Friday, April 27, 2007

The greatest threat this blog has ever faced

I see that Dani Rodrik has now set up his own blog.

Great. Just great. Back in the day, I use to have the monopoly on blogging about the global political economy. Now Rodrik -- and his fancy-pants Albert Hirschman Prize -- comes along to make the competition more difficult. It's not enough that the man is responsible for Jaghdish Bhagwati's jeremiad against yours truly.

In all seriousness, Rodrik is a smart economist who can speak to non-economists -- so it's a very good thing that he's joined the blogosphere. And while we have some overlap in interest, his take is quite different from mine. So, in fact, everyone wins!

For example, I have to take issue with the central argument of this Rodrik post:

Imagine some change in the economy leaves Tom $3 richer and Jerry $2 poorer, and I ask you whether you approve of this change. Few economists, regardless of their political and philosophical orientation, would be able to give a straight answer without asking for more information.... In other words, most of us would care about the manner in which the distributional change occurred--i.e., about procedural fairness....

Yet when we teach comparative advantage and explain the gains from trade, we typically overlook this important conclusion. We expect our students to focus on the net gain triangles and disregard the rectangles of redistribution. In particular, we do not ask whether the trade opportunity involves an exchange that most people would consider unacceptable if it took place at home. So it is immaterial to our story if the gains from trade are created, say, by a company shutting down its factory at home and setting up a new one abroad using child labor. (By the way, I chose $3 and $2 in my example as these values are commensurate with the relative magnitudes that come out of trade models under reasonable elasticities.)

The thought experiment clarifies, I think, why the archetypal man on the street reacts differently to trade-induced changes in distribution than to technology-induced changes (i.e., to technological progress). Both increase the size of the economic pie, while often causing large income transfers. But a redistribution that takes place because home firms are undercut by competitors who employ deplorable labor practices, use production methods that are harmful to the environment, or enjoy government support is procedurally different than one that takes place because an innovator has come up with a better product through hard work or ingenuity. Trade and technological progress can have very different implications for procedural fairness. This is a point that most people instinctively grasp, but economists often miss.

I don't disagree with Rodrik's political argument here per se -- but I do have a few quibbles about it's generalizability:
1) Let's change the redistribution to the following:
a) Tom is 30 cents richer;
b) Jerry is two dollars poorer;
c) 135 people are two cents richer.
That's actually a more accurate picture of trade's effects. In focusing striictly on the employment effects, however, Rodrik elides the biggest gain from trade -- lower prices. He's correct that this is weak beer politically, but it's still worth remembering.

2) If the redistribution takes place because of regulatory races to the bottom like Rodrik claims, then he's got a point. What if, however, the redistribution takes place because of honest-to-God wage differentials? There will still be political objections even if Rodrik's provedural fainess critreria are met. How often does Rodrik's story happen as opposed to a standard wage story? As I've said before [Yes, several times--ed.], races to the bottom are pretty rare [UPDATE: for a counterargument that supports Rodrik, check out this Steven Pearlstein column in the Washington Post.]

3) Finally, it's worth pointing out that national identities matter more that questions of procedural fairness. When the the U.S. textile industry moves from the Northeast to the South to take advantage of cost differentials, there is less complaint than when the industry moves from South Carolina to China.

I suspect Rodrik's procedural concerns affect how attitudes about trade. But the simple act of redistribution across borders -- regardless of the reasons -- matters even more.

posted by Dan at 09:13 AM | Comments (10) | Trackbacks (0)

Debatable debate headlines

I'm sure my readers will be shocked -- shocked!! -- that I did not watch any of the presidential debate last night.

However, from today's headlines, I have a clear sense of what happened:

"Hillary Clinton shines in Democratic candidates' debate," The Guardian

"No Breakout Candidate at Democratic Debate," ABC News

posted by Dan at 07:33 AM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, April 26, 2007

In honor of David Halberstam...

Despite baseball's long literary tradition, reading about the sport never interested me... until I read David Halberstam's Summer of 49. Despite Halberstam's admitted pro-Yankee sympathies, the book was a gripping read.

In honor of his passing -- and his unique ability to move from engaging books about serious geopolitics to serious books about engaging sports -- this blog post will discuss both baseball and geopolitics.

First, the New York Times' Michael Shmidt reports that Major League Baseball might take the lead in normalizing relations with Cuba:

Fidel Castro, 80, has experienced serious health problems in recent years, and his brother Raúl is Cuba’s interim president, a situation that has prompted speculation about the country’s future. Baseball officials began discussions a year and a half ago about how to approach the possibility of normalizing relations with Cuba.

Baseball is contemplating a strategy for teams to sign Cuban players in an effort to create an orderly system for acquiring talent from the island, according to three baseball officials and a scholar who was briefed on the plans.

“There may not be any significant changes with our relationship with Cuba in the near term, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t think about these things,” Joe Garagiola Jr., the senior vice president for baseball operations, said in a telephone interview. “We are thinking about them, and that is probably the extent of what we can say at this point.”

Garagiola, a former general manager of the Arizona Diamondbacks, is coordinating baseball’s discussions on Cuba.

Baseball is also considering moving a minor league team to Cuba and building training academies similar to those that nearly all teams have in the Dominican Republic, according to a report earlier this month by Fortune magazine.

Major League Baseball has stepped up its efforts to expand internationally in the past year. In March 2005, baseball and the players union organized the first World Baseball Classic, a 16-team international tournament designed to broaden interest in the sport. Baseball began expansion initiatives in Asia and Africa this past off-season.

If you ask me, MLB should be even more aggressive in establishing cooperative baseball relations with Cuba. If ping-pong can thaw Sino-American relations, why not baseball for Cuba?

Meanwhile, it appears that the import of Daisuke Matsuzaka has increased demand for advertising for a lot of major league teams. The Boston Globe's Keith Reed explains:

If you watched the Red Sox play the Texas Rangers earlier this month and couldn't read the Japanese-language ads behind home plate, don't worry. Those were meant for fans watching overseas, not you.

The Rangers are among several Major League Baseball teams capitalizing on the Sox's $103 million investment in Japanese pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka by selling ballpark advertising to Japanese companies. Those firms, which include a chain of men's day spas, are trying to get their message across to fans watching broadcasts of Major League Baseball games back in Japan. The Rangers and Kansas City Royals have already sold ad space worth hundreds of thousands of dollars inside their own stadiums, though neither team has a Japanese baseball star. Several other teams have also gotten inquiries from Japanese firms about advertising when the Red Sox are playing.

"Teams like the Kansas City Royals are benefiting from the Red Sox," said Sam Kennedy , Sox vice president of sales and marketing.

The Sox, though, won't see much new revenue from Japanese sponsors at Fenway Park because most of the advertising space was sold long ago to American companies. It's also far more expensive to advertise at Fenway compared to other baseball venues.

Kennedy said the Sox have talked with an advertising agency in Japan that represented several companies with ads at other American stadiums, "but they weren't willing to pay our rates to be here."

(hat tip to David Pinto for the link).

Finally, check out Baseball Prospectus' Jim Baker on why, in almost every way possible, baseball today is better than when you were a kid. It's pretty convincing.

posted by Dan at 12:42 PM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (0)

An Iran deal?

Time's Tony Karon reports that significant progress was made in the latest round of EU-Iran negotiations. In the process, Karon does an excellent job of describing how Iran's domestic politics affects their negotiating posture:

One problem in reading Iran's intentions is that it's very easy to forget who's in charge in Tehran. The fact that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is the President doesn't mean that he is, in Bush parlance, "the decider." In fact, Iran's president has little executive authority over national security decisions (including the nuclear program), and his constitutional position makes him, if anything, probably less influential over those decisions than more pragmatic figures such as Larijani, who convenes the key foreign policy decision-making body, the National Security Council. In the end, though, there is a "decider" — the supreme spiritual leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. But Khamenei wields his authority carefully, and in a consultative manner, seeking to maintain the unity of the competing factions of Iran's political class. So, while he is said to pay greater heed to the counsel of more pragmatic advisers such as Larijani and former President Hashemi Rafsanjani, the Supreme Leader is careful to accommodate the popularly elected President Ahmadinejad. For example, while the recent compromise with Britain over the 15 Naval personnel captured at sea may have been brokered in substantial part in talks between Larijani and key British officials, it was Ahmadinejad who got to do the populist grandstanding in the ceremony accompanying their release.

Ahmadinejad recently made another media splash with an announcement that Iran planned to install 3,000 centrifuges at its research facility in Natanz — he claimed this meant it was now capable of "industrial" production of reactor fuel, which was a substantial exaggeration. Iran has installed less than half the number of centrifuges announced by Ahmadinejad, and those are experiencing far more technical difficulties than the president let on; furthermore, Iran would need 54,000 centrifuges running a lot more efficiently than those currently in place to be able to produce industrial-grade enriched uranium. Current estimates from a number of different quarters say Iran is somewhere between four and ten years away from having the capacity to produce nuclear-weapons materiel....

Ahmadinejad needs to talk up the achievements of the nuclear program precisely because he has been unable to keep his chicken-in-every-pot election campaign promises. His posturing may have little to do with Iran's real intentions in the nuclear standoff with the West and much more to do with setting up a popularly acceptable compromise. Claiming, as Ahmadinejad did, that the fuel cycle had been mastered and Iran was now a "nuclear nation" could help persuade a domestic audience that Iran is not backing down on the "rights" it has so forcefully proclaimed if Tehran agrees to suspend its enrichment activities.

If a deal would require Iran to find some way to turn off its centrifuges, the Western powers would have to make some concessions, too. The U.S. had originally insisted that Iran could not be allowed to keep any enrichment facilities on its own soil, but it is now being reported that Solana may offer a deal in which Iran would keep its current small-scale enrichment research facility, although not actually run it, for now. Reports suggest that the U.S. will push for the Natanz facility to revert to "cold standby," i.e. turning off but not dismantling the centrifuges, whereas Iran would counter that they be kept spinning, although empty of uranium.

The very fact that the negotiations are focused on such details of a mutually acceptable formula for defining what is meant by "suspension" of Iran's activities suggests that the current trend in the nuclear talks is towards compromise, rather than confrontation.

If this analysis is correct, then one has to expect Ahmadinejad to try and delay agreement for as long as humanly possible. The fact is, once the nuclear issue is settled, he will be hard-pressed to achieve any of his populist goals.

UPDATE: In the Financial Times, Najmeh Bozorgmehr decribes Ahmadinejad's five-day trip through the province of Fars. It presets a mixed picture of the president -- though Bozorgmehr concludes:

I can’t help but ponder the recent analyses in political and intellectual circles in Tehran, most of which has argued that Mr Ahmadi-Nejad is finished politically. After the five-day tour, this seems like wishful thinking. His rivals have a tough challenge ahead.
ANOTHER UPDATE: Dennis Ross, on the other hand, argues over at TNR Online that Ahmadinejad and the Revolutionary Guards are waning in power.

posted by Dan at 02:41 AM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

The Jonathan Rauch interview

Let me join Andrew Sullivan and Virginia Postrel in linking to this Reason interview with National Jounal columnist Jonathan Rauch. Uneknownst to him, Rauch is partly responsible for the creation of this blog.

Two parts of the interview that stand out. The first reflects Rauch's spot-on take on government:

[R]ight-sizing government, if you mean imposing some preconceived size that you or I or someone else might have, is impossible. Impossible, probably inconceivable and simply not going to happen ever.

When you get right down to it, there doesn't seem to be really much of a constituency in this country for reducing the size of government in painful or unpleasant ways. Even Barry Goldwater, when he ran for president, announced that he wouldn't cut any farm subsidies, for example.

Government is an enormous ecosystem. It is, in its way, as decentralized and unmanageable as the ecosystem out there in nature. You can change the input and you'll get some change in the output, but if I've learned one thing in 25 years in Washington, it's that there far too many interests and actors for any politician to do more than work the margins. But working the margins is very, very important.

In fact, it can be the difference between having a static and enfeebling government--like the government of Japan was until comparatively recently, until the Koizumi period--and a government that gets out of the way enough so that you have room for new technology, new ideas, and some reform.

The second reflects Rauch's wariness of blog triumphalism:
I'm not a fan of the idea that the journalist and the journalist's attitude should be front and center. I think that a good journalist's duty is to get out of the way. The hardest thing about journalism--the hardest thing, a much higher art than being clever--is just to get out of the way, to show the leader of the world as the reader would see it if the reader were there. Just to be eyes and ears. Calvin Trillin, another writer I greatly admired who steered me towards journalism, once said that getting himself out of his stories was like taking off a very tight shirt in a very small phone booth. He's right.

I think Maureen Dowd is very good at what she does. But the problem is that lots of people who aren't any good at it think this is journalism. It's what we should all be doing, showing off our attitude. I think that sets a bad example. The blogosphere tends to further the [notion] that journalism is about opinion and not about fact. I think that's wrong.

Most people think they know truth and think that what they know is right. They're usually wrong. Journalists are among the few people in society who are actually paid to try go out and learn things. Checking is the core of what we do. David Broder once said that the old slogan in journalism is, "If your mother says she loves you, check it."

Read the whole thing.

posted by Dan at 03:20 PM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Ta-ta and au revoir

I'm off to Europe for an intensive week-long series of meetings to think about the transatlantic relationship. Blogging will hereby be intermittent for a few days.

Talk amongs yourselves. Topics:

1) Barack Obama gave a foreign policy speech. What do you think of it?

2) Daryl Press and Eugene Gholz argue in this Cato briefing that concerns about peak oil, resource-grabbing by China, and poltical instability affecting U.S. energy imports are overblown. Compare and contrast with Thomas F. Homer-Dixon's essay about environment-inducing wars in the New York Times. Can both visions of the future be correct?

3) Books that you're reading. I'm taking with me the proofs version of Brink Lindsey's Age of Abundance and John Lukacs' George Kennan.

posted by Dan at 02:26 PM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, April 23, 2007

The politics of global warming, continued

Following up on my last post about global warming, I see there was a bit of a kerfuffle at the White House Correspondents Dinner. Sheryl Crow and Laurie David explain over at The Huffington Post:

The "highlight" of the evening had to be when we were introduced to Karl Rove. How excited were we to have our first opportunity ever to talk directly to the Bush Administration about global warming.

We asked Mr. Rove if he would consider taking a fresh look at the science of global warming. Much to our dismay, he immediately got combative. And it went downhill from there....

We felt compelled to remind him that the research is done and the results are in ( Mr. Rove exploded with even more venom. Like a spoiled child throwing a tantrum, Mr. Rove launched into a series of illogical arguments regarding China not doing enough thus neither should we. (Since when do we follow China's lead?)...

In his attempt to dismiss us, Mr. Rove turned to head toward his table, but as soon as he did so, Sheryl reached out to touch his arm. Karl swung around and spat, "Don't touch me." How hardened and removed from reality must a person be to refuse to be touched by Sheryl Crow? Unphased, Sheryl abruptly responded, "You can't speak to us like that, you work for us." Karl then quipped, "I don't work for you, I work for the American people." To which Sheryl promptly reminded him, "We are the American people."

The New York Times story by Jim Rutenberg on the encounter discusses the fallout:
Recriminations between the celebrities and the White House carried over into Sunday, with Ms. Crow and Ms. David calling Mr. Rove “a spoiled child throwing a tantrum” and the White House criticizing their “Hollywood histrionics.”

I honestly thought that I was going to change his mind, like, right there and then,” Ms. David said Sunday, The Associated Press reported....

In their Web posting, Ms. Crow and Ms. David described Mr. Rove as responding with “anger flaring,” and as having “exploded with even more venom” as the argument continued.

“She came over to insult me,” Mr. Rove said Saturday night, “and she succeeded.”

Lots of blog reaction -- Joe Gandelman, Colin McEnroe, Ann Alhouse, and, well, lots of other places.

A few thoughts:

1) Laurie David is 100% correct on one thing -- no one should ever say "don't touch me" to Sheryl Crow. I mean, really, that's just wrong.

2) It also appears that Laurie David subscribes to the Jeffrey Sachs theory of politics: there are no genuine political or policy disagreements, just a nice long talk can convince anyone to change their position. This is not to absolve Rove or the Bush administration of their rejection of global warming. It's merely to point out that there is a political logic to their policies. Which leads us to ....

3) This is not a case of "why can't everyone just get along?" Yes, there are significant benefits that can be attained through multilateral cooperation to combat global warming. There are also very significant distributional consequences as well, however. Those distributional consequences will not be resolved anytime soon, will be subject to fierce bargaining, and will likely result in policies that seem unfair to a great many people.

4) Everyone should breathe a sigh of relief that righteous indignation is not a flammable gas... just think of the potential carnage that would have ensued.

Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe people like David and Crow will actually generate a Kumbaya-moment in world politics. But I'm very, very dubious about it.

posted by Dan at 09:29 AM | Comments (25) | Trackbacks (0)

Saturday, April 21, 2007

On global warming, life will not be fair

Reuters reports the latest trends in CO2 emissons:

China will overtake the United States as the world’s biggest emitter of heat-trapping carbon dioxide (CO2) either this year or next, the International Energy Agency said on Wednesday.

The estimate is much firmer than the IEA’s previous forecast, last November, that on current trends China would overtake the United States before 2010.

”Either this year or next year,” IEA Chief Economist Fatih Birol told Reuters, in answer to the question of when China would overtake the United States....

China is set to become the world’s top carbon emitter just as serious talks start to extend the U.N.-sponsored Kyoto Protocol on global warming beyond 2012, potentially heaping pressure on Beijing to take more action on climate change.

A copy of a so-far unpublished Chinese government global warming report, seen by Reuters, rejects binding caps on carbon emissions until the country’s modernisation, by the middle of this century, opting instead to brake emissions growth.

The United States, which pulled out of Kyoto in 2001, would not join a new climate change regime unless it also applied to China and India, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union said on Wednesday.

”There will be no comprehensive global warming legislation coming out of the United States... that does not include limits or a programme for China, India and the rest of the developing world,” Ambassador C. Boyden Gray told Reuters in an interview ahead of an April 30 U.S.-EU summit.

Few Western climate negotiators expect China to accept caps from 2013 but do want to see a timeline for that....

Latest data shows China is building a coal-fired power plant every four days, British foreign ministry official John Ashton said on Monday.

Growth in the emerging Asian giant’s emissions puts in perspective Western efforts to fight climate change, Birol said.

”What we do in Europe may be with good intentions, may be very ethical... but if you put it in terms of numbers its meaning is very limited.”

Read the whole thing.

One could argue -- as China will -- that the U.S. produces far more pollutants per person -- not to mention the fact that the OECD countries are responsible for much of pre-existing pollution in the atmosphere.

However, if this IPCC report is correct, then global warming will have disproportionate effects on the poorer countries of the world. From a bargaining perspective, it will be interesting to see whether this effect will put greater pressure on China than the United States.

posted by Dan at 02:42 PM | Comments (12) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, April 19, 2007

The very thin line between comedy and tragedy

Compare and contrast:




posted by Dan at 05:39 PM | Comments (9) | Trackbacks (0)

Who are the go-to economists for the 2008 campaign?

David Leonhardt provides the answer in the New York Times:

For the 2008 campaign, the six leading campaigns have each signed up their first-string economic policy teams. These advisers don’t hold the sway that the political aides do, but they can ultimately have a bigger effect on the world. If the next president is going to reform health care, attack climate change or address middle-class anxiety, the solution is going to be shaped by these policy advisers. As Douglas Holtz-Eakin, John McCain’s director of economic policy, says, “If you’re specific about what you want to do and you win, you have a mandate.”
Read the whole thing to see who's advising who. I'm relieved to see that Obama is getting decent economic advice -- his chief economic advisor is University of Chicago professor Austan Goolsbee.

Leonhardt's conclusion emphasized a point I've made here in the past: The truth is that if you put the economic advisers, from both parties, in a room and told them to hammer out solutions to the country’s big economic problems, they would find a lot of common ground. They could agree that doctors and patients need better incentives to choose effective medical care. They would probably hit upon education policies along similar lines, requiring that schools be held more accountable for what their students are, and are not, learning. They might suggest a carbon tax — a favorite idea of Mr. Mankiw — to deal with global warming. And they would shore up Social Security by reducing benefits for high earners, as Mr. Hubbard has suggested.

Not all of these ideas are politically feasible at this point, but presidential campaigns can change what’s feasible. Here’s hoping that this year’s crop of economic advisers has the courage of their convictions.

posted by Dan at 11:01 AM | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Sympathy for a neocon and other musings

My latest bloggingheads duet is up -- this time with Matthew Yglesias.

This was a fun one for me, at least, because the conversation looped back around. Topics include the Virginia Tech shootings, whether one should feel pity for Paul Wolfowitz, the tension between being a presidential candidate and becoming president, and -- of course -- the book.

posted by Dan at 11:48 PM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)

Are China scholars bought and paid for by Beijing?

Carsten Holz has a must-read in the Far Eastern Economic Review on the relationship between China scholars and the Chinese state:

Academics who study China, which includes the author, habitually please the Chinese Communist Party, sometimes consciously, and often unconsciously. Our incentives are to conform, and we do so in numerous ways: through the research questions we ask or don’t ask, through the facts we report or ignore, through our use of language, and through what and how we teach.

Foreign academics must cooperate with academics in China to collect data and co-author research. Surveys are conducted in a manner that is acceptable to the Party, and their content is limited to politically acceptable questions. For academics in China, such choices come naturally. The Western side plays along.

China researchers are equally constrained in their solo research. Some Western China scholars have relatives in China. Others own apartments there. Those China scholars whose mother tongue is not Chinese have studied the language for years and have built their careers on this large and nontransferable investment. We benefit from our connections in China to obtain information and insights, and we protect these connections. Everybody is happy, Western readers for the up-to-date view from academia, we ourselves for prospering in our jobs, and the Party for getting us to do its advertising. China is fairly unique in that the incentives for academics all go one way: One does not upset the Party.

What happens when we don’t play along is all too obvious. We can’t attract Chinese collaborators. When we poke around in China to do research we run into trouble. Li Shaomin, associate professor in the marketing department of City University in Hong Kong and a U.S. citizen, spent five months in a Chinese jail on charges of “endangering state security.” In his own words, his crimes were his critical views of China’s political system, his visits to Taiwan, his use of Taiwanese funds to conduct research on politically sensitive issues, and his collecting research data in China. City University offered no support, and once he was released he went to teach at Old Dominion University in Virginia. One may wonder what five months in the hands of Chinese secret police does to one’s psyche, and what means the Party used to silence Mr. Li. To academics in Hong Kong, the signal was not lost.

China researchers across different disciplines may not all be equally affected. Economists and political scientists are likely to come up against the Party constraint frequently, and perhaps severely. But even sociologists or ethnographers can reach the forbidden zone when doing network studies or examining ethnic minority cultures.

[What about academics that rely on U.S. government funding? Isn't that the same thing?--ed. Potentially, and scholars have made this point. Because of the large number of U.S. foundations that can supply independent research funding, however, the effect is much more muted.]

This paragraph stood out in particular:

Article after article pores over the potential economic reasons for the increase in income inequality in China. We ignore the fact that of the 3,220 Chinese citizens with a personal wealth of 100 million yuan ($13 million) or more, 2, 932 are children of high-level cadres. Of the key positions in the five industrial sectors—finance, foreign trade, land development, large-scale engineering and securities—85% to 90% are held by children of high-level cadres.

posted by Dan at 09:00 AM | Comments (8) | Trackbacks (2)

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

An open question to faculty readers

According to the Washington Post, there were some warning signs from Cho Seung Hui before he killed more than 30 people at Virginia Tech: "Cho was an English major whose creative writing was so disturbing that he was referred to the school's counseling service, the Associated Press reported."

This fact prompted an e-mail from a colleague that raises a disturbing question:

In 8 years, I've taught hundreds of students. 2 of them so alarmed me by their behavior, I contacted the Dean of Students office to see what could be done. The answer: nothing. The best I got was a half-baked assurance that voluntary counseling would be suggested to one of them (he was an undergraduate who had insisted on taking my graduate seminar, showed up and refused to leave on the first day of class, and then sent me increasingly enraged emails filled with expletives and threats to bring charges against me to the Dean of Students). I ended up having to have a staff member escort me to class in case the student showed up again. He didn't, fortunately. But I didn't follow up and I bet nobody else did, either.

When a faculty or staff member reports disturbing student activity, what is the appropriate response? Can any actions be mandatory? What feedback loops should be regularly instituted? I don't have any answers, but I do have an acute sense of vulnerability -- universities, esp. public ones, are wide open.

All professors have encountered or will encounter this problem in their careers -- the student who seems way too intense for their own good.

That said, I'm also concerned about overreaction. What happened at Blacksburg is a rare event, and red-flagging students just for being intense and weird can create problems as well. [UPDATE: Megan McArdle elaborates on this point.]

Time's Julie Rawe has one story on how different universities are coping with this problem.

A few questions to faculty readers out there, however:

1) Have you ever encountered a student you suspected of being capable of violence on this scale?

2) What action did you take?

3) What, if anything, could or should universities do to improve security?

posted by Dan at 03:06 PM | Comments (30) | Trackbacks (0)

Just a typical Patriot's Day game at Fenway

A little comedy to cope with yesterday's tragedy. The following incident occurred at the Patriot's Day game between the Boston Red Sox and Los Angeles Angels of Aneheim:

This clip has been in rotation on ESPN for the past day. But kudos to the Boston Herald's John Tomase, who actually tracked down those involved to get at the root causes of the incident:
Jason Sole just wanted to catch a foul ball. Matt Madore was merely trying to eat some pizza....

It turns out Sole had given them grief about having a large pizza in the stands just moments before the at-bat. He wanted to know where they got it.

“He turned around and said something like, ‘Your mother,’ ” Sole said.

“No,” interjected [Sole's girlfriend, Anya] Ho. “He said, ‘The pizzeria.’ ”

Either way, all parties were annoyed.

“They had been giving us (expletive) about it,” Madore said. “Next thing I know, there’s a fly ball to left field and it goes foul and my buddy says, ‘You want some pizza now?’ And he hits him right in the face. Hey, the guy wasn’t paying attention. When you’re in the stands you’ve got to be ready for anything - a foul ball, a flying slice of pizza, everything.”

[Madore's buddy Danny] Kelly, sporting a Patriots jacket, was tossed.

“It was just a stupid thing,” he said. “It’s not something to be proud of. It was just stupidity all around.”

Madore and Sole began jawing - “He has a little bit of a temper,” Ho said - and Madore got the boot, as well.

By the time the eighth inning rolled around, however, most involved couldn’t stop laughing. Sole fielded nonstop calls from friends telling him he was on NESN, which named him “Fan of the Game.” (emphasis added)

Note to self: when taking son to Red Sox game, bring special pizza-protective clothing.

It should be noted that the Boston Globe abjectly failed to cover this pizza incident. [UPDATE: Drezner gets results from the Boston Globe's baseball blog!!!]

The Boston Herald -- politics, sports, and random pizza-throwing incidents. It's all there.

posted by Dan at 09:16 AM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, April 16, 2007

Tragedies, opportunities, and opportunism

I've blogged long enough to know that when an event like the Virginia Tech shootings takes place, I don't have all that much to say. This is true of many bloggers. Tragedies like this render most insta-commentary completely superfluous.

Eugene Volokh, however, raises a valid question -- is it appropriate to talk about policy immediately after such an event?:

I'm not sure what the answer is, but I thought I'd pose the question here (hoping that at least there's nothing wrong with using the tragedy as an occasion for asking this meta-question). I don't think the answer is clearly "yes, wait," the way it is as to critical obituaries of writers whose work one dislikes; responding to death using unpersonalized policy discussion is different from responding to death using personalized criticism of the dead person. On the other hand, I don't think the answer is clearly "no, go ahead," at least as a matter of first principles; perhaps we ought to have a social ritual of grief and condolences first, policy analysis (even of the most cerebral sort) later, and perhaps the very immediacy of the tragedy may lead to unsound first thoughts about the policy questions.
Orin Kerr is more cautious:
[T]he problem with responding to news of tragedy with policy ideas right away is that we tend not to realize in such situations how often our "proposals" are really expressions of psychological need. It's human nature to respond to tragedy by fitting it into our preexisting worldviews; we instinctively restore order by construing the tragic event as a confirmation of our sense of the world rather than a threat to it.

This means that often we won't pay a lot of attention to the details of tragedies and what caused them. We'll just know deep down inside what happened, and what caused it, and how to stop it next time. Take today's tragic events at VA Tech. If you're committed to gun control, the tragedy probably proves to you that there are too many guns; if you're against gun control, the tragedy probably proves the exact opposite. Given that people will tend to see in events what they want to see, turning to policy right away will come off as rudely "playing politics" to those who don't share your worldview. And obviously this doesn't foster a helpful environment for policymaking, either.

There's another problem, however -- events like today's shootings open up what John Kingdon labels a "policy window" -- a moment in the media glare for policy entrepreneurs to hawk their policy wares.

On the one hand there are first-mover advantages to framing an event in a way that privileges your preferred policies. The conundrum, of course, is that on the other hand, articulating such a frame before the facts are clear carries extraordinary risks of a) creating a backlash by pouring salt on a public wound; b) being labeled as opportunistic, and c) looking foolish as the facts become clearer.

I don't have any grand answers here -- but I'm sure my readers will.

posted by Dan at 10:16 PM | Comments (8) | Trackbacks (0)

China's fifteen months of vulnerability

Seth Weinberger posts about how Mia Farrow was able to pressure the Chinese regime into pressuring the Sudanese government on Darfur. Steven Spielberg is involved. What really matters, however, is that the Chinese leadership will do just about anything to ensure that the Beijing Olympics are a smashing success.

I've blogged before about how the Olympics will affect China's domestic policies. This example suggests that China's behavior between now and the summer of 2008 will nor necessarily reflect their long term foreign policy.

Bear that in mind over the next 15 months.

Question to readers -- given that China will be uniquely vulnerable for a short while, which shift in Beijing's foreign policy would you most like to see?

posted by Dan at 10:06 PM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)

Will Paul Wolfowitz stay or go?

From the World Bank's Development Committee communique:

We have to ensure that the Bank can effectively carry out its mandate and maintain its credibility and reputation as well as the motivation of its staff. The current situation is of great concern to all of us. We endorse the Board's actions in looking into this matter and we asked it to complete its work. We expect the Bank to adhere to a high standard of internal governance.
What exactly is "the current situation"? Let's go to Sebastian Mallaby:
The scandal centers on the pay of people around Paul Wolfowitz, the World Bank president. Kevin Kellems, an unremarkable press-officer-cum-aide who had previously worked for Wolfowitz at the Pentagon, pulls down $240,000 tax-free -- the low end of the salary scale for World Bank vice presidents, who typically have PhDs and 25 years of development experience. Robin Cleveland, who also parachuted in with Wolfowitz, gets $250,000 and a free pass from the IRS, far more than her rank justifies. Kellems and Cleveland have contracts that don't expire when Wolfowitz's term is up. They have been granted quasi-tenure.

Then there is the matter of Shaha Riza, a long-standing bank official who is Wolfowitz's romantic partner. She went on paid leave (seconded to the State Department) after Wolfowitz arrived; her salary has since jumped from $133,000 to $194,000. When questions were first asked about Riza's rewards, a spokesman declared that the matter had been handled by the bank's board and general counsel, implying that the bank president himself had not been responsible. But the truth was that Wolfowitz had been closely involved, as a contrite Wolfowitz admitted yesterday.

Treating an anti-poverty institution this way would look bad under any circumstances. But the scandal is especially damaging to Wolfowitz because his leadership had generated questions already. He has alienated the staff by concentrating too much power in the hands of Kellems and the abrasive Cleveland; he has alienated shareholders by presenting half-baked strategy ideas; he has alienated borrowers by blocking loans, sometimes capriciously. Moreover, Wolfowitz has made the battle against corruption his signature issue. He of all people should have thought twice before sanctioning exorbitant pay for his entourage.

In context, the Development Committee statement is pretty damning. The New York Times' Steven Weisman explains:
Though the language was indirect, the message it sent was unmistakable, according to officials who have been meeting in Washington the last few days. “Words like ‘concerned,’ ‘credibility’ and ‘reputation’ are pretty unprecedented for a communiqué from a place like the World Bank,” said an official involved in the drafting of the statement.

At issue in these statements was a crisis arising from Mr. Wolfowitz’s involvement in decisions to transfer his companion, Shaha Ali Riza, to a new job and give her a raise.

Officially, Mr. Wolfowitz and the bank are now to wait for a full report by the bank’s board on his leadership and charges of favoritism in dealing with Ms. Riza, who was employed at the bank until 2005. But bank officials said that in delaying a finding, the board seemed to be buying time for Mr. Wolfowitz to consider resigning.

European officials close to the bank said that if anything, Mr. Wolfowitz’s apparent dismissal of the criticism on Sunday would increase the determination of the wealthy European donor nations of the bank — especially Britain, France and Germany — that he needed to step aside for the good of the bank....

“We have not heard anything that will change our minds,” said April Cave, chairwoman of the association that represents most of the bank’s 7,000 employees in Washington. “He has apologized, but he hasn’t shown how he can restore trust at the bank.”

It should be noted that Wolfowitz has his supporters among African representatives. And lord knows the Bank does not have completely clean hands when it comes to corruption. As the Economist points out, the Bank's ethics board is complicit in giving Wolfowitz the ability to transfer Riza. Click here for Wolfowitz's own explanation. [UPDATE: The Wall Street Journal has an editorial that makes these points even more forcefully.]

In theory, I suppose Wolfowitz can try to ride out the media storm. In practice, I don't see how he can continue when he's alienated both the Bank staff and powerful donor countries.

Question to readers -- who leaves first, Wolfowitz or Alberto Gonzales?

posted by Dan at 12:20 AM | Comments (21) | Trackbacks (0)

Saturday, April 14, 2007

What would Jackie Robinson think?

The title of this post have been a running theme of sports columnists over the past few months. As we approach the 60th anniversary of Robinson breaking the color line in the major leagues, columnists and players are bemoaning the declining percentage of African-American players in Major League Baseball.

Michael Wilbon's Washington Post column is one of the more nuanced examples of this argument:

The 60th anniversary of Jackie Robinson integrating baseball is tomorrow, and African American participation in what was once American's pastime has dropped to a stunning low. Only 8 percent of Major League Baseball players are African American. Historically black colleges and universities field teams that are often one-third to one-half white and Hispanic because African American children have no interest in playing the sport their fathers and grandfathers would play from sunup to sundown from the time slavery ended until the mid-1970s.
The reason Wilbon's argument is nuanced is that he recognizes that this decline is due to individual choice rather than any implicit barrier:
[T]his problem, if it is one, too frequently is being laid at the feet of Major League Baseball. But this isn't a chicken-or-egg conundrum. We know which came first: Black kids stopped playing baseball, to some degree of their own free will. Nobody forced them out, or even nudged them. They fell out of love with baseball, probably at about the time Michael Jordan became America's No. 1 sporting icon, and have had a basketball obsession since the mid-1980s. Football, with its 85 scholarships per Division I school, vs. baseball, with an average of 11.7 scholarships per school, became firmly entrenched as the No. 2 sport in blackworld.

"If I'm a parent whose child needs a scholarship," [MLB's executive vice president of baseball operations Jimmie Lee] Solomon said, "I'm going to point him to football, where there's a full ride, not to baseball, where there might be one-half scholarship available, or one-third or one-fourth. Most black kids can't go to school like that."

Beyond college benefits, there are powerful financial incentives for poor kids to choose football or basketball over baseball. Because of baseball's minor league "apprentice" system, young players in baseball face a few years in bus leagues before earning a crack at The Show. In their first contract, potential stars will earn far more money between age 18-25 in basketball or football (though star baseball players have longer careers than players in other sports). Furthermore, star athletes from the first two sports receive far more in commercial endorsements -- especially basketball -- in the early stages of their career (as Wilbon points out, LeBron James had a $90 million endorsement deal from Nike before he played a single game in the NBA).

Is this system a cause for concern? Would it make Jackie Robinson sad? The answer depends on whether you believe that baseball remains the first among equals as the sport of significance. Although football and basketball are now equally popular, the cultural and literary traditions of baseball are very powerful in this country. For Americans of a certain age and political persuasion, there is a strong desire to see baseball as the mirror reflecting the way America should be.

I'm a baseball fan, but I'm an even bigger fan of expanded opportunities. So I can't get worked up about it.

UPDATE: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Terrence Moore thinks that commentators are exaggerating the declining interest in baseball among African-Americans. And ESPN's Eric Neel looks at one urban youth academy for baseball.

posted by Dan at 09:25 AM | Comments (19) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, April 12, 2007

True or false?

I'm conferencing tomorrow, so blogging will likely be light.

Talk amongs yourselves. Here's an interesting question, from this Peter Suderman post at NRO's Corner:

[T]he war is a major dividing issue in our country right now. It’s going to be tough to reach even a rough national consensus on it no matter what, but that we can’t even agree on who to trust for information—and, as a result, what’s actually happening—only makes things more difficult.
Question #1: Is Suderman correct in his assessment?

Question #2: if Suderman is correct, then how can any useful policy be formulated?

posted by Dan at 10:08 PM | Comments (12) | Trackbacks (0)

Do not freak out about Iran's "industrial" nuclear program

In TNR Online, Michael Levi explains why Iran's claim of having an "industrial" enrichment program is a crock:

[Iran's] progress is actually much less than meets the eye. It has developed nothing remotely resembling an industrial capacity to enrich uranium, nor is there any evidence that it has made surprising new strides toward a nuclear weapon. And taking the Iranian claims at face value would be worse than error; it would be a strategic miscalculation that could help entrench the Iranian nuclear program and make it even more difficult to oppose.

According to the "Iran Dossier" prepared by the International Institute for Strategic Studies, 3,000 first-generation Iranian centrifuges operating perfectly for approximately one year could produce enough fissile material to fuel one nuclear bomb. That makes the Iranian announcement sound pretty scary. But it's far from clear that Iran can come anywhere close to perfection in operating its machines. David Albright recently estimated, based on data published by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), that the centrifuges in Iran's 164-machine cascade were operating roughly 20 percent of the time. If the new 3,000-centerfuge plant functions at that level, it would take five years for it to produce enough material for a bomb. There is, of course, an outside chance that Iran has made immense technical leaps in recent years; but we shouldn't let worst-case fears that lack hard evidence dominate our policymaking.

Moreover, as Jeffrey Lewis has noted, Iran has so far used less than one ton of uranium hexafluoride, the form of uranium used in a centrifuge plant. That number has special significance. Iran bought what experts call "hex" from China back in 1991--one ton's worth, enough for the work Tehran has completed so far. But Iran's homemade hex is thought to be of poor quality: If the Iranians fed it into their centrifuges, the machines could break down. So, if Iran has used only Chinese uranium to date, even its shaky performance so far may overstate its capabilities, since, according to my calculations, it would need at least seven tons to make a bomb. It's possible Tehran has acquired more high-quality hex elsewhere, but IAEA investigations suggest that this is unlikely.

Nor would the Iranian facility be industrial scale even if it were functioning perfectly. Common sense demands that an industrial-scale enrichment plant be able to support a nuclear industry. A simple estimate, though, shows that the new facility would take roughly ten years to produce the fuel needed to operate Iran's single nuclear power plant for one year. If the Iranian facility is industrial scale, then my kitchen is a bakery.

posted by Dan at 12:38 AM | Comments (12) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

How does Jeffrey Sachs think about politics?

Via Greg Mankiw, I read with interest Chris Giles' Financial Times interview with Jeffrey Sachs. This part stood out in particular:

We move on to talk about a specific project Sachs is currently involved in, Millennium Villages, where his ideas on fertilisers, malarial bed-nets and the like are tried on the ground. My less-than-ecstatic reaction to his reports of their success is clearly the same as that of many aid agencies. It instantly raises his hackles. I suggest there are many examples where success in pilots does not translate into something that can be replicated on a large scale, and that you don’t necessarily need to try something to know it won’t work. ”I’m sorry,” he is almost shouting now. ”That, I disagree with completely. That’s preposterous.”

I realise I have exaggerated for effect, and counter that it is equally preposterous to insist they will work. ”I know,” he says, ”but how do you actually do something in life? Do you list all the things that may go wrong and then decide we won’t do it, or do you actually try?”

We talk about global warming. It’s easily solvable, Sachs insists, because the costs of doing something about carbon emissions are exaggerated - so people will soon realise that they can cut carbon emissions without much pain. We talk about global trade - all the US has to do is offer an aid, trade and climate change deal to the rest of the world and a solution is within reach. We talk about US healthcare - within a few years, people will see sense and the uninsured will be covered, he predicts.

As coffee arrives, I wonder aloud whether economics really can solve these big global challenges. In Sachs’s world, problems aren’t really problems because there is always an easy solution. I suggest vested interests, national differences and the fact that reforms tend to throw up winners and losers make issues rather more intractable than he believes. Bringing the subject full circle back to his lectures, he says: ”The key word of all of these lectures is ’choice’. A generation has a choice, and we have choices we make collectively... We have some absolutely terrific opportunities... but we miss opportunities all the time. That’s why it is really important to understand what these choices are - and that is what I’m trying to explain in these lectures.”

Every once in a blue moon, politics works like Sachs decribes in the last paragraph. Most of the time, however, politics bears no relationship whatsoever to this kind of model. And the belief that this is how politics works is a problem that seems to plague really bright economists.

posted by Dan at 10:22 AM | Comments (6) | Trackbacks (0)

News stories to make Karl Rove weep

For six years, the essence of Karl Rove's political strategy has been to have a Republican base so unified, motivated, and organized that it gives the GOP a clear leg up on Election Day.

This is why I'm thinking that Rove can't be happy with stories like Martin Stolz in the New York Times:

The invitation extended to Vice President Dick Cheney to be the commencement speaker at Brigham Young University has set off a rare, continuing protest at the Mormon university, one of the nation’s most conservative.

Some of the faculty and the 28,000 undergraduate and graduate students, who are overwhelmingly Republican, have expressed concern about the Bush administration’s support for the war in Iraq and other policies, but most of the current protest has focused on Mr. Cheney’s integrity, character and behavior. Several students said, for example, that they were appalled at Mr. Cheney’s use of an expletive on the Senate floor in a June 2004 exchange with Senator Patrick J. Leahy, Democrat of Vermont.

“The problem is this is a morally dubious man,” said Andrew Christensen, a 22-year-old Republican from Salt Lake City. “It’s challenging the morality and integrity of this institution.”

[Well, it could be worse, right? I mean, Rove can still count on veterans?--ed.] Yeah, not so much now. Peter Baker and Thomas Ricks explain the problem at the elite level in the Washington Post:
The White House wants to appoint a high-powered czar to oversee the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan with authority to issue directions to the Pentagon, the State Department and other agencies, but it has had trouble finding anyone able and willing to take the job, according to people close to the situation.

At least three retired four-star generals approached by the White House in recent weeks have declined to be considered for the position, the sources said, underscoring the administration's difficulty in enlisting its top recruits to join the team after five years of warfare that have taxed the United States and its military.

"The very fundamental issue is, they don't know where the hell they're going," said retired Marine Gen. John J. "Jack" Sheehan, a former top NATO commander who was among those rejecting the job. Sheehan said he believes that Vice President Cheney and his hawkish allies remain more powerful within the administration than pragmatists looking for a way out of Iraq. "So rather than go over there, develop an ulcer and eventually leave, I said, 'No, thanks,' " he said.

The White House has not publicly disclosed its interest in creating the position, hoping to find someone President Bush can anoint and announce for the post all at once. Officials said they are still considering options for how to reorganize the White House's management of the two conflicts. If they cannot find a person suited for the sort of specially empowered office they envision, they said, they may have to retain the current structure. (emphasis added)

[C'mon, that's just a couple of generals!!--ed.] As Bryan Bener explains in the Boston Globe, it's more than just generals:
Recent graduates of the US Military Academy at West Point are choosing to leave active duty at the highest rate in more than three decades, a sign to many military specialists that repeated tours in Iraq are prematurely driving out some of the Army's top young officers.

According to statistics compiled by West Point, of the 903 Army officers commissioned upon graduation in 2001, nearly 46 percent left the service last year -- 35 percent at the conclusion of their five years of required service, and another 11 percent over the next six months. And more than 54 percent of the 935 graduates in the class of 2000 had left active duty by this January, the statistics show.

The figures mark the lowest retention rate of graduates after the completion of their mandatory duty since at least 1977, with the exception of members of three classes in the late 1980s who were encouraged to leave as the military downsized following the end of the Cold War.

[Well, I'm sure things will improve for the GOP in 2008!--ed.] Sure they will.

posted by Dan at 08:53 AM | Comments (10) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

The trailer that haunts me today

Surfing the web yesterday, I came across this trailer for Away From Her, a film directed by actress Sarah Polley:

I have no idea if the movie will be as good as this trailer (though it seems to have won a few festival awards). That said, it's been 24 hours and I can't shake this from my head.

The official blog wife thinks it's because I'm becoming a complete sap. This is indeed a possibility.

Click here to see a short interview with Polley about the film.

posted by Dan at 05:15 PM | Comments (6) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, April 9, 2007

Four different ways of looking at KORUS

A couple of days ago Robert Wright laid down a challenge to me on about this post on the proposed Korea-US free trade agreement (KORUS). I argued that KORUS was a step forward for freer trade. Bob's basic contention is more bilateral FTAs that are created, the more the WTO is undercut. Even worse, these sorts of trade agreements threaten Bob's scheme to have the WTO become the anchor of enhanced global governance.

My answer is as follows: there are several different ways to look at KORUS, and whether it's a good or bad thing depends on what you care about:

1) If you care primarily about global trade expansion -- then you have to have mixed feelings about KORUS. On the one hand, the Doha round would have a far greater impact. On the other hand, as Tyler Cowen points out here, even FTAs without most favored nation clauses tend to encourage the negotiation of more FTAs. Plus, the United States and Korea are not small players in the global trading system. In terms of goods or services, the United States and South Korea are among the top 10 trading powers. In other words, this is a large enough FTA to matter on its own (though click here for a counterargument).

2) If you care primarily about U.S. foreign policy -- then KORUS is a (mostly) good thing. The U.S.-South Korea alliance has not had the best of times during the Bush and Roh presidencies. This kind of deal cements and institutionalizes the relationship despite such tensions. This ain't bad. The one caveat is that for those who would like to see the United States disengage from the Korean peninsula would be hard-pressed to do so while this agreement is in effect.

3) If you care about robust global governance structures -- then this ain't the agreement for you. Wright is correct to suggest that the proliferation of FTAs sends a bad signal to the rest of the world about the relative importance of the WTO. As I've argued elsewhere in nauseating detail, the proliferation of these kind of agreements has the paradoxical potential to weaken the overall power and legitimacy of international institutions.

4) If you care about the ends that Bob Wright cares about -- then you should look on the bright side. As I argued on bloggingheads last year, I'm not terribly optimistic that the WTO will (or should) ever take on the attributes and policies that Bob wants the WTO to adopt. Bilateral trade agreements, on the other hand, allow great powers to be more overt in their leverage. This allows the United States to ask for "trade and" measures that appall many free traders like myself, but please people like Bob.

In the end, I think the positives outweigh the negatives. The negatives of this strategy do exist, however -- and other people might trade off these policy concerns in different ways.

posted by Dan at 11:21 AM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)

It's just the 19th nervous breakdown about the blogosphere

Brad Stone has a front-page story in the New York Times about the the fact that the some people display bad manners in the blogosphere:

Is it too late to bring civility to the Web?

The conversational free-for-all on the Internet known as the blogosphere can be a prickly and unpleasant place. Now, a few high-profile figures in high-tech are proposing a blogger code of conduct to clean up the quality of online discourse.

Last week, Tim O’Reilly, a conference promoter and book publisher who is credited with coining the term Web 2.0, began working with Jimmy Wales, creator of the communal online encyclopedia Wikipedia, to create a set of guidelines to shape online discussion and debate.

Chief among the recommendations is that bloggers consider banning anonymous comments left by visitors to their pages and be able to delete threatening or libelous comments without facing cries of censorship.

A recent outbreak of antagonism among several prominent bloggers “gives us an opportunity to change the level of expectations that people have about what’s acceptable online,” said Mr. O’Reilly, who posted the preliminary recommendations last week on his company blog ( Mr. Wales then put the proposed guidelines on his company’s site (, and is now soliciting comments in the hope of creating consensus around what constitutes civil behavior online.

You can take a peek at the proposed code of conduct by clicking here. Comment away there or here. I hereby predict it will go nowhere -- I'm certainly not going to be banning anonymous comments anytime soon.

The one fascinating thing about Stone's story is what's not in it. Despite endless complaints about rising partisanship in the blogosphere, no example was given of declining civility in the political blogosphere. That doesn't mean it's not happening, of course, but it's still surpring that Stone failed to offer up such an example.

UPDATE: Katherine Mangu-Ward has an interesting take over at Hit & Run.

posted by Dan at 08:11 AM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

Open Starbucks overheard conversation thread

Virginia Postrel relates a conversation she head while at a Los Angeles Starbucks: "Two screenwriters working over a script that features both the CIA and some kind of evil mercenary hired by...a pharmaceutical company."

For some reason, the Starbucks I occasionally frequent here in the Boston area has much stranger conversations than the Hyde Park Starbucks. In the fall, I overheard two IT consultants bemoaning the fact that some outfit in Sudan (???!!!) was getting a whole bunch of World Bank money that allowed them to be competitive in some niche market. I have no idea if this was true or not, but it safely distracted me from work for twenty minutes.

Here's a good Monday question for readers -- what was the strangest conversation you have overheard in a coffee house?

posted by Dan at 08:03 AM | Comments (14) | Trackbacks (0)

Friday, April 6, 2007

When should sound science trump the precautionary principle?

In the wake of the latest IPCC report on global warming, it's worth asking whether there are other scientific consensuses out there that should be embraced by policymakers across the world.

Over at Reason, Ron Bailey finds one. It's also discussed in greater depth here. Or here.

posted by Dan at 07:33 PM | Comments (14) | Trackbacks (0)

Even the Onion is vlogging

Well, not vlogging so much as good old fashioned fake news that makes you squirm as well as laugh:

A Friend's Cancer: Good For Your Health?

This is going to be very, very bad for my productivity.

posted by Dan at 07:22 PM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Least clarifying clarification.... ever

Via Blake Hounshell at Passport, I see that Israeli PM Ehud Olmert felt compelled to issue a "clarification" following Nancy Pelosi's visit with Bashir Assad. I don't find it beyond the realm of possibility that Pelosi screwed up her message, but the clarification is kind of strange too:

The Prime Minister emphasized that although Israel is interested in peace with Syria, that country continues to be part of the axis of evil and a force that encourages terror in the entire Middle East.

In order to conduct serious and genuine peace negotiations, Syria must cease its support of terror, cease its sponsoring of the Hamas and Islamic Jihad organizations, refrain from providing weapons to Hizbollah and bringing about the destabilizing of Lebanon, cease its support of terror in Iraq, and relinquish the strategic ties it is building with the extremist regime in Iran.

The Prime Minister clarified that by these measures it would be determined whether Syria is sincere about attaining a genuine peace with Israel.

What was communicated to the U.S. House speaker does not contain any change in the policies of Israel, as was communicated to other foreign leaders.

Question to readers -- was there a point when Syria got officially added to the axis of evil category? Or, as Hounshell puts it, "I wasn't aware that 'axis of evil' had become a formal designation." Though I'm intrigued by the idea of the State Department issuing an Annual Report on Evil in the World ("The State Department found that Iran has become 30% more evil in the fiscal year 2006, but overall evil levels declined in most regions.")

posted by Dan at 11:07 PM | Comments (8) | Trackbacks (0)

How unusual is Daisuke Matsuzaka?

There's going to be an orgy of coverage about Dice-K's stellar pitching debut for the Red Sox today, and of course it is foolish to extrapolate from one start. That said, I can't resist quoting from Tom Singer's postmortem on the start:

"His ball moves funny. To me, it was like working a knuckleball pitcher," said Jeff Nelson, the plate umpire who spent the day looking over catcher Jason Varitek's shoulders.

"His ball definitely moves differently. It will break every which way, like I haven't seen out of anyone else's hand. You just don't know. That's why I liken it to knuckleball pitchers."

UPDATE: For a play-by-play description of Daisuke's first game, you would be hard-pessed to beat Bill Simmons.

posted by Dan at 11:01 PM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

Blogging vs. vlogging

Garance Franke-Ruta posts her thoughts on the matter:

The biggest difference between consuming vlogging, which I do rarely, and consuming blogging, which I do continually, is that you can get the compressed product of a great deal of time and thought on a blog, but not in a vlog. For example, if I spend six hours on a blog item, or even just one, that a reader can consume in five minutes, they are getting the benefits of all the time and effort I put into it. But a five minute vlog will most likely provide only my thoughts as they exist in real time, or perhaps even only a note of skepticism as conveyed by a raised eyebrow, and no articulated thoughts at all. Five minutes with a blog can yield you six hours with a mind, but five minutes with a vlog will usually get you five minutes with a mind, or, sometimes, a face. The overall number of thoughts consumers will imbibe per minute is much lower on vlogs than on blogs.

What vlogging provides that blogging doesn’t is great entertainment value, and the satisfaction of our need, as visual creatures, to have something to look at.

I wouldn't disagree with Garance so much as suggest that she's leaving something out of the equation -- I suspect most people consume blogs very differently from vlogs. To consume a blog you actually need to read it, which implies that you've given it top priority among the things your conscious mind is processing at that moment. Vlogs, on the other hand, can be consumed more passively. Yes, you can watch your screen as a bloggingheads segment plays. And, certainly, there are small snippets of video that will command one's full attention. On the whole, however people will treat a vlog the same way they treat the television or the radio -- it can be on in the background while the consumer is consuming other things.

UPDATE: Kevin Drum thinks I have it ass-backwards. Andrew Sullivan has a fine collection of links.

posted by Dan at 01:43 PM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

Score one for the Blinder-Friedman hypothesis

Let it be noted that Anand Giridharadas had a story in yesterday's New York Times that offers some support for the Alan Blinder-Thomas Friedman view of offshore outsourcing:

Outsourcing is breaking out of the back office.

For years, most service industry jobs that were moved to countries like India were considered relatively low-skill tasks like answering customer inquiries. But that has been changing in recent years, and increasingly the jobs of Western white-collar elites in fields as diverse as investment banking, aircraft engineering and pharmaceutical research have begun flowing to India and a few other developing countries.

In the view of most specialists on the phenomenon, the kinds of jobs that cannot be outsourced are slowly evaporating.

Boeing and Airbus now employ hundreds of Indians in challenging tasks like writing software for next-generation cockpits and building systems to prevent airborne collisions. Investment banks like Morgan Stanley are hiring Indians to analyze American stocks, jobs that commonly pay six-figure salaries on Wall Street.

The drug maker Eli Lilly recently handed over a molecule it discovered to an Indian company, which will be paid $500,000 to $1.5 million a year per scientist to ready the drug for commercial use — work that would be significantly more costly if carried out by Americans.

With multinationals employing tens of thousands of Indians, some are beginning to treat the country like a second headquarters, sending senior executives with global responsibilities to work there. For example, Cisco Systems, the leading maker of communications equipment, has decided that 20 percent of its top talent should be in India within five years; it recently moved one of its highest-ranking executives, Wim Elfrink, to Bangalore, the center of the Indian industry, as chief globalization officer.

Accenture, the global consulting giant, has its worldwide head of business-process outsourcing in Bangalore; by December it expects to have more employees in India than in the United States.

This is not a zero-sum game, in which every job added in India comes at the expense of an American or European one.

In many ways, the shift reflects a changing view at multinational companies as they find it easier to meet growing demand by taking advantage of the improved skills of newly educated people in the developing world. And some companies are returning certain jobs to the United States, finding that the work in India and elsewhere is not up to snuff.

But there are trade-offs as well. As Indian back offices become more sophisticated, Western companies are finding that large parts of their work, even high-end tasks, can also be done from India. From the consumer perspective, India has emerged as a pool of 1.1 billion potential customers for companies seeking faster growth. And so many companies are shifting their energy to where they see their futures being written.

“India is at the epicenter of the flat world,” said Michael J. Cannon-Brookes, vice president for business development in India and China at I.B.M., which has reduced its American work force by 31,000 since 1992 even as its Indian staff mushroomed to 52,000 from zero....

Still, specialists warned that a continued flow of work to India required drastic improvements in its educational system and basic facilities. Water and power shortages are endemic, and industry experts predict that India could lack 500,000 engineers by 2010. Yet the country has already tapped a deep well of English-speaking engineers, attracting more outsourced work than any other country.

Meawhile, Tom Friedman looks at call centers opening up in Kenya by a firm named KenCall.

UPDATE: Friedman's column prompts a bizarre comment from Matthew Yglesias:

The reason KenCall works is that its wages are so low. Its wages, in turn, are low because in Kenya at the moment the IT infrastructure necessary to operate a call center is very scarce relative to the level of English competency necessary to work in one. If an undersea cable makes it significantly easier to start up call centers, that may change. It all depends on how large Kenya's "large pool of educated, English-speaking talent" really is.
I think Matt's point is that offfshoring jobs are constrained in their ability to generate sustainable growth in the developing world. That's wrong -- India has had pretty sustainable growth even though their talent pool is a small percentage of the population.

What would be more accurate to say is that if the education picture remained constant, the returns to being an offshoring magnet are a) limited to the upper tier of the popilation, and b) decline over time as wages would go up for (relatively) skilled labor.

On the latter point -- so what? Offshoring flows would decline as wages rise -- and rising wages are a good thing. On the former point, here's the question you have to ask -- what's better, a society that has a relatively even distribution of income or a society where the poorest are not made worse off but the educated earn much higher returns for their education?

I suspect Matt would say the latter but not be happy about it. Over the long haul, however, market signals about the increasing returns to education would encourage an expansion of educated individuals -- which counters the effect that concerns Yglesias, and happens to be a good thing in and of itself.

UPDATE: Yglesias clarifies his position here:

Friedman is portraying the issue as one in which Kenya needs to build better broadband access, and then the IT jobs would come. The counterpoint I meant to make was that the real chokepoint here seemed to me to be the Kenyan education system. Only a very small proportion of Kenyans are qualified for KenCall-style jobs. At the moment, only a small proportion of the qualified people can get KenCall-style jobs precisely because the physical infrastructure to easily set up competing firms isn't there, which makes wages low by world standards which makes Kenya an attractive outsourcing destination. Build more infrastructure, you'll get more firms, the labor market will tighten, wages will go up, and then growth will slow down as future outsourcers look to other, cheaper countries.

That's all fine as far as it goes. My only observation was that insofar as only a very small proportion of Kenyans are qualified for these sort of jobs, it won't actually go very far. Kenya not only needs more infrastructure, it needs more workers qualified for these sort of jobs. Dan Drezner writes that "market signals about the increasing returns to education would encourage an expansion of educated individuals."

This, to me, seems slightly backwards. As I see it, improving school systems is hard and education levels often don't improve even when market incentives to do so exist. Increasing internet connectivity is, by contrast, relatively easy to accomplish and relatively more responsive to market signals. I have no doubt that countries that produce large pools of workers well-suited to IT work that market signals will cause companies to invest in expanding the IT infrastructure necessary to employ those workers profitably. I'm not by any means certain that the mere existence of remunerative labor market opportunities for well-educated Kenyans will cause the number of such Kenyans to spontaneously increase.

posted by Dan at 08:16 AM | Comments (6) | Trackbacks (1)

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

In the matter of Hobbes vs. Schelling....

Nancy Pelosi's trip to Syria, along with the showdown over timetables for withdrawal from Iraq, have annoyed the president. Reuters reports Bush's frustration with Pelosi's visit:

President George W. Bush said on Tuesday visits by U.S. officials like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Syria send "mixed signals" and do nothing to change the behavior of a country the United States accuses of sponsoring terrorism.

The White House has spent days criticizing Pelosi's visit to Damascus to meet with President Bashar al-Assad, saying it just provides the Syrian leader with a photo opportunity to exploit.

"We have made it clear to high-ranking officials, whether they be Republicans or Democrats, that going to Syria sends mixed signals," Bush said to reporters at the White House.

Meanwhile, the Boston Globe's Susan Milligan reports on how Bush is reacting to Congressional activism on Iraq:
President Bush declared yesterday that the military may suffer quick and devastating cuts if the Democrat- controlled Congress does not submit a war funding bill to his liking by mid-April, warnings that deepened a standoff between the White House and Capitol Hill over the Iraq war.
Bush would find a kindred spirit in Thomas Hobbes here. Bush, like Hobbes, believes that a state can and should have only one center of power. In the Hobbesian formulation, the emergence of competing voices implies division and weakness, which outsiders can exploit.

There's something compelling to this logic. If one analogizes international relations to poker, then surely no one wants the strength or weakness of their hand revealed by someone else.

However, this is not the only logic that one could apply to international relations. As Thomas Schelling pointed out in The Strategy of Conflict -- and as Robert Putnam elaborated in "Diplomacy and Domestic Politics: the Logic of Two-Level Games" -- there are times when domestic weakness can be translated into international bargaining strength.

Leon Panetta makes this point in his New York Times op-ed today:

What has been particularly frustrating about the debate in Washington over Iraq is that everyone seems to be fighting one another and forgetting the fundamental mission of the war.

Whether one is for or against the war, the key to stability is to have an Iraq that, in the words of the president himself, can “govern itself, sustain itself and defend itself.” Achieving that goal is largely dependent on the political reforms that Iraqi leaders have promised but failed to put in place in their country....

Instead of dividing over the strategy on the war, the president and the Congress should make very clear to the Iraqis that there is no open-ended commitment to our involvement. As the Iraq Study Group recommended, Iraqi leaders must pay a price if they continue to fail to make good on key reforms that they have promised the Iraqi people.

In calling for a specific withdrawal date, the House and Senate versions of the supplemental spending bill send a clear message to the Iraqis (even if they do face a certain veto). The worst mistake now would be to provide money for the war without sending the Iraqis any message at all about their responsibility for reforms. Both the president and the Congress at the very least must make the Iraqi government understand that future financial and military support is going to depend on Baghdad’s making substantial progress toward the milestones Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has publicly committed to.

Of course, for the Schelling strategy to work, Congress needs to bend -- they would have to agree that if the Iraqis completed a set of reforms by a given date, then complete withdrawal would not be necessary. Bush would also need to bend -- sometimes mixed messages are a good thing.

The really interesting question going forward is whether, in their diplomatic initiatives, both Bush and Pelosi will be more concerned with Hobbesian questions of authority or Schelling questions about signaling. Unfortunately, I share Panetta's frustration -- domestic politics will trump any gain that can be leveraged from these policy disagreements.

posted by Dan at 09:04 AM | Comments (14) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

I saw it, so you're going to have to suffer as well

I'm going to have a stomach ache the rest of the day after watching this:

I understand what Alanis was going for here, but the fact is, as Hua Hsu wrote in Slate two years ago about the original Black Eyed Peas song, "My Humps":
It is... proof that a song can be so bad as to veer toward evil....

It's not Awesomely Bad; it's Horrifically Bad. The Peas receive no bonus points for a noble missing-of-the-mark or misguided ambition (some of the offended have responded with parody videos and snickering anecdotes about how the group uses Hitler-approved microphones). "My Humps" is a moment that reminds us that categories such as "good" and "bad" still matter. Relativism be damned! There are bad songs that offend our sensibilities but can still be enjoyed, and then there are the songs that are just really bad—transcendentally bad, objectively bad.

Which makes an "ironic" cover of the song... well.... pretty damn bad.

posted by Dan at 03:17 PM | Comments (6) | Trackbacks (1)

Monday, April 2, 2007

It's your last chance to help me help APSA to help you

I've finished a draft of my chapter on how to be a successful political science blogger for the American Political Science Association. If you want to take a gander, click here.

Political scientists are strongly encouraged to read and critique draft, as I should have one more pass at it. I'm particularly curious if I've made the downsides seem too scary.

posted by Dan at 08:42 PM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)

Two steps forward, one step back on trade

The two steps forward are that the United States and South Korea signed a free trade deal just before the deadline of having it approved under President Bush's Trade Promotion Authority. The New York Times' Choe Sang Hun explains:

United States and South Korean negotiators struck the world’s largest bilateral free-trade agreement today, giving the United States a badly needed lift to its foreign trade policy at home and South Korea a chance to reinvigorate its export economy.

Negotiators announced the agreement, reached after 10 months of negotiations, just in time to comply with a legislative deadline in the United States, after which President Bush’s “fast-track” authority to negotiate foreign trade deals without amendments from Congress would expire.

“This is a strong deal for America’s farmers and ranchers who will gain substantial new access to Korea’s large and prosperous market of 48 million people,” Karan Bhatia , the deputy United States trade representative, said in Seoul today.

“Neither side obtained everything it sought,” she added.

If ratified, the trade deal will eliminate tariffs on more than 90 percent of the product categories traded between the two countries. South Korea agreed to lift trade barriers to iconic American products like cars and beef, while the United States abandoned a longstanding demand that Seoul eliminate subsidies on South Korean rice....

The breakthrough came when both sides compromised on the most sensitive, deal-breaking issues. Washington dropped its demand that the South Korean government stop protecting its politically powerful rice farmers, and Seoul agreed to resume imports of American beef, halted three years ago over fears of mad cow disease, if, as expected, the World Organization on Animal Health declares United States meat safe in a ruling scheduled in May.

South Korea also agreed to phase out the 40 percent tariff on American beef over 15 years. It will remove an 8 percent duty on cars and revise a domestic vehicle tax system that United States officials say discriminates against American cars with bigger engines.

The United States will eliminate the 2.5 percent tariff on South Korean cars with engines smaller than 3,000 cubic centimeters, phase out the 25 percent duty on trucks over 10 years, and remove tariffs, which average 8.9 percent, on 61 percent of South Korean textiles.

The deal “will generate export opportunities for U.S. farmers, ranchers, manufacturers, and service suppliers, promote economic growth and the creation of better paying jobs in the United States,” President Bush said in a letter notifying Congress of his intention to sign the accord.

President Bush said the trade pact would strengthen ties between the two countries — an assessment shared by analysts who had repeatedly warned that the alliance, forged during the Korean War, has frayed during the terms of President Bush and President Roh Moo Hyun of South Korea, largely over policy toward North Korea.

The deal is the biggest of its kind for the United States since the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1994 with Canada and Mexico. It is Washington’s first bilateral trade pact with a major Asian economy.

Studies have estimated that the accord will add $20 billion to bilateral trade, estimated last year at $78 billion. Potential gains to the United States economy range from $17 billion to $43 billion, according to Usha Haley, director of the Global Business Center at the University of New Haven. South Korea’s exports to the United States are expected to rise in the first year by 12 percent, or 5.4 billion....

Consumers in both countries are the deal’s biggest winners. Hyundai cars and Samsung flat-panel TV sets, as well as Korean-made clothing, will become significantly cheaper in the United States.

The step back comes from the Bush administration's weekend decision to slap tariffs on Chinese paper. Steven Weisman explains in the NYT:
The Bush administration, in a major escalation of trade pressure on China, said Friday that it would reverse more than 20 years of American policy and impose potentially steep tariffs on Chinese manufactured goods on the ground that China is illegally subsidizing some of its exports.

The action, announced by Commerce Secretary Carlos M. Gutierrez, signaled a tougher approach to China at a time when the administration’s campaign of quiet diplomacy by Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr. has produced few results.

The step also reflected the shift in trade politics since Democrats took control of Congress. The widening American trade deficit with China, which reached a record $232.5 billion last year, or about a third of the entire trade gap, has been seized upon by Democrats as a symbol of past policy failures that have led to the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs.

Mr. Gutierrez’s announcement has the immediate effect of imposing duties on two Chinese makers of high-gloss paper, one at 10.9 percent and the other 20.4 percent, calculated by adding up the supposedly illegal subsidies.

But trade and industry officials say future actions based on the department’s new policy could lead to duties on imports of Chinese steel, plastics, machinery, textiles and many other products sold in the United States, if as expected those industries seek relief and the department finds that they are harmed by illegal subsidies.

[U.S. trade with China far exceeds trade with South Korea. Why is this only a step back compared to KORUS?--ed.] Two reasons. First, much as I despite countervailing duties, this policy shift seems to make sense within the context of what those duties are supposed to accomplish. As Weisman explains:
American law allows the United States to impose what are called antidumping duties when imports are sold in the United States at prices below what it costs to produce them.

But these antidumping duties tend to be small compared with duties imposed for illegal subsidies when they are employed by trading partners with free market economies. Since the 1980s, the United States has barred antisubsidy duties in Communist or nonmarket economies.

The rationale has been that it is impossible to determine what a subsidy is in a state-controlled economy, and that government-run businesses in China did not make marketing decisions based on their subsidies because they were merely told what to do by the authorities.

Today, that reasoning is regarded as out-of-date as China has moved from a faltering economy two decades ago to an export superpower with sophisticated marketing and manufacturing techniques and a determination to find jobs for hundreds of millions of poor Chinese.

“The China of today is not the China of years ago,” Mr. Gutierrez said. “Just as China has evolved, so has the range of our tools to make sure Americans are treated fairly.”

Although the tariffs imposed by the decision today are effective immediately, the action is subject to review by the Commerce Department, and a formal decision is due in October. But the administration’s position is not expected to change unless it is ordered to do so by a court or by the World Trade Organization.

Second, I'm willing to bet that this case will end the same way the steel case ended. If the complainants are basing their argument on China's currency valuation, then the WTO ain't going to uphold this action. In which case, three years from now, we know how this wll end -- unless it gets settled in the bilateral Strategic Economic Dialogue between now and then.

UPDATE: they're not basing it on the currency valuation. Never mind. Meanwhile, Trade Diversion is skeptical of Commerce's ability to assess the magnitude of the direct subsidy.

posted by Dan at 12:40 PM | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (0)

Sunday, April 1, 2007

It's been six months -- let's revive the Book Club!!

I received a comment a few days ago pointing out that I needed to refresh my book suggestions. And, indeed, it's been a few months since my last selections. This has mostly been due to two factors: 1) the rigors of new course preps; and 2) I was paralyzed by a series of astonishingly interesting books.

Seriously, over the span of a few weeks at the beginning of the year, I got hit with advance copies or gifts of Scott Page's The Difference, John Lukacs' George Kennan: A Study of Character, A.J. Jacobs' The Know-It-All, and Eric Abrahamson and David Freedman's A Perfect Mess. I'll admit it -- the range of choice was dazzling enough to paralyze me for a few months.

I've regained my equilibrium, however. So, without further ado, my international relations book of the month is.... wait for it.... hey, what do you know, it's All Politics Is Global!!!!

[Um... the readers might be getting sick of the repeated plugs; is the book any good?--ed.] Hey, if it wasn't good, I wouldn't be hawking it so shamelessly on this high-quality blog! This book slices, it dices, and it can explain both the regulation of Internet pornography and the European Union's foreign economic strategy. It's a book that puts the lie to Carl Schmitt's claim that disputes about trade and regulation really weren't political. And it's the only book I will publish in 2007.

Besides, have you seen the cover?:

I mean, there are globes and everything.

The general interest book is the definitive edition of F.A. Hayek's The Road to Serfdom, edited by Bruce Caldwell. The definitive edition means, among other things, that Caldwell has cleaned up Hayek's footnotes, gathered all the introductions to the myriad editions, and included some popular writings of the period to put Hayek's work in context. Virginia Postrel has more on this point.

The best part, however, is that Caldwell included the two reader reports -- by Frank Knight and Jacob Marschak -- to the University of Chicago Press on whether the publish The Road to Serfdom. You'll have to buy the book to read the whole thing, but here's the concluding paragraph of Knight's report:

In sum, the book is an able piece of work, but limited in scope and somewhat one-sided in treatment. I doubt whether it will have a very wide market in this country, or would change the position of many readers.
Even if you own a previous copy, go buy this one.

UPDATE: A bad news/good news/best news situation with All Politics Is Global:

1) The bad news is that is now saying it takes 3-4 weeks for delivery.

2) The good news (for me and Princeton University Press) is that is out of stock because sales were high enough to exhaust their initial stores

3) The best news is that All Politics Is Global is now available at -- as well as directly from Princeton University Press.

Don't let stop you from ordering the book!

posted by Dan at 10:01 PM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)

Put me in coach, I'm ready to blog.....

Baseball season starts today!! As Paul at the Yanksfan Vs. Soxfan blog pointed out, "We are officially in that golden time where all things are possible and nothing is sure. Soak it up. This is one of the best weekends of the year." Indeed -- this Saturday and Sunday, it's still possible to envisage the Kansas City Royals wining the World Series.

The Red Sox season starts tomorrow -- along with Passover. Prior to 2004, of course, this confluence of events would be freighted with more symbolic meaning. Now, it's just going to cause me to whisper "Next October in Fenway Park" at the end of the seder.

Two years ago, I was confident about the future of the Red Sox and gleeful at the anticipated downward trajectory of the Yankees. This offseason, on the other hand, has sobered me up. For all the talk about parity, the scariest thing facing Major League Baseball is a Yankee franchise that actually knows how to develop, trade, and inculcate top prospects.

Just about every reasonable projection I've seen has the Yankees winning the pennant again this year. I am not so foolhardy as to make predictions, but I do have several reasons for optimism regarding the Red Sox chances this year:

1) Neither Randy Johnson nor Ted Lilly is pitching in the Al East. As mediocre as their years were in 2006, these guys were always able to manhandle the Red Sox. That's a lot more competitive games against AL East rivals than in the past.

2) Spring training was light on casualties. With the exception of Mike Timlin, none of the Red Sox regulars had any major injuries. This includes hothouse players like J.D. Drew and Josh Beckett. The Yankees were not as fortunate, though they should be healthy by the end of the month. An interesting question this season will be which duo will spend more time on the DL -- Andy Pettite and Mike Mussina, or Curt Schilling and Tim Wakefield.

3) Josh Beckett has apparently located his Spootenator.

4) The Shaughnessy-Schilling dustup has settled down to a low hum -- which will hopefully allow Schilling to focus on the season.

5) Steve Phillips predicts the Red Sox will go 82-80. 'Nuff said.

Let the season begin!!

posted by Dan at 03:39 PM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)

Newton North sure is getting a lot of media play today

Both the Boston Globe and the New York Times have big stories on Newton North High School today [Hey, won't your children be attending this high school at some point?--ed. Yes, but that is many, many years from now and I'm sure the time will pass very, very, slowly.]. Sara Rimer's front-pager for the New York Times is clearly an excerpt from her forthcoming book an in-depth discussion of how talented and driven girls at Newton North High School cope with being talented and driven:

Esther and Colby are two of the amazing girls at Newton North High School here in this affluent suburb just outside Boston. “Amazing girls” translation: Girls by the dozen who are high achieving, ambitious and confident (if not immune to the usual adolescent insecurities and meltdowns). Girls who do everything: Varsity sports. Student government. Theater. Community service. Girls who have grown up learning they can do anything a boy can do, which is anything they want to do.

But being an amazing girl often doesn’t feel like enough these days when you’re competing with all the other amazing girls around the country who are applying to the same elite colleges that you have been encouraged to aspire to practically all your life.

There's a lot of additional material on the Times web site -- including Esther's and Colby's college application essays.

I confess that I'm not entirely sure why this is on the front page of the New York Times. Is it a news flash that smart boys like girls who are smart as well? The thesis I gleaned from Rimer's story is that, despite all the internal and external pressures placed on these adolescents, they're coping pretty damn well. I suppose it's nice to see a long story about well-adjusted adolescents -- but I really have to wonder if Bill Keller is getting a kickback on Rimer's book advance.

As a Williams alum, however, my heart grew heavy when I read this section of the story:

Esther was in calculus class, the last period of the day when her cellphone rang. It was her father. The letter from Williams College — her ideal of the small, liberal arts school — had arrived.

Her father would be at her brother’s basketball game when she got home. Her mother would still be at the office. Esther did not want to be alone when she opened the letter.

“Dad, can you bring it to school?” she asked.

Ten minutes later, when her father arrived, Esther realized that he had somehow not registered the devastating thinness of the envelope. The admissions office was sorry. Williams had had a record number of highly qualified applicants for early admission this year. Esther had been rejected. Not deferred. Rejected.

Her father hugged her as she cried outside her classroom, and then he drove her home.

Esther said several days later: “Maybe it hurt me that I wasn’t an athlete.”

But she was already moving on. “I chose Williams,” she said, with a shrug. “They didn’t choose me back.”

About that thin envelope: Mr. Mobley, unschooled in such intricacies, said he hadn’t paid much attention to it. He had wanted so much for his daughter to get into Williams, he said, and believed so strongly in her, that it was as if he had wished the letter into being an acceptance.

It is actually Ms. Rimer who is unschooled in admission letter intricacies -- unless Williams has changed its practice in recent years, everyone gets a thin envelope. For those who are accepted, the thick envelope with all the pertinent information comes later.

So Esther, don't blame your father for not being clued in (click on the story to see which colleges were bright enough to accept Esther -- she'll land on her feet).

Meanwhile, the Boston Globe's Ralph Ranalli reports on the new Newton North High School that will be built in the next 5-10 years:

It is already tagged as the most expensive high school in Massachusetts: a $154.6 million showplace, designed by an internationally renowned architect and awaited with some anxiety by the residents of Newton.

The new Newton North High School's design features a new outdoor stadium, an indoor swimming pool, state-of-the-art vocational education workshops, a glass-walled cafeteria, a restaurant, and an architecturally trendy zigzag shape. At 1,040 feet, the building is 200 feet longer than the Mall at Chestnut Hill.

But now, even before ground has been broken, some are wondering how the cost got so huge, and whether the project is ushering in a new era of budget-buster high schools.

UPDATE: Wow, in Episode #245 of How Gender Affects Interpretation in the Blogosphere, Bitch Ph.D has a very different take on the Times article: "Kinda depressing article.... high-achieving women feel a constant sense of inadequacy."

Maybe I'm grading on a curve, but by the standards of In-Depth Newspaper Stories About Adolescent Girls, the subjects of Rimer's story seem remarkably well-adjusted.

posted by Dan at 09:00 AM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)