Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Blogging on battlefield robots at Opinio Juris

I put up a post introducing the topic of battlefield robots over at Opinio Juris today. And Glenn Reynolds gave it an Instalanche - thanks Glenn!

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Congratulations to all WCL graduates!

My congratulations to all the graduates of WCL - commencement was today, with Justice Breyer delivering the commencement address. My warmest congrats to all WCL grads, but especially to my students and their families, and to my two research assistants during this past year, Marc Patterson and Shaunna Bailey.

Guest-blogging at Opinio Juris this week

As I mentioned a few days ago, I am guest blogging this week at Opinio Juris. Hope you can join us there!

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Elliptically joining the discussion of Peter Spiro's book at Opinio Juris

... by quoting Michael Ignatieff. Here at Opinio Juris. I will be guest-blogging at Opinio Juris for real next week.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Philip Glass, Songs and Poems for Solo Cello

(Update. I’ve now listened to the 7 songs a number of times. I’ve concluded that it is much less Bach, than the earlier, more primitive Domenico Gabrielli, of the Ricercars for solo cello, among the earliest of all known music composed specifically for cello. Gabrielli is simpler and less developed than Bach, but has a driving insistence all his own. I actually quite love Gabrielli, the Ricercars, the Canon for 2 cellos (which is arguably the earliest cello music), and also his two sonatas for cello and continuo, all of which I play - badly. The thing is, Glass’s cello songs are arpeggios repeated mostly, rather than counterpoint and, except for the wonderful song V, there is relatively little of the polyphony of the Bach solo suites. Indeed, not really even the polyphony that you find in the Gabrielli ricercars. In that respect, it has a more raw, primitive feel to it, like the Gabrielli ricercar number 1, which is almost like a continuo line for solo cello. Wendy Sutter, playing the Glass songs, gets a big bite on these repeated arpeggios with her bow. She is a player with enormous precision and control - you can feel that in her bow arm, completely - but there is also a sense, in her bowing of these chords, that she is, I don’t know, tearing off chunks of raw meat with that same bow. There is a huge, guttural power there. It is unusual to have the music focused so much on the lower range of the cello, but it is definitely ‘gutteral’. I’m not sure that is what she or Glass had in mind, but there you have it.)

Jean-Marie just gave me a gift out of the blue, something she had seen reviewed somewhere ... Philip Glass, Songs and Poems for Solo Cello, performed by Wendy Sutter.

It’s an absolute stunner, both the music and the performance. It is very close in feel to Bach solo cello suites. I will be listening to this a lot, especially late at night working with headphones on.

I have not normally been a huge Philip Glass fan - the repetition just got too boring, even if I was supposed to be achieving a higher plane or something. It seemed like perfect soundtrack music for the right kind of performance, but not something I really wanted to listen to.

No, that’s not quite right. I saw, many years ago at American Repertory Theatre in Cambridge, a quite stunning Philip Glass opera, The Juniper Tree. That was rivetting. But it was also true that the force lay in the repetition, which would have quite bored me out of my mind if it had not been tied to the book being played out on stage.

This album is something very different. Quite remarkable. Wendy Sutter has a remarkable sound, precision and intensity. Utter and complete control. The sound of her bow conveys utter control.

Track V is particularly wonderful.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Guest-blogging at Opinio Juris May 19-25

The folks over at Opinio Juris have very kindly invited me to guest blog there during the week of May 19-25. It is one of the genuinely high quality law blogs, a great combination of voices, so I hope I will have something to add.

I am greatly tempted to join the discussion of Peter Spiro’s new, outstanding book - outstanding, splendid, and well worth your buying it despite my disagreements with it - that will take place on Opinio Juris next week. I might yet. However, I am looking to persuade an editor to let me review it as part of a larger review, and it probably doesn’t help things if I shoot my wad off on a blog before a review is published. So I will probably refrain.

What kinds of things cross my mind to blog about? My interests are a little different from most of the Opinio Juris folks - I have long standing interests in laws of war and international law and human rights law, of course, but my day job is actually as an international business and finance professor. Although even there, my interests run toward nonprofits, ngos, international philanthropy, and global civil society. Development finance, microfinance, international development paradigms. I have a long standing interest in terrorism and counterterrorism that long predates 9-11; one of my favorite, if unsung, roles is on the editorial board of the Journal of Terrorism and Political Violence, dating back to the 1980s. I have a very long standing interest in ethics of war, just war theory, and am currently looking at the ethics of war in the Second Inaugural Address, contrasting Lincoln’s views in the Address with Sherman, McClellan and ... well, there’s no easy way to put this, but I am interested in certain comparisons to Albert Camus, Rene Char, and Raymond Aron. There, I’ve said it. The idea and limitations of humanitarian neutrality. And of course ... robot soldiers!!

Also, I am very interested, for the first time in my career as an academic, in trying to understand the shape of the scholarship that makes up international law scholarship. I’ve never really paid attention to it. Now I am - and am increasingly finding that the most interesting connections draw one back to the larger questions of where legal scholarship is going in an age of reinvigorated legal realism as social science, rationalism and empiricism. The triumph of the Higher Utilitarianism in the legal academy - we are living the age of a kind of combined Cass Sunstein and Eric Posner. It must be a sign of age - although because I started into academic law in my mid-40s, I haven’t been doing this that long - that I’d get interested in the navel-gazing.

What else? Strategy and tactics in the US response to transnational jihadist terror - and the alternative approach that Cass Sunstein offers, in Worst Case Scenarios, of a narrow cost benefit analysis, or the other analysis from cost benefit analysis given by Eric Posner and Adrian Vermeule - very interesting Opinio Juris forum on this - but what interests me is the implications of cost benefit analysis. It is, as Philip Bobbitt has said (he says he doesn’t recall, and the reason is that it was an offhand remark while we were walking around my neighborhood as he smoked a cigar a couple of months ago), “relentlessly tactical.”

So there are a lot of things on my mind to blog about - how much they really have to do with international law, though, I have no idea. I fear that I am going to bore - or mystify - the Opinio Juris readership.

Anyway, hope you can join us at Opinio Juris, that week and every week!

Nicholas Eberstadt on 'Graying Europe' in the Revista de Libros (Madrid)

If you read Spanish, you should check out Nicholas Eberstadt’s new essay - part of a three part series - on demography in Europe. It is:

Nicholas Eberstadt and Hans Groth, El proximo desafio demografico de Europa: la rentabilidad de la salud, Revista de Libros (Madrid), No. 137, May 2008.

The Revista de Libros website is here (although NIck’s article is not available online). Nick is one of the world’s leading demographers, and holds a chair at American Enterprise Institute here in DC.

I regard the Revista as the finest Spanish language literary review - the equivalent of the New York Review of Books, the TLS, or the London Review of Books. It is such a pleasure to read, both for the prose in Spanish - but equally for the intellectual and cultural breadth. Of course, I have a certain bias. I started reading the Revista while on sabbatical in Spain four years ago, and got hooked. Eventually I found myself in contact with the review, was delighted to have a piece of mine from the TLS published there, and ... well, I am proud to say I am the coordinador de ciencia politica for the Revista - roughly the editorial advisor on political science.

All that said, I am late, late, late with a review of my own for the journal, a review of Paul Kennedy’s history of the United Nations, Parlamento de la humanidad.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Private equity equals 'proxy for the credit markets'?

This Financial Times comment, “Private equity boom was nothing more than a clumsy trick,” dates back to March 31, 2008, by Michael Gordon, but having finished teaching my private equity class ten days ago, and sitting and reading papers from the 70 or so students in that class, I am pretty much convinced that this is the case. (For those of you who occasionally look at this blog for law of war and public international law, etc., my day job is actually corporate finance and international business law professor.) Excerpt:

So now we know. The boom in private equity, which was promoted as the superior business model, based on patient capital, superior management and an alignment of interests, was nothing more than a trick of financial engineering – and a clumsy one at that. The magic of leverage works both ways, as we are discovering.

Henry Kravis of Kohlberg Kravis Roberts is asking his investors to be patient after a bout of negative returns and writedowns, echoing the cries of Alan Bond and other entrepreneurs of earlier credit cycles. Hamilton James, Blackstone’s president, said at the Super Returns private equity conference on February 26: “We’re a proxy for the credit markets.” David Rubenstein, co-founder of Carlyle Group, recently asked whether “modest return” was a more apt name for private equity. He thinks it’s funny. It’s not.

As investors are increasingly bruised by the recognition that reality has once again triumphed over hope, the private equity barons are having to confess that the benefits of superior management, alignment of interest and, of course, the superior reward structure counted for very little.

Many of the private equity deals look no different from Yell and other highly leveraged public companies. As Warren Buffett notes, when the tide is going out, we find out who has been swimming without their shorts.

Sometimes a simple observation can prove an important point. In November 2006 Citibank published a research report that highlighted how private equity returns could be achieved by just leveraging basic stock market indices. It is a seminal note. “How do they do that?” asked the report, and then went on to provide the answer.

By leveraging the basic stock market indices by three to one, Citibank pointed out, returns could exceed even the best historical private equity returns. Never mind that as they were spellchecking the final version of the note, leverage on that season’s deals was reaching four to one and even five or six to one.

As Citibank pointed out, the private equity barons would always emphasise alpha over beta – their ability to outperform a market rather than merely ride the market wave – but it showed clearly that leveraged beta was where the returns were being generated.

My view is a pretty traditional one of private equity: that it is one end of the oscillation between public markets (characterized by weak control, leading to agency problems and inefficiencies, but relatively cheap cost of capital) and private equity (characterized by strong control, alignment of agency interests, but relatively high managerial costs to achieve gains). Firms move back and forth between those two points, or are threatened implicitly, or the market is threatened implicitly, with movement via buyouts and resale back into public markets. Superior management pays off at one point in the cycle; cheap capital at another. A pretty traditional view.

But after the Fed shovels so much capital out the door, then the business model is transformed from that into simple leverage. As Gordon, quoting Citibank, says, leveraged beta triumphs over patient alpha when the money is easy. So, as Hamilton James says, private equity is just a “proxy for the credit markets.”

For this, you get gigantic fees and a big premium? So much rent-extraction from the conveyor belt moving money out of the Fed? Remind me again what super-duper skill set it takes to take money from Ben Bernanke?

Monday, May 05, 2008

'Lawfare' as illegal behavioral counters to superior military forces, and the limits of technological responses to it

A very considerable amount of weapons technology for war-fighting today is aimed at greater discrimination in targeting. It can be obtained in very different ways - better intelligence gathering for the sake of targeting, avoiding ambushes, the use of robots and remotely controlled platforms, greater precision in firepower, and many other things. These are very good technologies to develop for their own sakes.

But, likewise to a very considerable extent, these advances in technology are aimed to compensate for the fact that the enemy, the other side, fights by means of violations of the laws of war jus in bello. An enemy indifferent to the laws of war can counter advances in war-fighting technology by finding new ways to violate the rules of war faster than we can develop new technologies to address them. Behavior can generally change faster than technology, and bad behavior can usually outstrip the rate of advance in adaptive good technology.

One way to define ‘lawfare’, in fact, is systematic behavioral violations of the rules of war, violations of law undertaken and planned through advance study of the laws of war in order to predict how law-abiding military forces will behave and exploit their compliance; and where such violations are intended as a behavioral counter to superior military forces, including superior, yet law-compliant, technology and weapons systems.

Understood in this way, lawfare is not merely particular violations of the laws of war and particular war crimes, such as illegal use of civilian shields or the failure to wear uniforms or distinguishing marks, etc. It is conceptually, if not legally, perfidy. It seeks illegally to induce an enemy to rely for its safety and the safety of civilians upon the laws of war in order to attack through violations of those self-same laws of war.

(’Lawfare’ is used in other ways and contexts, but this is the one that is primarily relevant to the battlefield.)

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Robot war spiders

My research assistant Marc found this mock-up of a robotic intelligence gathering spider.  (Not yet real.)

British defence giant BAE Systems is creating a series of tinyelectronic spiders, insects and snakes that could become the eyes andears of soldiers on the battlefield, helping to save thousands oflives.

Prototypes could be on the front line by the end of the year,scuttling into potential danger areas such as booby-trapped buildingsor enemy hideouts to relay images back to troops safely positionednearby.


'New Class' theory and a new intellectual project for the American center-right?

I come to center-right conservatism via the left. That makes me a neocon on one definition: the intellectual who starts out left and moves right. It is a movement somewhat akin to Christopher Hitchens’ drift, I suppose, although I never embraced Trotsky or anything that far left. But it also means that I haven’t spent the last twenty years raised on Russell Kirk or Michael Oakshott or Leo Strauss or anyone, really, other than Edmund Burke and Milton Friedman. I was busy reading Rawls and Dworkin and Marx and &tc., &tc.

But when I think about my own rightward movement, it is essentially the same, general rightward drift of a certain set of my fellow Telos editors from the 80s-90s – the late, great Paul Piccone, Russell Berman, the new editor, Fred Siegel, Jean Bethke Elshtain, among others, in which a big motivation was analysis of what was understood as the ‘New Class’ and the ‘wholly administered society’. (There was another argument that revolved around left and right interpretations of Schmitt, but I was not so interested in that.)

What I suggest below is, in one sense, and one may as well start by saying it, quintessentially neocon – arrogant leftwing intellectual hijacking of the right’s project and turf. But, possibly, it is also part of a plausible new project for the center-right, one that goes beyond the admittedly crucial concerns of national security and war, and which connects the security concerns of 9-11 to a larger and, in my perception, widely shared view on the American center-right, that the more fundamental category, even for national security and current wars, is about the meaning of a large democratic sovereign state and the identification of its people as citizens and members of a particular society. It is not everything, not a comprehensive project, agreed. And it perhaps inevitably trends toward a (undogmatic) libertarian conservatism, an optimistic conservatism, and a very American conservatism, as distinguished from social conservatism, pessimism and declinism, and European-style reaction. It is an economic program mostly by implication, and it is not inherently socially conservative. Anyway, it seems to me largely beyond dispute that the center right is in need of a new and positive (rather than simply anti-) self-conception and way of defining its agenda.

Roughly I propose the question of elites and their relation to the rest of America in an economically globalized age. Taken a certain way, this seems like a very lite-weight, insubstantial, gossamer-thin question about ‘leadership’ – one that looks a little too much like business self help books, ‘7 qualities of effective leaders’ and all that pablum.

But one might undertake this, however, as a genuinely robust analysis of the problems of the increasingly fraught relationship in America between governing elites and the governed in a globalized world, in which elites are increasingly disconnected from those they purport to govern, but who, in order to obtain political power in a democracy, affect forms of populism and authenticity. The practical problem is how to have elites that are sufficiently connected to those they govern while not losing their qualities as elites. It is a particular discussion for the right because the right has not formally given up the open commitment to elites in the way that the left has (dishonestly, however, because in actual fact the left has a very particular commitment to globalized elites to manage American masses for their own good, but one which it increasingly understands is unpalatable among the unwashed mass of Americans and a political commitment which it has difficulty directly admitting). The left thinks it has solved the connection problem by identity group politics and the management of the masses through the ideology of multiculturalism: the trinity, and strictly defined hierarchy of race, gender, class. The right, however, still believes that a society needs elites as such - rather than the left’s vanguard class or vanguard managers - and that those American elites need to be formed and committed to democratic society as such and a democratic society - American society - in particular.

This gap between left and right over the formation and role of elites has large implications for the notion of nation-state, cosmopolitanism, and the things Philip Bobbitt talks about re ‘market states’ in his brilliant new book, Terror and Consent. How do you have the cosmopolitan virtues of the market state while still maintaining the social capital that enables such a market state? These are questions that carry me, at least, back to Christopher Lasch and Philip Rieff, New Class theory, the therapeutic state, and the ‘administered society’. The dangling issues are the globalized economy, on the one hand, inviting elites away from their own societies, and multiculturalism, on the other, offering elites an ideology for the management of the social conflicts of identity politics.

These questions are large enough to define a certain ethic for a center right that seeks the benefits of a globalized world but which nonetheless sees the democratic nation state as the repository of the social capital – the social trust relationships, the social institutions of the rule of law, and so on – that makes that global economy socially sustainable. What kinds of elites does it take to run, maintain and extend that kind of world? How cosmopolitan can they be? How much can they find their training and values purely through pure cosmopolitanism and what appears increasingly to be the only truly universal language of our world - finance? What does citizenship mean? As political actors, what connection should they have with those whose lives they effectively run? Does it make any difference that the loose citizenship affiliations of the elites of the market state seem to apply mostly to the post-industrial Western world, and that nationalism is a driving force in, for example, China – no cosmopolitanism there – and that quite different models obtain in China, Russia, India, etc.?

This was a bigger discussion in the mid 1990s than it is today, as a matter of domestic American society - but it seems to me of growing importance, the transformation, in an economically globalized world, of elites into today’s mobile, market driven experts. In 1996, I wrote a long review essay for Columbia Law Review on New Class theory in connection with reviewing Anthony Kronman’s 1990s book on unhappy lawyers, together with Lasch’s final book, Revolt of the Elites and a wonderful book of sociology of the New Class, Steve Brint’s In an Age of Experts. The last half of my essay lays out an argument about New Class elites and lawyers, and how professionals such as doctors and lawyers who used to form the leadership elites that British socialist reformers such as RH Tawney saw as a crucial leadership class, if rooted in particular communities, instead have opted for market returns that have, however, caused them to uproot from particular communities, giving up social and authority for fluid, market-based expert pay. I haven’t been thinking about that for a while, but I think it might be time to return to it and update it.*

Is this really about the renewal of American conservatism? Is it large enough for that? Or something quite different? Is it really a form of small-l libertarianism, not conservatism? Heck if I know, but although once upon a time I might have looked for this kind of thing from the left, those days are long since gone.

“The new elites are in revolt against the burdens of leadership because those would require becoming part of these communities and would put some restriction on their mobility. It would require that they talk with the masses and not simply to each other as experts. The old elites wanted to be the top of the communities in which they had grown up; whether to lead or dominate, to serve communities or exploit them, at least they understood themselves as having a place in them. The new elites, by contrast, want no connection; they understand that power is elsewhere, money is elsewhere, and mobility is everything; if indeed they have to live somewhere, it will be if at all possible in a wholly private, gated community. Yet simultaneously they want politically to dominate.

The New Class pushes its mobility to absolute limits, launching itself into what it imagines is a global society conducted in the jet stream made weightless by the complete mobility of capital, but with devastating consequences for those left behind on the ground. For those who cannot fly, there is first, the administration of life by these same elites and their hirelings, the authoritarian, bureaucratic formations which, to be sure, express themselves alternately in soothingly therapeutic psycho-babble or communitarian slogans of the common good or assertions of new and endless rights and, second, economic insecurity in the midst of being urged to greater self-esteem.”

(From my 1996 Columbia Law Review essay. Notice that I have not mentioned here Obama, Clinton, or McCain. But the above concerns do not seem to me irrelevant to current arguments in the midst of the presidential election campaign. These are notes, by the way, for a forthcoming essay for Nomos on conservatism.)