Saturday, July 31, 2004
The Economist on philanthropy
The Economist runs a fascinating article on the current state of philanthropy in America and Europe. One highlight:
This does not mean that Europeans are less charitable, but rather that there's a substitution effect at work. Most Europeans devote more time (i.e., voluntering) than money compared with Americans. Here's a graph and everything:
One caveat -- the data in this graph does not cover donations to religious congregations, which depresses the American figure. The Israeli figure might actually be inflated, because it includes charitable gifts from abroad.
The article goes on to observe that the organization of the philanthropic sector is also changing -- for the better:
Read the whole thing.
Friday, July 30, 2004
The perils of a good trailer
Surfing around the web, I stumbled across this Heather Havrilesky interview with actor Zach Braff in Salon. Braff stars in Scrubs, which is currently the funniest (non-animated) show on network television, (admittedly not a difficult bar to reach).
The interview was about Braff's directorial debut, Garden State, opens today. At one point, they discussed the trailer of the move, and Braff said it was a big Internet hit:
We here at danieldrezner.com pride ourselves on being up on this "Internet" trend, and felt chagrined at not having seen the online trailer. So we checked it out.
The result? I've only checked it out only ten times in the past 24 hours, thank you very much -- but' it's still pretty damn hypnotic. It's as much a video for the Frou Frou song "Let Go" as it is a movie trailer, but I can't get the song out of my head -- in a good, not-going-crazy kind of way. Plus, it doesn't reveal any crucual plot points, a rare trailer treat.
Of course, this makes me even warier about seeing the actual movie. In my experience, there is often an inverse correlation between good trailers and good movies. The only trailers that ever made me want to see a movie I wouldn't have been interested in anyway have been Throw Momma From the Train, Tim Burton's Planet of The Apes, and The Triplets of Belleville. The last movie was great, but the first two sucked eggs.
Fortunately, Garden State has a stellar cast (Peter Sarsgaard, Natalie Portman, Ian Holm) and has been receiving more promising reviews. Plus, Braff has a blog about the movie that gets more comments than yours truly. So maybe I'll check it out.
Maybe I'll check out that trailer one more time....
Why this is a tough campaign to read
John Harwood and Jacob Schlesinger have a nice summary in the Wall Street Journal of why it will be difficult to reach the undecideds during this election season. Here's the gist:
Forget Kerry -- this is serious!!
Tractor driving? I'm going to miss tractor driving?
Thursday, July 29, 2004
Here's what struck me about Kerry's speech:
1) Given the emphasis on a positive message emanating from this convention, Kerry took harder shots than I expected at Bush -- but I thought his foreign policy critique hit home. I was obviously sympathetic to the line, "You will never be asked to fight a war without a plan to win the peace." This is the section that the Bush team will have to rebut:
2) At one point, Kerry said, "I know there are those who criticize me for seeing complexities - and I do - because some issues just aren't all that simple." Funny, then, that his comments on outsourcing seemed completely simplistic and devoid of facts.
And yes, I saw Bob Rubin strategically placed next to Theresa, but I really would have liked a camera to have caught his reaction to those sections of the speech.
3) I was underwhelmed with his delivery. He seemed uncomfortable with the teleprompter -- it reminded me of Bush's speech immediately after Gore conceded.
4) The part of the speech when Kerry seemed the most engaged was when he talked about the sixties generation changing the world. That's great, but I'm not sure how it applies now.
5) The articulation of Kerry's "liberal hawk position seemed to me as the most fleshed-out part of the speech:
So where do I stand on the fence? I promised Tyler Cowen I'd start assigning a probability of which side of the fence I'd land. At this point, if p = (probability of voting for Kerry), then my p = .54.
THE MORNING AFTER: James Joyner has a nice collection of links. Matthew Yglesias is just as pissed as I am about Kerry's crap rhetoric on outsourcing -- Robert Tagorda even more so. Robert Hochman was thoroughly underwhelmed -- Virginia Postrel even more so.
The parts of Kerry's speech that appealed to me were the parts that made the same criticisms of the Bush administration that I've made in the past. I can't say the speech made me want to vote for Kerry anymore than I did before the speech -- but those sections reminded me why I'm not too thrilled with the Bush administration at the moment.
LAST UPDATE: Will Saletan seems to be channeling me this week -- or vice versa, as he makes a similar point about Kerry's speech:
Tyler Cowen gives me an assignment
Over at Marginal Revolution, Tyler Cowen makes a request:
Chris Lawrence's doubts aside, this seems fair to both me and my readers. I'll be posting my first p-value after Kerry's speech tonight. Obviously, this value will likely fluctuate over the next few months.
One thing the probability that I will vote for someone either than Kerry or Bush is zero.
Does a fear of hell lead to economic growth?
Timothy Perry links to a paper by two Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis economists suggesting that religious piety (operationalized as a fear of hell) could contribute to economic growth. The key section:
The graphs would seem to be convincing -- except for the fact that the authors omitted a discussion of any direct correlation between a fear of hell and per capita income in their data. There's a good reason for that -- when you crunch the numbers, it turns out there's a correlation coefficient of -.21 between the two variables, which means there's a very weak negative correlation between a fear of hell and income status.
The authors' hypotheses might be correct, because this kind of correlation is not a ceteris paribus test. But the aggregate effect would seem to be pretty weak.
Another thing -- for a paper concerned with economic growth, it's odd that they're using GDP per capita instead.
Readers are invited to suggest alternative ways to test this hypothesis.
UPDATE: Interesting -- it looks like the authors have eliminated all the graphical evidence. And now there's an editor's note that explains:
Kevin Drum is less kind than the editor: "In other words: this was just simplistic crap and it wasn't even computed correctly at that."
This has not stopped media coverage of the paper. Greg Saitz wrote it up in the Newark Star-Ledger, but bless his heart, he was smart enough to ask some atheists about it:
Of course, Glenn Reynolds would reply that the consumption of pornography does not necessarily lead to antisocial behavior.
[You started with piety and ended with porn -- you are so going to hell!!--ed.]
My last metablogging post for a while
The first is Fafblog's "interview" with Wolf Blitzer. For those of you sick to death of the convention blogfest, this is the link for you. This is from the opening paragraph:
It's a damn good thing Henry and I changed our paper title, because our first choice was "Blogging: Blog Media Bloggity Blog Media Bla-blog."
More seriously, Jonathan Chait has a great TNR Online essay about why he's covering the convention from home (
Not only is this true, it's the best refutation of Alex S. Jones' tired tirade against bloggers. Jones complains that:
The best bloggers link to opposing views, excel at Chait's "ass-welt reporting," and perform Google and Nexis searches ad nauseum.
As Chait points out, reporting is about more than shoe leather, it's about decent research skills -- a fact one would have expected the director of the Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy to comprehend. Instead, Jones seems to have divined all of his knowledge about blogs from reading Matt Drudge and Wonkette.
It's a shame he didn't do more research for his op-ed.
A BELATED POSTCRIPT: Many of the commenters to this post have defended either Drudge or Wonkette, assuming that I was attacking them. That wasn't my intent, as I consume both of them on a regular basis. My point was that most bloggers do not provide the same type of content as either Cox or Drudge. Jones (or blog-grouch Tom MacPhail) would have had a leg to stand on if the rest of the blogosphere was akin to either of these sites. In moderation, however, both of them serve a useful purpose.
Outflanking Bush on the right
Go check it out.
A step forward on agriculture?
Richard Waddington has a Reuters story suggesting that the Doha round of trade talks has overcome the agriculture obstacle:
It's worth noting that 15 years ago, when the Uruguay round was being negtiated, the "core members" of the world trade body were called the "Quad" -- the U.S., European Union, Japan, and Canada. The fact that India and Brazil need to be consulted at this level is a testament to how the balance of power has shifted within the WTO.
Wednesday, July 28, 2004
Watch this space
As part of my TNR Online assignment for tomorrow, I'll be live-blogging the convention speakers -- so this post will be updated on a regular basis for the rest of the day.
Here's today's speaker schedule -- you can follow along with me.
4:23 EDT: This is the first time I've actually watched the convention this year -- is it me, or did the DNC get the same announcer as the Academy Awards? With the musical cues, that's the feel I'm getting. I keep expecting the speakers to say "the nominees for outstanding position paper by a liberal think tank are..."
4:28 EDT: Free advice to the Kerry team -- having a speaker like U.S. Rep. Tom Allen (D. - Maine) repeat the phrase "John Kerry hears your voices" over and over is not comforting to the average voter. It's too easy to confuse with the more unsettling "John Kerry hears voices."
4:35 EDT: Steve Westly, the California State Comptroller, actually gives a good speech praising both immigration and the entrepreneurial culture of Silicon Valley.
4:46: U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah (D -- Pennsylvania) is now speaking -- I'm just impressed he got elected with that name.
4:54: Frank Lautenberg is making a staunchly pro-Israel speech, and bashing the International Court of Justice for its recent ruling on the security barrier. I can hear the occasional "boo" in the background.
5:04: Representative Ike Skelton blasts Republicans for using those serving in the military as political props. OK, I'll grant Bush was guilty of this during his carrier landing last year -- but I'm to believe that John Kerry is not engaging in something similar throughout this entire week? Consider who caught his opening pitch at Sunday's Sox-Yankees game....
5:15: My four-year-old son comes into room, not feeling well -- wants to watch Cyberchase. Blogging suspended for a while.
7:00: Wycleaf Jean is performing. What, you might ask, would he do as president?
Oh, I feel much better.
7:54: I never thought I would say this, but Dennis Kucinich gives a pretty good speech. His delivery is better than anyone's I've heard today. He started off like he was lecturing eighth-graders, and there's hints of loopiness in the background, but it's not ba-- oh, wait, here we go: "Poverty is a weapon of mass destruction!! Homelessness is a weapon of mass destruction!! Racism is.." you get the idea.
7:55: Hmmm... Bravo is showing an old West Wing episode with Matthew Perry as a guest star....
8:15: A satellite feed from a Colorado VFW post. "Veterans are joining the Kerry campaign in unprecedented numbers. He's one of us, one of our band of brothers." That Daily Show bit about talking points is beginning to gnaw at me.
8:33: The Reverend Al Sharpton says that if Bush were president in the fifties, he wouldn't have picked a Court that ruled the right way in Brown Vs. Board of Education. This is both overreaching and amusing. The only reason Brown came out the way it did is because in between the two serts of oral arguments, Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower appointed Earl Warren to replace Truman appointment Carl Vinson -- who would have led to a very different ruling. EduWonk has more on this.
8:45: Al has a brilliant riff in the closing, touching on Ray Charles' rendition of "America the Beautiful." And then the song comes out on the loudspeaker. Gotta give props to anyone who can get the DJ to play Ray Charles.
8:53: Do you have trouble falling asleep? Insomnia? Try a Bob Graham speech!! Good Lord, the hall was louder four hours ago. This isn't a poke at the substance of his speech -- homeland security. But Lord, does he have a dull delivery.
9:27: Do I agree with Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm on economic policy? Good God, no -- As I type this Granholm is stoking outsourcing fears and blathering on about "fair trade." (alas, Michigan Republicans are just as bad on this issue). But my word, she's a good-looking politician.
10:04: Xinhua is already running a story on John Edwards' speech -- a half hour before he delivers it.
10:30: Edwards is delivering his speech -- apparently, he's the son of a mill worker and was the first person in his family to go to college.
11:00: There was a lot of his stump speech in Edwards' speech tonight, but he seemed to be rushing it. There were some high points -- the discussion of racism, the vignette of the woman staying up in her kitchen -- but the rest was a bit forced.
Off to write the TNR piece.
This won't tip me off the fence -- but it does make me hungry
Jacob M. Schlesinger has a front-pager in the Wall Street Journal on ther contrasting management styles of John F. Kerry and George W. Bush (subscription required). The article is really all about Kerry's decision-making style, both pro and con.
Not much of note, except for this section where methinks Kerry doth protest too much about being more than just a legislator:
Whoa -- he started a cookie store? That tips the scales for me!!
Actually, if the cookie shop in question was Rosie's Bakery, that would be persuasive evidence for Kerry (this is where Erika and I got our wedding cake made). Convention bloggers, be sure to check it out!! Or, you can order online.
Seriously, here's some poll results from the Annenberg Public Policy Center on where Bush and Kerry stand on the leadership question:
UPDATE: Hmmm... Brad DeLong has thoughts on the story, but mysteriously omits any reference to cookie shops.
Somewhat more seriously, Janet Hook, Mary Curtius and Greg Miller have a blow-by-blow account of Kerry's decision-making process in the votes on Iraq in the Los Angeles Times.
Your environmental post for the day
There's a global warming initiative designed to reduce greenhouse gases by creating a tradeable market in methane, an important contributor to global warming (though not as important as carbon dioxide). The idea is for poorer states to harvest their methane emissions and sell them as energy.
Such a plan would require multilateral cooperation and political leadership. It's too bad the current administration hates the environment so much-- oh, wait, this is the Bush team's idea!
From the Associated Press:
Not to rain on Barack Obama's parade, but....
By all accounts, Barack Obama gave a great keynote speech last night. Both the Sullivans -- Amy and Andrew -- loved it. Amy liked the Patriot Act references because, "not only a good energizing issue for Democratic voters, but it taps anger and suspicion among conservatives and swing voters as well." Andrew liked the conservative tinges of the speech: "Obama struck many conservative notes: of self-reliance, of opportunity, of hard work, of an immigrant's dream, of the same standards for all of us.... He framed his belief in government with a defense of self-reliance and conservative values."
Of course, it doesn't hurt that the rest of Tuesday's lineup wasn't too inspiring.
Obama is pretty far to the left of me, but I'm always pleased to see someone affiliated with the University of Chicago do well on the national stage.
That said, before everyone gets caught up in Obama hype, let's reflect on a recurrent pattern regarding the Democratic Party and promising African-American politicians. As Bob Novak points out today in the Chicago Sun-Times:
Ford, Ford... that name rings a faint bell -- how is the 2000 keynote speaker at the Democratic National Convention doing? Like Obama, Ford was the recipient of a media blitz for being an attractive minority face for the Democrats (side note: I'm getting really sick of hearing the word "articulate" used constantly whenever an African-American politician speaks in a tone that sounds more responsible than Al Sharpton). Since that speech, he was anointed as a future leader of the Democratic Party.
So where's Harold Ford Jr. on the DNC speaker schedule this year? He's not talking during prime time.
Ah, here he is -- he's got the 4:20 PM slot today. Hell, Dennis Kucinich has a better time slot.
My point is that Democrats have a recent tendency at conventions to promote a young African American politician as the Next Great Black Hope. It makes for some great TV footage -- and then these politicians recede into the background.
Maybe Obama will be the Democratic nominee for president in 2012 -- or maybe, eight years from now, he'll have that 4:20 PM time slot.
Disagreeing with Arnold Kling
I read this same section of the report, and I think Kling is being a bit unfair in his interpretation of the Commission's recommendations.
To see why, you have to go back to the Commission's diagnosis of the problem. Kling opens his essay with a quote to that effect, but it's too truncated. Here's what's said on pages 362-3:
This is a useful distinction, but one that Koing blurs. Certainly the 9-11 Commission does not recommend passivity in the face of the Al Qaeda threat. On p. 364, it states quite clearly: "Certainly the strategy should include offensive operations to counter terrorism. Terrorists should no longer find safe haven where their organizations can grow and flourish."
The war against radical Islam, however, cannot be won quickly and cannot be won with force of arms alone. Kling's metaphor here is World War II, but the better metaphor is the Cold War. Saying that one set of ideas is bad isn't enough -- a compelling alternative must be presented. On this front, the United States has done a piss-poor job at public dilpomacy -- and the Commission is right to raise this as an issue.
Kling worries that engaging in a hard-fought war of ideas could lead to passivity. Look, we've gone to war against two Muslim countries in the span of three years -- compared to that, anything will look passive. These uses of force were necessary -- the first to eject Al Qaeda from its base of operations, the second to inject the notion of democratic rule into the one region of the world where it has failed to emerge indigenously. Despite missteps, the public in both sets of countries seem increasingly receptive to western ideas of democratic representation. Iraq is moving towards a provisional assembly. Afghanistan has a constitution and a populace that's enthusiastic about exercising their democratic rights (a fact I blogged about two weeks ago).
Promote, that, consolidate that, and in a generation, radical Islam takes a dive. The popularity of Islamic fundamentalism fades very quickly in an open society. It's the job of the United States to promote the virtues of such a society, and consolidate the regimes in the region receptive to such a message.
In the war against radical Islam, Kling is correct that we need hard power. But we do need soft power as well.
Tuesday, July 27, 2004
Don't rush me off the fence, part V
One of the key factors behind my indecision over who to vote for is that I don't know which candidate will have the better trade policy. If you gauge American public opinion, this is a tough sell. The Bushies are all about hypocritical liberalization -- getting the big trade picture correct but offering as many exceptions as possible below the radar -- see Alex Tabarrok for the latest idiocy on this front.
So what about Kerry and the Dems? Ryan Lizza says I have nothing to worry about, that Kerry will be Rubinomics redux -- except Lizza is referring to fiscal policy and not trade. Although Rubin has always been a staunch free-trader, there's reason to believe that Kerry might ignore his advice on this matter. Michael Crowley voices this concern in his TNR Convention Blog post:
Sigh. I should be used to being out in the political wilderness on these issues. But that doesn't mean I have to like it.
I'll close with a link to Brink Lindsey's great July 2004 cover story in Reason, "10 Truths About Trade", which nicely debunks a lot of the horses#&@ that masquerades as policy debate on this topic.
UPDATE: Matthew Yglesias posts about a Laura Tyson speech at the National Democratic Institute's International Leaders Forum being held at the convention. The key grafs:
Here's the thing -- does Kerry's relatively protectionist rhetoric during the primaries innoculate provide him an only-Nixon-can-go-to-China kind of leverage if he's elected -- or does it politically constrain him from following an instinctive preference for an open economy? Remember that one reason George W. Bush slapped tariffs on steel in 2002 is that he essentially promised he'd do this during the 200 election campaign.
Tyson wants to dismiss Kerry's primary rhetoric -- I wish I could, but still have my doubts.
So how's European integration going?
In the Financial Times, Scheherazade Daneshkhu has more. :
For those who believe this is me gloating about European stagnation, it's not. Sclerotic European growth reduced demand for U.S. exports, which widens the trade deficit, which increases protectionist sentiments in the United States (although protectionist sentiment in the EU is all too alive and well). I'm much rather see the Euro area growing like gangbusters.
[Well, yeah, but the Europeans have a higher quality of life than Americans, right?--ed. Not according to the latest UN Human Development Indicators, which incorporates health and education measures along with per capita income (link via the Economist). The United States ranks eighth; the average rank of the Euro 15 countries is 14, and eyeballing where the countries are, that looks like what their weighted average would be as well.]
The future of party politics?
John Harwood's front-pager in today's Wall Street Journal (subscription required) covers almost the exact same ground at Matt Bai's New York Times Magazine cover story about the organizational revolution taking place among Democrat-friendly interest groups.
Harwood's story focuses more on what these interest groups and 527 organizations are doing in this election cycle:
Meanwhile, Bai focuses on the long-term strategy of wealthy Democratic backers. Some of the highlights:
What's striking about both stories is that, both in this electoral cycle and in their plans for creating an idea machine, these organizations aren't talking about appealing to centrist voters -- if anything, there's a disdain for the Clintonite policies of the nineties. The goal in the short-term is to motivate those latent voters symapthetic to a liberal/progressive agenda. The goal in the long term is to generate the ideas that will pull the country in a leftward direction.
More power to them -- I like to see a competition in ideas. That said, these stories contradict Noam Scheiber's suggestion from last week that the Republican interest groups are more likely to coordinate than Democratic interest groups, and as a result, "a politician on the left can repeatedly buck various interest groups without triggering an outright rebellion among his base. Politicians on the right enjoy much less leeway in this respect."
Maybe that was true in the past, but it's not going to be true in the future. And while I like to see ideational competition, the moderate in me frets about the long-term implications on policymaking.
UPDATE: Jonathan Cohn has a TNR Online story about Andrew Stern, president of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), and a key player in this political transformation. A lot of what Stern says reinforces the stories above:
ANOTHER UPDATE: Kevin Drum picks up on a point that kept nagging me as I was reading the Bai story:
To be fair, Bai describes the ideological orientation of these groups, but Kevin's right -- there was nothing in the story about specific policies, or even a desciption of the underpinnings behind modern-day liberalism.
Monday, July 26, 2004
Off to get my GOAt
I have to run and debate U.S. foreign policy in a bar. I'll be sure to provide an "after action" report.
UPDATE: That was a blast. A great crowd and a good debate. What truly amazed me was that 120-150 people showed up for this on a Monday night during the convention -- 50 people stood up for the entire ninety minutes. And nary a boo was heard.
ANOTHER UPATE: Paul Noonan provides an accurate summary of the debate here. Good to know the Clinton impersonation still wows the crowd.
One correction -- when I made the statement about answering a question as a real expert and not a pseudo-expert, that crack was NOT targeted at my debating partner, but rather myself -- the previous question or two had covered areas where I felt uneasy making authoritative statements.
On Friday Jathon Sapsford has a fascinating Page One story in the Wall Street Journal on the revolution in how Americans purchase goods and services (subscription required). Some of the interesting bits:
The only odd thing about the piece is the large number of paragraphs devoted to warning that the explosion of credit has led to a similar explosion in personal debt. I'd accept that, except for this piece of information contained in the story:
An increase in debit card puchases, unlike an increase in credit card purchases, would not necessariy lead to an increase in household debt.
One possibility is that the use of any kind of card automatically increases purchasing size, so expenditures via debit card are larger than those with cash. If credit card expenditures remain constant, that would increase debt.
UPDATE: Bruce Bartlett has an interesting and related NRO essay on why, despite the proliferation of plastic, the use of cash persists at all in the advanced industrialized states. His theory -- gray market economies:
Read the whole thing.
A hypothesis about blog coverage
The extent to which the mainstream media has simultaneously embraced and covered the blog phenomenon for the Democratic National Convention has overwhelmed even a skeptic like Josh Marshall:
Indeed, the Jennifer Lee has a story in the New York Times, and the Wall Street Journal has gone all out -- it's topic A of John Fund's column; Carl Bialik and Elizabeth Weinstein provide an exhaustive report on the convention bloggers, and I just got a call from another WSJ reporter for another story.
Even though I've written about the ever-increasing connections between the blogosphere and mediasphere, I must also confess surprise at the intensity of coverage over the past few days. What's going on?
Here's a quick-and-dirty hypothesis -- the media abhors a news vacuum, and a nominating conventions is one whopper of a news vacuum. There are no real surprises awaiting reporters in either Boston this week or New York come Labor Day. The only moderately interesting question this week is how well Edwards and Kerry deliver their speeches. Even that's not news as much as interpretation.
This is a perfect scenario for the media to increase their coverage of blogs. They are an undeniably new facet of convention coverage, which makes them news. They're a process story rather than a substance story, which the media likes to write about. Finally, one of the blogosphere's comparative advantage is real-time snarky responses and interpretations of media events.
Just a thought.
UPDATE: David Adesnik reinforces the point Henry Farrell and I have made about the skewed distribution of the blogosphere:
And here's a subsciption-only link to the Christopher Conkey story in Tuesday's Wall Street Journal.
LAST UPDATE: Lindsay Beyerstein at Majkthise offers another excellent hypothesis explaining media coverage of convention bloggers:
Thanks for reading, Karl!!
Last week, when the 9-11 Commission report came out, I offered some free advice to Karl Rove: "Karl, tell Bush to own this report. Make it clear to the American people that he gets it, and takes the issue seriously."
Mike Allen reports in today's Washington Post that someone at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. got the message:
Thank you, Mr. Rove.
Sunday, July 25, 2004
Blogs are feeling the convention love
A while back I was ambivalent about bloggers covering the conventions. As the Dems converge in Boston, however, I must confess to a surprising giddiness about the role that blogs and bloggers have earned for this election season [You're just happy because this provides more fodder for your blog paper--ed. Hey, I'm rarely on top of a trend. Let me savor this!] Consider the following:
I'll close with Patrick Belton's proclamation at OxBlog:
That's probably a bit too triumphalist for me -- but then again, with the nets embracing the blogosphere for its form and content, even I'm feeling a bit triumphalist today.
[I notice you're not going to be Mr. Media Whore for the upcoming week. What does this mixture of political conventions and blogging mean for you?--ed.
UPDATE: Howard Kurtz has a round-up of convention bloggers in his Media Notes Extra column. And John McCormack talks about blogs forming a "para-media" in the Chicago Tribune. Kurtz reports this Oscar-the-Grouch quote:
Blogs are not objective? Someone alert Daniel Okrent, stat!! And some convention blogger better score an interview with Sarah Jessica Parker -- it's the only way blogs will be taken seriously by the mediasphere!
"This is your kind of Book Review"
There's a clear division of labor in the Drezner household when it comes to The New York Times Book Review -- I read the nonfiction reviews and my wife peruses the fiction reviews. This morning, she glanced at the table of contents and said to me, "This is a Dan Book Review today."
She's right -- the review looks like it's been outsourced to the Yale History Department. Be sure to check out John Lewis Gaddis' mixed review of Niall Ferguson's Colossus [What could he say that you missed in your review of Ferguson?--ed. Well, Gaddis had a longer word count than I did, and manages to go after some of Ferguson's inconsistencies that I omitted because of space constraints.]
Then go and peruse Paul Kennedy's favorable review of Hugh Thomas' Rivers of Gold: The Rise of the Spanish Empire, From Columbus to Magellan. When you're done with that, enjoy Francis Fukuyam's deft dismissal of Michael Hardt and Antinio Negri's Multitude: War and Democracy in the Age of Empire (their follow-up to their execrable Empire).
Then, and only then, enjoy for dessert the debate between Gaddis and Kennedy over American grand strategy and the difference between being imperial and imperious. Gaddis -- who's more sympathetic to the Bush administration's strategic ambitions than Kennedy -- closes the discussion as follows:
I'll take bureaucratic politics for $300, Alex
Brad then offers some explanations -- none of which flatter to the Bush White House.
Having been at Treasury during the transition, and having ruminated about this question, Brad's stacking the deck here. Focusing on international economic policy, what's striking about the second Clinton term is how much of an outlier it looks compared to what took place before and since. This wasn't only because of the strength of the Treasury team, but also a) the extent to which foreign economic policy impacted national security issues; and b) the relative weakness of Clinton's national security team.
Part of the reason Rubin/Summers were heavyweights was how they looked in comparison to Allbright, Berger et al. In December 2001, David Sanger wrote a lengthy New York Times retrospective on Clinton's foreign policy in which one State Department official admitted, "The State Department was simply not equipped to handle the new [foreign policy] challenges, so it stuck to the traditional ones.”
Fast-forwarding to the Bush team, a spate of stories came out pre-9/11 in which Powell, Rice, and Rumsfeld all said we're going to take back some slices of the foreign policy pie from Treasury. Combine that with:
It's not that shocking to see Treasury's relative influence waning.
Your must-see movie of the day
If you've already seen Spider-Man 2, click here.
If you like Legos, click here.
OK, actually, it just doesn't matter -- just click and see.
Saturday, July 24, 2004
Bipartisanship on Sudan
What with the convention season starting and the general election campaign already making people testy, we here at danieldrezner.com feel it's worth occasionally highlighting those areas of policy where both sides of the aisle are in rough agreement.
Which brings us to this Rudolph Bush story in the Chicago Tribune about Congressional pressure on Sudan's humanitarian disaster:
I did, however, find this paragraph amusing:
Friday, July 23, 2004
Mostar rebuilds its bridge
Statebuilding can be a slow, painful process, with lots of reverses, lots of buried tensions, lots of frustration. On the other hand, a lot of time, patience, and money can occsionally yield partially successes.
In that light, it's good to read this Reuters report from the Bosnian town of Mostar:
Monday night I'll be debating Kennette Benedict, the director of the International Peace and Security Area of the Program on Global Security and Sustainability at the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, about "Democracy Defined: Wield or Yield?" -- in a bar.
Well, I'm certainly looking forward to "getting down," as they call it, with the young people.
Of course, the crowd might not feel the same way, as Eng elaborates:
[Sounds like a tough crowd--ed. No sweat -- all I have to do is pull off the frizzy hair-tank-top-peasant-skirt-and-clogs look.]
In all seriousness, this kind of format and venue is a great idea, and I'm happy to have the opportunity to drink and debate at the same time.
Thursday, July 22, 2004
Hey, Karl Rove!! Over here!!!
With all due respect to Glenn, that's really, really bad advice.
The business with Berger is an inside-the-Beltway story that certainly diminishes Berger's standing but in the end doesn't amount to much (see Fred Kaplan's Slate assessment for more -- I'm not quite as sanguine as Kaplan, for reasons Tom Maguire lays out here).
The 9-11 Commission report, on the other hand, amounts to a great deal. What's at stake isn't the post-mortem spin on responsibility for 9/11 as much as "where do we go from here?" The policy recommendations for intelligence, counterterrorism, homeland security and congressional oversight are all elaborate and important (I'll reserve judgment on the foreign policy recommendations). I care a hell of a lot more about that than what was in Sandy Berger's trousers, and I suspect most Americans do as well.
Peter Robinson's advice to Karl Rove over at The Corner makes a great deal more sense:
Indeed. This report contains some useful, nonpartisan suggestions for policy reforms -- some of which transfer coordinating powers to the White House, something every President likes.
So Karl, tell Bush to own this report. Make it clear to the American people that he gets it, and takes the issue seriously. Leave Berger's post-mortem to the blogs.
UPDATE: Alan Wirzbicki praises 9-11 Commission executive director Philip Zelikow over at TNR Online, echoing what I said a few weeks ago.
ANOTHER UPDATE: Fred Kaplan agrees on the virtues of the Commission's proposed reforms -- and, in a roundabout way, what the President needs to do about it:
The trouble with racial profiling
So, as a public service, here is Sara Sefeed's response to Annie Jacobsen in the Persian Mirror. Sefeed has her own disturbing experience with airport security when she's issued a boarding pass with the wrong name and no one notices.
Safeed's proposed reforms sound just as overwrought as Jacobsen's original account -- her complaint that "everything in the US is privatized and there is no unison among the different states, companies, and airlines, no one person seems to have jurisdiction or responsibility over anything" is as unfocused as the supposed target of her lament. That said, she does have a good closing paragraph:
UPDATE: This story by Eric Leonard casts further doubt on Jacobsen's account:
LAST UPDATE: Michelle Malkin, blogging with a vengeance, reports and follows up on the visa status of the Syrians.
How do Americans and Europeans feel about trade?
That's the question asked by the German Marshall Fund of the United States, which helped commission a four-country public opinion survey on the subject entitled Reconciling Trade and Poverty Reduction.
The fund concludes that "support for free trade remains robust." After reading the report, I'm more pessimistic. This is from the accompanying press release:
The report goes onto suggest ways to pitch free trade policies in politically friendly ways. Consider this proposed phrasing:
That's just a God-awful way to sell free trade, because it admits a falsity. Smart people like Stephen Roach are dredging up the race-to-the-bottom argument to explain the current job market, but it's just wrong. The statement that "workers in developing countries living under abominable conditions" with more globalization is particularly egregious.
On the other hand, this message works for me:
This phrasing has the twin virtues of greater acccuracy and greater optimism.
One final interesting finding:
Go check it out.
Open 9-11 Commission thread
Feel free to discuss the 9-11 Commission's final report here (here's a link to the executive summary, but be warned that the Commission's website seems overwhelmed at the moment. Kudos to the paper of record for having a copy on their own website). Dan Eggen and Dafna Linzer have a good advance summary in today's Washington Post. CNN has some initial reactions here -- and refreshingly, they're pretty much free of partisan sniping despite interviews with the House minority leader and House majority whip -- but that could be because Congress as an institution takes it on the chin in the report, according to the NYT.
UPDATE: From the Times report linked above, some details about the proposed intelligence reform:
This sounds like creating a position akin to the NSC or NEC advisor, while essentially stripping the CIA director of the Director of Central Intelligence title, in which s/he is ostensibly in charge of overall coordination of the disparate intelligence agencies.
At first glance, this makes a great deal of sense to me -- having intelligence coordination run by an honest broker with a small secretariat through the White House would give the new coordinator the clout that the CIA directors have tended to lack in their DCI role. But I reserve the right to change my mind after consulting with those better informed than I. [UPDATE: Hmmm... both The New Republic and The National Review agree with my first glance. James Joyner has some links to people who don't agree.]
Of course, this also explains why the acting CIA head is fighting the proposal tooth and nail.
Wednesday, July 21, 2004
The power and politics of blogs
Longtime readers of danieldrezner.com are aware that I've been trying to exploit my hobby (blogging) for professional gain (peer-reviewed publications). Towards that end, Henry Farrell and I have been slowly co-authoring a paper on blogs and politics.
Both bloggers and blog readers are encouraged to download it and tell us what you think.
Be warned, however: this paper is primarily intended for a scholarly auduence, which means there's some jargon that might appear confusing but is -- like most jargon -- a form of shorthand for fellow professionals.
Most of it should be pretty digestible, however. Read it and post your comments below or over at Crooked Timber.
Finally, a quick thank-you to Henry -- I've tried co-authoring papers in the past, and it's been a disaster. This paper was a breeze.
UPDATE: More scholar-blogger research from Glenn Reynolds. With experimental evidence no less!
More seriously, this report by Jeff Jarvis from his Aspen Institute experience with Big Media machers supports one of our paper's hypotheses. In particular:
UPDATE: Tyler Cowen offers constructive criticism and calls the paper a "mini-classic."
Dean Esmay offers a long critique that boils down to:
Dean points to small-circulation political magazines as evidence for this recurring pattern in American political history.
I think I can speak for Henry as well as myself when I say that we are aware of this fact. Indeed, what we find interesting is that this phenomenon has been replicated for the blogosphere. However, compared to blogs, these kind of publications generally posses two advantages. First, a lot of elite media journals have been founded and operated by those who were already politically influential and well-connected. Second, these journals needed to have sufficient resources to pay for minor things like salaries, distribution, and printing runs.
Neither of these conditions holds particularly well for blogs. No doubt, some pioneer bloggers -- Andrew Sullivan most notably -- have been well-connected. But this is not true of most of the influential bloggers. As for material resources, some bloggers are now able to earn some scratch, but this is an effect rather than a cause of their success.
What's interesting is that despite these differences, and despite the low barriers to entry, the blogosphere looks like a similar link on the oipinion chain.
Your environmental quote of the day
In my mailbox today I found David Victor's Climate Change: Debating America's Policy Options, which was sponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations. David is a disgustingly prolific and competent writer with a cv longer than my arm, so it's worth paying attention to what he writes.
The book maps out three possible policy options for the coping with climate change. Flipping through, I came across this assessment of the myriad predictions about the extent of global warming by the year 2100 (p. 11):
For a very long pdf version of the report, click here.
The Annie Jacobsen Rorshach test
From the right: Atlanta Journal-Constitution columnist Shaunti Feldhahn. For her, this is a story about civil liberties run amok:
I've already said why I think this is a bad idea.
Although the fear of litigation is a worthy topic, most conservative commentators are eliding the fact that the system appeared to work in this case. Contrary to Jacobsen's assertions, the Syrian passengers were searched prior to boarding the initial leg of their flight. The air marshalls (FAM) and FBI investigated and found nothing untoward. Jacobsen was clearly rattled -- but the first priority of homeland security should be about, you know, protecting the homeland. Releiving the anxiety of passengers would be a nice dividend, but it's not the primary goal.
Actually, no, that was not it, and Smith is being disingenuous in the extreme to suggest otherwise. A Federal Air Marshal Service spokesman confirmed that marshalls met the plane in Los Angeles and questioned the Syrians -- a fact that Smith abjectly fails to mention in his essay. Maybe the behavior was innocent, maybe not -- I'll never know. But the FAM's interest in the flight suggests at a minimum that something suspicious was going on, and for Smith to blithely dismiss Jacobsen's account as racist stuff and nonsense is absurd.
I'm perfectly happy to have airline professionals say that this was much ado about nothing -- like Michelle Catalano, I want to hear that this was much ado about nothing -- but Smith's half-assed efforts at snark don't cut it.
UPDATE: Clinton W. Taylor has a fact-filled report over at NRO that clears up a lot of confusion. The highlights:
Thanks to Taylor for doing the digging. I knew those Stanford poli sci Ph.D. candidates were worth something!!
My rare agreement with the preservationists
In the fall of 2003, Chicago unveiled the newly-renovated Soldier Field. The new stadium grafted a futuristic-looking bowl onto a classic structure of Doric colonnades.
The result? From the outside, it's a butt-ugly effect. Soldier Field now looks like an alien spaceship humping the Parthenon. Blair Kamin, The Tribune's excellent architecture critic, described it as "an architectural close encounter of the worst kind."
Think I'm exaggerating? Go take the official virtual tour and notice that the only exterior picture of the stadium is partially obstructed by trees. By all accounts, I hear that the interior of the stadium is actually quite nice. Driving by it on Lake Shore Drive, however, most people just shudder in revulsion.
So I can't say I'm shocked to read the following story by Hal Dardick and David Mendell in today's Chicago Tribune:
All I can add is, good for the National Park Service.
Tuesday, July 20, 2004
Does this say anything about No Child Left Behind?
Chicago Tribune reporter Stephanie Banchero spent a school year chronicling one family's efforts to exploit the No Child Left Behind act. The result has been three front-page stories in a row amounting to over 11,000 words --in order, click here, here, and then here.
The story is an affecting one -- third-grader Rayola Victoria Carwell starts the year transferring to a good school way out of her neighborhood, but in the end is transferred back to a neighborhood school of lesser quality. At one juncture, Banchero doubts the worthiness of the law:
Sounds bad, except that the three-part story undercuts that hypothesis. The Stockton school finds funding through other grant sources to address the kind of concerns Banchero raises -- all for naught, as the mother persistently fails to follow through on the offers for help. Furthermore, even after Victoria transfers back to a local neighborhood school, she experiences the same problem she did at Stockton -- truancy.
Then there's this tidbit from the last of the three articles:
I'd still recommend reading the articles, if only to realize the concrete constraints of any public policy when confronting a difficult home life. But it would be wrong to generalize anything from the Carwells' story.
What the f@$# was Sandy Berger thinking?
So Sandy Berger is in a spot of trouble, according to John Solomon's AP report:
Andrew Sullivan is "gob-smacked." Josh Marshall finds it "inexplicable," while Glenn Reynolds says it's "bizarre." That's pretty much my reaction -- no, wait, what truly shocks me is Berger's stupidity. Berger was NSC advisor when John Deutsch got into serious trouble for a similar (though not identical) screw-up while CIA director. It's not like Berger was unaware of the ramifications of the act.
I have no idea why he did it, and like Virginia Postrel am willing to believe that Berger did not have nefarious motives. However, it's very amusing to read Josh Marshall assert that this story was "the product of a malicious leak." That's a definite possibility -- just as it's a possibility that Berger did what he did to assemble ammunition for the Democrats to engage in partisan attacks on the Bush administration's Al Qaeda policies. One certainly does not excuse the other, but Josh's "shocked, shocked!" routine about Republican shenanigans -- in contrast to his überparsing defenses of similar Democrat shenanigans -- is wearing a bit thin.
UPDATE: One counterpoint -- some are using this story as an example of media bias, implying that if Condi Rice had done this it would have gotten more play. That's true, but not because of ideology. Berger is now a private citizen (albeit one advising the Kerry campaign); Rice is a government official. This type of behavior will (and should) command more attention from those in power than from those who are now out of power.
ANOTHER UPDATE: This blogger posts the following:
Even though -- as I speculated -- this is a possibility, bear in mind that Berger did this back in October 2003 -- when John Kerry was not the frontrunner, and Berger was listed as a foreign policy advisor for at least four candidates.
Also, David Gergen said the following in the Fox News story:
LAST UPDATE: Berger has announced he won't be advising the Kerry campaign. Sounds about right.
One final question -- does this episode provide empirical support for Jacob Levy's contention that shadow cabinets are a mistake or my contention that they would be a good idea?
LAST UPDATE: Glenn Reynolds has a lot more . And this Josh Marshall follow-on acknowledges that Berger brought this on himself. Marshall believes that this was a Republican leak, but both Kevin Drum and Matthew Yglesias postulate that, for various reasons, the leak came from a Democrat (links via InstaPundit).
Before everyone gets too excited....
Longtime readers of danieldrezner.com may wonder whether it's possible for me to reconcile my pro-immigration, libertarian perspective with my concerns about homeland security. Annie Jacobsen favors racial profiling over political correctness if it means preventing terrorist attacks; many of the commenters believe a crackdown on immigration is necessary.
My position is as follows:
Hitting the big time
Hmmm... maybe there is a financial future in blogging.
When big budget movies start advertising on your blog (see the ad for The Manchurian Candidate remake on your right), you know the media market has changed.
Ah, but will danieldrezner.com ever hit the "big four" from Jerry Maguire --"shoe, car, clothing-line, soft-drink. The four jewels of the celebrity endorsement dollar."?
[Are those four really the appropriate "big" products for the blogosphere?--ed. No, the four jewels of the blogosphere would probably be search engines, newspapers, films, and glossy magazines. Readers are invited to suggest their "big four."]
UPDATE: Ask and you shall receive!! See the brand-new New Yorker ad on the right!!
Monday, July 19, 2004
Things get even weirder in Palestine
Last week I blogged about the UN envoy who reported that things were going to hell in a handbasket in the occupied territories -- in no small part because of the dearth of progress on reforming the Palestinian Authority's corrupt institutions.
So what's going on in Gaza this week? Lamia Lahoud reports some strange doings in the Jerusalem Post:
As the Christian Science Monitor put it in an editorial:
A story by Laila al-Haddad in Lebanon's Daily Star suggests that, "most Palestinians agree that the latest developments are not conducive to their cause, and that this is not the time for power struggles." This is true only if Arafat's successors proved every bit as corrupt and anti-democratic as Arafat -- a depressing possibility.
Following up on Annie Jacobsen
Since I'm already blogging on homeland security today, I should point out that Annie Jacobsen has a follow-up on her experiences flying with 14 Syrians from Detroit to Los Angeles. Yours truly is mentioned.
Go check it out. I agree with Donald Sensing that here's not much that's new information about what actually happened, though there are a few disturbing quotes from airline industry professionals who feign no surprise at this kind of incident and believe it to be an example of terrorist test-runs.
However, Jacobsen makes it clear that clear that the blogosphere had the desired effect:
Good -- this is exactly the kind of story that merits further inquiry by "real" journalists -- you know, as opposed to people who "don't add reporting to the personal views they post online."
Also, it's worth reprinting Jacobsen's response on the question of political correctness and the merits of linking to Ann Coulter:
I cut and paste; you decide.
LAST UPDATE: Joe Sharkey discusses Jacobsen's story in his "On the Road" column in the New York Times. A lot of it is recap, but there is this information:
Stephen Flynn scares me -- again
Two months after the September 11th attacks, I heard Stephen Flynn give a talk about homeland security and American vulnerabilities -- and he scared the crap out of me.
Listening to Flynn -- a former Coast Guard commander -- describe the various soft spots of America's infrastructure was to realize just how much 9/11 required a rethink of how America defends itself. Flynn wasn't defeatist during his talk, he just laid out what needed to be done. And it was a long list.
Two and a half years later, Flynn has written a book, America the Vulnerable: How Our Government Is Failing to Protect Us from Terrorism -- and what he's saying still scares the crap out of me. There's an excerpt in this week's Time:
And then there's this excerpt of the book quoted in yesterday's Meet the Press:
Later on Russert asks, "But on a scale of 0 to 100 percent, how well protected are we right now?" Flynn's sobering reply: Well, if I would put it maybe on a 1-to-10 scale here, where 1 were a bull's-eye and 10 were secure, we were 1 on 9/11. Today we're a 3. That's why I'm sort of saying that we're still failing. I just can't give a passing grade.
I have nothing to add to Flynn's observations -- except to say you should buy the book.
Again, if I was John Kerry, I would bash Bush again and again and again on this front. Reviewing the Senator's own proposals, however, I'm thoroughly underwhelmed. There's a recognition of the importance of port security, but nothing else about protecting critical infrastructure (and, it should be noted, port security is actually one of the unheralded initiatives of the current administration). Most of Kerry's proposals focus on emergency response rather than prevention.
UPDATE: Many of the commenters seem to feel we should embrace the Israeli paradigm when it comes to security -- which is ironic, because Flynn disdains the Israeli approach in favor of the British approach.
What is John Kerry's theory of foreign policy?
Philip Gourevitch has a lengthy New Yorker essay on John Kerry's foreign policy principles. A few parts that struck me:
What's odd about this is that within the Gourevitch article itself there's a formulation that would perfectly encapsulate what Kerry's going after. Earlier in the story, Gourevitch writes: "the signature chord of his campaign’s foreign policy unmistakably: that 'America is safer and stronger when it is respected around the world, not feared.'" (emphasis added)
This is simultaneously a promising but incomplete formulation. The political class is familiar with Machiavelli's dictum that it is better to be feared than loved -- and the Bush team would probably embrace this line of thinking.
Kerry's introduction of "respect," however, gets at a middle ground between the two poles of "fear" and "love" that probably resonates with most Americans. It's the perfect way to communicate toughness while still attacking the Bush team's foreign policy.
The problem with the way Kerry phrased it, however, is that to pretend that respect and fear are mutually exclusive components is absurd. For there to be respect in international relations, there must be an recognition of capabilities that can also inspire fear. It's the same mistake that's frequently committed with Joe Nye's "soft power" concept -- to pretend that the soft power of governments does not rest on a foundation of hard power is just wrong.* Fear comes from hard power alone; respect comes from the combination of hard and soft power -- it does not come from soft power alone.
Maybe Kerry is just exercising a rhetorical flourish and understands this -- maybe not. The fact that neither Gourevitch nor I can tell is what's so disturbing to me when I contemplate pulling the donkey lever -- which is why I'm still on the fence.
The second passage that caught my eye:
*As I noted previously, this dictum holds for states, not non-state actors.
Sunday, July 18, 2004
It would have worked if it wasn't for those meddling French literary critics!!
Curse that Ilias Yocaris!!
Last month, the professor of literary theory and French literature at the University Institute of Teacher Training in Nice published an essay about the Harry Potter series in Le Monde. Now the New York Times translates it for today's op-ed page. The highlights:
Dammit, the capitalist shock troops were supposed to get to Yocaris before he spilled the beans!!
Read the whole thing, if only for the amusement value. I found myself with four semi-serious responses (in increasing order of seriousness):
OK, I'm clearly taking this way too seriously.
The Times, incidentally, opens the essay by observing that "This article... got particular attention, including an essay published in response arguing that Harry is an antiglobalist crusader."
UPDATE: On my last point, I will Henry Farrell's argument that, "Dan just hasn’t been reading the right science fiction/science fantasy books." Certainly the sci-fi I've read that has stuck with me -- William Gibson, Philip K. Dick -- did not ignore the laws of economics. Mostly I was reacting to the endless hours of Star Trek I've consumed over the years. And I will be sure to read some of Henry's suggestions -- right after I get that tenure thing behind me.
Saturday, July 17, 2004
If you're in Chicago...
1) The opening of Millennium Park. The family and I checked it out today, and a good time was had by all. This opening weekend includes a lot of parades, musical performances, and other activities. The nominal architectural highlight is the Jay Pritzker Pavilion, which was designed by Frank Gehry and evokes his Guggenheim Museum in Bilao. For me, however, Anish Kapoor's Cloud Gate is the real treat -- a mirrored sculpture that beautifully reflects the Chicago skyline. Here's a picture, but it doesn't do Kapoor's vision justice:
2) For South-Siders, any injection of retail is a welcome development -- compared to the North Side and the suburbs, this region (which includes Hyde Park) is a veritable desert of commerce. So, even small steps by big-name brands are welcomed.
Dan Mihalopoulos and Antonio Olivo report in the Chicago Tribune on the South Shore neighborhood's brand new coffee shop:
Hey, if there is anyone at Trader Joe's who reads this blog, go back and re-read that bolded section -- the place could use a decent high-end grocery store as well.
3) H. Gregory Meyer and Darnell Little report in the Sunday Chicago Tribune that the entire state (including Chicago) is much safer than it used to be:
Friday, July 16, 2004
Your weekend economics reading
Virginia Postrel's latest New York Times column looks at William W. Lewis' The Power of Productivity: Wealth, Poverty, and the Threat to Global Stability -- about which I've blogged here and here. Postrel gets at a facet of Lewis' book I failed to highlight in my previous posts:
Looking at the nontradeable sectors reveals some startling gaps in productivity:
Read the whole thing, and then order the Lewis book if you haven't already.
Meanwhile Tyler Cowen links to this Arnold Kling TCS essay comparing and contrasting America's poor in 1970 with 2000. The statistics are quite startling -- poor Americans are much better off now than during the height of the Great Society.
[But wage rates have been pretty much stagnant since 1970. In fact, they've been worse than stagnant in recent months. How can this be?--ed. Kling looks at consumption rather than wages. He goes on to postulate:
I have no idea if Kling's hypothesis holds -- but it's worth investigating.
UPDATE: One more reading assignment -- Brad DeLong's latest post on global warming.
Math is not a sport
Jordan Ellenberg has a Slate column on whether math should be considered a sport.
Sounds preposterous? Ellenberg points out that in 1997, then-president of the International Olympic Committee Juan Antonio Samaranch declared, "Bridge is a sport, and as such your place is here, like all other sports." Chess was an exhibition sport at the Sydney games. There is such a thing as the International Mathematical Olympiad. Why not math?
This got me to thinking about George Carlin's philosophy about sports. There's the classic riff on the differences between baseball and football and the underrated follow-on about why other "sports" are not really sports in Playin' With Your Head. Which made me realize that Ellenberg is only able to engage in this debate because a lot of activities that count as sports really are not (to be fair, he comes to the same conclusion by the end of the article).
What really stood out, however, was this passage from Ellenberg's essay:
Honesty compels me to confess that:
To be fair to Ellenberg, he had reason for swagger -- I recall running into the Montgomery County math wizards when I qualified for the American Regions Math League contest, and they were the best of the best. [Oh, sure you remember this -- any confirming evidence?--ed. God bless the World Wide Web -- someone actually posted the results of the 1985 competition, of which I was a participant. Sure enough Montgomery County won that year -- my team (Connecticut A) finished a respectible eighth.]
UPDATE: Another blogger responds to Ellenberg: "[A]s a former mathlete, i say, 'hell no! i'm not a jock! stop calling me a jock! if you don't stop insinuating that i'm a jock, your firewall's gonna be so full of java that your ROMs will overload!'"
What does this mean about airline security?
Like Glenn Reynolds and Andrew Sullivan, I received a mass e-mail linking to this disturbing first-person account by Annie Jacobsen in WomensWallStreet.com on mysterious doings onboard a Northwest flight from Detroit to Los Angeles (hopefully, she's not this Annie Jacobsen). The quick summary: a bunch of Arab gentlemen holding Syrian passports act in an extremely suspicious manner during the flight.
Michelle Malkin confirms at least part of the Jacobsen story, and a February 2004 story by Jason Burke in the Sunday Observer adds some plausibility to the behavior of the suspected terrorists in the story. This is the part of Jacobsen's account that Malkin confirms:
On the other hand, a post in the brand-new blog Red State voices some understandable skepticism. This blogger suggests that what looked like suspicious activity was actually Muslims behaving in a devout manner. There are parts of the story that sound over the top to me as well -- the only thing missing from Jacobsen's narrative to make the Syrian guys seem more evil is thick moustaches. The link to Ann Coulter doesn't make me feel any more sanguine.
I'm not saying something disturbing didn't happen, but I have as many questions about the Jacobsen story as I do for the Federal Air Marshalls.
Give it a read and think it over while perusing the fact that the Bush administration has scrapped its Computer-Assisted Passenger Prescreening System (CAPPS) II program for screening airline passengers. For more on the CAPPS debate, check out Ryan Singel's account in Wired.
I can say that the e-mail sent to me and other bloggers was cc-ed to movers and shakers in the mediasphere -- Bill Keller, David Ignatius, George Will, Anne Applebaum, and Nichoas D. Kristoff. So they're certainly aware of the story. My guess is they're probably ignoring the initial message because the originator of the e-mail tends to send out a regular stream of these messages, and the signal-to-noise ratio is quite low.
The interest by bloggers in the story, however, might prove to be enough of a spur to the mediasphere. I'm on the skeptical side of the spectrum -- but I'd like to see real journalists dig deeper into this.
UPDATE: Michelle Malkin now reports that the blogosphere will be getting results from the mediasphere:
On the other hand, Malkin talked with Jacobsen, and is told, ""My legs were like rubber... It was four and a half hours of terror" -- which again sounds over the top. Donald Sensing is also suspicious. He raises the perfectly valid point that one should not be too surprised at seeing a large number of Arabs boarding an airplane in Detroit, given the large concentration of Arabs living in Dearborn and its environs. Glenn Reynolds has more, including this optimistic take.
That said, it appears the system is working. [What system?--ed. The system whereby private actors can monitor government actors to see if the latter are doing their job. The blogosphere is only the latest link in that chain.]
Bruce Bartlett beats me to the punch
Bruce Bartlett's latest column opens with a suggestion that I've had in the back of my head for some time:
I vaguely recall that Bob Dole contemplated but rejected this strategy back in 1996.
I can see downsides to this strategy -- in particular, such an announcement increases the number of official mouthpieces -- which increases the likelihood of one of them committing a gaffe/revealing a personal scandal that saps time and energy from Kerry.
However, such a gambit could make a transition much easier, in that it provides a public vetting for key cabinet officials, and might reverse a disturbing trend of lengthier and lengthier confirmation ordeals.
Do read the rest of Bartlett's column, as he posits the composition of Kerry's economic team.
UPDATE: Some have suggested that an opposition candidate can't propose a shadow cabinet, because it's illegal to offer anyone a position prior to election. It strikes me that there are so many ways around that law that it's not much of an impediment. Just name someone as the "official party spokesman" for the issue, for example.
Also, I wouldn't propose naming a complete shadow cabinet -- perhaps just the "power ministries" -- State, Defense, Treasury, Justice, and now DHS.
Thursday, July 15, 2004
Hey you -- red or blue?
Following Virginia Postrel's advice, I took Slate's "Red or Blue" Quiz. Turns out that -- like Virginia -- I'm purple, i.e., right in the middle, and therefore permitted to live in both places. So that's a relief.
Go take the quiz and find out where you should live. Report back on your findings.
Don't rush me off the fence, part IV
John Hawkins at Right Wing News has a post entitled "40 Reasons To Vote For George Bush Or Against John Kerry." I can't say I found all of them convincing, but #12 is somewhat compelling:
One could plausibly argue that Kerry's full-time job since early 2003 was running for president -- but he could have resigned if that were the case. The lead paragraph in this Reuters story doesn't make me feel any better about Kerry's posturing on Iraq, either:
Bush apparently didn't read it either, but I'm not sure Kerry wins my vote on the motto, "Vote for me -- I'll start paying attention after I'm elected." This was in the fall of 2002, when Kerry's only job as a candidate was raising money -- which is what all congressmen do all of the time. Plus, it's pretty hypocritical for a legislator to rail about executive branch overreach when he fails to exercise any due diligence when he has an opportunity to constrain said branch.
On a related point, Hawkins' 25th reason is also worth checking out.
Hmmm... maybe I should get off on the GOP side of the fence -- no wait!! Jesse Walker has a column at Reason online entitled, "Ten Reasons to Fire George W. Bush." His forth reason has weighed heavily on me since day one of the Bush administration:
As someone who cares about a good policymaking process as much as a good policymaking outcome -- because the former is a big factor that determines the latter -- the secrecy obsession doesn't sit well with me at all. Such an obession distracts from the suibstance of policy, and also needlessly filters outside feedback, which might be politically frustrating but is nevertheless an essential ingredient to the formulation of good policy.
Walker closes his column this way: "Making me root for a sanctimonious statist blowhard like Kerry isn't the worst thing Bush has done to the country. But it's the offense that I take most personally."
Walker gives fewer reasons than Hawkins, but the latter has a lot more chaff than wheat.
Still on the fence -- but slowly getting more depressed about my choices.
UPDATE: John Hawkins posts a response to Walker's points that's worth checking out. And Jonathan Chait's TNR essay about the Bush administration's attitude towards other political actors underscores Walker's point about secrecy.
Link via Matthew Yglesias, who thinks I'm undecided because I either want attention or a job from the winning candidate.
To be clear -- the reason I'm undecided is because I can't remember an election in my adult lifetime when I've been less enthused with my menu of candidates. There's an old maxim that voting is usually an exercise in choosing the lesser of two evils. I've felt that sentiment in some previous elections, but it was also easy to spot positive qualities that resonated strongly within me. This year I can't muster even the tiniest amount of enthusiasm for any candidate.
I'm pretty sure that attitude is not going to earn me a warm place in either candidate's heart. Besides, the Kerry team is already bursting to the gills with policy wonks, and as Mark Kleiman pointed out, the Republicans are probably pissed off at me as well.
[What about hallway rumors that you'll be the Republican nominee for the U.S. Senate to face Barrack Obama now that Coach Ditka has passed?--ed. Yeah, that's how I want to spend the next three months -- getting thumped in the polls by the keynote speaker at the Democratic National Convention and having to dodge allegations about an unhealthy obsession with Salma Hayek. Not a winning formula for tenure, I'm afraid.]
UN official speaks truth -- Palestinians outraged
Two days ago, United Nations Middle East envoy Terje Roed-Larsen briefed the UN Security Council on the Middle East Peace Process -- i.e., Israel and Palestine. Roed-Larsen placed blame on both the Israelis and the Palestinians for the lack of progress. Here's one relevant section from the press release:
Roed-Larsen then went on to blast the Israelis for "lack of compliance on the sensitive issue of settlements." Again, go check out the press release for more on this. What interests me is the Palestinian reaction to Roed-Larsen's honest assessment of the Palestinian Authority. Steve Weizman provides the Associated Press report:
Eerily enough, the BBC reports that "The militant group, al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades also said Mr Roed-Larsen was 'banned' from Palestinian territory." The Palestinian Prime Minister's reaction in a press conference echoed this rhetoric:
To Kofi Annan's credit, he issued a statement through his spokesman backing Roed-Larsen to the hilt.
The grand irony in all of this, as Agence-France Press observes, is that "Roed-Larsen has previously been something of a bete noire for the Israelis over his outspoken criticism of the occupation of the territories."
It's not like the U.N. has been unfriendly to the Palestinian cause. So what does it say that the political entity Israel is ostensibly supposed to negotiate with responds like that to an honest appraisal of their situation by an impartial outsider?
[Standard caveat when posting about the Middle East: This is not to exonerate the Israelis for their behavior on settlements.]
Wednesday, July 14, 2004
Don't rush me off the fence, part III
Brad links approvingly (yes, approvingly!!!) to a Jonathan Weisman story in the Washington Post, which opens as follows:
The campaign policy gap argument sounds pretty persuasive -- except that the lack of a campaign policy team for the Bushies shouldn't be surprising. Indeed, the Weisman article notes that the Gore campaign had the same set-up in 2000:
The party out of power is always going to have the bigger policy team. The campaign policy team for a sitting President or VP should resemble the current Bush arrangement -- ensuring coordination with the relevant economic policymaking bureaucracies.
Indeed, if you read Ray Simth's front-pager in today's Wall Street Journal on skyrocketing property tax increases, Adams seems to hold his own in the spin department:
[Er, blaming the bad economy is good spin for the Republicans?--ed. Yes, because most Americans have proven surprisingly sophisticated in recognizing that a lot of the hits the economy took a few years ago -- the dot-com crash, the terrorist attacks, the corporate scandals -- had little to do with Bush.]
Spin is one thing, substance is another -- and here, DeLong does have a suitable counterargument, linking to Stan Collender's National Journal column from late June:
Similarly, Daniel Gross' Slate article -- which speculates on who would be Kerry's Robert Rubin -- opens with this line:
Gross also has this killer quote from Richard Nixon's former Secretary of Commerce founding Concord Coalition member and classic Wall Street Republican Peter G. Peterson, from his just-released book, Running on Empty:
DeLong goes on to observe:
So maybe I should get off this fence -- no wait!! Two possible counterarguments:
1) Kerry gets hamstrung by the loony left. Even if Kerry's economic team is fiscally prudent, his governing coalition might not be. In the early nineties, Clinton had a similar choice between two sets of policy advisors, and went with the fiscal conservatives. Would Kerry have the latitude or the inclination to make the same choice? As Brad put it, "Kerry is not Clinton."
This is Jason Zengerle's concern in The New Republic (subscription required). The key graf:
2) Kerry may not listen to his advisers. Bruce Bartlett makes the following comment on Brad's blog:
Both of these concerns -- as well as my qualms with the Bush economic team -- could be addressed during the general election campaign.
Sooooo.... it's still too early to jump off the fence. Still sitting and learning, sitting and learning....
UPDATE: James Joyner thinks that the differences in teams is less significant in terms of policy outputs than DeLong:
On the other hand, Steve Chapman points out in his Chicago Tribune column that the Bush administration has acquitted itself badly on one issue it has some influence on -- pork-barrel tax cuts for corporations:
Hey, it's once-in-a-blue-moon day!
It's rare I get to say I said something prescient, so allow me the opportunity to highlight that fact.
In light of the Senate's rejection of a proposed gay marriage amendment, back in December I posted on "Why the Constitution will not ban gay marriage." The key sections:
Naturally, Andrew Sullivan has more.
A radio day
If you are a Chicago resident, and you tune your dial to WBEZ (Chicago Public Radio) at 1:00 PM Central time, you will have no choice but to hear me discuss offshore outsourcing on Worldview with Jerome McDonnell (who, I was pleased to learn, reads the blog from time to time). The other guest is David Steiger, an adjunct professor at DePaul.
The segment was taped yesteday, and supposed to run only 20 minutes, but we chatted for a good deal longer. The intelligence of at least one U.S. Senator is questioned by yours truly during the show.
Chicagoans and non-Chicagoans can listen on your computer by clicking here.
UPDATE: You can listen to the whole interview by clicking here.
The Chicago Tribune has two stories today reflecting on U.S. efforts at statebuilding in Iraq and Afghanistan. Aamer Madhani reports on the uneven progress in reconstituting Iraq's security forces by examining the town of Muqdadiyah. The highlights:
Meanwhile, the Tribune also runs an AP story by Stephen Graham documenting U.S. efforts to ensure a successful presidential election in Afghanistan. Particularly interesting was the sidebar reporting the results of an Asia Foundation survey conducted in Afghanistan back in February/March of this year. Some of the results:
The unfortunate caveat: "Pollsters didn't reach four of the nation's 34 provinces."
Tuesday, July 13, 2004
The state of the globalization literature
Peter Dougherty, the senior economics editor for Princeton University Press, tries to summarize and categorize the globalization literature in an interesting Chronicle of Higher Education essay (subscription may be required).* As this is a topic with which your trusty blogger has more than a passing interest, I checked it out. Some of the good parts:
From a purely self-interested perspective, this is the part I found most gratifying:
*[Possible conflict of interest alert: I have an advance contract for my globalization book with Princeton University Press. However, I've never met or interacted with Dougherty.]
An outsourcing correction
However, it now turns out that there was an error in the underlying story -- a speech that U.S. Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Thomas Donohue gave to the Commonwealth Club about offshore outsourcing. Here's how the Associated Press initially reported the story:
Let me stress here that this is entirely the fault of the Associated Press; neither the Kerry campaign nor Marshall can or should be blamed for relying on the AP wire.
However, I do wonder if those in the blogopsphere who linked to this story will post the correction -- because it drastically alters the perception of what Donohue said. [Why?--ed. Because the new formulation sounds far less haughty. Iinstead of Donohue addressing others, the pronoun used is first person plural, implying that he is not placing blame.]
An open "what if" question
In light of rumblings about contingency plans to postpone elections because of terrorist attacks -- and the administration's rapid dismissal of that idea -- there is an interesting political hypothetical to consider. What would be the electoral impact of a spectacular terrorist attack? Would it benefit Bush or Kerry? [Define "spectacular"--ed. An event that would force the networks to interrupt their regularly scheduled programming.]
This has come up in a number of conversations, and the answer I keep hearing is that it would benefit George W. Bush, because of a) an immediate rally-round-the-flag effect; and b) a belief that Bush places a higher priority on the War on Terror than Kerry.
I suppose this is possible, but I confess to puzzlement. Wouldn't another spectacular attack suggest that the administration has not made significant progress in the War on Terror? That would be my first thought.
However, this would hardly be the first time I've misread public reaction to an event -- or, rather, that my reaction was the minority viewpoint. So, to repeat/rephrase the question: would a spectacular terrorist attack that took place close to Election day help President Bush or Senator Kerry?
I look forward to your thoughts on the matter.
UPDATE: A second question: should a spectacular terrorist attack that took place close to Election day help President Bush or Senator Kerry?
What do baseball players think?
The Chicago Tribune and other Tribune papers conducted a survey of baseball players on a variety of baseball-related questions. The response rate was quite high -- 475 of 750 players (63%) responded. Most of the results are thoroughly unsurprising (Wrigley Field is the best ballpark; Barry Bonds is the best baseball player). However, I was pleasantly surprised by two findings:
The tolerance for a gay teammate was particularly surprising, because the common media perception is that there is massive amounts of homophobia in professional sports -- click here for an Associated Press story from last week, and here and here for other examples. This survey suggests, at a minimum, that this is not true of baseball.
[What if the ballplayers were lying to appear politically correct?--ed. Well, you automatically run into that problem with public opinion surveys about touchy social issues, and that's an important caveat. That said, the survey also showed that only a third of the respondents said that steroid abuse was a problem in baseball. If image-conscious ballplayers were really trying to give answers that please media folks, that response should have been inflated as well.]
UPDATE: While I'm posting about baseball, Red Sox fans everywhere will have a good, rueful laugh at this Seth Stevenson rant about Roger Clemens over at Slate.
Checking important facts and counterfactuals
Meanwhile, the Snate Intelligence report leads Kevin Drum to raise an important counterfactual -- given what we now know, would the Senate have voted to authorize the use of force back in October 2002? Senator Pat Roberts thinks the answer is no:
Andrew Sullivan points out the stark implications of that statement:
Bush's response to the brouhaha is here: ''We removed a declared enemy of America who had the capability of producing weapons of mass murder and could have passed that capability to terrorists bent on acquiring them."
The thing that bothers me about that response is the failure to recognize that the decision-making process was a) not good; and b) relied on faulty intel. Sullivan thinks Bush bears at least some responsibility for the latter, and I certainly think he bears a great deal of responsibility for the former.
Monday, July 12, 2004
The Timesmen really do not like their ombudsman
James Brander has a front-pager in today's Wall Street Journal (
It gets better:
The article concludes with nice-sounding words from everyone involved about how the Times is adjusting. And then there's the closing paragraph:
*I will be linking more frequently to the Journal from now on, because I finally have an online subscription. This comes courtesy of my genius brother. Thanks, JBD!
posted by Dan at 11:38 AM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (1)
This officially scares the s*** out of me
Stephen Green thinks this idea is so politically stupid that it must be a disinformation campaign to fool Al Qaeda. James Joyner thinks this kind of contingency planning is unfortunate but inevitable:
Replace "YOU" with "The Bush administration" -- since they're the one's making this call -- and Gandelman's graf has a much more sinister cast to it.
I have a pretty low tolerance for conspiracy theories. That said, my gut reaction is that this proposal is so stupid that the administration would deserve having the craziest conspiracy theories out there sticking to them if they took this idea seriously.
Actually, it's worse than that -- what does it say that three years after 9/11, the Bush administration's counterterrorism and homeland defense policies are so weak that they have to contemplate changing the national election date rather than relying in our supposedly enhanced defences?
UPDATE: Patrick Belton has some thoughts that are more sophisticated than my gut instinct but make pretty much the same point.
ANOTHER UPDATE: Hmmm.... re-reading the Isikoff story, I'll walk back my indignation just a bit. My first impression -- from Isikoff's lead graf -- was that Ridge and DHS wanted to ability to postpone Election Day because they anticipated an attack. But that's not the case -- they want the authority to postpone after an attack has taken place that's close to or on Election Day.
I still think this is a very, very, very bad idea, but it's a slightly less conspiracy-prone idea than at first blush.
(Some) bloggers get (a little bit) rich
Maureen Ryan reports in the Chicago Tribune that bloggers are starting to rake in the bucks:
I will leave that question for my readers to discuss. However, Ryan reviews the various demographic surveys suggesting that the blog demographic is a lucrative and well-connected one:
That said, one should bear in mind that Ryan is really talking about the peak bloggers at this point. If John Hawkins is raking in $1,000 a month, that's great, but that's not a huge sum of money. [What about you?--ed. I bring in far less than Hawkins -- but I won't deny that it's gratifying to actually earn money from this little venture.] At this point, maybe 5-10 bloggers can earn a decent living from blogging. It's nice that there's a new job category for the BLS and IRS to consider, but we're not talking about a huge economic impact here.
Sunday, July 11, 2004
The new pamphleteers
Alan Wolfe has a long essay in the New York Times Book Review about the rise of the überpartisan political book. Here's how it opens:
One does wonder which blogs Wolfe reads -- while I don't deny that some of them fit his description of "today's give-no-quarter attacks," that's hardly a fair chatacterization of the blogosphere as a whole.
Furthermore, while Wolfe focuses on books, one could make the case that documentary filmmakers actually fit the phamphlet niche even better than authors or bloggers. Hey, in fact, Robert Boynton makes this very point in a New York Times Magazine story on an upcoming documentary about Fox News. One highlight:
OK, so maybe blogs are a form of pamphleteering -- but they're not the only form, and they have other uses.
[On a side note, Michelle Kung makes a similar point about documentaries in an Entertainment Weekly article on the rise of documentarians (subscription required). The nut graf:
In a sidebar to the story, it turns out that six of the top ten grossing documentaries have come out in the last two years.]
To get back to Wolfe's essay, his conclusion deals with decline and fall of the Establishment consensus:
Two quick, slapdash thoughts on this:
I'm still trying to get a grip on this latter point -- but readers should feel free to tell me whether I'm actually on to something -- or if this is just an exercise in shrill hackery.
UPDATE: One other graf struck me while I was reading Wolfe's essay:
Saturday, July 10, 2004
Joseph Wilson's eroding credibility
I've been pretty hard in this space on l'affaire Plame. So it seems only fair to point out that Joseph Wilson's credibility has taken a serious hit with the release of the Senate intelligence committee report. According to the Washington Post's Susan Schmidt:
Josh Marshall argues that Schmidt is just parroting Republican staffers -- as opposed to Josh, who would never just parrot Democratic staffers.
Marshall approvingly links to a Knight-Ridder report by James Kuhnhenn entitled "Ex-ambassador didn't 'debunk' Iraq-Niger deal." That's not exactly a friendly headline for Wilson. Kuhnhenn does not go as far as Schmidt in debunking Wilson -- but then again, Marshall fails to acknowledge that Wilson apparently lied to the Washington Post last June.
Marshall makes a valid point when he says:
Nevertheless, there's a reason this has political traction. The apparent disconnect between what Wilson said in his report versus what he said in June 2003 -- combined with Plame's role in hiring Wilson in the first place, contrary to previous reports -- make it appear that both of them were lying in order to try to embrrass the administration.
This does not excuse whoever leaked Plame's identity to Novak. It does, however, provide an more understandable motivation than simple intimidation.
Trade and the productivity puzzle
However, as a public service of danieldrezner.com, I thought it worth linking to important and accessible discussions about the current productivity boom. Federal Reserve Vice-President Roger W. Ferguson gave a speech two days ago on the topic that's worth reading.
Shorter Ferguson -- the incredibly elevated productivity boom of the last three years is a temporary artifact of the recent economic downturn, and is not likely to last. On the other hand, the trend increase in productivity that's occurred since the early nineties is likely to persist for some time.
Of course, Ferguson has caveats to his prognostication. Here's one of them:
Read the whole speech.
Friday, July 9, 2004
Why Capturing the Friedmans freaked me out
(WARNING: SPOILER ALERT AHEAD)
The movie is about the bizarre case of Arnold Friedman, an award-winning teacher who lived with his wife and three children in Great Neck, NY. He tutored children in piano and computers on the side. In the late eighties, Friedman was arrested for solicitation of child pornography. Nassau County police started to investigate, and eventually charged Friedman and his 19-year old sone Jesse with sodomy and sexual abuse of minors. Eerily, during this entire episode, the family videoaped a lot of their deliberations about what to do. The documentary consists mostly of those videotapes plus contemporary interviews of the principals involved in the case.
After watching the movie, you come away convinced of two things:
For more on why I think this, read more from Debbie Nathan's Village Voice story (she appeared in Capturing the Friedmans as a talking head) and Harvey A. Silverglate and Carl Takei's discussion of the extras in the DVD version of the film.
What's so disturbing about the film is that watching it, I found myself desperately wanting Friedman to be guilty. However, it becomes clear that the dearth of physical evidence, combined with the questionable techniques employed in extracting information from alleged victims, raises a reasonable doubt about the Friedmans' guilt. Maybe something untoward happened, maybe not -- one has to think there's a high likelihood that Friedman would have molested a child in the future. All that said, the prosecution's version of events seems to stretch credulity. However, just because I want something to be true doesn't mean it is true.
Another reason I can't get the movie out of my head is the release of the Senate report on pre-war intelligence about Iraq. Here's a summary from the Financial Times.
The report blasts the intelligence community because it "ignored evidence that did not fit their preconceived notion that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction." However, the report finds that "no evidence that intelligence analysts were subjected to overt political pressure to tailor their findings," according to the New York Times.
Conservatives are outraged that the intel community suffered from such groupthink. Liberals like Josh Marshall are outraged because their groupthink that the Bush team browbeat the intelligence analysts found no support in the report.
In other words, a lot of people are disturbed because their preconceived notions of the turth did not find any empirical support.
Those outraged on both sides of the aisle should rent Capturing the Friedmans, and then take a good hard look at the evidence they've got to back up their assumptions.
UPDATE: the following paragraphs jumped out in Mike Dorning's story on the Senae report in the Chicago Tribune:
An idle question: if the CIA thought sending an intelligence agent to Iraq without official cover was too risky, is there anywhere the CIA would be willing to take this risk? What is the cost of this risk-aversion?
ANOTHER UPDATE: Matt Yglesias thinks I should know better:
I certainly wasn't trying to give the impression that Matt got, and I agree on the extent of the reportage here. However, the point of connecting this post to Capturing the Friedmans was that -- as in that movie -- a massive amount of circumstantial evidence can still lead to an incorrect conclusion. It was logical to assume that, since Saddam Hussein had attempted multiple times to acquire WMD, he'd be doing so post-9/11. The exile reports merely buttressed the preconception. Among those who believe the Bush administration to be a bullying, illiberal, overly power-maximizing bunch, I can easily see this meme being the logical conclusion as well. That doesn't guarantee that it' true, however.
Don't rush me off the fence, part II
Virginia Postrel argues that fence-straddlers like me should resist the decision to despise George W. Bush because all the cool academics do it (Jacob Levy effectively defends himself against charges of trendiness).
More substantively, she argues that a Kerry administration would expand the size of government even more than a second Bush term:
Tyler Cowen supplies a counterargument. Some of it is compelling, but this part baffles me:
Huh? This is an administration that controlled all three branches of government for a majority of the first term -- and they felt confident enough in their political position to piss off Jim Jeffords less than three months into office. Compared to most post-war governments, the Bush administration had fewer constraints on its governing coalition.
Meanwhile Robert Tagorda argues that Kerry's selection of Edwards hints at a more protectionist Kerry administration:
The more I think about my choice, the more this election boils down to four questions:
UPDATE: Ezra Klein gives his answers to my Four Questions.
On my first question, this Kerry answer on Larry King Live is not comforting:
Later on, Kerry says he'll get briefed "tomorrow or the next day." On the other hand, this Washington Post story on Edwards' foreign policy background makes me believe that he does get the significance of the war on terrorism (link via Jack O'Toole).
[So your qualms about the administration's competence in foreign policy have been resolved?--ed. Hardly. I remain on the fence.]
Thursday, July 8, 2004
Rational discourse 1, conspiracy-mongering 0
What happens when a sober policy analyst who lives on the planet Earth tries to debate a wild-eyed conspiracy theorist?
Slate has the answer. For the past week, Rachel Bronson (a senior fellow and director of Middle East Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations) and Craig Unger (author of House of Bush, House of Saud: The Secret Relationship Between the World's Two Most Powerful Dynasties and featured player in Fahrenheit 9/11) have been debating the U.S.-Saudi relationship in a Slate Dialogue. The specific question: "How Does the Saudi Relationship With the Bush Family Affect U.S. Foreign Policy?"
Although I doubt this was her intent, Bronson pretty much wipes the floor with Unger. While critical of the Bush administration, her comments, when paired next to Unger, makes the latter's theory and evidence collapse like a house of cards. It also clarifies the important distinction between conducting a serious critique of the administration's Middle East policy (particularly pre-9/11) and throwing as much mud as possible at the administration and hoping some of it will stick.
[Full disclosure: I know Rachel and thought she was whip smart long before reading her clinical dissection of Unger's half-baked innuendo. I referenced her previous work in this post and in this TCS essay.]
UPDATE: Greg Djerejian concurs in my assessment.
The latest cosmic mystery
So, basically, Miss Kidman -- who has some noteworthy professional accomplishments on her vita and is by many accounts a charming conversationalist -- is having difficulties finding a kid-friendly boyfriend of a suitable age.
Let's take another gander at Nicole:
Possible explanations for this eligible bachelor gap:
Don't rush me off the fence!!
As I've said before, my vote is still up for grabs this year. However, it's getting harder to maintain my Hamlet-like indecision.* A lot of people I respect make compelling arguments against pulling the elephant lever this year. Mickey Kaus -- who will never fall under the category of "Friends of Kerry" -- says he's not only voting for the Democrat -- he gave him money. Why?
Hell, even Peggy Noonan echoes point (a) of Mickey's logic in her last Wall Street Journal column:
I believe in the last component -- one reason why I'm still undecided -- but the first two make me think, "ewwwww."
Readers are welcomed to try and sway my vote in either direction.
UPDATE: Virginia Postrel's post does some decent swaying.
*Actually, it's not that hard -- the primary reason I'm still undecided is that the current domestic and international situations are both in extreme flux at the moment. There's no point in making a choice now if the state of the world is completely different three months -- in a way that makes one of the two principal candidates suddenly look really good or really bad. [Why not vote for a minor party candidate?--ed. Jacob Levy explains]
Brad DeLong has an amusing post about a bagel store in Berkeley that solves the free disposal problem in a way that I like. Apparently, feeding them to goats is not the solution.
Meanwhile, the only semi-decent bagel shop in Hyde Park shut down a few months ago. To procure properly-made bagels, one has to schlep up to the north side of the city.
And don't get me started on the transaction costs involved in finding decent whitefish salad.
It's a protectionist, protectionist, protectionist protectionist world
One could argue that, since John Edwards leaned more protectionist than John Kerry during the primaries, that Kerry's selection for veep shows how illiberal a Kerry administration would be towards trade. It's a thought that certainly gives me qualms.
Until I contemplate the Bush administration. Back in September 2003, I wrote:
Read the whole thing.
UPDATE: On the other hand, here's a story where mercantilists and free-traders can be pleased at the outcome.
Wednesday, July 7, 2004
A primer on the elite academic job market
Jason Zengerle, in a TNR effort to knock down Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski a peg or two, criticizes new Duke President Richard Brodhead for kowtowing to Coach K's market value:
I'll grant Zengerle that an indoor rally is highly unlikely for a star history professor. However, the other two measures -- personal schmoozing by the president and matching an Ivy League offer -- would actually be quite likely from a private university with deep pockets --i.e., Duke.
In fact -- even for social sciences like history -- the academic job market strongly resembles baseball after free agency. Star academics flit from institution to institution, or threaten to do so unless their demands are sated. For example, last year the New York Times Magazine ran a story about New York University's latest recruitment drive. One tidbit from the story:
Read the whole thing.
Josh Marshall -- in a follow-up to his Atlantic Monthly article on John Kerry's realist foreign policy principles -- has a provocative post up about the extent of the Bush administration's commitment to democratization. The key parts:
Josh makes an interesting argument, but I gotta call him on the bolded section, because in fact the Bush administration did take action in Egypt that fits Marshall's criteria.
In August 2002, after the arrest of democracy activist Saad Eddin Ibrahim, the U.S. applied intense diplomatic and economic pressure at precisely the same time Iraq was moving to the very front burner. In particular, President Bush personally and publically criticized the Egyptian government, and the administration also declared a moratorium on new US assistance to Egypt as long as Ibrahim remained in prison.
Ibrahim was released in March 2003. Whether U.S. pressure accelerated or delayed Ibrahim's release is the subject of some debate -- but democratization activists of all stripes do agree that the U.S. risked a fair amount of diplomatic capital on the issue. The New York Times, in an March 19th, 2003 editorial, thought the pressure was a good thing:
Given the timing of this pressure -- the start of the global debate on Iraq -- I'd say this counts as a situation when "short-term geopolitical sacrifices to advance our long term interest in democratization" were made -- in one of the countries Marshall highlights.
This example doesn't completely vitiate Marshall's point -- take U.S. policy towards Uzbekistan, for example -- but it does suggest that Marshall's exaggerating his case a bit.
Blog readers now may return to their "inattentive and incurious" mode.
UPDATE: While I'm discussing Egypt, David Remnick's "Letter from Cairo" in this week's New Yorker is a very sobering read.
YES, A THIRD UPDATE: Beyond individual countries, it's also worth mentioning the G8 Greater Middle East Initiative, a follow-up to earlier Bush proposals from last year. It's obviously way too soon to debate the effectiveness of the proposal, but Al Jazeera certainly believed it was going to cover states of strategic interest to the U.S.:
AND NOW A FOURTH UPDATE: Earlier in this post, I gave Josh Uzbekistan as an example that supported his line of argumentation. Maybe I was too hasty -- Here's Central Asian expert Martha Brill Olcott's testimony to the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe on Uzbekistan's human rights situation (link via the Argus):
Minä haluan toisen kupin kahvia!
Pop quiz -- which country has the highest rate of coffee consumption in the world?
The language used in the post title is your clue.
Answer below the fold....
This fact comes from Janet Helm in today's Chicago Tribune, who writes about the health benefits that come from coffee consumption. The highlights:
The partisan divide spreads to the high seas
Surfing the web, I see that both the National Review and The Nation are planning post-election cruises for kindred spirits (click here for the list of National Review speakers, and here for the list of The Nation speakers). Intriguingly, both of the cruises are with Holland America.
Far be it for me to mock either trip -- I'll leave that to the commenters!
Still, it's somehow disheartening to see that what I think of as more centrist publications -- like, say The New Republic, Slate, the Atlantic Monthly, or The Weekly Standard -- don't appear to be sponsoring any post-election cruises on their web sites.
[You mean, it's too bad that neither magazine has asked you to participate in a cruise?--ed. The thought had never crossed my mind -- until now! Holland America needs to sponsor a blogger cruise!! I can see it now -- fun, sun, and a guaranteed wireless connection for participating bloggers. Readers are hereby invited to suggest which bloggers they would want on their cruise and why.]
UPDATE: Digging just a shade deeper, I'm disappointed to see that while Reason magazine has a weekend getaway planned for early 2005 (with Volokh contributor Randy Barnett participating, no less), they have no cruise. They're missing an opportunity here. Just think:
Tuesday, July 6, 2004
Is civility an endangered species in the blogosphere?
There's been a lot of chatter as of late about the civility of bloggers and the people who comment on them. A few weeks ago, Matthew Yglesias argued that bloggers had an incentive to behave badly:
More recently, concerns have been raised about the comments on popular blogs as well. Billmon recently shut down comments at Whiskey Bar; The Command Post has done the same. Commenting on this -- as well as his own difficulties with impolite posters -- Kevin Drum observes:
Kevin is not the only one to observe this degenerative phenomenon. James Joyner points out the following:
A few weeks ago, Glenn Reynolds made a similar point:
Eerily enough, now Roger is having difficulties with commenters.
With such an impressive consensus, it is very tempting to just shrug one's shoulders and accept that there is a rhetorical version of Gresham's Law in the blogosphere. It is undoubtedly true that in the short run, provocative, vitriolic, and/or sloppy writing -- by either bloggers or commenters -- can attract attention, whereas closely reasoned analysis sometimes falls by the wayside. The fact that so many top-notch bloggers have made similar observation about the correlation between hit counts and trolls is indeed disturbing.
However, I remain stubbornly optimistic on this front for five reasons:*
1) In the long run, reputation matters. Sure, being a bombthrower can attract attention -- but it's hard to do successfully over a prolonged period of time. Inevitably this kind of ranting leads to major as well as minor missteps. Once a commentator commits a major rhetorical gaffe or colossal misstatement of fact, it becomes impossible to take them seriously. Which is why it's so easy to discount the statements of Ann Coulter, Noam Chomsky, Pat Robertson, or Michael Moore.
2) Technology can help as well as hinder. I've raved about MT-Blacklist before for blocking spam, but an unanticipated bonus has been the ease with which I can delete any comment. Blacklist rebuilds my site much more quickly than MT -- so it's been far easier to prune away comments now than before.
3) Commenters usually follow the blogger's lead. Whenever I use profanity in my posts, the language in the comments inevitably becomes coarser. This works in reverse, however -- the more civil my posts, the better the tone of the comments. In this respect, the presence of comments has affected me in one way -- I'm much more polite on the blog now than I used to be.
4) Compared to academia, this is a tea party. Another blogger once asked me whether I felt "surprised at the angry tone of the comments your readers leave... It can be odd to be shouted down on your own website."
Look, I'm an academic, and this stuff is nothing. I've attended seminars where the paper presenter ran out of the room because s/he was crying. I've presented papers that have been likened to poor undergratuate theses. I've had papers rejected by top journals because they were "narrow and without much theoretical interest." I've heard cruelties uttered that will be burned in people's psyches until the day they die. In other words, I'm used to a pretty high standard of criticism. Compared to that, a line like "Hey, Drezner, let's outsource your job, you f***ing a@#hole!" -- or letters like these -- just come off as histrionic nonsense.
Eszter Hargittai has more on this.
As for comments, sure, the trolls can be annoying. However, they usually don't crowd out the good. For example, check out the comments to this post about rethinking the National Guard and Reserves. This is an issue on which I know only the broad contours -- and thanks to the informed comments (click here, here, here, and here for just a few examples) I know a lot more about the subject than I used to. For me, that benefit outweighs the occasional irritations that come from blogging.
*Two caveats. First, I don't have the traffic that Kevin, Glenn, Andrew, James or Michelle have. The scale factor is undeniable. Second, from now until November, extreme partisanship is going to be contributing factor to the level of discourse across the blogosphere.
UPDATE: CalGal poses a fair question in the comments:
Actually, I'm blessing the software because without it, deleting a comment takes 10 minutes of rebuilding; without it, it takes 10 seconds. In a world with spam, that's not a minor convenience, it's a major one.
This does not mean that I delete a lot of comments, however -- you can read my criteria here. At this point, I'd say I delete maybe one comment a week that's not either spam or an accidental double post. I don't think that translates into a "letter to the editor" section.
Experts be warned!!
As an aspiring media whore, I feel compelled to warn fellow aspiring media whores that Comedy Central has a new show called Crossballs, a spoof of Crossfire/Hardball-style shows. The reason I bring this up is that the patsies on this show are -- expert commentators. Steve Johnson explains in the Chicago Tribune:
Clueless media whores -- you've been warned!! [Do clueless media whores read danieldrezner.com?--ed. Good point. That's our new motto -- "danieldrezner.com -- the blog for clued-in media whores!"]
Monday, July 5, 2004
Open veep selection thread
Matt Drudge says that everyone will know the identity of Kerry's VP pick tomorrow:
UPDATE: Kerry picks Edwards -- get your talking points here!!:
FOR EXPERT COMMENTATORS ONLY:
LAST UPDATE: Robert G. Kaiser led an interesting online disacussion on washingtonpost.com on the Edwards pick that's worth checking out. This point was particularly interesting:
The philosophy of Spider-Man 2
Henry Farrell posts a mild dissent, pointing out that this move is only part of a lonfer narrative arc:
Indeed -- the women who went to see the movie with us -- i.e., our wives -- both said that they liked MJ's rejection of passivity at the end of the film, forcing Peter to deal with her as an equal.
While I suspect that Matt is cool with female empowerment, he dislikes the notion that doing good rarely translates into doing well. As I just posted, however, I'm more optimistic than Matt on this score. Furthermore, as the movie suggests, deriving some sense of benefit from being Spiderman is essential to Peter Parker being able to continue to be Spider-Man.
This does not mean that this tension between virtue and earthly reward is resolved, or that it ever will be permanently resolved. But the tension can be temporarily reconciled, which is what makes the ending of Spider-Man 2 satisfying and incomplete at the same time -- which is what the middle films in a multi-picture arc should accomplish.
Life lessons from Robert Rubin
Over the past few weeks I've been slowly reading Robert Rubin and Jacob Weisberg's In an Uncertain World: Tough Choices from Wall Street to Washington. The style of Rubin's memoirs perfectly match his deliberative demeanor. I'm not finished yet, but so far there are two things worth singling out as tips for those who aspire to pominent positions in their lives:
Why talking points are a good idea
Brad DeLong and Matthew Yglesias both endorse and demonstrate the practice of developing their own talking points when they do television interviews. In a follow-up post, DeLong observes that the exercise is useful -- but does not necessarily translate into a better media appearance:
I still hink Brad and Matt are onto something -- and it doesn't just apply to television. Read this outsourcing story (here's a link to part two) by Kamil Z. Skawinski in California Computer News, in which I'm quoted liberally -- too liberally. Skawinski did not misquote me, so it's not the media's fault. Reading the story, I wish I'd provided more focused answers and better message discipline -- I rambled too much and therefore did not express my views effectively. A set of talking points would have helped here -- and since this was a phone interview, I wouldn't have needed to memorize them.
Live and learn.
Saturday, July 3, 2004
Rethinking the Guard and Reserves
Thom Shanker's story in the Sunday New York Times explores how post-9/11 commitments will require a rethink of the National Guard and National Reserves in defese planning:
Shanker does a good job of delineating the budgetary and training disparities:
Read the whole thing -- and be sure to check out Phil Carter's thoughts on the matter once he reads it.
UPDATE: Here's Phil's partial response. Be sure to read the whole thing, but I thought this was a compelling point:
Friday, July 2, 2004
The most profitable blog in history
Until recently, Jessica Cutler was an undeniably attractive twentysomething staffer for Sen. Mike DeWine (R-Ohio). For most of the month of May, Cutler blogged anonymously as Washingtonienne. The posts mostly recounted various alleged trysts with various men -- some of them involved money changing hands -- some of whom were allegedly high-ranking administration officials.
In late May, DeWine fired Cutler from her $25,000 position for "unacceptable use of Senate computers," and Cutler stopped blogging. The Washington Post's Richard Leiby and (the undeniably attractive) Wonkette covered this in detail at the time.
Yesterday, the New York Times reported the following:
So, basically, Cutler got a $300,000 return on approximately two weeks worth of blogging.
Readers are invited to suggest ways for other bloggers to make that kind of scratch involving blogging that do not involve a) cheating on spouses; or b) committing a felony.
Voice of America reports on recent research on a generic three-in-one drug to fight AIDS:
Meanwhile, the same issue of Lancet has an epidemiological study of HIV trends in sub-Saharan Africa that also offers a modest dollop of good news:
A looming Republican civil war?
As many of my ideological soulmates make grudging moves towards joining the Kerry camp, and as GOP lawmakers fail to pass a (nonbinding) budget resolution, Andrew Sullivan predicts the future of the Republican Party:
I partly agree with Andrew but partly disagree. He's wrong about what happens if Bush wins. Nothing eases internal party divisions like winning, and I find it hard to believe that the fissures that Andrew highlights would burst open if Bush were to win re-election. Indeed, it's telling that the Bush administration has decided to award prime time slots at the GOP convention to a lot of Republicans that have had strained relations with the White House. It's also telling that they've accepted.
I agree with Andrew about what happens if Bush loses -- but if anything, I think the internecine conflict will be bloodier than he projects. The reason is that the disgruntled Republicans are a motley lot, and might be alienated from each other just as much as they feel alienated from the White House. On the foreign policy front, the realists are disenchanted with the Bush team for listening to the neocons, the neocons are upset that the realists seem to be in charge, and the remaining "internationalists" are upset with both of the other groups. On fiscal matters, libertarians are upset at the growth of the federal government while moderates are upset at the growth of the budget deficit. This doesn't even touch on social issues.
If Bush loses, there's going to be a fight -- but the battle lines are going to be very, very messy.
Josh Marshall outsources his research
I'd like to congratulate Joshua Micah Marshall for improving his productivity by recycling a John Kerry press release in his snarky post on offshore outsourcing. Sure, some bloggers might have dug a bit deeper to get more information -- like the fact that John Kerry's policy proposals on outsourcing would have zero effect on the job losses Marshall broods about. And sure, by completely outsourcing his research to Kerry's campaign, Marshall may have missed just a few of the nuances involved in the debate on offshore outsourcing -- but Marshall did post first on this. Congratulations, Josh!!
[Hey, didn't you just do this as well?--ed. Yeah, but I said it was a press release when I did it.]
However, the story goes on to quote some interesting research findings:
Click here for a case study that buttresses Slaughter's aggregate data. And here's the relevant table:
Sudan plays hide-and-seek with the UN
Sudarsan Raghavan reports for Knight-Ridder on the visit to Sudan by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan to get a grip on the humanitarian disaster there. Things did not go smoothly:
Thursday, July 1, 2004
Your web site for the day
The American Museum of the Moving Image has launched an online exhibition today entitled "The Living Room Candidate: Presidential Campaign Commercials 1952-2004." This is from their press release:
It's a must for politics and media junkies. Go check it out.
UPDATE: Also worth checking out is Nick Anderson's piece in the Los Angeles Times about how Kerry and Bush are differentiating and deploying web-based video ads from TV-based video ads.
Why Michael Moore is doomed
I haven't posted much on Fahrenheit 9/11 -- unless you count my Tech Central Station column that questions one of Moore's underlying theses involving the Bush administration and Saudi Arabia. Richard Just does an brilliant job of deconstructing the film itself [Full disclosure -- Just is my editor at TNR Online], so there's no point going there.
More interesting has been the media response to Moore and his own counter-response. David Adesnik appears to be correct in pointing out that:
And bumpy it has been. David Brooks had a column that highlighted some of the zestier comments Moore has made about the U.S. in overseas venues. Michael Isikoff and Mark Hosenball rip to shreds one of Moore's flimsier allegations in Newsweek (link via Glenn Reynolds).
That last story mentions a fact that strongly suggests Michael Moore's public support is about to take a major hit:
Lehane? Lehane??!! Yeah, let's review his impressive achievements at spin:
Michael Moore hired this guy to protect his reputation? His reputation is toast.
Also, I see that Michael Moore is planning to start a blog. No posts yet, however.
ANOTHER UPDATE: Some free advice to Lehane -- go read Ted Barlow's disturbing post about Focus on the Family's efforts to harrass Moore and run with that for a while. Of course, that raises some vexing questions about Moore's tactics as well.
Jacob Levy asks the right questions
Before Operation Iraqi Freedom, I posted about the presence of Al Qaeda fighters in the parts of Iraq outside Saddam Hussein's control, and suggested that, hey, maybe the U.S. should take some action there (as well as challenge Europeans to honor their commitments to combat terrorism).
At the time, my response was the same as Jacob Levy's: "At first I assumed that it was so extreme and appalling a claim that there was almost certainly a credible counter-story or at least contrary interpretation to be offered. But I never saw it."
The disturbing allegation, which remains unanswered, is whether the administration chose not to take out these camps -- and possibly Zarqawi -- in order to prosecute a war of choice. Like Ramesh Ponnuru, I find this deeply troubling.
It would be nice to see this story get the journalistic attention that, say, the impending nuptuals of Britney Spears... or the sudden weight loss of Anna Nicole Smith... or [You're drifting off point! Focus!--ed] anyway, you get my drift.
Where's AAA when you need them?
Michael Kilian reports in the Chicago Tribune that there are a few bugs in our Afghanistan maps:
To be fair, Jim Garamone reports for American Forces Press Service that the current mapping problems has not had much of an effect: