Thursday, March 30, 2006
What's the purpose of the quasi-popular IR book?
I don't catch The Daily Show very often, so this might be a small-N observation -- but it seems to me that he and Stephen Colbert have a much higher ratio of book authors on their show. Not potboilers, either -- Michael Mandelbaum was on Jon Stewart's show plugging The Case for Goliath.
Over at Duck of Minerva, I see that Daniel Nexon caught Mandelbaum's appearance as well -- but this leads him to ask a different question:
I haven't read Mandelbaum's book yet, but based on his comments and the editorial reviews at Amazon, it looks like a pretty standard retread of hegemonic-stability theory as applied to contemporary US foreign policy....A few replies:
1) Think of the audience. Taking the Mandelbaum book as an example, I seriously doubt that most policymakers have the time or inclination to read the original theoretical work on hegemonic stability theory (Kindleberger, Krasner, Keohane, Lake, Snidal, etc.... well, maybe Kindleberger). Furthermore, HST was generally devoid of normative implications -- which is cdertainly not true of Mandelbaum.UPDATE: Nick Borst posts another excellent reason in the comments: they're the gateway drug for more rigorous IR scholarship. To cranky codgers like Nexon and I, it is easy to detect when a popular book is riffing off of a scholarly idea. If you're in high school or an undergraduate, however, every idea seems new. It wil be far easier for your average 18 year old to absorb IR theory from Mandelbaum than from those expressly writing for a scholarly audience.
While there's a debate over immigration....
I've beeen jamming on a paper I need to finish within the week, which means I haven't been able to cover the whole immigration debate as thoroughly as Mickey Kaus.
[So what's your position?--ed. I think guest worker programs make little economic or political sense. I'd rather vastly expand the legal flows of immigrants who want U.S. citizenship, while simultaneously investing more in border security schemes -- though I'm pessimistic about the latter working terrbly well.]
That said, I can link to this interesting Financial Times story by Richard Lapper on the extent to which Latin America relies on worker remittances as a source of capital inflows:
Migrant workers from Latin America and the Caribbean sent home $53.6bn to their families last year, an increase of 17 per cent on 2004.Here's a link to the actual IADB report.
Academics really need this device
David Pescowitz at Boing Boing alerts the hardworking staff here at danieldrezner.com about a new device that wiould be of great use in the academy:
MIT Media Lab researchers are building a device to help autistic people determine if they're boring or annoying the person they're talking to. The "emotional social intelligence prosthetic device" is a camera that clips on eyeglasses and feeds images to a small computer that uses image recognition software to characterize emotions. If the listener doesn't seem to be engaged, the device vibrates to alert the wearer.Autistic people should not be the only ones who benefit from this breakthrough. I know more than one colleague who really needs this device.
Kurt Anderson has no beef
Kurt Anderson has an essay in New York magazine entitled, "Celebrity Death Watch." The subhead says, "Could the country’s insane fame fixation maybe, finally—fingers crossed—be coming to an end? One hopeful sign: Paris Hilton."
Intrigued, I read the first paragraph:
On a scale of one to ten, one being the least possible interest in famous entertainers qua famous entertainers, and ten being the most, I’m about a six. Until I recently gorged for days on end, it had been years since I had touched a copy of People or Us Weekly. I skipped the Tonys and Grammys and Emmys. But I do skim three or four New York newspaper gossip columns most weekdays, and I watched E!’s Golden Globes red-carpet preshow, and, of course, I tuned in to the Academy Awards telecast. For years, I’ve thought that the intense fascination with famous people must be about to end—and I’ve been repeatedly, egregiously mistaken. But now—truly, finally—I believe that we are at the apogee, the zenith, the plateau, the top of the market. After 30 years, this cycle of American celebrity mania has peaked. I think. I hope.So I read on, eager to see what evidence Anderson had compiled to support his argument. But it wasn't until the third-from-the-last paragraph that I found the evidence, such as it is:
The Nielsen ratings for this year’s Oscars were down 8 percent, and for the Grammys 11 percent. During the last half of 2005, the Enquirer’s newsstand sales were down by a quarter and Entertainment Weekly’s by 30 percent. The American OK! is said to be unwell, the magazine Inside TV was launched and killed last year, and a magazine called Star Shop was killed before it launched.That's it???!!! Good Lord, this kind of evidentiary base makes the Israel Lobby argument look like top-notch social science!!
Even the facts that Anderson presents are bogus. Declining newsstand sales of some celerity mags are meaningless, because of the proliferation of other celebrity mags, like In Touch, Us Weekly, and In Style. Failed magazines are meaningless, since new magazines fail most of the time anyway. Oscar ratings, like Super Bowl ratings, have experienced a secular decline in recent years. And to my knowledge no one has ever cared about the Grammys.
I look forward with bated breath to Anderson's future proclamations of the death of blogs (I beat him to that!!) and why porn has jumped the shark.
Wednesday, March 29, 2006
Now this is provocative scholarship
So let's talk about the provocative article written by two academics that has a whole country's foreign policy community in a lather.
No, not that article -- the authors are still ducking the open debate they claim to want. I'm talking about the one that has exercised the entire Russian military-industrial complex.
For almost half a century, the world's most powerful nuclear states have been locked in a military stalemate known as mutual assured destruction (MAD). By the early 1960s, the nuclear arsenals of the United States and the Soviet Union had grown so large and sophisticated that neither country could entirely destroy the other's retaliatory force by launching first, even with a surprise attack. Starting a nuclear war was therefore tantamount to committing suicide....Needless to say, this article has roiled the Russians just a bit.
How much? Former Russian Prime Minister Yegor Gaidar has an op-ed in today's Financial Times scolding Lieber and Press:
America is a free country and what these two authors wrote in their article, entitled "The Rise of US Nuclear Primacy", is their business. The trouble is, when addressing such a delicate issue, it would be good to understand the responsibilities that go with it....I'm pretty sure that if Lieber and Press were actually the official voice of the U.S. government, this essay would never have seen the light of day. That last thing the DoD would want would be to publicly advertise nuclear primacy, for precisely the reasons Gaidar elaborates.
No, Lieber and Press are doing what academics are supposed to do: generating hypotheses, testing them, and publishing the results,* no matter how uncomfortable the implications. And this implication is particularly disturbing:
Is the United States intentionally pursuing nuclear primacy? Or is primacy an unintended byproduct of intra-Pentagon competition for budget share or of programs designed to counter new threats from terrorists and so-called rogue states? Motivations are always hard to pin down, but the weight of the evidence suggests that Washington is, in fact, deliberately seeking nuclear primacy. For one thing, U.S. leaders have always aspired to this goal. And the nature of the changes to the current arsenal and official rhetoric and policies support this conclusion.Read the whole thing.
* Even though Foreign Affairs is not peer-reviewed, it should be noted that Lieber and Press the FA essay is an abridged version of a forthcoming scholarly article: "The End of MAD? The Nuclear Dimension of U.S. Primacy," International Security 30, no. 4 (Spring 2006).
Mr Gaidar believes that these issues should not be discussed openly. We disagree. The wisdom of American, Russian and Chinese nuclear policies should be debated. But doing so requires a clear appreciation of the dramatic new realities of the strategic nuclear balance.
Tuesday, March 28, 2006
My one post about the Card resignation
Over at washingtonpost.com, Dan Froomkin repeats today's conventional wisdom --- Bush's poll ratings and miscues on Katrina, Dubai, etc., forced him into this move. But this overlooks the deeper cause -- these jobs are just exhausting.
The hours are killer. In this administration at least, White House staffers only get in the news when they've screwed up. There's a reason why, prior to this administration, people had only served an average of two years in high-ranking positions. Time's Mike Allen points out that Card knew this as well:
A wily veteran of Massachusetts politics, Card has been predicting his own departure since Nov. 1, 2001, when he told a Boston audience, "The half-life for a chief of staff is two years... There are very few people who had the experience I am having that survived very long, and that is appropriate. There is no security. I will not vest in the pension system at the White House."What's amazing to me is not that Card has resigned -- it's that there are so many people who have been working at high levels in this administration for six years and show no signs of leaving.
That said, readers are invited to guess who will be the next high-ranking Bush official to leave.... my money would be on this guy.
Monday, March 27, 2006
Why are American firms doing so well?
Sebastian Mallaby has a fascinating column in the Washington Post about why U.S. firms have been outperforming other global firms over the past decade:
Despite all the nostalgia for the era when GM dominated the world's car industry, the heyday of American business may actually be now.
Hello, I'm the one-eyed king of my NCAA pool
I'd like to thank the Florida Gators for beating the Villanova Wildcats yesterday. This clinched my victory in my family March Madness pool.
[Uh... aren't there some more games to be played?--ed.] Yes, but because everyone (including myself) had number one seeds like UConn, Duke, or Villanova winning the Final Four games, no one can earn any more points. I didn't do great in my predictions, but as the saying goes, in a land of blind men, the one-eyed man is king.
I do take comfort from the fact that according to ESPN.com, there are very few two-eyed people out there right now:
The Final Four looks nothing like the users of ESPN.com's Tournament Challenge predicted.This result also confirms that I know next to nothing about either health care reform or the quadrennial defense review.
UPDATE: It turns out that one of those four correct predictions was an accident -- the person confused George Mason with George Washington.
Sunday, March 26, 2006
The trouble with job retraining
Louis Uchitelle has a must-read excerpt from his forthcoming book The Disposable American: Layoffs and Their Consequences in the Business section of the Sunday New York Times. The article covers the fallout of union militancy at a United repair shop in Indianapolis, and what happens when United started outsourcing the work to non-union shops elsewhere in the United States.
Read the whole thing, but here's one section that might give readers some pause:
[J]ob training is central to employment policy. It has been since 1982, when Congress passed the Job Training Partnership Act at the urging of President Ronald Reagan. President Bill Clinton took job training even further, making it available to higher-income workers — including the aircraft mechanics in Indianapolis.As Mark Thoma points out, "the article is more successful at identifying the problems than it is at finding a recipe for solving the displaced worker problem."
A belated book review
Ten days ago I reviewed William Easterly's The White Man's Burden for the Wall Street Journal. I would have linked to it, but the subscription firewall proved fierce.
Luckily, the University of Chicago likes it when their professors write in the public domain. [All the time?--ed. Well, there are no current links to the London Review of Books, if that's what you're asking.] So here's a link to the review. The key paragraphs:
The foreign-aid community, according to Mr. Easterly, is mostly composed of Planners. They think of development as a technical engineering problem and generate ambitious plans to eliminate the causes of poverty in a multi-pronged intervention. But Planners are embedded in and beholden to rich donors -- large institutions in the West. Thus they lack real-life, on-the-ground feedback, and they lack accountability, both of which would allow them to improve their policies over time. Mr. Easterly prefers what he calls Searchers -- those who learn through trial and error in the field. They can't achieve the ambitious goals set out by Planners, but they can deliver at least some results.Be sure to check out Virginia Postrel's review of Easterly from last Sunday's New York Times Book Review. Virginia had a few more hundred words to play with than I did -- and she used them very wisely.
Friday, March 24, 2006
Jacques Chirac doesn't like capitalism that much
Another month in France, another excuse for mass protests. This month, the justification has been a law proposed by French prime minister Dominique de Villepin that would make it easier for employers to fire younger workers. The thinking is that this would encourage firms will hire more workers. Needless to say, the French unions disagreed.
The Financial Times' Martin Arnold reports that de Villepin is ready to cave:
Dominique de Villepin will hold talks with trade unions “with no strings attached” on Friday over his unpopular employment law, a move widely interpreted as a climbdown by the embattled French premier....Chirac's hostility to any idea with a whiff of Anglo-Saxon provenance is also demonstrated in this FT story by George Parker and Chris Smyth:
Jacques Chirac, French president, defended his walkout on Thursday night from the EU summit – after a French industrialist began addressing leaders of the bloc in English – saying he had been “profoundly shocked to see a Frenchman express himself in English at the (EU) Council table”.
Thursday, March 23, 2006
Comments are down
The good folks at danieldrezner.com are experiencing technical difficulties which make it impossible for comments to be posted right now. Profound apologies, and I hope to have this problem fixed soon.
UPDATE: Comments should now be working.
It's not easy to catch avian flu
Scientific American's David Biello reports on a important finding: why, so far, the H5N1 avian flu virus has not passed from human to human yet:
A virus's ability to spread is the key to its ability to create a pandemic. New research shows that this bird flu currently lacks the protein key to unlock certain cells in the human upper respiratory tract, preventing it from spreading via a sneeze or a cough.Here's the link to the article abstract in Nature.
The new axis of evil
I refer, of course, to the New York Yankees and trademark lawyers.
ESPN.com's Darren Rovell has an amusing story about one lone financial planner's fight to the death against these forces of evil:
Mike Moorby hates the Yankees. And except for the fact that they haven't won the World Series for five straight seasons (Moorby loves that about them), the Yankees keep giving him reasons to hate them.I think I might just have to order myself a hat.
Where's the open debate? I want to see an open debate!!
One of the arguments that Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer made in "The Israel Lobby" was that the first rule of the Israel Lobby is that you can't talk about the Israel Lobby:
The Lobby doesn’t want an open debate, of course, because that might lead Americans to question the level of support they provide. Accordingly, pro-Israel organisations work hard to influence the institutions that do most to shape popular opinion.Alas, this story in the Forward by Ori Nir suggests that the reaction to their LRB essay might vindicate this portion of their hypothesis (link via Scott Johnson):
In the face of one of the harshest reports on the pro-Israel lobby to emerge from academia, Jewish organizations are holding fire in order to avoid generating publicity for their critics.So, score one point for Walt and Mearsheimer.... but wait!!! Later in the story, there's this:
Mearsheimer and Walt also seem to be resisting further publicity.Indeed, this appears to be true. Earlier in the week, Walt told the Sun's Meghan Clyne: "'I have discussed your inquiry with my co-author, Professor Mearsheimer,' he told the Sun. 'We appreciate the invitation to respond to the comments, but prefer not to.'"
So let me get this straight: the authors have written and published a paper because they want to provoke an open debate -- and then decide not to respond to any of the critiques made of the paper? [But some of those critiques are just ad hominem attacks labeling them as anti-Semites!--ed. Yes, but other responses, from Dennis Ross, Ruth Wisse, Jeffrey Herf & Andrei Markovits, and Alan Dershowitz, are devoid of that charge and are coming from people with comparable reputations to Walt and Mearsheimer. This editorial by the Forward provides the most comprehensive shredding of their hypothesis, but all Mearsheimer can say is that they have to be careful about what they say.]
New policy here at danieldrezner.com: if the authors of a study refuse to engage in the open debate they claim to want, then I see no reason to take the study seriously.
Wednesday, March 22, 2006
Blogging will be light for the next few days, as I attend and present at the International Studies Association meeting in San Diego.
Here's a fun time-waster for loyal and truly geeky danieldrezner.com readers -- flip through the conference program and tell me which panel I simply must attend on Friday and why. The winner will be chosen arbitrarily by me and will receive a serio-comic summary of what transpired at the panel.
The U.S. hedges its bets on the Doha round
Until 2006, the Bush administration's policy of "competitive liberalization" in trade had been pretty much symbolic. FTA's with Bahrain, Morocco, or even the CAFTA countries were economically insignificant. Neither the EU nor India was going to feel compelled to move on Doha because of CAFTA.
It’s always wise to have a Plan B. As the US urges progress in the “Doha round” of trade talks, it is also chasing bilateral trade deals across east Asia. These proposed pacts, which include South Korea, Malaysia and Thailand, will act as insurance for a disappointing round. They also put down a marker for future US influence in the region.The $64 billion dollar question is whether these propoed FTAs will convince the EU to relent on ag subsidies and India and Brazil to relent on non-agricultural market access.
Developing.... at least until TPA expires.
Tuesday, March 21, 2006
A follow-up on the Israel Lobby
Well, I see the blogosphere has generated a welter of resposes to the Walt/Mearsheimer hypothesis that "The thrust of the U.S. policy in the [Middle East] is due almost entirely to U.S. domestic politics, and especially to the activities of the ‘Israel Lobby.'"
Interestingly, mainstream media reaction has been very muted. True, James Taranto discussed it in Opinion Journal's best of the Web, and the New York Sun has reported it to death. So far, however, the Israeli press has covered this more diligently than the American media. [UPDATE: ah, I missed both the UPI coverage and the Christian Science Monitor's Tom Regan -- though neither of these stories include any response from critics.]
So far, the best straight reporting story I've seen comes from the Harvard Crimson's Paras D. Bhayani and Rebecca Friedman -- which includes this priceless paragraph:
In their piece, the authors savaged those on both the political Left and Right, calling groups as diverse as the Brookings Institution and American Enterprise Institute, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal editorial boards, and Sen. Hillary R. Clinton, D-N.Y., and World Bank President Paul D. Wolfowitz members of the “Israel Lobby.”On the one hand, it's a shame that this isn't being debated more widely in the mainstream press. On the other hand, it might be good if the mainstream media didn't cover it, if this New York Sun editorial is any indication:
It's going to be illuminating to watch how Harvard handles the controversy over the decision of its John F. Kennedy School of Government to issue a "Faculty Research Working Paper" on "The Israel Lobby" that is co-authored by its academic dean, Stephen Walt. On page one this morning we report that Dean Walt's paper has been met with praise by David Duke, the man the Anti-Defamation League calls "America's best-known racist." The controversy is still young. But it's not too early to suggest that it's going to be hard for Mr. Walt to maintain his credibility as a dean. We don't see it as a matter of academic freedom but simply as a matter of necessary quality control.This is an absurd editorial -- just about any argument out there is endorsed by one crackpot or another, so that does not mean the argument itself is automatically invalidated. As for Walt's sympathies towards David Duke, in the very story they cite, Walt is quoted as saying, "I have always found Mr. Duke's views reprehensible, and I am sorry he sees this article as consistent with his view of the world."
I didn't say this explicitly in my last post, but let me do so here: Walt and Mearsheimer should not be criticized as anti-Semites, because that's patently false. They should be criticized for doing piss-poor, monocausal social science.*
To repeat, the main empirical problems with the article are that :
A) They fail to demonstrate that Israel is a net strategic liability;As an example of the latter, consider this fascinating cover story Liel Leibovitz in the February issue of Moment magazine on the battle to endow Middle Eastern chairs at American universities. The highlights:
[W]hen Columbia announced that an endowed chair would be named in honor of Said—who died of leukemia in 2003—there was outrage in some quarters of the Jewish community. That outrage intensified in March 2004 when, after a long delay, the university revealed that the Edward Said Chair of Modern Arab Studies and Literature had been funded in part by the United Arab Emirates. A few influential Jews demanded that the university return the gift, suspend the establishment of the chair, or both.Read the whole thing -- but the excerpted passage above suggests a few kinks in the causal chain that Walt and Mearsheimer propose. First, there are lots of groups trying to alter elite American discourse through a variety of means. Second, if Walt and Mearsheimer want to claim that the Israel lobby has bought up public intellectuals, they're going to have to explain why those intellectuals are more powerful than the ones bought for by Arab states -- at present, countervailing pressures simply do not exist in their argument. Third, the Berkeley example demonstrates the process tracing problem that Walt and Mearsheimer need to address. It's one thing for lobbies to throw money around to influence U.S. foreign policy; it's another thing entirely to demonstrate that the money actually influenced foreign policy decisions.
Full disclosure: Moment is "the largest independent Jewish magazine in North America... committed as ever to being an independent forum, in which disparate opinions and ideas are addressed in provocative ways." But I don't think it's part of the Israel lobby.
* This is not to deny that a pro-Israel lobby affects U.S. foreign policy, just as Cuban emigres undoubtedly have an effect on U.S. policy towards Cuba. It's just that Walt and Mearsheimer say that the lobby "almost entirely" explains U.S. policy. My contention is that they vastly overestimate both pro-Israel lobby's causal role -- and their uniformity of opinion and motivation.
UPDATE: Via Glenn Greenwald, I see that Michael Kinsley had the brains to bring up this subject before the Iraq war even started. Go check it out -- I'm far more comfortable with his version of the argument than Mearsheimer or Walt.
Monday, March 20, 2006
I always suspected this was true
As theWell, at least among liberals, anyway. Among conservatives, I suspect there's an inverse correlation between performance in baseball rotisserie leagues and comprehension of the Quadrennial Defense Reviews.
[So how are you doing in your March Madness pool, smart guy?--ed. My correct upset predictions (Montana over Nevada, and Georgetown over Ohio State) have kept me in the running despite some excessive loyalty to the Land of Lincoln (F#$%ing Salukis; should have picked Bradley instead). I'm told that if my prediction of Florida making it to the Final Four comes true, I'll be sitting pretty.]
Don't expect Orange Revolution II
Belarus had a presidential "election" over the weekend, which current president Aleksandr Lukashenko won handily.. I use quotations because the OSCE reported:
The Belarusian presidential election on 19 March failed to meet OSCE commitments for democratic elections, despite the fact that voters were offered the potential for a genuine choice between four candidates.The full text of the OSCE report can be found here.
There have been some protests in Minsk because of the outcome, but as I've written before, I'm not expecting a Orange revolution in Belarus anytime soon. This Times of London report by Jeremy Page doesn't make me feel any more sanguine:
President Lukashenko of Belarus declared yesterday that he had thwarted a Western plot to overthrow him, pouring scorn on the thousands who protested against his election victory.One thing I love about British papers, however, is that they can be much more blunt than comparable American papers. Take this paragraph:
Shown on national television, the conference was sure to appeal to his supporters in the countryside and the elderly. However, it only reinforced his image among younger Belarussians and most Westerners as a deluded megalomaniac.UPDATE: A Fistful of Euros has more... including a link to a this fake Belarusian news blog, which is apparently being used as part of a policy simulation exercise for University of Kentucky's Patterson School of Diplomacy.
Sunday, March 19, 2006
The most interesting fact I learned today
Short [sperm] donors don't exist; because most women seek out tall ones, most [sperm] banks don't accept men under 5-foot-9.Jennifer Egan, "Wanted: A Few Good Sperm" New York Times Magazine, March 19, 2006.
The Economist surveys Chicago
This week's Economist has its first survey of Chicago since 1980. As John Grimond writes, there have been a few changes during those years:
Appearances often deceive, but, in one respect at least, the visitor's first impression of Chicago is likely to be correct: this is a city buzzing with life, humming with prosperity, sparkling with new buildings, new sculptures, new parks, and generally exuding vitality. The Loop, the central area defined by a ring of overhead railway tracks, has not gone the way of so many other big cities' business districts—soulless by day and deserted at night. It bustles with shoppers as well as office workers. Students live there. So, increasingly, do gays, young couples and older ones whose children have grown up and fled the nest. Farther north, and south, old warehouses and factories have become home to artists, professionals and trendy young families. Not far to the east locals and tourists alike throng Michigan Avenue's Magnificent Mile, a stretch of shops as swanky as any to be found on Fifth Avenue in New York or Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills. Chicago is undoubtedly back.The survey suggests four reasons for Chicago's rebirth:
1) Geographical advantages unique to Chicago (Lake Michigan, being the largest city in the Midwest);Go check it out. Grimond makes way too much of Chicago's success at landing corporate eadquarters' like Boeing -- and I was surprised he never mentioned Ed Glaeser's work on the economics of Northern cities. Still, it's interesting reading.
Friday, March 17, 2006
Trying for the full Huntington
As I've said before, I've greatly admired Samuel Huntington's career. Huntington's gift as an academic is that he has been unafraid to make the politically incorrect argument, regardless of the consequences. This doesn't always mean he is right -- but it does mean he's usually interesting.
I suspect that John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt are trying to copy the Huntington template in their essay, "The Israel Lobby" for the London Review of Books: Here's how it starts:
For the past several decades, and especially since the Six-Day War in 1967, the centrepiece of US Middle Eastern policy has been its relationship with Israel. The combination of unwavering support for Israel and the related effort to spread ‘democracy’ throughout the region has inflamed Arab and Islamic opinion and jeopardised not only US security but that of much of the rest of the world. This situation has no equal in American political history. Why has the US been willing to set aside its own security and that of many of its allies in order to advance the interests of another state? One might assume that the bond between the two countries was based on shared strategic interests or compelling moral imperatives, but neither explanation can account for the remarkable level of material and diplomatic support that the US provides.Well, that argument certainly won't rub anyone the wrong way.
Interested readers should be sure to check out the longer, footnoted paper which is archived at the Kennedy School of Government.
So do Mearsheimer and Walt achieve the full Huntington? No, not really.
"The Israel Lobby" is the academic equivalent of waving a big red cape at one's ideological opponents, hoping they'll foam at the mouth and act stark raving mad because the authors cited Chomsky or CommonDreams, or because, "the Fatah office in Washington distributed the article to an extensive mailing list." [Or maybe they're pissed that they didn't crack the 100 Most Dangerous Professors in America!!--ed.]
So let's avoid that bait. Reading the essay, I can conclude the following:
1) Mearsheimer and Walt make a decent case of arguing that interest group lobbying is responsible for some aspects of U.S. policy towards the Greater Middle East.After finishing the article, I began to wonder whether the paper is simple a massive exercise in explaining away a data point that realism can't cover. Most realists opposed the Iraq War, and Mearsheimer and Walt were no exception. They can and should take some normative satisfaction in being proven right by what happened after the invasion. However, I suspect as positive social scientists they are bothered by the fact that the U.S. invaded Iraq anyway when realism would have predicted otherwise.
When realists are confronted with contradictory data, they tend to fall back on auxiliary hypotheses -- the cult of the offensive, the myth of empire -- that have very little to do with realism. Explaining away Iraq on The Lobby might have a whiff of the Paranoid Style, but it's certainly consistent with the literature.
In the end, I think Mearsheimer and Walt get to the full Huntington -- but alas, it's the Huntington of Who We Are? rather than The Soldier and the State.
There's more I could write about, but I'm eager to hear what others think.
UPDATE: OK, I should have said, "I'm eager to hear what others think... after they read the article."
Two final thoughts. First, I'm surprised and disappointed that the article has gotten zero coverage from the mainstream media in the United States. I completely agree with Walt and Mearsheimer that this is a topic that needs more open debate.
Second, there's one non-event that keeps gnawing at me after reading the piece. If "The Lobby" is as powerful as Walt and Mearsheimer claim, why hasn't there been a bigger push in the United States for more fuel-efficient cars, alternative energy sources, and the like? After all, the only strategic resource that Israel's enemies possess is large quantities of oil. If "The Lobby" is so powerful and goal-directed, wouldn't they have an incentive to reduce the strategic value of their advesaries?
ANOTHER UPDATE: See this follow-up post on the Walt/Mearsheimer paper as well.
Open National Security Strategy thread
Our national security strategy is founded upon two pillars:The general thread of media commentary is that this is a more realist strategy than the 2002 document. I'll leave it to my readers to judge the accuracy of that assessment.
Thursday, March 16, 2006
In honor of March Madness....
As the NCAA men's basketball tournament gets under way, I'm glad to see that the Chicago Tribune's Julia Keller brings up a fascinating phenomenon among both sports fans and many of my friends -- an irrational hatred of Duke:
As Duke University begins the 2006 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament as the overall No. 1 seed -- meaning those pesky Blue Devils stand a fair chance of hanging around as the bracket unravels to the fortunate quartet -- it is time, clearly, to answer the question looming over the college sports world like a freeze-frame of a jump hook:Lest one think this problem only occurs among laymen, sportswriter Bomani Jones confesses, while watching the ACC tourney, "I nearly got an ulcer sitting at that [press] table not rooting against Duke."
Anyone else out there feel this way? UPDATE: Yes, apparently Abu Aardvark does.
Wednesday, March 15, 2006
Now the circle is almost complete....
I'm just gonna reprint this UPI report in its entirety and not say anything:
"Sex and the City" star Sarah Jessica Parker and "Jack & Bobby" writer Vanessa Taylor are developing a new HBO comedy based on "Washingtonienne."[You're really not going to say anything?--ed. Nothing.... except to ponder when Ana Marie Cox's novel will get optioned into a TV movie starring Alicia Witt. Then thecircle will be truly complete.]
Has Ahmadinejad jumped the shark?
Michael Slackman writes in the New York Times that both Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei are catching some flak for their handling of the nuclear negotiations:
Some people in powerful positions have begun to insist that the confrontational tactics of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad have been backfiring, making it harder instead of easier for Iran to develop a nuclear program.Now, this might be a case of wishful thinking reporting. Much like the hope a few years ago that Iran's regime would be overthrown in a democratic revolution, reports of a regime crack-up are intoxicating because we so desperately want them to be true.
That said, Slackman has a source who explains why Iran has found itself in the pickle it's in -- like Saddam Hussein before them, the Iranians counted on the Russians way too much:
[O]ne political scientist who speaks regularly with members of the Foreign Ministry said that Iran had hinged much of its strategy on winning Russia's support. The political scientist asked not to be identified so as not to compromise his relationship with people in the government.And herein provides a lesson that I might add to my small compendium of Princess Bride-level maxims of international relations that I plann on publishing in my dotage:
1) Never get involved in a land war in Asia;
A follow-up on income inequality
A quick follow-up to a post on income inequality from earlier this month.
Part of the concern that some bloggers/economists have voiced about the rise in inequality is that it's a secular trend that shows no sign of stopping. Which brings us to an interesting fact -- in recent years, income inequality in the United States has been falling. Geoffrey Colvin explains in Fortune:
Rising income inequality has settled comfortably into America's big economic picture as a reliable--and much lamented--megatrend. Starting around the late 1960s, U.S. incomes started to become more disparate. The trend was remarkably steady. Recessions might slow it down or briefly reverse it, but mostly it just marched on....What explains this? Colvin proposes... wait for it... offshore outsourcing:
What could that trend reversal mean? The most obvious explanation seems highly counterintuitive: The skill premium, the extra value of higher education, must have declined after three decades of growing. The Fed researchers didn't pursue that line of thought, but economists Lawrence Mishel and Jared Bernstein at the Economic Policy Institute did, and they found supporting evidence in the new Economic Report of the President, issued within days of the new Fed survey. It cited Census Bureau data showing that the premium had indeed fallen sharply between 2000 and 2004. The real annual earnings of college graduates actually declined 5.2 percent, while those of high school graduates, strangely enough, rose 1.6 percent.Now, this would certainly be a reversal of course. Most economists allow that trade is responsible for a small increase in income inequality (though it's not all that important compared to other factors).
I'm pretty dubious of this assertion, since it's my understanding that IT salaries have been increasing again ever since demand for IT went up. So mu hunch is that Colvin is over-extrapolating from the reduction in income inequality that came with the brief 2001 recession.
Still, I eagerly await my reader's reaction to the offshoring hypothesis.
Tuesday, March 14, 2006
When conservatives populate the earth....
What's the difference between Seattle and Salt Lake City? There are many differences, of course, but here's one you might not know. In Seattle, there are nearly 45% more dogs than children. In Salt Lake City, there are nearly 19% more kids than dogs.This is one of those arguments that sounds ineluctable when first proposed... but then I begin to wonder whether it will hold as strongly as Longman believes. Other factors beyond politics affect fertility rates. Labor market institutions still have a powerful effect as well.
Assuming Longman is correct, gowever, the interesting question is, why is this phenomenon taking place? Longman implicit assumption is that it's because of the waning of patriarchy among liberals:
Throughout the broad sweep of human history, there are many examples of people, or classes of people, who chose to avoid the costs of parenthood. Indeed, falling fertility is a recurring tendency of human civilization. Why then did humans not become extinct long ago? The short answer is patriarchy.Developing... over many generations.
UPDATE: Kieran Healy takes the time and effort I lacked to demonstrate why Longman's hypothesis is likely wrong.
Getting lectured to by the Chinese
John Thornhill reports in the Financial Times that China doesn't like the way people are bitching about globalization:
Long Yongtu, the diplomat who negotiated China’s entry into the World Trade Organisation, has urged western governments to stop politicising trade and start telling their voters the truth about globalisation.To which I say -- it would be a hell of a lot easier not to politicize trade with China if the government didn't a) intervene on a continuous basis to keep the yuan undervalued; and b) try to create companies that are global competitors but happened to be state-owned.
[You're saying that these things are a big deal?--ed. I'm much less troubled than most of my readers on China's state interventions -- it's their inefficient policies, not ours. However, to ask Western governments to keep politics and economics separate when the Chinese state can't seem to do the same thing is a bit rich.]
Monday, March 13, 2006
What is the state of the intellectual in politics?
Over at The American Interest's web site, Francis Fukuyama and Bernard-Henri Lévy have a fascinating exchange on the relative merits of Lévy's American Vertigo. The part I found particularly fascinating comes near the end:
FRANCIS FUKUYAMA: The idea that an intellectual must always speak truth to power and never compromise means for ends seems to me a rather naive view of how intellectuals actually behave, and reflects in many ways the powerlessness of European intellectuals and their distance from the real world of policy and politics. Of course, the academy must try to remain an institutional bastion of intellectual freedom that is not subject to vagaries of political opinion. But in the United States, to a much greater degree than in Europe, scholars, academics and intellectuals have moved much more easily between government and private life than in Europe, and are much more involved in formulating, promoting and implementing policies than their European counterparts. This necessarily limits certain kinds of intellectual freedom, but I'm not sure that, in the end, this is such a bad thing.I suspect that Fukuyama would not disagree with Lévy's express desire for both kinds of intellectuals. I do wonder, however, about the health of the institutions that support both sets of intellectuals in the United States. [What about Europe?--ed. Oh, Lord know, the situation is probably worse there -- but that's not my concern here.] The trouble with think tanks and the like is a seasonal topic of conversation in the blogosphere. As for the academy, well, let's just say that many of my colleagues make Hollywood seem politically grounded by comparison.
Is the system broken? If so, can it be fixed? If so, how?
So what was Saddam thinking?
In the New York Times, Michael Gordon and Bernard Trainor get their hands on a classified United States military report on what Saddam was thinking before and during the Second Gulf War. And it turns out that Saddam was petrified of insurgencies more than the U.S. Army:
As American warplanes streaked overhead two weeks after the invasion began, Lt. Gen. Raad Majid al-Hamdani drove to Baghdad for a crucial meeting with Iraqi leaders. He pleaded for reinforcements to stiffen the capital's defenses and permission to blow up the Euphrates River bridge south of the city to block the American advance.Foreign Affairs has published an extract from the actual report by Kevin Woods, James Lacey, and Williamson Murray for U.S. Joint Forces Command (USJFCOM). From the report, it appears that Saddam Hussein's theory of international relations had a lot in common with Norman Angell and Woodrow Wilson:
Judging from his private statements, the single most important element in Saddam's strategic calculus was his faith that France and Russia would prevent an invasion by the United States. According to Aziz, Saddam's confidence was firmly rooted in his belief in the nexus between the economic interests of France and Russia and his own strategic goals: "France and Russia each secured millions of dollars worth of trade and service contracts in Iraq, with the implied understanding that their political posture with regard to sanctions on Iraq would be pro-Iraqi. In addition, the French wanted sanctions lifted to safeguard their trade and service contracts in Iraq. Moreover, they wanted to prove their importance in the world as members of the Security Council -- that they could use their veto to show they still had power."Go check it all out.
Sunday, March 12, 2006
The Los Angeles Times on the conservative crackup
The Sunday Current section of the Los Angeles Times has three articles on how George W. Bush has betrayed conservatism.
Jeffrey Hart writes how Bush is too much of an ideologue to be a conservative in the Burkean sense.
Bruce Bartlett writes how Bush is too much of a spendthrift to be a conservative in the fiscal sense
[D]octrinal disputes aside, Republicans like me are angry at Bush because he has frittered away one of the party's greatest assets — the belief that when it came to international relations, the GOP was the party of competence. Between 1965 and 2000, analysts gave Republican presidents better grades than Democrats in managing American foreign policy.Enjoy your conservative crackup!!
Saturday, March 11, 2006
The dumbest economic policy of the year
Longtime readers of danieldrezner.com might believe that, given my rantings on the scuttled ports deal, that I would say this is the stupidest economic policy implemented this year.
You would be wrong.
No, when it comes to ass-backward economics, I'm afraid that not even the United States Congress can compete with Argentinian president Nestor Kirchner. Patrick McDonnell explains in the Los Angeles Times:
Argentine President Nestor Kirchner has a plan to fight rising inflation and escalating food prices: Let them eat beef.What will the effects of an export ban be? McDonnell summarizes this nicely:
[C]attlemen said Kirchner's move would kill the golden calf. Beef exports earn vital foreign exchange for Argentina and amounted to a record $1.4 billion last year. Foreign sales rose 24%.Kirchner will lower beef prices -- in the most damaging, inefficient way possible.
A new twist on Fight Club
The first rule of watching Fight Club -- try not to think about the plot holes in Fight Club.
Naturally, I violated this rule the first and only time I watched it. The thing that kept running through my head was, "Gee, all of the people who supposedly hold these degrading jobs seem to be Anglos. I'm pretty sure in the real world a large fraction of these jobs would be taken by immigrants."
I raise this because of the front page of the Chicago Tribune this morning:
In a show of strength that surprised even organizers, tens of thousand of immigrants poured into the Loop Friday, bringing their calls for immigration reform to the heart of the city's economic and political power.This was the part that reinded me of Fight Club:
As they transformed the Loop with their presence, immigrants made a powerful statement elsewhere by their absence.With Congress already set to enhance its ability to block foreign direct investment, I, for one, look forward to a reasoned, rational debate on immigration policy.
Thursday, March 9, 2006
March's Books of the Month
The theme of this month's books is that they're both about how the policy hangover left by the Bush administration.
The international relations book is Francis Fukuyama's America at the Crossroads: Democracy, Power, and the Neoconservative Legacy. This short book provides a nice summary of Fukuyama's take on neoconservatism, why he parted ways with other neocons on the war with Iraq, and where to go from here. I've only gotten through the first chapter so far, but the book does an excellent job of providing an intellectual history of neoconservative thought. Like Matt Yglesias, I'm not exactly sure how Fukuyama's "realistic Wilsonianism" is different from "just regular old liberal internationalism," but I haven't finished the book yet, so give me time. UPDATE: Well, now I've finished it, and it turns out Fukuyama thinks the same thing on p. 215: "What I have labeled realistic Wilsonianism could be alternatively described as a hard-headed liberal internationalism."
The general interest book for this month is Bruce Bartlett's Impostor: How George W. Bush Bankrupted America and Betrayed the Reagan Legacy. Publisher's Weekly has a concise symmary:
Bartlett's attack boils down to one key premise: Bush is a shallow opportunist who has cast aside the principles of the "Reagan Revolution" for short-term political gains that may wind up hurting the American economy as badly as, if not worse than, Nixon's did. As part of a simple, point-by-point critique of Bush's "finger-in-the-wind" approach to economic leadership, Bartlett singles out the Medicare prescription drug bill of 2003— "the worst piece of legislation ever enacted"—as a particularly egregious example of the increases in government spending that will, he says, make tax hikes inevitable. Bush has further weakened the Republican Party by failing to establish a successor who can run in the next election, Bartlett says. If the Reaganites want to restore the party's tradition of fiscal conservatism and small government, he worries, let alone keep the Democrats out of the White House, they will have their work cut out for them.How damning is the book? The Bush administration could not send anyone rebut Bartlett at a Cato forum on Bartlett's thesis.
Impostor really should be read with Hacker and Pierson's Off Center, because the two make for a very interesting comparison. Hacker and Pierson don't like Bush because they think he and his Congressional allies have shifted policy in a dramatically rightward direction. Bartlett doesn't like Bush because he thinks Bush and his allies have shifted policy in a dramatically Nixonian direction. The chapters in both books on Bush and regulation make for very interesting reading. [SIDE NOTE: Hacker and Pierson have written a response to my Forum book review. University types can access it here. I may respond to their response if I find the time.]
Go check them out!!
Well, I feel much safer
I, for one, feel much safer that Dubai Ports World won't be operating port terminals at six American ports. Yes, even though shipping experts and homeland security experts agreed that there was little risk in having DPW take over P&O, I'm glad an American company will be running things.... even if U.S. capital might be more efficient at doing something else.
I feel particularly safe because even though DPW has pledged to divest its ownership of American operations, Knight-Ridder reports that Congress isn't taking any chances:
Senate Democrats pressed ahead with attempts to block DP World's takeover, and House leaders weighed whether to proceed as well.And might I finally add that I feel ultrasafe upon hearing word that the US Trade representative is planning to postpone talks for a USA-UAE free trade agreement. We sure sent the proper signal to foreign investors -- and it's not like the UAE could retaliate or anything.
With just a little more effort, I'm convinced that U.S. lawmakers can convince everyone in the Middle East that it doesn't matter how much you try to buy into the U.S.-promoted liberal economic order, no one will really trust you.
[Snarked out yet?--ed.] Yes, that felt good.
Whatever you think of the ports deal, this has been a major foreign policy f$%#-up. The UAE is the closest thing we have to a reliable, stable, Westernized ally on the Arabian peninsula, and both official Washington and the American public just pissed on their leg.
There is a lot of blame to go around here on this one, but I must reluctantly conclude that the Bush administration should shoulder most of it. Bizarrely, this is a case where I think they got the policy right but royally screwed up the politics. Both the failure to keep Congress in the loop after the CFIUS approval and the veto threat without consultation guaranteed a Congressional revolt.
I can't blame Congressmen too much for acting like short-sighted glory hogs driven by electoral considerations -- that's their job. So I'll join the crowd and blame Bush.
The state of the Democratic party leadership
Jacob Weisberg -- come on down and tell us how you really feel about the Democratic leaders Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, and Howard Dean: Since assuming their positions, the three of them have shown themselves to be somewhere between useless and disastrous as party leaders. Individually, they lack substance and policy smarts (Pelosi); coherence and force (Reid); and steadiness and mainstream appeal (Dean). Collectively, they convey an image of liberal elitism, disarray, and crabbiness. Of the three, I think Pelosi comes off the worst:
To understand [Pelosi's] politics, think Huffington Post without the flashes of wit. Here is a typical Bush-bashing, cliché-ridden quote of hers: "The emperor has no clothes. When are people going to face the reality? Pull this curtain back!" Pelosi dismisses people who disagree as hoodwinked or stupid. She's not exactly Hillary Clinton herself, though. A five-minute interview is usually sufficient to exhaust her knowledge on any subject.I certainly hope that in his next essay Weisberg will stop sugar-coating and tell us what he really thinks.
Wednesday, March 8, 2006
Guess who wrote this report?
A major organization has just released its report on the U.S. human rights record in 2005. The report does not paint a pretty picture:
There exist serious infringements upon personal rights and freedoms by law enforcement and judicial organs in the United States.Now, guess who wrote this report?
Obviously, the only interesting answer is China.
Here's my question -- although some of the facts asserted in the report don't ring true ("the income level of African American families is only one-tenth of that of white families"), on the whole the report is about as well sourced as your typical NGO.
So, why was my instinct to automatically reject it? Because it's more than a bit rich for China's government to lecture the United States about surveillance techniques it carries out on a routine basis. However -- and here's the disturbing question -- if the U.S. engages in these practices as well, then what is the external validity of its own human rights report?
Virginia Postrel is my hero
And it's nice to see that her writing talents are also getting their due.
The House of Representatives engages in reasoned debate
Looks like the House of Representatives doesn't want to wait for the results of a 45-day review of the port deal, according to the Washington Post's Jonathan Weisman:
Efforts by the White House to hold off legislation challenging a Dubai-owned company's acquisition of operations at six major U.S. ports collapsed yesterday when House Republican leaders agreed to allow a vote next week that could kill the deal.Hey, you ask me, Hunter is being too conservative. Why not require all employees as "critical infrastructure" facilities to be red-blooded Americans? Why aren't airports and airlines included? Why, do you realize that, even as I type this, there are foreign-born pilots flying state-owned airliners within a few miles of our major cities???!!!
And, you know, there are lots of products that make up America's "critical infrastructure" beyond transportation and tilities? What about oil and energy firms? Steel? Automobiles? Will wool and mohair be next? UPDATE: Bill Harshaw makes an excellent point in the comments -- we shouldn't let foreign governments intervene in our financial markets either! Surely such a law wouldn't affect America's economic position. Oh, wait.... ]
If the House had proposed this after the 45-day review, I could believe that some serious thought was going into this bill, even if I disagreed with it. What's going on now, however, is just protectionist bulls$%t.
Tuesday, March 7, 2006
Blegging for help when the web works against me
I'm having two difficulties with the blog right now, and I'm appealing to the techies in the crowd for help:
1) The comment spam has become unbearable since upgrading my Moveable Type software, because it required me to get rid of MT-Blacklist. It's been suggested that the only way for me to fix this is to use Typekey, but I'd rather not foce my commenters to register. Is there an anti-spam plug-in I can use?
2) The New York Times' Opinionator has apparently linked to my post on income inequality, but since I don't subscribe, I have no friggin' clue what they've said. Will someone with a subscription please post what was said in the comments?
I bleg you, good people -- help out this poor, befuddled blogger.
UPDATE: Thanks to everyone for the assistance. Tthere may be some technical difficulties as I try to install some of these spam blockers.
How IR theory becomes OBE
There is a constant refrain for IR scholars to study "the real world," to analyze real world problems, generate policy-relevant theory, create work that speaks to the here and now. And, in truth, although the field can be faddish, there are ways in which, like many other disciplines, it moves slowly.
I bring this up because of Chris Gelpi, Peter Feaver, and Jason Reifler have an article in the Winter 2005/2006 issue of International Security entitled "Success Matters: Casualty Sensitivity and the War in Iraq." The nut of their argument:
In this article, we argue that the public will tolerate signiªcant numbers of U.S. combat casualties under certain circumstances. To be sure, the public is not indifferent to the human costs of American foreign policy, but casualties have not by themselves driven public attitudes toward the Iraq war, and mounting casualties have not always produced a reduction in public support. The Iraq case suggests that under the right conditions, the public will continue to support military operations even when they come with a relatively high human cost.This thesis caused quite a sir a few months back, when Bush was outlining the "National Strategy for Victory In Iraq." I wrote then:
The assumption underlying Feaver and Gelpi's hypothesis is so simple that it's never stated in the article -- if a sufficiently large majority opposes an ongoing military intervention, any administration will have to withdraw regardless of the strategic wisdom of such a move. This is why, I suspect, the administration reacts so badly whenever it deals with domestic criticism about the war -- it recognizes that flagging domestic support will translate into a strategic straitjacket....Three months ago, the Feaver/Gelpi thesis was politically controversial. Now it's OBE -- overtaken by events. Given the current state of affairs in Iraq, public opinion has already rendered its judgment on what's happening there. I don't think the administration will succeed in translating those peceptions into any definition of victory that I'm familiar with.
So, In between the new story on this article, and the widespread availability of the article itself, the real world has moved on.
This does not mean, by the way, that thesis contained in the paper is wrong. It's just that it's no longer politically salient.
Monday, March 6, 2006
I get around...
One of the virtues of driving cross country several times is that you can produce this map:
[Yeah, but you study international relations. What about the rest of the world?--ed.] Then you get this map:
One of my goals in life is to color in a lot of the white space south of the equator.
Hat tip: Daniel Nexon.
Saturday, March 4, 2006
Your Oscar predictions for 2006
In contrast to last year, I'm pleased to report that my lovely wife and I were able to see almost all of the major films nominated this year. Naturally, it seems that this was unnecessary, since a lot of the races appear to be mortal locks of one kind or another. There isn't even a lot of controversy this year. [What about the Boston Globe op-ed by Michael Kalin asserting that Oscar host Jon Stewart is bad for the body politic?--ed. Oh, you mean the op-ed that presented an absurd thesis and provided exactly zero empirical evidence to support the argument? No, the only controversy is whether a) Kalin used compromising photos of someone on the Globe's editorial staff to crack the op-ed page (this would explain a lot of bizarre editorial decisions at major newspapers); and b) whether any of my readers can dig up an even dumber op-ed published this calendar year.]
As always, the hardworking staff here at danieldrezner.com provides two lists -- who will win and who should win.
Best Supporting Actor
Clooney was a triple threat this year, he's been a bankable movie star for five years, he put on 40 lbs. to play the role, and he gets under the skin of Bill O'Reilly. Is there any doubt?
Giamatti wins it in my book for degree of difficulty. He's in a cliche-ridden movie (Erika and I always have a good laugh when one of us looks at the other and says, "You're the champion of my heart" in our best faux-Jersey accent) playing a stock character of long-suffering but loyal sidekick. He still makes the guy compelling. That's acting.
Best Supporting Actress
Weisz has picked up all the pre-Oscar awards, so she seems to be a lock for this one and can I just say I don't get it? I mean, OK, she's perfectly serviceable in the role, and Lord knows, she's easy on the eyes. Unlike Giamatti, however, she never seemed to add anything unique or interesting to the stock role of passionate crusader. Michelle Williams was much more compelling in Brokeback Mountain.
Keener, however, deserves the Oscar for playing two wildly divergent parts. She's all quite and stillness in Capote -- but I'd rather she win for The 40-Year Old Virgin. It's the toughest part in the movie to play (well, next to Steve Carrell), and yet she completely pulls off the "hot grandma" role.
Drezner's First Law of Oscar: Whenever there's a close race between two actors -- neither of whom has won an Oscar before -- the award will always go to the guy with the longer and better track record. Between Hoffman and Heath Ledger, this means Hoffman [Does this law hold for actresses?--ed. No, that's Drezner's Second Law of Oscar: whenever there's a close race between two actresses -- neither of whom has won an Oscar before -- the hotter actress wins. I'm not saying it's right -- I'm saying that's the way it is.]
In this case, Hoffman's win will be well-deserved. For me, the scene that clinched it was his diatribe at the bar to Harper Lee at the opening of To Kill a Mockingbird. That scene was Capote at his most loathsome, a harbinger of the dissolute, drnk narcissist he would become after In Cold Blood was released. Hoffman is willing to make his character completely unlikeable to service the movie.
In the end, it comes to this: I can see Hoffman playing Ledger's character in Brokeback -- whereas I can't see Ledger playing Capote.
On Witherspoon, see what I wrote about George Clooney, and add the fact that she's a comedienne playing a dramatic role. Unless you're Jim Carrey, that's Oscar gold, baby.
I still can't believe Bello did not score a nomination -- and I didn't even like A History of Violence. You could argue that Bello had a supporting role, but given the weak field this year in the best actress category, I think she belongs here.
Ang Lee directing Brokeback was the perfect marriage of style to material, and he does a fine job. However, for my money MIller does something remarkable in Capote. Visually, the movie grabs your attention in the first half, especially in the contrast between the New York skyline and the flat Kansas landscape. As you begin to identify and understand the characters, however, Miller starts using more close-ups, focusing your attention on the people rather than the place. It's an arresting piece of work.
I liked Brokeback a lot -- though to give Mickey Kaus some ammo, when I told my hetero friends that I was going to see it they almost instinctively recoiled in horror. And I'll confess that my affection for Capote might not be generalizable. However, as someone who gets paid to be a detached observer of real-world events, I found the theme of Capote to be much more interesting.
As for The 40-Year Old Virgin, look, it's just the funniest movie of the year.
Enjoy the show!! I'll be sure to post a post-awards update.
POST-AWARDS UPDATE: A few quick thoughts:
1) Worst. Montages. Ever. (except for the cowboy one -- that was quite funny). Grease is an epic???!!! The Day After Tomorrow is on par with All The President's Men??!! Thank God Jon Stewart said, "And none of those problems ever occurred again. Hooray for us."LAST UPDATE: James Wolcott concludes: "The true theme of tonight's broadcast: boobies!" Er... I thought that was the theme every year.
Friday, March 3, 2006
Academic flotsam and jetsam
The following items of interest will only be of interest to academics and academic wanna-bes:
A) Hey, grad students -- go check out Mary McKinney's excellent essay "Academic AWOL" for Inside Higher Ed. It's about how professors and graduate students fall into the black hole of procrastination, and the ways to get out. It's nothing revolutionary, but it might help some to know they're not the only ones suffering from missed deadlines.That is all.
Most interesting sentence of the day
I haven’t encountered any awkward situations yet running around public bathrooms snapping photos, but I can imagine eventually I may get some curious glances.Eszter Hargittai at Crooked Timber. You'll have to click on the link to see her perfectly innocent explanation.
Thursday, March 2, 2006
Will the India gambit be worth it?
MSNBC is reporting that India and the United States have reached a nuclear deal:
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President Bush on Thursday announced an agreement on a landmark nuclear deal, a breakthrough for the Bush administration as the president made his first visit to India.Here's a link to the White House's fact sheet on the Indo-American strategic partnership. To be honest, it's not clear to me from the reportage how this is different from what was reported back in July plus a repackaging of pre-existing commitments.
Fred Kaplan is not thrilled with the deal, mostly because he thinks Bush is steamrolling a lot of foreign policy actors in the process:
One could make a case that the trade-off is worth it—that the benefits of a grand alliance with India more than compensate for the costs of exempting India from the NPT's restraint clauses. India is not going to disarm, anyway; it has agreed, as part of the deal, to open its civilian reactors (though not its military ones) to international inspectors and safeguards; it's better, one could say, to impose some controls than none at all.I still think that this is the right deal to make. If I had to make Bush's case to the rest of the world, I'd say, "Look, there's no way India is going to renounce their weapons, and if you lived in their neighborhood you wouldn't either. That said, they've agreed to open up their civilian nuclear program up to outside oversight, and they haven't aided or abetted anyone else's weapons program. So this deal acknowledges that the genie is out of the bottle in New Delhi, but keeps the bottle closed for everyone else."
I'll entertain objections to this position in the comments.
Who's the proudest country of them all?
The University of Chicago's National Opinion Research Center just released a cross-national survey to find who had the greatest degree of pride in their countries.
Guess who did well? The results may partially surprise you:
Among 33 nations surveyed, the United States was the nation with the leading score in pride over specific accomplishments and Venezuela was the leading nation in the general national pride portion of the survey....Click here to see the full paper. The paper distinguishes between the general pride and domain-specific measures as follows:
The domain-specific measure assesses positive feelings towards national accomplishments in specific areas, but is not overtly nationalistic, imperialistic, nor chauvinistic. The general national pride measure has a much harder edge to it..... [put] another way, the domain-specific, national pride scale is nationally affirming without being necessarily hegemonic, but the general, agree-disagree, national-pride scale places one's nation above other countries.For a variety of reasons, I'm not surprised about the U.S. results -- they're pretty consistent with both the 1995/96 results and the "American exceptionalism" thesis underlying those responses.
Venezuelan pride does surprise me a bit. General Social Survey director Tom Smith observed that the top two countries "formed their national identities through conflicts that bound their people together and created a national story that resonates with citizens." That could be it. Supporters of Hugo Chavez no doubt would credit his policies.
Wednesday, March 1, 2006
The European Commission's tough test
The European Commission has lost a lot of big battles over the past few years -- the growth and stability pact and the constitutional referendum, to name two. One could easily debate the virtues of either proposal, but the key political science fact is that the Commission was unable to get its way.
Tobias Buck reports in the Financial Times that the next big test is coming -- preventing a beggar-thy-neighbor policy on mergers and acquisitions:
Just over four months ago, Charlie McCreevy raised eyebrows when he warned of a “strong wind of protectionism” blowing through the European Union.The report suggests that the Commission is fighting against some awfully powerful structural forces:
[S]ome point to a more sinister reason for the rise in hostility towards foreign suitors. “One factor is clearly the current economic malaise gripping Europe. In times when the macroeconomic conditions are less favourable, protection is always on the rise,” said Jean-Pierre Casey, research fellow and financial policy expert at the Brussels-based Centre for European Policy Studies.Developing....