Friday, September 12, 2003
The merits of intellectual property rights
Eugene Volokh has a great post on why intellectual property is not so different from tangible property. One key point:
What Eugene failed to mention is what makes the conferral of intellectual property rights so difficult: the credible commitment problem.
Before a concept comes into existence, the incentive created by intellectual property rights is very strong. After a concept is invented, critics are correct in saying that society would be better off if those rights were revoked. Hence the need for a credible commitment, in the form of legal protections, to assure innovators that their intellectual efforts will yield tangible rewards.
Dynamically, society is better off protecting such rights, because that helps to ensure a constant stream of innovation. However, in times of crisis, when the future is heavily discounted, it's very tempting to revoke this commitment.
Advice to new bloggers
1) Unsure about starting a blog? What do you have to lose? It takes ten minutes and zero dollars to set up a blog on Blogger. [UPDATE: Blogger just announced that they are adding most of their Blogger Pro features into their regular Blogger program, so now you get even more for nothing.] The real question is, why not start a blog? At worst, you'll run out of things to say in two weeks and delete it. Trust me, if my brother can blog, anyone can.
2) If you decide you like blogging, then switch to Moveable Type: Boy, have I been converted. I didn't know what I was missing until I made the switch. Comparing MT to any version of Blogger is like comparing any BMW to a Saturn. Yes, the latter is a fine car (I own one), but the former is much more fun. [What about Typepad?--ed. Never used it, so I can't comment. However, Tom Maguire just switched over, so it must have some virtues.]
3) Think quality over quantity. Yes, some bloggers have the ability to post in triple figures per day at a consistently high level. You, like me, are probably not one of those people. In baseball terms, you don't have to swing at every pitch -- wait for an issue or idea that's right over the plate.
4) You can still edit your text once it's posted. Blog enthusiasts repeatedly emphasize that the blogosphere's comparative advantage is the lack of editors. That's true as far as it goes, but that doesn't mean that once you've posted something it's sacrosanct. In the hour after I initially post something, I will often revise it, to clean up typos, correct my grammar, add relevant links, and bulk up my arguments with more detailed arguments or supporting facts (within reason). Yes, there are no outside editors in the blogosphere, but the best bloggers have well-honed internal editing systems -- and they use them on a regular basis.
5) Write about religion. Or better yet, Harry Potter and religion. Forget Britney Spears -- it's religious controversy that sells. Well, that plus Harry Potter; I have a healthy new respect for the legions of online Harry Potter fans that came swarming to my site after the leading Harry Potter blog, The Leaky Cauldron, linked to my post on the subject.
A belated blogiversary to myself
A year ago this week, I started this blog. If I could discover a way to travel back in time and tell myself that this blog would:
Well, I'd be rich, because I'd have invented a friggin' time machine!!
But I also wouldn't have believed me. It's been a kick-ass year.
On to year two!!
UPDATE: Andrew Sullivan always sends the nicest presents -- tons of hits and a great blurb!
Thursday, September 11, 2003
California polling and California spinning
Despite Mickey Kaus' latest Schwarzenegger scoop, it looks like the Teutonic Terminator has succeeded in phase one of his campaign -- with Peter Ueberroth's withdrawal, Schwarzenegger is now the only viable Republican challenger [What about Tom Mclintock?--ed. According to Daniel Weintraub, he's irrelevant].
Now comes the latest poll from Knowledge Networks:
Click here for the full results. There is one jaw-dropping statistic that is not mentioned in the press release: among Hispanic voters, Bustamante only beats Schwarzenegger 40% to 37%. Since this is well within the poll's margin of error, so Bustamante and Schwarzenegger are in a statistical dead heat for the Hispanic vote. This would be consistent with the Field poll data as well.
Many bloggers, myself included, believed that unless Schawrzenegger started getting specific on policy proposals, he'd wither on the vine. However, since Cruz Bustamante has decided to match Schwarzenegger's vagueness, that pressure has yet to kick in.
One last point about this poll. The only reason I know about it (and apparently beat Kaus, Robert Tagorda and Daniel Weintraub to posting about it) was because someone at the White House Writers Group e-mailed the press release to me. [Does that mean the White House is getting involved?--ed. No, WHWG is a private consulting firm unaffiliated with the government. Do they have a political slant?--ed. The group was founded by Reagan-Bush speechwriters, and perusing the staff bios it's safe to say they lean to the right. By posting about this, aren't you, like, their willing slave?--ed. This is worthy of blogging because of the caliber of the people who ran the survey, and the fact that their survey method mirrors the actual voting process. That's the spin in the two media stories I found on the poll, both of which are less than two hours old]
Two lessons to draw. The first is that the White House Writers Group is smart enough to know how to get favorable information out there -- distribute it to members of the blogosphere!! Second, the Schwarzenegger canpaign may be short on specifics, but they're long on quality consultants.
UPDATE: Eugene Volokh got the same e-mail.
Two years later
I was in Heathrow airport waiting to board a plane home when I heard about the attacks. Unlike U.S. airports, Heathrow does not have TV monitors broadcasting news every 100 yards. The only reason I found out was that I called my wife to let her know I was going to be on a different plane than I'd said. She said, "Thank God you're OK!!" and then told me what happened. By that point both of the towers had fallen and the Pentagon had been hit.
Hearing those facts described over the phone was just bizarre. Seeing the endless replays on television in another country was equally bizarre, though the British were as kind as could be while I was marooned there.
Until 9/11, it was safe to say that my generation had no moment of shared experience equivalent to the Kennedy assassination. I wish I could say that was still the case.
Wednesday, September 10, 2003
Drezner gets results from A World Connected!!
Yesterday, Jacob Levy posted the following:
I am happy to claim partial credit for this bonanza of U of C finalists -- three of the six students were also in my spring class, Globalization and Its Discontents.
At the last minute -- at the suggestion of a student -- I changed the first assignment to mirror the essay contest question.
In seeing who among my students made the cut, I'm pleased to note the following:
Conan O'Brien's 10th anniversary
This weekend NBC will air the 10th anniversary celebration of Late Night with Conan O'Brien. In those ten years, I've gone from someone who would watch the show on occasion to someone who desperately needs to be asleep by the time he's on.
That said, he's still a funny guy. For those fellow readers who need their sleep, go read Conan's commencement speech to the Havard Class of 2000 -- it's pretty damn funny. Here's part of his closing:
Read the whole thing.
Harry Potter and the Threat of Lashkar-e-Taiba
The title to this post is not the name of J.K. Rowling's sixth book in the Harry Potter series -- though it's not bad.
Lashkar-e-Taiba is an Islamic fundamentalist group based in Pakistan responsible for multiple terrorist attacks against India over the past ten years. Technically, Lashkar-e-Taiba was banned by the Pakistani government following the 9/11 attacks, so the group is now called Jama'at ud-Da'wa Pakistan. Only the name has been changed, however.
What does this have to do with Harry Potter? DanielDrezner.com's trusted South Asia expert alertly informed him of the cover of the August 2003 issue of Zerb-e-Taiba (roughly translated, clash/clang/strike), Lashkar-e-Taiba's flagship publication.
Now, if you look at the upper-left hand corner of the cover, you'll see an image of a Harry Potter book. Why? Apparently, the magazine has an article arguing that the Harry Potter series is really part of a missionary plot to spread Christianity to the Islamic parts of the world (sorry, no translation).
The irony is extremely rich, since a slice of Christian fundamentalists -- particularly some (but not all) individuals affiliated with Focus on the Family -- have been arguing for the past five years that Harry Potter must be the work of the devil because it promotes worship of the occult. Think I'm exaggerating? Click here. For a rebuttal, click here.
Now, while some in the blogosphere are less than enamored with the Harry Potter series, even these curmudgeons would allow that the series has caused a lot of children to become more voracious readers, which is all to the good. Saying that Harry Potter influences religious preferences would be like saying Frasier -- or Woody Allen, for that matter -- encourages people to enter psychoanalysis.
Why do these books cause such heart palpitations among religious fundamentalists of all stripes? Wading into some hazardous waters -- let me add here that most devout people do not fall into the trap I'm about to describe -- here's my theory:
If there's anything that scares religious orthodoxy, it's decentralized enthusiasm for something new. What devotees of Lashkar-e-Taiba or James Dobson share is an unquenched desire for order. Now, anyone who thinks of themselves as religious recognize this impulse, and one should never underestimate the power of faith to provide comfort in times of uncertainty. However, fundamentalist groups have an exaggerated fear of uncertainty, and any phenomenon beyond their control represents a threat to their world. Harry Potter may be harmless, but the books are beyond their control. They inject new and unwanted ideas into the heads of young children. God forbid that Muslim girls should read about a strong female character like Hermione Granger, or that young Christian children read stories that suggest not all authority figues are omniscient or pure of heart.
Worse than any of these specifics, of course, is the central strength of the Harry Potter series -- the sheer inventiveness of Rowling's imagination. Reading the books teaches children that fantasies are fun, that it's a worthwhile endeavor to explore one's own imagination. This is the first step down the road towards independent thought -- the bane of all religious extremists.
Turning back to Pakistan, the good news is that most Pakistanis are either ignoring or decrying this attack on Harry Potter. In fact, if this press release is any guide, Pakistani readers are far more upset about the Hollywood bastardization of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. So maybe my pessimism about the state of that country is exaggerated.
UPDATE: As Patrick Belton points out, it's not only religious fundamentalists that have a problem with magic.
David Brooks starts his NYT gig
David Brooks' inaugural New York Times op-ed column confirms for me that he'll be a good fit for that page.
Brooks' essay starts off with a spot-on critique of the administration:
At this point in the essay, loyal Times readers are nodding their heads, basking in the warm glow of Bushwacking.
However, by the end of the piece, Brooks is in a different place than the start would have suggested:
So, even while deftly skewering the administration's PR on its policy, Brooks manages to point out Bush's virtues.
Tuesday, September 9, 2003
Links for the day
Will Saletan and Andrew Sullivan are having a debate on Bush's Sunday speech and whether Operation Iraqi Freedom is integral to the war on terror. As loyal readers are aware, I'm mostly on Saletan's side here, but not completely.
The Chicago Tribune has a good front-pager on U.S. efforts to build a modern highway between Kabul and Kandahar. According to the story, the effort has already reduced the travelling time between the two cities from two days to ten hours. When it's finished, the time will be shaved to six hours.
Oh, and everyone at OxBlog seems to have stopped moving around and started posting again. Always worth a read.
The media and asymmetrical warfare
Glenn Reynolds has a post and links to the media's role in asymmetrical warfare -- namely, how a necesary condition for a victory by guerillas over syanding armies is that the media interprets tactical losses as strategic victories:
That makes Donald Rumsfeld's comments yesterday about media criticism a bit more understandable:
Even if Rumsfeld has a point, he's overreaching -- it's not the place of the Secretary of Defense to insinuate that the media is providing aid and comfort to the enemy.
The state of play in world trade
My latest Tech Central Station column is up -- it's on the increased prominence of developing countries in the latest round of world trade talks, and what this means for the United States. There are lots of links, too. Go check it out.
And after that, go check out the Cato Institute's online globalization debate. It's between Cato and the Institute for Humane studies on the "pro" side, and the Nation and The America Prospect on the "anti" side. There's also also an ongoing email debate for the course of the WTO talks between Johan Norberg and Bob Kuttner.
Monday, September 8, 2003
Gregg Easterbrook has been absorbed
Less than a week after I praised Gregg Easterbrook's Tuesday Morning Quarterback column on ESPN.com, he goes and sets up a proper blog hosted by The New Republic.
Who will be the next big thinker to become one with the Blogosphere? Post your guesses below.
UPDATE: I realize I didn't provide my own guess. Well, after seeing this picture of Easterbrook posing with the Philadelphia Eagles cheerleaders from last night's football game...
There can be only one name -- Philly Cheesesteak.
Some minor housekeeping
A few minor changes:
2) It's come to my attention that after a while, accessing my TNR Online essays on TNR's web site requires a subscription. Now, while subscribing to The New Republic is an excellent decision and should be encouraged, this is a bit unfair. So, I've posted all of them on the website -- which means the links to the right will take you there.
3) I've updated the book recommendations page to include a section on intellectual history [Boy, you really now how hip up the site!!--ed. Oh, shut up].
Sunday, September 7, 2003
The substance of style in cable news
Given all the brouhaha over the past year about the relative merits of Fox News vs. CNN, I made sure to tape Virginia Postrel's appearance on Tony Snow's Fox News Live Weekend so I could compare it to her CNN appearance. Comparing and contrasting the two were highly revealing.
Why? Because the Fox segment was just flat-out better on the aesthetics. Postrel was in Fox's DC studio. Virginia looked much better in this appearance, probably because she wasn't trying to sound pithy while suffocating in a remote studio the size broom closet. Furthermore, in contrast to the CNN teasers, the Fox teasers seemed more on point with the thesis of The Substance of Style.
Does Fox's rightward tilt explain this? Not likely -- in fact, during the segment Tony Snow seemed to imply that libertarians were geeks with little social life.
Part of it may have been due to the fact that Tony Snow is higher on the news food chain than the nondescript morning anchor that interviewed Virginia on CNN. Part of it also is that I simply loathe the dearth of hard news content on morning shows, and the CNN interviewer made no effort to go beyond the discussion of toilet brushes.
In contrast, Snow made a concerted effort to link Virginia's take on aesthetics to larger trends like cultural globalization and political thought, which I find more interesting.
Still, having unconsciously abstained from watching cable news since the Iraq war, it was interesting to see the differences. Part of the reason Fox is doing better than CNN is that their sense of style is more focused. But part of it is also due to the symbiosis between their style and the substance.
UPDATE: Chris Lawrence also provides a first-hand account.
The art of criticism
One of the amusing aspects of being a professor is watching the evolution of graduate students.
During their first two years -- immersed in coursework -- they become excellent critics. As they sharpen their analytical skills, the students excel at exposing the flaws of every article or book put in front of them. By the end of their coursework, they are thoroughly unimpressed with the cutting edge of the literature.
Of course, that's usually the point at which they have to start drafting their own work. At which point they discover that the enterprise of developing original ideas is a wee bit trickier than it appears to the critical eye. And suddenly, the stuff that they had savaged six months earlier doesn't look so bad.
The good students, after getting the wind knocked out of them, develop the proper equipoise between respect for the good but imperfect work that's out there and disdain for the hackwork that, to be blunt, pervades most of the social sciences.
Clive James reminded me of all this in his amusing essay in the Sunday New York Times op-ed page on the merits of snarky literary reviews. His conclusion:
Indeed. What James is saying about fiction applies with equal force to nonfiction.
[Er, isn't it contradictory to praise an essay that praises the art of not praising bad writers?--ed. Not if the essay is well-written. I'd be happy to savage bad editors, though. Never mind!!--ed.]
Who benefits from outsourcing? Who could benefit from outsourcing?
The Washington Post had an article two days ago on why this employment decline is different from all others. The answer is that many of the jobs that have disappeared aren't coming back. The reason? Outsourcing:
Mickey Kaus -- who links to the story -- gives one spin on this phenomenon:
And that's Mickey's optimistic interpretation of events!!
Sounds bleak. Until you read these couple of grafs in the WaPo story:
If you go to McKinsey Global Institute's (MGI) summary of its own report, you run into this startling graf:
Click here to download the actual report (you'll have to register). It's not blind to the unemployment question. In fact, the report makes an intriguing proposal to cushion the blow:
This proposal would convert the static gains from outsourcing into a Pareto-improving move -- i.e., someone can be made better off without anyone being made worse off. Not eveyone understands this concept, but it's an important one in making policy decisions.
Dynamically, the gains from outsourcing will benefit all Americans. There will be a lag between the increase in the corporate rate of return, the concomitant increase in investment, and an uptick in the domestic economy.
But it will happen.
What do you do with a country like Pakistan?
In anticipation of President Bush's progress report on Iraq and the war on terror tonight, here's a conundrum to consider:
Weak states are the incubator of terrorists. Pakistan is a weak, dusfunctional state that lacks a coherent sense of national identity. Its leader may be perceived as both strong and pro-Western, but that's only in comparison to the rest of the Pakistani elite, for whom the sectarian comes before the national.
The outcome from a weak Pakistani government is a perfect haven for Taliban remnants to harrass U.S. forces in Afghanistan. Ahmed Rashid makes this point in an article for YaleGlobal. Some highlights:
Read the whole article. To be fair to the U.S. and Pakistani governments, they're not blind to the problem. They have taken actions to try and reverse the flow of arms and men across the border.
But as the article also makes clear, they haven't done enough.
[Thanks to alert DanielDrezner.com reader A.A. for the tip.]