Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Foxes, hedgehogs, and the study of international relations

When we last left off, we were discussing Louis Menand's New Yorker review of Philip Tetlock's Expert Political Judgment: How Good Is It? How Can We Know?.

In his review, Menand highlights an interesting observation by Tetlock on who did better at predicting world political events.

It was no news to Tetlock... that experts got beaten by formulas. But he does believe that he discovered something about why some people make better forecasters than other people. It has to do not with what the experts believe but with the way they think. Tetlock uses Isaiah Berlin’s metaphor from Archilochus, from his essay on Tolstoy, “The Hedgehog and the Fox,” to illustrate the difference. He says:
Low scorers look like hedgehogs: thinkers who “know one big thing,” aggressively extend the explanatory reach of that one big thing into new domains, display bristly impatience with those who “do not get it,” and express considerable confidence that they are already pretty proficient forecasters, at least in the long term. High scorers look like foxes: thinkers who know many small things (tricks of their trade), are skeptical of grand schemes, see explanation and prediction not as deductive exercises but rather as exercises in flexible “ad hocery” that require stitching together diverse sources of information, and are rather diffident about their own forecasting prowess.
A hedgehog is a person who sees international affairs to be ultimately determined by a single bottom-line force: balance-of-power considerations, or the clash of civilizations, or globalization and the spread of free markets. A hedgehog is the kind of person who holds a great-man theory of history, according to which the Cold War does not end if there is no Ronald Reagan. Or he or she might adhere to the “actor-dispensability thesis,” according to which Soviet Communism was doomed no matter what. Whatever it is, the big idea, and that idea alone, dictates the probable outcome of events. For the hedgehog, therefore, predictions that fail are only “off on timing,” or are “almost right,” derailed by an unforeseeable accident. There are always little swerves in the short run, but the long run irons them out.

Foxes, on the other hand, don’t see a single determining explanation in history. They tend, Tetlock says, “to see the world as a shifting mixture of self-fulfilling and self-negating prophecies: self-fulfilling ones in which success breeds success, and failure, failure but only up to a point, and then self-negating prophecies kick in as people recognize that things have gone too far.”

Tetlock did not find, in his sample, any significant correlation between how experts think and what their politics are. His hedgehogs were liberal as well as conservative, and the same with his foxes. (Hedgehogs were, of course, more likely to be extreme politically, whether rightist or leftist.) He also did not find that his foxes scored higher because they were more cautious—that their appreciation of complexity made them less likely to offer firm predictions. Unlike hedgehogs, who actually performed worse in areas in which they specialized, foxes enjoyed a modest benefit from expertise. Hedgehogs routinely over-predicted: twenty per cent of the outcomes that hedgehogs claimed were impossible or nearly impossible came to pass, versus ten per cent for the foxes. More than thirty per cent of the outcomes that hedgehogs thought were sure or near-sure did not, against twenty per cent for foxes.

The upside of being a hedgehog, though, is that when you’re right you can be really and spectacularly right. Great scientists, for example, are often hedgehogs. They value parsimony, the simpler solution over the more complex. In world affairs, parsimony may be a liability—but, even there, there can be traps in the kind of highly integrative thinking that is characteristic of foxes. Elsewhere, Tetlock has published an analysis of the political reasoning of Winston Churchill. Churchill was not a man who let contradictory information interfere with his idées fixes. This led him to make the wrong prediction about Indian independence, which he opposed. But it led him to be right about Hitler. He was never distracted by the contingencies that might combine to make the elimination of Hitler unnecessary. (emphases added)

I'll need to read the book to see the methodology by which Tetlock distinguished hedgehogs from foxes, but let's assume that his finding is correct. What does this imply for the study of international relations?

Potentially a lot -- from my vantage point, the incentives in the IR discipline are heavily skewed towards the hedgehogs. Methodologically, the growing sophistication of formal, statistical, and even qualitative techniques make it increasingly difficult for any one scholar to keep up their abilities in more than one area. Professionally, our field rewards the hedgehogs, the ones who come up with "the big idea" that can explain it all. As a result, my field has a lot of hedgehogs, which means that we may not be of much use when it comes to policy relevance.

Is this a bad thing? I'm sure that many commenters will instinctively say, "yeah!" but it's not so clear cut. First, if the point of the academy is to nourish unpopular but important ideas, then it's a good thing we have a lot of hedgehogs, because every once in a while they will produce the kind of insight that helps to understand Really Big Truths.

Second, asking IR scholars for accurate predictions about the future might be like asking meterologists for an accurate weather forecast three months ahead. That's impossible -- there are just too many variables. It might be that what political scientists do best is not predicting future events but rather explaining the past and present in a way that provides limited but useful insights into the very near future.

Third, there are think tanks for the kind of expert predictions discussed in Tetlock's book. It's true that think tanks have their own perversities, but perhaps the best thing to do is fix them rather than the academy.

Despite those counterarguments, I think a few more IR foxes might be a good idea. [Good idea! Did you know Salma Hayek will be co-hosting the Nobel Peace Prize Concert on December 10th?--ed. That's not who I meant by foxes. Oh.... did you mean Angelina Jolie's work as a United Nations ambassador?--ed. No, and you're not helping right now.]

I'll leave this question to the commenters.

posted by Dan at 05:06 PM | Comments (16) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Who needs experts?

Louis Menand has a glowing review in the New Yorker of Philip Tetlock's latest opus, Expert Political Judgment: How Good Is It? How Can We Know?. Some highlights:

It is the somewhat gratifying lesson of Philip Tetlock’s new book... that people who make prediction their business—people who appear as experts on television, get quoted in newspaper articles, advise governments and businesses, and participate in punditry roundtables—are no better than the rest of us. When they’re wrong, they’re rarely held accountable, and they rarely admit it, either. They insist that they were just off on timing, or blindsided by an improbable event, or almost right, or wrong for the right reasons. They have the same repertoire of self-justifications that everyone has, and are no more inclined than anyone else to revise their beliefs about the way the world works, or ought to work, just because they made a mistake. No one is paying you for your gratuitous opinions about other people, but the experts are being paid, and Tetlock claims that the better known and more frequently quoted they are, the less reliable their guesses about the future are likely to be. The accuracy of an expert’s predictions actually has an inverse relationship to his or her self-confidence, renown, and, beyond a certain point, depth of knowledge. People who follow current events by reading the papers and newsmagazines regularly can guess what is likely to happen about as accurately as the specialists whom the papers quote. Our system of expertise is completely inside out: it rewards bad judgments over good ones....

Tetlock also found that specialists are not significantly more reliable than non-specialists in guessing what is going to happen in the region they study. Knowing a little might make someone a more reliable forecaster, but Tetlock found that knowing a lot can actually make a person less reliable. “We reach the point of diminishing marginal predictive returns for knowledge disconcertingly quickly,” he reports. “In this age of academic hyperspecialization, there is no reason for supposing that contributors to top journals—distinguished political scientists, area study specialists, economists, and so on—are any better than journalists or attentive readers of the New York Times in ‘reading’ emerging situations.” And the more famous the forecaster the more overblown the forecasts. “Experts in demand,” Tetlock says, “were more overconfident than their colleagues who eked out existences far from the limelight.”...

The experts’ trouble in Tetlock’s study is exactly the trouble that all human beings have: we fall in love with our hunches, and we really, really hate to be wrong....

The expert-prediction game is not much different. When television pundits make predictions, the more ingenious their forecasts the greater their cachet. An arresting new prediction means that the expert has discovered a set of interlocking causes that no one else has spotted, and that could lead to an outcome that the conventional wisdom is ignoring. On shows like “The McLaughlin Group,” these experts never lose their reputations, or their jobs, because long shots are their business. More serious commentators differ from the pundits only in the degree of showmanship. These serious experts—the think tankers and area-studies professors—are not entirely out to entertain, but they are a little out to entertain, and both their status as experts and their appeal as performers require them to predict futures that are not obvious to the viewer. The producer of the show does not want you and me to sit there listening to an expert and thinking, I could have said that. The expert also suffers from knowing too much: the more facts an expert has, the more information is available to be enlisted in support of his or her pet theories, and the more chains of causation he or she can find beguiling. This helps explain why specialists fail to outguess non-specialists. The odds tend to be with the obvious.

There are intriguing implications for understanding world politics that deserves a post of their own, but suffice it to say that Tetlock's findings will probably warm the cockles of every political blogger out there.

posted by Dan at 10:41 PM | Comments (12) | Trackbacks (0)

Your Schumpeter quote of the day
Early in life I had three ambitions. I wanted to be the greatest economist in the world, the greatest horseman in Austria, and the best lover in Vienna. Well, I never became the greatest horseman in Austria.
Courtesy of Irwin Stezler.
posted by Dan at 10:35 PM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)

GM: it's about more than legacy costs

Sean Gregory asks a useful question in Time: if the problems at GM are symptomatic of American manufacturing writ large, then why are foreign auto firms doing so well in the United States?

According to the Center for Automotive Research (CAR), the number of manufacturing jobs created by foreign-based automakers in the U.S. has risen 72% since 1993, to about 60,000. (The Big Three currently account for around 240,000 manufacturing jobs in the U.S., down from 340,000 in 1993.) The Asian companies have grown the fastest. Toyota, which plans to overtake GM soon as the world's largest automaker, has 11 U.S. plants and expects to open a truck factory in San Antonio, Texas, in 2006. European brands, including BMW and Mercedes-Benz, are also growing. CAR estimates that foreign automakers operating in the U.S. add 1.8 million jobs to the American economy, including white-collar, dealership and supplier positions--from partsmakers to the bartenders at post-whistle watering holes.

Why do overseas firms seem to thrive, building profitable cars with U.S. workers, while Detroit languishes? For example, in the first quarter of 2005, Nissan made $1,603 on every vehicle sold in North America, while GM lost $2,311, according to Harbour Consulting. For starters, the transplants, generally with reputations for higher quality than American brands, don't offer the deep discounts that U.S. makers employ. And foreign manufacturers don't carry the legacy costs that drag U.S. companies down. Workers at foreign companies' nonunion shops make roughly the same in wages and benefits as unionized employees in Detroit. But Asian and European firms, with younger workforces in the U.S., aren't saddled with crippling pension and health-care obligations. GM spends $1,525 per vehicle in the U.S. on health care, compared with $300 per vehicle at Toyota.

Thanks to newer technology, the foreign manufacturers are more efficient too. The Big Three are closing the productivity gap; GM takes 23 hours of labor to produce one vehicle, down from 32 hours in 1998. But that's still longer than Toyota's 19.4 hours per vehicle and Nissan's 18.3. The real question, of course, is what kind of cars Americans want. Honda's timing at East Liberty was near perfect: its fuel-efficient Civic rolled off the line just as consumers were looking for ways to save on gas costs. "We're in a battle for survival right now," says CAR chairman David Cole. "Without decisive action, the domestics will not stay in the game."

Click here for a CAR report on the contribution of foreign automakers to the U.S. economy.

posted by Dan at 08:12 PM | Comments (9) | Trackbacks (0)

The withdrawal question

I was on NPR's News & Notes with Ed Gordon this morning to discuss the ifs and the whens of a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq (click on the link to listen). The other talking head was Laurence Korb from the Center for American Progress. Larry has forgotten a lot more about the U.S. military than I've ever learned, so I'm not sure how much value I added to the conversation.

Larry and I agreed that the question is not whether there will be a withdrawal of troops, but when and how. My take was similar to Fred Kaplan's:

The signs are clear, in any case, that a substantial withdrawal—or redeployment—is at hand. Top U.S. military officers have been privately warning for some time that current troop levels in Iraq cannot be sustained for another year or two without straining the Army to the breaking point. Rep. John Murtha's agenda-altering Nov. 17 call for an immediate redeployment was not only a genuine cri de coeur but also, quite explicitly, a public assertion of the military's institutional interests—and an acknowledgment of Congress' electoral interests.

Murtha wasn't merely advocating redeployment; he was practically announcing it. As he told Tim Russert on the Nov. 20 Meet the Press, "There's nobody that talks to people in the Pentagon more than I do. … We're going to be out of there very quickly, and it's going to be close to the plan that I'm presenting right now."

If any doubts remained about the administration's coming course, they should have been dispelled on Nov. 22, when Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told CNN, "I suspect that American forces are not going to be needed in the numbers that they are now that much longer."

Here's Throughout the conversation Larry was pushing this September proposal he co-authored with Brian Katulis on a "strategic redeployment" of U.S. forces from Iraq.

My take is a little different -- why not wait for the newly-elected Iraqi government to ask for our phased departure? If U.S. forces are as unpopular in Iraq as Korb and others claim, any elected government would exploit that resentment to boost their popularity and legitimacy. Asking for a withdrawal, and having the Americans respond to that request rather than setting up their own schedule without any consultation whatsoever, would also boost the government's legitimacy.

So, my question to Korb and others is -- why not wait a month for the Iraqis to ask us to do what everyone across the American political spectrum wants us to do anyway?

posted by Dan at 10:28 AM | Comments (29) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, November 28, 2005

Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad is off his medication again

Since he took office earlier this year, the militance of Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad has alienated many of his natural supporters in Iran.

If you think his prior statements have made some question his sanity, however, wait until people read this Financial Times story by Gareth Smyth and Najmeh Bozorgmehr:

A leading website in Iran has published a transcript and video recording of President Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad claiming to have felt “a light” while addressing world leaders at the United Nations in New York in September. – a website linked to Mohsen Rezaei, former commander of the Revolutionary Guards – said the recording was made in a meeting between the president and Ayatollah Abdollah Javadi-Amoli, one of Iran’s leading Shia Muslim clerics.

According to the transcript, Mr Ahmadi-Nejad said someone present at the UN, possibly from his entourage, subsequently told him: “When you began with the words ‘In the name of God’… I saw a light coming, surrounding you and protecting you to the end [of the speech].” Mr Ahmadi-Nejad said he sensed a similar presence.

“I felt it myself, too, that suddenly the atmosphere changed and for 27-28 minutes the leaders could not blink,” the transcript continues. “I am not exaggerating…because I was looking. All the leaders were puzzled, as if a hand held them and made them sit. They had their eyes and ears open for the message from the Islamic Republic.”

The staff here at confirms that its eyes and ears will definitely be staying open whenever Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad decides to say something.

posted by Dan at 03:32 PM | Comments (12) | Trackbacks (0)

The FT Morphs into the Onion

An actual headline in the Financial Times:

"Technocrat from Mexico will bring flair to OECD"
That's not quite as bad as "Worthwhile Canadian Initiative," but it's close.

Readers are hereby encouraged to suggest the subhead that would do the best job at providing a concrete example buttressing that headline. My suggestion: "Proposes International No-Limit Texas Hold 'Em tournament to Allocate Agricultural Subsidies."

[Does the FT provide any evidence of flair?--ed. According to John Authers:

Unlike many other Mexican technocrats, Mr Gurría also has great personal skills and should be a flamboyant leader for the OECD. He also has links with the European media as a former director of Recoletos in Spain.

His aim for the OECD is to turn it into a “knowledge bank” that international economic leaders can use. “The OECD is an extension of the civil service,” he told the FT last month. “Everyone should feel comfortable with it. It’s like a family.”

[Zzzzzzz--ed. Yeah, I know. Flair might have been the wrong word choice here.]

posted by Dan at 03:21 PM | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (0)

Bush needs economists

Daniel Altman had a piece in yesterday's New York Times on the dearth of economists willing to work for the Bush administration:

The chairmanship of the Council of Economic Advisers will soon be vacant, and two spots on the Federal Reserve Board that were recently filled by academic economists already are. There is no assistant secretary of the Treasury for tax policy, and the director's chair at the Congressional Budget Office, currently occupied by Douglas J. Holtz-Eakin, will soon be empty, too.

The White House and Congress need as many as five academic economists of high caliber, and it's not obvious where they will come from. The Republican Party may be facing something of a shallow bench.

"Bush's reputation in at least the academic community is about as low as you can imagine," said William A. Niskanen, who was a member of the council during President Ronald Reagan's first term and is now chairman of the Cato Institute, a libertarian research group. "A lot of people would not be willing to give up a good tenured position for a position in the White House."

Niskanen goes on to take quite a few shots at the administration. However, the most interesting observation came in these paragraphs:
"It has been true, typically speaking, that Republican administrations have found it harder to find senior, more prominent academic economists for the C.E.A. members and chairman than have Democratic administrations," said Michael L. Mussa, a senior fellow at the Institute for International Economics, a nonpartisan research group in Washington, who was a member of the council during President Reagan's second term.

Mr. Mussa explained that the problem was partly one of specializations. "In the economics profession, on the microeconomic and regulatory side, there you find a substantial number of Republicans," he said, "but macroeconomists tend to lean a bit more to the Democratic side, on average."

I'd be curious to hear from economists whether this last assertion is factually correct.

What would be even more interesting is whether the political affiliation precedes the academic specialization or vice versa. One would expect macroeconomists, for example, to be more skeptical of markets -- in their bailiwick, unemployment is a persistent phenomenon, suggesting that markets do not always clear. Microeconomists, on the other hand, are more intimately familiar with the perverse effects of government intervention in markets.

So, does the political ideology redetermine the subfield, or does the subfield alter one's ideology?

posted by Dan at 10:06 AM | Comments (24) | Trackbacks (0)

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Deconstructing Kaplan

With the exception of a lovely Atlantic profile of Sam Huntngton, I've never really cared for most of Robert D. Kaplan's writings. I fear that part of this is born out of petty jealousy. Kaplan has my dream job, a bewitching mélange of travel writer and analyst of world politics. It's as if P.J. O'Rourke had given up writing to entertain and instead tried writing for policy elites -- and then those policy elites actually took him seriously. Part of it is more substantial, however. According to numerous accounts, Kaplan's Balkan Ghosts and its "ancient hatreds" thesis convinced Bill Clinton not to intervene in Bosnia during the earlier years of his presidency.

Well, now I'm jealous of David Lipsky. In today's New York Times Book Review, Lipsky does a number on Robert D. Kaplan's latest book, Imperial Grunts -- and, by extension, Kaplan's entire body of work. The good parts:

[T]he book goes to pieces immediately. The first problem is headgear. Kaplan's got both his hats on at the same time, and the travel writer (who likes flavors and vistas) keeps barging in. "Who here was Al Qaeda? I asked myself, licking my fingers after devouring a greasy chicken in a sidewalk restaurant filled with armed youngsters." The next one is my favorite: "We were suddenly going out on a nighttime hit of a compound just outside Gardez. There would be no time for the steak and shrimp dinner that had been prepared." And it's a shame such well-traveled eyes are welded between numb ears: Details are "grisly," murders are "gruesome"; you hear "faint" echoes but "shrill" cries; "chiseled" bodies cross "manicured" landscapes; troops become "hardened," resemblances grow "uncanny." Kaplan is trying for fine writing - literary special effects - but he doesn't resist the old grooves, and if a writer can't avoid stock expression, it suggests imprisonment at the conceptional level. Kaplan keeps getting into scrapes at the keyboard. "I wanted a visual sense of the socioeconomic stew in which Al Qaeda flourished." You smile in admiration, as at something rare, like a triple play; it's a double mixed metaphor....

Like many writers and houseguests, Kaplan needs an argument to get his best juices flowing. But here he's on a trip to utopia, and what emerges are surprising opinions. He meets a Filipino and observes: "His smiling, naïve eyes cried out for what we in the West call colonialism." He chastises the "elite" for casting Vietnam in a bad light; the soldiers consider that war "every bit as sanctified as the nation's others." The longtime Kaplan reader pulls out the older books. Vietnam is the war he's described as a "mire," a "mistake" and "a disaster."....

Kaplan, the realist, has elsewhere defined his realism as "an unrelenting record of uncomfortable truths. . . . The realism exhibited here may appear radical." In fact, it tends toward the cozily familiar: like evolutionary psychology, his findings don't so much upset conventional wisdom as support it with a surprising pillar. Most situations, however novel, will submit to cold-war realpolitik and the "he's-our-son-of-a-bitch" alliance.

Then there are Kaplan's predictions. He has amassed the same strikes-and-gutters record as anyone, with no loss of confidence. A year before 9/11, he foresaw the Taliban "inexorably" losing power in Afghanistan. He warned that the Caspian Sea region could become our decade's Vietnam (and so presumably sanctified). The central eye-popper in "The Coming Anarchy" - beyond Canada's "peaceful dissolution" - was that various stresses "will make the United States less of a nation than it is today." ("That was wrong," he flatly told a C-Span audience this spring. "You write a magazine piece, and if it's relevant for six months, you're happy.")

That last admission is pretty mind-boggling -- because more than six months after "The Coming Anarchy" came out, Kaplan had converted its central thesis into a book-length treatment, The Ends of the Earth -- which I reviewed and panned here.

[OK, smart guy, what about your own predictions?--ed. Maybe, just maybe, I've made a mistake or two. On the other hand, I was right about J. Lo!]

posted by Dan at 11:35 AM | Comments (8) | Trackbacks (0)

Friday, November 25, 2005

Al Qaeda has lost the Middle East

That's the basic thrust of this Economist article. The key paragraphs:

The global al-Qaeda franchise, whose Iraqi branch claimed responsibility for the Amman atrocity, has scored many own-goals over the years. The carnage in such Muslim cities as Istanbul, Casablanca, Sharm el-Sheikh and Riyadh has alienated the very Muslim masses the jihadists claim to be serving. By bringing home the human cost of such violence, they have even stripped away the shameful complacency with which the Sunni Muslim majority in other Arab countries has tended to regard attacks by Iraq's Sunni insurgent “heroes” against “collaborationist” Shia mosque congregations, funeral processions and police stations.

In Amman, al-Qaeda's victims included not only Mr Akkad and his daughter Rima, a mother of two, but also dozens of guests at a Palestinian wedding. The slaughter of so many innocents, nearly all of them Sunni Muslims, in the heart of a peaceful Arab capital, inspired a region-wide wave of revulsion. Far from being perceived now as a sort of Muslim Braveheart, the man who planned the attack, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, may be the most reviled person in Jordan, the country of his birth. His own tribe, which had previously taken some pride in its association with the Iraqi resistance, has publicly disowned him. Tens of thousands of Jordanians have taken to the streets of Amman to denounce terrorism. Opinion polls, which had previously shown Jordanians to be at best ambivalent about jihadist violence, now show overwhelming distaste for it.

Similar changes in attitude have overtaken other Arab societies. Some 150,000 Moroccans marched in Casablanca earlier this month to protest against al-Qaeda's threat to kill two junior Moroccan diplomats kidnapped on the road to Baghdad. The execution by Mr Zarqawi's men of two Algerian diplomats and the Egyptian chargé d'affaires in Iraq earlier this year aroused similar indignation in their home countries. Two years of bloody jihadist attacks in Saudi Arabia have rudely shaken the once-considerable sympathy for radical Islamism in the conservative kingdom. A top Saudi security source reckons that 80% of the country's success in staunching violence is due to such shifts in public feeling, and only 20% to police work.

The direct impact of tragedy has not been the only impetus for change. Arab governments used to treat local terrorism as something that dented their prestige and should be covered up. Now they eagerly exploit the images of suffering to justify their policies. The way such events are reported in the press no longer hints at a reflexive blaming of external forces. The Arab commentariat, much of which had promoted sympathy with the Iraqi insurgency, and focused on perceived western hostility to Islam as the cause of global jihadism, has grown vocal in condemning violence. Jihad al-Khazen, the editor of al-Hayat, a highbrow Saudi daily, is a frequent and mordant critic of western policy. Yet his response to the Amman tragedy was an unequivocal call for global co-operation to combat what he blasted as the enemies of life, of joy, and of the light of day.

Popular culture, too, has begun to reflect such shifts in attitude. Recently, during the peak television season of Ramadan, satellite channels watched by millions across the region broadcast several serials dramatising the human toll of jihadist violence. One of these contrasted the lives of ordinary Arab families, living in a housing compound in Riyadh, with a cartoonish view of the terrorists who eventually attack them. Another serial focused, with eerie foresight, on a group of jihadist assassins in Amman. Their plot to murder a television producer who is critical of their methods goes awry, killing three children instead. Unusually for an Arabic-language serial, even the villains are presented as conflicted souls, alienated from society and misled by dreams of glory and heavenly reward.

Religious leaders have chipped in. Moderate Muslim clerics have grown increasingly concerned at the abuse of religion to justify killing. In Saudi Arabia, numerous preachers once famed for their fighting words now advise tolerance and restraint. Even so rigid a defender of suicide attacks against Israel (on the grounds that all of Israeli society is militarised) as Yusuf Qaradawi, the star preacher of the popular al-Jazeera satellite channel, denounces bombings elsewhere and calls on the perpetrators to repent.

All good news. Methinks the more controversial paragraphs are the following ones:
Noteworthy in all these subtle shifts is the fact that they are, by and large, internally generated. Few of them have come about as a result of prodding or policy initiatives from the West. On the contrary, the intrusion of foreign armies into Iraq, the consequent ugly spectacle of civilian casualties and torture, and the continuing agony of Palestine, have clearly slowed down the Arab public's response to the dangers posed by jihadism.

Now, or so it seems, it is the cooling of the Palestinian intifada, a slight lowering of the volume of imagery featuring ugly Americans in Iraq, and a general weariness with jihadist hysteria that have allowed attention to refocus on the costs, rather than the hoped-for rewards, of “resistance”. At the same time, the rising tide of American domestic opposition to the war has begun to reassure deeply sceptical Arabs that the superpower may not, after all, be keen to linger on Arab soil for ever. (emphasis added)

The administration has consistently crticized the domestic opposition to the Iraq war effort because it ostensible undercuts troop morale. However, the suggestion that this same opposition helps to vitiate Arab claims of U.S. imperialism is an intriguing one.

I'll leave it to the readers to determine if this is also true.

posted by Dan at 11:08 AM | Comments (33) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Could be worse... could be in Harbin

Among the things to be thankful for this year -- my family does not live in Harbin, China. David Fickling explains in the Guardian:

Panic was today spreading in Harbin, with officials preparing to cut off water supplies as heavily polluted river water flowed towards the Chinese city.

Residents were storing water supplies in bathtubs and buckets ahead of the expected three-day drought. Supermarkets reported panic buying of water, milk and soft drinks, while Harbin's airport and railway station were jammed with people fleeing the area.

The provincial government was also trucking in water from neighbouring areas, testing little-used local wells and demanding 1,400 tonnes of activated charcoal to purify the water intake after the pollution had passed through the city.

Harbin's authorities warned residents not to even approach the Songhua river because of the risk of pollutants escaping into the atmosphere when the polluted water hits the city around 5am tomorrow. The 50 mile-long stretch of pollution is not expected to flow out of the city until Saturday....

The city, in China's icy north-eastern Heilongjiang province, has a population of 3.8 million and draws most of its water from the Songhua. The river has been contaminated with more than 30 times the usual levels of benzene after an explosion at a chemical plant on its banks.

The blast, in the neighbouring Jilin province, happened on November 13, killing five people and causing 10,000 to be evacuated from the area, officials said.

Benzene, a component of petrol, is highly flammable and toxic. Short-term exposure to the chemical in drinking water can cause long-term damage to the nervous system, while long-term exposure can result in cancer and leukaemia.

Of course, my thanks is tempered by the fact that 3.4 million people do live there.

posted by Dan at 04:22 PM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)

A civil/military disconnect on Iraq?

The Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, in collaboration with the Council on Foreign Relations, has released its latest poll on America's Place in the World:

This quadrennial study examines the foreign policy attitudes of state and local government officials, security and foreign affairs experts, military officers, news media leaders, university and think tank leaders, religious leaders, and scientists and engineers, along with the general public.
There are two stark findings. First, there's been a strong turn towards an isolationist foreign policy:
As the Iraq war has shaken the global outlook of American influentials, it has led to a revival of isolationist sentiment among the general public. Fully 42% of Americans say the United States should "mind its own business internationally and let other countries get along the best they can on their own." This is on par with the percentage expressing that view during the mid-1970s, following the Vietnam War, and in the 1990s after the Cold War ended.
Second, there is a growing gap between civilian and military elites about the likelihood of success in Iraq. Here's the relevant table:
Is the military out of touch on this one? In his Los Angeles Times column today, Max Boot argues that perhaps the military agrees more with Iraqis than Americans:
[I]n a survey last month from the U.S.-based International Republican Institute, 47% of Iraqis polled said their country was headed in the right direction, as opposed to 37% who said they thought that it was going in the wrong direction. And 56% thought things would be better in six months. Only 16% thought they would be worse....

Now, it could be that the Iraqi public and the U.S. armed forces are delusional. Maybe things really are on an irreversible downward slope. But before reaching such an apocalyptic conclusion, stop to consider why so many with firsthand experience have more hope than those without any.

For starters, one can point to two successful elections this year, on Jan. 30 and Oct. 15, in which the majority of Iraqis braved insurgent threats to vote. The constitutional referendum in October was particularly significant because it marked the first wholesale engagement of Sunnis in the political process. Since then, Sunni political parties have made clear their determination to also participate in the Dec. 15 parliamentary election. This is big news. The most disaffected group in Iraq is starting to realize that it must achieve its objectives through ballots, not bullets.

There are also positive economic indicators that receive little or no coverage in the Western media. For all the insurgents' attempts to sabotage the Iraqi economy, the Brookings Institution reports that per capita income has doubled since 2003 and is now 30% higher than it was before the war. Thanks primarily to the increase in oil prices, the Iraqi economy is projected to grow at a whopping 16.8% next year. According to Brookings' Iraq index, there are five times more cars on the streets than in Saddam Hussein's day, five times more telephone subscribers and 32 times more Internet users.

The growth of the independent media — a prerequisite of liberal democracy — is even more inspiring. Before 2003 there was not a single independent media outlet in Iraq. Today, Brookings reports, there are 44 commercial TV stations, 72 radio stations and more than 100 newspapers....

Since the Jan. 30 election, not a single Iraqi unit has crumbled in battle, according to Army Lt. Gen. David H. Petraeus, who until September was in charge of their training. Iraqi soldiers are showing impressive determination in fighting the terrorists, notwithstanding the terrible casualties they have taken. Their increasing success is evident on "Route Irish," from Baghdad International Airport. Once the most dangerous road in Iraq, it is now one of the safest. The last coalition fatality there that was a result of enemy action occurred in March.

[But James Fallows asserts in the Atlantic that Iraq doesn't really have a viable security force--ed. Yes, but David Adesnik points out that the overwheling focus of the Fallows piece is on the period prior to June 2004.]

Now if you want a different take on what's happening in Iraq right now, see Barrack Obama's latest speech.

My qusestion to readers -- who suffers from the greater delusions -- the military or civilian elites?

posted by Dan at 08:17 AM | Comments (55) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

The difficulty of doing good on HIV/AIDS

UNAIDS released a good news/bad news kind of report yesterday about the state of the AIDS epidemic. These paragraphs from their press release capture the nature of the problem:

Despite decreases in the rate of infection in certain countries, the overall number of people living with HIV has continued to increase in all regions of the world except the Caribbean. There were an additional five million new infections in 2005. The number of people living with HIV globally has reached its highest level with an estimated 40.3 million people, up from an estimated 37.5 million in 2003. More than three million people died of AIDS-related illnesses in 2005; of these, more than 500000 were children.

According to the report, the steepest increases in HIV infections have occurred in Eastern Europe and Central Asia (25% increase to 1.6 million) and East Asia. But sub-Saharan Africa continues to be the most affected globally with 64% of new infections occurring here (over three million people).

"We are encouraged by the gains that have been made in some countries and by the fact that sustained HIV prevention programmes have played a key part in bringing down infections. But the reality is that the AIDS epidemic continues to outstrip global and national efforts to contain it," said UNAIDS Executive Director Dr Peter Piot. "It is clear that a rapid increase in the scale and scope of HIV prevention programmes is urgently needed. We must move from small projects with short-term horizons to long-term, comprehensive strategies," he added.

The report recognizes that access to HIV treatment has improved markedly over the past two years. More than one million people in low-and middle-income countries are now living longer and better lives because they are on antiretroviral treatment and an estimated 250 000 to 350 000 deaths were averted this year because of expanded access to HIV treatment....

Levels of knowledge of safe sex and HIV remain low in many countries - even in countries with high and growing prevalence. In 24 sub-Saharan countries (including Cameroon, Côte d'Ivoire, Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal and Uganda), two-thirds or more of young women (aged 15-24 years) lacked comprehensive knowledge of HIV transmission. According to a major survey carried out in the Philippines in 2003, more than 90% of respondents still believed that HIV could be transmitted by sharing a meal with an HIV-positive person.

David Greising has a front-pager in the Chicago Tribune about the efforts of Abbott Laboratories to help Tanzania cope with the AIDS epidemic. The story highlights the fact that this is not simply about access to cheap medicines:
For five years now, Abbott has worked with Tanzania's government to alleviate the impact of AIDS. The experience has taught the company that the biggest obstacles are less obvious, and less readily overcome, than getting drugs to the villages.

Hospital laboratories are archaic. Treatment wards are overrun with patients. There is little capacity to treat AIDS-related illnesses such as tuberculosis and malaria.

Tanzania cannot adequately care for the orphans of AIDS victims. A social stigma against AIDS victims persists, which deters people from getting tested and treated for the disease.

"People who simplify this into just drop-shipping gobs of drugs into remote areas of Africa, they're nuts," said Miles White, Abbott's chief executive, during a trip to Tanzania last month to review the progress of Abbott's work. "It's a lot more complicated than that."....

Dealing effectively in Africa also means avoiding pitfalls that have hit other donors.

The United Nations-supported Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria early this year cut off support for five programs in Uganda, citing widespread mismanagement. In Kenya, skepticism over the government's ability to deliver drugs has led church-backed organizations to form a private distribution company.

Merck & Co. teamed with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation five years ago to launch a groundbreaking $100 million program to aid Botswana, where 37 percent of the adult male population has AIDS. But the donors have found it difficult to distribute money, in part because of bottlenecks and logistical difficulties.

posted by Dan at 10:12 AM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (0)

A data point for frozen turkeys

One of the fiercest debates among the staff here at about the Thanksgiving holiday is whether the convenience of purchasing a frozen turkey days in advance outweighs the added taste of cooking a fresh, unfrozen bird.

Angela Rozas has a story in the Chicago Tribune that highlights a heretofore unknown value of the frozen turkey -- in an emergency, it can save lives:

Mark Copsy saw the smoke inside the car, and watched as the vehicle careered into a curb in Northlake on Sunday afternoon. It took him only a moment to realize the horror--the car was on fire, and there were people inside. Copsy and his 12-year-old son ran the half-block to help.

When they got to the car, Copsy, 42, said he couldn't open the door. Inside, he could see an elderly man in the driver's seat. A female passenger sat next to him, her face white. He tried to smash the glass with his foot, but couldn't do it. In his hands, he held a 20-pound frozen Norbest turkey he and his son had just bought for Thanksgiving.

"I said, `Hell, I'll just use the damn turkey.' And that's what I did," Copsy said. He yelled for the driver to cover his face, and used the turkey to smash out three windows.

By then, police and others had arrived at Wolf Road and North Avenue, and together they pulled the elderly driver out of the car.

posted by Dan at 10:05 AM | Comments (11) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, November 21, 2005

Hmmm.. what's missing from this survey?

There are a lot of news stories (here's one from's Jo Best) out today on the latest Pew survey that shows search engines have become the second-most frequent online activity after e-mail. According to Pew's Lee Rainie:

These results from September 2005 represent a sharp increase from mid-2004. Pew Internet Project data from June 2004 show that use of search engines on a typical day has risen from 30% to 41% of the internet-using population, which itself has grown in the past year. This means that the number of those using search engines on an average day jumped from roughly 38 million in June 2004 to about 59 million in September 2005 - an increase of about 55%. comScore data, which are derived from a different methodology, show that from September 2004 to September 2005 the average daily use of search engines jumped from 49.3 million users to 60.7 million users -- an increase of 23%.
Here's a link to the data memo in .pdf format. What I found most interesting was "the proportion of that daily population who are doing some well-known internet activities":
Email 77%
Search engine 63%
Get news 46%
Do job-related research 29%
Use instant messaging 18%
Do online banking 18%
Take part in chat room 8%
Make a travel reservation 5%
Read blogs 3%
Participate in online auction 3%
Two thoughts -- first, this blog number is consistent with other recent surveys suggesting that not a large fraction of Americans are blog consumers.

Second, there's one very large invisible elephant in this survey. One obvious online activity was not included in the above list. See if you can guess what it is. [What is it?--ed.] Umm.... just guess. [Can you give the people a hint?--ed.] Ummm.... er.... Chapelle's Show had a hysterically funny skit about what people do when they're on the web that best captures this activity.

If search engines are more popular than that invisible elephant, then I'll start to disagree with Asymmetrical Information about Google's share price.

posted by Dan at 03:03 PM | Comments (8) | Trackbacks (0)

That old Iraqi nostalgia

Ellen Knickmeyer has a front-pager in the Washington Post about U.S. and Iraqi efforts to reconstitute the Iraqi army's junior officer corps with former officers from Saddam Hussein's army. Kinckmeyer's report suggests that this process is going pretty smoothly by Iraqi standards -- but it leads to some very bizarre scenes:

Clad in the olive-green uniform of old, his heart rising to the sound of the lilting march to which he once went to war for President Saddam Hussein, Sgt. Bashar Fathi, a veteran of Iraq's once-elite Republican Guard, watched Iraqi tanks trundle across a parade ground recently -- just as they once swept across the sands of Kuwait.

"This ceremony -- this same music -- it makes us remember the old army," marveled Fathi, standing on the top tier of a reviewing stand south of Baghdad. Next to him was Capt. Khudhair Alwan, whose contact with U.S. forces began by trying to kill them as they invaded the southern city of Basra in 2003....

[There was] a ceremony Thursday officially delivering 77 Hungarian-donated Soviet-era T-72 tanks to the Iraqi army, giving the force its most formidable armor so far. Loudspeakers played music that would be familiar to members of Hussein's army -- including "We Are Walking to War," the anthem to which hundreds of thousands of Iraqi men went to battle against Iran in the 1980s.

The low-slung, refurbished T-72s, with gunners saluting from the hatches, rolled past the reviewing stand without breakdown or excessive smoke. The music, the martial pageantry and the tanks -- the same model as the tanks Hussein used to roll out to war against his neighbors and his peoples -- had men in the stands speaking nostalgically.

[Er... isn't the reliance on former army people a bad thing in terms of democratizing Iraq?--ed. It's been a while since I've perused the comparative politics literature on this, but if memory serves there has never been a successful occupation or revolution that did not rely on the cooperation of the prior regime's technocrats. It's just a fact of life.]

posted by Dan at 12:07 PM | Comments (17) | Trackbacks (0)

Saturday, November 19, 2005

The new American negotiating gambit towards Iran

The Financial Times reports that the United States has made a new concession over Iran's ambiguous nuclear program:

In a major concession towards Iran's nuclear programme, the US on Friday gave its public backing to a proposal by Russia and the European Union that would allow the Islamic republic to develop part of the nuclear fuel cycle on its own territory.

The shift in US policy - revealed after talks between President George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin, the Russian leader - came despite a report from the UN nuclear watchdog that lent credence to US and European claims that Iran is trying, or once had ambitions, to develop nuclear weapons....

In Busan, South Korea, Stephen Hadley, the US national security adviser, said the US supported a Russian proposal that would give Iran an assured supply of nuclear fuel.

Under the proposal, Russia would take uranium that Iran had converted into gas in its own facilities, enrich it in a Russian plant that would be under part-Iranian management then deliver it back to Iran to be used as fuel in its civilian reactors.

It was a "potential avenue" out of the impasse, Mr Hadley said. Mr Bush gave his personal backing to the initiative in his meeting with Mr Putin, officials said.

The US has previously rejected proposals that would allow Iran to develop part of the nuclear fuel cycle, on the grounds that Iran would try to divert UF-6, the converted gas, into a covert enrichment programme for bomb-making....

Diplomats said the shift reflected a more realistic position by the US which was struggling to find the diplomatic support for imposing sanctions on Iran after referral to the UN Security Council.

The US may also be gambling that Iran will reject the proposal which Mr Hadley said required Iran to give up its "right" to enrich uranium on its territory. Iran has not formally responded to the proposal.

Britain, France and Germany, which have led an EU effort to reach a deal, are reluctant to refer Iran to the Security Council at the IAEA board meeting next week while diplomacy can run its course.

Having the Russians monitor Iran's WMD program strikes me as the IR equivalent of having Chivas Regal sponsoring an AA meeting [Or having you chaperoning Salma Hayek's dates!--ed.]. So why the switch in policy? I see three possible explanations in the FT article:
1) The U.S. doesn't like the end-game options on Iran and is trying to stall as long as possible;

2) The U.S. thinks Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad is such a loon that he'll reject this proposal as well. This would force the EU and Russia to admit that the current Iranian regime has gone completely round the bend and actually lead to some useful Security Council action.

3) Putin has those kind of hangdog eyes that George W. Bush simply can't resist in an intimate, one-on-one conversation.

I'm pretty sure the answer is not #3. And undesirable end games haven't stopped this administration from not compromising in the past. So my vote is for #2 -- the best way to deal with an unreasonable negotiating partner on the international stage is to convince everyone in the audience of that fact before taking more forceful action.

The Guardian's Simon Tisdall and Ewen MacAskill have some reporting to suggest that most Iranians -- including the all-powerful clerics -- now agree with the "unreasonable" label (link via Andrew Sullivan):

Iran is facing political paralysis as its newly elected president purges government institutions, bringing accusations that he is undertaking a coup d'état.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's clearout of his opponents began last month but is more sweeping than previously understood and has reached almost every branch of government, the Guardian has learned. Dozens of deputy ministers have been sacked this month in several government departments, as well the heads of the state insurance and privatisation organisations. Last week, seven state bank presidents were dismissed in what an Iranian source described as "a coup d'état"....

Growing resistance inside Iran to Mr Ahmadinejad, who was unexpectedly elected in June, is coming from several senior figures and sections of the media. Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a former president who was runner-up in the election, denounced the purge and, in comments reported by Iranian news agencies, suggested the president should be reined in.

"A tendency in Iran is trying to banish competent officials and it is harming the country like a plague," Mr Rafsanjani said. "Our society has been divided into two poles and some people are behaving aggressively." Hassan Rohani, sacked as Iran's senior nuclear negotiator, told Tehran newspapers that the negotiations with the west were being mishandled. The former president Mohammad Khatami also voiced concern that Mr Ahmadinejad was exceeding his powers.

In a sign of divisions at the top of the clerical establishment, the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has until now supported Mr Ahmadinejad, said "irregularities" in the government's behaviour would not be tolerated....

"There is a very tense situation. Ahmadinejad has made a very bad start and needs to get attuned to political realities," the Iranian source said, suggesting that Mr Ahmadinejad could face impeachment proceedings in the majlis if he continued to pack the government with his appointees.

But the source said western threats of economic sanctions or military action against Iran were strengthening Mr Ahmadinejad at the expense of moderate conservatives, liberals and reformers.

The Bush administration has blunted that last problem. The interesting question is how Ahmadi-Nejad will react.


UPDATE: Tim Worstall is more optimistic than I am about the intrinsic value of the proposed deal:

What we're all worried about is Iran building a bomb. We really don't care if they make low enriched uranium for a reactor. So, if the enrichment is going to take place elsewhere (assuming we trust the Russians) then we can know that they are indeed only getting the low enriched, the stuff that doesn't go bang.
Two things -- 1) I don't trust the Russians when it comes to Middle East politics; and 2) according to the FT story, the reprocessing would take place in a Russian plant "under part-Iranian management." That doesn't make me feel any better either.

Over at NRO, Andrew Stuttaford is more pessimistic than I am:

The more I think about it, the more obvious it is that we are going to have to learn to live with the ghastly prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran. The idea of 'taking out' Iran's nuclear facilities is a fantasy, and it is a dangerous fantasy in that it is a substitute for real thought. Sanctions are unlikely to do much (who will support them?) and the long-waited Iranian revolution never quite seems to materialize. As a practical matter, of course, the real nightmare is not that Iran will start launching nuclear missiles at anyone (despite all the overheated rhetoric), but that elements in the regime will be tempted to hand over nuclear materials to terrorist groups who share their ideology but cannot be linked to any one state. Do that, and the usual rules of deterrence do not apply.
Admittedly, stories like this VOA one buttress Stuttaford's point about the radical nature of the Iranian regime. And Stuttsford is making the same end-game point I've made before.

However, I'm slightly more optimistic for three reasons: 1) It's not clear how far along Iran has gone in its nuclear program (click here as well); 2) As stated above, Ahmadi-Nejad is the perfect kind of leader to cause greater cooperation among the other nuclear powers; and 3) Ahmadi-Nejad might just be the perfect kind of leader to provoke a mass revolt.

posted by Dan at 10:34 AM | Comments (19) | Trackbacks (0)

I guess I'm extinct then....

I have long recognized that that the Republican party has become a less friendly place over the years for a libertarian who nonetheless wants the government to function well in its limited capacity.

However, I think over the past few years we've gone from "unfriendly" to "pretty damn hostile"" Andrew Sullivan and Matthew Yglesias, in their inimitable ways, suggest that I can't find a single Republican congressman who wants the things I want.

Yglesias first:

There are no moderate Republicans. If there were moderate Republicans, those would be members of the Republican Party who had moderate views on policy questions. A person with moderate views on policy questions would have been regularly defecting from the extremist-led leadership in such years as 2001, 2002, 2003, and 2005 as the aforementioned leadership pushed crazy bill after crazy bill throgh the congress. But there aren't any Republican members of the House of Representatives who fit that description. What you saw this afternoon were vulnerable Republicans running scared from an increasingly unpopular GOP leadership.
Well, I actually kind of like certain "extremist" Republican positions, such as drilling in ANWR, proposing school vouchers, and cutting budgets.

The thing is, I also like stem cell research and oppose dumb-ass Constitutional amendments banning gay marriage. And, as Sullivan points out, I'm dreaming of a null set:

In theory, it should be possible for a Republican to be both socially moderate, fiscally conservative, and dedicated to the fight against Islamo-fascism. That's, broadly speaking, my position. But one reason I feel no real connection to today's GOP is that there are almost no people in that position in the party as it now stands. The most reliable fiscal conservative, Tom Coburn, is a rabid gay-hater and a theocon. It's simply a fact that, as a RedState blogger points out, not a single Republican Senator who opposed the Federal Marriage Amendment voted for the Coburn Amendment, and not a single Republican Senator who co-sponsored the latest stem cell research bill voted for the Coburn Amendment. The kind of conservatism I believe in no longer really exists in the Congress of the United States.... McCain is the best we've got, and God bless him. But it's also undeniable that he has deep suspicions of economic freedom, and often sees the need for government to intervene in all sorts of areas - steroids in sports, for example, - where government, in my view, has no role whatever. Does that mean that social inclusives and fiscal conservatives should despair? I hope not. There are glimmers of hope among fiscally conservative Democrats. A McCain-led GOP would be vastly preferable to a Bush-led one. But these are dark days for individual freedom and fiscal sanity in America, and it's no use pretending otherwise.
Sounds pretty despairing to me. Especially when Republican representatives start accusing decorated veterans of "cowardice".

posted by Dan at 06:13 AM | Comments (37) | Trackbacks (0)

Friday, November 18, 2005

So I see there's an article in Slate....

You know you've reached a new and bizarre degree of "fame" when you read an article that features you prominently.... even though you were never contacted by the author prior to publication.

I'm talking about Robert Boynton's article in Slate on the perils and promise of scholar-bloggers. A few corrections and clarifications for those wandering over here from that story.

First, let me stress yet again that I have never said that the blog cost me tenure. My information on this front is imperfect, but rest assured that whenever more than twenty senior academics are meeting about anything, there are myriad, obscure, and frequently bizarre factors involved in any decision. Click here for more about that.

Second, although it's a great ending for Boynton's essay, the Fletcher School did not find out about my tenure denial from the blog. That said, a lot of other places did find out that way, and I did get a very healthy number of queries through the blog.

Third, I agree with Eric Alterman that having three Stanford degrees and a forthcoming Princeton University Press book is "good, but hardly sufficient" for tenure at the University of Chicago. In my own defense, though, I have a wee bit more than that under my scholarly belt.

I am grateful to Boynton for the kind words in this paragraph:

in another sense, academic blogging represents the fruition, not a betrayal, of the university's ideals. One might argue that blogging is in fact the very embodiment of what the political philosopher Michael Oakeshott once called "The Conversation of Mankind"--an endless, thoroughly democratic dialogue about the best ideas and artifacts of our culture. Drezner's blog, for example, is hardly of the "This is what I did today..." variety. Rather, he usually writes about globalization and political economy--the very subjects on which he publishes in prestigious, peer-reviewed presses and journals. If his prose style in the blog is more engaging than that of the typical academic's, the thinking behind it is no less rigorous or intelligent.

Boynton goes on to point out the basic conundrum of how to count blogging -- even if the output is high quality, what is the external and replicable measurement through which this is assessed?

Ann Althouse, Orin Kerr, and John Hawks (whose blog was mentioned but not linked to in the story -- what's up with that?) have further thoughts. Hawks makes an interesting point here:

Should blogging count in some way? I don't know. I think my blogging makes me a better researcher. If I'm right, it has its own rewards. And I don't think that any blog post approximates a review article in any way -- if they did, they would be a lot less interesting!

But the cumulative whole is greater than any single review article. And I would say that a sizable number of my posts are "worth" more than a book review, which would get counted in a minor way. It would be nice if the choice between different forms of productivity did not involve such a stark difference.

Let me suggest that there are two issues that are conflated in the story. First, there is the idea of a blog as an output for public discourse, a la op-eds and the like. On that score, blogging counts as a form of service and not much else.

Second, there is the idea that academic blogs facilitate better scholarship by encouraging online interactions about research ideas. Take, for example, this exchange between Marc Lynch, myself, and others about whether international relations theory is slighting the study of Al Qaeda, or this exchange between Erik Gartzke and R.J. Rummel about the root causes of the liberal democratic capitalist peace. Even better, the private responses I received to a post on trade-related intellectual property rights facilitated my own research efforts in that area. This sort of thing happens off-line as well, but the blog format is exceedingly well-suited for enhancing and expanding this kind of interaction. In this sense, blogs may very well supplant the old practice of having exchanges of letters in journals.

Should it count for anything? As Hawks points out, it should lead to better research anyway, which should get recognized by the traditional standards.

So I'm pretty sure that the contribution of blogs to academic output can be measured using pre-existing standards -- with one exception and one caveat. The exception is that maybe the whole of an academic blog is greater than the sum of its parts. Precisely because a blog can contribute to public discourse, scholarly research, and teaching pedagogy at the same time, it encourages a greater mkix of ideas and information than would otherwise be possible. Whether this is true I will leave for the commenters.

The caveat is that even if blogging can be counted via conventional means, there is no indication that academic units will do so. As I've said before, academics are a very conservative bunch in many ways, so the idea that blogs should count for a plus will take a long time to seep in. For the present moment, my hope is that blogs do not count against you.

posted by Dan at 10:24 AM | Comments (9) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Not a good sign for Russia

One of the standard lines of criticism about Council on Foreign Relations task forces/reports/working groups is that the desire to product nonpartisan output can water down CFR foreign policy analysis and recommendations. There might, just might, be a grain of truth to that charge every now and then.

So it's pretty damn telling that Jack Kemp and John Edwards, the co-chairs of the Council on Foreign Relations Independent Task Force on U.S. Policy Toward Russia, sent a letter to President Bush that was pretty damn explicit in terms of concern about Russia's new law regulating NGOs. Here's how it opens:

Dear Mr. President:

Last spring the Council on Foreign Relations asked the two of us to serve as co-chairs of an independent task force on U.S. policy toward Russia. The group has met several times over the past six months and is preparing a report to be issued early next year. As sometimes happens in the course of such a broad review, an individual issue emerges that is so timely -- and about which task force members feel so strongly -- that the co-chairs decide to make early contact with policymakers to express their views. We are writing you now on just such a question -- a disturbing new challenge to the ability of Russian non-governmental organizations to cooperate with, and draw support from counterparts in the United States and elsewhere. We believe this issue urgently needs discussion when you meet with President Putin this week.

As you may know, members of President Putin's party and other factions of the State Duma introduced legislation last week that would, among other things, keep foreign NGO's from maintaining "representative offices" or branches in Russia and deny foreign funds to Russian organizations that engage in (undefined) "political" activities. Virtually the entire non-profit sector -- from human-rights monitors to policy think-tanks, even public-health alliances -- is likely to be affected.

The impact of this measure, if it became law, should be obvious: it would roll back pluralism in Russia and curtail contact between our societies. It would mark a complete breach of the commitment to strengthen such contact that President Putin made when you and he met in Bratislava on February 24, 2005. And it raises an almost unthinkable prospect -- that the president of Russia might serve as chairman of the G-8 at the same time that laws come into force in his country to choke off contacts with global society.


posted by Dan at 11:48 PM | Comments (17) | Trackbacks (0)

India decides to welcome FDI

Jo Johnson reports in the Financial Times that the Indian government is about to make some major changes in its rules about foreign direct investment:

India's Communist-backed government will on Thursday afternoon consider a sweeping liberalisation of foreign direct investment rules that would kick start a long-stalled programme of economic reforms.

Kamal Nath, India's minister for commerce and industry, has proposed allowing 100 per cent foreign direct investment in a range of sectors, including airport construction, oil & gas infrastructure and cash & carry wholesale trading.

The cabinet will also debate whether to allow FDI in the exploration and mining of coal, lignite and diamonds, and in the cultivation of important plantation crops such as coffee, tea and rubber....

India attracted $5.5bn in FDI in 2004-5, an increase of 18 per cent, but less than a tenth of the inflows into China. The government estimates that $150bn needs to be invested in upgrading the country's infrastructure over the next 10 years.

If the new rules are approved, they will also allow foreign investment to come in by the so-called "automatic route", circumventing a cumbersome approvals process overseen by the Ministry of Finance's Foreign Investment Promotion Board....

The measures will disappoint the US and UK government, however, who have been lobbying aggressively for foreign direct investment thresholds to be allowed in the Indian retail sector and for the ownership ceiling to be raised in insurance. Mr Nath, in an interview on Tuesday, said he would be in a position to put a proposal to the cabinet permitting FDI in retail, allowing companies such as Wal-Mart and Tesco to enter into the $205bn Indian retail market, within three months.

UPDATE: Tim Harford has an update suggesting that FDI liberalization on't be preceding as planned.

posted by Dan at 10:49 AM | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (0)

Putting on the foil? Read this first.


"On the Effectiveness of Aluminium Foil Helmets: An Empirical Study", by Ali Rahimi, Ben Recht, Jason Taylor, and Noah Vawter. The abstract:

Among a fringe community of paranoids, aluminum helmets serve as the protective measure of choice against invasive radio signals. We investigate the efficacy of three aluminum helmet designs on a sample group of four individuals. Using a $250,000 network analyser, we find that although on average all helmets attenuate invasive radio frequencies in either directions (either emanating from an outside source, or emanating from the cranium of the subject), certain frequencies are in fact greatly amplified. These amplified frequencies coincide with radio bands reserved for government use according to the Federal Communication Commission (FCC). Statistical evidence suggests the use of helmets may in fact enhance the government's invasive abilities. We speculate that the government may in fact have started the helmet craze for this reason.

Hat tip to The American Interest's Dan Kennelly for the link.

posted by Dan at 12:22 AM | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

So much for the WSIS running the Internet

It appears the United States has managed to averts a showdown over control over the Internet Domain Name System at the World Summit for the Information Society. According to the Associated Press:

Negotiators from more than 100 countries agreed late Tuesday to leave the United States in charge of the Internet's addressing system, averting a U.S.-EU showdown at this week's U.N. technology summit.

U.S. officials said early Wednesday that instead of transferring management of the system to an international body such as the United Nations, an international forum would be created to address concerns. The forum, however, would have no binding authority.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of Commerce Michael Gallagher said the deal means the United States will leave day-to-day management to the private sector, through a quasi-independent organization called the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, or ICANN.

"The Internet lives to innovate for another day," he told The Associated Press.

Of course, a second AP report suggests that things aren't completely hunky-dory among the WSIS participants:
Publicly, officials were positive on the agreement, noting that it brought together government, business and civil leaders to work out issues surrounding Internet governance.

Privately, many delegates fumed, noting that the secretive talks, which had been expected, seemed to take away from the focus of the summit. Many complained that the United States was grandstanding.

Martin Selmayr, an EU spokesman, said the 25-nation European bloc was the one celebrating after the deal was reached.

The EU had stepped up pressure for more international participation after the United States declared in June that it would not cede control over the Internet, as many had been led to believe.

"What we see here is a clear indication that what they (the U.S.) said in June is not the last word and that we are back on track towards internationalization," he said. "We are back on track to what has been agreed with the Clinton administration already some years ago. We are back to cooperation."

Should the EU really feel like it achieved something? Simon Taylor provides some details of the agreement:
The current system where ICANN (the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) is responsible for day-to-day management decisions concerning the internet will remain in place, Selmayr said.

Under the changes, however, if ICANN made a decision affecting a non-US country's TLD (top level domain), it would make a proposal to its controlling body, the US DoC (Department of Commerce). The DoC would then have to consult with the country involved, Selmayr said. Under the current structure, there is no consultation with other countries....

EU governments have complained that, under the current system, disputes concerning TLDs have to be settled in the US under US law, putting other countries and non-US firms at a disadvantage. (emphasis added)

Consultation is a pretty thin reed to claim victory -- but I suppose for the EU its better than nothing.

That last bolded part offers the first instrumental motivation for the EU's behavior that I've seen. Until now, I've mostly seen analyses that echo Laurence Lessig:

The largest cause of this rift is European distrust of the United States. It's not particularly related to the Internet. The Europeans are eager to stand up to the Americans, and that I think has been produced by the last five years of U.S. foreign policy. It's not really a cyberlaw problem....

[W]hat's interesting is, in 1998, there was no question of the Europeans taking over because there wasn't the level of skepticism of the U.S. government, even though there was a lot of skepticism about ICANN at the time.

My guess is that the EU acted as it did for both sets of reasons. The symbolic reasons explain the surprisingly public nature of the dispute.

As for the U.S., it maintained its primary objective, to ensure that the WSIS -- really the International Telecommunications Union -- has as little say as possible in any important dimension of Internet governance.

And amen to that.

posted by Dan at 10:54 PM | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

We may be experiencing technical difficulties

Sometime in the next 24 hours I'll be making a few upgrades to the site, including but not limited to an upgrade of Movable Type from the prehistoric version I currently use.

If everything works perfectly, you'll just be impressed by the redesign. But everything might not work perfectly -- so tomorrow's blogging may be light.

UPDATE: OK, looks like things are coming back on line -- let me know if you like the (mild) redesign

posted by Dan at 11:59 PM | Comments (25) | Trackbacks (0)

A weird week in the blogosphere

So there's been some positive developments for the credibility of bloggers. For example, Andrew Sullivan announced that he will be moving his blog to Time's website. Congrats to Andrew.

In other positive blog news, Harvard history graduate student Rebecca Anne Goetz has an excellent essay in the Chronicle of Higher Education about the synergies between blogging and the academy:

Academic bloggers who write about research and teaching are thinking very seriously about their vocation and they are engaging with their colleagues about how to do it right.

Academics who blog and assemble carnivals can perform thought experiments and try out ideas quickly without going through the conventional publications or conference process. They can also comment on areas outside of their expertise or current research. If they like, and I've been known to do this myself, they can be a bit silly on their blogs too, letting off steam at the end of a long week.

In short, I find that blogging makes my work better. What isn't to like about that?

It's certainly a nice counterpoint to Ivan Tribble. And Goetz has useful follow-up links at her own blog as well.

On the other hand, there's also a lot of weird blogosphere versions of those multiple car accidents that you think are just horrible but can't help looking at anyway.

I don't want to call any more attention to them than already exists, so I'll just tell you to click over to this Rob Capriccioso story at Inside Higher Ed on one ugly academic blog brawl, [UPDATE: Tim Burke has the best assessment of this particular brouhaha] and this New York Times column by David Carr about what happens when Gawker gawks at the wrong topic. And then go take a shower.

Oh, and I'll state for the record that I'm less than thrilled with the decision by Pajamas Media to have Judy Miller give the keynote address at the big launch. I'm even less thrilled to have to agree with Kos that this is not an auspicious beginning.

posted by Dan at 10:31 AM | Comments (8) | Trackbacks (0)

How much worrying about nonproliferation is justified?

Ben Bain reports in the Financial Times that the 9/11 Commission is not thrilled with U.S. nonproliferation efforts:

The US commission that investigated the attacks of September 11 2001 warned on Monday that the government was failing to move quickly to isolate terrorist groups and discourage weapons proliferation....

Since issuing the reports last year the commissioners formed the not-for-profit 9/11 Public Discourse Project as a way to keep pressure on Congress and the administration to implement their original recommendations. The first report card on homeland security and preparedness, and the second on reforming governmental institutions, were also highly critical of the US government’s progress to date.

The status report called on President George W. Bush to “maintain a sense of urgency” in making non-proliferation, securing nuclear material and preventing terrorists from acquiring WMD his top national security priority, as well as demanding that Congress provide the necessary resources for the effort.

“The most striking thing to us is that the size of the problem [proliferation of WMD] still totally dwarfs the policy response,” said Thomas Kean, former commission chairman.

You can access a precis of the report by clicking here.

[Nuclear proliferation sounds worrisome--ed.] Well, the nexus between terrorist groups and nukes should be a source of concern. On the other hand, over at the Foreign Policy website, however, Jacques E. C. Hymans argues that the problem is not quite as big as Kean is claiming:

In 1964, five states possessed nuclear weapons. The previous year, President John F. Kennedy had predicted that number would expand to between 15 and 25 nuclear weapons states within a decade. Ten years later, the top U.S. arms controller, Fred Iklé, foresaw as many as 35 nuclear states in the world by 1990. But, even though nuclear technology did diffuse widely, the nuclear weapons club had only expanded by two new members by 1980. And during the 1980s, membership in the club did not grow at all.

At the end of the Cold War, experts again braced themselves for rampant proliferation. Even “optimistic” scenarios anticipated that key global players such as Germany would seek nuclear weaponry. The predictions again proved to be wrong. Indeed, since the end of the Cold War, more states have actually given up their nuclear weapons arsenals than have created new ones. True, no one can be certain that those who come bearing dark predictions today won’t turn out to be correct after all. Past performance is not necessarily indicative of future results. But if the proliferation prophets were managing your money, you’d have fired them by now.

[But rogue states are still a source of concern, right?--ed.] Hymans makes a provocative point on this front:

Much recent press attention has focused on the nuclear activities of the unpleasant regimes of North Korea and Iran. It previously focused on Iraq and Libya. Those countries’ nuclear programs clearly do (or did) give cause for alarm. But they are hardly the only ones that have played fast and loose with the rules of the nonproliferation regime. For instance, last year, even democratic South Korea informed the IAEA that as late as 2000 it had been secretly producing weapons-grade uranium, in violation of commitments not to do so.

Indeed, if we use history as our guide, we might want to worry as much about the South Koreas as we do about the Libyas. For in fact, few of the members of the nuclear weapons club actually fit the “rogue state” designation. Apart from the original five, we find India, a democracy with international credentials so strong, it even has a chance for permanent membership in the U.N. Security Council. And then we find Israel and Pakistan, states that may not be universally admired but certainly have long enjoyed a close embrace from the United States. And it might be added that all three of these nuclear gatecrashers were headed by democratically elected leaders when they made their crucial decisions to cross the nuclear threshold. In short, few states may want the bomb, but no regime type provides a sure vaccination against nuclear weapons ambitions.

[Yeah, but surely we should worry about Iran, right?--ed.] Well, yes, but how much to worry is a question that's still subject to debate. Just as worrisome is what Kevin Drum has pointed out -- the U.S. can't convince other countries on its own to care:

This is what it's come to. A European diplomat talks openly about the possibility that the entire thing is a U.S. fraud. The Bush administration is forced to lean on France to establish its own credibility.

[At last, something to worry about!!--ed.]

posted by Dan at 01:01 AM | Comments (6) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, November 14, 2005

My personal apologies to Mitchell Hurwitz

In one of those cruel coincidences, Erika and I decided to rent the first season of Arrested Development the weekend the show itself got cancelled.

After having digested the first twelve episodes -- and still laughing about them 48 hours later -- I feel I owe an apology to creator Mitchell Hurwitz. I clearly belong to a large swath of viewers who would have enjoyed the show and yet mysteriously chose not to view it when it counted. My only defense is that a large groups of us have small children, and by the end of the weekend have little energy for anything more sophisticated than My Mother, the Car.

Why the show failed to merit any coverage by the Television Without Pity people, however, is beyond me.

Sorry, man -- we let you down.

posted by Dan at 03:47 PM | Comments (16) | Trackbacks (0)

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Why aren't IR scholars paying more attention to Al Qaeda?

Marc Lynch, blogging at Abu Aardvark, says that international relations journals aren't paying enough attention to Al Qaeda:

Has IR theory been irrelevant to the debates? To find out, I just spent a few hours looking at the contents of the last four years of the six leading journals for International Relations theory (International Organization, International Studies Quarterly, World Politics, Journal of Conflict Resolution, European Journal of International Relations, Review of International Studies - see the end of the post for discussion of these choices), along with the American Political Science Review. I used an exceedingly loose definition of "about al-Qaeda" - i.e. I included everything about terrorism and counter-terrorism, even if it barely touched at all on al-Qaeda or Islamism itself; and I included review essays, even if they did not include any original research.

The results were even more striking than I expected. All told, these seven journals published 796 articles between 2002-2005. I found a total of 25 articles dealing even loosely with al-Qaeda, Islamism, or terrorism. That's just over 3% of the articles. Now, there's lots of important stuff out there in the world, and there's no reason for the whole field to be following the headlines, but still... 3%?

Lynch posits that this is because the leading paradigms used to explain international relations are unsiuted to explain Al Qaeda:

The dominant theoretical trends in the international relations field have been strikingly absent from the mountains of paper expended on analysis of al-Qaeda, Islamism, and the war on terror. Most of the dominant theoretical approaches were not so much wrong as irrelevant. Realism, with its emphasis on the balance of power among self-interested nation-states, had little to say about a non-state actor motivated by religion. Liberalism, with its various arguments about international institutions, trade, and democracy, similarly offered little traction. Rationalist approaches seemed initially stymied by an organization defined by intense religious convictions, and by individual suicide terrorism (though there were some game efforts to reconstruct a strategic rationale behind al-Qaeda’s terrorism). Of all the dominant trends within IR, constructivism seemed to be the best placed to account for such a religious, transnational movement. But constructivist analyses of al-Qaeda were few and far between. Whether because the Islamist movement espouses norms repugnant to the liberalism espoused by many constructivist theorists or because of a lack of interest in policy relevant research, constructivists have largely failed to rise to the opportunity of authoritatively interpreting al-Qaeda.

Kevin Drum is appalled: "I know it takes a while for people to change gears, but you'd sure think terrorism might have captured just a little more attention among IR types by now, wouldn't you?"

James Joyner and the Glittering Eye believe the fault lies with the skewed incentives of the academy.

My thoughts:

1) I'm a bit dubious of Lynch's counting methodology. First, the turnaround time between writing the rough draft of anything decent and getting it accepted and published in a major journal is eighteen months -- and that's if you're very, very lucky. To write about Al Qaeda, senior scholars would need to halt their other projects -- which means a loss of asset-specific investments -- and start building up knowledge in a new empirical domain. The failure to see anything decent crop up in the first few years is not terribly surprising. (It would be interesting to see whether the journals that were around in 1945 saw a similar lag). We're just starting to see dissertations affected by the 9/11 events come into the pipeline. Wait a bit before complaining of a deficit.

Second, Lynch doesn't include any security journals -- International Security, Security Studies, Journal of Strategic Studies, Security Dialogue, etc. Lynch justifies the exclusion of International Security by labeling it a "policy-oriented journal" -- but it and the other journals listed above are both peer-reviewed and pretty theory-oriented.

Third, there is a difference between what's been published and what's been submitted. I suspect that there has been a lot more work submitted -- but just because someone is writing something about Al Qaeda doesn't mean it's something good about Al Qaeda. My guess would be the first wave of efforts probably won't pass muster.

2) The opportunity costs of Operation Iraqi Freedom can't be denied here. That operation didn't just divert hard power resources away from Al Qaeda -- it distracted IR theorists as well. For the theorists, this was an easy call -- discussing the theoretical implications of an interstate conflict was much easier than discussing a completely new phenomenon.

3) Follow the money. The amount of intellectual enegy invested in understanding the Soviet Union during the Cold War was a function of the wads of reseearch money that was available for studying that topic. I honestly don't know what the financial incentives are right now to study AQ -- but I'd wager that it's less lucrative and less institutionalized than studying Soviet nuclear capabilities or the Fulda Gap in the early eighties.

4) I do think Lynch has a point in believing that IR theory doesn't think much about Al Qaeda because to IR theory, Al Qaeda is not in the same league as the old Soviet Union in terms of magnitude of threat. Take the Princeton Project on National Security's latest working paper on grand strategy for example (co-authored by Frank Fukuyama and John Ikenberry). Al Qaeda is mentioned three times; terrorism is mentioned sixteen times. China, in contrast, gets 127 mentions.

The reason for this is pretty simple. Al Qaeda can only weaken its enemies -- it can't govern anywhere, can't hold significant portions of territory, can't manage a modern economy, and has no base of popular support anywhere. It's not a threat to supplant U.S. hegemony. China is a different story.

5) Fukuyama and Ikenberry, however, do acknowledge the theoretical problems posed not by Al Qaeda alone as much as AQ + nuclear weapons:

The possibility that a relatively small and weak non-state organization could inflict catastrophic damage is something genuinely new in international relations, and poses an unprecedented security challenge. In all prior historical periods the ability to inflict serious damage to a society lay only within the purview of states but a recent confluence of globalization, technologies of mass destruction, and extremism amounts to what Joseph Nye has called the “privatization of war”. Violence capability that once only a few great powers could muster could someday fall into the hands of transnational groups with apocalyptic agendas.

The entire edifice of international relations theory is built around the presumption that nation-states are the only significant players in world politics. If catastrophic destruction can be inflicted by nonstate actors, then many of the concepts that informed security policy over the past two centuries—balance of power, deterrence, containment, and the like—lose their relevance. Deterrence theory in particular depends on the deployer of any form of WMD having a return address, and with it equities that could be threatened in retaliation.

All major IR theories do a lousy job of explaining the influence of non-state actors -- constructivism included.

[So what's your takeaway point?--ed. I think Lynch is overstating the problem, but it does exist. Whether this is important depends on whether you believe that Al Qaeda really does represent the greatest threat to U.S. power and interests over the next decade.]

UPDATE: Lynch responds here. And Ethan Bueno de Mesquita makes some excellent observations in the comments.

posted by Dan at 05:58 PM | Comments (28) | Trackbacks (0)

The rioters really are French, part deux

Following up on this post from earlier in the week about the rioters acting within the political traditions of France, we have Mark Landler's, "A Very French Message From the Disaffected" in today's New York Times:

More than 7,000 vehicles have been set ablaze since the civil unrest began in the suburbs of Paris on Oct. 27. The daily damage report posted by the French police is a car owner's nightmare: 502 burned on Friday night, 463 the previous night, 482 the night before that, and so on.

No other country in Europe immolates cars with the gusto and single-minded efficiency of France. Even during tranquil periods, an average of 80 vehicles per day are set alight somewhere in the country.

"Burning cars is rather typically French," said Michel Wieviorka, a French sociologist who has studied the phenomenon. "The last two weeks have been unusual, but it is more common than people realize."

posted by Dan at 03:40 PM | Comments (10) | Trackbacks (0)

Friday, November 11, 2005

Maybe AOL could buy me a Prius... coated in platinum

Inspired by the AOL takeover of Weblogs, Inc., I decided to take the "How Much is Your Blog Worth" test.

Here's what I found out:

My blog is worth $307,109.76.
How much is your blog worth?

Woo-hoo!! Priuses for everyone!! I'm richer than the New York Times!!

[Er, this site suggests that your blog's actual annual value is really closer to $4966.88--ed. I knew the dot-com bubble would eventually catch up to me.]

Props to Mickey Kaus for all of the links.

posted by Dan at 06:16 PM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)

I thought the problem was too many workers

Exactly one week ago I blogged about the inflow of Hispanic workers -- including illegal immigrants -- into New Orleans. The implication in the stories cited in that post was that these workers were crowding out employment opportunities for locals.

So imagine my surprise when Gary Rivlin reports in the New York Times that this is basically a crock of s**t:

Burger King is offering a $6,000 signing bonus to anyone who agrees to work for a year at one of its New Orleans outlets. Rally's, a local restaurant chain, has nearly doubled its pay for new employees to $10 an hour.

On any given day, contractors and business owners pass out fliers in downtown New Orleans promising $17 to $20 an hour, plus benefits, for people willing to swing a sledgehammer or cart away stinking debris from homes and businesses devastated by Hurricane Katrina. Canal Street, once a crowded boulevard of commerce, now resembles a sparsely populated open-air job fair.

Ten weeks after Katrina, government officials and business leaders worry that a scarcity of able-bodied workers is hampering the area's recovery....

Virtually every New Orleans business confronts the same conundrum: In a city without a functioning school system and with vast stretches that are still uninhabitable, where will they find the employees they need to begin the long recovery? Everyone from bank presidents to restaurant owners to the Port of New Orleans are approaching the task like a nurse in an emergency room performing triage on patients based on the most immediate need....

Like other businesses, Bollinger Shipyards has dispatched emissaries to shelters around the South, looking for displaced residents willing to return. For the moment, though, evacuees who are living free in a hotel or in a subsidized apartment while collecting a stipend from the Federal Emergency Management Agency may not have the same pressing need to return to the stricken city as they might otherwise. Bollinger employees made 20 or so trips, but they did not sign up a single evacuee. Mr. Bollinger has yet to bump up his pay scale but he said that raises were inevitable.

posted by Dan at 02:48 PM | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (0)

What do you do about Al Qaeda's new base of operations?

It appears that Al Qaeda in Iraq has erred badly in its Jordan bombings earlier this week. According to the Chicago Tribune's Joel Greenberg:

The offshoot of Al Qaeda spearheading the anti-U.S. insurgency in Iraq sought to defend its actions Thursday in the face of furious Arab protests in the streets of Jordan's capital over the hotel attacks that killed three suicide bombers and their 56 victims.

After first claiming responsibility for the Wednesday bombings of three hotels popular with Israelis and Westerners, Al Qaeda in Iraq later issued a second Internet statement that appeared to acknowledge that its tactics may have backfired and undermined any support the group enjoyed among the Jordanian population.

The group said the attacks were launched only after its leaders became "confident that [the hotels] are centers for launching war on Islam and support the crusaders' presence in Iraq and the Arab peninsula and the presence of the Jews on the land of Palestine."

They also were, the group asserted, "a secure place for the filthy Israeli and Western tourists to spread corruption and adultery at the expense and suffering of the Muslims."

But most of those killed were Jordanians or other Arabs, and many of the thousands of residents who marched in protest Thursday spoke of an assault on their sense of security in this tightly run city, which had been spared the carnage of suicide bombings elsewhere in the Middle East and was considered an oasis of stability.

In its editorial for today on the topic, the Washington Post points out that this is the latest in a long string of reversals for Al Qaeda in the Middle East:

Even as it has bloodied Iraq -- where two more suicide bombings were recorded yesterday -- support for violence and Islamic extremism has been declining elsewhere in the region. Two movements that pioneered suicide bombings, Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in the Palestinian territories, have at least temporarily set aside violence and are focused on participating in democratic politics. An al Qaeda branch in Saudi Arabia has found little support, and most of its leaders have been captured or killed. In Lebanon this year, a popular revolution embraced a democratic agenda, and a grass-roots democratic movement has appeared in Egypt. The government most under siege in the region is not the Jordanian monarchy but the Baathist dictatorship of Syria, which has been a tactical ally of the Zarqawi network and the Iraqi insurgency.

This doesn't even mention Al Qaeda's unpopularity in North Africa.

Here's the thing, though -- does any of this matter in terms of reducing terrorist activity in the region and across the globe? I ask because of this disturbing story by the Christian Science Monitor's Dan Murphy:

If a claim of responsibility from Al Qaeda in Iraq and official Jordanian statements are true, terrorist bombings of three Amman hotels that killed 57 people on Wednesday may be the first sign that Iraq is no longer just a magnet for international jihaddis. Like Afghanistan under the Taliban, say counterterrorism experts, Iraq is becoming a base from which Al Qaeda can plan, train, and launch attacks against its designated enemies.

The Jordanians "run a very, very tight ship in terms of security so they have been able to foil a number of attacks," says Brian Jenkins, a terrorism expert at the RAND Corp. in Santa Monica, Calif.. "But particularly with the war in Iraq, there will be more spillover."

Mr. Jenkins says that as a result of the insurgency, Iraq has been a "net importer of jihadists" - --- drawing extremist sympathizers from other Muslim nations. But he worries the attacks in Jordan indicate Iraq will eventually become a net exporter of terrorists. That will have an impact on the jihadist movement worldwide, but particularly on countries like Jordan that are adjacent to Iraq and allied with the US, he says.

In other recent incidents involving Iraq-based militants, Kuwait briefly banned the import of prized watermelons from Iraq in June after bombs were found hidden inside a shipment trying to cross the border; Germany last year arrested members of Ansar al-Sunna, which operates out of Kurdish Iraq, that it alleged were planning attacks there; and in Syria, two shootouts in the past six months have taken place between government officers and militants said to have ties to Iraqi fighters....

"Look at his success rate. He had succeeded in killing one US diplomat, just one, before the Iraq war," says [Al Qaeda expert/author Evan] Kohlmann referring to Lawrence Foley, who was murdered at his home in 2002. Zarqawi "was tied to the attempt to blow up the Radisson in [Dec.] 1999 - that failed. Why is he successful now? Because he has an entire team of suicide bombers ready and waiting, and according to his Internet statement the people who carried this out belong to the ... same unit that carries out his suicide attacks in Iraq."

Kohlmann points out, it's useful to be close to your strongest recruiting pool. "What's been effective for Zarqawi has been recruiting Sunni Arabs - Iraqi, Saudi, Jordanian, North African. These are the people who have been proven to be the most destructive, capable and driven fighters," he says.

"It's all about a secure base and a good location. This is the reason that bin Laden and Zawahiri have so many problems - they're up in the mountains away from modern technology and ways of getting around. Zarqawi didn't come into his own until the jihad moved into an urban battleground, in Iraq."

This development has some bitter ironies for both the Bush administration and the opponents of the Iraq war.

The administration might take some PR comfort in the WaPo's assertion that, "The targeting of Jordan can hardly be blamed on the Iraq war," but it must accept the fact that the success of this attack (as opposed to a botched 1999 attempt) is directly attributable to the administration's pre-invasion failure to take out Zarqawi and post0invasion failure to ensure basic security in Iraq.

For opponents, however, the irony is even more bitter. The Bush administration might have been full of it when it claimed a connection between Al Qaeda and Iraq prior to the invasion. However, as frustrating as it may be, Bush is correct to say that Iraq is now one of the focal points in the war against Al Qaeda -- the Jordan attacks are merely the latest evidence of this. As long as Zarqawi has a base of operations and a playground to train zealots, he will continue to be a potent source of trouble.

So, a question to those who advocate a pullout of U.S. forces from Iraq -- how would a U.S. withdrawal help in any way towards removing Iraq as a base of operations for Al Qaeda?

posted by Dan at 11:27 AM | Comments (28) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, November 10, 2005

What do you do with statesmen?

David Bosco and James Forsyth have a serio-comic essay in Slate about the divergent paths that former politicians take in the United States and Europe:

When prominent American politicians descend from the hustings, several well-worn paths stretch out in front of them. Former presidents putter in their libraries, tend their foundations, and ride the lecture circuit. Lesser lights are usually inclined to make gobs of money at law firms (Robert Dole, George Mitchell, and Tom Daschle), hedge funds (Dan Quayle), and lobbying shops (Dick Armey), though a few good souls land as university presidents (Bob Kerrey and David Boren). Those who can't stand the silence fulminate on cable or talk radio (Joe Scarborough and Mario Cuomo). If all else fails, Harvard's Kennedy School of Government usually has a free cubicle (Jeanne Shaheen, Alan Simpson, and Mickey Edwards have all done time there).

It's a different world for Euro-politicos, many of whom chart second careers in the supranational realm. The European Union, with a large and hungry bureaucracy, needs commissioners, representatives, and assorted other functionaries. Retired, defeated, or fatigued national politicians are good candidates. And it's not just Brussels that comes calling. U.N. agencies in New York and Geneva are natural spots for European has-beens, who tend to be less skeptical of the institution than Americans and more susceptible to the charms of multinational bureaucracies.

A libertarian might say, "Good for the U.S.A." upon reading these paragraphs -- better that ex-politicians try to get rich rather than try to spread well-intentioned but counterproductive and ineffectual governance structures to the rest of the world.

The problem is that matters are not that simple. The Slate grafs suggest that ex-politicians in the United States want to get rich, they thend to do so by exploiting their comparative advantage -- their knowledge of the intricacies of government. Regardless of party, ex-politicos have an incentive to ensure that the government retains some influence over the market -- so that they can exploit their influence over the government.

This political life after politics subverts the famous Harry Truman line: "A politician is a man who understands government. A statesman is a politician who's been dead for 15 years." In modern America, a statesman is a man who understands government and is paid very well for that understanding."

The rent-seeking implications of this kind of parastatal career are disturbing -- continued opacity of government. So which is worse -- European politicians who seem less interested in money but aspire to supranational forms of governance, or American politicians who are more interested in money and aspire to lobby the national level of governance?

posted by Dan at 04:52 PM | Comments (14) | Trackbacks (0)

Open Jordan thread

Comment away on the latest suicide bombing attacks in Jordan.

Earlier in the week I had referenced Marc Lynch's overvations about prior Zarqawi-inspired attacks in northern Africa. I tend to agree with his preliminary read of this attack as well:

[C]alling it an "al-Qaeda attack" is misleading - you have to look at it, I'd say, as a Zarqawi operation aimed both at his Iraqi strategy and at his escalating intra-Islamist strategy. The timing and nature of this attack suggest that it may have more to do with Iraq and with Zarqawi's two-level games than with bin Laden's grand plan....

The nature of the attack - especially the sheer evil brutality of attacking a wedding celebration - once again throws dirt in the face of Ayman al-Zawahiri, who (assuming the authenticity of that letter) urged Zarqawi to stop doing things which would alienate Arab public opinion. That the traditional Jordanian opposition - including the Muslim Brotherhood-dominated professional associations - led an angry protest against Zarqawi speaks volumes. Jordanian public opinion (certainly the organized political opposition) has been more generally supportive of the insurgency than in most other places... to hear them shouting "death to Zarqawi" shows how thoroughly his methods alienate even potential supporters.

Here's an MSNBC story on the post-bombing protests:

Hundreds of angry Jordanians rallied Thursday outside one of three U.S.-based hotels attacked by suicide bombers, shouting, “Burn in hell, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi!” — a reference to the leader of Al-Qaida in Iraq, the terrorist group tied to the blasts that killed at least 56 people.

The protest was organized by Jordan’s 14 professional and trade unions — made up of both hard-line Islamic groups and leftist political organizations — traditionally vocal critics of Abdullah’s moderate and pro-Western policies.

posted by Dan at 01:31 PM | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, November 9, 2005

It's déjà vu at the Kansas Board of Education

So I see that the Kansas Board of Ed has approved new science standards that, "change the definition of science to allow for non-natural explanations and cast significant doubt on the theory made famous by Charles Darwin," according to Knight-Ridder's David Klepper.

Sounds pretty grim. Amy Sullivan, however, points out that Kansas wasn't the only place where this issue was subject to debate yesterday:

In [Dover, Pennsylvania] voters booted all eight Republican pro-intelligent design school board members who were up for re-election and replaced them with Democrats who oppose the curriculum policy. Dover is not some bastion of liberal politics; it's more like Kansas than parts of Kansas are. If I had to make a prediction, I'd say that's a better indication of where the intelligent design fight is going than the Kansas decision. It's not a court striking down intelligent design, but voters taking matters into their own hands and deciding enough is enough.

Indeed, the Knight-Ridder story goes on to point out:

The vote brings to a close the latest chapter of the evolution saga in Kansas, but it is not likely to end it. A similar story played out in 1999, when the board removed most references to evolution, the origin of the universe or the age of the earth. Voters unseated conservatives in 2000, and a new board, dominated by moderates, changed the standards back.

Moderates hope the same thing will happen next year, and they vow to unseat conservatives in next November's elections. Voters will fill five board seats next year, four of them belonging to conservative incumbents. A handful of candidates have already announced their intention to run.

Ann Althouse has more, particularly on the interrelationship between the litigation and electoral strategies that tend to contain this kind of educational tom-foolery.

UPDATE: Oh, dear, I see that Pat Robertson has opened his mouth on this topic. According to the AP:

Religious broadcaster Pat Robertson warned residents of a rural Pennsylvania town Thursday that disaster may strike there because they "voted God out of your city" by ousting school board members who favored teaching intelligent design....

"I'd like to say to the good citizens of Dover: If there is a disaster in your area, don't turn to God. You just rejected him from your city," Robertson said on the Christian Broadcasting Network's "700 Club."....

Later Thursday, Robertson issued a statement saying he was simply trying to point out that "our spiritual actions have consequences."

"God is tolerant and loving, but we can't keep sticking our finger in his eye forever," Robertson said. "If they have future problems in Dover, I recommend they call on Charles Darwin. Maybe he can help them."

Wait, I'm confused by that last sentence -- does this mean that Robertson believes that Charles Darwin's ghost is still around?

Anyway, it appears that God ain't pleased with Robertson.

posted by Dan at 06:05 PM | Comments (29) | Trackbacks (0)

Open Douthat & Salam thread

The American Scene's Ross Douthat and Reihan Salam have written a manifesto for the Republican Party's future which is on the cover of the Weekly Standard. It opens by stating the depressing truth:

Forget the misplaced loyalty and incompetence on display in Hurricanes Katrina and Harriet. The intellectual exhaustion of the current majority should have been obvious at the close of the last legislative term. After months of political reversals--including the defeat, without a shot fired, of Social Security reform--the congressional leadership managed three victories: a pork-laden $286 billion in new transportation spending, an energy bill larded with generous corporate subsidies, and a noble but unpopular free trade act, CAFTA, that may prove a poison pill for vulnerable GOP congressmen come 2006. All in all, not a bad week--unless, that is, you believe in small government, expanding economic opportunity, and the long-term political viability of the Republican party.

So what's the solution? Douthat and Salam argue in favor of taking the "opportunity society" rhetoric and actually putting flesh to it:

Republicans face three obvious options. The first is to continue to muddle along with the domestic policy that produced the multi-trillion-dollar Medicaid drug benefit, three years of bloated appropriations bills, and the failed push for private retirement accounts, and hope that social issues and national security concerns are enough to keep the party's majority afloat. A second option is to attempt a return to a purer, more fiscally austere faith, even if it means ceding political power, and wait for the looming entitlement crisis to convince Americans of the wisdom of repealing the New Deal.

The third possibility--and the best, both for the party and the country as a whole--would be to take the "big-government conservatism" vision that George W. Bush and Karl Rove have hinted at but failed to develop, and give it coherence and sustainability. This wouldn't mean an abandonment of small-government objectives, but it would mean recognizing that these objectives--individual initiative, social mobility, economic freedom--seem to be slipping away from many less-well-off Americans, and that serving the interests of these voters means talking about economic insecurity as well as about self-reliance. It would mean recognizing that you can't have an "ownership society" in a nation where too many Americans owe far more than they own. It would mean matching the culture war rhetoric of family values with an economic policy that places the two-parent family--the institution best capable of providing cultural stability and economic security--at the heart of the GOP agenda.

Read the whole thing. I'm still mulling it over, but there are some ideas in there that are definitely worth some blog debate.

posted by Dan at 01:06 PM | Comments (14) | Trackbacks (0)

The rioters really are French

A lot has been written about the ongoing riots in France, but the best things I've seen have come from Megan McArdle and Daniel Davies.

From Miss Jane Galt:

Is it because Arabs/Muslims are a roiling repository of violent, seething hatred, ever threatening to bubble over onto unsuspecting victims in their path? Because the French are so damn mean?

Let me suggest another possibility: Muslim youth are rioting in France because breaking windows and setting cars on fire is fun.

But Davies wins the prize here, pointing out the one way in which this is all so... French:

These young men have got a political grievance, and they're expressing it by setting fire to things and smashing them up. What could be more stereotypically, characteristically French than that? Presumably they're setting fire to cars because they don't have any sheep and the nearest McDonalds is miles away. "French society is threatened by anarchy and lawlessness". I mean really. Everyone would do well to remember that this is France we're talking about, not Sweden or perhaps Canada.

Indeed. The only difference between these riots and prior action like this by, say, Air France employees is that by this point in the game the French government would have already capitulated.

posted by Dan at 11:11 AM | Comments (19) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, November 8, 2005

Way to go Zarqawi

Marc "Abu Aardvark" Lynch reports that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's latest tactics in Iraq haven't gone down well in the Maghreb states:

Abu Musab al-Zarqawi has taken another step to alienate mainstream Arab public opinion: kidnapping and threatening to execute two Moroccan embassy workers. Just as the murder of an Egyptian diplomat infuriated Egyptian opinion, and the murder of Algerian diplomats enraged Algerian opinion, the threats to kill the two Moroccans have set off a national protest....

Zarqawi's strategy aims at driving representatives of Arab states out of Iraq to prevent any Arab intervention on behalf of the struggling Iraqi government. The cost is the alienation of mainstream Arabs - tactical gain for strategic loss, or at least so it appears on the surface.

Read the whole thing -- the idea that Zarqawi is playing a tw-level game is an interesting one.

posted by Dan at 04:30 PM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

How hard is it to use a f#$%ing footnote?

Apparently, U.S. Representative Sherrod Brown sent a letter to Mike DeWine regarding the Samuel Alito nomination, and the letter essentially copied a Nathan Newman post about Alito's take on labor rights. Brown's staff admitted to Cleveland Plain Dealer reporter Stephen Koff that "90 percent of what Brown, an Avon Democrat, wrote in his letter was lifted from an Internet posting by a blogger."

I'm quoted by Koff in the story:

While the line dividing politicians and online political commentary sometimes seems fuzzy, University of Chicago political scientist Daniel Drezner, himself a blogger and co-editor of a forthcoming book on politics and blogging, says Brown went "outside the bounds."

He compared it with Sen. Joe Biden, the Delaware Democrat who dropped out of the 1988 presidential race after it was learned he plagiarized part of a stump speech.

"It strikes me as pretty much the same thing," Drezner said. "It's plagiarism."

Brown's office acknowledged that it should not have used Newman's words without giving him credit. Spokeswoman Joanna Kuebler said she found Newman's work when researching labor issues. Brown's legislative staff confirmed its accuracy, and Brown then signed the staff-prepared letter, Kuebler said.

"We should have cited it, and we didn't," Kuebler said.

Ordinarily I woldn't post about this -- I've reached the point where I'm bored with my own media whoredom. However, this story has some lefty bloggers very annoyed -- including Newman:

Did the Plain Dealer do an in depth analysis of Alito's labor record in response?

No, they created a bullshit meta-story that was of such supposed breaking news value that they couldn't wait for me to get back from my mini-honeymoon to get my reaction.

Duncan "Atrios" Black -- who works at Media Matters, mind you, concurs:

Genuine plagiarism in this context is lifting out paragraphs of unique prose, not culling some information from a blog post.

While I have some sympathy with the idea of reporters focusing on actual policy substance, this is still a completely valid story. Consider this section of Koff's story and compare it with Black's defiinition of plagiarism:

For instance, Newman, an attorney and labor and community activist, posted this on his blog Nov. 1: "What is striking about Alito is that he is so hostile even to the basic rights of workers to have a day in court, much less interpreting the law in their favor."

Brown's letter merely changed the last clause so the sentence read, "What is striking about Alito is that he is so hostile even to the basic rights of workers to have a day in court, not to mention interpreting the law against them."

Brown's letter cited details of 13 rulings by Alito, who in early 2006 will face confirmation hearings in the Senate Judiciary Committee. The problem is, Brown's descriptions in 12 of the cases were almost verbatim what Newman wrote on his blog.

This is a case of sloppy staff work in Brown's office and not much more -- but it's still a screw-up, which explains why Brown's office immediately copped to the miscue.

In NRO, Jonah Goldberg notes the special irony of Brown's mistake:

[T]here's a special irony here. I think all reasonable people can agree that plagiarism is a theft of intellectual property. Well, I did a very quick Nexis search and it seems Sherrod Brown's been out front in opposing trade deals because they don't provide enough protections for intellectual property.

UPDATE: Brown has sent another letter to DeWine acknowledging the failure to cite Newman. However, the press release accompanying the letter asserts that, "In coordination with an Ohio newspaper article published Tuesday, DeWine's staff dismissed concerns expressed by Brown in the Nov. 4 letter, instead focusing on citation errors." (emphasis added)

That's an interesting word choice -- Brown is clearly implying that DeWine's staff engineered the story in the first place. I have no idea if this is true or not -- but I'd like to hear of any evidence Brown has to back this up.

posted by Dan at 04:02 PM | Comments (23) | Trackbacks (0)

So how is trade integration going?

I've seen better weeks for those who want trade expansion.

At the Summit of the Americas in Mar del Plata, everyone took a "wait-and-see" approach to the proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas. The Economist explains:

At the first Summit of the Americas, in Miami in 1994, all the region’s governments signed up to a common vision of democracy and free trade. That consensus was starting to fray by the third summit, in Quebec in 2001; now at Mar del Plata, the fourth, it has unravelled. The gathering’s worthy official theme was to promote employment. But how? The plan for a Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), originally due to come into effect this year, has stalled, as Mr Bush admitted even before the summit, saying that the Doha round of world trade talks should take precedence. Brazil echoed this sentiment at Mar del Plata, saying it wanted to see the outcome of negotiations at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) before moving forward on a regional agreement. Argentina also demurred. With three out of Latin America's four biggest economies reluctant, hopes for a regional agreement were dashed.

This makes sense. So how are those WTO negotiations going? The Associated Press reports that India's Commerce Minister is not optimistic:

The World Trade Organization may not be able to achieve the goals it has set for a new trade treaty when ministers meet in Hong Kong later this year, the Indian commerce minister said Monday.

"With the few days left, with the vastness of what is on the table, we may not be having" the complete blueprint that was planned, Kamal Nath told reporters following a meeting of key trade negotiators.

Ministers from the 148 WTO members meet in Hong Kong Dec. 13-18 aiming to create a detailed framework for a major trade treaty that would lower import barriers and reduce subsidies. But major differences exist in areas including agriculture and market access for manufactured goods.

"It isn't that Hong Kong is going to be a failure. We are tempering expectations based upon the timing and the intricacy," said Nath, who chaired the meeting of ministers from India, the United States, the European Union, Brazil and Japan.

With only weeks to go before the Hong Kong meeting, ministers seemed to be trying to avoid the kind of crushing disaster they faced at the last WTO ministerial in Cancun, Mexico, in 2001, which collapsed in disarray and acrimony, paralyzing the global trade body for months.

[So this is Europe's fault, right?--ed. Well, at this point the answer is yes and no. Certainly EU intransigence on agricultural matters doesn't help. On the other hand, the developing countries are now in a position where they need to make concessions as well. Consider the Indian Commerce Minister's remarks in this story by the Independent's Philip Thornton In a wide-ranging interview with The Independent, Kamal Nath lashes out at the attitude taken by rich nations in the WTO talks ­ especially that of Europe's trade commissioner Peter Mandelson. He appears baffled that Europe has offered to eliminate domestic subsidies and reduce tariffs ­ but in exchange for concessions in other areas, notably service industries and market access for industrial goods.

"I welcome Peter Mandelson's proposal to say he will reduce by so much but then he says 'I want my pound of flesh'," Mr Nath said. He compared Mr Mandelson to a politician seeking a knighthood simply for obeying a traffic light. "He is looking to be rewarded and rewarded for behaving as one should.

"It is a step in the right direction but it is a question of giving an inch and asking for a mile ­ not just asking for a foot but a mile."

On the one hand, Nath is correct in saying that the EU should liberalize its agricultural sector no matter what. On the other hand, the GATT/WTO process was designed for states to get concessions from other countries in order to gain the concessions they want. From an economic standpoint, this kind of reciprocity makes no sense (it's better for countries to unilaterally lower all their tariffs, quotas, and barriers). From a political standpoint, however, the Indians -- and other large-market developing countries such as Brazil and China -- are going to have to reciprocate for the Doha round to have any meaning.

UPDATE: Oh, goody, the U.S. has scored a trade "victory," according to Edward Alden of the Financial Times:

Tuesday’s deal to restrain imports of Chinese textiles and clothing is the latest and largest – and the most surprising -- of those agreements. As recently as last month, the talks broke down in the face of Chinese demands for annual increases of as high as 30 per cent in exports to the US. But on Tuesday Beijing signed off on a deal that will bring it little more than 10 per cent annual growth through the end of 2008.

Mr Portman, speaking in London, called it “an example of how the US and China do have the ability to resolve tough trade disputes in a manner that benefits both countries.” Bo Xilai, China’s Commerce minister, said that while it’s “still a far cry from our original expectations” of free trade in textiles and apparel, the stability it brings is “a win-win result.”

posted by Dan at 10:32 AM | Comments (9) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, November 7, 2005

That Burmese junta is just so wacky

In the Financial Times, Amy Kazmin reports that the military junta controlling Burma has found a brand-new way of ensuring its diplomatic isolation:

Burma’s military rulers have begun the relocation of civil servants and central government ministries to an isolated compound near Pyinmana, hundreds of miles north of Rangoon.

In a statement to diplomats on Monday, Kyaw Thu, deputy foreign minister, said the regime had decided to move the entire government to remote Pyinmana to help with the “formidable tasks of building a modern and developed nation throughout the whole country and, in particular, the border areas”.

The Burmese regime selected Pyinmana, halfway between Rangoon and Mandalay and surrounded by mountains and dense forests, as a “command and control centre based at a strategic location central in the transportation and communication networks of the entire country”.

Foreign diplomats and international aid workers said the move suggested the military junta was retreating into a physical bunker....

While construction of the complex has long been an open secret, few believed the move would take place.

Government officials, many of them civilians, were reportedly devastated on Friday when relocation orders were unexpectedly issued to 10 ministries, including foreign affairs, home, commerce, health, transport, and communications.

The first convoys of trucks with office equipment and personnel moved out of the capital at the weekend.

Rangoon residents said civil servants were warned they would be charged with treason if they sought to avoid the move by resigning from their poorly paid jobs.

In its statement, the foreign ministry advised diplomats: “If you need to communicate on urgent matters, you can send a fax to Pyinmana.”

posted by Dan at 05:45 PM | Comments (6) | Trackbacks (0)

The pushback on Dick Cheney

One of the mantras on this blog from day one has been the excessive influence that Vice President Richard B. Cheney has played in the foreign policymaking process. This is not to say that a Vice President should have no influence -- merely that Cheney had his thumb so hard on the scale that the interagency NSC process was fatally compromised.

Dana Priest and Robin Wright have a front-pager in the Washington Post on the proposed amendment to prevent detainee abuse suggesting that Cheney's thumb is not as heavy as it used to be:

Increasingly, however, Cheney's positions are being opposed by other administration officials, including Cabinet members, political appointees and Republican lawmakers who once stood firmly behind the administration on all matters concerning terrorism.

Personnel changes in President Bush's second term have added to the isolation of Cheney, who previously had been able to prevail in part because other key parties to the debate -- including Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales and White House counsel Harriet Miers -- continued to sit on the fence.

But in a reflection of how many within the administration now favor changing the rules, Elliot Abrams, traditionally one of the most hawkish voices in internal debates, is among the most persistent advocates of changing detainee policy in his role as the deputy national security adviser for democracy, according to officials familiar with his role.

At the same time Rice has emerged as an advocate for changing the rules to "get out of the detainee mess," said one senior U.S. official familiar with discussions. Her top advisers, along with their Pentagon counterparts, are working on a package of proposals designed to address all controversial detainee issues at once, instead of dealing with them on a piecemeal basis.

Cheney's camp is a "shrinking island," said one State Department official who, like other administration officials quoted in this article, asked not to be identified because public dissent is strongly discouraged by the White House.

The report goes on to describe the lengths to which Cheney's camp is going to maintain the upper hand in the game of bureaucratic politics:

Beside personal pressure from the vice president, Cheney's staff is also engaged in resisting a policy change. Tactics included "trying to have meetings canceled ... to at least slow things down or gum up the works" or trying to conduct meetings on the subject without other key Cabinet members, one administration official said. The official said some internal memos and e-mail from the National Security Council staff to the national security adviser were automatically forwarded to the vice president's office -- in some cases without the knowledge of the authors.

For that reason, Rice "wanted to be in all meetings," said a senior State Department official.

Andrew Sullivan has more -- a lot more.

This issue, by the way, also raises some interesting questions for realists -- the flavor of the month in critical foreign policy circles. Consider Cheney's explanation for why the proposed limitations on interrogation would hamper U.S. national security, according to Newsweek's Daniel Klaidman and Michael Isikoff:

Last Tuesday, Senate Republicans were winding up their weekly luncheon in the Capitol when the vice president rose to speak. Staffers were quickly ordered out of the room—what Cheney had to say was for senators only. Normally taciturn, Cheney was uncharacteristically impassioned, according to two GOP senators who did not want to be on the record about a private meeting. He was very upset over the Senate's overwhelming passage of an amendment that prohibits inhumane treatment of terrorist detainees. Cheney said the law would tie the president's hands and end up costing "thousands of lives." He dramatized the point, conjuring up a scenario in which a captured Qaeda operative, another Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, refuses to give his interrogators details about an imminent attack. "We have to be able to do what is necessary," the vice president said, according to one of the senators who was present.

Now, if you're a realist, this should be an easy call if you accept Cheney's assertion -- aggressive interrogations yield useful intelligence. Removing this option might preserve some soft power and demonstrate grater respect for international law, but neither of those things should matter in realpolitik world anyway.


UPDATE: Daniel Benjamin has more on Cheney's role in national security policymaking in Slate.

Oh, and just to be clear -- Cheney's oversized role in this does not mean that I believe Cheney is the main culprit for U.S. missteps in either Iraq or interrogation policy. The responsibility for those policies -- and the process that abetted them -- lies with the president.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Well, now that I have everyone's attention, let's highlight one more fissure this kind of issue generates among conservatives. On the one hand there are the Hamiltonians who place a great deal of trust in the executive branch to execute policy in a good faith manner. On the other hand there are Madisonians who inherently distruct executive power and wish to see limitations placed on its use.

If you study foreign policy, there are many compelling reasons to prefer the former approach -- but I'm starting to have great sympathy for Madison in recent years.

posted by Dan at 01:26 PM | Comments (25) | Trackbacks (0)

Sunday, November 6, 2005

Is American political fiction really so bad?

Via Kevin Drum, I see that Christopher Lehman has a long essay in the Washington Monthly asserting the poverty of American political fiction:

To gauge the arrested development of American political novels, one need look no further than the pallid state of our own literary satire. Christopher Buckley now passes for the high-water mark of political satire in the nation's literature. In 1994, Buckley drew upon his experience as a speechwriter for Vice President George H.W. Bush to produce Thank You for Smoking, an engaging send-up of the grimly farcical rounds of advocacy for the tobacco industry, as well as of the excesses of its opponents. Since then, however, Buckley's novels have acquired a one-note tetchiness in both tone and subject. They read less like gimlet-eyed parody than gussied-up "O'Reilly Factor" transcripts....

[F]or all the impact of novels of advocacy, we have consistently failed Whitman's prophecy in one crucial respect. America has almost never produced a serious novel addressing the workings of national politics as its main subject. Indeed, it's hard not to read Whitman's own rueful characterization of his own literary generation—a “parcel of dandies and ennuyées” usually just “whimpering and crying about something, chasing one aborted conceit after another, and forever occupied in dyspeptic amours with dyspeptic women”—and not remember many of the scribes churning out the modern American political novel. The genre is as distressingly flat and uninvolving as it was when “Democratic Vistas” was published.

Well, surely those who have seen the belly of the beast -- politicians themselves -- could produce a good political novel. Oh, wait... [Well, what about political scientists?--ed. Don't go there.]

This particular subgenre of fiction is the topic of Rachel Donadio's NYT Book Review essay for today. Curiously, Christopher Buckley makes a cameo appearance there as well:

Novels by politicians are generally regarded as vanity projects or curiosities, written out of egomania, boredom or a drive to "get out the message." Often culled by reporters looking to leaven political profiles, most have fairly tepid sales before being quickly forgotten....

For the most part, novels by politicians quickly fade from the conversation - and the bookshelf. Christopher Buckley, the novelist and Washington gadabout, recalled how he unloaded a lot of books in a house move. Years later, he ran into William S. Cohen, an acquaintance and the author of several novels of international intrigue, some written in the 80's with former Senator Gary Hart. Cohen, who was then President Clinton's first secretary of defense, invited him to lunch.

"I went to the Pentagon for lunch in his office, which is a very formidable office, and he greeted me at the door and handed me a piece of paper," Buckley recounted. It was a printout from the online bookseller Alibris, with the listing for one of Cohen's books. "It said, 'Very fine first edition, excellent condition, inscribed to a fellow author, Christopher Buckley.' The price listed was $3,500. I said, 'Well, Bill, this is most embarrassing.' " Besides, Buckley added, "I thought it likely there had been a decimal error in the price."

Is the state of American political fiction really so parlous perilous? At first I was skeptical, but after perusing my bookshelf, maybe Lehman has a point. He missed a few greats in his conversation. I liked Buckley's Little Green Men better than Lehman, in part because the premise is so delightfully loopy. I'd also include Tom Perrotta's Election and Ward Just's Echo House. Lehman's biggest oversight is Tim O'Brien's In the Lake of the Woods, but that might be because this small masterpiece is as much about Vietnam as it is about what it means to be a politician. Still, that's not such a big list.

What's the explanation? Lehman thinks it's because the overarching theme in American political fiction is the loss of innocence -- which doesn't jibe with how politics actually works:

The American political system has never really staked anything on the preservation of innocence. Indeed, its structural genius is very much the reverse—using the self-interested agendas of political players to cancel each other out, interlacing the powers of government in order to limit the damage that one branch can do, and making ambition at least address, if not fulfill, the public good in spite of itself. Our federal government, as any good reader of “Federalist 10” can report, is an instrument of cynicism erected on the open acknowledgment that human nature is flawed. It has unfailingly survived (and thrived) despite the vices novelists suggest have brought it to its knees. Expecting anyone to journey to the seat of national power and deliver a Mr. Smith-like blow for the sanctity of scouting and motherhood is a bit like wanting the final act of a musical to be all gun battles and explosions: It's what the critics call a genre error.

What's more, this stubborn moralizing impulse is what makes American political fiction, even today, such watery and unsatisfying literature: It deprives writers of the best material. Don't the intrigues sprouting from our well-known human flaws and excesses ultimately make for more engaging plots and character studies than the falls from grace of a thousand or so Washington ingénus?

This echoes the complaint voiced by Slate's David Edelstein a few years ago about how politics is portrayed in film and television:

The real party line in campaign movies turns out to lead straight to the Big Speech (let's call it the BS)—the one in which the candidate either bravely affirms principles over politics and is transfigured, or cravenly yields to expediency and is damned. Compromise, the core of the political process, is regarded not as an art but as a black art.

The transfiguring BS happens like this: The crowd is primed to cheer. The candidate (a man, generally) begins a speech that has been worked on by his handlers, the one designed to please the fat cats and ward heelers—i.e., the "special interests." But at the last second, he cannot bring himself to read what's in front of him. He eyeballs the eager crowd, then lays aside that accursed speech and begins to extemporize. I have met the devil, he says, and nearly sold my soul to get elected. This country, he goes on, deserves better. The people deserve better. The candidate's spouse, who has only recently discovered that he wasn't the Superman of integrity she thought she'd married, regards him again with Lois Lane eyes. The crowd goes wild: Balloons and confetti and soaring music signal the politician's apotheosis.

I'm not sure I have a better answer than Lehman or Edelstein, except to say that I'm not at all sure the problem is peculiarly American. Good fiction set in an democratic political milieu just might be a difficult feat to execute.

Readers are warmly encouraged to suggest their favorite political novels.

posted by Dan at 12:06 PM | Comments (17) | Trackbacks (0)

Saturday, November 5, 2005

So Friday was a pretty good day....

Friday was a great day for two reasons. First, a 70 degree day in Chicago in November is a rare treat and needs to be properly savored.

[Wow, you're keeping up such a brave face after getting denied tenure--ed.] Well, that leads to the second and more important reason why Friday was a pretty good day.

I have formally accepted an offer to be an Associate Professor of International Politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, starting in the summer of 2006. Next year at this time, I will be teaching students pursuing a M.A.L.D. (Masters of Arts in Law and Diplomacy) or a Ph.D. at Tufts University in Medford, MA.

[Wait a minute. Wait just a friggin' minute. What exactly does "Associate Professor" mean?--ed.] It means that, subject to the approval of Tufts University's Board of Trustees, I will be a tenured professor.

[Why Fletcher? Did you have any other options?--ed.] I received a number of inquiries (at various levels of seriousness) from academic and non-academic institutions -- the latter including government, think tank, and publishing opportunities. This was both gratifying and useful. Gratifying because it's always nice to be wanted. Useful because it gave me the chance to ponder whether the academy was for me. In the end, Fletcher was the best choice for a combination of personal and professional reasons.

[So how are you feeling now? Still bitter at the University of Chicago?--ed.] I'm feeling pretty good, actually. Fletcher is an excellent public policy school for what I study, and they actually like the fact that I write for a wider audience on occasion. Oh, and Tufts seems to be doing an excellent job of facilitating policies I like.

As for the U of C, no, I'd say the bitterness level is down to a very tiny nub. Mind you, I still think they screwed up, but they've screwed up other decisions even worse. Anyway, that's the department's problem now, not mine. I will always have very fond memories the institution, the students, and many of my colleagues. We will miss Hyde Park's rumored restaurant renaissance -- but this will be more than compensated by the plethora of supermarket choices in the Boston 'burbs.

[So how do you feel about the blog now? Now that you're tenured, can you really cut loose?--ed.] No, it's just the opposite, I'm afraid. Brian Weatherson hit the nail on the head in Scott Jaschik's Inside Higher Ed story on blogging and academia:

While some believe tenure allows more freedom for a blogger, Weatherson said that if your audience grows, that — not tenure status — may be the factor that leads to restraint online. "The more widely the blog gets read the more cautious I am about saying something critical of anyone without quite a lot to back up the criticisms," he said. "Basically these days I can assume that anything I say critical of anyone in philosophy will get back to them, and I write as if the target of the criticism will be reading. So I probably hold back a little more than I did pre-tenure, when sometimes I would assume that the blog would just remain among friends."


[So you'll be tenured, huh? Well, there goes the last shred of any connection you have with the "real world" in which other American workers must cope!--ed.] You've been reading the comments too much. I don't want to go off on a rant here, but the meme about academics having no connection to the real world is a crock of s$#*. Yes, tenure equals lifetime employment. However, consider the following:

1) Compared to other professions that require equivalent education, academics earn lower wages. This is clearly a choice for many of economic security and a more flexible work schedule over increased income. But it is a choice with real economic costs.

2) It's not like getting a tenured position at a top-drawer school is the easiest thing to do in the world. You have to get accepted into a good Ph.D. program, write an excellent dissertation, demonstrate an ability to generate research of high quality and quantity, and trust your luck that these skills will be recognized by your senior colleagues inside and outside your university.

3) I can't stress this enough -- a professor's wage is almost entirely determined by the market. Yearly raises in our profession range from infinitessimal to nonexistent. The only way to earn big raises is to demonstrate our value to the outside market by getting a competing job offer. That's about as real as you can get in terms of the wage structure.

[Yeah, but you academics don't have to deal with your jobs being outsourced!--ed. Er... no, that doesn't wash. The premier positions in American academia have has a global labor market for decades now, so the effect is analogous to offshoring -- though The long-term effect of professorial podcasting will be interesting, because it suggests an inexpensive way to commodify aspects of teaching.]

[Man, a lot has happened to you since you started the blog -- you're going to need to update that "About Me" page--ed.] Yeah, I already thought of that.

[So you'll be moving to the Boston area, huh? How much NESN will you be allowed to watch?--ed.] My wife and I are deep in negotiations about this very question. With the Red Sox management currently imploding, however, this may not be much of an issue.

posted by Dan at 08:48 AM | Comments (121) | Trackbacks (0)

Friday, November 4, 2005

November's Books of the Month

The international relations book this mo--- [Hold it!! Didn't you forget October's book selections?--ed. Um.. look, a lot happened in October. Cut me some slack? Just this once. You get denied tenure again, though, and I'm walking--ed.]

Er... where was I? Oh, yes, the book recommendations.

This month's books both deal with international relations. In fact, both deal with the use of language and rhetoric in IR and foreign policy. Both of them also have interesting things to say about the Bush administration's foreign policy. However, it's safe to say that they take veeeeerrrrry different approaches to the problem.

The first book is Anne Sartori's Deterrence by Diplomacy. The book's precis:

Why are countries often able to communicate critical information using diplomacy? Why do countries typically use diplomacy honestly, despite incentives to bluff? Why are they often able to deter attacks using merely verbal threats? International relations theory is largely pessimistic about the prospects for effective diplomacy, yet leaders nevertheless expend much time and energy trying to resolve conflicts through verbal negotiations and public statements. Deterrence by Diplomacy challenges standard understandings of deterrence by analyzing it as a form of talk and reaches conclusions about the effectiveness of diplomacy that are much more optimistic.

Anne Sartori argues that diplomacy works precisely because it is so valuable. States take pains to use diplomacy honestly most of the time because doing so allows them to maintain reputations for honesty, which in turn enhance their ability to resolve future disputes using diplomacy rather than force. So, to maintain the effectiveness of their diplomacy, states sometimes acquiesce to others' demands when they might have been able to attain their goals through bluffs. Sartori theorizes that countries obtain a "trade" of issues over time; they get their way more often when they deem the issues more important, and concede more often when they deem the issues less important. Departing from traditional theory, this book shows that rather than always fighting over small issues to show resolve, states can make their threats more credible by sometimes honestly acquiescing over lesser issues--by not crying "wolf."

Sartori's thesis is interesting for theoretical reasons because it recasts the literature on extended deterrence. Deterrence theory usually boils down to questions of how leaders can demonstrate a reputation for "resolve." Saartori suggests that the reputation that matters is one of honesty. In making this switch, Sartori also challenges game theorists who argue that diplomacy is "cheap talk" because there are no costs to words (as opposed to action). If an honest reporation matters at the global level, then diplomacy is not cheap talk -- lying is costly.

Sartori's arguments apply in interesting ways to the Bush administration's diplomatic style. On the one hand, it suggests that the administration has overemphasized the importance of demonstrating resolve as a means of advancing its interests. On the other hand, this approach also suggests that the administration's bluntness has greater value than mainstream foreign policy analysts have previously suggested.

The other book of interest is Jeff Legro's Rethinking the World: Great Power Strategies and International Order. Legro asks a different question than Sartori: when do great powers engage in radical rethinks of their grand strategies? Why are such rethinks so rare in world politics? A summary of Legro's answer:

The nature of strategic ideas, Jeffrey W. Legro argues, played a critical and overlooked role in these transformations. Big changes in foreign policies are rare because it is difficult for individuals to overcome the inertia of entrenched national mentalities. Doing so depends on a particular nexus of policy expectations, national experience, and ready replacement ideas. In a sweeping comparative history, Legro explores the sources of strategy in the United States and Germany before and after the world wars, in Tokugawa Japan, and in the Soviet Union. He charts the likely future of American primacy and a rising China in the coming century.

Rethinking the World helps to explain the administration's grand strategy remains the status quo, despite limited success in Iraq and declining public support for the big neoconservative ideas. For there to be shifts in grand strategy, it can't just be the case that the current strategy is failing. There must also be a viable alternative around which others can rally -- one that can generate immediately attractive solutions to current problems.

At present, both realism and liberal internationalism have their champions. However, my suspicion is that the realists have the upper hand because their recommendations for Iraq (as graceful a withdrawal as possible) seem more compelling than liberal internationalism. Still, Legro's framework helps to explain why it remains an open question whether there will be a radical shift away from the current grand strategy.

Go check them out!!

posted by Dan at 05:26 PM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)

The immigration wave hits New Orleans

Yesterday Michael Martinez wrote a front-pager for the Chicago Tribune about the influx of Latinos into New Orleans looking for post-Katrina reconstruction work. Today, Leslie Eaton has a similar story in the New York Times.

Some highlights from Eaton's piece:

[A trailer park] is a temporary home for hundreds of LVI's workers, some of whom said they were in the United States illegally. They are commuting into New Orleans, swabbing the mold off walls, ripping the guts out of buildings, removing mountains of soggy debris.

And they are stirring up resentment. Louisianians, from high-level public officials to low-wage workers, have begun to complain about the influx of outsiders they perceive as having come to profit off their pain....

Workers from all over have been pouring into Louisiana, some bused in by contracting companies, others simply turning up on their own in search of jobs. While nobody seems to know how many are here, there is plenty of work; the federal government estimates it will spend more than $450 million just to clean up hurricane debris.

And as that work continues, Louisianians are casting unhappy eyes on everyone from the giant construction companies that won federal contracts to the small-town builders driving big pickup trucks with out-of-state license plates.

Much of the overt hostility is focused on the army of Latino workers who appear to be doing much of the dirtiest cleanup work, often in the employ of those big companies, and often for less money that local workers might insist on....

Employers point out that they are not required to investigate the authenticity of employees' documents. And as for bringing in workers, some say they have no choice.

"People in the area of impact are disjointed, disoriented," said Burton T. Fried, president of LVI Services.

But in places where LVI will be working for a while, it tries to make a transition to local workers, Mr. Fried said. "The purpose is, forgetting morality, that we don't have to pay per diems, food service, transportation," he said....

Hard and unpleasant as cleanup work is, there are Louisianians willing to do it, said Barry Kaufman, the business manager of Construction and General Laborers' Local 689 in New Orleans. Mr. Kaufman has said he has at least 2,000 people willing to take cleanup jobs, although many of them - and the local's hiring hall - are now displaced in Baton Rouge, more than an hour's drive from New Orleans.

"The local guys are trying, but there's nowhere for them to stay," Mr. Kaufman said, adding that one of the camps "looks like Little Mexico."

The situation is new to Louisiana, which has little tradition of attracting large numbers of transient workers, unlike Florida and other booming areas, said Mark Zandi, chief economist for The stagnant economy here has not provided many job opportunities since 2001.

The complaints also reflect the widespread frustration over the continuing lack of housing in the area. Tens of thousands of houses were destroyed by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, leaving their former residents adrift. Businesses of all sorts are frantically advertising for workers, even as the jobless rate for Louisianians jumped to 11.5 percent in September, from 5.8 percent in August.

This is interesting stuff, but for my money, the Martinez piece in the Tribune is of greater interest because of two points not mentioned by Eaton. I've highlighted them below:

The swelling numbers of Hispanic migrant laborers, legal or not, have raised political tensions. A Tulane University historian speaks of a possible "population swap" between the city's evacuated black population and its new Latino workforce, and the backlash was fueled by New Orleans' African-American mayor, C. Ray Nagin, who recently uttered remarks deemed offensive by some.

"How do I make sure New Orleans is not overrun with Mexican workers?" Nagin asked at an October forum with business people as he discussed the city's future....

As more Latinos move into the region, a September survey found that most New Orleans evacuees in Houston, a large percentage of them black, didn't plan to return.

Officials don't have a count of the Hispanic workers in the Gulf Coast region, but their presence--made more visible because they are working in evacuated areas--has drawn attention to the demographic, economic and legal impacts of such a large, cheap labor force--a good portion of it composed of illegal immigrants. (emphasis added)

This story raises all sorts of uncomfortable questions about immigration, race, and the economy.

For me, the big question remains -- if New Orleans was such a stagnant economy that those displaced to Houston don't want to return, just how much money should be committed to reconstruction efforts?

Over at The Plank, Jason Zengerle castigates the Times and other national outlets for not reporting on Nagin's remarks. Props to Martinez and the Tribune for catching it.

posted by Dan at 03:50 PM | Comments (37) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, November 3, 2005

No one let Alan Wolfe study international relations

I see that Alan Wolfe has an essay in the Chronicle of Higher Education decrying the state of the political science discipline.

Wolfe makes a few well-worn but not completely worthless points -- and then we get to this paragraph:

Putting reality first would not only make political science more interesting, it would also make it more scientific.... Suppose, for example, we want to predict whether negotiations between historically hostile parties will produce an accord, or fail and result in war. Rather than search for universal laws, we are better off examining a concrete case — for example, the negotiations that brought Nelson Mandela to power in South Africa — and then seeing whether the conditions there are similar or different from those in, say, Northern Ireland or the Middle East. The real world contains a great deal of uncertainty, which makes perfect prediction impossible. But it also offers enough regularity to permit modest generalization, especially if we are willing to acknowledge the possibility of error and to revise our expectations accordingly.

I have two reactions to this suggestion. The first is to stop and gaze with awe at Wolfe's ability to unconsciously mimic those Guinness-in-the-bottle ads that were all over television last year:

Alan Wolfe: I've invented a new way of studying crisis negotiations... it's called the "case study".

Random Political Scientist: The Case study? BRILLIANT!!!

My second reaction is to ponder the logical implications of Wolfe's suggestion. Surely Wolfe must be aware of the dangers that come from generalizing from the study of a single case -- there are too many possible explanations. Wolfe would likely respond that the way to compensate is to assemble as many relevant examples of the category of interest as possible, and then determine what combination of factors is important.

Now there's a name for this kind of approach in political science -- behavioralism. Such an approach can be useful (see, for example, the CIA's State Failure Task Force from the 1990's) but presents two rather important problems.

First, these approaches -- just like any other social science technique -- generate methodological controversies (see, for example, Gary King and Langche Zeng's methodological rejoinder to the State Failure Task Force, or this summary of the debate in Nature). Methodology doesn't just matter for its own sake -- there are real world implications.

Second, pure behavioralism of the kind suggested by Wolfe is tricky without any theoretical guidance. Throwing a kitchen sink of variables at a question is not of much use unless the researcher has a good grasp of the relationships among these seemingly independent causes. Rational choice approaches are one useful tool, but there are others as well.

If Wolfe had provided an American politics example, I probably wouldn't have written this post (and, to be fair, Wolfe is riffing off of Ian Shapiro's latest book, The Flight From Reality in the Human Sciences, which I haven't read but is likely worth reading). But the IR example he offers is a powerful suggestion that Wolfe hasn't peered into the pages of either International Organization or International Security in quite some time. There are case studies -- as well as statistical analyses, formal models, social theory, and other types of analysis -- in those journals.

If the rest of the discipline wants to copy international relations more closely, fine with me. But I don't think Wolfe has lookec closely at how IR is actually studied.

I think that I've demonstrated my subfield's close attention to the real world, so if you'll excuse me, I have to run to hear a paper presentation.

[What's it about?--ed. Sovereignty and the UFO. You're f#@%ing kidding me!--ed. No, I'm really not.]

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

So what's going on in the Parisian suburbs?

OK, so the French appear to be experiencing some domestic disquiet in recent days. The Guardian has some details:

French youths fired at police and burned over 300 cars last night as towns around Paris experienced their worst night of violence in a week of urban unrest.'

The French prime minister, Dominique de Villepin, was involved in a series of crisis meetings today following the clashes between police and immigrant groups in at least 10 poor suburbs, during which youths torched car dealerships, public buses and a school....

The violence has once more trained a spotlight on the poverty and lawlessness of France's rundown big-city suburbs and raises questions about an immigration policy that has, in effect, created sink ghettos for mainly African minorities who suffer from discrimination in housing, education and jobs.

In the north-eastern suburb of Aulnay-sous-Bois, gangs of youths set fire to a Renault car dealership and incinerated at least a dozen cars, a supermarket and a local gymnasium....

Today, France's government was in crisis mode with Mr de Villepin calling a string of emergency meetings with government officials throughout the day.

One was a working lunch with the interior minister, Nicolas Sarkozy, who has been accused of inflaming the crisis with his tough talk and police tactics. Mr Sarkozy has called troublemakers "scum" and vowed to "clean out" troubled suburbs, language that some say further alienated their residents.

The unrest was triggered by last Thursday's accidental death in Clichy-sous-Bois, five miles from Aulnay, of two African teenagers who were electrocuted while hiding in a power substation from what they believed, apparently wrongly, was police pursuit....

The minister of social cohesion, Jean-Louis Borloo, said the government had to react "firmly" but added that France must also acknowledge its failure to deal with anger simmering in poor suburbs for decades.

"We cannot hide the truth: that for 30 years we have not done enough," he told France-2 television.

[Wait a second -- there's a ministry of social cohesion in France?--ed. Well, sort of.]

Comment away -- but I am curious about the accuracy of the press analysis on the riots. After the reportage on Katrina, my radar is up about any exaggeration of chaos and mayhem.

posted by Dan at 12:03 PM | Comments (40) | Trackbacks (0)

Offshoring tales from across the land

Writing about offshore outsourcing for a public audience carries many, many perks. One of them is getting e-mails like this one:

Since you seem to be a proponent of outsourcing, perhaps you would care to explain the national deficit and the fact that the United States in now the single biggest debtor nation in history. Your facts or lack of same simply do not wash.

OK, I'm confused -- are my facts wrong, or is it that I don't have any of them? Really, it's very hard to keep track.

Seriously, I also get more interesting anecdotes about those who experience outsourcing first hand. Consider this e-mail from a colleage who is in the middle of getting a book published:

I'm doing a book with Palgrave, and it turns out they've moved their entire production back-office operation to India. What I found interesting about this is that we generally think of the U.S. as high-tech and professional, and poor developing countries as more cottage-industry-ish. The opposite is true in this case. Copyediting here tends (in my experience) to be done in cottage-industry fashion, with the manuscript sent out to an individual who works for the publisher on a piecework basis. The Indian copyediting operation is high-tech (our interaction involves no paper, and they've taught me about all sorts of things that I had no idea one could do with Microsoft Word), corporate (there were no fewer that six people working on my manuscript, with a clear division of labour - an endnote person, a bibliography person, a grammar person, a 'sense and meaning' person, and one person whose sole job seemed to be to take out extra spaces after periods [I have a habit of double-spacing after periods]), and highly professional (they're really a pleasure to work with). Also, their English appears to be better than that of the average American copyeditor. So, in this case, not only has offshoring resulted (presumably) in lower costs for Palgrave, it's also likely to result (and I'm typing this with crossed fingers, because the process isn't finished yet) in a better book.

This is pretty interesting, in that the process that's described is not only about offshore outsourcing -- it's also about the fact that what used to be considered a complex task (the cottage industry of copyediting) has been segmented into a lot of very simple tasks (the person whose sole job it is to shorten the spaces after a sentence, for example). It's both high-tech AND low-tech.

This reminds me of something.... oh, yes, Karl Marx's Wage Labour and Capital (1849):

The greater division of labor enables one laborer to accomplish the work of five, 10, or 20 laborers; it therefore increases competition among the laborers fivefold, tenfold, or twentyfold. The laborers compete not only by selling themselves one cheaper than the other, but also by one doing the work of five, 10, or 20; and they are forced to compete in this manner by the division of labor, which is introduced and steadily improved by capital.

Furthermore, to the same degree in which the division of labor increases, is the labor simplified. The special skill of the laborer becomes worthless. He becomes transformed into a simple monotonous force of production, with neither physical nor mental elasticity. His work becomes accessible to all; therefore competitors press upon him from all sides. Moreover, it must be remembered that the more simple, the more easily learned the work is, so much the less is its cost to production, the expense of its acquisition, and so much the lower must the wages sink — for, like the price of any other commodity, they are determined by the cost of production. Therefore, in the same manner in which labor becomes more unsatisfactory, more repulsive, do competition increase and wages decrease....

The economists tell us, to be sure, that those laborers who have been rendered superfluous by machinery find new venues of employment. They dare not assert directly that the same laborers that have been discharged find situations in new branches of labor. Facts cry out too loudly against this lie. Strictly speaking, they only maintain that new means of employment will be found for other sections of the working class; for example, for that portion of the young generation of laborers who were about to enter upon that branch of industry which had just been abolished. Of course, this is a great satisfaction to the disabled laborers. There will be no lack of fresh exploitable blood and muscle for the Messrs. Capitalists — the dead may bury their dead. This consolation seems to be intended more for the comfort of the capitalists themselves than their laborers. If the whole class of the wage-laborer were to be annihilated by machinery, how terrible that would be for capital, which, without wage-labor, ceases to be capital!

But even if we assume that all who are directly forced out of employment by machinery, as well as all of the rising generation who were waiting for a chance of employment in the same branch of industry, do actually find some new employment — are we to believe that this new employment will pay as high wages as did the one they have lost? If it did, it would be in contradiction to the laws of political economy. We have seen how modern industry always tends to the substitution of the simpler and more subordinate employments for the higher and more complex ones. How, then, could a mass of workers thrown out of one branch of industry by machinery find refuge in another branch, unless they were to be paid more poorly?

Sounds very dire.... except that Marx, for all of his understanding of the forces behind technological innovation, never really got the idea that such innovation also creates entirely new categories of complex, high-skill jobs. It took Schumpeter to figure that one out.

[Er.... what about the demise of copyediting jobs? Doesn't that mean that offshoring leads to a net loss of employment?--ed.] Not according to AFP:

The outsourcing of technology jobs to low-wage countries will provide a $68.7-billion (U.S.) benefit to the U.S. economy in 2005, said a study released yesterday, challenging key assumptions about shifting work offshore.

The study, updating a report released in 2004 drawing the same conclusion, was commissioned by the Information Technology Association of America, a high-tech industry group, and conducted by research firm Global Insight.

The report concluded that despite the loss of some jobs to low-wage countries such as India, that worldwide sourcing of IT services and software generated 257,042 new U.S. jobs in 2005.

"No one is denying that there are job losses, but the net effect is that you create more jobs than you lose" in the overall economy, said Nariman Behravesh, chief economist at Global Insight and lead author of the report.

The benefits come from lower inflation, higher productivity and lower interest rates that boost economic activity, the report concludes.

The researchers calculated this provided a net benefit to real U.S. gross domestic product of $68.7-billion in 2005, and that this would rise by 2010 to $147.4-billion compared with a situation without any offshore outsourcing.

"The main thing is cost savings which radiate out in the form of lower prices for high-tech goods, and higher profit margins for the companies," Mr. Behravesh said.

"So you have lower inflation, which means higher real income; you have higher profits. Companies use higher profits to invest more; consumers use higher incomes to purchase more . . . all these produce a much stronger economy and produce more jobs than the offshoring destroys."

In terms of jobs, the report concluded that offshore outsourcing led to the creation of more than 419,000 jobs, more than offsetting the 162,000 technology jobs displaced by the shift.

[That's the number of jobs; what about wages?--ed.] The Global Insight page offers this tidbit on wages:

Workers enjoy higher real wages. Global sourcing adds to the take-home pay of the average U.S. worker. With inflation kept low and productivity high, worldwide sourcing will increase real hourly wages in the U.S. by $0.06 in 2005, climbing to $0.12 in 2010.

Click here to read the executive summary of the Global Insight report -- and click here to read my take on the 2004 version of the report.

posted by Dan at 10:16 AM | Comments (18) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, November 2, 2005

Kristol errs in predicting Bush's bottom

William Kristol, "George W. Bush's Not So Terrible Week," Weekly Standard, 28 October 2005:

Last week the Bush administration's second-term bear market bottomed out. On Monday, Bush nominated as the next Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke, who of all the leading candidates will be the central banker least hostile to tax cuts and least likely to direct monetary policy to any end other than combating inflation. At the end of the week, the Commerce Department announced that economic growth in the third quarter had been 3.8 percent, suggesting that, thanks in large part to Bush's supply-side tax cuts, our economy may remain strong enough to overcome the twin hurdles of high energy prices and rising interest rates....

With the dénouement of the Miers fiasco and the Fitzgerald investigation, President Bush's beaten-down political fortunes should be ripe for a rebound.

CBS News, "Poll: More Bad News For Bush," 2 November 2005:

The President's job approval rating is now 35 percent, his lowest rating since taking office in 2001. More than half the public [57%] disapproves of the job he is doing as president.

77 percent of Republicans approve of his job performance, and the President retains the support of some of his key constituencies. 61 percent of white evangelicals approve of the job he is doing (up from 55 percent a month ago), as do 54 percent of conservatives.

Democrats give the President widespread disapproval, and he gets little support from those Americans who profess no strong ties to either side of the ideological divide. Only 31 percent of Independents and 30 percent of moderates now approve of the job he is doing (nearly the same as a month ago).

35% is the lowest level for Bush for the past two months.

UPDATE: Hmm.... maybe I'm being unfair to Kristol. Tom Bevan at Real Clear Politics points out that the weighting for the poll is a just a bit off. Unweighted, Bush's approval is still less than 38% though.

posted by Dan at 10:10 PM | Comments (15) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, November 1, 2005

The Syrian regime doesn't face a tough choice

Nicholas Blanford and Rhonda Roumani have a story in the Christian Science Monitor entitled, "Syrian regime faces tough choices." Why? Read on:

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad faces the starkest test of his five-year presidency following an ultimatum from the United Nations that he cooperate with an international probe into the murder of a former Lebanese prime minister.
The choices the 40-year-old president makes in the next six weeks will decide the fate of his regime and the future of this country of 18 million citizens.

If President Assad fails to cooperate fully with the UN commission investigating the assassination of Rafik Hariri, Syria could face diplomatic isolation and crippling economic sanctions. But complying with the commission's demands could force Assad to gut his regime of its most powerful figures, including close relatives, potentially leaving it weakened and vulnerable.

That's not a tough choice, that's the easiest call ever -- Assad will fail to cooperate fully.

Why? First, the Syrian regime can try to obfuscate matters by feigning cooperation but not making any material concessions.

Second, while compliance would require Assad to weaken his own regime, defiance in the face of an external threat will strengthen the regime -- at least in the short term. So, for that matter, would diplomatic and economic sanctions. Syria has already set up a sanctions crisis team. The FT's Ferry Biedermann quotes the Syrian in charge of this team saying, "to be honest, sanction busters are everywhere."

Third, as this companion CSM story by Chris Ford makes plain, it's not clear that the Security Council will even agree to impose economic sanctions in the face of Syrian non-cooperation:

Russia and China, along with the only Arab nation on the Security Council, Algeria, refused to go along with Washington's desire to threaten economic sanctions against Syria should Bashar Assad's regime not cooperate.

To win unanimous support, France, Britain, and the US, who jointly sponsored the resolution, had to drop all references to sanctions other than a warning that the council "could consider further action" if Syria does not hand over for interrogation senior officials suspected of involvement in Mr. Hariri's murder.

Russia - a traditional ally of Syria's - "is very reluctant to endorse any sanctions when it is unclear where they might lead in the future," says Oxana Antoninka, a Russia expert at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, a think tank in London. "Moscow wants to prevent the Security Council from becoming a weapon to punish regimes that could lead to unforeseen action such as military action."

For Bashir Assad, this is the easiest call in the authoritarian playbook.

posted by Dan at 11:34 PM | Comments (33) | Trackbacks (0)

Dr. Doom vs. the soft landing

As long as this blog has been in existence, Morgan Stanley's Stephen Roach has been pessimistic about the U.S. economy. His latest missive is in today's Financial Times:

If the world's dominant deficit economy - the US - goes even deeper into deficit at the same time that the world's leading surplus economies start to absorb their domestic saving, the noose will tighten on America's external financing pressures. This raises the distinct possibility that these pressures will have to be vented in world financial markets in the form of a classic current account adjustment - complete with a weaker dollar and higher US interest rates. As long as the rest of the world was in an excess saving position, a big repricing of dollar-denominated assets could be avoided. But now, with surplus economies beginning the long march of absorbing their excess saving, it could well become all the tougher for the US to avoid this treacherous endgame.

Sure, this is all theory, leaving unanswered the key question of what it will take to spark the adjustments implied by this theory. There are several possible event risks, or shocks, that I believe would be capable of triggering the rebalancing. They include an energy shock, an outbreak of US protectionism, the bursting of the US housing bubble, a US inflation problem and the uncertainty that always arises during the transition to a new Federal Reserve Board chairman. All of these potential risks have two things in common - they are not a stretch and they could shake the confidence factor that underpins overseas investor appetite for ­dollar-denominated assets.

In the end, the history of economic crises is clear on one important thing: the longer any economy holds off in facing its imbalances, the greater the possibility of a hard landing. In my view, an unbalanced world has waited far too long to face up to the heavy lifting of global rebalancing. I would reluctantly conclude that there is now about a 40 per cent probability of a hard landing at some point in the next 12 months.

I'm a bit more sanguine than Roach. The U.S. has already absorbed several energy shocks in the last year, and the reaction by financial markets to Greenspan's successor has been pretty smooth. I'm just as worried as Roach about US protectionism, but it's not clear to me that the situation is going to worsen in the next twelve months, and the Doha round is still moving forward -- albeit very slowly.

[Yeah, but what about the housing market?--ed.] Mary Umberger writes in today's Chicago Tribune that the National Association of Realtors sees a soft landing rather than a hard one:

America's historic real estate boom is cresting, and the rate at which home prices appreciate should begin to slow significantly next year, according to the chief economic forecaster for the National Association of Realtors.

It was the closest statement yet to an admission by the real estate industry that the bull market for housing may have run its course.

"It's the peak of the boom," David Lereah said at the Chicago-based trade group's annual meeting, which ended here Monday. "But we're looking at a soft landing next year. I can't guarantee that there won't be some hard landings in some markets, where prices will actually decline. In fact, there will probably be two or three over the next two years that do pop."

....In many markets--though not in Chicago--there has been widespread speculation that the boom could turn into an unsustainable bubble that might eventually pop, causing prices to actually fall.

Lereah did not see that happening on a national scale, but a real estate market at the peak of its boom doesn't continue to skyrocket.

The NAR's prediction represents an acknowledgement that this could be the end of a joy ride that has allowed many in the industry to prosper. To make that statement at the real estate industry's convention--an annual celebration of its role in driving the economy--represented a break from the usual mood.

With average 30-year mortgage rates expected to reach 6.7 percent by the end of 2006, Lereah's forecast on Friday predicted that:

- Existing-home sales will decline 3.5 percent next year, to about 6.9 million from this year's projected 7.1 million;

- New-home sales will fall 4.5 percent;

- Home price growth should slow significantly--with this year's median 12.4 percent appreciation slowing to 5.3 percent in 2006....

[chief economist for National City Bank in Cleveland Richard] DeKaser said the NAR prediction of a "modest cooling" is a fair description, though rosier than his own analysis of existing-home sales dropping 7 percent and new-home sales declining by 12 percent.

"A downturn the likes of what the NAR is predicting would be almost ideal and welcome," DeKaser said. "It's not implausible, just a tad more optimistic than I would be expecting."

Real estate agents at the convention did not focus all their attention on the possible end of the boom. They still found good news to focus on.

"Real estate is going to be good forever because of the echo boom generation [born beginning in 1982]," J. Lennox Scott, a leading Seattle-area broker, told a roomful of conventioneers. "They're going to be streaming into the first-time buyer market: 75 million of them."

I'm not saying the chances of a hard landing are zero -- let's just say I'm twice as optimistic as Roach.

UPDATE: Kash at Angry Bear is more pessimistic -- and he has some persuasive reasons. The real question, to me, is not whether the economi

posted by Dan at 11:45 AM | Comments (13) | Trackbacks (0)

Say it ain't so, Theo!

Part of my faith in the Red Sox's future rested with general manager Theo Epstein and the brain trust he had assembled. In contrast to the byzantine organizational structure of George Steinbrenner's New York Yankees.

Alas, this week has scrambled those expectations. Steinbrenner managed to retain Brian Cashman as his GM, and Cashman managed to shift the center of gravity on decision-making away from Tampa and towards New ork.

Meanwhile, Red Sox wunderkind GM Theo Epstein has declined the Red Sox's offer of a new three-year contract. The Boston Herald's Michael Silverman explains why:

Money and length of the contract were not issues in the past few days for Epstein, who had lobbied hard for an annual salary of more than $1 million a year.

Epstein had come close to agreeing to a deal Saturday evening but had not officially conveyed acceptance of it. On Sunday, he began having serious misgivings about staying on. A leading contributing factor, according to sources close to the situation, was a column in Sunday’s Boston Globe in which too much inside information about the relationship between Epstein and his mentor, team president and CEO Larry Lucchino, was revealed -- in a manner slanted too much in Lucchino’s favor. Epstein, according to these sources, had several reasons to believe Lucchino was a primary source behind the column and came to the realization that if this information were leaked hours before Epstein was going to agree to a new long-term deal, it signaled excessive bad faith between him and Lucchino.

Epstein's innovation as a GM wasn't to use sabremetrics to analyze baseball players -- though he was part of the first wave of GM's to do so. No, Epstein's real gift was to think about the 40 man roster as a portfolio that needed to be diversified, and to exploit the healthy payroll he was given to the hilt. In positions where the Red Sox did not have an All-Star, Epstein managed to sign multiple players whose whole was greater than the sum of its parts. Think of Pokey Reese and Mark Bellhorn at second base in 2004, or the troika of Jeremy Gimbi, David Ortiz, and Kevin Millar at 1B/DH in 2003, or Millar and John Olerud this year at first base. Not every signing paid off, but Epstein hit the jackpot way more often than he crapped out. And he did this without trading away all that much in the way of young talent.

Meanwhile, both David Wells and Manny Ramirez want out of Beantown because of a lack of privacy.

MSNBC's Mike Celizic thinks Epstein's departure is a harbinger of disasters to come to Red Sox Nation:

When a man walks out on the job he dreamed of having all his life, a job for which he’s just been offered triple his previous pay, there’s something seriously wrong either with the man or with the job.

With most people, I’d pick the man as the one who’s stripped the threads on a couple of mental screws. But not with Theo Epstein, the man who authored the Miracle of Fenway. If Epstein, who took over as the general manager of the Red Sox at 28 and won the World Series at 30, is willing to turn his back on the team he grew up cheering for, a job he was offered $1.5 million a year to perform, there’s something terminally wrong with it.

Red Sox fans had better get used to that realization, and they had better hearken back to what life was like before 2004, when they entered the spring of every season knowing that waiting for them in the fall was only heartbreak. The Red Sox will get another general manager, but the job he faces is daunting.

The left fielder wants out. The center fielder is a free agent who can’t play center field any more. There’s no closer in the bullpen and no middle relief. The starting pitching is a mess. The newspapers, even more smothering in their coverage of the Sox than the New York papers are in their coverage of the Yankees, are starting to nip at the team’s heels. In the clubhouse, which not long ago was happier than a squirrel in a birdfeeder, there are stories of dissension.

In other words, the Red Sox are turning back into what they always have been — a team playing a game, as Bart Giamatti once wrote, that’s meant to break your heart.

Methinks Celizic is way too pessimistic. A rebuilt farm system is going to be providing the Red Sox with a bevy of fresh arms and speed over the next few years. And I think the current owenership is still pretty interested in winning another World Series or two. That said, it's still going to be a very bumpy off-season -- but was true the year they won it all (remember A-Rod?).

However, the staff here at wishes the best of luck to Mr. Epstein in any of his futute career pursuits -- so long as they don't entail taking over the Tampa Bay Devil Rays' GM job.

UPDATE: David Pinto has more at Baseball Musings here and here. Via his blog, I found this wonderful rant :

God Damn! They are now just another team. Here's the thing, kids. Here's what's different about Boston. Yankee fans are frontrunners, we all know that. They root for the 27 World Championships. Angels fans want to play with their thunder stix and Rally Monkey(r). Cubs fans want a party; the team is the medium for that. Sox fans aren't fans of the team. Rather, every Sox fan thinks he/she is ON the team. Theo was our guy who was ON THE TEAM. They could sell dirt from the '04 field, or blow up Fenway Park,or sell those silly membership cards, we didn't care. They could jam that effin' Sweet Caroline down our gullets every day (twice on the split admission day-nighters).

We didn't care. We were ON THE TEAM. Theo was our surrogate. He got Papi; he had dinner with Curt; he got rid of that pain in the ass Nomar.

We have all been kicked off the team. God Damn.

posted by Dan at 12:21 AM | Comments (13) | Trackbacks (0)