Monday, July 31, 2006
How isolated is Iran right now?
I find it amazing that despite the turmoil in the Middle East -- and the blame that many place on the United States for what's happening -- the Security Council still voted 14-1 to threaten Iran with economic sanctions unless that country suspended its nuclear enrichment and reprocessing activities.
The tricky thing about mythologizing history....
Robert Pringle, who served as U.S. ambassador to Mali from 1987 to 1990, wrote in the spring issue of The Wilson Quarterly on how Mali was able to preserve its democracy. This is not a trivial question -- socioeconomic indicators would predict, Fareed Zakaria-style, that Maliian democracy should not work.
Pringle's article is now available online. What's his explanation for Mali's success? Mythology:
Was Mali’s record simply the result of fortuitous good leadership, or was something more fundamental at work? To find out, I returned in 2004 and traveled throughout the country conducting interviews. When I asked Malians to explain their aptitude for democracy, their answers boiled down to “It’s the history, stupid,” of course expressed more politely....This is interesting, because the trouble with mythologizing the past is that it cuts both ways. Pringle might be correct that Mali's construction of history has led to the flourishing of a relative stable democracy in an unlikely locale.
However, one can point to other parts of the globe [Cough, cough, Serbia, cough--ed.] where mythology has been used to promote extremist ideologies instead.
So I'm not completely convinced that Pringle is correct in believing that the promotion of traditon is the way to promote democracy in Africa. The promotion of tradition can lead to a lot of things -- and not all of them good.
Saturday, July 29, 2006
Interest group capture and Snakes On A Plane
For nearly a year, SoaP obsessives have been chatting and blogging about the movie, not to mention producing their own T-shirts, posters, trailers, novelty songs, and parodies. As the movie has morphed from a semiprecious nugget of intellectual property into a virtual plaything for the ethertainment masses, Snakes and its cult are teasingly threatening to revolutionize the rules of marketing for the do-it-yourself digital era....New Line execs are not the only people freaking out -- Chuck Klosterman has a rant on this in the August issue of Esquire:
I have not seen Snakes on a Plane, so I have no idea how good this movie is (or isn't). But I do know this: Its existence represents a weird, semidepressing American condition, and I'm afraid this condition is going to get worse. I suspect Snakes on a Plane might earn a lot of money, which will prompt studios to assume this is the kind of movie audiences want. And I don't think it is. Snakes on a Plane is an unabashed attempt at prefab populism, and (maybe) this gimmick will work once. But it won't keep working, and it will almost certainly make filmmaking worse....There are several possible ways this could play out. However, the one that interest group theory suggests will happen is that by trying to please the most ardent base of fans, the movie will reduce its appeal to a wider audience.
Of course, both Jensen and Klosterman miss one important point in their analyses -- they're generalizing from a $30 million dollar film. $30 million is a lot to you and me, but to Hollywood that's barely enough to pay for Jessica Alba's skin care products. Somehow I doubt this kind of interactive filmmaking process would take place with a tentpole movie, as it were. With a bunch of lower-budget films, however, this kind of feedback might increase the viewing pleasure of specialized viewers, even if it doesn't make the movie seem any better to a general viewer.
There's more to discuss here, but I'l leave it to my readers and a plaintive cry for help from Virginia Postrel.
All I want to know is, why isn't Salma Hayek in this mother f*&%ing movie?
Friday, July 28, 2006
Someone please explain to me how this multinational force will work
President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair announced Friday their support for a U.N. cease-fire resolution to end the Mideast crisis and a multinational force to stabilize southern Lebanon.OK, I see... a multinational force that will rid southern Lebanon of militias and "help Lebanese troops take control of the south," but will do so with Hezbollah's blessing.
This sounds kind of familiar... ah, yes, here's a front-pager by Thanassis Cambanis in today's Boston Globe that looks at the multinational force that's already in southern Lebanon:
A volley of outgoing Katyusha rockets zipped from the hilltop above the gate of the United Nations peacekeepers' compound here yesterday late in the afternoon.The United Nations Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) is easy to mock as a symbol of the UN's ineffectiveness. However, their observations of what would be needed to actually do their job are worth noting:
[UNIFIL commander Alain] Pellegrini said a future multinational force in southern Lebanon would have to have the muscle to stop belligerents, for example finding and stopping Hezbollah units like the one that started firing from in front of the UN compound in Naqoura yesterday afternoon.Question to readers: does anyone believe it would be possible to constitute a multinaional force that would be able to constrain Hezbollah's actions without triggering more bloodshed?
UPDATE: Another question -- who's going to commit troops to such a force? As Elaine Sciolino and Steve Erlanger pointed out a few days ago, it's not like the countries calling for a multinational force actually want to send troops:
The United States has ruled out its soldiers’ participating, NATO says it is overstretched, Britain feels its troops are overcommitted and Germany says it is willing to participate only if Hezbollah, the Lebanese militia that it would police, agrees to it, a highly unlikely development.
My diavlog debut
For months, nay, years, the hard-working staff here at danieldrezner.com has begged yours truly to
Your humble blogger has finally made the plunge... on bloggingheads.tv. To see me debate Nonzero author Robert Wright on the Middle East, Doha, the clash of civilizations, "progressive realism," and sportswriting, click here.
The situation in Lebanon has calcified
When the war started in Lebanon, I said the situaion was fluid.
Not any more.
Neil MacFarquhar has a front-pager in the New York Times suggesting that the Arab Middle East has come to a consensus about the war in Lebanon -- and it's not a consensus the United States would like:
At the onset of the Lebanese crisis, Arab governments, starting with Saudi Arabia, slammed Hezbollah for recklessly provoking a war, providing what the United States and Israel took as a wink and a nod to continue the fight.This situation is no longer developing -- it's developed. And ironically, it's developed because Arab governments in the region are doing what the Bush administration wants them to do -- respond to popular opinions within their countries.
To be fair, I suspect if the IDF had managed to cause Hezbollah to disintegrate within the week of conflict, this wouldn't have happened -- and I think that was what the IDF expected to happen. However, I'm shocked, shocked to report that pre-war intelligence might have been flawed.
Now, Israel faces the worst of both worlds -- they've discovered that Hezbollah is a more potent, disciplined, and technologically savvy threat than they previously thought. At the same time, public opinion in Lebanon, the region and across the world has shifted against Jerusalem, making it next to impossible for them to adopt the military measures necessary to eradicate the threat [What measures are those?--ed. I'm not even sure -- I just now they would involve action on a greater scale than what the IDF is currently doing.]
UPDATE: There is one whopping caveat to the above that I forgot to mention -- it is possible that Hezbollah has suffered far greater losses than we know. There is an asymmetry in the reporting of the conflict -- reporters clearly have much greater access to the Israeli military than Hezbollah. While it's in both sides' interest to keep published reports of their losses to a minimum, it's institutionally tougher for Israel to do this.
As a result, the Israeli losses are known -- the Hezbollah losses are not completely known. [If Hezbollah crumbles in the next week, will this be your "quagmire" post?--ed. Pretty much, yes -- but I still don't think they will fall apart.]
Thursday, July 27, 2006
The healthy automotive sector in the United States
No doubt, the title to this post must sound odd. After all, according to one recent report, foreign automakers now command a majority of the U.S. auto market for the first time ever.
However, Daniel Griswold and Daniel Ikenson argue otherwise in a Cato policy brief that looks at the U.S. automotive sector. Their argument is unsurprising for anyone familiar with Cato:
The financial woes of a few companies operating in a healthy, competitive market do not justify intervention by Washington policymakers but are the market's way of providing feedback about the decisions of those firms. It is not the role of the government to rescue companies that have made relatively bad decisions. Healthy competition ensures that best practices are emulated, leads to gains in productivity and innovation, and provides American automobile consumers with greater choice, better quality, and more competitive pricing.This argument is unsurprising coming from Cato -- but they do have the advantage of marshalling useful facts to buttress their argument:
Although complaints about unfair competition from abroad are less shrill than in the 1980s, foreign producers have not escaped criticism. The chief executive officers of General Motors and Chrysler recently complained that an allegedly undervalued yen gives vehicles imported from Japan an unfair price advantage of as much as $3,000 per vehicle. Sen. Carl Levin, a Democrat from Michigan, charged at a hearing in February that Detroit-based automakers face unfair foreign competition. "They are competing with currency manipulation by other countries, including China, Japan and Korea, which gives their vehicles and other products an unfair price advantage in our market," Levin said in a statement. And the United Auto Workers union, which represents workers at GM, Ford, Chrysler, and several parts' producers, has called for a federal "Marshall Plan" to aid those companies....Amen.
One small caveat to their argument -- these percentages could change as demand for hybrid vehicles go up. The Toyota Prius, for example, are manufactured in Japan.
The glimmer of good news from the Middle East
There's a great deal to be depressed about when contemplating the situaion in Lebanon, or the Middle East writ large -- go check out Marc Lynch's blog to read about the shift in Arab perceptions as a result of U.S. actions and inactions.
However, Niall Ferguson makes a point in the Los Angeles Times that is worth remembering -- contrary to the fears of a few weeks ago, the odds of a wider war appear to be slim:
Could today's quarrel between Israelis and Hezbollah over Lebanon produce World War III? That's what Republican Newt Gingrich, the former speaker of the House, called it last week, echoing earlier fighting talk by Dan Gillerman, Israel's ambassador to the United Nations.Hat tip: Oxblog's Taylor Owen.
A business-writing tic that drives James Surowiecki nuts
His example -- the Boeing-Airbus rivalry:
What much of the talk about the inherent weakness of Airbus ignores is that, just a few years ago, it was Boeing that looked fundamentally flawed, while Airbus was seen as the future of the industry. Beginning in the late nineties, Boeing’s commercial-aircraft business went into a long and nearly profitless slump. In 2001, Airbus surpassed Boeing in new orders, a lead it maintained until this year. During that period, Airbus’s unusual structure was praised; its insulation from the stock market supposedly allowed it to invest in long-term research and development. Boeing, by contrast, was thought to be trapped in a short-term, cost-cutting mentality, because, as one analyst put it, “the money guys don’t reward long-term thinking and investment.” In 2003, Business Week declared that Boeing was “choking on Airbus’ fumes,” and warned that Boeing’s “slip to No. 2 could become permanent.”
Wednesday, July 26, 2006
Will Hezbollah overtake Al Qaeda in the standings?
I've blogged before about how Al Qaeda is like the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Without using the baseball metaphor, Bernard Haykel argues in today's New York Times that Hezbollah could supplant them in the eyes of many Sunni and Shiite Muslims.
This isn't necessarily a good thing, accoding to Haykel:
With Israel at war with Hezbollah, where, you might wonder, is Al Qaeda? From all appearances on the Web sites frequented by its sympathizers, which I frequently monitor, Al Qaeda is sitting, unhappily and uneasily, on the sidelines, watching a movement antithetical to its philosophy steal its thunder. That might sound like good news. But it is more likely an ominous sign....Read the whole thing to see why this could spell trouble for the west.
A sportswriting tic that drives me nuts
Less than two weeks after the All-Star break, the Red Sox suddenly appear to be in desperate need of a collective breather.Now, the Red Sox had just lost two games to the Mariners, and their relef pitching and defense did not perform up to spec. However, Horrigan takes a two-game trend and assumes that will be the new status quo. This leads to the argument that the second-best team in baseball (by winning percentage) is falling apart.
This is a sportswriting tic that drives me nuts -- failing to recognize regression to the mean. If teams go through a mini-slump or reel off a few victories, it's attributed to a fundamental change in the quality of the players. Sometimes, bad things happen to good players and vice versa. Just because the Sox have a few bad games does not mean that things will stay that way.
Baseball writers are far from the worst culprits on this score -- that award has to go to basketball writers. Lest one believe that I'm exaggerating, go back and see what was written about the Heat-Mavericks finals after the Mavs went up 2-0 in the series.
Tuesday, July 25, 2006
Us greedy, chocolate-eating, Wal-Mart-shopping, family-protecting academics
In the Chronicle of Higher Education, Mathew H. Gendle engages in one of the more useless acts of self-flagellation about globalization I've seen in quite a while:
Like many liberal-arts institutions, the university where I teach [Elon] places a heavy emphasis on the freshman year, and all new students are required to take a class called "The Global Experience," taught by faculty members drawn from departments across the campus. One of the central objectives of the course is to break students out of their bubble by forcing them to think about the interconnectedness of our world.Oh for Pete's sake.....
If Gendle really wants his students at Elon to learn, he might want to inform them of the following:
1) Eric V. Edmonds and Nina Pavcnik, "Child Labor in the Global Economy," Journal of Economic Perspectives 19 (Winter 2005): 199–220,. Their punchline:If Gendle wants to make his Elon students really ponder their consumer behavior, here's a question worth asking -- what is the welfare effect of not purchasing goods and services made in the least developed countries?Fortunately, abhorrent images of children chained in factories or forced into prostitution stand out for their relative rarity. Most working children are at home, helping their family by assisting in the family business or farm and with domestic work....In all likelihood, the clothes you wear are not manufactured with child labor -- but if you choose to refrain from buying clothes made in countries like Bangladesh, you actually increase the likelihood of exploitative child labor.
I'm in an area that focuses on social justice and responsibility along environmental, gender, political, and economic lines. Know what I'm doing this afternoon? Going to the WalMart to buy a product I haven't been able to find anywhere else. After I finish my tropical fruit and non-organic, non-fair trade coffee and take a 20-minute shower, of course.
Monday, July 24, 2006
World trade talks have collapsed. The Financial Times' Alan Beattie and Frances Williams explain:
A last-ditch meeting in Geneva of the six core “Doha round” negotiators – India, Brazil, the US, EU Japan and Australia – broke up amid recriminations over irreconcilable differences about farm liberalisation. The US continued to argue for big cuts in farm import tariffs to open up markets for its farmers, a demand fiercely rejected by the European Union, Japan and India, who said America had first to go further in offering to cut agricultural subsidies.The Economist explains why this is a tragedy (excerpted by Megan McArdle):
Last year, the World Bank estimated that global gains from trade liberalisation would equal roughly $287 billion, of which $86 billion would accrue to developing nations, lifting at least 66m people out of poverty. Activist groups including Greenpeace and Oxfam were quick to condemn both Washington and Brussels for intransigence over agricultural subsidies, saying that rich-world self interest is leaving the poor to suffer.[Why the question marks in the title?--ed.] Because trade rounds have been declared dead before and were revived. Doha looked dead after Cancun and was brought back to life by Bob Zoellick. On the other hand, the hard deadline here is the expiration of President Bush's Trade Promotion Authority in June of next year. Beattie and Williams are sober about the chances for a resurrection of Doha:
Historical experience provides a little hope but not firm ground for optimism. The previous “Uruguay round” of trade talks was in essence suspended in 1990 after similar disagreements between countries. Arthur Dunkel, then director-general of the WTO’s predecessor organisation, continued to take soundings among member countries and produced his own “Dunkel draft” suggestion for a final deal a year later, leading eventually to a final agreement in 1994.Developing.... I hope.
UPDATE: Simon Lester has a good roundup of who is blaming who for the collapse of the talks.
The case of Juan Cole
The Chronicle of Higher Education has a (
DeLong's essay makes the best case for the scholarly benefits from blogging; O'Connor makes the best case for why blogs should be a factor (and not necessarily a positive one) in hiring decisions.
For background on the case, click here for this story by Liel Leibovitz in The Jewish Week.
UPDATE: While on the subject of academia, it's also worth checking out this Stanley Fish essay from yesterday's New York Times, and Ann Althouse's critique of it.
Friday, July 21, 2006
There's a classified blogosphere?
Apparently so -- and according to the Washington Post's Dana Priest, someone was just kicked off that particular island:
Christine Axsmith, a software contractor for the CIA, considered her blog a success within the select circle of people who could actually access it.Read the whole thing.
UPDATE: Douglas Hart and Steven Simon have an article in the Spring 2006 issue of Survival that addresses the larger question of the role that blogs can play in bolstering intelligence analysis. In light of the Post story, this section is worth quoting:
Current reporting procedures within the intelligence community enforce a hierarchical organisational structure in which information flows up and decisions flow down. Blogs, on the other hand, produce communities of interest in which power is manifested through the number of individual connections within a network, rather than through an individual’s position with respect to reporting chains. These networks are key to emergent or new types of critical thinking amongst the analytical population. In other words, blogs might well be a means for individual analysts to express dissenting opinions that are not subject to official censorship.I have to think that this episode will blunt these kind of benefits.
When will statebuilding be hard?
I've been remiss in not giving the necessary props to Austan Goolsbee as the quasi-new columnis for the New York Times' Economic Scene.
His latest column -- on how to tell when war-torn states will be able to recover -- is an excellent precis of what the literature says:
With little prospect of a quick resolution to most of these conflicts, perhaps it is worth looking at the long-run prospects for these nations once the wars actually end (assuming that they do end, of course).Read the whole thing.
Thursday, July 20, 2006
Why oh why is the press so thick-headed about blogs?
I don't normally like to rant against the mainstream media, but their coverage of this Pew survey of bloggers borders on the bizarre.
The survey found that the overwhelming majority of people who blog do so for non-political reasons -- they function primarily as online personal diaries.
This would certainly be earth-shattering news -- if it was four years ago. Consider this Perseus report from the Paleolithic era of blogging -- October 2003:
When you say "blog" most people think of the most popular weblogs, which are often updated multiple times a day and which by definition have tens of thousands of daily readers. These make up the tip of a very deep iceberg: prominently visible, but not characteristic of the iceberg as a whole.While Pew might reached the conclusion that most bloggers are not political after using sophisticated polling techniques, this is not a new finding (see Mystery Pollster on the methodology). It's merely a confirmation of what prior, less well-funded studies have found.
Nevertheless, media outlets have framed the story in interesting ways. Consider the BBC:
Bloggers who say their writings are a form of journalism are in the minority, despite the hype, two surveys reveal.Or Information Week:
The majority of bloggers prefer to write about themselves and share their digital creations than to discuss politics or technology, a survey released Wednesday showed.Or Sci-Tech Today:
The media tends to focus on a small subset of well-known "A-list" sites that receive a high volume of visitors. These blogs tend to focus on politics or other hot button topics such as technology. For these bloggers, a blog is more than just a hobby, it is a job.Finally, there's Slate's Jack Shafer:
Pew's blogging masses couldn't be more different than the American A-listers. Most A-listers are men over 30; have published before; are in it primarily to change public opinions and not to share their experiences; know only a fraction of their readers; and don't conceal their identities....Shafer's story illustrates what has changed in the past three years, and it's not the blogosphere -- it's the mainstream media's fear of the blogosphere (which is one reason why blogs have been declared to be passé so many times this past year). If the Pew survey suggests that not all bloggers are Army-of-David wannabe journalists, then that's the angle that should be reported.
Now, I am resolutely not a blog triumphalist, and do not think that blogs will supplant mainstream media outlets. However, in the spirit of contrarianism, let me offer two cautionary warnings to the journalists out there who might be reassured by these numbers.
First, it doesn't matter if an overwhelming majority of blogs do not focus on politics and government -- what matters is that there are a huge number of blogs out there and a fraction of them do focus on matters of interest to political journalists. If the Pew survey is accurate, then eleven percent of twelve million bloggers -- more than 1.3 million Americans -- have blogs that focus on the politics. Most of them probably aren't that good -- but I could say the same of many newspapers as well. The point is, 1.3 million is still a pretty large number.
Second, as an A-list [No--ed.] B-list [No-ed.] C-list [In the interest of not embarrassing you further, I'l let it pass--ed.], it's worth remembering that what motivates bloggers changes over time. Most A-list bloggers, when they started their blogs, were also "primarily interested in creative, personal expression." The motivations can change once an audience starts to grow, however.
I eagerly await the Pew survey on commenters.
One obvious benefit of tenure
What are general equilibrium models good for?
The Economist has a long story on the relative value of Big Economic Models -- the kind of general equilibrium monsters that are used to calculate how much the world benefits from a completed Doha round,or how much the global economy suffers from high oil prices.
The story does a good job of highlighting the sensitivity of these models to first assumptions -- while also pointing out their signal virtue:
[Leon] Walras was adamant that one could not explain anything in an economy until one had explained everything. Each market—for goods, labour and capital—was connected to every other, however remotely. This interdependence is apparent whenever faster car sales in Texas result in an increase in grocery shopping in Detroit, the home of America's “big three” carmakers. Or when steep prices for oil lead, curiously enough, to lower American interest rates, because the money the Saudis and the Russians make from crude is spent on American Treasury bonds. This fundamental insight moved one economist to quote the poetry of Francis Thompson: “Thou canst not stir a flower/Without troubling of a star.”The more surprising argument in the article is that these models are politically powerful:
These models were, for example, a weapon of choice in the battles over the 1994 North American Free-Trade Agreement (NAFTA). The pact's opponents had the best lines in the debate—Ross Perot, a presidential candidate in 1992, told Americans to listen out for the “giant sucking sound” as their jobs disappeared over the border. But the deal's supporters had the best numbers. More often than not, those with numbers prevail over those without. As Jean-Philippe Cotis, chief economist of the OECD, has put it, “orders of magnitude are useful tools of persuasion.”[You do realize that the title of this post is worthy of an entry to Crooked Timber's contest for off-putting titles--ed. It's my special talent.]
Is Israel waging a just war?
Israel clearly is targeting not just Hezbollah, but also Lebanon's official military, and, most important for our purposes, Lebanon's basic civilian infrastructure. The Beirut airport has been closed by Israeli attacks. Bridges, ports, roads, and power stations are all being targeted. As this column was being written, more than 100 civilian fatalities -- including some citizens of neutral countries, most notably Canada -- already had been reported. More surely will have occurred before this column is published.In The New Republic, Michael Walzer takes a more ambiguous position:
The easy part of the answer is to say what cannot rightly be done. There cannot be any direct attacks on civilian targets (even if the enemy doesn't believe in the existence of civilians), and this principle is a major constraint also on attacks on the economic infrastructure. Writing about the first Iraq war, in 1991, I argued that the U.S. decision to attack "communication and transportation systems, electric power grids, government buildings of every sort, water pumping stations and purification plants" was wrong. "Selected infrastructural targets are easy enough to justify: bridges over which supplies are carried to the army in the field provide an obvious example. But power and water ... are very much like food: they are necessary to the survival and everyday activity of soldiers, but they are equally necessary to everyone else. An attack here is an attack on civilian society. ... [I]t is the military effects, if any, that are 'collateral.'" That was and is a general argument; it clearly applies to the Israeli attacks on power stations in Gaza and Lebanon.My take -- the longer the air campaign proceeds, the less just it will become. This is simply the law of diminishing marginal returns. Over time, Israel will exhaust the set of "high-quality" targets for Hezbollah and start bombing more marginal targets. Since these target will likely generate a constant degree of collateral damage in civilian deaths, each successive bombing run looks more and more like "direct attacks on civilian targets."
[Er... what about Hezbollah and Hamas?--ed. It would be exceptionally difficult to argue that their tactics are consistent with jus in bello. This Chris Bertram post tries to make a go of it, but given Hamas and Hezbollah's targeting strategies, I don't think it works.]
UPDATE: In the comments, Bertram correctly points out that his post was not trying to justify Hezbollah and Hamas actions. Indeed, this was a poorly worded sentence on my part. Rather, Bertram's post summarizes an argument for how to apply just war ethics to asymmetric conflicts, in which additional jus ad bello constraints are placed on the stronger side. I still don't think the argument is persuasive, however, since it basically rewards a group like Hezbollah for pursuing an asymmetric strategy.
Wednesday, July 19, 2006
My contrarian take on George Will's contrarianism
Late on Monday, Steve Clemons from the Washington Note sent around an e-mail trumpeting George Will's column blasing neoconservatives, the Weekly Standard, Bill Kristol, Condi Rice, et al. The piece has attracted a fair amount of blog attention.
My reaction was similar to Passport's James Forsyth: "George Will savages neocons, dog bites mailman":
I must confess that one of my pet peeves in life is how everyone treats it as news when Will criticizes the neoconservatives. Will has never been a neocon and has been being critical of them for years. Obviously, this doesn't invalidate his criticisms--it just means that it is no more surprising when he attacks them than when his fellow WaPo columnist Richard Cohen does....This is not to say that Will's criticisms don't have merit -- particularly this section:
"No Islamic Republic of Iran, no Hezbollah. No Islamic Republic of Iran, no one to prop up the Assad regime in Syria. No Iranian support for Syria . . ." You get the drift. So, the Weekly Standard says:Will is right (see Cato's Gene Healy for an even broader attack on the neocons), but so is Forsyth -- so please spare me the "even George Will" observations.
Tuesday, July 18, 2006
So you want to be a critic....
Within every blogger (and commentor) lurks someone who yearns to be a paid critic. There are perils to this profession, however -- though the peril depends on the subject matter of the criticism.
[I]f "nice reviewing" has attracted few explicit defenders, a number of today's critics nonetheless seem to share a tacit understanding that it is somehow indecorous--what used to be called bad form--to come out and say that a book is bad. Peck's critics generally lambasted him not for the substance of his judgments, but for his unwillingness to play by what they determined to be the rules. "If you're going to be in it for the big run, you have to act responsibly," intoned Sven Birkerts, whom [Dale] Peck had criticized precisely for his tendency to be overly generous in his criticism. (Birkerts did not elaborate on what he meant by this, but presumably, if you're "in it for the big run," whatever that means, you will inevitably run into some of your subjects at cocktail parties--or, worse, they will someday review your books.) John Leonard, in a scalding review of Hatchet Jobs, Peck's collected essays, in The New York Times Book Review, laid out his own idea of literary etiquette in these guidelines for "responsible reviewing": "First ... do no harm. Second, never stoop to score a point or bite an ankle. Third, always understand that in this symbiosis, you are the parasite."On the other hand, if book critics fear being too harsh in their assessments, A.O. Scott points out in today's New York Times that there is a bigger fear for movie critics -- being irrelevant:
“Dead Man’s Chest” [is] a fascinating sequel — not to “Curse of the Black Pearl,” which inaugurated the franchise three years ago, but to “The Da Vinci Code.” Way back in the early days of the Hollywood summer — the third week in May, to be precise — America’s finest critics trooped into screening rooms in Cannes, Los Angeles, New York and points between, saw Ron Howard’s adaptation of Dan Brown’s best seller, and emerged in a fit of collective grouchiness. The movie promptly pocketed some of the biggest opening-weekend grosses in the history of its studio, Sony.UPDATE: Of course, there are worse killjoys than being a critic -- try the academy for that.
In their summer 2006 issue, Foreign Affairs featured a roundtable on "What to Do In Iraq?" with contributions by Larry Diamond, James Dobbins, Chaim Kaufmann, Leslie Gelb and Stephen Biddle.
This month, foreignaffairs.org invited four prominent online commentators -- Christopher Hitchens, Kevin Drum, Marc Lynch, and Fred Kaplan -- to a web-only discussion of the articles and Iraq in general. Biddle and Diamond respond in kind.
Go check it out.
Monday, July 17, 2006
Open progressive realism thread
Still catching up from jet lag, but that doesn't mean you can't comment on Robert Wright's proposal of a new foreign policy paradigm -- progressive realism -- in the New York Times. Quick excerpt:
Every paradigm needs a name, and the best name for this one is progressive realism. The label has a nice ring (Who is against progress?) and it aptly suggests bipartisan appeal. This is a realism that could attract many liberals and a progressivism that could attract some conservatives....Read the whole thing. Mickey Kaus offers his critique here.
My insta-critique is three-fold:
1) I look forward to the cage match between Wright, Francis Fukuyama, and the other non-Bushies to come up with the best adjective-noun moniker that combines realism and liberalism. Is progressive realism better than "realistic Wilsonianism?" By the title alone, I have to give the edge to Wright.
Sunday, July 16, 2006
Stratfor on Israel's strategy
Back in Boston, but very jet-lagged.
I see that the Middle East did not get more peaceful while I was on a jet plane. Stratfor provides a useful analysis on what Israel and Hezbollah are thinking in the current conflict. I don't know if the analysis is correct, but it does have the advantage of matching my cogitation on the matter:
The Israeli strategy appears to be designed to do two things. First, the Israelis are trying to prevent any supplies from entering Lebanon, including reinforcements. That is why they are attacking all coastal maritime facilities. Second, they are degrading the roads in Lebanon. That will keep reinforcements from reaching Hezbollah fighters engaged in the south. As important, it will prevent the withdrawal and redeployment of heavy equipment deployed by Hezbollah in the south, particularly their rockets, missiles and launchers. The Israelis are preparing the battlefield to prevent a Hezbollah retreat or maneuver.
Friday, July 14, 2006
The fluid situation in Lebanon
You know a crisis is still in a fluid state when major U.S. newspapers take opposing positions on in their new analysis of the situation.
For example -- how have the Israeli attacks affected Hezbollah's political position in Lebanon?
A few short months ago, representatives of every Lebanese faction gathered in central Beirut and discussed many of the issues that divide them - including how and when to disarm the Hezbollah militia.In the Washington Post, Anthony Shadid takes a different position:
The radical Shiite movement Hezbollah and its leader, Hasan Nasrallah, hold an effective veto in Lebanese politics, and the group's military prowess has heartened its supporters at home and abroad in the Arab world. But that same force of arms has begun to endanger Hezbollah's long-term standing in a country where critics accuse it of dragging Lebanon into an unwinnable conflict the government neither chose nor wants to fight.Developing....
Thursday, July 13, 2006
The trouble with bubble diplomacy
While in Berlin, a friend told me what may or may not be an apocryphal story about during George W. Bush's last visit to Berlin. There was apparently a photo op planned for the president's car to pull up to the Chancellery building in Berlin, where the German prime minister lives and works. Apparently, Bush armored limousine was so heavy, it would have chewed up the cobblestone driveway. The U.S. solution to this problem? Have the Germans repave the road.
I bring this up because of this Deutshe Welle report on Bush's visit to Stralsund -- a German resort on the Baltic coast:
The two-day stop in Merkel's constituency on the Baltic Sea coast is meant to give the two leaders time to get to know each other better, as well as show Bush the "real Germany."Click on this UPI story for more about the security arrangements.
In fairness to Bush's advance team, I suspect that some of this article could have been written about any president with a modern security detail. Still, there's got to be a way for a president to shrink the security bubble.
Open Israel/Hezbollah/Hamas thread
Against my better judgment, here's a thread for commenting on recent developments in Israel, Lebanon, and the occupied territories.
In The New Republic, Yossi Klein Halevi send shivers down my spine with this opening paragraph:
The next Middle East war--Israel against genocidal Islamism--has begun. The first stage of the war started two weeks ago, with the Israeli incursion into Gaza in response to the kidnapping of an Israeli soldier and the ongoing shelling of Israeli towns and kibbutzim; now, with Hezbollah's latest attack, the war has spread to southern Lebanon. Ultimately, though, Israel's antagonists won't be Hamas and Hezbollah but their patrons, Iran and Syria. The war will go on for months, perhaps several years. There may be lulls in the fighting, perhaps even temporary agreements and prisoner exchanges. But those periods of calm will be mere respites.Greg Djerejian approximates my level of worry:
The temperature is getting very hot indeed among Israel and her neighbors. A humanitarian crisis looms in Gaza, and there is talk of turning the clock back 20 years on Lebanon's infrastructure by some in Israel's military. Olmert has talked very tough too ("act of war"), somewhat understandably, as he must be seen to be able to step up into Sharon's big shoes as credible guarantor of Israel's national security....UPDATE: Two more thoughts. First, I suspect the Economist wishes it could go into the "way back" machine and erase this part of a story on Israel and Hamas from last week:
Mr Olmert has reportedly been rejecting the army's most ambitious plans. In the longer run, Mr [former head of the army's strategic planning Shlomo] Brom thinks, Israel's “new rules” may mean an attempt to create a balance similar to the one on its border with Lebanon. There, tough Israeli responses to every attack by Hizbullah's militants are credited with bringing about an uneasy but largely successful detente.Second, I suspect the Kadima plan for a unilateral withdrawal of the West Bank is now a DOA policy. At the current moment, ordinary Israelis will not buy the idea that unilteral withdrawal increases Israeli security.
Wednesday, July 12, 2006
So you want to publish an op-ed....
In the latest issue of International Studies Perspectives, Douglas Borer has an essay entitled, "Rejected by the New York Times? Why Academics Struggle to Get Published in National Newspapers." Here's how it opens:
At one time or another the bug to write an editorial strikes many in our profession. Our motivation is driven by disgust in what we see in the media, where many of the pundits are, for lack of a more nuanced description, idiots.Fortunately, Borer then focuses most of his ire at academic folkways:
The first hurdle to overcome is schizophrenia when it comes to following rules. While academics suffer no hesitation when placing limits on students' term papers, professors generally do not like to follow similar restrictions. Because our first foray into editorial writing is usually for a local newspaper, bad habits form quickly. A decade ago, my colleagues at Virginia Tech informed me that the Roanoke Times would publish essays of almost any length that a Tech professor submitted. If I had something to say, and needed 1,500 words to say it, I simply sent my over-stuffed story, and presto! I was playing the smug role of public intellectual. Move over Tom Friedman, this was easy!That last line applies to blogs as well.
Your interesting argument for the day
In fact, it's looking more and more likely that the eight states of the Southwest and the broader interior West -- Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming -- are on their way to becoming the next great swing region in American politics. As the Republican Party tilts on its South-West axis, increasingly favoring southern values (religion, morality, tradition) over western ones (freedom, independence, privacy), the Democrats have been presented with a tremendous opportunity. If the Republican Party doesn't want to lose its hold over all of the West, as it lost hold of once-reliable California more than a decade ago, its leaders are going to have to rethink their embrace of big-government, big-religion conservatism.Read the whole thing, and see if you're convinced. I'm only about 50% convinced -- but it's interesting.
Hat tip to Virginia Postrel for the link.
Tuesday, July 11, 2006
The State Department is really hard up
Here's more fodder: I'll be in Germany for the rest of this week as part of a State Department speaker program that brings U.S. experts overseas to speak to German expert audiences on such topics as economics, trade and global affairs.
Blogging will likely be intermittent for the rest of the week.
Discussion topic amongst yourselves: what will Iraq look like a year from now?
Is it a good idea to podcast lectures?
That's the question being debated in this Christina Silva story in the Boston Globe:
Hoping to appeal to tech-savvy students with a shrinking attention span, more Boston-area colleges are pushing professors to go digital and record their lectures as downloadable files that student can listen to wherever, whenever....My take: some students would use podcasts as a substitute for attending lectures, others will use it as intended. The ones who use it as a substitute probably know it's not as good as attending the lecture itself, but are willing to pay the price in terms of lower grades.
I'm curious what other professors and students think.
Monday, July 10, 2006
I think Barbara Ehrenreich needs a time out
Without wading into the deeper waters of feminist thought -- a swim for which I might lack the proper training -- I did find my jaw dropping as I read this passage:
Cox is not the first post-feminist to denounce paleo-feminists as sexless prudes. Ever since Andrea Dworkin -- a truly puritanical feminist -- waged war on pornography, there've been plenty of feisty women ready to defend Victoria's Secret as a beachhead of liberation. Something similar happened in the 1920s, when newly enfranchised young women blew off those frumpy old suffragists and declared their right to smoke cigarettes, wear short skirts, and dance the Charleston all night.I find it hard to believe that there is any dimension in which the situation for women -- in the U.S. and across the globe -- is gloomier today than it was in the 1920's. There might be isolated exceptions in some countries, but by any aggregate measure -- women's suffrage, employment opportunities, educational opportunities -- I cannot see how Ehrenreich's implication holds.
I dare my readers to prove my assertion wrong.
This seems like good news
There's not a lot of good news out there today, so let's engage in a little counter-programming before we get to it.
A British drug company is seeking permission to conduct the first human trials of an experimental vaccine against the avian flu virus.
Friday, July 7, 2006
Just how disaffected are European Muslims?
Going by news stories -- the London bombings, the French riots, the Danish cartoons -- 2005 was not a terribly good year for Muslim immigrants living in Europe.
So it's interesting to see that according to the Pew Global Attitudes project, the situation might not be as bleak as previously thought:
Muslims in Europe worry about their future, but their concern is more economic than religious or cultural. And while there are some signs of tension between Europe's majority populations and its Muslim minorities, Muslims there do not generally believe that most Europeans are hostile toward people of their faith. Still, over a third of Muslims in France and one-in-four in Spain say they have had a bad experience as a result of their religion or ethnicity.This part is particularly interesting:
Religion is central to the identity of European Muslims. With the exception of Muslims in France, they tend to identify themselves primarily as Muslim rather than as British, Spanish, or German. In France, Muslims are split almost evenly on this question. The level of Muslim identification in Britain, Spain, and Germany is similar to that in Pakistan, Nigeria, and Jordan, and even higher than levels in Egypt, Turkey, and Indonesia. By contrast the general populations in Western Europe are far more secular in outlook. Roughly six-in-ten in Spain, Germany, and Britain identify primarily with their country rather than their religion, as do more than eight-in-ten in France.Click here to read the whole report.
Thursday, July 6, 2006
I wish I had written this paper
Corruption is believed to be a major factor impeding economic development, but the importance of legal enforcement versus cultural norms in controlling corruption is poorly understood. To disentangle these two factors, we exploit a natural experiment, the stationing of thousands of diplomats from around the world in New York City. Diplomatic immunity means there was essentially zero legal enforcement of diplomatic parking violations, allowing us to examine the role of cultural norms alone. This generates a revealed preference measure of government officials' corruption based on real-world behavior taking place in the same setting. We find strong persistence in corruption norms: diplomats from high corruption countries (based on existing survey-based indices) have significantly more parking violations, and these differences persist over time. In a second main result, officials from countries that survey evidence indicates have less favorable popular views of the United States commit significantly more parking violations, providing non-laboratory evidence on sentiment in economic decision-making. Taken together, factors other than legal enforcement appear to be important determinants of corruption.Here's a link to the paper. Hat tip to Tyler Cowen, who proposes a pithier abstract:
During a period of diplomatic parking immunity, the average Kuwaiti diplomat to the United Nations racked up 246 parking violations. No Swedish diplomat had any parking violations. This paper explores how that might possibly be the case.There's another finding that I thought interesting:
In the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks, there is a sharp – though temporary – drop in diplomatic parking violations, by roughly 80%. We find that countries with greater Muslim populations experience particularly sharp declines. We can only speculate about the exact causes of this change in behavior, but the fear of police harassment or negative media attention for the home country during that politically charged period is a possibility.
The pipe dream of energy independence
The Wall Street Journal's John Fialka does an excellent job of bulls**t detection by probing the feasibility of "energy independence":
The U.S. may be addicted to oil, but many of its politicians are addicted to "energy independence" -- which may be among the least realistic political slogans in American history....Read the whole thing.
Wednesday, July 5, 2006
What's the bigger threat to national security?
When the New York Times published stories about the Bush administration's efforts to track terrorist financing via the SWIFT consortium, a lot of the conservative blogosphere got on the NYT's case about publishing national secrets on the front page of the paper of record. And, for the record, I suspect that the publication probably disrupted the program because of the backlash it created in Europe, where SWIFT is headquartered.
And yet, I'd take the Bush administration's umbrage about the publication of classified information more seriously if the government demonstrated anything close to competence when to comes to protecting the computerized data currently in its possession.
Now Eric Weiss reports in the Washington Post that the FBI has had a little bit of a problem in this area:
A government consultant, using computer programs easily found on the Internet, managed to crack the FBI's classified computer system and gain the passwords of 38,000 employees, including that of FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III.To be fair to the Bush administration, a lot of this stuff might have happened regardless of who was running the White House.
That said, the administration seems to be obsessed with protecting data from journalists. I'd much prefer it if they were obsessed with protecting their data from hackers.
UPDATE: On the other hand, the FBI has done an excellent job protecting Coca Cola's secret formula!!
Tuesday, July 4, 2006
Should you panic about North Korea or not?
There are stories by both the New York Times staff and Dana Piest of the Washington Post. Whether North Korea's actions are panic-worthy depend upon which story you read.
North Korea shocked western and Japanese analysts in 1998 by firing a Taepodong-1 missile over Japan into the Pacific Ocean, revealing more advanced missile capabilities than the country was previously thought to possess.The Post offers a different perspective:
A senior State Department official said the test was "an affront to everybody, not just us" and that it would likely have a big effect on South Korean public opinion, which is already impatient with one-way flow of humanitarian assistance meant to induce the isolated North Korean leader to join the world community.Put me between the Post and Times perspectives. I suspect that the South Koreans -- who have been in denial about North Korea for some time -- will find a way to rationalize the DPRK's behavior, and that the Chinese won't be that perturbed. The fact that financial markets are reacting to the test by selling off yen suggests that they are ratcheting up the probability of something bad happening. As Dan Nexon points out: "The US and Japan have made all sorts of dark threats about punitive action if North Korea went ahead with the launch. Now we have to step up to the plate or risk having had our bluff called."
At the same time, Priest is correct about the North Koreans being a ways away from being able to put a nuke on an ICBM. Plus, if you look at this map, you see that the United States is hardly the only country affected by North Korea's actions.
UPDATE: David Sanger has an excellent backgrounder in the New York Times about why all of the policy options available to the Bush administration are pretty God-awful. At the same time, Sanger's story moves the Times towards the not-panicking position:
The North has long had an array of weapons that could destroy Seoul or hit Japan, including American forces based there. The only new element in the dramatic barrage into the Sea of Japan on Tuesday was the launching of its intercontinental-range Taepodong- 2, the missile that, depending on whose numbers one believes, could eventually hit the United States.The experts quoted by Tom Ricks and Faiola in the Washington Post make a similar point:
The major fallout from North Korea's series of missile launches and the malfunction of its long-range rocket is that its missile program now looks somewhat inept, weapons experts said yesterday.Meanwhile, Reuters reports that Japan, the U.S. and the U.K. wants the UN Security Council to sanction North Korea. I'm shocked to report that Russia and China oppose such a move.
In honor of Independence Day....
I'll encourage my readers to engage Matthew Yglesias and/or Tyler Cowen in the ultimate contrarian argument -- was American independence a good idea?
File this one under "why do liberals hate America?" but this time of year I'm always intrigued by the view that American independence was more-or-less a giant mistake.... The issues at stake were eminently compromisable, had wiser leadership been available, and the examples of Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and (to some extent) South Africa indicate that having lost the USA the British government was able to come up with a perfectly workable alternative system of imperial management. And wouldn't it have been better if the USA-British relationship had evolved along the Canadian model?For Cowen, the question comes at the individual level;
[T]hink about it, wasn't it more than a wee bit whacky? "Let's cut free of the British Empire, the most successful society the world had seen to date, and go it alone against the French, the Spanish, and the Indians." [TC: they all seemed more formidable at the time than subsequently]Go ahead, exercise that right to free speech and respond to the question at hand
I'd respond myself, but.... er.... I'm deep into the pursuit of happiness right now.
Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. — Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States....
Sunday, July 2, 2006
Time is running out before the panic button is pushed and we all go over the brink, fall off a cliff, and cross the Rubicon into the red part of the red zone
Alas, it looks like the Doha round has come to a standstill.
Actually, that's not fair -- the round has been at a standstill since the December 2005 Hong Kong Ministerial.
This has made writing and blogging about the round somewhat difficult -- kinda like trying to describe the same traffic jam for nine months. However, props to AP writer Bradley Klapper for coming up with a novel angle (link via Megan McArdle):
The WTO is surely one of the most cliche-riddled bodies in the world as diplomats compete in a game of words to describe sometimes impenetrably complex trade issues. Even if the metaphors only sometimes add substance, catchy phrases usually mean more to people outside the rarified air of global commerce.Despite my flippancy about the rhetoric, the collapse of the Doha round would be a very, very, very bad thing. To understand why, consider Greg Mankiw's point: [S]uccess in the Doha round of international trade talks would give the world more every year than what [Warren] Buffett can give once after a lifetime of being the world's most successful investor.
Saturday, July 1, 2006
Your summer books for 2006!!
Astute and frequent readers of danieldrezner.com -- all six of you -- might have noticed that I did not post any books of the month for this June. Astute as you all are, no doubt you suspected this was because of my preoccupation with moving and its attendant minor disasters.
You would be correct.
However, with summer now upon us, I hope to make up for this by posting my reading recommendations for the entire summer at once. Rather than break this down into international relations and general interest, however, there are three categories:
A) Work books -- a.k.a., international relations. These are the books I really need to read becaue of my research, or my need to stay current in what's going on in my field:
1) Stephen G. Brooks, Producing Security: Multinational Corporations, Globalization, and the Changing Calculus of Conflict. Does the globalization of production lead to peace? Librals say yes and realists say no, but the real answer is likely to be a wee bit more complex than that. Brooks looks at the phenomenon the right way by examining just how production has been globalized and how that affects different conflict situations. He concludes that globalization reduces violent conflicts between great powers but exacerbates it among developing economies.B) Work and play books. This is a category of books that I probably don't need to read to further my immediate research or teaching needs, but I find the topic or the author sufficiently intriguing that I can't resist. Down the road, these books often wind up jumpstarting research ideas.
For the record, these are the kind of books I bring on my vacations
In order to have time to actually read them rather than write about them , I'm cribbing from the salient parts of their self-descriptions :
1) Suzanne Berger et al, How We Compete : What Companies Around the World Are Doing to Make it in Today's Global Economy: "Based on a five-year study by the MIT Industrial Performance Center, How We Compete goes into the trenches of over 500 international companies to discover which practices are succeeding in today’s global economy, which are failing –and why.... What emerged was far more complicated than the black-and-white picture presented by promoters and opponents of globalization. Contrary to popular belief, cheap labor is not the answer, and the world is not flat, as Thomas Friedman would have it. How We Compete shows that there are many different ways to win in the global economy, and that the avenues open to American companies are much wider than we ever imagined."C) Pure play books. Books that have no relationship whatsoever with my work other than to make my brain very happy:
1) Seth Mnookin, Feeding the Monster: How Money, Smarts, and Nerve Took a Team to the Top. What looks like excellent bookend to the spate of literature, beginning with Steve Kettman's One Day At Fenway, about the renaissance of the Boston Red Sox under the new management structure of John Henry, Larry Lucchino, Tom Werner, and Theo Epstein. Mnookin has posted snippets of his book at his blog, as well as Vanity Fair.That should be enough of a list to qualify for summer vertigo.
New home disasters thread
A scant ten days after moving into our new house, I went down into our finished basement to look for something when I noticed a somewhat ripe smell. This was odd, as I'd been down there the previous day and no one else had been there during the interval (fixing up the basement is low on our priority list right now).
Poking around, it quickly became obvious that something -- and by something, I mean raw sewage -- had emerged from the mouth of the toilet bowl and bathtub that are in the bathroom down there. About half the basement carpet was soaked from this stuff.
A week later -- after the necessary profanities were uttered, the emergency plumbing visit, the emergency carpet cleaning visit, the second visit by a new set of plumbers to fix the screw-ups made by the first one, and a final de-rooting visit that was at the heart of the problem -- all is well again.
I relate this story not to build up sympathy, but because I strongly suspect that anyone who moves into a new house encounters some unforseen problem or calamity that makes life both difficult and expensive at just the wrong moment.
I therefore humbly ask my readers to submit their horror stories about moving and/or occupying a new domicile.
Tirades against moving companies (let's just say we won't be going with North American Van Lines ever again) or other contractors are heartily welcomed.