10 September 2007

a three-parter

I. herb and kathy eckhouse, who have long been rockstars in my own personal constellation, have made their rockstar status a little more official and public by being named bon app├ętit magazine food artisans of the year. isn't it great when great people do great things to great acclaim?

II. about that convention thingy: i promised earlier that i would have some exciting things to say about APSA that didn't necessarily involve my personal discomfort with dressing up. and here they are.

first and most interesting (as far as i'm concerned): the order/conflict/violence corner of the discipline has begun to wonder about its categories in a way that is actually interesting to me. i think this probably starts with a suggestion of nick sambanis's (which, oh dear, i can't remember the appropriate citation for) that the 1,000-battle-death threshold we've been using might mask significant differences between the sorts of concatenated events we refer to as "war" or "civil war."

i am happy (mostly in a selfish way, natch) to report that many of my yale colleagues are very much at the leading edge of these discusions. in the panels and talks i attended before the dudes-in-suits thing really started to get me down, i heard (1) abbey and ryan discuss really interestingly the local phenomena we miss when we think about "state building;" and (2) some thoughtful approaches to "ethnic conflicts" as they relate to other types of ethnic (or ethnic-seeming) violence, and to other types of conflicts.

later, in a more informal conversation, i ran my mouth for a while about what we should call the situation in iraq right now. war? (yes.) civil war? (yes.) ethnic civil war? (probably.) violent occupation? (oh wait, that too, especially from the american perspective.) we ended with the following question: what are other wars in which a major power invaded, overthrew the local leader, started a civil war, and attempted to stay and ("help" the "people" to) govern? americans have often overthrown local leaders, and they have often run other countries' governments, and they have gotten uncomfortably involved in other people's civil wars, but our current quagmire seems like a Very Special Quagmire.

(speaking of which: "slow progress" my ass. has gen. petraeus's spine oozed away since his promotion? speaking of which, see also criticizing the generals in the sunday times of two weeks ago. very interesting piece on the institutionalized divisions between lower- and mid-grade officers and the top of the chain of command.)

now, typically i think of definitional conversations as a bit blathery and useless: just decide on something you can observe and observe it, already! except that my own (totally theoretical, sigh) APSA paper was about categories and definitions, as well. essentially, i've claimed that unless we look at the full spectrum of conflict-related violence (lethal, non-lethal, property, etc.), we're going to have both our definitions of "violence" and our observations of "violence" wrong. we're not going to be able to distinguish command responsibility; we're not going to be able to see the effects of political pressure (as opposed to military necessity) on armed groups' behaviors. strictly empirically, we're not going to be able to see most of the acts of violence!

what i mean to say, i suppose, is that unlike the ongoing fiasco that is "genocide studies," i think our definitional questions may be getting us somewhere analytically.

two other observations of note, best stated briefly. first, folks are getting the message about cross-national work, namely: don't go there. as i am happy to tell anyone who crosses my path, i'm not all that excited about a lot of sub-national data, either -- but at least (so it seems) the flood of ill-conceived, poorly operationalized cross-national studies is drying up. second, hallelujah. there seems to be some sort of emerging specialization in armed group structures, socialization, command and control, etc. this is A Good Thing.

so, fine: APSA was interesting as well as depressingly corporate. i even received props for my concept "variation in covariation." i am still pissed about the lack of wireless, though.

III. sad news about madeleine l'engle. i'd recently been thinking of her again, after many years, because of my philip pullman addiction. the question that inevitably arises when i read things that could be classified "fantasy" is: how am i enjoying this? back in the day, i made it through the whole of the _wrinkle_ series and _a ring of endless light_ (plus others i forget now), despite my complete inability to stay awake through hobbits, rings, narnia or, for the most part, ursula k. le guin.

it would be too self-congratulatory to say that it's the complexity of her metaphysics that impressed me; mostly, at eight or ten or twelve, what i liked was the idea that ordinary earth-based real-life-living girls could do such profoundly momentous things. meg, rather like lyra from _his dark materials_, is a non-magical yet world-historical figure. maybe, you begin to tell yourself, i too am only *seemingly* ordinary!

anyway, it was a big jolt to read the news yesterday and i am sad for the loss.