Saturday, December 6, 2003
How about funding more HBO miniseries about outer space instead?
The International Herald-Tribune reports that the Bush administration has some ambitious ideas to revamp the space programme:
Sounds great -- exactly the kind of soaring vision that led to Neil Armstrong broadcasting from Tranquility Base.
However, I have some nagging questions:
NASA enthusiasts suggest that the cost of reconstituting a moon shot might be even greater than that. According to the IHT:
The other rationale is the human desire to explore -- which as a Star Trek geek I'll confess to having in spades. If this Washington Post story is true, then the Bush administration is fully cognizant of this attraction to the big idea -- in fact they're counting on it:
You know, follow-through is big, too. Trying to convert the Middle East into an area where democracy and capitalism is pretty damn ambitious as well. Hey, curing AIDS is pretty big, and the rewards much more tangible.
I'd like to see a mission to Mars. I'd just like to see a lot of other things happen first. In sum, I'm with Easterbrook on this one:
Friday, December 5, 2003
Your holiday book recommendations
New month -- time to update the book recommendations.
In response to the feedback on this post about Opus and Bloom County, the "general interest" book is The Calvin and Hobbes Tenth Anniversary Book by Bill Watterson. Of all the Calvin and Hobbes collections to have, this is the best one, since Watterson comments on the strip itself as well as his campaign to have more autonomy in his Sunday cartoons, many of which are reprinted here. There were a lot of great comic strips in the late eighties/early nineties -- Bloom Country, Doonesbury, Dilbert, Foxtrot -- but Watterson's creation stands out. If it's true that much of culture is confined to one's generation, surely Calvin and Hobbes deserves to be an exception to that rule.
The "international relations" book is Christina Davis' Food Fights over Free Trade. Davis points out that contrary to the conventional wisdom, compared to 1950 there has been significant agricultural liberalization among the developed countries. The explanation? International institutions, specifically the GATT/WTO regime. Through the promulgation of hard law and the ability to link agricultural issues to liberalization in other sectors, the United States has been able to pry open protected markets in Japan and Europe. A brief description of the book:
Chinese, Brazilian, Indian, and South African trade negotiators would serve themselves well by reading this book in order to devise a strategy to restart Cancun.
A (modest) step up from the Grammys
I'd been informed that I was actually nominated for something, so I clicked over to check out the myriad categories.
One question -- logically, how is it possible for Virginia Postrel to be nominated for Best Overall Blog, but not for Best Female Authored Blog? [What business is it of yours?--ed. Check out thethis map! I'm just sticking up for my country.]
This is a great idea. Not!
Disturbing developments are afoot in Internet governance, according to the Washington Post:
A U.N. agency being put in charge of regulating the Internet. Who wants this? According to this site, the key backers are China, Syria, Egypt, Vietnam, and South Africa. This story provides some additional background. [UPDATE: Marc Scribner links to this Reuters story says that China and Cuba will be among the strongest supporters of transfering power to the ITU.]
This makes me feel much better about this initiative.
In this interview, Milton Mueller, a longtime and vocal ICANN critic, voices a fair amount of displeasure at the WSIS conference:
Still, maybe I'm being too harsh. Maybe a U.N.-centric system of governance can properly address concerns about the global digital divide. Oh, wait.
This kind of multilateralism I could do without.
UPDATE: Glenn Reynolds has more, and links to The Daily Summit, which plans to blog the WSIS. Henry Farrell provides some added detail in the history between the US, EU, and the International Telecommunications Union on this issue, about which I have some familiarity.
Thursday, December 4, 2003
How will this play in Pittsburgh?
The President does the right thing and lifts the steel tariffs:
UPDATE: For how it's playing in Pittsburgh, click here (Thanks to alert reader P.S.!).
The productivity debate
The good news, according to the New York Times:
The bad news, according to Stephen S. Roach writing in last Sunday's New York Times -- the way productivity is being measured leads to a likely overestimation of that figure:
A quick perusal of Roach's writings reveal him to have replaced Henry Kaufman as the Dr. Doom of the U.S. economy. That said, he's raising a fair point about measurement issues here.
UPDATE: On the other hand, Tyler Cowen has a post suggesting that productivity gains have been underestimated.
I'm back. I'm swamped.
Good to be back in Chicago. Not so good to have hundreds of e-mail piled up in one's inbox. While I'm sorting through these, two new blogs to check out. For those interested in Republicans like me, check out The Bully Pulpit. The e-mail sent to me claimed that the blog has, "the brains of a Volokh and the wit of a Drezner!" Reads at your own risk.
For lighter fare, among the interesting web sites I've found -- this history of the pregnancy test kit, wittily entitled The Thin Blue Line.
Tuesday, December 2, 2003
A first for me
On the flight to Philadelphia, I experienced a first -- I read an article in an "airline" magazine that I actually thought was interesting -- "Who Knows" by Bruce Anderson, in US Airways Attaché magazine. The essay is about the "transiense of generational knowledge." The opening paragraphs:
I don't agree with Anderson's conclusions, but it's still worth a look -- and how many times can you say that about an airline magazine?
Monday, December 1, 2003
On the road again
I'm giving a talk tomorrow at the University of Pennsylvania's Department of Political Science. Blogging may or may not occur between now and when I return on Wednesday evening.
The comparative advantage of loyal fans
The rise of salary caps, luxury taxes and the like in professional sports has forced even comparatively wealthy franchises to lure marquee players with different kinds of incentives. The first one to crop up was location. In basketball, for example, Orlando is considered a nice place to play because so many players have off-season homes nearby. In baseball, St. Louis is considered to be a great baseball town, leading to a lot of free agent signings for the Cardinals.
The trade of Curt Schilling from the Arizona Diamondbacks to the Boston Red Sox could mark a new kind of lure -- passionate fans. A lot of reports suggest that one tipping factor in Schilling's decision to approve the trade was his late-night interaction with the Red Sox nation on a fan web site, the Sons of Sam Horn. According to mlb.com:
Of course, the fact that the Florida Marlins won the World Series this year with a pretty apathetic fan base suggests the possible limits to this trend. And God help Schilling if the Red Sox Nation ever turns on him. Still, it will be interesting to see if this is the beginning of a larger trend of players sounding out fans before deciding where to sign. [Hey, you could combine this trend with sabremetrics and argue that whichever group of fans embraces the right stats the quickest will have the best team!--ed. I'll leave that to David Pinto].
And, as a Sox fan, I'm much obliged to the Sons of Sam Horn!
UPDATE: In Slate, Seth Stevenson points out that Schilling's online habits also have a negative effect on sports reporters via disintermediation.
Your TV critic reports on The Reagans
So I was all set to go to bed last night, when I started flipping channels, and I stumbled across "The Reagans," the miniseries that was planned to air on CBS but was put on its sister network Showtime in response to activist pressure. Curious, I watched it.
Critical reviews have been mixed. The New York Times says that the movie "turned out to be milder and more balanced than both its critics and its supporters had suggested." The Salt Lake Tribune says it "truly is offensive, grotesque, unfair and ultimately trivial." The Los Angeles Times has the most trenchant observation:
My own take:
1) Is the film a biased look at Reagan? Hell, yes. Any movie on Reagan's presidency that devotes ten minutes to the Bitburg screw-up and a half-hour to the Iran-Contra affair but passes over the Challenger speech and deals with the waning of the Cold War with a 20 second scene is dealing from a stacked deck [What about the line about AIDS that was the source of much of the controversy?--ed. Ironically, that's not in the final version -- indeed, the final version of that scene is one of the more effective critiques of Reagan's policies in the movie, as it has Reagan remaining silent in responce to Nancy's entreaties, a deft symbol of Reagan's AIDS policy (though see Andrew Sullivan for a dissent on this point)].
2) Of course, even-handedness is an imperfect standard to judge biopics -- by that score, you'd probably have to ding every Kennedy movie ever made for being too hagiographic or too critical. Films can be both partisan and good drama (think Reds). The question is, does the move grip you?
The answer for this one is no. The Reagans is just shapeless. In part, this may be because it was based on Carl Sferazza Anthony's First Ladies, Volume II, which Amazon describes as containing "minibiographies" of the relevant women. That ain't a strong foundation for a three-hour movie.
Watching it, I was never certain if the focus was Reagan's political career, the relationship between Ron and Nancy, the entire Reagan family, or what. There was no narrative structure, no theme, no pacing. It boils down to a biased highlights clip. Of course, it was originally intended as a miniseries, and I haven't seen a good one since Shogun.
I do know this -- if I were Patti Davis, I'd put a pox on the filmmakers. I haven't seen such an unflattering, malignant portrayal of a presidential offspring since... well, I never saw it, but I bet the JFK Jr. biopic wasn't particularly nice to John John. By far, she gets the worst treatment in this biopic. So, in closing, I'll turn over the microphone to Davis herself, who had this to say in Time last month about the brouhaha: