It would be stupid for China and Japan to again go to war. Stupid, but not impossible. Both claim a small set of islets in the East China Sea — about seven square kilometers of rock — called the Diaoyu by China and the Senkaku by Japan. Recently Japan, which has possession, fiddled with the islets' unresolved status, thereby angering China. While China wants to negotiate Japan innocently says that there is no dispute and nothing to talk about. Absent any diplomatic partner China is aggressively deploying military assets in local waters. Worse, both Tokyo and Washington (notwithstanding Washington's simultaneous, quite contradictory claim that the U.S. is neutral), say the "Senkaku" are covered by a US-Japan security treaty. That puts the U.S. on the hook if there were a military clash. Last October Secretary Clinton's State Department was sufficiently anxious about the possibilities that it sent a high level group to the region to bring order. With no luck. To get a sense of the stakes involved I turned to a British expert, Rod Wye, a 37 year veteran of government service who in his last assignment was head of the Asia Research Group in the Foreign Office, roughly analogous to the top Asia person in State's INR. An extremely judicious, seasoned professional. Total runtime forty two minutes. Lēx tāliōnis.
'The internet is anti-democratic.' 'The computer never should have been invented.' 'The solution is for government to subsidize the news.' No, wait, that's all wrong... The fact is, if you want to learn something about the convergence of the media, the internet, and democracy, you should forget the ivory tower and look to a journalist for working insights. Rory O'Connor is an award winning journalist, author and filmmaker who has thought a lot about the meaning of our relatively new, rapidly evolving internet revolution. He believes the internet disrupts old political practices and makes new democratic ones possible. I'm certain he's right (although I still have some trouble imagining all the details). Thanks, Rory! What a nice guy. Total runtime fifty two minutes. Fēlīx quī potuit rērum cognōscere causās.
Cyprus really didn't have a choice about acceding to the Troika's demands: the costs of a precipitous, unplanned flight from the Eurozone were too great. Now, having signed up for indefinite indentured servitude, the Cypriots should take advantage of a small amount of breathing room to plan for an orderly exit. If they don't their future is guaranteed to be miserable for as far as the eye can see. As for the Germans, they seem to have forgotten that after World War II they were the beneficiaries of substantial debt forgiveness. Next time they may not be so lucky... Total runtime thirty one minutes. Inest clēmentia fortī.
Nobody has been more correct about Iran than Flynt and Hillary Mann Leverett. Their latest, Going To Tehran (Metropolitan Books, 2013), lays out the logic of successful U.S. engagement. Also the perils of failure. I may be slightly more neutral than the Leveretts as I think that absent a diplomatic breakthrough Iran could out-wait the U.S., thus avoiding a military confrontation, but I may be wrong. In any case, it was a great pleasure to talk with Flynt and I only wish he could become Secretary of State. Total runtime forty eight minutes. Fās est et ab hoste docērī.
What we forget about our political history is perhaps a better indicator of who we are, or what we are, than what we remember. In some cases, moreover, forgetting can be catastrophic. The Congo, for example, cannot address its colonial past and consequently — though I admit this is arguable, being somewhat indirect — cannot function as a modern state. To discuss whether the Congo is, in fact, a state and to speculate about remedies for its ersatz sovereignty, I turned to Dr. Théodore Trefon, a real Congo expert, who was very kind to indulge my skeptical point of view. Total runtime fifty one minutes. Dē asinī umbrā disceptāre.
Delegates from the Northern and Southern States didn't do any simple deal over slavery in order to devise a Constitution. No: they consciously created a complex, interlocking system of iron-clad guarantees so that within the Union the institution of slavery would exist forever. These men truly intended for slavery to endure beyond the scope of their imaginations. Taking a giant step, they put both North and South on the wrong side of history. To be honest, as Dr. Paul Finkelman suggested recently in the New York Times, the deal wasn't worth having. The North, Dr. Finkelman says, could have been better off on its own. I agree but, be that as it may, there's no doubt the trauma of slavery always has been, and still is, inordinately difficult to overcome. And our trauma is especially troublesome when one wants an accurate assessment of slavery's noxious effects. Why, for instance, does Article Five make amending the Constitution such a quixotic enterprise? Astonishingly, only in the last few decades have historians begun to piece together the real — that is, slave-based — cornerstones of our system of government. We would, I believe, be wise to remain mindful of the Constitution's permanent deficiencies if we wish to heal ourselves. Total runtime forty two minutes. Tantaene animīs caelestibus īrae?
Every American has a basic human right to live without the threat of gun violence. And that right exists prior to all the legal or political barriers that get thrown at sane gun control measures. Paradoxically, perhaps, if the gun culture wants to deny us our human right to live in safety their only chance is by working with undemocratic methods. But strong-arm politics is losing its hold on the modern world. To talk about America's problem with guns I turned to the German-American sociologist Dr. Joachim Savelsberg, not a gun expert, per se, but a thoughtful observer of the American condition. Total runtime thirty eight minutes. Cēdant arma togae.
High School civics does not provide a sufficient basis for understanding the Constitution. "Exhibit A" being the Second Amendment. Whereas modern American myth treats the Second Amendment as if it were written to guarantee the right of freedom loving men to defend their homes and sacred honor, in reality it was meant to guarantee slave-holders their use of "slave patrols," e.g., the "militia," to keep down those debased by servitude so as to be divested of two fifths of their humanity. Carl T. Bogus explores the contradiction in a must-read, seminal article, "The Hidden History of the Second Amendment" (U.C. Davis Law Review, 1998), which, like so much else to do with convergences between slavery and the founding, has not gotten quite the attention it deserves. Here, Carl graciously revisited his article with me in light of our current debates over gun control. Total runtime thirty two minutes. Ālea iacta est.
It's not that Brigitte Bardot brings life to the meaning of the word pulchritude, although of course she does, it's that somehow she forces us to cherish our ignorance of her. A truly rare (and great) gift. And if in the superposition of a spacetime vortex she fundamentally altered the history of the civilized world... well, probably that's best left unproved. To consider Le Phénomène Bardot I turned to British academic and author Andy Martin. Many thanks, Andy! Total runtime one hour and one minute. Amāre et sapēre vix deō concēditur. ♥
The Europeans required over a thousand years to come up with the European Union (and the EU still doesn't work right). The Congo, approximately the same size as Europe, has never had any history of legitimate, national self-governance. When Europeans started exploring the region in the late 1800s they found countless tribes of naked, cannibalistic savages: No wonder European consciences remained unperturbed when they claimed that land for their own. But the lines drawn on a map by King Leopold of Belgium no more represent a coherent political entity today than then. So what's the right thing to do with, for, or to the Congo? Should it be accorded consideration as if it were a real country, or what? I ask because I don't know the answer. And I'm pretty sure most people don't even think this is an important question, but they're mistaken. To get one perspective from a well informed practitioner I turned to former UN Under Secretary General Alan Doss, who from 2007 to 2010 headed MONUC (now called MONUSCO), the UN peacekeeping mission in the Congo. It was very kind of Alan to talk with me and whatever errors of interpretation I may make in understanding his remarks are my fault alone. Total runtime forty three minutes. Quālis rēx, tālis grex.
Secure in the ignorance of our traditions we treat war as if it were a game, as if we should try to win when we play. Oorah! But if we think like a human being war assumes a great deal more complexity, indeed, a necessary ambiguity. Dr. David Keen challenges conventional wisdom in a great book, Useful Enemies: When Waging Wars Is More Important Than Winning Them (Yale University Press, 2012). Unless and until we recognize the realities that David describes we'll continue to be our own worst enemy. Total runtime forty two minutes. Audē Sapēre.
So Mr. O won't mint the magic coin. He says. Well, good luck to him, then, getting the Southern secessionists to grovel. More's the pity, though, that neither side have a clue what they're talking about. Essentially, they're disputing the finer points of a primitive theory of value: call it wampum economics. To get past that, and to take a couple guesses where the economy may be headed, I turned again to Marshall Auerback. The only thing about Marshall that scares me is, I always agree with him. That can't be right?! Total runtime thirty eight minutes. Imperat aut servit collecta pecunia cuique.
These days, the only reasonable thing to say to Power is, "Here's the arrest warrant, please come quietly." But Speaking Truth, that's a different story. We speak truth to affirm and reaffirm who and what we are, what the reality of the world is, and why it is the way it is. Not an easy task — like breathing — but just as necessary. To talk about Speaking Truth I turned to the poet and radio journalist Dennis Bernstein, author most recently of Special Ed: Voices from a Hidden Classroom (NYQ Books, 2012), and host of KPFA's Flashpoints. Thanks, Dennis, for nattering on with me and for reading a couple of your poems! Total runtime fifty eight minutes. Brevis esse labōrō, obscūrus fiō.
If the Republican Party were to adopt a scorched earth policy — counting electors one way in certain swing states and another way in solid red states — they could conceivably lock in a Republican presidential win for the next several election cycles. As a practical matter it would not, in fact, be difficult to do; politically, it would be the functional equivalent of secession. The only effective Democratic counter, the National Popular Vote plan (which would be a good thing anyway under any circumstances), might not be as easy to implement. Scorched earth, or compromise? Over the next few months we'll learn which direction the Republicans take. To explain what's happening I turned to Rob Richie, of FairVote. Thanks, Rob, for paying attention where others don't! Total runtime forty seven minutes. Adscrīptus glēbae.
Americans have been brainwashed into thinking we have the greatest system of government in the world. Arguably, however, much the opposite is true. In practical terms our system is neither democratic nor representative, when, that is, it works at all. But the Constitution has become America's civic religion: to condemn it is heretical, to seek to alter it, revolutionary. Just to discuss the problems it poses takes a brave heart. Eric Black, a journalist, has thus performed a tremendously useful service by outlining the situation in a series of learned, thoughtful essays. Such critical inquiry represents a minority viewpoint at the moment but I fervently hope that self-aware constitutional unrest becomes the norm. Thanks, Eric! Total runtime thirty eight minutes. Tū nē cēde malīs sed contrā audentior ītō.