Saturday, May 8, 2004
My very own public intellectual feud
Devoted readers of danieldrezner.com are aware that on occasion, sometimes, I've been known to get into the occasional intellectual scuffle with a another blogger or public figure. Most of them have been minor tempests that quickly faded into obscurity.
Alas, obscurity is harder to come by when a dispute is carried out in the Letters page of the Sunday New York Times Book Review. To see Jagdish Bhagwati's reply to my review of In Defense of Globalization, as well as my response to Bhagwati's response, click here.
I'll confess to being genuinely puzzled by Professor Bhagwati's obsteperous response -- as my lovely wife put it, between Bhagwati and myself, our opinions on globalization range from A to A'. I thought I gave the book a pretty favorable review, and I certainly think it's worth reading. Trust me, if I don't like a book, I can be much more scathing in my comments.
And for those of you who wish to make a living by being a critic (or a book author), learn this lesson well -- don't write angry. Or rather, if you feel the urge, write angry, but then be sure to crumple up that effort and try again with a cooler head.
Why? It's exceedingly difficult to translate anger into polished prose -- particularly anger directed at another person, as opposed to a more abstract target -- without seeming either petty or undisciplined. Angry writing is also, more often than not, completely humorless. And wit is a valued commodity in almost every writing venue known to man.
This is a tough lesson to digest, because the exceptions to this rule are the most coveted critics of them all. A critic that manages to focus their anger into an righteous but humorous vivisection of someone else is the ne plus ultra of entertainment. If you can do it, I'll tip my hat in deferential respect.
However, I strongly suspect that this skill is much rarer than is commonly perceived.
Friday, May 7, 2004
Ethnic cleansing in Sudan
The Sudanese government is aiding and abetting the killing of African Muslims in its western Darfur region. According to Bloomberg:
This looks like a job for the U.N. Human Rights Commission!! Oh, wait...
UPDATE: The Economist has a nice story encapsulating the Sudan problem.
Alexei Izyumov's Swiftian jobs program
Izyumov, an associate professor of economics and director of the Center for Emerging Market Economies at the University of Louisville, makes a modest proposal in the Boston Globe about dealing with the real villians behind recent job losses:
Good job numbers
The Bureau of Labor Statistics employment figures for April are out -- and the U.S. economy created 288,000 jobs last month. The number of persons unemployed for 27 weeks or longer declined by 188,000. Revised figures show that since
In 2004, the economy has averaged the creation of over 200,000 new jobs per month.
In related news, the Financial Times reports that:
Much of this is due to continued strength in the service sector.
Of course, the economy has had to struggle to create jobs this year in the wake of massive job losses due to offshore outsourcing. Oh wait, according to this BLS breakdown, the economy has created over 200,000 jobs in the "professional business and services" category in 2004, the sector designated as most vulnerable to job losses from offshoring (to be fair, employment in "computer systems design and related services" has fallen by 6,000 since January).
So, great news -- but I'd really like the Bush administration to take the following warning from Alan Greenspan seriously:
Read the whole speech.
UPDATE: Bruce Bartlett points out that due to the economic recovery, the Congressional Budget Office projects tax revenues for this fiscal year to be up by $100 billion.
A minor Friends carp
I am glad that Matt LeBlanc will have his own show in the fall -- truth be told, Joey was always my favorite (though as an academic, I did appreciate how adeptly the writers skewered Ross' academic pretensions).
One minor complaint, however -- during the episode, Monica explains that they've named the twins Erika (after the birth mother) and Jack, after Monica's father. Which is great, except for the fact that Monica Geller is Jewish. Jews (well, Ashkenazi Jews at least) do not name their children after living relatives.
Now Friends, like many shows (Mad About You) was always skittish about discussing religion, even though three of the show's characters (Ross, Monica, Rachel) were Jewish. They inevitably celebrated Christmas, for example.
Which is fine -- there are certainly Jews who do this. However, there was no need for the show to have a Jewish character do something that even a non-practicing Jew would never even have considered.
The show's creators, David Crane and Marta Kaufman, are both graduates of Brandeis. They should have known better.
Thursday, May 6, 2004
News flash -- Michael Moore massages the facts
Well, it's a good thing that except for the NYT, the media didn't take the bait on this one. Oh, wait....
Bwa ha ha ha!!
The Los Angeles Times reports that the political tide may be turning on offshore outsourcing:
It's just coordinated lobbying?! What about well-honed rhetoric backed by cogent analysis and hard data? [Yeah, you know it's actually the lobbying, right?--ed. Allow me my meager illusions of influence, OK?]
Part of the Times' reasoning is based on the E-loan experiment that I blogged about in March. Consumers are given a choice between having their paperwork processed in 10 days overseas or 12 days in the United States. According to the LAT, "In the three months that ended Monday, 85.6% of 14,329 loan applicants chose processing overseas."
Meanwhile, Miguel Helft writes in the San Jose Mercury News that data privacy concerns with regard to offshore outsourcing are grossly exaggerated:
Read both pieces.
It's hard not to be discouraged about the information coming out from the Taguba Report, as well as the additional pictures and private correspondence suggesting that the pattern of prisoner abuse was wider than originally thought. Josh Marshall links to this Sy Hersh quote last night on O'Reilly:
On top of all this, the White House's official "I want it publicly known that I'm displeased with Rumsfeld but I'm not actually going to say it or do anything about it but leak it to the press" policy is, as Jacob Levy observes, truly bizarre.
You can say, as Victor Davis Hanson did, that at least the U.S. is now coming to grips with the problem -- and that the system worked in exposing these abuses. Glenn Reynolds and Tacitus offer their useful perspectives of what to do now.
Wednesday, May 5, 2004
Yours truly is there at #119, but I suspect that if the various blogs that reside at Blogspot were disaggregated, I'd fall off that list pretty fast.
Until then, I'll just use my lofty perch to advance the forces of good -- or try to get a BMW. I haven't made my mind up yet on this one.
Arts & Ideas, R.I.P. (1997-2004)
To which I can only say, Amen.
I've never forgiven that section of the paper from running an article back in the summer of 2001 claiming that Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri's Empire was "the next big idea" in international relations theory. Based on that article, I purchased the hardcover edition of the book and wasted several hours of my life wrestling with their turgid prose and nonfalsifiable nostrums (Alan Wolfe efficiently dissected the "meandering, wordy, and incoherent book" in this The New Republic review from late 2001).
According to Donadio, it appears I was far from the only one to dislike this section of the Saturday paper of record:
The Observer also quotes from Siegel's hysterical parody of the section:
The ultimate BMW ad
One does have to wonder if Porsche's poor performance is correlated with the car's paucity of space, which can lead to.... er... maneuvering difficulties, if one were to attempt to perform the deed in the car.
UPDATE: Mickey e-mails to say, "they [male BMW drivers] only SAY they have sex 2.2 times a week." Of course, male Porsche drivers only say they have sex 1.4 times a week. This leads to one of two possibilities:
Given the styling of both auto brands, I have to think that (1) is more likely than (2). In my mind, Porsches seem flashier than BMWs. One would therefore expect Porsche buyers to be more flamboyant/open than the buttoned-down BMWers, not less so.
Furthermore, the fact that the poll shows a similar gap among female responsdents -- who one might expect to be more modest in their survey responses due to historical double standards on this question -- leads me to think that this isn't a response bias problem.
Yes, I just wasted ten minutes on this addendum that I will never have back.
Fun with BLS numbers
The Bureau of Labor Statistics has a Mass Layoff Statistics program, in which firms that lay off 50 or more workers must provide as reason for such a move to the BLS. Those reasons range from automation to product line discontinuation. Offshore outsourcing is not one of the options, but "import competition" and "overseas relocation" are options. So, it's possible to estimate the extent to which offshore outsourcing is respinsible for job destruction via mass layoffs [How do you know that the firms aren't lying to the government?--ed. You don't -- but since the names of the firms are kept strictly confidential, there's no reason for them to lie either]. You can do it too -- just click here to create your own table.
Here are the percentages of jobs lost through mass layoffs because of either import competition or overseas relocation for the last seven years:
Now, these figures do not cover instances when a firm let go less than 50 people, so clearly there's a bias in the data towars multinational corporations over small businesses. That said, these numbers reveal two important facts:
1) Offshore outsourcing is not responsible for a significant percentage of the jobs that have been lost.
2) There is no evidence that offshore outsourcing is responsible for an increasing number of jobs lost over time.
Finally, some have argued that the massive increases in U.S. labor productivity are due to sloppy GDP accounting: "[T]he work done by Indian software firms is being recorded as US economic activity and growth because it's been offshored." If true, this would be a serious measurement error, since the government would be overstating both economic growth and labor productivity
The BLS issued a memo in late March on this very issue back in March that's worth perusing. The highlights:
While we're talking about offshore outsourcing, here are a few stories about the benefits that accrue to the United States from insourcing. The Cleveland Plain Dealer's Stephen Koff reports on Honda's Ohio operations as an example of this phenomenon:
The Associated Press' Charles Sheehan makes a similar point in analyzing the effect of outsourcing and insourcing in Pennsylvania:
To be fair, some of the numbers on insourcing are contested. The Economic Policy Institute's Robert Scott and Adam Hersh argue that the number of jobs created due to insourcing isvastly overstated, because those figures include cases of acquisition rather than greenfield investment -- i.e., Daimler's takeover of Chrysler. Unanswered is whether foreign acquisition prevents those firms and jobs from disappearing entirely. For a counter, read the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's April report, "Jobs, Trade, Sourcing, and the Future of the American Workforce.”
Some odds & ends on outsourcing:
1) For the most recent spate of reporting on the phenomenon, you could do far worse than what's been written by the Portland Press Herald's Edward Murphy or Fortune's Jeremy Kahn. The first article looks at the effect that offshore outsourcing is having on medical transcription. The latter looks at how offshore outsourcing is affecting small businesses. Both are complex tales, but there's a familiar pattern -- the jobs being outsourced are the ones that could also disappear through automation.
2) I received an illuminating e-mail from a call center manager at America Online's Arizona facility:
Tuesday, May 4, 2004
Wal-Mart vs. Jesse Jackson
Dan Mihalopoulos has a story in today's Chicago Tribune on the contentious neighborhood politics Wal-Mart faces in trying to open new stores in the Windy City:
As a fellow South Sider, let me just second Krystal's sentiments there. This is not a case where Wal-Mart would put "mom & pop stores" out of business, since there are appallingly few retail options in these neighborhoods.
However, local African-American leaders have taken a different and depressingly predictable position:
I can see the campaign commercial now: "Chicago's political and religious and community leadership -- keeping jobs out of your neighborhood until we get ours!!"
You can read Basker's paper about Wal-Mart by clicking here.
Thank goodness the good Reverend Jackson is here to prevent these pernicious effects from taking place in Chicago!!
Reuters reports that Al Gore has found a day job -- trying to become the next Rupert Murdoch:
Readers are invited to submit programming ideas here -- beyond the obviously brilliant suggestion of hiring lots of bloggers.
UPDATE: For those hard at work trying to come up with program ideas, this Zap2it story quotes Gore more extensively on the desired content:
Well, that clears things right up.
ANOTHER UPDATE: So far, my faves are the reality TV suggestion "Alpha Male Makeover" and the game show called "The Lock Box".
Useless international organization dept.
Click here for a previous post that discusses Sudan.
Here's a thought -- why not just disband the U.N. Commission on Human Rights? At this juncture, its sole purpose for existence seems to be to whitewash the activities of authoritarian regimes, bestowing undeserved legitimacy on these governments. Wouldn't a caucus of democracies be more likely to speak its mind outside of the United Nations system?
North Korea talks to Selig Harrison
The Financial Times reports that North Korea has told Selig Harrison -- a North Korea expert who has acted as a conduit for North Korean diplomatic proposals in the past -- that it has no plans to sell its nuclear material to Al Qaeda:
The problem with these kind of dimplomatic messages is that they merely confirm the predispositions of the different elements of the Bush administration. To
I'm betting that Bush will side with the conservatives on this one.
The Asian brown cloud
The Chicago Tribune's front-pager yesterday was a James P. Miller story about the effect of Chinese air pollution -- the "Asian brown cloud" -- on U.S. weather. Some of the tidbits:
It's not clear if there are any policy implications from this -- but I hadn't seen the phenomenon reported previously.
Monday, May 3, 2004
Random quote of the day
While reading a Philip Pettit paper for the U of C's Political Theory Workshop (a forum I attend maybe once a year), I came across a priceless quote. It's by John Wallis, a 17th century mathemetician at Oxford, about one of his rivals, a Mr. Thomas Hobbes, author of Leviathan and, in many important ways, the father of modern political science. It would be safe to say that Wallis was not a real Hobbes fan. The quote reads:
I apologize for not posting this earlier
Jacob Levy's latest TNR Online essay is about the art and politics of apologizing. The key paragraph:
OK, sorry, but I lied -- the whole piece is nothing but key paragraphs.
Read the whole thing.
Health care and techological innovation
Newt Gingrich and Patrick Kennedy have co-authored a New York Times op-ed on the need for the health care sector to embrace the information revolution. [Hey, wasn't this Catherine Mann's point in her essay on IT and outsourcing?--ed. Why, I believe it was one of them, yes.] They have some fascinating data:
The one thing that Gingrich and Kennedy do not discuss is privacy concerns -- although if people are willing to have their financial information computerized, it's hard to see how health information is qualititatively different.
Sunday, May 2, 2004
Back on the telly again
My outsourcing mediafest continues -- I'll be on CNNfn's Dolans Unscripted this Monday morning at around 10:10 AM Eastern Daylight Time.
Outsourcing will be the topic -- but it's unscripted, so who knows what could come up in conversation!!
C'mon, Lou Dobbs -- if CNNfn and CNN International are willing to interview me on outsourcing, what are you so afraid of?
I dare you, Lou. I double-dog-dare you.
Warning -- technical difficulties may be ahead
Over the past 24 hours I've been inundated with a few hundred spam comments. This is forcing me to do something I should have done a long time ago -- download MT Blacklist to deal with the problem.
However, given my lack of html-savviness, this may not take place in a completely smooth fashion.
So, if there's no posting for a while, you know the reason.
UPDATE -- Oh, man, this is awesome!! I should have done this ages ago. Thank you, Jay Allen!!