(From The Onion; hat tip: Rod Dreher.)
CITY OF DIS, NETHER HELL–After nearly four years of construction at an estimated cost of 750 million souls, Corpadverticus, the new 10th circle of Hell, finally opened its doors Monday.
The Blockbuster Video-sponsored circle, located in Nether Hell between the former eighth and ninth levels of Malebolge and Cocytus, is expected to greatly alleviate the overcrowding problems that have plagued the infernal underworld in recent years. The circle is the first added to Hell in its countless-millennia history.
"A nightmarishly large glut of condemned spirits in recent years necessitated the expansion of Hell," inferno spokesperson Antedeus said. "The traditional nine-tiered system had grown insufficient to accommodate the exponentially rising numbers of Hellbound."
Adding to the need for expansion, Antedeus said, was the fact that a majority of the new arrivals possessed souls far more evil than the original nine circles were equipped to handle. "Demographers, advertising executives, tobacco lobbyists, monopoly-law experts retained by major corporations, and creators of office-based sitcoms–these new arrivals represent a wave of spiritual decay and horror the likes of which Hell has never before seen," Antedeus said....
Frigax The Vile, a leading demonic presence, is one of the most vocal supporters of the new circle.
"In the past, the underworld was ill-equipped to handle the new breed of sinners flooding our gates–downsizing CEOs, focus-group coordinators, telemarketing sales representatives, and vast hordes of pony-tailed entertainment-industry executives rollerblading and talking on miniaturized cell-phones at the same time. But now, we've finally got the sort of top-notch Pits of Doom necessary to give such repellent abominations the quality boilings they deserve."
Pausing to tear off the limbs of an Access Hollywood host, Frigax added, "We're all tremendously excited about the many brand-new forms of torture and eternal pain this new level's state-of-the-art facilities will make possible."
Among the tortures the Corpadverticus Circle of Total Bastards boasts: the Never-Ending Drive-Thru Bank, the Bottomless Pit of Promotional Tie-In Keychains, and the dreaded Chamber of Emotionally Manipulative Home Shopping Network Products.
I'm pretty certain Sting foresaw all this, though his list of those who were to be included was slightly different:
Wednesday, September 25, 2013
(From The Onion; hat tip: Rod Dreher.)
Saturday, September 14, 2013
Wednesday, September 11, 2013
So, this is making the rounds on Facebook today:
It's a wonderful occasion for geeky Myers-Briggs conversations, but it's flawed. Presumably it's a silly thing to take seriously, but still, I have to register my sincere doubt that the person who put this together really tried to create, through closely examining the HP canon, the sort of test questions which would line up the characters with various MB scores. True, I won't deny that some of the descriptions are absolute genius. Neville as ISFJ, Lupin as INFJ, Luna as INFP, and Sirius as ENTP all seem particularly truthful. But let's focus on the Trio. Hermione as INTP? Sorry, that last indicator is completely unsubstantiated by the canon; Hermione likes structure, and likes everyone to know she likes structure. If any one of the main characters is a true INTJ "strategist," it's surely Hermione, not Malfoy (and really, sticking him in there is probably more fan-wank than anything else). Harry as an ISTP "craftsman"? Some of that works, but again, the issue of structure comes up: Harry's resolute determination to do things as he has figured out on his own to do them, the consequences or the opinions of others be damned, actually makes him rather more an ISTJ Snape-type figure (which, I suppose, means that we could use MB testing to explain the psychological mechanics which led them, as characters, to hate each other so much). Ron's description as an ENFP actually works, I think, though arguably he's more like his Weasley brothers and his sister in being more oriented to sense (S) than intuition (N); yes, Ron is sometimes a big picture person, but just as often he gets hung up (like Harry) on the trees rather than the forest--and don't forget Ron's frequent bottom-line pragmatism, which constantly gets on Hermione's nerves. So, yeah: a fun bit of random geek-bait to argue over, but flawed.
And me? I tend to score as an ENFJ, but sometimes the INFJ comes out, and occasionally an ENTJ. So supposedly I'm mostly an Albus Dumbledore (which is good for university teachers, I suppose), and sometimes a Remus Lupin (also good), but then sometimes a James Potter smart-ass. Hopefully I can keep that last one under wraps while advising students, and only let him out during faculty meetings.
Posted by Russell Arben Fox at 11:58 AM
Monday, September 09, 2013
Because I Still Have a Bunch Sitting on a Book Shelf Immediately Behind Me Here in the Office and They Still Mostly Play Fine on My Boombox, That's Why.
Matthew Yglesias, who is young and worldly and sophisticated and intelligent and wise, wants to know, as he targets what appears to him to be yet another expression of hipster culture: "Why would anyone buy a tape cassette?"
My answer, spoken without defiance and with genuine curiosity, is in the post title.
Posted by Russell Arben Fox at 3:41 PM
Saturday, September 07, 2013
Stumbled on to this one by accident, and it's brilliant. I could do without the background orchestration, but man: Rufus Wainwright deeply mines this old Police tune, bringing to life from within its lyrics and chords a glorious, smooth, mature passion and soul. And let's be honest: his falsetto is better than Sting's ever was. (Rufus, do "Roxanne" next!)
Posted by Russell Arben Fox at 8:00 PM
Friday, September 06, 2013
The Wichita Eagle ran today a much condensed (and, I suppose, perhaps much improved) version of my post from Monday on my wish/hope that Congress will, in fact, send President Obama a "no" on Syria. For anyone who can't get enough of me, here it is:
Sometime in the next week or so, Congress will vote on whether to authorize President Obama’s plan to bomb military sites in Syria as a response to President Bashar Assad’s alleged use of chemical weapons. Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Wichita, supports authorizing the attack, but he has made it clear that he wants a “much more robust” plan of action in Syria than the president has suggested. That implies that he might vote down any resolution that he doesn’t believe provides enough strength for America’s position. I think such reasoning is wrong--but if it gets him to vote “no,” I’ll take it.
Why? Because if Congress votes “no,” for a good or bad reason, it will mean two very good things: The United States will be less likely to involve itself in yet another Middle Eastern conflict, and (much more important) Congress will have taken at least one tiny step in the direction of perhaps standing up against the imperial, war-making powers that our presidents have routinely used and expanded. So however it comes, a “no” vote is what I’d like to see.
As I said, there are both better and worse reasons for doing this. Pompeo’s neoconservative talking points, which suggest that Obama and his team are simply too weak to manage any kind of proper military action, are a lousy way to get to my preferred end. All they really mean is that if Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., or Pompeo were in charge, bombing Syria would be a fine idea.
It absolutely isn’t, for many reasons: We have no international support for doing so; bombing one country because it violates an international convention while we continue to support another country – Egypt – that is also in violation of international conventions is terribly hypocritical; providing support for the rebel cause in Syria will position us on the side of organizations with a history of anti-American terrorism; there is little evidence that the Syrian government particularly cares about U.S. “credibility” anyway.
Still, I look at these things as someone who is worried about the dysfunction and corruption of our constitutional order. As much as I am opposed to much of the libertarian ideology, at least the isolationist, anti-war position of Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., has the same crucial political concerns. In this case, I truly wish Pompeo, beyond enjoying the money and influence of Koch Industries and Americans for Prosperity, would actually take their point seriously – that the U.S. is not, and should never act like, an empire, no matter what course President Bush may have set us upon.
Of course, I am not naive here. Bush was only continuing the long tradition of presidents assuming for themselves an expansive reading of their authority as commander in chief. The War Powers Resolution may be the law of the land, but every president since Richard Nixon has dismissed it as unconstitutional, and there is little chance of it emerging as a legal cause to tie the president’s hands at this time.
Still, I believe in legislative supremacy. One vote won’t achieve that. But while a “yes” would just license power that Obama – like every president – has grabbed, a “no” just might become a line in the sand that those of us who want to limit America’s role in the world could build upon. So give me a “no,” please, for whatever reason.
Posted by Russell Arben Fox at 6:50 AM
Thursday, September 05, 2013
This is a well-worn topic, but still, as I'm teaching International Relations this fall for the first time in a couple of years, I figured I needed to update my list. So take a look, both fellow academics and film buffs, and tell me--out of all these movies which I am allowing students of mine to watch and write a short response to in connection with themes of international relations, which ones are tired or weird or overused or don't work, and which ones have I scandalously forgot? (And if you're going to say, "Hey, you stole a lot of this list years ago from Daniel Drezner and Stephen Walt and Fred Kaplan"--well, okay, you're right: I did. Um...sorry?)
Apocalypse Now (1979)
Army of Shadows (1969)
The Battle of Algiers (1966)
Black Hawk Down (2001)
Breaker Morant (1979)
The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)
Charlie Wilson’s War (2007)
Clear and Present Danger (1994)
The Day of the Jackal (1973)
Dr. Strangelove, Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)
Good Bye Lenin! (2004)
Hotel Rwanda (2005)
In the Loop (2009)
Judgment at Nuremberg (1961)
The Last King of Scotland (2006)
Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
The Lives of Others (2007)
Lord of War (2005)
The Man Who Would Be King (1975)
The Manchurian Candidate (1962)
The Official Story (1985)
The Russians are Coming, the Russians are Coming (1966)
Seven Days in May (1964)
Sometimes in April (2005)
The Spy Who Came in From the Cold (1965)
The Third Man (1949)
Thirteen Days (2000)
Three Kings (1999)
To Live (1995)
Tor! Tora! Tora! (1970)
The Quiet American (2002)
Wag the Dog (1997)
The Wannsee Conference (1984)
The Year of Living Dangerously (1983)
Incidentally, I make no apologies for the inconsistent scattering of a few select non-English-language films; there are so many foreign movies that would be worth including that if I actually tried to be comprehensive and balanced in that regard the list would be just unworkable. Also, given my geek interests, the absence of any fantasy, science-fiction, or comic book adaptions may seem significant. It isn't; I simply, again, arbitrarily decided that going there would just be too much. So, for better or worse, "realistic" dramas and comedies and histories it is.
Posted by Russell Arben Fox at 11:29 PM
Wednesday, September 04, 2013
Posted by Russell Arben Fox at 11:31 AM
Dear Congress: Please Make President Obama Look Bad on Syria (Even if Your Reasons for Doing So Are Wrong)
[Cross-posted to Political Context]
To Senators Roberts and Moran and Representative Pompeo,
Sometime in the next week or so, Speaker of the House John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid will schedule votes on whether or not Congress will give its authorization (or, depending on who you talk to or what the language of the coming resolution may include, "support") for President Obama to go forward with the plan which he and his security team have clearly already decided upon: to strategically bomb certain military sites in Syria as a response to the information (which they, at least, are certain of) that the Syrian government of Bashar Hafez al-Assad has used, in violation of widely accepted principles of international law, chemical weapons like sarin gas to kill hundreds of civilian supporters of the rebellion against his rule which he currently is fighting. Since you're my senators and my local representative here in the 4th congressional district in the state of Kansas, I thought I'd share my opinion about this upcoming vote with you. I think you should embarrass President Obama, and give him a big "no."
Some part of all of you, I strongly suspect, already wants to do this. After all, this is something President Obama wants, and agreeing with him on really anything at all is a guaranteed loser with a decent chunk of the Kansas electorate. This suggests that voting against whatever the resolution ultimately says is plain old smart constituent service, not to mention a way to burnish your bona fides as solid and faithful conservative Kansas Republicans. All you need to do is cook up some talking points which explain why Obama and his team don't understand what you think they should understand about the war in Syria, and hence can't possibly be trusted to manage any kind of military action at all, and you'd be good to go. That's justification isn't, in my view, remotely accurate, but if you want to run that way, it'll at least mean you'll be voting the way I think you should, so I won't complain.
Of course, that will put you at odds with your own party leadership, with Speaker of the House John Boehner and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor climbing on board the president's bandwagon, and Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham warning all their fellow Republicans of the "catastrophic" consequences of a no vote. I suppose one way to negotiate this would be to follow along with the lead that you've already laid out, Rep. Pompeo; make all the appropriate neoconservative noises about the need for the United States to develop a "more vigorous, much more robust" plan of action in Syria, one that presumably would go beyond Obama's stated intention to become the world's international-law-enforcer and would likely instead militarily obligate us to real action in the Syrian civil war, and then vote against whatever the resolution actually says, because it doesn't go far enough. In my view, this justification is even worse than the previous one, but at least it would result in a no vote, so I'll accept it.
I suppose it's possible that you may feel inclined to vote no because you've been tempted by the isolationist, anti-war position of Senator Rand Paul & Co. This probably isn't something you'll want to admit to, because while the Kansas Republican Party obviously values the libertarian money and influence of Koch Industries and Americans For Prosperity, actually identifying with any of their ideological principles--in this case, that America shouldn't be an empire, and that no large institution (including the U.S. military and/or our intelligence community!) should ever be trusted--can complicate things when it comes to striking deals in Washington, or maintaining your image in the Kansas public eye as a mainstream, patriotic, socially conservative Republican. As for myself, well, I'm not at all on board with that whole movement, but there's more than a little of it which I have come to admire, and so if that's what leads you to vote the way I'd prefer, I'm all in favor.
What kind of reasons am I more in favor of? Ones that acknowledge that the situation in Syria is a tragic, terrible mess, with neither side representing the sort of interests or ideas that warrant American military involvement. Ones that recognize that labeling the use of chemical weapons as a "red line" which no civilized can cross without suffering retributionary punishment is, without a united international community, an arbitrary and essentially unenforceable standard, one that no nation which doesn't claim (as I should hope the United States has gotten tired of claiming by now!) for itself full-fledged imperial responsibilities for the world ought to make. Ones that admit--as I, a former liberal internationalist hawk, someone who will probably always find Wilsonian humanitarianism at least faintly appealing, has nonetheless learned to admit--that while of course inaction is itself an affirmative choice, one that carries with it all sorts of what-might-have-been burdens, that fact isn't alone sufficient reason to feel impelled to do something (anything!) in response to an obvious evil. Invoking the "responsibility to protect" rightly directs us towards an engagement with a distant tragedy; it does not require any particular response to said tragedy...especially when, as is the case with America's track record towards military adventures, there is good reason to believe such a military response will not only fail to be thoughtfully limited, but will also be corrupted by our own oversized, wanna-be-but-not-really imperial baggage.
Most of all, I'd like to see a no vote in Congress based on a refusal to continue in the decades-long abandonment of Congressional responsibility for the military actions of our national government. I am not naive here; I realize that as much as I might wish to have a political culture and a constitutional order which takes carefully and literally the idea that the legislative branch, and the legislative branch alone, carries the responsibility for authorizing when and how American soldiers will kill and be killed, I'm not going to get it. Presidents have been assuming for themselves an expansive reading of their authority as commander-in-chief since the beginning of American history--and even they hadn't, the global powers and obligations which presidents have trafficked in since WWII makes a strong logical case for them to do so now. Congress's mad grasp to clarify their role in the midst of burgeoning presidential powers, the War Powers Resolution (a hastily and confusedly written piece of legislation, I know!), may be the law of the land, but every president since Nixon has dismissed it as unconstitutional, and there is little chance of it emerging as a legal cause to either tie the president's hands or--more likely--complicate the funding which President Obama will ask for when he goes forward with the bombing, whether Congress gives him a resolution "authorizing" (or, as Secretary of State Kerry insists, just supporting) the use of force or not.
In the end, this is a political stratagem on the part of the president. So why don't I think Congress should just play along and go on to other things? Because, silly as it may seem, I really do believe in legislative supremacy; I really don't want the United States to continue along the imperial course which George W. Bush put us upon; and I really do think military adventurism is one of the primary causes for the executive's endlessly expanding power. Unwinding all that will take far more than any single vote (especially since, once American equipment and manpower are committed, Congress will almost certainly find itself politically incapable of exercising any budgetary restraints of any further adventurism--"supporting the troops" is just too potent, and poisonous, a bloody flag to wave). But in this case, a "yes" vote will be more than meaningless...while a "no" vote might, just might, become a line in the sand which those who want to limit America's role in the world could build upon. As actually serving politicians in Washington DC, my dear senators and representative, it's unlikely that you're really interested in such limits. But with any luck, for whatever reason occurs to you, perhaps you'll vote in a way to provide those who are so interested with a start. That's my hope, anyway.
Posted by Russell Arben Fox at 8:39 AM
Monday, September 02, 2013
It's been a while since I've written any reflections on the American Political Science Association's annual meeting--in part, I suppose, because I don't get out to them as often as I used to. But I was back this year--originally, to meet with an editor at a university press about possibly turning my current research project (on what I am grandiosely calling "the political theory of mid-sized cities"), and then, at the last minute, to serve as a left-leaning contrarian commenter on a commemorative panel honoring the work of the recently deceased George Carey, a well-known traditionalist conservative interpreter of the American founding. (I should note that that particular panel, which was held early Saturday morning and was sparsely attended, and which resulted in a near brawl between Bruce Frohnen and Barry Alan Shain over how one should read James Madison's contributions to The Federalist Papers, was, from my point of view, an utter delight.) Along the way, I managed to connect with a lot of fine scholars and get myself, as is always the case, jazzed up and excited by and intrigued over what my fellow academics are thinking, writing, and debating about. (Most surprising discovery: on a fairly quick and not-at-all-thorough perusal of the exhibit hall, I came upon a half-dozen new books all, in one way or another, attacking or at least challenging the usually sacrosanct notions of individual autonomy and choice. Obviously, people have been studying their Sigal Ben-Porath.) So it was a fine weekend, all around.
What did I bring home with me? A bunch of books, and a few really thought-provoking arguments which will keep me thinking for a while. First, the books:
G.A. Cohen, Finding Oneself in the Other (a collection of essays, some of which I already had, but it's nice to have them all together)
Christian Coons and Micahel Weber, eds., Paternalism: Theory and Practice
Fred Dallmayr, Return to Nature: An Ecological Counterhistory
Fred Dallmary and Zhao Tingyang, eds., Contemporary Chinese Political Thought: Debates and Perspectives
Michael L. Frazer, The Enlightenment of Sympathy: Justice and the Moral Sentiments in the Eighteenth Century and Today (I had dinner with Michael on Friday with several other scholars, and he wanted in to know may take on his Herder chapter--so of course I had to buy it)
David Graeber, Debt: The First 5000 Years (I tried reading this book before, but failed; maybe if I actually have a copy, I'll be able to get through it)
David Graeber, The Democracy Project: A History, A Crisis, A Movement
Jonathan Haidt, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion (our Honor Program here at Friends University is using this book this year, and since I'll be lecturing in the Honors class twice, I suppose I ought to actually read it myself)
Christopher Hayes, Twilight of the Elites: American After Meritocracy
Peter Levine, We Are the Ones We Have Been Waiting For (I've wanted to read one of Peter's books for ages; my one real disappointment this past APSA meeting was that he was there, giving a couple of presentations, and I wasn't able to make it to either)
Eric MacGilvray, The Invention of Market Freedom (looks like a really fascinating book, but I can't figure out if I should shelve it with the history of political thought, republicanism, or political economy)
Philip Pettit, On the People's Terms: A Republican Theory and Model of Democracy
David Schell and John Delury, Wealth and Power: China's Long Marsh to the Twenty-First Century
Richard Sennett, Together: The Rituals, Pleasures, and Politics of Cooperation
Gordon S. Wood, The Purpose of the Past: Reflections on the Uses of History
Gordon S. Wood, The Idea of America: Reflections on the Birth of the United States (I'm neither a historian of U.S. history nor someone who is particularly specialized in American political thought, but Wood is one of those authors you can rarely go wrong with)
Next, the arguments. I'll mention three:
As I mentioned above, my current research project is leading me to think about communities--large, small, and in-between--in much more concrete terms than I have before. This has meant, among other things, that I didn't just haunt my usual political theory panels at APSA; I spent some time trying to familiarize myself with the discussions in urban political science as well. And in one really fascinating panel, talking about how various cities and societies have dealt with (or been overwhelmed by) rapid changes in population, one scholar--Christopher Berry, from the University of Chicago--advanced some truly counter-intuitive data about the growth of government. From his examination of aggregated county reports, it appears that the explosion in government spending in recent years has been primarily local, rather than state or federal, and moreover that such local spending seems to increase regardless of population declines in metro areas. He ran through a variety of typical explanations of this trend (e.g., "it's the unions fault!"), and demonstrated how they don't fit the data. The push-back he received from various commenters revealed some explanations he didn't account for (the federal government off-loading unfunded mandates on cities, for example), but even there he had at least partial replies. All in all, a question that I think--assuming my own project touches on the relative sustainability of legitimate governance in cities of various sizes--that I'll have to wrestle with at some point.
In a later panel, I finally was able to meet Benjamin Hertzberg, a fellow Mormon scholar and political theorist who has written some really interesting arguments dealing with political theology and church-state relations. In a paper he presented as part of an engaging, wide-ranging panel (at which I finally was able to meet Lew Daly for the first time; he actually grabbed on to me afterward, and wanted to talk about the history of Mormon collectivist economics), he made a fascinating--but, I think, profoundly limited--argument: that the models of deliberative democracy can show us how to justify certain ways of accounting for religious discourse and change in a pluralistic society. Basically, as more participants enter a conversation about values, the more facets of distinct reasons emerge, and while two opponents in a religious or moral stand-off may never see ground to compromise with each other, for reason of their opposing faith claims, an opposition which is constituted of three or four or five discussants, all of whom express their faith claims slightly differently, open up more room for persuasion. I actually really liked his argument--except that I found it rather "Protestant," dependent upon the multiplicity of expressions of moral convictions and values from one individual to the next, and not accounting very well for those who found their faith claims on assertions of authority, as is the case with orthodox Catholics and Mormons. Both the discussant and I presented this to Ben, and for a short while, the panel turned into an inside-baseball Mormon discussion about the politics behind my and his church's official decision in 1978 to end the exclusion of African-Americans from Mormonism's lay priesthood. Ben didn't satisfy my doubts with his account, but he got me thinking more about our own religious history--which is what these conferences are all about, right?
Finally, the last panel I was able to get to before heading out on Saturday afternoon was a cool consideration of various non-Western approaches to cultural, epistemic, and political change and transformation. I had to leave before Farah Godrej finished her comments of the papers, and thus didn't hear the panelists' responses or get to ask any questions of my own, so my thoughts here are less complete. But I was particularly engaged by--as is always the case, it seems--Leigh Jenco's creative re-discoverings and re-readings of Chinese thinkers, activists, and scholars that are either mostly unknown in English-language scholarship or else have been filed away in one ideological category or another. The 1930s Chinese writers which Leigh focused in particular on suggested a continuum in how we should think about cultural change, ranging from an affirmative totalization (which traditionally has taken the form of one sort of Western imperialism or another), to a "parcelization," in which it is affirmed that certain practices, ideas, texts, or elements can be taken from one cultural context and grafted on to another, without by so doing affecting the fundamentals of the first culture. I really would have liked to have been able to ask Leigh more explicitly how she thought such an idea fitted alongside Kwame Anthony Appiah's famous argument about "contamination"--which used Chinese foot-binding as one of its primary examples as well. Is it really possible to conceive of distinct cultural practices as "parcelable" chunks which can be appropriated, without connection to a broad network of other assumptions? Maybe, maybe not. As always, the argument raises as many questions as it settles.
Well, there was more to the conference than that--there was spending time in a part of Chicago which was new to me, and catching up with old friends, and eating pâté for the first time. But that's enough of a report for now. Now, I need to put all these books away, and figure out what I'm teaching tomorrow.
Posted by Russell Arben Fox at 1:31 PM