Wednesday, October 6, 2004

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October's Books of the Month

I'll be at a conference in Milan for the next few days (yes, I know, I lead a rough life), so blogging may or may not take place. However, here are some belated October book recommendations.

The international relations book of the month is Sebastian Mallaby's The World's Banker, which avoids the common flaw of most books about the international financial institutions (IFIs) -- a dearth of amusing goat anecdotes.

To elaborate: tomes about the International Monetary Fund or World Bank tend to be drenched in a dull earnestness about the best ways to promote global development. The exceptions are the books slathered with righteous indignation about the alleged injustices committed by either institution towards the environment, local cultures, women or the poor in general. Either way, readers are frequently forced to wade through pages of exposition written with all the prose style of the phone book. The debate about the IFIs has a wide-ranging impact on global policy, but with the current state of the literature, even the eyes of interested readers start to glaze over.

Mallaby deals with this by writing a book about the World Bank under the guise of writing about the Bank's current president, James Wolfensohn. As a result, debates about the myriad complexities and paradoxes of fostering development and combating poverty are intertwined with tales about Wolfensohn’s life and times at the Bank – including the tangled fate of a goat given to him during a 1995 goodwill trip to Mali.

How well-researched is this book? Mallaby's description of Wolfensohn's first trip to Africa as World Bank president has a lot of eye-grabbing detail, including one graf that describes how Wolfemsohn looks at an airplane tarmac. The description was a bit thick, and I was ready to chide Mallaby for inserting colorful details that neither he nor anyone else could have remembered -- until I checked the footnotes. Mallaby had recreated the scene using a World Bank video recording. It sounds like a small thing, but is indicative of the excellent sourcing in The World's Banker.

Finally, you won't finish the book without having an indelible impression of Wolfensohn. I never thought anyone could write a book about the IFIs that merited a movie treatment, but after reading Mallaby's book, I can see an HBO film of Wolfensohn -- Michael Douglas would be perfect for the role.

As it's October, the general interest book is Steve Kettmann's One Day at Fenway. The book is a tick-tock account of an August 30, 2003 game between the Yankees and the Red Sox at Fenway Park through the eyes of twenty-five different people -- ballplayers, managers, executives, staff, fans, and the scoreboard operator behind the Green Monster. The subtitle of the book is A Day in The Life of Baseball in America, and that's pretty much accurate. The pointillist account would be fascinating on any terms, but the fact that it was a good game makes it all the more engaging. Kettmann had multiple eporters, writers and research assistants follow around each of these people for the entire day until the end of the game. For example, Pulitzer Prize winner Samantha Power shadowed Red Sox GM Theo Epstein for the whole day -- giving this blogger just one more reason to be unbelievably jealous of Ms. Power.

In the epilogue, Kettman reaches the following hopeful conclusion:

[Red Sox owner] John Henry may never take Sox fans closer [to a championship] than they were that night, five outs away from the World Series. The topsy-turvy Game Seven with Pedro Martinez on the mound might have been his one and only shot. But I don't think so. Based on what I saw during the several months of the 2003 season I spent studying the John Henry REd Sox from up close, and helped in the preparation of this book by unprecedented access, I believe the Henry ownership group is really going to do it. That is just a guess. But one thing I picked up in nine years covering professional sports for the San Francisco Chronicle was a conviction that when you have a hunch about a team, or an organization, you're right often enough to trust your hunches. Bostonians would be unwise ever to go on record with such a prediction, but as an outsider, a Californian of all things, I'm willing to say it here in black and white: The Red Sox will win a World Series on Henry's watch. It may be this October. It may be next October. It may take several mor years. But it will happen.

I hope he's right, but as a loyal Sox fan I am obligated to fear that he's wrong. Which leads to another side-effect of being in Milan -- I won't be able to watch any of the games.

Whether this is a good thing or a bad thing remains to be seen.

posted by Dan on 10.06.04 at 03:59 AM


Both football and baseball, although not as much, have become so competitive that the key difference are no longer the big, star players.
The differences are in management. For example, the reason the New England Patriots win is not that their top 22 players are better than the other teams top 22 players. Rather, it is because their second 22 players are better than the other teams second 22 players.

The sox management is top notch and are bring in lessons on management from outside baseball.
So I think you are right that it on a matter of time untill the Soxs win a series.

It that point the supply-siders can claim it was because of the Reagan tax cuts.

posted by: spencer on 10.06.04 at 03:59 AM [permalink]

another interesting book about the IFIs, with lots of good color and anecdotes, is Paul Blustein's The Chastening, about the International Monetary Fund's blunders during the financial crises of the late 1990s. (Blustein is also a Washington Post writer.) I think the book came out in late 2001 but got lost amid the 9-11 coverage.

posted by: carlos on 10.06.04 at 03:59 AM [permalink]

The horror, the horror! I'm watching through my fingers. Day One: couldn't ask for any better.

One piece of advice for Mr. Henry: install a Pedro-alert warning system. When he hits 99 pitches it goes off, preferably at 500 decibels right next to Francona's ear. Should he remain in the game, however, after the first walk in the 7th or 8th inning, a giant hand must swoop in and carry Pedro ever so gently off the field, clearing the way for Timlin or one of the other relievers. Oh, and if, despite these precautions, Francona still fails in his appointed task, a two-ton weight drops on him, Python-style. It's the only way.

posted by: Kelli on 10.06.04 at 03:59 AM [permalink]

Are the redsox still playing beane ball? OR has theo transformed into a run-of-the-mill GM? I know Beane (or Paul more likely) would have had Pedro pulled out, tradition be damned. However, I must say, there's nothing like watching 12 redsox fans get absolutely crushed when your only 1 of 2 yankee ans in the room.

posted by: Jor on 10.06.04 at 03:59 AM [permalink]

For those of you less that inspired by Dan’s choices I thought I would recommend Naomi Klein’s must-read article, Year Zero, the best single piece of journalism to emerge from America’s Iraqi escapade. Many of you on the Right will immediately recognize her as a Leftist and therefore judge her unqualified to critique the radical Iraqi free-market free-for-all experiment. Such logic would also have prevented Milton Friedman and other Chicago School economists from rendering judgment on Keynesian orthodoxy. Just as love is blind, ideological bedmates do not make the best critics.

Republicans love soldiers and corporate CEO’s. The Iraq occupation pitted the interests of these two groups against each other. The more the CPA, backed by the NeoCon ideologues in Washington, tried create a corporate utopia, the more the insurgencies ranks swelled, increasing exponentially the under-manned US military’s tasks on the ground.

“Bremer was now at odds not only with the Iraqis who opposed his plans but with U.S military commanders charged with putting down the insurgency his policies were feeding. Heretical questions began to be raised: instead of laying people off, what if the CPA actually created jobs for Iraqis? And instead of rushing to sell off Iraq's 200 state-owned firms, how about putting them back to work?”

The audacity of the Bush Administration attempt at economic engineering in Iraq can only be described as Stalinien, albeit on a much smaller stage, and with—so far—proportionally far fewer casualties. American common sense and Cold War-era suspicion of grand ideological edifices has been bartered cheaply for Soviet–style imperial tomfoolery. One would almost have to consider the possibility that the GOP has been penetrated by a cabal of Trotskyite plotters bent on proving the wisdom of the Marxist dream, only this time with a dictatorship of the corporations in place of the proletariat.


posted by: Kevin on 10.06.04 at 03:59 AM [permalink]

I also recommend Paul Blustein's The Chastening. This is now a required reading for all staff of IMF, according to Ken Rogoff, the former chief economist of the Fund. The book contains a gripping narrative about the role played by the Treasury Department during the Asian Crisis(Dan's and Brad de Long's foremer employer).

posted by: Asif Dowla on 10.06.04 at 03:59 AM [permalink]

Dan, can you finish the anecdote and tell us what happened with the goat?

posted by: Brian on 10.06.04 at 03:59 AM [permalink]

Oh goody a book about the Red Sox and their suffering fans.

- ZEKE (Cleveland Indians Fan)

posted by: ZEKE on 10.06.04 at 03:59 AM [permalink]

"Both football and baseball, although not as much, have become so competitive that the key difference are no longer the big, star players."

I don't know, I think that's more a function of salary cap creating parity vs. management being good. The NFL has fairly stringent salary cap parameters, creating instant parity where you never know who will win any given year, including the Pats (don't forget the Pats started out mediocre in 2003 and NO ONE knew they would finish so well). During any given year, the amount of moving around that has to be done to avoid salary cap penalties is tremendous in the NFL. I guess, to a degree, this can be indirectly traced to the managerial effectiveness in managing these moves, but not too much. Plus, the Pats starting 22 is clearly better as a collective starting unit than a lot of the other starting 22's in the league. Corey Dillon, although maybe not superstar caliber, can't be discounted for the big contribution he will make to the team that has had very little running game in the past. He's a big pickup for an already great team. In other words, he could be a difference maker.

Baseball, on the other hand seems even less to prove the above statement. Of course with some exceptions, teams who have a lot of money and sign superstars (Yankees Red Sox Angels etc) clearly win with more frequency that teams without superstar caliber. Lou Pinella is a great manager, but will never win with a $40MM budget in the AL East.

posted by: sam on 10.06.04 at 03:59 AM [permalink]

After last nights win I think the Sox will make good on Kettman's prediction/wish. If they win the WS it will end a great "quest story" and reduce the team to just another infrequent winner of the WS. Alas the star crossed losers will become just another team in the Yankees division.

posted by: Gorman on 10.06.04 at 03:59 AM [permalink]

Pedro went 116 pitches last night, maintained good velocity at the end, and struck out the last batter in the 7th. The thing about being a multi-generational Red Sox fan Kelli, is that, despite all evidence and conventional wisdom to the contrary, you must BELIEVE.

posted by: Abigail on 10.06.04 at 03:59 AM [permalink]

Since Dan's away....

Tonight's debate questions can be about any subject. Who has ideas about what they should be?

posted by: Zathras on 10.06.04 at 03:59 AM [permalink]


Point duly noted. However, did you note Pedro's extreme psychic fragility? When Cabrera and Manny let a pop fly drop between them (I love Cabrera but @$#%@$) it nearly led to a complete rout. Thank God for the magic bats.


Let's get the ball rolling--apropos of the sitemaster's abiding obsession--with a question on America's place in the new global economy. I would ask the two contenders to what extent their vastly different background--not in terms of the blue blood that flows in their veins, but the legal vs. b-school thing--influence their economic outlook for the country. If I were Bush I would stress the dangers of Kerry's protectionist leanings in respect to our leadership of a free-market international regime. I would stress my record in promoting trade over hand-outs, the diplomatic and strategic payoff of closer trade relations worldwide (i.e. if Kerry brings up outsourcing, counter with the mutual benefits derived from ever-improving US-Indian ties).

The big question: will Bush dare to bring up the Oil for Food scandal, thereby condemning Kerry's "global test" to the scrapheap of failed ideas?

posted by: Kelli on 10.06.04 at 03:59 AM [permalink]

Geez, more waste of time, moneys, and paper!

More of ivory tower hot air conferences.

All you clueless propagandized by the univ ivory tower types continue ruining ruining the country:

The least you could do is take the time and energy to force them to buy and use U.S. made products!

Your professional sports teams buy and use all kinds of foreign made goods. Sucking off more dollars for foreign countries even for your kids team products. Spoiled millionaires playing in your taxpayer subsidized play grounds.

posted by: Alex on 10.06.04 at 03:59 AM [permalink]

Most of the questions on my list for the first debate went unasked, and that was just foreign policy.

I would hope to see a question about immigration, concerning which Bush put out a proposal at the beginning of the year that vanished without a trace within days. Energy or the environment (or both) would be good topics, provided the questions are pointed enough -- questions that can be answered with recitations of the appropriate section of each candidate's stump speech are worse than useless. Intelligence reform, which Congress is in the process of driving into the ditch, deserves some time. I'd really like to see someone take another crack at the deficit issue; Gwen Ifill asked a question on this subject on Tuesday that neither Vice Presidential candidate answered. And I'd be thrilled if at least one question caught one or the other candidate (or both) completely unprepared.

And as in the first two debates each candidate themselves may throw things out that the other feels compelled to respond to. What about Kerry's Senate record, which went virtually unmentioned in Miami? The New York Times reports today a major, very expensive Air Force procurement scandal -- what responsibility does Bush take? I expect each candidate to seek advantage from the other's weakness, a visible sensitivity to criticism couched in personal terms. Kerry got most of his points in Miami from Bush's reactions, and he didn't really hit Bush that hard. Bush is likely to recycle the same harsh language he uses in his stump speech.

I expect, indeed I demand, to be entertained. I also expect Kerry to build on the advantage he came away from Miami with; if he is clear and personal in his attacks on Bush and is able to answer Bush's attacks on him without sounding defensive, Bush will reinforce the impression he made in the first debate.

posted by: Zathras on 10.06.04 at 03:59 AM [permalink]

This is one of the most interesting debates I've ever seen.

posted by: Jim Dandy on 10.06.04 at 03:59 AM [permalink]

Just how did Kerry know that there were only three people (him, Bush and Charlie) in that room who made over $200,000. Can he just smell those poor people or was it the beaten look in their eyes? I am sure there were some individuals or couples who had gross incomes of over $200,000 sitting in that group. Kerry really thinks $200,000 per year is rich. Try living in NYC or LA with a family of 4, you'll be doing okay but rich I don't think so.

posted by: Gorman on 10.06.04 at 03:59 AM [permalink]

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