April 30, 2010


Anderson, Karen, Little Rock: Race and Resistance at Central High School (Princeton & Oxford: Princeton U. Press, 2010) ("The Arkansas State Police helped in the campaign against liberal ministers by providing routine investigation and surveillance of interracial groups and others whom the governor believed to be critical advocates for desegregation, especially the NAACP and the WEC [i.e., Women's Emergency Committee]. State police reports often included the names of the employers and supervisors of those whose associations raised suspicions. The Mothers' League assisted the state police by attempting to crash WEC meetings and reporting the license numbers of women they saw attending or the people seen visiting the homes of WEC activists. The support that the Arkansas Education Association gave to the effort to keep schools open prompted an investigation of its executive director, Forrest Rozzell, apparently to discredit or blackmail him into political submission. According to Roy Reed, 'The bloodhounds of the state police were merely one small part of a vast political apparatus that carried information to the governor's office and then, when necessary, carried favors, threats, or penalties back down the line'." Id. at 170. "Ironically, the outcomes of the disputes in Little Rock would sow the seeds for both the civil rights revolutions that culminated in the 1960s and 1970s and the counterrevolution that began gathering strength at the same time. Some Little Rock activists, particularly African Americans and white middle-class women, found themselves changed by their participation in the electoral process. They moved into civil rights, feminist, and education activism, formed important alliances, and sought broad changes in American society and culture. The political mobilization of a religious identity and a rhetoric centered on sexuality pioneered by the arch segregationists in Little Rock and elsewhere would resurface at the center of New Right politics in the 1970s and 1980s. The desire to capture the state so that it would enforce religiously sanctioned social inequalities would achieve a surprising legitimacy in the following half century, fueled in part by an anxiety over the socialization of children in a time when traditional ideas abut sexuality and gender were changing. The moral fears engendered in the New Right were closely related to those expressed in the massive resistance movement to desegregation. The encoding of racism in new legal and political ideologies forged by the South's moderates as they fought racial change would endure even longer than Little Rock's school desegregation case, which was still active in the 1990s." "America's culture wars have deep and densely entangled historical roots. Exploring their connections to the politics of race and schools in the decade after the Brown decision illuminates the centrality of education to the contested social visions of Americans, the inadequacies of legal formalism as a means to end social and political inequalities, and the enduring significance of questions of class, gender, and sexuality in American politics. In Little Rock as elsewhere, race was not and is not a singular social relation disconnected from others. Yet the power of racial thinking evident in its school crisis and its institutional practices typified the response to the challenge of Brown v. Board of Education not only in the South but in the nation. Ultimately, Little Rock became the nation's story." Id. at at 243.-244. A very worthwhile read.).

Aust, Stefan, Baader-Meinhof: The Inside Story of the R.A.F. translated from the German by Anthea Bell (Oxford & New York: Oxford U. Press, 2008) ("It was one of those moments that make you feel you are getting a little closer to the truth when . . . I came upon a document in one of the files on the Baader-Meinhof group . . . ; it was a letter in which Gudrun Ensslin gave her fellow prisoners cover names out of Moby Dick. Only then did I read that novel in the original--and I gleaned some idea of he exaggerated importance imputed by the prisoners to their struggle against reality. They compared their fight against the 'system' to Captain Ahab's insane pursuit of the Great White Whale, the leviathan that, in Herman Melville's classic novel, also stands for the system of the state. They constructed an image of themselves as icons, and they did indeed became icons in all the severity and brutality with which they turned on those whom they considered their adversaries, those who were not involved, their own comrades, and in the end themselves." Id. at xi. "Terrorists regard themselves as martyrs. They hope that with the example they set, their experimenting on a living subject, they will go down in history . . . ." Id. at xii. "Germany in the autumn of 1977 saw the end, for the time being, of a nightmare of violence. The names Baader, Meinhof and Ensslin entered into German postwar history. Like many of their generation, they had opposed the old form of Fascism and what they thought was its new face. They had tried to change that murderous world by violence, they had made themselves lords over life and death, and they were guilty as many of their fathers' generation had been. Quite a number of members of the RAF [Red Army Faction] realized that; others still do not recognize it to this day. To them, the founders of the RAF were martyrs." Id. at 419. "When Pastor Ensslin moved to the Martin Luther Church in Bad Cannstatt, a suburb of Stuttgart, at the end of 1958, Gudrun [his daughter] was in the USA for a year on a school exchange. She stayed with a Methodist community in Pennsylvania. The Americans like her and still spoke highly of her years later. They thought Gudren clever, socially committed, good at languages, cosmopolitan and pretty. She herself saw the New World through critical, Puritan eyes. In her diary, she commented on her dislike of the Christianity of America, where elegantly dressed churchgoers festooned with diamonds turned Sunday services into a fashion show." "At home, she had learned that Christianity does not stop at the church door, but embraces political and social action. She was appalled by the political naivete of the America she saw in the Eisenhower era." Id. at 15. "Gudrun Ensslin was the only one of the four defendants who had been willing to talk to a court-appointed consultant, the Frankfurt psychiatrist and medico-legal expert Reinhard Rethardt. . . . The psychiatrist's impression was that she was 'remarkably civil and friendly, but rigid and inflexible inside'." "She said once, 'We don't want to be just a page in the history of culture.' 'That,' replied Rethardt, 'has been mankind's eternal cry'." "The psychiatrist came to the conclusion that 'hers was a heroic impatience. She suffers from the inadequacy of our existence. She was unwilling to wait any longer; she wanted to translate what she had learnt in the parsonage into action, to act o behalf of her neighbor--wholesale and against his will. The fire was an attempt to jump a few steps along the way. She thinks thing out to the end, until she comes up against a wall'." Id. at 37.).

Balkin, Jack M. & Reva B. Siegel, The Constitution in 2020 (Oxford & New York: Oxford U. Press, 2009) ("This book contests the conservative belief that we should cleanse constitutional law of contemporary understandings and restore the Constitution to an imagined past, a time when we obeyed the founders. We think this goal is inadequate; it simply disguises the values of a contemporary political movement as the framers' intentions. Intellectual honesty and constitutional fidelity demand more. Instead of pretending that we can return the Constitution to an imagine past, we must assume responsibility for integrating past and present and redeem the promises of that great document in our own time." "What is the difference between the conservative movement's position and our own? We believe that our obligation to the Constitution involves more than blind deference to the past. Living in faith with the past requires judgment and synthesis, in order to integrate past understandings with present conditions and with the best traditions of our people. This is a responsibility we are proud to acknowledge. The conservative narrative that presents constitutional restoration as a dogmatic obedience to the founders' expectations disguises normative judgment and denies accountability. It would infantilize the living and deny their ethical responsibility for vindicating he Constitution's commitments." Id. at 2. Individually and collectively, the essays gathered here, written by roughly thirty distinguished legal academics, are interesting and worthwhile reads. However, the essays, neither individually nor collectively, will prompt conservative leaning readers to reassess, let alone change, their positions on the Constitution and constitutional interpretation. Moreover, Americans, who thinks of him or herself as intellectually aligned with what Europeans called social democracy, will find little to heartily embrace. All the the essays are just slightly left-of-center pieces, which is not unexpected. One does not get tenured in American legal academia being red, only a rather pale pink. Yet, as noted by Judt (see below), labels don't matter that much, what matters are ideas and debate. To that end, these essay offer good ideas for public and private debate.).

Bird, Kai, Crossing Mandelbaum Gate: Coming of Age Between Arabs and Israelis, 1956-1978 (New York: Scribner, 2010) ("If Israel had been at peace these last six decades, perhaps messianic Zionism would have naturally withered away. But there is no peace, and the ongoing conflict continually reinforces tribalism, religiosity and messianic sentiments. Paradoxically, Israel is being torn in two radically different directions at once. As the Israeli-American historian Bernard Avishai observes, 'We are now in a society that is more democratic, more liberal, more secular, more Israeli--but yet, ironically, more Israeli Jewish.' What he means by 'Israeli Jewish' is a 'Jewish culture that is more overtly halakhic'--that is, a society governed by rabbinical courts and religious rituals. About 7 percent of Israel's population--or 5.4 million people--define themselves as Jewish. But most Israelis are still culturally secular, some 1.5 million Israelis are either staunch nationalist Orthodox or Ultra-Orthodox Jews. And due to their their high birthrates, the Orthodox community as a whole is growing rapidly. By definition, the Orthodox are antisecular, and over the years they have succeeded in imposing their archaic rules on the secular majority. They determine who is a Jew and who is not, sometimes what is culturally forbidden. They have the political muscle to persuade the state to fund religious schools. The ultra-Orthodox get their young men and women exempted from military service. The nationalist Orthodox form the backbone of the settlers' movement to colonize the occupied territories. They ardently believe in their right to live in an exclusively 'Jewish state'--which helps to explain why 40 percent of all Israelis would like to see their government 'support the emigration of Arab citizens.' A small majority openly oppose equal rights for Israeli Palestinians. This is, to say the least, a highly undemocratic sentiment. But it has become quite clear that the Orthodox cherish 'state Judaism' over democracy. Even the Hebrew spoken by the Orthodox, saturated as it is with archaic religious concepts and overtones, seems to reinforce tribalism. All politics comes down to one question: Is it good for the Jews? As Avishai observes in his deeply incisive book The Hebrew Republic: 'You cannot live in Hebrew and expect no repercussions from its archaic power. You cannot live in a state with an official Judaism, in addition to this Hebrew, and expect no erosion of citizenship. You can, as most Israelis do, speak the language, ignore the archaism, and tolerate Judaism. But then you should not expect your children to understand what democracy is.'" Id. at 369-370 (citations omitted). See Neil MacFarquhar, Middle East Boyhood," NYT Book Review, 4/18/2010.).

Brown, Frederick, For the Soul of France: Culture Wars in the Age of Dreyfus (New York: Knopf, 2010) ("After observing the pilgrims thronging Lourdes in 1891, Emile Zola noted that the time and setting were right for a novel about the intractability of mankind's dependence upon the miraculous. 'Study and dramatize the endless duel between science and the long for supernatural intervention,' he instructed himself. The theme pervades his great fictional cycle, Les Rougon-Macquart, in which modernity is dogged by the pious and the primitive. Rural folk who aspire to a higher level of awareness are weighed down by the archaic baggage they carry with them; bourgeois women surrender to a priest's erotico-mystical predation. Everywhere, the Church casts a long shadow. "'Science' and 'supernatural intervention' were indeed the competing prescriptions for France's recovery after the Franco-Prussian debacle of 1870-71, which toppled Napoleon III from his imperial throne. These alternatives informed her social , political, and cultural life in the last third of the century, framing a bitter debate over the country's heart and soul. It's as if a nation divided needed only humiliation at the hands of a foreigner to turn upon itself and wage without restraint the civil war that had long excited its most implacable hatred." "For everyone, 1789 was the inevitable reference point." "There were those on the one hand who held that France would betray the best of herself if she did not remain loyal to the eighteenth century thinkers who had fathered the Republic. On the other hand, 'intransigeants' committed to the idea of a Catholic monarchy anathematized the Enlightenment. In their view, divine grace was needed, and France could receive it only as a penitent mindful of the sins she had accumulated over the course of eighty years." Id. at 3-4. From the book jacket: "Brown makes clear that the Dreyfus Affair--the cannonade of the 1890s--can only be understood in light of these converging forces. 'The Affair' shaped the character of the public debate and informed private life. At stake was the fate of a Republic born during the Franco-Prussian War and reared against bitter opposition." also see Susan Rubin Suleiman, "French Contentions," NYT Book Review, 2/7/10.).

Bruckner, Pascal, The Tyranny of Guilt: An Essay on Western Masochism translated from the French by Steven Rendall (Princeton & Oxford: Princeton U. Press, 2010)
(From the jacket flap: "Fascism, communism, genocide, slavery, racism, imperialism--the West has no shortage of reasons for guilt. And, indeed, since the Holocaust and the end of World War II, Europeans in particular have been consumed by remorse. But Pascal Bruckner argues that guilt has now gone too far. It has become a pathology, and even an obstacle to fighting today's atrocities." In a chapter titled 'The Pathologies of Debt,' he writes: "Christianity, Islam: two imperialist religions, persuaded that they know the truth and prepared to save people in spite of themselves, by the sword, by fire, by auto-da-fe. But Christianity, worn out by four centuries of violent opposition in Europe, has had to give ground and admit the principles of secularism, which is, moreover, inscribed in the Gospels. Many crimes can be imputed to the Catholic Church: for instance, having ordered the first genocide in the history of Europe with the massacre of the Albigensians launched in 1209 by Pope Innocent III, in the name of the principle 'Kill them all, God will recognize his own'; having invented with the Inquisition institutional torture, ans state racism with the Catholic Queen Isabella's demand for 'purity of blood' . . . ; having had all the theological arguments to condemn slavery but having instead justified or at least tolerated it until the beginning of the nineteenth century in order to support the temporal interests of the papacy; having too often spoken in favor of ignorance, madness, and superstition; having killed, eliminated, and persecuted heretics, witches, pagans, and Muslims in the name of love and the true faith. We can also reproach it for the Vatican's indulgent attitude toward the third Reich when so many German Catholics paid with their lives for their opposition to Hitler's regime. At least Christianity has begun the modernization represented for Catholics by the Vatican II Council (1962-1965). The solemn apologies then made by John Paul II to the Jewish community, the Indians of South America, Orthodox Christians, Protestants, and Africans on the island of Goree in Senegal, the recognition of the papacy's error in evaluating the main scientific discoveries since Galilio, the condemnation of the Crusades, and the renunciation of forced proselytizing have all marked the culmination of this unprecedented process, And although there remain many dark areas in its history, Rome, like most of the Protestant and Orthodox churches, has begun a courageous critical inventory to bring itself into conformity with the spirit of the New Testament. There are mosques in Rome, but are there Christian churches in Mecca, Jeddah, or Riyadh? Isn't it better to be a Muslim in Dusseldorf or Paris than a Christian in Cairo or Karachi? One would like the various European Communist parties, little Leninist groups, Trotskyites, alter-globalists, and ecologists to take a look at themselves and engage in introspection with the same intransigence. But it always from Christianity and from it alone that repentance is expected, because it invented repentance in its modern forms. In other words, the Catholic Church has simultaneously betrayed and transmitted the spirit of the Gospels. Its long painful story greatly resembles the moral and political story of the West: the interminable adjustment of reality to principles, which are themselves constantly violated and always reaffirmed. The progress made by reason has been slow but incontestable, even if it has sometimes led to horrible regressions. Decency and dignity have advanced side by side with savagery, the best alongside the worst. Freedom is triumphing, but long after its reign was proclaimed and still only in a few places on the globe. Whatever those disillusioned with progress may think, the collective education of the human race as it was conceived in the eighteenth century by the German dramatist Lessing, is not an empty expression. It has taken, and will continue to take, the patient labor of history, resistances to be overcome, relapses into tyranny, the awakening of consciousness." Id. at 43-45. Bruckner's essay is controversial; whether it will be so in America depends on whether it is read. It should be read.).

Davidson, Carl & Steven J. Matusz, International Trade with Equilibrium Unemployment (Princeton & Oxford: Princeton U. Press, 2010)
(From the book jacket: "While most standard economic models of international trade assume full employment, [the authors] have argued . . . that this reliance on full-emplyment modeling is misleading and ill-equiped to tackle many important trade-related questions. This book brings together the authors' pioneering work in creating models that more accurately reflect the real-world connections between international trade and labor markets." I admit I am getting more reluctant to invest the time and effort into understanding and doing the mathematics required to fully follow and appreciate works of this nature. That said, the articles collected here are well worth reading even when one does not comprehend the mathematics. If Davidson and Matusz are right, then those interested in international trade from a law perspective need to rethink the substance, logic and rhetoric of the arguments used to design, defend, attack international trade policies and regimes, or, at least, that the analysis be a bit more nuances. Take regulation of lobbyist and NAFTA and GATT: "We use data on campaign contributions to supporters and opponents of NAFTA and GATT in the U. S. House of Representatives to investigate the link between industry turnover and political groups' trade policy preferences. . . . There is strong and robust evidence that the factor (either capital or labor) a PAC represents exerts a very large effect on the share of its contributions flowing to free trade supporters for high turnover industries but has a much smaller impact for low turnover industries. There is also evidence in favor of the hypothesis that the industry net trade position has a large impact on lobbying behavior only in a low turnover industries. The empirical results strongly suggest that industry turnover affects the determinants of interest group trade preferences in an intuitive manner." Id. at 218. And that, one should appreciate, impacts potential job decline or growth in the affected industries.).

Frederick, Jim, Black Hearts: One Platoon's Descent into Madness in Iraq's Triangle of Death (New York: Harmony Books, 2010) ("I first became interested in 1st Battalion, 502nd Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division just after June 16, 2006. . . . I read a news report about three soldiers who had been overrun by insurgents at a remote checkpoint just southwest of Mahmudiyah. One trooper was dead on the scene and two were missing, presumed taken hostage. It was a gut-wrenching story, inviting horrible thoughts about what torture and desecration terrorists could inflict on captive soldiers. News of the search played out over the next few days, and on the 19th, the bodies were found, indeed mutilated, beheaded, burned, and booby-trapped with explosives." "About two weeks after that, another story from Iraq caught my eye. Four U. S. soldiers had been implicated in the March 2006 rape of a fourteen-year-old Iraqi girl, killing her, her parents, and her six-year-old sister. The crime was horrible and cold-blooded. The fourteen-year-old had been triply defiled: raped, murdered, and burned to a blackened char. The soldiers' unit: 1st Battalion, 502nd Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne. . . . [I]t took a while for me to piece both stories together that the accused were not just from the same company as the soldiers who'd been ambushed several weeks prior but from the very same platoon: 1st Platoon, Bravo Company." Id. at xiii-xiv. "The story of 1st Platoon's 2005-2006 deployment to the Triangle of Death is both epic and tragic. It was an ill-starred tour, where nearly everything inevitable and inexorable yet, in retrospect, also heartbreakingly preventable at literally dozens of junctures." Id. at xv. "Human organizations are flawed because humans are flawed. Even with the best intentions, men make errors in judgment and initiate courses of action that are counterproductive to their self-interest or the completion of the mission. In a combat zone, ranks as low as staff sergeants make dozens of decisions everyday, each with a direct impact on the potential safety and well-being of their men. A company commander or a battalion commander may make hundreds of such decisions a day. Fortunately, in complex environments, individual errors or even long chains of mistakes can often be corrected or they simply dissipate before they cause any adverse effect. Decisions from different people about the same goal either negate or reinforce each other, and, it is hoped, the preponderance of these heaped-together decisions pushes the task toward completion rather than failure. But sometimes, in the permutations of million of decisions from thousands of actors converging on a battlefield over a period of weeks or even months, a singular combination comes together to unlock something abhorrent. These are what are know, in retrospect, as disasters waiting to happen." Id. at xvii. "The events surrounding Bravo Company were so complex and intertwined that to lay all responsibility not for the crime, but for creating an atmosphere where the crime could occur, at the feet of the few and relatively powerless, is the very definition of scapegoating. And to assert that the battalion command climate was anything other than utterly dysfunctional, or to declare that the soldiers of 1st Platoon were, at any point in the deployment, being effectively managed and led, is simply a whitewash. The Army failed 1st Platoon time and time again." Id. at xix-xx. See Joshua Hammer, "Death Squad," NYT Book Review, 3/14/2010.) .

Halkin, Hillel, Yehuda Halevi (Jewish Encounters) (New York: Nextbook/Schocken, 2010)
(From the jacket flap: "A masterly biography of Yehuda Halevi, one of the greatest of Hebrew poets and a shinning example of the synthesis of religion and culture that defined the golden age of medieval Spanish Jewry." In regards today's post them of 'culture clash,' consider the following: "Rabbinic Judaism had stopped proselytizing many centuries previously, prevented from doing so by Christianity and Islam's ascendance to political power, and had turned increasingly inward in it grasp of its mission in the world. No longer did it aspire to compete for the minds and souls of all men. Although in theory it might still have a message for humanity, it had ceased to articulate or deliver it. Not even Maimondes' Guide evinces the slightest interest in presenting Judaism to the non-Jew." "Yehuda Halevi is the great exception. True, The Kuzari, too, is a book for Jews. It was not written for gentiles, who could not have read its Hebrew-lettered Arabic. Yet because it is about the conversion of a gentile, it is about what Judaism has to say to gentiles and the importance of a Jew's knowing what this is, since a religion that can speak only to its own adherents diminishes them as well. More than any other Jewish book of the Middle Ages, The Kuzari insists on Judaism as a universal faith. Nor is the gentile just a foil for its Jew. The Khazar king has a mind of his own; he asks the rabbi perceptive questions and more than once scores a point against him. He is the rabbi's equal in intelligence if not in knowledge, and his sincerity and determination to do the right thing are the cornerstone of the dialogue between them. Nowhere else in medieval Jewish literature is a non-Jew portrayed so sympathetically." Id. at 297. ". . . Although it is legitimate to trace the history of specific ideas from Halevi to religious nationalism in post-1967 Israel, it is unfair to identify him with religious nationalist politics. Transporting historical figures to the present in order to ask their opinion (would Karl Marx have approved of the Soviet Union? What would the authors of The Federalist Papers say about contemporary America?) may have heuristic value in the case of men who lived close to our own times and thought about them. But Yehuda Halevi was born nearly a thousand years ago. To speculate on what might be his view of the settlement movement in the occupied territories, or what party he would have voted for in the last Israeli elections, is pointless. On the basis of The Kuzari, one could just as easily imagine him espousing the politics of Yeshayahu Leibowitz as those that Leibowitz holds him responsible for. And while David Hartman is correct to observe that a man of Halevi's outlook would have asked himself, in 2010 no less than in 1140, what God expects politically from Jews, there is no knowing the answer he would have given." Id. at 298.).

Hoffman, Adina, My Happiness Bears No Relation to Happiness: A Poet's Life in the Palestinian Century (New Haven & London: Yale U. Press, 2009) (From the book jacket: The book "is the biography of an extraordinary man and, by extension, the story of a charged and fateful epoch. In this groundbreaking book, Adina Hoffman reflects on the ways that war and peace register in daily life and on the alchemical means by which experience is transformed into art. Taha Muhammad Ali was born in 1931 in the Galilee village of Saffuriyya and was forced to flee during the 1948 war. He journeyed with his family on foot to Lebanon, and a year later he returned to find his village destroyed. An autodidact, he has run a souvenir shop in Nazareth ever since, meanwhile evolving into a writer whom National Book Critics Circle-winner Eliot Weinberger has called 'perhaps the most accessible and delightful poet alive today'.").

Joseph, Peniel E., Dark Days, Bright Nights: From Black Power to Barack Obama (New York: Basic Civitas Books, 2010) ("Black Power remains the most misunderstood social movement of the postwar era. It was demonized as the civil rights movement's 'evil twin' and stereotyped as a politics of rage practiced by gun-toting Black Panthers. Because of this, the movement's supple intellectual provocations, pragmatic local character, and domestic- and foreign-policy critiques remain on the fringes of America's memory of the 1960s. Nonetheless, Black Power's cultural and political flourishes, militant posture, and provocative rhetoric permanently altered the contours of American identity, citizenship, and democracy." "It was at the neighborhood level, where activists blended radical and at times revolutionary rhetoric with political pragmatism, where Black Power's quiet side emerged. Although some militants steadfastly promoted violent revolution to the bitter end, others proved more flexible, adopting strategies that helped the movement make enduring marks in education, art, and politics. Black Power-era politicians such as Maynard Jackson and Harold Washington embraced the movement, but with a moderate perspective that was attuned, they argued, to prevailing political realities." "As a result, the real and symbolic struggles that animated much of this postwar black activism have culminated in Barack Obama's presidential election. . . ." Id. at 4.).

Judt, Tony, Ill Fares the Land (New York: Penguin, 2010) (This is a thoughtful, and thought provoking, read. At its core, two things are emphasized: (1) a preference for the common purpose/good over the private interests; (2) ideas matters; and (3) open, honest, and meaningful public debate about public policy matters. Instead we have placed the private ahead of the public, and devalued both ideas and open, honest, meaningful public debate. Ill fares the land!! "A liberal is someone who opposes interference in the affairs of others: who is tolerant of dissenting attitudes and unconventional behavior. Liberals have historically favored keeping other people out of their lives, leaving individuals the maximum space in which to live and flourish as they choose. In their extreme form, such attitudes are associated today with self-styled 'libertarians', but the term is largely redundant. Most genuine liberals remain disposed to leave other people alone." "Social democrats, on the other hand, are something of a hybrid. They share with liberals a commitment to cultural and religious tolerance. But in public policy social democrats believe in the possibility and virtue of collective action for the collective good. Like most liberals, social democrats favor progressive taxation in order to pay for public services and other social goods that individuals cannot provide themselves; but whereas many liberals might see such taxation or public provision as a necessary evil, a social democratic vision of the good society entails from the outset a greater role for the state and the public sector." "Understandably, social democracy is a hard sell in the United States. . . . In any case, much that was best in American legislation and social policy over the course of the 20th century--and that we are now to dismantle in the name of efficiency and 'less government'--corresponds in practice to what Europeans have called 'social democracy'. Out problem is not what to do; it is how to talk about it." Id. at 4-6. "Above all, the new Left--and its overwhelmingly youthful constituency--rejected the inherited collectivism of its predecessor. To an earlier generation of reformers [i.e., the old Left] from Washington to Stockholm, it had been self-evident that 'justice', 'equal opportunity' or 'economic security' were shared objectives that could only be attained by common action. Whatever the shortcomings of over-intrusive top-down regulation and control, these were the price of social justice--and a price well worth paying." "A younger cohort [i.e., the new Left] saw things very differently. Social justice no longer preoccupied radicals. What united the '60s generation was not the interest of all, but the needs and rights of each. 'Individualism'--the assertion of every person's claim to maximized private freedom and the unrestrained liberty to express autonomous desires and have them respected and institutionalized by society at large--became the left-wing watchword of the hour. Doing 'your own thing', 'letting it all hang out', 'making love, not war': these are not inherently unappealing goals, but they are of their essence private objectives, not public goods. Unsurprisingly, they led to the widespread assertion that 'the personal is political'." The politics of the '60s thus devolved into an aggregation of individual claims upon society and the state. 'Identity' began to colonize public discourse: private identity, sexual identity, cultural identity. From here it was but a short step to the fragmentation of radical politics, its metamorphosis into multiculturalism. . . ." ""However legitimate the claims of individuals and the importance of their rights, emphasizing these carries an unavoidable cost: the decline of a shared sense of purpose. Once upon a time one looked to society--or class, or community--for one's normative vocabulary: what was good for everyone was by definition good for anyone. But the converse does not hold. What is good for one person may or may not be of value or interest to another. . . ." Id. at 87-88. "This reduction of 'society' to a thin membrane of interactions between private individuals is presented today as the ambition of libertarians and free marketeers. But we should never forget that it was first and above all the dream of Jacobins, Bolsheviks and Nazis: if there is nothing that binds us together as a community or society, then we are utterly dependent upon the state. Governments that are too weak or discredited to act through their citizens are more likely to seek their ends by other means: by exhorting, cajoling, threatening and ultimately coercing people to obey them. The loss of social purpose articulated through public service actually increases the unrestrained powers of the over-mighty state." Id. at 118-119. "Sadly, contemporary intellectuals have shown remarkably little informed interest in the nitty-gritty of public policy, preferring to intervene or protest on ethically-defined topics where the choices seem clearer. This has left debates on the way we ought to govern ourselves to policy specialists and 'think tanks', where unconventional opinion rarely finds a place and the public are largely excluded." "The problem is not whether we agree or disagree on any given piece of legislation. The problem is the way we debate our shared interests. . . ." Id. at 158-159. "The perverse effects of [the] suppression of genuine debate are all around us. In the US today, town hall meetings and 'tea parties' parody and mimic the 18th century originals. Far from opening debate, they close it down. Demagogues tell the crowd what to think; when their phrases are echoed back to them, they boldly announce that they are merely relaying popular sentiment." Id. at 172. Karl Popper: "The alleged clash between freedom and security . . . turns out to be chimera. For there is no freedom if it is not secured by the state; and only a state which is controlled by the free citizens can offer them any reasonable security.').

Painter, Nell Irvin, The History of White People (New York: Norton, 2010)
("I might have titled this book Construction of White Americans from Antiquity to the Present, because it explores a concept that lies within a history of events. I have chosen this strategy because race is an idea, not a fact, and its questions demand answers from the conceptual rather than the factual realm. American history offers up a bounty of commentary on what it means to be nonwhite, moving easily between alterations in the meaning of race as color, from 'colored' to 'Negro' to 'Afro-American' to 'black' to 'African American,' always associating the idea of blackness with slavery. But little attention has been paid to history's equally confused and flexible discourse on the white races and the old, old slave trade from eastern Europe." "I use 'white races' in the plural, because for most of the past centuries--when race really came down to matters of law--educated Americans firmly believed in the existence of more than one European race. It is possible, and important, to investigate that other side of history without trivializing the history we already know so well." Id. at ix. "The biological meaningless of classifying people according to race remained the scholarly consensus until 20o2. Then research came to light that sought to lump DNA patterns by population groups. This work produced a theory that DNA falls into five major groups--Africans, Europeans and Middle Easterners, East Asians, Melanesians, and American Indians. . . . The New York Times illustrated its story about this research with a long colored bar graph. Only in its last paragraph does the report explain that even though all people 'share most of their genetic variability in common,' the chart is based on 'these genetic differences, not on the very much larger shared inheritance.' In short, the illustration is neither helpful nor accurate, in that it wildly exaggerates differences while omitting the overwhelming degree of similarity. True to racial thinking, differences were stressed and similarities played down. The idea of biological race was reemerging as genetic science." Id. at 392-393. "Between 2002 and about 2005, this emphasis on racial genetics differences made some headway in medicine, where doctors and pharmaceutical companies pushed the idea of racialized populations and racialized medicine, They were talking about black people. This was true even though the clearest cases of genetic diseases that occur only in particular populations, such as Tay-Sachs among people descended from European Jews, and hemochromatosis among Swedes, affect white people." "Racial identity, interpreted as black, also presented an ideal marketing opportunity in 2004, when [a] pharmaceutical company sought approval for the first racial drug, BiDil (a combination of isosorbide dinitrate and hydralazine hydrochloride), for treatment of heart disease. In fact, BiDil was an older, often ineffective drug repackaged for black consumption. Initially rejected by the Food and Drug Administration, it was approved in 2005 and is currently advertised for use on African Americans. As a combination of two drugs available generically, it pays off nicely for the company. BiDil does help some patients with heart disease, although it is currently being marketed only to one sector of society." Id. at 393-394. See Edmund S. Morgan & Marie Morgan, "How Black and White America Took Shape," NYRB, 4/8/2010, at 70; and Linda Gordon, "Who's White," NYT Book Review, 3/28/2010.).

Posner, Eric A. & David Weisbach, Climate Change Justice (Princeton & Oxford: Princeton U. Press, 2010) ("Any treaty must satisfy what we shall call the principle of International Paretianism: all states must believe themselves better off by their lights as a result of the climate treaty. International Paretianism is not an ethical principle but a pragmatic constraint: in the state system, treaties are not possible unless they have the consent of all the states, and states only enter treaties that serve their interests. To be sure, states may be influenced by moral arguments, but history supplies very few cases where states act against their own perceived interests in order to satisfy the moral claims of other states. What is true, however, is that states usually define their interests in terms of the well-being of their populations. Thus, the pragmatic constraint of International Paretianism is consistent with a limited but important moral vision--states cooperatively advancing the well-being of their populations, and hence the global population, by agreeing to limits on greenhouse gas emissions. Feasibility rules out the vast redistributions of wealth that many believe are morally required on grounds of corrective and distributive justice, but it does not rule out improvements in global welfare. Feasibility and welfarism are the two pillars of a successful climate treaty." Id. at 6.).

Remnick, David, The Bridge: The Life and Rise of Barack Obama (New York: Knopf, 2010) ("Over the years, [John] Lewis has told the story of the afternoon of March 7, 1965--'Bloody Sunday'--hundreds of times. . . . Lewis and [Hosea] Williams led the crowd from Brown Chapel, past a housing project, and toward the arching span of the Edmund Pettus Bridge. (Pettus was the last Confederate general to serve in the U.S. Senate.) At the crest of the bridge, Lewis and Williams came to a halt. Six hundred men, women, and children stopped behind them. . . . 'There facing us at the bottom of the other side, stood a sea of blue-helmeted, blue-unirofmed Alabama state troopers, line after line of them, dozens of battle-ready lawmen stretched from one side of U.S. Highway 80 to the other. . . . On one side of the road I could see a crowd of about a hundred whites, laughing and hollering, waving Confederate flags.' . . . Lewis knew that to advance would be too aggressive, to retreat impossible. And so he said to Hosea Williams, 'We should knee and pray.' . . . They turned around and passed the word. Hundreds got to their knees. . . . But within sixty or seventy seconds of the order to disperse, [Major John] Cloud lost his patience and ordered his men, 'Troopers, advance!'" Id. at 9-10 (citations omitted). "Bloody Sunday was likely the most important act of nonviolent resistance since 1930, when Mahatma Gandhi led seventy-eigth other satyagrahis (truth-force activists) in a twenty-three day march from from his ashram to the coastal town of Dandi in protest against the British government and the colonial tax on salt. For millions of Americans, the sight of peaceful protesters being clubbed and gassed in Selma disturbed the foundations of American indifference no less than Gandhi inspired Indians and unnerved the British." Id. at 11. "Unlike the ritual re-enactment of the Battle of Selma, the re-enactment of the crossing of the Pettus Bridge involved no mock violence. . . . Along the way, Obama encountered the Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth, a civil-rights icon in his mid-eighties, who had battled Bull Connor in Birmingham and survived beatings, bombings, and years of slanderous attack. Shuttlesworth had recently had a brain tumor removed, but he refused to miss the commemoration. On the bridge, he chatted awhile with Obama. And then Obama, who had read so much about the movement, who had dreamed about it, took off his jacket, rolled up his sleeves, popped a piece of Nicorette gum in his mouth, and helped push the wheelchair of Fred Shuttlesworth, leader of the Moses generation, across the bridge and over to the other side." Id. at 25. See Garry Wills, "Behind Obama's Cool," NYT Book Review, 4/11/2010).

Roy, Oliver, Secularism Confronts Islam translated from the French by George Holoch (New York: Columbia U. Press, 2005, 2007) (This is a very thoughtful and powerful essay. Though Roy's focus is on the French encounter with and Islam, the discussion is germane to the American encounter with Islam. Also, in reading this essay, I could not help but think about the current cultural conflict in the United States concerning whether America is a primarily a 'Christian' nation, or primarily a 'secular and democratic' nation. When certain segments of the population say, for example, that 'they want their country back', or draw distinction between the 'real Americans' and, I guess, the 'unreal Americans' (such as me), it is sometimes hard to determine whether they feel the country has lost its christian roots, its white roots, or what. Anyway, I quote from Secularism Confront Islam at length here so as to provide a true sense of the considerable merits of reading Roy's essay. From the Preface: "The relation between secularism and Christianity is complex. Either one defines the West in Christian terms, or one defines it in reference to the philosophy of the Enlightenment, human rights, and democracy that developed against the Catholic Church, through first the Protestant Reformation, then the Enlightenment, and finally a secular and democratic ideal. If the Catholic Church has always fought secularism and the separation of church and state (at least until the beginning of the twentieth century), Protestantism has played a more complex role by defending a sort of religious civil society in which the separation of church and state is seen as a necessary condition for a genuine religious revival. Secularization therefore proceeds differently in Catholic and Protestant societies--against faith in the former, along with faith in the latter--to such as extent that it is difficult to talk about the West." "Contemporary Western societies, however, are, in fact, secularized, either because the separation of church and state is a constitutional principle (the United States), because civil society no longer defines itself through faith and religious practice (the United Kingdom, Germany, the Scandinavian countries), or because these two forms of secularism converge and reinforce each other, thus giving birth to what the French call laicite. And yet when one opposes the West and Islam, it is by putting forward the Christian origins of Western culture or, on the contrary, by emphasizing its secularism. In other words, when we question Islam's capacity to become 'Westernized,' we are referring to two different forms of Westernization: Christianization and secularization. Of course, things are things are more complex, and it would be easy to show that Western secularism actually has a Christian origin. . . . But it is interesting to see that the critique of Islam is today a rallying point for two intellectual families that have been opposed to each other so far: those who think that the West is first and foremost Christian (and who, not that long ago, considered that the Jews could hardly be assimilated) and those who think that the West is primarily secular and democratic. In other words, the Christian Right and the secular Left are today united in their criticism of Islam." "But if Christianity has been able to recast itself as one religion among other in a secular space, why would this be impossible for Islam? . . . But this theoretical debate . . . is increasingly solved in the practice of Muslims themselves. The experience of everyday life as a minority brings Muslims to develop practices, compromises, and considerations meant to cope with a secularism that imposes itself on them. This does not mean that Islam has never experienced secularism but only that . . . it never felt the need to think about it. Today, both life conditions in the West and the domination of the Western model through the process of globalization compel many Muslims to relate explicitly to this form of secularism, somewhat urgently and under the pressure of political events, This reflection spans a very wide intellectual spectrum that goes from what I call neofundamentalism to liberal positions, proceeding through all kinds of more or less enlightened conservatism." Id. at viii-ix.).

Steele, Claude M., Whistling Vivaldi and Other Clues to How Stereotypes Affect us (New York & London: Norton, 2010) ("This book is about what my colleagues and I call identity contingencies -- the things you have to deal with in a situation because you have a given social identity, because you are old, young, gay, a white male, a woman, black, Latino, politically conservative or liberal, diagnosed with bipolar disorder, a cancer patient, and so on. Generally speaking, contingencies are circumstances you have to deal with in order to get what you want or need in a situation. In the Chicagoland of my youth, in order to go swimming I [being black] had to restrict my pool going to Wednesday afternoons. That's a contingency. In his African American political science class, my interviewee [being one of only two white is a class of minorities] has the added pressure that his ignorance [of the African-American experience] could cause serious disapproval. That, too, is a contingency. What makes both of these contingencies identity contengencies is that the people involved had to deal with them because they had a particular social identity in the situation. Other people in the situation didn't have to deal with them, just the people who had the same identity he had. This book examines the role these identity contingencies play in our lives, in the broader society, and in some of society's most tenacious problems." "Now, of course, ours is an individualistic society. We don't like to think that conditions tied to our social identities have much to say in our lives, especially if we don't want them to. We have a creed. When barriers arise, we're suppose to march through the storm, picking ourselves up by our bootstraps. I have to count myself a subscriber to this creed. But this book offers an important qualification to this creed: that by imposing on us certain conditions of life, our social identities can strongly affect things as important as our performances in the classroom and on standardized test, our memory capacity, our athletic performance, the pressure we feel to prove ourselves, even the comfort level we have with people of different groups--all things we typically think of as being determined by individual talents, motivations, and preference." "The purpose of this book is nothing less than to bring this poorly understood part of social reality into view. I hope to convince you that ignoring it--allowing our creed of individualism, for example, to push it into the shadows--is costly, to our own personal success and development, to the quality of life in an identity-diverse society and world, and to our ability to fix some of the bad ways that identity still influences the distribution of outcomes in society." Id. at 3-4.).

Sutton, Robert I., The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn't (New York & Boston: Business Plus, 2007) ("[S]tudies show that many workplaces are plagued by 'interpersonal moves' that leave people feeling threatened and demeaned, which are often directed by more powerful people at less powerful people." Id. at 20. "Estimates of who is doing what to whom depend on the population studied and how the particular type of workplace abuse is defined and measured. But the evidence is ironclad: there are lots of assholes out there." Id. at 24. Chapter One "proposes two steps for detecting assholes: first, identify people who persistently leave others feeling demeaned and de-energized; second, look to see if their victims usually have less power and social standing than their tormentors." "These tests imply an even more fundamental lesson that runs through this book: the difference between how a person treats the powerless versus the powerful is as good a measure of human character as I know." Id. at 25. "A huge body of research . . . shows that when people are put in positions of power, they start talking more, taking what they want for themselves, ignoring what other people say or want, ignoring how less powerful people react to their behavior, acting more rudely, and generally treating any situation or person as a means for satisfying their own needs--and that being put in positions of power blinds them to the fact that they are acting like jerks." Id. at 71-72. "Assholes are us. . . ." "If you want to build an asshole-free environment, you've got to start by looking in the mirror. When have you been an asshole? When have you caught and spread this contagious disease? What can you do, or what have you done, to keep your inner asshole from firing away at others?" Id. at 185. From the backcover: "The definitive guide to working with--and surviving--Bullies, Creeps, Jerks, Tyrants, Tormentors, Despots, Backstabbers, Egomaniacs, and all the other assholes who do their best to destroy you at work." Read, then reread, this book.).

Wildavsky, Ben, The Great Brain Race: How Global Universities Are Shaping the World (Princeton & Oxford: Princeton U. Press, 2010) ("Why did for-profit higher education become the kind of high-growth worldwide industry that would attract entrepreneurs . . .? Because the globalization of traditional research universities has so far been largely an elite phenomenon. The for-profit sector, by contrast, has targeted a vast and vastly different student market: non-elite learners, often poorly served by existing institutions, who are eager to earn practical, career-oriented degrees. And for-profits have grown quickly in part because of their willingness to use technology far more aggressively than their more conventional university counterparts." Id. at 142.).

April 15, 2010


Appleby, Joyce, The Relentless Revolution: A History of Capitalism (New York: Norton, 2010) ("Teaching is a great revealer of one's ignorance. Everything seems to fit together while one is taking notes from someone else's lecture. When the task of making sense of the past falls on you, gaps and non sequiturs stand out like hazard lights." Id. at 19. "The quest for acknowledgment of labor has been made more difficult by the language of economic analysis that depersonalizes workers. Labor is bundled with land and capital as the principal components of enterprise. In a subtle way, this has a dehumanizing effect, for it obscures the enormous difference between the human and material elements in production. We might consider the capitalist perspective that dominates public discourse as another perk for business. A recent New York Times headline announced, LABOR COSTS SOAR IN CHINA. Why not say, WORKERS' WAGES HAVE RISEN IN CHINA? Even liberal institutions like universities act like hard-nosed employers when it comes to their own labor relations. In economic analysis, gains to labor can be still be labeled 'expropriation of profits by trade unions' and linked analytically to 'extortion by organized crime.' From an ideological perspective, organized labor started with a deficit, relying, as it must, on collective action in a nation that celebrates the individual, even though it was the giant corporations that did most of the employing." Id. at 322 (citations omitted). Also see Stephen Mihm's review, "Capitalist Chameleon," NYT Sunday Book Review, 1/24/10.).

Ballard, J. G., The Complete Stories of J. G. Ballard with an Introduction by Martin Amis (New York: Norton, 2009) (Ballard: "The only truly alien planet is Earth." Also see Jonathan Lethem's essay, "Poet of Desolate Landscapes," NYT Sunday Book Review, 9/13/09.).

Catton, Bruce, The War Lords of Washington (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1948) (From the jacket cover: "This is an account of how we lost a fight for democracy at home while winning a victory over fascism on the battlefields of Europe and Asia. The fight we lost was fought in Washington, and the issue was how American business and the American people were to be organized for the super-human production effort that was required for victory. The fight was between those who believed that a democracy at war should be a cooperative effort of all the people, of big and little business and labor alike, and those who wanted a limited war to be fought in such a way as not to threaten any vested interest of big business or any privilege of the War or State Departments." This fight for democracy continues, and it has expanded to the so-called War of Terror and to proposed reform of social programs (e.g., healthcare reform). "The simple and unalterable fact, of course, is that no government agency whatever, at any time or under any circumstances, has any business even having a public relations program--except for the unadorned policy of making just as many of the facts public as the good Lord will permit. Our whole form of government is based on the idea that the people call the shots. In the long run a public agency gets good public relations only by deserving them, and if it even tries to get them in any other way it is attempting to commit fraud upon democracy. You can put it down as Rule One: Whenever you find a government department, bureau, or commission beginning to shape its words or its deeds so as to create a desired public reaction, you have found an agency which is right on the verge of stepping on its own tail feathers." "Rule Two, unfortunately, reads out of Rule One, viz.: When the heat is on, the temptation to try to create a desired public reaction becomes almost irresistible. The people may be a faceless multitude, but in the end what the people says goes. The very fact that their reaction can't be ignored is what sets up the tendency to monkey with it. The more important that reaction is, the greater the desire to get it under control. And besides, it is so much easier to lay out propaganda campaign than it is to do the hard, uninspiring work that will eventually win public support on its own merits." Id. at 76. "That was the whole trouble. . . . The things that would have to be done to bring an emotionally integrated people through the years of fire were not done; therefore, it was necessary to fall back on words. This whole concern over what was to be said and who was to say it is important only because it reflects a fundamental failure in the field of action. The story of the government's informational activities during the war is really the story of that failure. Fighting for its life, democracy drew its war cries from the philosophy of the salesman." Id. at 80. Sounds very contemporary, doesn’t it?).

Dershowitz, Alan M., Is There a Right to Remain Silent?: Coercive Interrogation and the Fifth Amendment After 9/11 (Oxford & New York: Oxford U. Press, 2008) ("But do Americans actually have the right that police officers are constitutionally obliged to tell them they have? Not according to a recent Supreme Court decision [Chavez v. Martinez, 538 U.S. 760 (2003)], largely unnoticed not only by the general public but by the academy as well. . . . This case . . . can be seen as a bellwether for the rise of what I call 'the preventive state,' namely, a government that seeks to head off harmful conduct--in order to deter others--until after it has taken place. . . ." Id. at xviii. "Pursuant to the Supreme Court's holding and reasoning in Martinez, the privilege against self-incrimination now has nothing to say about coercive interrogation, even that which entails torturous methods, so long as its fruits are not introduced into evidence at the criminal trial of the coerced person. The privilege, as interpreted by the Court, gives a green light to all preventive intelligence interrogation methods. The due process clause may impose some constraints on the most extreme forms of coercion, but even that is uncertain, especially in the context of preventing mass-casualty terrorist attacks." Id. at 174. "The disparity between what Americans reasonably believe is a broad, universal right to remain silent and the narrow, technical, conditional, and limited trial remedy a small number of criminal defendants actually have in practice, is far too great for a health democracy. Citizens should know their rights and there should be a close, if imperfect, fit between the hortatory and the enforceable." Id. at 175. This is an important short read.).

Dow, David R., The Autobiography of an Execution (New York & Boston: Twelve, 2010) (One of the many reasons why most lawyers (including law professors) are real bores has to do with their obsession with telling war stories in which they are always the heroes, always the smartest kid on their block, and always the ones who win (except when some gross injustice has occurred due to the blindness of the system). Dow appears to be an exception to, and a relief from, that general trend. "Stories of executions are not about attorneys. They're about the victims of murder, and sometimes their killers. I know death-penalty lawyers who are at the movies when their clients get executed. I know one who found out on Thursday that his client had been executed on Monday. He'd been scuba diving in Aruba. I understand that. It's possible to care without seeming to. It's also possible to care too much. You can think of yourself as the last person between your client and the lethal injection, or you can see your client as the person who put himself on the rail to that inevitability. One is healthier than the other." Id. at 6-7. Read this short book.).

Gooding-Williams, Robert, In the Shadow of Du Bois: Afro-Modern Political Thought (Cambridge, Massachusetts & London, England: Harvard U. Press, 2009).

Jacques, Martin, When China Rules the World: The End of the Western World and the Birth of a New Global Order (New York: The Penguin Press, 2009) (See Joseph Kahn, "Waking Dragon," NYT Sunday Book Review, 1/3/10; and Michiko Kakutani, "Will the Dragon Swat the Eagle?", NYT, 12/30/2009.).

McCarthy, Tom, Remainder: A Novel (New York: Vintage Books, 2005) (What is normal/authentic? What is fake/inauthentic? What if the normal is inauthentic and fake. What if the fake becomes real? See Liesl Schillinger's review, "Play It Again," NYT, 2/25/07.).

Natapoff, Alexandra, Snitching: Criminal Informants and the Erosion of American Justice (New York: NYU Press, 2009) ("[I]nformant use creates a unique zone in the criminal system with its own rules, dynamics, and significance." "[T]his zone exerts a strong influence on the rest of the system while revealing many of the system’s core features. Snitching is paradigmatic of the American criminal process because it embodies three of its distinctive characteristics: secrecy, discretion, and the dominance of plea bargaining. Informant deals are most confidential; they are crafted at the sole discretion of police and prosecutors; and they resolve criminal liability through private negotiations largely without rules, trials, or judicial or public scrutiny. The increasing use of such deals has transformed key aspects of the adversarial process, including the roles of defense counsel, disclosure, plea bargaining, and trial. It also drives the entire system further underground. Unearthing the full story of criminal informant use is thus revelatory precisely because it uncovers significant features of the legal process that usually remain hidden. By understanding snitching, we can learn deep truths about how our entire penal system really functions." Id. at 6.).

Riley-Smith, Tristram, The Cracked Bell: America and the Afflictions of Liberty (New York: Skyhorse Publishing, 2010) ("This book--The Cracked Bell-- is essentially a survey of the gap between the American Crisis and the American Dream. It began as a dispassionate attempt to review the state of America at the advent of the twenty-first century, employing the tools and techniques of social anthropology. It has found a country suffering from an array of conflicted conditions, where questions about the essence of the American Way--profound questions about identity, security, power and opportunity--reveal rich and confusing patterns of paradox. . . ." "The US seems to be suffering from the afflictions of liberty--a conditioned emblemized for me by the fractured Liberty Bell in Philadelphia's Independence National Historical Park." Id. at 2-3. "The image of the Liberty Bell--with that deep fault in its side--acts as a Rosetta Stone for me, making sense of those riddles and conundrums encountered in the course of my research. It reminds me that America, early in its prehistory, imported an English ideal of freedom that was tempered and contained by the moral sensibility of the Scottish Enlightenment. . . . However, in the pressured atmosphere of America's 'Liberty Hall', this ideal has been inflated and distorted by a radical form of individualism: it is cracked, liked the Liberty Bell, and is now undermining and afflicting the very society that it was intended to underpin." Id. at 4. "This conclusion has taken me by surprise. Like most Britons, I have developed a Pavlovian response to the word 'freedom' and spring unthinkingly to its defence. But in The Cracked Bell I find myself challenging the place of freedom in society that attaches the highest premium to this ideal. I argue that there is something almost pathological about a national narrative that is intoxicated by the spirit of freedom while failing to pay sufficient attention to its meaning. And so this attempt at a measured, objective survey has ended with the butchery of a 'sacred cow'." Id. at 4-5. A surprisingly interesting read. What Britons are too polite to say about Americans and American can: We Americans are a rather shallow lot, and avoid reflection at just about any price.).

Skloot, Rebecca, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (New York: Crown, 2010) (This book is about many things: race, class, ethics, science, medicine, commercialism. However, what I find most interesting about the whole subject of this book is the problem of rationalization: the gross tendency we have to rationalize (i.e., falsely justify) acts, policies, narratives, propositions, etc., which we know are wrong or questionable because these advance our own selfish, often professional, interests. "But in the meantime two scientists had developed a theory about HeLa that sounded far more like science fiction than anything Rifkin had come up with: HeLa, they said, was no longer human." "Cells change while growing in culture, just as they change in a human body. They're exposed to chemicals, sunlight, and different environments, all of which can cause DNA changes. Then they pass those changes on to each new generation of cells through cell division, a random process that produces even more changes. Like humans, they evolve." "All of this happened to Henrieta's cells once they were placed in culture. And they passed those changes on to their daughter cells, creating new families of HeLa cells that differed from one another in the same way that second, third, and fourth cousin differ, though they share a common ancestor." "By the early nineties, the little sample of Henrietta's cervix that Mary had put into culture in the Gey lab had given rise to many tons of other cells--all still known as HeLa, but all slightly different from one another, and from Henrietta. Because of this, Leigh Van Valen, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Chicago, wrote, 'we here propose, in all seriousness, that [HeLa cells] have become a separate species.' . . . ." "No one challenged this idea, but no one acted on it either, so Henrietta's cells remained classified as human. But even today some scientists argue that it's factually incorrect to say that HeLa cells are related to Henrietta, since their DNA is no longer genetically identical to hers." "Robert Stevenson, one of the researchers who devoted much of his career to straightening out the HeLa contamination mess, laughed when he heard that argument." 'It's just ridiculous'. . . . 'Scientists don't like to think of HeLa cells as being little bits of Henrietta because it's much easier to do science when you disassociate your materials from the people they come from. But if you could get a sample from Henrietta's body today and do DNA fingerprinting on it, her DNA would match the DNA in HeLa cells.'" Id. at 215-216. Also see Dwight Garner, "A Woman's Undying Gift To Science," NYT , Wednesday, 2/3/10.).

Slauter, Eric, The State as a Work of Art: The Cultural Origins of the Constitution (Chicago & London: U. of Chicago Press, 2009) ("This books explores the vibrant political culture of the American Revolution, attending to both its unifying themes and its tensions and limits, and in doing so offers a new account of the origins of the Constitution. . . . Readers will find an examination of the revolutionary call for a government of laws and not of men in the context of a larger transformation in conceptions of statehood; a sketch of the simultaneous and linked rise of political science and philosophical aesthetics; an analysis of the objects and practices that informed competing ideas about political representation; a narrative about the role of antislavery agitation in transforming the revolutionary language of rights; a study of the cultural fascination, during a moment obsessed with the fiction of the social contract, with literary figures who left society; and a consideration of the rise of political secularization during an age in which many commentators came to describe the rights of man as sacred. . . ." "The 'state as a work of art' and the 'cultural origins of the Constitution' are the central topics of this book. These topics dominated the constitutionalism of the early United States, and they hold the seemingly disparate strands of my argument together. Politicians and ordinary people in the early United States considered the state as a work of art. They believed that governments were fashioned by humans and subject to their control. They also believed that successful politicians should emerge from the manners, customs, tastes, and genius of the people being constituted. . . . At a certain level, the revolutionary beliefs in the state as a work of art and the cultural origins of constitutions sat in tension with each other. How could law be both an artificial imposition on and a natural outgrowth of society? But, at a deeper level, it was exactly this tension that made the task of the legislator so difficult and the process of constitution-making so important, for the task as many saw it was for humans to organize politics in such a way that the state would both reflect the population and reform it." Id. at 8-9. Query: In looking at the current state of American politics, has it been organized in such a way that the United States both reflect the American people and reform the American people? If it does reflect us, what does the quagmire at both the federal and state levels of government say about the American people? And if it reforms us, how are the American people being reformed? Are we being reformed? Or, perhaps, are we being deformed? Inquiring minds want to know. Anyway, Slauter has provided an interesting and worthwhile read.).

Vedantam, Shankar, The Hidden Brain: How Our Unconscious Minds Elect Presidents, Control Markets, Wage Wars, and Save Our Lives ((New York: Spiegel & Grau, 2010) (Susan Pinker, "The Out-of-Sight Mind, NYT Sunday Book Review, 1/17/10, writes: "But the evidence Vedantam offers for his claims is often too scant or streamlined, with contradictory or ambiguous results and dissenting interpretations left out. Meanwhile, the biggest bias of all — confirmation bias, which makes us notice only what supports our own opinions and tune out everything else — hardly gets a mention. All this secret stuff can be very disconcerting. But we need more than we get here to know if it is true." Still, the book is worth reading, if only to remind those of us who insist that we are absolutely good decision makers that we are rather clueless about how we actually go about making decision.).

Wagner, Bryan, Disturbing the Peace: Black Culture and the Police Power After Slavery (Cambridge, Massachusetts, & London, England: Harvard University Press, 2009).

Zelizer, Julian E., Arsenal of Democracy: The Politics of National Security--From World War II to the War on Terrorism (New York: Basic Books, 2010) ("Four central questions about national security and American politics have kept recurring since World War II. They have never been definitively answered, nor is it likely they will" "Does Congress or the President drive national security policy? . . ." "Do democrats or republicans hold the national security advantage? . . ." "How big do we want our government to be? . . ." "Should the United States go it alone? . . ." Id. at 3-8. Once moving away from isolationism as American involvement in World War II approached, the contest was one between 'liberal internationalism' and 'conservative internationalism.' That is what this book is really about, the ongoing debate between these two, not completely coherent, approaches to international relations by the United States. The book is balanced toward both approaches. However, "Bush's war in Iraq and Afghanistan and his war on terrorism had exposed weaknesses and contradictions inherent in conservative internationalism. They showed that it is nearly impossible to achieve security without significant physical or financial costs to the nation. Advanced weapons technology and the professional military have not been able to achieve the objectives required to fully combat international terrorism. Making decisions without international cooperation has caused problems once the United States needed more assistance when conditions in Iraq and Afghanistan became worse. At the same time, the experience in Iraq raised questions about the belief among conservatives that militarism--rather than the doubts and fears born out of Vietnam--defined mainstream American culture after the 1960s." "The anxieties that mounted over a prolonged ground war suggested there was still a deep-rooted resistance within the public toward militarism. . . ." Id. at 501. "The present book argues that domestic politics mattered very much throughout the period in American history when the nation developed a permanent national security state, with a series of fundamental questions each period of that history." "But this book provides a more dynamic and complex definition of politics than the previous interpretations have offered--one that is less instrumental or predictable, one that is more varied and robust. There is no single model that explains how this relationship works over time. As this history shows, domestic politics has included a variety of pressures: electoral, ideological, partisan, and when institutional. . . ." Id. at 506. I highly recommend this book.).

April 2, 2010


"Compassion is of value and enriches our life only when compassion is severe, which is to say when we can perceive everything that is good and bad about a character but are still able to feel that the sum of us as human beings is probably a little more good than awful. In any case, good or bad, it reminds us that life is like a gladiators' arena for the soul and so we can feel strengthened by those who endure, and feel awe and pity for those who do not."
Norman Mailer, The Naked and The Dead.