Posted by: clholoman | March 2, 2015

And one more

Last (probably) on this. A better rejoinder to the ISIS article is here (also from The Atlantic).

The author makes a helpful (if not terribly surprising) clarification:

The first thing I teach my undergraduates is that the English word “Islam” has two distinct but related meanings: the “Islam” that corresponds to Christendom (the civilization) and the “Islam” that corresponds to Christianity (the religion). The result is that the term “Islamic” has two separate but related uses, as does “un-Islamic.”

In his article and elsewhere, Wood has challenged the claim by Muslims that ISIS is un-Islamic by pointing out that ISIS members are self-identified Muslims. But Muslims who say “ISIS is un-Islamic” are not saying that ISIS fighters are not Muslims at all. They are calling ISIS “un-Islamic” the way a politician might call bigotry “un-American.”

Interestingly, he ends up at about the same place that I asserted in my last post that I believe the original author was headed, the “orrery of errors”:

All of this puts Muslims in a double bind: If they just go about their lives, they stand condemned by those who demand that Muslims “speak out.” But if they do speak out, they can expect to be told that short of declaring their sacred texts invalid, they are fooling themselves or deceiving the rest of us. Muslims are presented with a brutal logic in which the only way to truly disassociate from ISIS and escape suspicion is to renounce Islam altogether.

Posted by: clholoman | February 18, 2015

On the other hand

The article I wrote about yesterday has generated a lot of buzz. In the interest of dialogue, here’s an article that takes issue with the Atlantic piece. My initial reaction is that this response, while serving as a valuable counterweight, kind of misses the point. I don’t think the original author, Graeme Wolf, is claiming that ISIS is an “inevitable product of Islam.” And I certainly hope that Wood doesn’t get lumped in with some of the narrow minded bigots cited in the article (I have a particular problem with Franklin Graham, but we’ll leave it at that for now.)

What I think Wolf is suggesting is that ISIS’s theology or worldview or whatever, is so fully self contained and self reinforcing that it is difficult to argue against–it exists on a different plane, in some sense, from “normal” thinking. E.P. Thompson coined (as far as I know) the phrase “orrery of errors.”  (An orrery is a mechanical model of the solar system, usually mechanical. Once set in motion, it continues to operate in a self-contained manner in a way that is difficult to disrupt.) That seems to apply here.

Posted by: clholoman | February 17, 2015

Read this, please

I am a little reluctant to post this, as it is really making the rounds, so I suspect anybody who is reading this has seen it already. But this article is really indispensable. It is the first thing I’ve read that helped me make any sense of ISIS and the mindset that would lead to the barbaric atrocities being committed. It also shows the need to have really in-depth knowledge and the ability to understand sometimes subtle nuances, most notably how trying to label them as not Muslim is not just incorrect, but actually probably not helpful. How in the world do enough people get this kind of background in order to have productive discussions about vital policy decisions? (I suppose I should be heartened that this article is getting so much attention, but I am fearful of the number of people who will not even bother, given the length. (tl;dr as they say).)

I would be interested in a longer discussion of how ISIS fits into an older and broader debate about the  inherent value of modernity. Maybe it doesn’t, as it is apparently trying to replicate a society of a particular moment in history. But the brutality makes it hard (almost impossible for me, sometimes) to engage with their ideas at any level other than revulsion. (Similarly, the point that their religious fundamentalism requires them to reject any form of international cooperation or recognize the basic tenets of sovereignty on which the system is built could be interesting, but seems so beside the point right now.)

Contrast with this article from Slate. There’s nothing inherently wrong with it and it gives some useful information, but doesn’t do anything to help us put this data in any context.

(I can’t close without noting that the author of the Atlantic piece makes some grating word choices: “mujahideen chic” “a gentrifying area that one might call Dar al-Hipster;” etc. Ugh.)

Posted by: clholoman | February 10, 2015


I bet you thought this blog was dead. Ha, no! It was only pinin’ for the fjords.

Two topics for your consideration. There has been an exchange between two distinguished scholars in the op/ed pages the last two days and it makes for a fairly painless way to learn some international relations theory, and to see how reasonable people can disagree. The subject is what to do about Ukraine. Yesterday, John Mearsheimer, a noted realist (some would say hawk) made the case for not arming Ukraine in the New York Times. Today, blog fav Dan Drezner over at the WaPo, points out some issues with Mearsheimer’s analysis (and perhaps inconsistencies with M’s own earlier writings, although I’m not convinced by that.) (Disclosure:  Mearsheimer was one of my grad school profs, but I was on the other side of IR–political economy rather than security studies.) I don’t know where I come down on this yet, but it’s fascinating both as a case study in progress and, unfortunately, because the stakes are pretty high, I think.

Second, I must pay tribute to Dean Smith. To those of us of a certain age living in North Carolina, much less for those of us who attended UNC, Coach Smith was one of the towering figures. Lots of amazing words written, but here are three excellent ones:

A terrific story from a professor.

From Charlie Pierce, one of the better sportswriters working today.

And this one by (Dukie) John Feinstein, with this great quote: “John, you should never be proud of doing the right thing. You should just do the right thing.”

I am glad Coach Smith has found rest.

OK, don’t get spoiled by two posts in two days. It’s just that there was one thing out this morning that had to get onto this blog, as it features at least three of our persistent themes (or sub-themes): Political Economy, maps, and visual presentations of data. Here is Vox’s Thirty Maps that Explain the Global Economy. A couple of them don’t really belong (and are a couple of them actually maps?) But on the whole, really interesting. I haven’t decided about Vox yet. I respect the founders and it seems to be kind of “buzzy” but a lot of their headlines seem fairly click-baity to me. (Maybe there’s a relationship there.) But I’ve added it to my “daily” set of tabs that I open first thing in the morning.

And here’s a piece from the Atlantic on Minerva University and is it the future of higher education. As I have said about similar articles on the blog, I dunno. This sentence from towards the end seems right: “Yet in some ways, the worst possible outcome would be for U.S. higher education to accept Minerva as its model and dismantle the old universities before anyone can really be sure that it offers a satisfactory replacement.”  The MOOC revolution never took off (although, in fairness, the article says the MOOC movement was a necessary part of Minerva’s development.)

And now, since we had movies yesterday, we’ve hit just about all the Big Topics for this blog except for college basketball. Oh wait, did you see Marcus Paige was named a pre-season All-American and a “popular pick for pre-season Player of the Year?”

Posted by: clholoman | August 25, 2014

Once more into the breach, dear friends

We began another school year today, a week earlier than historically. This was our fifth year opening with a Convocation ceremony. It’s nice, I think, in an informal, welcoming way. Anyway, I ran across this on Slate and it seemed like a perfect way to start the year. If you’ve been reading this blog you know I love movies and am a sucker for a good supercut. And here we have one on Deans (or Provosts!) losing it. Note that language is PG-13 or higher. And be sure to stay for a nice touch at the end.


Posted by: clholoman | July 28, 2014


It seems appropriate* to wake this blog back from the dead to feature an interesting article by blog favorite Dan Drezner, While we have been dark, he has taken his on-line presence from Foreign Policy to the Washington Post. Today’s post, to which a follow-up is promised, is a very nice piece on rival visions of what’s going on in the world today. This divide is reminiscent, but not identical, to the classic split between “realists” and those once labelled “idealists” and later more accurately, if clumsily, known as “neo-liberal institutionalists.” The question there is whether sovereign nation-states can be constrained by institutions. Also at play is another related, but not identical, fundamental question to IR scholars, as to how much account one needs to take of non-state actors. When I was an active IR researcher, I thought that institutions could constrain nation-states under some circumstances, but was less convinced of the need to include other non-state actors (like terrorist groups) in analysis. Obviously, facts on the ground right now seem to suggest (!) that that might be wrong.

*Appropriate because Drezner has published a well-received book: Theories of International Politics and Zombies.

And a shout out to anyone who found this after my presentation at Hilbert orientation last Friday. It was a great group and we are always excited to welcome our new students and their families.

Posted by: clholoman | November 22, 2013

We Are Family

Believe it or not, this blog still exists. This fall has been crazy at work, for reasons many of you are aware. But I stir again for a brief (and off topic [ed. note: there’s a topic?]) post.

I am blessed by a great family that are all accomplished in their own ways. Two of my three brothers blog, and one is very nice for today:

My oldest brother curates and contributes to a musicology blog and today offers a personal perspective on the Kennedy’s essential contributions to the arts:

For those of us who lived nearto, the Kennedys’ Camelot, where it came to good music, is as clear and true a memory as Leonard Bernstein and the Young People’s Concerts. A fond recollection of national intelligence and taste and beauty—yes, glamor. Something, indeed, of lasting consolation.

My younger brother also blogs about a variety of topics, some of particular interest to folks in our home town of Raleigh, where he still resides, others more general.

Caution: he posts with about the same frequency as I do:

They are both terrific writers (as is our other non-blogger!) and I am proud to have them all as brothers.

Posted by: clholoman | October 7, 2013

That time of year again

It is a (minor) tradition of this blog to note the opening of the new Supreme Court session, traditionally the first Monday in October. Well, here we are!

It looks to be an interesting term, with a lot of potentially interesting cases, but perhaps no real “blockbusters.” Adam Liptak has a nice rundown in the Times. But even this construction points back to one of the difficulties with reporting on the Supreme Court (or perhaps the law in general.) I’m not convinced that these cases are less “blockbuster,” but just that they require some more explication than some of the recent high-profile cases. They seem to me, as simply an informed layman, to have major implications, but turn on a less-than-obvious legal question or connection.

So, more than a lot of areas, it seems to me, we really rely on good reportage of the court (not to mention the fact that we can’t see what actually transpires in the courtroom.) And I sometimes think we are kind of at the end of a great era. As noted before, the two grand dames of SCOTUS reporting, Linda Greenhouse and Nina Totenberg, are, respectively retired but still writing, or still reporting but seem to be ramping back. Liptak strikes me as a solid reporter, but hasn’t really found a voice yet. Jeffrey Toobin does good work, but mostly in long form articles or books. (This good analysis is representative of the kind of background work that some of these big cases need.) My personal favorite, Dahlia Lithwick, has (like Greenhouse) broadened her scope, so can’t really be called a SC reporter anymore. (But be sure to read her very important article/preview about how many of the cases turn on how much the Court respects precedents (the concept of stare decisis) and the opinions of Justice Sandra Day O’Connor in particular.)

But maybe we’re just entering into a new, not necessarily worse, period thanks to blogging, easier access to documents, etc. If you really care about the Supreme Court, you keep up with SCOTUSblog (and yes, they also have a twitter feed.) It’s practically real-time documentation and analysis of virtually everything the Court does. It’s really a microcosm of what’s happening in journalism more broadly.

Which (kind of) leads to one thing to note, if you haven’t already: as the Court itself has become more technologically sophisticated (and that’s a pretty low bar) it has succumbed to the problem of “link rot”: about half of the links to citations in opinions are broken. This is a non-trivial problem, isn’t it? (Here’s a nice Liptak summary.) This might lead one to broader musings on the nature of knowledge in the digital age.  Do things disappear from the internet, or do we just lose the index, if you will? Imagine how useless a big library would be without a filing system and a card catalog (and with none of the books having an index.)

By the way, have I complained yet about how ads have starting appearing in my blog? I have no idea why–I may have hit some threshold of “followers,” but rest assured, I didn’t do it and don’t get any revenue out of this (that’s a hilarious notion in itself). Sorry about them, though. I don’t like them, either, although I recognize their necessity (I guess.)



Posted by: clholoman | September 2, 2013

Farewell to a giant

How’s this for a life:

  • Have the most cited law review article of all time
  • Have a basic theorem named after you, pretty much inventing the field of “law and economics”
  • Win a Nobel Prize–the first law school faculty member anywhere to do so
  • Live to 102, and be productive, by all reports, up until close to the end

RIP to Ronald Coase.

Here’s a very brief summary of his most famous article with a link to the whole thing.

Here’s his faculty profile, not yet updated with his death.

Note that he also taught at UB for a bit and they gave him an honorary degree a few years ago. I will gladly ride his coattails as one of a fairly small group that have both UofC and UB ties.

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