Saturday, November 22, 2003

Opus lives!

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:

On November 23rd, after an absence of almost ten years, Opus returns to the nation's Sunday comic pages.

We can't, at this time, go into detail as to what he's been doing during his mysterious missing decade, although Opus is deeply embarrassed about the rumors, especially the one naming him as the catalyst behind the unfortunate break-up of J Lo and Ben. It will all become clear soon.

For more, check out this MSNBC interview with Opus himself, and Breathed's e-mail interview with Salon this past week.

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:

I'm not the same knucklehead I was in 1989. I'm an all new knucklehead. A knucklehead with small children -- which, you know, is the worst kind. Look what happened to Dave Barry. Opus will be at once, new and the same. Like each of us as we glide down the different hallways of time in the labyrinth of our lives. It's incredible just how poetic one can be when there isn't time to edit it out....

Washington, D.C. What do you think of today's political comics such as "The Boondocks"?

Berkeley Breathed: Aaron McGruder cites me as a major influence, which is always flattering of course. He's a terrific talent and his graphics sing... but I wonder, sometimes, if he misses a delicate lesson from Bloom County... one that I learned after painful missteps with... uh, outspokenness. Let's just say that if a comic strip tree falls hard in the forest and no [one] hears it because they're wincing... does the Pope, then, you know, poop in the woods. Okay, the metaphor collapsed but you get my meaning....

Harrisburg, Pa.: Children read the news section; adults read the comics.
Opus has to appeal to adults, at least initially. Most 10-year-olds had diminished reading skills when Opus last appeared. How do you intend to reach out to the young and get their minds off of reading for current events classes?

Berkeley Breathed: Nudity. It works for Hollywood.

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:

O: Is the liberal stance of the early strips indicative of your own personal politics?

BB: Liberal, shmiberal. That should be a new word. Shmiberal: one who is assumed liberal, just because he's a professional whiner in the newspaper. If you'll read the subtext for many of those old strips, you'll find the heart of an old-fashioned Libertarian. And I'd be a Libertarian, if they weren't all a bunch of tax-dodging professional whiners.

posted by Dan at 02:43 PM | Comments (42) | Trackbacks (7)

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:

On November 18th, Grant Aldonas, under-secretary at the Department of Commerce, announced new import quotas on Chinese dressing gowns, knitwear and bras, capping their growth next year to just 7.5%. Mr Aldonas invoked a clause in China’s treaty of accession to the World Trade Organisation, which allows America to constrain import surges that threaten to disrupt domestic markets. The bra-buying public, benefiting from cheap Chinese imports, may not have noticed any market disruption. But America’s textile firms, suffering from plant closures and job losses, would disagree. Now, the Commerce Department has shown that it is willing to use every device at its disposal to ward off the menace of cheap dressing gowns....

The quotas announced on Tuesday were in themselves only a small creep forward for protectionism. They cover only a few products, although the limits they impose will pinch tightly: China’s exports of cotton bras to America, for example, grew by nearly 32% in the first nine months of this year, according to the American Manufacturing Trade Action Coalition. The symbolism of this protectionist gesture is probably of more consequence. It shows that America is willing to shield its textile workers from foreign competition even after the mesh of quotas that currently trammel the global textile industry is undone next year. This prospect alone is enough to weigh on the plans, expectations and share prices of Asia’s light manufacturers. The gesture is also weighing on fraught Sino-American trade relations. The day after the quotas were announced, China cancelled a trade mission to the United States to buy American cotton, wheat and soyabeans. It also seized the occasion to announce that it is considering retaliatory measures against America’s illegal steel tariffs.

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:

Should globalization be allowed to proceed and thereby create an ever more flexible international financial system, history suggests that current imbalances will be defused with little disruption. And if other currencies, such as the euro, emerge to share the dollar's role as a global reserve currency, that process, too, is likely to be benign.

I say this with one major caveat. Some clouds of emerging protectionism have become increasingly visible on today's horizon. Over the years, protected interests have often endeavored to stop in its tracks the process of unsettling economic change. Pitted against the powerful forces of market competition, virtually all such efforts have failed. The costs of any new such protectionist initiatives, in the context of wide current account imbalances, could significantly erode the flexibility of the global economy. Consequently, it is imperative that creeping protectionism be thwarted and reversed. (emphasis added)

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:

Chinese exports of textiles may be surging. But of greater significance to America's deficit are signs that European exports of capital may be starting to ebb. According to figures released on November 18th, foreigners poured just $4.2 billion (net) into American stocks, bonds and notes in September compared with over $50 billion the month before. America has not seen such a sharp turnaround in capital flows since the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001. The volte-face was most striking among European investors. Over the first eight months of this year, according to Morgan Stanley, Europeans made net purchases of American assets averaging around $28 billion per month. In September, they stopped buying and started selling, offloading a net $403m.


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.

posted by Dan at 10:51 PM | Comments (18) | Trackbacks (4)

Why James Lileks is flat-out wrong

James Lileks takes issue with Salam Pax's letter to President Bush in the Guardian (link via Glenn Reynolds, who agrees with Lileks).

The relevant portions of Pax's letter first:

Dear George,

I hate to wake you up from that dream you are having, the one in which you are a superhero bringing democracy and freedom to underdeveloped, oppressed countries. But you really need to check things out in one of the countries you have recently bombed to freedom. Georgie, I am kind of worried that things are going a bit bad in Iraq and you don't seem to care that much. You might want it to appear as if things are going well and sign Iraq off as a job well done, but I am afraid this is not the case.

Listen, habibi, it is not over yet. Let me explain this in simple terms. You have spilled a glass full of tomato juice on an already dirty carpet and now you have to clean up the whole room. Not all of the mess is your fault but you volunteered to clean it up. I bet if someone had explained it to you like that you would have been less hasty going on our Rambo-in-Baghdad trip.

To tell you the truth, I am glad that someone is doing the cleaning up, and thank you for getting rid of that scary guy with the hideous moustache that we had for president. But I have to say that the advertisements you were dropping from your B52s before the bombs fell promised a much more efficient and speedy service. We are a bit disappointed. So would you please, pretty please, with sugar on top, get your act together and stop telling people you have Iraq all figured out when you are giving us the trial-and-error approach?

To which Lileks responds [WARNING: STRONG LANGUAGE]:

Hey, Salam? Fuck you. I know you're the famous giggly blogger who gave us all a riveting view of the inner circle before the war, and thus know more about the situation than I do. Granted. But there's a picture on the front page of my local paper today: third Minnesotan killed in Iraq. He died doing what you never had the stones to do: pick up a rifle and face the Ba'athists. You owe him.

Let me explain this in simple terms, habibi. You would have spent the rest of your life under Ba'athist rule. You might have gotten some nice architectural commissions to do a house for someone whose aroma was temporarily acceptable to the Tikriti mob. You might have worked your international connections, made it back to Vienna, lived a comfy exile's life. What's certain is that none of your pals would ever have gotten rid of that scary guy without the hideous moustache (as if his greatest sin was somehow a fashion faux pas) and the Saddam regime would have prospered into the next generation precisely because of people like you.

Here's my reply to Lileks [WARNING: STRONG LANGUAGE]:

Hey, James? Fuck you. I know you're the talented writer-blogger whose dyspeptic rants make Dennis Miller look like a washed-up sports broadcaster. In this case, however, you're absolutely correct on one thing -- you know a hell of a lot less about this subject than Salam Pax.

You're absolutely right -- Salam and his buddies would never have taken up arms to overthrow Saddam. Of course, that may have something to do with the fact that back in 1991, when President Bush encouraged ordinary Iraqis to overthrow Saddam, the results weren't so good.

Bush's call worked perfectly. Seventeen out of eighteen provinces were in open revolt. Hussein was at his weakest. And what did the United States do after our call was answered by the Iraqi common man? Did we help in the overthrow of Saddam Hussein in 1991? Nope. We looked the other way while Hussein violated the no-fly zones to put down the Shi'ites, Marsh Arabs, Kurds, etc. We did it for realpolitik reasons, many of which the current Bush administration, to its credit, seems ready to reject. But we, the United States, did it. Why, on God's green earth, would anyone ever choose to rise up after that Mongolian cluster-fuck of U.S. foreign policy?

Let me explain this in simple terms, habibi. This was a debt that had to be repaid. Yeah, they owe us for getting rid of Saddam. But we owed them for going back on our word in 1991. As a result, Iraqis languished under Hussein's rule an extra twelve years. That don't buy a whole lot of sympathy.

Three Minnestoans dead? I'm sorry. It's a tragedy. I'm betting, however, that to the ordinary Iraqi, the death of three Americans doesn't even compare to the loss of life that's taken place over the past twelve years in Iraq, be it through war, repression, or sanctions. So get a grip, suck it up, and allow an eloquent, reasonably brave Iraqi the opportunity to vent some snark from time to time. He's earned it.

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.

posted by Dan at 12:29 PM | Comments (313) | Trackbacks (19)

What is Al Qaeda's strategy?

The bombings in Istanbul are being cited as evidence of Al Qaeda's growing strength, and as part of an innovative geopolitical strategy:

The attacks appeared aimed at disrupting the pro-Western secular axis many people in the Middle East believe the United States and Britain are trying to drive through the region with Iraq war. Such an axis would create a swath of territory friendly to the West from the Mediterranean to the Persian Gulf.

Well, then, color me confused - how do these attacks do anything but strengthen this axis? Andrew Sullivan phrases it nicely:

What exactly is the strategy behind going after Turkey and Saudi Arabia? We know the motivation - they despise Turkey's secular form of government and they loathe Saudi Arabia's connections to the West. But doesn't this strike you as spectacularly dumb from a strategic point of view? They have only helped make the West's case to the Saudis - that they cannot ignore this threat and certainly cannot buy it off. They may well alienate Turkey's Muslim population. And by murdering Brits, they have hopelessly undercut the anti-Western demonstrations in London.... Perhaps al Qaeda is now so disorganized that it is practically incapable of any intelligent strategy. Either way, these terrible murders are indicators of something worth noting: the enemy may be falling apart. This may make it more dangerous in the short term. But it bodes well for eventual victory.

What seems clear is that over the past year:

1) There have been no terrorist attacks on Western soil (i.e., the European Union and the Western Hemisphere).

2) There has been an increase in violent attacks in the Middle East.

3) Many of these attacks seem designed at Western ex-pats (or Jews) living in the region.

4) These bombings have been plagued by faulty intelligence and unbelievably high collateral damage.

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.


posted by Dan at 11:25 AM | Comments (20) | Trackbacks (1)

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:

The key to the recovery is the persistence of America's extraordinary dynamism. Labour and capital are quickly recycled and recombined with ever-improving materials, energy and information technologies to advance growth. Politicians, the press and America's corporate footsoldiers naturally tend to celebrate only the expansionary, risk-taking part of the business cycle. And even America's battered bosses seem to find the restructuring phase miserable work. But the real genius of American capitalism may not be its celebrated appetite for risk, but the brutal and uncompromising way in which it deals with the inevitable failures that follow. Despite the obvious signs of an economic upswing, much of American business is still concerned with cleaning up yesterday's mess. Yet with the clean-up well under way, some firms are already dusting down growth strategies once again, and at least a few businessmen are daring to show signs of spontaneous optimism.


posted by Dan at 01:16 PM | Comments (18) | Trackbacks (1)

Tom Friedman should know better

These are the first two paragraphs of Friedman's op-ed column for today:

So I step off the plane in London and the British customs guy sees on my form that I'm a journalist and asks, "Is it true there are more police to protect your president in London than there are in Baghdad?" Then I pick up The Independent to read in the taxi and I see that London's left-wing mayor, Ken Livingstone, has denounced President Bush as "the greatest threat to life on this planet that we've most probably ever seen." Then I check out The Guardian, which carried open letters to the president, one of which is from the famous playwright Harold Pinter, who says: "Dear President Bush, I'm sure you'll be having a nice little tea party with your fellow war criminal, Tony Blair. Please wash the cucumber sandwiches down with a glass of blood."

No, Dorothy, we're definitely not in Kansas anymore.

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:

The survey shows that public opinion in Britain is overwhelmingly pro-American with 62% of voters believing that the US is "generally speaking a force for good, not evil, in the world". It explodes the conventional political wisdom at Westminster that Mr Bush's visit will prove damaging to Tony Blair. Only 15% of British voters agree with the idea that America is the "evil empire" in the world....

The ICM poll also uncovers a surge in pro-war sentiment in the past two months as suicide bombers have stepped up their attacks on western targets and troops in Iraq. Opposition to the war has slumped by 12 points since September to only 41% of all voters. At the same time those who believe the war was justified has jumped 9 points to 47% of voters.

This swing in the mood of British voters is echoed in the poll's finding that two-thirds of voters believe British and American troops should not pull out of Iraq now but instead stay until the situation is "more stable".

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.

posted by Dan at 01:13 PM | Comments (20) | Trackbacks (1)

Quote of the day

From Andrew Sullivan:

So we have to pick between a budget-busting, free-spending, entitlement-expanding Republican and a Democrat opposed to many critical aspects of a free and dynamic economy. We're stuck between a reckless liberal and a regulatory liberal. It's the 1970s all over again - and too depressing for words.


posted by Dan at 10:38 AM | Comments (12) | Trackbacks (2)

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

Elites, conspiracies, and the tinfoil brigade

In response to this post that mocked conspiracy theories regarding the British-American Project (see here as well), Daniel Davies posted a defense of such theories:

[T]here are legitimate critiques to be made of the way that the BAP and the various groups associated with it (Chatham House, the Council on Foreign Relations, and indeed yes, the Bilderberg Group) go about their business.

The issue is that of the “democratic deficit”. The ideal of a democracy is (arguably) to allow as much and as equal opportunity as possible for any citizen to participate in the political process. This ideal is always going to be beset by compromises for all manner of reasons (not least, the need for someone to actually go out and work for a living), but a not inconsiderable obstacle to widespread participation is that the political class inevitably ends up becoming something of a clique. If the people in charge of industry, government, education, media and the military all know each other (and they do), then there is a lot of scope for them to trade off favours between each other, and to have their discussions and debates in private. There is nothing necessarily wrong with this, and it does not necessarily lead to corruption or even inefficiency - that’s where the conspiracy theorists go wrong. But it is, by definition, a political process in which it is impossible for the public at large to take part. It also means that the public debate on an issue is not necessarily the debate which matters, to the detriment both of the quality of policy decisions and general trust in institutions.

It’s a genuine problem of governance in a democracy, and laughing at it doesn’t make it go away....

I simply don’t like the idea of important isssues being decided... out of sight of the public, in an unaccountable institution. And the British American Project is an institution dedicated to making it worse. It’s an organisation that throws promising young people together (the full title was “British American Project For The Successor Generation”), encourages them to keep in touch, prints a private newsletter detailing their career achievements, and generally promotes networking among them. It’s in many ways the political elite’s equivalent of my old business school alumni network, except that the business world doesn’t claim to be part of the democratic process.

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.

posted by Dan at 06:45 PM | Comments (17) | Trackbacks (0)

Routine trade politics

Andrew Sullivan thinks the EU has hit a new low:

According to the Guardian, there's now a proposed plan to use EU punitive tariffs against industries in key marginal states in the next election - in order to help the Democrats. I find the Bush administration's steel tariffs to be noxious and wrong; but the idea that foreign governments would attempt to micro-manage retaliation for partisan politics in another country is a new low. Or at least a sign that Bush-hatred has now reached previously sensible European politicians.

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:

It is clear that steel tariffs were introduced for short-term political advantage to deliver on a promise made by George Bush during the last presidential election campaign in order to gain votes in key swing states like West Virginia, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Michigan where the steel industry is a major employer.

"The EU should now indicate that if President Bush fails to comply with the WTO ruling, then it will impose tariffs targeted at the major sectors of employment in politically sensitive swing states.

Nothing extraordinary to see here, folks -- just your typical transatlantic trade spat. Move along.

posted by Dan at 06:07 PM | Comments (12) | Trackbacks (0)

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:

In style and substance, TCS's content is an intellectual descendent of the rapid-response policy briefs pioneered by conservative think tanks during the 1980s, and as influential: The site's articles and contributors have been cited hundreds of times in the mainstream media and reprinted on op-ed pages across the country. TCS brings all of this off with a relatively small staff, drawing on the brainpower of established think tanks rather than housing and paying its own fellows and scholars, and publishing their arguments in its own "magazine" rather than hawking sound-bites to print reporters and columnists. "We can get the word out much more quickly [than a traditional think tank]," says Glassman, "and it's a lot less expensive not having a lot of bricks and mortar."

If TCS combines all the strengths of a modern advocacy think tank with the reach and accessibility of a successful political magazine, it has succeeded largely by rejecting the conventions that traditionally govern journalism and policy scholarship. Traditional think tanks are organized under the 501(c)(3) section of the tax code and must disclose many details of how they are financed, being--at least in theory--expected to justify their non-profit status with work in the public interest. Even think tanks of an acknowledged ideological bent seek to insulate the work of their scholars and fellows from the specific policy priorities of the businesses or foundations that provide their funding. Likewise, traditional newspapers and magazines, whether for-profit or not, keep a wall between their editorial and business sides; even at magazines of opinion, the political views of writers are presumed to be offered in good faith, uninfluenced by advertisers.

Unlike traditional think tanks, Tech Central Station is organized as a limited liability corporation--that is, a for-profit business. As an LLC, there is little Tech Central Station must publicly disclose about itself save for the names and addresses of its owners, and there is no presumption, legal or otherwise, that it exists to serve the public interest. Likewise, rather than traditional advertisers, TCS has what it calls "sponsors," which are thanked prominently in a section one click away from the front page of the site. (AT&T, ExxonMobil, and Microsoft were early supporters; General Motors, Intel, McDonalds, NASDAQ, National Semiconductor, and Qualcomm, as well as the drug industry trade association, PhRMA, joined during the past year.)

Given that I've written a few pieces for Tech Central Station, my thoughts on this:

  • One surprise for me, given that Confessore contributes to Tapped, is that he failed to mention Tech Central Station's willingness to recruit its ccontributors from the blogosphere. Flipping through the authors, I saw a fair number of bloggers that are TCS contributors -- Radley Balko, Joe Katzman, Lynne Kiesling, Arnold Kling, Megan McArdle, Charles Murtaugh, Virginia Postrel, Glenn Reynolds, Rand Simberg, Eugene Volokh, and Matthew Yglesias. I'd like to think that explains part of Tech Central Station's success.

  • For the record -- and contrary to Confessore's assertion in his story -- I've never been told by anyone at Tech Central Station to alter the substantive content of my essays to reflect advertiser positions (though, like Matthew Yglesias, I've only really dealt with Nick Schulz, who is never mentioned in the story). Indeed, this TCS essay of mine takes a position on intellectual property rights that directly contradicts some of PhRMA's agenda. Now, obviously, my own predilections on many issues are in keeping with TCS libertarian outlook. On the other hand, that's why I don't think about submitting queries to The Nation. For me, the TCS disclaimer that, "the opinions expressed on these pages are solely those of the writers and not necessarily those of any corporation or other organization" holds. This is the experience of Glenn Reynolds and Megan McArdle as well. [Yeah, but aren't you tempted to change your views to earn hefty fees from publishing in TCS?--ed. Well, no. And even if I was, they pay, but it's hardly big money]

  • Given my experience, the basis of Confessore's objections -- and those of Chris Bertram at Crooked Timber -- are a bit unclear to me. Near the end of the piece, Confessore says:

    [I]t's only human nature to put more trust in the arguments of seemingly independent observers than those of paid agents of an interested party. And that's why a journalist willing to launder the arguments of corporations and trade groups would be so valuable. A given argument, coming from such a journalist, would have more impact than precisely the same case articulated by a corporate lobbyist.

    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.

  • As Confessore himself points out, TCS "runs smartly-written think pieces." That may be part of the reason its essays travel so well in the mediasphere -- the caliber of TCS ideas, as opposed to the source of TCS funding.
  • posted by Dan at 04:11 PM | Comments (26) | Trackbacks (9)

    Monday, November 17, 2003

    Suggestion box

    I won't be able to access the Internet again until I get home. While you're waiting for more high-quality 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.

    posted by Dan at 06:41 AM | Comments (59) | Trackbacks (0)

    Notes from Cardiff

    I've briefly escaped from the clutches of my handlers at the British-American Project conference to provide the following observations:

  • Never, ever drink more than one glass of Cypriot brandy and expect to be fresh as a daisy the next morning.

  • The Welsh service sector? Let me politely suggest that it needs a bit of polish. [Aren't you being overly harsh?--ed. It took five tries for the hotel staff to get my key card to function. At one restaurant we went to, more than an hour passed between ordering and receiving our main courses. Small-N, but telling]

  • While the conservative movement in the United States has shed much of its upper crust WASP image, this has yet to take place in the U.K. As near as I can tell, once someone declares themselves to be a Tory here, they are required to have a double-breasted blue blazer surgically attached to their skin.

  • There's a lot of hostility to Tony Blair in the U.K. right now over Iraq. There's a lot of hostility to him among the U.K. conference attendees as well. I suspect that in a few years time many moderate Brits will long for him the same way many moderate Dems are now wishing they could nominate Bill Clinton for a third term.

  • Daniel Davies suggests that there are conspiracy-like elements to the British-American Project. I would reply that there is a BAP conspiracy -- to destroy your liver.

    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.

    posted by Dan at 06:04 AM | Comments (14) | Trackbacks (0)