agile sidewinder missiles. The three, which fans of the films recognize as flying Death Eaters, zoom down over the Thames as the camera moves into position behind them. They streak on through Trafalgar square and the streets of London. They’re no longer sidewinders, but rather supersonic air-launched cruise missiles. They pass into the heart of the wizarding world in London, Diagon Alley, and slam into Olivander’s Wands.

The camera pulls back to give a birds-eye view of the shop exploding—sending glass flying and knocking bystanders to the ground. The camera cuts to street level to show Fenrir Grayback, a werewolf and ally of Voldemort, roughly dragging Olivander—head obscured under a blindfolding black hood—away from his shop. In the company of two Death Eaters, Grayback launches into the air with Olivander. But before they leave London, the three fly along the Millennium Bridge. The force of their passage rips the bridge from its supports. It collapses, along with terrified pedestrians, into the Thames.

The opening of the Half-Blood Prince continues a trend begun in the Order of the Phoenix, in which danger bleeds seamlessly from the wizarding world into our own, and back again. None of this sequence, I should add, is a faithful translation of the book onto the screen. In the novels, Voldemort is the only Death Eater capable of unassisted flight. Readers learn of Olivander’s abduction via exposition. In the opening chapter of the Half-Blood Prince, recently sacked Minister of Magic Cornelius Fudge informs the Prime Minister of Britain that Voldemort is behind the destruction of a (fictional) bridge: “The Brockdale Bridge – he did it… he threatened a mass Muggle killing unless I stood aside for him and….” David Yates’ direction takes a basic fact about the Death Eaters—they are, by organization and tactics, terrorists—and renders it visceral. Its imagery blurs the distinction between magic and modern weaponry. Terrorism and warfare, it suggests, aren’t so different in Diagon Alley from the streets of Baghdad.

Indeed, later on in the Half-Blood Prince, Harry, Ron Weasley, and Hermione Granger take a trip to Diagon Alley to, as they have every year since being accepted into Hogwarts, purchase school supplies. On their way to Fred and George’s joke shop, they pass the abandoned and burnt-out wreck of Olivander’s Wands. As in the books, Hogwarts, already scarred by the brief, but ruthless, tenure of Ministry of Magic hack Dolores Umbridge, has been transformed. The school is under lockdown, protected by magical defenses and the special agents of the Wizard world, the Aurors. We also see it, for the first time, through the eyes of adolescents firmly on their way to adulthood. Harry and Ron tower above first-year students. Yates makes sure we notice snogging teenagers as his camera pans the halls. In some scenes, students lounge around drinking unidentified substances in the hours between classes and curfew.

By the film’s end, these twin transitions are complete. Hogwart’s defenses have been compromised through the actions of Draco Malfoy, a student and uneasy Death Eater; Dumbledore lies dead at the hands of Severus Snape—a double-agent for the Order who, at least for the moment, appears to have actually been working as a triple-agent; and Harry, along with Hermione and Ron, has vowed to leave behind Hogwarts to find Voldemort’s remaining horcruxes: hidden containers for parts of his soul that, as long as they persist, protect him from death.

In many ways, the Harry Potter series interfaces uncomfortably with most understandings of international relations. Foreign policy is often about balancing unpalatable alternatives, as has been the story of US engagement with the so-called “Arab Spring,” its efforts to ensure the delivery of vital supplies to NATO forces in Afghanistan, and its dealings with North Korea. Rowling’s novels—and their film versions—are too sophisticated not to allow even good characters to make bad, and even cruel, decisions. For example, a significant thematic of The Deathly Hallows is that Dumbledore, who we know as a paragon of moral rectitude and self-sacrifice, has lived a far from untarnished life.

The wizarding world that Harry and his friends fight to defend is itself deeply flawed. Its enslavement of House-Elves is so complete that all but Dobby recoil at the thought of freedom. It denies full political and civil rights to other sentient magical creatures, including Centaurs and Goblins. Many of its members look upon non-magical humans (Muggles) with a sense of smug superiority; more than a few refer to witches and wizards born of Muggles as “mudbloods.” The Ministry of Magic proves willing to propagandize against those it considers threats via British wizardry’s leading newspaper, The Daily Prophet. As the series unfolds, we also see it conduct star-chamber trials, condemn people to torture at the hands of the soul-sucking Dementors, and frequently bend to the desires of the rich and powerful.

Through all of this, however, Rowling never gives us any reason to doubt that Voldemort and his Death Eaters are evil embodied. They stand for racial subordination, tyranny, and the sacrifice of others to their own ambitions. Voldemort himself is the series’ “Big Bad”; his every action, as well as his very appearance confirms his demonic nature. Voldemort’s eyes are and nostrils are slits, his skin serpentine. He commits numerous atrocities, such as suspending a tortured Hogwarts teacher (of “Muggle studies”) above the table on which he and his followers eat dinner or feeding an innocent old man to his snake familiar. Indeed, while many of Rowling’s “good” characters are flawed, and her “bad” characters—other than Voldemort—capable of redemption, there is little moral ambiguity in Harry Potter.

If there exists an explicit foreign-policy message in Harry Potter, it is that we should not sacrifice liberty for security. The books are resolutely anti-torture. Hogwarts games keeper Hagrid is briefly sent to Azkaban—the wizarding world’s Guantanamo Bay—without anything approximating due process. Sirius Black spends years there for crimes he didn’t commit, during which he is driven (temporarily) insane. Rowling strongly suggests that even the guilty do not deserve punishment at the hands of Azkaban’s Dementors.

In fact, the Ministry’s practices prove steps along the slippery slope to fascism and tyranny. Once the Death Eater’s subvert it from within, they easily harness its institutional apparatus for the persecution of mudbloods and other “undesirables.” They deploy its propaganda to further their ideological of racial purity and magical superiority, as well as to brand Harry the most dangerous enemy of the wizarding community. Although they control some recalcitrant officials with the Imperious Curse, others, including Umbridge, eagerly embrace the Ministry’s new policies. As long as Voldemort stays in the shadows, many wizards and witches don’t even recognize that his forces have seized control.

Once the Ministry falls, the dominant tropes of the two Deathly Hallows films increasingly center around those of a resistance movement fighting against a tyrannical regime. As Harry, Ron, and Hermione pursue Voldemort’s horcruxes they mount what are, in effect, guerilla raids against the Ministry and the Death Eaters. Disguised as employees, they sneak into the Ministry to retrieve a horcrux, find themselves freeing a group of “mudbloods,” and barely escape capture. They spend a good deal of the rest of the film running and hiding. Eventually, their attempts to gather intelligence lead to their apprehension by a group of Death Eaters. With the assistance—and self-sacrifice—of Dobby the House-Elf, they escape from the clutches of Bellatrix Lestrange only moments before Voldemort arrives to kill Harry.

Most of Part II concerns the final showdown with Voldemort and the Death Eaters. The pre-title sequence of Part II begins with Voldemort acquiring the most powerful wand ever created—the so-called “Elder Wand”—which he believes will make him invincible. The Battle of Hogwarts provides the major set piece of Part II, but beforehand some unfinished business remains. Harry, Ron, and Hermione steal one of the final horcruxes from Gringott’s Bank—the HSBC of the wizarding world… if HSBC were run by goblins and stored its patrons’ treasure in vault-lined caves and tunnels. Once again they narrowly evade capture, only this time they do so on the back of an abused dragon who guards the most important vaults. Their ride over London provides our last glimpse of the Muggle world until the film’s epilogue, which is fitting, because from hereafter we are firmly in the realm of fantasy.

The Battle of Hogwarts features a titanic clash between good and evil; moments of redemption , self-sacrifice, and rebirth; the triumph of the few over the many; and a final duel between Voldemort and Harry. The “Elder Wand” betrays Voldemort; it recognizes, for reasons too convoluted to explain here, that Harry as its true master. In the end, Harry breaks it into pieces and, in doing so, renounces the will-to-power that so twisted Voldemort.

In this respect, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part II, is something like comfort food for unsettled times. Many people whom fans have grown to care about lose their lives, but never in vain. Voldemort’s defeat marks the end of the Death Eaters: absent his vision and the fear he inspires, they cannot recover. No wonder long-circulating comparisons between Voldemort and Osama Bin Laden gained a new lease on life in the lead up to the film’s release: for a generation reared on Harry Potter and marked by 9/11, it seems fitting that US forces killed Bin Laden not long before opening day. And it is nice, just for a moment, to imagine that Al-Qaeda, like the Death Eaters, will simply melt away.

But I think it is too easy to dismiss Harry Potter as fantastic escapism. Popular culture seldom has a direct effect on international politics. Instead, it supplies common referents that shape our understandings of events; its images, narratives, and ideas intrude into the “common sense” of its consumers. How it represents, for example, ethnic groups, ideologies, and threats matters. Thus, the very idea of an analogy between Voldemort and Bin Laden, and the ease with which it comes to mind for students of a certain age, takes on some significance. To the extent that popular culture influences our understandings of right and wrong, then the content of Potter’s moral compass matters even more. Rowling’s sophisticated treatment of torture, justice, propaganda, political inequality, and the dangers of state excess are likely to be among the enduring legacy of the novels and films.


Observations on Traffic Safety From Indonesia

A few days ago this startling report hit the newsstands in Jakarta, proclaiming Bali to have surpassed Phuket in highway “carnage”:

Bali’s roads have become the scene of unprecedented carnage, with 758 people dying in traffic accidents in just three months, 200 more fatalities than all of last year, police said on Friday. An average of more than eight people a day died on the resort island’s roads in March, April and May…May was the deadliest month, with 286 deaths and 360 injuries, followed by March with 248 dead and 302 injured. The death toll in April was 224, with another 281 injured.

I can’t comment on the validity of the numbers but if true then per capita (Bali’s population now stands at about 4 million) that is about seven times the US traffic fatality rate for 2009.

Traveling around the island, I could see why. I found it remarkable that we didn’t witness at least one deadly wreck during our days there. In the country-side, drivers sped along curvy, one-lane roads with abandond, narrowly missing oncoming traffic. In Kuta, the traffic was intense and chaotic, a dizzying writhing snake of taxis, cars packed in nearly bumper to bumper with three times as many mopeds maneuvering neck and neck, lane to lane.

Few scooters carried helmeted riders, even fewer outsie the city. Those that did usually carried at least one un-helmeted toddler as well, napping unsecured on the handlebars ready to slide off any moment; or a five-year-old on the back, gripping the seat with his legs while using his hands to text on a mobile phone. The mopeds move lithely in between the cars; no rules exist about minimum safe distance. Our taxi once swiped a motorcyclist as it passed us; the rider simply shrugged off the impact and carried on. Meanwhile, our driver had a television documentary playing on his screen in the front of the car.

When we had to ride in cars – from Jimbaron Bay to Kuta, to Yeh Gangga Village for a horse trek, or Sanur Beach for kite-surfing lessons – I distracted myself from the expectation of an imminent accident by thinking and asking about the emergent order in this seeming chaos. What were the rules? Why weren’t they being followed? How did motorists manage to get by in the chaos?

Cultural explanations aside, the Indonesian government is actually rather concerned about traffic safety and has made efforts to tighten strictures since 2007: helmets are in fact required, and you’re not supposed to cross the solid line. But new rules are rarely enforced. Indeed when Jakarta (where traffic is far worse than Bali: one expat described a six-hour cab ride three miles from the military academy to the US embassy) – first implemented the new rules on turning right at red lights (Indonesia uses the British system) motorists nearly revolted in opposition to the tickets.

Perhaps this is because the government is aiming to alter the laws, rather than the architecture – which as Lawrence Lessig would tell anyone, is rarely the best way to encourage social change. For example, an acquaintaince I spoke with described one effort centered on reducing traffic by creating carpool lanes. However no effort was made to provide additional public transportation for the people who were presumably not going to be on the roads. Nor did authorities actually build new lanes but rather simply created a rule stating that any car in the left lane with fewer than three people would receive a ticket. So in theory this would have simply increased congestion in the non-carpool lane. In practice, what it did was encourage motorists to increasingly drive on sidewalks, and to create a new industry: individuals who hang out by the carpool lane and jump into cars for a fee in order to enable them to use the lane lawfully.

In Bali, at least, social norms appeared to govern traffic flows more than legal rules – leaving one observer to describe traffic there as “zen chaos”:

Being an active participant in Bali traffic is quite an illuminating experience, by no means limited to complex vehicular dynamics. It is a social and cultural phenomenon as well, not to mention a crash course in logistics, strategic planning, tactical implementation and group psychology…. One can contemplate the fluid chaos around one’s bike while interacting with it. Staying alive is always such a good motivator, too.

I’ve learned some simple rules to help me survive so far. Treat all turns as merges. Think zipper. Treat all intersections as the merging of two traffic streams at right angles. Give way only to those you are about to hit, or are about to hit you. Travel at the speed of the surrounding traffic. Drive in a bubble, concerning yourself only with the people in front and to the sides. The ones behind can take care of themselves. Assume that anyone joining traffic from left or right kerbs will not look before accelerating. Above all, follow the medicos’ creed: “First, do no harm”. It doesn’t reduce the chaos, but it does make it a little more bearable.


Six Years of Gay Marriage in Canada and the World Did Not End

Fact: 6 years after gay marriage
Happy Cat is still happy.

It’s the 6th anniversary of gay marriage in Canada and – financial meltdowns in Europe and America aside – the world hasn’t ended. Society has remained intact. Babies are being born, flowers are blooming, a Canadian hockey team still can’t win the Stanley Cup and otters are still cute.

Actually, Canada is more than fine. In an article in the Calgary Herald, Naomi Lakritz argues:

While divorce rates have increased greatly since the introduction of Divorce Laws in 1968, actual divorce rates have been decreasing in Canada since the 1990s. The 50 per cent (failure rate) fallacy is false . . . In Nova Scotia, Ontario, British Columbia, the Yukon and Nunavut, the total number of new divorce cases has declined six per cent over the four-year period ending in 2008/2009,” says an IMF news release.
Indeed, while divorces per 100,000 population reached 362.3 in 1987, they were down to 220.7 per 100,000 in 2005, the year same-sex marriage became law. So much for the myth that same-sex marriage would aid the dissolution of straight marriages. They dissolve quite nicely on their own, thanks to their internal dynamics, such as domestic violence, alcoholism, gambling and infidelity. These figures, by the way, come from such eminent sources as the Vanier Institute of the Family and Statistics Canada.
And, according to Statistics Canada, “the number of marriages in the country was 149,236 in 2006, down nearly 2,000 from the previous year, but up from 148,585 in 2004.” Looks like some sort of minor demographic blip occurred there in 2006, but that figure is still up from 2004, when much of the silly fearmongering was taking place prior to Bill C-38 being passed.
Indeed, a November 2009 report entitled Divorce: Facts, Causes and Consequences, by Anne-Marie Ambert of York University in Toronto, found that “divorce rates have gone down substantially during the 1990s and have remained at a lower level since 1997, with minor yearly fluctuations.”

So clearly ALL of the predictions of the religious right have come true…. in that they haven’t. At all.

Considering that less than 30 years ago that many people were arrested, committed or persecuted for homosexuality in many Western countries, the progress has been impressive, (no matter what might be coming out of the mouths of Tea-Partiers.) A list of countries/regions/areas/cities with same-sex marriage or civil unions is impressive and growing. Even if it is a little patchy in America, there is clear momentum in support for equal marriage rights. Obama supporting the Respect for Marriage Act is a positive (if slightly delayed) step forward.

Obviously, it’s not a totally rosy picture. It’s still a crime punishable by death in 7 countries and homosexual acts are outlawed by 113. The Uganda situation is particularly odious. But even the UN Human Rights Council has taken the step of passing its first resolution on LGBT persons in June. Even if there is still a lot of work to do, there seems to be a decent amount of momentum (and opposition).

And best wishes to New Yorkers getting ready to take the plunge!

Cross-posted at The Cana-Blog


Did it take you (or your assistant) five minutes to Google that?

Anyone think Kathryn Lopez (of the National Review) actually reads the social-scientific articles she links to? This is from a screed attacking college co-ed housing:

And, if you want to get even more practical, W. Bradford Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia, points out: “Needless to say, binge drinking and casual sex tend to distract students from their studies. For instance, young women who engage in such activities are more likely to be depressed, and tend to do poorly when they get distracted by drinking and sex.”

The first article she links to, independent of its merits and some of its other purported findings, studies a cohort from Grades 7-12. That’s right: it doesn’t even deal with sexual activity among college students.

The second article requires some significant stretching to lead the conclusions that having sex in college negatively impacts educational outcomes. It looks at the relationship between lifetime sex partners for women age 22-24 and different levels of educational attainment. The authors find that the average college attendee had 5.73 partners and respondents who did not had, on average, 6.35 sex partners. Put differently, it does not measure the impact of sex in college on anything at all.

And people wonder why “it has lots of footnotes” doesn’t carry much weight with academics when we evaluate popular nonfiction…..

Update: James Joyner, a week ago, no less, on the source of the whole thing.


Raising the Debt Ceiling and Avoiding Economic Catastrophe

I keep meaning to write a follow up post on U.S. public opinion on climate change and how and why it matters for the world. But, the ongoing political posturing over raising the debt ceiling keeps commanding my attention. Everything I’ve read suggests that failure to resolve this by August 2nd would be what Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke called a “self-inflicted wound” on the part of the United States and potentially send the world in to an economic tailspin of perhaps unprecedented proportions. While we can’t know for sure what would happen, most sane observers of this unfolding catastrophe – Sebastian Mallaby, James Lindsay, Dan Dreznerthe U.S. business community, David Brooks, David Frum – suggest that this is one of those things in life that it would be wiser not to find out by trying our luck.

From an academic perspective, the question a few weeks ago was why weren’t the markets spooked and punishing the United States with higher interest rates and threats of a downgrade in the country’s credit rating. At the time, the somewhat obvious answer was that there simply wasn’t an alternative where investors could take their money. Many European economies are teetering in the face of debt crises of Greece, Ireland, and others. Japan is still recovering from the effects of the earthquake/tsunami/nuclear meltdown and the country had already been in the economic doldrums for more than a decade. Other countries that potentially could absorb global savings Australia and Brazil for example simply do not have markets large enough. Thus, despite the problems and doubts about America, investors still see the United States as the safest bet. Countries like China had too much money invested in the United States. Larger, more sustained efforts to shift to other currencies could do as much damage to China as they would to the United States.

In addition to these forces, markets were not punishing the United States because I think there was this expectation that surely American political leaders would sort this out. Yes, there will be this to and fro of political demagoguery on both sides as the country’s leaders try to position themselves for maximum political advantage. But, in keeping with Winston Churchill’s maxim, the Americans will ultimately do the right thing after trying everything else first.

In this case, the blinkered brinksmanship by both parties, but particularly House Republicans, has brought the country close to what might be an economic apocalypse. I do not write those words lightly, and I do actually mean them. My wife and I are expecting are first child in a matter of weeks, and I seriously worry that these so-called leaders may tempt fate by failing to reach a compromise on the debt ceiling and deficit reduction, one that includes both spending cuts AND new sources of revenue.

With climate change and the world’s increased environmental footprint, I worry about what kind of world our son will come into over the medium- to long-run. With the failure of the United States to raise the debt ceiling, I worry what kind of world he will be born into in three weeks. I am normally not prone to such dystopian thinking, but I hope for the sake of my family, your family, humanity as a whole that our leaders come to their senses and realize that now is not the moment to roll the dice with the global economy.

If you want to read what I’ve read on this, take a look at the last ten days of my Twitter feed

Re-tweets include debt calculators and show what bills we won’t be able to pay with existing funds. Other pieces look at how failure to raise the debt ceiling will drive up our borrowing costs and actually make the deficit worse. Others examine how a balanced budget amendment that House Republicans would like to attach to some final agreement would ultimately be a bad economic straitjacket in tough economic times. I also include links to threatened credit rating downgrades from Moody’s, S&P, and Fitch.

Punishment Over Peace?: Gaddafi in a Post-Amnesty World

It has been five months since protests in Tripoli sparked widespread ‘civil unrest’/war, a NATO enforced no fly zone, and partial (and unclear) international interventions. Rough death toll figures range from 10,000-30,000. Perhaps the biggest uncertainty is how this will all end. While there is some hope that rebel forces will tip the balance of power, Gaddafi’s forces are strong and have made recent advances.
One possibility that hasn’t been readily considered is the potential benefit of granting Gaddafi amnesty in exchange for a peaceful end to the civil unrest. So why isn’t amnesty being seriously considered by the international community?
There are multiple possible answers; however it is worth considering Libya as part of a ‘post-amnesty’ international justice agenda focused on prosecution. It seems that transitional justice has become a norm, based on the assumption that ‘true peace’ cannot be sustained without justice. I’m not arguing amnesty is the best option- but it is worth thinking about why amnesty has increasingly become an international taboo.

When put in a broader historical context, the current situation in Libya might be seen as a typical example of when amnesty should be considered. Yasmeen Naqvi explains that “amnesties for war crimes and other international crimes come into being mainly when states are going through periods of transition, often from war to peace, and of extreme political upheaval, for example, the handing over of power from military regimes to democratic civilian governments.”
Amnesties used to be more common, they were seen as a accepted part of peace negotiations, and a worthy compromise between the desire for peace and reconciliation and the desire to seek justice and retribution.
Since the end of World War II well over 420 amnesties have been introduced as mechanisms for achieving peace, with recent examples including provisions within the peace negotiations in Sudan in 1997, the 1999 Lusaka Ceasefire Agreement in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and both the Abuja and the Lome Peace Accords in Sierra Leone in 1996 and 2001.
Arguments in favor of amnesty have included the claim that, in many cases of war, peace could never be attained without amnesty (check out Michael Sharf’s work for more on this).
The principle of amnesty is even enshrined in international law, with Article 6(5) of the Additional Protocol II of the Geneva Conventions stating, “[a]t the end of hostilities, the authorities in power shall endeavor to grant the broadest possible amnesyt to persons who have participated in the armed conflict.”
Despite the historical precedence of its use, amnesty has increasingly come under criticism; it is now seen as fundamentally add odds with, and detracting from human rights and international law. But history tells us that amnesty has a place in ending violence. Might it be worth setting aside our desire to punish and set judicial examples in order to allow for a re-examination of the value of amnesty….in the name of peace?


Friday Nugget Blogging

Since I see Dan is kindly filling in on Friday Nerd Blogging while I’m on vacation, my casual Fridays post this week (if it is indeed Friday, I really have no idea…) takes a different tack, following on an old tradition from my days at Lawyers, Guns and Money

Quote of the week is from my youngest little nugget, quoted in an NPR story on how American kids are reacting to the Women’s World Cup:

“I’ve watched every one of their games. I’m pretty intense about it, because I don’t usually see the U.S. men’s team do very well.”

Now on Twitter, James Joyner objects to my son’s big-hearted, women-friendly kudos, stating rather condescendingly that the comparison is apples and oranges because these are

“very different levels of competition… our women are ahead of curve; men well behind it.”

Well, it’s hardly fair deny women the opportunity to play on co-ed teams with men and then use that as a way to dismiss their victories, but the fact that people like Joyner will do precisely that is probably the best argument for getting rid of gender apartheid in sports.

At any rate, Bill Plashke at the LA Times concurs – though only somewhat – with my son:

If I was asked to assemble a team of American athletes to compete against similarly composed teams from the rest of the world in any sport, the most important decision would be the easiest. I would take a team of women.

I would take a team that would play like a team, unselfish and unaffected, tough and tireless, playing for victory not credit, playing for each other instead of themselves. I would take a group like the U.S. women’s soccer team, and not because it is playing Japan on Sunday for the World Cup championship, but because of how it played in reaching this stage, stoic through their storms, sharing through their failure, winning not with shots off fancy feet, but passes off rock-hard heads.

I would take groups like the women’s teams that have won three of the four Olympic soccer gold medals, six of the nine basketball gold medals, and three of the four softball gold medals in such overpowering fashion that the International Olympic Committee eliminated the sport. I would take our women not only because Title IX has empowered them into a huge advantage over the rest of the world, but also because they consistently win in ways that our men sometimes neglect or ignore.

With their status often based on nightly highlights and rich endorsements, the men’s team athletes in this country are increasingly about themselves… Perhaps because they receive little of the attention and none of the riches, most of our women athletes are all about one another.

I do wonder if Plashke’s perspective begs the question though: are women’s teams better because they are women and women have some sensitivity toward cooperative play and teamwork that men lack? Are they better because they have to be in order to excel in the absence of “attention” and “riches,” as Plashcke puts it?

I am uncomfortable with these kinds of essentialisms and with the pro-gender-apartheid argument they support. And I don’t see them at the root of my son’s argument. For one thing, he knows better: he plays on a boys’ team that also rarely loses – and that will play later this month in the 3×3 U10 National Championship – due to the ethic of teammanship and cooperative play inculcated by its coach. So yes, cooperative play is better play, but men as well as women can learn these norms: it’s all in how they train and which values their fans support. Plashke’s argument is really a commentary on US sports culture, not the culture or biology of individual sports teams.

Nor do I think my son shares’ Plashke’s view that women are only doing well because they are subordinate – a view implying that equal attention, riches, even a chance to play on co-ed teams would change women’s sports culture for the worse. Rather, I see a young man who once internalized the notion that women’s sports were second best, simply because he had fewer opportunities to follow them in the media due to US sports culture, outgrowing this notion on the basis of new empirical evidence from individual US sports teams.

And empirical evidence for this proposition goes far beyond the anecdotal, as detailed in Eileen McDonagh and Laura Pappano’s pathbreaking book Playing With the Boys: Why Separation is Not Equal in Sports:

Dividing sports by sex doesn’t reliably reflect actual physical differences between males and females at all. Rather, it reflects antiquated social patterns and false beliefs. And what’s more, it reinforces, sometimes baldly, sometimes subtly, the notion that men’s activities and men’s power are the real thing and women’s are not. Women’s sports, like women’s power, are second-class.

(Nothing demonstrates that more completely than my utter inability to find a sports bar here in Bali covering the Women’s World Cup finals. The ‘real World Cup,’ as people around me call it, was to be found in every pub in the city last year when I was in Thailand.)

Playing With the Boys, by the way, has been hailed on Amazon by NOW President Kim Gandy as a “home-run”:

This book shows that coerced sex segregation in sports does not benefit women, and in fact holds back women who are fully capable of competing with men–and that flies in the face of U.S. ideals of equality. Readers will never think of Title IX in the same way again.

If the US Women’s team performance in the World Cup helps sell this argument to nine-year-old American boys, that’s a step toward transforming the gendering of US sports culture… and that will be a far more powerful source of change than Title IX ever was. If so, I’m all the happier.

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