Saturday, July 10, 2004
Joseph Wilson's eroding credibility
I've been pretty hard in this space on l'affaire Plame. So it seems only fair to point out that Joseph Wilson's credibility has taken a serious hit with the release of the Senate intelligence committee report. According to the Washington Post's Susan Schmidt:
Josh Marshall argues that Schmidt is just parroting Republican staffers -- as opposed to Josh, who would never just parrot Democratic staffers.
Marshall approvingly links to a Knight-Ridder report by James Kuhnhenn entitled "Ex-ambassador didn't 'debunk' Iraq-Niger deal." That's not exactly a friendly headline for Wilson. Kuhnhenn does not go as far as Schmidt in debunking Wilson -- but then again, Marshall fails to acknowledge that Wilson apparently lied to the Washington Post last June.
Marshall makes a valid point when he says:
Nevertheless, there's a reason this has political traction. The apparent disconnect between what Wilson said in his report versus what he said in June 2003 -- combined with Plame's role in hiring Wilson in the first place, contrary to previous reports -- make it appear that both of them were lying in order to try to embrrass the administration.
This does not excuse whoever leaked Plame's identity to Novak. It does, however, provide an more understandable motivation than simple intimidation.
Trade and the productivity puzzle
However, as a public service of danieldrezner.com, I thought it worth linking to important and accessible discussions about the current productivity boom. Federal Reserve Vice-President Roger W. Ferguson gave a speech two days ago on the topic that's worth reading.
Shorter Ferguson -- the incredibly elevated productivity boom of the last three years is a temporary artifact of the recent economic downturn, and is not likely to last. On the other hand, the trend increase in productivity that's occurred since the early nineties is likely to persist for some time.
Of course, Ferguson has caveats to his prognostication. Here's one of them:
Read the whole speech.
Friday, July 9, 2004
Why Capturing the Friedmans freaked me out
(WARNING: SPOILER ALERT AHEAD)
The movie is about the bizarre case of Arnold Friedman, an award-winning teacher who lived with his wife and three children in Great Neck, NY. He tutored children in piano and computers on the side. In the late eighties, Friedman was arrested for solicitation of child pornography. Nassau County police started to investigate, and eventually charged Friedman and his 19-year old sone Jesse with sodomy and sexual abuse of minors. Eerily, during this entire episode, the family videoaped a lot of their deliberations about what to do. The documentary consists mostly of those videotapes plus contemporary interviews of the principals involved in the case.
After watching the movie, you come away convinced of two things:
For more on why I think this, read more from Debbie Nathan's Village Voice story (she appeared in Capturing the Friedmans as a talking head) and Harvey A. Silverglate and Carl Takei's discussion of the extras in the DVD version of the film.
What's so disturbing about the film is that watching it, I found myself desperately wanting Friedman to be guilty. However, it becomes clear that the dearth of physical evidence, combined with the questionable techniques employed in extracting information from alleged victims, raises a reasonable doubt about the Friedmans' guilt. Maybe something untoward happened, maybe not -- one has to think there's a high likelihood that Friedman would have molested a child in the future. All that said, the prosecution's version of events seems to stretch credulity. However, just because I want something to be true doesn't mean it is true.
Another reason I can't get the movie out of my head is the release of the Senate report on pre-war intelligence about Iraq. Here's a summary from the Financial Times.
The report blasts the intelligence community because it "ignored evidence that did not fit their preconceived notion that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction." However, the report finds that "no evidence that intelligence analysts were subjected to overt political pressure to tailor their findings," according to the New York Times.
Conservatives are outraged that the intel community suffered from such groupthink. Liberals like Josh Marshall are outraged because their groupthink that the Bush team browbeat the intelligence analysts found no support in the report.
In other words, a lot of people are disturbed because their preconceived notions of the turth did not find any empirical support.
Those outraged on both sides of the aisle should rent Capturing the Friedmans, and then take a good hard look at the evidence they've got to back up their assumptions.
UPDATE: the following paragraphs jumped out in Mike Dorning's story on the Senae report in the Chicago Tribune:
An idle question: if the CIA thought sending an intelligence agent to Iraq without official cover was too risky, is there anywhere the CIA would be willing to take this risk? What is the cost of this risk-aversion?
ANOTHER UPDATE: Matt Yglesias thinks I should know better:
I certainly wasn't trying to give the impression that Matt got, and I agree on the extent of the reportage here. However, the point of connecting this post to Capturing the Friedmans was that -- as in that movie -- a massive amount of circumstantial evidence can still lead to an incorrect conclusion. It was logical to assume that, since Saddam Hussein had attempted multiple times to acquire WMD, he'd be doing so post-9/11. The exile reports merely buttressed the preconception. Among those who believe the Bush administration to be a bullying, illiberal, overly power-maximizing bunch, I can easily see this meme being the logical conclusion as well. That doesn't guarantee that it' true, however.
Don't rush me off the fence, part II
Virginia Postrel argues that fence-straddlers like me should resist the decision to despise George W. Bush because all the cool academics do it (Jacob Levy effectively defends himself against charges of trendiness).
More substantively, she argues that a Kerry administration would expand the size of government even more than a second Bush term:
Tyler Cowen supplies a counterargument. Some of it is compelling, but this part baffles me:
Huh? This is an administration that controlled all three branches of government for a majority of the first term -- and they felt confident enough in their political position to piss off Jim Jeffords less than three months into office. Compared to most post-war governments, the Bush administration had fewer constraints on its governing coalition.
Meanwhile Robert Tagorda argues that Kerry's selection of Edwards hints at a more protectionist Kerry administration:
The more I think about my choice, the more this election boils down to four questions:
UPDATE: Ezra Klein gives his answers to my Four Questions.
On my first question, this Kerry answer on Larry King Live is not comforting:
Later on, Kerry says he'll get briefed "tomorrow or the next day." On the other hand, this Washington Post story on Edwards' foreign policy background makes me believe that he does get the significance of the war on terrorism (link via Jack O'Toole).
[So your qualms about the administration's competence in foreign policy have been resolved?--ed. Hardly. I remain on the fence.]
Thursday, July 8, 2004
Rational discourse 1, conspiracy-mongering 0
What happens when a sober policy analyst who lives on the planet Earth tries to debate a wild-eyed conspiracy theorist?
Slate has the answer. For the past week, Rachel Bronson (a senior fellow and director of Middle East Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations) and Craig Unger (author of House of Bush, House of Saud: The Secret Relationship Between the World's Two Most Powerful Dynasties and featured player in Fahrenheit 9/11) have been debating the U.S.-Saudi relationship in a Slate Dialogue. The specific question: "How Does the Saudi Relationship With the Bush Family Affect U.S. Foreign Policy?"
Although I doubt this was her intent, Bronson pretty much wipes the floor with Unger. While critical of the Bush administration, her comments, when paired next to Unger, makes the latter's theory and evidence collapse like a house of cards. It also clarifies the important distinction between conducting a serious critique of the administration's Middle East policy (particularly pre-9/11) and throwing as much mud as possible at the administration and hoping some of it will stick.
[Full disclosure: I know Rachel and thought she was whip smart long before reading her clinical dissection of Unger's half-baked innuendo. I referenced her previous work in this post and in this TCS essay.]
UPDATE: Greg Djerejian concurs in my assessment.
The latest cosmic mystery
So, basically, Miss Kidman -- who has some noteworthy professional accomplishments on her vita and is by many accounts a charming conversationalist -- is having difficulties finding a kid-friendly boyfriend of a suitable age.
Let's take another gander at Nicole:
Possible explanations for this eligible bachelor gap:
Don't rush me off the fence!!
As I've said before, my vote is still up for grabs this year. However, it's getting harder to maintain my Hamlet-like indecision.* A lot of people I respect make compelling arguments against pulling the elephant lever this year. Mickey Kaus -- who will never fall under the category of "Friends of Kerry" -- says he's not only voting for the Democrat -- he gave him money. Why?
Hell, even Peggy Noonan echoes point (a) of Mickey's logic in her last Wall Street Journal column:
I believe in the last component -- one reason why I'm still undecided -- but the first two make me think, "ewwwww."
Readers are welcomed to try and sway my vote in either direction.
UPDATE: Virginia Postrel's post does some decent swaying.
*Actually, it's not that hard -- the primary reason I'm still undecided is that the current domestic and international situations are both in extreme flux at the moment. There's no point in making a choice now if the state of the world is completely different three months -- in a way that makes one of the two principal candidates suddenly look really good or really bad. [Why not vote for a minor party candidate?--ed. Jacob Levy explains]
Brad DeLong has an amusing post about a bagel store in Berkeley that solves the free disposal problem in a way that I like. Apparently, feeding them to goats is not the solution.
Meanwhile, the only semi-decent bagel shop in Hyde Park shut down a few months ago. To procure properly-made bagels, one has to schlep up to the north side of the city.
And don't get me started on the transaction costs involved in finding decent whitefish salad.
It's a protectionist, protectionist, protectionist protectionist world
One could argue that, since John Edwards leaned more protectionist than John Kerry during the primaries, that Kerry's selection for veep shows how illiberal a Kerry administration would be towards trade. It's a thought that certainly gives me qualms.
Until I contemplate the Bush administration. Back in September 2003, I wrote:
Read the whole thing.
UPDATE: On the other hand, here's a story where mercantilists and free-traders can be pleased at the outcome.
Wednesday, July 7, 2004
A primer on the elite academic job market
Jason Zengerle, in a TNR effort to knock down Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski a peg or two, criticizes new Duke President Richard Brodhead for kowtowing to Coach K's market value:
I'll grant Zengerle that an indoor rally is highly unlikely for a star history professor. However, the other two measures -- personal schmoozing by the president and matching an Ivy League offer -- would actually be quite likely from a private university with deep pockets --i.e., Duke.
In fact -- even for social sciences like history -- the academic job market strongly resembles baseball after free agency. Star academics flit from institution to institution, or threaten to do so unless their demands are sated. For example, last year the New York Times Magazine ran a story about New York University's latest recruitment drive. One tidbit from the story:
Read the whole thing.
Josh Marshall -- in a follow-up to his Atlantic Monthly article on John Kerry's realist foreign policy principles -- has a provocative post up about the extent of the Bush administration's commitment to democratization. The key parts:
Josh makes an interesting argument, but I gotta call him on the bolded section, because in fact the Bush administration did take action in Egypt that fits Marshall's criteria.
In August 2002, after the arrest of democracy activist Saad Eddin Ibrahim, the U.S. applied intense diplomatic and economic pressure at precisely the same time Iraq was moving to the very front burner. In particular, President Bush personally and publically criticized the Egyptian government, and the administration also declared a moratorium on new US assistance to Egypt as long as Ibrahim remained in prison.
Ibrahim was released in March 2003. Whether U.S. pressure accelerated or delayed Ibrahim's release is the subject of some debate -- but democratization activists of all stripes do agree that the U.S. risked a fair amount of diplomatic capital on the issue. The New York Times, in an March 19th, 2003 editorial, thought the pressure was a good thing:
Given the timing of this pressure -- the start of the global debate on Iraq -- I'd say this counts as a situation when "short-term geopolitical sacrifices to advance our long term interest in democratization" were made -- in one of the countries Marshall highlights.
This example doesn't completely vitiate Marshall's point -- take U.S. policy towards Uzbekistan, for example -- but it does suggest that Marshall's exaggerating his case a bit.
Blog readers now may return to their "inattentive and incurious" mode.
UPDATE: While I'm discussing Egypt, David Remnick's "Letter from Cairo" in this week's New Yorker is a very sobering read.
YES, A THIRD UPDATE: Beyond individual countries, it's also worth mentioning the G8 Greater Middle East Initiative, a follow-up to earlier Bush proposals from last year. It's obviously way too soon to debate the effectiveness of the proposal, but Al Jazeera certainly believed it was going to cover states of strategic interest to the U.S.:
AND NOW A FOURTH UPDATE: Earlier in this post, I gave Josh Uzbekistan as an example that supported his line of argumentation. Maybe I was too hasty -- Here's Central Asian expert Martha Brill Olcott's testimony to the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe on Uzbekistan's human rights situation (link via the Argus):
Minä haluan toisen kupin kahvia!
Pop quiz -- which country has the highest rate of coffee consumption in the world?
The language used in the post title is your clue.
Answer below the fold....
This fact comes from Janet Helm in today's Chicago Tribune, who writes about the health benefits that come from coffee consumption. The highlights:
The partisan divide spreads to the high seas
Surfing the web, I see that both the National Review and The Nation are planning post-election cruises for kindred spirits (click here for the list of National Review speakers, and here for the list of The Nation speakers). Intriguingly, both of the cruises are with Holland America.
Far be it for me to mock either trip -- I'll leave that to the commenters!
Still, it's somehow disheartening to see that what I think of as more centrist publications -- like, say The New Republic, Slate, the Atlantic Monthly, or The Weekly Standard -- don't appear to be sponsoring any post-election cruises on their web sites.
[You mean, it's too bad that neither magazine has asked you to participate in a cruise?--ed. The thought had never crossed my mind -- until now! Holland America needs to sponsor a blogger cruise!! I can see it now -- fun, sun, and a guaranteed wireless connection for participating bloggers. Readers are hereby invited to suggest which bloggers they would want on their cruise and why.]
UPDATE: Digging just a shade deeper, I'm disappointed to see that while Reason magazine has a weekend getaway planned for early 2005 (with Volokh contributor Randy Barnett participating, no less), they have no cruise. They're missing an opportunity here. Just think:
Tuesday, July 6, 2004
Is civility an endangered species in the blogosphere?
There's been a lot of chatter as of late about the civility of bloggers and the people who comment on them. A few weeks ago, Matthew Yglesias argued that bloggers had an incentive to behave badly:
More recently, concerns have been raised about the comments on popular blogs as well. Billmon recently shut down comments at Whiskey Bar; The Command Post has done the same. Commenting on this -- as well as his own difficulties with impolite posters -- Kevin Drum observes:
Kevin is not the only one to observe this degenerative phenomenon. James Joyner points out the following:
A few weeks ago, Glenn Reynolds made a similar point:
Eerily enough, now Roger is having difficulties with commenters.
With such an impressive consensus, it is very tempting to just shrug one's shoulders and accept that there is a rhetorical version of Gresham's Law in the blogosphere. It is undoubtedly true that in the short run, provocative, vitriolic, and/or sloppy writing -- by either bloggers or commenters -- can attract attention, whereas closely reasoned analysis sometimes falls by the wayside. The fact that so many top-notch bloggers have made similar observation about the correlation between hit counts and trolls is indeed disturbing.
However, I remain stubbornly optimistic on this front for five reasons:*
1) In the long run, reputation matters. Sure, being a bombthrower can attract attention -- but it's hard to do successfully over a prolonged period of time. Inevitably this kind of ranting leads to major as well as minor missteps. Once a commentator commits a major rhetorical gaffe or colossal misstatement of fact, it becomes impossible to take them seriously. Which is why it's so easy to discount the statements of Ann Coulter, Noam Chomsky, Pat Robertson, or Michael Moore.
2) Technology can help as well as hinder. I've raved about MT-Blacklist before for blocking spam, but an unanticipated bonus has been the ease with which I can delete any comment. Blacklist rebuilds my site much more quickly than MT -- so it's been far easier to prune away comments now than before.
3) Commenters usually follow the blogger's lead. Whenever I use profanity in my posts, the language in the comments inevitably becomes coarser. This works in reverse, however -- the more civil my posts, the better the tone of the comments. In this respect, the presence of comments has affected me in one way -- I'm much more polite on the blog now than I used to be.
4) Compared to academia, this is a tea party. Another blogger once asked me whether I felt "surprised at the angry tone of the comments your readers leave... It can be odd to be shouted down on your own website."
Look, I'm an academic, and this stuff is nothing. I've attended seminars where the paper presenter ran out of the room because s/he was crying. I've presented papers that have been likened to poor undergratuate theses. I've had papers rejected by top journals because they were "narrow and without much theoretical interest." I've heard cruelties uttered that will be burned in people's psyches until the day they die. In other words, I'm used to a pretty high standard of criticism. Compared to that, a line like "Hey, Drezner, let's outsource your job, you f***ing a@#hole!" -- or letters like these -- just come off as histrionic nonsense.
Eszter Hargittai has more on this.
As for comments, sure, the trolls can be annoying. However, they usually don't crowd out the good. For example, check out the comments to this post about rethinking the National Guard and Reserves. This is an issue on which I know only the broad contours -- and thanks to the informed comments (click here, here, here, and here for just a few examples) I know a lot more about the subject than I used to. For me, that benefit outweighs the occasional irritations that come from blogging.
*Two caveats. First, I don't have the traffic that Kevin, Glenn, Andrew, James or Michelle have. The scale factor is undeniable. Second, from now until November, extreme partisanship is going to be contributing factor to the level of discourse across the blogosphere.
UPDATE: CalGal poses a fair question in the comments:
Actually, I'm blessing the software because without it, deleting a comment takes 10 minutes of rebuilding; without it, it takes 10 seconds. In a world with spam, that's not a minor convenience, it's a major one.
This does not mean that I delete a lot of comments, however -- you can read my criteria here. At this point, I'd say I delete maybe one comment a week that's not either spam or an accidental double post. I don't think that translates into a "letter to the editor" section.
Experts be warned!!
As an aspiring media whore, I feel compelled to warn fellow aspiring media whores that Comedy Central has a new show called Crossballs, a spoof of Crossfire/Hardball-style shows. The reason I bring this up is that the patsies on this show are -- expert commentators. Steve Johnson explains in the Chicago Tribune:
Clueless media whores -- you've been warned!! [Do clueless media whores read danieldrezner.com?--ed. Good point. That's our new motto -- "danieldrezner.com -- the blog for clued-in media whores!"]
Monday, July 5, 2004
Open veep selection thread
Matt Drudge says that everyone will know the identity of Kerry's VP pick tomorrow:
UPDATE: Kerry picks Edwards -- get your talking points here!!:
FOR EXPERT COMMENTATORS ONLY:
LAST UPDATE: Robert G. Kaiser led an interesting online disacussion on washingtonpost.com on the Edwards pick that's worth checking out. This point was particularly interesting:
The philosophy of Spider-Man 2
Henry Farrell posts a mild dissent, pointing out that this move is only part of a lonfer narrative arc:
Indeed -- the women who went to see the movie with us -- i.e., our wives -- both said that they liked MJ's rejection of passivity at the end of the film, forcing Peter to deal with her as an equal.
While I suspect that Matt is cool with female empowerment, he dislikes the notion that doing good rarely translates into doing well. As I just posted, however, I'm more optimistic than Matt on this score. Furthermore, as the movie suggests, deriving some sense of benefit from being Spiderman is essential to Peter Parker being able to continue to be Spider-Man.
This does not mean that this tension between virtue and earthly reward is resolved, or that it ever will be permanently resolved. But the tension can be temporarily reconciled, which is what makes the ending of Spider-Man 2 satisfying and incomplete at the same time -- which is what the middle films in a multi-picture arc should accomplish.
Life lessons from Robert Rubin
Over the past few weeks I've been slowly reading Robert Rubin and Jacob Weisberg's In an Uncertain World: Tough Choices from Wall Street to Washington. The style of Rubin's memoirs perfectly match his deliberative demeanor. I'm not finished yet, but so far there are two things worth singling out as tips for those who aspire to pominent positions in their lives:
Why talking points are a good idea
Brad DeLong and Matthew Yglesias both endorse and demonstrate the practice of developing their own talking points when they do television interviews. In a follow-up post, DeLong observes that the exercise is useful -- but does not necessarily translate into a better media appearance:
I still hink Brad and Matt are onto something -- and it doesn't just apply to television. Read this outsourcing story (here's a link to part two) by Kamil Z. Skawinski in California Computer News, in which I'm quoted liberally -- too liberally. Skawinski did not misquote me, so it's not the media's fault. Reading the story, I wish I'd provided more focused answers and better message discipline -- I rambled too much and therefore did not express my views effectively. A set of talking points would have helped here -- and since this was a phone interview, I wouldn't have needed to memorize them.
Live and learn.