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:
Let me hear you say, "Amen!"
What do Tony Blankley, George Soros, and Mahathir Mohammed have in common?
They all excel at saying unbelievably stupid things.
Blankley's statement is the new one. He said the following on the June 3rd Hannity & Colmes:
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:
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.
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.]
[So who's next?--ed. Look into the computer screen, Mickey Kaus. You're getting very sleepy. Very sleepy indeed......]
Open Reagan thread
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.
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:
The good folks that put a fresh copy of danieldrezner.com 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.
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 danieldrezner.com 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:
$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 danieldrezner.com reader C.W. for the tip.
UPDATE: Thanks to alert danieldrezner.com 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:
However, it appears that even California officials were temporarily confused by the provisions of the Buy America act:
Many thanks to gw for doing the cyberwork on this story.
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:
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:
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.
Economic news to cheer about
The Bureau of Labor Statistics has released its May jobs report:
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.
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:
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.
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:
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!
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:
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.
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:
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.
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:
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:
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.
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.
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.
Does U.S. foreign policy suffer from an ideas deficit?
Greg Djerejian at Belgravia Dispatch seems to think the answer is yes:
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.
Responding to the feminist critique
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:
Another female blogger echoes this sentiment:
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:
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,
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."
Guy de Jonquières provides a mildly encouraging update in the Financial Times on the state of Doha round talks:
That said, it looks like any deal will be modest in its achievments:
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:
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.
There's an interesting
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:
So as I said, there's an interesting
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:
I'd amend #3 to include "people accused of having sex with powerful people."
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:
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.
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:
The lineup looks slightly different when looking only at the elite responses:
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.