Friday, April 30, 2004

Support Political Babes!!

While I've occasionally thought about it, I have yet to put a tip jar on the blog -- mostly because I've already benefited in myriad ways from

However, for those who have contemplated giving, let me redirect your energies to the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer.

[What, you're asking your readers to walk?--ed.] No, I'm asking them to support Political Babes, a two person team that plans to walk 39 miles in two days to support the cause. As their home page puts it: "Bethany and Melissa both are political scientists, both are committed to ending breast cancer, and both are total babes!"

Let me independently confirm that all three of these statements are true.

[Why should I take your word for this?--ed. Well, on them being political scientists, click here to read this Chicago Tribune story on Assistant Professor of Political Science Melissa Harris-Lacewell's fascinating research. Better yet, just buy her book, Barbershops, Bibles, and BET: Everyday Talk and Black Political Thought. Bethany Albertson -- the other political babe -- was a invaluable research assistant during the book's drafting.]

You can give by going to their home page and then clicking "Make a Gif!" by the thermometer on the right side of the page.

posted by Dan at 12:04 PM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

The disgruntled conservatives

I've received some interesting e-mail ragarding my "Up is Down" essay for TNR Online -- now available at the CBS News web site as well!! They suggest that a lot of Republicans are less than thrilled with George W. Bush, but feel that they have no place to go.

Here's one example -- it's from Virginia conservative Lee Dise:

I’m a lifelong, moss-backed conservative -- someone who favors smaller, less intrusive government; a less rapacious IRS and less overbearing regulatory agencies; a strong national defense, but not necessarily a more adventurous one; a return to constitutional government, as defined by the philosophy of ‘original intent’, and vigilant legislatures that make activist judges pay with their positions and careers.

In short, I’m one of the guys who the Republicans always feel they can count on, but who nevertheless have always basically been told to go straight to Hades by the “establishment” Republican-types.

From my perspective, Bush got the tax cuts right. And perhaps even Afghanistan and Iraq -- I can’t say for sure that he didn’t. Pretty much everything else, he’s gotten wrong – some things, horribly wrong. Which is to say: he’s gotten them pretty much the same way Ted Kennedy would’ve.

Now, if conservatives don’t make Republicans pay for their betrayals of conservatism, who will? I probably can’t bring myself to actually vote for a Dimmycrat, but I could merrily write in Alan Keyes and then on Election Night be tickled, beer in hand, to watch another Bush go down in flames. For this to happen, all the Democrats needed to do was field a candidate who is not so flamboyantly repulsive -- someone who doesn’t so obviously despise everything his country stands for -- that he makes our gall bladders sweat. Lieberman, maybe even Edwards, would have probably earned the Democrats a non-vote from me. A few million non-votes from people like me, and the Dimmies are in like Flynn, just like in 1992 when we socked it to ol’ “Read My Lips” himself.

But, nooooo. They had to select a swivel-headed Nimrod who’s so god awful that I can’t in good conscience stand idly by while he lurches towards the nation’s control center like a B-movie monster.

Fielding a candidate that has no hope of winning has historically been a province belonging solely to the Republican, i.e., the stupid, party. Somehow, I doubt that the Democrats can possibly be that dumb forever (even though the continuing saga of McAuliffe makes a strong case to the contrary). Five weeks ago, I figured that if I already knew Kerry was unelectable, eventually even the Democrats will figure it out. And now I know this is true, since you and the Village Voice are chiming in as proof.

A few e-mails is pretty paltry evidence of a trend. Still, one wonders whether this this feeling of alienation on the right is prevalent.

UPDATE: Another e-mail from a very well-connected and disgruntled conservative:

Last night, I was having drinks with a wide variety of young right-of-center types. All were dissatisfied, and roughly 65 percent wanted to see Bush's head on a pike. Of the 65 percent, something approaching a majority were even willing to vote for Kerry (i.e., for Richard Holbrooke), and the rest were teetering on the fence....

Among the would-be reluctant Kerry voters was a friend of mine from the Standard, of all places. Suffice to say, we all hate Kerry.


posted by Dan at 11:43 AM | Comments (73) | Trackbacks (3)

Thursday, April 29, 2004

Good luck with future apprenticeships!

I never watched an episode of The Apprentice -- in fact, Erika and I were steamed about the show because it meant that Scrubs had been moved. However, I'll admit to having some ex post curiosity about the show, particularly the debate about the sexual office politics that the initial weeks stirred up.

So I'm just going to reproduce this tidbit of Omarosa Manigault-Stallworth gossip from MSNBC's Jeanette Walls and leave it at that:

Omarosa continues to lose friends and alienate people.

The much-loathed reject from “The Apprentice” was scheduled to appear on “Jimmy Kimmel Live” last week, but refused to go on air when she saw a lie detector test backstage.

“The lie-detector test wasn’t even for her,” a spokeswoman for the show told the Scoop. “It was intended for Jimmy’s Uncle Frank [a regular character on the show], but when Omarosa saw it, she just freaked.” Some fellow contestants have accused Omarosa Manigault-Stallworth of lying when she said one of them used the N-word. “We tried and tried to calm her down, but she just kept saying ‘I’m not going on stage with that lie detector test’ then she just walked out."

Feel free to apply to be an Apprentice on the next season by clicking here.

posted by Dan at 04:27 PM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (0)

What the hell is going on in Thailand?

The Economist -- and the Thai government, apparently -- seems stumped about the latest violence in the south of Thailand:

On Thursday, hundreds of extra troops poured into southern Thailand to try to pacify the region. The trouble is, the authorities still do not seem to have any clear idea whom they are fighting or why the violence has escalated so quickly. At various times, different officials have described the attackers as Muslim separatists, mafiosi, and arms smugglers. Some have accused parliamentarians from Mr [Prime Minister Shinawatra] Thaksin’s own party of abetting the insurgents, while others have criticised Malaysia for allowing suspects to escape over the border. Many consider the militants terrorists, and have hinted at connections with outfits like al-Qaeda or Jemaah Islamiah.

Mr Thaksin, however, insists that the problem is purely domestic. Though pictures of the dead militants in the Thai media showed that many had Islamic slogans on their clothes, the prime minister insisted that they were nothing more than drug-crazed “bandits” on a crime spree, blaming local politicians for supporting them. But he has provided so many pat explanations of the violence, and promised so many times to bring it to a swift conclusion, that his assurance is beginning to look like bluster.

Reuters reports that despite some anger among the Thai Muslim minority, the religious establishment in the country has backed the government's show of force:

Critics were quick to question the insistence of Thaksin and his cousin and army chief, General Chaiyasidh Shinawatra, that drugs and crime rather than religious or separatist ideology lay at the root of the violence.

"What the two leaders do not see, or pretend not to see, is that this is not about addiction or banditry; this is about a fanatical ideology that none of us knew existed on such a grand scale," the Nation newspaper said in a front page editorial.

In the worst violence, troops fired teargas and stormed a centuries-old mosque, killing 34 gunmen holed up inside. An angry crowd gathered to watch as soldiers dragged bodies from the bullet-riddled building.

With Muslim sentiment divided between anger and support for military action at the mosque, Thailand's top Muslim cleric, speaking on national television, backed the operation.

"The authorities exercised reasonable restraint in dealing with the situation. They were patient and waited for a long time outside the mosque," spiritual leader Sawat Sumalayasak said.

"It was reasonable for the government to take such action."

Others disagreed.

"If the officers had waited for another couple of days they could have caught them alive, but they didn't. They killed them all," Uma Meah, secretary of the Central Islamic Committee of Pattani, said after a meeting of residents.

It's far from clear just what is driving the violence in the south. I'll leave it to the commenters to suggest whether the problem is local or transnational.

UPDATE: Hmmm... Indonesia is having problems with Muslim extremists as well.

Expect to read "Muslim extremism in Southeast Asia" stories for the next week.

posted by Dan at 02:53 PM | Comments (14) | Trackbacks (1)

Wednesday, April 28, 2004

"The revolution will not be blogged"

That's the title of George Packer's story about blogs in the May/June issue of Mother Jones, which I've read but haven't fully digested yet. The parts I found particularly appetizing:

The constellation of opinion called the blogosphere consists, like the stars themselves, partly of gases. This is what makes blogs addictive — that is, both pleasurable and destructive: They're so easy to consume, and so endlessly available. Their second-by-second proliferation means that far more is written than needs to be said about any one thing. To change metaphors for a moment (and to deepen the shame), I gorge myself on these hundreds of pieces of commentary like so much candy into a bloated — yet nervous, sugar-jangled — stupor. Those hours of out-of-body drift leave me with few, if any, tangible thoughts. Blog prose is written in headline form to imitate informal speech, with short emphatic sentences and frequent use of boldface and italics. The entries, sometimes updated hourly, are little spasms of assertion, usually too brief for an argument ever to stand a chance of developing layers of meaning or ramifying into qualification and complication. There's a constant sense that someone (almost always the blogger) is winning and someone else is losing. Everything that happens in the blogosphere — every point, rebuttal, gloat, jeer, or "fisk" (dismemberment of a piece of text with close analytical reading) — is a knockout punch. A curious thing about this rarefied world is that bloggers are almost unfailingly contemptuous toward everyone except one another....

So far this year, bloggers have been remarkably unadept at predicting events (as have reporters, who occupy a different part of the same habitat). Most of them failed to foresee Dean's rise, Dean's fall, Kerry's resurgence, Bush's slippage. Above all, they didn't grasp the intensity of feeling among Democratic primary voters — the resentments still glowing hot from Florida 2000, the overwhelming interest in economic and domestic issues, the personal antipathy toward Bush, the resurgence of activism, the longing for a win. The blogosphere was often caught surprised by these passions and the electoral turns they caused. Rather than imitating or reproducing external reality, it exists alongside, detached, self-encased, in a stance of ironic or combative appraisal....

Blogs, by contrast, are atomized, fragmentary, and of the instant. They lack the continuity, reach, and depth to turn an election into a story. When one of the best of the bloggers, Joshua Micah Marshall of, brought his laptop to New Hampshire and tried to cover the race in the more traditional manner, the results were less than satisfying; his posts failed to convey the atmosphere of those remarkable days between Iowa and the first primary. Marshall couldn't turn his gift for parsing the news of the moment to the more patient task of turning reportage into scenes and characters so that the candidates and the voters take life online. He didn't function as a reporter; there was, as there often is with blogs, too much description of where he was sitting, what he was thinking, who'd just walked into the room, as if the enclosed space in which bloggers carry out their work had followed Marshall to New Hampshire and kept him encased in its bubble. He might as well have been writing from his apartment in Washington. But the failure wasn't personal; this particular branch of the Fourth Estate just doesn't lend itself to sustained narrative and analysis. Blogs remain private, written in the language and tone of knowingness, insider shorthand, instant mastery. Read them enough and any subject will go dead.

Reactions -- as you would expect -- from David Adesnik, Kevin Drum, Wonkette, and Matthew Yglesias.

My half-digested thoughts:

1) Almost against his will, Packer reveals an essential truth for why blogs do matter -- the press reads them. Why does the press read them? Because, apparently, the political press will read anything about politics.

2) In the sections where Packer criticizes blogs, conduct a mental experiment -- replace the word "blogosphere" with "New York Times op-ed columnists" or "David Broder." See if the criticism about lack of predictive capabilities or incestuousness still hold up. Indeed, short of a "Letter from New Hampshire"-length essay in The New Yorker, Packer's expectations of blogs seem well-nigh impossible to meet.

3) One wonders what Packer thinks of commenters on blogs.

UPDATE: One additional thought -- I think Packer wants to keep the blogosphere and the mediasphere separate, when in fact a lot of bloggers can cross the great divide. For me, the utility of the blog is that it functions as a kind of ongoing link-filled notebook about interesting political and economic trends -- well, that and an excuse to link to Salma Hayek, of course. The stuff I write for the mediasphere starts off as half-formed thoughts in blog posts. Once they're fully thought out, they can have the coherence, texture and craft that Packer seems to crave after reading blogs (I would never have written "The Outsourcing Bogeyman" if I hadn't been tracking the issue closely in blog posts, for example).

Which might explain why one of Packer's colleagues at Mother Jones is quite willing to link to my writings.

posted by Dan at 11:21 PM | Comments (26) | Trackbacks (2)

Outsourcing destroys good IT jobs. Oh, wait...

Eduardo Porter's report in today's New York Times reinforces what I said in Foreign Affairs about outsourcing and the tech sector -- that while more low-skill jobs will undoubtedly be created overseas, the complex tasks are going to stay in the United States. The good parts:

As more companies in the United States rush to take advantage of India's ample supply of cheap yet highly trained workers, even some of the most motivated American companies — ones set up or run by executives born and trained in India — are concluding that the cost advantage does not always justify the effort.

For many of the most crucial technology tasks, they find that a work force operating within the American business environment better suits their needs.

"Only certain kinds of tasks can be outsourced — what can be set down as a set of rules," said Nariman Behravesh, chief economist of Global Insight, a forecasting and consulting firm based in Waltham, Mass. "That which requires more creativity is more difficult to manage at a distance."

Another Indian executive in the United States who has soured on outsourcing is Dev Ittycheria, the chief executive of Bladelogic, a designer of network management software with 70 workers, also in Waltham. Bladelogic, whose client list includes General Electric and Sprint, outsourced work to India within months of going into business in 2001. But it concluded that projects it farmed out — one to install an operating system across a network, another to keep tabs on changes done to the system — could be done faster and at a lower cost in the United States.

That was true even though programmers in India cost Bladelogic $3,500 a month versus a monthly cost of $10,000 for programmers in the United States. "The cost savings in India were three to one," Mr. Ittycheria said . "But the difference in productivity was six to one."

Bladelogic's chief technology officer, Vijay Manwani, born and educated in India, predicts that once the "hype cycle" about Indian outsourcing runs its course, projects will come back to the United States "when people find that their productivity goals have not been met."

The upshot is that high-technology corporations are likely to ship more and more business functions to India to take advantage of its well-trained work force. However, even as they do so they will keep many essential tasks here....

In the end, many say the advantages of keeping some of the most sophisticated work in the United States are related to the factors that draw technology entrepreneurs from India and elsewhere to this country in the first place: Indian engineers and software designers in this country know that the businesses whose needs are driving technological innovation are mostly in the United States. It comes down to being where the customers are. (emphasis added)

Read the whole thing.

posted by Dan at 11:28 AM | Comments (24) | Trackbacks (1)

More tales from the CPA

The Chicago Tribune interviews Northeastern Illinois University accounting professor Yass Alkafaji, and Iraqi émigré who went to Baghdad in January to "serve in the Coalition Provisional Authority as the director of finance for the Ministry of Higher Education." Read the whole interview -- but here are some of his thoughts:

Q. What is your take on the mood of the Iraqi people?

A. They are thankful to the U.S. for getting rid of Saddam Hussein, and they are content that the military needs to be there. But after that, they are divided between how long should the U.S. military stay and whether they are doing a good job or not. The U.S. military presence is very visible, and they [the soldiers] are really scared, so their posture is very offensive. They see Iraqis, and they put guns in your face. They move in convoys, and they tell people to get away from them. When the convoys are in a traffic jam in the middle of Baghdad, that is the most dangerous thing. So they shout at people to get out of the way, and they drive up on the sidewalk of some stores. That creates a lot of hard feelings for the Iraqis.

Q. What about the economic and employment situation with ordinary Iraqis?

A. Most of the people are not informed of what the U.S. is doing because they don't see the visible improvement of their livelihood, especially those who don't have a government job . . . I think there is still a lot of confusion about who is the good Iraqi and who is the bad Iraqi. I think [the U.S.] has shown to the rest of the world that we are really ignorant when it comes to dealing with other cultures. We have a great military power, but when it comes to building nations we have no idea. You can see the tension in the clashes between the British and Americans in the palace. The Americans will say `do this or do that' and the British will just be shaking their head. But the British have a much longer history in the Middle East, and they know how to deal with the Arab mentality. They feel very marginalized....

Q. Depending on how people want to spin it, they characterize the recent violence as a few bad apples or a popular uprising. How do you see it?

A. Surveys show about 70 percent of the Iraqi people accept that there is a need for the American military to be in Iraq, otherwise it will be chaotic and there will be no security on the ground. Of course, if you talk to someone in Sadr City with a first-grade education, they will say otherwise. One day I was waiting seven hours to try to leave the compound to try to see my sister. We had some thugs from the Sadr group demonstrating 15 feet away saying, "We want the U.S. out." So I said, "OK, the U.S. is out and then what next? Who is going to control the country?" They don't think about the implications of what they say.

David Adesnik also has some good links on Iraq.

posted by Dan at 11:21 AM | Comments (10) | Trackbacks (1)

Where to find evidence that up is down

Curious about information and evidence showing that for Bush and Kerry's political fortunes, up is down on Iraq? You can find a very embryonic version of this argument in this blog post of ten days ago.

The article was based on the polling data that has flummoxed DC insiders for the last ten days. Here's a link to the April 19th Washington Post-ABC News Poll, and here's a link to the USA Today/CNN/Gallup Poll taken during the same week (hat tip to Andrew Sullivan, who linked to both articles).

Kerry's answers about the U.N. to Tim Russert on the April 18th Meet the Press can be found in this transcript. Krauthammer's spot-on essay on Kerry's Iraq position appeared last Friday in the Washington Post. Andrew Sullivan makes the case for Kerry to scold the anti-war movement in this Daily Dish post (you need to scroll down a bit). I discussed the constraints Kerry faces in taking a more assertive position in the Middle East in my last TNR Online essay, "Cornered."

I mentioned Howard Dean's desire to send more troops to Iraq last summer in last summer's TNR Online essay about Dean. Richard Clarke discusses the Somalia debacle -- and the mistake of pulling out following the Black Hawk Down incident -- in chapter four of Against All Enemies.

A final caveat -- the observation that Bush does better and Kerry does worse if there is trouble in Iraq falls apart if the trouble gets really serious. For all of the bad news coming out of that country, the fact remains that U.S. casualties remain quite low for such an occupation -- especially one with such a low ratio of occupying troops to population. If casualty numbers per week move from the tens into the hundreds or thousands, then calls for withdrawal will become more tempting for Kerry to make -- and the political logic discussed in the article won't hold.

posted by Dan at 08:18 AM | Comments (31) | Trackbacks (1)

Bizarro politics

My latest TNR Online essay is now up and running. It makes an effort to explain the seeming oddity of why Bush's poll numbers versus Kerry have improved in the last six weeks despite the difficulties in Iraq.

Go check it out!

posted by Dan at 07:36 AM | Comments (12) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Law without order in Iraq

For me, the biggest frustration about Iraq is not that everything is going wrong, but that the things that are going wrong are important enough to undercut everything that has gone right in the U.S. occupation.

Take, for example, Colin McMahon's account in today's Chicago Tribune about the rebuilding of Iraq's court system. The good part:

Under Hussein, the accused had few rights and were subjected to tremendous abuse while awaiting trial. Sentences were harsh for even minor offenses. More than 150 crimes from prostitution to murder were subject to the death penalty, for example. And by making his every utterance the final word on all matters, Hussein destroyed the concept of legal fairness and turned what was left of the rule of law into the rule of whim....

Radhi Hamza al-Radhi is among those judges who suffered Hussein's wrath but survived his regime.

Al-Radhi was the chief of a three-judge panel presiding over a counterfeiting trial that found two men guilty late last month. One man, who had no criminal record, got three years in prison. The other, who previously had served 20 years for murder, got five years. Under Hussein, the judge said, the sentence for counterfeiting probably would have been life.

Tweaked by occupation lawyers, the Iraqi criminal code now is a point of pride, al-Radhi said.

Defendants have the right not to testify, and their silence cannot be used against them at trial. They have the right to an attorney from the beginning of the investigation, and in the case last month the court appointed and paid a lawyer to represent one of the men. Those found guilty can appeal.

There are important cosmetic changes as well. Al-Radhi's courtroom and chambers are gracefully appointed but not lush, and the mood is serious but not somber. Best of all, they are located in the towering steel hall that Baghdadis call "the clock tower." It used to be the museum for all the gifts Hussein had received from world dignitaries.

Al-Radhi said the overhaul to the legal system had won the Iraqis' confidence.

But Sindi said the court system still is only about halfway to where it needs to be. A state prosecutor said his office has too many cases to properly investigate and pursue at trial. And there remains a backlog of cases in which Iraqis arrested by occupation forces on any number of charges have yet to face trial.

But the biggest problem, Sindi and others said, remains the police. Bribery, incompetence and inexperience are allowing too many criminals to walk.

"My uncle was robbed and shot," said Ayser Malik, 21, who works at a grocery in central Baghdad. "The major crimes unit captured the gang responsible, but they were released. It's bribery. They are paying money to get released, and they are back out committing crimes."

The rebuilding of Iraq's legal system would be a fantastic, shout-from-the-rooftops-kind of accomplishment -- but without a general improvement in the order half of the equation, the achievement will have little effect.

posted by Dan at 10:30 AM | Comments (30) | Trackbacks (1)

Monday, April 26, 2004

A sobering account of Iraq -- from a CPA advisor

Larry Diamond -- one of the biggest supporters of the notion that democracy can travel across cultures -- was an advisor to the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq starting in January. No longer. The San Francisco Chronicle has a long story about Diamond's experiences in the field. He's still optimistic about democracy promotion -- but not about Iraq:

The story of Iraq, this onetime optimist believes, is a tale of missed opportunities.

"We just bungled this so badly," said Diamond, a 52-year-old senior fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution. "We just weren't honest with ourselves or with the American people about what was going to be needed to secure the country."

Diamond was a senior adviser to the Coalition Provisional Authority and spent several initially hopeful months in Iraq -- lecturing on democracy, even in mosques, encouraging people to participate and helping shape laws that embodied his vision. He returned to Palo Alto in early April for a short break, then ran into an emotional brick wall, he said, when he contemplated the mess he had left behind.

Last Thursday, when it came time for Diamond to return, he did not get on the plane.

Instead, he was in his office at the Hoover Tower, disillusioned over the desperate turn of events he had witnessed and what he feels was a country allowed to spin out of control, in large part, he says, because of the Bush administration's unwillingness to commit a big enough force to protect Iraqis from militias and insurgents.

"You can't develop democracy without security," he said. "In Iraq, it's really a security nightmare that did not have to be. If you don't get that right, nothing else is possible. Everything else is connected to that."....

His recommendations for rescuing the situation run counter to some of the policies that the Bush administration insists it will not alter. Diamond said that, in his view, the United States must more than double its current military force of about 135,000 and confront the violent Iraqi militias consistently, while offering political benefits to those who lay down their arms and accept democratic institutions.

The best he can say about the prospects in Iraq now is that, as he puts it, "civil war is not inevitable."

Read the whole thing.

posted by Dan at 11:15 PM | Comments (85) | Trackbacks (5)

Will education be outsourced?

One of the more amusing responses I get from the outsourcing essay is the reader's fervent desire that my profession be the next one vulnerable to outsourcing.

Yesterday's New York Times Education section raises a valuable point -- college education via the Internet is already place, in the form of continuing ed. This cover story points out:

Today, 1 in 12 college students attends a for-profit institution, and the business has grown to $23 billion in annual revenue for 2002, the latest year analyzed by Eduventures, an education market research company in Boston. The University of Phoenix alone has about 201,000 full-time adult students at 142 campuses and learning centers. Enrollment in for-profit institutions is growing at three times the rate of nonprofit colleges and universities, says Sean Gallagher, an analyst with Eduventures.

A big part of that growth is in online education. ''Each time we update our forecasts, we find that the online education market is growing a little bit larger than we anticipated,'' Mr. Gallagher says.

According to a study last year by the Sloan Consortium, a nonprofit association whose mission is to improve online education, more than 1.6 million students took online courses in 2002; nearly 600,000 of them took all their classes in cyberspace. More than a third of higher education institutions offer online courses, and 97 percent of public universities do....

Fitting perfectly is what continuing education strives for. A big part of the business plan is to strip away the elements of a traditional college that cost so much: fancy campuses, dormitories, athletic complexes, tenured faculty and the pond that shows up in every brochure. At the same time, the institutions strip away things that can be frustrating to students -- the commute, parking woes, long lines at registration, inconvenient class times. They focus on what in the business world is called customer service, often nonexistent at traditional colleges. ''They tend to be better at student services than traditional institutions are,'' Dr. Twigg says. ''Adult students are more demanding. You can still push kids around.''

Even Ph.D. defenses are going digital. It's just a matter of time before the educators on the other end of the network are based in countries other than the United States.

I for one, welcome our new online overlords competitors. While these schools provide a similar service, as this point they're expanding the market rather than cutting into a stagnant one. If offshore outsourcing means anything, it means that a lot more people are going to have to get a lot more education. As far as I'm concerned, the more schools, the better.

posted by Dan at 10:51 PM | Comments (10) | Trackbacks (0)

I'm back -- I'm jet-lagged

Back from a lovely conference in Hamburg, Germany, and trying to stay awake so that I can get back on Chicago time. Jacob -- I'm home!!

I've been out of the loop watching German music videos when not conferencing -- but I did see that Pat Tillman was killed in Afghanistan. You can read what I said about Tillman last year in this post.

posted by Dan at 10:18 PM | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, April 22, 2004

My network news debut -- mark two

My media whoring continues. Tune in to NBC Nightly News tomorrow (Friday) to see me on network television. Again, possibility this will fall through.

[More on outsourcing, huh?--ed. Nope -- this appearance has nothing to do with outsourcing. You're gonna have to watch to find out.]

UPDATE: Well, they apparently used it (What, you didn't see it? Don't give us that false modesty BS!--ed. No, I haven't seen it because I'm in Hamburg, Germany for a conference).

And to answer a commenter question, yes, they found me via the blog. An NBC researcher told me as much.

I can actually make a valid claim to expertise here, since I've read all the collections and been reading the strip on and off since 1980.

posted by Dan at 02:48 PM | Comments (12) | Trackbacks (1)

A very important post about... who would sleep with me in the blogosphere

Daniel Drezner... he's intelligent and cute, and I'd sleep with him.

This according to Meryl Yourish.

Woo-hoo! Yes, I'm happily married -- but as a complete geek who could never get girls in high school, this kind of information always nice to know.

Oh, wait... Yourish was just satirizing this John Hawkins post of the top ten bloggers he would want to be stranded on a desert island with. Yourish was just kidding.

I feel so... cheap and used. Sniff.

Excuse me, I gotta go watch Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan again.

posted by Dan at 02:17 PM | Comments (9) | Trackbacks (0)

Shafting the Palestinians?

At the risk of posting on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict again, Walter Russell Mead made a trenchant point in yesterday's New York Times op-ed page:

or the last five weeks I have been traveling through the Middle East, meeting diplomats, officials, policy experts, military leaders, students and ordinary citizens. I learned something very important: the greatest single cause of anti-Americanism in the Middle East today is not the war in Iraq; more surprisingly, it is not even American support for Israel, per se. Rather, it is a widespread belief that the United States simply does not care about the rights or needs of the Palestinian people.

"The Palestinian issue is really what discredits the United States throughout the region," a senior Western diplomat with years of experience in the Middle East told me. Or, as one student after another put it after the university lectures I conducted across the region: "Why do Americans have to be so biased?"

In Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Turkey and other countries, the large majority of people I spoke with are ready to tolerate the Jewish state — most even understand that the final boundaries of Israel will include some of the heavily settled areas beyond the pre-1967 borders. They also understand that few if any Palestinians will return to the homes they lost after the war that erupted when Israel declared its independence in 1948. And they are prepared to accept, though not to relish, America's close relations with Israel. Beyond that, they want increased American support for their domestic political reforms and for initiatives to enhance regional cooperation for economic growth and fighting terrorism.

But one thing sticks in their craw: Why doesn't America care more about the Palestinians' future?

They have a point. America's Middle East policy is unnecessarily zero-sum. We can be more pro-Palestinian without being less pro-Israeli. Indeed, to the degree that American policies help create support for compromise among Palestinians, pro-Palestinian initiatives can help Israel too. (emphasis added)

Read the whole thing for Mead's policy prescriptions.

Greg Djerejian also has a lengthy post on the Bush-Sharon summit that elaborates on this point in much greater detail. Shorter Djerejian: It's one thing to favor the Israelis in the conflict -- it's another thing to do it while simultaneously kicking the Palestinians in the balls.

posted by Dan at 11:53 AM | Comments (94) | Trackbacks (2)

China cuts a trade deal

The Financial Times reports that China has made numerous trade concessions in a deal with the United States:

China agreed to delay indefinitely a plan to impose a security standard for wireless communications that would have forced US telecommunications companies to license the technology from Chinese competitors. The US believed the plan signalled that China was clinging to government-led industrial policies designed to aid its own technology companies at the expense of US rivals.

China also agreed to renew efforts to crack down on illegal pirating of US movies, software and music, with Beijing pledging to step up criminal actions against companies that produce, import or export counterfeited goods. China presented US trade officials with an action plan designed to "significantly reduce" infringement of intellectual property rights.

In addition, China agreed to accelerate plans to make it easier for US companies to export and sell directly into China by eliminating laws that forced foreign firms to work through Chinese state trading enterprises.

The agreement is the strongest sign yet of the countries' maturing trade relationship. Unlike the US-Japan trade talks of the 1980s and early 1990s in which Japan would grudgingly accede to pressure to open its markets to US goods, yesterday's deal involved concessions on both sides.

The Chinese won US agreement to ease national-security-related export controls on sales of high-technology goods to China. Beijing has argued that the US is hurting its exports by refusing to sell China products such as machine tools.

Chinese central bank officials have also indicated that they plan to shift the renminbi from a fixed rate to a floating rate:

Guo Shuqing, administrator of China's foreign exchange reserves of $440bn, told the Financial Times Beijing no longer favoured a fixed exchange rate and would move toward a floating system as part of reforms to loosen up capital controls and give market forces more scope.

"We don't think that a fixed system is good. We think that a floating system is good," said Mr Guo, head of the State Administration of Foreign Exchange and a deputy governor of the central bank. He did not specify a timetable for the shift to a new exchange rate mechanism.

Question to those advocating greater protectionism towards China -- are these concessions sufficient? If not, what else?

posted by Dan at 11:45 AM | Comments (10) | Trackbacks (1)

The effect of school vouchers in Milwaukee

Given how important education is in the global economy, it's worth finding out whether school choice/vouchers/greater market competition can improve the quality of primary and secondary education in the United States.

Over at Crooked Timber, Harry Brighouse links to a Caroline Minter Hoxby paper in the Swedish Economic Policy Review that examines the effect Milwaukee's voucher program had on school performance. Brighouse has some questions about the paper, but closes with the following:

[V]ouchers and choice are increasingly hard for the left in the US to dismiss. The second best objection to well-designed and targeted voucher programs is that they leave the children remaining in the public schools worse off. If that objection can be met, progressives are left only with the best objection – that they will set in train a dynamic that will undermine the principle of public schooling. But in America, where public schooling is savagely unjust in its internal workings, that objection rings a bit hollow unless coupled with a substantial and politically feasible plan for improving the public schools which the least advantaged Americans attend.

posted by Dan at 12:55 AM | Comments (21) | Trackbacks (1)

Wednesday, April 21, 2004 -- the musical!

Blender magazine has compiled a list of the 50 worst songs ever, according to bad melodies, bad performances, or incoherent lyrics. According to the Associated Press:

Starship's "We Built This City," from 1985 topped the list.

"The truly horrible sound of a band taking the corporate dollar while sneering at those who take the corporate dollar," the magazine said of the tune.

Billy Ray Cyrus' "Achy Breaky Heart" was second, followed by Wang Chung's "Everybody Have Fun Tonight." "If this song was a party, you'd lock yourself in a bathroom and cry," quipped Blender.

Rounding out the top ten worst songs ever are Huey Lewis and the News with "The Heart of Rock and Roll," "Don't Worry, Be Happy," by Bobby McFerrin, Eddie Murphy's "Party All the Time," "American Life," by Madonna and "Ebony and Ivory," the duet by Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney.

Fine entrants, all [C'mon, admit that you like the Wang Chung song!--ed. Well, yeah, if I'm appropriately liquored up.] However, I'm not sure the folks at Blender have children -- in which case there's a whole new list of galactically cloying songs that make "We Built this City" sound like Beethoven's Fifth. How 'bout the Barney theme? The Dragon Tales theme? Raffi's completed works?

Readers are invited to submit their worst songs. And, while being in a musical mood, go check out Brad DeLong's post about songs where the cover version is superior to the original. You can see my contribution in the comments section.

posted by Dan at 09:25 PM | Comments (27) | Trackbacks (1)

Why aren't mutual fund investors freaked out?

The Chicago Tribune reports a puzzling finding regarding investors attitudes towards mutual funds in the wake of scandals involving late trading and market timing:

While mutual fund trading scandals have captured the attention of regulators, investors remain relatively unconcerned, according to a study released Tuesday by a Chicago-based consulting firm.

In a survey of 402 mutual fund investors by the Spectrem Group, less than half said they were at all concerned about allegations of improper trading in the mutual fund industry. A little more than 20 percent said they were "very concerned."

Just over one-third of investors said they were "concerned" or "very concerned" about late trading and market timing, the two practices that have spawned the scandal roiling the $7.6 trillion mutual fund industry. Meanwhile, nearly 1 in 5 investors said that as long as they earned a high rate of return on their investments, they didn't care about claims of favoritism for big investors.

"There's an overall lack of knowledge on the allegations," said Ann Mahrdt, a director at the Spectrem Group, and one reason for the lack of concern is "they don't see it affecting their bottom lines."

In fact, nearly 60 percent of investors said they were concerned about fee disclosures, compared with 37 percent for market timing or late trading.

For the record, I haven't been following the scandals/investigations involving mutual funds, even though all of my stock investments are in such funds. Mostly that's because these funds haven't tanked -- and even if there was a downturn, I try not to get too exercised about fluctuations in the short-term.

Those who have more information about this scandal should comment away -- I'm hoping that this is one of those episodes in which the system actually worked, and these abuses were caught before they could dramatically affect market integrity.

[You're just an assistant professor -- maybe people with real money do care about this?--ed. Not according to the Trib piece:

The wealthiest investors--those with incomes of over $100,000--display significantly less concern over improper trading allegations, and are less likely to demand action, such as seeking reimbursements from improper trading or participating in class action lawsuits against fund companies.

You can take a look at Spectrem's press release about the survey by clicking here.]

posted by Dan at 01:03 PM | Comments (20) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

Why I have no plan of attack on Plan of Attack

I just received the following e-mail from an avid reader:

Ok, Dan, it's been 3 days now. How come no response to Woodward's Plan of Attack ?

The plain and simple answer is, I'm swamped. These books are coming fast and furious, and I only have so many hours in the day. I'll try to get to it sometime soon. [Oh, sure you're swamped -- on things that don't sit well with your political views--ed. No -- I haven't had time to blog about either the oil-for-food scandal or Iran's role in the Shiite uprising. Really, I'm swamped.]

Parenthetically, there is another reason -- they're expensive to get in hardcover, dammit. Thankfully, one or two publishers have started sending me the occasional review copy -- and have I mentioned recently Ivo Daalder and James Lindsey's America Unbound: The Bush Revolution in Foreign Policy (Brookings, 2003) is a hell of a good read? However, publishers are unlikely to send bestsellers like the Susskind, Clarke, or Woodward books to bloggers -- they don't need us. [Jayson Blair needs you!--ed. Yes, but we don't want him.]

Apparently, I'm in the minority on even getting the occasional review book. David Bernstein's not getting review copies -- and he thinks that since he blogs at the Volokh Conspiracy, book companies should be sending him gratis review copies. Tyler Cowen points out that there may be a reason why this won't happen:

[I]f you read about a book on a blog, you may think you don't need to read the book. If I think about myself, I now read more blogs and (slightly) fewer books as a result. You can tell all the stories you want about complementary uses of books and blogs, but at some margins differing activities are likely to be substitutes.

Kevin Keith offers an amusing but illegal solution to the problem.

Back to main point: feel free to discuss the Woodward book here.

UPDATE: The Weekly Standard's Richard Starr e-mails a useful suggestion on the question of review copies:

I suspect bloggers waiting for review copies to show up in the mail are going to wait a long time. However, they might want to try what publications do, which is asking the publicity department of a publisher for a review copy of titles that interest them. Then they should make sure when they write about a book (for good or ill) to send a copy back to those same publicists.

Eventually stuff might start turning up unbidden, but I suspect the direct ask will bear fruit sooner. Also helpful is to get oneself added to the mailing lists for the publishers catalogues of future titles, which usually include a check-off sheet to be returned to the publisher noting the titles one is especially interested in.

posted by Dan at 08:58 PM | Comments (38) | Trackbacks (2)

The FCC's unintentional f$%&-up

Stuart Benjamin has a great post over at the Volokh Conspiracy on how the ratcheting up of FCC fines could actually lead to a long-term reduction of government censorship:

In recent years broadcasters have refrained from bringing judicial challenges to the regulation of broadcast indecency precisely because the fines were small, and rare, enough that broadcasters decided it was not worth the costs of antagonizing the FCC and Congress. Now, with heavy fines (and maybe even license revocation) on the line, broadcasters are more likely to do so. Indeed, that process began yesterday, when both NBC and a coalition of media groups filed petitions asking the FCC to reverse its decision. It looks like those groups are girding for a judicial challenge to the indecency regulations.

This is significant, because the Supreme Court probably would – and in my view should – find these indecency regulations unconstitutional. With respect to newspapers and magazines, telephones, and cable television, the Supreme Court has held that the government may not reduce the adult population to viewing only what is fit for children. As the Supreme Court noted in the 2000 Playboy case on cable indecency, a core principle of the First Amendment is that “The citizen is entitled to seek out or reject certain ideas or influences without Government influence or control.”

Broadcast has been the glaring exception in the Supreme Court’s jurisprudence, but its special status is no longer tenable. The Court ruled, 5-4, in the 1978 Pacifica case that broadcast indecency could be penalized because broadcasting is uniquely pervasive and uniquely accessible to children. The problem is that broadcasting no longer has that distinction Broadcast's pervasiveness and accessibility are not significantly different from, for example, cable television. Indeed, for the 88 percent of television households who use cable or satellite, a broadcaster is just another cable station. It further bears noting that the V-Chip embedded in television sets allows parents to choose what sorts of material they want to block (if they so desire), giving them control over what their children see and further undermining the case for state regulation.

Does this mean NBC will replace the Today Show with Jenna Jameson Live!? Hardly. Broadcast networks would still be beholden to advertiser preferences.

If Benjamin is correct, and the short-term kerfuffle over broadcast standards erodes the government's long-term censorship powers, I have only this to say -- thank you, Janet Jackson!!

posted by Dan at 04:27 PM | Comments (17) | Trackbacks (0)

Forget TV -- listen to the rado

My debut on international TV experienced some technical difficulties -- so it's back to the radio for me!

I'll be on the hot seat on KERA's Glenn Mitchell Show from 1:00PM to 2:00 PM Central time on the subject of tawdry and unsubstantiated rumors involving Salma Hayek's infatuation with offshore outsourcing.

You can listen into the broadcast by clicking here. We'll see if I can simultaneously blog about the experience as well.

UPDATE: So far, so good -- no belching on air yet.

ANOTHER UPDATE: I love doing call-in shows with access to the Internet -- make me sound like I've memorized a lot more information than I actually have.

FINAL UPDATE: That was most enjoyable. Lots of great questions, and all of them civil and well-reasoned.

posted by Dan at 10:40 AM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)

Encouraging news from Pakistan

The New York Times reports that Pakistan is having some success in its spring offensive against the remnants of Al Qaeda and the Taliban in the Northwest frontier:

The commander of American-led forces in Afghanistan, Lt. Gen. David Barno, said Monday that Pakistan had successfully disrupted the Qaeda network in the tribal areas bordering Afghanistan and had significantly affected its ability to support a suspected Taliban insurgency across the border in Afghanistan.

In an interview in Kabul, the Afghan capital, General Barno commended the Pakistani military for its "bold moves" against foreign fighters in the Pakistani tribal area of South Waziristan in March. He said it had so far prevented an anticipated offensive this spring in Afghanistan by the remnants of Taliban fighters who are suspected to have taken refuge across the Pakistani border in tribal areas.

"There have been some tough fights, so I give them great credit for making some bold moves over there," he said. The Pakistani operation since January has been larger and more intense than the previous level of enforcement in the border area, he said. He added that it appears to have disrupted what had been a very stable area for Al Qaeda's foreign fighters and senior leadership, where they are believed to have lived and operated for two years.

"That has had a significant unsettling effect on their organization over there and to some degree on their ability to support the Taliban as well," he said of Al Qaeda. "But clearly they are concerned about what is going on over there."....

The Pakistani authorities estimate that 500 to 600 foreign Qaeda fighters are in the tribal areas, including top Qaeda leaders. In fighting in March, Pakistan said it killed about 60 people and captured 160 more, including Uzbeks and other foreigners. Nevertheless, there was no sign that any Qaeda members had escaped into Afghanistan, he said.

American forces positioned on the Pakistan-Afghan border to catch any fighters escaping the Pakistani operation, in what the general has described as a "hammer and anvil" tactic, had seen little movement across the border into Afghanistan, he said. "Our sense is that anyone who is there, is still there," he said.

There was every sign that the Qaeda fighters would stay in the Pakistani tribal areas and fight, partly because they knew it was "extraordinarily dangerous" for them to operate in Afghanistan because of the presence of American troops, he said.

posted by Dan at 10:34 AM | Comments (10) | Trackbacks (0)

The Copenhagen Consensus and financial instability

Back in March, the Economist, along with Denmark's Environmental Assessment Institute (which is run by environmentalist bete noire Bjorn Lomborg), announced the Copenhagen Consensus project. As their March story phrased it:

Policymakers face enormous demands on their aid budgets—and on their intellectual and political capital as well—when they try to confront the many daunting challenges of economic development and underdevelopment. Climate change, war, disease, financial instability and more all clamour for attention, and for remedies or palliatives that cost money. Given that resources are limited, the question is this: What should come first? Where, among all the projects that governments might undertake to make the world a better place, are the net returns to their efforts likely to be greatest?

You can go to the Copenhagen Consensus' main site by clicking here.

This week, the magazine reports on the report prepared by Barry Eichengreen on the costs of financial instability in the developing world. The costs are significant:

The typical financial crisis claims 9% of GDP, and the worst crises, such as those recently afflicting Argentina and Indonesia, wiped out over 20% of GDP, a loss greater even than those endured as a result of the Great Depression. According to one authoritative study, the Asian financial crisis of 1997 pushed 22m people in the region into poverty. For developing countries, currency crises are an important subset of financial crises. Mr Eichengreen, while cautioning against taking the precision of such estimates too seriously, reckons that the benefit which emerging-market countries would reap if such crises could be avoided altogether would be some $107 billion a year.

Bring on the capital controls!! Oh, wait, it's a bit more complicated:

Wherever financial markets are absent or repressed, savings go unused, productive economic opportunities go unrealised and risks go undiversified. If India's banks and stockmarkets were as well developed as Singapore's, India would grow two percentage-points a year faster, according to one study.

To grow fast, and keep growing quickly, countries need deep financial markets—and the best way to deepen financial markets, most economists agree, is to liberalise them. Does this mean that countries must open their financial markets to foreign capital, thus exposing themselves to the risk of currency crises? Or should they impose capital controls, confining the perversity of financial markets to national borders, where the central bank retains the power to offset it? Foreign direct investment aside, China's capital markets are still largely closed to outsiders. Yet it has no shortage of credit. For other countries, though, the evidence is mixed. A fair reading of the studies, and there have been many, suggests that, for most countries, opening up to foreign capital will deliver faster growth in most years—punctuated by a damaging financial crisis about every ten years. Some economists argue that periodic credit crunches are the price emerging markets must pay for faster growth.

[So you're saying we should just shrug off the $107 billion as the cost of doing business in a global economy?--ed. Absolutely not. More importantly, Eichengreen doesn't shrug it off either, and he's a real economist with some intriguing proposals up his sleeve -- though I'm not completely convinced they would work.]

You can download Eichengreen's paper here.

posted by Dan at 12:45 AM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)

The weird psychology of the untenured

Henry Farrell was also at the Midwestern Political Science Association meetings, and picked up some interesting cocktail chatter about the life of untenured faculty at prestigious universities:

Several of the top universities (Harvard, Yale, Princeton etc) are notorious for how rarely they give tenure to assistant professors in the social sciences and humanities. Smart young people come to the university as assistant profs, teach for several years, are refused tenure en bloc, and depart for other jobs, usually at less prestigious institutions.... This creates a very strange atmosphere among junior faculty - they all know that the odds are against them getting tenure, hope that they will be among the rare exceptions, and point with admiration to the few who have managed to buck the system.

Be sure to read the comments to the post as well.

I have no idea where Henry got this impression -- the fact that I may have met him in the cocktail bar is the smallest sliver of a coincidence.

For the record, the University of Chicago is not quite as sado-masochistic a mistress as the aforementioned Ivies when it comes to getting tenure -- but this place sure as hell ain't a walk on the beach either.

posted by Dan at 12:07 AM | Comments (6) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, April 19, 2004

Offshore outsourcing creates American jobs, redux

The Chicago Tribune reports today on how offshore outsourcing is aiding in the creation of more small business start-ups -- which help to create American jobs. The story focuses on one Chicago entrepreneur:

While offshore outsourcing has come under political fire in a tough job market, entrepreneur Jai Shekhawat said the approach has enabled him to create jobs in Chicago.

His business-to-business Web-based software start-up, Fieldglass Inc., wouldn't be employing 66 people in the U.S., most in Chicago, if not for the company's decision to outsource overseas from the get-go, he said. In fact, without outsourcing, he said, "I wouldn't have started the business."

In a difficult economy, offshore outsourcing has become essential for many emerging companies, experts say.

"I can't think of one of our portfolio companies that doesn't use offshore outsourcing," said Travis Winkey, general partner at BlueStream Ventures in Minneapolis, one of five venture capital firms investing in Chicago-based Fieldglass. "As a start-up, you care about getting as much mileage out of every dollar. A great tool to leverage is offshore," he said....

While politicians may bemoan offshore outsourcing as a missed opportunity for domestic tech workers, venture capitalists often take a different view.

They see its potential in stimulating new businesses, which in the long run will help companies add jobs domestically. "If you outsource 10 positions, it might help you employ 20 in the U.S. It has a multiplier effect," said Deborah Farrington, partner at StarVest Partners in New York and a Fieldglass director.

Developing new software such as Fieldglass' InSite is a perfect example of how cross-border employment can pay off, said Winkey, who is also a director of Fieldglass. "If we had to build out that same kind of engineering, we would have had to sacrifice in other areas. It allows us to hire more skilled positions here," he said.

Which helps to explain the continued expansion of small business hiring that I alluded to several months ago.

Virginia Postrel posts another example of how (onshore) outsourcing facilitates small business growth.

posted by Dan at 10:31 AM | Comments (21) | Trackbacks (4)

Your critical reading assignment for today

First, read this New York Times story on NAFTA's tribunal system and their supposed encroachment on state judiciaries.

Then, read Brad DeLong's takedown of said article.


posted by Dan at 12:23 AM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)

Sunday, April 18, 2004

Dedicated to the international readers of

This evening I'll be giving a live interview on CNN International at 6:30 PM Central Daylight Time on -- what else -- offshore outsourcing. It's for their CNN Today show.

UPDATE: Well, that was fun -- all 104 seconds of it!! The satellite feed cut out during the middle of the interview and that was that -- that or Ted Turner reeeeaaallly doesn't like me telling the truth and it was a grand conspiracy. [You're sounding like some of your commenters -- snap out of it!--ed. OK -- but I think it's an awfully big coincidence that this happens less than 24 hours before Lou Dobbs inks a contract to write a book on outsourcing for Time/Warner's book division]

Reviewing the tape, however, I learned the following things about doing live, remote interviews:

1) Against all natural instincts, pretend that the camera that you're staring at is actually a person talking to you;

2) Don't count on follow-up questions -- give the entire answer in one shot;

3) Cut out the fried food a week before so the big honking pimple on your forehead is not visible from Mars with the unaided eye;

4) Smile.

I'm moving down the learning curve -- very, very, slowly.

posted by Dan at 05:59 PM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)

Saturday, April 17, 2004

The New York Times solicits my opinion

On my "about me" page, one of the reasons I give for blogging is that "since the New York Times op-ed page mysteriously refuses to solicit my views, the blog lets me scratch that itch."

Well, that still holds. But a different section of the paper -- the New York Times Book Review -- decided, in its infinite wisdom, to solicit my view on Jagdish Bhagwati's In Defense of Globalization. The result is in this Sunday's Times. Here's the first paragraph:

Globalization impoverishes developing countries while undercutting middle-class living standards in the United States. The reduction of trade barriers encourages the exploitation of child labor, fosters a race to the bottom in environmental standards, tears women in third-world nations away from their families, homogenizes disparate indigenous cultures and strips the gears of democracy in favor of rapacious multinational corporations. It also causes cancer in puppies.

Take that, Gail Collins!

[Hey, wasn't In Defense of Globalization one of your March books of the month? Isn't there a conflict of interest here?--ed. I'd finished the review back in February -- the NYT Book Review had built up a slight backlog.]

It should be noted for the record that despite strong temptation, I elected not to mention the fact that Bhagwati misspelled my name in the book (though, weirdly, he gets it right in the footnote, even though it gets screwed up again in the index).

[Foreign Affairs and the New York Times in just the past month. You're becoming quite the public intellectual!--ed. Oh, yes, if it wasn't for that Jessica Simpson, I'd be racking up the magazine covers. Racking, I tell ya.]

posted by Dan at 05:23 PM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (3)

The neocon mea culpas

James Joyner observes that multiple neo-conservatives have published op-eds today critical of the Bush Administration’s handling of Iraq. The kicker is David Brooks' New York Times column. Brooks still thinks the invasion was the right thing to do, but allows:

The first thing to say is that I never thought it would be this bad. I knew it would be bad. On the third day of the U.S. invasion, I wrote an essay for The Atlantic called "Building Democracy Out of What?" I pointed out that we should expect that the Iraqis would have been traumatized by a generation of totalitarianism. That society would have been brutally atomized. And that many would have developed a taste for sadism and an addiction to violence. On April 11, 2003, I predicted on "The NewsHour" on PBS that we and the Iraqis would be forced to climb a "wall of quagmires."

Nonetheless, I didn't expect that a year after liberation, hostile militias would be taking over cities or that it would be unsafe to walk around Baghdad. Most of all, I misunderstood how normal Iraqis would react to our occupation....

Despite all that's happened, I was still stirred by yesterday's Bush/Blair statements about democracy in the Middle East. Nonetheless, over the past two years many conservatives have grown increasingly exasperated with the administration's inability to execute its policies semicompetently.

When I worked at The Weekly Standard, we argued ad nauseam that the U.S. should pour men and matériel into Iraq — that such an occupation could not be accomplished by a light, lean, "transformed" military. The administration was impervious to the growing evidence about that. The failure to establish order was the prime mistake, from which all other problems flow.

Matthew Yglesias doesn't accept Brooks' argument that invading Iraq was still the right thing to do:

The trouble, however, is this. When George W. Bush is president and is advocating a war and you, too, are advocating for war, then the fact of the matter is that you are advocating that the war be conducted by George W. Bush. That Bush would botch things was a perfectly predictable consequence of said support, based on -- among other things -- the fact that he'd botched everything else he'd ever done....

In the interests of full candor, let it be said that I did something very similar. The difference here being that, as I will now admit, I was wrong. Neither the policies being advocated by Bush nor the policies being advocated by the anti-war movement (even at its most mainstream) were the correct ones. What I wanted to see happen wasn't going to happen. I had to throw in with one side or another. I threw in with the wrong side. The bad consequences of the bad policy I got behind are significantly worse than the consequences of the bad policy advocated by the other side would have been. I blame, frankly, vanity. "Bush is right to say we should invade Iraq, but he's going about it the wrong way, here is my nuanced wonderfullness" sounds much more intelligent than some kind of chant at an anti-war rally. In fact, however, it was less intelligent. I got off the bandwagon right before the shooting started, but by then it was far too late -- this was more a case of CYA than a case of efficacious political dissent.

Now I am not an important person, and at the time I was even less important. Nevertheless, the block of opinion of which I was a part included some very influential people. In the aggregate, we were never a very large block of public opinion. We were, however, the all-important swing group. Some of us (represented in the blogosphere by me, Kevin, Josh, etc.) swung too late. Some of us never swung at all. If we had swung earlier (not just the bloggers and the journalists and hawkish Clinton administration veterans, but also the regular folks who had similar opinions) there probably would have been no war. We should have swung earlier.

Now, since back in the day I wrote a memo to liberal hawks urging them to support the war, I suppose Matt could blame me, except that I doubt my arguments tipped the scales either way.

Like Yglesias, I care about process issues. I've been saying for some time that the Bush administration has f@#&ed with the foreign policy process in serious ways. That said, I still side with Brooks over Yglesias -- provided the United States sees Iraq out to the end. If Bush -- or Bush's successor -- were to turn tail and withdraw from Baghdad without leaving a stable popular government in its wake, then I'm afraid Yglesias would be correct. From a humanitarian perspective, invading Iraq was the right thing to do. From a national security perspective, invading Iraq and then withdrawing in the face of insurgent attacks would be far worse than not invading in the first place.

And this point, I suspect, is what drives so many of Bush's mainstream opponents around the bend. It's one thing to have opposed the Iraq invasion -- that's a reasonable position to hold, and I said so at the time. However, responsible politicos recognize that it's irresponsible to advocate withdrawal after the invasion. The damage to the United States of pulling out in the midst of insugent violence would be severe. This is why Howard Dean, even when he was riding high in the polls, advocated sending more U.S. troops to Iraq.

During this campaign season, Bush's mainstream opponents are forced to support staying in a country that most of them did not want to invade in the first place. They didn't want to break the country -- but they're nonetheless stuck with the proof of purchase.

UPDATE: Niall Ferguson compares the Iraq of 2004 with the Iraq of 1920.

posted by Dan at 05:03 PM | Comments (32) | Trackbacks (4)

NATO deepens its cooperation

Transatlantic tensions have not prevented NATO from taking defense cooperation to the next level -- procurement. According to the New York Times: With NATO member states just days away from awarding a military contract for 4 billion euros to a trans-Atlantic consortium of aerospace companies, a new era of joint procurement may be dawning for the alliance, defense experts said on Thursday.

A group of six companies, led by the European Aeronautic Defense and Space Company, known as EADS, and Northrop Grumman of the United States, looks set to win the contract, worth $4.8 billion, to build a mixed fleet of manned and unmanned surveillance aircraft for the alliance by 2010, said a NATO official close to the selection process....

Against a backdrop of violence in Iraq and heightened concerns that terrorists may be aiming at Europe after the Madrid train bombings, pragmatism may be gaining the upper hand over the political procurement decisions of the past, analysts said. While some major European governments continue to disagree with the United States on a wide range of issues, including the war in Iraq and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the willingness to deepen their cooperation within NATO may herald a renewed commitment to the alliance.

James Appathurai, a spokesman for NATO, called the decision "historic,'' confirming a report on Thursday in The Financial Times.

"This is only the second time in NATO's history that members join forces in procurement on this scale,'' he said. The first time, he said, was the Awacs surveillance system developed in the 1960's.

"The decision was reached pragmatically on the basis of price, capability and scheduling considerations - not necessarily three factors that have determined procurement decisions in the past,'' Mr. Appathurai said.

posted by Dan at 12:30 AM | Comments (11) | Trackbacks (0)

Friday, April 16, 2004

Yes, I'm at a conference again

This time it's the Midwestern Political Science Association, which is traditionally held in the gorgeous Palmer House Hilton in downtown Chicago.

I'll be back tomorrow. In the meantime, critical readers can re-read what I wrote a year ago about what the anti-war advocates got right and wrong about Iraq. [How well does it hold up?--ed. Opponents of the war were largely wrong about the ramifications outside of Iraq, but have a much better track record of what would happen inside of Iraq.]

posted by Dan at 02:20 PM | Comments (14) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, April 15, 2004

When is it good to be explicit?

David Adesnik writes a lengthy, must-read post about why the George W. Bush and Ariel Sharon's joint press conference became the lead story yesterday:

[W]hat's changed isn't the substance of the American position but the articulation of it. But when it comes to diplomacy, articulation matters. That's why today's announcement really is a big story. By staking out a clear position in advance of final-status talks, Bush is essentially saying that important aspects of Israel's demands are simply non-negotiable. If the Palestinians negotiators accept those demands, they will now come across as giving in to American pressure rather than compromising in the name of peace. Thus, if you think that only a negotiated accord can end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, then Bush and Sharon really have thrown a wrench in the works. Clearly, that is the premise on which the NYT and WaPo correspondents are operating.

But there is another premise out there which also deserves a fair hearing: that a negotiated settlement is no longer possible and that Israel simply has to find the best way to let go of the occupied territories. That is why Sharon wants to pull out of Gaza. That is why he is building a massive wall to separate Israel from the West Bank. While one can argue that good fences don't make good neighbors, a strong majority of Israeli voters have taken Sharon's side on this one.

See Josh Marshall's post on the matter for an opposing view. The Chicago Tribune's story underscores Adesnik's point:

Aaron David Miller, a former U.S. State Department adviser, said U.S. officials had previously taken similar positions to those stated Wednesday by Bush.

They have acknowledged that a future border would have to be adjusted through land swaps between Israel and the Palestinians, he said, and they have also cautioned that there could be no unlimited return of Palestinian refugees to Israel.

Bush "made explicit what had been implicit," Miller said, adding that the White House had announced the policy without any negotiations under way.

Normally, "we would provide assurances to both sides," said Miller, who is now head of Seeds of Peace, a non-profit group that brings children from conflicts around the world together as a way of fostering reconciliation. (emphasis added)

Here's the question -- in matters of diplomacy and world politics, is it always the right thing to make explicit what had been implicit?

One can make the case that an end to hypocrisy is an intrinsically good thing in world politics. However, international relations is also an arena where -- in the short term -- perception matters just as much as reality. While consistency and clarity can bolster an actor's reputation in world politics, ambiguity and, dare I say, nuance also have their advantages in bargaining and power projection. There are clear tradeoffs at work here.

I don't have a good answer to this question -- well, I don't have an answer that could be condensed into a blog post. I will therefore leave it to my readers to try to hash out.

posted by Dan at 11:35 AM | Comments (78) | Trackbacks (0)

Trading with China

Glenn Reynolds links to good news about trade -- exports are growing at a strong clip. According to Reuters:

U.S. exports leapt four percent -- the highest monthly increase since October 1996 -- to a record $92.4 billion, while imports rose 1.6 percent to a record $134.5 billion.

The politically sensitive trade gap with China fell nearly 28 percent in February as imports from that country slipped to $11.3 billion, the lowest level in nearly a year, and exports to China rose 17 percent to $3.0 billion.

The lower dollar appeared to help all categories of exports, as shipments of industrial supplies and materials and autos and auto parts both set records. Exports of consumer goods were only slightly below the record set in November and exports of capital goods, such as aircraft and industrial machines, were the highest since May 2001.

Exports of services, which include travel, also set a record. (emphasis added)

So much for being inundated with a tidal wave of services imports due to outsourcing.

[But what about China? Surely their undervaluation of the renminbi is leading them to run such whopping trade surpluses?--ed.] Actually, as Nicholas Lardy pointed out last month in Congressional testimony, this narrative doesn't hold up:

A reader of the [AFL-CIO's] petition [for section 301 trade sanctions to be applied against China] might gain the impression that Chinese labor costs are so low that foreign goods could not be competitive in China's market. That impression would be fundamentally mistaken. Over the past decade, Chinese imports quadrupled from $104 billion in 1993 to $413 billion last year. Since China joined the WTO in late 2001, its imports have increased by 70 percent. Last year alone, China's imports rose by 40 percent, and China surpassed Japan to become the world's third largest importing country. China's global trade surplus last year was only $25 billion. This surplus was only 1.8 percent of China's gross domestic product, one of the lowest ratios in Asia. In the first two months of this year, imports rose 42 percent over the same period in 2003, and China incurred a trade deficit of almost $8 billion. China's import growth has been so rapid that it has become a major source of economic growth in Japan, Korea, Taiwan, and countries in Southeast Asia. China is also far and away the fastest growing among the large export markets of US firms. The petition makes no reference to the creation of jobs in US manufacturing as a result of our growing exports to China.

Read the whole thing. This page has some relevant charts and graphs.

posted by Dan at 10:54 AM | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (1)

Al Qaeda offers a carrot to Europe

Looks like the European Union isn't the only entity practicing divide-and-conquer tactics on the global stage. The Financial Times reports that Osama bin Laden wants to cut a deal with Europe:

Osama bin Laden, the leader of al-Qaeda, sought to split the US-led coalition in Iraq by offering European countries a three-month respite from terrorist attacks if they withdrew their forces and left the US to fight alone.

The audiotaped message, whose authenticity has yet to be verified by intelligence services, was aired by Arab television channels on Thursday

The statement said: "I offer a truce to them (Europe), with a commitment to stop operations against any state which vows to stop attacking Muslims or interfere in their affairs, including (participating) in the American conspiracy against the wider Muslim world."

It went on to say that the truce would start "with the withdrawal of the last soldier from our land," and said that the offer to implement it would last for three months from the date of Thursday's statement. "Whoever rejects this truce and wants war, we are its [war's] sons and whoever wants this truce, here we bring it," it said.

The offer to European countries is being seen by some security officials and analysts as a sign that the al-Qaeda leader is not only closely following western public opinion, but is also determined to exploit the political impact of the March 11 terrorist attacks in Spain.

In a reference to the fall of Spain's Popular Party at the March 14 election as a consequence of its handling of the Madrid attacks, as well as to the strong objections of many Europeans to the war in Iraq, Mr bin Laden addressed his message to "our neighbours north of the Mediterranean Sea with a proposal for a truce in response to the positive reactions which emerged there."

I doubt this will have any immediate effect on European countries that are committed to keeping their troops in Iraq. The disturbing question is whether that resolve would waver if another Madrid-style attack were to take place.

UPDATE: Here's Al Jazeera's report on the tape, which contains this odd quote from bin Laden:

"President (George) Bush and leaders in his sphere, big media institutions, and the United Nations.. all of them are a fatal danger to the world, and the Zionist lobby is their most dangerous and difficult member, and we insist, God willing, on continuing to fight them."

Well, now I'm confused -- is the United Nations a tool of Zionist lackeys or an anti-Israeli institution?

Meanwhile, the Associated Press reports on the widespread European rejection of bin Laden's offer.

posted by Dan at 10:42 AM | Comments (24) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, April 14, 2004 vs. the blogosphere

James Marcus, a former senior editor for, has an amusing essay in the Washington Post on the varying quality of Amazon's customer reviews:

Imagine that you're circulating from room to room at an enormous cocktail party, with millions of guests, eavesdropping. Undoubtedly you will be treated to some gems, some brilliant bits of repartee, the occasional burst of intellectual fireworks. Most of what you hear, however, will be pretty mundane, given the law of averages and the general human tendency to lose track of our thoughts halfway to completing them. Well, the same rule applies to customer reviews, both at Amazon and elsewhere. There's plenty of wheat amid the chaff -- but there's lots of chaff, acres and acres of it, much of it lacking coherence, clarity, charity and punctuation. In a sense, it's now the audience, not the editor, shouldering the burden of culling out the good stuff. Whether this represents a seismic shift in the cultural terrain or merely a fresh division of labor remains to be seen.

If only there were some way to combine the speed and democracy of the Web with the more meditative character of traditional criticism. Oh wait, there already is: blogging. In some cases the convergence is quite literal -- witness the case of Terry Teachout, reviewing for such Bronze Age bastions as the Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post and Commentary with his left hand while blogging like mad with his right at his site, But even those bloggers who never venture into print have something in common with their opposite numbers in the traditional media: a name to besmirch, a reputation to smudge. It keeps them honest in a way that anonymous, duck-and-cover reviewing never can. It also encourages a kind of snarky civility, very welcome in our polarized era.

This may change, of course, as the blogosphere moves further into the mainstream. Already there are turf wars, low-level spats. No doubt a pecking order will gradually materialize, since even cyberspace operates according to the familiar logic of Animal Farm: All bloggers are created equal, but some are more equal than others. There will be stars, contract players, boffo traffic numbers. There will be a proliferation of advertising on the most visible sites -- there is already, in fact -- and a defiant tug-of-war between the early bloggers and their entrepreneurial successors.

Here's a provocative thought -- does Marcus' assessment of Amazon's customer reviews also apply to the comments posted on blogs? Because bloggers lack the administrative resources/capabilities of, will this lead to the end of comment features over time?

I'll be further amused to see the customer comments on Marcus' forthcoming book, Amazonia: Five Years at the Epicenter of the Dot.Com Juggernaut

posted by Dan at 06:45 PM | Comments (16) | Trackbacks (2)

The next stage of campaign ads

The Onion amusingly identifies the next fake trend in negative campaign ads -- blasting voters rather than the other candidate. Here are some samples:

A controversial 30-second TV spot for Kerry that aired throughout the Midwest Monday blamed the country's ills not on Bush's policies, but on the "sheer stupidity" of America's voters.

"In the past four years, America's national debt has reached an all-time high," the ad's narrator said. "And who's responsible? You are. You're sitting there eating a big bowl of Fritos, watching TV, and getting fatter as the country goes to hell. You ought to be ashamed of yourself."

Over a series of images of America's senior citizens, the narrator of another 30-second spot says, "The Medicare drug bill is a triumph of right-wing ideology masquerading as moderate reform. The pharmaceutical-drug and insurance industries are tickled pink. Guess who's paying for it? You. Congratulations, moron. I'm John Kerry and I approved this message."

The Bush-Cheney 2004 camp recently began airing an anti-voter ad in 20 major urban areas nationwide.

"Are you going to vote for a candidate whose campaign promises would cost America $1.9 trillion over the next decade?" the ad asks. "Of course you aren't. You aren't going to vote at all. In the last election, half of you didn't even show up. So, on Nov. 2, just spend the day right there at your dead-end office job, talking to your coworkers about your new sweater and e-mailing your friends photos of your stupid 2-year-old daughter you shouldn't have had."

The ad concludes: "You make me sick."

I have to think that late at night, after a few beers, both the Kerry and Bush campaign teams fantasize about airing these kind of ads.

posted by Dan at 04:22 PM | Comments (15) | Trackbacks (0)

The EU's divide-and-conquer strategy on agricultural trade

The Financial Times reports that the European Union has a strategy for getting its egregious Common Agricultural Policy through the Doha round to WTO talks unscathed -- buying off Mercosur:

The European Union plans to splinter opposition to its Common Agricultural Policy this week by offering members of Mercosur, the Latin American customs union, a deal aimed at winning their support in the Doha trade round.

The move is designed to weaken pressure on the EU to lower its farm trade barriers by, in effect, buying off Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay with the offer of preferential trade concessions. These countries have been among the fiercest adversaries of Brussels in the global trade talks.

The EU proposals, if accepted, risk splitting the Cairns Group of 18 agricultural exporters as well as the Group of 20 developing countries, led by Brazil, which want the rich nations to reform their farm policies....

The proposals are expected to anger other developing country farm exporters, such as Chile and Thailand, which belong to both the Cairns Group and the G20, as well as richer countries including Australia and New Zealand.

As well as placing their exports to the EU at a disadvantage, a preferential deal for Mercosur would undermine their efforts to present a united front in the Doha round.

Politically, this is a clever move on the EU's part, though it puts Brazil in the awkward position of simultaneously trying to act as a leader of the Global South while cutting most of these countries out of any EU benefits.

Economically, the perpetuation of the CAP is, as always, unambiguously stupid.

Meanwhile, the FT also reports that Oxfam has "accused the European Union on Tuesday of employing 'economic sophistry' to conceal the true costs of its controversial sugar regime, saying the policy inflicted big losses on poor countries and reduced the value of EU development aid." Here's a link to the press release and full version of Oxfam's report, "Dumping on the World."

posted by Dan at 02:06 PM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (1)

Are campus crimes exaggerated?

Anne Hendershott has a provocative Chicago Tribune op-ed arguing that a University of Wisconsin-Madison student's bogus claims being abducted at knifepoint and enduring a five-day "imprisonment" are more common on campuses than many would think:

Duke University, Eastern New Mexico University, Northwestern University, San Francisco State, Guilford College, Miami University of Ohio, Iowa State and the University of Georgia are just the most recent campuses dealing with serious crime fabrications.

And, while most campus hoaxes involve "student-victims," the elite Claremont McKenna College recently found itself a victim of a faculty-perpetrated fraud when Kerri Dunn, a visiting psychology professor at the school, claimed to have been the victim of a hate crime. According to Dunn's initial crime report, someone had spray painted "shut up" on the hood of her car as it was parked in a college lot. She claimed that she was being silenced for speaking out against racism on the campus and that racist and anti-Semitic slurs on the roof and sides of her vehicle were proof of the racism that pervaded the Claremont campus.

Dunn received all the accolades that victims receive on college campuses. Campus administrators shut down the Claremont consortium of colleges for a day of anti-hate rallies and called in the FBI to investigate. By the time two eyewitnesses said that Dunn had damaged her own car, she had become a campus heroine.

Read the whole article -- Hendershott addresses rape cases as well.

posted by Dan at 09:09 AM | Comments (14) | Trackbacks (3)

Tuesday, April 13, 2004

The trouble with indices...

Every index can be challenged on the quality of the data that goes into it, and the weights that are assigned to the various components that make up the overall figure. A lack of transparency about methodology is also a valid criticism. For example, in my previous post on the competitiveness of different regions in the global information economy, the company responsible for the rankings provides little (free) information on how the index was computed. That's a fair critique.

Even when the methodology is transparent, there can still be problems. Gregg Easterbrook, for example, fisks the Kerry campaign's "middle class misery index." Easterbrook points out:

Suppose I announced an Easterblogg Happiness Index with these indicators: mortgage interest rates, crime rates, rates of heart disease, life expectancy at birth, rates of car ownership, median home size, air quality, water quality, highest educational degree earned, rates of accidental death, percentage of workforce employed in white-collar professions. Needless to say, I've chosen these because all trends in these categories are favorable. My happiness index would not be a fair assessment of society, because I've excluded the negatives. (Maybe I should throw in "accuracy of NBA jump shots" just to have one negative.) My all-positive index wouldn't tell you the larger trend just as Kerry's all-negative index does not....

You may not like W.-onomics--I don't like his tax policy for the top bracket--but you've got to have a pretty badly jiggered index to hide the favorable current status of the unemployment/inflation comparison, always one of the best measures of the economy. If inflation were as out of whack as it was under Carter, or unemployment as out of whack as it was in the first Reagan term, current misery would be far more pronounced. Give me the "misery" of the George W. Bush numbers any day.

Real Clear Politics has dueling graphs, comparing Kerry's misery index with the actual misery index. Check them out for youself.

Meanwhile, ESPN's Page 2 devises a much more controversial misery index for baseball teams. Why controversial? Because some Boston Red Sox fans will be shocked to learn that their beloved Olde Towne Team is only the sixth most immiserating team (Montreal was first):

If you listen to the wailings in Boston, no one outside of a Mel Gibson movie has endured the pain of Red Sox fans. And while it's true they've had more agonizing moments than any other team -- the Ruth trade, Ed Armbrister, Bucky Dent, Bill Buckner, Grady Little ... well, you get the point -- they've also been one of the best, most consistent teams in baseball since the Impossible Dream season.

Sure, autumn is always painful but summers in Fenway are about as good as it gets. And really, is there a single Red Sox fan who would trade places with a Brewers fans?

I agree with ESPN, but I'm probably in the minority among Sox fans. Already, some Sox fans are outraged.

So, indices seem to serve one useful purpose -- the fostering of debate. So debate away!

posted by Dan at 05:16 PM | Comments (16) | Trackbacks (1)

San Francisco 1, Bangalore 0

The Financial Times reports on a survey of global regions and their competitiveness in the knowledge economy. The results are interesting:

San Francisco has the most competitive knowledge economy in the world, as investment in both technology and people continues to boost the city's productivity, according to a report published today.

The world knowledge competitive index, collated by Robert Huggins Associates, a British-based economics consultancy, found that the world's top 14 knowledge economies were all in the US....

Only 10 regions outside the US made it into the top 50, with Stockholm taking 15th place and Uusimaa in Finland 19th, rising by three and 18 places respectively from the previous year .

"Europe continues to struggle to bridge the knowledge gap that would enable it to compete with the US regions," said Robert Huggins, the report's author.

"The location of high- technology clusters in Europe continues to be concentrated in a few regions."...

[F]or now, regions of China, India and eastern Europe dominate the bottom rankings of the index. Bangalore fared the worst, although its index score has increased by almost 300 per cent since last year, while Mumbai and Hyderabad were also at the bottom. (emphasis added)

Click here for Huggins Associates' press release on the survey, and here for the list of all 125 regions included in the survey.

UPDATE: The ever-alert Robert Tagorda finds Reuters making explicit the point I was being implicit about:

Chinese, Indian and Eastern European regions were at the bottom of the competitiveness league table, with Bangalore the lowest at 125th despite improving its index score by almost 300 percent since 2003.

Such results should allay concern in developed countries that high-skilled jobs would move to cheaper locations, the study suggested.

"Off-shoring is, and will continue to be, mainly restricted to a very particular type of employment requiring only a set of basic, generic, and transferable skills, rather than those high-level skills that create added value."

Check out Robert's post for more.

posted by Dan at 02:02 PM | Comments (11) | Trackbacks (2)

Thrilling for a grilling

I'm very curious to see how the 9/11 Commission treats former FBI director Louis Freeh at today's hearings. Even more than the Bushies, Freeh was Richard Clarke's nemesis in Against All Enemies. Freeh launched a pre-emptive strike laying out his position in yesterday's Wall Street Journal. The key paragraph:

Short of total war, the FBI relentlessly did its job of pursuing terrorists, always with the goal of preventing their attacks. But the FBI's pre-9/11 Counter-Terrorism (CT) resources were finite and insufficient--3.5% of the entire government's CT budget. In 1993, we had fewer than 600 special agents and 500 support positions funded for CT. By 1999, we'd more than doubled our personnel and trebled the FBI's CT budget to $301 million. We knew it wasn't enough. For Fiscal Years 2000, 2001 and 2002 the FBI asked for 1,895 special agents, analysts and linguists to enhance our CT program. We got 76 people for those three critical years. FY 2000 was typical: 864 CT positions at a cost of $380.8 million requested--five people funded for $7.4 million. This isn't a criticism of the DoJ, White House or Congress--that's how Washington makes its budgets, balancing competing needs against limited resources. The point is: The FBI was intensely focused on its CT needs but antebellum politics was not yet there. By contrast, after Sept. 11, the FBI's FY 2002 Emergency Supplemental CT budget was increased overnight by 823 positions for $745 million. The al Qaeda threat was the same on Sept. 10 and Sept. 12. Nothing focuses a government quicker than a war.

This is an able defense, but Clarke makes repeated assertions in his book that Freeh failed to follow through on counterterrorism, failed to update the FBI's antiquated computer systems, and reallocated resources officially allocated to the task towards more traditional FBI crime-fighting. [Could Clarke be leaving anything out because of his desire to exact his measure of bureaucratic revenge?--ed. Certainly -- And Freeh is correct to cite the marked increase of FBI legal attaches in U.S. embassies abroad, which were/are useful in combating terrorism.] Bush's official campaign blog is touting the op-ed, but I'm not sure that's the best thinking. The Bushies have the understandable defense of only having been on the job for eight months. Freeh has less of an excuse.

The questioning of Freeh is also a test for the 9/11 Commission to see just how much partisanship will affect their judgment. It would be very fishy if the Dems are not as hard on Freeh as they were on Rice.

UPDATE: Reuters has the precis of the Commission's staff report on the FBI. A "culture resistant to change" figures prominently.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Pandagon links to an old Tim Noah piece in Slate that blasts Freeh's handling of counterintelligence. Noah links to this New Yorker profile of Freeh's role in the Khobar Towers bombing.

posted by Dan at 12:36 AM | Comments (36) | Trackbacks (1)

Should U.S. courts listen to international law?

Tim Wu pens an interesting but incomplete Slate essay on a growing trend -- the citation of international law and foreign law in U.S. Supreme Court decisions. The highlight:

Legal "comparativism" in the Supreme Court is staging a comeback. In Atkins v. Virginia, the 2002 decision in which the court barred the execution of the mentally retarded, the following sentence appeared in Justice Steven's opinion: "Within the world community, the imposition of the death penalty for crimes committed by mentally retarded offenders is overwhelmingly disapproved." And Lawrence, last year's sodomy decision, also used foreign materials, albeit to refute international claims made in an earlier case. In 1986, then-Chief Justice Warren Burger (a great xenophile) had argued in Bowers v Hardwick that bans on gay sex were "firmly rooted in Judeo-Christian moral and ethical standards." In Lawrence, Justice Anthony Kennedy pointed out that whatever ancient practice might have been, England in particular (perhaps under the influence of David Beckham) and Europe in general had changed their minds. Even the current chief justice, William Rehnquist, has dabbled in comparativism—discussing the Dutch experience in the course of rejecting a right to assisted suicide in 1997's Washington v. Glucksburg.

It's become a bit of a Punch and Judy show: Just about every time the court cites foreign materials, Scalia and/or Clarence Thomas dissent. In the words of Scalia, "The views of other nations, however enlightened the Justices of this Court may think them to be, cannot be imposed upon Americans through the Constitution." Or, to quote Thomas on the subject, "This court should not impose foreign moods, fads, or fashions on Americans."

Wu argues that Scalia and Thomas are overreacting, comparing the citation of foreign experiences as the legal equivalent of a 50 Cent shout-out to Bob Dre:

[The Supreme Court] has not deferred to or followed foreign cases in statutory or constitutional cases. Scalia and the House Republicans, for effect really, are mixing up the difference between listening to foreign ideas and obeying foreign commands. Scalia is like the prohibitionist who confuses drinking with alcoholism. His narrowly correct point stigmatizes a range of reasonable, indeed salutary, judicial behavior.

Wu has a valid point to make -- the Supremes aren't in the thrall of Eurocrats. Still, one suspects that Wu is sanguine in part because the Court is citing foreign law that is consistent with modern liberalism. One wonders what the reaction would be if the foreign legal shout-outs were for less desirable principles the conservatism of the Official Secrets Act or the more statist bent behind U.N. treaties on economic and social rights.

The citation of foreign legal norms is not merely decorative -- it's strategic as well.

As further evidence that Slate has cornered the popular market on interesting Supreme Court writing, go read Dahlia Lithwick's quickie on the Supreme Court's federal marshals.

UPDATE: Jacob Levy reminds me that he penned an excellent TNR Online essay five months ago on this very topic. Levy draws an appropriate distinction between appropriate and inappropriate citations of foreign law:

[I]t seems perfectly reasonable to... allow decisions from other common law jurisdictions (England, Scotland, Canada, Australia, etc.) to act as persuasive precedent--which is subordinate to any on-topic binding precedent from one's own jurisdiction--just as a decision from a Delaware court can influence a decision on a similar question in New York. American law, including the American constitution, is built on common law concepts; and part of the common law mode of reasoning is for judges to be persuaded by interpretations and arguments offered by other judges....

To look at how other comparable systems address "a common legal problem," and at their reasons for doing so; to consider whether they are right or wrong, whether their reasons are persuasive; to engage not with the alleged sentiments of the world community but with the judicial arguments of other courts trying to interpret constitutional principles--this is the right way to proceed.

Check out Ken Kersch's "Multilateralism Comes to the Courts" in the Winter 2004 issue of Public Interest (hat tip to Jeff Singer)

posted by Dan at 12:05 AM | Comments (14) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, April 12, 2004

Robert Maranto appropriates my line

Political scientists sometimes do think alike. I've argued repeatedly that the way to understand Richard Clarke's position vis-à-vis the Bush administration has been that of a pure bureaucratic actor:

Richard Clarke is the perfect bureaucrat. I mean that in the best and worst senses of the word. In the best sense, it's clear that Clarke was adept at maximizing the available resources and authority required to do his job, given the organizational rivalries and cultures that made such a pursuit difficult. In the worst sense, Clarke was a monomaniacal martinet whose focus on his bailiwick to the exclusion of everything else is phenomenal....

The result is that what's in Against all Enemies is certainly the truth, but as I said before, I doubt it's the whole truth.

Robert Maranto, who teaches political science and public administration at Villanova University, makes some similar observations in today's Wall Street Journal:

Good bureaucrats--not an oxymoron--spend all their days thinking about the highly specialized mission of their agencies, whether protecting the homeland or protecting the snail darter. Bureaucrats want all resources going to their work, with only crumbs left for the rest of us.

Good politicians, on the other hand, must ration their time and money to many competing interests. They can never give their hearts to just one thing....

As the NSC staffer in charge of monitoring al Qaeda, Mr. Clarke spent 12 hours a day trying to get inside Osama bin Laden's head--an assignment sure to warp anyone. Indeed, Mr. Clarke advocated pre-emptive attacks on Afghanistan in the 1990s, years before reasonable people (much less the U.N.) came on board.

In contrast, Ms. Rice, in visibly angry testimony before the 9/11 commission last week, insisted that she and President Bush had to manage competing threats. Just as Mr. Clarke named al Qaeda the top foreign threat, NSC Korea experts thought that North Korea, which murdered two million people and threatened to spread nuclear weapons, deserved the title of global enemy No. 1. Still others saw China, with a billion people, hundreds of nukes, and threats to incinerate Los Angeles, as America's biggest nightmare.

Then there's this point:

While Mr. Clarke now recalls having good relations with President Clinton's political appointees, the Washington Post reports that Clintonites "despised" him because, as then-NSC staffer James M. Lindsay recalls, they "thought he was exaggerating the threat" and "always wanted to do more" than higher-ups approved.

UPDATE: Glenn Reynolds has more on some revisionist elements of Clarke's book.

posted by Dan at 06:20 PM | Comments (20) | Trackbacks (0)

Sunday, April 11, 2004

How I spent the last four days

I was in Washington, DC for the last four days at a Liberty Fund conference organized by Tyler Cowen that included several bloggers -- Marginal Revolution's Alex Tabarrok, Asymmetrical Information's Megan McArdle, FuturePundit's Randall Parker, and Cronaca's David Nishimura. A fine time was had by all the bloggers -- although those participants who had no friggin' idea what a blog was before they arrived probably heard more than they cared to hear about the blogosphere.

Among the more memorable moments:

1) The opening night of the conference, I'm riding down to the lobby when the elevator doors open and a statuesque Megan McArdle walks into the elevator, looks at me, smiles, and says, "You're Daniel Drezner!"

2) The debate over whether sex with dead chickens is morally or legally defensible (see chapter fifteen of Steven Pinker's The Blank Slate to understand why that question came up).

3) Having Tyler and Megan urge me to change the picture on my front page -- for diametrically opposing reasons. (Tyler though the picture made me look like a weightlifter; Megan thought it made me look stringier than I actually am.)

4) Speculating with Megan over our ideal group blog participants. Consensus picks included James Joyner, Jacob Levy, and Virginia Postrel.

5) Coming to the delightful realization that my fellow bloggers were just as charming, witty, and sharp in real life as they are on their blogs.

UPDATE: Jeez, I go away for two weeks and Glenn Reynolds redesigns his site.

posted by Dan at 06:29 PM | Comments (8) | Trackbacks (2)

Saturday, April 10, 2004

Will there be a Tet Offensive effect?

David Brooks says that everyone needs to take a deep breath on Iraq:

We're at a perilous moment in Iraqi history, but the situation is not collapsing. We're in the middle of a battle. It's a battle against people who vehemently oppose a democratic Iraq. The task is to crush those enemies without making life impossible for those who fundamentally want what we want.

The Shiite violence is being fomented by Moktada al-Sadr, a lowlife hoodlum from an august family. The ruthless and hyperpoliticized Sadr has spent the past year trying to marginalize established religious figures, like Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who come from a more quietist tradition and who believe in the separation of government and clergy. Sadr and his fellow putschists have been spectacularly unsuccessful in winning popular support.

Let's assume this is true -- and let's further assume that these uprisings will be put down. My question is, will this have the same effect as the 1968 Tet Offensive? Tet was a military disaster that nevertheless exposed a vulnerable administration to (accurate) charges that it had micharacterized how the conflict was proceeding -- and therefore a long-term victory for the North Vietnamese [You're comparing this to Vietnam!! Bad Drezner!!--ed. No, I'm asking a more specific question].

My tentative answer is that the political effect in the United States will not echo Tet. However, a Tet effect might kick in outside the United States -- in allied countries that have troops in Iraq, and within Iraq itself. In alled countries, countries that dispatched troops had restive populations to begin with -- this only makes it easier to mobilize mass action. In Iraq, those who oppose but fear insurgents are less likely to take positive action.

The Financial Times has stories on both phenomenon. In one article, they observe that, "Junichiro Koizumi, Japan's prime minister, faced the severest test of his decision to send troops to Iraq as his government sought support for a rescue of three citizens kidnapped by an Iraqi militia group." In another article, the FT reports:

The US-led administration in Baghdad was on Friday night fighting to keep Iraq's Governing Council intact after two ministers quit in protest at the US crackdown on Shia and Sunni unrest. The interior minister, Nouri Badran, and the human rights minister, Abdul-Basit Turki, stepped down, as others among the US-appointed representatives threatened to resign unless occupation forces reined in their assault.

"There will be many resignations," said Haider Abbadi, communications minister, before an emergency session of ministers and the Governing Council - Iraq's representative body handpicked by the US governor, Paul Bremer, to discuss their future.


posted by Dan at 03:26 PM | Comments (109) | Trackbacks (1)

Friday, April 9, 2004

What to read about the Iraqi uprisings

The Economist has a good backgrounder in the Iraqi uprising(s), which may ironically be leading to greater interethnic coordination. This is the depressing graf:

A striking feature of the latest turbulence has been the failure of Iraq's fledgling police force to stand up to the rebels. Though police numbers have risen from 30,000 last July to over 78,000 today, they are clearly no match yet for determined militiamen such as those of Mr Sadr. In Baghdad this week, policemen simply abandoned their stations. Elsewhere, some switched sides.

Noam Scheiber converts some of these lemons into lemonade:

[B]efore this week, the administration's plan was to hand over power in Iraq as quickly as possible, and to begin withdrawing American troops soon after that. Had people like Moqtada al Sadr been savvier, they could have waited until after that transition had been completed, and after tens of thousands of American troops had been withdrawn, to start causing trouble. At that point we'd have been powerless to stop them, and, worse, more or less ignorant of what they were doing--since the whole point of the Bush administration's withdrawal would have been to get Iraq out of the newspapers in time for the election campaign. Now that al Sadr et al have jumped the gun, they've forced the administration to confront a problem--Iraq's utter lack of security and political stability--it was otherwise inclined to ignore.

Virginia Postrel typically has smart things to say:

I have the same problem blogging on this topic that I do blogging on every little twitch in the economic statistics: It's too hard to separate the transient noise from the long-run trend, and the long run is what matters. Things are bad in Iraq right now, but is this a last-gasp effort by our enemies, the beginning of a quagmire, or, most likely, something in between whose conclusion depends largely on our response? Rushing to judgment, especially from afar, is a prescription for foolish conclusions and bad policies.

posted by Dan at 03:11 PM | Comments (55) | Trackbacks (4)

A substantive debate

One of the underlying criticisms of the Bush administration's prosecution of the War on Terror has been that it came into office with a realpolitik mindset and that -- even after 9/11 -- it has focused too much on states rather than non-state actors (i.e., Al Qaeda) in its anti-terrorism policy.

Spencer Ackerman identifies this key fissure in his latest TNR article. The political ramifications for the Bush administration could be problematic. The crux of the article:

Republican James Thompson--who led the offensive against Clarke at the last round of hearings--questioned whether the White House even understands twenty-first century terrorism: "You referenced ... all these state-sponsored terrorist activities," he said to Rice, "when we know today that the real threat is from either rogue states--Iran, North Korea--or from stateless terrorist organizations--Al Qaeda, Hezbollah, Hamas. Does the Bush administration get this difference?" Rice, apparently caught off guard, countered that when terrorists "can get states to cooperate with them or when they can get states to acquiesce in their being on their territory, they're much more effective." But reconfiguring the terrorist threat to focus mainly on state sponsorship is problematic: It treats the terrorists themselves as a subsidiary concern. And, as the Bush administration has demonstrated in Afghanistan, this strategy can lull the U.S. government into ignoring the ongoing presence of terrorists in a country even after their state sponsors have been defeated. Rice's answer to Thompson's question--"Does the Bush administration get this difference?"--seemed to be: No.

Democratic commissioner Bob Kerrey went even further. "We underestimate that this war on terrorism is really a war against radical Islam," he said. "Terrorism is a tactic. It's not a war itself." Kerrey, a liberal advocate of the Iraq war, argued that the administration's current fecklessness in Iraq was undermining U.S. interests. "I don't think we understand how the Muslim world views us, and I'm terribly worried that the military tactics in Iraq are going to do a number of things, and they're all bad," he said.

All of this points to the real political damage the 9/11 Commission could inflict on President Bush. Ever since Clarke issued his account of a Bush administration asleep at the switch in 2001, the president's allies have urged him to reframe the debate toward his post-9/11 posture. But yesterday's hearings indicate that the 9/11 Commission might issue recommendations that imply the Bush administration still doesn't know how to combat Islamist terrorism three years after the attacks--thereby robbing Bush of what is perhaps his cardinal political asset. And if that's what the Commission does, neither Rice nor any of her colleagues will be able to claim they only had 233 days to understand the problem.

Ackerman does miss one important detail in his argument, which is that in world politics, powerful states do much better at influencing the actions of other states than influencing the activities of non-state actors.

Which raises a question -- is it better to pursue an anti-terror strategy with productive strategies that only indirectly affect the terrorists themselves, or to pursue an anti-terror strategy with less productive strategies that directly affect the terrorists themselves?

posted by Dan at 02:55 PM | Comments (32) | Trackbacks (1)

Thursday, April 8, 2004

Open Rice thread

Comment on how well Condi does in her testimony in response to various queries here.

posted by Dan at 09:46 AM | Comments (78) | Trackbacks (0)

Open Iraq thread

No time for substantive blogging -- but comment on the mounting insurgency from radical Sunnis and Shiites in Iraq here. In particular, will international cooperation over Iraq be eroded as a result?

posted by Dan at 12:03 AM | Comments (104) | Trackbacks (0)

Dumb Dodd

Senator Christopher Dodd of Connecticut has apparently had a Trent Lott moment, according to UPI:

In a speech on the Senate floor last Thursday marking Sen. Robert Byrd's 17,000th vote in the body, Dodd said the West Virginia Democrat, member of the Ku Klux Klan before taking office and opponent of the 1964 Civil Right Act, "would have been right during the great conflict of Civil War in this nation."

Dodd's comments struck some as similar to remarks made by former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., that led to his losing the position.

The comments were made as part of large praise of Byrd's great service as a Senator, which Dodd said, "would have been right at anytime."

-- See here, here, and here for blogosphere reaction that this is a Trent Lott moment.

It was a stupid thing to say, but then again, given Dodd's position on outsourcing, it's far from the only stupid thing he's said recently.

The thing is, unlike Lott, I'm not sure Dodd has a leadership position to resign from.

posted by Dan at 12:00 AM | Comments (33) | Trackbacks (1)

Friday, April 2, 2004

A small blog sabbatical

For the next ten days, I will be away from a computer. I'll be at an undosclosed sandy beach with my family for the first week, and then after that I'll be at a conference for several days [What's the difference between a vacation and a conference?--ed. At conferences, there's like, homework and stuff.] There will be limited to no blogging for the next ten days.

Discussion topic -- Andrew C. McCarthy's essay "The Intelligence Mess: How It Happened, What to Do About It." in the April issue of Commentary. McCarthy led the 1995 prosecution of Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman in connection with the first World Trade Center bombing. He's skeptical that the mantra of "greater interagency coordination" will work:

For one thing, intelligence professionals are correct (if occasionally disingenuous) when they complain that the public has a skewed perception of their operations: while catastrophic lapses are always notorious, intelligence successes are more numerous. These, however, must typically be kept secret in order to preserve sources of information and methods of gathering it. The unfortunate result is a portrait of ceaseless "failure" that, aside from giving intelligence-gathering an undeserved bad name, also obscures other verities.

First, day-to-day cooperation among agencies, and particularly between the FBI and CIA, is actually far better than people have been led to believe. In terrorism cases, in the decade after the 1993 WTC bombing, teamwork improved in leaps and bounds. To be sure, there are occasional breakdowns, usually due to personality conflicts. But this is an unavoidable function of the human condition—which no legislation on earth can repeal—and it is just as frequently a factor in intra-agency disputes as in those between agencies. Today, agents who fail to compare notes are generally acting in violation of information-sharing protocols; it is hard to imagine additional directives improving the situation.

Second, intelligence-gathering is not monolithic. Domestic intelligence is radically different from the foreign variety, and both differ critically from the needs of the military. So polysemous an imperative requires a variety of skills to meet widely divergent situations and assumptions. As both a practical and a political matter, it is inconceivable that the task could be accomplished by a single agency, and proposals that suggest otherwise are certain only to reshuffle, rather than eradicate, natural rivalries while damaging the quality and quantity of information collection.

Third, and most misunderstood, rivalry—overall—is a virtue. In the government’s vast monopoly, it is essential. Naturally, the seamy side of competition being a perennial best-seller, the public record is replete with hair-raising anecdotes of sharp-elbowed investigators pursuing the same quarry to the benefit of criminals, enemies, and traitors. On a macro level, however, the throat-cutting is statistically insignificant. As a rule, competition impels agents to test their premises and press for better information; it results in the generation of more leads and the collection and refinement of more intelligence. In a world where the Supreme Court cannot decide a case without amicus briefs from innumerable interested observers, where Congress declines to pass legislation without the input of scores of experts, do we really want the President, in matters of national security, reduced to a single stream of intelligence-collection and analysis?

If turf-battling is not an enormous obstacle, does that mean there are no obstacles? Hardly. The real problems, though, are not bureaucratic but structural and philosophical. They have taken over 40 years to metastasize, and they would take a lot more than cosmetic surgery to reverse, even assuming the national will to do it.

Read the whole thing.

posted by Dan at 10:54 AM | Comments (37) | Trackbacks (3)

Thursday, April 1, 2004

April's Books of the Month

This month's international relations book is Amy Zegart's Flawed by Design: The Evolution of the CIA, JCS, and NSC [FULL DISCLOSURE: The very talented Ms. Zegart and I went to graduate school together]. This recommendation comes in the wake of important questions about how to reform America's intelligence-gathering apparatus for the war on terror. Zegart demonstrates the bureaucratic hurdles to either reforming or creating efficient foreign policy institutions are considerable.

The general interest book is Steven Pinker's The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature. Here's a precis of Pinker's argument:

This book returns to that still-controversial territory in order to shore it up in the public sphere. Drawing on decades of research in the "sciences of human nature," Pinker, a chaired professor of psychology at MIT, attacks the notion that an infant's mind is a blank slate, arguing instead that human beings have an inherited universal structure shaped by the demands made upon the species for survival, albeit with plenty of room for cultural and individual variation. For those who have been following the sciences in question including cognitive science, neuroscience, behavioral genetics and evolutionary psychology much of the evidence will be familiar, yet Pinker's clear and witty presentation, complete with comic strips and allusions to writers from Woody Allen to Emily Dickinson, keeps the material fresh.

Plus, as far as I'm concerned, this book has now acquired totemic status.

posted by Dan at 11:27 PM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (0)

What are the popular foreign policy books?

The good people at Foreign Affairs have started up a monthly bestseller list for foreign affairs books, "based on sales in all 647 Barnes & Noble stores and on Barnes &"

They've just come out with March's bestseller list:

On the first list, reflecting sales in March, the #1 position is held by "Against All Enemies: Inside America's War on Terror," by former counterterrorism official Richard A. Clarke, whose book was on sale for only one week of the reporting period. Other list leaders are Steve Coll's "Ghost Wars," Craig Unger's "House of Bush, House of Saud," James Mann's "Rise of the Vulcans," and Hans Blix's "Disarming Iraq."

If you look at the whole list, there are only three books that could be thought of as sympathetic to Bush's foreign policy -- Frum and Perle's An End to Evil, Richard Miniter's Losing Bin Laden, and Gaddis' Surprise, Security, and the American Experience

Question to readers -- does this mean:

a) A lot of Americans are interested in books that are critical of Bush's foreign policy (which implies a lot of Americans are unimpressed with it)?

b) The kind of people who buy foreign policy books in the first place are predisposed to dislike Bush's brand of hawkishness?

You be the judge!!

posted by Dan at 06:23 PM | Comments (25) | Trackbacks (1)

What's a small-l libertarian to do?

Megan McArdle writes what I'm thinking at the moment:

I'm afraid, as a libertarianish commentator, I don't see all that much difference between them [Bush and Kerry].

I mean, really, in this election, what will I be voting about? Gay marriage? I don't think it's a good idea to handle it at the federal level (see Roe, Wade v.)--plus, neither candidate supports it. The budget deficit? While I think there is some marginal effect on interest rates of the budget deficit, ultimately I think that any such effect will be dwarfed by the long term problems of old-age entitlements, which neither party seems prone to touch. This puts me rather in the Milton Friedman camp: what we should worry about is not how spending is financed, but how high is the level of spending. And on that metric, the choice between Republicans and Democrats seems to be a case of "frying pan, meet fire". In general, on any major foreign policy metric, the differences between the Republicans and the Democrats these days seem to be pretty trivial.

I don't really care whether or not George Bush's marginal income tax changes are repealed or not. (I am in favour of the dividend changes and the estate tax changes, but for all I care, the Democrats can recoup all that lost income by raising the top rate even higher) . Nor am I either horrified, or elated, by John Kerry's tax proposals so far. Overall, my reaction to all the policy proposals currently on the table is . . . er . . . akhfialsfahjfhajfhajhfuq93rujhiekhfa

Sorry, I dozed off and my face hit the keyboard.

Read the whole thing.

posted by Dan at 03:01 PM | Comments (52) | Trackbacks (1)

My La-La experience

On Tuesday and Wednesday, your trusty blogger was in LA to give a talk at USC's Center for International Studies. It was quite the experience.

Have any readers experienced a moment during which they realized they were in a place that was way too hip/cool/edgy for them? That's how I felt when I checked into the Standard Hotel in the downtown. The place looked really fab -- clearly they had checked out Virginia Postrel's The Substance of Style. As the Guardian put it last year:

Bright red vibrating circular water beds in Star Trek-esque space pods, orange banquettes, white 1950s plastic furniture, red Astroturf and a rooftop swimming pool (complete with nightly skinny-dippers) - this isn't the kind of thing you expect to come across in the downtown business district of Los Angeles.

Alas, I witnessed no nighttime skinnydipping -- I had evening plans (I found out later that there was a private runway show and they booted the hotel's regular patrons from the rooftop bar anyway). Plus, I had dinner plans anyway. I can confirm the Star Trek-style waterbeds that would have made William Shatner proud.

However, the highlight of the trip was eating a fabulous lunch on the rooftop, and then noticing that the guy sitting at the next table bore more than a passing resemblance to Nicholas Brendon, who played Xander on Buffy the Vampire Slayer!!

Regular readers know that I'm a big Buffy fan, and I always identified with Xander -- the smart aleck who never had any superpowers. [That, plus his character got to make out with Charisma Carpenter, Alyson Hannigan, and Emma Caulfield's characters on camera!--ed. Er, yeah, that too.]

I've been told repeatedly that the residents of LA never ask for authographs -- it's considered gauche. Well, I'm not from LA, baby!! So I asked Mr. Brendon, and he gladly obliged with an autograph on the only blank piece of paper I had -- the back cover to Steven Pinker's The Blank Slate. Not entirely coincidentally, star blogger Megan McArdle is reading the very same book.

So I now own the ultimate academic geek artifact -- a copy of The Blank Slate autographed by a Buffy the Vampire Slayer cast member.

Oh, and the talk went well, too.

[Why are you posting about all this?--ed. I'm trying to provide this guy some genuine blogosphere gossip.]

posted by Dan at 11:01 AM | Comments (12) | Trackbacks (0)