Saturday, November 22, 2003
Right before Star Wars: The Phantom Menace came out, I remember overhearing a conversation between two guys who were two young to have seen the original Star Wars in theaters. The conversation was dripping with irony until it turned to the imminent arrival of The Phantom Menace, at which point one of them said in as earnest a tone as possible, "I just hope it doesn't suck."
I'm sure that guy has been embracing his inner core of bitterness ever since.
I raise this because of the combination of excitement and dread I'm feeling at the moment. Eight years after Outland and fourteen years after Bloom County, Berkeley Breathed is bringing back Opus!! Breathed will be penning a Sundays-only strip à la Outland. Here's what appears on Breathed's web site:
As someone who remembers breaking out in fits of hysterical laughter reading the first Bloom County compilation while sitting in my freshman physics class in high school, I'll confess to some nervousness here -- how can I be sure that what happened to George Lucas won't happen to Berkeley Breathed?
Fortunately, this Washington Post discussion with Breathed suggests he's still got game -- which is to say, he's still got the refined sense of whimsy that made Bloom County a must read when it was around. Some highlights:
Please, God, just be funny. That's all I ask.
P.S. For those wondering about Breathed's political orientation, he gave a pretty funny interview to The Onion in 2001, in which his political views were somewhat de-mystified:
Friday, November 21, 2003
The perils of creeping protectionism
The Bush administration succeeded in Miami in creating a "lite" version of the Free Trade Area of the Americas. Despite what the Los Angeles Times thinks, that's still better than nothing, and should be interpreted as a modest step towards liberalization.
However, the Economist highlights the latest protectionist move by the Bush administration:
The story also highlights a recent speech by Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan (sponsored in part by the Economist). The entire speech is worth reading -- it's about how increased financial globalization has permitted greater flexibility for the U.S. to run a large current account deficit. However, it ends with a cautionary note:
Compared to Greenspan's usually tortured syntax, this amounts to a clear warning. Go back to the Economist story on why creeping protectionism could threaten the U.S. balance of payments:
UPDATE: Brad DeLong -- who also picked up on the Greenspan speech -- has some intriguing gossip about the bureaucratic politics behind the textiles decision.
Paul Blustein also has a good take on recent events in the Washington Post.
Why James Lileks is flat-out wrong
The relevant portions of Pax's letter first:
To which Lileks responds [WARNING: STRONG LANGUAGE]:
Here's my reply to Lileks [WARNING: STRONG LANGUAGE]:
UPDATE: Hmm.... this post seems to have generated a small amount of feedback while unintentionally intimidating Robert Tagorda.
In case my anger got the best of me in what's written above, a quick restatement: my basic problem with what Lileks wrote was the assumption that because Salam Pax had never taken up arms against Saddam (in contrast to U.S. armed forces), he was in no position to complain about the current state of affairs. My point was that Lileks elides some relevant recent history.
ANOTHER UPDATE: Anticipatory Retaliation has further thoughts on whether the U.S. was really to blame for what happened in the spring of 1991 -- though see James Joyner and Will Saletan on this point as well.
What is Al Qaeda's strategy?
Well, then, color me confused - how do these attacks do anything but strengthen this axis? Andrew Sullivan phrases it nicely:
What seems clear is that over the past year:
Of course, this assessment could change with one spectacular attack.
However, at the moment, Al Qaeda seems to be incapable of doing anything except kill large numbers of Muslims.
Thursday, November 20, 2003
The genius of American capitalism
The Economist runs a mostly upbeat assessment of the state of the American economy. The closing paragraph makes a powerful point:
Tom Friedman should know better
These are the first two paragraphs of Friedman's op-ed column for today:
No, Tom, but we're not exactly in mainstream Britain either. Livingstone's nickname is "Red Ken"; he was expelled by the Labour Party in 2000 (though it appears he will soon be reinstated). As for Harold Pinter, well, peruse his politics page and then try to distinguish his views from Noam Chomsky's.
Meanwhile, The same day the Guardian ran their letters to George, they also found some surprising poll results:
I understand why Friedman uses that opening -- to make the case for tweaking U.S. foreign policy. But using an overhyped start doesn't help Friedman's cause.
UPDATE: MSNBC has a plethora of man-on-the-street takes that are worth checking out.
Quote of the day
From Andrew Sullivan:
Wednesday, November 19, 2003
Elites, conspiracies, and the tinfoil brigade
Embedded in Davies' post are a specific objection against BAP, and then a larger objection about elite institutions in general.
To deal with the BAP objection first. Having attended my first conference, I can reveal the following: the only policy position members of BAP would ever agree upon would be the full subsidization of hotel pubs/bars at conference venues. For me, the appeal of the conference was meeting a bunch of dynamic people who politely disagree with each other on matters of policy, philosophy, and culture. BAP issues no policy papers, publishes no books, and has no institutional voice in public discourse. It has no endowment fund. It holds an annual conference organized around a few big-think issues, and that's it. There's a vague sense among BAP participants that Anglo-American comity is a good thing, but everyone has that sense before becoming involved in the project. There is no conspiracy.
That said, BAP is also very secretive about its membership and activities. Its official web site is not exactly a font of information. This is probably the biggest explanation for the rise of conspiracy theories surrounding it. On this, I agree with Davies that BAP's lack of transparency means the organization probably brings some of this on itself (a point I failed to stress enough in my TNR article on conspiracies). However, these theories usually have no plausible evidence to back up their assertions either, and I see no reason to attach any a priori credence to them.
On the larger issue of elitist institutions, Davies' contention is that they contribute to a democratic deficit by encouraging "a political process in which it is impossible for the public at large to take part," and therefore, "the public debate on an issue is not necessarily the debate which matters." The only way iin which this holds is if the public debates that are part of the policymaking process are compromised by a prior debate in such private bodies.
Does this ever happen? I tend to doubt it. The composition of BAP is probably similar to the composition of most of these groups -- a thoroughly heterogeneous elite. The notion that these individuals will reach agreements based either on backroom favor-trading or Habermasian discourse because of membership in these associations does not seem terribly plausible. I say this as someone who's observed how these meetings operate. No doubt, they tend to promote more comity in public debates through prior association. They also creating weak ties among individuals -- which may contribute to career advancement.
However, that's a far cry from conspiracy theory.
Routine trade politics
Andrew Sullivan thinks the EU has hit a new low:
Now, I love a good EU-bashing as much as the next guy, but on this occasion I fear Sullivan is overreaching on two fronts.
First, the Guardian story makes it clear that the EU is not proposing anything at the moment. Rather, Stephen Byers -- a former trade and industry secretary in Tony Blair's government -- sent "a letter to Pascal Lamy, Europe's top trade negotiator," suggesting this tactic. So this is not emanating from the Eurocrats.
Second, even if this does become official policy, it's not new. Ever since the WTO came into existence, both the United States and European Union have carefully targeted WTO-approved punitive sanctions against key industries. The hope is that such sanctions mobilize the affected industry into lobbying the government to reverse its policy.
The U.S. does this all the time against the EU -- for instance, raising tariffs on Parma ham to get the Italian agricultural lobby to force the French agricultuiral lobby into backing down.
Sullivan says the proposed policy is Bush-hatred gone mad. However, the quoted section from Byers' letter to Lamy suggests good-old-fashioned bargaining:
Nothing extraordinary to see here, folks -- just your typical transatlantic trade spat. Move along.
Am I a paid lobbyist?
Nick Confessore's article in the December Washington Monthly (link via Brad DeLong) is a profile of James K. Glassman and his creation, Tech Central Station (TCS). One highlight:
Given that I've written a few pieces for Tech Central Station, my thoughts on this:
This is undoubtedly true, but only relevant if the journalist published the essay in a venue that was somehow deemed both nonpartisan and authoritative. TCS makes no bones about its origins and general policy preferences (though see this Josh Marshall post for one possible obfuscation). The DC types that are presumably the targets of influence are certainly aware of it. I'm willing to be persuaded that there's a possible harm here, but I don't see it at this point.
Monday, November 17, 2003
I won't be able to access the Internet again until I get home. While you're waiting for more high-quality DanielDrezner.com output, feel free to post a comment saying what you'd like to see me blog more about.
UPDATE: After a very pleasant but all-too-brief lunch with Josh Chafetz in London, I'm not back in Chicago. Regular blogging to commence soon.
Notes from Cardiff
I've briefly escaped from the clutches of my handlers at the British-American Project conference to provide the following observations:
I'll respond more seriously to Davies post that I'm not being serious enough about the potential threats BAP poses once I'm a) back in the USA; and b) not hung over.
[They got to you, didn't they? You had dinner with Jennifer Garner?--ed. No, but I have dined with a British journalist who bears more than a passing resemblance to Nell McAndrew, an investment consultant from Texas who bears more than a passing resemblance to Andie MacDowell, and an actress-turned-power broker who starred in Metropolitan. I can't complain.]
UPDATE: A hat tip to Will Baude for providing a reasonably accurate play-by-play of my Cambridge talk over at Crescat Sententia.