Thursday, March 27, 2008

Your American foreign policy quote of the day

I attended an ISA panel featuring several academics who had occupied high-ranking positions in the Bush administration. My take-away quote from a former policy planning director:

Six years after 9/11, we still don't have a grand strategy.

posted by Dan at 10:00 PM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)



Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Should IR scholars expose themselves?

Blogging will be light over the next few days, as your humble blogger racks up additional frequent flyer miles attends the International Studies Association annual meeting in San Francisco. In honor of ISA, here's the following academic-y post:

Over at Duck of Minerva, Charli Carpenter is blogging about the motives behind scholarly research and how much should be revealed. She quotes approvingly from this dialogue by Ersel Aydinli:

Perhaps we should consider a disciplinary movement to encourage our members to develop and expand the currently accepted genre of the Ďauthorís bio noteí into something more revealing and explicit than simply affiliation and research interests. I would like to see, for example, some indication of the author's past history, such as where they have worked and lived. Has the author remained all of his or her life in one place? Did he or she take a break along the educational path to join the Peace Corps, live abroad, or work in a different field? I also think it would be valuable to know about some of the author's non-professional affiliations or interests. Of course it would be up to the individual author to determine how many or which of these affiliations to provide, but even that choice would be revealing to the readers and help them interpret the content of the text... authors [might also be] encouraged in their texts to indicate how they came to choose the research topic or particular questions they investigate. Was it simply a personal interst or were there pragmatic issues involved such as a future grant? Was the topic of global or current scholarly interest or something sparked by a dinner table conversation?
Carpenter continues:
I quite like this idea. I think it would make our research far more objective, and help us evaluate one another's work far better if such a norm of full disclosure took root. It might also help us acknowledge and make sense of our presence in the worlds we study....

I also know from first-hand experience... there is currently no such norm. Which is becoming scarily apparent to me as I complete my book... and now have to peddle it to mainstream IR presses who will no doubt insist I edit that kind of quasi-narcisisstic reflectivism right out.

Even efforts to bend in that direction just slightly result in disciplining moves from academic gatekeepers.

I'd dissent a little bit from Carpenter. There are actually two places where scholars tend to exposit a bit on the genealogy of their interests and ideas. The first place is in book prefaces. This is hardly de rigeur, but far more often than not a political scientist will explain how they decided to write about what they are, you know, writing about. They will also usually discuss the various fieldwork experiences/fellowships/affiliations that inform their scholarship.

The second place -- and this is more common -- is in the statement of research and teaching that all professors need to gin up when they are up for contract renewal/tenure/promotion. This is the one venue whe this kind of self-reflection is expected. The irony, of course, is that very few people read these statements.*

Based on my own experience, they are also excruciating to write -- imagine penning a ten page cover letter that says, "Yay!! Look at me!! Look at all of my brilliant insights that have paved the way towards truth and beauty!!" I mean, I'm a blogger, so I know from self-promotion, but writing those documents was like a very painful tooth extraction.

This might explain why academic gatekeepers -- who have had to undergo this exercise -- are so reluctant to see more of it in the field.

* There is one exception that I am aware of -- chapter two of Robert Keohane's International Institutions and State Power is an updated version of his statement on research and teaching. Bob's had a pretty decent run as a scholar, so maybe the taboo lessens as one becomes an academic gatekeeper.

posted by Dan at 01:03 PM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)



Monday, March 24, 2008

What's the worst movie ever?

Alex Massie links to a Joe Queenan essay in the Guardian. Queenan takes advantage of the opportunity to review The Hottie and the Nottie to ponder the elements of the worst films of all time:

To qualify as one of the worst films of all time, several strict requirements must be met. For starters, a truly awful movie must have started out with some expectation of not being awful. That is why making a horrific, cheapo motion picture that stars Hilton or Jessica Simpson is not really much of an accomplishment. Did anyone seriously expect a film called The Hottie and The Nottie not to suck? Two, an authentically bad movie has to be famous; it can't simply be an obscure student film about a boy who eats live rodents to impress dead girls. Three, the film cannot be a deliberate attempt to make the worst movie ever, as this is cheating. Four, the film must feature real movie stars, not jocks, bozos, has-beens or fleetingly famous media fabrications like Hilton. Five, the film must generate a negative buzz long before it reaches cinemas; like the Black Plague or the Mongol invasions, it must be an impending disaster of which there has been abundant advance warning; it cannot simply appear out of nowhere. And it must, upon release, answer the question: could it possibly be as bad as everyone says it is? This is what separates Waterworld, a financial disaster but not an uncompromisingly dreadful film, and Ishtar, which has one or two amusing moments, from The Postman, Gigli and Heaven's Gate, all of which are bona fide nightmares.

Six, to qualify as one of the worst movies ever made, a motion picture must induce a sense of dread in those who have seen it, a fear that they may one day be forced to watch the film again - and again - and again. To pass muster as one of the all-time celluloid disasters, a film must be so bad that when a person is asked, "Which will it be? Waterboarding, invasive cattle prods or Jersey Girl?", the answer needs no further reflection. This phenomenon resembles Stockholm Syndrome, where a victim ends up befriending his tormentors, so long as they promise not to make him watch any more Kevin Smith movies. The condition is sometimes referred to as Blunted Affleck.

Now I actually enjoy several "bad" movies whenever I stumble upon them in dimension known as late night basic cable morass -- Starship Troopers, Road House, Red Dawn -- but by Queenan's criteria, the worst movie I have ever seen, hands down, was Caligula.

This was Penthouse publisher Bob Guccione's attempt to create an all-star mainstream X-rated movie. It had an all-star cast of British luminaries (Malcolm McDowell, Helen Mirren, John Gielgud, Peter O'Toole) and cost a bundle to make. It is also the only film I have ever seen that was so revolting that I had to walk out before it ended.

posted by Dan at 02:45 PM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)



Sunday, March 23, 2008

Note to self: do not bring short-shorts to Paris

Elaine Sciolino bids a fond farewell to one of the best sinecures in journalism -- the Paris desk of the New York Times. Sciolino is a fine reporter/observer, and is not afraid to reveal the following embarrassing anecdote:

Donít Wear Jogging Clothes to Buy a Pound of Butter

Rules govern even the smallest activities. I was making chocolate chip cookies one Saturday afternoon and ran out of butter. Dusted with flour, still in my morning jogging clothes, I dashed out to the convenience store up the street. The problem was that it is not just any street. Itís the Rue du Bac, one of the most chic places to see and be seen on Saturdays. I heard my name called and turned to face a senior Foreign Ministry official, dressed in pressed jeans and a soft-as-butter leather jacket, wearing an amused look, and carrying a small Nespresso shopping bag.

We went to a corner cafe for a drink. The Swedish ambassador and his wife stopped as they were riding by on their bikes. Both were in tailored tweed blazers, slim pants and loafers. Then Robert M. Kimmitt, the deputy treasury secretary, walked by.

He and my foreign ministry friend joked that my style didnít match the setting. I made the point that it was my neighborhood and I could dress however I wanted. But as my French women friends told me afterward, jogging clothes (shoes included) are to be removed as soon as oneís exercise is over.

[Memo from the staff: don't wear short-shorts, period!--ed.]

posted by Dan at 12:32 PM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)