Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to All

The Proprietor of This Blog takes the opportunity of wishing everyone a Merry Christmas or, in the alternative, Happy Holidays and Best Wishes in the Year.

(Mostly you can find me over at Opinio Juris, but I occasionally put up stuff here that is unrelated to OJ or written stuff that is too long for an OJ post.)

We have finished opening gifts here at our house - JM and I drove to Chapel Hill, NC on Tuesday and picked up JM’s parents from their retirement community to spend xmas with us here in DC. It was a long drive, especially there and back again in one day, but it was nice to have some time with JM in the car, no other distractions. The plan was to reduce the Christmas materialism and gifts and all that in keeping with a recession year, and although I think we did that in dollar terms pretty well (and also that things were very Practical and Utilitarian rather than Frivolous and Fripper), it still looked like an awful lot of Materialism, spread out as packages on the floor.

Did the Kid learn any lessons in frugality this year? She heard her mother and me express so many concerns about the importance of being frugal this year that, she said, she came to regret every time the mail person brought another Amazon package - it made her feel guilty. This does not strike me as a good thing - ideally one learns to take a certain pride in being frugal, rather than guilty for not.

But I managed to go the entire season with one brief and mostly unnecessary trip to the mall, because I bought everything on Amazon or ... Ebay. I learned to use Ebay, and did extremely well with it this season. It seems that there is a vast amount of overstock out there - presumably supply will drop this upcoming year to meet reduced demand, but at the moment, at least in things like apparel, the left over supply from the last year or two amounted to excellent bargains.

I also proposed to the Kid that money that would have been spent on apparel for her could be exchanged for money in her brand-new, baby sitting funded brokerage account on etrade. In effect, I said, would you rather own the Abercrombie skirt or the equivalent Abercrombie shares, with a little multiplier supplied by Daddy as extra incentive? (Tradeoffs, tradeoffs, as Greg Mankiw points out here.) Wife and Kid both said that this was the wrong time and place for Such Tradeoffs, even with a Subsidy from Santa, and that these should be separate discussions and arrangements. One should not barter with Santa Claus.

The Kid, to her credit, has set up her checking account with an automatic monthly payment to several charities of her choice - not a lot, but it adds up over time, both for her and for the charities, and the transaction costs are very low - in this case USO and a charity that does cleft palate surgeries in poor countries. She recited last night after Mass the King James Version of the Nativity, not the literarily horrible one in the modern Bibles, “And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night...” She learned it when she was three or four years old, back in the days when she was made to memorize verses from the Bible. (Actually, she still remembered a bunch of them, including “How beautiful upon the mountains,” from Isaiah.)

Possibly we’ll keep her.

For my part, I forewent the new Apple laptop I really wanted. Hooray for me. But Santa brought me something that was expensive, hard to find, out of production, and very valuable to me personally - a DVD of the film version of Nineteen Eighty-Four, the version that appeared in 1984. And a whole bunch of books. And reading glasses ... I have concluded that the Time Has Come for reading glasses, the 1.25 version. I’ve never worn glasses of any kind before, so this is a kind of big deal.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Law professor dress

(I’m cross posting this from its original home at Opinio Juris. I apologize to my colleagues there for taking up blog space with trivial stuff ...!)

Classes have ended, exams just begun, and I’m feeling into the pedagogy of international law teaching and intellectually shallow, all at the same time … so, further to Professor Erik Jensen’s widely read (1748 SSRN downloads, which sure beats me), if not followed (abstract, in full:  ”Law professors dress scruffily, and we need to do something about that”), admonition to better classroom dress by law professors, and further to my dean’s remarkably non-judgmental observation, some ten years ago (I’m slow to respond, as some editors have noticed over the years), that I had “single-handedly lowered dress standards” at our school, I embarked this term on wearing not just jacket and tie, but suit and tie, to each and every class.  As an experiment, to see if a 52 year old bald and paunchy law professor would get Great(er) Respect by looking professional for class.  Large classes - IBT with almost 90 students and Corporate Finance with 75.

Well, not every single class; my car didn’t start one day and I showed up in jeans and a t-shirt.  But every other day.  I asked the students straight out, allowing them to post anonymously to Blackboard, whether my formal dressing had any impact, positive or negative, on how they viewed me, the class, the Respect and General High Esteem  - Reverence, even - with which they held me and Every Word I uttered, etc., etc.  

One young woman told me it impressed her because it was more than how law professors normally dressed (maybe jacket and maybe tie for men, maybe not, approximate equivalent for women although, she added, the women professors dressed far better than the men, pretty much always).  She was impressed with me because I scored better on a relative scale - she candidly said that if most or all male law professors wore a suit, she wouldn’t care, because it would turn into a genuine professional uniform.  

Special case, though:  she had also worked in fashion in NYC before law school and had a series of, I’m sure, helpfully intended remarks on how my suits were all decades out of date.  Her best advice, though, was to go to Ebay and get super-expensive second hand suits from unemployed bankers and lawyers - which, having just surfed around Ebay, is great advice.  (But then she added, “and some of them might have been your former students.”  Hmm.  How should I feel about that?  Vulturous?  Reverse-oedipal?  What’s the right word?  I’m sure Freud has a term, but we’re all Evolutionary Psychologists now, and what is the EP characterization of this?)

Other than that one student (who will go far in her career, I predict), however, all other students overwhelmingly indicated it made no difference to them how I dressed.  Period.  But should I believe them?  Does it matter - but they don’t realize it unless I show up looking scruffy and slobbish every day?  Are they victims of self-deception and shining examples of Behavioral Economics?  

There.  I have just successfully channeled Ann Althouse: this is a perfect Althouse culture post!  Which is to say, it doesn’t really belong here on OJ, but I am genuinely curious how law teachers approach the dress issue.

IBT Fall 2008 Final Exam

In case anyone is interested, here is the text of my Fall 2008 final exam in International Business Transactions. I don’t think this was my greatest exam drafting exercise - I’ve done better in past years. This one is a little bit too much - well, a lot too much - stuffing issues in willy-nilly, without having pulled it together as a clever thing based around a discrete set of parties. This is done as a take home in which students have the full two weeks of exam period to do it, but a page limit of ten double spaced pages.

My IBT class is purely transactional - it moves briefly through a series of transactions ranging from cross border sale of goods to cross border services to cross border payment mechanisms such as LC to debt financing of these transactions to project finance to ... finally, joint venture and then exit strategy. All private transactions - no public capital markets, also nothing related to international trade as such, which is unusual for IBT courses even now. We use Vagts’s book, supplemented greatly by a series of photocopied contracts from my own work in international business transactions over the years. The final is usually based around something related to my pro bono practice that year with a nonprofit private equity fund that invests in independent media worldwide; this year I instead went back to a problem in housing finance involving a South African housing agency, a problem dating back to work I was involved in during the 1990s for a while.


Facts - Fall 2008 Anderson IBT Final Take-home Exam

(These facts are all made up. Not true! Libelous, probably!)

You are both general counsel and financial advisor to GoodWell, a financial consulting firm based in Washington DC that offers advice and financial planning, as well as a lot of deal consulting and brokering, for wealthy individuals, philanthropies, corporations and especially corporate charitable foundations, private equity firms and hedge funds that are looking to do transactions in the developing world. Typically these transactions involve a combination of for-profit motives on the part of some parties and non-profit charitable motives on the part of other parties – and sometimes both kinds of motives in the same party. Your business model as a consultancy is based around the concept of “Doing Good and Doing Well.” Although you privately have some questions about whether it is possible to combine those in the same deal, especially after looking at what happened to Fannie Mae, your business consists of brokering transactions and advising on them in both a business and legal capacity. GoodWell is a small firm and everyone on the staff has to play combined roles – hence your role involves both the general counsel as well as financial advising/financial structuring functions.

During the previous 18 months before the global market crash got seriously underway, GoodWell had been working closely with multiple parties, in the United States, in Western Europe, and in South Africa to close a deal in South Africa addressing housing in the Soweto townships. The parties involved in negotiations include developed world charitable foundations, for profit corporations, banks, and, in South Africa, the SA government, as well as government chartered but technically private housing agency called Nurcha that will act as the primary agency for doing the whole transaction. The aim of these negotiations is to produce some set of transactions that would fund the building of basic housing in the townships – on a very basic level: a concrete foundation on which the owners would gradually build their own dwelling as they could afford it, but most importantly water, sewage, and electrical connections.

The ultimate aim of these transactions is to produce, when all is said and done, this basic housing structure for local Soweto residents that they own and pay for over a twenty year period through a basic mortgage. The goal is 200,000 housing units and the associated utility services over a five year period. Working backwards from that goal, however, there are many intermediate goals that must be met. The main recipient of funds – donated funds as well as the primary borrower on loans – will be Nurcha, acting as a private entity organized as a not for profit corporation in SA.

The housing work must be performed by local contractors – Soweto has a well established local contractor, SA Builders, that can both perform the work and also subcontract and supervise three other smaller contractors. They are excited, of course, about the possibility of at least five years worth of work, but they also have concerns about whether the promised financing will really be there over the five year period to pay them – they have had experience with foreign development groups before that promised programs of a certain number of years that bailed out midway through. Nurcha and the SA government agencies, for their part, have certain concerns about quality of materials such as cement and piping and the quality of the construction services to be provided – they have had experience with local contractors not performing in the townships to the same standard expected in more developed parts of SA.

The biggest construction issue, however, is the sewage utility – electricity and potable water are not really a problem, just a matter of building several lines to hook to the main grid. But sewage will require a very considerable infrastructure project to create – all the way from building the treatment plants and water recycling plants to main sewage lines to residential connections in a crowded urban environment. The public health benefits are enormous – but realistically it will take five years to do this whole project, at a projected cost, just for the sewage project, of US $500 million. The SA government and the housing agency Nurcha anticipate that the project will eventually pay for itself out of sewage user fees charged as a portion of the long term mortgage costs, and in fact the historical repayment rate of mortgages in Soweto has been quite good – but no one is quite sure whether the repayments on the mortgages will take place as planned and whether, therefore, the revenues to pay for the sewage project will eventually be paid. This has left questions in the minds of banks and investment funds inside and outside SA which are being asked to finance the project as to the longterm stability of the financing for the sewage infrastructure.

The total costs of the whole program, including all housing costs, utility costs, the sewage project, administrative costs, and so on, is anticipated to be US $2 billion over a 8 year period. Not all the money is needed at once, of course – draw-downs are believed to be required on average of 250 million each year, although of course the particular needs and spending issues will vary greatly from year to year.

Although ultimately all of this is to be paid for out of the mortgage payments collected from the Soweto owners over a long period of time, the multiple construction projects will have to be financed somehow by parties inside or outside SA up-front. GoodWell has acted as advisor to Nurcha and, to some extent, broker in putting together possible international financing, both for profit firms and nonprofit charities, as funding sources for the multiple projects. The two main wealthy-world parties interested in seeing the Soweto project go forward are the Anderson Foundation, a charitable foundation based in New York, and the Swatch Watch Corporation, which has sizable manufacturing facilities in many places around the world but not SA, but which is considering investment in SA.

The Anderson Foundation is willing to donate US $50 million each year for eight years provided that one for one matching funds are provided other donors. The World Bank has agreed to provide US $50 million each year for eight years as a matching grant. The EU and US AID have agreed to provide an additional US $50 million annually. However, none of these parties is willing to act alone – no one wants to contribute money to a project that doesn’t get funded sufficiently to carry it to completion – and so there is a collective action problem in which these parties are willing to act provided that each knows that the others are on board, but not otherwise.

That leaves US $100 million unfunded annually, provided that the estimates of draw-downs are correct as an approximation.

The unfunded US $100 million annually – about $800 million total over the eight years – can possibly be covered by borrowing from banks. The difficulty is that the banks want collateral or guarantees – and they want them not just for the eight years of the construction project, but for the twenty years that the money will be in the process of being repaid on the mortgages. The government of SA has offered to provide twenty year guarantees for half of that amount, US $800 million, but the banks are nervous about such guarantees.

With the worldwide banking and credit crisis, however, the issue of worry about future performance is not simply banks that extend loans worrying about getting repaid by borrowers – the borrowers who have received commitments from the banks are also concerned that the banks will make the loans down the road that they have committed themselves to make. Nurcha, your client, is particularly concerned about what kinds of contractual language might be written into the documents to protect (weirdly enough) the borrower, given the credit crunch that might extend over years, precisely when the money is most needed to complete the project.

The Swatch Watch Corporation has offered assistance of a different kind. Concerned about the ability of home owners to be able to repay their loans, it has offered to set up a local manufacturing plant near Soweto that would employ several hundred local employees and so contribute to the local economy; the hope is that if this plant is successful, it will draw other multinational manufacturers to set up in an industrial park for light manufacturing and electronics and textile assembly in Soweto. The SA government is willing to offer tax holidays for a ten year period to companies willing to come. But Swatch must make it work successfully, and it is concerned about the quality of products assembled in the proposed factory.

You are general counsel and financial advisor to GoodWell. Nurcha, in SA, has retained you to assist in putting together an overall strategy and set of transactions for the deal as a whole. You must write a memo to the CEO of Nurcha (the government-sponsored but private housing firm in SA) setting out your proposed transaction, the legal documentation for it, and particular financial or legal issues that are of particular importance and your solution to those problems. Please write that memo.


Good luck and happy holidays!

Monday, December 08, 2008

City and Urban; Siege and Urban War; Financial Modeling versus Scientific Modeling

My second post for the Complex Terrain Lab symposium on Antoine Bousquet, The Scientific Way of War.

I want to offer four very different thoughts - they are not so much things from the book itself as tangents that the book caused me to think about, and I share them on that basis. Dr. Bousquet should not feel obliged to figure out some way to respond to them; they really are more tangents.

1. City and urban (1). The renderings of the city and urban landscapes of conflict and war offer a certain geography of spaces, walls, barriers, confusion, hiding, chaos, complexity, disorganization, friction - but a tangible and less tangible sense of space. Law and ethics, the rules of war that I study, seek to create a certain order out of the chaos, and impose senses of limits and to invent walls, barriers, and define spaces within the chaos through normativity. These are targets; these are not targets. But the creation of this normed space requires a shared norm, and the nature of the urban warscapes that Dr. Bousquet describes is not one of shared norms. There is no sense of reciprocity in the norms, and given that the organized side, the sovereign side, has decided affirmatively not to use reprisal to enforce reciprocity, that concept is fundamentally gone. It seems to me to account for a great deal of the chaos on today’s urban battlefield. What, for example, the human rights monitors propose instead as the basis for normativity is the post hoc international tribunal - but it assumes the hegemony of the norm giver, and that is far from given.

2. City and urban (2). City and urban warfare was traditionally about siege. It was traditionally about bringing down the walls of Jericho. The chaos in that operation came at the very end, in the final sack of the city. It was not traditionally about the fighting in the city as the fighting space, except at the end; otherwise it was, if anything, a less chaotic and more tightly organized battlespace on both sides. The final sack was authorized, according to the traditional rules, more or less as a reprisal against the city for its failure to surrender and, in any case, the whole of siege warfare, and the special rules applicable to siege, represented a complete reversal of the traditional notions of combatants and noncombatants. But it is also one of the oldest forms of warfare, from the moment when war took on the characteristic of the raiders against the citadel, and urban living as a form of protection. Siege of course was one of the great historical drivers of technology in war; and in that sense, the city arose as a form of defensive technology in war that happens to function in times of peace.

3. Financial modeling. Several of the commentators have inquired why the reach to the physical sciences and physics in particular as the historical model, rather than, say, biology. My day job, as it happens, is finance professor, and at risk of partisanship to my areas, I wondered whether the complexity theory, chaos theory, and network theories might not be modeled as well on the process of financial modelng - complex risk systems and network and gaming theories. But what I am actually suggesting here is not the theories themselves - but the fact that historically they have failed over and over again, being intimately intertwined with all the major market crises of the last few decades since computerization - the 1987 program trading crash (computer driven selling created a positve feedback cycle downwards since each company’s program worked on the assumption that it was alone); the 1998 Long Term Capital Management crisis (even though anyone who dealt with Russia would have said that political risk was paramount, it was treated as outside the model for financial purposes); and today’s crisis involving quant strategies (that assume that the model’s financial equivalents are in fact legal and contractual equivalents, whereas in crisis mode a whole series of non-normal contract provisions kick in but are not accounted for in the model, eg, mark to market accounting in a thin or nonexistent market). The failures in financial modeling might point to ways of understanding chaos in war and vice versa.

4. Ghost in the machine. Two books come to mind reading Dr. Bousquet’s book, Junger’s chilling On Pain, out with a new translation and penetrating introduction from my long-time friends at Telos. And Daniel Pick, The Rationalisation of Slaughter. Each of these goes deep into the disciplinary aesthetic of modern war, I think.

Strategy and Tactics; Soldiers and Warriors; Warriors and Tenders of Machines; Capital and Labor Intensive Warfare

From my second post at Complex Terrain Lab, commenting (loosely) on Antoine Bousquet’s, The Scientific Way of War:

The comments have raised the question as to the actual disposition of military thinking, actual thinking among the officer corps today: to what extent does it in fact exhibit the scientific world view as developed in Dr. Bousquet's book? I have two responses, at least with respect to US military officers and their thinking, among whom I spend a fair amount of time. Take it for what it's worth; this is all just my anecdotal sense of US military officers and their thinking.

First, my sense of the US officer corps is that it has a deliberately inculcated duality that mirrors some of the dualities in this discussion. It is, on the one hand, a cultivated self-image as "warriors." It has been an evolution beyond self-identification as "soldiers," and on the handful of occasions where I have asked what the difference is supposed to be, what I've been told is that - to the extent it signals a difference - soldier identifies an important set of virtues and duties, based around honor and obedience and discipline within an ordered structure. The concept of warrior is intended to include those, but to go beyond them to suggest a broader sense of "self-starting," entrepreneurial - very much the sense that is associated with the "captains' war" in Iraq - a great deal of responsibility and initiative devolved upon the junior officers and below. There was a sense that the sole virtue of being a soldier was simply standing around waiting for orders, rather than figuring out what needed to be done and doing it.

I don't know how extensive that understanding is but that's how I've had it explained to me. Obviously there is a certain amount of tension between that entrepreneurial understanding of being a warrior and conforming to the discipline that comes from the top down - and, interestingly, and possibly simply because I'm a lawyer, I've had it suggested to me that the thing resolving the tension between those is an overall obligation of everyone top down, bottom up, to conform to a set of legal rules and obligations that override everything else. The idea being that the tension is resolved in a sort of universal law that, regardless of one's place in the hierarchy, oone must conform to and obey. That special notion of law – not simply a command backed by a threat, but something legitimately accepted by all the 'warriors' - in turn ties warriors to law, and law to honor, and honor to a professional and personal identity. This was one lunchtime conversation; how widely shared any of that is, I don't know. Although clearly someone has thought hard about why to use so extensively the language of warrior rather than merely soldier.

On the other hand, the warrior-soldiers also have enormous faith in the power of technology. They believe deeply in capital intensive war, even while thinking of themselves as warriors. It feels in spirit less like the idea of the soldier as technician tending to the infernal machines in a kind of neutral way, and much, much more like the sense of gamers whose gaming technologies have been made real – they can act as individuals with great powers in their hands. So when I say faith in technology, I mean technology as a way of magnifying personal projection of power as much as anything else. Obviously that is not especially so when one considers air power, sea power, all of these standoff technologies in which one really is a technician tending the machines. But even the development of robotics that Charli Carpenter and I have discussed some at CTLab - even the Predator - involves a sense of individual projection of power, a hand at the controls even if one is not present. Or the battlefield robotic vehicle guided by the hand with the joystick, who is a soldier directly in the field, on that same battlefield. It is a sense much closer to that of the gamer for whom technology is very personal rather than the impersonal machines of high modernism. Much of it, in other words, is technology in the service of the warrior, not technology that merely converts soldier to minder of machines.

In conversations I've had with, as it happens, wounded soldiers, their descriptions of what combat should be like is that it should be upclose, because that is how, at least in today's environment, you make it discriminating. There is no desire for or sympathy with the soldiers of the Great War or the Second World War, cannon fodder in the true sense. Their self-sense is that of commandos, never a mass as such. And fighting in the urban setting, as one recuperating (he was going to be fine) junior officer told me, requires that one fight house to house because otherwise you could never root out the enemy while sparing the innocent. He thought of it as a bit like police work, which I thought was a big stretch, but I did understand his sense that it had to be close in to make it discriminating. At some point, technology will reverse that, I imagine - robotics might well alter the way in which urban fighting is made discriminating, by detection technologies that allow much more standoff fighting with greater precision.

Second, however, in speaking with US officers at a more senior level, as well as civilian and military planners, I would say that the movement intellectually is not especially toward the "scientific" world view - that feels actually a little passe. Of course it is scientific, in the sense of applied science to bring on better technology. What is newer and more cutting edge is the growth of world view of cost-benefit analysis. This might seem odd to say - after all, when has war fighting not been about cost benefit analysis at some level? But I mean by this the application - and more profoundly the intellectual mind set - of opportunity cost, discounted probability theory, the whole array of tools taken from contemporary risk analysis in finance and the social sciences. The approach reminds me more than anything of Cass Sunstein, in something like Worst Case Scenarios, applied to military thinking. The language of present value, discounting and a whole range of metaphors drawn from modern financial theory.

In one sense, it has always been there. How could military thinking not be about cost benefit analysis - when it has always been built around military necessity? But there are differences and, peculiarly, one of the differences seems to me something that drops out - something that has always been better articulated in military ways of thought than anywhere else, but which tends to drop out in the new social-sciencey thinking. That is - don't look so surprised, please! – the distinction between strategy and tactics. But you can see the problem. If you are adopting wholesale the language, analytics, metaphors of game theory, especially - well, game theory doesn't really have a distinction as such between strategy and tactics. It is not a feature of games as such; it is a way of playing certain games. Philip Bobbitt discusses this somewhat in his Terror and Consent; I discuss it in passing in a TLS review of that book. The difficulty of letting go of the strategy-tactics distinction is that you are reduced to discounted probability analysis and opportunity cost analysis of what quickly - not necessarily inevitably, but certainly a tendency - reduces to dealing with risks on a seriatim basis, "event-specific catastrophism," I think I called it in my Bobbitt review. That's essentially what happens in Worst Case Scenarios, and it forms the basis for much of the "sophisticated" critique of the war on terror; proper discounting of risk, it says, will tell you that we are overinvested in trying to prevent terrorism.

But if you try that as a general case, you won't have much of a basis for strategy in that or any other instance, because strategy seeks to move above the "seriatim risk" analysis. Especially there will be no room to consider gambits. Gambits, after all, by definition go outside the serial risk scenarios; that is the point. In that sense - not intended this way, but it arguably has emerged this way – the Iraq war turned out post hoc to be a strategic gambit that invited a loose affiliation of Islamist jihadists to make their stand in Iraq. They took the (unintended) gambit, thinking they would win, which they might have, but it does not seem to be playing out that way. Whether you think that analysis correct or not is not actually my point. It is, rather, that it is a whole way of thinking that doesn't have purchase within the new social science of risk and game theory, any more than particular strategies in chess are foundational to general game theory. And yet the actual fighting of wars is far more like playing a game of chess (or any other particular game) than it is thinking through the abstract categories common to all games. And the general theory of risk analysis, precisely because it applies to, well, everything - discount the probabilities and compare courses of action – is of far more limited assistance in actually playing an actual game of war than it might appear.

So I find it puzzling, and a little alarming, that there seems to be a fashion these days within the US military, at least among some of the intellectuals and planners who keep a finger on the pulse of larger intellectual movements, to adopt forms of thinking that seem to me to give up, without good reason, some of the most original contributions of military thinking to general intellectual thought.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Comments on Bosquet and Clausewitz at Complex Terrain Lab

I’m guest blogging at Complex Terrain Lab over the weekend in a symposium on Antoine Bosquet’s The Scientific Way of War. I just put up something about Clausewitz and friction, and noting the relationship to LIncoln and the Second Inaugural Address. It’s a terrifically fun symposium, check it out. Here’s what I posted:

My congratulations to Dr. Bousquet for a highly insightful and readable book that engaged me with a historically shifting body of metaphors for war and conflict. I want to focus briefly on one subchapter, the end of chapter three, devoted to Clausewitz and the metaphors of thermodynamics. I was much taken, and am generally strongly in agreement with, both your intellectual history of Clausewitz's thought and its rootedness in a certain scientific world view as well as your reading of the famous "friction" metaphor. I wonder if the the friction metaphor might not be broken out still further, in four ways.

First, the famous Clausewitzian undermining of the army-as-clockwork mechanism, undermined by the friction of the clash of two armies. Second, the concept of friction as expressed in the technologies of thermodynamic weapons and war - explosions and counter-explosions. Third, Clausewitz's also famous dictum of friction as created by the accumulation of errors in the system of war, located in failures of communication, delivery, and execution that accumulate, again to undermine the army-as-clock from within.

Fourth, what I suppose we might call the friction created by the 'ghost in the machine of war': friction that arises not from a clash of two armies, nor from errors internally accumulating, nor from explosions meeting explosions, but instead from the clash of two fundamentally different conceptions of conflict, the inherent clash between, on the one hand, the mechanism that enables a vast array of people and things to act with a single will, deterministic and mechanistic and, on the other, the animal passions that are both unleashed but relied upon particularly in battle. It is not precisely that the mechanism tames the beast; it is, rather, a dialectic in which the machine needs the animal spirits and the animal spirits need the discipline of the machine.

Anyway, for what it's worth, it seems to me that those are all separable as readings of 'friction' in Clausewitz and beyond, and that some parts of those distinctions are picked up later in your discussion.

But I was also struck by your reading of Clausewitz in this way - correctly focused on friction as the central concept rather than the 'other means' trope - in part because of work currently on my own desk on a reading of the moral psychology of Lincoln's Second Inaugural. One or two phrases in that address express a profoundly Clausewitzian sentiment: "Neither party expected for the war the magnitude or the duration which it has already attained. Neither anticipated that the cause of the conflict might cease with or even before the conflict itself should cease. Each looked for an easier triumph , and a result less fundamental and astounding."

This passage is sometimes read as a sort of Clausewitzian sentiment about war as politics by other means. I have not thought that the best reading, and your chapter in this regard gives me stronger reasons for thinking so: it seems more emphatically, on the contrary, an expression that war, as its own social life, and driven by its own frictional forces, frictional forces that are internal to war itself, can independently lead politics rather than necessarily the other way around.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

The paucity of forced consolidation mechanisms in the nonprofit sector

As a longtime nonprofits lawyer, I have long been struck by the asymmetry between the not for profit sector and the for profit sector in the matter of takeover mechanisms. Essentially, the not for profit sector lacks any true mechanism for a hostile takeover - because it has no share ownership structure that is legally separate from the board and management of the enterprise, such that an outside acquirer could obtain control from the share owners against the wishes of the organization’s board and management.

I say ‘paucity’ rather than absolute lack of consolidation mechanisms for two reasons. One is that in the case of non profits that are about selling services for fees and income, albeit with a charitable purpose, such as a nonprofit hospital, there are indeed mechanisms at work that can force a board and management to have to merge, consolidate or otherwise be acquired. Moreover - and this is one of those mechanisms - it is possible that an organization can default and go into insolvency, which can also force a takeover of sorts. However, there are important issues in that case as to the disposition of charitable assets - one reason why lenders to nonprofits are typically careful to insist on precisely described secured assets, the seizure of which will not create issues of public policy or diversion of charitable assets. And in any case, if the reason a charitable organization has to seek consolidation or some other exit is on account of default or insolvency, the interests that are at stake are not the disposition of charitable assets as such, but the interests of creditors as such.

What I mean here, rather, is a mechanism by which a nonprofit organization can undertake a takeover, and in particular a hostile or unsought takeover, of another nonprofit. Not as a matter of insolvency acting as creditors, but for the specific social efficiency of having a mechanism (equivalent to the ability of outsiders to purchase stock ownership and hence control, without the permission of management and the board) by which nonprofit assets can flow into the most efficient hands and efficient uses. There is a nonprofit capital market of sorts; there is, however, no market for nonprofit corporate control.

Is this an inefficiency? An inefficiency in the sense that we would say would be the case if there were no market for corporate control in the for profit sector? A good question, in both a conceptual and empirical sense. I’ll leave that for now.

In a sense, true, there is a market for control in the nonprofit world in the sense that the upstream funders of nonprofits - the private foundations, the philanthropists, perhaps even the public - can refuse to fund and so put pressure on a nonprofit to merge or otherwise join with some other organization, or to reorganize to get rid of existing management and even the board. But I do not think this is the same thing as a market in control.

However, one effect of the asymmetry between the nonprofit and for profit world with respect to take over mechanisms is that there is a further asymmetry between mechanisms of consolidation and mechanisms of devolution in the nonprofit world: it is far easier, especially in world that consists almost entirely of human capital, for any player to set up a new organization. You can’t (very easily, anyway) force organizations to consolidate, but it is easy for them to splinter and create a raft of smaller, independent organizations. To the extent that there is a check on it, the check comes from the willingness or unwillingness of the upstream funding organizations to fund or not fund.

It might be that this asymmetry is efficient in the nonprofit world, in which human capital is everything and it is often hard to imagine that a fundamentally forced consolidation could work very well - maybe the good people leave and the bad people stay. But I’m doubtful this is any different from the for profit world.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Deleting some now irrelevant entries, and anyway I'm blogging at Opinio Juris mostly now

I think I’m going to delete some entries that are not so relevant today - conference announcements, but also some election related posts that bore me today. It’s like yesterday’s newspaper. So some stuff is going to disappear, and I don’t think anyone will miss it, least of all me.

In any case, I am mostly blogging over at Opinio Juris these days.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Pirates off the coast of Somalia

I posted a note up at Opinio Juris - where I do nearly all my blogging these days - about Somali pirates and how the Obama administration might make it a useful situation in which to discover a happy confluence among the use of force, international law, multilateral interests, and the traditional US interest in the lawful freedom of the high seas. There’s something about pirates that excites the imaginations of the blogosphere, and it attracted considerable attention, despite being very tentative. But it has made me think it might be fun to write a little article about Somali pirates and legal and international policy. Hmm. Hmm. Hmm .... But I should add that my Opinio Juris post was intended to raise questions, not answer them - I am not by any stretch of the imagination expert in naval operations or the law of naval operations, military or law enforcement or otherwise. A number of blog reactions have cited me as though I were advocating what my friend had said, and I’m not; or that I have expressed views on what the actual law is, and I’m not. I might one of these days, but not today.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Thanks to Glenn Reynolds for the happy birthday to my Kid

Glenn ran a happy birthday note for my kid’s 16th birthday last night - she had asked, to my surprise, for a junior membership in the ... NRA. I included a photo - carefully chosen so it showed her shooting but not her face - from a few years ago, and Glenn was kind enough to stick that up too. Kid’s reaction was, “This is the greatest birthday!” Thanks Glenn.

And note, Glenn’s average per day is over 300,000 visitors, and this morning by 9 am, already 60,000 people. So if you’re just looking for 15 minutes of fame - as in birthday greetings - this is impressive. My Kid was sure impressed.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Requiem for my New York Times home subscription

Well, all thanks to Pajamas Media for publishing my little op-ed, A Requiem for the My New York Times Home Delivery. And thanks, too, to Glenn for the Instalanche - and welcome to anyone who is coming over from PJM. You probably see not much activity here. True. For various reasons, I’ve been blogging less and when I do, it is almost exclusively over at the international law blog Opinio Juris.

However, I did want to note something about the New York Times piece. To judge by the comments, PJM readers believe it is about the politics of the Times.  It is - but mostly it isn’t.

I don't mind partisanship in a magazine. I am even willing to read partisanship of the "who you going to believe, the NYT front page or your lyin' eyes" kind because I want to know what is said across the spectrum; subsidizing it as such doesn’t especially disturb me.  

I'm even willing to read a paper that has decided it's business model of the future is Judith Warner, so long as I don’t have to spend more than nanoseconds on her. But I'll only do it for free.  I won't pay 50 dollars a month for it, because I don't think the Times values the content at that price, at least not discounted into the future.  

What am I doing with the 50 bucks a month? I’m contributing it to my teen Kid’s Sharebuilder stock account - she can figure out what to invest it in. I’ve told her I’ll match anything she puts in from babysitting, dealing drugs, running guns, etc. If nothing else, she’ll learn a valuable lesson in the effects of taxes as urged by the New York Times and channeled by the Obama administration on incentives to save and invest.

I should also mention that I have many friends at the Times, and I am not thrilled with what I foresee as their economic future - due far more than it should be to the mismanagement and self-dealing of the family shareholders at the Times. There have been very interesting comments on the latest SEC filings by the Times company. Also the Very Great Megan McArdle’s take. I’m sorry, folks, but while I’d be happy to dance on the Sulzberger grave, I have too many friends at the Times to wish them ill.

But all this is very different from saying what the commentators mostly say, which is, ‘liberal rag, cancel’.

My point was, instead: Going online for free puts me in the position of valuing the New York Times in the same way and at the same price, at least into the long term, that the Times values me. We have reached a free and equal bargain - I don’t pay for home delivery, and it delivers the kind of product you can pay for with the online ad revenue stream, which is to say, Judith Warner and the “nurse ant tending to the slumbering larvae,” as I put it in the op ed.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Kori Schake, our Bond heroine!

The current issue of the New Yorker, week of October 13, 2008, special election issue, has a nice article,“Worlds Apart,” by Nicholas Lemann on the foreign policy differences between Obama and McCain - including a good discussion of each candidate’s foreign policy advisory team.

There’s a very nice reference to the wonderful Michael McFaul of Stanford (and, note, a Hoover Institution senior fellow), an Obama advisor who helped get his campaign straight on Georgia and Russia.

But especially terrific is the description of the Very Great Kori Schake, a McCain advisor, West Point professor, and also a Hoover fellow, with a new book out on foreign policy. Kori Schake, Lemann says, “might be plausibly cast as a heroine in a James Bond movie - the sort of character who speaks several languages and is also an Akido master.”

Absolutely. As someone privileged to know Professor Schake, I can confirm this.

(The article is not online, alas.)

Saturday, September 20, 2008

My long review essay on Paul Kennedy and the United Nations

Paul Kennedy’s book on the history and future of the United Nations, Parliament of Man, appeared in 2006. A Spanish translation appeared in late 2007, which I review in a (very) long essay (some 10,000 words, be warned) appearing in Spanish in the Revista de Libros (Madrid), November 2008 issue. The Revista, for which I serve as political science advising editor, I am proud to say, is one of the best book reviews going in any language, anywhere.

It is interesting, as a side note, to see how the title of Kennedy’s book has shifted between national markets. In the US edition, it is subtitled “the past, present, and future of the United Nations.” In the Spanish edition, it is merely the “history of the United Nations.” Whereas the British edition has it as “the United Nations and the Quest for World Government.”

My review runs across a wide range of issues, related both to Kennedy’s work and the project of global governance. My view of Kennedy is that he is a “platonist” as regards the UN; forever looking past the rather sordid reality of the present to dream of the glorious future of global governance that is, alas, always coming but never come. And, in a world that seems to be returning to stronger regional multipolarity, global governance looks less on offer, and the UN as, at best, a place for multilateral negotiation among sovereigns, more so. My view is that global governance always looks most possible when the US is at its hegemonic strongest to offer the guarantee of security that allows all the platonic dreamers to do their dreaming. History however is upon us once again.

It is available on SSRN in the English version that will appear in Spanish in the Revista in November; I will also post the Spanish version to SSRN once it is out. Some bits - this one observing that a Europe attuned to the spirit of Raymond Aron would look with alarm upon American leaders in a new administration bearing the gifts of ‘meek multilateralism’ and superpower humility:

The truest description of the international security situation since 1990 is that it is a conjoined and parallel UN-US security system. It is best described as two parallel, interlinked security systems – a weak one, the UN collective security apparatus, and a strong one, the US security guarantee. Understood this way, the US is not merely a, or even the, dominant and most powerful actor. Rather, the US offers a genuinely alternative system of international peace and security. And the dominant actor’s willingness to extend a security guarantee to a sizable portion of the planet, explicitly and implicitly, alters the meaning, necessity, and quality of collective security at the UN itself. They are two different game-theory scenarios – a dominant actor within a UN collective security-defection international relations “game”; versus an actor that offers its own security package alongside that of the UN in a parallel collective security “game.” In a diplomatic system characterized (in game theory terms) by insincere public promises, easy defection, moral hazard, and free-riding, the fig leaf is assiduously maintained that the UN constitutes, or anyway offers, a collective security system. Whereas in fact, most leading players in Europe, Asia, and Latin America, and even the Middle East, are unwilling to test the strength of that system: insincere lip service to the UN system while actually relying on the United States.

A realist might say, in other words, that for all the extant elite complaining and populist anti-Americanism, a remarkable number of countries have counted the costs of adherence to the US security promise and found it rather better than their own, and better than the UN’s, and better than anything else on offer, as to both benefits and costs. After all, the US does not even particularly care when those under its security hegemony (which extends far beyond its allies or clients to provide, perversely, significant stability benefits even to America’s acknowledged enemies) heap abuse on it (justified or not) because, in the grand scheme of things, it understands (however inchoately and inconstantly) that the system incorporates (often heartfelt but, in the final policy result, insincere) public rejection and protest by the system’s beneficiaries. The US is not imperial in a way that would cause it much to care. Part of accepting US security hegemony by its beneficiaries includes their rational desire to displace security costs onto another party, even if that providing party thereby has equally rational reasons to look to its own interests first, since it so overwhelmingly pays the costs.

Acceptance also includes realistic appraisal of the alternatives: would Europe (let alone Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Indonesia, India, the Philippines, New Zealand, or Australia, or even Russia) prefer, for example, Chinese hegemony to the US? The crisis in Georgia has forced a little bit of discussion – less than the current newspaper headlines suggest, however – on the mission and role of Nato. On the one hand, Europe is in strategic disarray with the reassertion of regional Russian imperial will; the interests of those close to it are different from those far away and at some point even the United States will wonder, as a matter of budget and defense plans, what Nato is worth: how long does a hegemon support its free riders? Prudent, Aronian-thinkers in Europe will be wary, above all, of liberal internationalist Americans bearing gifts of multilateralism: an America that does not assert, rudely and brusquely, its own interests and views first through Nato and elsewhere, an America that sings sweet songs of multilateral interdependence is, surely, a superpower that has decided to simply go along with what everyone else does, which is another way of saying it has tired of supporting the free riders, which is another way of saying that it, too, says one thing but might do another, and what it might do is not show up when the big battalions are finally needed. Prudent Europeans fear and do not trust, above all, an America that does not put its own interests first and carry the rest along in train. Europe will soon enough face an Iranian nuclear weapon along with its massive dependence upon Russian natural gas, even as its military strength declines yearly – hourly – and in important respects it is today at least arguably more dependent on the American security guarantee, not less, than at any time since 1990.

Come to that, one does not hear a great clamor among Europeans for the collective security of the UN, in the form of calls for resolution of the Georgia crisis by action of the Security Council – for obvious reasons. And yet, if one gives up the idea of the Security Council as the seat of collective security governance and understands it as the talking shop of the great powers, then it performed as well as should be expected. Of course it resolved nothing – but the architecture of the Security Council in the UN Charter anticipates that in a conflict among great powers on the Council, of course it cannot resolve anything. But it did provide a talking shop in which it was as a matter of course assumed that active, relatively public discussions would take place there – and, moreover would take place not just between antagonists, but much more publicly with other great powers, and even with non-great powers represented in rotation at the Council. The Security Council performed well in the Georgia crisis, given what it is, not badly.

But if we are indeed moving toward a more multipolar world – at least in certain regions, the Russian ‘near abroad’ or the Chinese periphery – then the great power conflicts promise to become more acute, not less. As David Rieff has pointed out, multipolarity is by definition competitive, not coooperative. In such a world, the Security Council performs a vital, but perforce limited, function as multilateral talking shop for those conflicts – and its ability, as one hopes Ban Ki Moon and his advisors understand, to perform that function depends fundamentally on accepting its limitations. The rapturous fantasies of global governance that feature so prominently among liberal internationalists – Professor Kennedy and nearly all professors of international law, for example – are not just a quaint holdover in a multipolar world, they are today an affirmative danger, because they tempt institutions beyond their limits in time of crisis. The grand irony, for which Georgia perhaps serves as a harbinger, is that the most propitious time for dreaming of global governance was precisely when the US was at its maximum, largely unopposed strength, because it allowed much of the world, much of the democratic industrialized world, the luxury of imagining that its security was one thing, when it fact it was another.

There are people in the world who must rely on the UN collective security apparatus; and not to their benefit. Why? Because not even America’s peculiarly changeable combination of interest and ideals extends everywhere: Darfur and Congo, for example. An important reason why the dual system persists is that the US and the industrialized world that takes its stability from US hegemony together see the UN system as the least costly system for enforcing minimum order in the hopeless world of failed and failing states – places that they will not, and realistically cannot, police (pace Afghanistan). But all this is emphatically not the system as Kennedy describes it; he offers instead the classic collective action problem located at the UN itself, in no small part because it is built into his a priori moral vision of the rise of UN hegemony necessarily through US decline. Kennedy might profitably consider that the existing UN system is one that is publicly in perpetual crisis and yet somehow, because of the parallel US security guarantee, never truly forced to a crossroads. It seems more plausible to see the UN in collective security as actually stable, to the point of stasis and stagnation. Even episodic protestations of crisis are an integral part of the quotidian theatre of the UN cul-de-sac.

On nearly every measure – population, influence, military might – the Security Council’s five permanent members are completely unrepresentative of the world; Kennedy devotes much discussion to the issue, as one would expect if one thought the Security Council ought someday to be the principal organ of global security. After all, the Council is not even especially a collection of the great powers anymore. This issue was (foolishly) the dominant discussion in largely abortive UN reform negotiations that took place in 2004-5: how to alter the composition of the Security Council to make it more realistically a meeting ground of the great powers, and how to make it more representative of the world as an idealized institution of global governance. Kennedy candidly acknowledges that there is no solution to this issue; Kofi Annan, to his credit, urged the main players in UN reform to leave this question aside in favor of more urgent questions that could be resolved. The main antagonist was not the United States, whose place on the Council is beyond question and is thus in the rare position of being a relatively neutral “honest broker” on the issue. The disputes arose instead from the lesser and declining military powers, France and Britain, as against the clamors of Japan, India, Nigeria, Brazil, and even economically powerful but de-militarized Germany. Yet even if the existing “permanent five,” holding a veto, would accept any alteration, in real life Japan is checked by China, India by Pakistan, Brazil by its Latin American neighbors, Germany by the global recoil at a third EU permanent member and, alas, it is far from inconceivable that, in the next quarter century, Nigeria might fall into grave civil war.

Nonetheless, to a large extent Kennedy insists on telling the tale of the Security Council in the post-Cold War period as largely an ‘America versus the world’ story – a morality tale of heroic liberal internationalists checkmated by Republican Party intransigence. It is both tiresome and seriously misleading to devote so much of the text to minor and parochial issues of US politics in what is supposed to be a discussion of the world system. It is as though Kennedy, whose prose is otherwise lapidary, stunningly clear, and entirely free of academic jargon, suffers from a sort of political Tourette’s Syndrome that causes him suddenly and inexplicably to lapse into irrelevant criticism of the US for this or that. Of what conceivable importance, for example, is his Little Englander digression on the virtue of the BBC over US news programmes, or any of a dozen other indulgences?

The US, as Madeline Albright famously said, is the ‘indispensable party’, but what matters are not the little bits of internal US political wickedness that Kennedy cannot shake from his mind, but instead a much more basic fact that much of the industrialized world accepts the US role and depends upon it regardless of what is said. Kennedy fails to take account of a conjoined UN-US security system that prominently features diplomatic insincerity. He moreover assumes, as ever, a specific normative direction for “progress,” toward a genuinely UN system of collective security. Suppose, instead, that UN collective security is what everyone wants in theory but no one wants in practice? In any case, the rise of a new, multipolar world – not the decline of the United States as such, but instead, as Fareed Zakaria argues in a new book, The Post American World, the rise of new powers such as India and China, and the global risks posed by ‘resource extraction authoritarian states’ such as Russia, Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, and Iran – offers the opportunity to see how much America’s allies and friends, and for that matter its enemies, actually want to give up the stability proffered by America’s security guarantee. That new world might offer much in the way of schadenfreude – it might not, however, be a thing of beauty.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Welcome to By Common Consent folks

By common consent readers - welcome - I saw from the site meter that I was getting some hits in relation to a post on Moroni and Mormon and LDS views on just war ethics. As I take it BCC is an unofficial Mormon site, greetings and delighted to see you. I’m a law professor in my day job, and among my academic areas are ethics of war and just war theory, which involves moral philosophy, theology, and history, more or less.

I am a long, long lapsed Mormon; served a mission in Peru in the 1970s, but haven’t been active since the early 1980s and am married to a Catholic and, although with no desire to become a Catholic, make Mass my/our religious practice, such as it is. Most of my immediate family -brothers and sisters - remain active Mormons and, unlike many ex-Mormon intellectuals, I have zero ill will toward the religion or its practitioners; quite the contrary.

Here, for what it’s worth, are a couple of links to things I’ve written about Mormons and Mormonism:

Weekly Standard, “Mormons, Muslims, and Multiculturalism,” Dec 24, 2007

Times Literary Supplement, “The Magi of the Great Salt Lake,” March 24, 1995

Los Angeles Times Book Review, “A Peculiar People,” November 1999

For my general take on just war theory, in a single article,
New York Times Magazine, “Who Owns the Rules of War?” April 13, 2003

The SSRN papers are all free downloads - just pick a location from which to download and get the pdf.

As far as Mormonism and just war theory goes - I’ve had a number of devout Mormon students in my just war seminar in recent years, both devout and very smart. They’ve spent a lot of time talking with me about it, and written fine papers on the subject. The thing I am most struck by is how much a theory of just war ethics - how worked out a theory of just war ethics a religion has - depends upon that religion’s role in society. If you are the Catholic or generally the Christian churches in Europe over a thousand years, well, you have a pretty extensive theory of just war ethics because you, or your religious confreres, are running the place - the rulers of states and societies. On the other hand, if you are the very early Church, your concerns about war are much more limited, to questions about individual participation - because you are not the state or running society.

Mormonism, so far as I can tell and drawing a lot on my students, has not really run state and society - leaving aside the Brigham Young theocracy in Utah - and instead long had a fractious relationship with the state and government, in which questions of fundamental loyalty for quite a long time were on the table. The ethical concerns of Mormon leaders have therefore tended to focus not on the grand questions of war and peace, and how one might, if at all, conduct war ethically, but instead about the obligation of individual loyalty to the state, the obligation to undertake civic duties including those of a soldier, and the question of moral responsibility, or not, in case of such individual participation. It is not an overall theory of ethics and war, in the large sense that traditional Catholic just war theory undertakes it - and is mostly a reflection, I believe, of the fact that Mormons have never really, so to speak, ‘run the joint’ the way that other Christians have done over centuries.

That seems to me a fair reflection of what Mormon leaders said about the ethics of war in the run-up to the Iraq war. As far as individual Mormons, and especially Mormon political leaders - Romney, Hatch - but also, in my personal experience as a laws of war lawyer with close ties to lawyers in the Department of Defense, much more Mormons serving as mid and high level officers with ethical and legal responsibilities for the ‘conduct of hostilities’ according to the ‘laws and customs of war’, as the lawyers like to say - things are a little different. I take that as a function of having civic obligations over and above religious one. But in my experience, these American Mormons tend to adopt the general tone of just war theory. Meaning, most Americans have absorbed a secularized version of just war theory, and so have most American Mormons serving in such capacities. It is the secular, human rights based theory of just war developed by Michael Walzer. I think that, more than any specifically Mormon version of war ethics, informs most American Mormons who have direct responsibilities for the conduct of war.

Labor Day thanks to the folks who gave us the weekend

Labor Day, USA. So, let’s take a moment to give thanks for all those who fought for labor rights over the past 150 years. Talkleft has a nice quick history of the holiday and a Rolling Stones rendition of Salt of the Earth from Youtube.

I was a card-carrying member of the Teamsters Union for a couple of years, when I worked for a couple of years (before starting college (finally) at UCLA) at the truck loading dock for Roadway Express in downtown Los Angeles. This was in the late 1970s to 1980 or 81, I don’t remember very well. I finally decided that maybe I needed to go to college; not long after I left that job, loading and unloading big trucks, every kind of freight imaginable, the facility was closed and moved out to the desert town of Victorville. It made sense - it had become far too difficult to get huge freight trucks in and out of downtown LA, and made better sense to shift the freight from big trucks to smaller ones for urban delivery.

More importantly, the container revolution was just taking off - I didn’t know it at the time - and it was going to render an awful lot of loading and unloading unnecessary. It was a period of horrible productivity in American manufacturing - Roadway Express and I were certainly part of the less-than-stellar productivity, as we collectively were entirely indifferent to damage of any kind. Quality control was a wholly alien notion. The supervisors apparently were evaluated strictly in terms of meeting schedules and gross weight moved; I recall when we once unloaded a whole huge truck of glass fluorescent light tubes - the supervisor had us throw the boxes to speed things along and when I reported that I could hear the glass breaking in every single one, he snarled, who the fuck cares, insurance will pay for it. But I didn’t care any more than he did.

I look back over the hundred year old sloganeering of the unions, and although I am as critical as the next center right Republican about union demands, and anyway think that labor unions don’t really suit the direction of capitalism for the new century, nonetheless I stand in awe and respect for what they achieved. I don’t think that, as the 19th century slogan went, ‘labor creates all wealth’. If that were so, humans would have been far richer over the last 10,000 years; technology and innovation create wealth and none of that really took off until the Industrial Revolution. And, for the same reason, the takeoff of the labor unions themselves.

But those slogans were never truly about economics - they were an assertion of the inherent dignity of labor. To the folks who brought us the weekend, labor safety, the eight hour workday, and so many other inherent dignities of life we today take for granted - thanks.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Jeanne of Arc

Jhesus-Maria, King of England, and you, Duke of Bedford, who style yourself regent of the Kingdom of France, you, Guillaume de la Poule, count of Suffort, Jean, sire of Talbot, and you, Thpmas, sire of Scales, who call yourselves lieutenants of the Duke of Bedord, acknowledge the summons of the King of Heaven. Render to the Maid here sent by God the King of Heaven, the keys of all the good towns which you have taken and violated in France. She is here come by God’s will to reclaim the blood royal. She is very ready to make peace, if you will acknowledge her to be right, provided that France you render, and pay for having held it. And you, archers, companions war, men -at-arms and others who are before the town of Orleans, go away into your country, by God. And if so be not done, expect news of the Maid who will come to see you shortly, to your very great injury. King of England, if you do not so, I am chief-of-war, and in whatever place I attain your people in France, I will make them quit it willy-nilly. And if they will not obey, I will have them all slain; for I am here sent by God, the KIng of Heaven, body for body, to drive you all out of France.

(Joan of Arc, Orleans, March 22, 1429.)

Friday, August 29, 2008

The New Class, Palin and Obama (Note to Peter Berkowitz)

Peter Berkowitz once asked me how I made the transition from a fairly radical (if mostly intellectually radical) leftism to a center-right position, rooted in the defense of American democratic sovereignty abroad and a modestly libertarian conservatism at home.

The answer is that sometime during the course of the 80s and 90s, I looked at the left, my friends and confreres in America, and concluded that we were promoting a ‘left authoritarianism’, under the conjoined banner of rights and therapy: which is to say, what certain people think is good for you, promulgated in the essentially unanswerable language of ‘rights talk’.

So the importance of conservatism (leaving aside the usual issues about rational economic policy and national security) is largely that I am anti-New Class. Anti-the elite left ‘helping professions’, who come armed with law and therapy - the power of the prosecutor to make you and your kids better people! The leftwing, feminist hysteria of the 1908s and 90s over child abuse has never ceased to rankle me, and might well count as the thing that drove me out of the left (note to Peter). Waco certainly had an effect. Ever since dropping out of the Mormon church many, many years ago, I’ve never had the faintest sympathy for social conservatism as a set of substantive positions - but I also could not abide the idea of a bunch of creepy social workers (bearing, once again, the therapeutic nostrums of the helping professions but armed with the legal authority of the prosecutor) telling my much more socially conservative Mormon sisters how to run their lives and the lives of their families.

There are many ironies and subtleties to New Class analysis. One is not so subtle, however - it is, in fact, central. The rewriting of New Class doctrine by American neoconservatives that took place during the 1980s and 90s was a huge intellectual mistake (as we at Telos noted at the time, not that anyone was listening). Irving Kristol’s book on American neoconservatism in the 1990s claimed that the New Class divide was between, on the one hand, the intellectuals, the professionals such as lawyers whose livelihoods consisted of navigating the divide (more precisely: holding monopoly access to the divide) between public and private, government professionals in the “helping professions,” media professionals, etc., and, on the other hand, business people.

That proposed division, putting professionals and government bureaucrats on one side, and business people on the other, was flat-out wrong. It was wrong for all the reasons that the late Christopher Lasch pointed out in his final works, particularly The Revolt of the Elites and, for that matter, David Brooks noted in another sort of way in his hilariously on-target Bobos in Paradise. Many business people, many whole categories of business people - people in finance, private equity, all sorts of businesses - are entirely New Class in their cultural and professional and social orientations.

The problem, however, is not with elites, or with the idea of elites, as such. I am not in the least bit ‘anti-elite’, anti-elite as such. I’m not a populist. I’m an intellectual and an elite and a believer in representative democracy. That a society, governed by representative democracy, needs elites is beyond issue. The question is, what kind, and what should their relationship be to those whom they govern?

Palin and Obama cast that issue pretty squarely on the table, and they put it on the table for the next generation in American politics, once the Bidens and McCains have passed from the historical stage. Obama is a classic New Class elitist, by education, outlook, everything. So is his wife. Their professional lives have consisted in - community organizing? please - the elite management of the poor and, of even greater importance today, management of, but also production of, communalist tensions through multiculturalism and identity politics. That’s what the New Class does; that’s what it exists to do. Along with, to be sure, extracting rents for managing social conflicts that it also has much interest in creating.

Palin represents not just another sort of America, but another sort of American elite. Not very elite, in her case, let’s be clear. She is not an intellectual, obviously: so what? It’s overrated, I can tell you. She doesn’t have an Ivy League education, or even a degree from one of the great public universities.

[Footnote: She is above all a cultural product of the Western United States; the land-grant universities and colleges where my father spent all his life. Idaho native and former Clinton domestic policy advisor Bruce Reed, a genuine Democratic centrist who seems, alas, unlikely to have a big place in the New Obama Order, has written the very best thing about why Democrats run a big risk in condescending to her. His article in Slate, ostensibly about Sarah Palin, is one of the most touching essays I’ve read in a long time, because it’s obvious that it is indirectly a love letter from Bruce to his own wife. Very, very cool.]

But Palin obviously is not Fred Flintstone, either - as though Fred Flintstone were chosen by lot from the masses to lead the masses; she has political skills and smarts and a view on large issues that affect many lives. Let’s face it, I don’t think any of my intellectual colleagues in academia or me, for that matter, could get elected governor of anywhere, or dogcatcher, or anything else. We don’t dream of being elected; we dream of being appointed, and when we dream of ‘appointed what?’, it is usually Czar or maybe Grand Inquisitor.

But unlike me or my confreres in the academy, Palin has an organic, extra-political connection to the people she proposes to govern, whether in Alaska or the United States as a whole. Everything about her says, I’m one of you. Not the whole citizen of the planet thing that Obama’s New Class persona uses as a way to elide the question of his relationship to America and Americans, except as Redeemer, but a representative of the people of whom she is indeed representative, but among whom she must be, in virtue of the office she seeks, also an unapologetic elite. The question for contemporary elites is no longer whether they have, but instead whether they believe they actually need, a rootedness in and among the people whose lives they intend so thoroughly to govern. This is the question that Lasch posed ironically in The Revolt of the Elites (playing on Ortega y Gasset’s Revolucion de las Masas). Lasch answered, ‘not any more’; in classic New Class fashion, they aver their expertise instead and say that it is enough.

But the answer, I should hope, is still surely ‘yes’. A representative democracy needs elites who are both elite and expert and even wise, but also rooted in the place and among the people they propose to lead. Palin’s “rootedness” is not at issue. The question for her, instead, is whether she has (lacking the ponderous, yet often pointless credentials of the contemporary elites) that which is genuinely necessary to lead and manage an enormous, modern political economy, as well as a polity out among enemies in a dangerous world. The common man does not. Fred Flintstone does not. Does she?

The modern Democratic party has wobbled, since Woodrow Wilson at least, between its intellectual pretensions and its working class roots, through Dewey, Stevenson, etc., etc.. But it has tipped over today, and not just into elite management, the ‘expert’ management of society that its progressive wing has always proffered, sometimes for good against populist sentiment, but frequently for bad, in all the ways that Jonah Goldberg notes in Liberal Fascism - as a justification for left-authoritarianism. Today, however, it has tipped beyond that into New Class ideology, the seemingly unassailable combination (which is to say, the intellectual cul-de-sac) of therapy-law managing people who are increasingly broken down into identity communities, and whose relationships are then run (we call it ‘community organizing’, among other things) from the top by New Class elites. That’s Barack and Michelle Obama, even if you leave aside all the creepy cultish stuff. The Democrats are the party of the New Class, for as far into the future as I can see today.

For the Republicans, however, the question is still (for the moment) an open one. What remains most open, in the future of politics and ideology for the party, is the way in which it comes to grips with the necessity of elites in a Republic, in a republican form of government, in a representative democracy. It has its New Class temptation, to be sure - its name is Mitt Romney. Conservative New Class analysis, however, because it has mistakenly exempted business people from the category, cannot see Romney for the managerial therapist that in reality he is. For that matter, it cannot see, either, that what passes as evangelical religion in the United States has long since made God into a cipher interpreted by the Twelve Step Program; the God of the evangelicals turns out to be ‘as interpreted’ not by his prophet, but by our therapist.

At the other end, however, without a theory and practice of elites, the temptation to disastrous and, let’s be clear, often evil populism always looms. Obviously this has always been true: this is largely why we have representative republican government, not direct participatory democracy. New and not worked out for Republicans (and conservatives more generally), however, is what this means today, in a world in which New Class experts - free floating not just in the United States but, in a globalized world - propose to run the planet while they float untethered, unrooted, deracinated, unattached, but always highly paid, in the jet stream. What is the theory of elites, what is the theory of popular participation and democratic legitimacy? How to describe the difference (a difference we currently recognize, if only in an intutitive, inchoate, and untheorized way) between the “leadership” of the republic and its citizenry, on the one hand, and the “management” of a mere “economy” and its mere consumers, on the other?

Working out this relationship in a way that can be defended intellectually, but is also accessible politically, is the current intellectual task of conservatism in America. Whether, of course, it knows it or not.

All that said:

I am supposed to be finishing a book chapter on where American conservatism is, or should be, going. For the record, it is not done yet.

In some respects, this was always an odd assignment for me, since I am a johnny-come-lately to conservatism, and am not sure exactly how much applies to me ... social conservative, very far from it; national security conservative, yes, emphatically; libertarian conservative, yes, but not in that crazy Ayn Randian mad, mad way. I suppose that means I fit one classic, if otherwise empty, definition of a ‘neoconservative’ - someone who mostly favors Republicans, but only started doing so since the mid-1990s.

That, by way of autobiography with respect to suggesting ‘where American conservatism ought to be going intellectually. Because, when I think about what actually draws me to conservatism, it starts with a profound distaste for the elite intellectual class of which I am a part.

It is what drew me, for example, to the radical critical journal Telos, to Paul Piccone and Russell Berman: a deep suspicion of what it described as the New Class management-domination of the rest of America, through a therapeutic language that barely concealed an authoritarian agenda.

(It is an authoritarianism premised, as the eminent sociologist Zygmunt Bauman once wrote in a marvelous late 1980s essay in Telos, on the proposition that the “problem” of the poor, and a “problem” of social management since extended to include all the non-rich, anyone who might not share New Class social and political sentiments, is not one of class, at least not in the usual marxist sense, but instead that, in the sense of the market-therapeutic professionals who propose to manage them today, they exhibit the “poverty of flawed consumers”).

You can read New Class ideology pretty much straight up in Clinton’s It Takes a Village, as I pointed out in a review in the TLS in the mid-1990s. I wrote about some of this in a lengthy but - if you’ll forgive me - really quite good review essay of several books on the New Class and the new ‘market professionals’ and why lawyers were so professionally unhappy in the Columbia Law Review in 1996.

So I think.

On the other hand, no one to whom I have ever described this project - even as a book chapter - has ever agreed. They all think it is thin and doesn’t amount to anything other than a political slogan: “leadership.” I therefore call upon the spirits of Telos, including its gazillion ex-editors of every political stripe, and the guiding force of Paul Piccone, may his soul rest in peace, to help me better articulate this. Because I also think that the root intellectual sources for this lie not in American conservatism, but in the Telosian critiqe of the “wholly administered society” from back in the 1970s and 80s.

And yet no one, on the left or right, among my most respected friends, thinks there is much to this, and certainly not as an (“re” - let’s be clear) animating project for American conservatism.

This skepticism has inhibited, I admit, my intellectual confidence in my ideas and has slowed down my writing. But I must admit that the emergence of Obama and, today, Palin, frankly makes me think, once again, that I’m right.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Public trust societies and kinship societies

Huntington famously argues that a clash of civilizations is underway, and locates it as a clash of religious traditions, Christianity and Islam. But it seems to me more correct to think of a clash, less of two universalist religious traditions, than of two fundamental organizational principles, kinship societies and those limited number of societies that have managed to establish, however incompletely, social organization on the basis of public trust that goes beyond ties of kinship. Those ‘public trust’ societies in one sense define modernity, but some of the core conditions predate modernity by centuries - monogamy and out-marriage, to start with.

Monogamy is a necessary, although obviously far from sufficient, condition of a society that is both egalitarian and free: a society in which a group of males has no real access to sexual reproduction is not an egalitarian society, by definition, nor a free one, and that inequality in reproductive access is tied to every other form of economic inequality. And that is to speak only of the men. From this standpoint, the fact that Christianity, for reasons that appear to me, at least, historically and even theologically quite contingent, favored both monogamy and out-marriage over cousin marriage, however much honored only in the breach, sets it apart as a form of social organization.

Modernity in some sense starts with those preconditions. The development of a social ethos that accepts the idea that individuals have fiduciary duties in the abstract, that do not pertain solely to those who are members of extended family groups - even where those extended family groups are as much or more socially, rather than genetically, defined - is what gives rise to the public trust necessary to modern Western society and the modern democratic state: that the state, and its officials, will treat people neutrally, without regard to kinship or other pre-modern markers of identity. Without that trust, the result is the form of the state, but an animating principle quite at odds with it. It is the marker of the rule of law and, it increasingly seems to me, the real line of division between societies today.

What gets the cultural cycle of public trust going in society? I have no idea but certainly it appears to be a long term cultural fact, rather than a short term political creation. Samuel Pepys, for example, wrote his diary at what appeared to be the beginning of a long term shift in English political culture: a time in which offices were still heritable and for sale, but also at a time when officials - in vital public positions such as the Royal Navy - were also beginning to be held to account for corruption and fraud. By the Industrial Revolution, the culture of the civil service was taking hold, and with it an ideal of neutrality in dealing with alternating governments and with the public. The very notion of “honor” and to whom it was owed had shifted.

The idea of equality before the law, in matters related to integrity of person, is a very old one and found widely across cultures. The idea of equality in the distribution of the largesse of state favor, and that it is dishonorable for me as a publi official to favor me and mine over you and yours in the matter of state property and privilege, because it is a “public trust,” is a quite new one, and very limited in cultural scope. Yet it is the basis of legitimacy - even more the democracy - of the modern state worldwide. What we call a ‘failed state’, after all, is almost by definition that there is no concept of public trust, that it has been exhausted and depleted.

(Useful reading on this includes James Bowman, Honor; and Francis Fukuyama, Trust. Of course, if your view is that all societies are equally successful in their social and cultural arrangements, just different, but no one is better or worse, then none of this will make much sense.)

The Ghost of Freedom: A History of the Caucasus

The new issue of the Times Literary Supplement has a fascinating, troubling review by Donald Rayfield of a new book on the history of the Caucasus. I think I nominate it, and the book, for most timely of the year. The Ghost of Freedom, by Charles King (OUP 2008).

[Western] romanticizing underlies attitudes to the new states of the southern Caucasus, Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia, where a hard-headed desire to have a route for oil and gas that cannot be cut off by Putin and Medvedev is glossed as an aspiration to encourage European Union-standard human rights and democracy. The discussion of Georgia’s emergence from “failed state” status under a tired Edvard Shevardnadze, mired in corruption, like the account of Azerbaijan under its dynasty of ex-KGB Alievs, and of an Armenia run by violent nationalists and thinly disguised Soviet-style Communists, is more than competent. One would wish only for a little more cynicism: Mikeil Saakashvili may have the suave exterior of a Columbia University lawyer, but there are a lot of questions not posed, let alone answered here. The initial connivance of the Russians at the Rose Revolution, which got rid of the Ajarian warlord Aslan Abashidze as well as of Shevardnadze, two figures particularly hated by Putin, is unmentioned, and the mysterious sequence of murders and unexplained deaths of Saakashvili’s rivals and opponents needs to be discussed as proof of the continuity of a specifically Caucasian way of politics.

In a book dealing with “the ghost of freedom” one would expect a more thorough exploration of the Caucasus’s little Kosovos, where ethnic groups such as the Abkhaz and South Ossetians try to break away from a newly independent Georgia only to find themselves international pariahs, whose only refuge is a return to the Russian embrace. Here Putin’s salami tactics for reincorporating lost Soviet territory meet with no adequate or even intelligent response by the principal victims, for instance the Georgians, or from the European Union and United States who have already tied themselves into knots over the former Yugoslavia, and can only wring their hands as they see Russia, with the help of its heavily armed “peacekeepers”, turning Abkhazia back into its own private recreation zone. King ends with a vague hope that Europe’s “inexorable march” towards liberal values can proceed in the Caucasus, but not much of the evidence supports him. For over a thousand years the Georgians and Armenians have appealed to Europe for support as fellow Christians, as Europeans by culture, if not by geography, and after being strung along by Crusaders, by Louis XIV, by various Popes, by Presidents Wilson, Roosevelt and both Bushes, can still not believe that the answer they get will always be a perfunctory apology that deeper interests of state force the West to take sides with its major trading partners, not its cultural and spiritual brothers. Ghost of freedom, indeed. Given the present crisis, as Russia backs Ossetia’s separatists with bombs and shells, our politicians’ vacillations and our diplomats’ complacency may not be remedied in time, even if a group of experts were hurriedly assembled to follow up Charles King’s reconnaissance and produce and analyse in full the history of the Caucasus.

Monday, August 11, 2008

C.J. Chivers, NYT, offering a a page one opinion piece on Georgia

(Thanks Glenn, for the Instalanche, and welcome Instapunditeers.)

(Update: Dear Mr. Chivers. I’ve gone back and read some of your earlier reporting, which is excellent. So why don’t you ignore all the rude things I say below, and quit wasting your time writing the kinds of things that get the cross-x I give it below. Why, in the midst of the world potentially changing in a genuinely strategic and dangerous way, are you writing pointless opinion pieces, pieces which I or anyone else might agree or disagree with, while channeling - not Kremlin operatives, not Georgian generals but ... anonymous USG flunkies, likely from the State Department, with some or another ax to grind. This requires your genuine, hard-won, value-added Russia and Central Asian reporting skills? You have the skills to go gather new, actual facts, and you waste your time on this blather. I realize this is what the Times values, and this is how you get on the front page. But please be aware that there are some NYT readers - even paying subscriber readers - who would actually like to read brand new facts, gathered out in unlikely, difficult places. The test of a good, well-reported piece, Mr. Chivers, is that I wouldn’t be able to say anything about it: a painfully simple logical argument, not subject to the kind of logical questions I raise below, and facts that you have found out that no one yet knows. I don’t suppose it will wind up on the front page. But I would read it and I bet a lot of other people would too. Why don’t you do what you are specially in a position to do, and go out and research and report something in this moment of crisis? I mean something not obtained in the eternal circle-jerk between NYT reporters and USG officials eager to leak something. You can put all your brilliant analyses and opinions in the book later - I promise I’ll buy it. But in this moment of crisis, why not do some original reporting? Like you used to do? You used to be quite good at it, you know.)

The last time I had occasion to think about NYT’s Moscow bureau chief C.J. Chivers was by reason of his reporting on the latest UN conference on small arms controls. I put that post up at Opinio Juris, here. My basic point was that Chivers’ reporting was soft-ball at best, took whatever UN officials had to say at pretty much face value, and didn’t offer relevant qualifications to the narrative he and UN officials seemed together to accept. Dave Kopel, at Volokh Conspiracy, had more to say, here.

The NYT has a front page article by Chivers, a “news analysis” offering, In Georgia and Russia, a Perfect Brew for a Blowup, August 10, 2008. I haven’t posted this to OJ, because it’s frankly not worth it, but it is still an annoyance. Midway through the article, Chivers informs us that:

The risks were intensified by the fact that the United States did not merely encourage Georgia’s young democracy, it helped militarize the weak Georgian state.

In his wooing of Washington as he came to power, Mr. Saakashvili firmly embraced the missions of the United States in Afghanistan and Iraq. At first he had almost nothing practical to offer. Georgia’s military was small, poorly led, ill-equipped and weak.

But Mr. Saakashvili’s rise coincided neatly with a swelling American need for political support and foreign soldiers in Iraq. His offer of troops was matched with a Pentagon effort to overhaul Georgia’s forces from bottom to top.

At senior levels, the United States helped rewrite Georgian military doctrine and train its commanders and staff officers. At the squad level, American marines and soldiers trained Georgian soldiers in the fundamentals of battle.

Georgia, meanwhile, began re-equipping its forces with Israeli and American firearms, reconnaissance drones, communications and battlefield-management equipment, new convoys of vehicles and stockpiles of ammunition.

The public goal was to nudge Georgia toward NATO military standards. Privately, Georgian officials welcomed the martial coaching and buildup, and they made clear that they considered participation in Iraq as a sure way to prepare the Georgian military for “national reunification” — the local euphemism of choice for restoring Abkhazia and South Ossetia to Georgian control.

All of these policies collided late last week. One American official who covers Georgian affairs, speaking on the condition of anonymity while the United States formulates its next public response, said that everything had gone wrong.

Does Chivers really want to tell us that the United States “helped militarize the weak Georgian state”? What is the evidence for that? The fact that the US helped reequip the Georgian military and helped train it? Mr. Chivers, cf. militarize - it doesn’t mean training and weapons merely. It doesn’t mean what you seem to think it means. It means systematically remaking the state under military domination. Is that really what you mean? Really? Again, what is your evidence for this remarkably strident charge? Besides the supply of American equipment and training?

After all, US policy around the world has been training of military forces in democratic states so that their militaries would operate in a more professional and disciplined fashion - particularly in matters of human rights. As I noted in my OJ post, here, the Georgian military was in desperate need of such professionalization going back to the days that led to the current conflicts. It was, in my personal experience at Human Rights Watch in the early 1990s, a militia army, extremely abusive and undisciplined in pretty much every way. The US “helped militarize” the Georgian state by seeking to raise its military above those standards. Good God, the horror.

To precisely what in what the US taught do you take exception? You say that the United States “helped rewrite Georgian miilitary doctrine and train its commanders and staff officers. At the squad level, American marines and soldiers trained Georgian soldiers in the fundamentals of battle.” You say this with a certain hint of dark things. Wow. How horrible - the fundamentals of battle. Who would have thought?

So what are you suggesting? Come on, be straight about it. What exactly do you think that American training said or did that was objectionable? Are you, for example, suggesting that US forces trained Georgian forces in abuses, of the kind of Abu Ghraib? What? It’s not good enough to drop a dark suggestion that training in basic military skills is somehow wrong. You actually have to say what’s wrong with it. If your point is that this led Georgian political elites to assume that the US would back them in a fight with the Russians over South Ossetia or Abkhazia, fine, or that the US failed to disabuse them of that possibility in order to keep them in Iraq, fine too - but that’s a completely different argument from saying that Americans trained Georgians in perfectly respectable military skills that any army needs, including respect for the laws of war, and implying that there was something sinister about it. Those latter possibilities, while entirely possible and in my speculative estimation likely, require premises going beyond simply saying that the US trained the Georgians. I’m speculating; you’re telling me you’re not. But what you offer in way of evidence consists of the fact of training and equipment - consistent with any number of other policies and explanations - and some anonymous sourcing.

Christ, it’s not that hard. Tell us straight what you you think is wrong with US policy. Is it the content of training? Is it the the bare fact of training? Is it an implied deal of training for the US going along with a Georgian move to re-take the territories? These are not the same thing, but you conveniently treat them as though they are - and, in particular, without managing quite to say so, imply sinister things about the bare fact of training and its content, as a way of casting suspicion on US conduct, rather than Georgian interpretations of it. As for the US re-equipping the Georgian army, if that’s wrong, one obvious implication is that it would somehow be better if the Georgian republic were unable to defend itself against Moscow - maybe that’s true, maybe not, but surely you would admit that this is a rather Moscow-favorable interpretation of things, offered by a Moscow bureau chief, and that simple argumentative obligations, not offered as narrative, would require that you at least acknowledge the possibility and state why that is not the case. Might I trouble you to do that?

Look: what you’ve offered us is an argument, masquerading as a narrative news story. I’m very interested in arguments, especially on a policy topic as difficult and fraught with risks as this, and I don’t doubt that you have important things to say. But if you want to offer an argument, then, well, argue it. Make claims and then explain the evidence for your premises. You offer us a narrative story that is, let’s be honest, very Moscow-centric, backed by a couple of unnamed US government sources. The last one you cite, the one American “official who covers Georgian affairs,” sounds like possibly he or she has an agenda or two. Is that possible? Might you tell us about it? But the fundamental point is that if you actually set out to argue your case, it wouldn’t look anywhere near as convincing as the narrative you spin out, because you might have to consider weaknesses in your own position. It would be a lot harder to rely on anonymous sources. A decent editor would query the use of inflammatory and unwarranted language like “militarize.”

I’m fine with the NYT becoming an 80% opinion paper, heck, 95%, since that’s what it is already. But in that case, offer the opinion pieces as arguments. My fifteen year old daughter just finished an elementary logic class this summer - strikingly, one of the most important parts of the class was the discussion of why straw arguments were bad, and the obligations in argument of charity in presenting an opponent’s position and fidelity in offering it. The fundamental problem with the journalistic media style is that, offered in place of argument, presenting opposing views, alternative explanations, anything to the contrary, simply disappears. Doesn’t fit the narrative. For heaven’s sake, if you’re going to argue, then argue.

Mr. Chivers, I don’t doubt you have important things to say about the Russia-Georgia war. So why don’t you report the facts, unadorned, and if you want to argue your opinions, then do so in an plainly stated, argumentative way?

(ps. To finish out the apparent agendas, I suppose I should add that what Chivers means by “militarization” is that Georgia supported the US in Iraq and Afghanistan. As he says (bold added):

[T]he fact that the United States did not merely encourage Georgia’s young democracy, it helped militarize the weak Georgian state.

In his wooing of Washington as he came to power, Mr. Saakashvili firmly embraced the missions of the United States in Afghanistan and Iraq. At first he had almost nothing practical to offer. Georgia’s military was small, poorly led, ill-equipped and weak.

But Mr. Saakashvili’s rise coincided neatly with a swelling American need for political support and foreign soldiers in Iraq. His offer of troops was matched with a Pentagon effort to overhaul Georgia’s forces from bottom to top.

Is it a “fact” that the US “helped militarize the weak Georgian state”? This sounds like an opinion to me. It might be a reasonable one - I think what Chivers says next is almost certainly correct, that the Georgians perceived the situation as a quid pro quo, but that too falls into the category of opinion, even if informed opinion, at least on the evidence presented: it is not shown, instead it is used as a premise in the rest of the argument - assumed, in other words.

It is likewise quite another question whether the US, which has had a long term policy of assisting places like Georgia with training and equipment, for reasons that long predate Iraq or Afghanistan, also saw this as the quid pro quo. Chivers would have to establish that this would not have been US policy in any case. Not exactly what I associate with, um, facts. The implication, in any case, that Chivers wishes to draw from this is that the weak Georgian state was “militarized” by the fact of US military assistance - as though there were no independent reasons why the US would not have undertaken this - and the “proof” of this is ... Georgian military support for the US in Afghanistan and Iraq. Lovely.)

(pps. Remarkably, dear readers, I am one of the dwindling out-of-NYC home subscribers to the Times. I pay for it, I don’t just read it online. Even more remarkably, I am actually a NYT shareholder, oy vey - shares I bought a while back because, as a finance professor in my day job, I thought it would help if I owned a few shares of a company I frequently use as a class test case to give me a personal reason for keeping track of the company finances. Still, I didn’t imagine when I bought it that the stock price would fall this far ... For that matter, I’ve written for the Magazine a couple of times. I don’t have a strong opinion as to whether the content really has an effect on the financial decline of the Times; there are arguments both directions, in that the greater opinionizing , if it really is that and not simply more noticed opinionizing, might have the effect of reinforcing the core audience as a niche product. And the conditions of the industry are disastrous for reasons that reach beyond any single newspaper. But I do agree with Glenn Reynolds and others that the best financial strategy for newspapers, including the Times, is reporting of facts and not simply offering opinions. The web is filled with people with opinions who frankly write as well as any NYT writer. Any ass with a law degree can do what I did here, and simply closely read what was written; I did what an editor should have done. What we don’t have is independent access to facts. Pity that the Times seems to reached the point where “reporting” simply means calling a government source and saying, hi, you want to leak? For that matter, I suspect Chivers is probably a pretty decent factual reporter on the ground in the many places from which he has reported, possibly even an outstanding one, but you’d never know - the problem is that factual reporting is not especially valued by his employer, and does not seem to be the ticket to the front page. More’s the pity. Mr. Chivers, I apologize for being rather rude in this post. But at some point exasperation trumps - who was it, Dorothy Parker, who got it best: What fresh hell is this?)