Friday, September 26, 2008

Is it just me...

Or has the news over the past two weeks looked something like this?

Biggest bank failure in history

Biggest nationalization in history follows failure of world's largest insurer

Biggest non-defense budget authorization in history sought

Bailout talks explode in chaos and recriminations

North Korea reactivates atomic program

Russia lends Venezuala $1 billion to buy Russian armaments

Somali pirates seize ship carrying dozens of tanks

Presidential candidate 'suspends' campaign; hours before first scheduled
presidential debate, unclear whether it will actually take place

Largest one-day increase in the price of oil in history

Former Vice-President of the United States advocates civil disobedience in fight against global warming

Russia begins nuclear rearmament

Armed conflict breaks out between U.S. and Pakistan along the Afghan-Pakistani border


For some time now I've been joking that the world ended several years ago and we've all been living in post-apocalyptic times; it makes each little outbreak of philistinism or cultural depravity easier to face. (Sure, there's a 90210 sequel show on the air, but, hey, zombies didn't eat my brain today, so really, that's better than could reasonably have been expected.) But things are actually looking... quite poorly right now. I can't think of anytime quite like it; certainly, I never remember a presidential race so finely suspended between crisis and farce, catastrophe and clown show.

I've never really understood the "is the country on the right track/ wrong track" polling questions; they just seem to be ways of asking people "is your party in power or not?" But "wrong track" seems to be a pretty serious understatement just about now...

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Canada continued

Will Wilkinson:
Wanna dodge the draft, get gay-married or smoke a joint without fear of life in the clink. Where do you go? Canada!

The frosty land of curling and Celine Dion has long been a destination for Americans fleeing the puritanical, war-mongering excesses of the States. And now, according to a new study, our hockey-loving, socialized-health-care-having neighbors to the north have surpassed the U.S. in its degree of economic freedom. Not only can Canadians more accurately pronounce laissez faire, they have more of it. And that was before the U.S. government nationalized half our mortgage industry and bought the world's largest insurance company.

In last year's Economic Freedom of the World Index, published by an international consortium of think tanks (including my employer), Canada and the U.S., the so-called "land of the free," were running neck and neck. But in this year's study -- which tracks things like the size of government, burden of economic regulation and free trade -- Canada squeaked out a tiny advantage: it ranked seventh compared to eighth place for the U.S. Strictly speaking, it's a statistical tie. But if the U.S. doesn't have the freest economy in North America, much less the world, what do freedom-loving Americans have to keep us from running for the border?

Economic freedom isn't everything, right? The U.S. does more to protect free speech and the right to bear arms in self-defense. And Canadian medical socialism surely benefits from the fact that most Canadians are only a short drive from the slightly more market-based American system. But if the United States of warrantless wiretaps, secret courts, militarized drug busts and mass minority imprisonment is not clearly more economically free than Canada, then it probably has no claim to being a freer country overall.

And now the U.S. government is about to commit hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars to bail out financiers who made a series of terrible decisions, in effect socializing just the downside of financial risk. America's revolutionary founders pledged their lives fortunes, and sacred honor for this?

Vancouver's not that cold, you know.

Clearly Will's never heard a joual-speaker pronounce the vowel in "faire." But other than that, correct all around!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

On the value of studying Indian law

A good article in the Chronicle about rising interest in law schools, and rising interest among those hiring lawyers, in the serious study of U.S. Indian law.
CFP: Rousseau's Legacies

Sixteenth Biennial Colloquium of the Rousseau Association Seizième Colloque Bisannuel de l’Association Rousseau

Rousseau's Legacies/ Fortunes de Rousseau

Los Angeles, California
25-28 June, 2009

Call for Papers

In association with the University of California, Los Angeles
(Program Director: Byron Wells)

Rousseau's legacies are multiple and contested. In philosophy, he was
described as the Newton of the moral sciences by Kant, and yet
alongside those who champion an ethic of rights and duties, are
others, equally influenced by Rousseau who take forward his concerns
with virtue, community or moral psychology. In social anthropology,
Rousseau was hailed as precursor, by none other than Levi-Strauss.
Rousseau's concern with the natural world and the environment has
echoes both in the romantic movement and in the environmental politics
of our own day. Rousseau's autobiographical writings prefigure a
concern with subjectivity that finds later expression in Freud and the
psychoanalytic movement. His writing on education has been
rediscovered, championed or excoriated by successive generations of
advocates or opponents of "child centred education". His political
legacy has been bitterly contested between advocates of deliberative
democracy, liberals, nationalists of various stripes, and those who
see him as the harbinger of totalitarianism. We invite papers
reflecting critically on any aspect of Rousseau's various legacies in
philosophy, literature, political theory, theatre, music, biography

Proposals on the above topic (title and short summary), in English or
French, for papers of 20 minutes duration should be sent to the
President of the Rousseau Association, Christopher Bertram, by
electronic mail at or by ordinary mail at the
following address :
Department of Philosophy
University of Bristol
9 Woodland Road
United Kingdom

If using ordinary mail, please also give if possible an electronic
address for acknowledgement.

The deadline for receipt of proposals is December 31st, 2008.
Proposals will be reviewed by the Scientific Committee (Professors
Christopher Bertram, Patrick Coleman, Ourida Mostefai) and a decision
communicated by January 31st 2009. A preliminary program for the
conference will be available in February 2009.
I've said this before...

about Bill Clinton, and I'll say it now about John McCain. The behavior you're seeing now isn't new; it's just that now he's directing it against Barack Obama instead of against targets on the right. There seem to have been a lot of people who had unlimited patience for McCain's fact-free, lying, bullying, moralistic swagger when it was, for example, channeled into his campaign finance crusade, and would lead him to baseless charges of corruption against those who disagreed with him on principled grounds. He was no more saintly a tobacco-control fighter or campaign-finance fighter than he is a fighter for the presidency; in all cases, his incredible self-regard has gone hand in hand with a view that all who opposed him were corrupt, illegitimate, unvirtuous, unpatriotic. And in all cases his certainty of his own rightness in all things has meant that mere facts or truth weren't much of an obstacle to him.

Jonathan Chait almost nails it:

McCain's deep investment in his own honor can drive him to do honorable things, but it can also allow him to believe that anything he does must be honorable. Thus the moralistic, crusading tone McCain brings to almost every cause he joins. In 2000 and afterward, McCain came to despise George W. Bush and Karl Rove. During his more recent primary campaign, McCain thought the same of front-runner Mitt Romney. Not surprisingly, Romney was the target of McCain's most unfair primary attack--an inaccurate claim that he favored a withdrawal timetable in Iraq.

In time, when Bush's support became necessary for his second presidential campaign, McCain reconciled himself to his former rival--and even to Rove, whom he has reportedly taken on as an outside adviser. More recently, he apparently changed his view of Romney. Now, Obama is the villain. "The contempt that many McCain aides hold for Barack Obama," The Atlantic's Marc Ambinder wrote this summer, "rivals the contempt that McCain held for Mitt Romney a year ago." As Time reported, "McCain and his aides now view Obama with the same level of contempt they once reserved for tobacco-company executives, corrupt lawmakers and George W. Bush. They have convinced themselves that Obama is not honorable, that he does not love his country as much as himself."

The pattern here is perfectly clear. McCain has contempt for anybody who stands between him and the presidency. McCain views himself as the ultimate patriot. He loves his country so much that he cannot let it fall into the hands of an unworthy rival. (They all turn out to be unworthy.) Viewed in this way, doing whatever it takes to win is not an act of selfishness but an act of patriotism. McCain tells lies every day and authorizes lying on his behalf, and he probably knows it. But I would guess--and, again, guessing is all we can do--that in his mind he is acting honorably. As he might put it, there is a bigger truth out there.

But still I'll say "almost." Chait's mini-bio here is all about the presidency, but this isn't a pattern that only emerges when McCain's running for that office. It's how he conducts himself in all political disputes. It's on display even now with his bizarre and almost-incoherent personalization of the financial crisis into charges of malfeasance against Republican FEC chairman Chris Cox. And his history of doing so in his fights with other Republicans has some relationship to the fact that they're not particularly rushing to his defense now, and to the fact that a figure like George Will has prose like this saved up:
Under the pressure of the financial crisis, one presidential candidate is behaving like a flustered rookie playing in a league too high. It is not Barack Obama.

Channeling his inner Queen of Hearts, John McCain furiously, and apparently without even looking around at facts, said Chris Cox, chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, should be decapitated. This childish reflex provoked the Wall Street Journal to editorialize that "McCain untethered" -- disconnected from knowledge and principle -- had made a "false and deeply unfair" attack on Cox that was "unpresidential" and demonstrated that McCain "doesn't understand what's happening on Wall Street any better than Barack Obama does."[...]

In any case, McCain's smear -- that Cox "betrayed the public's trust" -- is a harbinger of a McCain presidency. For McCain, politics is always operatic, pitting people who agree with him against those who are "corrupt" or "betray the public's trust," two categories that seem to be exhaustive -- there are no other people. McCain's Manichaean worldview drove him to his signature legislative achievement, the McCain-Feingold law's restrictions on campaigning. Today, his campaign is creatively finding interstices in laws intended to restrict campaign giving and spending.[...]

It is arguable that, because of his inexperience, Obama is not ready for the presidency. It is arguable that McCain, because of his boiling moralism and bottomless reservoir of certitudes, is not suited to the presidency. Unreadiness can be corrected, although perhaps at great cost, by experience. Can a dismaying temperament be fixed?

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Res Publica prize for graduate student submission

from the philosophy CFP blog [NB: "Post-graduate" is British for "graduate student," not for "postdoc"]:

Post-graduate Essay Prize, 2008

Res Publica: A Journal of Moral, Legal and Social Philosophy

For the fourth year running, Res Publica will be awarding a prize for the best paper submitted by a current postgraduate student in 2008. This may be in any area of moral, legal or social philosophy, and should conform to the normal requirements for submissions - please see the website address above for details.
Papers must be submitted via the Editorial Manager system, accesible via the website above or directly at :
Please state when you submit a paper that you’d like it considered for the postgraduate prize, and also confirm that you have not yet been awarded a PhD. You can do this via a message to the editors on Editorial Manager.
All entries must be received by 1 October 2008, with the winner to be announced in December 2008. The winner will receive £100 and a year's subscription to the journal. The winning essay will be published in Volume 15 (2009).
Previous winners:

Alexandra Couto, 'Privacy and Justification' 12.3 (2006)
Alasdair Cochrane, 'Animal Rights and Animal Experiments: An Interest-Based Approach' 13.3 (2007)
Göran Duus-Otterström, 'Betting Against Hard Determinism' (forthcoming, 2008)

The prize will be judged by a panel of referees, along with the journal editors.

For more information please contact:

Gideon Calder
or Jonathan Seglow
Co-editors, Res Publica
Continuing a recent trend...

noted here and here, academic humanists and social scientists are in notably short supply among this year's MacArthur Fellows. One archaeologist-anthropologist and one retired historian, out of a group of 25. The awardees are mainly practicing artists (novelist, violinist, sculptor, etc) or academic scientists, biomedical researchers, and engineers.

North America's leading Proust scholar and all his spiritual kin are safe for another year.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Montreal Political Theory Calendar

I've put up a webpage using google calendar that will include all the information I get about public seminars, workshops, and lectures in political theory and related fields in Montreal and especially at McGill. It's at . There's been a proliferation of partially-distinct workshop series with partially-distinct e-mail lists, and I hope that a webpage will reduce some of the need to blast-email lots of lists simultaneously-- and it can be useful to have a non-e-mail place to look up rooms and times.
John Adams,

my favorite 18th-century brilliant and unlovable loser, finally won a bunch of well-deserved victories.