Saturday, October 9, 2004
Open second debate thread
Along with a few other hardy conference attendeess, I got up at 3 AM to watch the second presidential debate live. This means I did not get a lot of sleep, but my quick opinion was
So I think Kerry won, but not by as much as last time.
Post your own thoughts here!!
Wednesday, October 6, 2004
October's Books of the Month
I'll be at a conference in Milan for the next few days (yes, I know, I lead a rough life), so blogging may or may not take place. However, here are some belated October book recommendations.
The international relations book of the month is Sebastian Mallaby's The World's Banker, which avoids the common flaw of most books about the international financial institutions (IFIs) -- a dearth of amusing goat anecdotes.
To elaborate: tomes about the International Monetary Fund or World Bank tend to be drenched in a dull earnestness about the best ways to promote global development. The exceptions are the books slathered with righteous indignation about the alleged injustices committed by either institution towards the environment, local cultures, women or the poor in general. Either way, readers are frequently forced to wade through pages of exposition written with all the prose style of the phone book. The debate about the IFIs has a wide-ranging impact on global policy, but with the current state of the literature, even the eyes of interested readers start to glaze over.
How well-researched is this book? Mallaby's description of Wolfensohn's first trip to Africa as World Bank president has a lot of eye-grabbing detail, including one graf that describes how Wolfemsohn looks at an airplane tarmac. The description was a bit thick, and I was ready to chide Mallaby for inserting colorful details that neither he nor anyone else could have remembered -- until I checked the footnotes. Mallaby had recreated the scene using a World Bank video recording. It sounds like a small thing, but is indicative of the excellent sourcing in The World's Banker.
Finally, you won't finish the book without having an indelible impression of Wolfensohn. I never thought anyone could write a book about the IFIs that merited a movie treatment, but after reading Mallaby's book, I can see an HBO film of Wolfensohn -- Michael Douglas would be perfect for the role.
As it's October, the general interest book is Steve Kettmann's One Day at Fenway. The book is a tick-tock account of an August 30, 2003 game between the Yankees and the Red Sox at Fenway Park through the eyes of twenty-five different people -- ballplayers, managers, executives, staff, fans, and the scoreboard operator behind the Green Monster. The subtitle of the book is A Day in The Life of Baseball in America, and that's pretty much accurate. The pointillist account would be fascinating on any terms, but the fact that it was a good game makes it all the more engaging. Kettmann had multiple eporters, writers and research assistants follow around each of these people for the entire day until the end of the game. For example, Pulitzer Prize winner Samantha Power shadowed Red Sox GM Theo Epstein for the whole day -- giving this blogger just one more reason to be unbelievably jealous of Ms. Power.
In the epilogue, Kettman reaches the following hopeful conclusion:
I hope he's right, but as a loyal Sox fan I am obligated to fear that he's wrong. Which leads to another side-effect of being in Milan -- I won't be able to watch any of the games.
Whether this is a good thing or a bad thing remains to be seen.
Tuesday, October 5, 2004
Open veep debate thread
Feel free to discuss the before-and-after of the vice-presidential debate here. Discuss the following amongst yourselves: Historically, do VP debates matter at all?
My answer to this question is "no," which is why I won't be liveblogging this one.
UPDATE: OK, my take on this debate is constrained by the fact that, a) I spent the first 25 minutes of it reading Dr. Seuss to my son; b) I spent the rest of the time flipping between the VP debate and the Twins-Yankees game, and I found the latter far more riveting. That said, five thoughts:
That said, post your own thoughts!!
UPDATE: Andrew Sullivan says I'm copping out on my own view -- the most devastating charge to be made in the blogosphere!! OK, bearing in mind I didn't watch the whole debate (which is why I was reluctant to proffer my own opinion), I'd give it to Cheney. His astringent style and well-versed talking points held up pretty well, and I picked up the same weak points in Edwards' performance as Mickey Kaus ("at times looked like a yapping ankle-biter, albeit a well-briefed one"). So Cheney won -- but not by any significant margin.
Here's a link to the full transcript.
My original conclusion stands, however -- the VP debate is irrelevant.
Monday, October 4, 2004
So how did that G-7 dinner go?
Remember that G-7 dinner that Chinese Finance Ministry officials were asked to attend? It took place over the weekend. Chris Giles and Andrew Balls report on the outcome in the Financial Times. First, the dinner:
More interesting was the assessment at the end of the article on why there might not be any change in global macroeconomic imbalances anytime soon -- although they may be unstatainable in the long run, the status quo ante brings short-run economic benefits and minimal political costs for the U.S., China, and the European Union:
This post from a few weeks ago is also worth checking out -- both on the global imbalances and China's exchange rate policies.
UPDATE: The Economist has more on the G-7 meeting. Money paragraph:
Sunday, October 3, 2004
Joe Queenan's huge glass house
The print version New York Times Book Review has been reformatted, with the curious decision to remove even the one-sentence summary of the book reviewer's bona fides (they're still on the online version, however). This is too bad, as it would prove most useful in assessing Joe Queenan's review of A.J. Jacobs' The Know-It-All.
Queenan trashes the book, and from the excerpted portions, it sounds like he's got a decent case to make. However, Queenan is aiming at a larger target:
There's probably a lot of insider information about the cultural mediasphere that I'm missing out on (paging Jeff Jarvis), but what on earth is Queenan's beef with Entertainment Weekly? Jacobs now works (as a senior editor) at Esquire, but Queenan somehow shoehorns three mentions of EW into the piece. Did Jacobs beat out Queenan for a writing gig there or something?
This is niggling, but as someone who's read both Bertrand Russell and is an avid consumer of Entertainment Weekly, I'm genuinely puzzled by Queenan's hostility. It would be like erroneously blasting watchers of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and assuming that this is where they get all of their political knowledge. In point of fact, Daily Show viewers are better informed than other viewers -- not because they watch The Daily Show, but because they gravitate to that program since, as this press release observes, "These findings do not show that The Daily Show is itself responsible for the higher knowledge among its viewers... The Daily Show assumes a fairly high level of political knowledge on the part of its audience – more so than Leno or Letterman." The same is true of Entertainment Weekly when compared to the other popular culture magazines -- such as, say, TV Guide, which is where Queenan wrote a column from 1996 to 1999.
A former TV Guide writer bashing Entertainment Weekly as being an attactor of uninformed writers? That's just too big of a glass house to pass up.
UPDATE: Matthew Yglesias points out some of the problems with reading Bertrand Russell. He's right -- if memory serves, Russell's take on Hegel is pretty distorted.