Saturday, February 28, 2004

My 2004 Oscar predictions!!

Continuing my long-running tradition that started last year, it's time to post my Oscar predictions for 2004. First, however, let me confess that I'm just not into the Oscars this year as much as last year, for two reasons.

First, inexplicably, Salma Hayek was not nominated for her breathtaking performances in either Spy-Kids: 3D, or Once Upon a Time In Mexico. There is no justifiable explanation for this oversight. [Did you even see either of those films?--ed. Look, this is just a point of principle.] As a gesture of support, I feel obligated to post this picture of Ms. Hayek in protest:


Fight the power!!

Second, the truncated Oscar campaign season has taken a toll. When the Oscars were in late March, it permitted a less frenetic awards season. This year, BAM!! The Golden Globes, BAM!, the SAG awards, BAM!!, critics awards, BAM!!, the Oscars.

The logic behind this was to reduce the campaigning that goes on during awards season. Why, exactly, is this a bad thing? I say Hollywood needs more campaigning. It helps to build up excitement -- you know, like the off-season between the Red Sox and the Yankees.

So, without further ado, my predictions:

Best Picture:
Will win: Lord of The Rings: The Return of the King
Should win: Finding Nemo

I agree with what David Edelstein and Lynda Obst say in Slate – LOTR has that mix of commercial epic and artistic achievement that’s tough for the Academy to ignore. The most serious competition, Lost in Translation, is the exact opposite, a purposefully small film. The Academy surprised me last year with some genuinely unconventional choices, but I’m playing it safe here.

Risking the wrath of LOTR devotees everywhere, let me say that while I liked the last one a great deal, the third film was the only one that seemed to drag. I thought it was going to end at least five times during the last half hour. Nemo, on the other hand, is equally beautiful to watch, but a more tightly constructed film.

Best Actor:
Will win: Sean Penn, Mystic River
Should win: Sean Penn, Mystic River

It’s supposed to be between Penn and Bill Murray. The Academy still has a bias against comedians unless they go completely dramatic, and Murray was too funny in the role for voters to believe it to be that big of a stretch. Penn has been nominated several times before, and he’s due. Plus, Penn’s understated performance in 21 Grams will unconsciously bias Academy voters in favor of Penn.

I liked Murray’s performance in Lost in Translation, but not as much as I liked Penn’s in Mystic River, which ran the gamut in terms of emotion.

Best Actress:
Will win: Charlize Theron, Monster
Should win: Naomi Watts, 21 Grams.

Theron has dominated the pre-Oscar awards, plus she suffered for her craft by putting on weight, shaving her eyebrows and wearing tons of unflattering makeup.

To be fair, I haven’t seen Monster, so the award might well be deserved. However, Watts’ performance as the grieving mother/junkie in 21 Grams blew me away. In a role that could have caused some actresses to overemote, Watts hit just the right note of dulled pain that the bereaved usually feel.

Best Supporting Actor:
Will win: Tim Robbins, Mystic River
Should win: Peter Sarsgaard, Shattered Glass

I’ve noticed that Robbins’ performance tends to split critics between those who like to see GREAT ACTING! and those who believe that truly great acting should be so subtle that the viewer becomes absorbed into the story to the point where s/he doesn’t think, “Wow, Tim Robbins is great!” Academy voters tend to fall under the GREAT ACTING! school.

I thought Robbins was great in both senses -- as the movie went on, I thought less about Tim Robbins and more about his character, Davy. That said, there was one other performance this year that was better. Sarsgaard played Chuck Lane, the personally awkward editor who slowly ferrets out the deception of New Republic writer Stephen Glass. What’s great about the performance is that you can see Lane’s slow change from defending his reporter to suspecting the worst to believing the worst.

Best Supporting Actress:
Will win: Shohreh Aghdashloo, House of Sand and Fog
Should win: Ellen DeGeneres, Finding Nemo

Renee Zellweger will be this decade’s Joan Allen – always giving Oscar-caliber performances but never winning the Oscar. Plus, her not winning is the best way for the Academy to stick it to Harvey Weinstein.

Dorie was written for DeGeneres, but the character allowed her to display a range that wasn’t present in her previous work.

Best Director:
Will win: Peter Jackson, Lord of The Rings: The Return of the King
Should win: Billy Ray, Shattered Glass

Jackson will win for the same reason that LOTR will win Best Picture.

On the basis of the whole trilogy, I’m inclined to want Jackson to win it as well. But Ray should be acknowledged for doing the near-impossible – telling a true story about a non-visual subject – magazine writing – and making it interesting while not distorting the facts.

UPDATE: Here's an amusing Oscar drinking game; link courtesy of Wonkette.

POST-OSCAR UPDATE: Well, that was boring (except for the song by Will Ferrell and Jack Black). Laura at Apt. 11D has a pithy assessment of the show.

posted by Dan at 10:51 PM | Comments (15) | Trackbacks (4)

The déjà vu Democratic primary?

Tom Maguire draws an interesting parallel between the 2000 Democratic primary and the 2004 Democratic primary:

The Dems had a choice between a media favorite and an annoying phony back in 2000. They went with Big AL, and how did that work out? Now, in a bizarre replay they have a choice between a charismatic chap the media could learn to love, and an annoying phony. Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, I'm a registered Dem.

Of course, most of the candidates the media love -- John Anderson, Bruce Babbitt, Pete DuPont, John McCain -- get relegated to the dustbin of political history.

posted by Dan at 05:01 PM | Comments (19) | Trackbacks (0)

Why the political rhetoric about trade matters

There's a lot of rationalizations that are made during campaign seasons by the supporters of particular candidates. If someone gives a speech or takes a position that contradicts a supporter's beliefs, it's often rationalized that it's just a campaign tactic, and that once elected, the politician would never actually follow through.

This is often true -- look at Bill Clinton the candidate and Bill Clinton the president on matters related to trade, or Ronald Reagan tghe candidate versus Ronald Reagan the president on matters related to the Moral Majority.

However, this overlooks an important point, which is that the campaign rhetoric itself can badly degrade the political discourse on the topic in question. Politicians could be faced with "blowback" -- being compelled to carry out policies they disagree with because they've made rhetorical commitments that are costly to reverse. Another possibility is that the rhetoric reframes the debate entirely, making it impossible to mount a defense of an issue without seeming to be out of bounds.

Which is why Brad DeLong is dead-on when he writes:

I can and do blame Democratic politicians for not resisting temptation: every day that Americans are told that trade destroys jobs--rather than that it shifts jobs from one industry to another, hopefully from lower-paying to higher-paying--is a day that makes it harder to pursue good policies to enrich America.

posted by Dan at 03:37 PM | Comments (30) | Trackbacks (0)

Friday, February 27, 2004

Tyler Cowen is on a roll

Astute readers of may have detected a slight drop-off in posting productivity. This is due to a plethora of reasons, some of which will become clear in due course.

However, Tyler Cowen at Marginal Revolution has been producing a steady stream of fascinating posts. There's one on the surprisingly high rate of return for Senator's stock portfolios, one on the economics of corporate downsizing [What's that?--ed. That's what everyone was freaking out about ten years ago during the jobless recovery. Go back and replace the word "downsizing" with "outsourcing" and "India" with "Japan" and the debate would look awfully familiar], and a review of recent outsourcing articles.

However, this post from earlier in the week made my jaw drop. It links to a USA Today story on changes in public opinion on globalization. The highlights:

High-income Americans have lost much of their enthusiasm for free trade as they perceive their own jobs threatened by white-collar workers in China, India and other countries, according to data from a survey of views on trade.

The survey by the University of Maryland's Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) is one of the most comprehensive U.S. polls on trade issues. It found that support for free trade fell in most income groups from 1999 to 2004 but dropped most rapidly among high-income respondents -- the group that has registered the strongest support for free trade. ''Free trade'' means the removal of barriers such as tariffs that restrict international trade.

The poll shows that among Americans making more than $100,000 a year, support for actively promoting more free trade collapsed from 57% to less than half that, 28%. There were smaller drops, averaging less than 7 percentage points, in income brackets below $70,000, where support for free trade was already weaker.

The same poll found that the share of Americans making more than $100,000 who want the push toward free trade slowed or stopped altogether nearly doubled from 17% to 33%. (emphasis added)

Just three years ago, Kenneth Scheve and Matthew Slaughter argued in Globalization and the Perceptions of American Workers that public support for globalization was strongly and positively correlated with education and income. That finding still holds, but the increasing hostility to an open economy has flattened out the relationship considerably.

[Why did this story make your jaw drop? Surely you're not surprised that protectionist sentiments increase during an economic downturn?--ed. What's surprising is not the trend but the magnitude of the effect at the upper end of the income distribution. This could be one clue as to why John Edwards did so well with affluent voters in Wisconsin even though his protectionist rhetoric seemed tailored towards lower-income voters.]

posted by Dan at 10:50 AM | Comments (48) | Trackbacks (4)

Thursday, February 26, 2004

The day Andrew Sullivan wishes he was me

Ah, the perks of being at the University of Chicago: I'm dashing off to be a judge for this contest.

UPDATE: Here's the Chicago Maroon report on the event.

posted by Dan at 07:35 PM | Comments (15) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, February 25, 2004

It's Greenspan week!!

Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan is a newsmaker -- whenever he opens his mouth, it makes the news (even if no one quite understands what he's saying). That said -- and I'll be willing to concede that this may be my imagination -- he seems to be opening his mouth quite a bit this week:

  • Five days ago, he gave a speech blasting the rising sentiment for protectionism and calling for greater investments in education:

    To be sure, many of our fellow citizens have experienced real hardships in our economic environment, which is becoming ever more internationally competitive. But the protectionist cures being advanced to address these hardships will make matters worse rather than better.

    The loss of jobs over the past three years is attributable largely to rapid declines in the demand for industrial goods and to outsized gains in productivity that have caused effective supply to outstrip demand. Protectionism will do little to create jobs; and if foreigners retaliate, we will surely lose jobs. We need instead to discover the means to enhance the skills of our workforce and to further open markets here and abroad to allow our workers to compete effectively in the global marketplace.

  • Yesterday, he testified about the need to privatize Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae to eliminate the perception of a government bailout of either.

  • Today, he tackled Social Security:

    Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan urged Congress on Wednesday to deal with the country's escalating budget deficit by cutting benefits for future Social Security retirees. Without action, he warned, long-term interest rates would rise, seriously harming the economy....

    Greenspan, who turns 78 next week, said that the benefits now received by current retirees should not be touched but he suggested trimming benefits for future retirees and doing it soon enough so that they could begin making adjustments to their own finances to better prepare for retirement.

    Greenspan did not rule out using tax increases to deal with the looming crisis in Social Security, but he said that tax hikes should only be considered after every effort had been made to trim benefits.

    ``I am just basically saying that we are overcommitted at this stage,'' Greenspan said in response to committee questions. ``It is important that we tell people who are about to retire what it is they will have.'' He warned that the government should not ``promise more than we are able to deliver.''

    While the country is currently enjoying the lowest interest rates in more than four-decades, Greenspan warned that this situation will not last forever. He said financial markets will begin pushing long-term interest rates higher if investors do not see progress being made in dealing with the projected huge deficits that will occur once the baby boomers begin retiring.

    The more Greenspan clears his throat like this, the more the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue is going to get nervous.

  • UPDATE: Hey, it wasn't just my imagination, according to the Chicago Tribune:

    When Alan Greenspan speaks, others listen. They usually just don't understand.

    The Federal Reserve chairman is famous for his opaque remarks and abstruse topics. His interpreters even have coined a term for it: Greenspeak.

    But a more plain-spoken Greenspan has been on display this week.

    posted by Dan at 03:16 PM | Comments (97) | Trackbacks (0)

    Tuesday, February 24, 2004

    Bush to gays: go f@$# yourselves -- and do it out of wedlock

    So Bush endorses a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage:

    Bush said he was acting in accord with the "overwhelming consensus" of Americans. The "voice of the people" must be heard, he said, in the face of "activist judges" and local officials who are allowing gay marriages. He specifically mentioned recent court rulings in Massachusetts and the issuance of same-sex marriage licenses in San Francisco.

    "If we are to prevent the meaning of marriage from being changed forever, our nation must enact a constitutional amendment to protect marriage in America," the president said in a televised appearance in the White House Roosevelt Room.

    I still don't think it will happen -- and just to be clear, I sure as hell don't think it should happen. [But the "voice of the people"?--ed. Yeah, I'm pretty sure the voice of the people would have supported a flag-burning amendment back in 1988, but that would have been an equally dumb-ass amendment. The Republic is still standing despite that non-action, by the way.]

    A question -- is this a proposal that Bush genuinely believes in and is exploiting for political gain, or is this a proposal that Bush knows won't become law and is exploiting for political gain?

    Discuss below.

    UPDATE: Good discussion!!

    ANOTHER UPDATE: It goes without saying that Andrew Sullivan will be the place to go on this topic. This post makes an excellent point about the fact that the "full faith and credit" clause in the Constitution does not apply to marriage.

    posted by Dan at 03:27 PM | Comments (264) | Trackbacks (7)

    The controversial Sam Huntington

    I was a post-doctoral fellow at Samuel Huntington's Olin Center for Strategic Studies at Harvard in 1996/97, when The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order first came out. Needless to say, it was a controversial book, and there was a lot of accusations made against Sam that were pretty much unfounded.

    At the end of the year, Huntington presented his first draft of a paper arguing that Hispanic immigration into the United States is different from and more troubling than previous waves of immigration (which was an extension of his concluding chapter in Clash). At the end of the talk, all of the fellows looked at each other and agreed that once this was published, the brouhaha over Clash was going to look like a tea party.

    Well, it's now published (or rather, part of it is published. All of it will be published in a book due out in May 2004 entitled, Who Are We: The Challenges to America's National Identity). Huntington's article, "The Hispanic Challenge" takes up a large part of the March-April issue of Foreign Policy. I could pick a paragraph at random and it will inflame a lot of people, but I'm betting these two will be quoted ad nauseum within the next month:

    In this new era, the single most immediate and most serious challenge to America's traditional identity comes from the immense and continuing immigration from Latin America, especially from Mexico, and the fertility rates of these immigrants compared to black and white American natives. Americans like to boast of their past success in assimilating millions of immigrants into their society, culture, and politics. But Americans have tended to generalize about immigrants without distinguishing among them and have focused on the economic costs and benefits of immigration, ignoring its social and cultural consequences. As a result, they have overlooked the unique characteristics and problems posed by contemporary Hispanic immigration. The extent and nature of this immigration differ fundamentally from those of previous immigration, and the assimilation successes of the past are unlikely to be duplicated with the contemporary flood of immigrants from Latin America. This reality poses a fundamental question: Will the United States remain a country with a single national language and a core Anglo-Protestant culture? By ignoring this question, Americans acquiesce to their eventual transformation into two peoples with two cultures (Anglo and Hispanic) and two languages (English and Spanish).

    The impact of Mexican immigration on the United States becomes evident when one imagines what would happen if Mexican immigration abruptly stopped. The annual flow of legal immigrants would drop by about 175,000, closer to the level recommended by the 1990s Commission on Immigration Reform chaired by former U.S. Congresswoman Barbara Jordan. Illegal entries would diminish dramatically. The wages of low-income U.S. citizens would improve. Debates over the use of Spanish and whether English should be made the official language of state and national governments would subside. Bilingual education and the controversies it spawns would virtually disappear, as would controversies over welfare and other benefits for immigrants. The debate over whether immigrants pose an economic burden on state and federal governments would be decisively resolved in the negative. The average education and skills of the immigrants continuing to arrive would reach their highest levels in U.S. history. The inflow of immigrants would again become highly diverse, creating increased incentives for all immigrants to learn English and absorb U.S. culture. And most important of all, the possibility of a de facto split between a predominantly Spanish-speaking United States and an English-speaking United States would disappear, and with it, a major potential threat to the country's cultural and political integrity.

    So far, James Joyner, David Adesnik, and David Brooks have commentary.

    I disagreed with Huntington about his Clash thesis, and I think he's wrong now. I'll be posting much more about this later. For now, let's just say that Huntington's thesis has some serious empirical problems and a few theoretical ones left over from the Clash book.

    However, I want to close with two final interrelated thoughts. First, it would be dangerous to dismiss Huntington as some paleocon or crank -- he's neither. Read this Robert Kaplan biography of Huntington from the December 2001 Atlantic Monthly (one of the few things Kaplan has ever written that I agree with) to get a sense of Huntington's career.

    Second, most of the commentariat want Huntington to be wrong. That doesn't mean that he actually is wrong. Beware those who simply brand the argument as offensive and dismiss it out of hand -- Huntington is way too smart to be rejected without a sober evaluation of his thesis and evidence.

    UPDATE: David Glenn has a Chronical of Higher Education story about Huntington's article.

    posted by Dan at 11:11 AM | Comments (72) | Trackbacks (5)

    Monday, February 23, 2004


    I've been woefully remiss in failing to mention the current crisis in Haiti. The U.S. has dispatched 50 Marines-- a FAST (Fleet Antiterrorism Security Team unit -- to protect the embassy.

    For more, go check out HaitiPundit (link via Tyler Cowen, who's also worth reading on the topic).

    posted by Dan at 03:13 PM | Comments (17) | Trackbacks (2)

    A very important post about... swimsuits

    Slate's Josh Levin posts an amusing statistical summary of Sports Illustrated's 40th anniversary swimsuit issue:

    36 shots of women in swimsuits; 15 of women wearing only part of their suits and positioned strategically next to inner tubes, barns, etc.; eight women baring all or part of their nipples via moisture, chainmail, etc.; six women wearing nothing but body paint; one woman being smelled by sheep; another woman being fondled by a baby alligator; another woman whose bikini top is being removed by a dead-looking but ostensibly playful raven; one Jimmy Buffett CD; 11 interviews with members of the "swimsuit hall of fame," including the revelation that Stacey Williams has helped invent rüking, a sport that combines running and hiking; and one cover model, Veronica Varekova, who says the person she'd most like to meet is Charlie Rose. (emphasis added)

    In honor of Ms. Varekova's preference towards those of the geeky persuasion, it seems only fitting to reciprocate in kind by displaying's strong preference for supermodels who like geeks:


    [Why not a picture of Rose as well?--ed. He clearly needs no additional advertising whatsoever. Besides Varekova was on his show this past Friday.]

    UPDATE: D'oh!! Mickey Kaus beat me by a full day on this. Advantage: Kaus!!

    posted by Dan at 02:35 PM | Comments (18) | Trackbacks (0)

    Life as a Westerner in Jakarta

    Jay Drezner reports on what it's like to work in Jakarta:

    [B]eing in Jakarta doesn't make you feel very safe. The security around the city is overwhelming. Every car is searched before it approaches any major hotel or office building (including mirrors on wheels which search under the cars) and to walk into any building you usually have to go through a metal detector and have your bag searched. Now this creates a bit of tension, but what makes it even worse is that almost every local or expat living here who I speak to admits that pretty much all of this activity is for show to make foreigners feel like they are safer. None of these measures would really stop something like the JW Marriott bombing which took place last October. Any security that tried to go to that level would drive itself out of business due to being too customer unfriendly (and its pretty close to that as it is already).

    posted by Dan at 12:45 AM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (0)

    Where are the new jobs?

    Virginia Postrel's story in today's New York Times Sunday Magazine takes a close look at where new jobs are being created -- and whether they show up in the payroll survey:

    In a quickly evolving economy, in which increased productivity constantly makes some jobs redundant, we notice the job losses. It is much harder to spot where new jobs are emerging. Our mental categories tend to be behind the times. When we think of jobs, we see factories, secretarial pools, police officers, lawyers. We forget all about jobs we see every day.

    The official job counters at the Bureau of Labor Statistics don't do much to overcome our blind spots. The bureau is good at counting people who work for large organizations in well-defined, long-established occupations. It is much less adept at counting employees in small businesses, simply because there are too many small enterprises to representatively sample them. The bureau's occupational survey, which might suggest which jobs are growing, doesn't count self-employed people or partners in unincorporated businesses at all. And many of today's growing industries, the ones adding jobs even amid the recession, are comprised largely of small companies and self-employed individuals. That is particularly true for aesthetic crafts, from graphic designers and cosmetic dentists to gardeners. These specialists' skills are in ever greater demand, yet they tend to work for themselves or in partnerships....

    In every booming job category I looked at [stone crafters, massage therapists, manicurists] official surveys were missing thousands of jobs. As the economy evolves, however, this bias against small enterprises and self-employment becomes more and more significant. By missing so many new sources of productivity, the undercounts distort our already distorted view of economic value -- the view that treats traditional manufacturing and management jobs as more legitimate, even more real, than craft professions or personal-service businesses. But the truth is, value can come as much from intangible pleasures as it can from tangible goods.

    I'd say more about this story, but Bob McGrew beat me to my own narrative.

    One semi-provocative thought, however. Most of the job categories mentioned in Postrel's essay have something of a 'feminine' cast to them. The job sector with the biggest job losses -- manufacturing -- has a decidedly masculine cast. It's undoubtedly difficult for workers to transition from manufacturing to services. Could gender barriers make the current economic transformation even more difficult for displaced workers?

    UPDATE: Brad DeLong thinks these undercounts are insignificant:

    [T]here is no reason to think that the totals of nationwide employment--which are derived from these second and third of these data sources--are substantial undercounts because of any significant "bias against small enterprises and self-employment."

    See also here.

    ANOTHER UPDATE: Postrel responds.

    That article is not designed to enter the ongoing, and quite partisan, debate about what the household versus payroll surveys tell us about current levels of employment.

    My interest was in the question, Where will new jobs come from? A lot of non-economists are genuinely afraid that in the future there will be no jobs, or that there will be no jobs for people without large amounts of education--people like Denise Revely. From other research, I know of a number of aesthetic professions where jobs are growing rapidly. I found that in every such category the BLS counts were way under or, at best, obscured in categories dominated by losses in traditional manufacturing (e.g., paper mill workers vs. stone fabricators).

    There's another follow-up post here that's worth reading in full.

    posted by Dan at 12:32 AM | Comments (35) | Trackbacks (3)

    Sunday, February 22, 2004

    The war on terror and civil liberties

    Ethan Bronner has an essay in today's New York Times Book Review on the numerous tomes alleging that the War on Terror combined with John Ashcroft ''are responsible for some of the most egregious civil liberties violations in the history of our nation'' according to one of these books. Bronner does a nice job of putting these issues into the proper perspective:

    If you believe these changes are eroding the liberties that make this nation great, these books are for you. They will give texture and sharpness to your rage. You can pick from among them based on your level of concern. If you are incensed, go for the Brown essay collection, ''Lost Liberties.'' In it, Aryeh Neier says, ''We are at risk of entering another of those dark periods of American history when the country abandons its proud tradition of respect for civil liberties.'' And Nancy Chang of the Center for Constitutional Rights says that executive measures taken in the wake of the Patriot Act ''are responsible for some of the most egregious civil liberties violations in the history of our nation.'' Given the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus during the Civil War, the Palmer raids in World War I and the internment of Japanese-Americans in World War II, both of these statements seem to me hard to defend....

    We are at an odd moment in our political debate. Liberals, who favor big government, oppose the one we have now because of who controls it. Conservatives, who shun big government, have discovered the pleasures of having one at their disposal. And in this election year, every debate feeds into a partisan struggle for victory. The truth is that even most liberals would not be so upset about tightening border controls and easing F.B.I. restrictions if this administration showed some understanding of how to confront militant Islam with something other than force. It acts unilaterally and calls it leadership. That only makes one suspicious of everything it does. But liberals must realize that some things are correct and legitimate even if George Bush believes them.

    Read the whole thing.

    posted by Dan at 12:18 PM | Comments (46) | Trackbacks (2)

    Yet another reason to procrastinate

    That whole universe-collapsing-upon-itself fear I have on occasion appears to be unfounded.

    posted by Dan at 12:10 PM | Comments (6) | Trackbacks (0)