Thursday, January 31, 2008
I especially found his reasoning for the invasion of Iraq intriguing: "the hawks ... believe that the world position of the US has been steadily declining since at least the Vietnam War ... the basic explanation for this decline is the fact that the US governments have been weak and vacillating in their world policies. [As a remedy] the US must assert itself forcefully, to demonstrate its iron will and its overwhelming military superiority. Once that is done, the rest of the world will recognize and accept American primacy in everything. The Europeans will fall in line. The potential nuclear powers will abandon their projects."
This of course works great with my argument that the EU is emancipate itself from the US itself. American primacy has miserably failed (does anyone even fear American invasion anymore?), thus the nuclear powers are still working on their projects and Europe will not fall in line.
Related to Arrighi he also promotes world systems theory (being the creator actually, I believe, have yet to read his oeuvre on that though). In his argument we are nearing a point where not only a hegemonic cycle comes to an end, but a structural end is nearing because the endless accumulation of capital necessary for a capitalist system is coming to an end. This were the case, because taxes, wages, and input costs as shares of profits have risen increasingly over the last centuries, resulting in financial expansion coming to a stop at some point in the near future. I have a hard time countering this argument, but I do not believe in it. First of all, I do not believe that wages' share of profits necessarily have risen as much as he makes out and while taxes have surely risen, this undoubtedly has been countered by an increase in security and safety (against losing goods/freight to robbery or storms). All in all, I do not find his argument very convincing here. Especially because he prefaces it by saying that no one has ever tried to calculate this on a global basis and that it probably would be impossible, to then turn around and claim that capitalists' profits have fallen though. No proof, sorry.
In general the problem with all these economic theories of empire or hegemonic power are complicated to incorporate into what I want to write about, or maybe I just haven't read enough yet and my understanding does not go deep enough yet. Thus, I will continue to spend my life reading (and thoroughly enjoy myself doing so, don't get me wrong).
Tuesday, January 29, 2008
Pontusson's argument basically is that unlike what most Americans (and Europeans it seems for that matter) think there are some lessons to be learned for the USA from European systems (especially the Nordic ones). He firstly, and importantly, refutes the notion that European welfare states are restrictive of growth. This, because those two did go hand in hand during the 1960s and 70s after all, while there is no clear correlation between the two for the 80s and 90s (if the Nordic states are taking out of this equation there is a clear-cut correlation though even if Pontusson never mentions this). The main criticism of the European systems that he puts forward is related to the low employment rate (because of lower female participation rates and early-retirement plans enacted during the last two decades of the 20th century (and still today)).
Yet, his main point I believe is a normative one, specifically, that the USA should try to implement some of the positive aspects of European welfare states. Namely, wage solidarity (possibly through Union negotiation powers) which limits unproductive agencies (due to a kind of convoluted argument that claims that lower wages for unskilled workers subsidize unproductive industries (this because compressed wages due to union activities put a higher premium on capital and thus lead to its more efficient usage)) and prevents social unrest and losses through constant strikes (see France :)). Furthermore, higher investment in public education as a public good (with the German trade school system to some extent being held up as an example) and more active labor market policy. As an extra argument, (I would have included this in the active labor market policies) 'family policies designed to facilitate female labor participation' and, finally, more universalism as opposed to means-tested assistance as a means of increasing public acceptance to welfare programs.
He does make a convincing case for the most part, offering up an incredible amount of data, even if some of his statistics seem doubtful (significance at 90%?). Yet, he stays very much on the ground analytically, meaning he mostly refrains from deeper analysis, which does not necessarily detract from his main argument (see above), but leaves the reader exasperated at times. Also, some of his theories make an impression of containing at least some wishful-thinking. Thus, he argues that the EU unemployment rate is artificially high, because the current account balance (as % of GDP) needs to be deducted from it. While in theory, the long-term current account balance needs to rest at an equilibrium, this does not mean that its effect would necessarily be lower unemployment, adjustments could also take place through wages.
Lastly, one fun fact on the USA: If the prison population is included American unemployment rises from 5.6% to 7.5%. For the EU the same change in people considered results in an increase from 8.3% to 8.5% only.
Ferguson makes an argument for a liberal American empire being needed. He thus criticizes the USA not on account of its invasion of Iraq but rather condemns it for not being willing to stay long enough, for not devoting enough financial assets and manpower. Even while he, justly, considers the US the biggest military power of all times (even in relative terms, the absolute numbers are just mind-boggling), he argues that the US is a weaker empire (he refutes the usage hegemony as a self-deception on behalf of the Americans) than Britain was one. This, for three reasons: its economic deficit (resulting in an American reliance of capital lent to it by the rest of the world), its manpower deficit (due to a lack of commitment in sending soldiers (who might die) and highly-educated civil servants abroad) and finally its attention deficit (the phrasing of this argument positively cracked me up as I have been preaching this mantra continuously ever since I got here) with which he is referring to the Americans' lack of commitment to their foreign interventions. He makes a very solid case for this third argument (his main one), as he shows how long-term commitments historically tended to result in economically and stable democracies (West Germany, Japan and South Korea (with the latter's democratization obviously having coming very late)), unlike the short-term ones in Central America, which did nothing to improve people's lives in those countries.
The main problem with his argument to me is, that it is based on a perception of colonialism as a historical asset for the better of the colonized countries. His examples for this mostly are the white British colonies of the 19th and 20th century (Australia, Canada, South Africa). Yet, he himself mentions India, which barely grew over its period of colonization, and Egypt (which suffered the same plight). He argues that in India a rapid population growth was to blame, while for Egypt he enumerates positive developments (education, political stability among others) to then claim that it also did not 'experience an economic disaster, which the fiscal irresponsibility of successive Egyptian rulers might well have caused. The question we need to ask is what Egyptian incomes would have been' without British control. His implication of course being that Egyptian governments would have performed worse. This, to me, is pure speculation and while I can offer no proof for this (not knowing enough about British colonial governments), but it seems at least odd that all the white colonies developed more or less rapidly, while the non-white ones did so poorly. I would think that countries settled by expatriate Britons received preferential treatment. His argument then of course still could have validity for colonization of, for example, Liberia by the United States, if these possible colonies were treated in the same manner the British Dominions were. I have my doubts about this. Realpolitisch an American government would have a hard time justifying increased spending and devotion to these countries to which (unlike say Canada and the UK) no special 'blood'-relationship exists (arguably of course there is one to Liberia, but it seems questionable in how far the American electorate would agree to this).
All in all then, Ferguson thus offered some interesting ideas, even if his main argument is not one I would agree to.
Sunday, January 27, 2008
The surprising (if you don't know anything about Turner, check here, but I assume most of you will be more or less familiar with him) thing was that Styron in his fictional account had stayed very close to the actual facts as recounted by Turner. This was disappointing for me in the sense that I did not really learn anything new from the text. I again found it shocking how little attention was given to the extraordinary high amount of black people killed in retaliation (there is an introduction and some explanatory remarks by the person recording this confession) in comparison to the 55 whites killed by his followers. One also cannot help but be amazed by a plantation slave during that time who managed to stir an uprising with over 70 participants, and even if their acts evidently were despicable and they put up no serious fight as soon as armed militias began opposing them, a certain heroism cannot be denied. These were people after all whose life had no meaning or value, who were constatly living under the threat of being raped or whipped, killed or sold and seperated from their loved ones.
Nat Turner himself clearly was a religous fanatic, a man who thought Spirits were talking to him in guidance, who saw himself as some kind of a prophet, but what I wonder about in his case is whether he was just another one of these religous murderous nutcases (see Bin Laden for example I guess) or whether he was a highly intelligent human being (who after all was considered somekind of a miracle by his fellow slaves and some poor whites because he could read and write) who completely cracked living under circumstances so dire that no escape seemed possible. Is Nat Turner, thus, the product of a slave-planter society, a true son of the American South if you so will, or was he just one of those disgusting historic nutcases? I tend to believe he was the former, which is really just a feeling based on reading is confessions though. He did not drink alcohol, basically taught himself how to read and write, and (ironically) only killed one of the murdered whites himself (and only after having been pressured to do so), I have too much respect for the man in the end to believe that he was just a crazy person.
This to some extent is a radical position to take, I realize that, I am basically defending the ideological propagator of mass murder here (and if anyone tried to do the same with, say, the Nazis I would kill him (argumentatively of course)). I just feel like institutions to a large extent determine people and the slave system of the pre-civil war American South would have a massive impact on anyone growing up in it.
If you want to read the confessions, check here.
En bref, Modiano raconte l'histoire d'un juif français qui est né après 1945. Même s'il n'a pas dû souffrir sous le régime nazi, c'est ça qui lui occupe le plus, les Nazis, la collaboration (surtout la collabo juive), et la question d'identité d'être juif européen après le holocauste. Même, si je suis sûr, que j'ai compris même pas la moitié des allusions ou des événements, j'aimais bien ce livre. Le narrateur est très, très cynique, il n'a plus d'illusions sur l'humanité (j'aime bien cette vue foncée), il n'a presque pas de scrupule, et surtout il n'a pas de faux respect devant les autorités prétendues. Je vous recommande ce livre sincèrement, je suis sûr qu'avec une meilleur commande de français, plus de savoir de la littérature française (Proust, je l'avais lu il y a longtemps, mais j'en sais rien) le bouquin deviendrais même plus intéressant.
Friday, January 25, 2008
So, while ploughing through the pool I was thinking, what is scary about the US? I came up with some things:
- People at sports events who actually become teary-eyed because some random guys in uniform hold a flag and someone (more or less well) sings a song about a military victory in 1814, instead of cracking up about the pathetic situation they are involved in. Post modernism anyone?
- Twenty to thirty people standing in a circle, clutching their respective neighbors shoulders, singing some kind of a bizarre song in order to join some honors fraternity or sorority or whatever
- Ten to fifteen guys (or girls, they meet independently of each other) sitting in my dorm's study lounge doing a bible study.
- Finally, the complete loss of dignity when it comes to the acquirement of crappy free goods (not so much different from large segments of European society actually, but still). Everybody wave their vic-card (some stupid discount card at the local supermarket here) in order to receive a t-shirt we paid 50 cents to produce and that is full of advertisement for us (the company and the sports team). Yeah, great idea, why don't I do that? I mean it sounds like a good deal, what is some sense of dignity and appropriateness (and I realize how stiff I come across here, sorry, that's how I am) for a free t-shirt after all?
As I was saying, scary stuff. If you think I am just some stupid America-bashing European now, read this post.
Finally, the joke of the day: Wolfowitz has been named to head a high-level advisory panel on arms control and disarmament. Wolfowitz. Good thing this president will be gone soon.
Thursday, January 24, 2008
Arrighi develops a hegemonic theory based on economic aspects mainly (capital accumulation to be precise). The rise and fall of hegemonic powers according to him relates directly to the development of the capitalist system. Thus, the predominance of high finance determines political power on a world scale. He details this through the rise and fall of (in this order) Genoa, the United Provinces, the United Kingdom and finally the USA. (Just as a sidenote, I will not even pretend to be truly capable of explaining his whole economic argumentation. I have not read Marx, nor Braudel, both of whom he quotes extensively. Plus I went through the book looking for juicy thoughts and ideas that would help me in writing my thesis. Talking about a failed endeavor.) All in all, I have a better understanding of Italian city states as well as the Dutch and British empire than I ever thought necessary. Most interesting is his argument of cyclical hegemons being brought about by the distribution of high finance with the pinnacle of hegemonic power equaling the beginning of the decline. This high point according to him is reached when the respective hegemon increaingly refrains from commerce (trade and industrial production) and instead relies on investments (FDIs in modern terms) as its main source of income. This he calls the stage of financial expansion which "in some sense announce[s][...] its [the hegemons] maturity: it[s] sign of autumn."
Ignoring this historical development, the question is how this applies to today's world. Clearly, American hegemony is in decline (or is anyone still trying to argue with this?) and Arrighi agrees with this. Yet, according to his theory the United States at this point should be financing the rise of some possible new hegemon (China, India? Arrighi focuses on Japan which at that time (1994) made a lot more sense than it does now). Evidently, this is not the case, instead Japanese, Chinese and Arabic investments finance American consumption (and thus indirectly their own growth through gigantic trade imbalances). While this is similar to American support for its hegemonic predecessor during the First and (even more so) Second World War, it Arrighi (as far as I am concerned or maybe better: the way I understood it least) does not succeed to solve this inherent dilemma of a hegemon receiving capital instead of "flows of capital [going] from declining to rising centers." Arguably, the US became the hegemon at some point during the First World War and it was before then that British capital had flowed into the USA. The argument that American hegemony during the 1980s had already declined as much (not brought forward by Arrighi either) as to compare it to the imperial overstretch of Britain after the Second World War runs counter to anything I ever heard about this. Thus, either my understanding of Arrighi is lacking here or his argument is missing an important point.
Finally, Arrighi brings up the interesting development of a separation of military and economic hegemony. He does not focus on this, it is really just a suggestion for a possible future that he brings up, but it seems like a very sensible projection considering the dominance of the American military.
Summing up, I do not really know how this helps me with my thesis. There are interesting ideas in the book, but few of them seem to be directly applicable. Hopefully my next read will be more helpful.
Monday, January 14, 2008
The sad thing about this really is that he has a point. He touches on a lot of issues that need to be explored further and reevaluated in their meaning as to whether the West is hypocritical or not. American one-sided support for Israel, the dominance of lobbyists in Washington, big-name companies in the Middle East, the purpose of proxy wars that the US has (and is) lead(ing) all over the world. Lots of topics to discuss. The problem just is that Zalloum discredits himself through abstruse connections (seemingly every misterious death over the last 50 years was committed by Mossad, I mean I knew they were good, but that good?), over-simplifications and simple factual errors (Adenauer got voted out of office? Really now?). I read this as part of the preparation for my master thesis, let's just hope that future books will be more rewarding and less pointless.
I speed-walked through this, if you read it, race through it, and pick up something better quickly.
Tuesday, January 08, 2008
As old as the Faulkner comparison is, as relevant is it when talking about Southern writers, and seemingly every promising Southerner has been compared at some point (it seems similar to the NBA searching for a new Jordan in every young star (starting with Grant Hill to now LeBron James)), the interesting twist in this case of course is that Gaines is black and thus has an inherent different outlook on the South. No, I don't think he has come even close to dethroning the great Faulkner for me, but I will read more by him if I find the time, that's for sure.
Sunday, January 06, 2008
5 - Vieux Farke Touré - Vieux Farka Touré
I loved his Dad's stuff (may he rest in peace) and I thought at first this was just a son cashing in on his father's talent, wile having none of his own (say Julian Lennon, what little I have heard of him). Not true. Granted he does sound a lot like Ali Farka Touré, but he simply does a good job himself and that Niafunké sound is just wonderful.
4 - Porter Wagoner - Wagonmaster
I didn't know anything of this guy until me and a friend from Kansas saw him on CMT in a motel in Nashville by accident. Considering the bullshit they play on that station usually I was struck by his voice, his age, his experience, his wisdom that he expressed through it. A reflective, quiet old man's album, wonderful. And the guy went to Hank William's first appearence in the Grand Ol' Opry for God's sake, so sad that all these old-timers are dying out.
3 - Steve Earle - Washington Square Serenade
Definitely one of the strongest singers still alive and kickin' today. His outlaw, hick music speaks to me in ways that I have a hard time explaining (considering I am a German (Berliner) city slicker). He moved to New York last year and his album is a less politicized affaire, more a personal narration of Greenwich Village. Not his best album (but then to be fair is it even possible to top Copperhead Road or Christmas in Washington?), but very enjoyable and I felt like it grows on you too.
2 - Dion - Son of Skip James
Ever heard of Dion & The Belmonts? A Teenager in Love? The Wanderer? Catchy 50s Doo Wop tunes? Rings a bell? Well, that guy has produced the best blues album of the year (granted I didn't listen to that many this year and this is the second year in a row this award goes to a white guy, not quite sure what that means). It seems to be a weird career path true, but this is actually his second blues album (Bronx in Blue in 2006 was the other one) and he is superb. He apparently got exposed to the blues on the folk circuit during the 60s, which explains the reference to Skip James with whom he played, and he definitely learned his lesson well. A great bluesified cover of Chuck Berry's Nadine for example.
1 - Levon Helm - Dirt Farmer
So, I flew home for Christmas and my Dad once I get there hands me this CD and says: 'Heard this one? Very good one. You need to check it out.' And I did, think I listened to it for the whole following week without becoming tired of his whiny voice. Did I mention that I love rural American music? No logical explanation, sorry. Helm whom I had never heard of (he was the drummer for the Band and sang some for them too, I did thus kind of know him already) covers ol'-timey music on this album. Great, great country-rock. One Steve Earle cover, The Mountain, that is simply a stunner. Wonderful album, you need to listen to it, trust me.
The poor old dirt farmer he's lost all his corn,
and now where's the money to pay off his loan?
Honorable mentions and albums that could be good but that I haven't listened to enough yet (in no particular order):
Guru - Jazzmatazz - Volume 4 - The Hip Hop Jazz Messenger - Back to the Future
Devin The Dude - Waitin' To Inhale
Prodigy - Return Of The Mac
Wu-Tang Clan - 8 Diagrams
Tiken Jah Fakoly - L'Africain
Ry Cooder - My Name is Buddy
John Fogerty - Revival
The Holmes Brothers - State of Grace
Saturday, January 05, 2008
Leider hat mir dieses Buch nicht so gut gefallen wie viele der Bücher von Haffner die ich vorher gelesen hatte (1, 2). Warum? Ich weiß es nicht so genau. Sein Schreibstil schien weniger flüssig und fesselnd, was aber wohl entweder an der doppelten Übersetzung oder den besonderen Umständen (als Emigrant in England, mit schwangerer Freundin, keinem Job und von der Schutzhaft bedroht) liegen könnte. Gerade diese Umstände, immerhin erdreistet sich ein Deutscher hier den Briten zu erklären wie sie den Krieg gegen Deutschland zu führen zu haben, sollten nicht unterschätzt werden.
Haffner beschreibt verschiedene Gruppen, welche zum Verständnis Nazideutschlands bekannt sein sollten: Hitler, die Nazis (von Göring bis zu den Blockwarten), die loyalen Deutschen (die stille, willig gehorchende Mehrheit), die illoyalen Deutschen (die stille, unwillig gehorchende Minderheit, welche das Ziel der englischen Propaganda sein sollte), die Opposition (KPD, SPD...er beschreibt sie als desaströs und hat damit wohl recht) und letzten Endes die Emigranten (welche er wohl als zu relevant bewertet auch weil er natürlich Teil derselben ist und deswegen nicht gerade objektiv in Bezug auf dieselben).
Das Problem des Buches ist zweigeteilt. Erstens, sind einige der Dikussionen einfach nicht mehr zeitgemäß. So braucht heute keinem mehr erklärt zu werden wie verbrecherisch die Nazis wirklich waren. Zweitens, versucht Haffner der englischen Politik Vorschläge zu machen, wie der Krieg zu führen sei. Diese sind aus der heutigen Perspektive gelesen einfach nicht mehr so relevant. Ein Kompromissfrieden mit Göring als Reichskanzler mag damals eine Möglichkeit gewesen sein, heutzutage ist die Diskussion darüber eher müßig.
Interessant ist sein Konzept einer Kontinuität von Friedrich dem Großen und seinem expansiven Preußen über das Deutsche Reich zum Dritten Reich ("es sind nur Nuancen, die das Dritte Reich und das Deutsche Reich voneinander unterscheiden"). Auch wenn gerade durch den Holocaust stark relativiert (der Vergleich) eine faszinierende Idee. Sein Lösungsvorschlag für nach dem krieg ist außerdem eine Art Europa der Regionen, mit Deutschland zurückfallend in seine Kleinstaaterei, aber wirtschaftlich und politisch eingebunden in ein größeres Europa.
Fast schon prophetisch ist seine Prognose über Hitler: "Er besitzt genau den Mut und die Feigheit für einen Selbstmord."
Abschließend läßt sich im Allgemeinen sagen, daß ich seiner Konzentration auf Personnen zum Nachteil von Strukturen und wirtschaftlichen und politischen Umständen nicht immer zustimme. "Wer vermag, ohne die Augen vor der Hauptursache zu verschließen, auch um eine der großen welterschütternden Krisen unseres Jahrhunderts zu erklären?" Auf den ersten Weltkrieg mag dies zustimmen, auf den zweiten? Wäre Hitler ohne die Weltwirtschaftskrise überhaupt je an die Macht gekommen? In der gleichen Stoßrichtung versucht Haffner Hitlers Politik nur als Resultat seiner eigenen Lebenserfahrungen zu verkaufen. Wie gesagt, ich finde diese Erklärungsansätze zu persönlich.
Was ich sehr begrüße ist seine kritische Begutachtung des Patriotismus, welchen ich ja eigentlich nur belustigend oder sogar abstoßend finde (jeweils auf meine Stimmung und die andere Person darauf ankommend): "Es ist normal ... die eigene Heimat und die eigenen Landsleute zu lieben [wo ich nur begrenzt zustimme, aber das ist ein ganz anderes Thema, was ich heute eher nicht anschneide]...aber je mehr im sillen, um so besser." Schreibts Euch hinter die Ohren, Ihr Flaggenschwenker der Welt.
Also, lesen oder nicht lesen? Ich würde sagen ja, aber nur für Haffnerfans und -kenner und garantiert nicht als erstes Buch.
Friday, January 04, 2008
I would love to believe that, cannot bring myself to do so though for two reasons. First, it seems evident that the willingness of white Democratic voters to elect black officials is higher than that of white Republican voters. A victory in this Democratic caucus is thus no indication of his chances in a general, national election. Second (from a paper I recently wrote ):
"The greater the district's racial composition tips in blacks' favor the more inclined whites are to project […] racial fears […] onto [the] […] officeseeker." In districts were blacks are a minuscule minority the chances of a black candidate to win the white vote rises because African Americans issues are less relevant, causing less anxiety in white voters."
Clearly, Iowa falls in the latter category, for other stats or the nation as a whole this is a completely different story.