Friday, April 29, 2005

Rock, paper... Christie's

When it comes to changing diapers, Erika and I try to alternate when we are both home. Occasionally, however, we lose track of whose turn it is, in which case we resort to the time-honored tradition of rock, paper, scissors.

That was flashing through my head when I read this Caroline Vogel article in the New York Times (thanks to J.H. for the link):

It may have been the most expensive game of rock, paper, scissors ever played.

Takashi Hashiyama, president of Maspro Denkoh Corporation, an electronics company based outside of Nagoya, Japan, could not decide whether Christie's or Sotheby's should sell the company's art collection, which is worth more than $20 million, at next week's auctions in New York.

He did not split the collection - which includes an important Cézanne landscape, an early Picasso street scene and a rare van Gogh view from the artist's Paris apartment - between the two houses, as sometimes happens. Nor did he decide to abandon the auction process and sell the paintings through a private dealer.

Instead, he resorted to an ancient method of decision-making that has been time-tested on playgrounds around the world: rock breaks scissors, scissors cuts paper, paper smothers rock....

After each house had entered its decision, a Maspro manager looked at the choices. Christie's was the winner: scissors beat paper.

After re-reading the article, however, what I found particularly interesting about this story is the contrast between these two paragraphs. There's this one:

In Japan, resorting to such games of chance is not unusual. "I sometimes use such methods when I cannot make a decision," Mr. Hashiyama said in a telephone interview. "As both companies were equally good and I just could not choose one, I asked them to please decide between themselves and suggested to use such methods as rock, paper, scissors."

This actually makes sense -- when the decision-making costs exceed the payoff differential between the two choices, this is a rational decision.

However, this leads to an interesting question -- is rock, paper, scissors a game of chance? While Hashiyama faced a minimal difference in payoffs between his choices, both Sotheby's and Christie's saw a whopping difference between getting nothing or getting some sizeable commissions from Hashiyama's business. Given this gap in payoffs between winning and losing, Christie's thought it was worth doing some strategic research:

Kanae Ishibashi, the president of Christie's in Japan, declined to discuss her preparations for the meeting. But her colleagues in New York said she spent the weekend researching the psychology of the game online and talking to friends, including Nicholas Maclean, the international director of Christie's Impressionist and modern art department.

Mr. Maclean's 11-year-old twins, Flora and Alice, turned out to be the experts Ms. Ishibashi was looking for. They play the game at school, Alice said, "practically every day."

"Everybody knows you always start with scissors," she added. "Rock is way too obvious, and scissors beats paper." Flora piped in. "Since they were beginners, scissors was definitely the safest," she said, adding that if the other side were also to choose scissors and another round was required, the correct play would be to stick to scissors - because, as Alice explained, "Everybody expects you to choose rock."

Sotheby's thought of the game as a strict game of chance, and did no research.

Given that there are apparently rock paper scissors championships and rock-paper-scissors strategy guides (and please, someone tell me if these are hoax sites), who was right -- Christie's or Sotheby's?

[Christie's won, so isn't the answer obvious?--ed. In a one-shot game, it's not clear that Christie's won because of research; they might have won because of chance. A normal-form version of this game reveals that the only equilibrium strategy is to randomize equally among the three options. However, this might be a game where the designations of "rock, paper, scissors" alters how human beings feel about the choices, which subtly alters their expectations of what other players will do, which then alters their own strategies. In other words, a formal model of rock, paper, scissors might not carry the crucial piece of information to optimize on strategy. Now you're making my head hurt--ed. Aha! This is evidence to support the original claim; even if there might be a strategic element to this game, that element is so small that it's outweighed by the computational costs of figuring out the optimal strategy against a specified opponent!!]

"Good ol' rock. Nothing beats that. D'Oh!!" Bart Simpson.

posted by Dan at 11:46 AM | Comments (51) | Trackbacks (8)

Some changes are coming on Internet ads

The Economist has an interesting story on how the evolution of Internet advertising. Here's how it opens:

This year the combined advertising revenues of Google and Yahoo! will rival the combined prime-time ad revenues of America’s three big television networks, ABC, CBS and NBC, predicts Advertising Age. It will, says the trade magazine, represent a “watershed moment” in the evolution of the internet as an advertising medium. A 30-second prime-time TV ad was once considered the most effective—and the most expensive—form of advertising. But that was before the internet got going. And this week online advertising made another leap forward.

This latest innovation comes from Google, which has begun testing a new auction-based service for display advertising. Both Google and Yahoo! make most of their money from advertising. Auctioning keyword search-terms, which deliver sponsored links to advertisers’ websites, has proved to be particularly lucrative. And advertisers like paid-search because, unlike TV, they only pay for results: they are charged when someone clicks on one of their links.

Read the whole thing to see how Google is revamping its AdSense feature.

This segues nicely into a Mickey Kaus report on a potential change in how ads will be gathered on the blogosphere:

Roger L. Simon and Marc Danziger announced the formation of a new network of bloggers, including some big ones (e.g. Instapundit). They want Lexus ads! And they claim to have the unique eyeballs and high-end demographics necessary to get them. ... This is a potentially big deal....

L.A. Voice provides more details:

Simon and Danziger have formed "Pajamas Media," an effort to lay some serious pipe to help the blogging community sell ads en masse to big clients like GM and Amex and ultimately, help the partnership earn enough money to fund a global network of paid newsbloggers - a sort of new-age Associated Press.

Danziger (a new-media architect from way back) is working on step one - the development of mechanisms for distributing big-ticket ads to hundreds of participating blogs so that advertisers can reach the blogs' cumulative millions of daily unique users. Meanwhile, Simon dreams of tying together bloggers in every corner of the globe whose local savvy and grasp of the language and politics of their regions will basically beat the holy hell out of any foreign correspondents.

Both say they want to beat the [L.A.] Times.

Danziger's plan is a good one, provided he can get a solid sales force and reliable tech: it was only a matter of time before someone began to actually build what the blogosphere's been projecting and dreaming of for several years now - a fat pipe for ad money. The ad market is poised to tap into the smart, passionate and micro-targetable audiences of blogs. If Pajamas Media builds the engine correctly (I talked with Danziger for a bit and it certainly sounds like it will) then there's some good cash to be made.

Simon's plan is a lot more amorphous - a worldwide network of pundit/reporters whose local smarts and compelling voices beat the news organizations in the ground war and everyone in the battle for mindshare - but it needs a hell of a lot more development. There's a vast gap between responsible reporting and passionate blogging, particularly when the blogosphere, by and large, does most of its reporting by standing on the work already done by the world's, um, reporters.

As someone with more than a passing interest in this proposal, I'm curious to hear from readers whether they think either or both aspects of the Pajamas Media proposal will fly.

FULL DISLOSURE: I've been contacted about participating in the proposed syndicate.

UPDATE: Roger L. Simon has a post providing some more explanation -- and an open invitation for other bloggers to join in.

Meanwhile, Marc Danziger provides a lot more explanation in this post -- including his take on the future of newspapers and blogs:

I think that newspapers - as a model for the kind of legacy information middleman that makes up the media industry - are badly wounded, but I doubt that they will die.

But they will go from the 93% of the market for written news - and more important for a certain class of advertising - that they once owned to, say 50 - 60%. And more, they will lose the ability to set prices for advertising in the market, which will make the business model for the newspaper much, much tougher....

Blogs will become another media channel. It will happen in part as top bloggers become media figures themselves (and vice versa); as media companies create or sponsor blogs; as blogs intertwine with 'tentpole' media properties that are somehow related to them ( and food blogs; and sex blogs; and so on).

But the heart of the blogosphere will be the emergent, fast-changing, unstructured (formally, anyway) world of blogs as we know them.

And the questions will be how to build useful interfaces between that world and the highly structured world of advertisers, media consumers, and blog novices while respecting the dynamic nature of the blogs themselves.

Both links via Pieter Dorsman. And go click on Tim Oren's thoughts as well.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Looks like Joshua Micah Marshall is also adding some bells and (foreign policy) whistles to Talking Points Memo.

posted by Dan at 10:25 AM | Comments (9) | Trackbacks (2)

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Rethinking conservatism

Andrew Sullivan has a long essay in The New Republic that tries to explain modern-day conservatism's policy schizophrenia over the past four years. Some highlights:

Conservatism isn't over. But it has rarely been as confused. Today's conservatives support limited government. But they believe the federal government can intervene in a state court's decisions in a single family's struggle over life and death. They believe in restraining government spending. But they have increased such spending by a mind-boggling 33 percent in a mere four years. They believe in self-reliance. But they have just passed the most expensive new entitlement since the heyday of Great Society liberalism: the Medicare prescription-drug benefit. They believe that foreign policy is about the pursuit of national interest and that the military should be used only to fight and win wars. Yet they have embarked on an extraordinarily ambitious program of military-led nation-building in the Middle East. They believe in states' rights, but they want to amend the Constitution to forbid any state from allowing civil marriage or equivalent civil unions for gay couples. They believe in free trade. But they have imposed tariffs on a number of industries, most famously steel. They believe in balanced budgets. But they have abandoned fiscal discipline and added a cool trillion dollars to the national debt in one presidential term....

But conservatism's very incoherence may be one reason for its endurance. In its long road to victory, the Republican Party has regularly preferred the promise of power to the satisfaction of schism. It has long been pro-government and anti-government. It has contained Rockefeller and Goldwater, Nixon and Reagan, Bush I and Bush II. As a governing philosophy, it has been able to tack for decades from statism to laissez-faire, from big government to individual freedom, with only occasional discomfort. Conservatism's resilience has been a function of its internal ideological diversity and balance. The more closely you look, however, the deeper the division has become in the last few years, intensifying dramatically since last fall's election. Which is why, this time, the balancing act may finally be coming undone.

Let me be rash and describe the fundamental divide within conservatism as a battle between two rival forms. The two forms I'm referring to are ideal types. I know very few conservatives who fit completely into one camp or the other; and these camps do not easily comport with the categories we have become used to deploying--categories like "libertarian," "social conservative," "paleoconservative," "fiscal conservative and social liberal," and so on. There is, I think, a deeper rift, and a more fundamental one.

Call one the conservatism of faith and the other the conservatism of doubt. They have co-existed in the past but are becoming less and less compatible as the conservative ascendancy matures. Start with the type now dominant in Republican discourse: the conservatism of faith. This conservatism states conservative principles--and, indeed, eternal insights into the human condition--as a matter of truth. Because these conservatives believe that the individual is inseparable from her political community and civilization, there can be no government neutrality in promoting such truths. Either a government's laws affirm virtue or they affirm vice. And the meaning of virtue and vice can be understood either by reflecting on the Judeo-Christian moral tradition or by inferring from philosophical understandings what human nature in its finest form should be. These truths are not culturally relative; they are universally valid....

The alternative philosophical tradition begins in precise opposition to the new conservatives' confidence in faith and reason as direct, accessible routes to universal truth. The conservatism of doubt asks how anyone can be sure that his view of what is moral or good is actually true. Conservatives of doubt note that even the most dogmatic of institutions, such as the Catholic or Mormon churches, have changed their views over many centuries, and that, even within such institutions, there is considerable debate about difficult moral issues. They understand that significant critiques of human reason--Nietzsche, anyone?--have rendered the philosophical quest for self-evident truth even more precarious in the modern world. Such conservatives are not nihilists or devotees of what Pope Benedict XVI has called "the dictatorship of relativism." They merely believe that the purported choice between moral absolutism and complete relativism, between God and moral anarchy, is a phony one. Their alternative is a skeptical, careful, prudential approach to all moral questions--and suspicion of anyone claiming to hold the absolute truth. Since such an approach rarely provides a simple answer persuasive to everyone within a democratic society, we live with moral and cultural pluralism.

As always, Andrew's stuff makes for compelling reading -- but I'm unpersuaded by his proposed typology, for several reasons:

1) There is no single conservatism of doubt. Libertarians have grave doubts about government intervention in the marketplace. Realpolitik conservatives have grave doubts about the utility of military intervention to change regimes abroad. Traditional Burkean conservatives have grave doubts about any kind of policy or societal change, unless it happens very, very slowly. But those are all doubts about different aspects of policy. In this sense, the conservatism of doubt bears more than a passing resemblance to Ross Perot's Reform Party -- a lot of people who are pissed of at the guys in power, but disagree on everything else.

[What about the faith side?--ed. That typology is also not unidimensional. Religious conservatives obviously believe in the importance of religion in American life; neoconservatives carry a similar fervor about regime change in the Middle East, but as Andrew himself acknowledges that, "neocons feel about religion... good for the masses but not quite my cup of tea."]

2) The political theorists don't match up. To provide some historical orientation to his typology, Sullivan says at one point:

Doubt, in other words, means restraint. And restraint of government is the indispensable foundation of human freedom. The modern liberal European state was founded on such doubt. In the seventeenth century, men like Thomas Hobbes and John Locke looked at the consequences of various faiths battling for control of the moralizing state--and they balked. They saw civil war, religious extremism, torture, burnings at the stake, police states, and the Inquisition. They saw polities like Great Britain's ravaged by sectarian squabbles over what the truth is, how it is discovered, and how to impose it on a society as a whole. And they made a fundamental break with ancient and medieval political thought by insisting that government retreat from such areas--that it leave the definition of the good life to private citizens, to churches uncontaminated by government, or to universities that would seek and discuss competing views of the truth.

Well...... I know Sullivan has the Ph.D. in political theory, but I would take issue with his interpretation of Hobbes. While he was not a huge fan of religion, Hobbes was in many ways your classic big government liberal. Consider his arguments in Leviathan about those things that weaken or tend to the dissolution of a commonwealth:

[A] man to obtain a kingdom is sometimes content with less power than to the peace and defence of the Commonwealth is necessarily required. From whence it cometh to pass that when the exercise of the power laid by is for the public safety to be resumed, it hath the resemblance of an unjust act, which disposeth great numbers of men, when occasion is presented, to rebel; in the same manner as the bodies of children gotten by diseased parents are subject either to untimely death, or to purge the ill quality derived from their vicious conception, by breaking out into biles and scabs....

In the second place, I observe the diseases of a Commonwealth that proceed from the poison of seditious doctrines, whereof one is that every private man is judge of good and evil actions. This is true in the condition of mere nature, where there are no civil laws; and also under civil government in such cases as are not determined by the law. But otherwise, it is manifest that the measure of good and evil actions is the civil law; and the judge the legislator, who is always representative of the Commonwealth. From this false doctrine, men are disposed to debate with themselves and dispute the commands of the Commonwealth, and afterwards to obey or disobey them as in their private judgments they shall think fit; whereby the Commonwealth is distracted and weakened.

A fourth opinion repugnant to the nature of a Commonwealth is this: that he that hath the sovereign power is subject to the civil laws. It is true that sovereigns are all subject to the laws of nature, because such laws be divine and divine and cannot by any man or Commonwealth be abrogated. But to those laws which the sovereign himself, that is, which the Commonwealth, maketh, he is not subject. For to be subject to laws is to be to be subject to the Commonwealth, that is, to the sovereign representative, that is, to himself which is not subjection, but freedom from the laws. Which error, because it setteth the laws above the sovereign, setteth also a judge above him, and a power to punish him; which is to make a new sovereign; and again for the same reason a third to punish the second; and so continually without end, to the confusion and dissolution of the Commonwealth.

A fifth doctrine that tendeth to the dissolution of a Commonwealth is that every private man has an absolute propriety in his goods, such as excludeth the right of the sovereign. Every man has indeed a propriety that excludes the right of every other subject: and he has it only from the sovereign power, without the protection whereof every other man should have right to the same. But the right of the sovereign also be excluded, he cannot perform the office they have put him into, which is to defend them both from foreign enemies and from the injuries of one another; and consequently there is no longer a Commonwealth.

With Hobbes, we're not exactly talking about a big believer in the whole checks and balances thing. [Why not discuss Hobbes' big-government social politics, or the importance of faith in Locke's derivation of property rights?--ed. Because I'm trying to keep this post under 5,000 words.]

In the end, Sullivan is dressing up a very simple argument -- "keeping religion in its safest place--away from the trappings of power.... keeping politics in its safest place--as the proper arrangement of our common obligations, and not as a means to save or transform our lives and souls" -- in clothes that don't fit. The divide between those who put their faith first in their politics and those who prefer to keep it out of government is not responsible for all of the hypocrisies that Andrew listed in his first paragraph -- they're just responsible for many of the obvious ones.

The question of whether religious fundamentalists have too much power in the Republican Part and in the Bush administration is a good one to have -- currently Sullivan and Glenn Reynolds are going a couple of rounds on the question. However, I'm not sure that Sullivan's TNR essay provides anything new in answering that question.

posted by Dan at 04:31 PM | Comments (33) | Trackbacks (2)

Open Chinese nationalism thread

I've been remiss in not posting about the surge of anti-Japan protests in China over the past ten days or so, and the official Chinese reaction, which ranged from tacit support at the outset to a hasty, clumsy effort to assuage the Japanese and characterize the protests as part of an evil plot to undermine the Communist Party.

Comment away on the implications. I will only make one observation -- the Chinese government has been extraordinarily maladroit over the past six months. Until recently, the government was keenly aware about the geopolitical anxiety caused in the Asia-Pacific region by its growing economic and military strength. Being a rising, somewhat opaque power is tricky terrain for any state to navigate. Post-9/11, the Chinese had been pretty deft, tolerating the U.S. focus on the Middle East while pointing out to its neighbors, Europe, and even Africa the value of close economic relations with Beijing. Chinese academics have labeled this the "peaceful rising" strategy.

However, in the past six months, the Chinese government has:

1) Looked stingy following the meager tsunami aid allotment;

2) Looked stupid following their anti-Taiwan law;

3) Looked out of control with their handling of the anti-Japan riots.

I'm curious to see how both the Chinese and the other countries in the region will respond.


posted by Dan at 12:44 PM | Comments (20) | Trackbacks (1)

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

I definitely feel better about investing in the U.S.S.R..... I mean, Russia

In the wake of the Russian government's prosecution of Yukos oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, president Vladimir Putin tried to assuage domestic and foreign investors in his state-of-the-nation address.

If this AP account by Alex Nicholson is accurate, I'm not sure he succeeded:

President Vladimir Putin lamented the demise of the Soviet Union in some of his strongest language to date, saying in a nationally televised speech before parliament Monday that it was "the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century.''

In his annual address to lawmakers, top government officials and political leaders, Putin also sought to reassure skittish investors about Russia's investment climate - just two days before a ruling in the tax evasion and fraud trial of oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

His statements on the collapse of the Soviet Union and its effects on Russians, at home and abroad, come as the country is awash in nostalgia just two weeks before the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II in Europe - a conflict Russians call the "Great Patriotic War.''

Putin, who served as a colonel in the KGB, has resurrected some communist symbols during his presidency, bringing back the music of the old Soviet anthem and the Soviet-style red banner as the military's flag.

In the 50-minute address at the Kremlin, Putin avoided mentioning the need to work more closely with other former Soviet republics - in contrast to previous addresses - and he made passing reference to the treatment of Russian-speaking minorities in former Soviet republics.

"First and foremost it is worth acknowledging that the demise of the Soviet Union was the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century,'' Putin said. "As for the Russian people, it became a genuine tragedy. Tens of millions of our fellow citizens and countrymen found themselves beyond the fringes of Russian territory. The epidemic of collapse has spilled over to Russia itself.''

....Liberal politician Irina Khakamada dismissed Putin's address as "an export product'' marked by "liberal rhetoric and ritual statements addressed to the West.''

[What the hell is Khakamada talking about?--ed. Well, if you read Jeremy Page's account of the speech in the London Times, "Putin tried to make peace with Russia’s increasingly critical clique of influential businessmen yesterday by ordering his tax police to stop 'terrorising' companies." So Putin wasn't only scaring the bejeesus out of the near abroad, Eastern and Central Europe, and the West. Well, I certainly want to invest all of's financial resources into Russia right now!!--ed. And that's about all I'm expecting Putin to reap from this speech.]

posted by Dan at 09:14 AM | Comments (17) | Trackbacks (3)

Monday, April 25, 2005

What happens if the French say "non"?

When we last left the French referendum on the EU constitution, President Jacques Chirac had bungled a TV appearance designed to bolster support for a "oui" vote.

In today's Financial Times, John Thornhill reports that France's neighbors are warning of the apocalypse if France says non.

A French rejection of the European Union's constitutional treaty would result in the “fall of Europe,” Romano Prodi, former president of the European Commission, warned on Sunday.

His words came as the Yes campaign stepped up its increasingly desperate search for a strategy to turn the tide of public opinion ahead of the May 29 vote. In the starkest warning yet of the consequences for the EU if French voters reject the treaty Mr Prodi who was in office when it was drawn up told a French newspaper: “There would be no more Europe. We will pass through a long period of crisis.

“The problem will not only be a catastrophe for France, but the fall of Europe.”

Mr Prodi said the treaty was not perfect but was the best compromise possible. “It is impossible for me to imagine a French No. I have always thought of France as a pillar of Europe.

“A No would be catastrophic for Europe, from a social and economic point of view, not only political. And that is the whole contradiction: everybody knows very well that there is no Europe without France, yet France does not realise the chance it has with Europe. She should reflect on that because an isolated France would be very weak,” he said....

However, the latest opinion polls in France suggest the No camp is consolidating its lead with 58 per cent support. They also suggest that a growing number of French voters are playing down the fallout from a No vote.

The fact that articles like this one and this Charlemagne column in the Economist are being printed suggests that experts are taking the likelihood of a non vote very seriously.

Of course, this begs the question -- would a rejection of the EU constitution really mean the end of the EU project? I'd like to hear from the Europeanists in the audience, but this strikes me as a gross exaggeration. The European project has managed to generate a common market, a common Court of Justice, the euro, Schengenland, an increasingly assertive European parliament, and even the faint stirrings of a common foreign and defense policy -- all using the current set of legal and political arrangements. None of these will disappear if the French say non (a good indicator of its significance will be to see what happens to the value of the euro as the probability of a non vote approaches one. If it actually starts to fall in value, then I'm wrong).

The "end of Europe" claim by Prodi is an extreme version of the "bicycle theory" of international integration, which says that if there is any slowdown in integration, the process starts to wobble like a slow bicycle, eventually toppling under its own weight. This line was also used after the Maastricht accord was signed in the early nineties. I suspect that warnings like Prodi's will, if anything, further turn off people against what elites tell them about the European Union.

Does this mean the EU would just sail along after a French rejection? Non, it would not, but I'm not sure that the ensuing difficulties would be any more severe than, say, what the World Trade Organization experienced after the 1999 Battle in Seattle. The EU will live on.

What will be interesting to see is whether the rest of Europe would interpret a negative vote as an actual rejection of the planned future of the EU or explain it away as a rejection of Jacques Chirac and nothing more.

posted by Dan at 03:59 PM | Comments (25) | Trackbacks (4)

Sunday, April 24, 2005

In praise of the average Americans

If there is one thing that too many modern-day Democrat and Republican party elites share, it's a mild contempt for the average American. For Democrats, Americans are obese spendthrifts susceptible to faith-based argumentation at the expeense of logic and evidence. For Republicans, Americans are obese spendthrifts susceptible to the temptations of a debased popular culture at the expense of moral probity.

Well, a bunch of stories this week suggest that the average American is a hell of a lot smarter than the donkey and elephant elites.

Over at Slate, Daniel Gross observes that Americans are responding to interest rate increases by.... reducing their spending and paying off their debts:

It turns out many customers are having entirely rational reactions to rising interest rates (and perhaps the new bankruptcy law). They're taking the sometimes painful steps necessary to reduce credit card debt before it gets too onerous. Perhaps MBNA was caught short because it has taken consumers so long to wake up. For nearly 20 years, consumers were schooled to believe that interest rates generally fell and that any increases were short-term blips. Now, the Fed has boosted rates seven times recently, and we've entered a period in which interest rates will likely rise or remain stable—but not fall.

Credit card companies have been operating in an era of falling interest rates so long that they may have forgotten that when interest rates rise, people either seek to pay down debt or look for cheaper sources of financing....

There's another wrinkle in the complex interest-rate climate that may hurt credit card companies. Interest rates on credit cards tend to respond to moves in short-term interest rates, which means they are rising. But mortgage rates respond to moves in long-term interest rates. And those rates remain remarkably low. Since long-term rates are steady, it now makes more sense for people who need cash to turn to a home-equity line of credit rather than to an MBNA card.

At the margins, some Americans seem to be using their slowly growing incomes to reduce credit card debt rather than to buy new stuff. (That could be one factor behind March's weak retail spending report.)

And while we're on the subject of consumer behavior, could commentators please stop bashing Americans for not saving enough when they are acting rationally? If the assets that Americans hold -- like equities or their houses, for example -- are dramatically increasing in value, then it makes sense that their stream of additional savings will taper off.

Meanwhile, earlier this week Jonathan Bor and Frank Roylance reported in the Baltimore Sun that just a smidgen of obesity might be good for you:

Government analysts downgraded the annual death toll from obesity Tuesday in a study that is certain to bewilder a public already obsessed with dieting and nutrition.

In fact, they inexplicably found that people who weigh a few pounds more than the ideal are less likely to die than those who weigh a few pounds less.

Taken together, the findings will undoubtedly leave scientists and consumers arguing over obesity's true role in mortality -- though no one argues that being overweight is good for you.

The latest report by scientists with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that obesity kills about 112,000 people a year, only a third of the number estimated just four months ago....

The study, which mines data from three national health surveys spanning the 1970s through 2000, also found that people who are slightly overweight actually have a lower chance of dying than people who weigh a few pounds less.

The same cannot be said for people who are truly obese; they face a greater risk the more weight they gain.

Health experts agree that American are becoming fatter with each passing year, leading to an epidemic of diabetes, even among children.

Still, Tuesday's announcement will hearten critics who have argued that government agencies, which spend millions convincing Americans to eat less and exercise more, have inflated obesity's death toll.

The legal team here at would like to remind everyone that this report does not recommend obesity and that anyone now tempted to go order several Hardee's Monster Thickburgers are doing so at their own discretion and not with the blessing of More seriously, check out food economist Parke Wilde for an informed appraisal of the ramifications of the CDCP study.

Finally, that allegedly brain-dead American boob tube may acually provide more cognitive stimulation than previously thought. Steven Johnson explains why this might be true in the New York Times Magazine:

For decades, we've worked under the assumption that mass culture follows a path declining steadily toward lowest-common-denominator standards, presumably because the ''masses'' want dumb, simple pleasures and big media companies try to give the masses what they want. But as that ''24'' episode suggests, the exact opposite is happening: the culture is getting more cognitively demanding, not less. To make sense of an episode of ''24,'' you have to integrate far more information than you would have a few decades ago watching a comparable show. Beneath the violence and the ethnic stereotypes, another trend appears: to keep up with entertainment like ''24,'' you have to pay attention, make inferences, track shifting social relationships. This is what I call the Sleeper Curve: the most debased forms of mass diversion -- video games and violent television dramas and juvenile sitcoms -- turn out to be nutritional after all.

I believe that the Sleeper Curve is the single most important new force altering the mental development of young people today, and I believe it is largely a force for good: enhancing our cognitive faculties, not dumbing them down. And yet you almost never hear this story in popular accounts of today's media. Instead, you hear dire tales of addiction, violence, mindless escapism. It's assumed that shows that promote smoking or gratuitous violence are bad for us, while those that thunder against teen pregnancy or intolerance have a positive role in society. Judged by that morality-play standard, the story of popular culture over the past 50 years -- if not 500 -- is a story of decline: the morals of the stories have grown darker and more ambiguous, and the antiheroes have multiplied.

The usual counterargument here is that what media have lost in moral clarity, they have gained in realism. The real world doesn't come in nicely packaged public-service announcements, and we're better off with entertainment like ''The Sopranos'' that reflects our fallen state with all its ethical ambiguity. I happen to be sympathetic to that argument, but it's not the one I want to make here. I think there is another way to assess the social virtue of pop culture, one that looks at media as a kind of cognitive workout, not as a series of life lessons. There may indeed be more ''negative messages'' in the mediasphere today. But that's not the only way to evaluate whether our television shows or video games are having a positive impact. Just as important -- if not more important -- is the kind of thinking you have to do to make sense of a cultural experience. That is where the Sleeper Curve becomes visible.

Read the whole thing. The only troubling note I found in the piece was the admission that, "The only prominent holdouts [to more cognitively sophisticated plots] in drama are shows like ''Law and Order'' that have essentially updated the venerable ''Dragnet'' format and thus remained anchored to a single narrative line." Which is true, except that when you tally up all the "Law and Order" and "CSI" shows & spinoffs, that's an awful lot of the prime time schedule.

Johnson earns my goodwill, however, by labeling his phenomenon the Sleeper Curve after this classic exchange from the Woody Allen movie Sleeper:

SCIENTIST A: Has he asked for anything special?
SCIENTIST B: Yes, this morning for breakfast . . . he requested something called ''wheat germ, organic honey and tiger's milk.''
SCIENTIST A: Oh, yes. Those were the charmed substances that some years ago were felt to contain life-preserving properties.
SCIENTIST B: You mean there was no deep fat? No steak or cream pies or . . . hot fudge?
SCIENTIST A: Those were thought to be unhealthy.

posted by Dan at 09:09 PM | Comments (70) | Trackbacks (2)

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Regarding The End of Poverty

Loyal readers of may recall that I blogged about Jeffrey Sachs and his book The End of Poverty last month. Well, I should confess that one reason for my interest in the book was because I was reviewing it for the New York Times Book Review.

The review is now available online. Go check it out.

[No excerpt?--ed. Not with this review. Besides, I'm busy prepping for the inevitable reply from Professor Sachs. What makes you think there will be a reply?--ed. Well, let's see:

1) Whenever I review a book by a Columbia economics professor, there seems to be a subsequent exchange of words;

2) Sachs hasn't taken too kindly to other reviews of this book.]

posted by Dan at 04:05 PM | Comments (11) | Trackbacks (1)

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Alex Tabarrok on political bias in the academy

Last night the Georgetown IR group took me out to a fabulous dinner, and naturally the conversation turned to whether there was a bias in academia against political conservatives.

I was all prepared to expound on this in a post, but fortunately for me, Tyler Alex has a Marginal Revolution post in response to this article by Rothman, Lichter, and Nevitte suggesting statistical evidence of discrimination. Tyler's Alex's basic point: conservatives who cry bias here also need to acknowledge bias because of race or gender in the academy, since the types of cited evidence are awfully similar.

Bravo to Tyler Alex for intellectual consistency. Go check his post out. [So you agree completely?--ed. Not completely, no -- I think there probably is some bias (against women, some ethnic minorities, and conservatives), but the effect is less significant than is commonly thought. But the proposed solutions to these bias are far, far worse than the original problem.]

posted by Dan at 08:39 AM | Comments (18) | Trackbacks (4)

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

So about this new Pope....

From an institutional perspective [And an institutional perspective only!!--ed.], there is more than a passing resemblance between the Catholic Church and the now-extinct Soviet Communist Party. So, after reading this Associated Press report by Nicole Winfield, I'm still trying to figure out whether Pope Benedict XVI will be Yuri Andropov or Konstantin Chernenko:

Pope Benedict XVI himself predicted a "short reign" in comments to cardinals just after his election, and his brother said Wednesday he was worried about the stress the job would put on the 78-year-old pontiff.

While there are no indications that Benedict currently suffers from any serious or chronic medical problems, there have been ailments in the past including a 1991 hemorrhagic stroke that raise questions about how long his pontificate will last....

Benedict himself referred to his tenure in comments to cardinals just after his election, when he explained his choice of the name Benedict XVI, the pope who served from 1914-22 and had worked to prevent World War I during his brief papacy....

German prelates have expressed concern about Ratzinger's health. One young priest from Cologne, who asked not to be identified, told AP in Rome that Benedict has trouble sleeping and has a "delicate constitution." The new pope's brother had expressed a similar concern in a television interview.

Benedict's brother, Georg Ratzinger, told The Associated Press on Wednesday from Regensburg, Germany, that he was concerned about his brother's health and the stress the office will put on him.

"I'm not very happy," Georg Ratzinger said. "He's OK, and his health is good. I just wish for him, that his health holds out and that his office isn't a worry and a nuisance to him."

Ratzinger, the oldest pope elected since Clement XII in 1730, clearly was chosen as a "transitional" pope, who would fulfill the unfinished business of John Paul's quarter-century papacy yet not be another long-term pope.

Yet in electing someone who had repeatedly asked John Paul to let him retire and been refused there was also the possibility that the world would watch another pope slowly succumb to age and ailments on a very public stage. Benedict was the oldest pontiff elected in 275 years.

So either the Pope is healthy enough to reinvigorate and cement the Catholic Church for a short time, or he's going o get sicker and sicker very quickly.

Andrew Sullivan raises an interesing point about how John Paull II changed the rules to make it easier for Ratzinger to be chosen -- which raises an interesting question: will Benedict XVI similarly change the rules or stack the Politburo College of Cardinals to ensure a successor who shares his doctrinal preferences?

As a non-Catholic, I have no dog in this fight -- but I'm curious about what will happen.

posted by Dan at 05:54 PM | Comments (15) | Trackbacks (0)

Should John Bolton be the next UN ambassador?

With more Republicans wavering yesterday over John Bolton's nomination, I think it's worth asking the question: should he be the next UN ambassador?

[Wait, weren't you defending him last week?--ed. No, I was defending the substantive point he made -- there's a difference. So is he a good choice?--ed. I actually have many thoughts on this, but insufficient time to post. Check back later in the day.]

Comment away!!

UPDATE: The commenters have actually done a decent job of framing most but not all of these issues. First, does Bolton have the right temperment? There's echoes in the testimony of the Bob Blackwill case from late last year. However, there is a difference between being an effective SOB who's a hothead and being an SOB who's a hothead and seems comfortable with punishing subordinates who disagree with him on facts (as opposed to policy disputes -- if that's the arena of conflict between Bolton and subordinates, then Bolton has a right to punish subordinates who sabotage his decisions).

This is a big problem. It's countered by two arguments in favor of Bolton. First, the President deserves broad leeway in selecting his/her subordinates, even if they're not the greatest choices in the world.

Second, and not discussed as of yet in the comments, is related to a point Matthew Yglesias identified earlier in the week:

It isn't really the case that "the Bush administration" wants to put the guy in and the Democrats are trying to stop them. Rather, the Bush administration was divided on second term national security personnel decisions, the pro-Bolton faction basically lost out (they wanted him to be Deputy Secretary), and he got UN Ambassador as a kind of booby prize. What's at stake here will be the ability of Rice, Zoellick, and Hadley to effectively wage bureacratic war against Dick Cheney and his allies. You can get a sense of this from the behavior of Richard Lugar, whose clearly the sort of Republican who wants Rice to win. He's "supporting" the Bolton nomination out of loyalty to the White House, but he's also made a lot of procedural decisions as Foreign Relations Chair that make it harder for Bolton to be confirmed. Clearly, I think, he'd like him to be beaten (as would Rice, etc.) but he wants someone else to do the beating.

I think Yglesias is probably correct but it raises a point beyond his. Even if the UN Ambassador job is a booby prize, it's a pretty nice booby prize that probably mollifies one camp within the Republican Party. If Bolton doesn't get the job, will this lead some Republicans to act in an obstructionist fashion when Bush puts forward foreign policy appointments more symptico with, say, Condi Rice?

As a moderate Republican, this is the question with which I'm wrestling.... is it worth swallowing hard and letting Bolton get the UN job in order to preserve the ascendance of the moderates in the Bush foreign policy apparatus?

I'm not sufficiently plugged into the Beltway to answer that question in a satisfactory manner.

posted by Dan at 11:49 AM | Comments (47) | Trackbacks (3)

Gone talkin'.... so go read Brad Setser

I'm on the road in DC giving a talk at Georgetown, so blogging may be limited for the next few days.

However, be sure to read this Brad Setser post that follows up on my previous post regarding tactical issue linkage with China on the exchange rate question. Brad offers some additional possibilities, some of which I had thought of and some of which I hadn't and find very intriguing.

posted by Dan at 11:40 AM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

The paranoid style in the New York Times Magazine

The Volokh Conspiracy en masse -- and Orin Kerr in particular -- is going to town on Jeffrey Rosen's New York Times Magazine cover story on the libertarian cabal that allegedly threatens the judiciary (you gotta love the sinister photographs that accompany the piece).

This Kerr post in particular triggered a strong sense of déjà vu:

In my view, the problem with Rosen's essay is that it tries to portray the decades-old writings of a small number of scholars and activists as an existing and influential "movement." I don't think the evidence adds up. The handful of scholars and activists that are supposed to make up this alleged movement are pretty far removed from the set of players in the Bush Administration that are actually setting policy and selecting judges these days. Maybe the Reagan Justice Department was enthralled with the writings of Richard Epstein; the Bush 43 Justice Department isn't.

As one (of many) who has been on the receiving end of a Richard Epstein rant about the ills of the Bush administration, let me just reaffirm the fact that Epstein is hardly a trusted confidant of this president.

The reason for the déjà vu was that there is a strong parallel between this meme and the hysteria that gripped many in 2003 about the Straussian cabal that was allegedly running U.S. foreign policy during the first term of the Bush administration. As I wrote in TNR online back then:

The notion that such a conspiracy exists rests on the belief that the administration's foreign policy principals--Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell, Dick Cheney, and Bush himself--have somehow been duped by the neoconservatives into acting in a manner contrary to their beliefs. But while critics have never lacked for accusations against these officials, being weak-willed is not among them. In the end, it's far more likely that Bush is exploiting the neoconservatives' ideological arsenal to advance his preferred set of policies than vice versa.

If there is any link between the Bush administration and libertarian judicial theory, I suspect it's of akin to the bolded sentence of the paragraph. And it's worth thinking about how the neocons are doing now (see Bolton, John). This administration on the whole uses ideas more often (though not always) as hooks for policies they prefer for material or political reasons rather than as a guiding star for the future. In other words, they're like every other administration that ever occupied the White House.

So why the return to conspiracy theories? I'll quote again from the master, Richard Hostadter:

Perhaps the central situation conducive to the diffusion of the paranoid tendency is a confrontation of opposed interests which are (or are felt to be) totally irreconcilable, and thus by nature not susceptible to the normal political processes of bargain and compromise. The situation becomes worse when the representatives of a particular social interest--perhaps because of the very unrealistic and unrealizable nature of its demands--are shut out of the political process. Having no access to political bargaining or the making of decisions, they find their original conception that the world of power is sinister and malicious fully confirmed. They see only the consequences of power--and this through distorting lenses--and have no chance to observe its actual machinery (emphasis added).

posted by Dan at 12:36 AM | Comments (21) | Trackbacks (1)

Monday, April 18, 2005

Why my head hurts right now

Alex Mindlin recounts an apparently real dispute about what constitutes fiction between the writers Michael Chabon and Paul Maliszewski in the New York Times. The highlights:

It was the kind of headline that sells. "Michael Chabon's Holocaust Hoax," read the cover of the April-May issue of Bookforum. Inside, the article, by Paul Maliszewski, suggested that Mr. Chabon, the Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist, had exceeded the bounds of poetic license in a lecture that he has given perhaps half a dozen times since 2003.

In the lecture, titled "Golems I Have Known, or, Why My Eldest Son's Name Is Napoleon," Mr. Chabon recounts a version of his childhood, laced with some tall tales (saying, for instance, that he has encountered several golems, the clay monsters of Jewish lore), and tells the story of a counterfeit Holocaust survivor he'd once met who turns out to be an ex-Nazi in hiding.

Mr. Maliszewski pointed out that the Nazi character was entirely fictional, and contended that Mr. Chabon had misled his listeners into believing it was real. He suggested that Mr. Chabon had "fashioned a Jewish identity for himself that incorporates - through an utter fiction - the Holocaust."

The lecture's organizers have said the lecture was clearly advertised as a series of yarns. In a letter that will be printed in the next issue of Bookforum, Matthew Brogan, program director for the Jewish literary nonprofit organization Nextbook, which sponsored some of the performances, wrote that Mr. Chabon had "signaled to the audience at every turn that the narrator is not to be completely trusted." Mr. Maliszewski, he added, had "deliberately misread these signs in the hope of stirring up a scandal."

In the Bookforum article, Mr. Maliszewski admits that, as a reporter at a Syracuse business newspaper, he besieged his own paper with parodic letters to the editor. Later, he became the Web editor of McSweeney's Quarterly, a job that his editor said ended when Mr. Maliszewski sent McSweeney's subscribers an anonymous e-mail newsletter full of invented gossip about other writers.

So if I understand this correctly: A writer that has frequently fudged facts for fun has fingered a fellow fabulist for fictionalizing facts for fortune, even though that fabulist foretold his fictions before his oration. [Now my head hurts--ed. If I'm going down, I'm taking people with me!]

Seriously, it seems like Maliszewski is off his rocker.

posted by Dan at 03:55 PM | Comments (6) | Trackbacks (0)

Charles Krauthammer misses the best part

On Friday Krauthammer penned a column about how the Washington Nationals have rekindled his passion for baseball. What happened to it before? Naturally, he was a Red Sox fan:

Then came the 1986 World Series and the Great Buckner Collapse. At that point, I figured I'd suffered enough. I got a divorce. Amicable, but still a divorce. With a prodigious act of will, I resolved to follow the Sox -- but at an enforced distance. I refused to live or die with them. Which is how I got through Grady's Blunder -- leaving Pedro in too long -- in Game 7 of the 2003 Red Sox-Yankees playoff.

It was a hard fall for Sox fans, but I came through it beautifully -- feeling delighted, indeed somewhat superior, at my partial emancipation from the irrationality of fandom (far more troubling than the pain). Thus a free man, almost purged of all allegiance, I watched with near-indifference as the Montreal Expos moved to Washington. Little did I know.

I know this is a lighter column for Krauthammer, but it's almost criminally negligent for him to go from discussing his passion for the Sox to his interest in the Nats without mentioning how he felt being on the outside looking in at the Red Sox successful 2004 season.

posted by Dan at 10:43 AM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)

Sunday, April 17, 2005

The difference between economists and political scientists

I response to my post on the Bush administration and the dollar on Friday (see the follow-on post here), Matthew Yglesias makes the following observation:

It's hard to detect much seriousness there. Rather than addressing, say, the massive budget deficits that are leading to the unusual currency situation, or trying to do something that would reduce American oil consumption, they're getting serious by asking the government of China to float their currency. They've got no leverage they can use to make China do this. They're just asking.

Brad DeLong follows up, observing:

This is more evidence that Matthew Yglesias's transformation into an economist is advancing rapidly. To a political scientist, you "get serious" about an issue like the currency by sending an ambassador to have an unpleasant conversation with a foreign government. Call this "get serious(ps)." To an economist, you "get serious" about an issue like the currency by changing your government's policies in such a way as to change the balance of returns and risks facing those buying and selling in foreign exchange markets. Call this "get serious(e)." Matthew is complaining that Dan is talking like a political scientist.

Sigh..... let's clear up a few misconceptions.

Brad's assertion is that political scientists think that "getting serious" about something is dispatching an ambassador -- as opposed to the economists who want to fix the problem. Actually, to a political scientist -- more specifically, one who studies international relations -- you "get serious" about an issue like the currency when you engage in tactical issue linkage to change other government's policies in such a way as to change the balance of returns and risks facing those buying and selling in foreign exchange markets. If one can arrange for other countries to bear a greater portion of the costs of adjustment from the current set of macroeconomic imbalances, then political scientists will predict that governments will prefer this policy option ten times out of ten -- even if the long-term economic picture would be improved by listening to economists. [Yes, but doesn't this still leave the U.S. with some long-term macroeconomic problems?--ed. I believe it was an economist who pointed out what happens in the long run.]

This leads to Matthew's appropriate question about leverage -- what does the U.S. have to offer? What is the tactical issue linkage that could be put in play here?

Looking at the state of play, here's whats on the bargaining table:

1) Threaten protectionism: In the orginial FT article and this Bloomberg report, U.S. officials made it clear that one reason they want the Chinese to alter their exchange rate policy is because if they don't, domestic U.S. pressure might generate dangerous policy outputs like a 27.5 per cent tariff on all Chinese imports if China does not revalue.

For the Bush team, this is a classic gambit of turning domestic weakness into international bargaining strength: "Do what I say or this madman I can't control will blow us all up!" However, it's also a very high-risk move because the Chinese might not believe the Bushies, or -- far worse -- the Bush team might actually not be able to thwart trade morons like Senator Schumer.

2) Offer some carrots: The administration could also offer some incentives to make the Chinese change their policy. One obvious one is inviting China to be a full partner in the G7 process. THe G-7 is a pretty exclusive club, and for the Chinese government this would be a nice dollop of prestige. Such a move would be viewed positively as a signal of China's emerging status as both a great power and as a locomotive for the global economy. Giving China a greater sense of “ownership” of the G7 process could also nudge that country toward a more cooperative attitude.

A more interesting and tangible linkage would be to link China’s status as a “non-market economy” in U.S. antidumping laws to greater flexibility on exchange rates. According to Daniel Ikenson from the Cato Institue, from 2001 to 2004, China has been the target of 32 antidumping investigations by the Commerce Department’s Import Administration, nearly three times as many as the next most targeted country. Under Article VI of GATT, non-market countries can be treated differently to determine whether firms from those countries are selling goods to the United States at below market value. As a result, Chinese sectors found to be dumping have faced an average tariff increase of 112.85 percent—three and a half times the average penalty for producers in market economies. A partial switch in China’s situation—market economy status for appropriate sectors, for example—could be proffered in exchange for a revaluation.

3) Make the IMF play bad cop. This is Morris Goldstein's preferred approach. The IMF’s Articles of Agreement (Article IV, Section 1, paragraph iii) specifically warn member countries against, “manipulating exchange rates or the international monetary system in order to prevent effective balance of payments adjustment or to gain an unfair competitive advantage over other members.” Goldstein and others argue that China (and other countries) have violated both the letter and the spirit of that agreement, in that they are preventing market forces from readjusting the dollar’s trade-weighted value. China is intervening in currency markets to keep their currencies at fixed exchange rates that are no longer in alignment with real exchange rates. The persistent and one-sided nature of these interventions render this activity distinct from the standard currency market interventions that are associated with a fixed exchange rate regime. The IMF managing director should call for ad hoc consultations with both countries on this issue. Such a maneuver is extremely rare but not unprecedented.

However, the problem with this approach is the lack of leverage. China probably doesn't want to needlessly piss off the IMF. But they don't need the Fund either, and the IMF has had little success at getting countries who don't need their money to do what they say.

Finally, the reason I said the Bush administration was "getting serious" about the trade deficit after reading the FT article was twofold: a) the administration shifted from talking about the Chinese revaluing their currency to China setting up a floating rate system. That was a shift in their position; and b) Treasury officials spoke about this to the FT in the first place -- to date Treasury officials had been sticking very close to official statements on this issue. My unspoken and unstated assumption in the previous post was that these statements to the FT as a signal that the U.S. had their ducks lined up with the other G-7 countries, and was going to start deploying tactical issue linkage. However, I'm afraid that in the wake of what actually happened, Joseph Britt is correct to point out that, "'getting serious' is not normally so easy to confuse with 'flailing ineffectually.'" So I've gone back and amended the title of the original post

posted by Dan at 11:18 PM | Comments (27) | Trackbacks (1)

So did the Bush administration get serious about the dollar?

Well, the meeting of the G-7 finance ministers happened. Did the U.S. and the G-7 ratchet up the pressure on China, as was previously suggested?

This appears to depend on who you ask. In the Washington Post, Paul Blustein says "no":

In its communique, the G-7 pledged "vigorous action" to deal with "global imbalances" -- a reference to the massive U.S. trade deficit and corresponding trade surpluses of other nations, especially the export-driven economies of Asia. But the statement mostly reiterated past calls for countries to take measures that should help shrink the trade gap, including a reduction of the U.S. budget deficit and "structural reforms" in Europe and Japan to help speed growth.

The G-7 conspicuously refrained from commenting directly on one politically charged issue related to the trade deficit -- China's decade-old practice of keeping its currency, the yuan, pegged to the U.S. dollar at a rate of about 8.3 yuan per dollar. That policy has been widely attacked in recent months, especially by members of Congress and U.S. manufacturers, as an artificially low rate that gives Chinese goods an unfair edge in world markets.

Bush administration officials had raised expectations that the G-7 would turn up the heat on China, because they had ratcheted up pressure themselves in recent days by urging that the yuan be allowed to rise now. Previously, they had refrained from putting the Chinese on the spot about timing.

But the G-7 communique included only the language that has been contained in every such statement for the past year. "More flexibility in exchange rates is desirable for major countries or economic areas that lack such flexibility," the statement said.

Andrew Balls and Scheherazade Daneshkhu say "yes" in the Financial Times:

The Group of Seven leading industrialised countries this weekend put China on notice that it must shift to a more flexible currency regime, with finance ministers demanding it take action immediately.

The G7's communique repeated its call for "more flexibility in exchange rates" where it was lacking, to help promote more balanced global growth, and added a demand that "vigorous action is needed to address global imbalances".

Officials said there was no discussion of singling out China because in the statement the language was already clearly aimed at Beijing - and because of the difficulty of getting Japan to agree a formal declaration.

But ministers from all the countries apart from Japan backed a US demand that China should act immediately. (emphasis added)

In this case, both the FT and WaPo are correct. It's clear that the latest G-7 statement doesn't differ much from previous ones, and I have no doubt Japan acted as the brake on any change in the language. However, U.S. Treasury Secretary John Snow also delivered a statement after the communique that was reasonably clear in its intent:

I want to comment specifically on China in this context. China's strong economic growth has made a tremendous contribution to the global economy. China has taken numerous steps over the last few years, including preparing for greater flexibility in their exchange rate, introducing foreign exchange market financial products and strengthening banks and bank supervision. With this groundwork in place, China is ready now to adopt a more flexible exchange rate.

Of course, the U.S. can insist that China is ready all it wants -- whether Beijing will hop to is another question. Until and unless Japan changes its tune, it would appear that China doesn't face a huge incentive to change the status quo.

On the other hand, this Bloomberg report by Tim Kelly suggests that Japan recognizes the political lay of the land:

The U.S. government is under pressure at home to get China to fulfill a pledge to loosen its currency's decade-long peg to the dollar, a Japanese Ministry of Finance official said.

The U.S. administration is under more pressure than governments in Europe or Japan over the yuan, according to the official, who spoke on condition he wouldn't be identified. The official was speaking at a briefing in Washington after a meeting of finance ministers from the Group of Seven.


posted by Dan at 09:28 PM | Comments (8) | Trackbacks (1)

Friday, April 15, 2005

The Bush administration gets says it's getting serious about the dollar

Looks like the Bush administration is shifting from passive-aggressive to aggressive in trying to get the Chinese to revalue their currency. Andrew Balls and Edward Alden have the story in the Financial Times:

The US administration is calling for China to move immediately to introduce a flexible currency, a marked shift in tactics after several years of patient diplomacy aimed at nudging China towards allowing the renminbi to float.

A senior US administration official told the Financial Times on Friday: “Action is needed now. This is a co-ordinated effort to get the message across.”

The decision to demand prompt action by Beijing comes in the face of growing pressure from Congress over the burgeoning US trade deficit with China. Officials acknowledge they were shocked by a 67-33 Senate vote earlier this month to allow consideration of a bill championed by Democratic senator Charles Schumer that would impose a 27.5 per cent tariff on all Chinese imports if China does not revalue in the next six months.

“I think they took the Schumer vote very, very seriously,” said Frank Vargo, international vice-president of the National Association of Manufacturers, which has been urging a harder US line on China's currency.

There is also concern in the administration that Beijing might have interpreted the Treasury department's toned-down rhetoric of recent months as a sign that the US is prepared to be infinitely patient on the issue.

The message is being delivered to China at all levels in advance of this weekend's Group of Seven meeting in Washington. China, which has been a guest at the past two G7 meetings, is not sending its finance minister and central bank governor to this weekend's gathering. (emphases in original)

That last bit suggests to me that this pressure won't have an appreciable effect anytime soon. This will irritate the Bush administration but really irritate the European members of the G-7, who blame the United States and the Pacific Rim for the magnitude of current global imbalances.


UPDATE: See follow-on posts here and here.

posted by Dan at 08:02 PM | Comments (16) | Trackbacks (5)

Will realpolitik sell the EU constitution to the French?

In six weeks, the French will vote on a referendum to ratify the EU constitution. Current polling in France runs about 55% against, and twelve straight polls have had the "no" camp in the lead.

In an attempt to combat this trend, last night French President Jacques Chirac held a nationally televised town hall-style meeting with 83 "young people."

Two things were interesting about the event and its aftermath. The first was Chirac's principal arguments for ratification -- political and economic balancing against the United States. According to the Wadhington Post's Erika Lorentzsen:

"What would be the role of France tomorrow if we block this process?" [Chirac] asked during a question-and-answer session with young people and journalists, broadcast from the Elysee Palace. "We will not be strong, and Europe would not be strong enough against the big powers."

Proponents of the constitution contend that it is crucial to making the European Union, an often internally divided alliance, more influential in world affairs. Among many Europeans, this means standing up to the United States....

In his remarks, Chirac sought to convince voters that irrational worries were standing in the way of the constitution, which he said would protect Europe from an "ultra-liberal" and "Anglo-Saxon" economic model, code words for American-style free-market capitalism.

"I'm always surprised to see this expression of fear," he said. "Europe needs to feel proud of itself and France in its principal role in defending our interests. This fear of young people I don't understand. I have confidence in France and our future."

In the Financial Times, John Thornhill and Peggy Hollinger provide an even more explicit quote:

Mr Chirac said the treaty, which established a new set of rules for the expanded European Union of 25 countries, was essential to preserve French values. “What is the interest of the Anglo-Saxon countries and particularly the US? It is naturally to stop Europe's construction, which risks creating a much stronger Europe tomorrow,” he said.

The second interesting thing was that Chirac's line of argumentation floundered. Both the BBC and CNN International have recaps of the French media response, and they were not good. From the latter's round-up:

"In front of an audience in which those favoring the 'No' seemed to be in the majority, the head of state often struggled to make heard his pro-European plea during a muddled broadcast," the conservative Le Figaro wrote on its front page.

"Chirac: difficulty reassuring," LCI television said, while the left-leaning Liberation newspapers said Chirac appeared "strained, almost clenched-up" in the meeting.

Laurent Fabius, a former Socialist prime minister and leading "no" campaigner accused Chirac of trying to scare voters into backing the charter.

"I found Mr. Chirac, like the constitution, long and not very convincing," he told RTL radio.

"I was very struck to see Mr. Chirac saying on the one hand, 'don't be afraid', but his main argument was to try to create fear."

The Economist, among others points out that much of the "no" support might have less to do with the EU constitution and more to do with Chirac's growing unpopularity. However. going back to the FT, it's possible that the two may actually be linked:

[S]ome of the audience said the constitution was too complex and doubted it would make any difference to their lives. They quizzed Mr Chirac aggressively over France's high unemployment, the threat to the country's public services and the possible influx of cheap labour from eastern Europe.

Asked by one voter why the unemployment rate was so much lower in the UK than in France, Mr Chirac replied that Britain had social rules that would not be “acceptable to us”.

....Mr Chirac's greatest political rival, Nicolas Sarkozy, the populist president of the ruling UMP party, on Thursday contradicted the president's upbeat views by saying that the “French social model” was failing the people.

In a speech in southern France, Mr Sarkozy said that with a 10 per cent unemployment rate France should stop saying its system worked better than that of others. “In 20 years both the left and the right have doubled the credits to combat unemployment but we have not produced one fewer unemployed person,” he said.

Even the Economist acknowledges that, "in contrast to the Maastricht vote, which led to the euro, it is hard to say what is at stake in the EU constitution."

It will be very interesting to see how this plays out over the next six weeks. My hunch is that support for the "yes" side will increase as the vote nears -- and even if the referendum fails, the French can simply schedule another referendum. On the other hand, if the quixotic combination of realpolitik and social democracy doesn't generate majority support in France, then I'm not sure where it will work.


posted by Dan at 12:12 PM | Comments (19) | Trackbacks (6)

Does anyone in the academy read Saul Bellow?

The common perception of academia is that being a professor is a cushy life. This isn't the post to debate that point, but it's always stuck me that this observation elides a really important fact: getting a tenure-track job at a good university has become increasingly difficult over the years. A ratio of three hundred applicants to one faculty position is not unusual. So even if these are good jobs, there ain't a ton of them to go around.

This fact carries an even greater bite in the humanities. As tough as it may be to get hired in political science, it's a cakewalk compared to getting a position in, say, English departments. I know far too many acquaintances who are whip-smart but drop out of academia because they picked the wrong department to get a Ph.D., and so their hiring market sucks eggs.

The point is, those people who do manage to get the good jobs have to be pretty talented in their area of specialty. Which is a fact I keep reminding myself of this fact whenever I read about an academic saying something stupid about their subject in the mainstream media.

Take for example, this Patrick T. Reardon story in the Chicago Tribune about why "relatively few college and high school courses study Bellow." Here's how Erin G. Carlston, an assistant professor of English at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, answered the question:

"The truth is I dislike Bellow so don't teach him myself. I'd guess from informal conversations with friends that my dislike for Bellow is fairly widely shared among women scholars, at least. But it's also highly idiosyncratic and all about gender and ethnicity, for me.

"I'd say in a general way that most post-World War II literature by American white men strikes me as incredibly whiny. It's trivial and narrowly focused, and they go on and on about how it's the end of Western Civilization because they can't get women to pick up their socks anymore.

"Bellow, being Jewish, is less offensive to me on these grounds than [John] Updike and his ilk, for whom I have no patience at all -- I mean, American Jewish men have actual cause to be insecure . . . and their relationship to power is much more complicated than it is for WASPs.

"But he still fits, in my mind, with a kind of writing I think of as self-absorbed and trivial. There's no real tragedy, no joy, no relish in humanity. It's all kind of flat."

The really appalling thing about this quote is that, according to Calston's UNC web page, "Prof. Carlston's research interests are in comparative modernisms and especially the intersections between sexuality studies and Jewish studies." She's also working on a book chapter that "looks at the way race, religious confession, and sexuality have been defined in relation to the modern, Western nation-state and notions of citizenship." So it's not like Bellow is completely irrelevant to her area of expertise.

This would be the equivalent of me telling a reporter after George Kennan's death:

The truth is I dislike Kennan so don't teach him myself. I'd guess from informal conversations with friends that my dislike for Kennan is fairly widely shared among Jewish and minority scholars, at least. But it's also highly idiosyncratic and all about ethnicity, for me.

I'd say in a general way that most post-World War II grand strategy by American white men strikes me as incredibly whiny. It's trivial and narrowly focused, and they go on and on about how it's the end of Western Civilization because democratic publics in these countries are exercising more influence over foreign policy.

Carlston's current research project is a "book-in-progress, Double Agents, considers literary responses to several major espionage scandals of the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries." This sounds pretty interesting, actually, and I hope it proves to be a path-breaking work on the subject. Because it's banal statements like the one above that cause me to doubt the way my profession works in practice.

posted by Dan at 10:05 AM | Comments (20) | Trackbacks (0)

The cyberbalkanization of trivia?

Bryan Curtis has an interesting essay at Slate about the alleged decline and fall of Trivial Pursuit at the hands of the Internet. The closing two pragraphs:

How could Trivial Pursuit survive in the age of Google? The Internet has rewritten the rules of the game. The old measure of the trivia master was how many facts he could cram into his head. The new measure is how nimbly he can manipulate a search engine to call up the answer. The ABC show Who Wants To Be a Millionaire included a lifeline called "phone-a-friend," in which a desperate contestant was supposed to call upon the knowledge of a smart companion. Seconds after the contestant dialed for help, you could hear the guy on the other end pecking away at a keyboard—Googling—and I thought, This is it. Trivia is dead.

That's overstating it a little. Trivia lives; it's generalist trivia, the kind of fluency that Trivial Pursuit prized, that's ailing. Just as the Internet splintered trivia into thousands of niches, Trivial Pursuit has contented itself with turning out games like "90s Time Capsule" and "Book Lover's," and, more frighteningly, those devoted solely to the vagaries of Lord of the Rings and Star Wars. Gone is the proud generalist of the original Trivial Pursuit, who knew the most common Russian surname (Ivanov) and the international radio code word for the letter O (Oscar). In his place is the specialist, who knows every inch of Return of the Jedi. There are many of us who have a nagging fear we belong to the latter group. "What jungle planet do Wookiees hail from?" a Star Wars card asks. Let's say, hypothetically and only for the sake of argument, that I know the answer. Who is supposed to be impressed by that?

This argument is akin to Cass Sunstein's "cyberbalkanization" hypothesis from The only problem is that Curtis contradicts his closing earlier in the piece by observing: "23 years after its American debut, the original [Genus] edition still accounts for a huge percentage of Trivial Pursuit's 80 million units sold." If memory serves, a Genus II edition was also pitched to the generalist. In fact, since most trivia games are played in person, the Internet's effect on this social institution is likely to be marginal.

posted by Dan at 12:00 AM | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Bravo to the public relations staff

The hardworking PR team here at has had a good week:

1) Last Friday, Slate's Jack Shafer managed to compliment me while simultaneously comparing me and other bloggers to low-wage Chinese labor:

When it comes to opinion pieces, bloggers have an edge over the pros. I'm not saying that bloggers are necessarily better writers than full-time members of the commentariat, but Daily Kos, Joshua Marshall, Daniel Drezner, Daily Howler, Volokh Conspiracy, Brad DeLong, et al., produce more immediate and succinct copy than their mainstream colleagues. To stretch a manufacturing analogy, unsalaried bloggers represent low-cost Chinese laborers, professional journalists the well-paid-with-benefits American workers. Given the right tools and infrastructure, low-cost Chinese labor can produce work that is every bit the equal of the high-price kind. What the Web has done is remove the barriers to entry from opinion journalism, much to the benefit of readers. If told that I had to forgo the editorial and op-ed pages of the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and the Los Angeles Times or lose my blog bookmarks, I'd say hands off my browser!

2) Today I discovered that the John Bolton post got mentioned on the "Inside The Blogs" feature at CNN's Inside Politics with Judy Woodruff -- click here to see the video, and here to read the transcript (in which they misspell my last name).

I'm grateful to CNN's "blog correspondents" Jacki Schechner and Cal Chamberlain [Now there's somehing to go on the old resume!--ed.] Seeing the clip, my one thought is that there has got to be a better way for CNN to show the blogs than just jamming a camera at the computer screen.

3) Finally, the Village Voice's education supplement discusses blogs and academia, or, as they put it, "Blogodemia." In her brief guide to scholar bloggers, Geeta Dayal says about yours truly:

Politics blogosphere-wise, he's one of the heaviest hitters.

She also has nice things to say about my colleague at the U of C, physicist Sean Carroll and his blog Preposterous Universe.

Dayal's main story about how the blogosphere is invading academia is worth checking out as well. This sounds awfully familiar:

[Larry] Lessig found that blogging opened up his sphere of interaction considerably. "I've published a bunch of articles in law reviews, and I think I've gotten maybe a total of 10 letters about them in the history of my career as an academic," he says. "I publish stuff on the blog, I get literally hundreds of e-mails about things all the time."

Being compared to cheap labor, getting my name misspelled at, and a citation in the Village Voice -- yes, it's been a banner week for the PR staff!!

posted by Dan at 11:48 PM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)

John Bolton is right about the United Nations

John Bolton's confirmation as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations has been in the news as of late (the committee vote for him has been delayed until next week). There's not a lot of love for Bolton among Democrats, Republicans of the Richard Lugar ilk, or, apparently, State Department staffers.

Richard Cohen's column in the Washington Post entitled "Disaster, Not Diplomacy" ably summarizes the conventional take on Bolton. And while I don't want to defend Bolton's record or comportment (see William Kristol for one defense) there is one line of criticism that really bugs the hell out of me. From Cohen's column:

The rap against Bolton's nomination as U.N. ambassador is that he has maximum contempt for that organization. He once went so far as to flatly declare that "there is no United Nations," just an international community that occasionally "can be led by the only real power left in the world -- and that's the United States." (emphasis added)

OK, let's get that quote in context. This is from a Democracy Now! web page, which informs us that the original quote came from a Bolton presentation "more than 10 years ago where he was speaking at an event called the "Global Structures Convocation," held on February 3, 1994 in New York":

The point that I want to leave with you in this very brief presentation is where I started, is that there is no United Nations. There is an international community that occasionally can be led by the only real power left in the world, and that's the United States, when it suits our interest, and when we can get others to go along. And I think it would be a real mistake to count on the United Nations as if it is some disembodied entity out there that can function on its own.

I don't know if Bolton is a serial bully, I don't know if he'd be a great ambassador to the UN, and I share Jonah Goldberg's concern about the moustache, but I will say one thing -- Bolton's assessment of the United Nations was and is 100% correct. He's not saying the organization doesn't exist -- he's saying that thinking of the UN as a single coherent actor is both factually incorrect and counterproductive to U.S. foreign policy. The United Nations acts in a forceful manner if and only if the United States and other great powers agree that such action is necessary. [What about specialized bureaucracies like the UN Development Program or the World Health Organization?--ed. The more "technical" agencies do have more autonomy, but even in these areas the great power delegations wield effective vetoes and can guide UN actions in these issue areas.] It's telling that a few months after Bolton made this statement, the U.N. decided not to get involved in the Rwandan genocide -- primarily because the U.S. government wanted no part of getting involved.

I might add that most international relations scholars would acknowledge this fact to be true for most international governmental organizations (IGOs) in existence. These organizations -- including the UN -- provide useful fora for negotiation, bargaining, diplomatic coordination, and occasionally collective action. At best, IGO secretariats can, once in a blue moon, try to get an issue or policy option onto the global agenda. But to go from that possibility to thinking of them as truly independent actors is to make a very heroic assumption about the functioning of world politics.

[How strong is this consensus among IR scholars?--ed. It's not unanimous, but let's put it this way. Susan Strange's last book, The Retreat of the State (CUP, 1996), was pretty much devoted to showing the myriad ways in which states were losing their control over world politics to multinational corporations, criminal mafias, etc. When she got to IGOs, however, Strange threw up her hands and conceded that for international institutions, states still rule the roost.]

Perhaps Bolton takes more glee in this assessment of the UN than his critics do -- and that's a normative debate that will not go away. But to chide Bolton for the quoted passage above is absurd. He was making an empirical assessment of the United Nations -- and his assessment was correct.

UPDATE: Note to self -- check out David Brooks before posting on a more regular basis.

posted by Dan at 11:50 AM | Comments (19) | Trackbacks (3)

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Be afraid but not too afraid about the dollar

Longtime readers of this blog will recognize my occasional concern with the size of the trade deficit and the future of the dollar. On this question, economists split into two clear camps -- camp one thinks the current equilibrium -- in which the U.S. runs enormous current account deficits and Pacific Rim central banks provide the financing for said deficits -- is incredibly fragile and that the dollar's value will fall hard, fast, and soon. The other camp thinks that because most actors in the system have a vested interest in seeing the status quo persist, the current equilibrium is more stable than many think, and that over time, the dollar's slow decline will help sort the system out.

Today the International Monetary fund follows up on the World Bank's warnings from last week and says that the current situation is not good. Andrew Balls provides a recap in the Financial Times:

The International Monetary Fund on Wednesday expressed frustration that rich and developing countries alike have failed to take the steps needed to reduce growing global imbalances.

The fund has long been calling for efforts to increase national savings in the US, including cutting the fiscal deficit, structural reforms to remove obstacles to growth in Europe and Japan, and greater exchange rate flexibility in Asia to boost domestic demand....

The fund forecasts that the US current account deficit will grow slightly to 5.8 per cent of gross domestic product this year, with little improvement thereafter. Germany and Japan are both forecast to have surpluses close to 3½ per cent of GDP.

“The US external deficit has so far been financed relatively easily, aided by continued financial globalisation,” the report said. “However, the demand for US assets is not unlimited... a continuing sharp rise in US net external liabilities will carry increasing risks.”

As well as the possibility of a disorderly decline in the dollar, the fund identifed the possibility that inflation pressures lead to a spike in US interest rates, and the high and volatile oil price as key risks to the global outlook.

The Bush administration's pledge to halve the US fiscal deficit is not credible, owing to a number of items left out of the budget arithmetic, and “insufficiently ambitious” in any case, the report said....

China increased its foreign reserves by $200bn last year, as it intervened to keep its currency pegged to the depreciating US dollar. Other developing countries have built up big foreign reserves - partly to insure against financial market risks, and partly to maintain trade competitiveness.

“A number of emerging markets, especially in Emerging Asia, have built up reserves to protect against everything short of the Apocalypse,” Mr Rajan [IMF chief economist] said, "The reserve build up is now undermining monetary control as well as the soundness of their financial systems.”

For more on the IMF's reaction, see the transcipt of their press conference, as well as a link to their World Economic Outlook: Globalization and External Imbalances. This quote by Rajan stands out from the press conference:

The U.S., if it does not cut its fiscal deficit—the fiscal deficit is just one part. The other part is savings; private household savings have to also contribute. The fiscal deficit itself may not be enough. If U.S. savings do not increase adequately, you basically have to borrow from abroad. At some point, investors outside will have a tremendous amount of U.S. assets in their portfolio and will start worrying about their value and about whether they are adequately diversified.

Essentially, to convince them to hold U.S. assets, one of two things has to happen: either U.S. interest rates have to go up way above the alternative opportunities these people have, or the U.S. exchange rate has to depreciate far enough that they feel that an appreciating exchange rate provides returns which give them incentives to hold U.S. assets. Neither of these is a particularly palatable outcome.

On the "don't panic" side, James Surowiecki has an essay in The New Yorker concluding that although a hard landing would be bad, it probably won't happen:

Markets are hardly known for their tenderness. Usually, you can assume that everyone in a market is trying to make as much money as possible, with as little risk, but the currency market isn’t like most others. In the market for the dollar, many of the players have other things on their mind. China needs to go on selling Americans hundreds of billions in exports in order to keep its economy humming. A weaker dollar makes that harder. Asian central banks also already own trillions of dollars in American assets. As the dollar falls, so does the value of those assets. There are plenty of other traders in the currency markets—who have the luxury of being single-minded regarding profit—but the Asian banks are powerful enough to be, in effect, the lenders of last resort. As long as it’s in their self-interest to keep America afloat, the dollar will not crash....

There’s a good chance, then, that the landing will be soft—we lose the truffles but keep our homes—as long as everyone involved in keeping the dollar aloft continues to play the same game. No one, in Asia or anywhere else, wants to be the last guy out. What the Chinese and the Japanese do depends in large part on what they think everyone else is going to do. If the Chinese get the idea that Japan’s commitment to the dollar is wavering, or if they decide that the United States has no interest in altering its deadbeat ways, then they may try to make a run for it. Then again, that threat could act as a prod to keep the Americans in line. The currency market is a great example of what George Soros calls “reflexivity”: people’s predictions about what will happen to the dollar end up having a major impact on what actually does happen to the dollar. Our lenders are trying to strike a delicate balance: they’d like the dollar’s predicament to seem dire enough to make us change, but not so dire as to spark panic. So be afraid. Just don’t be very afraid.

posted by Dan at 05:25 PM | Comments (6) | Trackbacks (0)

Competition has been good for Boeing

The US-EU trade war over government subsidies to Boeing and Airbus -- well, mostly Airbus -- blows hot and cold, it's worth stepping back and seeing how the rise of Airbus has affected Boeing. Fortunately, the Chicago Tribune has been doing periodic stories on this very question in its "Battle for the Skies" feature. The latest installment by Michael Oneal makes two interesting points. One is the extent to which this competition is driven by the extent to which both companies cater and listen to their customers' needs:

After getting feedback from miffed customers last year that [Airbus SAS sales chief John] Leahy's sales team was much more responsive to their needs, Boeing has gone to school on its European rival. It has sped up decision-making, while dispatching senior executives and board members into the field to drum up sales. It has made winning back market share a priority and is enabling its salesmen to take more risks in pricing....

The problem for Boeing has been that Leahy and his team are everywhere. The Airbus chief has created a sales organization that performs more like the extension of a scrappy Silicon Valley start-up than the front end of an enterprise founded by four plodding European governments. It acts like a spy network, building relationships with airline executives and passing crucial information back to headquarters.

It's not so much that friendships sealed through expensive dinners and golf outings swing billion-dollar decisions.

The issue has more to do with customer insight. In the big-ticket business of selling airplanes, the countless hours spent schmoozing with people at all levels of an airline allow a sales organization to ferret out what's really important to the key decision-makers.

Leahy spends more than 200 days a year away from Toulouse, France, where he lives with his wife and the youngest of their three children. Over a 10-day period in March, he flew back and forth to the U.S. twice to tend to three different sales campaigns--Korean Air, Northwest and International Lease Finance Corp., a giant leasing company that is considering the [Boeing] 787 and the [Airbus] A350....

Customers say Leahy's sales style falls somewhere between a well-prepared debating champion and a snarling pit bull. Though he speaks with a slight New York accent, he has cultivated a certain European elan, favoring well-tailored suits and shirts with French cuffs.

His first triumph in the U.S. market was selling 100 narrow-body A320s to Northwest Airlines. Steven Rothmeier, the airline's chairman at the time, remembers being enthralled by Leahy's presentations, which seemed to anticipate all of his questions and supply well-thought-out answers.

"He would quickly figure out what the real issues were for us and address them," Rothmeier said. "With Boeing, you always got the feeling that all they had to do was show up."

....Leahy's game plan had several key dimensions. First of all, he tore down the walls in the marketing department and created specialty teams to chase specific customers. He had those teams analyze lost deals to figure out where a campaign had gone wrong and how to improve the effort in the future.

He also kept the lines of decision-making short and gave his salespeople lots of room to cut deals.

Nick Tomasetti, an aerospace industry veteran who replaced Leahy as head of the North American organization, remembers a time when Leahy authorized a design change in a freighter model Airbus was trying to sell to United Parcel Service Inc. The change meant the airplane could hold more cargo but also would force the Airbus production department to find a way to absorb the cost.

Leahy gave the green light.

"He would say, `OK guys, go ahead,'" Tomasetti said. "Then he'd go fight the internal battle."

The second interesting fact is that Airbus' success has prompted Boeing to do more than have Washington threaten a trade war. They've respnded to the competition by improving their productivity and their customer relations:

When it swept past Boeing to become the world's largest jetmaker two years ago, Airbus roused the long-slumbering giant. And now the chase is on.

On Monday... Korean Air announced it had ordered 10 Boeing 787s, while taking options on 10 more, partly because Boeing agreed to buy parts for the plane from the Koreans, souces say.

Northwest Airlines is also within days of buying 787s to update its aging fleet. Boeing and Northwest won't comment, but sources say a key part of the deal may be upfront financing from Boeing.

The two orders give Boeing's new program a major leg up in a battle that it had been losing badly for the past several years....

Boeing is fighting back hard with lower costs, an impressive new airplane and an all-out strategy focused on preventing Airbus from launching its own new product to compete.

If Boeing can win enough orders from airlines like Korean and Northwest, it might be able to kill the A350, which has yet to win launch authority from the Airbus board.

"They seem to be doing everything they can to stop the A350 from being an industrial launch,' said Leahy. "My job is to make sure that doesn't happen."

Airbus, he promised, will have 100 orders for the A350 in hand by the end of the year.

Ironically, Boeing may have Leahy to thank for many of the changes that allowed it back into the game. Watching Airbus soar from 18 percent of the market to 57 percent over the past decade has shaken Boeing from its bureaucratic torpor.

After getting feedback from miffed customers last year that Leahy's sales team was much more responsive to their needs, Boeing has gone to school on its European rival. It has sped up decision-making, while dispatching senior executives and board members into the field to drum up sales. It has made winning back market share a priority and is enabling its salesmen to take more risks in pricing.

In addition, it has revamped its production lines to make them more competitive with Airbus', and it finally has rolled out a compelling new product in the 787, the first commercial airplane with a fuselage and wings built almost entirely from carbon-fiber composites....

When Airbus launched its A330 in the late 1990s, the new plane rendered Boeing's 767 obsolete. The A330 took more than three-quarters of the midsize wide-body market and proved a major win for the Europeans. But last year, when Boeing rolled out plans for its highly efficient 787, Airbus pooh-poohed the new plane.

"When you've got 80 percent of a given market, " Leahy said, "you aren't spending a lot of time thinking about how to improve that position."

By fall, as Boeing began to generate real interest in its new plane, Airbus had to scramble to retrofit its A330 with new composite wings and high-thrust engines to create the A350. Now it has fallen behind in a key market, and Leahy is scrambling to get his board to spend $5.3 billion to build it, even as the company runs over budget on the $12 billion effort to get its giant A380 in the air this year.

posted by Dan at 10:09 AM | Comments (8) | Trackbacks (2)

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Joel Engel goes Vizzini on the L-word

About once a quarter I'll experience a conversation in which I feel like Inigo Montoya's character in The Princess Bride when he hears Vizzini repeatedly say the word "inconceivable!" after witnessing yet another heroic feat by the masked and dangerous Dread Pirate Roberts. After hearing Vizzini say that word several times, Montoya finally turns to him and says, "I don't think that word means what you think it means."

I'm having an Inigo Montoya moment after reading Joel Engel go all Vizzini on the word "liberal" in The Weekly Standard. Here's a snippet:

Alas, somewhere over the last two decades or so, liberalism lost its root as the word liberal was perverted to the point of Orwellian inversion--and therefore rendered meaningless.

For example, rooting against the United States and for "insurgents" who delight in slaughtering innocents is many things (stupid, for one, also sad, evil, and short-sighted), but it is assuredly not liberal.

Decrying the American "religious right" for advocating a "culture of life" while simultaneously praising the neck-slicing Islamofascists is many things (start with pathetic), but it is not liberal.

Calling 3,000 workers who died when the buildings fell "little Eichmanns" is many things (vile, as well as repulsive and morally repugnant), but it is not liberal.

Protesting the painless execution of a sadistic murderer while cheering the removal of a feeding tube from a brain-damaged woman whose parents very much want her alive even if her estranged husband doesn't, is many things (incomprehensible, indefensible, and unforgivably cruel), but it is not liberal.

Marching against war every time the United States is involved--in fact only when the United States is involved--regardless of the war's purpose, is many things (reactionary for sure), but it is not liberal.

Engel's implication -- that all liberals are little Ward Chruchills -- is partisanship gone absurd. Conservative Ramesh Ponnuru makes this point in NRO's The Corner in discussing Engel's litany of non-liberal actions:

All of that is true--but most contemporary liberals would presumably agree with those sentiments. It may be that liberals should be criticized for not doing enough to distance themselves from people who hold these sentiments; but it is neither true nor fair, I think, to suggest that most liberals hold those sentiments themselves. And it advances no worthwhile cause to depict our society as more divided than it actually is.

In other words -- I don't think the modern incarnation of the word "liberal" means what Joel Engel thinks it means.

UPDATE: Mickey Kaus points out that the Associated Press can overgeneralize with the best of them -- this time with regard to defining "conservative":

Is "conservative activists" really the best phrase to describe the fundamentalist Christians who are sponsoring this anti-homosexuality event? Isn't that a little like identifying sponsors of a gun-control or militantly-pro-choice rally--or a gay rights event, for that matter--as "liberal activists"? (emphases in original).

posted by Dan at 02:59 PM | Comments (90) | Trackbacks (9)

Globalization and human welfare

Martin Wolf has a concise summary of globalization's variable effects on the human condition for the past few decades in his Whitman Lecture to the Institute for International Economics last week:

If we turn to human welfare, what is our assessment?

• Globalization has brought large economic gains to many parts of the world, above all to Asia, which has successfully exploited the ladder of development created by labor-intensive manufactures.

• Globalization has brought about huge reductions in the number of people in extreme poverty. According to the latest World Bank data, the proportion of the east Asian population living on less than a dollar a day at purchasing power parity fell from 56 percent in 1981 to 16 percent in 2001. This is the biggest and fastest reduction in extreme poverty in world history.

• The relatively rapid growth of Asian developing countries has almost certainly reduced global inequality among households for the first time since the 1820s.

• Globalization has brought big gains to the developed countries as well. Recent work by the Institute for International Economics suggests that the gains to the United States alone amount to $1,000 billion—almost 10 percent of GDP. For the United Kingdom, the gains must be far greater.

• Globalization has not worked well for Africa or much of Latin America. For this there are three reasons: the resource curse, persistent protectionism in agriculture, and the weak supply conditions in these countries. In addition, for these countries, the entry of China into the world economy is a massive shock, both positive and, in some cases, negative.

About the only thing I would add is that with regard to economic development, one could say, "________ has not worked well for Africa and much of Latin America" and you'd likely be correct no matter what filled in the blank. And I don't mean that scornfully, but rather tragically.

posted by Dan at 01:04 AM | Comments (27) | Trackbacks (1)

Monday, April 11, 2005

The crazy life of a city-state

Normally when a country's GDP shrinks by more than five percent in three months, on an annualized basis for the past three months (thanks, Jacob), alarm bells go off about the long term. In the case of Singapore, however, this appears to be the result of the normal vicissitudes of on particular industry combined with the fact that Singapore, a city-state, has a small domestic economy. John Burton provides some background in the Financial Times:

Singapore’s economy suffered its first quarter-on-quarter decline in nearly two years in the first three months of 2005, undermined by a sharp fall in pharmaceutical production, according to a preliminary government estimate on Monday.

Gross domestic product in the first quarter shrank by 5.8 per cent on an annualised basis from the fourth quarter of 2004, while on a year-on-year basis, GDP expanded by a sluggish 2.4 per cent.

The weak economic data underscored how Singapore’s increased dependence on the volatile pharmaceutical industry was creating great swings in the city-state’s quarterly growth rates....

Drug production can fluctuate widely from month to month, in contrast to electronics, Singapore’s other mainstay industry, whose production cycles can be measured in months and even years.

The production of pharmaceuticals is affected by long chemical processing times and frequent shutdowns of facilities for cleaning. The value of output is also affected as drug plants switch from one product to another, with each priced differently.

Drug production shrank 11.6 per cent in January from a year earlier and then fell by more than 60 per cent in February, which had prompted many economists to cut their forecasts for the first quarter.

In contrast, growth for other manufacturing industries, such as electronics, in the first quarter was “still healthy”, although slowing, the ministry said....

The weak economic data could force the central bank to stimulate growth by abandoning its policy of a “modest and gradual appreciation” of the Singapore dollar in favour of a neutral stance when it meets today for a twice-yearly review.

Singapore relies on its foreign exchange rate rather than interest rates to guide monetary policy because of the small and open nature of its economy.

The last two paragraph suggest one reason why Bretton Woods 2 might persist for longer than some predict. If Singapore decides to halt the appreciation of its currency, it's going to buy more dollars.

posted by Dan at 12:31 PM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (2)

J. Lo, Conan the Barbarian, and Afghan Idol

You have to think that things are going pretty well in Afghanistan when a major subject of public debate is.... what's on television. Kim Barker explains in the Chicago Tribune:

The two men spend several minutes debating which came first, the chicken or the egg. They argue over whether people dream in color.

This hardly seems like the most controversial TV show in Afghanistan. But in between the polite chitchat, these men--the Afghan version of MTV veejays--play music videos, which sometimes feature heaving bosoms, dancing women and sexually suggestive lyrics.

Such videos have turned the show "Hop" into one of the most popular programs on the Afghan capital's most popular new television station, Tolo TV. They also have drawn the ire of the country's clerics and the scrutiny of the government.

"Watching a woman with half-naked breasts and a man and a woman sucking each other's lips on TV, like on Tolo, is not atocceptable," said Abdul Malik Kamawi, spokesman for the country's Supreme Court.

The debate over programming on the five private TV stations in Kabul highlights a major difficulty facing the new Afghanistan: trying to balance democratic freedoms and a largely conservative Islamic society. The constitution protects freedom of expression and prohibits anything that is against Islam. That inevitably leads to conflict, because what is against Islam often depends on who is watching.

Several new stations are pushing the limits in the land where the Taliban once banned TV sets and forced women to be hidden. They are playing Indian movies, which mostly focus on love and sexy couples dancing and singing. Some have shown movies from the United States, such as "Conan the Barbarian," with sex scenes....

On Tolo, people Rollerblade and fly kites at a New Year's celebration. Men and women talk to each other, even laugh together. Jennifer Lopez videos are shown frequently, and commercials tout the benefits of chicken bullion and dandruff shampoo. In many ways the station shows a vision of Kabul not as it necessarily is, but as many young people would like it to be.

A short makeover feature takes ordinary Afghans off the street and turns them into fashionable young people who would blend into any Western city. Think of it as "Hip Eye for the Traditional Afghan Guy." On one recent show, a young Afghan man with a beard, an uneven haircut and the typical Afghan knee-length shirt and matching pants got a shave, a haircut and a shower and was dressed in jeans and a modern shirt....

Most people on the street say Tolo TV is their favorite Afghan station. They like the news and the investigative reporting--new to Afghanistan. They like "Moments," a prank program similar to "Candid Camera." But most people, young and old, say their favorite show on Tolo is "Hop," which features videos from India, Iran, Turkey, the U.S. and Afghanistan.

"It's a good program," said Walid Shahbaz, 22, who was out shopping. "Mullahs are usually talking about things that are against Islam. But I don't think `Hop' is against Islam."

The TV station is planning to air a new program, one that station workers are certain will be a hit. It shows just how much the clerics are up against, and how much Afghanistan has changed since the fall of the Taliban in late 2001.

That show, modeled on a popular U.S. program, will feature men and women singing their way to fame. "Afghan Idol" will start shooting in a few weeks. (emphasis added)

I can just picture Virginia Postrel smiling at the bolded section.

UPDATE: Barker has a follow-up piece in Tuesday's Tribune on the opening of the first plastic surgery clinic in Kabul:

Most patients want their scars removed, all evidence of burns, skin diseases and even gunshot wounds erased. But others, hiding beneath their burqas, want nose jobs.

Cosmetic surgery has arrived in Kabul, in the form of the tiny Hamkar Surgical Clinic, across the street from the bombed-out Cinema Theatre building, in need of its own face-lift. In this clinic, tucked away at the top of a dark stairway, people can pay for tummy tucks, although no one has been brave enough yet to try. Women will be able to buy larger breasts, although only one woman has expressed interest so far.

"It's peaceful now in Afghanistan," nurse Mohammad Fazel said. "People can get rid of their wrinkles. They can get rid of their bad figures."

LAST UPDATE: Oxblog's Afghan correspondent provides an update on the situation on the ground outside of Kabul. Quick summary: "[E]nthusiasm, continued commitment, and some degree of optimism -- these are I think proper attitudes when considering the situation in Afghanistan."

posted by Dan at 12:22 PM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Real men don't worry about man dates

At a group dinner last night, a male friend who shall remain anonymous said that the first thing he read in the Sunday New York Times was the Style Section. In the Drezner household, that section generally falls under Erika's purview -- much like our division of labor with regard to the Book Review. However, I will often look at an article that my lovely wife recommends. The point is, this declaration from a close heterosexual friend neither surprised nor particularly preturbed me.

Today, however, the front-pager for the Style Section was a Jennifer 8. Lee story about the "man date". Some highlights:

The delicate posturing began with the phone call.

The proposal was that two buddies back in New York City for a holiday break in December meet to visit the Museum of Modern Art after its major renovation.

"He explicitly said, 'I know this is kind of weird, but we should probably go,' " said Matthew Speiser, 25, recalling his conversation with John Putman, 28, a former classmate from Williams College.

The weirdness was apparent once they reached the museum, where they semi-avoided each other as they made their way through the galleries and eschewed any public displays of connoisseurship. "We definitely went out of our way to look at things separately," recalled Mr. Speiser, who has had art-history classes in his time.

"We shuffled. We probably both pretended to know less about the art than we did."

Eager to cut the tension following what they perceived to be a slightly unmanly excursion - two guys looking at art together - they headed directly to a bar....

Simply defined a man date is two heterosexual men socializing without the crutch of business or sports. It is two guys meeting for the kind of outing a straight man might reasonably arrange with a woman. Dining together across a table without the aid of a television is a man date; eating at a bar is not. Taking a walk in the park together is a man date; going for a jog is not. Attending the movie "Friday Night Lights" is a man date, but going to see the Jets play is definitely not.

"Sideways," the Oscar-winning film about two buddies touring the central California wine country on the eve of the wedding of one of them, is one long and boozy man date.

Although "man date" is a coinage invented for this article, appearing nowhere in the literature of male bonding (or of homosexual panic), the 30 to 40 straight men interviewed, from their 20's to their 50's, living in cities across the country, instantly recognized the peculiar ritual even if they had not consciously examined its dos and don'ts. Depending on the activity and on the two men involved, an undercurrent of homoeroticism that may be present determines what feels comfortable or not on a man date, as Mr. Speiser and Mr. Putman discovered in their squeamishness at the Modern.

As someone who has gone on the occasional man date, I suspect Ms. Lee might be exaggerating the awkwardness of this particular social institution. Heterosexual men who are unafraid of saying that they read the Sunday Styles section first -- and the men who befriend them -- don't really care what other people think about two men sharing a meal, a movie, or an art gallery.

Next week in the Style Section, I want to read about trendy reporters who use numbers for middle initials.

UPDATE: to be fair, Mr. Lee changed her name before she became a reporter and did so for reasons having little to do with trendiness. Plus I've been assured by many that she is a very nice person.

This doesn't change the fact that the article is a crock of s&#t, however.

posted by Dan at 11:32 AM | Comments (18) | Trackbacks (2)

Saturday, April 9, 2005

April's Books of the Month

The international relations book for April [It's a bit late--ed. Look, I've been on the road a little bit.] addresses two issues that plague the study of the global political economy: how to explain the independent effect of economic ideas and ideology, and the overestimation of Karl Polanyi's Great Transformation as a guide to understanding political economy.

Various IR scholars have tried to put forward arguments for how ideas -- distinct from material interests or pre-existing institutions -- influence outcomes. As someone who generally assigns a lot of causal weight to interests and institutions, I've neverheless wanted to see a serious exploration of the role ideas can play in the world. And, at the very least, I'm in the middle of reading a good-faith effort to do this very thing: Great Transformations: Economic Ideas and Institutional Change in the Twentieth Century, by Mark Blyth. Great Transformations looks at how the United States and Sweden have reacted to economic crises by changing their ideas about how to run an economy. To explain the role of ideas, Blyth goes back to a very old but still useful typology that economist Frank Knight made between risk and uncertainty (though this distinction remains a subject of debate among economists). Risk is a situation in which there are a number of possible outcomes, and it is possible to estimate the probability of each of those outcomes taking place. Uncertainty, in contrast, is a situation in which all of the possible outcomes aren't necessarily known, and it is impossible to estimate the probabilities of future events. It is under conditions of uncertainty -- i.e., when an economic crisis causes policymakers to lose faiths in previously accepted truisms about the economy -- when ideas can have causal potency.

Also, I like any book that opens with the sentence: "While Polanyi's description of the economic disorder caused by the self-regulating market still has great resonance, his prediction of that same market's denouement seems precipitous, at least with the benefit of hindsight."

The general interest book is Brian C. Anderson's South Park Conservatives: The Revolt Against Liberal Media Bias. Anderson's book is an expansion of a City Journal essay he wrote in autumn of 2003 (about which I blogged here) -- in which he argued that the rise of cable news and satire, blogs, and conservative publishing houses was leading to a level playing field in the media. South Park Conservatives also has chapters on talk radio and campus conservatives. Here's the closing paragraph:

Over time, a greater number of right-of-center voices will find audiences, whether it's via talk radio, cable news, the press, the entertainment world, and even academe. The Left will have to re-examine, argue, and refine its positions, so many of which proved disastrously wrong, and stop living off the past. It's hard to imagine that this development won't result in a broader, richer, deeper national debate--something liberals of an older, John Stuart Mill stripe would have welcomed.

The one coda I would attach to this is that the rise of a conservative media elite can lead to the same kinds of arrogance and sumgness perpetrated by the old liberal media elite. Eric Boehlert makes this point in Salon in his autopsy of the Schiavo memo meme. For more on this incident, see Jack Shafer's essay in Slate about the comparative advantage of bloggers vs. journalists.

Go check them out!

posted by Dan at 12:43 AM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

Friday, April 8, 2005

I didn't think this was possible...

John Holbo posts an amusing paean to... comment spam.

Here's how it starts:

Do you know what’s interesting about comment spam? Nothing, of course. But consider this. No piece of comment spam has ever been able to mimic a human convincingly. It tries, but comment spam is like the aliens among us. They look like us, dress like us … but they also eat the houseplants. In obedience to the iron genre trope that there must be some obvious failure of mimicry that gives away this sinister presence. To read comment spam is to come to awareness that these creatures have travelled a long way to get to our little blue marble floating in space (whether they come in peace, or to breed with the ladies, or because their home planet is tragically polluted.)

Read the whole thing.

Refreshingly, after repeated waves of comment spam last fall, I've had to deal with far fewer attempts since the election. The most clever spam effort I've seen simply copied a prior comment from the thread, with the desired URL replacing commenter's e-mail and URL. This is dangerous, because unless the blogger is paying attention it just looks like a random double comment.

posted by Dan at 02:47 PM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (0)

Funny thing about the comics....


Jeffrey Zaslow writes in the Wall Street Journal (that link will work for non-subscribers) about how old comic strips are trying to stay fresh. Apparently the "Family Circus" above is one such example. Others include, according to Zaslow:

Blondie's daughter, Cookie, is dressing like Britney Spears....

Lately, Little Orphan Annie has landed in a North Korean jail and foiled terrorist plots....

Dick Tracy chases corporate crooks, including one with a trophy wife in continual need of plastic surgery. Prince Valiant might be living in the sixth century, but his current storyline has an ecological theme designed to resonate with 21st-century readers. Blondie uses a laptop in her catering business....

"Nancy," a character who has been around since 1933, watches "The O.C." on TV and recently booted her friend Sluggo from a competition a lot like "American Idol." Her Aunt Fritzi drives a sport-utility vehicle and loves such country-music stars as Faith Hill and Shania Twain....

The more macro trend Zaslow identifies is the barrier to entry that keeping old strips on the funny pages presents:

Other young cartoonists complain that cosmetic makeovers in these "dinosaur strips" are masking recycled plots and gags. They say a comic should die when its creator does. "There's all this new talent not making it on comics pages because newspapers are running Blondie and Nancy," says Stacy Curtis, a 33-year-old editorial cartoonist for the Times of Northwest Indiana, in Munster, who has had three strip ideas rejected by syndicates.

The half-dozen major syndicates receive 10,000 or so submissions a year from cartoonists. They pick altogether about 12 to 15 to launch. Some syndicates defend their reliance on old strips by saying profits from these popular old war horses allow them to invest in the promotion of new comics....

Though many old gag comics such as "Blondie" and "Beetle Bailey" are thriving, storyline strips are an endangered species. People don't read newspapers with the regularity they once did, so they don't follow the daily ins and outs of heroines such as red-headed reporter Brenda Starr. And given the fast-paced nature of TV and movies today, people have little patience for a 14-week storyline that plays out with "the speed of a dripping faucet," says Mary Schmich, the Chicago Tribune columnist who writes "Brenda Starr." Ms. Schmich hopes that strips like hers will gain new life because people can now read dozens of days at a time online.

What the Internet taketh away, the Internet also giveth. Which makes this as good a time as any to recommend Chris Muir's Day By Day strip.

posted by Dan at 12:09 PM | Comments (8) | Trackbacks (1)

Thursday, April 7, 2005

The World Bank fires a warning shot across the dollar's bow

Andrew Balls reports in the Financial Times that the World Bank ain't too comfortable with the developing countries' accumulation of dollar-denominated assets:

Developing countries that have amassed large US dollar reserves face a growing threat of big losses from a sudden decline in the dollar, the World Bank warned yesterday.

In its 2005 Global Development Finance Report, the bank identified the "gravest risk" for emerging markets as a deep and disorderly dollar decline. This could create volatility, including a dollar collapse below what the bank's economists see as its long-term equilibrium level.

The result, it said, could be "a costly restructuring of world industry that would have to be undone in following years as the dollar returned to its equilibrium level".

But even in the event of a continued steady decline in the dollar the bank warned that countries with big dollar reserves faced capital losses, continuing the pattern of the past 2½ years.

Foreign reserves held in developing countries rose from $292bn (€227bn) in 2003 to $378bn last year, the bank said in the report. Asia, and particularly China, accounted for much of this, but 101 of 132 developing countries increased their reserves last year.

The report's warning was echoed by the International Monetary Fund, the bank's sister organisation, yesterday. Rodrigo Rato, IMF head, said: "A sharp increase in US interest rates would adversely affect the expansion and lead to a significant deterioration in emerging market financing conditions."

The World Bank press release contains more direct warnings shots than those quoted in the FT:

[Uri] Dadush [Director of the Bank’s Development Prospects Group] says the US current account deficit is likely to hit six percent of GDP in 2005.

“This is an unsustainable current account deficit level. The phasing out of that deficit will take forms that are very difficult to evaluate in advance. It will require some adjustment in interest rates. It will require some adjustment in exchange rates,” he says.

Overall, Dadush says it could lead to a “significantly more turbulent financial environment for developing countries.”

... But [François] Bourguignon, [the Bank’s senior vice president for Development Economics and Chief Economist], too sounds a warning about the risks facing developing countries.

“We should also keep in mind that current global financial imbalances pose risks—of disorderly exchange rate movements, or of interest rate increases—that could threaten these gains. Developing countries need to prepare themselves for adjustments, some of which could be sudden,” he says.

Dadush says it’s vital for developing countries to be ready to act.

“History shows again and again that policy makers have been surprised by financial crises when they arise,” he says.

“There is a tendency for financial markets and policymakers to miss the warning signs and overshoot, making the necessary adjustment larger when it does occur.”

Click here for the Bank's full report, Global Development Finance 2005: Mobilizing Finance and Managing Vulnerability.

Brad Setser has further thoughts on this topic as well:

The Bretton Woods 2 system of Asian reserve financing of the US continues, no doubt. But I also think it is fair to say that many -- both in Asia and in the World Bank -- are beginning to reassess the cost/ benefit ratio of this system.


UPDATE: Last month Stefan Karlsson provided a nice backgrounder on the trade deficit for those who need a refresher. An the Economist has a nice backgrounder as well.

posted by Dan at 05:35 PM | Comments (14) | Trackbacks (1)

The New York Times and academic politics

The New York Times editorial page is lousy with academic politics today. First, the've published six letters in response to Paul Krugman's Tuesday column (see my take here).

Tom Elia take issue with one of the letters -- for me, however, this one was the most amusing of the lot:

To the Editor:

As a (left-leaning) college history professor, I am bemused by accusations that I am trying to indoctrinate my students with my progressive ideals. If I had that kind of influence, all my students would do the reading every week, proofread their papers meticulously and attend every class. (They don't.)

Samuel S. Thomas
Springfield, Ohio, April 5, 2005


Meanwhile, the lead Times editorial discusses the fracas at Columbia's Middle Eastern Studies program -- in which students have claimed to be intellectual intimidated by pro-Palestinian faculty members and faculty have received hate mail and death threats. The editorial trashes the selection of the faculty committee tasked to write a report and the overall clumsiness with which the university handled the affair (i.e., refusing to do anything until a documentary film brought the issue into the public eye).

What I really found peculiar, however, was the closing paragraph of the editorial:

[I]n the end, the report is deeply unsatisfactory because the panel's mandate was so limited. Most student complaints were not really about intimidation, but about allegations of stridently pro-Palestinian, anti-Israeli bias on the part of several professors. The panel had no mandate to examine the quality and fairness of teaching. That leaves the university to follow up on complaints about politicized courses and a lack of scholarly rigor as part of its effort to upgrade the department. One can only hope that Columbia will proceed with more determination and care than it has heretofore.

Replace "pro-Palestinian, anti-Israeli bias" with "pro-liberal, anti-conservative bias" -- is there any difference between the NYT's complaints about substantive bias in Columbia's Middle Eastern Studies program and conservatives' complaints about substantive bias in the humanities and social sciences?

[But just because academics are liberal doesn't mean they proselytize in their classes--ed. This is true, and it should be stressed that I think professors using their lectern as a bully pulpit is the exception as opposed to the rule. However, as a category of concern, the Times objection in this paragraph and the conservative complaint are awfully similar. However, as the letter quoted above suggests, how much difference any of this makes in the end is subject to debate.]

UPDATE: Juan Cole is too smart to make the following bullshit allegation:

Personally, I think that the master narrative of Zionist historiography is dominant in the American academy. Mostly this sort of thing is taught by International Relations specialists in political science departments, and a lot of them are Zionists, whether Christian or Jewish. Usually the narrative blames the Palestinians for their having been kicked off their own land, and then blames them again for not going quietly. It is not a balanced point of view, and if we take the NYT seriously... then the IR professors should be made to teach a module on the Palestinian point of view, as well. That is seldom done.

This sort of argument makes me wonder if Cole has ever actually sat in on an international relations course. It is possible that someone at some college teaches the Middle East as "Zionist historiography" but most IR scholars are way too professionalized to ascribe such a normative judgment to any nationality. It sure as hell ain't "dominant in the American academy." In fact, I'll dare Cole to find a single syllabus at the American Political Science Association archive or elsewhere with a "Zionist" bent.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Cole responds here, saying:

Drezner has misunderstood my point. I don't give a rat's ass whether those courses have a Zionist bent or not. I am saying that "bent" is not a relevant category of analysis when evaluating university teaching. Everybody has some bent. The question is, whether students come out of the class having learned to reason about a set of problems or not. The content is not as important, since they'll forget a lot of the content anyway, and will receive it selectively, both during and after the class. But if you teach them to take things apart and see how they work, to think about social and political causation, to see how things work together, in a particular field, then they can produce their own knowledge and understanding about it thereafter. They can also question their own and the professor's premises because they will have learned about hidden premises and how to bring them out in the open and interrogate them.

I certainly do not disagree with Cole's point about teaching students critical and analytical skills -- but his first posting (excerpted above) on this topic was entirely a discussion about content and not method. Furthermore, Cole has misunderstood my rebuttal. When I say that, "most IR scholars are way too professionalized," what I mean is that my fellow IR profs rarely, if ever, offer only one master narrative of any event. Instead, they tend to discuss how an event or case can be explained by different theories of international relations, and how for almost every theory, there are inconvenient facts that problematize that model. This doesn't leave much room for the "Israelis good, Palestinians evil" mode of teaching (and, again, let me stress that this is in international relations classes, which were the target of Cole's lament; I can't speak to how these questions are taught in comparative politics or history classes).

See Henry Farrell for a similar take. His punchline:

This doesn’t at all gel with my experience of how international relations is taught or practiced, which is that IR courses which cover Middle East politics usually provide readings that cover both sides of the argument....

I suspect that Cole’s claims reflect his lack of experience with IR as it is actually practiced in the academy. Certainly he needs to provide some evidence if he wants to make the rather strong claims that he is making stick. Otherwise, he’s doing what the people who he’s (in my opinion correctly) criticizing are doing – condemning an entire discipline wholesale on the basis of a rather shaky set of claims as to what the people in that discipline are “really” doing in the classroom.

posted by Dan at 10:24 AM | Comments (28) | Trackbacks (2)

Wednesday, April 6, 2005

Gone debatin'

I'll be at Boston University today as part of "The Great Debate" series at Boston University's College of Communications:

The Great Debate: Does Overseas Outsourcing Hurt the U.S. Economy? 6:30 p.m. Tsai Performance Center Paneilsts include Thea Lee, Chief International Economist, Public Policy Department, AFL-CIO; Jerry Jasinowski, President, Manufacturing Institute, National Associational of Manufacturers; Lori Wallach, Director, Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch; and Daniel Drezner, University of Chicago. Students panelists are Nick Barber, COM Broadcast Journalism, COM'06; and Ida Ziniti, COM Journalism, COM'06. Admission: free. Open to the public. Info: 617-353-5015.

They'll also be webcasting the event -- click here to see.

posted by Dan at 09:33 AM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, April 5, 2005

Brooks and Krugman roil the waters

Occasionally I wonder whether David Brooks and Paul Krugman call each other up and say, "Hey, let's get the blogosphere really worked up about topic X!!" I know that doesn't actually happen, but their columns from today -- Krugman's explanation for why no conservatives are in academia and vice versa, and Brooks' explanation of why conservatives are the party of big ideas -- play off each other nicely.

Krugman's thesis:

Claims that liberal bias keeps conservatives off college faculties almost always focus on the humanities and social sciences, where judgments about what constitutes good scholarship can seem subjective to an outsider. But studies that find registered Republicans in the minority at elite universities show that Republicans are almost as rare in hard sciences like physics and in engineering departments as in softer fields. Why?

One answer is self-selection - the same sort of self-selection that leads Republicans to outnumber Democrats four to one in the military. The sort of person who prefers an academic career to the private sector is likely to be somewhat more liberal than average, even in engineering.

But there's also, crucially, a values issue....

Scientific American may think that evolution is supported by mountains of evidence, but President Bush declares that "the jury is still out." Senator James Inhofe dismisses the vast body of research supporting the scientific consensus on climate change as a "gigantic hoax." And conservative pundits like George Will write approvingly about Michael Crichton's anti-environmentalist fantasies.

Think of the message this sends: today's Republican Party - increasingly dominated by people who believe truth should be determined by revelation, not research - doesn't respect science, or scholarship in general. It shouldn't be surprising that scholars have returned the favor by losing respect for the Republican Party.

In contrast to Krugman's claim of Republican intolerance, Brooks argues that it's precisely the intra-party squabbling that keeps the GOP on its toes:

Conservatives have not triumphed because they have built a disciplined and efficient message machine. Conservatives have thrived because they are split into feuding factions that squabble incessantly. As these factions have multiplied, more people have come to call themselves conservatives because they've found one faction to agree with....

Moreover, it's not only feuding that has been the key to conservative success - it's also what the feuding's about. When modern conservatism became aware of itself, conservatives were so far out of power it wasn't even worth thinking about policy prescriptions. They argued about the order of the universe, and how the social order should reflect the moral order. Different factions looked back to different philosophers - Burke, Aquinas, Hayek, Hamilton, Jefferson - to define what a just society should look like.

Conservatives fell into the habit of being acutely conscious of their intellectual forebears and had big debates about public philosophy. That turned out to be important: nobody joins a movement because of admiration for its entitlement reform plan. People join up because they think that movement's views about human nature and society are true.

Liberals have not had a comparable public philosophy debate. A year ago I called the head of a prominent liberal think tank to ask him who his favorite philosopher was. If I'd asked about health care, he could have given me four hours of brilliant conversation, but on this subject he stumbled and said he'd call me back. He never did.

Liberals are less conscious of public philosophy because modern liberalism was formed in government, not away from it. In addition, liberal theorists are more influenced by post-modernism, multiculturalism, relativism, value pluralism and all the other influences that dissuade one from relying heavily on dead white guys.

Combined, these two columns have certainly inspired a great deal of blog chatter. On Brooks, see Glenn Reynolds, Kieran Healy, Mark Schmitt, Matthew Yglesias, and Kevin Drum. On Krugman, see Juan Non-Volokh, Orin Kerr, Mark Kleiman, and Brad DeLong [What the hell does DeLong's post have to do with Krugman's article?--ed. Nothing, except it does offer a glimpse into the kind of mentality that is necessary to survive and thrive in the modern academy].

As a Republican academic, I offer the following insights:

1) At the conference I atttended this weekend, a law professor (whose name and affiliation will remain anonymous) told me flat out that a colleague had Googled a job applicant who was being seriously looked at, found the applicant's blog, found the political views on the blog to be "reactionary," and that this was a contributing factor to the decision not to hire the applicant. This, alas, confirms one of the negative externalities of scholar-blogging.

My point? Krugman clearly believes that some beliefs about the scientific method are a necessary condition for academia, and these these views are anathema to Republicans. To which I would say: a) this is the intellectual equivalent of quoting union Democrats bashing the logic of free trade and therefore concluding that no Democrats could possibly become economists -- in other words, Krugman mistakenly attributes the attitudes of some Republicans about evolution to all Republicans; and b) the above anecdote suggests that when the broad swath of academia is liberal, receptivity to evolution ain't the only necessary belief to hold in order to get hired.

2) If you go back and read Ron Susskind's "reality-based" New York Times Magazine cover story on the Bush administration, or think about Bush's definition of "political capital," you quickly become aware that conservatives are quite well-versed in arguments about the social construction of reality, thank you very much.

3) I fear I may botch the point I want to make here, but it's worth roiling the waters by making it anyway. Considering how both sides of the ideological spectrum have been thinking about foreign policy since 9/11, I can't help thinking that both Krugman and Brooks have a decent point. On questions of grand strategy, almost all of the intellectual ferment has come from conservatives (though bravo to the folks at Democracy Arsenal for trying to correct that imbalance). At the same time, the conservatives in power did a God-awful job of actually implementing various parts of this strategy, in part because they they were so unwilling to question the empirical support for their foundational assumptions. In contrast, "reality-based" liberals have been correct on an awful lot of particulars, but not on the big questions.

In other words, my ideal foreign policy is one that's forged in the grand strategy debates on the right, but implemented by the policy wonk mandarins on the left.

There's plenty more to wrestle with here -- including the question of how Mill's On Liberty would inform one's reaction to these columns -- but I'll leave that to the readers.

posted by Dan at 10:56 PM | Comments (43) | Trackbacks (5)

San Francisco regulates bloggers -- or not

Eugene Volokh has the run-down on a possible San Francisco ordinance designed to regulate election coverage, and may or may not regulate blogs. Eugene writes, "I've held off on blogging about this because I wanted to figure out just what the ordinance means, and it's been surprisingly hard." After reading his post, I'm equally flummoxed -- but I fear this will not be the last of blog regulation.

posted by Dan at 10:23 PM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)

Passive-aggressive opportunism and the College of Cardinals

Liz Sly has an interesting piece in the Chicago Tribune on the selection process for the next pope. Although any male Catholic can be chosen, the overwhelming probability is that the next Pope will come from the College of Cardinals -- the very body that selects the next pope.

This raises a tricky question -- how can a Cardinal who wants to be pope express that desire? As Sly explains:

It will be no ordinary election. Campaigning is frowned upon, and any cardinal who may wish to be pope would be best advised to keep that to himself. A cardinal who is seen to be pre-empting God's will by promoting his own chances would be quickly shunted aside.

So, does this make it difficult for potential prelates to make their case to fellow cardinals? Not necessarily, thanks to the Internet, as Sly explains:

In days gone by, the General Congregation would have provided a first opportunity for cardinals from far-flung places to meet and learn about each other's positions on various issues.

But in the age of jet travel and electronic communications, all the cardinals already have met at least once and are likely to be somewhat familiar with each other's reputations and policies, decreasing the likelihood that a dark horse candidate would emerge, as was the case when John Paul II was chosen.

Some cardinals have Web sites, especially those who head dioceses, on which they post their pictures, writings and biographies, making it easy for cardinals to read about each other.

The Web site of the archdiocese of Milan, for example, contains more than 120 pictures of Archbishop Dionigi Tettamanzi, one of the most frequently mentioned favorites for the job.

The powerful Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who as the dean of the College of Cardinals will be in charge of organizing the conclave and is expected to play a key role in brokering the selection, has his own Web site on which his extensive theological writings are posted. There also is a fan site on which admirers can purchase T-shirts, beer mugs and buttons emblazoned with Ratzinger's most important pronouncements.

In other words, candidates for the papacy can't come out and say they want to be the pope, but they can provide easily accessible information about their theological doctrines, positions, and, yes, even head shots. They can't be aggressive, but they can be passive-aggressive. [Jeez, it's almost like they're academics or something--ed.]

I eagerly await the first cardinal blog.

For more information on the selection of the next pope, visit this page at

UPDATE: The Associated Press reports that, "In a major change to a centuries-old practice, the Vatican will ring bells in addition to sending up white smoke to signal the election of a new pope." Yep -- it's just a step or two between ringing bells and text-messaging the entire flock.

posted by Dan at 11:50 AM | Comments (9) | Trackbacks (2)

Monday, April 4, 2005

A warming world and frosty Aussies

President Bush has had a pretty good foreign policy run as of late. Last month Europe decided to maintain its arms embargo on China (though this issue hasn't gone away) and this month accepted Paul Wolfowitz's nomination as World Bank President without firing a rhetorical shot. The French have returned to their usual exercises in Anglophobe hysteria -- now they're worried about the hegemony of Google.

In the rest of thw world, that whole "freedom on the march" deal is looking pretty good. Kyrgyzstan's transition to democracy "has been largely peaceful" according to the BBC. Syria has now set April 30th as the actual deadline for its military withdrawal from Lebanon. Finally, President Bush just had a fruitful meeting with Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko, promising help in getting Ukraine into NATO and the WTO (though he didn't go as far as Slate's Peter Savodnik would have liked).

In Iraq, the news is also trending upwards. 64 Sunni scholars recently issued a fatwa declaring that Sunnis could join Iraq's security forces in order to prevent the country from falling into the "the hands of those who have caused chaos, destruction and violated the sanctities." The violent insurgency has died down as of late; Britain's senior military official in Iraq declared that the insurgents were "running out of steam."

So things are apparently going swimmingly for Bush. But -- you knew there was a "but" -- there's this Australian poll reported in the Economist that's nagging at me:

THERE are few stauncher allies of America than Australia. John Howard, the prime minister, was one of the first leaders to commit troops to the war in Iraq, and recently dispatched another contingent. His conservative coalition government has forged a free-trade agreement with the United States. Mr Howard may be right when he boasts that Australia's relationship with America has never been closer. But he is on shakier ground when he says that the American alliance is “very central to the Australian psyche”.

An opinion poll published on March 28th asked Australians to rank a list of 15 countries and regions by their “positive feelings”. America came eleventh, at 58%, just behind Malaysia and Papua New Guinea. Only Indonesia, the Middle East, Iran and Iraq rated worse. The highest rating country (surprisingly, given their neighbourly rivalry) was New Zealand, which 94% of Australians felt positive about, followed by Britain, the EU and Japan.

The doubts about America did not stop there. Among ten potential threats from the outside world, 57% of Australians believed American foreign policies were as dangerous as Islamic fundamentalism. While 72% of Australians saw the American alliance as important for their country's security, more than two out of three thought Australia took too much notice of the United States in shaping its foreign policy. Asked if Australia should support America in any conflict with China over Taiwan, 72% said no.

Click here for the whole poll, which was sponsored by the Lowy Institute.

One could dismiss this as an irrelevant poll in a country led by a very pro-American government. Or one could think of this as one of those data points suggesting that other countries/populations are just biding their time until they can act to subvert U.S. interests.

I'll leave that debate to the readers.

posted by Dan at 03:25 PM | Comments (18) | Trackbacks (0)

Sunday, April 3, 2005

A very important post about.... the state of the Sox-Yankees rivalry

Ah, opening day. I was going to compose a long post about coping with the idea of the Red Sox as world champions, while still being confident of the Red Sox's chances this year, but a lot of other people beat me to it.

Although some fans are growing complacent from the 2004 success, I fall into the Bill Simmons camp on this one:

I never thought I would say the words "Thank God for the Yankees," but I'm saying them now. Thank God for the Yankees. As soon as Sunday night rolls around and Yankee fans are booing Boomer, Manny, Damon and everyone else, every Sox fan will snap right into, "All right, it's time to defend the title now" mode. You can't help it. We're natural enemies in the wild. And if it wasn't for them, we would be content playing with house money for the rest of the decade....

When it comes right down to it, this blood feud with the Yankees is unlike anything else in professional sports right now. They're the Ali to our Frazier, the Iron Sheik to our Sergeant Slaughter. We need them, they need us. We hate them, they hate us. The rivalry is developing into a self-perpetuating organism – a zero sum game for sports, a de facto Cold War – something that neither team can ever truly win. Both teams jockey for the upper hand all season, the battle resolves itself in October, and then everything starts again in April. That's just the way it is. Until last year, the Yankees always prevailed. Now we have an official rivalry on our hands. Is it better than winning a championship, or pulling off the greatest comeback in sports history? Of course not. But it's still pretty good. (emphases in original)

Over at the Black Table, Will Leitch sums up the state of the Red Sox quite nicely:

[T]he Red Sox aren't going away anytime sooner than the Patriots did. The Sox lost Pedro Martinez after being outbid on a contract they should have sprinted from in the first place, but more than made up for him with cheaper signings of David Wells (who will never, ever go away), Matt Clement and Wade Miller. The offense should be just as strong as last year's and even added shortstop Edgar Renteria, who, while overrated, shores up the defense and will be worth his four-year contract for at least, well, a year-and-a-half.

One could make the argument that last year's victory over the Yankees was the victory the Red Sox had been waiting for, the first step in winning the great war. But [Red Sox general manager Theo] Epstein has done something that George Steinbrenner has not done; he has put together an outstanding team that will also flourish in the future. The war isn't not just starting: It's already over. The Red Sox have won. The Yankees just don't know it yet. The notion of the hard-luck Red Sox fan has been obliterated.

As for the Yankees, consider this Futility Infielder post by Baseball Prospectus contributor Jay Jaffe from the offseason:

I'm sick of learning about the Yankees signing has-beens like Doug Glanville and Rey Sanchez and never-weres like Damian Rolls to compete for jobs at the fringe of their 25-man roster. I'm sick of contemplating a bench that with Glanville (34 years old, 2004 [on-base percentage] of .244), Sanchez (37, .281), Ruben Sierra (39, .296), John Flaherty (37, .286), and Bubba Crosby (28, .196) is both incredibly old and lacking a single player who put up a .300 OBP last year. Glanville last broke the New Mendoza Line in 2000, Flaherty in 1999. The team's thinking here is a direct affront to everything we've learned about winning baseball over the last quarter century.

I'm sick of ranting about the Yankees' player development woes. A couple days ago I quipped via the [Baseball Prospectus] internal mailing list, "That's an impressive new take on the concept of 'farm system' the Yanks have going -- find the freshest corpse available, exhume it, and fit it for pinstripes."

....I'm especially sick of the lack of vision and imagination being shown by the front office. At a time when the hallowed franchise is four years removed from its last World Championship, they appear to be accelerating in the opposite direction at alarming speed. I'm not going to pin this all on the increasingly marginalized Brian Cashman; it seems pretty clear that the shots are being called from higher up. Any day now I expect Randy Levine to call a press conference just to tell us that the team is completely out of ideas. As in...
Yankee Spokesperson:

"On behalf of the New York Yankees, I have the obligation to announce that our storehouse of brainpower has been exhausted by all of this dynasty-keeping we're expected to do. Ladies and gentlemen, we're completely out of ideas [digs finger in ear, looks around the room solemnly, then examines finger pulled from ear] Yep. That's it, we're tapped. You can all go home now. Questions?"

The Yankees are going to be good this year, no doubt. Randy Johnson will be ferocious. However, the fact is that they have no depth in starting pitching -- for the Yankees to win this year, they have to rely on one over-40 pitcher with no cartilage in his right knee and another over-40 pitcher with just a spot of back trouble. This didn't hamper the Red Sox last year (their top five pitchers were remarkably healthy and started 157 of 162 games), but the odds of the Yankees repeating this durability ain't great.

What's more important, however, is how this rivalry shapes up for the next few seasons. It's telling that Theo Epstein has managed not just to sign free agents this off-season, but also trade for some decent prospects. By allowing most of their free agents to walk, the Red Sox will have five of the top fifty picks in this year's amateur draft. The Sox won't just be good this year -- they're setting themselves up for quite a nice run.

And the Yankees? No team with a $200 million payroll is going to be bad -- and this is a great thing for Sox fans. For there to be a real rivalry, both sides need to have a decent chance of winning, and this will be a real rivalry for many years to come. It's been intense in recent years because, as Joe Torre observed, "both clubs have been very evenly matched." After this year, however, medium-term trends favor the Red Sox. Given that for years, nay, decades, the reverse was true, I have no problem with this.

So let the games begin. But I don't think either Tom Maguire or Baseball Crank are going to be too happy -- especially after this year.

posted by Dan at 12:29 AM | Comments (11) | Trackbacks (0)

Friday, April 1, 2005

Open Pope thread

Feel free to comment on the legacy of Pope John Paul II, now approaching death. His pivotal role in promoting dissent in the Soviet bloc will certainly be prominently mentioned. So will his profound and consistent commitment to pacifism. As for his iron-clad control of the Church hierarchy itself, I'll leave it to the commentors.

UPDATE: Rest in peace, Karol Wojtyla.

Josh Marshall takes a welcome break from Social Security-blogging to make an excellent point about the ways that this pope changed the way that we think about the pope more generally:

One other thing that is worth mentioning --- especially for people under thirty --- is that before John Paul II, the Pope was a much more, well … parochial figure than he has been in the decades since.

The Pope didn’t travel around the world. He was always an Italian. And he was far less involved in the ecumenical work that played such a role in John Paul’s pontificate. All of this goes to say that for a Jewish nine-year-old and his grandfather sitting in a rec room in a Jewish retirement home in 1978, the Pope was a much more distant figure than he would be to almost any of us today.

Kathryn Jean Lopez also makes a trenchant point about the Pope's last lesson:

Much has been and will be said about Pope John Paul’s most recent silent teaching—his lessons from his example of his own suffering: How to live, how to die. To respect all human life, even when sickly. I think also when you realize that he did not go to the hospital this week it was another specific lesson by example--and a striking one this week of all weeks. He took his antibiotics, he had a feeding tube, and had doctors on hand treating him, but his situation was grave and he didn’t opt for any extra (read: extraordinary?) care that, perhaps, might have given him a few more days. We’re not to be absolutists, but realists who are called to be protectors of this amazing gift we’ve been given—human life.

posted by Dan at 11:23 PM | Comments (21) | Trackbacks (1)

Gone conferencin'

Posting will be erratic the next couple of days, as I wend my way to New Haven for a conference sponsored by Yale's Information Society Project entitled "The Global Flow of Information." Looks like an interesting program.

If you're really trying to avoid work, go check out the thought piece I'll be presenting entitled "Weighing the Scales: The Internet's Effect on State-Society Relations." I'll be very curious to see whether new information technologies will affect the situaion in Zimbabwe.

UPDATE: For those of you who really want to know what's going on at the conference, check out Lawmeme, which is liveblogging the panels.

posted by Dan at 10:37 AM | Trackbacks (2)