Monday, January 26, 2009

A Cocaine Iceberg

Article from here:

ACCRA, Ghana -- West Africa is an unlikely center for the international cocaine trade. It is not a producer of the drug nor is it a consumer, as the vast majority of its people are very poor.

Yet a startling 50 tons of cocaine is transported through West Africa each year, according to the latest United Nations estimates. The value of this illicit trade dwarfs entire economies and has the potential to corrupt the region's fragile states, which are just pulling out of decades of bitter civil wars. In the past Africa has been a treasure trove looted by covetous colonialists, voracious rebels and kleptocratic rulers -- over the last 300 years think slaves, ivory, gold, diamonds, tin and coltan.
Now it is a transit point and storeroom for the cocaine trade.
Title from here.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Contraction Expansion

To be fair there are two wars in there...of course the expensive one was voluntary so here is the GAO's condemnation, with commentary and more. The 1978 number represents 3.02% of fed non-interest spending that year, the 2008 number 19.79%.

Friday, January 23, 2009

You: Jewish, Attractive and Drunk

Trying to turn a long, rambling post on Obama's inaugural address and language into a short rambling post, meanwhile a love story from DC Craigslist:

Jewish girl who passed out in my bed - m4w - 25 (Chinatown-Gallery Place)
Reply to:
[?]Date: 2009-01-21, 12:26PM EST

You: Jewish, attractive and drunk

Me: Not Jewish (Gentile), dashing, gazelle on the dance floor and drunk

In case you were as blacked out as I think you were, I feel as though I should reintroduce myself. You were dancing around and enjoying the festive cake and brownies at the JCC inaugural bar mitzvah…I mean inaugural ball, before cabbing to Chinatown and passing out in my bed. Nothing makes me swoon for interfaith relationships like a girl who passes out in my lap in the back of a cab.

You might be asking yourself “why did that sweet boy not call me?” or “did I really wake up in a random guy’s bed in Chinatown?” and other important questions to gauge whether or not last night was a dream, drunken haze or bittersweet reality. Allow me to answer those questions.

Keep reading for the answers.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Riddle (and quote) of the day

Guess who wrote this in the an op-ed column in today's New York Times:
The basis for the modern State of Israel is the persecution of the Jewish people, which is undeniable. The Jews have been held captive, massacred, disadvantaged in every possible fashion by the Egyptians, the Romans, the English, the Russians, the Babylonians, the Canaanites and, most recently, the Germans under Hitler. The Jewish people want and deserve their homeland.
Click here for the surprising answer.

So far, so good

The big news of Obama's first day is the order to close down the GOP's secret foreign prison archipelago, end the kangaroo courts for inmates, and accelerate troop withdrawal from Iraq. Those are all important issues. But as a matter of political aesthetics, these things please me even more.

Shutting the revolving door:
Obama rolled out new rules for his appointees, requiring them to sign a pledge meant to disrupt the "revolving door" by which lobbyists flow seamlessly into government and back into the lobbying business.

His aides are barred from lobbying any executive agency for the life of the Obama administration. That means an appointee who leaves the White House in, say, 2010 would be barred from lobbying the executive branch until 2017 if Obama were to serve two terms.

At present, officials who leave an agency or department cannot go back and lobby their old offices for at least one year.

"It's unprecedented," said Fred Wertheimer, president of the nonpartisan watchdog group Democracy 21. "It basically protects citizens against individuals entering public service and then converting their public service to personal financial gain when they leave."

Lobbyists who join his administration must wait two years before they can take part in any issue on which they lobbied.
And issuing three executive orders to restore transparency to its rightful place as a centerpiece of substantive democracy:
The first order effectively undid a Bush administration policy that had restricted the release of presidential documents.... Bush's rule allowed former presidents, vice presidents and their heirs to cite executive privilege to block the release of documents after they have left office. With his order, Obama essentially threw out that rule, allowing only the current president to block the release of documents and depriving heirs of that right.

The second Obama order was designed to reinvigorate the Freedom of Information Act. Open-records advocates have complained that a memo by former Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft in 2001 encouraged executive branch officials to delay or halt the release of documents requested under the law.

The third Obama memo was meant to instill a stronger spirit of openness in government. It directed executive branch employees to "operate under principles of openness, transparency and of engaging citizens with their government."
The first two rules are the most direct, but for my money the last one is the most important one, since it speaks to the spirit of governance. Small Precautions has argued for years that substantive democracy depends on a variety of tacit norms of political decency, many of which were actively and intentionally violated by the Bush regime, with transparency and openness at the head of the list. My great worry for the last four years especially was that the Bush regime's violations of those norms would be impossible to reverse, that is, that Bush was doing irreparable, irreversible damage to the fabric of our democratic culture. But Obama is showing a determination to put the toothpaste back in the tube.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Looking back: how Obama won the election

Today I stumbled across the following clip from September 9, 2008 discussion between Emily Bazelon and Matt Lewis, discussing the Obama-McCain race, and specifically the impact of the nomination of Sarah Palin, who Lewis describes as "this amazingly exciting pick." (I wonder if Lewis would still stick with that judgment.)

For anyone who thinks either that Obama was inevitable (or who doubts that the financial meltdown that commenced with Lehman's implosion a week later decisively changed the race) would do well to watch this clip:

By the way, before anyone accuses me of being unjust in mocking Lewis, I'll note that I made the call on Palin right out of the gate.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009


I can't believe I'm endorsing anything that Jedediah Purdy has to say, but he's profoundly right on the issue of balancing liberty and security. Money:
The Bush-era conceit that we accept no level of terrorist threat is, as philosopher John Searle once said about Jacques Derrida's work, the kind of bullshit that gives bullshit a bad name.... It may be rational in one way to lump terrorism in with traffic accidents and trans-fats as just another way for Americans to lose quality-adjusted life years; but that public-health take on terrorism is superficially smart, profoundly obtuse. Terrorism strikes at a government's capacity to protect its people from organized violence. That protection is one of the most basic reasons to have government at all. Terrorism is a glimpse of Hobbes's State of Nature, the antithesis of political society, in a way that the worst traffic accident or artery-clogging restaurant chain can never be. But to say that it's never "acceptable" doesn't mean either (1) that we can always prevent it or (2) that we should sacrifice other core values in trying. The fact that we can't perfectly prevent it is tragic, literally - the product of a clash of irreconcilable values, and of flaws in the formation of the world - but imagining that because it's evil, we can stop it altogether, is the kind of magical thinking that gives magical thinking a bad name.

Where "Mandarins" succeeded

I've spent the last few days reading the most recent articles that discuss Mandarins of the Future, and I am gratified to note that it appears that one of the central historiographical aims of the book has succeeded, namely to convince historians and practitioners of the American social science that modernization theory stands at the very center of postwar American social science, that is, it is the linchpin paradigm that, properly understood, unlocks the puzzle of why postwar American social science was what it was. I'm not solely responsible for promoting that thesis, of course (the work of David Engerman, Michael Latham, and Nick Cullather has been at least as important) but I believe that Mandarins was important for helping to define this nascent consensus.

Even more gratifying, I think that the moral thrust of the book, namely that modernization theory was an abomination, but that the Enlightenment ideals it venerated must be critically revisited and revitalized, has also found an audience, including among many critics who might otherwise have been presumed to be skeptical. This judgment is more tentative, and we'll see over the next few years where it goes, but this is my hope.

Update on the crisis

Banking stocks got absolutely hammered today, losing 20 percent of their value. They've already lost over a trillion dollars, and Nouriel Roubini thinks that have $2.5 trillion more to go.

The Financial Times suggests that the best solution is to "shoot the bankers and nationalize the banks." With friends like those.

Welcome to office, Mr. Obama.

Restoring the ambition of the social sciences

Peter Hall's sweeping assessment of the transformation of American social science over the last six decades contains some heroic overgeneralizations, but also identifies something profound about constricted political vision of post-Mod Theory American social science:

Shifts in the social sciences have also fueled political cynicism and eroded confidence in the possibility of alternative political projects. The ghost in the machine is the loss of faith in the modernist political vision that animated social science until the 1970s. That vision embraced Enlightenment ideals, regarded agitation on behalf of a working class as one of its best expressions, and saw the state as the political vehicle for realizing such aspirations. One by one, each of these pillars has crumbled under an acid intellectual rain....

The collapse of the modernist ideal has also left social science without a firm sense of political agency. Post-modernism cannot supply it. There is something oddly similar between the radicalism of Michel Foucault and the conservatism of Michael Oakeshott. Each sees the webs we weave as such complex constructions that it seems foolhardy to imagine disassembling them. Both find something risible in projects of reform. (p. 19-20)

I think Hall gets his causality backwards: it's not that methodological shifts in the social sciences have led to the collapse of utopian or even meliorist hopes and ideas, but rather that the ideological collapse of Enlightenment ideals have precipitated a narrowing of methodological ambition.

Monday, January 19, 2009

US 1549 as political symbolism

I've been wondering why a liberal political blog like Talking Points Memo has spent so much time writing about the US Airways crash.

At first I thought it was just because it was an obviously dramatic human interest story, and one happening right outside their offices, to boot. But I've also just realized that part of the fascination of the story is its latent political symbolism. This story is a metaphor not only for what the Obama administration faces, but also for the hopes that the country is investing in him.

George Bush and the GOP are effectively handing over the country in a state not that different from a plane where both the engines have gone out at low altitude. Obama's task -- his "historic opportunity" as the pundits like to say -- is to make the cool decisions that can bring the country down for a soft landing where no one gets seriously injured, rather than flame-balling into a heavily populated urban center.

If the perfect political symbol of the Bush years was Cheney's preemptive shotgunning of his friend, then the miraculous landing of US 1549 is the perfect political symbol of the country's current hopes for Obama.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Amazing video of the US Airways crash and rescue

Coast Guard surveillance video. The crash happens about two minutes in, and then it zooms in and you can see the people scrambling out of the plane and onto the wing, and then rescuers arrive. Check it:

Friday, January 16, 2009

One for the Kids

The Playmobil Security Check Point

It's all about the comments, sample:
I was a little disappointed when I first bought this item, because the functionality is limited. My 5 year old son pointed out that the passenger's shoes cannot be removed. then, we placed a deadly fingernail file underneath the passenger's scarf, and neither the detector doorway nor the security wand picked it up. My son said "that's the worst security ever!". But it turned out to be okay, because when the passenger got on the Playmobil B757 and tried to hijack it, she was mobbed by a couple of other heroic passengers, who only sustained minor injuries in the scuffle, which were treated at the Playmobil Hospital.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

A phase shift?

John Robb on the implications of the financial crisis: Apocalypse Now:
Historically, economic recessions that last longer than a year have durations/severities that can be plotted as power law distributions (Ormerod and Mounfield).* Given that we are already over a year into this recession, it implies that we are really into black swan territory (unknown and extreme outcomes) in regards to our global economy's current downturn and that no estimates of recovery times or ultimate severity based on historical data of past recessions apply anymore. This also means that the system has exceeded its ability to adapt using standard methods (that shouldn't be news to anyone).

Monday, January 12, 2009

Quote of the Day

Fernando Enrique Cardoso, addressing Lula, in 1998:
We were taught, years ago, to expect there would be a tremendous crisis, the uprising of a new society, a new political system, and the working class taking power.

All that is gone. The Berlin Wall is gone. So is the Soviet Union. There is no historical alternative now. So if there is a crisis... after that there will only be disaster.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Renal Recompense

"If you ain’t no chump; holla we want prenup!"

Good to know the going rate for a kidney is $1.5M, question Nils, in your research what do the back alley kidneys go for?

Update (by Nils): The retail price of kidneys varies tremendously worldwide--hence creating massive arbitrage opportunities for organ brokers. The cheapest kidneys come from India, where the price is typically under US$1000. In Iran, there the official state price for a kidney is US$1000, but the black market price is said to be significantly higher. A Romanian kidney fetches for US$3,000 dollars, while Turkish kidneys cost US$10,000+, and Mexican, Brazilian and South African kidneys fall in between. Finally, in the U.S., the price is typically US$60-90K. These are the prices the donors get; middlemen add a significant markup, so that the price recipients pay is often over US$100K. And that's before the surgery costs.

Friday, January 09, 2009

How to deliver cash to a pirate

The U.S. Navy has released a fine image of contemporary ransom-paying:
Historically, piracy (and, more generally, warlordism) has tended to arise in the context of unstable power relations between major powers, which opens up loopholes and arbitrage opportunities. With this in mind, it's noteworthy that the Chinese have decided to dispatch a couple of warships to help patrol the Gulf of Aden--a move that, depending on your perspextive, can be seen as either an alarming escalation of Chinese military ambitions, or as a salutary increase in Chinese contribution to the global public good of safe international waters. What it undoubtedly indicates is that the Chinese think the Americans aren't willing or able to defend the Chinese merchant marine. 

Thursday, January 08, 2009


The Indian government has released a dossier of alleged transcripts of the VOIP-based cell phone calls that record what handlers in Pakistan directing in real-time the actions of terrorists inside the Taj Mahal hotel during the Mumbai attacks last month. Some of it reads like dialog from a bad Hollywood thriller:

The dossier notes that on the basis of the interrogation of Mohammed Ajmal Amir ‘Kasab,’ the lone terrorist to be captured alive, the role of Lashkar commander Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi in the training of the crew had been established. The terrorist group initially consisted of 32 persons but the team chosen for the operation was eventually whittled down to 10.


At the Oberoi at 0353 hrs on November 27, a handler phones and says:

“Brother Abdul. The media is comparing your action to 9/11. One senior police official has been killed.”

Abdul Rehman: “We are on the10th/11th floor. We have five hostages.”

Caller 2 (Kafa): Everything is being recorded by the media. Inflict the maximum damage. Keep fighting. Don’t be taken alive.

Caller: Kill all hostages, except the two Muslims. Keep your phone switched on so that we can hear the gunfire.

Fahadullah: We have three foreigners, including women. From Singapore and China.

Caller: Kill them. The dossier then notes that the telephone intercept records the “voices of Fahadullah and Abdul Rehman directing hostages to stand in a line, and telling two Muslims to stand aside. Sound of gunfire. Cheering voices in background. Kafa hands telephone to Zarar,” who says, “Fahad, find the way to go downstairs.”

There's also a strong suggestion that Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence--widely regarded as an Islamist-sympathizing rogue agency within the Pakistani government that once backed the Taliban in Afghanistan and still supports Kashmiri insurgents--was behind the Mumbai attacks.

Now it's certainly possible that this released material is disinformation--it's impossible to verify definitively. But if these allegations are true, it's a casus belli for sure.

The South will Rise Again

Attending ZooLights a few weeks ago with a group of friends a comment was made, in jest, as we were leaving dinner, "oh, we have to wait for the breeders." Now I am not particularly defensive about choosing to have children, nor have I been on offense about it, until I read this:
Mississippi has claimed the distinction of having the highest teen birth rate in the United States, a figure more than three times higher than the states with the lowest rates, health officials said on Wednesday...New Mexico (a rate of 64.1 per 1,000) and Texas (63.1) were next on the list, according to the CDC. ...Teen birth rates were highest in the South and Southwest and lowest in the Northeast, the CDC said. The lowest rates were recorded in New Hampshire (18.7), Vermont (20.8) and Massachusetts (21.3), according to the report.
Check out the map:

I am certainly not advocating for teen pregnancy, but as a proud member of the East Coast Elite I fear this path:

So c'mon bi-coastal progressives put the Rabbit away and get it on old school. The future of our country is at stake.

The Mustache strikes again

Tom Friedman has his usual painfully shallow take on the conflict in Gaza. Here's his contextualization of the rise of Hamas: "Hamas’s overthrow of the more secular Fatah organization in Gaza in 2007 is part of a regionwide civil war between Islamists and modernists."

What arrant nonsense. Just for starters: On which side of that alleged "regionside civil war" is, say, the Saudi royal family? how about those ultraorthodox Israeli zealots--big modernists, they! when the Israelis, during the First Intifada, chose to back Hamas and other Islamic charities against the secular Fatah, did that make them "anti-modern"?

Next up: does that allegedly central division have anything to tell us about the main actual civil war in the region--namely the one the U.S. precipitated in Iraq? Are the Sunni insurgents modernists or Islamists? How about the Mahdi Army?

As Sarah Palin might put it: Here's a little clue for y'all: whenever you hear some pundit bring up the word "modernity" as an analytical tool for understanding the Middle East, they almost always are full of shit. That's because "modernity" is not an analytically stable category, but rather is a political code word for "like us" (itself a fungible, messy concept that depends on what the speaker thinks "we" are actually like). In other words, examining the way the term "modernity" get used around Washington may provide a useful tool for understanding attitudes in Washington, but it is basically irrelevant for understanding the divisions on the ground in the Middle East or anywhere else.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Eyeless in Gaza

Juan Cole pens a neocon obituary. If only I were as confident as he that we have seen the last of those idiots.

Another financial scenario

So Obama says we're going to run trillion dollar deficits for years to come. And, he adds, we're eventually going to have "change" (e.g. massively cut) the social safety net to rein the deficit into line. 

As Small Precautions has noted before, this is in fact the usual outcome of huge debt and banking crises: the slashing of social services and the immiseration of the middle class. We're really at the beginning of the crisis, and it's going to be an utter disaster for the boomers, who are going to see their retirement funds decline, inflation erode away their pensions, and a collapse of social security and public health funding.

As bad as all this will be (and most of this stuff strikes me as all but inevitable), Martin Wolf asks if even this may not be the worst of it, because what if all these painful fiscal measures are not enough to get the U.S. economy back on track:
Think what will happen if, after two or more years of monstrous fiscal deficits, the US is still mired in unemployment and slow growth. People will ask why the country is exporting so much of its demand to sustain jobs abroad. They will want their demand back. The last time this sort of thing happened – in the 1930s – the outcome was a devastating round of beggar-my-neighbour devaluations, plus protectionism. Can we be confident we can avoid such dangers? On the contrary, the danger is extreme. Once the integration of the world economy starts to reverse and unemployment soars, the demons of our past – above all, nationalism – will return. Achievements of decades may collapse almost overnight.
I think one should be careful about making the historical parallels to the 1930s too neat -- after all, back then the world economy and particularly finance was far less integrated than it is today, Europe still governed massive mercantalist colonial empires, the specter of Communism haunted the world, and we didn't have massive built-in countercylical fiscal measures (e.g. unemployment insurance, social security, etc.).

With that said, the current crisis will certainly tempt many countries to return to autarchic economic policies, perhaps green-washed under the rubric of "sustainability" or "resiliency."

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

The Post-Human Future

Kevin Kelly has an interesting review of geologist Jan Zalasiewicz's new book on what traces of humans will remain on Earth 100m years from now.

The short answer: not much, and it'll look totally different from what it does today. Geological time wreaks tremendous transformation on minerals at an atomic level, and no one really knows how, say, an iPhone might fossilize.

Whither Britain in the Crisis?

James Meek, on the best and worst case scenarios for Britain in the ongoing financial crisis:
In the best scenario, the financial system starts to function again, albeit more responsibly than before; job losses tail off towards the end of the year after another half million people have got their P45s; house prices bottom out; inflation plummets to nearly zero, without slipping lower into the menace of deflation; the faint possibility of Britain balancing its books glimmers in the distance; and the benign side of Britain's non-membership of the euro comes into play. Because we're not in the euro, our currency can fall against it - the pound has already fallen by a quarter against the euro in the past few weeks - making it less likely we'll buy wine from France or cars from Germany or hotel rooms from Spain, and cheaper for Europeans to buy whisky from Scotland or aircraft engines from Derby or hotel rooms in Cornwall. In short, we muddle through.

The worst case is the Icelandic scenario: foreclosure on Britain. That's where the dark side of not being in the euro might emerge. Like most countries, Britain is in debt to its own citizens, and to the rest of the world. That debt is backed up by two things - confidence in the value of Britain's assets, its land and factories and skilled people, and confidence in Britain's future prosperity. That's fine as long as the confidence is maintained. But if the rest of the world decides Britain's debt is out of proportion to its actual worth, things can turn nasty very fast, and a country can find itself, like some impecunious homeowner, being judged not on hopes and prospects but on the repossession value of the house and the auction value of the furniture. Doubt abroad about what we are really worth has already set in. If you're a homeowner, in sterling terms, your house is worth, on average, 12% less than it was this time last year. But from the euro-denominated point of view, your house has fallen in value by another 25%.
The U.S. faces a pretty similar situation.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Not for the squeamish

A slide show from Gaza.

"Bombing 1.5 million People in a Cage"

10 best American movies of the 20th century

Stanley Fish sets out to start an argument by naming the ten American movies he considers the best of the 20th century. My own list would be almost completely different. In chronological order:
  • City Lights (1931)
  • Casablanca (1943)
  • The Third Man (1949)
  • Sunset Boulevard (1950)
  • Vertigo (1958)
  • Dr. Strangelove (1964)
  • Chinatown (1974)
  • The Godfather, Part II (1974)
  • Blade Runner (1982)
  • Pulp Fiction (1995)

Sunday, January 04, 2009


I'll shortly be publishing something formal on the emergent cyberthreat. For now, I'll note simply that over the last two years, cyberattacks have become a standard part of warfare information operations. For example, one of the crazy rightwing Israeli blogs that I regularly read, DEBKAfile, was by its own report taken down when Israeli troops crossed into Gaza.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Thorstein Veblen's Neglected Feminism

My first peer-reviewed article, on Thorstein Veblen, which I first drafted fifteen years ago, is now available online. I couldn't bear to reread it myself, but it may amuse some of you.

The larger context here is my interest in unorthodox, post-institutionalist thinking about economics, which ties together my various writings over the years on intellectuals as otherwise different as Veblen, Clifford Geertz, Paul Rosenstein-Rodan, and Peter Drucker. It's also at the core of my interest in deviant globalization.

Modern Social Imaginaries

At the behest of a friend, I just read Charles Taylor's recently published Modern Social Imaginaries, which offers a pointed intervention into the debate about the relationship between "modernity" and "modernization," which was of course a central subject of Mandarins of the Future.

Taylor's core concept is that there exist popular "imagineries" (idea sets about how life is and should be led, in order to instantiate a "community") that are more important for defining the content of modernity than elite "theories." This is a useful distinction, albeit largely derivative of Benedict Anderson's original and much-cited phrase. What I like most about the way Taylor describes this concept is that it suggests a way to apply methods from intellectual history to popular ideas. Unfortunately, this isn't what Taylor actually does with the concept, choosing instead to focus most of his attention on the writing of the usual suspects in most debates about the rise of modern ideas in the from the fifteenth through nineteenth centuries (Montaigne, Pope, Locke, Kant, Rousseau, Hegel, Marx, Mill).

I also like that the book suggests a way to revivify the generally scorned Hegelian concept of Zeitgeist. Certainly, it is a useful antidote to the unreconstructed, reductive bourgeois materialism (if you'll pardon my french) that subtends most discussions of the unity of the modernization process. Such discussions focus on the similarities of, say, the Japanese and German economies and demographic experiences, and ignore the fact that these two countries could scarcely feel more socially different if one of them were a paleolithic tribe.

The problem with all this is not that it's wrong, but that it's really pretty old hat. The entire "post-development" crowd (Escobar, Ferguson, Dirks, Chakrabarty, Kamali, and so on) along with various philosophers (Bauman, Volf, Eisenstadt) made the same basic point throughout the 1990s. What's more, Taylor doesn't makes his substantive case as strongly as he might have. Even though he claims that the intellectual payoff of his methodology is to "provincialize Europe," he ends up spending almost all his time focused on the evolution of, well, the European social imaginary. If provincializing Europe is really the point--that is, if the aim is to prove that there are multiple sharply contrasting modern social imaginaries that overlay a common material modernity--then wouldn't it have made better sense to spend time contrasting two really sharply distinct examples of "modern social imaginaries"? For example, Taylor would have made a far more powerful case if he had rigorously distinguished the evolution of the Japanese modern social imaginary from the European modern social imaginary, or the German social imaginary. As it was, I was left wondering whether the methodological distinction between theories and imaginaries really provides the foundational payoff for proving that there are "multiple" modernities.

Even if we ignore the evidentiary issue and assume that there actually are sharply distinct modern social imaginaries, it still seems to me that Taylor dances away from the key methodological problem with any concept of "multiple" imaginaries, or modernities, which is: what is the right unit of analysis? For example, can we speak today of the existence of a "European" social imaginary? Or are there still "Spanish," "French," and "English" social imaginaries? Or are there, actually, "Welsh," "Scottish," and "English" social imaginaries? Or "Glaswegian" and "Edinburgher" social imaginaries? It seems to me that all of these different social imaginaries exist as potentialities, and which ones get invoked depend on mood, leadership, circumstance. (Admittedly, this is the classic critique that a lumper and makes of a splitter. At the same time, it's a critique that must be met if the splitters are to convince any of the lumpers that they should stop lumping and start splitting.)

Finally, and most pointedly (because here's where there might be some policy payoff to the discussion), Taylor refuses to ask the tough moral question that his splitting would seem to me to demand. That is: are some sorts of social imaginaries more "useful," in terms of creating a stable polity and productive economy? That's a highly un-PC question, of course, since it suggests that some "imaginaries" and some "cultures" may be "better" than others in utilitarian terms--and even asking utilitarian questions about culture is to the post-development crowd suspect. (Unless, that is, you want to celebrate the supposed superiority of the hybrid cultures of postmodern post-peasantries.)

By my sights, if Taylor is going to make the sorts of positive splits between different modernities, then he must realize that some people (like me) are going to draw normative conclusions from them. Sure, the old modernization theory claim that modernity is singular was nothing but a varnish for the implicit idea that the "Western" social imaginary would eventually become universal, and as such was culturally imperialistic. But claiming that modernity is multiple doesn't get us around that problem. Instead, it merely begs the questions of which of these multiple modernities is superior or inferior.

That's the key, tough question that Taylor's distinction demands. But he ducks it, to my disappointment.