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Reading Blog - August 2023
International justice and Congress
Planning future reading: Due to family history I got a book on the Illinois state hospital system, but it ends by 1900.
I hope to read The Malay Archipelago to help plan future travel. For now I started with Malay/Indonesian recipes from Cradle of Flavor: Home Cooking from the Spice Islands and Southern/Tamil fusion recipes from My Two Souths. If I read the intro, a cookbook could show up in a reading blog someday?
Some Kind of Justice: The ICTY's Impact in Bosnia and Serbia (Diane Orentlicher, 2018)
In December 2017 the ICTY (the court responsible for investigating war crimes in former Yugoslavia) closed after hearing thousands of witnesses over 25 years. This and a court for Rwanda helped lay the foundation for the ICC and a mini era of optimism for tribunals (including Cambodia, East Timor, Lebanon, Sierra Leone).
Dr. Orentlicher is an excellent source - she organized several Open Society studies of the ICTY, and postponed research for this book to work for the Obama State Department on War Crimes Issues.
Her book knits together interviews, surveys, and political analysis to explore a deeper meaning of the ICTY from creation to conclusion.
Creating a court during a conflict was unprecedented, but cynics see a weak international community, offering a court instead of intervening.
The court's indictments raised fears of disrupting peace negotiations (Milošević represented Bosnian Serbs at Dayton because their leaders were already indicted; the ICTY requested not offering amnesty). Post-war, Serbian leaders slowly 'found' indicted persons to negotiate foreign aid and EU agreements.
Bosnia and Serbia now have local war crimes courts. It's unclear what would be in place without the ICTY's influence.
Success of the court has some tangible measures (admissions of guilt, people returning home after someone is indicted and removed) and more abstract goals, such as preventing future denial and war crimes.
One consequence has been interpretive denial where groups accept the facts of an event but not the moral conclusions. ICTY findings are often discussed in Serbian media by defense experts, who frame it with argument about the role of ICTY and the definitions of genocide.
Acquittals, short sentences, and lengthy trials lowered Bosnians' expectations for justice. The trials of Milošević and Šešelj were seen as particularly rough, because prosecutors planned their final judgment to establish a complete historical narrative, but the defendants used self-representation to disrupt and delay the court until death or repatriation.
Another suspect's appeal trial led many (including a judge) to speculate that the US aimed to prevent establishing a type of civilian deaths as a war crime.
Statements of Guilt have built up the legitimacy of the court and its role in reconciliation and fact-finding (cooperating defendants described the Srebrenica genocide).
In an ending section, Orentlicher notes that Germany took decades to reach its current understanding of WWII and Nuremberg, with opinion polls shifting after trials and TV/media of the 1960s.
At publication 5 years ago, Bosnia's transitional constitution and foreign High Representative were overdue for a rethinking. The issues have not been fixed. The latest High Representative was opposed by Russia and China, and mandated changes in the 2022 elections. Republika Srpska, under Dodik, recently stopped accepting rulings from them and the Constitutional Court. The US responded last month with sanctions on four officials.
Reportedly, deniers control the Bosnian language wiki. They also appear in Google Maps reviews for the ICTY building.
Years ago I read or watched some promotional material about how the US provided early GIS info at the Dayton Accords. As ethnic division continues, it's interesting to look back at how negotiators worked to make that division more precise.
I linked this back in November, but - interviews with ICTY translators were featured in the documentary short: In Flow of Words.
The 1999 UK TV special Warriors covered soldiers' traumatic experiences patrolling Bosnia and inability to save lives. I'd compare it to Jarhead.
Inside Congressional Committees: Function and Dysfunction in the Legislative Process (Maya L. Kornberg, 2023)
My first review of a 2023 non-fiction book! Kornberg started this research at Oxford, and is currently at the Brennan Center (a big deal in the election research world).
The book helped me realize that I had a sketchy mental model of how Congress's committees, chairs, and hearings work and serve as an influence. Seeing it spelled out like I'm heading to work on Capitol Hill was kinda cool. It ties into current issues, such as Feinstein being un-replaceable on the Judicial Committee.
Committees assumed a powerful role in DC not long into the 1800s, but the current system was shaped both by post-Watergate reformers and Newt Gingrich. Kornberg uses interviews and transcripts to describe committees in the current environment: an agenda controlled by the majority leader, finding some factual info about bills, but also serving as PR time. Though each committee has their own rules and relationships, two healthy signs are if the minority gets more than the minimum one witness, and if they can hold onto experienced staff.
Kornberg has special praise for informal, off-the-record meetings such as the House's Science Committee roundtables and Agriculture Committee listening tours. Representatives agreed that they learned a lot on these committees and from these direct sessions.
The US has a significant gender divide from unpaid interns up to committee chairs. In some cases a witness might be sought out to improve diversity of a hearing, but witnesses are also found based on lobbyist recommendations, proximity in DC, or even a connection to a Congress member's alma mater.
Updates to Previous Reads
I've been building up a backlog of update-notes. Here goes:
Movies Polite Society (now streaming) and Shortcomings (in a few theaters) were both really good.
The UN Institute for Disarmament Research hosted an event on quantum computing and post-quantum encryption (PQE)
Plant hunters in the modern day, with the Brazilian sunberry: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rQGpaVfzKWE
After Muppets in Moscow I have continued to think about one of their settings being a larger central yard mostly surrounded by apartment blocks. My friends in Czechia live in a new building on one of these parks, and the urban planning immediately stood out. They have affinity for their own park (complaining about young adults making a mess), but because these join multiple buildings and the street, their kid can visit another park on the walk home from school.
A Reddit thread suggested "perimeter block" or "inner court". Articles on St. Petersburg and Sesame Street describe it as a dvor (Двор) but this could loosely describe any yard or courtyard, and it hasn't had a moment in the discourse like woonerf.
The Muppets author says that under socialism a caretaker would live on site, maybe a grandma, but they were often believed to be police informants.
Re: Chekov on Sakhalin Island, this is a vlog by someone hitchhiking / trainhopping there (uploaded recently, filmed 2021)
Re: Churchill and WW1, here's a formal debate (recorded shortly after Russia's initial invasion of Crimea) on whether the UK should have joined WW1
Re: the book I read on Malaysia's paranormal - the term "running amok" comes from Malay and was once seen as a culture-specific illness https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/amok
The Maldives's Hulhumalé (ހުޅުމާލެ) Phase 2, which was a near-empty plain raised from the sea when I visited, now has lush vegetation
Also in paranormal news, back when I was on the Isle of Man, I went down a rabbit hole reading up on the talking mongoose that harassed a family there in the 1930s (a movie adaptation will be out in September). Britain was deeply into the occult at the time, but one podcast added context that the notorious libel laws stopped journalists from being direct about domestic abuse and mental illness. I wonder if this forced credence was part of why so many prominent people of the time shared belief in strange and occult events (for example, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle accepting fairy photos).
As an update to Truman-met-MacArthur-once: I recently heard that Truman met FDR only once before being named VP? The sourcing of this was a little thin - the Truman Library instead notes "[he] met with President Roosevelt twice during his 82 days as vice president". I think this speaks to how communication was then changing the presidency, before reliable air travel could?
Re: low-carbon trips: Amtrak removed all bicycle options (roll-on and box) from the Chicago-Milwaukee line. New bike-friendly cars are rolling out on other lines, though.
A public interest law firm won Held v. Montana based on the Montana state constitution including a right to protect the environment for future generations.