Saturday, January 10, 2004
The joys of movie criticism
Louis Menand has a thoroughly odd essay in The New Yorker about movie criticism and the year-end ritual of top-ten lists. He does make a resonant point about the thinking that frequently goes behind such lists:
However, Menand also seems way too willing to relinquish his own formidable critical faculties in order to accept those of the movie critic:
As someone who loves movies, this judgment strikes me as downright bizarre. Part of the joy of seeing films is the discussions that the good ones and even the flawed ones generate among one's circle of friends and associates (last week, I had to defend Mystic River against a charge by two left-wing colleagues that the movie was really a veiled endorsement of American imperialism). True, most of them don't generate the kind of obsessive interaction that cult television shows can generate. However, an important part of the moviegoing experience comes in the talking after the watching.
Menand also fails to acknowledge that critics themselves are fallible creatures, vulnerable to their own forms of peer pressure and changes of mind. Which is why I heartily recommend Slate's online debate (which started last Monday) among David Edelstein, J. Hoberman, Manohla Dargis, Sarah Kerr, and A.O. Scott about the year in movies. Ostensibly it's about the best movies of the year, but for the layman it's also a welcome peek into what it's like to be a movie critic -- a job that many Americans, no doubt, would take in a heartbeat (except for Roger Simon).
Exercise your own critical faculties and go check it out [Couldn't they exercise their critical faculties by deciding that you're full of it, and not check it out?--ed. Well, yes, but that would just be... wrong somehow]
UPDATE: Some readers object to the vaguely leftish politics of the Movie Club participants. If that sort of thing truly puts you off, go read Julia Magnet's essay in the latest City Journal about the films of Whit Stillman.
January and February's book recommendations
I've been a bit tardy in updating the book recommendations -- still recovering from being Andrew Sullivan. So these recommendations will cover the next two months.
The international relations book for the next six weeks is Kenneth Dam's The Rules of the Global Game: A New Look at U.S. International Economic Policymaking. It's one of the primary textbooks for my U.S. Foreign Economic Policy class.
From an academic perspective, the book is a somewhat unusual recommendation -- there's not a lot of original theory or new models explaining either the global economy or U.S. economic policy. However, Dam's comparative advantage is formidable. First, his policy experience (OMB staffer under Nixon; Deputy Secretary of State under George Schultz; Deputy Secretary of the Treasury under Paul O'Neill) dwarfs that of any academic currently writing on the subject. Second, Dam's academic experience at the University of Chicago makes him singularly suited to translate the arcana of policy into an accessible format. Go check it out.
The general interest book is Robert Fogel's The Fourth Great Awakening and the Future of Egalitarianism. This choice is partially inspired by a series of blog entries that Brad DeLong, Mark Kleiman, and Tom Spencer posted at the end of last month about living "through both the Fourth Great Awakening and the Second Gilded Age," as Mark put it. As I read this, I was ruminating about something Kevin Drum posted last month after hosting a blog dinner party:
I think Kevin's assessment is correct. What's missing from that political spectrum is anyone who would actually participate in any kind of religious activity that could be linked to a Great Awakening -- the evangelical community in particular. I wouldn't say that the leading lights of the blogosphere are exactly hostile to the devoutly religious. There might, however, be a gulf of understanding that needs to be bridged. The Fourth Great Awakening -- written by a Nobel prize-winning economic historian -- seems like a good start, in discussing the role that religious awakenings have played in American history.
Fogel's book is an interesting mix of economic and social history, with a partial explanation for the occurrence of religious revivals. It's also something that's been on my "need to read" list for some time. Click here for a precis of Fogel's argument, and here for his whiggish predictions for the future.
Friday, January 9, 2004
A small request
Now, my small request is not to ask you to nominate this blog for any awards. But, I see that one of the categories is "Best article or essay about weblogs."
For that category, I humbly request you submit Erika Drezner's "My Life as a Blog Widow." Judging from some of the reaction it has received, I think it's touched a deeper chord than many of the press articles on the phenomenon.
Here endeth the request.
A hard sell
Reading the Washington Post's description of the decision-making process, I'm even less sanguine:
The fact that Rove -- and not Andy Card -- presented the policy options makes my blood run cold. [You saying that good policies are irreconcilable with good politics?--ed. No -- I'm saying that this is not a fiscally sane policy and appears to be ginned up entirely for political purposes]
ANOTHER UPDATE: Gregg Easterbrook makes an amusing point about cost:
Thursday, January 8, 2004
If Jerry Seinfeld was a dedicated blogger....
Is this a sign of prestige? Am I, as a reader, supposed to be wowed by the fact I get to click a couple more times to look at the whole story? Is this going to make me think, "Wow, it took five clicks to read the whole story. That's quality journalism."
Now this is bad economics
The opportunity cost of debating Brad DeLong over the operationalization of data sets is that truly stupid popular economic writing can slide by unscathed. Like the Senior Senator from New York, Chuck Schumer, who on Tuesday co-authored a New York Times op-ed that said the following:
What's wrong with this statement? Let's go to Noam Scheiber at TNR's &c.:
ANOTHER UPDATE: Michael Kinsley dissects the op-ed in Slate. Among the highlights:
This last point is one I have made before. The first point is spot-on. Going back to the op-ed, here are the sinister forces that, according to Schumer and Roberts, undercut the free-trade position:
More political stability. Better education. Lower communication costs.
Yeah, I can see how this devastates the free trade position.
[What about Joe Stigltz's gloomy op-ed on NAFTA on the same day? Aren't you going to pick on him?--ed. Well, according to Mark Kleiman, I'm supposed to tread carefully on the domain of other experts. But, I will point out that even Stiglitz acknowledges that Mexico's growth in GDP per capita since NAFTA's ratification is "better than in much of the rest of Latin America". Stiglitz also overlooks the political benefits of NAFTA in democratizing Mexican politics and improving the rule of law south of the border.]
Wednesday, January 7, 2004
Howard Dean -- Democratic insider
The narrative about the Democratic primary over the past month has been that Dean represents an insurgency that threatens established Democratic party elites. In this post I said, "It's already clear that DC Democrats loathe and fear Dean."
This AP story suggests some revisionism may be in order:
Superdelegates are spread out across the country, so this does not necessarily reflect an absence of DC animus. At a minimum, however, it suggests that the Democratic establishment in the rest of the country feels sympatico with Dr. Dean.
UPDATE: It's a good day for Wesley Clark as well.
Let the people read the links
Looking for more on today's TNR Online article?
I'll break these links down into theory vs. empirics:
Theory: The Thomas Schelling quote comes from his pathbreaking book, The Strategy of Conflict, chapter two (p. 22). Robert Putnam extended Schelling's analysis in an article for the Summer 1988 issue of International Organization entitled "Diplomacy and Domestic Politics: the Logic of Two-level Games." It's reprinted in a 1993 book devoted to the article, Double-Edged Diplomacy, edited by Peter Evans, Harold Jacobson, and Putnam.
A good book on what happens when revolutionary/radical groups seize power is Stephen M. Walt's Revolution and War.
Empirics: I've blogged recently about both Pakistan (click here as well) and Saudi Arabia. On Pakistan in particular, here's the latest story on their role in nuclear proliferation, and today's good news about warming relations in South Asia. Pakistan's role in nuclear proliferation. On Saudi Arabia, Michael Doran's analysis of Saudi internal politics can be found online at Foreign Affairs.
Max Boot ripped the Bush administration for coddling both states in this Los Angeles Times op-ed.
The Samantha Power quote came from her review of Noam Chomsky's book in the New York Times Book Review:
As for Iran, NRO has a nice story on popular attidues towards the regime -- and towards the United States -- in the aftermath of the Bam earthquake. One section:
Finally, in response to James Joyner's request to flesh out "a policy of aggressively supporting democratization," I'm talking about a menu of choices that include linking security assistannce, intelligence-sharing, foreign aid, and market access to improvements in human rights and democracy-building.
Let the people vote
My latest TNR Online essay is up. It's an argument for encouraging democratization in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, despite the strong anti-American elements in both countries. Go check it out.
Footnotes and documentation to follow this afternoon.
Tuesday, January 6, 2004
Hiss. Hiss, I say.
What could prompt Brad to say this?
I then linked to Don Luskin and Bureau of Labor Statistics data suggesting that the numbers of discouraged workers and those who work part-time for economic reasons are not unusually high.
Brad's beef is with my operationalization of what Krugman said:
Brad then presents data showing that by his operationalization of Krugman's words, the employment situation looks recession-like.
How to respond?
One way is to point out that Brad doesn't directly address the point of the post -- that Krugman's claim that this job market is unusually bad is an exaggeration. Brad's data suggests that the percentage of people not working has dropped by a fair amount since 2000 -- but it's still higher than Bush I recession levels, and way higher than Reagan recession levels. Part of this may be due to greater female participation in the work force -- and part of it may be due to the economy being in better shape than it was in 1990 or 1984. Similarly, the discrepancy between the household survey and the payroll survey -- which Brad displays in this post -- is still less now than it was in 1990. As to what explains fluctuations in this number, even DeLong confesses puzzlement.
My primary concern in the Krugman post was the word "unusual" and "the worst job market in 20 years." I wasn't saying that the employment situation was rosy -- merely that it was not as bad as Krugman asserted. The measures I used confirmed this.
Another response is to use DeLong's logic right back at him. Does Krugman say that those who have "given up looking for work" are "people who have dropped out of the labor force over the past three years"? No. Does Krugman say the words "over the past three years" at all? No. Does Krugman say that those "marginally attached" are in the category of "those who tell the BLS household survey interviewers that they are working but for whom there is no corresponding employer telling the BLS payroll survey that they have somebody working for them"? No. Does Krugman say the words "payroll survey" at all? No.
So which operationalization is correct? This depends on whether you're talking about Krugman's intent versus what Krugman has written on the page. If you go by intent, it's far more likely that DeLong knows what Krugman meant than myself. DeLong has a Ph.D. in economics -- I possess a measly M.A. DeLong is pretty tight with Krugman -- I'm not. Maybe they had an exchage where Krugman said, "Yes Brad, when I say 'marginally attached,' I'm talking about those who tell the BLS household survey interviewers that they are working but for whom there is no corresponding employer telling the BLS payroll survey that they have somebody working for them."
However, I couldn't read Krugman's mind when I wrote what I wrote. All I could do was read what he wrote. This is a danger with popular writing on economics -- plain language can be interpreted in a number of different ways. I think the operationalizations I used are valid and straightforward -- but Brad's are certainly plausible. So are Arnold Kling's, for that matter.
A final point about Brad's language -- the "screams and leaps, fangs bared" deal. This implies that I engaged in massive rhetorical overkill in my post on Krugman.
In the original post, there were no exclamation points. No ALL CAPITAL LETTER statements. No adjectives to describe Krugman. I didn't impugn his motives. Unlike Luskin, I didn't say Krugman lied -- I said I thought he was wrong, without ascribing intent. When Brad e-mailed me to say that there was another way to interpret Krugman's paragraph, I linked to his points (as soon as Blogger would permit) in an update to the original post (by the way, the term "quasi-response" was not meant to say that Brad's posts were weak, but rather that he never linked to my original post, so it wasn't a direct response. In retrospect, "indirect" might have been the better word choice).
If this is what Brad means by "screams and leaps, fangs bared," he's way more thin-skinned than I had previously thought.
You know what, I'll meet them halfway -- instead of "distortion," which does hint at intent, perhaps I should have used "error."
Good retail news
Before the end of the year there was a lot of murmuring about the holiday shopping season being subpar. Just to pick a name out of a hat, Paul Krugman wrote a week ago:
Well, the data are coming in, and things look pretty good across the board. From today's Chicago Tribune:
Read the whole thing -- there's promising news about employment in the retail sector as well.
And here's the National Retail Foundation's (NRF) press release on the topic, which has the following quote:
Slightly off-topic, the NRF also reports robust online sales:
UPDATE: The New York Times has more mixed news:
At the same time, this was the most interesting phenomenon in the story:
Monday, January 5, 2004
A very important post about... Britney Spears
I'm sorry, I just haven't been able to focus today because of Britney Spears' marriage/annulment. What could explain this sort of tabloid celebrity behavior by such a... celebrity?
That and a liplock from Madonna? You can witness the bad morals spreading from mouth to mouth!
More seriously, Entertainment Weekly (subscription required) had a great November cover story -- that's the cover above -- that chronicled the beginning of Mariah Carey-like behavior. One section:
Even more seriously, Andrew Sullivan notes:
I wonder if Britney is still Karl Rove's dream voter.
Drudge gets results from MoveOn.org
Matt Drudge writes about another ad at MoveOn.org -- as part of their contect for the best 30-second attack ad against Bush -- that compares Bush to Hitler. The key part:
This was (NOT: SEE CORRECTION) one of MoveOn.org's fifteen finalists for the ad competition.
Or was it? If you now go to MoveOn's page of commercial finalists, you will note that the ad in question appears to have been yanked. It should have the url:
But the sequence of ads skips from id=01 to id=03.
Damn!! I thought I had my first Godwin award nominee!!
Well, at this rate, I seriously doubt that the Nazi analogy well will run dry in 2004.
CORRECTION: MoveOn.org has released a statement saying that the Hitler ad was never a finalist:
My apologies for the error.
UPDATE: Ralph Peters is definitely a nominee:
What's the difference?
Howard Dean caught a lot of flak last month for saying he didn't particularly care where Osama bin Laden was tried.
I raise this again because of something Wesley Clark said in James Traub's New York Times Magazine cover story on the Democrats and foreign policy (which, by the way, seemed to me to be a decent piece that was completely scrambled by Saddam's capture):
Dean said he didn't care where bin Laden was tried. In his comment, Clark seems to care a great deal -- he wants/wanted bin Laden tried in an international tribunal.
I have no polling data to back this up, but my gut instinct is that a majority of Americans would want to see Osama tried in the U.S. So here's my question -- why isn't Clark catching the same hell as Dean?
Sunday, January 4, 2004
How to make professors rebel
A while back, in commenting on the prevalence of fictional academics bedding their students, I wrote:
Sleeping with students is not just for fictional treatments anymore -- it's also a trope for amusing nonfiction discussions.
Laura Kipnis has a droll Slate essay on how colleges are dealing with professor-student relationships. My favorite part is when the profs rebel at a sensitivity training:
Note to self -- do not jangle change when lecturing.
For more on professor-student relationships, see Glenn Reynolds and Amanda Butler. My opinion on the general mattter most closely mirrors Beth Plocharczyk's. [So what about your opinion specific to you?--ed. My opinion is that I'm happily married to an exceptionally witty and attractive woman -- and she can operate pruning shears. Good answer!--ed.]
Being Andrew Sullivan's wife
Bet you never thought you'd see that post title!
This special guest post is by my lovely wife Erika, who has been tremendously supportive of my blogging efforts this week -- which means that it's payback time:
NOTE: the comments on this post do not reflect the opinions of the blog's proprietor.