Saturday, June 5, 2004

Now Wal-Mart is selling cheap gas!!

Alex Tabarrok at Marginal Revolution has a post showing that Minnesota and Maryland have enacted minimum price laws for gasoline, and are enforcing them against gas stations that are charging too low a price per gallon or are offering free coffee with gasoline as an inducement. In the case of Minnesota, many of the gas stations are attached to Wal-Marts.

This got the attention of Brad DeLong, who agrees with Tabarrok. Brad has an excellent rebuttal to claims that Wal-Mart-type organizations merely undercut prices to create exploitable monopolies for the future, a la Microsoft:

Suppose it sells gasoline cheap, wipes out all competitors in the area, and then raises prices to $12 a gallon. What happens then? Well, the underground storage tanks of its defunct competitors are still there. Gas pumps are cheap. $12 a gallon is a lot of money. You get lots of new entrants taking over the locations of the old gas stations, and competing with Walmart. If Walmart wants to maintain its monopoly, it must limit price to make new entry unprofitable. And since new entry is easy and cheap--since the market is contestable--the limit price is not that high above the competitive price.

Walmart cannot acquire a monopoly by underpricing--"predatory pricing," it is called--without giving a large present to consumers. And the contestability of the market means that it cannot take that present back once it has acquired a monopoly. Few industries have cost structures such that attempts at monopolization through "predatory pricing" harm consumers. Even in the case of Microsoft, it is not clear that Microsoft's success was bad for users: users got a lot of pretty good software cheap for quite a while, and even those who (like me) are Apple customers found the prices of our software reduced by competitive pressure from Microsoft. I think Microsoft's success was (probably) bad for consumers, but it is definitely an issue to be debated.

Readers familiar with's position on Wal-Mart will chuckle at the last paragraph in DeLong's post:

You can claim that minimum-gasoline-price laws are bad because independent gas station owners are morally worthy people, the salt of the earth, the backbone of America, and they deserve to have the power of the state deployed to protect them and their livelihoods against the amoral efficiency calculus of the market. I will laugh at you if you do, but you can make that claim. You cannot make the uninformed and ignorant claim that minimum-gasoline-price laws actually lower the long-run price of gasoline by "protecting" us from rampant monopoly--unless you have some reason to believe that gas stations are not part of a contestable market.

Let me hear you say, "Amen!"

posted by Dan at 11:36 PM | Comments (23) | Trackbacks (1)

What do Tony Blankley, George Soros, and Mahathir Mohammed have in common?

They all excel at saying unbelievably stupid things.

Let's start with Mohammed and Blankley -- both of them blame Soros for the Asian Financial Crisis. About Mahathir's anti-Semitism, click here and here.

Blankley's statement is the new one. He said the following on the June 3rd Hannity & Colmes:

BLANKLEY: This a man who blamed the Jews for anti-Semitism, getting Abe Fluxman (ph) -- excuse me -- head of the Anti-Defamation League to call it an obscene statement.

This is a man who, when he was plundering the world's currencies in England in '92, he caused a Southeastern Asian financial crises in '97.

RICHARD ABORN: Please, come on. Wait a second. You're so far beyond the facts. Hold on.

BLANKLEY: He said that he has no moral responsibility for the consequences of his financial actions. He is a self-admitted atheist. He was a Jew who figured out a way to survive the holocaust. (emphasis added)

Mark Kleiman says this demonstrates "how much of the [Republican] campaign [against Soros] was based on simple anti-Semitism." Indeed, Vincent Morris of the New York Post reports that in a Republican National Comittee memo e-mailed to congressional staffers, "Republican lawmakers are encouraged to use 'floor speeches' and other opportunities to blast Soros, who has given millions of dollars to various groups to help defeat President Bush." (link via the Poor Man).

OK, let's try to referee this:

1) Blankley is clearly an ass. As a Jew, I find that last bolded sentence repugnant. So I'll just nod my head at what Eugene Volokh said:

[W]hen a person just trots out someone's Jewishness (or whiteness or blackness) in a context where it seems to make very little sense (the first Blankley reference to his Jewishness does make sense, but the second does not), it does at least suggest that the person is more focused than he should be on who's a Jew and less on the merits on the debate -- and it certainly hints at broader hostility to Jews.

2) Kleiman's larger assertion rests on extremely shaky foundations -- it would be like blaming the entire Democratic party for anything idiotic Michael Moore said about the Bush administration. Furthermore, as Stephen Bainbridge points out, there's some evidence to support Blankley's claim that Soros accused the Jews of fomenting anti-Semitism.

I have very mixed feelings on Soros. The man is and was a first-rate philanthropist. That, said, having read The Bubble of American Diplomacy, I've concluded that Soros is a political loon of the first order. It is ridiculously easy to attack George Soros without ever discussing his religion.

3) Finally, while Blankely was, to repeat, clearly way out of bounds, the Republican decision to go on the offensive against Soros is perfectly legit. He's dedicated large sums of money to attacking the Bush administration. According to the Post story, "Soros has said in interviews that he has concluded that ousting Bush is the most important thing he can do with his life." The trigger for the Hannity & Colmes discussion was Soros' statement comparing the Abu Ghraib prison scandal to the 9/11 attacks. In Bubble of American Diplomacy, Soros admits that he's become "quite rabid" in his political views. He's entered the political arena -- which means he's opened himself to political attacks.

posted by Dan at 09:58 PM | Comments (33) | Trackbacks (3)

I can feel my chin growing already

My pathetic quest to become the Jay Leno of the blogosphere continues [Leno? LENO??!! You mean Letterman, right?--ed. No, I mean Jay Leno's guest host phase. However, Bryan Curtis argues in Slate that even Letterman is trying to be Leno now.]

I've guest-posted at the Volokh Conspiracy and Andrew Sullivan's Daily Dish. And now, just to confirm the rumors, I'm taking over Glenn Reynolds' MSNBC blog for this week.

[So who's next?--ed. Look into the computer screen, Mickey Kaus. You're getting very sleepy. Very sleepy indeed......]

posted by Dan at 05:47 PM | Trackbacks (0)

Open Reagan thread

Ronald Reagan died today.

Readers are invited to comment on what they believe will be the most significant aspect of Reagan's legacy.

UPDATE: Chicago residents, you'll get my take on Reagan on ABC7 News Sunday Morning at aroung 9:00 AM.

posted by Dan at 05:40 PM | Comments (40) | Trackbacks (1)

A retraction

Jack Shafer has a Slate piece pointing out that while the New York Times and 60 Minutes have issued retractions for stories about Iraqi WMD programs that leaned too heavily on Iraqi defectors provided by Ahmad Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress, other media outlets have not been as forthcoming:

It's not like the Times and 60 Minutes were the only media outlets to have showcased dubious defectors' tales. The journalistic community has known for almost three months, thanks to a Knight Ridder Washington Bureau story, that the INC claimed to have placed its "product" in 108 articles and broadcasts between October 2001 and May 2002.

The Great 108 list is a who's who of American and world media: The Times, the Washington Post, CNN, the Weekly Standard, the Associated Press, Fox News Channel, Agence France-Presse, the Economist, and more. While a spot on the list doesn't necessarily mean the named news organization swallowed INC swill whole, it indicates that the New York Times wasn't the only one with an unacknowledged INC problem....

The rotten truth is that media organizations are better at correcting trivial errors of fact—proper spellings of last names, for example—than they are at fixing a botched story....

Individual journalists are a lot like doctors, lawyers, and pilots in that they hate to admit they were wrong no matter what the facts are. Institutionally, publications avoid massive mea culpas out of fear of feeding libel suits. Call them on their hypocrisy for expecting government and business to admit errors while they stay silent and journalists will tell you that nobody wants an annotated and corrected version of yesterday's news. They want today's news. (Oh, sure they do! That's why we're currently wading through 10 million column inches of recycled D-Day copy.) Or they'll dodge the question, saying there's no convenient place in the newspaper for monumental rehashes. Or they'll say, let the ombudsman do it in his Sunday column. Or correct errors in the corrections box.

The good folks that put a fresh copy of on your computer screen every day have no fear of admitting error -- mostly because we're so used to screwing up. So, let me apologize/retract this April 21, 2003 post about Iraqi WMD that relied too heavily on reporting by the New York Times' Judith Miller -- who, as it turned out, relied way too heavily on Chalabi and his defectors. The story I linked to in that post was one of the stories the Times has since retracted.


posted by Dan at 04:58 PM | Comments (6) | Trackbacks (0)

Friday, June 4, 2004

A real triumph for outsourcing opponents

Not often, but every once in a while, opponents of outsourcing manage to implement policy designed to thwart the subcontracting of tasks overseas. We here at feel that they should be congratulated for these efforts, as well as the transparently obvious economic benefits that such policy measures bring to our great country.

So let's hear it for the state of California's anti-outsourcing procurement rules, which are having quite an effect on the state's efforts to rebuild the Bay Bridge. Jean-Paul Renaud of the Los Angeles Times reports:

When officials six years ago unveiled their plans to rebuild portions of the earthquake-damaged San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, they said the span would rival even the famed Golden Gate Bridge.

They envisioned a sleek, modern design that would have at its center a 525-foot suspension tower rising from San Francisco Bay, providing a distinctive addition to the area's skyline.

But this gem is proving to be costly. The elaborate design, praised at its inception, now is being blamed for ballooning costs and several delays. Caltrans says it will cost about $4 billion to build the bridge — three times more than the agency expected in 2001.

This week, officials announced that the suspension tower alone would cost $1 billion more than originally expected.

One reason, they said, is the state's "Buy America" rules, which dictate that Caltrans can use foreign steel on the bridge only if its cost is at least 25% less than domestic steel. In this case, the difference is only 23%, so the state must go with domestic steel. That added $400 million to the price tag. (emphasis added)

$400 million? It's a good thing the state of California doesn't face a budget crunch or anything! Way to stop outsourcing!!

Thanks to alert reader C.W. for the tip.

UPDATE: Thanks to alert commentor gw, who points out that the Buy American Act is a federal law. One wonders, however, how the cost differential of 25% was determined as meeting the "unreasonable cost" standard.

ANOTHER UPDATE: gw strikes again!! Here's the relevant link for an explanation of how Buy America affects steel. And here's a link to Michael Cabanatuan's San Francisco Chronicle story about the bridge, which has further details:

Transportation officials were stunned Wednesday when the only bids on the new suspension span, both from a joint venture of American Bridge, Nippon Steel Bridge and Fluor Enterprises, came in at $1.4 billion and $1.8 billion, the latter more than a billion over estimate.

Because the bridge project is subject to federal Buy America requirements, the contractor was allowed to submit two bids -- one using only steel from U.S. firms, one using foreign steel. (emphasis added)

However, it appears that even California officials were temporarily confused by the provisions of the Buy America act:

On Wednesday, when the bid was opened in a Caltrans basement in Sacramento, it appeared that the agency would have to go with the $1.8 billion domestic steel bid, unless it chose to reject the bid and start over.

But transportation officials said Thursday that the way the cost differential is calculated would allow the state Department of Transportation to take the lower bid -- and use foreign steel.

"The way everyone thought it works apparently isn't,'' said Randy Rentschler, spokesman for the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, a partner with Caltrans in building the new Bay Bridge.

Dan McElhinney, Caltrans deputy district director, said that as long as the bid is deemed "responsive and responsible" and in tune with market conditions, Caltrans is free to use the foreign steel bid.

Many thanks to gw for doing the cyberwork on this story.

posted by Dan at 03:02 PM | Comments (28) | Trackbacks (1)

Venezuela update

That Hugo Chavez and his Castro-lite policies sure are popular in Venezuala -- oh, wait, here's an interesting story by Andy Webb-Vidal of the Financial Times:

Hugo Chávez, Venezuela's president, looks set to face a recall referendum in early August that could see him ousted from office, after electoral authorities on Thursday declared valid an opposition-filed petition seeking a vote.

Jorge Rodríguez, a senior director of the National Electoral Council (CNE), announced that a preliminary count had found that 2.45m signatures on a petition were valid - fewer than 16,000 signatures above the required threshold.

The preliminary result, which had not been expected until today, appears to mark the end of a year-long campaign by opponents of Mr Chávez to secure a recall vote.

The CNE previously said that a referendum could take place on August 8.

Opponents were in celebratory mood last night. In Caracas, the capital, last night fireworks were set off, and motorists sounded car horns.

"We made it," said Enrique Mendoza, an opposition governor and leader of the Democratic Coordinator, the loose opposition alliance.

"Nothing or no one will impede us from opening the door to a future without violence," he said.

Voice of America reports that Chavez sain in a televised address that, "he is ready to face a recall referendum." Chavez's supporters might not be, according to the FT:

Shortly before the CNE issued the results, gunmen apparently aligned to the government used automoatic weapons to attack the office of the mayor of metropolitan Caracas, a staunch opponent of Mr Chávez.

There were also warnings that a sector within the military is virulently opposed to the idea of a referendum.

An important group of pro-Chávez army battalion commanders stand to lose key privileges if there is a change of government arising from a referendum, which some polls suggest Mr Chávez would lose.

"This group is willing to effectively kick over the table to ensure there is no referendum," an army colonel said.

Be sure to check out this news analysis by Richard Brand of the Miami Herald as well.

Chavez has been counted out before, so the successful petition drive hardly ensures his removal. Still, this is an encouraging sign.

posted by Dan at 12:24 PM | Comments (32) | Trackbacks (2)

Economic news to cheer about

The Bureau of Labor Statistics has released its May jobs report:

Nonfarm payroll employment rose by 248,000 in May, and the unemployment rate was unchanged at 5.6 percent, the Bureau of Labor Statistics of the U.S. Department of Labor reported today. The May increase in payroll employment follows gains of 346,000 in April and 353,000 in March (as revised). Job growth in May again was widespread, as increases continued in construction, manufacturing, and several service-providing industries.

More than a million new jobs have been added to payrolls since the start of the calendar year. Here's a link to the BLS breakdown by job category. Funny thing -- in the service sectors thought to be most vulnerable to offshore outsourcing (financial activities, professional and business services) the number of payroll jobs are currently at their highest levels for the past 52 weeks.

posted by Dan at 09:31 AM | Comments (31) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, June 3, 2004

June's books of the month

The general interest book for June is David Brooks' latest work of comic sociology On Paradise Drive: How We Live Now (And Always Have) in the Future Tense. [Hey, didn't Michael Kinsley pan it in the New York Times Book Review?--ed. It's true, every conservative's favorite liberal panned the book penned by every liberal's favorite conservative. However, much of this was due to Kinsley's overreliance on Sasha Issenberg's critique of Brooks in Philadelphia magazine. Noam Scheiber effectively deconstructed Issenberg's essay a few weeks ago:

Brooks does tend to be a little careless, and that he takes frequent liberties with his descriptions. But you see where I'm headed: Issenberg is guilty of the exact same thing--ignoring the broader point that Brooks is basically right.

Plus, Brooks takes great pains in On Paradise Drive to stress his reliance on the University of Michigan's prestigious Institute for Social Research for much of his data.]

The book is chock full of observations regarding the shopping, working, traveling, and child-rearing habits of affluent Americans. However, the key theme in On Paradise Drive is that Frederick Jackson Turner's famous thesis that the closing of the American frontier was a signal moment in American history is a load of bollocks. The reason is that for Americans, the frontier is the future. America is a unique country because Americans live in the future -- while many in the world are rooted in the past. Brooks gets at this through his usual mix of trenchant observation and witty verbiage. The best compliment I can pay the book is the following -- after spending the past few years wading through tome after tome trying to get at America's unique place in the world, On Paradise Drive actually gets it.

The international relations book is inspired by Greg Djerejian's complaint about the dearth of big ideas. The demand for theories to explain post-9/11 state of world politics is high -- so it might be a good idea to look at the man behind the successful Cold War strategy of containment. That would be George Kennan's American Diplomacy: 1900-1950. This collection of Kennan lectures includes his famous Foreign Affairs essay "The Sources of Soviet Conduct," which where containment was first articulated as a doctrine.*

What's striking in looking over Kennan again is that much of his analysis was predicated on what we in the IR biz refer to as a "second image" theory. That is to say, Kennan's theory of Soviet behavior was rooted in a explanation of Soviet domestic politics rather than an analysis of the international distribution of power. Kennan had it easy, however -- all he had to do was explain the domestic politics of one country. Whoever comes up with the big idea this time around may need to explain the domestic politics of an entire region -- the Middle East.

Go check both of them out.

*OK, Kennan's 1946 Long Telegram was the first articulation -- but "Sources" was the public version of the Long Telegram.

posted by Dan at 06:25 PM | Comments (12) | Trackbacks (0)

The comparative advantage of American celebrities

Most American celebrities will do whatever they can to stay in the media spotlight. In recent years, this has meant participating in reality TV shows, either of their own making (Jessica Simpson, Anna Nicole Smith) or of others (Celebrity Mole, Celebrity Fear Factor, Celebrity Boxing, The Simple Life, etc.).

On a regular basis, social critics bemoan the manifest craving of fame that engulfs the United States and its celebrity tabloid culture. And it's undeniably true that there's much to be mocked. But in defense of American celebrities, they're willing to go to great lengths to stay in the limelight. Unlike, apparently, those from the country of Colombia, according to the Dan Molinski of the Associated Press:

The bugs — both the ones that bite and those that must be eaten to stave off hunger — the heat and other discomforts are claiming their toll as celebrity contestants on a Colombian "Survivor"-style reality show drop like flies.

Instead of trying to endure to the very end on a verdant tropical peninsula in order to collect the cash prize, several are pleading with their tribes to vote them off the show.

"Isla de los Famosos" — Spanish for "Island of the Celebrities" — has captured a broad audience, partly because viewers in a country where most people live in poverty are getting a kick out of watching models, singers and actors deal with the gritty business of day-to-day survival....

"I figured that since we were celebrities, we'd be given preferential treatment, but it was really, really hard," said Jorge Cardenas, a 33-year-old pop singer who begged his fellow tribe members to expel him only one week after arriving. His wish was granted....

Norma Nivia, a leggy, blonde Colombian model, also asked her teammates to oust her.

"For me, the problem was all the mosquitoes that were biting me constantly," she said after returning to Bogota, Colombia's cosmopolitan capital. "Then I got sunstroke, had to stay in the shade all day and cover my whole body with clothing."

Could you picture someone like Kathy Griffin begging off a celebrity show because of mosquitoes? Hell no!

So raise your glass to American celebrities -- the indefatigable cockroaches of the mediasphere!

posted by Dan at 02:42 PM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (1)

Open Tenet thread

CIA director George Tenet has resigned. The New York Times' David Strout reports on the unusual nature of the White House announcement:

Mr. Bush announced the resignation in a way that was almost bizarre. He had just addressed reporters and photographers in a fairly innocuous Rose Garden session with Australia's prime minister, John Howard. Then the session was adjourned, as Mr. Bush apparently prepared to depart for nearby Andrews Air Force Base and his flight to Europe, where he is to take part in ceremonies marking the 60th anniversary of the Normady invasion and meet European leaders — some of whom have been sharply critical of the campaign in Iraq.

But minutes later, Mr. Bush reappeared on the sun-drenched White House lawn, stunning listeners with the news of Mr. Tenet's resignation, which the president said would be effective in mid-July. After that, Mr. Bush said, the C.I.A.'s deputy director, John McLaughlin, will be acting director.

The president praised Mr. Tenet's qualities as a public servant, saying: "He's strong. He's resolute. He's served his nation as the director for seven years. He has been a strong and able leader at the agency. He's been a, he's been a strong leader in the war on terror, and I will miss him."

Then Mr. Bush walked away, declining to take questions or offer any insight into what Mr. Tenet's personal reasons might be.

NRO's Kathryn Jean Lopez considers (but dismisses) anti-Bush political motivations.

Readers are invited to speculate on the causes and implications of Tenet's departure. My quick answers are a) the devastating portrayal of Tenet in Woodward's Plan of Attack, and b) nothing significant.

posted by Dan at 02:03 PM | Comments (38) | Trackbacks (1)

Outsourcing and insourcing the friendly skies

The Washington Post's Sara Kehaulani Goo has a story on how the outsourcing phenomenon is affecting aircraft maintenance. Turns out to be a two-way street:

Northwest Airlines is gutting two hangars at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport because the standard work of overhauling the airline's 747 fleet has moved to Asia.

Air China, meanwhile, is sending its planes to San Francisco for high-tech engine work by United Airlines mechanics.

U.S. carriers have outsourced thousands of maintenance jobs. At the same time, however, some airlines have stepped up their efforts to bring maintenance work into their shops. The major carriers are "insourcing" work from domestic low-cost carriers that don't have their own maintenance crews and from airlines based in China, South Korea, Canada and elsewhere.

The aircraft maintenance industry is "a classic manifestation of globalization," said Martin N. Baily, senior fellow at the Institute for International Economics. "Labor-intensive, somewhat less technically sophisticated stuff goes overseas, but more high-tech, leading-edge stuff would remain in the U.S. Maybe the U.S. even has a comparative advantage."

Delta Air Lines' insourcing includes repair work on engines for Atlantic Southeast Airlines and Comair at Delta's hub in Atlanta. Its revenue from such work has increased, to $200 million last year from $40 million in 1999.

American Airlines recently signed a contract that gives it the option to repair Rolls-Royce aircraft engines for other airlines. United does maintenance work for Air China, Korean Air, Air Canada and the U.S. military.

"We make a high profit margin on engine overhauls and landing gear," said Joseph Prisco, president of Local 9 of the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association, the union representing mechanics at United Airlines. "Air China sends a lot of their engine overhaul work to us. The costs are probably more expensive per head, but we do a faster job and better job than they can get done in their own country."

The article also highlights a genuinely worrisome regulatory gap, however: "For example, airline maintenance workers in other countries do not have to undergo mandatory drug and alcohol testing or criminal background checks as they do in the United States." If I'm a terrorist wishing to strike fear into American travelers, this is an obvious loophole to exploit.

To be fair, the Transportation Safety Administration is planning on promulgating regulations this month to deal with this loophole -- I just hope they're implemented soon.

UPDATE: If you're interested in the topic, be sure to check out the Discovery Channel's "The Other Side of Outsourcing" this evening -- it's a documentary of Tom Friedman's trip to Bangalore. 10:00 PM, ET.

posted by Dan at 10:46 AM | Comments (13) | Trackbacks (1)

A new challenger for Judith Butler's mantle

For some reason, I found myself clicking around the more obscure parts of the blogosphere late one night when I stumbled upon Chun the Unavoidable, a self-described "committed egalitarian" who allows that even uninformed Americans "can vote, marry, and even procreate here in America, and I see no compelling reason to change this right away."

Chun had discovered Sissy Willis' blog, an irrefutable example of "a genuine working-class Bush supporter." Chun, who's quite the leftist, was unclear about how to respond to what -- to him -- was an absurd political position for a good prole to adopt.

Before I quote from Chun's conflicted response to Sissy, let's take a brief detour into the fascinating world of bad academic writing. The journal Philosophy and Literature sponsors an annual bad writing contest, which is usually won by an academic. For example, Judith Butler famously won the 1998 prize by penning this memorable sentence:

The move from a structuralist account in which capital is understood to structure social relations in relatively homologous ways to a view of hegemony in which power relations are subject to repetition, convergence, and rearticulation brought the question of temporality into the thinking of structure, and marked a shift from a form of Althusserian theory that takes structural totalities as theoretical objects to one in which the insights into the contingent possibility of structure inaugurate a renewed conception of hegemony as bound up with the contingent sites and strategies of the rearticulation of power.

Why this aside? Because this paragraph of Chun's response to the tangible existence of Sissy Willis should be a nominee for the 2004 bad writing award:

As a committed leftist, egalitarian thinker, in what way should I dialectically work through my feelings of alienation and, let's face it, complete and total superiority, when confronted with this unpleasant materiality? I can't aufhebung; I can't aufhebung it. Note that this transitive/intransitive dichotomy has an indissociable trace of didacticality--pedanticissimo, natch, which will always already sui generise this contact narrative, which is invested with the logic of my colonizing gaze (though countermanded by my decolonializing gangsta lean), and which is itself recircumscribed by my minatory subjectivity as an oppositional leftist, egalitarian thinker. In effect, we have an histoire de l'oeil without the fun stuff but with the massenpsychologie of the burn the earth to a clinker (Klinger?) crowd. "Let us roll," indeed.

Somewhere, Judith Butler is feeling this vague sense on unease, wondering whether she still remains the densest prose stylist of them all.

Be sure to read Sissy's response to Chun.

UPDATE: several commenters have suggested that Chun consciously obfuscates his prose in an effort to punk unsuspecting bloggers. That had actually occurred to me, but is pretty much irrelevant. I know few people who could consciously write a paragraph that dense, and I hang around with a lot of high-falutin' academic types (readers are invited to try and compose something that dense). So, a hat tip to Chun for consciously or unconsciously possessing the ability to compose such dreck.

posted by Dan at 12:53 AM | Comments (16) | Trackbacks (3)

Wednesday, June 2, 2004

The Onion takes on outsourcing

Thank God The Onion didn't write this before my Foreign Affairs piece. It's shorter, funnier, and (particularly the last point) hits home.

posted by Dan at 05:16 PM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)


I'm typing this in DC -- here for a board meeting of the Center for Global Development's Ranking the Rich program.

Trips like this used to mean that blogging was out - but not any longer. I'm the proud new owner of a Dell Latitude X300 with wifi capabilities. So, I'm typing this post out at the Starbucks on DuPont Circle [Which Starbucks at DuPont Circle?--ed. The one next door to KramerBooks.]

My reaction to this is pretty much identical to my reaction when I installed Blacklist -- it's awesome, baby!!

Thanks to one Jacob Levy for helping me figure out the whole wi-fi deal.

posted by Dan at 05:09 PM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

Does U.S. foreign policy suffer from an ideas deficit?

Greg Djerejian at Belgravia Dispatch seems to think the answer is yes:

To be sure, there is an ideas deficit right now amidst policy and academic elites.

There is no Kennan-like X telegram. No Huntingtonian or Fukuyamaean take on the post 9/11 world.

There is, to be sure, lots of partisan rancor and hyperbolic rhetoric (Kerry simply as a noxious hybrid of hyper-liberal Kennedy and feckless Clinton; Bush as militaristic cowboy rueful that he couldn't march into Damascus and Teheran because the going in Iraq got a tad rough...)

Sadly, too, many think-tanks are split along pretty rigid party lines.

When is the last time someone at Heritage dared to suggest that John Kerry had a decent idea that might not imperil the Republic's future?

Or someone at Brookings talked up Bush's (quite multilateral) handling of counter-proliferation efforts?

With policymakers a tad busy; think-tanks politicized; academics squabbling over methodology and such--we do face somewhat of an ideas deficit.

And we need fresh thinking desparately, don't we?

Readers are invited to suggest who might pick up the slack.

In the past three years, there have actually been a fair number of big-think books from very disparate points of view out there on grand strategy -- John Mearsheimer, Michael Mandelbaum, Charles Kupchan, Fareed Zakaria, Robert Kagan, Joseph Nye, John Lewis Gaddis, countless others. My readers are invited to suggest which article/book they think most closely approximates the Kennan mantle.

posted by Dan at 11:54 AM | Comments (43) | Trackbacks (2)

Responding to the feminist critique

Trish Wilson -- guest blogging at Feministe -- is disturbed by my survey of media and blogs:

Dan Drezner linked to the poll that shows which blogs are read by the media.

Guess what, again?

That's right. Top ten - no women. "Elite" responses - no women. One woman (Amanda Butler) was thanked for "collecting and collating the data while displaying the utmost discretion." Women are valued for ... their secretarial skills....

This discussion comes up approximately every three months. Rivka at Respectful of Otters just wrote about it. I last wrote about it in March. Nothing changes. A male blogger (this time Matt Yglesias) asks where are the women interested in politics, or asks where are the women bloggers? We see more media articles that completely ignore the contributions of the large number of female bloggers out there. The guys inevitably say "mea culpa," but go back to business as usual. Rinse and repeat.

We are half the population, and we are nearly half of the blogosphere. We do not deserve to be ignored.

I posted a brief comment to her blog about why I hired Amanda ("[S]he was one of the best students in an undergraduate class I had previously taught. She was assigned tasks that any undergraduate RA would have been assigned. Gender was not a factor in the division of labor.") UPDATE: click here for Butler's response to Wilson. Here is Wilson's response:

So the survey is flawed. Your methodology should have taken self-selection into consideration. It's another survey that takes into account only the people who choose to link to it, thereby losing sight of many worthwhile blogs. Not only that, you'll end up with a very narrow view of both the definition of political discourse and the nature of the blogosphere. The same small number of top tier bloggers get the usual publicity, and alternate voices with other points of view are lost. Surveys like that one make it seem as if the blogosphere is primarily composed of men, when that is most definitely not the case. Survey's like that also narrowly define politics, which is much less two dimensional than that handful of topics most frequently discussed on blogs (Bush, Kerry, Abu Ghraib, Iraq, Israel, etc.) Women's political voices are being ignored again.

I simply find it annoying after all this time. After all the repeated waving to the top tier bloggers that we are here, nothing changes. Women bloggers, especially women political bloggers, continue to be ignored by the high rankers of the blogosphere and by the media, and when we don't make a survey, we are blamed for not linking to it. The problem isn't with the women bloggers. The problem isn't with alternative points of view. The problem lies with the survey.

Another female blogger echoes this sentiment:

[I]t's a Male thing. They hang in packs. They don't think about women. It's in their nature to ignore or forget us. In short, what's new?

So I am not surprised.

Another blogger who goes by Pinko Feminist Hellcat concurred: "Men simply don't see us. And when we talk about anything besides politics, we are 'journalers'."

A few thoughts:

1) Hell yes, the survey is flawed. All surveys are flawed. I was quite blunt in outlining the flaws in the post, so I'm not sure where Wilson thinks I'm saying this is the perfect source of data.

2) Disturbingly, the only other time I blogged about gender and blogs in the past was... er... about three months ago.

3) Wilson has a valid point in saying that "the same small number of top tier bloggers get[ting] the usual publicity." This was one of the core hypotheses underlying the paper Henry Farrell and I are co-authoring -- in terms of both links and traffic, blogs display a power law distribution (See Clay Shirky for the data to support this assertion). As a result, the top blogs absorb the lion's share of attention. The media survey supports this conjecture. This means is that it's tough for anyone to crack the top tier of blogs -- regardless of gender.

4) Wilson seems to think the results are skewed because there is a narrow definition of "political" blogs. Here's the thing, though -- my survey didn't ask for the respondent's favorite political blogs -- just their favorite ones. Maybe the respondents have an equally narrow definition of politics, but it was not conditioned by the survey question.

5) The feminist critique did make me wonder if there was any significant difference in the female responses in contrast to the overall response. So I went back to the data to see if there was any appreciable difference in response by gender. Here are the top 10 favorite blogs of the women who responded:

1. Instapundit -- 10
2. Sullivan -- 9
3. NRO's The Corner -- 6
4. Drezner, Romenesko -- tied with 3
6. Gawker, How Appealing, Talking Points Memo, LA Observed, Volokh -- tied with 2.

There are a few changes -- Kaus disappears entirely, and Sullivan falls from first to second - but names on this list look awfully familiar.

6) Finally, Wilson seems to be confusing normative and positive analysis. In her post, she's simultaneously upset about two facts: a) feminist blogs are being ignored by the mainstream media; b) I posted survey results suggesting that feminist blogs are being ignored by the mainstream media. I can understand her normative disapproval with the first point (though I respectfully disagree with the extent and source of the problem). I'm a bit flummoxed by her reaction to the second point, which is intended to describe the way the world is, not the way it ought to be. Don't blame the messenger.

To be fair, Wilson herself the proprietor of Feministe says elsewhere that "this media, by nature, begs to be written with exaggeration and embellishment," so maybe I'm exaggerating the feminist state of pique. Then again, she (that is, Feministe's proprietor) also says elsewhere that, "if you're conservative, faint of heart, anti-feminist, homophobic, racist, use bad grammar, and/or detest typos, you will not like what i have to say. feel free to leave." So maybe I'm not exaggerating.

UPDATE: Just for the record, my take on the tenor of most of the comments to this post is akin to Ezra: "I've never seen a bunch of commentors so totally destroy their argument by embodying that which they're denying."

posted by Dan at 09:01 AM | Comments (131) | Trackbacks (20)

Doha update

Guy de Jonquières provides a mildly encouraging update in the Financial Times on the state of Doha round talks:

Recently, governments seem to have discovered fresh reserves of that commodity and talks beginning in Geneva on Tuesday will test their depth. They will seek to set parameters this month for planned negotiations on dismantling farm trade barriers, the toughest obstacle to agreeing a negotiating framework for the round by the end of July.

Unless that deadline is met, the Doha round risks being sidelined by US presidential elections in November. If that happens, the US Congress may feel less inclined to extend the new president's authority to negotiate international trade agreements into next year.

That unsettling prospect has spurred other governments to rally behind efforts by Robert Zoellick, US trade representative, to put the round back on track. Meetings this year are said to have cleared the air and renewed commitment to making progress.

That said, it looks like any deal will be modest in its achievments:

Under US and EU pressure, the G20 last week set out broad principles for this month's talks, but offered no specific proposals for narrowing gaps between the WTO protagonists. Indeed some leading G20 members now say WTO members should shelve ambitions for big improvements in agricultural market access and settle for agreements to cut subsidies.

The shift appears dictated by the reluctance of India and China, key G20 members, to open their farm markets....

But even optimists believe breakthroughs will come only at the last minute, perhaps leaving too little time for deals on other vital elements of the talks, such as industrial tariff cuts and services, on which many developing countries are holding back until they know whether the agriculture stalemate can be broken.

Some veteran negotiators hope that fear of political embarrassment will finally force WTO members to compromise. "Governments around the world have pinned their colours to the mast," says one. "If this ship sinks, they will go down with it."

posted by Dan at 12:22 AM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, June 1, 2004

How do young women react to political scandals?

Back in February I blogged about the rumors of John Kerry having an affair, the possible impact on his presidential campaign. Although I was somewhat ambivalent about whether it was a bloggable topic, and I quickly posted the subsequent flat-out denials by all involved, I still feel a sense of queasiness about the whole episode.

So in fairness, here's a link to Alexandra Polier's New York cover story on being at the eye of the media storm, and her subsequent efforts to find out how she got sucked into it. The key graf:

It was becoming clearer: No single person had to have engineered this. First came a rumor about Kerry, then a small-time blogger wrote about it, and his posting was read by journalists. They started looking into it, a detail that was picked up by Drudge—who, post-Monica, is taken seriously by other sites like Wonkette, which no political reporter can ignore. I was getting a better education in 21st-century reporting than I had gotten at Columbia J-school.

Read the whole thing. David Frum and Matt Drudge come off as appropriately contrite. Wesley Clark spinmeister Chris Lehane and The Sun’s Brian Flynn come off as officious sleazebags.

Noam Scheiber and Mickey Kaus have further thoughts on Polier's Kerry experience (links via Glenn Reynolds)

There's an interesting parallel contrast to be drawn between Polier's scandal experience and reaction, and that of Jessica Cutler, a.k.a. Washingtonienne, who was fired from the office of Senator Mike DeWine (R., Ohio) for blogging about her scandalous sex life on government time. Her brief blog was immediately embraced heartily by Wonkette.

Cutler is a bit younger than Polier, but not by much. They're both attractive young women who have plugged themselves into the worlds of politics and the media. They both became the center of media attention. They have both capitalized to some extent on their media notoriety. However, Cutler's reaction to the whole brouhaha has been much more... enthusiastic than Polier, according to the Washington Post's Richard Leiby:

[Cutler] once aspired to be a journalist and says she is not ashamed in the least of her behavior. "Everything is true," Cutler told us in an interview. "It's so cliched. It's like, 'There's a slutty girl on the Hill?' There's millions of 'em," she said, laughing. "A lot of my friends are way worse than me."....

Slim and 5 feet 2, she primped herself for photos ("I have good cheekbones. . . . I have good teeth") and said she would probably move to New York to find work because of her notoriety in Washington. She's setting her sights on the book publishing industry: "They'll totally hire me if I say I got fired from my job on the Hill because of a sex scandal."

So as I said, there's an interesting parallel comparison to be drawn here.... but I can't think of what it is. All I keep hearing in my head is Homer Simpson saying "There's no moral. It's just a bunch of stuff that happened!!"

Readers are hereby invited to do so.

UPDATE: A few of the commenters misread a poor word choice of mine. I was not trying to equate Polier's behavior with Cutler. It was the similarity of their positions, contrasted with the divergence in their behavior, that I find so interesting. Sorry for the confusion.

ANOTHER UPDATE: James Joyner is probably correct in his analysis:

1) people like to read about sex involving 20-something chicks and people connected in some way to power; 2) Drudge and Wonkette especially like to write about sex involving 20-something chicks and people connected in some way to power; and 3) one of the quickest way for a 20-something chick to get rich and famous is to have sex with people connected in some way to power.

I'd amend #3 to include "people accused of having sex with powerful people."

posted by Dan at 04:44 PM | Comments (17) | Trackbacks (2)

Monday, May 31, 2004

What a big foreign policy team you have, Senator Kerry!

Readers of the blog are aware of my current dissatisfaction with George W. Bush's management of the foreign policy apparatus -- which means I'm taking a good hard look at Kerry. As someone who's primarily interested in foreign affairs, a few questions come to mind -- what are the foreign policy priorities of a President Kerry? How would Kerry manage the system? Who would be the key players in a Kerry administration?

The answers to the first question can be found in this Sunday special by Glenn Kessler in the Washington Post (click here for Kerry's audio interview with Kessler). I'll comment on the substance of this in a later post.

As to the latter two questions, Robin Wright provides some clues with a backgrounder in Sunday's Washington Post. The key parts:

Since Kerry wrapped up the presidential nomination in March, however, many of the Democratic Party all-stars have signed on and are injecting new energy. Now in the midst of an 11-day blitz on foreign policy, Kerry is also being advised by former secretary of state Madeleine K. Albright, former U.N. ambassadors Richard C. Holbrooke and Bill Richardson, former defense secretary William J. Perry, former Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Gen. John M. Shalikashvili, former NATO commander Gen. Wesley K. Clark, and Sen. Joseph R. Biden (Del.), ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee....

Unlike the Bush or Clinton campaigns, however, Kerry uses his foreign policy staff less for tutorials and positioning on foreign policy than as sounding boards to refine details, according to aides.

As a Vietnam veteran and as a senator from Massachusetts, Kerry has been involved with the full range of foreign policy issues for decades. In conference calls during the day with an array of advisers or in one-on-one calls late at night, Kerry often uses his expanding team as sounding boards to provide feedback on his ideas.

"He is his own best foreign policy adviser," Berger said. "He feels very secure in what he knows and doesn't feel compelled to show everyone how smart he is."

For now, the Kerry campaign's primary foreign policy focus is on four issues: Iraq, the Middle East, terrorism and nonproliferation. To prepare a broader agenda, aides say the campaign will soon invite hundreds of foreign policy experts and academics to join about 20 teams to develop ideas and papers on countries, regions or transnational issues. (emphasis added)

On Kerry's senior team, I have decidedly mixed feelings. I have the utmost respect for Holbrooke and Perry -- but I'm not as confident about the rest of the group. See this David Adesnik analysis of Wesley Clark for one source of trepidation. As for Berger -- well, any former National Security Advisor who writes on Democratic foreign policy should be able to beat out some lowly midwestern assistant professor of political science for the lead article position in Foreign Affairs. [Smart-ass-ed. Sorry -- but do scroll down Kausfiles to see Mickey's take on Berger's ability to present a public face for Kerry.]

Another thing -- hundreds of foreign policy experts and academics? That would be impressive -- I'm pretty sure the entire National Security Council staff is less than 200 people.

Whether such a large campaign staff would accomplish anything is an unanswerable question. On the other hand, if the story is correct, it means two things:

1) Kerry takes foreign policy seriously.
2) There are an awful lot of foreign policy wonks who are Democrats (gasp!)

posted by Dan at 09:23 PM | Comments (25) | Trackbacks (2)

Which blogs are read by the media?

Nothing spurs forward progress in research like competition. First Henry Copeland has his blog survey. Now I read that Eszter Hargittai is starting her own project on blogs and the media, and she's looking for a "way of finding prominent political blogs." Which means that now is as good a time as any to post the results of the survey of media professionals' favorite blogs!!

Between September 2003 and January 2004, Henry Farrell and I received responses to five survey questions about blogs, the media, and politics. Beyond my initial post, the survey was widely linked around the blogosphere, including Instapundit, CalPundit, OxBlog, Crooked Timber, the Volokh Conspiracy, James Joyner, Jim Romenesko, Boing Boing, Scripting News, Howard Bashman, Andrew Sullivan (OK, that was me when I was guest-blogging), and National Review Online. The result was 140 proper responses from media professionals, i.e., those that made their living working for a media outlet (or freelancing for more than one). 33 of these responses were from what I'm characterizing as "elite" media outlets -- defined as general interest intermiediaries of national standing for those interested in politics.* More informally -- these are the outlets read by the movers and shakers in the political sphere. Examples of this latter category include the Economist, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Time, Newsweek, CBS, CNN, ABC, AP, Reuters, and Bloomberg.**

Participants were asked to list "the three blogs you read most frequently." The result was a total of 391 total responses and 89 elite responses (some respondents provided fewer than three blogs).

What were the ten most popular blogs among all responses? In order:

1. Andrew Sullivan (Daily Dish) -- 59
2. Glenn Reynolds (Instapundit) -- 43
3. Mickey Kaus (Kausfiles) -- 23
4. National Review Online (The Corner) -- 20
5. Josh Marshall (Talking Points Memo) -- 19
6. James Romenesko (Media News) -- 14
7. Atrios (Eschaton) -- 10
8. Daniel W. Drezner -- 9
9. Eugene Volokh et al (The Volokh Conspiracy) -- 7
10. Cory Doctorow (Boing Boing), James Lileks (The Bleat) -- tied with 6

The lineup looks slightly different when looking only at the elite responses:

1. Sullivan -- 21
2. Instapundit -- 11
3. Kaus -- 7
4. Talking Points Memo -- 5
5. The Corner, Drezner, Romenesko -- tied with 4
8. Brad DeLong (Semi-Daily Thoughts), Volokh -- tied with 3
9. Atrios, Markos Moulitsas Zúniga (Daily Kos), Gawker, Howard Bashman (How Appealing) -- tied with 2

Now, let's make the obvious caveat -- the responses are obviously going to be affected by which blogs linked to the survey questions. Neither Atrios nor Josh Marshall, for example, advertised the survey at all (they were asked), so their results are likely to be biased downwards. People were e-mailing me their responses, and I have no doubt that the only reason I'm on the list is that some journalists were just being polite. Also, since the survey took place in the fall, newly emerging blogs like Daily Kos are probably more read now by media professionals than they were last September. This is certainly true of Wonkette, which didn't exist last September.

That said, two counterpoints are worthy of note. First, while there is likely some rightward political bias, the magnitude of the bias might not be that significant. Several high profile left-leaning blogs did link to the survey (Kevin Drum was nice enough to link twice). Second, it is striking that if you do a Nexis search of the names listed above during the same time duration, you wind up with very similar relative numbers in terms of media mentions. So if the numbers are out of whack, they're not that out of whack.

Which leads to a provocative possibility -- Eric Alterman may have a point. In What Liberal Media?: The Truth About Bias and the News, Alterman argued that claims of liberal media bias are vastly overblown. Looking at the Top 10 lists, it's hard to deny the prominence of rightward-leaning blogs on the list. Marshall and Atrios are there, but they're a bit lower on the list than either Blogstreet's Most Influential Blogs or The Truth Laid Bear's Blogosphere Ecosystem have them. The elite responses are somewhat more liberal than the overall responses, but the difference is not terribly great. At a minimum, the media professionals that consume blogs seem to have far more centrist tastes than is often proclaimed by those on the right.

Before Alterman starts jumping up and down, however, bear in mind that there's another possible selection bias in the responses. If media professionals who seek out blogs to read are those who find mainstream media reporting unsatisfactory because it's skewed to the left, then these responses are not necessarily indicative of the political preferences of the larger media ecosystem. This came through in several of the responses. It's equally possible that liberal journalists are practicing The Godather, Part II dictum of, "keep your friends close, but keep your enemies closer" -- i.e., reading blogs they disagree with politically because they want to know the counterarguments to their beliefs. This came through in a lot of the surveys as well -- and, of course, it comes through in the recent Pew survey of the media as well.

A lot to chew on -- want to play around with the raw data? You can access the Excel spreadsheet here -- all names, official positions, and other biographical information have been excised from the data set.

Finally, a big thank you to Crescat Sententia's Amanda Butler, who provided invaluable assistance in collecting and collating the data while displaying the utmost discretion.

UPDATE: Kevin Drum and Glenn Reynolds both have useful links on the relationship between the mediasphere and the blogosphere. This American Journalism Review article by Rachel Smolkin is particularly interesting. And Laura at Apartment 11D is working on her own project about how blogs affect political participation. Meanwhile, John Hawkins has a post on which blogs conservatives like to read.

* If you look at the raw data, you might notice that responses from the same publication were divided into elite and non-elite categories. In thise cases, it was because the non-elite respondent was a freelancer.

** A few more specialized publications are included in the elite category because they specialize in politics -- Roll Call, the Hotline, and Foreign Affairs fall under this category.

posted by Dan at 10:08 AM | Comments (30) | Trackbacks (20)