Pedantry - Moved to http://pedantry.fistfulofeuros.net
Friday, August 01, 2003
It couldn't happen here
The editor of The Shamrockshire Eagle makes a point in the comments to my previous post about the secondary role of military build-up in the management of late capitalist economies. Military spending can serve as a mechanism of economic regulation, and while on the surface this role is portrayed as a secondary - even incidental - matter, it may in fact become the primary role of the military.
This sort of thinking has a lengthy tradition. It is, for example, the classic explanation of the social function of magic and religion. The secondary effects of a cultural belief in magic or in other sorts of supernatural authority may be its primary reason for existing. The fear that the economic effects of military spending may become the principal reason for the military was expressed at least as early as 1961, in Eisenhower's parting speech as president.
It is a kind of distorted reflection of Hayek's concerns about economic planning in The Road to Serfdom. As soon as the state begins to take a role in the economy, according to Hayek, it can only take a greater and greater role in all aspects of life, trying to bring it under control so that the state's plans will work. In the same way, once the military starts having a social function beyond making war, that role can only grow as it further distorts the functioning of social institutions, forcing more and more of them to come under direct and indirect military control because they are "vital to national security."
Although the "military-industrial complex" has become a byword of X-Files type conspiracist thinking, it is not a notion without merit. There are quite a few people who think America's technological dominance is primarily a consequence of vast networks of military spending, and they make a pretty good case. Aeronautics and computing are both areas that enjoy huge research subsidies from the Defence Department. Boeing would never have built the 707 jet if it had not received a large order from the DOD. Many early semiconductor firms sold most of their production to the government or to government contractors making missiles.
There is other confirming evidence that state subsidy rather than unique "American know-how" is a major factor in high-tech growth. European and specifically French spending on aeronautics, while vastly less than total US spending, has still managed to produce commercial aircraft of comparable or better quality, showing that the same state support works for other people too. Biotech, which has not enjoyed a similar level of subsidy in the US, but has in many other countries, is the one high tech area where it seems that the US is lagging significantly behind. Profitable biotech comes primarily from European, Australian and Canadian labs.
Of course, a key aspect of 21st century capitalism is its global character. A Swedish biotech lab may be owned by a Swiss company that trades on the New York stock exchange. A European drug company may campaign against the sale of Brazilian-made generic AIDS drugs in Africa by lobbying the US government. It's a lot more difficult nowadays to say just what country can claim credit for what technology .
One of the things I think is worth worrying about is the idea that America's military adventures may serve less desirable social goals than mere industrial subsidy. The Vietnam war served as a focal point for opposition to the government, but now that there is no conscription, the dynamic has changed. It is simpler to just say that you "support the troops" because unless you are one of the troops, when America goes to war no one is actually asking very much of you. War becomes a way of rallying the masses behind the regime and of bullying the opposition into submission.
The first time I encountered this idea from an American, in reference to their own government, was after Clinton's bombing of Afghanistan and Sudan in 1998. Many conservatives, and a few liberals, suggested that it was a consequence of the Lewinsky affair. If so, it didn't work, and I see some sign that perhaps Iraq won't help Bush either.
However, when I proposed that the military's greatest value may have little to do with defence, back in '98 on a forum I used to hang around on, I was referred to an interesting short story from 1992. The story was the work of a Lieutenant Colonel Charles Dunlap, at the time attached to the US National War College. It's called The Origins of the American Military Coup of 2012, and at one time it was moderately famous.
The story is set in the aftermath of a coup d'état that has replaced constitutional government in the US with a junta. The story itself takes the form of a letter written by an unnamed US Army officer, outlining how the government came to be overthrown by a cabal of officers. This near science fiction story, a work of advocacy rather than an attempt at entertainment, is quite enlightening. Dunlap lays the blame for America's dictatorship on the acceptance of the military's secondary effects as its principal justification. In his imagined future, this process has continued to the point where the American military is useless at war, but has replaced nearly the whole of the government.
It wasn't any single cause that led us to this point. Instead, it was a combination of several different developments, the beginnings of which were evident in 1992. Here's what I think happened:
I am more sanguine about the "military's obvious competence in the First Gulf War", but as a statement of the mood in America after the First Gulf War (note that way back in '92, he was already calling it the "First" Gulf War) it is clearly true. In Dunlap's story, the elements that destroy American democracy are the combination of a loss of faith in democratic institutions in conjunction with a sharp and sudden rise of faith in the military, at the same time that the collapse of the Soviet Union reduced the actual need for such a large defensive force.
Commentator James Fallows expressed the new thinking in an August 1991 article in Atlantic magazine. Musing on the contributions of the military to American society, Fallows wrote: "I am beginning to think that the only way the national government can do anything worthwhile is to invent a security threat and turn the job over to the military." [...]
Dunlap goes on to apply one of the classic creative devices of science fiction: Pick a trend and take it to its extreme.
It wasn't too long before 21st-century legislators were calling for more military involvement in police work. Crime seemed out of control. Most disturbing, the incidence of violent crime continued to climb. Americans were horrified and desperate: a third even believed vigilantism could be justified. Rising lawlessness was seen as but another example of the civilian political leadership's inability to fulfill government's most basic duty to ensure public safety. People once again wanted the military to help. [...]
There are many aspects of Dunlap's nightmare that I don't consider likely. One of my fears about the occupation of Iraq was, and is, that America's troops make poor policemen. Dunlap believes that the pressures of duty will transform them into policemen, but good policemen are professionals who spend years training for their work. Nor do military officers have "the math and science backgrounds desperately needed to revitalize US education." Dunlap has what seems to me to be a traditionally military conception of education, not as a profession requiring specific skills but as the knowledgeable simply passing on what they know. America's trade deficit has nothing to do with the shipping industry. Military hospitals are widely reputed to be worse than civilian ones, and operate at a greater cost. Furthermore, it's hard enough to get the government to recognise that there are any environmental problems, much less assign military resources to resolving them. Crime has not exploded as Dunlap predicts and there seems to be no pressure to put troops on the streets in support of the local police, at least not in response to ordinary crime. Fear of terrorism, though, just might produce such a result.
Dunlap seems to forget, or not really think about, the number of services he attributes to the military where it already depends on private contractors. Shipping and air transport in particular are areas where the military budget supports well connected private concerns, and there simply aren't any independent military resources to draw on.
Dunlap points to a few other factors in the establishment of an American junta that I think are overblown. He opposes a unified military command, which he claims is the inevitable outcome of joint activities between the various American military services. According to the narrator, "no one seemed to recognize the checks-and-balances function that service separatism provided a democracy obliged to maintain a large, professional military establishment." I, frankly, am not impressed by this argument. Chile's multiple military services did not prevent its 1971 coup d'état and I see no evidence that America is any different. Dunlap, in his story, leads us from a joint military command to the appointment of a single, unelected high commander of the military. Yet here in 2003, America already has a single, unelected high military commander.
Still, Dunlap's point about the politicisation of the military in response to declining budgets seems sound to me. However, he isn't done yet. He points to another trend which worries me as much as it does Dunlap:
Still, that doesn't completely explain why in 2012 the military leadership would succumb to a coup. To answer that question fully requires examination of what was happening to the officer corps as the military drew down in the 1980s and 1990s. Ever since large peacetime military establishments became permanent features after World War II, the great leveler of the officer corps was the constant influx of officers from the Reserve Officers Training Corps program. The product of diverse colleges and universities throughout the United States, these officers were a vital source of liberalism in the military services.
I think Dunlap is onto something. Many people have noticed how much more conservative the American military has become over the years. I know I'm not the only person who has also noticed how much of its officer corps is from the American South. A recent article in London's conservative Spectator newspaper, which I found via Silt, highlights this very point in understanding American foreign policy:
Sword of honour
I don't know how prevalent this kind of thinking is in the South, but it seems pretty widespread among American troops. This suggests to me that the military is not only susceptible to corruption from within, but that it can be corrupted from without by a leader able to speak a language of honour and force that is clearly inappropriate in the affairs of state.
Furthermore, the isolation of the military from the rest of society is very apparent at US bases in Europe. A few weeks ago, I was at the headquarters of the US Army 254th Base Support Battalion at Schinnen, Netherlands. My reasons were simple enough: I needed to buy some things that are either very hard to find or very expensive in Europe. My wife's office is primarily composed of American military officers, so she has a number of friends who have base access and who buy things at American PX's to save money.
The facilities at Schinnen aren't so much a military base as a shopping centre. The men assigned there all live off-base in rented apartments. It isn't an active forces base, but rather some sort of supply centre. On base, only US dollars are accepted. Even the soda machines take only US currency. Euros were nowhere to be seen. There is a Burger King, a franchise pizza restaurant of some sort, a bowling alley, a movie theatre, a small Waldenbooks-style bookstore, a barbershop, a department store that was, by European standards, very large, a Home Depot-type store, and a base commissary with hard-to-find American foods like peanut butter. It was as if someone had tried to boil the essence of middle America down to a few familiar elements and decided to make them into a mall.
The prices were all lower than comparable prices in the US, but without American - much less European - sales taxes. For the price of a good pair of shoes and a pair of jeans in Leuven, I bought four pairs of shoes and a year's worth of jeans, from sales staff with Georgia accents and Walmart smiles, who pronounced Schinnen "Shin-un." I heard no Dutch, saw no Euros, and encountered nothing that wouldn't have seemed completely familiar in the Midwest. It seemed like the entire base staff was hanging out at the mall with their families, just as they might have on a Saturday in the States.
Since technically I wasn't supposed to be shopping at the base, I didn't ask people too many questions, but I had a distinct sense of being cut off there, The place has a very shut-in sort of vibe to it. The base itself is almost invisible from the highway that runs alongside it, and on the inside there is no indication that you are in Europe instead of suburban Kansas. The thing is, a lot of military communities in the US feel that way too. Military towns in the US tend to be small, somewhat out-of-the-way cities. The local business community tends to lean towards large national franchises and lowest-common-denominator services, and driving through them you often get a sense of déjà vu.
The other matter is more worrying. American colleges have been the traditional home of American liberalism - not just the sort of liberalism that leads to liberal politics but also to the sense that tolerance and diversity are valuable things. Even politically conservative university graduates tend to have those sorts of values, at least to some degree. Small town America, especially in the South, has more or less the opposite reputation.
Before reading Dunlap, it simply had never occurred to me that the growing social and political conservatism of the American military might have nothing at all to do with military culture as such. As others have pointed out, the actual structure of the military and the nature of military life bear a much closer resemblance to Soviet-style socialism.
Dunlap places the blame on the disappearance of college ROTC programmes, many of which were under fire in the early 90's because of the exclusionary anti-gay policy of the US military. Dunlap attributes this to "political correctness", carefully avoiding telling us what he thinks about gays in the military. I think Dunlap is right to think that the decline of ROTC programmes and other sources of more liberal officers, as well as the social isolation of the military, are the cause of the growing conservatism of the armed forces. I think, however, he has not correctly identified the cause of the decline of ROTC programmes. A military career is simply not very lucrative for university graduates, and 20-something men and women are a lot less willing to sign up when it probably means spending their careers in places like Iraq and Liberia and risking actually getting shot at. Furthermore, even the most jingoist of America's university graduates are still probably wary of placing their careers - not to mention their lives - so completely in the hands of the US government. These days, fighting wars is what other people do.
Dunlap offers some advice for avoiding his dictatorial nightmare. In particular, he suggests that the American military get used to living on a smaller budget:
We are not the DEA, EPA, Peace Corps, Department of Education, or Red Cross - nor should we be. It has never been easy to give up resources, but in the long term we - and the nation - will be better served by a smaller but appropriately focused military.
Where I feel most uncomfortable with Dunlap is his suggestion that campus ROTC programmes should be kept open by litigation. I think the better approach would be to simply change policy and stop throwing out gay soldiers.
Despite Dunlap's interesting and stimulating short story, I don't actually think a military coup is a likely scenario for the US, nor do I think the growth of military participation in public life, which seemed so plausible in 1992 in the face of Cold War budget cuts, is very likely now. I do fear that many of the elements of Dunlap's story could play out in a quite different sort of death of democracy. In the comments to a previous post, I told David Weman that I had actually come up with an alternative to liberal democracy in the context of a science fiction novel that I, at one time in my life, was trying to write. Although I strongly doubt that the novel will ever come to pass, some of the issues I wanted to raise in it are ones that I think are still important.
Dunlap's story is how he fears that it - Sinclair Lewis' pronoun referring to fascism - could happen in America. So, next post (or soon anyway), I will answer David's request for my alternative to liberal democracy and show you how I would have written Dunlap's cautionary tale.
Update: Geez, I misspell the guy's name like 300 times (Dunlap, not Dunlop) and spell "serfdom" as "surfdom." I'd blame booze, except I haven't had any.
Wednesday, July 30, 2003
America: the stillborn empire?
An article in today's NY Times got me thinking about something.
New Top General Tells Legislators U.S. Will Probably Need a Larger Army
Now, contrast with this:
Last of the Big Time Spenders: U.S. Military Budget Still the World's Largest, and Growing
As I understand it, The US is now outspending the entire rest of the world on national defense. The US is the third largest nation in the world, and has the highest GDP by a factor of at least three. And yet, it needs a larger military.
Paul Kennedy is best known for advancing the idea that empires are destroyed by overreach, but the numbers in this case are so incredible that I can't imagine why it isn't a public scandal. According to the CDI, Iraq spent all of $1.4 billion on its defence, and yet it has cost the US some $70 billion to invade Iraq and roughly $4 billion a month to occupy it. Imagine attacking an enemy that spent $3 billion a year on defence!
At 50-to-1, the ratio of US invasion costs to Iraqi annual defence spending, it takes only $20 billion dollars to defend against an annual US defence budget of $1 trillion a year - twice what Bush is budgeting for fiscal 2009. Federal receipts are approximately $2 trillion and total US GDP is roughly $10 trillion, so it doesn't take too many billions in spending to ensure that the US simply can't afford to attack you. At $200 billion, half of what the US spends now, it would take the entire US GDP to invade your country.
Logically, I suppose the cost of defeating an enemy doesn't rise linearly with their defence spending, but it is worth asking just how much money it takes to defend against a single dollar of the US military budget. It doesn't look to me like the US can afford to be a superpower.
The Romans took centuries to reach the point where they could no longer afford their empire. For the major European colonial empires, it took a couple centuries at least to reach that point, and in France and Britain's cases, two devastating wars against industrialised enemies. For America, it seems like the empire can't even afford its start-up costs.
Neck deep in Liberia
Via The Head Heeb, an interesting piece on US legal obligations towards Liberia. It's primarily about the legal case that the US has some responsibility towards the country, but I am sceptical. What court could you make the case in? However, the moral obligation comes through quite clearly in the following section:
Understanding America's Obligations in Africa's Newest Trouble Zone
Just as the victims of abuse so easily seem to become the next generation of abusers, ex-slaves from the US move to Africa and restore all of the injustices they had left behind with the assistance of the old country's own elite. To me that makes a much better case for some US responsibility than the legal issues the article discusses.
Tuesday, July 29, 2003
Okay, I don't read the Volokhs that often
By the far the best of the Volokhs and the main reason I visit the site at all - Jacob Levy - is back and blogging. His post on Liberia's historical ties to the US is worth a gander. Also, he reminds me (last Sunday, to my shame) that I said I would buy Language Rights and Political Theory when it came out. It's out.
Unfortuately, one of the conditions of my parole (and since my wife is my parole officer, I can't get out of it) is that I can only make a few big Amazon orders a year, and I've spent my quota until September. However, if someone wants to buy me the book, you can do so by clicking here or on the "Buy me books" link on the left. Because it gets shipped to my wife's APO box, there is no overseas shipping to pay.
If I receive the book, I promise to do a full review here on the blog. Since it's about language policy, I expect it ought to be an interesting review.
Update: Aidan Kehoe has come to the rescue and bought me the book. I have to admit, I didn't actually think anyone was going to do it. Now maybe I'll have to add some other books to my wish list. Thanks loads, Aidan!
If French is the language of love, then what is German?
Via Universal Language, which is just a veritable plethora of useful pointers for language politics junkies, comes this article from the Deutsche Welle website:
Teachers Plan to "Sex up" German
This has been building up for a while. Domestically, there is very little that could really be called an aggressive language policy in the Bundesrepublik. However, Germany is growing a lot more aggressive in its external promotion of the language, particularly at the European level.
For instance, back in the summer of '99, Germany started boycotting all informal EU ministerial meetings that don't place German on an equal footing with French and English. English and French are the semi-official languages of the EU bureaucracy, but since reunification in 1990 and especially since the addition of Austria to the EU in 1995, Germany has been pressing hard for their language to be given genuinely equal footing. They have been fairly successful too. Many EU committees now operate in English, French and German, although some are still just English/French and a few are English-only.
The semi-official policy of the French government is to promote multi-lingualism in all the international institutions it participates in. This no longer means just French and English, increasingly it means French politicians enlisting the help of other nations who want to promote the use fo their languages. Germany is increasingly France's major ally in this. The recent creation of the European Patent Office is an excellent example. The UK, Scandinavia and some of the smaller EU states wanted the EPO to only accept patent applications in English. The French government found this unacceptable and enrolled the German government to support a trilingual patent bureau, which Spain, Greece, Italy and Portugal considered unacceptable. However, France and Germany together were able to put up enough pressure against an English-only solution that in the end they got their trilingual patent office. France alone could not have managed it.
I expect to see more French-style efforts from Germany to promote its own language abroad and quite possibly more effort to promote it at home. I think the European Patent fight is a sign of a nascent Franco-German axis to stem anglicisation in Europe. Language promotion is increasingly the trend everywhere in Europe, not just France. Even in Flanders, there is perceptible pressure to place more value on Dutch. But of the European nations, Germany has the most people and money and therefore the best chance of making a dent in international institutions. In combination with France, I don't see any coallition of other states likely to inhibit them.
À bas le mél!
Jeremy Osner sends e-mail noting some letters to the editor in today's NY Times.
To the Editor:
I can actually answer this question. "Mél" was not exactly "home-grown." It was part of an unsuccessful effort by the Académie Française to get the public to accept the formulation "messagerie électronique." This is a common story in the history of French computer terminology. Have any of my francophone readers ever heard the word "programmerie"? I didn't think so. Back in the early 70's, that was what the Académie wanted to call "software." The people at the Académie Française are creative proposers of new words. They think up stuff that's logical, coherent, reasonable and - as is the case with "mél" - even cute. And the first term they try to get to work always fails. For computer terms, it's been like this for over 30 years. I don't think I've ever seen the word "mél" outside of term lists and dictionaries. Later, someone else - an ISO committee, the OLF, or the Canadian Secretary of State, sometimes even IBM or Microsoft - will start using some other term and make it work.
To the Editor:
Actually, I think French computer terminology makes more sense than English computer terminology, but there have been some failed campaigns in the computer terminology business. "Toile" never caught on for "web", and at this point "web" has become the accepted word pretty much everywhere. But otherwise, French has been very successful in creating and propagating new, consistent, native terminology in computing. Only Chinese has a comparable record of success.
One of the reasons it has worked so well is that they got to the translators fairly early on. In the early 90's in Quebec, you could tell the old-timers from the newbies by the French computing vocabulary they used. The old-timers used a lot of anglicisms: rebooter, se loguer, directoire and the like. The newbies used official OLF-approved terms. Why? Because the newbies learned their computer terminology from their translated manuals. They didn't know that the words they were using were inventions and most of them had little or no contact with the older generation of computer people. By '94, when I left Quebec for California, the newbies outnumbered the old-timers 10-to-1 and we were the ones being forced to use the new terms because no one would understand us otherwise.
Anyway, that's how official neologisms get to be common words without anybody having a gun held to their heads.
Faith put to the test
It's been a while since I put up a post about my great-grandfather David Jakob Dick (who will mostly be referred to as "Grandpa Dick" from here on out) - more than a month from the look of it. The last post, written by his younger sister Helene, ended with:
When the greatest misfortune took us, I can well remember sitting right there under the fruit trees and hearing the shots.
To read up on how we got to this point, you can start here, with the beginning of the story of the Dick family in Russia before proceeding to the last post; or, you can start with the index to all the posts that I've put up from my grandfather's family and personal history.
I found the scanner at my office. Man, technology is great. It took a fifth of the time to do this with the scanner than when I had to retype everything. Since I had access and some time on my hands, I thought I might include some other material in today's post. For the fans of Tsarist bureaucratic forms, I have a scan of Grandpa Dick's birth certificate, which I rather amateurishly translated ten years ago when I was studying Russian. Unfortunately, most of the material I have from Grandpa is photocopied, so it's not photo quality.
For those of you who read the last instalment and were wondering about the dollhouse great-aunt Helene was talking about, it looked like this:
The Dollhouse at Apanlee - Beats the hell outta Malibu Barbie, dunnit?
Preparing this post put me in mind of something Richard Dawkins wrote in mid-September 2001 for the Guardian:
Religion's misguided missiles
Dawkins has a point, albeit a limited one. If we are going to hold 9/11 against religion - all religions - we have to hold WWI against all nations. The things that convince people to die for their faith aren't much different from the ones that convince people to die for their country. At least with God, you're getting offered heaven in the end. If you die for your country, you might get a nice funeral on the taxpayers.
What I want to draw attention to is the flip side of Dawkins' rather pessimistic view of religion. There are people who will not kill, people who won't even fight to save their own lives because of their religion. The promise of heaven means that they won't resist any sort of aggression at all, for fear of the damage it might do to their souls. Better to die than to kill. The same power that makes holy wars also makes martyrs and like most powerful forces, religion is a two sided thing.
For my Mennonite ancestors, committing an act like the WTC attack would have been inconceivable. WWI seemed to them at the time like the act of pure, stupid folly it seems like to most of us now. These people didn't even have murders in their communities. During my lifetime, some of them still refused to lock the doors to their homes or cars. There was some strife and the ordinary sorts of conflict that all people suffer, but for them, there was no war, no murder, no theft worthy of mention and very little fear.
Seems too good to be real? I promise you, these people and places really existed. Unfortunately, in an act that proves that if God exists then she must have a sense of irony, they built this utopia in the middle of what was about to become the Soviet Union.
Grandpa Dick, my Russian-born great-grandfather, described the events that preceded his departure for Canada in the April 15, 1977 edition of the MB Herald, the bi-monthly magazine of the Canadian Mennonite Brethren Church. He was quite at ease in English, and the words are wholly his own. One missing piece of context that you ought to have: from 1919 to 1923, Canada forbade all immigration of Doukhbours, Hutterites and Mennonites from Russia. The Canadian Mennonites lobbied Parliament - the first time they had ever been so deeply involved in politics anywhere - and eventually had the order overturned.
The Dick Family, circa 1909
From left to right: Jessie, Jacob, Elsie, Lydia, Louise, mother Katharina with Helene on her lap, Anna and her husband David Sudermann, father David, son David [my great-grandfather David Jakob Dick], Tina, Johann [John], and Maria [Mary].
Faith put to the test
I don't have much else from Russia after that. I have two very brief letters from Grandpa Dick to his sisters who went to Canada immediately after the ban on Mennonite immigrants was lifted. They are very banal stuff, mostly about where he is on the emigration lists. Grandpa Dick himself got out in the spring of 1924. His sister Elsa summarises the years from 1919 to 1927 in two sentences:
Until 1923, all the children kind of drifted around in South Russia. Then, from 1923 to 1926 when the way was opened, most of them immigrated to Canada except Anna, Lydia and Johann who are still there. [These three were married before 1923.]
This brings us just about up to 1929, where Grandpa Dick enters my grandfather's life for the first time.
Next: We return to Canada in the 1940's, where Grandpa faces culture shock for the first - but not last - time in his life.
Update: Fixed the images problem, I hope. The free web storage site I was using is going non-free, so I tried to use Geocites. No dice. But is should all be okay now - I found an alternate storage area.
American war crimes
Quite a few bloggers have picked up on this Washington Post article. Technorati lists 56, and this post on Eschaton has pointers to the highlights. The relevant chunk of text is quite small:
Col. David Hogg, commander of the 2nd Brigade of the 4th Infantry Division, said tougher methods are being used to gather the intelligence. On Wednesday night, he said, his troops picked up the wife and daughter of an Iraqi lieutenant general. They left a note: "If you want your family released, turn yourself in." Such tactics are justified, he said, because, "It's an intelligence operation with detainees, and these people have info." They would have been released in due course, he added later.
This, ladies and gentlemen, is bad. It is a breach of the first Geneva Convention, the fourth Geneva Convention and both Protocol I (which applies to international conflicts) and Protocol II (which applies to non-international conflicts) of the Convention. Although the US has not signed the two 1977 protocols, it signed and ratified the first convention in 1882 and the second in 1949.
The fourth Geneva Convention goes on to define this action as a grave breach of international law. The term grave breach is used for very serious matters. The things defined as grave breaches are:
Folks, this is a pretty serious list. The US has neither signed the two 1977 protocols to the Geneva Convention and has not only declined to join the Internation Criminal Court, but has also refused to sanction any external legal authority to prosecute exactly the acts listed above. One of the provisions of the fourth Geneva convention is that no nation can negotiate immunity for itself or its troops if they commit grave breaches. The agreements the US has signed to avoid ICC prosecutions offer no protection in any state that has signed the fourth convention. Col. David Hogg can no longer safely travel anywhere without risking indefinite detention.
If we are to believe that America is not trying to grant itself arbitrary authority, then an act of hostage taking of the type described in yesterday's Post needs to result in a court martial and a serious prison term. I realise that this isn't the first breach of the Geneva Convention in US history - it doesn't even compare to the bombing of Cambodia or My Lai - but this article is bragging about it publicly as if there was nothing wrong with taking hostages at all. I expect to either see a denial of the Washington Post's coverage or a public prosecution, and I expect anyone else who imagines the US to be something better than the Taliban to demand the same.
Monday, July 28, 2003
L'aménagement linguistique dans le monde
I just came across this site while looking for some information on the exact role of the Duden publishing company in German standardisation. The story, as I recall it, is that in the late 19th century, the German, Swiss and Austrian governments got together to try to establish a German language academy like the Académie Française. They couldn't agree on how the institution should be structured, so the responsibility was given "temporarily" to the private company Duden. I wasn't able to confirm the story, primarily because I found this French language site at the Univeristy of Laval in Quebec.
The site is an effort to maintain a comprehensive database of language laws and policies around the world. There are too many things missing for me to give it a perfect score. For example, I didn't find any reference to Duden on the German page, and I know for certain that Duden enjoys a unique status among German dictionaries, I just don't remember the relevant history. There are also some outright errors. The population statistics they have for Singapore don't add up the way the author claims - he has confused the percentage of Mandarin speakers with the percentage that speak all forms of Chinese, and the entry on Mennonites claims that Plautdietsch and Pennsylvania Dutch are the same language. They are not mutually comprehensible at all - the latter is a middle German dialect close to the Rhine valley dialects and the former is a dialect of Lower Saxon.
Still, it is quite detailed. The page on the USA is particularly interesting to those who think that America's current linguistic situation came about without any coercion. It mentions, for example, how the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hildago requires Spanish to enjoy a priviledged legal status in some parts of the US. It seems to skip, however, the diverse linguistic situation in the US during much of the 19th century. Untill WWI, there were public schools in German and Spanish in many parts of the US, and until the Civil War, French was the primary language of the state of Lousisiana.
Dans les faits, les États-Unis ont appliqué, depuis le début, une politique linguistique jacobine. Avec le résultat qu'aujourd'hui l'unilinguisme anglais règne de façon quasi incontestée dans l'administration fédérale. Selon un rapport du General Accounting Office, de 1990 à 1994 moins de 1 % des documents du gouvernement fédéral ont été produits dans des langues autres que l'anglais. C'est ce qui entraîne le jugement suivant en 1995 de la part de Edward Chen, membre de l'American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California, qui affirmait que les langues des minorités étaient immensément sous-employées: «If anything [...] language minorities are vastly under-served.»
"Une politique linguistique jacobine" - that's perhaps a bit harsh. Although American language policy is not quite as awful as all that - or at least not at all times or in all places - the page is a useful corrective to movements like English Only and US English. It even points out that some of the language laws in the US are stronger than even French language law.
Anyway, the site is all in French, so I imagine it will only be of interest to those with decent French skills. For those who want to read something in German, try this from the Duden website instead:
Fremdwörter: Bedrohung oder Bereicherung?
I suppose it could be embarassing to mix up the "labour of Sisyphus" with "work on syphilis." One of the justifications for language management is to try to reduce this sort of confusion - although this example is a bit farfetched - but it's not the only reason.
Update: I want to give a shout-out to Brian Lennon at Universal Language, who links to my post on French language laws below. I actually support language laws of certain kinds and in certain cases, and I've added a more thorough explanation of why to my running list of as yet unwritten essays. But, the example from Duden is one reason why. In the end, the goal must always be clear communication and the methods should be primarily structural rather than legal. But, that's for another post.
\/0+3 133+, \/0+3 630r6y!
To add to the list of people running for governor of California: a 26-year old UC Berkeley computer programming grad.
Hard-at-work-Georgy [Russell] demonstrates her great posture from her (current) station in life.
Well, she's probably smarter than Ahnuld, and almost certainly smarter than Simon, and much better looking than either one. She's in favour of a balanced budget, in favour of gay marriage, against the death penalty and thinks the recall is a farce. So far, I'm with her 100%. My only gripe about her take on the issues is my suspicion that she really does think the analytical skills you learn by writing code are useful in getting out of a recession.
Trying to think of something useful to say about California's recall election...
...but all I can think of is how much cheaper it is to buy a democracy with a free press than to buy a dictatorship. This, it seems to me, is one of the few places where Chomsky and I are largely in agreement.
Anyway, what can you say for a governor's race with Governor Moonbeam's straight man, a car thief, a certifiable Republican wingnut who has already lost to Davis once, the mayor of LA, not one but two Huffingtons - a straight ex-conservative liberal and her conservative gay ex-husband - and, in the words of Bill Maher, "a Viennese weight lifter [...] who can explain the [Bush] administration's social policies in the original German"? I'm speechless. The whole thing is getting intermittent coverage on the Beeb and CNN International, but I think I'm going to be missing out on some of the funniest political TV in a generation by living in Europe.
I think Fox ought to turn it into a reality TV show:
Survivor: The Governor's Mansion - Who will be voted out of Sacramento next?
Or better still, get Jerry Springer to moderate the debates. I might actually pay to see that.
Anyway that's all I've got until the mudslinging really starts.
Philosophy as an interdisciplinary pursuit
Decent article (not terribly enlightening but worth reading anyway) in The Chronicle of Higher Education on the differences between British and American philosophy departments. The author admits it's a bit of a charicature, but since I've never studied philosophy in the UK, I can't really judge. I'm actually on the North American side of this debate (or at least on the side described as North American by this article's author), despite my strongly continental tendencies. The following quote, however, highlights the risks of interdisciplinary thinking as it is often practiced and is utterly, horribly true:
In Britain, there is more skepticism about the value of interdisciplinary work, notes Tim Crane, the country's leading philosopher of mind. "A lot of what counts as interdisciplinary work in philosophy of mind," he says, "is actually philosophical speculation backed up with certain, probably out-of-date, Scientific American-style summaries of research in psychology or neuroscience, which tend to support the philosophical preconceptions of the authors."
Update: Eeep! Since I've been linked to on Crooked Timber, let me make myself clear: I am agreeing with Tim Crane about the philosophy of the mind. I don't know that much about most other interdisciplinary fields in philosophy, except for the philosophy of artificial intelligence (which is mostly the same stuff as the philosophy of the mind) and the philosophy of language, to which this judgement doesn't apply quite so much.
Barney goes North
Why is this polar bear purple? Alas, a Blog has the answer.