Saturday, August 21, 2004

A multiple choice question for my readers

Lawrence Krubner left a comment on this Brad DeLong post that rings partially true to me:

When I look back at my past blogrolls and I see how many of my once favorite weblogs are now defunct, it strikes me that weblogs have a shorter life-span that even teenage rock-bands. There's been about 80% turnover among my once favorite weblogs, and yet I've only had a blogroll for 2 years. It seems to me all weblogs go down one of three paths: 1.) They end. 2.) They don't end, but the author becomes comfortable taking breaks of a month or two (both Virginia Postrel and Christina Wodtke took month long breaks when they were in the final stages of the various books they've each written). 3.) They don't end, but become group weblogs. Tom Tomorrow, Chris Bertram, Eugene Volkoh, and Harry Hatchet all gave up on go-it-alone weblogs and then either joined group weblogs (Crooked Timber for Chris Bertram) or invited other writers to write on their site. Becoming a group weblog has the same result for each individual writer: it becomes easier for them to take month-long breaks.

This strikes me as something of an exaggeration -- most of the blogs I originally put on the blogrolll are still quite active.

However.... for professional and personal reasons that will soon become apparent, I may be facing one of Krubner's three options relatively soon. Option one seems too radical, and I doubt I'll be pursuing it. So I have a question for my readers -- would you prefer irregular blogging from me alone -- à la the great Virginia Postrel -- or having expand into drezner&

I await your input.

UPDATE: Thanks for all the input!! I'll be reaching my decision soon.

posted by Dan at 09:49 PM | Comments (76) | Trackbacks (2)

Friday, August 20, 2004

Hi, my name is Dan....

Will Baude has an amusing post up about addiction over at Crescat Sententia. The good part:

I remember being struck that if you took the various signs of "alcoholism" and replaced books and reading as appropriate, nearly all of them applied to me:

Are books a necessary part of your daily routine? Check. Do you become grumpy and irritable if your books are taken away from you? Check. If you begin reading, just a little bit, do you find it hard to stop? Check. Do you find yourself growing distant from friends who disapprove of your book habit? Big check. Do you find yourself needing more and more books to get the same "fix"? Check. When you meet a new person or enter a new room, do you instantly size up his bookshelf? Check. Does your book habit sometimes get in the way of leading a "normal" life? Check. (Think of the countless social engagements I have declined because I preferred to finish an addictive read.) Do you buy books to make yourself feel better when sad or lonely? Check.

If you'll all excuse me, I think I have to go to the Seminary Co-op for a little bit. As I'm there, I'll keep Phoebe Maltz's words of wisdom in mind:

At least at Chicago, if not in some larger segments of the world, a person who reads books all the time is considered admirable, even if all that is gained by this reading is that the reader is entertained.

posted by Dan at 05:10 PM | Comments (14) | Trackbacks (1)

The latest Iraq autopsy

Larry Diamond was a Senior Adviser to the Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad from January to April of this year. A few months ago I blogged about his dissatisfaction with the administration's handling of the post-war occupation of Iraq.

Diamond has articulated that dissatisfaction into a lengthy essay in the September/October issue of Foreign Affairs entitled "What Went Wrong in Iraq," that expands on this criticism at length. It's sobering reading. Here's how it starts:

With the transfer of power to a new interim Iraqi government on June 28, the political phase of U.S. occupation came to an abrupt end. The transfer marked an urgently needed, and in some ways hopeful, new departure for Iraq. But it did not erase, or even much ease at first, the most pressing problems confronting that beleaguered country: endemic violence, a shattered state, a nonfunctioning economy, and a decimated society. Some of these problems may have been inevitable consequences of the war to topple Saddam Hussein. But Iraq today falls far short of what the Bush administration promised. As a result of a long chain of U.S. miscalculations, the coalition occupation has left Iraq in far worse shape than it need have and has diminished the long-term prospects of democracy there. Iraqis, Americans, and other foreigners continue to be killed. What went wrong?

Many of the original miscalculations made by the Bush administration are well known. But the early blunders have had diffuse, profound, and lasting consequences-some of which are only now becoming clear. The first and foremost of these errors concerned security: the Bush administration was never willing to commit anything like the forces necessary to ensure order in postwar Iraq. From the beginning, military experts warned Washington that the task would require, as Army Chief of Staff Eric Shinseki told Congress in February 2003, "hundreds of thousands" of troops. For the United States to deploy forces in Iraq at the same ratio to population as NATO had in Bosnia would have required half a million troops. Yet the coalition force level never reached even a third of that figure. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and his senior civilian deputies rejected every call for a much larger commitment and made it very clear, despite their disingenuous promises to give the military "everything" it asked for, that such requests would not be welcome. No officer missed the lesson of General Shinseki, whom the Pentagon rewarded for his public candor by announcing his replacement a year early, making him a lame-duck leader long before his term expired. Officers and soldiers in Iraq were forced to keep their complaints about insufficient manpower and equipment private, even as top political officials in the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) insisted publicly that greater military action was necessary to secure the country.

In truth, around 300,000 troops might have been enough to make Iraq largely secure after the war. But doing so would also have required different kinds of troops, with different rules of engagement. The coalition should have deployed vastly more military police and other troops trained for urban patrols, crowd control, civil reconstruction, and peace maintenance and enforcement. Tens of thousands of soldiers with sophisticated monitoring equipment should have been posted along the borders with Syria and Iran to intercept the flows of foreign terrorists, Iranian intelligence agents, money, and weapons.

But Washington failed to take such steps, for the same reasons it decided to occupy Iraq with a relatively light force: hubris and ideology. Contemptuous of the State Department's regional experts who were seen as too "soft" to remake Iraq, a small group of Pentagon officials ignored the elaborate postwar planning the State Department had overseen through its "Future of Iraq" project, which had anticipated many of the problems that emerged after the invasion. Instead of preparing for the worst, Pentagon planners assumed that Iraqis would joyously welcome U.S. and international troops as liberators. With Saddam's military and security apparatus destroyed, the thinking went, Washington could capitalize on the goodwill by handing the country over to Iraqi expatriates such as Ahmed Chalabi, who would quickly create a new democratic state. Not only would fewer U.S. troops be needed at first, but within a year, the troop levels could drop to a few tens of thousands.

Of course, these naive assumptions quickly collapsed, along with overall security, in the immediate aftermath of the war. U.S. troops stood by helplessly, outnumbered and unprepared, as much of Iraq's remaining physical, economic, and institutional infrastructure was systematically looted and sabotaged. And even once it became obvious that the looting was not a one-time breakdown of social order but an elaborately organized, armed, and financed resistance to the U.S. occupation, the Bush administration compounded its initial mistakes by stubbornly refusing to send in more troops. Administration officials repeatedly deluded themselves into believing that the defeat of the insurgency was just around the corner-just as soon as the long, hot summer of 2003 ended, or reconstruction dollars started flowing in and jobs were created, or the political transition began, or Saddam Hussein was captured, or the interim government was inaugurated. As in Vietnam, a turning point always seemed imminent, and Washington refused to grasp the depth of popular disaffection.

Under its chief administrator, Ambassador L. Paul Bremer III, the CPA (which ruled Iraq from May 2003 until June 2004) worked hard and creatively to craft a transition to a legitimate, viable, and democratic system of government while rebuilding the overall economy and society. As I saw during my brief tenure as a senior CPA adviser on governance earlier this year, the U.S. administration got a number of things right. But one cannot review the political record without underscoring the pervasive security deficit, which undermined everything else the coalition sought to achieve.

Read the whole thing. And here's a link to the rest of Diamond's writings on Iraq.

posted by Dan at 03:24 PM | Comments (68) | Trackbacks (5)

Just how Wilsonian are Americans?

Patrick Belton links to the joint Pew/Council on Foreign Relations public opinion survey and comments as follows:

[C]oming into the elections, a rather strong plurality of respondents (41 percent) believe foreign policy issues are the most important facing the nation, compared with economic issues (26 percent) and other domestic issues (also 26 percent). Interestingly, it also shows the American public is solidly Wilsonian, with 72 percent believing the top priority for American foreign policy is to follow moral principles. Roughly two-thirds then say the top priority should be 'cautious' (66) or 'decisive' (62), with Republicans tending to say 'decisive' and Democrats 'cautious'. (emphasis added)

The Council on Foreign Relations seems to agree with Belton's interpretation, asserting, "Realpolitik does not play well with the American public."

The data that Patrick reports is correct but incomplete. Belton's numbers come from the "Beliefs" section. However, when you look at the "Foreign Policy Priorities" section, you get some different looking results. Here's the numbers on what should be a "top priority" of foreign policy (this is from p. 18 of the report). I've bolded the causes that could be clearly labeled as Wilsonian and italicized those that smack of a realist outlook on world affairs:

Percent considering each a “top priority” (July 2004)
Protect against terrorist attacks -- 88
Protect jobs of American workers -- 84
Reduce spread of AIDS & other diseases -- 72
Stop spread of weapons of mass destruction -- 71
Insure adequate energy supplies -- 70
Reduce dependence on foreign oil -- 63
Combat international drug trafficking -- 63
Distribute costs of maintaining world order -- 58
Improve relationships with allies -- 54
Deal with problem of world hunger -- 50
Strengthen the United Nations -- 48
Protect groups threatened with genocide -- 47
Deal with global warming -- 36
Reduce U.S. military commitments -- 35
Promote U.S. business interests abroad -- 35
Promote human rights abroad -- 33
Solve Israeli/ Palestinian conflict -- 28
Promote democracy abroad -- 24
Improve living standards in poor nations -- 23

That's not a Wilsonian ordering of priorities. With the exception of the AIDS response, this is quite the realpolitik preference ordering -- including the (dispiritingly) robust popularity of protectionism.

These results bolster a thesis that I've been cogitating on for the past few months: despite claims by international relations theorists -- including most realists -- that the overwhelming majority of Americans hold liberal policy preferences, it just ain't so. Even if those beliefs are extolled in the abstract, when asked to prioritize among different foreign policy tasks, the realist position wins.

This observation about the shift in attitudes since October 2001 is also interesting (p. 19):

The shift in public priorities since the fall of 2001 is largely a consequence of growing divisions along partisan lines. While Republicans and Democrats had similar lists of foreign policy priorities in October 2001, they are increasingly focused on different issues today.

Protecting the U.S. against terrorism is by far the leading priority among Republicans, with more than nine-in-ten (93%) rating that goal a top priority. By comparison, about as many Democrats cite protecting U.S. jobs as a major priority as mention terrorism (89% vs. 86%). And while Republicans are more focused on preventing the spread of weapons of mass destruction and reducing America’s dependence on imported oil, Democrats are more concerned about reducing the spread of AIDS and combating international drug trafficking.

posted by Dan at 10:45 AM | Comments (27) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, August 19, 2004

Happy blogiversary to Eric Zorn!!

Eric Zorn, a columnist at the Chicago Tribune, has been blogging for a year now. His column in today's Trib reflects on the past year:

Skeptics wondered if I'd lost my mind.

A year ago this week when I launched the Tribune's first daily Web log, they pointed out I was signing on to do lots of extra work that would reach, at best, a small fraction of those who see this column, that my new-media experiment was going to stumble over the barriers of old-media conventions and that the project was going to haunt my every waking hour.

They said I was jumping down from my perch and turning myself into just another bloviator in the unregulated, highly idiosyncratic and often preposterously self-indulgent crowd of bloggers.

I answered that blogs are a hot medium with nearly endless opportunities for columnists who want to incubate, tease and follow up on ideas that may not fit into the allotted daily rectangle. I'll have a blast and we'll make it work somehow.

It turned out everyone was right.

Read the whole thing. Jeff Jarvis is quoted, and he expands on his thoughts in this post, which closes:

In the end, blogging is just a tool -- history's easiest publishing tool connected to the world via history's best communications network. How can we not all use it?

UPDATE: Henry Copeland has some useful thoughts on this.

posted by Dan at 04:21 PM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (1)

Blowback on charter schools

Diana Jean Schemo's New York Times front-pager on Tuesday about an American Federation of Teachers report claiming that charter schools are underperformers compared to public schools has caused Laura at the (newly moved) Apartment 11D to despair:

I am disappointed. I could easily imagine that alternative schools would attract some talented, younger teachers. What is going wrong? Are these alternative schools just attracting faculty who don't like supervision?

One possibility is that -- contrary to the fears of skeptics -- it turns out that charter schools do not merely skim the public student body's cream of the crop. As Harvard researchers Will Howell, Paul Peterson, and Martin West point out in their Wall Street Journal op-ed: "These results could easily indicate nothing other than the simple fact that charter schools are typically asked to serve problematic students in low-performing districts with many poor, minority children." Here's the graphical presentation:


Another problem with the AFT study -- it provides only a snapshot of performance, without any trend line. Even the Times story observes:

One previous study, however, suggests that tracking students over time might present findings more favorable to the charter movement. Tom Loveless, director of the Brown Center on Education Policy at the Brookings Institution, who conducted a two-year study of 569 charter schools in 10 states found that while charter school students typically score lower on state tests, over time they progress at faster rates than students in traditional public schools.

Here's a link to an extract from that report.

For more links/critiques of the AFT study, see Mickey Kaus, Matthew Yglesias, Stuart Buck, and Andy Rotherham(here, here, and here).

Shame on the Times -- and its editorial board, for that matter -- for buying the AFT spin hook, line and sinker.

One interesting puzzle, however. The Times story says the American Federation of Teachers "has historically supported charter schools." Rotherham says, "how long can the AFT continue to trade on the notion that all this is more in sorrow than anger? They just don't like charter schools...." My instinct is to side with Rotterham, but I really don't know which assertion is correct. UPDATE: Robert Tagorda provides some clues.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Brennan Stout tips me to yesterday's Chicago Tribune editorial, which has some issues with the AFT study:

Much of the previous research on charter schools, which operate free of most of the regulations governing neighborhood schools, suggests that charters tend to attract lower-performing students in the first place. These data only seem to support that.

"Any parent who has a kid in a school who's doing great and is learning a lot, is happy and is scoring high on standardized tests probably isn't going to take him out of his regular school and put him in a charter school," says Tom Loveless, director of the Brown Center on Education Policy at the Brookings Institution, who has conducted several studies on charter schools.

The AFT analysis unfortunately glosses over a central difference between charter and neighborhood schools: their missions. In Chicago, for instance, North Lawndale College Prep posts lousy standardized test scores; yet because its focus is on college attendance, an astonishing 85 percent of graduates go on to higher education.

Triumphant Charter School was created specifically to educate failing middle school children. The most difficult students are recruited from neighborhood schools, and teachers there are only too happy to hand them over.

So of course Triumphant students also post dismal test scores, compared to state averages. But their overall gains in reading and math usually exceed those of the neighborhood schools that sent them, and attendance is better, too....

Some of the most intriguing data about charter schools can't be measured by standardized tests. It's the number of children on waiting lists, hoping to get into charter schools. In Chicago, that list has gotten so long most charters have stopped actively recruiting.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Chester Finn, the charter school advocate quoted in the Times piece bemoaning the low scores of chater schools, blasts the underlying story line here.

posted by Dan at 11:37 AM | Comments (11) | Trackbacks (5)

Yeah, this'll probably need to go into the revised blog paper

Should Henry Farrell and I revise our blog paper -- and of course we'll be revising it -- Wednesday's White House Briefing by Dan Froomkin in will probably have to be cited.

Why? I'm glad you asked:

Jimmy Orr, the White House's Internet guru, wants the White House Web site to get bloggier.

"We're trying to make it more bloggish," he says in an interview. "People need to see that we're on the site and we're listening to what they have to say."

So, he says: "We're going to try -- as questions come in, and as people have comments about the events of the day -- to be more proactive."

Blogs -- short for Web logs -- are all the rage these days. And while some people use them for such things as chronicling their sex lives, they have more significantly emerged as a potent vehicle for news and views on the Internet.

Two of the most seminal features of blogs are interaction with readers and immediacy. And the White House Web site under Orr, an enthusiastic 37-year-old press office staffer, has already taken some steps in that direction.

White House Interactive is generally updated daily with a new e-mail question from the public and an answer, typically from someone fairly high up in the White House staff....

A while back, Orr was his own guest on "Ask the White House" One questioner raised the topic of blogging. And it turns out Orr's a fan.

"Bloggers are very instrumental. They are important. They can lead the news. And they've been underestimated," he wrote.

"Here's what the bloggers do. They notice something in the news or something they've observed that maybe the 'traditional' media hasn't covered or isn't spending much time on. But they think it is significant. So, they give the story a second life (or first). And they talk about it. And others talk about it. Before you know it, it is leading the news."

In his online appearance, Orr mentioned a few blogs he reads regularly. He e-mailed me a more extensive list:

The Note, from ABC News

Noted Now, also from ABC News

Andrew Sullivan


•'s Best of the Web Today


White House Briefing (You're reading it.)

James Lileks

And he's not the only one in the White House who reads blogs, he says. Far from it.

"They're important here," he says. "I can tell you that a lot of people read them."

Note to White House officials (and others): Don't forget to nominate your favorites for's 2004 Best Blogs - Politics and Elections Readers' Choice Awards.

Bloggers are rightly accused of excessive navel-gazing, and according to the Washington Times' Chris Baker, blogs "have been the domain primarily of amateur political pundits, conspiracy theorists and pseudo-experts on any number of topics." Still, it is worth observing that both Orr's analysis of blogs -- as well as his reading preferences -- seem to buttress the arguments made in our blog paper.

[Hey, what about that WaPo contest?--ed. Readers should feel free to knock themselves out.]

posted by Dan at 12:33 AM | Comments (10) | Trackbacks (1)

I'd like some porn to go with my glass of red wine

The following is a public health posting from

The Australian reports that a dash of pornography can be good for you (link via Joe Gandelman -- he's the one who originally linked to this, blame him!!):

Pornography is good for people, the academic leading a taxpayer-funded study of the subject said yesterday, as the Coalition and Labor traded jibes about an Opposition push to stop online porn reaching home computers.

Alan McKee, who with academics Catharine Lumby and Kath Albury is conducting the Understanding Pornography in Australia study, said that a survey of more than 1000 porn-users must be taken into account as Labor considers forcing all internet service providers to automatically filter hardcore porn to protect children.

"The surprising finding was that pornography is actually good for you in many ways," Dr McKee said.

"When you look at people who are using it in everyday life, over 90 per cent report it has had a very positive effect."

Dr McKee said porn users reported it had taught them "to be more relaxed about their sexuality" and marriages were healthier, while porn made people think about another person's pleasure and made them less judgmental about body shapes.

"The more we try and turn porn into something that's seen to be bad and has to be kept away from families, the more problems we might be causing for ourselves."

Much as I would like to say that it's scientifically sound to use porn, the social scientist in me has to observe two whopping caveats to this report:

1) This conclusion appears to be based on self-reporting and reaction by porn users -- which is like asking people in a bar whether they're more sociable after a drink or two;

2) "Appears" is italicized is the last point because it's possible that other metrics were used -- but damned if I know. The Understanding Pornography in Australia web site does not have any research results posted. For a .info website, in fact, there's precious little information. That's not a good sign.

[That analysis was so robust, so powerful!!--ed. Oh, shut up.]

posted by Dan at 12:10 AM | Comments (10) | Trackbacks (3)

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Tipping towards one side of the fence

A few days ago I asked:

Which is better: a foreign policy with a clearly articulated grand strategy but a f#$%ed-up policy process, or a foreign policy with no articulated grand strategy but a superior policy process?

Phil Carter has a lengthy and compelling post that looks at the Tommy Franks book, American Soldier, and highlights highlights just how f#$&ed up the policy process leading up to Operation Iraqi Freedom really was (link via Kevin Drum). Some of the disturbing parts:

Gen. Franks briefed the President and the NSC principals that Phase IV entailed significant strategic and operational risk, and that there was no good solution yet for Phase IV. Yet, the discussion afterwards focused entirely on WMD, Scuds, issues with allies, and other issues focused on Phase III. No one asked Gen. Franks about Phase IV; it seemed like an afterthought. That makes sense because the White House and Pentagon leaders saw Operation Iraqi Freedom as Desert Storm II in many ways — where we dodged the post-war issue by limiting our objectives and pulling out rapidly. This passage implies that Gen. Franks was aware of the problem, but his bosses weren't — and he didn't pop a starcluster to let them know of the problem....

On page 393, Gen. Franks tells of another briefing to President Bush and the NSC principals — this time in Aug. 2002, in the White House. Here again, Gen. Franks discussed the post-war issues, but apparently in a brief and optimistic way:

My final chart was potentially the most important: PHASE IV STABILITY OPERATIONS.

"The Generated and Running Starts," I explained, "and the Hybrid Concept all project Phase III ending with a maximum of two hundred and fifty thousand troops in Iraq. We will have to stand up a new Iraqi army, and create a constabulary that includes a representative tribal, religious and ethnic mix. It will take time.

"And well-designed and well-funded reconstruction projects that put large numbers of Iraqis to work and quickly meet community needs — and expectations — will be the keys to our success in Phase IV."

"We will want to get Iraqis in charge of Iraq as soon as possible," Don Rumsfeld said. On hearing his words, heads nodded around the table.

"At some point," I said, "we can begin drawing down our force. We'll want to retain a core strength of at least fifty thousand men, and our troop reductions should parallel deployment of representative, professional Iraqi security forces. Our exit strategy will be tied to effective governance by Iraqis, not to a timeline."

I saw further nods around the table. And then Condi Rice tapped her watch; we were out of time.

Analysis: Wow... the "group think" is so thick in this briefing that you can taste it. Heads nodding... eyes indicating assent without question... this is not an OPLAN briefing, this is a love-fest. Seriously, one can start adding up all of the implicit assumptions in these statements by Gen. Franks, and figure out exactly why the Phase IV plan went so poorly. For starters, there's no discussion of initial security needs, or initial needs for law and order. Second, there's no discussion of institutional responsibility for the key reconstruction projects described as being so essential — something we know now well in the crack between State/USAID and Defense. Third, we have an incredibly optimistic troop redeployment estimate by Gen. Franks that reflects the best case scenario for post-war stability and reconstruction efforts. I don't know whether less optimistic scenarios were presented to the President or not, but it's clear from Franks' book that he certainly didn't give him any. And so, President Bush decided to go to war on the basis of this best case scenario, without the expectation that we could get bogged down in Phase IV.

Fareed Zakaria also highlighted the process problem in yesterday's Washington Post:

Bush's position is that if Kerry agrees with him that Hussein was a problem, then Kerry agrees with his Iraq policy. Doing something about Iraq meant doing what Bush did. But is that true? Did the United States have to go to war before the weapons inspectors had finished their job? Did it have to junk the U.N. process? Did it have to invade with insufficient troops to provide order and stability in Iraq? Did it have to occupy a foreign country with no cover of legitimacy from the world community? Did it have to ignore the State Department's postwar planning? Did it have to pack the Iraqi Governing Council with unpopular exiles, disband the army and engage in radical de-Baathification? Did it have to spend a fraction of the money allocated for Iraqi reconstruction -- and have that be mired in charges of corruption and favoritism? Was all this an inevitable consequence of dealing with the problem of Saddam Hussein?

Perhaps Iraq would have been a disaster no matter what. But there's a thinly veiled racism behind such views, implying that Iraqis are savages genetically disposed to produce chaos and anarchy. In fact, other nation-building efforts over the past decade have gone reasonably well, when well planned and executed.

"Strategy is execution," Louis Gerstner, former chief executive of IBM, American Express and RJR Nabisco, has often remarked. In fact, it's widely understood in the business world that having a good objective means nothing if you implement it badly. "Unless you translate big thoughts into concrete steps for action, they're pointless," writes Larry Bossidy, former chief executive of Honeywell.

I don't agree the sentence about "junking the UN process," -- Germany gets the first-mover prize in that regard -- but beyond that Zakaria makes a powerful case about the primacy of process.

But what about the objectives? Matthew Yglesias responds to my previous post in this way:

[T]he complaint against Kerry is that his strategy is (allegedly) vague, shapeless, and possibly nonexistent. Insofar as that's true, it's not a good thing, but it leaves open the possibility that a good strategy will be formulated, or, perhaps more likely, that drift will be well-managed. I wouldn't call that a really strong case for Kerry, but compared to the alternative of guaranteed failure, it seems clearly preferable.

Carter, Zakaria, and Yglesias are persuasive -- very persuasive.

Persuasive enough to reduce my probability of voting for Bush down to 0.4.

posted by Dan at 10:16 AM | Comments (279) | Trackbacks (9)

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Does America suffer from a skills deficit?

One of the policy debates that emerges with the offshore outsourcing debate is whether greater investments in training and education would really address the shift in jobs demand that comes with greater technological innovation and international trade.

With that debate in mind, Timothy Aeppel has a Wall Street Journal front-pager on the current difficulties American employers are facing because of the dearth in Swiss-style machinists:

Two years ago, Robert Schrader got a call from a recruiter trying to lure him from his job in New Hampshire to opportunities as far away as Florida. He eventually took a new position in Massachusetts, after he had negotiated a raise, an expense-paid move and better health coverage. Since then, his old boss in New Hampshire has tried to woo him back.

Mr. Schrader isn't a hotshot young executive with a Harvard MBA. He's a factory worker.

That group in recent times has been associated more with unemployment lines than with the corporate recruiting circuit. But Mr. Schrader isn't your average blue-collar worker. He is a "Swiss style" machinist, a specialty developed more than a century ago to make tiny, very precise gears and shafts for the European watch industry.

More recently, Swiss-style machining has been married with advanced computer technology to become essential in the precision manufacture of a wide range of products, from bone screws to roller balls for Bic pens. Mr. Schrader's employer in Holyoke, Marox Corp., makes medical implants and instruments.

It takes years of on-the-job training to become a skilled Swiss-style machinist, and few young people are entering the trade. The steady flow of skilled immigrants who once filled many top craftsman jobs has dried up. The result is that at a time when many U.S. industrial jobs have been lost to low-cost countries such as China, American factories have a shortage of certain highly skilled workers. Other hot factory skills include some types of specialty welding and workers adept at programming the latest computerized production machinery. Mr. Schrader and others like him are part of a new working-class elite in such demand that some employers are even offering signing bonuses of a few thousand dollars.

The shortage comes at a bad time for U.S. manufacturers, who are finally seeing an upswing in business. If they can't find the skilled workers they need, many companies could ultimately find it tougher to remain players in globally competitive markets.

Since the latest machinery is increasingly available in many other parts of the world as well, "the only way to keep a competitive edge is by having the skilled people who know how to get the most out of those machines," says Stephen Mandes, executive director of the National Institute of Metalworking Skills, a group that sets worker skill standards.

Some companies are already turning away business for lack of expert workers. Accu-Swiss Inc., which makes specialized metal parts for medical and defense industries, has turned down between 10% and 20% of potential business this year for lack of Swiss-style machinists to staff its factory, says Sohel Sareshwala, president of the Oakdale, Calif., company.

"It's clear that a hot emerging issue for manufacturing is skilled-worker shortages," says Jerry Jasinowski, president of the National Association of Manufacturers. He says the problem will worsen in coming years as baby boomers retire.

Boston Centerless Inc. in Woburn, Mass., a 106-employee maker of highly precise metal parts for other manufacturers, used recruiters to hire five Swiss-style machinists this year. It still needs at least two more. The company pays current workers bounties of up to $500 a head for referrals that lead to new hires. The most skilled new hires earn up to $25 an hour.

Here's a chart of the expected increase in demand for certain skill jobs for the future:


It should be noted that the story also says, "U.S. apprenticeship programs have dwindled as the large American companies that once provided the bulk of such training have cut back to save money and now outsource some of the work."

posted by Dan at 05:02 PM | Comments (45) | Trackbacks (3)

Why ultimate will not become an Olympic sport

In my life before spouse and child, your humble blogger was a halfway-decent ultimate frisbee player -- good enough to play for the Williams College men's team in the late eighties and Stanford men's ultimate team back in the early nineties. I loved the sport, loved the people who played the sport, and counted myself lucky that my only ultimate-related injury was a broken collarbone.

Ultimate has its own national organization and its own world organization as well; according to this census, over 38,000 people actively participate in the sport across the globe. It was always on the cusp of achieving greater mainstream success when I played. So it's with a slight twinge of sadness that I read Barry Newman's Wall Street Journal story explaining why ultimate is unlikely to ever become an Olympic sport. The key sections:

Frisbee, meantime, has blossomed from a lazy game of catch on the frat-house lawn into the sport of "ultimate," a high-voltage cross between soccer and American football. It was known early on as ultimate Frisbee, but Wham-O Inc., which owns the Frisbee trademark, wouldn't get behind it. So it's just plain ultimate now.

That causes branding issues: Ultimate? Ultimate what? But as far as its fans are aware, the truly ultimate championships aren't the ones taking place here. They rolled out two weeks ago up in Turku, Finland, where 1,500 athletes joined in, playing on 76 teams from 23 countries.

How come the Frisbee is on the outs in Athens while the discus, after 2,700 years, remains so unbendably in? For those who think the Olympics are slightly behind the times -- members of the International Olympic Committee included -- that's the ultimate question.

As soon as Athens shuts down, the IOC will begin a rethink of the games people play at future Olympics. "It's going to happen from now on -- a revision and checkup of the program," says Ron Froehlich, head of USA Gymnastics and a member of the IOC's program commission. "It's a matter of what appeals to the audience."

....How about Frisbee? Perhaps like skateboarding, which seems content for now with the X Games, ultimate is happy with gathering in places like Finland for its own World Games. But as for the Olympics, ultimate's organizers just don't think it's worth the hassle.

"A sport with Olympic aspirations needs to be a political organization," says Nob Rauch, a Bostonian who has checked this out for the World Flying Disc Federation. "It takes too much energy."

So Athens 2004 is a one-flying-disc town. In Olympic lore, the discus is secure.

Full disclosure: I know Nob Rauch, as he also attended Williams and played ultimate there.

UPDATE: Zach Braff -- who's clearly hooked on the blogging -- has some really amusing thoughts on how to spiece up the Olympics. Surprisingly, my favorite idea of Braff's was not "Olympic Pole Dancing," but rather adding hedge-clippers to the synchonized diving competition!!

posted by Dan at 03:19 PM | Comments (15) | Trackbacks (4)

India's crisis of governance

Gurcharan Das has a Financial Times op-ed (subsciption only) that points out the biggest constraint India faces in its economic development: its own government:

India's gross domestic product has been growing at close to a 6 per cent real rate for 23 years, making it one of the fastest-expanding major economies in the world. While this is slower than China, it is almost double India's growth rate of the preceding 30 years and double the rate at which the west grew during the Industrial Revolution. More recently, India's population growth has also begun to slow; in 1998 it was down to 1.6 per cent, compared to a historic 2.2 per cent annual growth rate. And literacy has begun to climb - it reached 65 per cent in 2000 compared with 52 per cent in 1990. Almost 190m Indians have risen out of destitution since 1980 and the middle class has more than tripled to about 250m. Had India's GDP growth continued to chug along at the pre-1980 rate, Indian incomes would only have reached the present US per-capita income level by 2250; at the current rate, they will reach today's American income levels by 2066 - 184 years earlier. This is not the same as convergence, but it is a valuable gain of 184 years.

The amazing thing is that all this growth is happening alongside the most appalling governance. In the midst of a booming private economy, Indians despair over the simplest public goods. The contrast between power and telecommunications is obvious to everyone. After a successful reform programme, we are in the middle of a telecoms revolution that is as profound as China's. The number of telephones has increased from 5m in 1990 to 75m and is growing by 2m a month. But power remains a "public good", as reforms have failed, and people whine about daily power cuts applied by the state monopolies.

No single institution has disappointed us more than our bureaucracy. When we were young we bought the cruel myth of the "steel frame" - a stable system that would provide continuity. We were told that Britain was not as well-governed as India because it did not have the Indian Civil Service. Today our bureaucracy has become the single biggest obstacle to development. Indians think of their bureaucrats as self-serving, obstructive and corrupt. Instead of shepherding through economic reforms, they are blocking them.

In the 1950s, the idealistic Jawaharlal Nehru, India's first prime minister, wanted a regulatory framework for his "mixed economy", but instead, in the holy names of socialism, the bureaucrats created a thousand controls and killed our industrial revolution at birth. In my 30 years in business I did not meet a single bureaucrat who really understood my business, yet each had the power to ruin it. Our failures have been due less to ideology and more to poor management.

Another Financial Times article by Edward Luce and Ray Marcelo highlights that these difficulties create macroeconomic as well as microeconomic difficulties:

India levies a 20 per cent import duty on refined oil products and 10 per cent on crude oil. Mr Chidambaram [India's finance minister] is expected to reduce both bands in order to keep a lid on rising domestic energy costs.

But finance ministry officials say Mr Chidambaram’s scope is restricted since too sharp a reduction in import duties would eat into the government’s revenues, which depend heavily on indirect tax collection.

Mr Chidambaram has committed to a recent law which mandates elimination of India’s revenue deficit the difference between current spending and taxes raised by 2008.

India’s overall fiscal deficit is about 10 per cent of gross domestic product. “We have a fiscal responsibility act which limits what we can do to reduce tariffs,” said an official.

At the state level, the Economist has an interesting story on the lack of accountability in Gujarat following the 2002 pogroms against the Muslim minority, and its aftereffects. And in Bangalore, poor infrastructure is causing leading IT firms to consider relocation.

posted by Dan at 11:55 AM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (2)

Washingtonienne update

April Witt attempts a sympathetic portrayal of Jessica Cutler -- a.k.a., Washingtonienne -- in the Washington Post Sunday Magazine and halfway succeeds. In the story, Cutler comes across as much less calculating than much of the press coverage of her earlier in the summer. She's also sounds more self-deprecating than in her previous interviews.

On the other hand, she also appears to be aimless, immature, and confident that her looks would open doors for her despite a checkered resume (and, to be fair, she was correct about this). Like others before her, she also foolishly believed that her blog would never be read beyond her circle of friends.

Read the whole thing. This part is particularly interesting:

She posed for Playboy in a pictorial that will run this fall, just in time for the election. Book agents pursued her, and a literary bidding war netted her a six-figure book deal. "It's more than I probably deserve," she says. "Ha! I'm sure a lot of people will agree."

The tittering hordes vilified Jessica even as they pursued her, denouncing her online, around office coolers and in commentaries from the left and right. Jessica thinks she knows why. In a culture increasingly nervous about its own values, numbly sinking into the sofa at night to watch trash reality TV shows and wondering if our own 14-year-old sons and daughters are casually "hooking up," it's satisfying to have a bona fide blog slut to flog.

"I was watching the movie 'Scarface' the other night, and I was like, Oh my God, this is exactly how I feel," Jessica says. "There is that scene where [the gangster played by Al Pacino] was in a restaurant. He was all coked up. He gets thrown out. He tells everyone in the restaurant, 'You need me. You need me. You need me so you can point at me and say that's the bad guy.' "

Jessica Cutler, the mouse-clicker that roared, is a smart, subversive waif with a certain South Park charm. She's 5 feet 2, weighs about 100 pounds, wears hoop earrings as big as her fist and has a higher IQ -- she says she's been twice tested at more than 140 -- than the average medical student.

Jessica was officially fired for misusing an office computer, but the men she wrote about kept their jobs. What they lost was their privacy. Jessica's blog identified them only by their initials. But amateur Internet sleuths who read the blog searched electronic databases looking for likely suspects, then posted names and photographs on the Internet. Jessica still refuses to name the men publicly.

"I feel really bad for the guys," Jessica says. "They didn't deserve this."

As for herself, she tries to look on the bright side. "I was only blogging for, what, less than two weeks?" she says. "Some people with blogs are never going to get famous, and they've been doing it for, like, over a year. I feel bad for them."

Sitting in a corner table at the Palm one recent afternoon, she twists a strand of her long dark hair as she contemplates her place in the universe.

"I was the one writing on the bathroom wall" with her online diary. "A lot of men have bad things to say about me," acknowledges Jessica, who has been Googling herself to read anonymous diatribes from online critics. "I really upset them. I think it bothers them to find out that girls really do, you know, get together and laugh about guys' [anatomies] all day." (emphasis added)

Looks like Miss Cutler has been reading the blog.

Witt is surprisingly frank about her motivations in yesterday's Q&A:

What about the men? There were several reasons I wanted to do this story. But one of them was that I was fascinated that so many people were attacking Jessica and giving the men a free ride, so to speak. If Jessica is a skank for having hotel quickies with a married Bush official who gave her cash in an envelope, then what is he? Might he be someone who in his day job preaches that gay unions are a major threat to the institution of marriage, then skips out at lunch to cheat on his wife? His behavior is not only a threat to the institution of marriage, it’s a threat to the health and life of the mother of his children. The reaction to Jessica’s blog proved this if nothing else: the double sexual standard for men and women is still pervasive.... I see that as one of many very depressing aspects to this story.

Interestingly enough, a later contributer to the chat posted the following:

People who say that the guys in this mess are not getting blamed are completely wrong. While Cutler's identity is more public, the guys she slept with are getting plenty of their share of the blame, albeit not as publicly as Cutler since she has chosen to be the face of this controversy for personal gain.

Sure, the guys haven't been officially "outed" but their identities and pictures are well-known for the people on the Hill and if you ask around, they are being treated as pariahs and lepers.

posted by Dan at 11:20 AM | Comments (9) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, August 16, 2004

Hugo Chavez wins -- what now?

Hugo Chavez is declaring victory in the Venezuelan recall referendum with 58% of the vote. His opponents are declaring a "gigantic fraud."

Daniel Davies has a nice summary of Chavez's post-referendum conundrum over at Crooked Timber:

[T]here is now a fairly substantial Catch-22 situation. Part of the reason why Chavez was able to win was that in recent months he’s been throwing around money like water on social programs. He was able to do this because oil was up above $40 a barrel, generating vast profits for the state oil company. A lot of the reason why oil prices were so high was that … there was significant uncertainty about supply from Venezuela because of the impending referendum. Now that some of the uncertainty has been resolved, oil futures have already started tumbling, meaning that it’s going to be that little bit more dfficult to deliver on these promises; if I were a Venezuelan, I wouldn’t be assuming that we were out of the woods yet.

Davies' analysis leads to an interesting corrollary affecting the U.S. presidential election. Gas prices are one of the few economic indicators that voters care about deeply. If the Chavez result causes gas prices to fall, one has to assume it would benefit Bush and hurt Kerry.

Hugo Chavez providing a political boost to George W. Bush? We certainly do live in interesting times.

UPDATE: The Organization of American States and the Carter Center announced that, "their results agree with the preliminary results announced by the 'Electoral National Council' on the presidential recall referendum."

posted by Dan at 11:44 AM | Comments (22) | Trackbacks (1)

Sunday, August 15, 2004

The merits of mindless movies

Matthew Yglesias pans Alien vs. Predator, and I have every reason to believe him. Alas, a lot of Americans either disagrees or something, since it opened with a $38.3 million take this weekend -- roughly 50% more than the much-praised Collateral from last week.

On the other hand, AVP does have one virtue -- it prompted Dalton Ross to write a really funny Entertainment Weekly story on how other sci-fi movie franchises would do pitted against one another. Alas, its subscriber only, but here's his take on which movie is better -- Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan or Star Wars, Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back:

A battle fierce enough to divide even the least partisan chat room -- the two best films from the two biggest sci-fi franchises. And both are sequels, to boot. So let's divide away. ''The Wrath of Khan'' is a fantastic movie, more than making up for the disappointment that was the first ''Star Trek'' feature. With his blond mullet and uncovered chest, Ricardo Montalban may look more like a member of Dokken than an intergalactic madman, but as Khan, he makes the perfect revenge-seeking lunatic to pit against the now Admiral Kirk. Yet, let's be honest -- he's no Darth Vader. Even with his wicked brain bugs, Khan can't match up to a dude with a lightsaber. And Kirk's emotional reunion with his long-lost son is a nice touch, but it simply can't compare in the family-subplot department to Luke Skywalker sucking face...with his own sister! Pretty much everything in ''Empire'' is operating on a different level. The battle on Hoth, the introduction of both Yoda and Boba Fett (at least before George Lucas went back and gratuitously inserted the bounty hunter into ''Episode IV''), Luke's duel with Darth -- it's what has made ''Empire'' the standard by which not only other ''Star Wars'' flicks but all science-fiction films are judged. One area in which ''Trek'' trumps its rival: the emotional Spock death scene (and not just emotional because it leaves Kirstie Alley as the only Vulcan -- yikes!). It's a bold move, killing off one of your franchise's most beloved characters, even if you do cheat and bring him back one picture later (a trick ''SW'' also pulled with Obi-Wan Kenobi). It makes the contest closer, but even a scruffy nerf herder could tell you who wins this battle.

Winner: "Empire"

Let the great geek debate commence!

UPDATE: The Associated Press suggests why Alien vs. Predator will not be raking in a lot more bucks:

Audiences shelled out $16.8 million to see Alien Vs. Predator on Friday, but the movie's gross fell to $12.5 million Saturday, a steep 26 per cent decline. Most new movies do better business on Saturday than Friday.

That's a sign that Alien Vs. Predator could follow the pattern of Freddy Vs. Jason and other horror tales, which tend to open well then plunge in subsequent weekends.

LAST UPDATE: David Edelstein has a paean to "versus" movies in his review of AVP in Slate:

Thirty-odd years ago, along with many prepubescent horror fans of the '60s, I also stayed up past midnight to see Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman, in which Frankenstein (or, to be a geek about it, his monster) did not actually meet the Wolfman until the last five minutes, whereupon both were promptly swept away by a pathetic miniature exploding dam. I risked a barrage of peashooters to line up to watch King Kong square off against Godzilla and Godzilla square off against, well, anything. I suffered through Dracula vs. Frankenstein, an unbelievably tawdry Al Adamson film cobbled together from spare Z-picture pieces, in which Dracula (or the curly haired, goateed dork who passed for him) pulled the giant Play-Doh Frankenstein monster apart limb from limb. And, of course, I savored every stupid minute of last summer's Freddy vs. Jason, which set a world record for arterial spray and still couldn't manage to avoid a cheat ending. (No one really won—no one ever really does.) The appeal of the "versus" genre is no mystery. It's the same as Celebrity Death Match: We want the baddest cats to be humbled. We want the World Series of baddest cats.

posted by Dan at 11:13 PM | Comments (13) | Trackbacks (0)

The shifting threat from Al Qaeda

The Economist has a good rundown of the latest intelligence about Al Qaeda and its altered post-9/11 state, reaffirming some points that Daniel Byman made a few weeks ago. The good parts version:

With most of its leaders probably now lurking in the wilder parts of South Asia, deprived of their radios and telephones by fear of detection, the group's organisational function has shrivelled. Although Mr Khan's activities suggest that al-Qaeda is still more cohesive and active than has often been said, its card-carrying members represent nothing like the threat they did when Mr al-Hindi allegedly cased the New York Stock Exchange in late 2000....

But in its second coming, as the battle-standard and the ideology for a generation of militant Muslim youth, al-Qaeda is scoring a nightmarish success. Witness the case of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian believed to be leading hundreds of Islamist militants in Iraq. While running terrorist training camps in Afghanistan ten years ago, Mr Zarqawi was Mr bin Laden's rival of sorts. Now, wanted for the same $25m bounty as Mr bin Laden, he is routinely described as the head of al-Qaeda operations in Iraq.

Noting this shifting role, Jason Burke, a writer on al-Qaeda, says: “Since 9/11, there's been a rampant dissemination of al-Qaeda's ideology, which, even if its capability has diminished, has made it far easier for the group to recruit individuals.” The result, Mr Burke predicts, will be fewer spectacular strikes, such as those of September 11th, and many more small-scale, more randomly directed attacks, such as this year's bombings in Madrid. As in Madrid, these attacks will often be carried out by individuals who have only a passing contact with the al-Qaeda organisation, even if they claim to be members of it.

For any American president hoping to claim victory in the war on terror, such an analysis brings both good news and bad. Massive, potentially election-wrecking attacks look less likely, though not impossible. On the other hand, it would no longer be possible to claim—as Mr Bush would doubtless like to be able to claim—that by knocking out Mr bin Laden, the war had been taken to its final round.

Ironically, perhaps, a happier prospect for America is that if al-Qaeda should increasingly become the label of choice for all Islamic militants, its ire would be redirected towards an increasing number of local enemies, giving America some much-wanted allies. This process can already be tracked in Pakistan....

A very tentative conclusion is that while America is practising for another September 11th, the threat of Islamic militancy is becoming less spectacular, more general and more unpredictable. In short, it may be becoming more like the sort of insurgencies that Britain has fought during many decades.

Accordingly, says Rand's Mr Jenkins, Americans must learn not only to minimise the threat of al-Qaeda, but also to live with it. “Americans can't be phlegmatic,” he laments, “there's no question we've cranked up the threat. Whereas the Brits are capable of taking the long view, of seeing that this is a long-term problem, Americans look to do everything for short-term gain.” He argues that the American public needs to get risk-savvy, and the authorities need to find ways to handle the intelligence better, so that they can alert the nation to the threat of terrorism in a way that does not alarm people unduly.

Such lessons will probably take another terrorist threat or two to master, but mastered they may eventually have to be. Because, as most al-Qaeda watchers agree, a quick end to the war on terror is very hard to envisage.

posted by Dan at 10:56 PM | Comments (26) | Trackbacks (0)

Brad DeLong, cartoonist extraordinaire

Brad DeLong has some quibbles with my previous post:

Drezner approves of an attempt to analyze Bush's "grand strategy" by John Lewis Gaddis. According to Gaddis, the Bush "grand strategy" has five components [Preemption, unilateralism, hegemony, democratization, demonstration]....

Now Daniel Drezner (and John Lewis Gaddis, perhaps) may think that having this "clearly articulated grand strategy" is a worthwhile and positive thing, but I do not. It's an incoherent mess. It makes about as much sense as relying on the giant alien space bats from beyond to guard our national security. Even had it been "well-implemented," it would be highly likely to have been a disaster.

To "demonstrate" that you can "preempt" threats that are not there is a strategy for national insecurity. To throw away your alliances is to make hegemony impossible: the U.S. cannot exercise durable hegemony over even Iraq without reliable allies to provide 200,000 Arabic-speaking military police; where are they? And "democratization" is not a magic bullet: our last attempt to "democratize" a Middle Eastern country--to rely on representative institutions to curb religious fanaticism--in the late 1970s in Iran did not turn out well.

I must say I admire DeLong's Bush-like, straight-shooting rejoinder -- except for the fact that the entire post is so cartoonish in its treatment of Bush's grand strategy that it undercuts his point. So let's inject a little Kerryesque nuance into the discussion.

First of all, I'm puzzled that DeLong believes Gaddis is praising unilateralsm -- because that's nowhere in his Foreign Policy essay. Indeed, one of his points -- which DeLong quotes -- is that "even in these first few lines, then, the Bush NSS comes across as more forceful, more carefully crafted, and—unexpectedly—more multilateral than its immediate predecessor."

One could argue that Gaddis must have it wrong, and that the administration has, in practice, been astonishingly unilateral. I penned a counterargument to this back in February 2003 and I'll stand by it. The key point: "At worst, the administration can be accused of threatening to act [and eventually acting] in a unilateral manner if it doesn't get most of what it wants through multilateral institutions. Which is pretty much how all great powers have acted since the invention of multilateral institutions."

Yes, the Bush administration has acted more unilaterally than the previous administration, but the extent of its unilateralism is a question of degree rather than some revolutionary paradigm shift. Which is the point of distinguished diplomatic historian Melvyn Leffler in International Affairs. Leffler is hardly a full-blooded fan of the Bush NSS, but the main point of his essay is that the key components of the Bush grand strategy -- hegemony, preemption, democratization -- have appeared and reappeared throughout recent American history. To claim that Bush and/or the neoconservatives sudddenly invented what's in the National Security Strategy is to look at the history of American foreign policy wearing a really powerful set of blinders.

Leffler also underscores a point I made in March of 2003 about why democratization was not an unrealistic goal in Iraq.

Read the whole Leffler essay -- it's hardly a ringing endorsement of the NSS, but it makes DeLong's critique look as crudely drawn as Cartoon Network's Adult Swim -- though not nearly as funny.

Brad is enough of a historian to know better than this post. Once he reenters the land of the three-dimensional, the blogosphere will be a better place.

posted by Dan at 09:36 PM | Comments (71) | Trackbacks (2)