Friday, October 10, 2003
The best get-rich-quick cyberscam yet
I'm sure everyone who reads this blog has received an e-mail message from a Nigerian lawyer claiming -- in the strictest confidence, of course -- that s/he represents an ousted Nigerian despot and needs some bank account information so s/he can transfer lots of money to your account. I've also received Filipino versions of this cyberscam.
The latest permutation just landed in my inbox:
I am so going to write this guy back.
My oh-so-lazy Fridays
Little work is being done today, because my son's day care center closed at noon, so I have him for the rest of the day. Such are the occasional inconveniences of modern parenting.
I mention this only as an excuse to quote the last few grafs from this very funny post from Laura McK**** at Apartment 11D:
Actually, I think Laura might be overstating things a bit. Of course I signed on for the unpleasant or annoying parts of parenting -- it's just that before one has children, the mundane tasks are never the aspects of parenthood that one visualizes.
I also enjoy shopping at Target.
A step up for the Nobel Peace Prize
I defended last year's decision by the Nobel committee to award its Peace Proze to Jimmy Carter. That said, this year's recipient -- Iranian human rights lawyer Shirin Ebadi -- is a decided improvement. Here's her official Nobel bio, and the official announcement. The key grafs:
Patrick Belton has a host of links up about her over at OxBlog.
Here's the terse announcement over at the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA). Meanwhile another IRNA story suggests that Iran is warming up its relations with that other exemplar of human rights, Cuba.
UPDATE: Slate has a nice explanation of the decision-making process behind the Nobel Peace Prize.
Thursday, October 9, 2003
Yet another plea to media professionals
The traffic on the blog has been pretty high as of late, so here's another plea to those who work in the media -- please take five minutes out of your busy schedule to answer five simple survey questions that are a curcial part of a joint project on the power and politics of blogs.
To date, I've received 80 proper responses, including reporters, producers, and editors who work for The New Republic, Economist, Time, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Chicago Tribune, Reuters, Associated Press, ABC News, CNN, and Foreign Affairs. I'm gunning for an N > 100. You, Mr. or Ms. Media Professional, could be the one that pushes the response number to three digits!!
Let me also note that there are an awful lot of important media institutions not on this aforementioned list -- Slate, The American Prospect, Weekly Standard, National Review, Washington Post (Howard Kurtz, I'm looking in your direction), USA Today, NBC, CBS, and Fox News.
Shame, shame -- no links to you!! [Oh, yeah, they're quaking in their boots.--ed. Shhh... you're blowing the illusion!] Particularly for CBS News -- if you guys are going to reprint my TNR Online columns, at least answer the survey questions!!
UPDATE: OK, The Weekly Standard is back in my good graces.
Criticizing and defending Krugman
Now, although this blog is not in the habit of defending Paul Krugman, I'd say that Kling is overstating the case a bit. Krugman uses both types of arguments. If you take a look at his NYT Magazine article on taxes, for example, Krugman does marshall consequential arguments to support his argument -- but he uses motivational ones as well.
Krugman, although not yet a Nobel winner, ain't a dumb bunny when it comes to economics or methodology. I'd posit that he slides from Type C to type M arguments under two sets of circumstances -- which happen to mirror the two flaws I identified last December in his op-ed columns. First, he'll switch to type M when he's run out of ways to reiterate the type C argument about an issue. Second, and more disturbingly, he'll use type M arguments more in areas where his economics expertise is of less use -- namely, politics and foreign policy.
This, by the way, is Peter Beinert's conclusion at the end of his NYT book review of Krugman's The Great Unraveling:
Note that this is a type T argument -- theoretical supposition -- with only a small dose of type C support.
UPDATE: Chris Lawrence makes such a good comment that I'm linking to it here. Chris is completely correct that type M arguments are a valid form of social science. Perhaps the refinement would be to suggest that Krugman's type C arguments are at their weakest when used in support of type M hypotheses.
ANOTHER UPDATE: Brad DeLong weighs in with some cogent points.
To repeat: no coherent narrative
Given the latest suicide bombing in Iraq, it's going to be easy to claim that the place -- and U.S. policy -- is an abject disaster. And there are certainly some problems besides violent attacks in the U.S. administration of Iraq.
However, consistent with my no coherent narrative meme, there is also some good news. The New York Times reports that it should be very easy to fulfill Iraq's aid needs for the next year -- about $6 billion -- in part because it will take some time for the country to have the necessary institutional infrastructure to absorb even more aid. Some cheering grafs:
Even more heartwarming is this Chicago Tribune story on the effects that U.S. aid are having on the Iraqi people. The highlights:
Really, you need to read the entire article.
One new and potentially intriguing part of the Iraqi coverage is that the Bush administration recognizes it needs to get more of the positive stories coming from Iraq into the media. [Why does this matter beyond the 2004 election?--ed. Because if the American people become convinced that Iraq is a miserable failure, then they're going to start demanding a withdrawal, which would be catastrophic for regional stability] This Chicago Tribune story on Condi Rice's latest speech suggests a new White House plan on this front:
Wednesday, October 8, 2003
Tom Maguire gets results from Newsweek!!
Josh Marshall also picks up on the careful parsing of the White House denials.
There's one other reason this version of events makes sense -- the "senior administration official" who leaked the original Post story has not come forward with any more blockbuster leaks to advance the story. Maybe this is because the original leak served its purpose -- I don't know.
Does this excuse Bush's lackluster statements about pursuing the leak? Yes and no. If the Maguire theory holds and Bush knows this as true, then it may explain why he's not exercised about the issue -- he knows that there was no criminal intent. However, as Maguire and I have pointed out repeatedly, Plame's NOC status means that even if there was no criminal action, this was a serious breach of ethical boundaries, not to mention a threat to intelligence operations. For someone who's supposed to bring honor and integrity back into the White House, Bush's approach remains cavalier.
[So do you think the left half of the blogosphere, like, just overhyped this?--ed. Not necessarily. First, the Newsweek theory of events rests crucially on the notion that the official who leaked the story to the Post made an important mistake. If you still accept the Post story as 100% correct, outrage is still justified. Second, Bush's lackadaisical response to the damage that has emanated from the leak has opened him up to justifiable criticisms -- proving once again that the response to the scandal is always more damaging than the scandal itself. So does this mean you're going to switch parties?--ed. No, in the sense that the original Washington Post story erred in asserting that the original Plame leak was widely shopped around, intentional, and therefore malicious. If this version of events turns out to be accurate, the post-leak White House behavior qualifies as nasty, partisan, and inept, but not malevolent. On policy grounds, well, let's just say that Noah Shachtman might need to give me a call.]
UPDATE: Mark Kleiman finds this theory "hard to swallow," but does not dismiss it out of hand. Tom Maguire also weighs in. Glenn Reynolds, as usual, has tons of links. Atrios alertly points to one piece of contradictory information.
The Democratic primary gets ugly
I thought the "puke politics" of the California gubernatorial election were bad -- that's nothing compared to the accusations flying between the Dean and Kerry camps:
OK, mostly I think this is amusing, but a semi-serious question -- what does it say about the state of Kerry's campaign that he's perfectly willing to piss off millions of Democrats who root for the Yankees, just to get a leg up in New Hampshire?
Capital market liberalization and publishing
My latest Tech Central Station column is up. It's on how economic liberalization beyond trade politics can and should be proceeding. Go check it out.
Oh, and for those interested in whether blogging can lead to writing as a career, Maureen Ryan has a story in the Chicago Tribune on the possibilities and pitfalls of such a trajectory. Various bloggers are quoted.
Level of outrage rising rapidly
On Monday, President Bush sounded tough on the Plame Game:
Link via Josh Marshall. The most generous thing I can say about this statement is that it's factually correct. All Bush is saying is what Jack Shafer said last week about the likelihood of finding leakers.
The thing is, Shafer's just a reporter -- Bush is the boss of whoever leaked the story. Exactly what kind of message does Bush send to that person in saying this to the press? Basically, that you'll never get caught. What does this message say to the FBI investigators? Chill out, we don't expect you to find anything.
Developing... and not in a way that I like.
UPDATE: In a lot of the comments on my Plame Game posts, there's a suggestion that Bush could find out who the leaker was with a thorough grilling of his senior staff. Mark Kleiman (who's moved off blogspot, I see) makes a similar suggestion).
Eugene Volokh provides a straightforward reason why this is not likely to be the case. Note that Eugene's post assumes that the leaker did violate the law. If Tom Maguire's "colossal but unintentional blunder" theory were true, Volokh's logic is slightly weakened (the leaker may be convinced that even if he did not violate the law, he'd get railroaded given the press attention this has received).
Note that this does not excuse Bush's statements from yesterday, however. The leaker's incentive structure doesn't matter -- Bush should be making clear what his preferences are on this issue. And yesterday's statement indicates that he's not all that worked up about it. Shame on him.
Tightening the reins?
Here's one indication that the White House has decided that it may be tolerating too much "creative tension" among the key bureaucracies when it comes to Iraq. From Knight-Ridder: President Bush has tapped national security adviser Condoleezza Rice to chair a new Iraq Stabilization Group amid increasing Democratic criticism of administration fumbling in postwar Iraq, congressional questioning of the president's proposed $87 billion Iraq spending package and the chaotic postwar situation in Iraq's effect on his approval ratings.
"Some might see this as rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic," said one senior administration official, who agreed to speak only on the condition of anonymity, "But it is a serious attempt to make the National Security Council more functional and remove some of the elements that have made it dysfunctional."
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, with the backing of Vice President Dick Cheney, has long run roughshod over the NSC, the State Department, the CIA and other government agencies, and at times even the wishes of the president himself.
"With this new system you can control and dampen some of that and make it much more apparent when someone is meddling with policy," the official said, adding, "That way the White House can run policy instead of this unholy alliance."
Here's a link to the Chicago Tribune story as well.
One sign that bureaucratic politics have spun out of control -- when cabinet-level officials talk about "unholy alliances."
UPDATE: Another sign is the following from the Washington Post:
Tuesday, October 7, 2003
The merits of faculty retreats
Michael Froomkin and Eric Muller are having an amusing debate on the relative merits of faculty retreats. Michael votes thumbs down [UPDATE -- Froomkin contests this description], while Eric believes them to be the epitome of Habermasian discourse.
I gotta go with Michael on this one. The idea of a faculty retreat sounded good the first time I heard it -- probably because I thought it would be held at some secluded lake somewhere with generous coffee breaks. In actuality, the retreats I've attended (all before I was at the U of C) were day-long marathons of bad pizza, bad flourescent lighting, and bad pontificating.
This gets to the nub of why I'm pessimistic about retreats. It's not that I don't respect my colleagues -- I respect and admire the erudition they all bring to the table. However, at the risk of destroying the glass structure that houses this blog, academics as a group are prone to liking the sound of their own voices way too much.
[Cue sound of glass tinkling!! Most of your colleagues aren't so egotistical as to have pontificating blogs!--ed. Yes, but reading my blog is optional for Internet users. Listening to colleagues at an all-day retreat is usually mandatory.]
The post-war debate about the pre-war justifications
Andrew Sullivan has an excellent post on this topic and on the efforts by all sides to frame the pre-war debate in the manner most favorable to them. The money quote
Go check it out.
Oh, right, there's an election today
I believe that Californians are voting on some governor thing.
Clearly, I'm not up on all the details. However, Robert Tagorda appears to be channeling all of his frustrations with the Dodgers into a non-stop blogathon about the election today, so go check him out.
Hey, we can do statebuilding
The Chicago Tribune has a good story on successful U.S. efforts to rebuild the state in Afghanistan, one town at a time. The key grafs:
Go read the entire article for an excellent account of warlord politics in Afghanistan, and the need to eradicate as many of them as possible before elections planned for 2004. The Guardian reports that the U.S. plans on sending troops to support another PRT to Kunduz.
Here's an idle thought -- why doesn't NATO create even more Provincial Reconstruction Teams? This is definitely an area where other countries can contribute -- indeed, this is an area where our allies may have a comparative advantage. New Zealand is already taking over one PRT. According to the Miami Herald, however, there is a problem with the European members of the coalition:
Indeed. [But why should the Europeans help us? Aren't we too belligerent for their tastes?--ed. This ain't Iraq, it's Afghanistan. This is the country for which NATO invoked Article V and for which the Security Council unanimously approved force. So our interests coincide in Afghanistan. From a purely self-interested perspective, however, our European allies have a strong incentive to demonstrate the utility of their armed forces to the U.S. government and the U.S. public. The more useful their military units, the greater demand for their services. The greater the demand for their services, the more leverage they have in affecting American foreign policy.]
Monday, October 6, 2003
No blogging until after sundown Monday night. Right now, it is Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement. The ten days between the Jewish New Year (Rosh Hashanah) and Yom Kippur are the Days of Awe, during which we are supposed to repent our myriad sins from the past year.
It is particularly important that we apologize and forgive our fellow man. On the Day of Atonement God always forgives one’s sins against the Almighty. However, God cannot forgive the transgressions committed against other human beings -- only those people can.
Because of the immediacy of blogging, and the frequently anonymous exchanges that take place on the World Wide Web, my various flaws are on full display every day on this site for all to read. So, to all readers, as well as those I’ve written about – let me apologize for the displays of pride, pettiness, slander, belligerency, cruelty, and offensiveness – be they intentional or not.
Wow, that feels good.
Sunday, October 5, 2003
A point worth making again
I asked on Friday what evidence there was that Bush and his senior White House staff knew about the Plame Game in July. This is an important point, because many liberals -- Mark Kleiman, Brad DeLong, Paul Krugman -- have argued that they must have known. If true, this would mean that the Bushies sat on this for 11 weeks without taking any action, which I agree would be pretty damning.
Brad DeLong was kind enough to comment on this post:
Let's break this down into the two possible mechanisms -- that the (non-leaking) White House senior staff finds out via Justice or via Tenet.
I doubt Justice contacted the White House in July. The first thing they did when they received the CIA request was to go back to the CIA for more information, as was the proper procedure. Furthermore, it's telling that according to the New York Times, the first place the FBI decided to ask questions was -- again -- the CIA. Perhaps someone at Justice gave a heads-up to the White House about the investigation. However, Justice's standard operating procedure suggests that until they were convinced of the need to open a proper investigation, there was no contact.
Now we go to Tenet. I actually thought this to be a decent assumption on Brtad's part -- until I read today's New York Times story on Tenet. Two salient sections. The first one comes at the end:
Nothing in there about Tenet formally notifying the White House. The Washington Post story on Tenet today takes this a step further:
Now, take a look at this section of the NYT story:
If Tenet didn't raise the Plame Game with Bush this Thursday, what makes anyone think that Tenet raised it with anyone else in the White House in July?
There are a lot of disturbing implications about the Plame Game and its ensuing fallout, and this is only one dimension to this issue, but it's an important one -- the extent to which Bush and his chief subordinates sat on the issue back in July. Many on the liberal side of the spectrum believe there was an eleven week pattern of malevolence that only became public in late September.
They could be proven correct, but at this point I don't see any facts to support this assertion.
ANOTHER UPDATE: Mark Kleiman has a post today that does an excellent job of constructing the proper timeline. I have one quibble with it, and two areas of agreement. The quibble is minor -- Kleiman neglects to say that Time's follow-up to the Novak story was only in its online version. It never appeared in print.
However, Kleiman's version of events otherwise seems pretty accurate, and the comments below suggest that McClellan was briefed when facing the press on July 22nd. So I'll concede there's a high probability that Bush's senior aides knew about this in July. As for Bush himself, Kleiman acknowledges that he's got no evidence either way. Given Tenet's behavior cited above, I'm inclined to think he didn't know.