Saturday, July 17, 2004
If you're in Chicago...
1) The opening of Millennium Park. The family and I checked it out today, and a good time was had by all. This opening weekend includes a lot of parades, musical performances, and other activities. The nominal architectural highlight is the Jay Pritzker Pavilion, which was designed by Frank Gehry and evokes his Guggenheim Museum in Bilao. For me, however, Anish Kapoor's Cloud Gate is the real treat -- a mirrored sculpture that beautifully reflects the Chicago skyline. Here's a picture, but it doesn't do Kapoor's vision justice:
2) For South-Siders, any injection of retail is a welcome development -- compared to the North Side and the suburbs, this region (which includes Hyde Park) is a veritable desert of commerce. So, even small steps by big-name brands are welcomed.
Dan Mihalopoulos and Antonio Olivo report in the Chicago Tribune on the South Shore neighborhood's brand new coffee shop:
Hey, if there is anyone at Trader Joe's who reads this blog, go back and re-read that bolded section -- the place could use a decent high-end grocery store as well.
3) H. Gregory Meyer and Darnell Little report in the Sunday Chicago Tribune that the entire state (including Chicago) is much safer than it used to be:
Friday, July 16, 2004
Your weekend economics reading
Virginia Postrel's latest New York Times column looks at William W. Lewis' The Power of Productivity: Wealth, Poverty, and the Threat to Global Stability -- about which I've blogged here and here. Postrel gets at a facet of Lewis' book I failed to highlight in my previous posts:
Looking at the nontradeable sectors reveals some startling gaps in productivity:
Read the whole thing, and then order the Lewis book if you haven't already.
Meanwhile Tyler Cowen links to this Arnold Kling TCS essay comparing and contrasting America's poor in 1970 with 2000. The statistics are quite startling -- poor Americans are much better off now than during the height of the Great Society.
[But wage rates have been pretty much stagnant since 1970. In fact, they've been worse than stagnant in recent months. How can this be?--ed. Kling looks at consumption rather than wages. He goes on to postulate:
I have no idea if Kling's hypothesis holds -- but it's worth investigating.
UPDATE: One more reading assignment -- Brad DeLong's latest post on global warming.
Math is not a sport
Jordan Ellenberg has a Slate column on whether math should be considered a sport.
Sounds preposterous? Ellenberg points out that in 1997, then-president of the International Olympic Committee Juan Antonio Samaranch declared, "Bridge is a sport, and as such your place is here, like all other sports." Chess was an exhibition sport at the Sydney games. There is such a thing as the International Mathematical Olympiad. Why not math?
This got me to thinking about George Carlin's philosophy about sports. There's the classic riff on the differences between baseball and football and the underrated follow-on about why other "sports" are not really sports in Playin' With Your Head. Which made me realize that Ellenberg is only able to engage in this debate because a lot of activities that count as sports really are not (to be fair, he comes to the same conclusion by the end of the article).
What really stood out, however, was this passage from Ellenberg's essay:
Honesty compels me to confess that:
To be fair to Ellenberg, he had reason for swagger -- I recall running into the Montgomery County math wizards when I qualified for the American Regions Math League contest, and they were the best of the best. [Oh, sure you remember this -- any confirming evidence?--ed. God bless the World Wide Web -- someone actually posted the results of the 1985 competition, of which I was a participant. Sure enough Montgomery County won that year -- my team (Connecticut A) finished a respectible eighth.]
UPDATE: Another blogger responds to Ellenberg: "[A]s a former mathlete, i say, 'hell no! i'm not a jock! stop calling me a jock! if you don't stop insinuating that i'm a jock, your firewall's gonna be so full of java that your ROMs will overload!'"
What does this mean about airline security?
Like Glenn Reynolds and Andrew Sullivan, I received a mass e-mail linking to this disturbing first-person account by Annie Jacobsen in WomensWallStreet.com on mysterious doings onboard a Northwest flight from Detroit to Los Angeles (hopefully, she's not this Annie Jacobsen). The quick summary: a bunch of Arab gentlemen holding Syrian passports act in an extremely suspicious manner during the flight.
Michelle Malkin confirms at least part of the Jacobsen story, and a February 2004 story by Jason Burke in the Sunday Observer adds some plausibility to the behavior of the suspected terrorists in the story. This is the part of Jacobsen's account that Malkin confirms:
On the other hand, a post in the brand-new blog Red State voices some understandable skepticism. This blogger suggests that what looked like suspicious activity was actually Muslims behaving in a devout manner. There are parts of the story that sound over the top to me as well -- the only thing missing from Jacobsen's narrative to make the Syrian guys seem more evil is thick moustaches. The link to Ann Coulter doesn't make me feel any more sanguine.
I'm not saying something disturbing didn't happen, but I have as many questions about the Jacobsen story as I do for the Federal Air Marshalls.
Give it a read and think it over while perusing the fact that the Bush administration has scrapped its Computer-Assisted Passenger Prescreening System (CAPPS) II program for screening airline passengers. For more on the CAPPS debate, check out Ryan Singel's account in Wired.
I can say that the e-mail sent to me and other bloggers was cc-ed to movers and shakers in the mediasphere -- Bill Keller, David Ignatius, George Will, Anne Applebaum, and Nichoas D. Kristoff. So they're certainly aware of the story. My guess is they're probably ignoring the initial message because the originator of the e-mail tends to send out a regular stream of these messages, and the signal-to-noise ratio is quite low.
The interest by bloggers in the story, however, might prove to be enough of a spur to the mediasphere. I'm on the skeptical side of the spectrum -- but I'd like to see real journalists dig deeper into this.
UPDATE: Michelle Malkin now reports that the blogosphere will be getting results from the mediasphere:
On the other hand, Malkin talked with Jacobsen, and is told, ""My legs were like rubber... It was four and a half hours of terror" -- which again sounds over the top. Donald Sensing is also suspicious. He raises the perfectly valid point that one should not be too surprised at seeing a large number of Arabs boarding an airplane in Detroit, given the large concentration of Arabs living in Dearborn and its environs. Glenn Reynolds has more, including this optimistic take.
That said, it appears the system is working. [What system?--ed. The system whereby private actors can monitor government actors to see if the latter are doing their job. The blogosphere is only the latest link in that chain.]
Bruce Bartlett beats me to the punch
Bruce Bartlett's latest column opens with a suggestion that I've had in the back of my head for some time:
I vaguely recall that Bob Dole contemplated but rejected this strategy back in 1996.
I can see downsides to this strategy -- in particular, such an announcement increases the number of official mouthpieces -- which increases the likelihood of one of them committing a gaffe/revealing a personal scandal that saps time and energy from Kerry.
However, such a gambit could make a transition much easier, in that it provides a public vetting for key cabinet officials, and might reverse a disturbing trend of lengthier and lengthier confirmation ordeals.
Do read the rest of Bartlett's column, as he posits the composition of Kerry's economic team.
UPDATE: Some have suggested that an opposition candidate can't propose a shadow cabinet, because it's illegal to offer anyone a position prior to election. It strikes me that there are so many ways around that law that it's not much of an impediment. Just name someone as the "official party spokesman" for the issue, for example.
Also, I wouldn't propose naming a complete shadow cabinet -- perhaps just the "power ministries" -- State, Defense, Treasury, Justice, and now DHS.
Thursday, July 15, 2004
Hey you -- red or blue?
Following Virginia Postrel's advice, I took Slate's "Red or Blue" Quiz. Turns out that -- like Virginia -- I'm purple, i.e., right in the middle, and therefore permitted to live in both places. So that's a relief.
Go take the quiz and find out where you should live. Report back on your findings.
Don't rush me off the fence, part IV
John Hawkins at Right Wing News has a post entitled "40 Reasons To Vote For George Bush Or Against John Kerry." I can't say I found all of them convincing, but #12 is somewhat compelling:
One could plausibly argue that Kerry's full-time job since early 2003 was running for president -- but he could have resigned if that were the case. The lead paragraph in this Reuters story doesn't make me feel any better about Kerry's posturing on Iraq, either:
Bush apparently didn't read it either, but I'm not sure Kerry wins my vote on the motto, "Vote for me -- I'll start paying attention after I'm elected." This was in the fall of 2002, when Kerry's only job as a candidate was raising money -- which is what all congressmen do all of the time. Plus, it's pretty hypocritical for a legislator to rail about executive branch overreach when he fails to exercise any due diligence when he has an opportunity to constrain said branch.
On a related point, Hawkins' 25th reason is also worth checking out.
Hmmm... maybe I should get off on the GOP side of the fence -- no wait!! Jesse Walker has a column at Reason online entitled, "Ten Reasons to Fire George W. Bush." His forth reason has weighed heavily on me since day one of the Bush administration:
As someone who cares about a good policymaking process as much as a good policymaking outcome -- because the former is a big factor that determines the latter -- the secrecy obsession doesn't sit well with me at all. Such an obession distracts from the suibstance of policy, and also needlessly filters outside feedback, which might be politically frustrating but is nevertheless an essential ingredient to the formulation of good policy.
Walker closes his column this way: "Making me root for a sanctimonious statist blowhard like Kerry isn't the worst thing Bush has done to the country. But it's the offense that I take most personally."
Walker gives fewer reasons than Hawkins, but the latter has a lot more chaff than wheat.
Still on the fence -- but slowly getting more depressed about my choices.
UPDATE: John Hawkins posts a response to Walker's points that's worth checking out. And Jonathan Chait's TNR essay about the Bush administration's attitude towards other political actors underscores Walker's point about secrecy.
Link via Matthew Yglesias, who thinks I'm undecided because I either want attention or a job from the winning candidate.
To be clear -- the reason I'm undecided is because I can't remember an election in my adult lifetime when I've been less enthused with my menu of candidates. There's an old maxim that voting is usually an exercise in choosing the lesser of two evils. I've felt that sentiment in some previous elections, but it was also easy to spot positive qualities that resonated strongly within me. This year I can't muster even the tiniest amount of enthusiasm for any candidate.
I'm pretty sure that attitude is not going to earn me a warm place in either candidate's heart. Besides, the Kerry team is already bursting to the gills with policy wonks, and as Mark Kleiman pointed out, the Republicans are probably pissed off at me as well.
[What about hallway rumors that you'll be the Republican nominee for the U.S. Senate to face Barrack Obama now that Coach Ditka has passed?--ed. Yeah, that's how I want to spend the next three months -- getting thumped in the polls by the keynote speaker at the Democratic National Convention and having to dodge allegations about an unhealthy obsession with Salma Hayek. Not a winning formula for tenure, I'm afraid.]
UN official speaks truth -- Palestinians outraged
Two days ago, United Nations Middle East envoy Terje Roed-Larsen briefed the UN Security Council on the Middle East Peace Process -- i.e., Israel and Palestine. Roed-Larsen placed blame on both the Israelis and the Palestinians for the lack of progress. Here's one relevant section from the press release:
Roed-Larsen then went on to blast the Israelis for "lack of compliance on the sensitive issue of settlements." Again, go check out the press release for more on this. What interests me is the Palestinian reaction to Roed-Larsen's honest assessment of the Palestinian Authority. Steve Weizman provides the Associated Press report:
Eerily enough, the BBC reports that "The militant group, al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades also said Mr Roed-Larsen was 'banned' from Palestinian territory." The Palestinian Prime Minister's reaction in a press conference echoed this rhetoric:
To Kofi Annan's credit, he issued a statement through his spokesman backing Roed-Larsen to the hilt.
The grand irony in all of this, as Agence-France Press observes, is that "Roed-Larsen has previously been something of a bete noire for the Israelis over his outspoken criticism of the occupation of the territories."
It's not like the U.N. has been unfriendly to the Palestinian cause. So what does it say that the political entity Israel is ostensibly supposed to negotiate with responds like that to an honest appraisal of their situation by an impartial outsider?
[Standard caveat when posting about the Middle East: This is not to exonerate the Israelis for their behavior on settlements.]
Wednesday, July 14, 2004
Don't rush me off the fence, part III
Brad links approvingly (yes, approvingly!!!) to a Jonathan Weisman story in the Washington Post, which opens as follows:
The campaign policy gap argument sounds pretty persuasive -- except that the lack of a campaign policy team for the Bushies shouldn't be surprising. Indeed, the Weisman article notes that the Gore campaign had the same set-up in 2000:
The party out of power is always going to have the bigger policy team. The campaign policy team for a sitting President or VP should resemble the current Bush arrangement -- ensuring coordination with the relevant economic policymaking bureaucracies.
Indeed, if you read Ray Simth's front-pager in today's Wall Street Journal on skyrocketing property tax increases, Adams seems to hold his own in the spin department:
[Er, blaming the bad economy is good spin for the Republicans?--ed. Yes, because most Americans have proven surprisingly sophisticated in recognizing that a lot of the hits the economy took a few years ago -- the dot-com crash, the terrorist attacks, the corporate scandals -- had little to do with Bush.]
Spin is one thing, substance is another -- and here, DeLong does have a suitable counterargument, linking to Stan Collender's National Journal column from late June:
Similarly, Daniel Gross' Slate article -- which speculates on who would be Kerry's Robert Rubin -- opens with this line:
Gross also has this killer quote from Richard Nixon's former Secretary of Commerce founding Concord Coalition member and classic Wall Street Republican Peter G. Peterson, from his just-released book, Running on Empty:
DeLong goes on to observe:
So maybe I should get off this fence -- no wait!! Two possible counterarguments:
1) Kerry gets hamstrung by the loony left. Even if Kerry's economic team is fiscally prudent, his governing coalition might not be. In the early nineties, Clinton had a similar choice between two sets of policy advisors, and went with the fiscal conservatives. Would Kerry have the latitude or the inclination to make the same choice? As Brad put it, "Kerry is not Clinton."
This is Jason Zengerle's concern in The New Republic (subscription required). The key graf:
2) Kerry may not listen to his advisers. Bruce Bartlett makes the following comment on Brad's blog:
Both of these concerns -- as well as my qualms with the Bush economic team -- could be addressed during the general election campaign.
Sooooo.... it's still too early to jump off the fence. Still sitting and learning, sitting and learning....
UPDATE: James Joyner thinks that the differences in teams is less significant in terms of policy outputs than DeLong:
On the other hand, Steve Chapman points out in his Chicago Tribune column that the Bush administration has acquitted itself badly on one issue it has some influence on -- pork-barrel tax cuts for corporations:
Hey, it's once-in-a-blue-moon day!
It's rare I get to say I said something prescient, so allow me the opportunity to highlight that fact.
In light of the Senate's rejection of a proposed gay marriage amendment, back in December I posted on "Why the Constitution will not ban gay marriage." The key sections:
Naturally, Andrew Sullivan has more.
A radio day
If you are a Chicago resident, and you tune your dial to WBEZ (Chicago Public Radio) at 1:00 PM Central time, you will have no choice but to hear me discuss offshore outsourcing on Worldview with Jerome McDonnell (who, I was pleased to learn, reads the blog from time to time). The other guest is David Steiger, an adjunct professor at DePaul.
The segment was taped yesteday, and supposed to run only 20 minutes, but we chatted for a good deal longer. The intelligence of at least one U.S. Senator is questioned by yours truly during the show.
Chicagoans and non-Chicagoans can listen on your computer by clicking here.
UPDATE: You can listen to the whole interview by clicking here.
The Chicago Tribune has two stories today reflecting on U.S. efforts at statebuilding in Iraq and Afghanistan. Aamer Madhani reports on the uneven progress in reconstituting Iraq's security forces by examining the town of Muqdadiyah. The highlights:
Meanwhile, the Tribune also runs an AP story by Stephen Graham documenting U.S. efforts to ensure a successful presidential election in Afghanistan. Particularly interesting was the sidebar reporting the results of an Asia Foundation survey conducted in Afghanistan back in February/March of this year. Some of the results:
The unfortunate caveat: "Pollsters didn't reach four of the nation's 34 provinces."
Tuesday, July 13, 2004
The state of the globalization literature
Peter Dougherty, the senior economics editor for Princeton University Press, tries to summarize and categorize the globalization literature in an interesting Chronicle of Higher Education essay (subscription may be required).* As this is a topic with which your trusty blogger has more than a passing interest, I checked it out. Some of the good parts:
From a purely self-interested perspective, this is the part I found most gratifying:
*[Possible conflict of interest alert: I have an advance contract for my globalization book with Princeton University Press. However, I've never met or interacted with Dougherty.]
An outsourcing correction
However, it now turns out that there was an error in the underlying story -- a speech that U.S. Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Thomas Donohue gave to the Commonwealth Club about offshore outsourcing. Here's how the Associated Press initially reported the story:
Let me stress here that this is entirely the fault of the Associated Press; neither the Kerry campaign nor Marshall can or should be blamed for relying on the AP wire.
However, I do wonder if those in the blogopsphere who linked to this story will post the correction -- because it drastically alters the perception of what Donohue said. [Why?--ed. Because the new formulation sounds far less haughty. Iinstead of Donohue addressing others, the pronoun used is first person plural, implying that he is not placing blame.]
An open "what if" question
In light of rumblings about contingency plans to postpone elections because of terrorist attacks -- and the administration's rapid dismissal of that idea -- there is an interesting political hypothetical to consider. What would be the electoral impact of a spectacular terrorist attack? Would it benefit Bush or Kerry? [Define "spectacular"--ed. An event that would force the networks to interrupt their regularly scheduled programming.]
This has come up in a number of conversations, and the answer I keep hearing is that it would benefit George W. Bush, because of a) an immediate rally-round-the-flag effect; and b) a belief that Bush places a higher priority on the War on Terror than Kerry.
I suppose this is possible, but I confess to puzzlement. Wouldn't another spectacular attack suggest that the administration has not made significant progress in the War on Terror? That would be my first thought.
However, this would hardly be the first time I've misread public reaction to an event -- or, rather, that my reaction was the minority viewpoint. So, to repeat/rephrase the question: would a spectacular terrorist attack that took place close to Election day help President Bush or Senator Kerry?
I look forward to your thoughts on the matter.
UPDATE: A second question: should a spectacular terrorist attack that took place close to Election day help President Bush or Senator Kerry?
What do baseball players think?
The Chicago Tribune and other Tribune papers conducted a survey of baseball players on a variety of baseball-related questions. The response rate was quite high -- 475 of 750 players (63%) responded. Most of the results are thoroughly unsurprising (Wrigley Field is the best ballpark; Barry Bonds is the best baseball player). However, I was pleasantly surprised by two findings:
The tolerance for a gay teammate was particularly surprising, because the common media perception is that there is massive amounts of homophobia in professional sports -- click here for an Associated Press story from last week, and here and here for other examples. This survey suggests, at a minimum, that this is not true of baseball.
[What if the ballplayers were lying to appear politically correct?--ed. Well, you automatically run into that problem with public opinion surveys about touchy social issues, and that's an important caveat. That said, the survey also showed that only a third of the respondents said that steroid abuse was a problem in baseball. If image-conscious ballplayers were really trying to give answers that please media folks, that response should have been inflated as well.]
UPDATE: While I'm posting about baseball, Red Sox fans everywhere will have a good, rueful laugh at this Seth Stevenson rant about Roger Clemens over at Slate.
Checking important facts and counterfactuals
Meanwhile, the Snate Intelligence report leads Kevin Drum to raise an important counterfactual -- given what we now know, would the Senate have voted to authorize the use of force back in October 2002? Senator Pat Roberts thinks the answer is no:
Andrew Sullivan points out the stark implications of that statement:
Bush's response to the brouhaha is here: ''We removed a declared enemy of America who had the capability of producing weapons of mass murder and could have passed that capability to terrorists bent on acquiring them."
The thing that bothers me about that response is the failure to recognize that the decision-making process was a) not good; and b) relied on faulty intel. Sullivan thinks Bush bears at least some responsibility for the latter, and I certainly think he bears a great deal of responsibility for the former.
Monday, July 12, 2004
The Timesmen really do not like their ombudsman
James Brander has a front-pager in today's Wall Street Journal (
It gets better:
The article concludes with nice-sounding words from everyone involved about how the Times is adjusting. And then there's the closing paragraph:
*I will be linking more frequently to the Journal from now on, because I finally have an online subscription. This comes courtesy of my genius brother. Thanks, JBD!
posted by Dan at 11:38 AM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (1)
This officially scares the s*** out of me
Stephen Green thinks this idea is so politically stupid that it must be a disinformation campaign to fool Al Qaeda. James Joyner thinks this kind of contingency planning is unfortunate but inevitable:
Replace "YOU" with "The Bush administration" -- since they're the one's making this call -- and Gandelman's graf has a much more sinister cast to it.
I have a pretty low tolerance for conspiracy theories. That said, my gut reaction is that this proposal is so stupid that the administration would deserve having the craziest conspiracy theories out there sticking to them if they took this idea seriously.
Actually, it's worse than that -- what does it say that three years after 9/11, the Bush administration's counterterrorism and homeland defense policies are so weak that they have to contemplate changing the national election date rather than relying in our supposedly enhanced defences?
UPDATE: Patrick Belton has some thoughts that are more sophisticated than my gut instinct but make pretty much the same point.
ANOTHER UPDATE: Hmmm.... re-reading the Isikoff story, I'll walk back my indignation just a bit. My first impression -- from Isikoff's lead graf -- was that Ridge and DHS wanted to ability to postpone Election Day because they anticipated an attack. But that's not the case -- they want the authority to postpone after an attack has taken place that's close to or on Election Day.
I still think this is a very, very, very bad idea, but it's a slightly less conspiracy-prone idea than at first blush.
(Some) bloggers get (a little bit) rich
Maureen Ryan reports in the Chicago Tribune that bloggers are starting to rake in the bucks:
I will leave that question for my readers to discuss. However, Ryan reviews the various demographic surveys suggesting that the blog demographic is a lucrative and well-connected one:
That said, one should bear in mind that Ryan is really talking about the peak bloggers at this point. If John Hawkins is raking in $1,000 a month, that's great, but that's not a huge sum of money. [What about you?--ed. I bring in far less than Hawkins -- but I won't deny that it's gratifying to actually earn money from this little venture.] At this point, maybe 5-10 bloggers can earn a decent living from blogging. It's nice that there's a new job category for the BLS and IRS to consider, but we're not talking about a huge economic impact here.
Sunday, July 11, 2004
The new pamphleteers
Alan Wolfe has a long essay in the New York Times Book Review about the rise of the überpartisan political book. Here's how it opens:
One does wonder which blogs Wolfe reads -- while I don't deny that some of them fit his description of "today's give-no-quarter attacks," that's hardly a fair chatacterization of the blogosphere as a whole.
Furthermore, while Wolfe focuses on books, one could make the case that documentary filmmakers actually fit the phamphlet niche even better than authors or bloggers. Hey, in fact, Robert Boynton makes this very point in a New York Times Magazine story on an upcoming documentary about Fox News. One highlight:
OK, so maybe blogs are a form of pamphleteering -- but they're not the only form, and they have other uses.
[On a side note, Michelle Kung makes a similar point about documentaries in an Entertainment Weekly article on the rise of documentarians (subscription required). The nut graf:
In a sidebar to the story, it turns out that six of the top ten grossing documentaries have come out in the last two years.]
To get back to Wolfe's essay, his conclusion deals with decline and fall of the Establishment consensus:
Two quick, slapdash thoughts on this:
I'm still trying to get a grip on this latter point -- but readers should feel free to tell me whether I'm actually on to something -- or if this is just an exercise in shrill hackery.
UPDATE: One other graf struck me while I was reading Wolfe's essay: