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Monday, June 28, 2010

To the 400: I miss you

Last spring, I wrote a post on Duck of Minerva concerning a controversial leak of private emails from an off-the-record listserv called JournoList. Membership was said to include left-of-center journalists, bloggers, academics, policy wonks from think tanks, etc.

I didn't acknowledge my own membership, but I did use "open source" information about the list to defend it against charges that it served as a conspiratorial echo chamber.

Frankly, it's only been a few days since JournoList was shuttered, and I'm already experiencing significant withdrawal. I feel like I've been cut off from an invaluable community of smart, funny, and interesting people. Since sometime in 2007, the list had replaced blogs as my first place to read reactions to breaking news. List members also frequently recommended books, evaluated films, cheered their favorite sports teams, or wrote other posts that one might expect in a conversation among hundreds of bright and talented people.

There were also many lurkers on Journolist who never (or rarely) posted and the latest targeted leaks (aimed at a member who covers the conservative movement and media), might have originated from a lurker who violated members' trust. However, as other members have pointed out in various blog posts, it could have been any disgruntled member, or a hacker, or someone else who gained access to an account without permission.

Though I didn't save copies, my posts tended to be about international affairs, presidential elections, baseball, or Kansas basketball -- my areas of specialization or greatest interest. I mentioned my much-linked post on John McCain, political celebrity, on Journolist and some list members kindly linked to it. In the end, many non-members also linked it too, so forget trying to get me to identify those who wish to remain unidentified.

In any event, I already miss JournoList because I came to rely upon group members' reactions to news like the US soccer loss to Ghana, the death of Senator Robert Byrd, or the Elena Kagan hearings. It's a lot more work to track down all their blog posts and articles, believe me, as I've been doing some of that today.

If the list is reconstructed, I hope I'm fortunate enough to be included again.

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Monday, June 21, 2010

Burma's bomb?

It seems incredible given Myanmar's isolation and poverty, but I've seen several recent reports suggesting that Burma may be pursuing nuclear weapons. On Duck of Minera less than 10 days ago, colleague Vikash Yadav noted an allegation from Democratic Voice of Burma that has apparently sparked an IAEA investigation.

Earlier this year, the Institute for Science and International Security arrived at a similar conclusion (though I suppose it is possible that one report sparked the other). Joshua Kurlantzick reported their worries in the May/June Washington Monthly:
...over the past two years the international community has grown concerned that the junta may indeed have nuclear ambitions (though nuclear experts doubt it has anywhere near the capabilities it needs to actually build a bomb). A comprehensive study released in January by the Institute for Science and International Security, a respected nonprofit that conducts research on science and policy, documents a web of worrying new military links between Burma and North Korea and suspicious construction of potential nuclear facilities in Burma. "No one can ignore the possibility of significant North Korean nuclear assistance to this enigmatic military regime," the report concludes. "Burma is seeking abroad a large quantity of top-notch highly sophisticated goods with potential missile and nuclear uses."
Kurlantzick notes that Burma might not be able to control its nuclear material if the state implodes. In that way, it is not unlike North Korea or Pakistan.

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Saturday, June 19, 2010

Conserving coal

Kentucky is a coal state, so I wasn't really surprised to learn years ago that the main University of Louisville campus hosted a coal-fired steam-generating plant that heated the campus.

This past week, the University announced that it would stop using coal in this plant by 2015 and replace the fuel with natural gas! The local Courier-Journal reported the good news on June 15.

Though this will help the University to reduce its carbon emissions (and appear a bit greener to the outside world), the move largely reflects a decision to save on costs:
Continuing to use coal would require construction of an $8 million bag house, a pollution control device that would collect particulate matter in a 50-foot tall building, said Larry Owsley, U of L's vice president for business affairs.

The cost of the equipment and size of the building are impractical, he said.
In any case, I commend the University for making this move. Larry Owsley, in particular, has made many valuable contributions to campus initiatives.

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Wednesday, June 16, 2010

China and Kissinger Associates

Awhile ago, I meant to blog about a April 19, 2010, piece in Time about China written by Joshua Cooper Ramo of Kissinger Associates. Specifically, I was struck by these sentences:
...many Chinese worry about what they see as the aimlessness of a weakened U.S. The Chinese want to like Obama, but they regard even his most prized initiatives, like the new U.S. posture on the use of nuclear arms, as a sign of weakness. (No Chinese leader would dial back the country's option for unlimited nuclear response in self-defense.) Mao's old line has become a trope in China: It's better to deal with Republicans.
Where to begin?

Let's start with "the new U.S. posture on the use of nuclear arms." As I noted more than two months ago, the United States simply noted that it "will not use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapons states that are party to the NPT and in compliance with their nuclear non-proliferation obligations." It could, however, employ a "devastating conventional military response."

These kinds of "negative security assurances" have been sought by non-nuclear states since the negotiation of the NPT and are employed by other nuclear-armed states. The U.S. exempted non-compliant states like Iran and North Korea and even made explicit counterproliferation threats against them. Thus, the U.S. arguably dialed-up some threats in the new nuclear posture even as it made a limited "no first use" promise.

Next, what about Ramo's sentence in parentheses? "No Chinese leader would dial back the country's option for unlimited nuclear response in self-defense." In point of fact, China's nuclear posture is far "weaker" by Ramo's standard. As Nina Tannenwald points out in her work on the nuclear taboo, China first offered an unconditional "no first use" declaration in 1964. The state has maintained this policy for nearly 50 years -- and frequently renews the pledge.

Contra to Ramo's thesis, China has actually urged the U.S. to sign a sweeping "no first use" pact, which would yield an even "weaker" posture (by Ramo's standard).

I'm not really familiar with Ramo, but his uncle Simon Ramo provided the "R" in TRW. That might make him somewhat sympathetic to the military industrial complex, which worries (presumably) about any weakening of American militarism.

Ramo boss Henry Kissinger is a long-time advocate for China. Reporter Bill Gertz of The Washington Times calls Kissinger the leading former bureaucrat for marshaling China policies that are "undermining America." Then again, Kissinger was a loyal Republican party servant long before he was a China hack. So, I'd read Ramo's conclusion with that caveat in mind.

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Saturday, June 12, 2010

College Tour, 2010

Unbelievably [insert cliche' about rapid passing of time here], my oldest daughter is a "rising senior" and is thus taking her college board tests, receiving piles of mail from various universities, and visiting potential academic homes for fall 2011.

This past week, my spouse and I accompanied our daughter for this itinerary:
Swarthmore (tour by alum; spouse of member of our weddding party)
Princeton: student tour

Vassar: student tour and information session

Yale: student tour and information session

Amherst: student tour and information session
Williams: student tour and information session

Middlebury: student tour and information session

Colby: student tour and information session
Bowdoin: student tour and information session

Harvard: student tour
Tufts: self-administered tour

We still plan to visit Brandeis and Brown before flying home. Previously, she visited Penn, Chicago, Carleton and Macalester.

I grew up in small Kansas towns and wanted to attend a large university with lots of resources. Our daughter grew up in Louisville (save for the 2005 sabbatical in Boston) and seems to prefer the smaller liberal arts colleges in rural New England.

In sum, it looks like Williams, Vassar, and perhaps Carleton or Bowdoin are currently the lead choices.

Feel free to provide any insight about these choices in comments. We are definitely still in the shopping stage.

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Thursday, June 10, 2010

Quick Quacks

Apparently, I've been thinking quite a bit about nuclear threats lately:

Today, at Duck of Minerva I posted "Relieved? Why HEU should still worry." It briefly discusses the remaining threat of highly enriched uranium, a problem that lingers even if the sanctions against Iran prove effective.

June 2, I posted "Belligerence 101: North Korea options," which compares the hawkishness of the Bush and Obama administrations on the question of North Korea.

May 30, you can find "The downsizing of WMD," which concerns the WMD allegations levied against the Michigan militia members who were planning domestic acts of terror.

From May 17, read "Iran's setbacks: Buying time?" It discusses some reasons to worry about Iran's nuclear program given their technical progress to-date.

My "Nuclear transparency" post appeared on May 16. It concerns some recent disclosures the Obama administration made about U.S. nuclear weapons capabilities.

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Friday, June 04, 2010

Early summer film festival

In my continuing quest to update my film class, I've seen a number of recent flicks (on DVD/DVR) with potential utility. At the very least, I'll now have a better handle on student papers that consider these movies.

First, I finally viewed "Watchmen," which was based on a graphic novel with the same title. I own the book, but haven't yet had a chance to read it. In past semesters, students have reviewed the film for class and it clearly has some implications for international relations. The film is set in an alternate reality in 1985. Richard Nixon is still President, with Henry Kissinger at his side. Dr. Manhattan, injured in a scientific experiment, is a one-man military machine. The big blue character is also essentially a missile defense, protecting the U.S. (and perhaps mankind) against the failure of deterrence. Eventually, the plot finds an independent pathway towards U.S.-Soviet cooperation and perhaps nuclear disarmament.

I didn't find "Watchmen" to be as relevant to my class as "V for Vendetta," also based on a graphic novel and set in an alternate reality. Moreover, the film wouldn't replace "Dr. Strangelove" on my syllabus.

Earlier this week, my spouse and I watched "Offside," an Iranian film focusing on a group of young women trying to attend a World Cup soccer match in Tehran. The regime forbids Iranian women from attending, though one character has a terrific exchange with a soldier (or police officer?) about this practice -- asking why foreign women can attend, why Iranian men and women can attend movies together, etc. The comedic film is very well-done, though perhaps more appropriate for a comparative politics class. I could use it to consider gender in IR, but currently use "The Whale Rider."

"Standard Operating Procedure" is an Errol Morris documentary about the Abu Ghraib prison abuses. The filmmaker interviews many of the individual soldiers (mostly guards) you would recognize from the infamous photographs and tells a somewhat sympathetic tale about their experiences in Iraq. While their behavior was wrong and is criticized, the film argues that far worse techniques (even torture resulting in death) were employed by the interrogators inside the prison. OGA employees -- the acronym for "other government agencies" (including CIA)-- are shouldered with most of the blame. The title and ending sequence suggest that the methods employed inside the prison were SOP. I do not currently use any documentaries and am not sure this would be my first choice. It could replace "Breaker Morant," but it would need to be paired with a strong selection of readings.

Perhaps I'll generate a list of recommended films to supplement each week of the syllabus!

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Thursday, June 03, 2010

Korean Peninsula and the Environment

As tensions in Korea remain uncomfortably high, consider this tidbit that Ari Kelman quoted in The Nation, May 10:
[I]ntractable strife has transformed the Korean Demilitarized Zone into an "Eden" entirely given over to wild nature, but only because it's a no man's land. As [Caroline] Fraser notes: "The 38th parallel, a border 155 miles long and 2½ miles wide, guarded by two million North and South Korean soldiers, is believed to be the best-preserved piece of land on earth. It is also the most dangerous. No human being has set foot in it in fifty-five years."
Kelman similarly notes (presumably again from Fraser) that the "land separating East from West Germany, was among 'the most undisturbed natural areas' in Europe."

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