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Friday, December 29, 2006

Movies of 2006

I'm a fan of film. This past fall, I taught "Global Politics Through Film" and I joined one of those on-line rental DVD companies, which delivers movies by mail. It is safe to say that I watch a lot of movies.

So, what were the best movies of 2006?

Well, many of the best films I saw this year were 2005 flicks that I missed in the theaters. Some were even older.

To make a 2006 list, I scanned the top 150 grossing movies of 2006, as well as IMDB's most popular titles for 2006 (and their most popular by average vote list), and these were the only ones I saw this year. Pictures marked with asterisks were viewed in a theater:

Thank You for Smoking **
Casino Royale **
V for Vendetta
Little Miss Sunshine **
Inside Man **
An Inconvenient Truth
A Prairie Home Companion **
Glory Road
The Break-Up
Superman Returns
X Men: The Last Stand
Mission Impossible III **
Nacho Libre
Monster House
Happy Feet **
Cars **
Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby

And here's the annual list of movies I intend to see in the near future (but probably in 2007): Babel, Blood Diamond, Bobby, Borat, Children of Men, The Departed, The Fountain, The Good Shepherd, The Illusionist, Kenny, The Last King of Scotland, The Prestige, The Queen, The Road to Guantanamo, A Scanner Darkly, Scoop, Stranger Than Fiction, and Who Killed the Electric Car?

I'll probably also end up watching United 93 and World Trade Center, though I cannot bring myself to rent either one when I'm at the video store.

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Thursday, December 28, 2006

Victory challenge

The Oklahoma blogger Red Stater has issued a "victory challenge" to "liberal" bloggers. He wants bloggers on the left to declare that the US cannot leave Iraq because that means defeat. He recently left this challenge in a comment on one of my recent posts.

Oh, and he thinks I'm in denial about Iraq.

Recently, he left a comment on my December 4, 2005 post "Failed state?"
So you can't determine (or guess) if US troops supporting Iraq's Democracy is a stablizing factor or not...yet you already determined that removing US troops would be destablizing.

Therefore, if removing US troops is bad then keeping US troops in Iraq is good.
(for democracy)

Your hatred for Bush is obviously affecting your ability to draw correct conclusions from your own findings.
I tried to leave the following reply, but there were too many links for haloscan:

You are commenting on a December 2005 post -- written nearly 13 months ago. The circumstances have drastically changed.

For one thing, the new October 2006 evidence suggests that innocent Iraqis are dying at a much higher rate than anyone knew at that time. The US is not there specifically to kill them, but they are dying as a direct and indirect cause of the US-backed war. On your blog, you attribute a strawman argument to me.

For another thing, the old post pre-dates the February 2006 mosque bombing that made the conflict much more of a sectarian civil war.

More-and-more, Iraq already looks like a failed state. The US troops seem to be irrelevant to that fact.

However, there is very little chance that this makes Iraq like Afghanistan in the 1990s. Al Qaeda is Sunni and the dominant Shia in Iraq simply will not tolerate a Sunni-based terrorist training site.

Civil war will be bad for many Iraqis, but there's very little reason for the USA to participate.

The US couldn't defeat the Vietnamese insurgency with nearly 185,000 troops in 1965. It didn't fare a lot better in 1966 with 200,000 more, nor a lot better in 1967 with another 100,000...nor better in 1968 with another 50,000.

The US currently has no real prospect of putting anywhere near those troop levels in Iraq. Even the US generals say peace has to be achieved politically; this will not be a military victory.

Note: Professor Juan Cole has a thorough answer to many of the myths about Iraq promulgated by bloggers like Red Stater.

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Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Holiday cheer: feedback requested

In case you didn't notice, operations have been slow here at the blog for some time.

I had quite a bit of grading in December, then normal holiday commitments. Expect more writing and posting after the new year. Meanwhile, I certainly hope all my readers are enjoying the normal slowdown that many people enjoy this time of year.

As for me, I'm contemplating the best way to spend a gift card. I've got all the books I currently need from Powell's, so I'm planning to purchase a couple of music CDs.

I'm a fan of Americana and have already looked at the end-of-year "best of 2006" list from No Depression. I also took a look at NPR's choices, the Boston Globe's picks, and Metacritic.

I have all-but decided to purchase my second Neko Case CD.

For the next choice, I'm mulling Rosanne Cash, Cat Power, Grayson Capps, Solomon Burke, Tom Waits, Elvis Costello & Allen Toussaint, Old Crow Medicine Show, Todd Snider, and T Bone Burnett.

Any advice on selections from this group?

Alternatively, what are the indispensable Americana CDs? Maybe I've missed some important work from the past decade or so?

Or, which Drive-By-Truckers CD should I buy, considering I only have one now?

I like Bob Dylan a great deal, of course, but already own much of his artistic output from a very long career. Do I really need another Dylan album?

Readers, I'd like to hear from you on this.

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Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Just try to duck this

Today, I've written a lengthy post about Iraq on the Duck of Minerva: "Bush 'We're not winning.'"

December 15, I posted "Pakistan on the hot seat, again."

December 10: "Conservative dead pool."

December 7, I blogged a "Friday maxim" regarding the fortune in my Chinese food.

Happy reading.

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Sunday, December 17, 2006

Talking Heads: Start Making Sense

Today, on "Face the Nation," former Secretary of State Colin Powell said that the US is losing in Iraq -- and that a surge in troops to protect Baghdad would likely not work. This is life during wartime, December 2006:
"So if it's grave and deteriorating [as the Iraq Survey Group concluded] and we're not winning [as new Defense Secretary Gates said], we are losing...

"I am not persuaded that another surge of troops into Baghdad for the purposes of suppressing this communitarian violence, this civil war, will work,"
Powell did say that he agreed with the ISG and Gates, by the way.

It was a Sunday, so a lot of administration supporters in the audience probably thought that Powell was speaking in tongues. He said that the US is less safe as a a result of Operation Iraqi Freedom:
"I think we are a little less safe, in the sense that we don't have the same force structure available for other problems," Powell said. "I think we have been somewhat constrained in our ability to influence events elsewhere."

To prove the politics makes for strange bedfellows, Senate Majority Leader (to be), Harry Reid today said that he would support a temporary surge in troops for Iraq.

True Story: Reid also said that the 2 or 3 month troop surge had to be part of a plan to have the US out by this time next year.

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Thursday, December 14, 2006

"War is a continuation of politics by other means"

It appears the the Joint Chiefs of Staff haven't forgotten this admonition by Clausewitz. This is from today's Washington Post:
Pentagon chiefs think that there is no purely military solution for Iraq and that, without major progress on the political and economic fronts, the U.S. intervention is simply buying time, the sources said. They particularly want to see U.S. pressure on the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to offer amnesty to Sunni insurgents, approve constitutional amendments promised to the Sunni minority, pass laws to ensure equitable distribution of oil revenue, and modify the ban on members of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party taking government positions.
Hopefully, this kind of talk will put to rest all the "double down" whispering that has been emanating from the media's talking heads these past few days.

The military has long known that Iraq could not be won as a purely military campaign. Analysts in the US have to stop talking about victory versus defeat and focus instead on the choice between stalemated war versus sustainable peace.

Under the Joint Chiefs plan, what will the military be doing in Iraq? While many thousands of troops would become newly embedded in Iraqi units to serve training purposes, the remaining US forces would stop fighting Iraq's civil war.
Meanwhile, the remaining seven to eight brigades of U.S. combat forces would focus on three core missions: striking al-Qaeda, strengthening security along Iraq's borders, and protecting major highways and other routes to ensure U.S. forces freedom of movement in Iraq.
I'm not confident that this is the pathway out of Iraq, but it does sound better than the status quo. Hopefully, by changing course, fewer American soldiers would be exposed to violent injury and death.

If sectarian violence escalates dramatically after the switch to this strategy, it will become even more politically difficult for hawks to argue that the US should increase its involvement. Though the Pentagon might not identify civil war now, their perspective might be better from a more remote perspective.

Likewise, it will be harder to frame American withdrawal from Iraq as "cut and run." After all, the civil war won't be widely viewed as America's fight.

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Monday, December 11, 2006

Cyber-war: did it already start?

According to The Washington Times, the Naval War College has recently suffered an attack:
Chinese computer hackers penetrated the Naval War College network earlier this month, forcing security authorities to shut down all e-mail and official computer network work at the Navy's school for senior officers.

Navy officials said the computer attack was detected Nov. 15 and two days later the U.S. Strategic Command raised the security alert level for the Pentagon's 12,000 computer networks and 5 million computers.
The story is filled with lots of threat mongering, which I won't repeat. Read it yourself, Times stories tend to endure on their site.

Another data point: several of my emails sent over the past month to a colleague in Newport have bounced. I received one bounce notice just today from an email sent last Wednesday! I am not confident now that any of my emails have been received.

This may not be influencing world politics very significantly, but it makes for slow progress on joint individual projects.

This might be a job for the telephone.

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Saturday, December 09, 2006

RIP Jeane Kirkpatrick

Former UN Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick died on December 7. I've linked to The Washington Post obituary, but you won't have to google very long to find others.

At first glance, Kirkpatrick was a political schizophrenic. As a youth, she was a Columbia-educated Marxist who became a fervent anti-communist in Washington. Though it is not a transformation of that magnitude, she also worked for Hubert Humphrey in 1968 and Ronald Reagan in 1981.

By the 1970s, Kirkpatrick was an ardent cold warrior. In 1979, she published her best-known work, a very famous piece about democratization and human rights for Commentary magazine, "Dictatorships & Double Standards." The piece offered a blistering critique of Jimmy Carter's foreign policy -- and an ideological defense of America's cold war alliances with various right-wing autocrats throughout what was then commonly called the "third world."

Though today's neocons supposedly owe Kirkpatrick a huge intellectual debt, and the administration of George W. Bush is often-said to be heavily influenced by her thinking, it seems obvious to me that the neocons and Bush people should go back and read her 1979 article:
Although most governments in the world are, as they always have been, autocracies of one kind or another, no idea holds greater sway in the mind of educated Americans than the belief that it is possible to democratize governments, anytime, anywhere, under any circumstances. This notion is belied by an enormous body of evidence based on the experience of dozens of countries which have attempted with more or less (usually less) success to move from autocratic to democratic government. Many of the wisest political scientists of this and previous centuries agree that democratic institutions are especially difficult to establish and maintain-because they make heavy demands on all portions of a population and because they depend on complex social, cultural, and economic conditions.

...Decades, if not centuries, are normally required for people to acquire the necessary disciplines and habits.
Here's another zinger from that article:
Vietnam presumably taught us that the United States could not serve as the world's policeman; it should also have taught us the dangers of trying to be the world's midwife to democracy when the birth is scheduled to take place under conditions of guerrilla war.
Despite these warnings that resonate in contemporary politics, Kirkpatrick was primarily arguing that some right-wing autocracies had eventually evolved into democracies while there were no examples at that time of a "revolutionary 'socialist' or Communist society being democratized."

This implied (a) that the U.S. could justify its alliances with right-wing autocrats because they were not necessarily permament; and (b) that the U.S. should overtly support these right-wing autocrats because they were vulnerable to pressures applied by Marxist revolutionaries. If the latter came to power, she argued, the new government would be worse than the autocracy it replaced.

In this article, the "Kirkpatrick doctrine" justifying support for right-wing autocrats did not directly begat the "Reagan doctrine," which justified American support for anti-communist insurgencies in places like Nicaragua and Afghanistan. But as the US Permament Representative to the UN for four years, Kirkpatrick certainly supported that policy. And the Commentary piece does criticize the Carter administration for its failure to attempt to undermine any communist states.

Let me note one other prominent Kirkpatrick statement. At the 1984 Republican National Convention in Dallas that re-nominated Ronald Reagan for president, she delivered the famous address that criticized the "San Francisco Democrats" (the party had just had its national convention in that city) that would "Blame America First" for various ills in world affairs.

In her public life, Jeane Kirkpatrick was both a skilled politico and a scholar. Not many have bridged those two worlds.

My personal experience confirms both her political skills and intellectual prowess. Ten years ago, I spent significant parts of two working days and a long evening with Kirkpatrick and a few other colleagues. Given the stark differences between her politics and mine, I was not really expecting to like her very much. However, I found her to be a very skilled advocate for her positions. She was also quite charming. And entertaining.

And maybe just a little bit flirty.

One final note: As my Duck of Minerva colleague Bill Petti has pointed out, the latest move by the neoconservative crowd is to "Blame America Last." It is clear from Kirkpatrick's 1979 critique of Carter's foreign policy that she was quite willing to place blame on America when she thought its leaders were doing a poor job and creating instability and new threats.

Thus, I'd like to think she would reject this latest twist.

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Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Global Politics Through Film, Fall 2006

This post consolidates links to the weekly blog posts I wrote during fall 2006 about POLS 552, Global Politics Through Film. This link should take you to a copy of the course syllabus (pdf version).

Note: the following dates reference the blog postings, not the class periods.

August 14, I announced the "Film class selections." The post includes the Internet Movie Database (IMDB) links to each film, as do the following posts, which were originally written for the Duck of Minerva group IR blog.

August 24, "Film class: week I" about "Casablanca" and sovereign nation-state involvement in the so-called "protection racket." Are states like the mafia and is IR like a series of real or threatened gang wars?

August 31, "Film class -- week 2" on "Twelve O'Clock High." We discussed the critical roles of fear and military power -- and the importance of real or threatened great power war -- in shaping interstate politics.

September 7, "Film class -- week 3." We watched "Saving Private Ryan" and discussed the tragic dimensions of great power politics. Does the structure of the international system force tragic choices on states, or do individuals make tragic choices because of their flaws?

September 15: "Film class -- week 4." We viewed "The Quiet American" and discussed Wilsonian liberal internationalism -- particularly in US foreign policy. We also addressed recent tensions in US and European relations.

September 22: "Film class -- week 5" the class saw "Black Hawk Down" and discussed humanitarian intervention during the 1990s. Can tremendous American military power be used for good?

September 29, "Film class -- week 6." We viewed "Breaker Morant" and discussed whether states (or empires) can promote democracy and other ideals through the application of force, perhaps by using even brutal means.

October 5, "Film class -- week 7" which discussed the viewing of "Red Dawn" and the role of nationalism in global politics. The class, for obvious reasons, considered the Iraqi insurgency.

October 15, "Film class -- week 8" focused on comedian Stephen Colbert's monologue at the 2006 White House Correspondent's Association dinner. It was fall break, so we didn't actually have time to watch a feature. Discussion centered around the role of the court jester -- and I offered a brief description of critical theory and its application to IR.

October 19, "Film class -- week 9." The class viewed Chaplin's "The Great Dictator" and discussed the power of ridicule. Facism, of course, is an easy target, but Chaplin's film does offer a meaningful alternative vision of world politics.

October 27, "Film class -- week 10." We viewed "Wag the Dog" and talked about Clinton's impeachment, the diversionary theory of war, and the Iraq war justifications.

November 3, "Film class -- week 11," about the brilliant dark comedy of the nuclear-age -- "Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb." Is nuclear deterrence a sham? Is it irrational?

November 10, "Film class -- week 12," which discusses the terrific satirical film "Network." This is the first film that places a lot of attention on powerful corporate interests. We also addressed the role of the media in shaping perceptions of threats, including terror risks.

November 17, "Film class -- week 13," was about "Ghandi" and the use of nonviolent political strategies in global politics.

November 26, "Film class -- week 14," which concerns "The Whale Rider." We discussed "warrior citizens" and feminist notions of global politics.

December 1, "Film class -- week 15." We viewed"Hotel Rwanda" and discussed human security and "the responsibility to protect" populations threatened by genocide or crimes against humanity.

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Duck food-for-thought

Over at the Duck of Minerva group IR blog, I've recently written these posts:
  • November 28, I announced the "2007 Grawemeyer winner" Roland Paris of the University of Ottawa for his book about post-war nation-building since the end of the cold war. His strategy: "institutions before market democracy."
  • November 26, "Film class -- week 14," which discusses "The Whale Rider," "warrior citizens" and feminist notions of global politics.
  • November 17, "Film class -- week 13," about "Ghandi" and the use of nonviolent political strategies in global politics.
The film class is over, but I plan to make a permanent sidebar link to all the posts concerning the class.

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Monday, December 04, 2006

Cash is more convenient

According to Laurie David's November 26 op-ed in The Washington Post, she and other producers of Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth" were turned down when they offered to give the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) 50,000 copies of the film for use in the classroom.

Why would the NSTA refuse the offer? Even at discount prices, that is a half million dollar donation.

In the op-ed, David points out that the NTSA's letter refusing the offer said that the group did not want to bring "unnecessary risk upon the capital campaign, especially certain targeted supporters."

Ah, it's all about the fundraising. And what donor, specifically, would be displeased by "An Inconvenient Truth"?

Her candidate is ExxonMobil, which has given $42 million this year to various organizations trying to influence the way science education is taught and $6 million to NTSA in the past decade. These are but small elements of the oil giant's huge PR efforts to influence the climate debate.

David notes in the piece that teachers' groups routinely accept free curricular materials from corporate America -- even some about environmental issues prepared by Exxon Mobil and Weyerhaeuser.

Don't those materials sound...what's the right word?

Ah: convenient!

David is the wife of comedian Larry David, as well as a Natural Resources Defense Council trustee and founder of

Hat tip to my spouse, who brought this anecdote to my attention.

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Friday, December 01, 2006

Anthrax update

The recent murder of former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko reminded me that I have for some weeks meant to post an update about the anthrax attacks of fall 2001. Like the more recent case, the killer(s) apparently used an unusual weapon to send a political message.

After five years, however, we still do not know who obtained and sent the anthrax that was mailed to various journalists and Senators. The Washington Post published a story updating the investigation on September 25, but the Hartford Courant scooped the Post on September 22 with a similar narrative:
Contrary to a widely held theory among anthrax experts, the killer needed no sophisticated equipment or intimate knowledge to produce the anthrax mailed to two U.S. congressmen, Douglas Beecher wrote recently in a trade magazine for microbiologists.

Anthrax experts and many media reports have long theorized that the killer would have needed to mix the deadly substance with an additive to aerosolize it - a feat most likely accomplished by a limited number of people with access to high-level labs such as those operated by the U.S. military.

The FBI official's apparent dismissal of that theory is chilling in that it greatly broadens the potential pool of suspects, experts who have followed the case say. Beecher also wrote that previous theories "may misguide research and preparedness efforts and generally distract from the magnitude of hazards posed by simple spore preparations."
Beecher is named as a microbiologist in the FBI's hazardous materials response unit, so his article is certainly worth noting. The FBI has said very little about the case for four years.

In any case, Beecher's article debunks the "widely circulated misconception...that the spores were produced using additives and sophisticated engineering supposedly akin to military weapon production."

However, the Courant also quoted "prominent anthrax expert, Louisiana State University Professor Martin Hugh Jones" saying that he still believed the anthrax was made in a sophisticated laboratory rather than a basement because of quality control issues and cost ($20,000 for the proper equipment).

The Post story quotes, anonymously, a scientist stating that the 2001 anthrax had no signature that "points to a domestic source." The so-called "Ames" strain long-linked to the attacks is widely available around the world, meaning that that this lineage alone means nothing.

It appears that the case is more of a mystery than ever. While some on the right have used this latest news to suggest that Iraq or al Qaeda could have been behind the attacks, this is pure speculation. The notion that the 9/11 hijackers were exposed to anthrax seems almost surreal -- and the evidence is anecdotal at best. Even then, there's no reason to believe that Mohamed Atta and crew could have made the anthrax.

The person who did make the anthrax cooked up a really pure form, so he or she is a good microbiologist, but the anthrax was not weaponized. Moreover, it could have come from anywhere in the world.

This news might make it harder to identify the killer, but it is probably good news overall in that there is now no evidence that a terrorist has access to militarized and extraordinarily lethal anthrax.

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