Tuesday, November 25, 2003

THE DECLINE OF HOMO ACADEMICUS?: Over at Crooked Timber they're talking about the career plight of academics. A pretty depressing picture they present, too; and, alas, one which seems to me entirely accurate from what I know. There's no denying that the life of a modern academic is hard -- and is disproportionately hard for women.
But is it that much harder than the lives of most working people today, or throughout time? So far as I can tell, the better part of humanity has to deal with raising children while working full-time, often in jobs considerably less pleasant than academic ones. Things are definitely getting tougher for academics today; but academics have had it pretty easy in the recent past. I'm likely to have a harder and less comfortable life, at least for the next decade or two, than my parents; but it's likely to be more comfortable and secure and rewarding than what my grandparents and great-grandparents had to go through. That women should suffer more from this than men is I think clearly unjust; then again, if one compares the opportunities modern women academics have to the opportunities my grandmothers had (or the opportunities and choices most women throughout the world have) -- well, again, it isn't to deny the reality of present problems, but it does help to bear in mind how fortunate one is in many ways, relatively speaking. That modern academic women have to choose between having children and their careers is hard (and that they should have to do so more than their male counterparts is just unfair); that they are able to make a choice about it is a major improvement, and something they're fortunate to have.
On the other hand, there is one thing I've noticed about the career rigours of academics that seems to me, not unique to academics, but more unusual in other professions, and that makes having a family particularly difficult for academics. This stems from the fact that academics do often wind up marrying other academics, often in their own field -- so that you have two people in the one relationship looking for jobs in an over-crowded market. The likelihood of their both finding jobs is low enough; the likelihood of their both finding jobs in the same area, even lower. So that increasingly academics married to other academics find themselves in long-distance marriages. Sometimes it's not so bad -- the commute between London and Oxford, or New York and New Haven, isn't so onerous, though it's far from convenient, especially if one wants to have kids. But there are many couples who work in different parts of the country, and even a few who work in different countries; and if you're in New York and your husband is in Chicago, or Atlanta, or Santa Cruz -- well, having kids is going to be hard. And that does seem to me a major factor, and one that seems largely unique, and increasingly endemic, to academic life.

Sunday, November 23, 2003

MORE ON LILEKS AND PAX: My post has, apparently, inspired a response to Salam Pax from my friend Archidamus who, while wisely and justly not seeking to defend Lileks' reprehensible post, still argues that Salam Pax's letter was overly flippant in tone and faulty in message. Since I seem to have helped inspire this post, I feel that I ought to respond to it at least briefly.
First, the bit about tone: yes, Salam Pax adopted a flippant, sneering tone. This is often the case with political polemic that seeks to use humour to make its point and win over the reader. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't; sometimes it's appropriate, sometimes not. It's not the sort of tone I generally prefer to adopt myself. But I think it's appropriate here when applied to a President who has, to my eyes at least, manifested a good deal of self-righteousness and self-importance combined with a fundamental lack of seriousness about just how hard reconstructing Iraq (and Afghanistan) would be. I think that, living through the war and occupation, Salam has earnt the right to be a bit bitchy about George Bush.
Which brings us to the merits of his case. Archidamus suggests that Salam was at fault for believing that the war was about liberating the Iraqi people. Well, I don't know if Salam ever did think that; but Bush and Blair certainly did make that claim, and, as Salam recalls, the US did leaflet Iraq with promises of liberation and did seem to expect the Iraqis to welcome us as liberators and cooperate accordingly. True, the US never claimed this was simply a war of liberation; but we did say it was that as well, and that's what it's effectively become. Just because liberation wasn't the sole reason given for the war doesn't mean that it isn't a concern, or that people didn't expect it. And they expected it in part because the Bush administration and certain of their supporters in the media and abroad really did talk about it a lot at the time -- it's not merely an ex post facto rationale.
But, frankly, I don't see what it matters. Let us say that it wasn't a war of liberation at all; can one really expect the Iraqis to be at all grateful then? I mean, if we just went in, subjected their nation to the vicissitudes of war, anarchy, and occupation, all for our own purposes -- well, we should expect them to be a good deal more outraged than Salam is. Just because we think the US has a right to act in its own national interest even to the extent of going in and taking over other nations (if we do), doesn't mean we should expect the people of those nations to be especially grateful or understanding. Of course the Iraqis saw this as liberation, and of course they expected the US to care about that part of it. Because for all the evidence to the contrary, the US does continue to at least profess to care about values such as liberty and democracy and e concerned with more than self-interest. If our rhetoric and our rationales for our actions lead others to expect from us what we credit ourselves with believing and seeking to achieve, well then, it's not their fault. Nor is it a fault of ours; it is only a fault when we either choose not to live up to these ideals, or undertake action in the service of these ideals which cannot succeed.
Then there is Archidamus's own arguments for the war, which seem to me to, in brief, run something like this: the US has the right to do whatever it needs to do to protect its own citizens; Iraq posed a threat to US citizens; the US thus had a right to invade Iraq; having done so, and toppled the Baathist regime, the US can consider itself to have succeeded.
To which I reply: 1) Of course the US has a responsibility to protect its own citizens, and that should take first priority in mos cases. But that isn't our only responsibility; it isn't our only responsibility because of the role we play, and have chosen to play, in the world. As the only superpower, we've gotten involved in certain responsibilities, and we can't shirk them -- and sometimes to protect ourselves we also have to protect others. Either that, or just pull inwards and stay out of other people's way. But going around overthrowing governments and blowing shit up and then leaving without picking up the pieces isn't a recipe for our own security.
2) Did Iraq pose a threat? And did that threat justify military action? I'm rather less sure than Archidamus. So far, we've not found any WMD. So far, we haven't found any solid evidence of Iraq-al Quaeda links. Was Saddam a dangerous, anti-American madman? Yep. Are there a lot of those around? Yep. Do they all pose an immediate danger? Nope. Did Saddam? Maybe; we don't know. Are others just as likely to pose a clear and present danger now or in the future? Yep. Can we go in and overthrow them all without conclusive evidence that they really are about to attack us? As a man in some ways wiser, if not more admirable than, his son once said, 'Wouldn't be prudent.' (We'll return to George Senior in a moment).
So, was the war justified in purely realist terms? I remain unconvinced. And was it succesful, in purely realist terms? Hardly. Archidamus suggests that we succeeded of depriving anti-US terrorists of access to WMD. Now, it seems to me likely that one of three things happened, and so far as I know we have no way of knowing which. Either a) there were no operational WMD in Iraq at all, in which case, that rationale for war really had no merit; b)There were WMD, which were destroyed by the Ba'athists before the US got to them, which would indeed be a great success; or c) There were WMD, which are now in Syria -- which is, I'd say, even likelier to share them with terrorists than Saddam was. In which case, one can hardly call the war productive from that standpoint.
As for Archidamus's talk of regional stability: as I look at Iraq, as I look at Saudi Arabia, as I look at Iran, as I look at Syria, as I look at Israel, and, casting my eyes a bit further afield, as I look at -- ahem! -- Turkey -- I don't see that we've done much to promote stability in the region. I don't say, mind, that the war is responsible for all that's going wrong elsewhere; but it doesn't seem to have helped much.
I've been fortunate in talking with some very knowledgeable and sharp students of IR here, many of them impeccable Realists who are far closer to Archidamus's philosophical outlook than mine; and they all have been suggesting, in recent weeks, that the war, while not wrong in itself, has been conducted really poorly; and that, as part of the war agaisnt terrorism, it hasn't been a success at all.
Archidamus also suggests that having a chaotic and anarchic situation in Iraq is preferable to having a state such as Saddam's that could harbour terrorists. I think this is wrong. I think that anarchy is very good for terrorists; I think that if Iraq does fail to recover and escape from chaos, and if the US pulls out, it'll become a haven for terrorists, as it is already becoming. Archidamus acknowledges this, but also insists that terrorism succeeds best when it has state support. Fair enough. And if he can demonstrate that Al Quaeda had state support from Iraq, he'll have made a valid point. I don't deny that this is possible; I just deny that it is proven. And until then, I don't think one can argue, as he does, that we've succeeded in doing the most important job.
But what difference should all this make for Salam Pax, or the rest of the Iraqi people? As I said before, why should they care about the US's self-interest? Why shouldn't they be indignant that the US has come into their country, subjected them to various hardships, promised the much and thus far delivered some of what it promised, but failed to deliver much else? Why should they view themselves as isntrumental to the US's good? And, if they don't do so, why shouldn't they complain and try to get the US to care more about them? Surely the Iraqis should be just as concerned with ther interests as the US is with its interests; and if the US's pursuit of its interests justify its subjecting the Iraqis to various hardships and horrors, surely the Iraqis' pursuit of their interests justify a bit of mouthing off now and again?
As for Archidamus suggesting that it is unfortunate that the Iraqis had to suffer for their government (we'll leave aside the question of whether, in a totalitarian society, it is fair to talk about the relationship of government to people in such terms) -- that some people just get stuck with bad governments, and that's tough for them, and of course very sad, but not our problem; well, no -- in this case it was our problem, because we helped Saddam gain power, we helped him keep it, we turned a blind eye to his crimes, we supported him when it suited us, and then under George Bush I we (as Dan Drezner said) urged the Iraqi people to rise up by promising them our support -- and then abandoned them to a horrible fate. We do owe the Iraqi people, because not only were their sufferings under Saddam not their own fault; they were partially our fault. This isn't to join in the chorus of saying that America is responsible for all the ills of the world, or to absolve Saddam and his thugs of responsibility for their own actions. But we have to acknowledge that, in the past, the US has, in the pursuit of what previous administrations (many of them containing people named Rumsfeld, Cheney, and Bush) have regarded as our national interest, we've gotten involved in the affairs of others in ways that have led to horrible suffering on their part. To do this, and then to turn around and play at being liberators and demand support and admiration from the rest of the world -- or even to expect them not to hate us and take up arms against us -- is both hypocritical and foolish.
Myself, I can see two honourable courses for us. Either we just stay out of other peoples' business and focus on policing our own borders and protecting our citizens and their investments abroad as far as we can while respecting the sanctity of national sovereignty; or we get involved in world affairs in order to serve our own interests, but also behave in a way that shows respect for those of others -- and that, most importantly, doesn't subject ohter peoples to servitude, terror and genocide for our convenience, let alone our power. So long as we go beyond either of these courses -- so long as we promise blessings which we fail to deliver, so long as we speak self-righteously and act selfishly and un-righteously, so long as we appeal to principle and then violate every decent human sentiment in pursuit of our goals, we'll deserve all the snideness Salam Pax can muster.
Archidamus says that he doesn't want Salam Pax's gratitude or respect. Well, good for him -- though why Salam's ingratitude and disrespect should then provoke a longish post from Archidamus is a bit puzzling to me. Anyway, Archidamus is not only entitled to his outlook; his outlook, despite what I regard as the weaknesses of his arguments for why the second Gulf War was justified and successful, is perfectly coherent, cogent, and has much merit. But I think he underestimates the ways in which the US's failure to adhere to such an outlook in speech and, to some extent, in action, does mean that when the US fails to live up to its claims and promises, other people will be indignant -- and rightly so (because there are few things more infuriating, to most people, than hypocrisy on the part of the powerful, especially when that hypocrisy is expressed with the confidence and righteousness of George W. Bush). It does seem to me that Archidamus ultimately holds to a view of international relations as a war of all against all. Fair enough; but if that's the case, one can't object to, or feel resentment or even righteous annoyance at, others who war againts one, with whatever weapons they have, on behalf of their own interests.
So, I can't agree with Archidamus in adopting this view, though I respect him greatly as an individual and recognize his view as having much merit to it. But, even from within that view, I don't see how one can consistently and fairly object to what Salam Pax has said.

THIS EARTH, THIS REALM ... This England. David Aaronovitch celebrates this blessed plot and its people; and a very attractive picture he presents too, excepting the penchant for hitting children and the tendency to vomit on sidewalks (I can, thankfully, only attest to the latter). Um, yeah. Also, his piece might have benefited from a greater amount of self-reflexivity; I sometimes wonder if the English don't cultivate a pose of self-deprecation and low self-esteem in part so that they can generate pieces such as Aaronivitch's saying, 'No, actually we're really a great people, you know; and, though we once ruled most of the world in an appallingly paternalistic way, we're really admirably and loveably down-trodden underdogs by nature!'
Still, the piece did warm the cockles of this (critical) Anglophile. And the fact that today Englishness can be lovingly depicted and expounded by someone called Aaronovitch says an awful lot about what's good in this country.

OK, THAT DOES IT!: Now I'm definitely not going to support Wesley Clark. Not because of anything he's said or done, mind, but because of this damning statement about his character from a former teacher at West Point:
"He's always been interested in exploring the limits, what are the limits to expanding one's horizons. He thinks like an epistemologist."
I've been reading and writing about epistemology for the past several days. I sure as hell don't want anyone who thinks that way elected president. Thank god the NY Times has exposed this facet of Gen. Clark's personality! There's also this incisive comment:
"He always looks you dead in the eye. He never blinks. I don't think he has tear ducts."
Uh-huh. I see. So he thinks like an epistemologist, and lacks tear-ducts.
Yep. There's only one explanation for this.
(No, really, think about it. Haven't you ever looked at him and thought to yourself, 'Hmm, he does look a tiny bit reminiscent of that guy from 'My Favourite Martian', doesn't he? With maybe a bit of ET thrown in?' I mean, come on, it can't just be me -- right? Right, guys?)
There's also this mind-teaser:
'Could someone who voted for Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, the first George Bush, Bill Clinton and Al Gore be anything but complicated?'
Well, um, not necessarily. Sounds like a moderate conservative to me. Also sounds, with the exception of the Ford vote (we all make mistakes) like someone who voted with the majority of the American people in each election. Which is itself interesting, and probably untrue of any of the other candidates.
And then there's this good question:
'Could someone who as supreme allied commander of NATO presided over its 1999 victory in Kosovo and then summarily lost his job be anything but complicated?'
Well, yes; he could've been the victim of superiors whom he really pissed-off, either by being really difficult to work with and arrogant, or by pushing for a succesful humanitarian war that didn't appeal to certain military bureaucrats who would rather permit genocide than risk a single US military life. Take your pick.
But then there's this:
'A defender of civil rights, he is suspicious of the post-9/11 antiterrorism law and wants to see bookmobiles chug around the country with copies of it so people will understand its dark implications. And yet he favors a constitutional amendment to outlaw defiling the American flag. Complicated.'
Gee, you get the impression the author likes the word complicated? Still, this is a very good point. What is UP with Clark's support for the anti-flag-burning amendment? (Maybe a subtle epistemological point I've failed to grasp ...)
Clark also apparently had a really big toy soldier collection when he was a kid, and allows for the possibility that chalk might fly upwards, and is into golf, read Darkness at Noon in 45 minutes (well, at least he's read it.) And then there's this self-evaluation:
"I always had good spatial orientation," he said. "I always saw big patterns in life and how things would move."
Good spatial orientation. Uh-huh.
AN ALIEN, I tell you.

JOY AND DISAPPOINTMENT: It's been quite a day for sports; and even a non-sports-fan such as myself hasn't remained unaffected.
First the good news (from my perspective; needless to say, all of what follows is a statement of my reactions): England won the World Cup in Rugby against Australia. This makes me very glad, since, while I quite like the Aussies as a nation, as a temporary inhabitant of England I tend to identify with it. Furthermore, England was, in my eyes, the underdog going in against the previous year's World Cup winner.
And it was, from the play-by-play accounts I've been avidly reading (I alas didn't see the match, a failure for which I've been kicking myself all day), a glorious game, won by a kick by England's Johnny Wilkinson at literally the last moment when the two sides were tied -- the stuff of legends. One journalist, I think in the Guardian, hailed it as the greatest moment in English sports in 15 years or so -- and some have gone even further; I think I saw greatest moment since 1966 somewhere. I don't know about that; but it's pretty remarkable.
And, while I haven't seen mention of this anywhere -- which is I think right -- it's also nice that England has had a moment of glory after the grief of the attacks on British targets in Instanbul.
Also on the up-side, though something of a sidelight: Michigan beat Ohio State 35-21 in my birthplace, Ann Arbor -- despite, apparently, some nasty playing by some of the buckeyes against the heroic running-back Chris Perry.
But not all was gladness. Yale lost The Game to Harvard in a, frankly, humiliating 37-19 defeat (there was also a bomb-scare, caused apparently by a Harvard banner.) I saw the first half; I have to say (well, I don't, but the Cantabs I was watching it with apparently sure did), Yale played pretty badly, while Harvard played pretty well (for Harvard). Watching them run through Yale's attempts to block in the earliest stages of the game as if they were wading over foam-rubber, I knew things were not going tobe fun to watch. Indeed, I wound up not watching the second half, instead talking to my friends at the game over the phone -- ah, the wonders of modern technology! Sounded like they were havintg fun at least, like the good intrepid Yalies they are.
Ah well. At least one can take comfort in the thought that one reasons the Harvard team played so much better was that they put more time in practicing because of how miserable they all are up at That Place. I mean, how often do you read an article about Harvard and Yale where you have quotes like 'I hate Harvard!' and 'Harvard sucks!' -- from HARVARD STUDENTS. And appearing in the HARVARD paper. Gee, if they hadn't won, and if they hadn't slagged-off New Haven (ok, so it's not beautiful Cambridge, Mass: but vomit-inducing? Them's fighting words), I'd feel badly for the poor kids.
Ah well.
And thus concludes the SoaF sports-post of the year.

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