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Two sites I came across recently.

The first is Internationally Wrongful Memes (via OpinioJuris), basically international law humor. It reminds me of the clippings on professors’ offices, oftentimes New Yorker cartoons. When links to International Court of Justice cases are involved, it is fairly dry humor.

Game of Thrones is about to come back and we’re on it thanks to this marvellous guest post! "The capacity of a government to represent the State in its international relations does not depend in any degree upon the legitimacy of its origin, so that the USURPER who in fact holds power with the consent express or tacit of the nation acts validly in the name of the State." Dreyfus case, 1901. (Thanks LC!)

 

“The capacity of a government to represent the State in its international relations does not depend in any degree upon the legitimacy of its origin, so that the USURPER who in fact holds power with the consent express or tacit of the nation acts validly in the name of the State.”

Dreyfus case, 1901. (Thanks LC!)

 

The second, Tl;dr WIkipedia is the sometimes off color one (via, P.a.p. Blog).

 

Loser?  (Double torqued ellipse from Richard Serra's the Matter of Time)

Loser?
(Double torqued ellipse from Richard Serra’s the Matter of Time)

The key reason to engage with art of any form is to determine who is best.

Are Rimbaud and Baudelaire better than Byron and Longfellow? Clearly not. Rimbaud and Baudelaire had the great disadvantage of writing in French. Clearly not God’s language. The language of poetry is English.

And are Byron and Longfellow better than Shakespeare. Clearly not. Shakespeare is the ur-text of English poetry and everything that comes before or after him can only hope to be second best.

The primary reason for reading Rimbaud, Baudelaire, Byron, Longfellow, and Shakespeare? Not to engage with the ideas they present. Not to marvel at the voices, wordplay, or what Stephen Fry refers to as the sound-sex of it. No, the primary reason for reading these authors, the highest calling of artistic criticism, remains list creation. Listicles of art works, art forms, and individual artists.

Observe: Michelangelo’s Pietà is better than Richard Serra’s the Matter of Time, architecture is better than sculpture, and, as we saw earlier, English being better than French helps us come to conclude Shakespeare is better than Rimbaud.

Who is number one? That’s the question that should preoccupy us when engaging with a work of art. “Il pleure dans mon coeur” Sorry Verlaine. Not number one. “I wandered lonely as a cloud” Sorry Wordworth. Not number one. Imagine a giant tournament bracket pitting each artist against every other artist. How else to determine a poet laureate but a knock down, drag out fight?

The individual contests most probably resemble epic rap battle of history episodes. The task of the art critic: keeping score. A fantastically large ledger of who surpasses whom.

And thus this artistic analysis of poetry can be carried over to music. Thus through a series of deductions which need not detain us here, classical music is found to be the best form of music. The Great American Songbook, unimportant. Jazz, similarly unimportant. And poplar music? Well, turning to the Shakespeare I call popular music,

A knave; a rascal; an eater of broken meats; a
base, proud, shallow, beggarly, three-suited,
hundred-pound, filthy, worsted-stocking knave; a
lily-livered, action-taking knave, a whoreson,
glass-gazing, super-serviceable finical rogue;
one-trunk-inheriting slave; one that wouldst be a
bawd, in way of good service, and art nothing but
the composition of a knave, beggar, coward, pandar,
and the son and heir of a mongrel bitch: one whom I
will beat into clamorous whining, if thou deniest
the least syllable of thy addition.

Popular music holds the title of lowest of the low. On the whole failing to innovate, failing to criticize, failing to engage with the society in which it exists. Armed with the authoritative tournament bracket, the music critic can discard among others, the efforts of John Lennon, Bob Dylan, and Jim Morrison. Popular music holds onto the label art only by the tips of its fingernails.

And thus we have the primary task of artistic criticism. Creating enumerated lists of who is best, second best, third best, and so on. Old Masters in. Abstract expressionists out – after all my three-year old could do that. An ordered taxonomy of the arts from which to instruct the ignorant. To answer definitively, whose art precisely is the best art? And further, far from art criticism as a tool to explore the variegated world of human expression, far from art criticism as jumping off point to craft one’s own journey through the multifarious multifaceted genius of humankind, it is better to think of art criticism as a weapon. As a cudgel. Art criticism as a blunt instrument to insult, to chastise, and to lay low all those unexposed to the dogma, the perpetual Truth about art.

[The foregoing prompted, in part, by a discussion over at Ordinary Times. In case it is somehow unclear, I think it's perfectly ok to do listicle making for fun. But if you wander into Charles Murray territory (e.g. Human Accomplishment: The Pursuit of Excellence in the Arts and Sciences, 800 B.C. to 1950), then this contest of superlatives is tailor made for you.]

"Russian President Vladimir Putin (back) addresses the Federal Assembly, including State Duma deputies, members of the Federation Council, regional governors and civil society representatives, at the Kremlin in Moscow" (Reuters/Alexei Druzhinin/RIA Novosti/Kremlin)

“Russian President Vladimir Putin (back) addresses the Federal Assembly, including State Duma deputies, members of the Federation Council, regional governors and civil society representatives, at the Kremlin in Moscow”
(Reuters/Alexei Druzhinin/RIA Novosti/Kremlin)

“You just don’t in the 21st century behave in 19th century fashion by invading another country on completely trumped up pretext,” declared John Kerry on March 2 as Russia began its conquest of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula. Though he didn’t intend it, the U.S. Secretary of State was summing up the difference between the current leaders of the West who inhabit a fantasy world of international rules and the hard men of the Kremlin who understand the language of power. The 19th-century men are winning.

In a forceful challenge to the liberal internationalist strategic vision, the Wall Street Journal editorial board claims indeed the strongmen are winning. Welcome to the 19th Century presents a challenge to liberal internationalism that must occur to anyone following recent events in Crimea. In the face of a state wielding power at the end of a gun, what shield is international law or international institutions like the OSCE and UN? What good is the liberal internationalist vision of US foreign policy if it can’t get Russia out of Crimea posthaste?

In the past weeks, the diplomatic watchword on the US and EU’s part has been de-escalation. Convene the parties to the Budapest Memorandum, form a Ukraine-Russia and others contact group, dispatch OSCE or UN envoys to Crimea, have the Secretary-General of the UN use his good offices – the diplomatic routes out of this course towards conflict abounded. Should we blame liberal internationalism for Russia’s failure to take one of these face-saving offramps to further conflict?

No. It is true that Russia has chosen to create difficult to dislodge facts on the ground in Crimea, and done so in place of offers of mediation and diplomacy. But the structures of the international system have helped to clarify the decision Russia has made; the fact that the stated Russian objectives, protect Russian-speakers in Ukraine, could have been addressed using legitimate routes is clear to international system participants. This point is most evident in Russia’s demonstrated isolation on the United Nations Security Council; Russia alone voted against the March 15 UN Security Council draft resolution.

And further, the liberal internationalist institutions have put into sharp relief the conflict between Russia’s recent actions and Russia’s prior commitments. The liberal international order has demonstrated its utility in sharply highlighting how Russia has strayed from the legitimate pathways in pursuing its stated objectives, the well-being of the Russian-speaking population in Crimea. Thus far, no one else has bought the case Russia has been peddling of resurgent, threatening Ukrainian neo-Nazis, Russian-speaker refugee flows out of Ukraine, and the imminent danger to Russian-speakers remaining in Ukraine.

What would winning would look like for Russia? One of Russia’s long-term aims is a successful Eurasian Union with Russia as the central node. A force multiplying international institution serving to give Russia even greater heft on the world stage – paralleling the way that Germany, France, and the UK derive benefit from the European Union. After this intervention in Crimea, what are the prospects for a successful Eurasian Union, for broad, deep, cooperative, integration of prospective members akin to that of the European Union? Post-Crimea, what are the prospects of states clamoring to get into the Russian-led Eurasian Union the way that some states have ardently desired (sometimes for decades) to enter the European Union? I’d say slim and dim.

Current possession of Crimea is a tactical victory for the moment, Black Sea Fleet secure, warm water port access guaranteed, definite benefits to Russia. But notably, these are assets Russia possessed before the intervention. And in terms of strategic victory, securing the Eurasian Union’s future? These military maneuvers have eroded its prospects as an actor on the world stage. What good is a union of states that have been bullied into joining? No more long-term good than the USSR, I’d argue. And supposing one day Russia hoped to have the Baltic states, or Poland tempted away from Western Europe and towards its orbit. What prospect for wielding soft power having exercised hard power in this manner?

The fact that the wheels of liberal internationalism sometimes turn slowly indicates only that diplomacy is hard. Foreign policy coordination, by consensus, among the 28 European Union members is fraught with difficulty in a way that foreign policy coordination in the US never is. There are countries geographically nearer to or further away from Russia; there are countries with deeper economic relationships with Russia and countries fairly independent from Russia as an energy supplier. But given the challenges the European Union has faced over time, the institution will at least muddle through, towards sanctioning Russia for recent behavior.

We already have evidence of the EU’s reaching towards a viable consensus. On March 10 in his oral report to the House of Commons on the European heads of government meeting over Crimea, David Cameron outlined a three phase approach to Russia (Hansard),

first, some immediate steps to respond to what Russia has done; secondly, urgent work on a set of measures that will follow if Russia refuses to enter dialogue with the Ukrainian Government; and thirdly, a set of further, far-reaching consequences should Russia take further steps to destabilise the situation in Ukraine.

Various initial phase punishments are already underway. The prospect of the G-8 turning into the G-7, freezing prospective Russian membership in the OECD, and also stopping negotiations on freeing trade and reducing visa restrictions.

And what of Russia’s ambitions to become less economically dependent on extractive industries? The Russian Silicon Valley, the Russian innovation society, the Russian 21st century enterprise zones? At a White House press briefing Jay Carney posed a version of this question worth considering, what multi-national corporation CEO can look to Russia as a site for investment? These types of decisions are not made with the fanfare of speeches in the Kremlin’s Saint George Hall, or the frisson of flag waving in Red Square. Quietly, deliberately, and with little attention, much like some diplomatic avenues, Russia will be ruled out.

These legitimacy and economic angles underinform from the WSJ editorial’s analysis of liberal internationalism in the face of Russia’s behavior towards Crimea. They are certainly missing from the WSJ’s stark claim “what defines international order is the cold logic of political will and military power”.

Lastly, US liberal internationalists must look beyond the crises of the present day. It is important to remember international law scholar Louis Henkin’s observation, “Almost all nations observe almost all principles of international law and almost all of their obligations almost all the time”. Now those “almost” qualifiers are a very big deal; some of the most horrifying behavior by states (e.g. North Korea) and intractable conflicts in the international system lay within those almosts. Moreover, for Russia, for Ukraine, for the near-term prospects for security in Europe those almosts seem insurmountable obstacles to a stable international system. But for the long-term prospects of peace and the US place in the world, a rule-governed international order remain essential.

Watching this Kids React video reminds me of Beloit’s Mindset List. The title is an overclaim on the list’s part, but it does get at something. Here’s the Class of 2017 Mindset List.

Somehow, it seems appropriate that Getting On is also the title of the US and UK dramedy.

Kids React to Rotary Phones

Annenberg Hall (Steve Rosenthal)

Annenberg Hall (Steve Rosenthal)


Please Stop Giving Giant Donations to Rich Universities Matthew Yglesias urges. Following up with Seriously, Don’t Give Money to Fancy Colleges. Richard K. Vedder puts a version of the case in similarly blunt terms, Cut Off Harvard to Save America.

Yglesias’ disapproving reply to Kenneth Griffin’s $150 million donation to Harvard, “Harvard is already really rich.” Furthermore, “highly selective universities are terrible targets of charitable donations.” Essentially because, “…highly selective institutions remain what they always have been—mechanisms for the perpetuation of inequality and hierarchy.” Yglesias writes, “…the basic social role of the elite, highly selective institution hasn’t changed—they are both elite and selective, not democratic or egalitarian.”

Vedder makes a similar case, pointing out that “The eight Ivy League schools have less than 1 percent of U.S. college students but almost 17 percent of all endowment money.” These universities aren’t serving as engines to promote social mobility, “In the highly endowed schools, a median of 16 percent of students received Pells, compared with 59 percent at the lowest-endowed institutions.” Vedder asks, “Why do we provide favorable tax treatment that primarily benefits these wealthy schools?”

What are Yglesias and Vedder missing?

Well first, an alum can see oneself in a long line of beneficiaries of past giving. Those past givers helped make your education possible. Therefore, it is reasonable to voluntarily take on a responsibility to give to future generations of alums. This isn’t some abstract story for me. A Class of X grant paid tens of thousands of dollars towards my college tuition. That was serious money, mostly from people I have never met and will never meet. Supposing I had spectacular Kenneth Griffin wealth, I can see giving money to my already well off alma mater and it not being “ridiculous”, “misguided”, or a “terrible idea” as Yglesias claims.

Also, money for Harvard pushes the would-be Harvards to try to do and be better. For instance, Harvard College’s grants not loans program had a significant impact beyond Harvard. Within five years time peer institutions were instituting the same policy. Need blind admissions, simultaneously admitting students irrespective of aid needs and meeting full aid needs, are another policy that has reached beyond the Ivy League to more than 40 colleges (US News). In order to remain competitive, similar caliber schools have to adjust. In the financial aid sphere, this has redounded to the benefit of students.

Socioeconomic Distribution at Colleges by Selectivity

Yglesias points out that fancy colleges mainly serve an elite population; citing a chart from Brookings “a student at one of America’s most-selective universities is fourteen times more likely to be from a high-income family than from a low-income family”. The problem that Yglesias and Vedder cite is well worth paying attention to: insufficient socio-economic diversity at selective institutions is rightly troubling. But also consider that this phenomenon is at the tail end of a process with approximately 18 years of inputs by other social forces and institutions. Furthermore, since Griffin’s gift targets financial aid, it is directed at precisely those underrepresented students (a point Yglesias acknowledges with the backhanded compliment, “At any rate, in the scheme of misguided donations to Harvard this one seems not-so-awful. It’s mostly for financial aid, which is nice.”).

Also keep in mind that the things these fancy colleges are setting out to do are different from what community colleges set out to do. And that is a good thing. Diversity in the higher education sector allows for meeting a multiplicity of needs from remediation and career-change training to cutting edge research. A community college usually doesn’t have the global ambitions of the Harvards of the world. A campus on every continent is the kind of ambition Ivy presidents opine about. The aim of being a global university, occasionally becoming a “multiversity”, dots the speeches of high-powered university presidents. Or the aim to be at the forefront of pathbreaking research on not only Topic X, but also on related Topics Y and Z. For instance, the $200 million gift to the mind, brain, and behavior initiative at Columbia. If you want to be at the cutting edge of understanding, and hopefully curing, neurological disorders that is going to take big bucks.

And why not, as Vedder suggests, cut off Harvard? Why the capital gains tax break to the institution as well as the tax break for the individual donor?

For all its faults, higher education is something the US does extremely well. Taking onboard the various caveats about ranking methodologies, world rankings of US higher education institutions have the US performing quite well – with the Harvards of the US leading the way. Wealthy, fancy, name-brand private universities dominate the top slots of The Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2013-2014, the Shanghai Academic Ranking of World Universities, and the QS World University Rankings. Part of the reason these universities can lead is the significant public and private support they receive.

Exhibit B is the the university-government-corporate partnerships of places like Research Triangle Park and Silicon Valley. Others are currently trying to emulate these innovation, venture capital, catalytic research-enterprise zones; Dmitry Medvedev’s Skolkovo Innovation Center is one notable example. Cutting off the Harvards of the world is removing one of the legs from this three-legged stool.

Overall, there are multiple important values worthy of support in higher education and beyond. Both support for already world-beating institutions as well as support for institutions that manifestly serve a broader segment of society are worthwhile. Support for elite institutions should not be withdrawn in favor of the non-elite institutions, both deserve public and private donor support. Rather than make a case against giving somewhere, make a case for giving to somewhere as well. A point that extends well beyond higher education giving. Want to give money to the Met Opera? Wundebar! The Poetry Foundation gets $200 million bequeath? Great! This should be a both/and conversation, not an either/or conversation. A culture of major giving by the mega-wealthy is worth celebrating. Whatever the institution they give to, including Harvard.

(Full disclosure, I went to a university with a significant endowment, I have also worked at a university with a significant endowment. Neither was Harvard.)

The Problem We All Live With, Norman Rockwell (1964)

The Problem We All Live With, Norman Rockwell (1964)

There is something startling, breathtaking even, about Massive Resistance, the set of segregationist policies attempted in light of Brown v. Board. In place of accepting equality and inclusion of a previously stigmatized out-group, Massive Resistance represents backlash. In part, it asserts that the state’s functions would better be dismantled than permit entry of the out-group.

The policy that stands out foremost in my mind is the shutting down of public education in some communities specifically for the purpose of avoiding integration – rather no public schools at all than allow desegregation. Let injustice be done though the heavens fall, a twisted perversion of the maxim.

Unfortunately, and much to the discredit of the state legislators involved, the legal sweep towards same sex marriage is facing a modern day version of Massive Resistance. United States v. Windsor’s reshaping of the legal landscape with regard to gay rights is the parallel for Brown v. Board in this instance. And paralleling the part played by segregationists like Harry F. Byrd Sr., we have Oklahoma state representative Mike Turner (via News9):

State lawmakers are considering throwing out marriage in Oklahoma.

The idea stems from a bill filed by Rep. Mike Turner (R-Edmond). Turner says it’s an attempt to keep same-sex marriage illegal in Oklahoma while satisfying the U.S. Constitution. Critics are calling it a political stunt while supporters say it’s what Oklahomans want.

[...]

“Would it be realistic for the State of Oklahoma to say, ‘We’re not going to do marriage period,’” asked News 9′s Michael Konopasek.

“That would definitely be a realistic opportunity, and it’s something that would be part of the discussion,” Turner answered.

In sum, Turner’s position amounts to: better to stop opposite-sex marriage than permit same-sex marriage. Aside from the fundamental obscenity of denying people fundamental rights, is this a stance that one can be proud of? In ten years time? A hundred years time?

Posterity takes names, makes judgements, and shouts through the decades, “For shame!”

C. Montgomery Burns’ note on the sensitivity of the well-off came to mind when reading Tom Perkins’ brief letter to the Wall Street Journal, entitled Progressive Kristallnacht Coming?. Perkins “perceive[s] a rising tide of hatred of the successful one percent”. Essentially he sees parallels between the current state of the US discussion on inequality to the anti-semitism of Nazi Germany.

It is hard to capture succinctly the many ways the view Perkins presents is profoundly wrongheaded. He references the Occupy movement as part of this “tide of hatred”. Now, I was not deeply engaged in Occupy. I visited Zuccotti Park and I attended an Occupy sponsored teach-in at Union Square Park, on both occasions with a friend more sympathetic to Occupy than me. The beginnings of pogroms these were not. Where was the violence? Where was the threat of violence (other than that of the state against the protesters)? Where even, were the calls to forcefully seize the means of production in favor of the revolutionary proletariat?

In Zuccotti Park there was a lending library. There was recycling, with handy signs making the significant distinction between compost and non-compost items. At no time during my visit did I feel physically endangered by the then-denizens of the park. Essentially, a really sophisticated sit-in was underway. A peaceful protest that, by way of its location, called attention to many of capitalism in America’s central disjunctures: the unfulfilled promise of work hard and play by the rules yielding social mobility, the relative inattention to the well-being of the common man and underclass versus the well-being of the elite, and perhaps foremost, the mobilization of hundreds of billions in government resources in short order to shore up threatened financial institutions while the unemployed and downtrodden receive(d) scant attention.

With respect to the teach-in, two professors from liberal arts colleges in New York State discussed unions. We sat in a circle on the south side of Union Square Park; our circle gained or lost members or onlookers as the course of the discussion went along. Starting at maybe five to eight people, and maybe at its highest point reaching 30 . Yes, it was a progressive vision of the history of the union movement in America.

My previous questions obtain for the teach-in as well: Where was the violence, or threat thereof? Where was the call to arms, assault, battery, theft, rioting, arson? From the tenor of the discussion we could have been talking about Romantic poets or the architectural history of New York. Nary a voice raised in anger. If you’ve had a college seminar meet outside on a spring day, then you had the essence of this teach-in’s atmosphere.

Now, I don’t present my experiences with Occupy as definitive. But if Perkins has evidence of “a tide of hatred” in part represented by Occupy he needs to provide it.

As for the meaning of Nazi Germany’s targeting of Jews, it is a topic that won’t adequately be served by the attention I can give it here. The drawing upon centuries of exclusion and Othering. The erection of boundaries between a supposedly pure German identity as set against a supposedly Other, suspect, Jewish identity. Being in the society, but not of the society. The dehumanization and of course the violence.

The orgy of violence.

Preceded by violence and followed by violence. To invoke Kristallnacht is to invoke a web of terror, totalitarianism, and authoritarianism rarely equaled in human history.

I don’t know what kind of bubble being a billionaire provides for someone – the kind of insulation from the day-to-day insecurities of the average citizen. And what’s more, to have all kinds of society’s institutions falling over themselves to stroke your ego. But Tom Perkins, you urgently need to use some of that $8 billion to buy yourself a clue. Some clue as to what it means to live in a democratic society where people may peacefully protest and put their public institutions under scrutiny for compliance with key principles of social justice and human rights.

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