Monday, December 31, 2007
Your 2008 predictions.... today!!
Greetings from the year 2008!
You poor people who have to wait... uh... several hours before the new year have no idea what awaits you!! You'll commute to work by helicopter or jetpack and wear aluminum-colored clothing. Curiously, the communication devices will be clunkier than current cellular phones.
In the waning hours of 2007 and the beginning hours of 2008, however, it seems appropriate to provide loyal readers with a place to post predictions for 2008. So, the bold amongst you are asked to hereby predict the following:
1) The presidential nominee for the Democratic Party;My submission is below the fold....
1) Barack Obama (I'm sticking with my original prediction on this, but I'll admit that I can think of way too many land mines over the next few months)
Saturday, December 29, 2007
Odds and ends while I'm off the grid
Greetings from the future. While I can't reveal my exact location, I can confirm that, where I'm typing this, it's likely a day later than where you are likely reading this post.
A few links of note before I go off the grid again:
1) I have an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times that is excerpted from my longer National Interest essay, "Foreign Policy Goes Glam" -- which, I'm glad to say, is now available online in its entirety.Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go see a man about seeing a glacier.
Tuesday, December 25, 2007
A very important post about.... things I will not miss while I am away
Your humble blogger is getting the hell out of Dodge for the rest of 2007 and the beginning of 2008. Blogging will be nonexistent for the next 36 hours, followed by ten days of, at best,
Since it is the end of the year and I will be out of the country, here is a short list of things I will not be missing while I am gone:
1) Paul Krugman's jihad against Barack Obama. As an outsider to progressive infighting, this was fun for a few go-arounds, but we've now hit the tedious patch when Krugman spends every column and blog post searching desperately for something to dump on Obama. This is Krugman at his most humorless and least persuasive.
Monday, December 24, 2007
Your semi-interesting travel observation of the day
For those of you who will be travelling this holiday season, here's a useful, spontaneous discovery I made yesterday. This is based on my personal experience with an automated voice recognition software program on the customer service line of a major airline:
If, at any point, you say "f*** you" into the phone, you will be automatically and politely transferred to a human operator.Remember, you have to pronounce the asterisks correctly.
I'm sure my razor-sharp readers were already cognizant of this fact -- but if not, go forth and find out if it works on other airlines.
UPDATE: This site is also useful for figuring out how to talk to a human (hat tip: loyal reader A.A.)
Your unambiguously good news of the day
In South Korea, once one of Asia’s most rigidly patriarchal societies, a centuries-old preference for baby boys is fast receding. And that has led to what seems to be a decrease in the number of abortions performed after ultrasounds that reveal the sex of a fetus.Choe Sang-Hun, "Where Boys Were Kings, a Shift Toward Baby Girls," New York Times, December 23, 2007.
Friday, December 21, 2007
Why there will never be a fake reality show about academia
Earlier this year I explained in laborious detail why the academy was not a fertile ground for a reality show.
Undaunted by this pronouncement from on high, some Harvard graduate students have come up with a brilliant end-run around this dictum -- an Office-like show about the academy (hat tip: CoreEcon):If you're in the "field," as it were, I dare you to watch this and not laugh (my favorite part -- the third flash card).
I am curious whether those not in the social sciences will find it as funny. My guess is "no," but I'll leave it for the commenters to decide.
Either way, there are two lessons to draw from this video:
1) Harvard grad students have way too much free time at their disposal.UPDATE: Henry Farrell draws other useful lessons.
Thursday, December 20, 2007
Question time for John McCain
It's apparently endorsement season in the blogosphere. The hardworking staff here at danieldrezner.com is deep in debate about presidential endorsements. With this blog's powerful and deeply distrubed coterie of supporters, it's humbling to think that I could very well double the poll numbers of Duncan Hunter or Chris Dodd if I so chose.
The staff is nearing a consensus, but frankly, it hasn't been easy. I can reveal, however, that the blog is taking a hard look at John McCain. Even if I disagree with him about Iraq, I thought his Foreign Affairs essay was well crafted, and a few weeks back the Economist made some smart points about McCain:
His range of interests as a senator has been remarkable, extending from immigration to business regulation. He knows as much about foreign affairs and military issues as anybody in public life. Or take judgment. True, he has a reputation as a hothead. But he's a hothead who cools down. He does not nurse grudges or agonise about vast conspiracies like some of his colleagues in the Senate. He has also been right about some big issues. He was the first senior Republican to criticise George Bush for invading Iraq with too few troops, and the first to call for Donald Rumsfeld's sacking. He is one of the few Republicans to propose sensible policies on immigration and global warming.Today, the Boston Globe's Sasha Issenberg writes about McCain's views on executive power -- and after eight years of the unitary theory of the executive branch, it's very refreshing:
McCain is not much of a sentimentalist, but over a series of scattered remarks in recent speeches and informal interviews he has begun to lay out a vision for a presidency that would feature the trappings of a much simpler time. Besides cutting back his Secret Service coverage so he could move around Washington in a single car instead of a full motorcade, the Republican presidential hopeful says he would like to host weekly press conferences and even subject himself to a congressional version of the rhetorical brawl that Britons know as Prime Minister's Question Time.Read the whole thing. I'm not sure how much of this will actually happen if McCain were elected -- but the fact that his instinct is to push in this direction is a major bonus for me.
I'm a foreign policy wonk, which means that my natural tendency is to sympathize with the executive branch. But even I think the imperial presidency needs to be scaled back a fair degree. So one of the things I'll be asking myself during this endorsement debate is: which candidates will cement the Bush position of executive authority, and which will not?
Wednesday, December 19, 2007
Hmmm.... that's probably a good idea
From the Associated Press:
Lynne Spears' book about parenting has been delayed indefinitely, her publisher said Wednesday. Lindsey Nobles, a spokeswoman for Christian book publisher Thomas Nelson Inc., said Wednesday that the memoir by the mother of Britney Spears was put on hold last week.
A good policymaking day
Yesterday, in what is strictly a coincidence, the U.S. Trade Representative, Secretary of Commerce, and Deputy Secretary of State had a little get together in the EEOB on planning U.S. trade policy for the rest of the Bush administration's term of office. The idea was to talk with both trade and Latin American experts from the think tank and academic worlds to see whether/how the Colombian, Panamanian and Korean FTAs will be passed by Congress in 2008.
I know all this because I was in the room as an expert. And you can cue massive waves of imposter syndrome here....
These kind of get-togethers are unusual, but those who had attended sessions like this in the past thought this one was similar to what prior administrations would have done. For yours truly, it was an interesting session for two reasons.
First, the meeting bore a passing resemblance to a class in my Statecraft course. Imagine students putting together a 15-minute PowerPoint presentation to advocate for a particular policy, and then soliciting feedback from the rest of the class. Now replace students with policy principals and you get a sense of this meeting (by my grading, the USTR received an A, the dSOS an A-, and the Secretary of Commerce a B+).
Second, I remembered the sense of accomplishment one occasionally experiences as an actual policymaker. Without getting into specifics, I made a suggestion that caused various people in the room to scribble something down. It wasn't a brilliant idea that would cause people to rethink trade as we know it, it was just a small point. But it was a point that was accepted as useful.
Those of you who go into policymaking, however, will discover that the times when you can suggest an idea and get consensus on it immediately are few and far between. When those moments do occur, savor them, no matter how small the success.
The netroots vs. the foreign policy community... sort of
My name is David Frum, and I am a blogger. Every day I post some hundreds of words of commentary at the National Review website—often (to fulfill the cliché) while still wearing my pajamas. But I am also a proud, suit-wearing member of the foreign-policy community, with my very own office in a think tank to prove it.You can imagine the response this is going to generate.
I'll have more to say about this later, but for now I'd make two points. First, if the netroots can get past their own spittle, they will see the grace note Frum closes his essay with:
[T]he spread of education and the improvement of communications have raised the level of debate. The populist protesters of 2007 are far more informed and far more sophisticated than their predecessors of 1973, who were in turn a major improvement over those of 1950, 1935 and 1920. And the foreign-policy community that guided U.S. foreign affairs in the 1990s was a much larger and more diverse group than the corresponding elites that wielded power in the quiet days of the 1950s, who were in turn a less cloistered club than that of the 1920s.Second, contra Frum's essay, there's really a three-way debate going on, between netroots activists, neoconservatives, and foreign policy experts -- and part of the debate is whether the latter two groups are really fused into one.
More on this later. For now, comment away!
UPDATE: On the other hand, it's not like progressives aren't capable of netroot criticism. Consider this statement from a press release I was sent:
"In this age of blogs, bumper stickers, and soundbites, we made a bet that there was still a need and place for the kind of deep, considered thinking about serious issues that our journal has produced, " said Andrei Cherny, co-editor and co-founder of Democracy. "This award shows that a DailyKos may have its place, but a quarterly journal of ideas can make a real impact in the 21st century."
Crime.... it's not just for smart people
I can corroborate every detail that Megan McArdle recounts in this blog post, although, in my memory, the potential criminal shuffled away only because he saw me give him the Clint-Eastwood-in-The-Good-The-Bad-And-The-Ugly-Death-Stare.
No, no, that's not true -- he was just a very inept criminal.
Your interesting political observation of the day
From Slate's John Dickerson:
In McCain's conversations with voters, I'm struck by the contrast between him and Barack Obama. I have covered Barack Obama more than John McCain this campaign. Obama tells audiences he's going to tell them uncomfortable truths, but he barely does it. McCain, on the other hand, seems to go out of his way to tell people things they don't like, on issues from immigration to global warming.Read the rest of the piece for an example.
No one send any job applications to me
A friendly note to aspiring professors of international relations:
In a story about the Fletcher School's 75th anniversary, the Financial Times reports that, "Faculty is also earmarked for expansion. The school has 30 full-time faculty, a figure that has grown by approximately 30 per cent over the past five years. [Dean Stephen] Bosworth says he hopes to see a comparable increase over the next five years."
Monday, December 17, 2007
A contest just for professors
At this very moment, academics in North America are in the middle of grading their final papers.
I'm knee-deep in mine, and they inspire the usual range of emotions -- fear, hope, dread, nausea, and somnolence.
As professors across the continent look for a reason -- any reason -- to procrastinate in their grading, the hardworking staff here at danieldrezner.com hereby invites them to participate in the following Bad Student Writing Contest:*
Post, in the comments, the single-worst sentence you have read in a student paper.Some ground rules:
1) In-class exams do not count -- you can't expect polished writing in that setting. Besides, Brad DeLong already wins this category.I'll open with a grad paper I just graded (and, intriguingly, received a decent grade despite this opening sentence):
Time and again, one can hear about history repeating itself.Top that.
The winner will be determined by a staff vote here at the blog, and will receive a prize of unspecified but clearly inestimable value.
*In the spirit of reciprocity, students will get their own contest sometime after the new year.
Huh. That's weird...
In this case, there's two things that are especially odd. First, Romney's attack on Huckabee largely consists of pointing out how much Huckabee sounds like the Democrats -- which is fine, except that people in glass houses should not throw stones.
Second, everyone and their uncle is harping on the "bunker mentality" quote that Huckabee uses to characterize the Bush administration's policies. If you look at what Huckabee actually proposes -- and admittedly it's now always crystal clear -- there's not a stunning difference between a Bush and a Huckabee approach to foreign policy.
UPDATE: On the other hand, this blog post makes an excellent point. If I had to choose between a dinner at Romney's favorite restaurant in New York and Huckabee's apparent favorite restaurant in New York, I'd go with Romney hands down.
Paul Krugman says goodbye to his self-awareness
The last few paragraphs of today's Paul Krugman column:
[W]hat happens if Mr. Obama is the nominee?Let's stipulate that Krugman is not necessarily wrong in the bolded passage.
Maybe, just maybe, however, pundits who imply that what voters want is a full-throated, partisan, populist candidate are also projecting their own desires onto the public.
UPDATE: Matt Yglesias thinks that the Obama campaign is "poor[ly] handling... its relationship with the country's highest-profile liberal columnist," but I have to wonder if Obama is calculating that the long-term benefits outweigh any short-term costs.
As Krugman acknowledges at the beginning of his column, "Broadly speaking, the serious contenders for the Democratic nomination are offering similar policy proposals." Therefore, he's going to broadly support whichever Dem is nominated.
Obama, on the other hand, is not going to be hurt in the general election from a pissing match with Paul Krugman. Indeed, dust-ups like this provide Obama with the kind of perceived independence that plays well with... er... independents.
Saturday, December 15, 2007
December's Books of the Month
For this holiday month, why limit the recommendations to just two books? Here are the selections I'm eager to read over the holiday season:
Power and Plenty: Trade, War, and the World Economy in the Second Millennium, by Ronald Findlay and Kevin H. O'Rourke. It's been a very good year for reading economic history -- John Nye's War, Wine, and Taxes, Gregory Clark's A Farewell To Alms -- and this is the last course. Eight years ago, O'Rourke co-authored the very interesting Globalization and History about the 19th century Atlantic economy -- and this is an even grander discussion.
Growing Apart?: America and Europe in the 21st Century, edited by Jeffrey Kopstein and Sven Steinmo. It contains several insightful essays examining the frayed state of transatlantic relations -- particularly Steven Pfaff's comparison of the market for religion in the U.S. and Europe. Full disclosure: I make a contribution as well.
The Confidante: Condoleezza Rice and the Creation of the Bush Legacy, by Washington Post diplomatic correspondent Glenn Kessler. The book is essentially a tick-tock of Rice's various diplomatic forays as Secretary of State, in which she tries and not quite succeeds in digging herself out of the hole created during her time as National Security Advisor. The details are priceless and disturbing. My favorite is State Department counselor Philip Zelikow requesting a sidearm during a trip to Baghdad. The scariest is the notion that Rice failed to comprehend the "responsible stakeholder" language that Bob Zoellick crafted as a way to move the Sino-American relationship forward. I've argued elsewhere that this was a pretty deft formulation, but Rice apparently just though it was "odd."
For more on The Confidante, check out my bloggingheads with Kessler on the fancy new Bloggingheads website..
Supercapitalism, by Robert Reich. I've noticed an interesting trend with Reich's books -- I find myself agreeing more with the arguments in each passing book more and more. I'm not saying I agree with everything the man says, but Reich has traveled a long way since his industrial policy days with Ira Magaziner.
International Institutions and National Policies, by Xinyuan Dai. Why do weak international governmental organizations -- like, say, the Helsinki Accords -- occasionally have powerful effects on nation-states? Dai argues that even weak organizations can empower and mobilize NGOs and domestic actors to act as monitors and enforcers. This argument differs somewhat from my own work -- which means it needs to be read.
Speaking of my own work....
Inspired by Andrew Sullivan, here's your last chance in 2007 to buy someone a copy of All Politics Is Global: Explaining International Regulatory Regimes, written by your humble blogger.
Don't take my word on whether it's good -- just look at the reviews:
" This important book asks two questions about the governance of the world economy: Who sets the rules, and what explains the diverse ways in which the world economy is regulated?.... His main contribution... is to explode a popular notion of globalization and thereby to set an agenda for the study of global regulatory politics." G. John Ikenberry, Foreign Affairs.I mean, when Review of International Organizations likes your work, you can just write your own meal ticket.
Friday, December 14, 2007
Every time I think I'm out, Foreign Affairs pulls me back in
This issue's culprits are governors Mike Huckabee and Bill Richardson. Since Huckabee is the flavor of the month, let's start with his piece, "America's Priorities in the War on Terror: Islamists, Iraq, Iran, and Pakistan."
The essay is a great symbol of Huckabee's campaign -- there are feints in interesting directions, but in the end it's just a grab-bag of contradictory ideas.
In a New York Times Magazine profile, Huckabee mentions columnist Thomas Friedman and new sovereigntist Frank Gaffney as his foreign policy influences. Those in the know might believe this to be impossible, but Huckabee's Foreign Affairs essay really is an attempt to mix these two together in some kind of unholy alchemy. Take this paragraph:
American foreign policy needs to change its tone and attitude, open up, and reach out. The Bush administration's arrogant bunker mentality has been counterproductive at home and abroad. My administration will recognize that the United States' main fight today does not pit us against the world but pits the world against the terrorists. At the same time, my administration will never surrender any of our sovereignty, which is why I was the first presidential candidate to oppose ratification of the Law of the Sea Treaty, which would endanger both our national security and our economic interests.Really, you just have to stand back and marvel at the contradiction of sentiments contained in that paragraph. It's endemic to the entire essay -- for someone who claims he wants to get rid of the bunker mentality, Huckabee offers no concrete ideas for how to do that, and a lot of policies (rejecting the Law of the Sea Treaty, using force in Pakistan, boosting defense spending by 50%) that will ensure anti-Americanism for years to come.
Then there's the writing -- dear Lord, the writing. Huckabee's essay reads like it was written by people who couldn't hack it on Rudy Giuliani's crack speechwriting team. My favorite sample:
For too long, we have been constrained because our dependence on imported oil has forced us to support repressive regimes and conduct our foreign policy with one hand tied behind our back. I will free that hand from its oil-soaked rope and reach out to moderates in the Arab and Muslim worlds with both.The loopy writing becomes a real problem in the section on Iran. Huckabee makes a pretty savvy point about the differences between Iran and Al Qaeda ("The main difference between these two enemies is that al Qaeda is a movement that must be destroyed, whereas Iran is a nation that just has to be contained.").
But when it comes to changing our policy with Iran, this is what we get:
Sun-tzu's ancient wisdom is relevant today: "Keep your friends close and your enemies closer." Yet we have not had diplomatic relations with Iran in almost 30 years; the U.S. government usually communicates with the Iranian government through the Swiss embassy in Tehran. When one stops talking to a parent or a friend, differences cannot be resolved and relationships cannot move forward. The same is true for countries. The reestablishment of diplomatic ties will not occur automatically or without the Iranians' making concessions that serve to create a less hostile relationship.OK, so what, exactly, is Huckabee offering to do here? Open an embassy in Tehran? Only do so if Iran freezes its nuclear program? Hug Iran a lot? Beats me. [UPDATE: There's another problem with this paragraph -- Sun Tzu never said, "Keep your friends close and your enemies closer." I remember the quote as emanating from Michael Corleone in The Godfather, Part II. Thank you, commenters.]
Now on to Richardson -- who, full disclosure, happenes to be a Fletcher School alum. His essay is entitled, "A New Realism: A Realistic and Principled Foreign Policy."
With that title, it seems that Richardson is going to make Anatol Lieven and John Hulsman very happy, but then we read on:
To cope with this new world, we need a New Realism in our foreign policy -- an ethical, principled realism that harbors no illusions about the importance of a strong military in a dangerous world but that also understands the importance of diplomacy and multilateral cooperation. We need a New Realism based on the understanding that what goes on inside of other countries profoundly impacts us -- but that we can only influence, not control, what goes on inside of other countries. A New Realism for the twenty-first century must understand that to solve our own problems, we need to work with other governments that respect and trust us.Simply put, Richardson's New Realism is really Old Liberal Internationalism. Not that there's anything wrong with that -- but there ain't anything realist about it, either.
Beyond the mislabeling, Richardson deserves some credit -- the essay indicates some semi-serious thoughts about how to enhance U.S. influence in the world. And it's actually well-written. It's also the most dovish of all the Democratic submissions to date. Again, I'm not saying that's a bad thing -- oh, hell, I'm saying it a little. If Huckabee is too paranoid about sacrificing American sovereignty, then Richardson is just a wee bit too convinced about the ability of multilateralism to solve everything.
Thursday, December 13, 2007
The nine lives of autocrats
My latest column for Newsweek is now available online. It's about how authoritarian leaders have innovated at keeping themselves in power. The opening paragraphs:
Ten years ago the autocrat was an endangered species. According to the conventional wisdom, authoritarian regimes were incapable of adjusting to a world of globalization and global civil society. Autocrats recognized the need to exploit the economic benefits of globalization, but how could they keep out intrusive NGOs and censor the Internet? Policymakers also jumped on this bandwagon. Soon after George W. Bush delivered his second inaugural address, his administration exulted in a wave of democratic uprisings. By the spring of 2005, "color" revolutions took place in Georgia (Rose), Ukraine (Orange), and Lebanon (Cedar). Even totalitarian societies like Belarus faced unrest. Freedom seemed to be on the march.You'll have to read the whole thing to find out why. Go check it out.
UPDATE: One point I should have made but couldn't shoehorn into the essay because of space constraints (yes, they exist in cyberspace). Many of the regimes (though not all) discussed in the article are genunely popular in their countries, because they've been seen as delivering various economic, social, and political benefits. These regimes are still not democratic -- but democracy is not the only source of political legitimacy.
Open Mitchell report thread
Comment away on the imminent arrival of the Mitchell Report on performance-enhancing drugs in baseball here.
As a Red Sox fan, I have very mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, I don't want to see any players from the 2004 and 2007 World Series teams implicated in the report. No matter how you slice it, the inclusion of key names wipes some of the luster off of those victories.
On the other hand, as a baseball fan, I have to hope that at some Red Sox name shows up on the list. Why? Howard Bryant's pre-release critique of Mitchell's techniques at ESPN.com already highlights one line of attack:
Tapping Mitchell, a Red Sox director, to lead the investigation furthered suspicions around baseball that the Red Sox might be treated more favorably in his report than the other clubs. That issue came to the forefront when word leaked just before the pivotal Game 6 of October's ALCS between Cleveland and Boston, won by the Red Sox, that Indians pitcher Paul Byrd had purchased human growth hormone. A day later, Mitchell released a statement denying any involvement in the Byrd leak.Now, I think this is a horses#$t allegation (and to his credit, Bryant later writes: "It didn't come from Mitchell," a league source said of the Byrd leak. "It's ridiculous. Does anybody think that George Mitchell would risk everything he's built over his career just to help the Red Sox win a game?") but if a sufficient number of Red Sox are named, that criticism will be defused -- which would be good for baseball.
UPDATE: Due to a lovely four-hour commute to travel less than 10 miles, I wound up listening to both George Mitchell and Bud Selig's press conferences. Mitchell sounded pretty good; Selig sounded like a complete ass.
Here's a link to the report itself.
It turns out that the biggest favor Gagne may have done Boston is sucking ass for the second half of the season–now, at least, no one can point to him as one of the reason’s for the team’s success.ANOTHER UPDATE: From the report itself:
A number of studies have shown that use of human growth hormone does not increase muscle strength in healthy subjects or well-trained athletes. Athletes who have tried human growth hormone as a training aid have reached the same conclusion. The author of one book targeted at steroid abusers observed that "[t]he most curious aspect of the whole situation is that I've never encountered any athlete using HGH to benefit from it, and all the athletes who admit to having used it will usually agree: it didn't/doesn't work for them.So here's a question -- why care so much about HGH?
Wednesday, December 12, 2007
Random GOP debate thoughts
Through a clever strategy of ignoring almost all of the presidential debates to date, I have now positioned myself to be like the majority of voters who are now paying attention to the race.
So here are some idle thoughts as I listen to the GOP debate that C-SPAN is streaming live on its website:
1) A 30 second response to an answer? Gimme a f@#$ing break -- at best you can talk in vague generalities, at worst you sound like.... this person.UPDATE: Debate transcript here.
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
Restraint and resolve in game theory
Nobel Prize winner Roger Myerson has written a very accessible paper on what game theory can teach powerful states about when it's useful to impose binding constraints on their actions. Here's the abstract:
A great power’s use of its military forces may be rendered ineffective or even counterproductive when there are no clear internationally recognizable limits on this use of force. Professor Myerson derives this conclusion from the basic observation that our ability to influence potential rivals depends on a balanced mix of threats and promises. Potential adversaries should believe that aggression will be punished, but such threats will be useless unless they also believe our promises that good behavior will be better rewarded. A reputation for resolve makes threats credible, but a great power also needs a reputation for restraint, to make the promises credible as well. Thus, international restraints on a nation’s use of military force may actually increase the effective influence of its military strength.Here's a link to the paper itself. No one familiar with Tom Schelling will be surprised, but Myerson's presentation is extraordinarily lucid.
The most important paragraph:
Thus, if we want our application of military force to deter our potential adversaries, rather than stimulate them to more militant reactions against us, then we should make sure that the limits of our forceful actions are clear to any potential adversaries. We need a reputation for responding forcefully against aggression, but we also need a reputation for restraining our responses within clear limits that depend in a generally recognized way on the nature of the provocation. These limits must be clear to our potential adversaries, who must be able to verify that we are adhering to the limits of our deterrent strategy, because it is they whom we are trying to influence and deter.
Monday, December 10, 2007
A slow motion explosion in the Balkans
CNN reports that all of the major players involved in Kosovo agree on one thing -- the status quo cannot hold:
Kosovo will press ahead with plans for independence, a spokesman for the region's Albanian leaders said Monday as negotiators were due to confirm that talks to settle the future status of the Serbian province had failed.The Economist also provides some useful background.
I will be pleasantly surprised if the next six months pass without any significant amount of bloodshed in the Balkans.
Sunday, December 9, 2007
The Lost Weekend of Facebook
On Friday, at the gentle prodding of a friend, I faced the inevitable and took the Facebook plunge.
For a few dizzying hours, I had the same experience that Maria Farrell observed about the social networking site: "Facebook is an opportunity to play the social game again – and lose."
Indeed, setting up the site I felt a uniquely dreadful mixture of high school-level social anxiety combined with a keen awareness that I was wasting hours upon hours looking for old friends on the site.
Longtime readers will be relieved to hear that I've regained my equilibrium now, thanks in no small part to Reihan Salam's Facebook advice.
[So can I be make a friend request for you?--ed. Since we've never actually met, not bloody likely.]
We'll now continue with regularly scheduled blogging.
A retraction on Hugo Chavez
Last week I had some nice words for Hugo Chavez, because he had recogized that he had lost his constitutional referendum and yet respected the outcome.
According to Jorge Castañeda's Newsweek essay, however, Chavez didn't exactly make this decision on his own volition:
[B]y midweek enough information had emerged to conclude that Chávez did, in fact, try to overturn the results. As reported in El Nacional, and confirmed to me by an intelligence source, the Venezuelan military high command virtually threatened him with a coup d'état if he insisted on doing so. Finally, after a late-night phone call from Raúl Isaías Baduel, a budding opposition leader and former Chávez comrade in arms, the president conceded—but with one condition: he demanded his margin of defeat be reduced to a bare minimum in official tallies, so he could save face and appear as a magnanimous democrat in the eyes of the world. So after this purportedly narrow loss Chávez did not even request a recount, and nearly every Latin American colleague of Chávez's congratulated him for his "democratic" behavior.
Thursday, December 6, 2007
Behold my multi-multimedia strategy
My master plan to dominate
First there was the bloggingheads diavlog with the Washington Post's Glenn Kessler.
Next came my commentary for NPR's Marketplace in which I do the unthinkable.... I defend the right of superagent Scott Boras to exist:
If baseball is the national pastime, then bashing agents for greed comes in a close second. Before declaring Boras guilty, however, consider the following figures. This year Major Lleague Baseball announced that it had topped $6 billion in revenues for the first time ever. At the same time, the share of those revenues going to player salaries has declined over the past six years, from more than 56 percent to less than 42 percent. In contrast, the National Football League paid their players more than half of its total revenues. At a time when baseball is economically flush, its players are getting a smaller slice of the pie.For some background on the Boras commentary, check out Ben McGrath's profile of Boras in The New Yorker, David Pinto's excellent analysis of how baseball was keeping down its costs in The Sporting News; and Tyler Kepner's New York Times story on Boras' corporation.
Finally, and most important, the special issue of Public Choice on the politics blogs -- co-edited by Henry Farrell and myself -- is now available online.
That's enough media for today. I'm turning in.
So much for China's Olympian vulnerability
The Christian Science Monitor's Peter Ford reports that in advance of the Games, China's government is devising new ways to handcuff indigenous NGOs:
Last Thursday morning, five law-enforcement agents marched into Zhai Minglei's Shanghai apartment, seized his computer hard disk and copies of the small magazine he used to publish, and ordered him to report for questioning the next day.It should be noted that this reaction to the color revolutions is not unique to China -- it mirrors what governments in Russia, Iran, and Central Asia have done as well.
Best Prudence... ever
Emily Yoffie -- a.k.a., Slate's Dear Prudence -- provides the best response to an academic query:
Dear Prudence,The only problem with Yoffie's answer is that it's incomplete -- Hitchens would also try to get Jesus to procure him several drinks and a
All about Condi
My latest bloggingheads diavlog is now online. This time my partner is Washington Post diplomatic correspondent Glenn Kessler, to discuss his new book, The Confidante: Condoleezza Rice and the Creation of the Bush Legacy.
Topics discussed include Rice's tenure at NSC and State, Dick Cheney's brain, a defense of Karen Hughes (also available at the New York Times website), and Condi's future outside of government.
Go check it out.
Wednesday, December 5, 2007
Just remember, Hillary is the one with the foreign policy experience
Last month I said the following on NPR's Marketplace:
[T]rade agreements improve America's standing in the world. But Senator Clinton's proposal would strip these agreements of the very certainty that makes them attractive to our allies. How does Senator Clinton think our trading partners in the Middle East, Central America, and Pacific Rim will react to her proposal? How is this proposal any different from the unilateralism that Democrats have condemned for the past six years?I hereby owe Senator Clinton an apology -- I forgot to include Europe in the list of regions that are not taking too kindly to Clinton's brand of trade policy.
Hillary Clinton, the Democratic frontrunner in the US presidential campaign, came under fire from Europe’s top trade negotiator on Wednesday for suggesting that, if elected, she might not press hard for a new global trade pact.I know Hillary Clinton's had a rough week or two, so in fairness to her, it should be pointed out that she's not the first Democratic presidential candidate to be on the receiving end of foreign criticism.
Still, isn't this sort of fracas exactly the kind of thing that an experienced Hillary Clinton was supposed to avoid?
So will Bali accomplish anything?
When it comes to enegy and the environment, anything David Victor writes is worth reading.
The effort, though noble, is largely irrelevant to the urgent task of cutting greenhouse-gas emissions. The countries that care the most about successful U.N. talks are a small and shrinking part of the problem. Those that matter most—notably China, which in 2007 became the world's largest emitter of warming gases—have exempted themselves from any regulation of their effluent. The Bali agenda offers no route around this impasse and will probably make it harder to solve in the future.
Sweet Jesus. Sweet, sweet, here-before-everyone Jesus
According to Jacob T. Levy, Philip Tetlock won this year's Grawemeyer Award for Ideas Improving World Order. Tetlock won for Expert Political Judgment, a book that I blogged about a bit on this hallowed web site (see Rodger Payne as well.).
A key point that Tetlock makes is that experts aren't any better at making political predictions than non-experts.
I bring this up now because it's really, really important to remember that there is hard data confirming Tetlock's assertion when you think about the non-experts in the world. Like, for example, these precious few seconds from The View, courtesy of Crooked Timber's Kieran Healy:Look, the really important thing -- as I told my son sometime this week -- is that the Star Wars saga took place before anything discussed in the video clip.
Tuesday, December 4, 2007
Hello, and welcome to Bizarro world politics
If I had told you a
I just bring this up because of this New York Times story by Elaine Sciolino:
The International Atomic Energy Agency on Tuesday publicly embraced the new American intelligence assessment stating that Iran had halted its nuclear weapons effort, but in truth the agency is taking a more cautious approach in drawing conclusions about Iran’s nuclear program.Tomorrow in Bizarro world politics -- Dick Cheney buys Mahmoud Ahmadinejad a flower.
UPDATE: Some of the commenters seem to think I'm dissing the IAEA in this post, in which case I didn't blog clearly enough. What's startling is not the IAEA's position -- they've been pretty consistent in their take on Iran for the past few years. What's startling is the 180 pulled by U.S. intelligence officials between the 2005 NIE and the 2007 NIE, and the mismatch between this latest NIE and the Bush administration's rhetoric from the past few months.
Ironically, for all of the criticism the Bush administration has heaped on the IAEA and Mohammed ElBaradei, it's their consistency that enhances the likelihood of maintaining the necessary coalition that opposes large-scale Iranian enrichment -- which in turn makes it likely that Iran will continue to keep its weapns program in a deep freeze.
Should you fear the sovereign wealth fund?
Over at Foreign Policy, economist Anders Åslund says that sovereign wealth funds pose greater problems to home countries than host countries:
[S]uch funds are nothing for Americans or Europeans to fear. If anyone should worry about them, it’s the people whose governments are amassing them. That’s because governments tend to be terrible at managing money that is best left in the hands of private citizens. And locking away billions of dollars in wealth can have pernicious economic side effects. Maybe that’s why sovereign wealth funds are popular with dictators and semi-authoritarian regimes, which don’t have to answer for the consequences when they make poor economic gambles....
Why have oil prices gone up?
In the wake of the latest NIE suggesting that Iran's nuclear program has been frozen in carbonite since 2003, I would have expected oil prices to have fallen. After all, the obvious fallout from the estimate is that neither military nor enhanced economic sanctions will be imposed on Iran anytime soon. If one reason oil prices have spiked is increased political uncertainty, then surely the inteligence finding should have ameliorated these fears.
Imagine my surprise, then, to see that oil prices rose yesterday. Furthermore, the AP report has no mention of the Iran situation, discussing OPEC machinations instead.
This could mean one of four things is true:
1) Oil traders are slower at working through geopolitical ramifications than your humble blogger;I'm 99.99% sure the answer is not #1 or #2, and I'm 90% sure the answer isn't #4. But #3 seems inadequate to me.
Readers are encouraged to proffer their own answers.
Monday, December 3, 2007
Your bigthink quote of the day
One great test of our era will be whether creative destruction can flourish alongside public order and political liberty. If not, we're in big trouble. But if so — and I'm an optimist on the point — the results could be a marvel.From Brad DeLong's review of a Schmpeter biography in the Chronicle of Higher Education.
Tyler Cowen favors a different selection from the same review.
That's one heckuva NIE on Iran
We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program; we also assess with moderate-to-high confidence that Tehran at a minimum is keeping open the option to develop nuclear weapons. We judge with high confidence that the halt, and Tehran’s announcement of its decision to suspend its declared uranium enrichment program and sign an Additional Protocol to its Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Safeguards Agreement, was directed primarily in response to increasing international scrutiny and pressure resulting from exposure of Iran’s previously undeclared nuclear work....These are the key paragraph of the latest National Intelligence Assessment on Iran. In a separate New York Times story, Mark Mazzetti tries gets at some of the implications.
Much as I would like to conclude that multilateral economic pressure had an effect, I'm not sure how the NIE concludes that "international pressure" had an effect. If that was truly the case, why did the suspension take place in 2003 rather than later? I mean, gee, what was happening then?
One obvious implication: whatever slim chance there existed of a U.S. military intervention in Iran over the next 13 months just got way, way slimmer.
We could be facing.... a profanity gap
Mark Lamster has a fascinating post up at YFSF on 19th century efforts to eliminate profanity from baseball. As he observes, "it's amazing how 'fresh' this language seems today, more than a century later."
Click over to the post and read -- indeed, it provides a sharp contrast to this brilliant Conan O'Brien riff on earlier 19th century baseball from a few years ago -- which I believe to be completely historically accurate:While it's fascinating to read that profanity hasn't changed that much in 110 years, it's also a little disturbing. We're supposed to be the most innovative country in the world -- too innovative, if you believe Paul Krugman. Despite this supposed strength, however, it appears that Americans have yet to improve on "You c$%#-s&^%ing son-of-a-b@#!$!!!"
Should this be a source of concern?
UPDATE: In honor of this post, response to this report, I'm afraid I have only one response: Bob Watson is a pr***-eating bastard!!!
Praise for Hugo Chavez
Your humble blogger has had great fun at Hugo Chavez's expense for quite some time. So in the aftermath of his first electoral defeat in a long while, it's worth concurring with something that Time's Time Padgett points out:
[J]ust as important [as the referendum's defeat] was Chavez's concession. The opposition "won this victory for themselves," he admitted in a voice whose subdued calm was in contrast to his frequently aggressive political speeches. "My sincere recommendation is that they learn how to handle it." Despite his authoritarian bent, Chavez (whose current and apparently last term ends in 2012) had always insisted he was a democrat — that he was, in fact, forging "a more genuine democracy" in a nation that had in many ways been a sham democracy typical of a number of Latin American countries. His presidential election victories — in 1998, 2000 and 2006, as well as his victory over an attempt to recall him in a 2004 referendum — were all recognized by credible international observers; and that conferred on him a democratic legitimacy that helped blunt accusations by his enemies, especially the U.S., that he was a would-be dictator in the mold of Fidel Castro.We'll have to see how Chavez responds to the electoral defeat after 24 hours. Still, if nothing else, Bloomberg reports that Chavez has unintentionally managed to boost the value of Venezuela's bonds.