Saturday, August 16, 2003
What would Austin Powers say?
The blogosphere has ridden the BBC pretty hard over the past six months -- myself included. Josh Chafetz does an excellent job of itemizing the myriad sins of the "Beeb" in this comprehensive Weekly Standard piece. The quick and brutal summary:
Indeed. It's a sad day for Austin Powers and the members of Ming Tea.
Gonna be a fun race!!
Looks like Mr. Schwarzenegger is going to have to articulate his issue positions if he wants to be elected governor. From the Washington Post:
That's good spin, but it's also true. Somehow I don't think Rob Lowe is going to be of much help on this one.
This poll is excellent news for Californians. Not because Bustamate would be a good governor or because Schwarzenegger wourld be a bad governor -- I have no idea. It's good because instead of A.S. walking away with the race, there will be a real competition, which is going to force both candidates into articulating their positions.
[Hey, a Cali post and you didn't link to Mickey Kaus once?--ed. I doubt that will happen on a regular basis.]
Friday, August 15, 2003
A vexing question for our times
Why is it that some celebrities under the age of eighteen can be universally acknowledged as sexy, whereas if that adjective is assigned to other underage but physically mature stars, people start leveling accusations of perversion and lechery? Why was it so shocking for Britney Spears to start flaunting her sexuality, but everyone instantly accepted Anna Kournikova as a sex object? Spears is about six months younger that Kournikova, but a Lexis-Nexis search reveals that Kournikova entered the pop culture zeitgeist as a calender-worthy subject when she was younger than Spears. [Maybe this is because Spears started her career as a Mouseketeer, and it's more difficult for Americans to accept former child stars in risqué stiuations?--ed. Yeah, that explains the careers of Alyssa Milano and Drew Barrymore real well.]
The actual story suggests the diverse reactions the Olsens generate:
The wildly divergent reactions to the Olsens are on full display in the comments sections of posts by Matthew Yglesias , Atrios, and Tampa Tantrum -- though, to be fair, much of the vitriol is devoted to whether Rolling Stone is now officially lame (click here for more reaction). I fear that this issue could split the country.
Before this happens, I hope the blogosphere, using its collective, distributed nodes of intelligence, can determine why it's OK to admire the shapeliness of some 18-year olds but not others.
[You're a sick, sick man--ed. No, really, I'm just curious. After watching the video that accompanied the Rolling Stone story, I can honestly say the Olsen twins don't really bake my cake. On this issue, loyal blog readers should be fully aware of where my preferences lie -- and if those links aren't enough, click here, here, to see the kind of celebrities I admire in that way.
And besides, I'm not the one advertising for groupies!!]
Chaos or cooperation? The world judges
Following up on my previous post:
The international press seems bound and determined to ignore the absence of disorderly conduct during the blackout. Take a look at this list of blackout headlines. Notice how prevalent the word "chaos" is in foreign coverage of the event? It's not just the BBC -- Sky News and Channel News Asia, , and the Financial Times as well.
In fact, if you enter the relevant search terms into Google, you discover the dominance of that word in foreign coverage. When it appears in domestic coverage, it's used only for contrast, as in:
UPDATE: Maybe the divide is confined to print media. James Lileks suggests that American television was equally eager for chaos:
The perils of normal accidents
2) I'm automatically leery of calls to "do something." It's not that I disagree with the urge; it's that during moments of crisis, rash decisions are too often made. Of course, it's also during moments of crisis that those with the necessary expertise should step forward and explain what they can do to help.
3) Before anyone believes that there will be some magic bullet that will solve problems like this, run to your bookstore and buy Charles Perrow's Normal Accidents. Perrow's thesis is that systems with high degrees of complexity and tight coupling between interdependent subsystems will inevitably experience catastrophic failures. Bear this in mind when reading the Economist's closing paragraph on this incident:
Chris Sullentrop makes a similar point in Slate -- but he has source links. [What if your readers are not interested in your social science recommendations at the moment?--ed. Go read this instead -- it unconsciously borrows from Perrow. Or, go read Kieran Healy's recommendations].
4) The lack of criminal behavior, in contrast to previous blackouts, is noteworthy. I have no doubt that this will be partially attributed to the impact of 9/11, but don't dismiss the possibility of more systemic factors as well. David Greenberg has some thoughts on this as well.
Thursday, August 14, 2003
Interesting Liberal blogs
Kevin Drum was kind enough to include me in his list of good conservative blogs. Scanning through the comments, I noticed the following:
I actually wrote something along these lines back in June, but in response to popular demand, here's a more complete list of must-read blogs on the liberal side of the spectrum (in no particular order):
1) Joshua Micah Marshall: A social democrat's social democrat. Regardless of partisanship, Marshall is a must-read because he's also a working reporter who generates new and interesting facts. The partisanship is actually a plus, because I know when I read him that I'm usually going to read the best way to frame a story from a liberal perspective. If I can actually think of a way to refute Marshall's thesis, then I'm feeling pretty confident about my argument. I'm still thinking about a response to this post, which was an indirect response to this post of mine from earlier this month.
2) Brad DeLong: A Berkeley economist with policymaking experience, DeLong should always be your first choice on how economics is covered in the press and spun by the White House. His critique of Glenn Hubbard earlier this year was spot-on. He also writes wickedly funny posts about the social behavior of economists.
3) Kevin Drum: As the Left Coast continues to suck up media attention, CalPundit will continue to provide indispensible coverage on all things California. Plus, well-sourced foreign affairs news and a lot of stuff about cats that, as a proud beagle owner, I refuse to read.
4) Crooked Timber: The Volokh Conspiracy of the left. Manages to combine trenchant political analysis, cool dissections of pop culture, and accessible commentary about academic philosophy (though see here for a rebuttal). My faves among this group are Henry Farrell, a fellow international relations specialist, and Kieran Healy, a University of Arizona sociologist who writes hysterically funny reviews of mediocre movies.
5) Matthew Yglesias: I like someone who quick on the blog, and Matthew usually manages to beat me to the punch on a topic we both find interesting, like he's done on this post on "heavy oil" (more from me later). He recognizes the inherent evil in agricultural subsidies. Plus, I love the fact that a Harvard-educated man still puts a picture of himself on his page that screams the photocaption, "Yglesias denied the charges as he was led away in police custody." [You should talk--ed.]
All of these bloggers is that they are always provoke without being nasty, question their own side on a regular basis, and have good senses of humor.
UPDATE: James Joyner provides his own, more complete list.
John Deutch and M.I.T. flunk energy economics
The former CIA director, along with Ernest Moniz, professor of physics at MIT and former Department of Energy official, open their op-ed in today's New York Times with the following two grafs:
OK, sounds reasonable so far. Then I read the next three grafs:
So, in other words, even after one factors environmental externalities into the cost of energy production, coal and gas are still more efficient energy choices than nuclear power. Bear in mind that the op-ed suggests that this calculation does not include the cost of disposing nuclear waste, so in all likelihood the gap in efficiency is even greater.
The conclusion I draw from this cost-benefit analysis is that compared to coal and gas, nuclear power is an inefficient substitute and should not be taken seriously. Deutch and Moniz argue that the government should just subsidize nuclear power and make vague allusions to reducing greenhouse gases. They ignore that their own analysis suggests nuclear power should be rejected in any comprehensive energy plan.
This op-ed was borne from a cross-disciplinary MIT-sponsored study. Having just read the chapter on "Nuclear Power Economics," I'm even more skeptical of the boosterism for nuclear power. Here's an optimistic assessment on p. 41 of the report:
Let me rewrite this a bit:
I certainly could be missing something here, but I don't think so.
MIT has one of the best economics departments in the country. How did they sign off on this?
Uncertain progress on agricultural subsidies
I was going write a long post on the U.S.-E.U. deal on reducing agricultural subsidies, but Jacob Levy and Peter Gallagher beat me to the punch. They are both pessimistic. Gallagher writes:
The Economist is also pessimistic, pointing out the lack of transparency in the agreement.
I've been pessimistic about the lack of progress on this issue, so just to be contrary, let me sound one note of optimism: even the EU negotiator recognizes that more will have to be done:
The analysis in the Economist makes the same point:
I'm shocked, shocked at this difference in interpretation!!
The New York Times, in a small sidebar on the California election, reports that President Bush is not taking the loss of media attention well:
The Chicago Tribune, meanwhile, has a slightly different interpretation of his comments:
This is a minor story, and maybe the Times reporters had their tongues in their cheeks. Still, the differences in the framing of the same quote are pretty revealing.
Wednesday, August 13, 2003
Absurdity squared at the United Nations
Another FT story provides some additional background.
I have every confidence that the human rights commission -- with a membership that includes the People's Republic of China, Cuba, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Ukraine, and Zimbabwe will be fully equipped to handle corporate abuses.
[Isn't your sarcasm misplaced? Surely some good must come of this?--ed.] On the contrary, my off-the-cuff instinct is that this proposal is an unmitigated disaster.
First, it undercuts the pre-existing U.N. effort to improve worker conditions.
Second, it distracts the (admittedly pretty useless) Human Rights Commission from the far-more-prevalent phenomenon of government abuses of human rights.
Third, it opens the door for all kinds of U.N. mischief in regulating multinational corporations, when the demand for such regulation is vastly overstated and the supply of other international governmental organizations regulating MNC behavior is quite healthy. The draft statement includes the following point:
What's to stop the International Criminal Court from becoming involved?
Finally, the draft convention seems perfectly designed to permit NGOs to file as many complaints as humanly possible in order to require multinationals to respond. The reporting requirements (see section H of the agreement) on corporations are not insignificant.
Congratulations to the U.N. for devising an arrangement that will undercut its stated goals while simultaneously convincing more Americans that the U.N. is not a serious institution.
What a colossal blunder.
The immutable preferences of Maureen Dowd
Maureen Dowd has discovered the blogosphere, and now believes it to be passé:
Tuesday, August 12, 2003
What made me laugh today
OK, are there any other perks one gets from blogging? Free tote bags? Hotel soaps? Just curious.
In all seriousness, this is one of the things I love about the early stages of presidential campaigns -- all candidates (even putative front-runners) are so desperate for voter and media interactions that they'll meet with just about anyone not wearing a swastika or hammer & sickle on their lapels.
Why this administration is losing me on Iraq
The day after the fall of Baghdad, I posted:
Ten days later, I posted the following dilemma for the administration:
What's becoming increasingly clear to me is that the administration has yet to solve this particular dilemma -- and that this will have disastrous implications for Iraq.
That's the same message that comes from this RAND book I mentioned last week. Now, there are a few ways to deal with this problem. One is to go to the U.N. to get more allied support. Marshall elides over the fact that Walker does not think that's the greatest idea in the world, and Reuel Marc Gerecht provides some compelling reasons in the Weekly Standard why such a step would be problematic at best.
So the U.N. option is problematic. The ad hoc approach is not generating the desired numbers (link courtesy of &c). That leaves two options: a) increase U.S. forces (which the administration seems bound and determined not to do); or b) create an Iraqi force that can assist the occupying authority.
It looks like the administration is choosing option (b), which could work in the long run. In the short run, however, there's a Catch-22, as Michael Gordon points out:
The paradox is that unless guerrilla activity is reduced, the provision of public goods will be difficult at best. However, the best way to reduce such activity is to provide more public goods.
Paul Bremer thinks the coalition successes in Iraq are being underplayed, and he's probably right. No matter what those successes are, however, rising discontent in Baghdad and Basra are not a recipe for success. Until the administration renews its commitment to a free and stable Iraq, things will fall apart.
Who's the target of the warning shot?
Today's Chicago Tribune has an interview with David Brooks, who's a University of Chicago alumnus. The interview is worth reading, but what intrigued me was this quote from the lead-in:
[Probably not--ed. Killjoy.]
Whiffing at Arnold Schwarzenegger
Having eaten once -- and only once -- at the restaurant, I'm certainly sympathetic to the idea that Schwarzenegger couldn't manage his way out of a paper bag, and this should count against him in his gubenatorial bid.
However, by the time I got to the, conclusion, Gross' article actually convinced me this episode doesn't matter all that much. The reason is that Schwarzenegger wasn't as involved in the management of the restaurant chain:
In other words, Scharzenegger's role was to generate publicity for the restaurant, and even Gross acknowledges he accomplished this goal and then some.
One can argue that Arnold should not have associated his name with overpriced hamburgers. However, one can't accuse him of poor business acumen (since he put none of his own money into the venture), which would have been a much more damaging fact to associate with Schwrzenegger.
Let me close here by pointing out that, like Virginia Postrel, I don't really know whether Schwarzenegger would make a good governor. And, like Postrel, if he doesn't start talking policy, he'll lose me.
Monday, August 11, 2003
A good rant on subsidies
Jacob Levy has a nice post on the multiple sins of agricultural subsidies in the U.S., Japan and Europe. An extract:
Go read the whole thing.
Why Kevin Phillips is wrong
Looking at those cases again, I draw a different lesson -- a president is doomed when the attacks come from the base. In Phillips' "most relevant example" McCarthy attacked LBJ, a liberal Democrat, from the left.
The Perot example is misleading -- far more damaging to Bush was Pat Buchanan's primary challenge, which weakened Bush enough to give Buchanan a coveted prime-time slot at the Republican National Convention, which wound up looking like a bad Leni Riefenstahl film.
Gingrich's attacks on Clinton -- as I've said before -- actually sowed the seeds for Clinton's re-election in 1996. Gingrich overreached in believing that the 1995 government shutdown would help Republicans -- instead, Clinton looked like the responsible, sane choice.
George W. Bush will probably not be attacked from the right in 2004 (though see this Matt Bai article in yesterday's NYT Magazine suggesting otherwise). Phillips acknowledges this, but thinks this is a weakness for Bush:
Is Phillips correct? It's possible, but bear in mind that he's basically echoing the Judis & Teixeira argument in The Emerging Democratic Majority, and not even Judis thinks this argument will hold in 2004!
One other thing: all Bush would have to do is go to Philadelphia, since Bush lost all three of the states, and would only need to win one of them for a comfortable margin of victory. And, given the reasons for Rick Santorum's popularity in Pennsylvania, if I were Karl Rove that's the state I'd want to cherry-pick.
Kevin Phillips has been right before. He came to prominence with the prescient The Emerging Republican Majority.
Bear in mind, however, that his follow-up book, The Politics of Rich and Poor argued that the way to win the 1992 election was by pushing class issues. Bill Clinton won the election by sagely ignoring Phillips' advice. Not surprisingly, this book can be purchased at Amazon for a whopping thirteen cents.
So you want to run for governor..
Mickey Kaus is covering just about every possible angle in the California recall election, but here's a question from reader E.J. that hasn't been answered directly:
Can you help me to understand what possible motivation is there for the 95th percentile of candidates to be involved in this race when there is such a field of heavy-weights arrayed for battle?
Even the likes of Bill Simon and Peter Ueberroth – what, outside of ego-massage, can these guys possibly get out of running in this race? Where is the practical pay-back considering the expense and their long-shot odds? Is it dues-paying for the future? Potential influence garnered from relative performance?
OK, as a political scientist, I should be able to answer this question. And the answer is, there are multiple answers. In no particular order:
1) The barriers to entry are low. In modern American politics, the barriers to becoming a candidate are daunting. There signatures to collect in order to get on the ballot, party primaries to win, money to raise, and a lengthy campaign season.
Contrast this with the California recall election. Getting on the ballot required only some paperwork, "65 validated voters' signatures and a $3,500 check" according to USA Today. There are only sixty days to the election. There are no annoying party primaries. Why, it would be stupid not to run!!
2) The barriers to winning are also low. Because of the plethora of candidates, many of which are trying to cater to the same voting demographics, it is highly unlikely that the winner will command a majority. True, at the moment, Schwarzenegger holds an early lead in opinion polls. If, however, his balloon were to burst, then the winner might only need 25% of the vote.
3) Publicity. California founded the celebrity culture, and as publicity stunts go, running for governor is on the cheap and easy side of the spectrum. Running for governor is a way to get or keep one's name in the news.
It works, too. When was the last time you thought about Gary Coleman? Think about this from Coleman's point of view -- what's the more dignified route to jumpstart a career, running for governor or celebrity boxing?
4) Horse-trading. Because the threshhold for winning is lower, any candidate that attacts a loyal cadre of voters equivalent to a few percentage points in the polls might be willing to throw his/her support to a major candidate in return for something, be it policy or patronage. This is how it works in parliamentary democracies in which there is a low minimum level for winning a seat, i.e., Israel. Expect to see this in California around late September.
Think about it -- two months of politicking in return for a plum job or a coveted policy shift? Not a bad rate of return in politics.
5) You could win. Jesse Ventura was not considered a serious candidate when he ran. Howard Dean was mocked when he decided to launch his bid for the presidency. You never know when lightning strikes.
Sunday, August 10, 2003
I've received a number of e-mails asking for book recommendations. In response, here are my picks, broken up into multiple categories.
The categories are pretty straightforward, except perhaps "great but wrong." This section is devoted to books that I think are fundamentally incorrect in their conclusions, but are so cogent that the act of reading them forces one to think very, very hard about why they are wrong. As such, they are in many ways more intellectually enjoyable than books where you agree with the thesis.
Layna Mosley, Global Capital and National Governments (2003). Everyone says that global financial markets impose a straightjacket on governments. Mosley actually asked traders in financial markets if this was true. Her conclusions will surprise you.
Meghan O'Sullivan, Shrewd Sanctions (2003). A lot of political scientists talk about doing good case studies. O'Sullivan's sanctions cases are written with a degree of precision and care that would shame most politicial scientists. Her chapter on Iraq (which I have read) is the single-best account I've read of the case.
Randall Stone, Lending Credibility (2002). Do nation-states run international organizations or are they run by them? Stone offers an answer to this question by looking at how the IMF lended money to the post-communist world.
Robert Gilpin, War and Change in World Politics (1981). A highly underrated book that discusses the waxing and waning of hegemonic powers. Paul Kennedy's The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers is good; Gilpin's book is better.
Lloyd Gruber, Ruling the World (2000). A rejoinder to Ikenberry in arguing that there is more coercion involved in the crafting of global governance than initially meets the eye.
John Ikenberry, After Victory (2000). An exploration of how the victors of great power wars try to shape a stable postwar order.
Walter Russell Mead, Special Providence (2001). A history and typology of the heterogeneous foreign policy ideas that have held sway in the United States. An excellent guide for non-Americans currently baffled by U.S. foreign policy.
John Mearsheimer, The Tragedy of Great Power Politics (2001). The clearest and boldest statement of realist thought made in several decades. Even if you think he's wrong, you have to respect the argument.
Benjamin Most and Harvey Starr, Inquiry, Logic and International Relations (1989). A book that takes its methodology seriously. Criminally under-utilized by international relations scholars, which is a shame, because that's the target audience.
Samantha Power, "A Problem from Hell" (2002). A searing indictment and explanation of American government inaction during episodes of genocide in the 20th century.
Robert Strassler, ed., The Landmark Thucydides. The history of the Peloponnesian War as it was meant to be read. The maps and textual footnotes make the book much more accessible.
Robert Gilpin, Global Political Economy (2001). The closest thing there is to a standard textbook in international political economy.
Edward M. Graham, Fighting the Wrong Enemy (2000). Ostensibly a postmortem of the failed Multilateral Agreement on Investment, it's really a stunning indictment of the anti-globalization movement.
Brink Lindsey, Against the Dead Hand (2002). A lucid and honest defense of pragmatic libertarianism in the global economy.
Virginia Postrel, The Future and Its Enemies (1998). I almost feel guilty including this in the "Political Economy" section, since that makes it sound dry and dusty. At its core, however, the book is about sorting out the true reactionaries from the true revolutionaries in the world.
Raghuram Rajan and Luigi Zingales, Saving Capitalism from the Capitalists (2003). A robust defense of open capital markets combined with a political analysis of why open markets are sometimes closed. Rajan, by the way, is now the IMF's chief economist.
David Vogel, Trading Up (1995). A collection of counterintuitive case studies on how globalization has affected social regulation. If the book I'm writing turns out as well as this one, I'll be feeling very good about myself.
Joel Mokyr, The Lever of Riches (1990). The first part of Mokyr's opus provides an excellent narrative history of technological innovation and its effect on the global economy. The second part is a collection of essays on various puzzles raised in the first section.
Kevin O'Rourke and Jeffrey Williamson, Globalization and History (1999). A data-rich investigation into the first era of globalization in the late 1800's. For history buffs only, but lots of fascinating info.
Nathan Rosenberg and L.E. Bridzell, Jr., How the West Grew Rich (1986). Interesting and accessible economic history of western capitalism. When I was a graduate student, I was lucky enough to be one of Nate Rosenberg's research assistants. He's a smart, smart man.
Richard Posner, Public Intellectuals: A Study of Decline. An interesting if flawed effort to theorize and describe the role of intellectuals in the public sphere.
Mark Lilla, The Reckless Mind: Intellectuals in Politics, and Tony Judt, Past Imperfect: French Intellectuals, 1944-1956. Both of these books are the perfect counter to Posner, in that they highlight the non-pecuniary motivations for intellectuals to engage the public.
Benjamin Barber, The Truth of Power. A humorous and self-deprecating account of the Clinton effort to reach out to public intellectuals on the left. It doesn't spoil the book to say that the endeavor doesn't turn out very well.
Nicholas Dawidoff, The Fly Swatter: How my Grandfather Made His Way in the World. A biography of the eminent economic historian Alexander Gerschenkron by his grandson. His life was just as interesting as his scholarship.
Hans Morgenthau: An Intellectual Biography. What the title says -- an excellent weaving of Morgenthau's personal experiences during the interwar period, and how it affected his scholarship.
Amy Chua, World on Fire (2002). Makes the provocative argument that globalization and democratization exacerbate ethnic tensions. She's extrapolating way too much from Southeast Asia, but read it for yourself to see.
Samuel Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order (1996). I've said in print why Huntington's argument is wrong -- but my first intellectual response to the 9/11 attacks was to take it off my bookshelf.