Saturday, March 20, 2010

VaBook10: Short Takes 4

While I anticipated attending four events at the Virginia Festival of the Book today, in the end I went to just two.

That might sound disappointing, but the two sessions were quite good. In fact, the second -- A Conversation from Left and Right: With Hendrik Hertzberg and Richard Brookhiser -- may have been the highlight of the festival.

That one, sponsored by the Sorensen Institute for Political Leadership at UVA and moderated by its executive director, Bob Gibson, offered a wide-ranging exploration of American governance and constitutional issues that could serve as a model for civil discussion between (as the event's title indicated) "left" and "right."

Here's what Bob Gibson had to say shortly after the program, held in the Culbreth Theatre on the grounds of the University of Virginia, ended:
I was also able to ask the two conversationalists, Hendrik Hertzberg and Richard Brookhiser (both, as Gibson noted, called "Rick"), to give their basic elevator speech about their most recent books.

National Review editor Brookhiser talked about his new memoir, Right Time, Right Place: Coming of Age with William F. Buckley Jr. and the Conservative Movement:
Hertzberg, a senior editor at The New Yorker, spoke with great affection about his new book about Barack Obama, called Obamanos!: The Birth of a New Political Era:
Earlier in the day, at the UVA Bookstore, the producers of the public radio program Backstory: With the American History Guys sponsored a panel featuring three historians. (Like the Virginia Festival of the Book, this radio show is underwritten by the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities.)

Tony Field, the show's producer, acted as moderator and said a few words about Backstory for the camera:
One of the panelists was Backstory's "20th Century Guy" Brian Balogh, who teaches at the University of Virginia and is the author of the new book about 19th-century America, A Government Out of Sight: The Mystery of National Authority in Nineteenth-Century America:
A second speaker also wrote a book about the 19th century, though a more discrete segment of it. Attorney David O. Stewart once worked on an impeachment case before the U.S. Senate and has now produced Impeached: The Trial of President Andrew Johnson and the Fight for Lincoln's Legacy:
The third speaker was Guian A. McKee, an historian at UVA's Miller Center for Public Affairs and author of The Problem of Jobs: Liberalism, Race, and Deindustrialization in Philadelphia:
Tomorrow is the last day of the book festival, with twelve programs remaining.

VaBook10: Short Takes 3

On the Third Day of the Virginia Festival of the Book, I found authors in unexpected places.

Attending a session in City Council Chambers called "The Business of Book Reviewing: Changes and Challenges," I caught up with Kristin Swenson, a religious studies professor at Virginia Commonwealth University who is currently a visiting fellow at the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities in Charlottesville. I had missed Swenson's presentation on Wednesday about her new book, Bible Babel: Making Sense of the Most Talked About Book of All Time, and thought I had also missed any opportunity to interview her. Fortunately, in asking a question of the panel from the audience, she identified herself by name and I was able to approach her after the program ended to ask her to say a few words about her book.

In addition to a favorable review of Bible Babel by Michael Dirda in The Washington Post, Swenson was profiled in this week's edition of The Hook.

Here is what she said on Friday afternoon:
One of the panelists discussing the business of book reviewing was novelist Katharine Weber, who also has a new book, called True Confections.  She describes it better than I can, as about "race and chocolate and a family business":
Another discussant -- actually the moderator -- on the book reviewing panel was Bethanne Patrick, who is also one of the four guest bloggers for the Virginia Festival of the Book. Bethanne is herself a book reviewer and author of An Uncommon History of Common Things, of Native American Languages, and of a biography of Ulysses S. Grant (focusing on his childhood), as well as a similar book about Abraham Lincoln.

I asked Bethanne to give her assessment of the Festival so far; her enthusiasm shines through her response:
Following the book reviewing panel discussion, I hurried down Market Street through Preston Avenue to Barracks Road (and never making a turn; Charlottesville streets are like that) to attend a presentation by Jag Bhalla at Barnes & Noble about his book, I'm Not Hanging Noodles on Your Ears and Other Intriguing Idioms From Around the World. The Russian expression, "I'm not hanging noodles on your ears," is the equivalent of the English idiom, "I'm not pulling your leg." Bhalla has collected about 1,000 such idioms from ten languages.
Saturday promises to be a busy day at the Festival, with programs beginning in the morning and lasting until early evening.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

VaBook10: Short Takes 2

On the second day of the 2010 Virginia Festival of the Book, I was not able to get to as many programs as I planned -- a situation I hope to balance out on Day Three.  With some 300 authors divided up among several venues, it's nearly impossible to get more than a taste of the Festival's many offerings.

Fortunately, I was able to grab two authors and the Festival's program director for short interviews.

Program director Nancy Damon attended a session in Charlottesville City Council Chambers called "Gangs, Schools and the Great American Dream," which was marred by the absence of one of the scheduled authors, Samuel Logan, whose book, This is for the Mara Salvatrucha: Inside the MS-13, America's Most Violent Gang, accounted for the first word in the program's title. I asked her to comment on the 2010 Festival so far:
At that same program, emeritus professor of education at the University of Virginia James M. Kauffmantalked about his most recent book, The Tragicomedy of Public Education, which is so new, he said, that it does not yet appear on the publisher's web site -- nor, it seems, is it yet available on (Look for it there soon; as you can see from the video, the book is in print and ready to read.)
Earlier in the evening, Escafe restaurant (on the other end of Charlottesville's downtown mall) hosted a reading and remarks by Robert Leleux, author of The Memoirs of a Beautiful Boy, which is about his growing up gay in East Texas and -- he says -- is a comical look at his parents' divorce.
Look for more "short takes" tomorrow, and perhaps some longer-form video reports, as well.

VaBook10: Short Takes 1

Wednesday was the first day of the Virginia Festival of the Book.

I caught two panel discussions at the UVA Bookstore.  After each panel, I asked the participants to speak to the camera and tell me why someone should buy and read their books.

The first was titled "Giants of the Twentieth Century: Ayn Rand and Louis Brandeis," and it featured University of Virginia history professor Jennifer Burns, author of Goddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and the American Right, and Melvin Urofsky, emeritus professor of history at Virginia Commonwealth University and author of Louis D. Brandeis: A Life.

First, Jennifer Burns:

Second, Melvin Urofsky:

The second panel was called "The Crash of '08 and Its Aftermath," with presentations by UVA political scientist Herman Schwartz, author of Subprime Nation: American Power, Global Capital, and the Housing Bubble, and Hunter Lewis, cofounder of Cambridge Associates and author of Where Keynes Went Wrong: And Why World Governments Keep Creating Inflation, Bubbles, and Busts.

Here is Herman Schwartz:

Finally, Hunter Lewis:
I was able to record the whole of the first panel and all but the last five minutes or so of the second. I will be posting those videos here or on my other blog, Rick Sincere News and Thoughts, within the next few days.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

On the Eve of VaBook10

Tomorrow is the day logophiles have been waiting for.

No, not St. Patrick's Day, though the Irish are known for their ability to string words together in a mellifluous manner.

Wednesday is the first of five days of the Virginia Festival of the Book, which draws some 20,000 book lovers to Charlottesville in what might be the biggest book festival in the country.

Last week's cover story in The Hook highlighted the "sweet sixteen" programs that that newspaper's editors thought were most interesting.  (At first I thought the cover referred to the NCAA basketball tournament, but luckily I overcame being misled and read it anyway.)  Surprisingly -- or perhaps not -- none of The Hook's top picks are among mine.  That just goes to show the wide variety of authors and books that will be on display at the Festival -- a little something for everyone.

In the run-up to the book festival, WINA-AM's Coy Barefoot and his substitute host on Charlottesville Right Now, Jay James, have been interviewing authors who will be appearing here over the weekend.

On Monday, Coy interviewed Hendrik Hertzberg, who will be appearing on a panel with Richard Brookhiser at the Culbreth Theatre on Saturday, moderated by Bob Gibson of the Sorensen Institute for Political Leadership at the University of Virginia.  Hertzberg is the author, most recently of ¡OBÁMANOS!: The Rise of a New Political Era.  The prolific Brookhiser, who began writing for National Review as a teenager, is the author of Founding Father:  Rediscovering George Washington, and his memoir, Right Time, Right Place:  Coming of Age with William F. Buckley Jr. and the Conservative Movement.  Saturday's panel, entitled "A Conversation from Left and Right: With Hendrik Hertzberg and Richard Brookhiser," promises to be an intellectual feast.

On Tuesday's show, Coy interviewed local political activist David Swanson, who talked about a demonstration against an appearance of law professor John Yoo at the University of Virginia on Friday.  Swanson will also be speaking at a book festival event on Saturday, on the topic Where Does America Go from Here?  Swanson is the author of Daybreak: Undoing the Imperial Presidency and Forming a More Perfect Union.

Also on Tuesday, Jay James interviewed VCU professor Kristin Swenson, who will be speaking on a panel at 6:00 p.m. on Wednesday called Bible Babel and Holy Curiosity: Questions and Answers about the Bible. Swenson, who teaches religious studies at Virginia Commonwealth University, is the author of Bible Babel: Making Sense of the Most Talked About Book of All Time.

Last week, Coy interviewed Paul Gaston, professor emeritus of history at the University of Virginia, whose memoir of the civil-rights era, Coming of Age in Utopia, will be featured in a panel on Thursday called "Social Justice: The Power of Individuals."

As for me, I'm looking forward to Wednesday's noon panel at the UVA bookstore, featuring Jennifer Burns, author of Goddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and the American Right, and Melvin Urofsky, author of Louis D. Brandeis: A Life. Urofsky also teaches at VCU, while Burns teaches history at UVA. Urofsky's book is reviewed in the April 2010 issue of Reason magazine by Damon W. Root. (That issue is not yet on line, but Root had a "Hit & Run" blog post on Urofsky's book last September.)  I have already read Burns' book, which was a real page-turner.  It was so interesting, I read every page -- including the footnotes, bibliography, and acknowledgments.

For a full schedule of events at the Virginia Festival of the Book, look here.  Most of the events are free and open to the public.Those with a gaming spirit might want to buy a raffle ticket in hopes of winning one of four exciting prizes; proceeds support the Festival and its programs.

'Ordering the Oceans: The Making of the Law of the Sea'

This book review appeared in the New York City Tribune on Wednesday, November 11, 1987. A somewhat shorter version was published in Millennium: Journal of International Studies, Vol. 16, No, 3 (Winter 1987).

An Optimist Looks at the Still-Unratified Law of the Sea

Ordering the Oceans: The Making of the Law of the Sea, by Clyde Sanger, Zed Books, London, $11.50, paperback, 225 pp.

Ocean politics have been at issue at least since the day in 1492 when Columbus set forth from Barcelona in three small ships destined to prove that one could cross the vast Atlantic and return safely.

By the 17th century, ocean politics occupied the minds of sailors, scholars, and statesmen, who all had their own views of what the “law of the sea” should be.

In England, John Selden held that the oceans could be claimed and divided by governments just as land territory was. English monarchs appreciated the idea of extending their sovereignty in this way. Across the North Sea, the Dutch lawyer Hugo Grotius expressed the view that the oceans, beyond a narrow strip along the coasts of countries, belonged to no one and should be free for navigation by all vessels, whatever their ownership. The debate of “mare clausum” vs. “mare librum” was eventually enforced by the British navy, as that state came to see the value of such freedom for a maritime power.

As technology developed and more sovereign states came into being, however, it became clear that the law of the sea as it stood was inadequate to cover the issues of the later 20th century. Exploitation of the continental shelf, conservation of fisheries, and the discovery of mineral resources of the seabed made jurists, diplomats, and businessmen acutely aware of the inadequacy.

In 1958 and 1960 the United Nations sponsored two conferences on the law of the sea, each adding conventions that in part codifies existing customs and in part dealt with the new problems. Yet the effort was incomplete. In 1967, after a famous speech by Malta’s U.N. Ambassador Arvid Pardo that proclaimed the oceans “the common heritage of mankind,” there was set in motion the Third U.N. Conference on the Law of the Sea, or UNCLOS-3.

Sanger’s book concentrates on UNCLOS-3 and discusses in detail the negotiations from 1973 to 1982 that led to the signing of a new, comprehensive Convention on the Law of the Sea. It is a workmanlike book that presents a fairly complete picture, but it is flawed.

The first flaw is this: Sanger, as a Canadian journalist, had special access to Canadian diplomats and politicians who participated in the conference. The irritating result is a painting of the Canadian delegation as the most concerned and most effective of all the participants. Moreover, the Canadians seem to be the saviors of the convention. Whenever an impasse occurs, a clever Canadian comes up with a compromise: the Canadians build bridges and coalitions.

A worse flaw may be Sanger’s bias toward not only supporting the convention as it stands -- a convention that was rejected by the United States, Great Britain, and West Germany -- but a bias against certain changes made during the negotiation process to liberalize the oceans regime, changes instigated by these Western powers.

The reason that these three countries refused to sign the convention was a fundamental disagreement over Part XI, the articles establishing international control of deep-seabed mining in the area outside national jurisdiction. Sanger presents the decisions of these three states as a shortsighted, ideological decision motivated by the lobbying of mining companies that prefer not to be regulated by an international regime.

To Sanger, the problem faced by the industrialized countries had its locus in the provisions for mandatory transfer of technology from mining companies to the International Seabed Authority and thence to the developing nations. What he fails to acknowledge is the damage caused to free enterprise and free trade by the precedent set in this treaty. For the first time an international body is given power to engage in a major commercial enterprise involving valuable natural resources. It is also at the same time both regulator of and competitor with private enterprises (and some state-owned concerns as well). Seafarers may blink at this barnyard metaphor, but a clearer case could not be found: The Law of the Sea Convention puts the fox in charge of the chicken coop.

This is a dangerous precedent and despite all arguments to the contrary, the United States and its allies were right to stand firmly against it.

It was a mistake to negotiate a comprehensive treaty, designed from the outset as a package deal. The one exception -— the international law on the emplacement of weapons on the seabed -— was negotiated separately at the Geneva Disarmament Committee. At UNCLOS-3, the intrusion of Third World ideological considerations could have done considerable damage to the eventual treaty on seabed weapons, what is after all an essentially U.S.-Soviet Union issue and agreement.

Much in the Law of the Sea Convention is in the interests of the United States, and our diplomats should work hard to see that those provisions can be transplanted into another treaty (or treaties). Only the noxious Part XI deserves full-scale rejection.

The Convention has, after four years of being open for signature, still not been ratified by enough countries to enter into force. Perhaps it never will be. I suggest that ten years from now Clyde Sanger publish a second edition of Ordering the Oceans to assess his optimistic predictions. He may be sadly surprised by the course of ocean politics.

Richard Sincere is a Washington-based foreign policy consultant who writes frequently on international affairs.