Tuesday, February 28, 2006
In honor of Baseball Musings
My favorite baseball blogger, David Pinto of Baseball Musings, is celebrating his one year anniversary of being a professional blogger. Click over to make a donation and keep him at Baseball Musings on a full-time basis.
In honor of Pinto's anniversary, I'll raise a contrarian point about the utility of sabermetrics as a management tool that will warm the cockles of Steven Leavitt's heart. In a Baseball America chat about the top 100 prospects, Jim Callis responded to a very interesting question:
Q: Dave from Third Avenue, Manhattan asks: Jim, what is your take on the Moneyball draft, four years out. Swisher and Blanton seem to be doing just fine. Who else bears watching? Jeremy Brown?If you re-read Lewis' chapter on the 2002 draft, you could go even further than Callis' assessment. In his chapter on the draft, Lewis recounts how Athletics GM Billy Beane went ballistic because in the previous year, the A's first-round draft pick was.... Jeremy Bonderman. Bonderman was the player to be named later in a deal that sent Ted Lilly from the Yankees to the Athletics. My guess is that Beane would be happy to have the current incarnation of that pitcher given his current price tag.
The 2002 Athletics draft should have been an "easy test" of the Moneyball revolution. The Athletics had a large number of draft picks, and no other team had really embraced the sabermetric philosophy to the extent that the A's had. If that draft failed to yield an above-average number of quality MLB players, what does it say about the utility of sabermetrics as a scouting tool?
The one out I can think of for Lewis is that Beane was able to sign those draft picks for way less than normal market value given when they were picked. There's definitely cost-effectiveness, which is really at the heart of the Moneyball argument. Still, that's pretty weak beer given the way Lewis wrote about the potential of that draft.
I'm certainly not suggesting sabermetrics is useless... but might this approach be overrated as a scouting tool?
So, You Want To Buy a Strategic American Company …
That's the title of my latest essay for Slate:
Political resistance to foreign takeovers is not all that shocking, even in the supposedly laissez-faire United States. Foreign corporations are the perfect political bogeyman. By definition, they are un-American. Critics are usually correct when they claim that these firms are only concerned with making money (our multinationals would never act like that!!), and if they are state-owned, well, then their purposes must be even more nefarious. The targets of many of these takeovers—infrastructure, utilities, steel—are perceived to have some strategic value, which makes ordinary citizens even more sensitive....You'll have to read the essay to see my meager bits of advice.
For readers clicking over from Slate, click here to see a list of blog posts on the Dubai ports deal. Then click here for my post about Euro-hysteria on hostile corporate takeovers. And, finally, click here to see my musings on CNOOC's proposed takeover of Unocal back in the summer of 2005.
A subversive thought about the ports deal
The more information that comes out about the proposed port deal, the more I realize why the politics of this case seems so confusing. If you read this Washington Post story by Jim VandeHei and Paul Blustein, this Jim Geraghty post at NRO, this Washington Post story by Walter Pincus, this New York Times story by Carl Hulse and David Sanger, and this Coast Guard release from Monday, you recognize the following facts:
1) This decision was not made by policy principals, but rather assistant secretarie or deputy assistant secretaries;Now, this leads into an interesting conundrum -- depending on where you stand on the political spectrum, the decision-making process affects your take on the deal in odd ways.
If you're a true-blue liberal, you should be perfectly delighted with this outcome. The Bushies did not have a high profile, there was no stovepiping from neoconservatives, and the interagency process seemed to work pretty well. This is, in other words, an exemple of how good government is supposed to operate.
Of course, if you're a red-meat conservative, this is just awful. Unelected bureaucrats and low-level flunkies ran the show. The Commander-in-Chief was out of the loop. Bureaucrats were telling politics what to do, rather than vice versa. This is exactly the kind of thing the Bush administration was not supposed to let happen.
I'm not sure it explains anything, but I thought it was interesting enough to point out.
Where's the income beef?
Brad DeLong has a post up about the dizzyingly unequal distribution of income in the United States. He quotes Paul Krugman:
So who are the winners from rising inequality? It's not the top 20 percent, or even the top 10 percent. The big gains have gone to a much smaller, much richer group than that. A new research paper by Ian Dew-Becker and Robert Gordon of Northwestern University, "Where Did the Productivity Growth Go?," gives the details. Between 1972 and 2001 the wage and salary income of Americans at the 90th percentile of the income distribution rose only 34 percent, or about 1 percent per year. So being in the top 10 percent of the income distribution, like being a college graduate, wasn't a ticket to big income gains. But income at the 99th percentile rose 87 percent; income at the 99.9th percentile rose 181 percent; and income at the 99.99th percentile rose 497 percent. No, that's not a misprint.I'll confess those numbers even give me some pause -- and I've historically been unfazed by income inequality. And yet, there is surprisingly little grumbling about this within the mainstream political discourse about this, with the partial exception of rising protectionist sentiment. Why?
I'd offer three possible reasons -- all of which could be at work:
1) Those on the bottom of the income spectrum are increasingly tuning out politics -- call this the Hacker-Pierson thesis;I'll be happy to entertain other hypotheses.
UPDATE: One additional hypothesis that is clearly emerging from the comments is that the growth in income inequality does not generate resentment because of the changing sources of that income. The rich are no longer rich because of inheritances, but because of their own effort. To explain, let me quote from Rajan and Zingales, Saving Capitalism from the Capitalists, page 92 yet again:
One statistic best sums up the changes that have taken place: in 1929, 70 percent of the income of the top .01 percent of income earners in the United States came from holding of capital -- income such as dividends, interest, and rents. The rich were truly the idle rich. In 1998, wages and entrepreneurial income made up 80 percent of the income of the top .01 percent of income earners in the United States, and only 20 percent came from capital. Seen another way, in the 1890s the richest 10 percent of the population worked fewer hours than the poorest 10 percent. Today, the reverse is true. The idle rich have become the working rich!ANOTHER UPDATE: James Joyner still wants someone to show him the money.
Monday, February 27, 2006
For once, I was ahead of the curve
As part of its cover package on India, Newsweek's Keith Naughton writes about the interesting fact that offshore outsourcing to India is not the political hot potato it used to be:
Not long ago, what seemed most possible was that India would steal the jobs of American workers. But as George W. Bush visits there this week, he'll find a maturing economy that is no longer all about call centers and basic tech support. Now big American investment banks and drugmakers are joining tech firms on the passage to India. R&D centers are springing up so fast that there's now a shortage of Indian engineers. And the stigma of outsourcing jobs to India is disappearing. American companies once afraid to put their names on the doors of their Indian offices now issue press releases touting their latest investments there. "American firms have gotten over their anxiety about India," says financial-services consultant Harrell Smith of Celent Communications. "Now the new anxiety is if you're not in India."Wow, you learn something new every day. Oh, wait.....
My mad math skills
Well, this is a relief:
This, on the other hand, makes me seriously doubt the testing methodology:
Sunday, February 26, 2006
Still looking for a reason to get riled up....
I'm still trying to find a reason to get exercised about the Dubai port deal. The latest is Mickey Kaus' argument:
I recommend Daniel Engber's Explainer on what a port operator actually does:I would recommend that Mickey read this Washington Post story by Jim VandeHei and Paul Blustein. It's ostensibly about the White House's lugubrious reaction to the ports controversy, but it also sheds some light on how the CFIUS process addressed U.S. security concerns:It gets cargo containers off of ships and puts them onto trucks or trains. A port operator also provides other services to the shipping industry: It does the paperwork to get incoming shipments through customs and uses its computer system to help connect the goods with potential recipients. ...If we're afraid of bad guys sneaking something dangerous into the U.S., it sure seems like there are lots of opportunities for mischief if you can infiltrate the firm that does the paperwork and runs the computer system and handles the "personnel issues"! Is it comforting matter that "security" at American ports will still be "controlled by U.S. federal agencies led by the Coast Guard and the U.S. Customs and Border Control Agency ... ." Not if what you're worried about is a small cell of people looking for a way to get around the Coast Guard's security. Just having a port operator that is more easily approached by people who speak Arabic vastly increases the risk, at least the risk from Arab jihadists, no? (emphasis added)
The process began on Oct. 17, when representatives of the Dubai company informally approached the Treasury Department to disclose that they were planning to purchase the British firm, Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Co., according to testimony by administration officials at a Senate hearing last week. Treasury officials directed them to consult with Homeland Security because of the port security question.Given the concessions obtained through the CFIUS process -- DPW's participation in the Customs initiative, the transparency of DPW's books, the continuance of the current management team for the U.S. ports -- is there any rational reason to get exercised about this deal? Is Mickey's assertion that jihadists would have a better opportunity to infiltrate DPW's ports a valid one, given the layers of American management involved?
The Post story also aleviates the other small concern I had about this deal -- that the Bush administration bollixed up the process. The New York Times story I cited in my first post on this topic asserted:
The administration's review of the deal was conducted by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, a body that was created in 1975 to review foreign investments in the country that could affect national security. Under that review, officials from the Defense, State, Commerce and Transportation Departments, along with the National Security Council and other agencies, were charged with raising questions and passing judgment. They found no problems to warrant the next stage of review, a 45-day investigation with results reported to the president for a final decision.VandeHei and Blustein have a different desription of the process in the Post story:
[O]nce Dubai Ports World had agreed to the conditions required by Homeland Security, none of the agencies on CFIUS objected to the transaction when the 30-day review was completed on Jan. 17. If even one agency had objected, the matter would have gone to a 45-day investigation -- which would have required a presidential decision at the end. Moreover, a single dissent would have meant bringing the matter before higher-ranking officials in each department.I should know which version of the process is correct, but I don't. Readers are encouraged to enlighten me on this [UPDATE: Thank you, Chris! This comment clears up much of the confusion.].
UPDATE: Mickey e-mails me to suggest I read Charles Krauthammer's thoughts on the matter:
[T]he problem is not just the obvious one that an Arab-run company, heavily staffed with Arab employees, is more likely to be infiltrated by terrorists who might want to smuggle an awful weapon into our ports. But that would probably require some cooperation from the operating company. And neither the company nor the government of the UAE, which has been pro-American and a reasonably good ally in the war on terrorism, has any such record.Color me unimpressed. DPW already gets a lot of this information because Dubai is a participant in the Container Security Initiative. Furthermore, the on-the-ground environments in the ports themselves look like they won't be changed one iota because of this deal. It will still be U.S. longshoremen handling the cargo, U.S. managers running
port operations for DPW, U.S. managers at the upper echelon of DPW, and U.S. law enforcement managing port security. Where's the beef?
A final point -- my support for the Dubai deal should not be misinterpreted as a lack of concern about port security. I'm as sanguine now as I was before the deal -- that is to say, not all that sanguine. It's just that this deal is irrelevant to the real problems at hand for port security -- inadequate inspections.
An excellent primer on port security can be found in Jon D. Haveman, Howard J. Shatz, and Ernesto A. Vilchis (2005) "U.S. Port Security Policy after 9/11: Overview and Evaluation", Journal of Homeland Security and Emergency Management: Vol. 2: No. 4, Article 1.
ANOTHER UPDATE: Looks like DPW has requested the 45 day review, which has gone a long way towards alleviating Congressional concerns.
Al Qaeda defines victory down
If this Associated Press report by Donna Abu-Nasr is correct, then Al Qaeda's spokesman is starting to sound a lot like the publicist for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Both are all too eager to declare moral victories when real ones aren't happening:
Al-Qaida on Saturday vowed more attacks on Saudi oil facilities, a day after an attempt to bomb the world's biggest oil processing complex showed the group still can strike inside the kingdom....I look forward to future Al Qaeda posting claiming that, "it was a good operation today, we just caught a bad break," and "With our farm system, we are confident in our ability to be a powerful terrorist group in 2010."
Saturday, February 25, 2006
Will the wheel turn on the ports deal?
Via NRO's the Corner, I see that Glenn Reynolds has an op-ed about the political reaction to the UAE ports deal in the weekend Wall Street Journal. Actually, the story is more about the blogosphere's reaction:
When the story first appeared, bloggers were overwhelmingly negative. My own reaction, on Feb. 12, was "color me unimpressed." Other bloggers were more pungent, but the story got little attention in the national media, which were mostly preoccupied with the Cheney quail-hunting story. ... Some bloggers, meanwhile, were having second thoughts. One of them was me: Although my initial reaction was negative, I started getting emails from readers -- some of them longtime correspondents -- who had experience with the UAE. One had served alongside troops from the Emirates in Afghanistan; another had spent time in Dubai. Some had worked with UAE ports officials. All were positive. ... As I write this, it's not clear where the rest of the debate is headed, but there are already some useful lessons for the White House. First, blogs make an excellent early warning system. The White House, unaccountably, seems to have been blindsided by the furor over this deal, though most people's gut reaction was negative. As with the many bloggers like me who changed their minds, gut reactions can be overcome by evidence -- but the White House should have taken advantage of this early warning to have its arguments in order. It didn't. That's the second lesson: The White House should not only have read blogs, but responded to them with information and arguments, rather than waiting for blog readers to weigh in.I'll be intrigued to see whether the rest of the American people calm down as quickly as the blogosphere over a deal that should go through. I'd like to be optimistic, but I fear that Glenn's libertarian streak might be coloring how he thinks the rest of the vox populi will react. UPDATE: This is what I'm talking about.
Friday, February 24, 2006
Your IR reading for today
I'm attending an all-day conference at Princeton on nested and overlapping international institutions.
IR and IL types should read some of the short papers linked to on the conference web site -- paticularly if you're interested in the politics of genetically modified organisms.
Less hard-core IR types might be more interested in the latest issue of The Washington Quarterly. David Adesnik and Michael McFaul have an article entitled "Engaging Autocratic Allies to Promote Democracy."
In a related vein, Jeffrey Kopstein asks in "The Transatlantic Divide Over Democracy Promotion," whether that policy become yet another new source of transatlantic tension, or will it be an area in which they can work together.
I expect 100 word comments by the end of the day.
My one post about Larry Summers
I've received a few e-mail queries about whether I would post anything on Larry Summers' resignation as president from Harvard and whether it's an example of:
A) Political correctness triumphing over rational discourse;Actually, I have only two thoughts.
The first is that Larry Summers is an exceptionally bright economist who might be a better public intellectual now that he can just speak his mind.
The second is that, much as one may want to buy into the argument that this is Harvard's liberal, elitist, out-of-touch faculty punishing a truth-teller, I strongly suspect there are other parts to this story. So before anyone jumps to conclusions, I'd suggest reading this Institutional Investor story by David McClintick.
Thursday, February 23, 2006
Freaking out about takeovers
It should be pointed out that the United States is not the only country currently wigging out about foreign direct investment. This seems to be the theme du jour across the globe. Some examples:
1) As much as Americans might not be thrilled with Google's new China presence, it appears that some Chinese aren't pleased either. Philip P. Pan reports for the Washington Post:As much as trade deficits trigger protectionist backlashes, there's something about FDI that generates even more nationalism.A state-run newspaper reported Tuesday that Google Inc. is under investigation for operating without a proper license in China and quoted an unnamed government official as saying the Internet giant needs to cooperate further with the authorities in blocking "harmful information" from its search results.Google has since received is licence, but only after indicating that it was "'willing to receive guidance' from the authorities."
Why? My hunch would be that it is easier to freak out about concrete examples rather than abstract statistics, and the FDI situations are all about individual takeovers. Plus, despite pretty strong evidence to the contrary, there is still a belief that a foreign firm will act as a willing and enthusiastic agent of the home country government (though, to be fair, this suspicion might be a bit more justified when you're talking about a state-owned company).
A question to readers who oppose the port deal -- what do you think of the Euro-reactions? Are they overblown or thoroughly rational?
Wednesday, February 22, 2006
Open Iraqi civil strife thread
Comment away on the ever-worsening violence in Iraq, triggered by the bombing of the Askariya shrine, also known as the Golden Mosque, in the city of Samarra. Dan Simon has a disturbing synopsis in the Christian Science Monitor.
It would be a cruel irony if a bombing that didn't actually kill anyone turned out to be the straw that broke the camel's back.
David Ignatius makes me so mad!!!
David Ignatius' column in today's Washington Post echoes some recent speculation about why globalization hasn't led to the kind of moderate, secular modernization predicted by the likes of Tom Friedman and other Davos men:
So why does the world feel so chaotic? Why is there a growing sense that, as Francis Fukuyama put it in a provocative essay in last Sunday's New York Times Magazine, "More democracy will mean more alienation, radicalization and -- yes, unfortunately -- terrorism"?....Wait a minute -- I thought blogs were dead. How can they be passe and a conduit for rage? Huh? HUH??!!
What the f@#$ does Ignatius know about blogs???!!! He's just a card-carrying member of the ELITE MAINSTREAM MEDIA!! ATTICA!!! ATTICA!!!!!
OK, got that out of my system.
I see the point that Ignatius and Fukuyama are trying to make -- that democratization creates real short-term problems by allowing radicals to take over governments. However, as I've said repeatedly, unless radical or revolutionary groups succeed at making the trains run on time, these groups (and blogs) become discredited and illegitimate over time. More generally:
[I]lliberal democracies are [not] necessarily better for world politics than slowly reforming authoritarian states are. But they are not necessarily worse, either. It's more a question of timing -- illiberal states that become democratic are more likely to have problems sooner rather than later, while authoritarian states that are slowly democratizing are likely to have problems later rather than sooner.Fukuyama and Ignatius are correct to raise the short-term problems that come with globalization and democratization -- but they're wrong not to stress the long-term advantages that come along as well.
Tuesday, February 21, 2006
What's the big deal about the port deal?
I can certainly see why there's some political controversy about a firm owned by the government of the United Arab Emirates helping to run ports on the Eastern seaboard -- but after reading this Christian Science Monitor story by Alexandra Marks, I don't think there's any real basis for the kind of outrage I'm seeing. This section in particular stands out:
Companies like P&O don't provide security at the ports. The US Coast Guard and Homeland Security's Immigration and Customs Enforcement do. For instance, in New Orleans, P&O is one of eight terminal operators responsible for marketing the port, signing agreements with shipping lines, hiring labor, loading ships, and moving cargo.Then there's this from Heritage's James Jay Carafino in National Review Online:
What happens when one foreign-owned company sells a U.S. port service to another foreign-owned company. Not much. Virtually all the company employees at the ports are U.S. citizens. The Dubai firm is a holding company that will likely play no role in managing the U.S. facilities. Likewise, the company is owned by the government, a government that is an ally of the United States and recognizes that al Qaeda is as much a threat to them as it is to us. They are spending billions to buy these facilities because they think it’s a crackerjack investment that will keep making money for them long after the oil runs out. The odds that they have any interest in seeing their facilities become a gateway for terrorist into the United States are slim. But in the interest of national security, we will be best served by getting all the facts on the table.Except, of course, all the facts were reviewed by the Committee on Foreign Investments in the United States (CFIUS) earlier in the month. People aren't upset that there's been a review -- they're upset because there's been a review and the outcome is one they disagree with on a gut level. [Yeah, but hasn't CFIUS approved over 99% of the cases brought to its attention?--ed. Yes, but I dare the readers to find a case where CFIUS screwed up.]
There's been a lot of hot air in the blogosphere on this -- and even hotter air from the United States Senate, the House of Representatives, and local politicians -- but I haven't seen anything approaching a rational, reality-based argument against this deal.
I've been quite critical of President Bush as of late, but he deserves significant credit for sticking to his guns on this one. There is little political upside -- but in this case, George W. Bush has made the right decision.
I have every confidence in the ability of my readers to try and persuade me that I'm wrong. But you had better have a better argument than American ports + UAE firm = terrorist attack in the U.S.
UPDATE: A few commenters have raised the point that Dubai is considered to be the hub of Middle Eastern money laundering. This is a) true; and b) irrelevant to the question at hand. Dubai is the center of money laundering in the Middle East because it's the principal financial center in the region. It is undeniably true that pre-9/11, the UAE was remarkably uncooperative on terrorist financing. That did change with the terrorist attacks, however. Furthermore, this issue is irrelevant. Why would the UAE's government -- which has been an ally of the U.S. for decades -- use the ports as a source for money laundering?
ANOTHER UPDATE: Glenn Reynolds is mystified why Bush is digging his heels in on this issue. I'm not -- I'm sure that Bush views the Congressional hullabaloo as legislative interference in routine executive branch functions. And we all know how Bush feels about that issue.
YET ANOTHER UPDATE: Steve Flynn has been concerned about homeland security for quite some time, and he's not exactly Polyannish about the state of security in American ports. So I think it's telling that in this Time story by Tony Karon, Flynn is untroubled by this port deal:
[T]o call the United Arab Emirates a country "tied to 9/11" by virtue of the fact that one of the hijackers was born there and others transited through it is akin to attaching the same label to Britain (where shoe-bomber Richard Reid was born) or Germany (where a number of the 9/11 conspirators were based for a time). Dubai's port has a reputation for being one of the best run in the Middle East, says Stephen Flynn, a maritime security expert at the Council on Foreign Relations. And Dubai Ports World, which is a relatively new venture launched by the government of Dubai in 1999, has a number of Americans well known in the shipping industry in its senior leadership. It operates port facilities from Australia through China, Korea and Malaysia to India, Germany and Venezuela. (The acquisition of P&O would give them control over container shipping ports in Vancouver, Buenos Aires and a number of locations in Britain, France and a number of Asian countries.) "It's not exactly a shadow organization for al-Qaeda," says Flynn. Dubai, in fact, was one of the first Middle Eastern countries to join the U.S. Container Security Initiative, which places U.S. customs agents in overseas ports to begin the screening process from a U.S.-bound cargo's point of departure.Flynn has more to say to the Washington Post's Paul Blustein and Eric Rich:
Stephen E. Flynn, a specialist in maritime security at the Council on Foreign Relations, noted that although the company is state-owned, several members of its top management are Americans -- including its general counsel, a senior vice president and its outgoing chief operating officer, Edward H. Bilkey, who is a former U.S. Navy officer. And since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the United States has increasingly depended on such foreign port operators to cooperate in inspecting cargo before it heads for U.S. shores.YES, I'M STILL UPDATING: David Sanger and Eric Lipton do raise a small but valid and reality-based concern in their New York Times story:
The administration's review of the deal was conducted by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, a body that was created in 1975 to review foreign investments in the country that could affect national security. Under that review, officials from the Defense, State, Commerce and Transportation Departments, along with the National Security Council and other agencies, were charged with raising questions and passing judgment. They found no problems to warrant the next stage of review, a 45-day investigation with results reported to the president for a final decision.I do get some hives whenever I hear that the Bush administration has circumvented standard operating procedures -- but, again, there's nothing in the reports I've seen to suggest that there is any substantive reason for concern. The alarmists on both sides of the aisle are making the kind of conspiracy-based arguments that would make Michael Moore blush. See, for example, this nice debunking by Dick Meyer of CBS News, or this Financial Times story by Andrew Ward, Stephanie Kirchgaessner and Edward Alden. And see also this fact-laden Q&A by Eben Kaplan at the Council on Foreign Relations website. This sentence stands out in particular: "Calls from lawmakers to reconsider the approval have come after the thirty-day period to raise objections had expired."
WHAT THE HECK, ONE
Finally check out Mansoor Ijaz's defense of Dubai in NRO. Key section:
Whatever the UAE's policies in the pre-9/11 world (whether as home to A. Q. Khan's illicit nuclear network, one of three Taliban embassies, questionable banking practices, or as an alleged repository for Iranian-terror funds), Dubai's record under these young leaders in the post 9/11 world reflects serious and structural change in national strategy. As Jim Robbins noted Tuesday, in December 2004, Dubai was the first Middle East government to accept the U.S. Container Security Initiative as policy to screen all containers for security hazards before heading to America. In May 2005, Dubai signed an agreement with the U.S. Department of Energy to prevent nuclear materials from passing through its ports. It also installed radiation-detecting equipment — evidence of a commitment to invest in technology. In October 2005, the UAE Central Bank directed banks and financial institutions in the country to tighten their internal systems and controls in their fight against money laundering and terrorist financing.
How do you contain Iran?
Ron Asmus have a very intriguing answer to this question in today's Washington Post -- let Israel join NATO:
The United States already has a de facto security commitment to Israel. Any future U.S. president would go to the defense of that country if its existence were threatened by a nuclear-armed Iran. And in spite of the anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic voices that one can hear in Europe, there is little doubt that European leaders such as Tony Blair, Angela Merkel and even Jacques Chirac would also stand tall and defend Israel against an Iranian threat. Given this situation, basic deterrence theory tells us that it is more credible and effective if those commitments are clear and unambiguous.The obvious question, of course, is how Israel would deal with the occupied territories. This strikes me, however, as a problem that could also be an opportunity, even with a Hamas-led Palestinian government.
This kind of move would not be without risks, but if nothing else, it would give NATO a renewed sense of purpose.
Readers are warmly invited to provide reasons to shoot down this proposal.
Before you e-mail your prof, you may want to read this
Jonathan D. Glater has a front-page story in the New York Times that will amuse many professors and send a chill down many students' spines. Here's how it opens:
One student skipped class and then sent the professor an e-mail message asking for copies of her teaching notes. Another did not like her grade, and wrote a petulant message to the professor. Another explained that she was late for a Monday class because she was recovering from drinking too much at a wild weekend party.Glater has a one very odd quote on the implications of all of this. For example:
Christopher J. Dede, a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education who has studied technology in education, said these e-mail messages showed how students no longer deferred to their professors, perhaps because they realized that professors' expertise could rapidly become outdated.Well, any belief I had that Dede was an infallible source of deep knowledge has gone right out the window. I'd suggest, rather, that e-mail is simply a less formal means of communication, and students raised in an Oprah-fed confessional culture don't see a downside in sending them.
Because, most of the time, there isn't a downside -- stories like these inevitably pick on the 5% of emails that are annoying, tedious, or just plain stupid. And, I might add, the story contains the best response to these kind of electronic queries:
Many professors said they were often uncertain how to react. Professor Schultens, who was asked about buying the notebook, said she debated whether to tell the student that this was not a query that should be directed to her, but worried that "such a message could be pretty scary."Oh, and for the record -- all of my students are required to purchase Trapper Keepers to attend my classes.
UPDATE: Ah, it appears that the Times is behind the times -- Kathryn Wymer had a story in the Chronicle of Higher Education earlier this month suggesting that e-mail is on the outs with the student body:
I pride myself on keeping up to date with the latest technology. I regularly use computers in my classroom, and have long been a fan of the educational potential of online discussion groups. So I was completely taken aback a few months ago when a colleague informed me of something she had recently learned from her students: Teenagers no longer check their e-mail.Intriguingly, Wymer's experiment with I-mailing students didn't work out so well: "I wonder if other students resisted the impulse to use instant messaging in order to keep their personal and professional modes of communication separate."
Wymer also touches on a problem Kieran Healy raises: "sometimes the students pick the kind of addresses for themselves that aren’t exactly professional-quality. Frankly it feels a bit odd to correspond with, e.g., missbitchy23 or WildcatBongs about letters of reference or what have you." Be sure to check the comments thread for some other amusing examples of poor e-mail choices.
ANOTHER UPDATE: See this comment on Tim Burke's blog on whether one of the profs in the story was accurately quoted.
Monday, February 20, 2006
See if this sounds familiar....
Last month I blogged about the Newsweek story on the rebellion of politically-appointed Justice Department lawyers against the Dick Cheney/David Addington approach of how to run the war on terror and the executive branch.
I got a powerful whiff of déjà vu upon seeing that The New Yorker's Jane Mayer has a story about Alberto J. Mora, the general counsel of the United States Navy until January of this year. Why? Well, three reasons.
First, the rebellion story sounds awfully familar:
One document, which is marked “secret” but is not classified, is a twenty-two-page memo written by Mora. It shows that three years ago Mora tried to halt what he saw as a disastrous and unlawful policy of authorizing cruelty toward terror suspects.Second, the description of Mora sounds similar to the conservative DOJ lawyers who nevertheless resisted Bush's proposed policy changes:
Mora—whose status in the Pentagon was equivalent to that of a four-star general—is known for his professional discretion, and he has avoided the press. This winter, however, he agreed to confirm the authenticity and accuracy of the memo and to be interviewed.... Mora, a courtly and warm man, is a cautious, cerebral conservative who admired President Reagan and served in both the first and the second Bush Administrations as a political appointee. He strongly supported the Administration’s war on terror, including the invasion of Iraq, and he revered the Navy. He stressed that his only reason for commenting at all was his concern that the Administration was continuing to pursue a dangerous course. “It’s my Administration, too,” he said.Third, the degree of duplicity going on just depresses the living hell out of me. Consider this section:
Without Mora’s knowledge, the Pentagon had pursued a secret detention policy. There was one version, enunciated in [Pentagon general counsel William] Haynes’s letter to [Senator Patrick] Leahy, aimed at critics. And there was another, giving the operations officers legal indemnity to engage in cruel interrogations, and, when the Commander-in-Chief deemed it necessary, in torture. Legal critics within the Administration had been allowed to think that they were engaged in a meaningful process; but their deliberations appeared to have been largely an academic exercise, or, worse, a charade. “It seems that there was a two-track program here,” said Martin Lederman, a former lawyer with the Office of Legal Counsel, who is now a visiting professor at Georgetown. “Otherwise, why would they share the final working-group report with [head of Southern Comabd General James] Hill and [Guantánamo commander General Geoffrey] Miller but not with the lawyers who were its ostensible authors?”....UPDATE: Here's a link to Mora's memo (hat tip: Andrew Sullivan).
ANOTHER UPDATE: I've met John Yoo several times at conferences, and each time I've found him an engaging individual with a lively mind. But I have to think he's engaging in wishful thinking in this response to a Foreignpolicy.com interview:
I would like to say that it is my understanding that the United States does not engage in torture, and that the reports of abuses that have occurred in Iraq or elsewhere appear to have been the result of individuals acting outside official policy. Abuses, while regrettable, sometimes happen in large organizations when individuals violate the rules.Link via Greg Djerejian.
Sunday, February 19, 2006
The blogosphere, R.I.P. (2002-2006)
Well, it's time for me to pack it in -- blogs are finished, kaput, history.
How do I know this? Why, I've been reading what the media has said about it this month. They're doomed economically -- Slate's Daniel Gross says, "as businesses, blogs may have peaked. There are troubling signs—akin to the 1999 warnings about the Internet bubble—that suggest blogs have just hit their top."
Gross is just following up on a New York cover story by Clive Thompson, in which it turns out that it's difficult to eke out a living from blogging:
By all appearances, the blog boom is the most democratized revolution in media ever. Starting a blog is ridiculously cheap; indeed, blogging software and hosting can be had for free online. There are also easy-to-use ad services that, for a small fee, will place advertisements from major corporations on blogs, then mail the blogger his profits. Blogging, therefore, should be the purest meritocracy there is. It doesn’t matter if you’re a nobody from the sticks or a well-connected Harvard grad. If you launch a witty blog in a sexy niche, if you’re good at scrounging for news nuggets, and if you’re dedicated enough to post around the clock—well, there’s nothing separating you from the big successful bloggers, right? I can do that.Read the whole thing -- there's some interesting confusion by either Thompson or Clay Shirky between power law distributions and cascade effects.
[OK, so maybe blogs can't rake in the big bucks -- they're still fun, right? They're a political force, right?--ed.] No, I'm afraid that the media has determined that neither assertion is true. The Financial Times' Trevor Butterworth says that blogs are culturally passé:
[A]s with any revolution, we must ask whether we are being sold a naked emperor. Is blogging really an information revolution? Is it about to drive the mainstream news media into oblivion? Or is it just another crock of virtual gold - a meretricious equivalent of all those noisy internet start-ups that were going to build a brave “new economy” a few years ago?Butterworth is so convinced the blogosphere is passé, he's... er... set up a blog to handle the feedback.
Similarly, over at AlterNet, Lackshmi Cahudhry despairs about the inequality, corporatization, and general whiteness of the blogosphere:
As blogs have grown in popularity -- at the rate of more than one new blog per second -- they've begun to lose their vanguard edge. The very institutions that political bloggers often criticize have begun to adopt the platform, with corporate executives, media personalities, porn stars, lawyers and PR strategists all jumping into the fray. That may be why Markos Moulitsas Zuniga, the founder and primary voice of Daily Kos, thinks the word "blog" is beginning to outlive its usefulness. "A blog is merely a publishing tool, and like a tool, it can be used in any number of ways," he says....So everyone go home -- blog are economically unviable, culturally spent, politically unequal, and in the end amount to nothing more than the lame afterbirth of the dot-com boom and bust....
Hey, what are you doing here? I thought I told you to go home. Ah, maybe you clicked through to see if, perchance, I was being sarcastic.
Well, yes and no. You can condense all the linked stories into a few central themes:
1) Not a lot of people will make a living off of blogging;Well, all of this is very original. Oh, wait....
All of these articles do a decent job of puncturing the "blog triumphalist balloon" -- it's just that a lot of bloggers have been stomping on that balloon for years now. The key question to ask about blogs is the counterfactual -- do any of these writers truly believe that the information ecosystem would be more democratic, more entrepreneurial, or more culturally interesting if blogs did not exist?
In this way, these stories are correct in asserting that blogs are a synecdoche for the Internet as a whole -- they don't quite live up to the hype, but then again, the hype is so damn impressive that even if they live up to some of it, we should be impressed.
Hey, mainstream media types, I'll cut you a deal -- I will never say that the blogosphere is a harbinger of egalitarian democracy if you acknowledge that blogs, flawed though they may be, nudge the information ecosystem in many constructive ways.
Now, seriously, go home.
Friday, February 17, 2006
Putin's party becomes a caricature
Steven Lee Myers reports in the New York Times about how a Russian province deals with cartoons that offend the sensibilities of Valdimir Putin's United Russia party:
In a controversy with echoes of the Islamic anger over Danish cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad, the authorities in a central Russian city today ordered the closing of a newspaper that published a cartoon showing Muhammad along with Jesus, Moses and Buddha.
Donald Rumsfeld's new front in the war on terror
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld gave a speech at the Council on Foreign Relations today about a new front in the war on terror. Blogs are involved:
We meet today in the sixth year in which our nation has been engaged in what promises to be a long struggle against an enemy that in many ways is unlike any our country has ever faced. And in this war, some of the most critical battles may not be in the mountains ofAfghanistanor the streets of Iraq, but in newsrooms -- in places like New York, London, Cairo, and elsewhere....Whether Donald Rumsfeld is the person best-suited for this kind of combat " in places like New York, London, Cairo" newsrooms, I'll leave to the readers.
A catastrophic victory for Hamas?
As Bob Uecker would put it, this New York Review of Books essay by Hussein Agha and Robert Malley on Hamas is juuuuust a bit slanted in its assessment of the Palestinian situation.
That doesn't mean it's devoid of value, however. Their take on Hamas after victory seems pretty much on point to me:
Out-and-out victory was not what Hamas had expected or, for that matter, what it had wished for. It had come to see itself as a watchdog on the sidelines, sitting in the legislature without controlling it, shaping the government's policies without being held accountable for them, taking credit for its successes and escaping blame for any setbacks. Its triumph presents it with challenges of a different, more urgent, and less familiar sort. Hamas suddenly finds itself on the front line, with decisions to make and relations to manage with the world, international donors, Israel, Fatah, and, indeed, its own varied constituents. The Islamists may have secretly expected to sweep the elections but, if so, that secret remains well kept. Referring to Iraq, President Bush once spoke of America's catastrophic success. Judging from the Islamists' initial, startled reactions to their triumph, this may well be theirs....If this trend holds -- and that's an admittedly big "if" -- then Hamas' catastrophic victory is good news for everyone else. And further evidence that the best way to deal with Islamists is to let them try to govern.
Thursday, February 16, 2006
Anti-semitic cartoon contest!!!
Well, after the whole cartoon flap over Mohammed, and the Iranian decision to hold a contest on the best cartoon mocking the Holocaust, you knew this was just a matter of time:
Amitai Sandy (29), graphic artist and publisher of Dimona Comix Publishing, from Tel-Aviv, Israel, has followed the unfolding of the “Muhammad cartoon-gate” events in amazement, until finally he came up with the right answer to all this insanity - and so he announced today the launch of a new anti-Semitic cartoons contest - this time drawn by Jews themselves!Mmmmm.... blood-soaked matzot.
Sandy has a running start on this. Today he was interviewed by Terry Gross for NPR's Fresh Air . Entries are starting to trickle in -- here's one of the first entries:
Furthermore, noted Holocaust historian Deborah Lipstadt has already agreed to be one judge.
If Sandy needs another judge, I'd be happy to volunteer. I have a Ph.D., I love cartoons, and as my darling wife said when she pointed out this story to me, "you're a prominent Jew in the blogosphere!"
UPDATE: This isn't as cool as the cartoon contest, but on a related note, the editors of PS: Political Science and Politics are calling for papers on The State of the Editorial Cartoon:
The editors of PS: Political Science and Politics invite contributions to a symposium on the state of the editorial cartoon. The symposium will explore the current condition of editorial cartooning, with an emphasis on daily newspaper editorial cartoons but encompassing politically minded weekly newspaper cartoons, magazine cartoons, comic strips, and web comics. The editors invite informed essays that advance our empirical, historical, and theoretical appreciation for editorial cartoons as art, politics, and culture.
The GAO on TAA
The Government Accountability Office has a new survey of workers at five plant who lost their jobs due to trade competition -- the clear losers of trade liberalization. The survey was designed to see the extent to which Trade Adjustment Assistance -- a program born in the 1974 Trade Act and reformed as recently as 2002 -- was reaching the people it's supposed to.
Here are the key results:
At the time GAO conducted its survey, most of the workers had either found a new job or retired. At three sites, over 60 percent of the workers were reemployed. At another site, only about 40 percent were reemployed, but another third had retired. And at the final site, about a third were reemployed, but this site had the highest proportion of workers who entered training and most of them were likely still in training. The majority of reemployed workers at four of five sites earned less than they had previously—replacing about 80 percent or more of their prior wages—but at one site over half the reemployed workers matched their prior wages.
A libertarian barista on Starbucks
Jacob Grier has a blog post at Smelling the Coffee on the contradictory impulses he feels towards Starbucks -- as a libertarian who nevertheless thinks quality control at Starbucks has gone down.
Read the whole thing, but the part about how Starbucks has affected the industrial organization of coffeehouses is particularly interesting:
Let's begin with the easy issue: Starbucks is driving independent coffee shops out of business. Anecdotally, this may seem obviously true. Many people can name a favorite coffee shop that went out of business soon after a Starbucks moved into the neighborhood. The fact is, though, that Starbucks is creating a market, not destroying it. Growth in both independent and corporate coffee shops has been huge over the past fifteen years, thanks in large part to consumers being introduced to specialty coffee drinks in the safe confines of their local Starbucks.Of related interest: this Tim Harford essay in Slate about why Starbucks doesn't advertise it's "short" cappucino.
Wednesday, February 15, 2006
Could Åland secede from the EU? Where the f#$% is Åland?
David Rennie has a story in the Daily Telegraph suggesting that a very small cluster of Finnish islands could cause some headaches for the European Union:
In the decade since they voted to join the European Union the islanders of the Åland archipelago in the Baltic Sea have been outvoted and overruled by Brussels, time and again.For more on why snus is such a big deal in Åland, check out this Brussels Journal post.
Rennie might be exaggerating Åland's influence just a wee bit. It's true that the Finnish Customs Service confirms the special tax and regulatory status of the island. However, if you go to the Åland Islands' official home page, you discover the following:
Foreign affairs is not transferred to Åland under the Autonomy Act, but remains under the control of the Finnish Government. Even so, Åland has a degree of influence on international treaties that contain provisions relating to areas where Åland is the competent authority. The Autonomy Act states that an international treaty of this kind entered into by Finland requires the consent of the Parliament of Åland to become valid also in Åland.So, if I read this correctly, Åland can block the proposed European constitution from applying to its jurisdiction -- but it doesn't hold a veto over the rest of Finland. I will happily defer to real international lawyers on this question of law that probably interests only me.
Click here if you want to know the historical reasons for Åland's special status. For some irrational reason, I do find it amusing that a small jurisdiction of 26,200 people could decide to stymie the mighty, mighty European Commission.
So what are you going to watch?
At six o'clock this evening EDT, you have a choice -- you could watch Vice President Dick Cheney's interview with Brit Hume on Fox News..... or watch me talk about offshore outsourcing on CNN International's Insight?
I thought so.
[You do realize most Americans can't get CNN International--ed. It was a rhetorical question... and I got my hypothetical rhetorical answer.]
Your pop quiz on politics for today
1) The Cheney hunting mishap story has some surprising legs;Here's my pop quiz. Beyond the obvious, what do these stories reveal?
A) Bush's staff is delighted to highlight one of the few arenas of press coverage -- presidential foibles -- where they've been perfectly forthcoming;
Tuesday, February 14, 2006
The Decline and Fall of Europe?
The principal motor of Europe’s current decline is, in my view, its obsession with social security, which has created rigid social and economic systems that are extremely resistant to change. And this obsession with social security is in turn connected with a fear of the future: for the future has now brought Europe catastrophe and relative decline for more than a century....Responses come from Timothy Smith, Charles Kupchan, and Anne Applebaum.
The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), headquartered in Paris, released a report, "Going for Growth," that details economic prospects in the industrial world. It is 160 pages long and written in bland, cautious, scholarly prose. But the conclusion is clear: Europe is in deep trouble. These days we all talk about the rise of Asia and the challenge to America, but it may well turn out that the most consequential trend of the next decade will be the economic decline of Europe.Zakariacloses with some speculation on what Europe's decline means for world politics:
What does all this add up to? Less European influence in the world. Europe's position in such institutions as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund relates to its share of world GDP. Its dwindling defense spending weakens its ability to be a military partner of the United States, or to project military power abroad even for peacekeeping purposes. Its cramped, increasingly protectionist outlook will further sap its vitality.
One mild rebuttal -- Europe's decline does not mean it's influence in international institutions will automatically fall. International organizations have notoriously sticky rules, and those rules benefit those who were powerful in the past. By any measure of power, Britain and France have no business being permanent members of any Security Council that keeps India or even Japan out. Yet there they stay, for two reasons: 1) It's costly to change the rules; and 2) The U.S. doesn't want to change them.
For all of the guff about transatlantic tensions, the U.S. is still keenly aware that it has more shared prferences with Europe than with other regions of the globe. Until that changes, European countries may decline, but they won't fall.
Not the biggest shock in the world
Which sci-fi crew would you best fit in?
You scored as Serenity (Firefly). You like to live your own way and don't enjoy when anyone but a friend tries to tell you should do different. Now if only the Reavers would quit trying to skin you.
Your Ultimate Sci-Fi Profile II: which sci-fi crew would you best fit in?
created with QuizFarm.com
Now if you'll excuse me, I'll be in my bunk.
Are those netroots showing?
Ian Urbina reports in the New York Times that Pail Hackett has dropped out of the Democratic primary to challenge Senator Mike DeWine of Ohio. It appears that Hackett is none too happy about the way the Democratic establishment has treated him:
Paul Hackett, an Iraq war veteran and popular Democratic candidate in Ohio's closely watched Senate contest, said yesterday that he was dropping out of the race and leaving politics altogether as a result of pressure from party leaders.I bring this up only because Hackett was Exhibit A in the power of the Democratic Party's "netroots." He almost won last year's special election in a district where no one thought Democrats could be competitive.
Hackett was also relying on the netroots in his nascent primary run -- this week he was TPM Cafe's Table for One (though it should be pointed out that Brown blogged last week for TPM). UPDATE: Here's a link to Hackett's withdrawal post at TPM.
Click here to read the reaction among the Kossaks. Kos himself has a post that puts Hackett's decision into some perspective -- though I'm not sure his commenters would agree. Other liberal bloggers share Kos' sense that this was meant to be. This Ezra Klein post suggests Hackett would have given good interview).
It's worth remembering that Karl Rove has spent the last six years trying to hand-pick Senatorial candidates that can topple Democrats -- so it's hard to blame the Dems for doing the same.
[So why are you posting about this?--ed.] Because this is a pretty big slap in the face to the argument that the Democratic Party is being held hostage by its netroots base -- although the real test will be to see if Brown faces any backlash.
Monday, February 13, 2006
Nobody give me a column!!
Note to self: if someone is ever so foolish as to offer me a weekly column, re-read this Jack Shafer paragraph:
Those whom the gods wish to destroy they first make a newspaper columnist. Most columnists start off with a bag full of ideas and endless energy. But the job begins to weigh on even the most talented journalist. He starts writing columns about columns he's written, about his kids, or about the deaths of relatives. He composes columns as open letters to world leaders—or writes from inside their heads. He quotes cab drivers. His columns become more assertion than argument. Finally, he starts picking silly, protracted fights with other media machers.[Yeah, we're not worried about this possibility--ed.]
Transatlantic radio and telly debate
Kieran Healy has a post up at Crooked Timber on the superiority of U.K. radio trivia to the United States, and then closes with this paragraph:
Incidentally, Radio 4’s The News Quiz, when set against NPR’s execrable Wait Wait, Don’t Tell Me, joins the long list of cultural objects that serve to illustrate the difference between Britain and the United States. Others include The Office (UK) vs The Office (US), Yes Prime Minister vs The West Wing, and so on.This has prompted quite a lively debate in the comments section (including an intervention from yours truly), about a) whether Kieran was correct; and b) What kinds of programming do not appear to be replicable across the Atlantic?
For example, Kieran is correct to point out the complete lack of a U.S. competitor to Yes, Minister/Yes, Prime Minister. At the same time, however, I'm not sure that there's anything in the U.K. that can compete with The Daily Show or The Simpsons. The U.K. version of Friends was pretty appalling (curiously, though, that didn't stop NBC from trying to copy it). Both Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm are commedies of manners, yet I can't think of their British equivalents.
I'm not sure there's any great lesson to be drawn from this, but I invite readers to do two things: 1) Isolate creative excellence in TV that appears to be non-replicable once you cross the border; and 2) Reasons for why this is so. For example, I'd wager that the U.S. does better at certain kinds of comedies and teen shows because television producers have a much greater comfort level with America's affluent class than British producers have with their yuppie audience (there's that whole need to sell advertising as well).
William Easterly trashes Angelina Jolie!!
William Easterly -- the anti-Jeff Sachs -- has an op-ed in today's Washington Post about Africa. He's upset at the do-gooding of Angelina Jolie and those of her ilk [Her ilk? You mean really attractive actresses? Is he upset at Salma, too?--ed. No, I'm talking about those who wish to "save" Africa.]:
Jeffrey Sachs and Angelina Jolie toured the continent on behalf of MTV, with Jolie asking how we can stand by and let it be destroyed. The world's leaders gathered at the United Nations in September to further discuss ending poverty in Africa, apparently unfazed by yet another voluminous U.N. report highlighting the failure of the grand plans (the "Millennium Development Goals") to make any progress. They repeated a familiar refrain: If aid efforts aren't producing the desired results, then redouble those efforts. The year closed with the rock star Bono being named Time magazine's person of the year (along with the rather more constructive Bill and Melinda Gates) for his efforts to save Africa....The hard-working staff here at danieldrezner.com takes great pride in its stout defense of American celebrities. So we feel compelled to point out to raise the possibility that Easterly is just ticked off because he didn't get to go on safari with the lovely and talented Ms. Jolie. But I doubt it.
Read the whole thing.
Sunday, February 12, 2006
Your headline contest for today
"Cheney Accidentally Shoots Fellow Hunter," The Associated Press, February 13, 2006.
If you want more details check out the Corpus Christi Caller-Times, which broke the story.
What I would like my readers to propose is what the subhead should be to this story.
My suggestion: "Vice President, Relying on Raw Intel Reports, Convinced Victim was Deer."
UPDATE: Pajamas Media has a quick roundup of blog reactions.
Saturday, February 11, 2006
The intriguing rise of Shanghai Tang
When I was in Hong Kong in December, the one store I was told I had to go to was a place called Shanghai Tang; other bloggers have apparently received a similar message.. The people telling me to do this were right -- I'm not much into clothes stores, but even I was impressed by the quality and style of their merchandise. I wound up buying lots of nice things for my wife, which almost -- but not quite -- made up for me leaving her alone with the kids for nine days. Rest assured, Americans do not need to jet to Hong Kong to sample the store -- there's both an online catalog, and a store in Manhattan.
I bring this up because Shanghai Tang is the topic of Linda Tischler's cover story in this week's Fast Company. The story strongly suggests that China will be moving up the global supply chain to luxury goods very soon:
If, as global market watchers from Wall Street to Tokyo have claimed, this is the China Century, then Shanghai Tang may just turn out to be that century's banner--China's first global, upscale brand.As you read a bit more into the story, however, you begin to wonder just how you would categorize the nationality of the firm. First, you discover that Shanghai Tang is majority-owned by Richemont, a Swiss-based luxury-brands holding company. Then you discover the background of the top people at the firm:
It's no surprise, says le Masne de Chermont, that the company's principals have been recruited from the carpetbagging global creative class. The brand's founder, British-educated David Tang, is from Hong Kong, that most Western of Chinese cities. [creative director Joanne] Ooi is American; Camilla Hammar, the marketing director, is Swedish. [CEO Raphael] Le Masne de Chermont, who is French, honed his luxury branding skills at Piaget before being deployed by Richemont, whose portfolio also includes Mont Blanc, Chloe, Dunhill, and Cartier, to fix its ailing Shanghai Tang brand.What's most interesting are the firm's expansion plans:
While the privately held Richemont is cagey about divulging numbers, le Masne de Chermont says that the Madison Avenue's store's revenue is up 50% in 2005. Overall, Tang grew 40% last year, mostly in Asia, home to 70% of its stores. And it's profitable, though not quite yet in the United States.So even though Tischler's story is titled, "The Gucci Killers," this is less about the rise of a global competitor than the mergence of a Gucci-type brand -- created by Asians, Europeans, and Americans -- that can penetrate the Asian market.
A final note: I'm genuinely surprised the New York store is not yet profitable -- to my admittedly uncouth eye, the clothes and accessories are world-class and, compared to other luxury brands, very reasonably priced.
UPDATE: Reena Jana did a story on Shanghai Tang for Business Week last December that's worth checking out as well.
Thursday, February 9, 2006
"the biggest winners are consumers in the United States"
This is David Barboza's conclusion in the New York Times after looking at shifts in the global supply chain:
Hundreds of workers at a sprawling Japanese-owned Hitachi factory here are fashioning plates of glass and aluminum into shiny computer disks, wrapping them in foil. The products are destined for the United States, where they will arrive like billions of other items, labeled "made in China."Read the whole thing. One fact genuinely surprised me:
Asian exports to the United States have actually slipped over the last 15 years....
United States 2, Terrorists with shoe bombs, 0
So apparently an Al Qaeda plot to use shoe bombs to hijack a plane and fly it into LA's Library tower was thwarted in 2002. A few things are interesting about this:
1) Using shoe bombs are apparently the terrorist equivalent of walking under a ladder.This brings us to the elements of the Time story that are much more disturbing -- the escape of the Al Qaeda terrorists from Yemen:
But at the same time the Administration was chest-thumping about this victory in the war on terror, [counter-terrorism czar Frances Fragos] Townsend had to acknowledge that it is grappling with one of the worst examples of non-cooperation. Over the weekend, 13 convicted Al Qaeda members being held in a Yemeni jail escaped, including the reputed mastermind of the October 2000 attack on the U.S.S. Cole. Townsend acknowledged that the jailbreak is "of enormous concern to us, especially given the capabilities and the expertise of the people who were there." All 13 had been housed together, she said, and "we are disappointed that their restrictions in prison weren't more stringent." When asked why the U.S. wasn't keeping closer tabs on how the Al Qaeda prisoners were being incarcerated in Yemen, a U.S. law enforcement official said, "that assumes the Yemenis care what we think."
The good news about cancer
Denise Grady has one of those stories in the New York Times that's worth emphasizing because the news is so good:
The number of cancer deaths in the United States has dropped slightly, the first decline in more than 70 years, the American Cancer Society is reporting today.Here's a link to the American Cancer Society's press release. Among other things, they open with, "The American Cancer Society's annual estimate of cancer deaths says 2006 will see a slight decline in the projected number of cancer deaths compared to estimates made for 2005."
Tuesday, February 7, 2006
Open cartoon thread
Readers may have noticed that I haven't posted on the whole cartoon business. To be honest, I didn't think it was that big a deal. Clearly, some Muslims disagree.
A lot of blogs have posted deep, deep thoughts about the state of Islam and the perceptions of Muslims in the world. I'm afraid I can't muster anything beyond two quick, cryptic observations: a) there's a difference between a democracy and a liberal democracy, and it's clear that the Muslims exercised by this cartoon do not distinguish between the two at all, and b) this is neither the first or the last time we're going to see protests of this nature.
UPDATE: This Andrew Sullivan post seems pretty powerful to me.
What is the future of GMOs?
Edward Alden, Jeremy Grant and Raphael Minder report in the Financial Times that the WTO has just issued a ruling on genetically modified foods:
The World Trade Organisation ruled yesterday that European restrictions on the introduction of genetically-modified foods violated international trade rules, finding there was no scientific justification for Europe’s failure to allow use of new varieties of corn, soybeans and cotton.I cut and paste from the FT a fair amount, so et me help them out and post what the practical effect will be on the various players:
1) The effect on the EU is pretty much nil. They'll appeal, and probably lose their appeal, and then face punitive sanctions from the US, Canada, and Argentina. Just as with hormone-treated beef, the EU will suffer the sanctions rather than comply, given public attitudes about GM foods in Europe.[Sounds like you support the EU position--ed. Oh, no, I think the EU approach to GMOs is daft -- that, however, doesn't matter when you control a $11 trillion economy.]
Just how unpopular is Iran?
A major BBC World Service poll exploring how people in 33 countries view various countries found not a single country where a majority has a positive view of Iran’s role in the world (with the exception of Iranians themselves).Here's a link to the full questionnaire and methodology.
Of course, if you look at the table below, the U.S. doesn't have a lot to crow about either:
There is one interesting tidbit from the individual country results -- the U.S. does extraordinarily well among African countries, better than the EU. I have no explanation for why this is true.
UPDATE: Just to clear up one confusion in the comments thread -- Europe did not earn a more favorable rating because Europeans were included in that measure. If you read the methodology document, you'll see that they were excluded from their own rating, just like the USA.
Monday, February 6, 2006
An FTA that makes economic and political sense
Most of the free-trade agreements put forward by the Bush administration over the past five years have made a lot of foreign policy sense, but have been pretty marginal in terms of their economic impact.
Last week, however, the U.S. and South Korea announced that they intended to negotiate an FTA over the course of this year. USTR representative Rob Portman said, "This is the most commercially significant free trade negotiation we have embarked on in 15 years," and he's not lying -- you'd have to go back to the start of NAFTA for an FTA that would have as big an economic impact.
Kudos to Portman for finally taking up the ROK's offer to negotiate. I'm also intrigued whether this was timed to prod the EU, India, and Brazil into moving forward on Doha.
Would the Scandinavian model fit the United States?
Milton Friedman gave a wide-ranging interview with New Perspectives Quarterly editor Nathan Gardels last November. One of Friedman's answers intrigued me:
NPQ | Perhaps the Scandinavian countries are a model to look at. They are high-tax but also high-employment societies. And they have freed up their labor markets much more than in Italy, France or Germany.I suspect that Amy Chua would have some issues with Friedman' last assertion, but it is an interesting hypothesis. Could it be that the liberal market economy's primary advantage over the coordinated market economy is not it's better efficiency or productivity, but the fact that it works better over a wider variation of societies?
Check out the rest of the Friedman interview as well -- the dark matter controversy comes up.
Super Dud XL
Yesterday afternoon, I was thinking that the Super Bowl had recently been on a decent run of gripping games. Between 2000 and 2005, three of the contests (St. Louis/Tennessee, New England/St. Louis, New England/Carolina) had been pretty gripping games, a vast improvement over the Super Bowls I remembered from childhood.
So much for the nice run -- this one was a stinker punctuated by the occasional nifty play. How much of a stinker? The lead Chicago Tribune sports columnist wrote an entire article about a play that wound up not affecting the final outcome.
As for the ads -- well, to quote Kieran Healy, "I hope next year Burger King Corporation just make a pile of 2 million dollar bills and set it on fire, rather than taking the roundabout method of pointlessly wasting money they opted for this year." On the upside, I did win $100 from a friend who was convinced that Karl Malden had appeared in one of the NFL Mobile ads.
How strong is the U.S. economy?
I've got an advanced degree in economics, and I'm here to tell you that the official numbers on the U.S. economy are just plain strange.
On the one hand, in the fourth quarter of 2005, GDP growth slowed to a crawl. On the other hand, that had little effect on U.S. labor markets, since the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported on Friday that the economy has generated more than 200,000 net new jobs a month, and that unemployment is now down to 4.7%.
On the one hand, the U.S. trade deficit shows no sign of reversing itself; on the other hand, some economists insist that dark matter is not being counted.
On the one hand, European work fewer hours than Americans. On the other hand, it's possible that Americans have more leisure time than Europeans.
The latest: Time frets on it's cover that we may be losing our edge.
Except that Michael Mandel says on the cover of Business Week that the economy is stronger than conventional statistics indicate (link via longtime reader Don Stadler):
[W]hat if we told you that the doomsayers, while not definitively wrong, aren't seeing the whole picture? What if we told you that businesses are investing about $1 trillion a year more than the official numbers show? Or that the savings rate, far from being negative, is actually positive? Or, for that matter, that our deficit with the rest of the world is much smaller than advertised, and that gross domestic product may be growing faster than the latest gloomy numbers show? You'd be pretty surprised, wouldn't you?Read the whole thing, which gets around to the "dark matter" question as well (also click here to see the Boston Fed paper upon which Mandel got most of his info).
Mandel's story does offer an explanation about the fourth quarter numbers:
[T]he conventional numbers may be understating the strength of the economy today. The BEA announced on Jan. 27 that growth in the fourth quarter of 2005 was only 1.1%. In part that was because of a smaller-than-expected increase in business capital spending. However, employment at design and management-consulting firms is up sharply in the quarter, suggesting that businesses may be spending on intangibles instead. Indeed, the consumer confidence number for January zoomed to the highest level since 2002, as Americans became more optimistic about finding jobs.In fairness, as Stadler pointed out in the e-mail that triggered this post, it is possible that redefining investment would also make the 2001 downturn look more serious that conventional GDP data suggested -- because there was such a fall-off in R&D spending at the time.
So, maybe the economy is much more robust than commonly thought. But there are three caveats to this that I can't quite shake. First, I very much want this to be true, which means that I might be accepting Mandel's suppositions too quickly.
Second, I still remember this Stephen Roach op-ed from 2003, which also pointed out the screwiness with existing data -- except that Roach thought the metrics under discussion were being too optimistic about labor productivity gains. Roach and Mandel are focusing on the same productivity figures -- but Mandel thinks it shows that other numbers are screwy, while Roach thinks the productivity figure is inflated. I'm not sure Roach is right either -- but it's worth bearing in mind that inaccuate data can cut both ways in trying to figure out the current economy.
Third, even if we're exporting knowledge capital in the form of FDI, we're also importing significant amounts of knowledge capital -- in the form of science and engineering Ph.D. students. What happens when those figures are thrown into the mix?
Sunday, February 5, 2006
A correction and apology to Tom Friedman
Several elements of this Davos Diary were picked up and run in other places, which is gratifying. However, in one instance, it is embarassing. In the item on the panel on Middle East nuclear proliferation chaired by Tom Friedman of the New York Times, it suggests that Friedman made a statement that suggested that none of the nations in the area should have nuclear weapons and that this was a source of embarassment re: Pakistan's Pervez Musharraf, who was on the panel and whose nation does. Had the entry stated that it was Afghanistan's President Karzai who made the statement, it would have been accurate. That is what I intended to write and what my brain actually recalls having written. Being as how it was the truth and all. If it came out of my head otherwise or was somehow altered along the way, I apologize. Readers of the blog may recall I sustained several blows to the head along the way and anything is possible. Suffice it to say, Friedman ran the panel wonderfully with a light and informed touch and Karzai's misstatement was humorous and even he responded to his error with somewhat more grace than I have responded to this one.Apologies to Friedman for propagating the original error.
Saturday, February 4, 2006
Work, leisure, and productivity
Last Sunday, the Boston Globe's Christopher Shea wrote a counterintuitive article about how well Europe compares with the United States:
In the face of rampant Europessimism, some contrarian scholars insist that European countries can thrive without embracing American-style labor markets (where most people can be fired at will) and relatively lean social programs.Sounds plausible.... until you get to this week's Economist. At which point you discover something very interesting... leisure time in the United States is on the increase:
A pair of economists have looked closely at how Americans actually spend their time. Mark Aguiar (at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston) and Erik Hurst (at the University of Chicago's Graduate School of Business) constructed four different measures of leisure. The narrowest includes only activities that nearly everyone considers relaxing or fun; the broadest counts anything that is not related to a paying job, housework or errands as “leisure”. No matter how the two economists slice the data, Americans seem to have much more free time than before.This trend ties into the biggest productivity advantage the United States has over the rest of the advanced industriaized world -- the retail and wholesale sectors. Increases on productivity in those arenas don't only benefit producers -- they lead to significant benefits for consumers, in the form of fewer time and resources devoted to essential household tasks, like shopping for groceries.
In the paper cited by the Economist, Aguiar and Hurst observe that:
The present study focuses exclusively on the United States.... to our knowledge, there are no studies using European data that perform a time-series analysis similar to the one below. This remains an important area for future research.That would be some interesting research. It is possible that heightened U.S. efficiency in the retail and wholesale sectors -- and maybe, come to think of it, the housing sector as well, though economists tend to think about housing productivity in terms of construction as opposed to usage -- means that Americans work more and play more than Europeans.
Oxymoronic headline of the week
I don't know whether the Malaysian Star or Reuters is to blame.
Friday, February 3, 2006
Welcome to the Fed, Mr. Bernanke
As Ben Bernanke took over from Alan Greenspan this week at the Fed -- and let's hear it for financial markets for not freaking out that much about Greenspan's departure -- it seems only fitting to link to Adam Posen's Institute for International Economics brief about what central banks should do when there's an asset price bubble.
Basically, they should do nothing:
Central banks should not be in the business of trying to prick asset price bubbles. Bubbles generally arise out of some combination of irrational exuberance, technological jumps, and financial deregulation (with more of the second in equity price bubbles and more of the third in real estate booms). Accordingly, the connection between monetary conditions and the rise of bubbles is rather tenuous, and anything short of inducing a recession by tightening credit conditions prohibitively is unlikely to stem their rise. Even if a central bank were willing to take that one-in-three or less shot at cutting off a bubble, the cost-benefit analysis hardly justifies such preemptive action. The macroeconomic harm from a bubble bursting is generally a function of the financial system’s structure and stability—in modern economies with satisfactory bank supervision, the transmission of a negative shock from an asset price bust is relatively limited, as was seen in the United States in 2002. However, where financial fragility does exist, as in Japan in the 1990s, the costs of inducing a recession go up significantly, so the relative disadvantages of monetary preemption over letting the bubble run its course mount. In the end, there is no monetary substitute for financial stability, and no market substitute for monetary ease during severe credit crunch. These two realities imply that the central bank should not take asset prices directly into account in monetary policymaking but should be anything but laissez-faire in responding to sharp movements in inflation and output, even if asset price swings are their source.
Thursday, February 2, 2006
When political fiction becomes reality
Brendan Carlin, George Jones and Toby Helm report in the Daily Telegraph that the defeat of Tony Blair's proposed Racial and Religious Hatred Bill was in part due to defections from his Labor party -- and in part due to The West Wing.
Really. I'm serious:
The television series The West Wing about the life and times of a fictional US president was the inspiration for the "rebellion by stealth" that humbled Tony Blair and his Chief Whip, Hilary Armstrong.I actually saw this episode, and remember snorting in derision that this could actually happen. Then again, what do I know -- I'm just a political scientist.
Wednesday, February 1, 2006
My hobgoblin on the State of the Union
If consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, then my hobgoblin is just a bit exercised about Bush's call for energy independence in the State of the Union -- nicely summarized in this Tom Maguire post.
Here are the two parts of the speech that I can't quite reconcile:
1) "In this decisive year, you and I will make choices that determine both the future and the character of our country. We will choose to act confidently in pursuing the enemies of freedom -- or retreat from our duties in the hope of an easier life. We will choose to build our prosperity by leading the world economy -- or shut ourselves off from trade and opportunity. In a complex and challenging time, the road of isolationism and protectionism may seem broad and inviting -- yet it ends in danger and decline."Here's my problem -- in what way is the provision massive government subsidies of alternative fuels not another example of import substitution and industrialization? Isn't trying to reduce Middle Eastern oil imports an example of how to "shut ourselves off from trade and opportunity"????
To be fair to Bush, what he's saying might be correct even if it's not internally consistent. Trade on the whole is a good thing, but dependence on oil is bad. Except that a big reason the U.S. has intervened so much in the Arab Middle East for the past 25 years is not just because we're dependent on Arab oil imports -- it's that our allies in Europe and Japan are really dependent on Middle Eastern oil, and we can't afford for their economies to be disrupted either.
As I said at the beginning of the post, I might be harping too much on two pieces of the speech that were meant to address different things. But in fairness to the isolationists, I suspect that they will be the biggest boosters of the President's energy policies.
UPDATE: Andrew Sullivan's hobgoblin is also exercised about the SOTU
February's Books of the Month
The international relations book for February is Jeffry Frieden's Global Capitalism: Its Fall and Rise in the Twentieth Century.
About five years ago W.W. Norton started publishing a series of books on international relations theory, written by senior scholars in the field, with the stated purpose of appealing beyond a scholarly audience. Frieden's book is part of this project, and Global Capitalism should makethe Norton people happy. It's a concise, accessible history of international economic relations during the twentieth century -- a period that began with one era of globalization, suffered a thirty year spasm of instability and closure, sought a Keynesian compromise, and then embraced globalization again.
As policymakers and publics deal with the aftertaste of the current era, Frieden's book does a great job of setting the historical table of how we got to the present day. Go check it out.
The general interest book is Marjorie Williams' The Woman at the Washington Zoo: Writings on Politics, Family, And Fate. Williams was a reporter and columnist for the Washington Post, and published political profiles for Vanity Fair. She died of liver cancer in 2005. This book, edited by her husband (Slate's Tim Noah), is a compendium of her published writing, plus some previously unpublished work on her family and her experiences of living and dying from cancer.
Jack Shafer had a lovely elegy for Williams in Slate when she died last year, and I kept meaning to buy the book when it was released in November, but didn't get around to it until a few days ago. And now, even though I have a daunting pile of reading and writing to finish, I can't go a few hours without stealing into her book and soaking up one of the essays.
There are two things about The Woman at the Washington Zoo that stand out. The first thing is Williams' sharp observations about the role that individuals play in politics, and the role that positions of power play in shaping the individual. She has just the right tone -- realistic without being cynical, observational without suggesting that she was above it all, rendering judgments without smacking of partisanship.
The second thing is more humbling -- Williams could write like a song, regardless of the length or topic. Her essay on her mother is the written equivalent of thirty-year old tawny port, exceptionally smooth while still leaving one a bit buzzed afterwards.
So be warned -- read this book only if you have no illusions about being a great writer. As political scientists go, I'm pretty decent at cobbling sentences together in a jargon-free way. After reading Williams, I now know my true place in the literary cosmos -- academic hack.