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Friday, December 31, 2010

Books of 2010

As I have annually since 2005, I am posting a nearly complete list of books I read in the preceding year.

Let me review the rules: I will not list books that I reviewed, unless those reviews were published. In my academic job, I chair a committee that awarded $100,000 to a work that exhibited the best "ideas for improving world order." Most of the nominees have written books and I read my share of the nominations. It is probably OK to acknowledge that I read the winning book, though I didn't read it until after the international jury had promoted it to the final round of our process.

Of course, since I'm an academic, I read multiple chapters and large sections of many books pertinent to my research and teaching. However, I'm not going to list those here unless I read them cover-to-cover. Save for the books I use in class or read for review, I often skim over some portions even of outstanding books. It's a time/efficiency issue.

So, what did I read this year, mostly for pleasure? (Some of the recommended books include a link to Powell's books; the blog receives a 7.5% commission on sales that begin via these links).

Non-fiction

Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner.

The Polysyllabic Spree by Nick Hornby.

Ending Slavery: How We Free Today's Slaves by Kevin Bales. This book won the 2011 Grawemeyer Award.

The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism by Andrew J. Bacevich.

Big Deal: A Year as a Professional Poker Player by Anthony Holden.

Baseball Between the Numbers: Why Everything You Know About the Game Is Wrong by Jonah Keri (ed.).

Mind Game: How the Boston Red Sox Got Smart, Won a World Series, and Created a New Blueprint for Winning by Steve Goldman (ed.).

The Long Season by Jim Brosnan.

Red Smith on Baseball: The Game's Greatest Writer on the Game's Greatest Years by Red Smith.

Fair Game by Paul Daugherty.

Damn Senators: My Grandfather and the Story of Washington's Only World Series Championship by Mark G. Judge.

Poker - Hold 'Em: Book One by Andy Nelson.

Does Anything Eat Wasps?: And 101 Other Questions by New Scientist.

The World Series' Most Wanted: The Top 10 Book of Championship Teams, Broken Dreams, and October Oddities by John Snyder.

I also read just about every word in Baseball Prospectus 2010, but not in cover-to-cover fashion. It was edited by Steven Goldman and Christina Kahrl.

Of these non-fiction books, most were worth reading. The Bacevich book was assigned in a spring 2010 American Foreign Policy class and worked out quite well. I'm assigning his lastest book next term.

Though Freakonomics was widely read a few years ago, I had failed to pick it up until this year. And then it turned out that I was familiar with many of the chapters and examples because I read so many reviews -- or articles and blog posts that discussed them.

Nick Hornby is a terrific writer, so I always enjoy his work -- even when he's writing short pieces about his favorite music or books. The book listed above is taken from his monthly columns discussing the books he buys and reads -- or doesn't.

I would not place any of the listed baseball books in the pantheon of great baseball writing, but I enjoyed the two books put together by Johah Keri, Steve Goldman and the other analysts at Baseball Prospectus. Jim Brosnan's memoir was a nice read too.

Fiction

Libra by Don DeLillo.

Tree of Smoke by Denis Johnson.

The Loved One by Evelyn Waugh.

Hocus Pocus by Kurt Vonnegut.

The Ticking Tenure Clock by Blaire French.

Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card.

Funeral in Berlin by Len Deighton.

A Red Death by Walter Mosley.

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson.

Red Lights by Georges Simenon.

361 by Donald E. Westlake.

V for Vendetta by Alan Moore and David Lloyd.

God Is My Broker: A Monk-Tycoon Reveals the 7 1/2 Laws of Spiritual and Financial Growth by Christopher Buckley and John Tierney.

The Neon Rain by James Lee Burke.

Blue City by Ross Macdonald.

Girl in the Plain Brown Wrapper by John D. Macdonald

Moonraker by Ian Fleming.

Forty Lashes Less One by Elmore Leonard.

Ripley Under Ground by Patricia Highsmith

Two in the Field by Darryl Brock.

Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return by Marjane Satrapi.

Shut Up and Deal by Jesse May.

Of these, I placed the best works of literature at the top of the list, then the remaining genre fiction. The least entertaining are listed last.

The lengthy works of historical fiction by DeLillo and Johnson were good, but I left both of them feeling a bit unsatisfied. I have previously read almost every book Vonnegut has penned, and this book was worth my time, but it was far from his best work (which was published decades ago).

I probably enjoyed Ender's Game, Funeral in Berlin and A Red Death more than any books I read this year, proving that I should listen more often to recommendations from colleagues -- and other readers. In their own way, each of these books suggests nostalgia for the cold war.

The Swedish film The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is faithful to the spirit of the popular book. Both are creepy and unsettling. I enjoyed the film V for Vendetta more than the original graphic novel, even though the filmmakers took substantial liberties with the text.

Thanks mostly to Bookmooch, I continue to read books by a diverse group of crime writers. As I've noted previously, John D. Macdonald's Travis McGee stories provide a pleasant diversion, but Ross Macdonald's books tend to have a harder edge. Both offer up a good measure of amateur philosophy as well.

I will likely read more Dave Robicheaux stories by Burke in the future, though there is no urgency. I have now completed Elmore Leonard's old westerns and will probably never return to them. Ian Fleming's Bond plays a mean game of bridge in Moonraker.


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Thursday, December 30, 2010

Sodexo

The French transnational company Sodexo contracts with the University of Louisville to provide food and food services to students and others who dine in various campus facilities.

According to a troubling piece by David Moberg in The American Prospect, Sodexo's global reach is truly vast, as it "employs 380,000 workers in 80 countries." That global reach can make it difficult to keep an eye on the company's behavior around the world:
Sodexo, which says that it "has always recognized and respected trade union rights," is fighting [Marcia] Snell's attempt [at Ohio State University] to organize a branch of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). Human Rights Watch concluded that the company's U.S. operations had frequently violated the same international labor standards it observes in Europe...

French Sodexo union leaders Jean-Michel Dupire and Gerard Bodard say that after visiting Columbus [Ohio, home of Ohio State] last spring, they were shocked by differences between the lives of Americans like Snell and French Sodexo workers -- and the difference between Sodexo's self-image and reality. In France, anyone can easily join a union, and everyone in the food services is under union contracts. Most French Sodexo workers earn the minimum wage (about $12 an hour), but they have comprehensive public health insurance, a much more generous public pension, full work weeks, and six weeks paid vacation.
Moberg documents that Sodexo pays the Ohio State employee he profiles closer to $9 per hour. Moreover, she cannot afford the company's health care plan and did not receive any vacation days until this year -- after working 10 years with the company.

As a member of the University of Louisville's Sustainability Council, I've been involved in many meetings that discussed Sodexo's food purchasing decisions. Generally, the Council has encouraged "buy local" initiatives, supported a campus garden, promoted a Health Science Campus farmer's market, etc. Along those lines, Sodexo has been praised for partnering with another company to "bring on a line of natural and organic [food] products."

For obvious reasons, Sodexo's policies and practices pertinent to sustainability are primarily evaluated by the Operations Committee of the Council. However, it seems clear that the Administration, Finance & Outreach Committee should also monitor a company like Sodexo since the group "works to ensure that the University of Louisville... Compensates our employees fairly, provides for their basic needs, and treats them with dignity."

According to Moberg, the SEIU wants Sodexo to sign a concrete and global "compact that will guarantee unions' unimpeded right to organize Sodexo workers." Competing union UNITE HERE also favors a compact, but it wants to preserve the right of workers to organize under all unions equally -- so as not to privilege SEIU.

Could the Sustainability Council support these union efforts?

By law, Kentucky is a "union shop" state, but it is a target of "right to work" supporters who believe their arguments resonate among citizens of the Bluegrass. The AAUP does not have an especially strong presence on the U of L campus. The webpage still has a flashing "new" icon to promote a local conference that was held in April 2006. And, of course, Sodexo employees are not University employees.

In sum, I'm going to bring this up with some colleagues, but am not confident that it will go very far.


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Sunday, December 19, 2010

Merry Christmas 2010

Last year, my family spent Christmas at Zion National Park in Utah. We flew into Vegas, drove to Zion, and then motored down to the Grand Canyon -- where many of us got sick. This is me in Zion:


Merry Christmas 2010!


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Thursday, December 16, 2010

Commencement Winter 2010

University of Louisville celebrated its Winter 2010 commencement today. Some weeks ago, one of the top students in Political Science (and a participant in my senior "capstone" seminar) informed me that she was giving the commencement address. UofL Today has a nice interview with Ashley Harris about her time at the university and her interests and experiences.

I congratulate Ashley on her accomplishments to-date and sincerely wish her continued success in the future. Indeed, I extend the same sentiments to all the graduates -- particularly the six others that were classmates in my seminar.

Unfortunately, Louisville was hit by an ice storm that closed public schools and the university on Thursday. The administration decided to carry on with the ceremony downtown in any case, but I ultimately did not attend and am truly sorry for missing Ashley's speech -- and for being unable to congratulate all the students in person.

Three cheers for the graduates!

Update: video of the address:


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Monday, December 13, 2010

Please give

Cross-posted from Duck of Minerva today.

This year began with a human tragedy of horrific proportions -- the earthquake in Haiti. We may never know precisely how many people died, but the government in Port-au-Prince estimated 230,000 in February.

The news did not improve as the year progressed. Consider this ANI news report from Saturday about flooding in Pakistan -- and keep in mind that floodwaters have not yet receded in some areas even though the worst flooding occurred months ago:
It is estimated that the floods affected up to 20 million people, while over 750,000 homes were damaged or destroyed.

The UN had rated it as the greatest humanitarian crisis in recent history, saying that the number of people suffering from the crisis exceeded the combined total in three recent mega disasters - the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, the 2005 Kashmir earthquake and the 2010 Haiti earthquake.
In 2011, experts predict that thanks to La NiƱa, Kenya may well experience a humanitarian emergency. Zimbabwe is on the brink of disaster because of cholera, measles, and flu outbreaks.

Haiti itself is ending the year with a cholera epidemic that has infected 100,000 people and killed nearly 2200 already.

And yet, despite these truly heart-wrenching emergencies, the number of people harmed and killed in them is dwarfed by the ravages of day-to-day poverty of the type described in Paul Collier's work on the world's "bottom billion." A billion people live in abject poverty on $1 a day and roughly another billion live on $2 per day.

In the November/December Washington Monthly, Charles Kenny, a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development, explains that "complex humanitarian emergencies" like the Haitian earthquake and Pakistani floods are not, in fact, the primary source of human suffering worldwide:
[F]ocusing on war, flood, famine, and earthquakes is in itself a selection mechanism. Humanitarian emergencies are thankfully rare, concentrated, and usually short-lived events. Take Africa—often seen as the home stable for the four horsemen of the apocalypse. Less than three-tenths of a percent of the population was affected by famine in the average year between 1990 and 2005. And in 2005, only one-half of 1 percent of the population were refugees.

If tens of millions of people are in need of urgent assistance every year, this still suggests that, however telegenic are humanitarian crises, they don’t represent the biggest challenges of global poverty. More than 16 percent of children born in Africa die before their fifth birthday, for example. Around a billion people worldwide are malnourished....The considerable majority of extreme human suffering occurs outside of what is commonly recognized as a crisis situation.
Kenny explains in that article that humanitarian emergencies are often rightly followed by new emergency assistance -- even as development aid to address the endemic problem of global poverty languishes. Thanks partly to the Great Recession, government development assistance is certainly down from peak levels earlier this decade.

Americans like to consider themselves a charitable people -- particularly at this time of year. Indeed, Giving USA Foundation reports that Americans give away over $300 billion annually, which is over 2% of GDP. And it amounts to a lot of cash. Jeffrey Sachs has been saying for years that global poverty could be eradicated for about $200 to $250 billion per year.

However, close scrutiny reveals that individual charitable giving by Americans does not typically go to causes that help the global poor -- or national poor, for that matter. In the December 6 issue of The Nation, CUNY Graduate Center History Professor David Nasaw asks, "Where does this money go?"
Some to disaster relief or to feed, clothe and shelter the poor—but not very much. Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich claims that only about 10 percent of charitable giving goes to the poor and needy. A third goes to religious organizations; 13 percent to education; 7 percent to hospitals, healthcare organizations and research; 4 percent to arts and culture; 3 percent to international peace and relief efforts; 2 percent to environmental and animal-related causes.

Although it is never easy to quantify giving, closer scrutiny of individual, as opposed to foundation, funding indicates that much of it goes to causes that directly or indirectly benefit the donors. Individual donors are more likely to give to the church or synagogue they or members of their families attend, to their alma maters, their children's private schools and the museums and cultural institutions they patronize.
I am not sure of the precise NGO or IO targets for charitable giving to alleviate global poverty, but I am certain that this issue should be a higher priority for individual donors like you and me -- though Nasaw points out that the 3.1% of Americans earning $200,000 or more annually (or who hold assets above $1 million) give about 70% of the $300 billion US total.

I guess that means we need to convince affluent people to be less selfish in their annual giving.

One last note. Nasaw points out that thanks to the US tax code, "every $100 donated to charity by a high-income person means $35 less to the Treasury." He is not trying to sound like a Grinch (or perhaps a Scrooge), but if affluent people could not deduct their private donations, the US Treasury would have nearly $75 billion potentially to use in the public interest.

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Thursday, December 09, 2010

Climate change diplomacy

This past week, I've posted twice to the e-ir blog, Climate Politics: IR and the Environment.

Sunday, December 5, I posted "Hot times?" about the latest temperature news (2010 still has a chance to be the warmest year on record, though it will most likely finish behind 1998 and 2005) and my brief (pessimistic) assessment of the ongoing international climate conference in Cancun.

Today, December 9, I posted "Wikileaks and climate diplomacy," which looks at some of the latest leaked cables pertaining to climate change. For any IR scholar, the documents reflect fairly predictable practices. A powerful state like the US pursues its interests by using the resources at its disposal to influence other states. Not really shocking, but revealed for all to see.


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Saturday, December 04, 2010

Critical IR Theory

It has been awhile since I visited their webpage, so I only recently learned that State University of New York (SUNY) Press has posted a pdf of chapter 1 from Democratizing Global Politics (2004), my coauthored book written with Nayef Samhat.

The chapter is "Critical Theory, Habermas, and Internatioanal Relations."


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