Saturday, October 30, 2004

Hungary in crisis

The Guardian reports on a serious crisis in Hungary:

It is the country's national spice, a fiery seasoning of which the average Hungarian devours half a kilogramme a year. But now consumers in Hungary been advised to steer clear of paprika.
Shop shelves are being cleared of the spice and products that contain it after a possibly carcinogenic toxin was found in supplies.

The police are investigating whether South America was the origin of a batch of paprika containing high levels of the chemical aflatoxin, which was distributed by three Hungarian companies.

In some cases, the concentration was 10-15 times higher than the permitted level. The chemical can lead to illnesses such as liver cancer if consumed in large amounts.

The EU has advised member states that they can ban paprika products from Hungary.

Sales of the spice, an important ingredient of the national dish goulash, were banned on Thursday, and dozens of products are being tested....

Hungary is one of the biggest paprika exporters in the world, about 5,000 tonnes a year going most to Germany, Austria, the Netherlands and Slovakia.

Hungary without paprika is like... like... [China without rice? Italy without pasta? Russia without cabbage?--ed.] No, it's worse than that. There are dishes in those countries without the essential ingredient. I'm sure it's true of Hungary as well, but during my time there, I can't recall of a single thing I ate that didn't have paprika in it [Even the paprika ice cream?--ed. Oh, shut up.]

Everyone here at wishes the Hungarians the best of luck as they deal with this gastronomic crisis.

posted by Dan at 07:49 PM | Comments (10) | Trackbacks (1)

What to make of the bin Laden videotape?

It's understandable that most of the media reaction in this country to the bin Laden videotape is to engage in half-assed speculation on its electoral ramifications.

However, regardless of who wins, is there anything useful that can be garnered from the videotape to guide U.S. foreign policy for the future? Perusing the text, here's a possible list -- based on my half-assed speculations:

1) Osama bin Laden is alive -- this has been a matter of some dispute, but the references in the text make it clear that this was recorded recently;

2) He appears to have watched Fahrenheit 9/11. There are some really odd references in this message. Why, for example, would bin Laden care about the Patriot Act? The stupid goat story? Greg Djerejian has further thoughts on this.

3) He wants to bargain. One of the common post-9/11 assumptions was that Al Qaeda could not be deterred or reasoned with. Given what AQ wants, that's probably true, but it is interesting that bin Laden now seems to be trying to suggest that a bargain can be struck:

American people, I am speaking to tell you about the ideal way to avoid another Manhattan, about war and its causes and results.... Your security is not in the hands of Kerry or Bush or al Qaeda. Your security is in your own hands, and each state that does not harm our security will remain safe.

As Cam Simpson points out in the Chicago Tribune:

Although bin Laden mocked President Bush's response to the Sept. 11 attacks and compared the White House to corrupt Arab regimes, Al Qaeda's chief did not issue any explicit threats against American civilians or troops at home or abroad.

Nor did bin Laden lace his message, which was broadcast by the Qatar-based satellite network Al Jazeera, with the kind of religious imagery that has dominated previous addresses.

Instead, appearing in a white shirt draped in a gold robe and sitting or standing erect behind what appeared to be a tabletop set against a plain brown curtain, the militant leader issued a familiar condemnation of U.S. policy, speaking of what he called the "American-Israeli alliance against our people in Palestine and Lebanon."

U.S. intelligence officials said they had a "high degree of confidence" that the tape, which they received in advance of Friday's broadcast, was authentic. Its apparent lack of any explicit threats also meant the nation's color-coded, terrorism alert-level would probably remain unchanged, U.S. officials said.

Without the accoutrements of battle that he has surrounded himself with in previous messages--daggers, camouflage jackets, assault rifles--bin Laden seemed to be trying to convey the image of a world leader rather than of a terrorist hiding in a cave.

On the one hand, the sight of an apparently healthy bin Laden represents a blow to U.S. efforts against Al Qaeda. On the other hand, the difference between this message and previous ones from bin Laden suggest that he wants to cut a deal.

I categorically do not think that such a deal (we won't bomb you and you pull out of the Middle East) should be struck, but it is interesting that bin Laden is trying to put it on the table.

[But what about the electoral impact?--ed I'll leave that to the comments.]

UPDATE: Juan Cole makes an interesting point:

The talk about being "free persons" (ahrar) and fighting for "liberty" (hurriyyah) for the Muslim "nation" (ummah) seems to me a departure. The word "hurriyyah" or freedom has no classical Arabic or Koranic resonances and I don't think it has played a big role in his previous statements.

I wonder if Bin Laden has heard from the field that his association with the authoritarian Taliban has damaged recruitment in the Arab world and Iraq, where most people want an end to dictatorship and do not want to replace their secular despots with a religious one. The elections in Pakistan (fall 2002) and Afghanistan went better than he would have wanted, and may have put pressure on him. He may now be reconfiguring the rhetoric of al-Qaeda, at least, to represent it as on the side of political liberty. I am not saying this is sincere or might succeed; both seem to me highly unlikely. I am saying that it is interesting that Bin Laden now seems to feel the need to appeal to this language. In a way, it may be one of the few victories American neo-Wilsonianism has won, to push Bin Laden to use this kind of language. I doubt it amounts to much.

Naturally, I disagree with Juan -- this amounts to something. This New York Post story by Niles Lathem buttresses my hunch (link via Roger L. Simon):

Officials said that in the 18-minute long tape — of which only six minutes were aired on the al-Jazeera Arab television network in the Middle East on Friday — bin Laden bemoans the recent democratic elections in Afghanistan and the lack of violence involved with it.

On the tape, bin Laden also says his terror organization has been hurt by the U.S. military's unrelenting manhunt for him and his cohorts on the Afghan-Pakistani border.

posted by Dan at 12:37 PM | Comments (31) | Trackbacks (2)

Friday, October 29, 2004

The scientific method revealed!!

Henry Farrell posts on a tongue-in-cheek article in PS: Political Science in Politics. As Chris Lawrence observes, the highlight of the short essay is a footnote explaining the scientific method:

The scientific method consists of five steps:

1. Carefully examine the data and take note of any clear-cut patterns therein.

2) For each such pattern, formulate a hypothesis you can test statistically.

3) To avert suspicion, throw in a couple of extra hypotheses that you know are wrong.

4. Using the data from Step 1, tests these hypotheses statistically.

5. Based on the results of Step 4, proclaim that your main hypotheses have been upheld.

It's funny because, all too often, it's true.

posted by Dan at 06:39 PM | Comments (12) | Trackbacks (1)

The expertise schism

I think one of the big divides in the world is between people who primarily do security studies and people who do development. And I think one of the reasons the Bush people got into so much trouble is they put people who knew security in charge of what was really a big development project. These are people who had not spent a lot of time in East Timor or Somalia or Bosnia, watching how these things are done. I think that was one of the big problems.

That's Francis Fukuyama quoted in this long article about the internecine conflict between Fukuyama and Charles Krauthammer over Iraq and the future of neoconservatism (link via Andrew Sullivan).

Actually, I think Fukuyama understates the problem. It's not just that there was a divide between the security people and the development people. There was also a divide between the security experts between those who believed the revolution in military affairs (RMA) would transform all military operations, and those who believed that the RMA is important for warfighting but has little relevance for postwar occupation and peacebuilding activities.

Anyway, read the whole thing.

posted by Dan at 11:13 AM | Comments (25) | Trackbacks (1)

Thursday, October 28, 2004

So who's going to win the election?

I don't know.

You don't know either.

Oh, and if you think you know, well, you're full of it. [I know, I know!!--ed. No, no you don't.]

There are now a lot of sites providing Electoral Map projections, and all of them showing a close race in way too many battleground states. But these are all based on polling techniques that, in recent years, have elevated margins for error. Over at Slate, William Saletan, David Kenner, and Louisa Herron Thomas have a summary of the various bells and whistles each polling service has -- but none of them can correct for the problem of declining response rates. Richard Morin makes this point in today's Washington Post:

Two consecutive Election Day debacles have shaken public confidence in exit polls, once viewed as the crown jewel of political surveys.

Cell phones, Caller ID and increasingly elaborate call screening technologies make it harder than ever to reach a random sample of Americans. Prompted by the popularity of do-not-call lists, a few state legislatures are considering laws that would lump pollsters in with telemarketers and bar them from calling people at home.

Costs are soaring as cooperation rates remain at or near record lows. In some surveys, less than one in five calls produces a completed interview -- raising doubts whether such polls accurately reflect the views of the public or merely report the opinions of stay-at-home Americans who are too bored, too infirm or too lonely to hang up....

No surveys are immune. "Phone surveys are suffering, but so are response rates to mail surveys and even mall intercept surveys" in which people are interviewed while shopping, says Tom Smith, director of the General Social Survey at the University of Chicago, the best source of data on social trends in the United States. "All of the dominoes are being knocked down because the whole table is being shaken."

Currently cooperation rates hover at about 38 percent for the big national media surveys conducted over several days, but can dip down into the teens for surveys completed in a single night, says Jon Krosnick, a psychologist at Stanford University who has completed a groundbreaking study of response rates.

Even exit polls are feeling the pinch. In each of the past three presidential elections the proportion of people who agree to be interviewed after leaving the voting booth has dropped -- from 60 percent in 1992 to 55 percent in 1996 to 51 percent in 2000.

For decades, the conventional wisdom has been that high response rates equaled high-quality, more accurate surveys. Generations of pollsters-in-training were told in graduate school that the people who decline to participate in a poll, or cannot be reached, could be different than those who are contacted, in ways that would affect results.

Two converging trends -- the rise of telemarketing and growing time pressures in the home -- have frayed America's nerves and left many people unwilling or downright hostile when it comes to talking to pollsters. But a bigger problem seems to be that people are simply harder to reach. They're working longer, going out more and using call-screening devices when they're home, Krosnick says.

Keep this in mind when someone trumps a one or two point lead by their candidate. And check out Mark Blumenthal on the cell phone issue.

There is one wild card, however, that I haven't seen discussed all that much. While much of the concern about third party tickets is whether Ralph Nader would get votes for Kerry, this Electoral Vote Map points to another potential third-party spoiler:

A Rasmussen poll taken Oct. 26 in Arizona puts Libertarian party candidate Michael Badnarik at 3%. When the pollsters actually ask about him, he does surprisingly well. He might end up canceling out the Nader factor by appealing to disgruntled Republicans who support a balanced budget and small government and are appalled by the current deficit and power the Patriot Act gives the government to snoop on people's lives.

I've largely tuned out on the polls, but I don't think I've seen many of them with Badnarik included. With the number of states within the margin for error, that three percent could matter. UPDATE: The Weekly Standard's Rachel DiCarlo runs with the Badnarik meme, observing, "In September, a Rasmussen poll gave Badnarik three percent of the vote in Nevada, and in August Rasmussen showed him taking five percent of the vote in New Mexico--both considered potential swing states."

Readers are invited to suggest the biggest factor that is not showing up in the polling data but could decide the election -- as well as who you think will actually win.

UPDATE: Another question: how big will the Schilling factor be in New Hampshire? UPDATE: Never mind.

posted by Dan at 04:53 PM | Comments (69) | Trackbacks (1)

It's not your father's Turkish military

Susan Sachs has a New York Times story highlighting one of those below-the-radar developments in world politics that gets drowned out during the campaign season -- the institutionalization of the Turkish military's slow withdrawal from politics:

For the first time since the 1980 military coup, a civilian presided over Turkey's National Security Council on Wednesday, reflecting a quiet but major shift toward limiting the political power of the country's generals.

The council's new civilian secretary general is Yigit Alpogan, a diplomat who was most recently ambassador to Greece. His appointment followed amendments to the Turkish Constitution this year that reduced the number of posts reserved for the military in the council and several other government institutions.

The army's influence has hurt Turkey's drive to join the European Union, which has urged it to bring the generals to heel and impose civilian control over the military....

The Turkish Army intervened four times in the last 50 years to remove elected governments, most recently in 1997. In what was widely described as a "soft coup," the generals pressured the prime minister at the time, Necmettin Erbakan, to resign by criticizing his Islamist leanings and acting without consulting him....

The recent changes have caused grumbling, but senior commanders did not act to block or delay the latest constitutional move reducing the army's influence over higher education and increasing civilian control of the National Security Council.

"I believe that the army also felt the necessity of eliminating politics from its structure, given the progress of civil society in Turkey," said Serap Yazici, a professor of constitutional law at Bilgi University in Istanbul. "The more involved the military is in politics, the more it becomes politicized, and this would ultimately contradict its primary function as the protector of the country."

...It is too early to judge whether those changes, and the imposition of a civilian administrator, will reduce the military's influence, said Umit Cizre, a military affairs specialist at Bilkent University in Ankara.

If this change is genuine, it makes Turkey more democratic -- but it would also make Turkey a more "Eurocentric" country, as the country bends over backwards to gain entry into the European Union. This should act as an excellent bulwark in keeping Turkey a secular country -- but it would also probably mean a worsening of Turkey's relations with Israel (the Turkish and Israeli militaries are on very good terms).

On the whole, this is probably a net benefit to U.S. foreign policy -- but I'm sure that others may disagree.

posted by Dan at 01:26 PM | Comments (27) | Trackbacks (1)

Take that curse and shove it!


There will be years to come, no doubt, when the Boston Red Sox will lose when they could have won. There will be playoff games that may not go the way of the Olde Towne Team, miscues that prove costly. There will be reverses, setbacks, losses -- that's baseball.

You know what there won't be? Any talk about a f***ing curse. Any expectation that things will go wrong because they always go wrong. Because THAT'S ALL OVER, BABY!!!

Thank you, 2004 Red Sox -- for the rest of my life, I will be able to watch baseball and not fret about how disaster could strike my team. So long to mutterings about medieval concepts like superstition and witchcraft -- the Red Sox Nation can now enter the age of the Enlightenment [Bill Simmons of ESPN's Page 2 has further thoughts on this theme. And Jim Salisbury of the Philadelphia Inquirer has a story on how the Red Sox management used the power of rational analysis to overcome the curse (link via David Pinto, who also has thoughts on this theme)].

The Red Sox didn't just win -- they won with style and bravado:

Coming back 0-3 -- against the Yankees;

Beating the best team in the American League to win the AL pennant and then beating the best team in the National League to win the World Series;

Reeling off eight straight wins -- a new post-season record;

Never trailing during the World Series;

Getting clutch two-out hit after clutch two-out hit -- to quote Simmons, "Has there ever been a World Series team that juggled more heroes from game to game?"

Starting pitchers not giving up an earned run the last three games -- and rock-solid relief pitching.

Congratulations to the ownership group (Steve Kettman was right!), GM Theo Epstein, manager Terry Francona, and the whole roster.

The Boston Red Sox are the 2004 World Champions of Major League Baseball!

posted by Dan at 12:13 AM | Comments (27) | Trackbacks (4)

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Just feel that love for Kerry -- not.

Slate has published the voting preferences of its contributors, editorial and business staff. Not surprisingly, it's overwhelningly tilted to Kerry.

Going through it, two things struck me:

1) I'm with Jim Lindgren -- who is Christopher Hitchens voting for? In The Nation, it appears to be Bush; in Slate... well, it says he's voting for Kerry, but here's his statement:

I am assuming for now that this is a single-issue election. There is one's subjective vote, one's objective vote, and one's ironic vote. Subjectively, Bush (and Blair) deserve to be re-elected because they called the enemy by its right name and were determined to confront it. Objectively, Bush deserves to be sacked for his flabbergasting failure to prepare for such an essential confrontation. Subjectively, Kerry should be put in the pillory for his inability to hold up on principle under any kind of pressure. Objectively, his election would compel mainstream and liberal Democrats to get real about Iraq.

The ironic votes are the endorsements for Kerry that appear in Buchanan's anti-war sheet The American Conservative, and the support for Kerry's pro-war candidacy manifested by those simple folks at I can't compete with this sort of thing, but I do think that Bush deserves praise for his implacability, and that Kerry should get his worst private nightmare and have to report for duty.

People can say I used tortured logic to reach my decision -- but at least I made one. [UPDATE: Apparently Hitchens did not intend to endorse anyone -- click here for more]

2) Is there anyone out there -- beyond the New York Times editorial page -- who actually likes John Kerry? Compared to some of the other entries, Mickey Kaus actually comes off as warm and fuzzy towards the junior Senator from Massachusetts. Jacob Weisberg pretty much sums up the mood of the responses:

I remain totally unimpressed by John Kerry. Outside of his opposition to the death penalty, I've never seen him demonstrate any real political courage. His baby steps in the direction of reform liberalism during the 1990s were all followed by hasty retreats. His Senate vote against the 1991 Gulf War demonstrates an instinctive aversion to the use of American force, even when it's clearly justified. Kerry's major policy proposals in this campaign range from implausible to ill-conceived. He has no real idea what to do differently in Iraq. His health-care plan costs too much to be practical and conflicts with his commitment to reducing the deficit. At a personal level, he strikes me as the kind of windbag that can only emerge when a naturally pompous and self-regarding person marinates for two decades inside the U.S. Senate. If elected, Kerry would probably be a mediocre, unloved president on the order of Jimmy Carter. And I won't have a second's regret about voting for him. Kerry's failings are minuscule when weighed against the massive damage to America's standing in the world, our economic future, and our civic institutions that would likely result from a second Bush term.

UPDATE: This commenter sardonically points out the leap of faith those voting for Kerry are taking. Indeed, on foreign policy and on trade policy, even Kerry's own advisors aren't completely sure what the hell he's going to do.

So are Kerry supporters taking risk? No, I suspect they, like me, are adopting a minmax strategy. The question to ask is: assume both Kerry and Bush will completely embody their worst stereotypes -- which candidate leaves the country better off? By a hair, I think it's Kerry.

UPDATE: I've finally found my voting bloc (hat tip to alert reader T.D.)!!

posted by Dan at 02:57 PM | Comments (59) | Trackbacks (4)

Monday, October 25, 2004

What happens after November 2nd?

I'm crashing on several projects at the moment, so blogging will be very sparse this week. However, that doesn't mean you can't talk amongst youselves.

Today's topic: assume that next week's election ends cleanly -- i.e., it's clear to one and all who wins and who loses, and the losing candidate concedes defeat on election night. Does the country remain as polarized as it has been during the campaign season (or as polarized as the discussion thread in my last post suggests)? And can that question be answered differently depending on who the winner is?

UPDATE: Richard Rushfield's unscientific one-man journalistic experiment suggests that polarization will be stronger if Bush wins -- not necessarily because of Bush, but because of his opposition.

ANOTHER UPDATE: The ever-industrious Tom Maguire offers advice for Republicans if Kerry wins over at Glenn REynolds' MSNBC blog.

posted by Dan at 12:43 PM | Comments (188) | Trackbacks (1)