Saturday, November 13, 2004
The NSC SOB leaves town
I missed this last week, but apparently Bob Blackwill has resigned from the National Security Council. Glenn Kessler and Al Kamen proffer one explanation for his departure in the Washington Post (link via Greg Djerejian):
I've seen Blackwill in action and heard enough backchatter from people who have worked for him to be utterly unsurprised by anything in this report. His tenure as the U.S. ambassador to India was marked by similar problems.
Still, Blackwill's departure is a shame. He may have been an imperious SOB, but he was also a policymaker and manager of rare gifts -- and the country could use a few of those people. [You're just saying this because he's a Republican--ed. No, the Democrats have senior policymakers on their side with a similar set of positive and negative traits -- see Richard Holbrooke, Gene Sperling, or Ed Rendell. So Holbrooke and Sperling were physically abusive bosses?--ed. No, absolutely not -- but the verbal abuse, well, that's a different kettle of fish.]
UPDATE: John Burgess provides an illuminating comment about his experiences working under Blackwill in India.
Friday, November 12, 2004
The dogs that don't bark in international relations
Newspapers, media outlets -- and, because we feed off them, blogs -- tend to focus on the violent hot spots in international affairs. This is entirely appropriate -- but occasionally, it's worth stepping back and remembering that there are parts of the globe where everyone has expected and predicted things to go "BOOM!" -- and yet, in fact, conditions have improved.
Which brings me to Rajesh Mahapatra's report in the Associated Press about the further easing of tensions in South Asia:
As the second graf indicates, his doesn't mean that everything is sunshine and roses in Kashmir. However, the curent situation is certainly an improvement compared to conditions two years ago.
Thursday, November 11, 2004
More Friday baby blogging -- on Thursday
Provide the thought bubble behind Lauren's expression.
(Many thanks to Pam D. for the photo).
Wednesday, November 10, 2004
Open Arafat thread
Feel free to comment on the significance of Yasser Arafat's death here.
In particular -- is it good for the Palestinians?
If this Glenn Kessler story in the Washington Post is any indication, the Bush administration is intent on making progress on the Israeli/Palestinian issue:
Assuming that Arafat's successor recognizes the futility of the second intifada, one wonders whether, to use a crude analogy, the Palestinians will be to Bush what the Soviets were to Reagan -- an implacable foe that was transformed into a near ally after a display of toughness on the U.S. side and a change in leadership on the other side.
Of course, this requires a Palestinian version of Gorbachev. I leave it to the commenters to comment on the odds of that happening.
Meet the new foreign policy team -- same as the old foreign policy team?
Guy Dinmore and Demetri Sevastopulo report in the Financial Times on what's next for Bush's foreign policy team -- apparently, it's more of the same:
One niggling thought -- if Mr. Rumsfeld fails to solve the insurgency problem -- created in part by Mr. Rumsfeld's failure at contingency planning -- just when would he decide to step aside?
Another mostly useless correlation
In the past week there have been a great deal of chatter about how the high correlation between the states that voted for Bush and -- well, let's see, there's the prior practice of slavery, IQ (though this one is apparently a hoax -- click here for more), obesity (OK, that was in 2000, but I guarantee someone's going to post something about it for 2004), "lasting contribution(s) to freedom, culture and progress (in the blue states)," and "virtually every form of quantifiable social dysfunction."
As reluctant as I am to wade in on this -- because all these comparisons demonstrate are potentially spurious correlations -- it's worth pointing out that there are metrics on which the Red states look much nicer than the Blue states. Take, for example, generosity. Laura Walsh explains for the Associated Press:
You can see the entire list by clicking here. You have to go 26 places before a blue state pops up (New York). My suspicion is that if non-itemized deductions and volunteering were included, the observed correlation would only increase, since one would expect the wealthier states to substitute money for time in terms of altruism, and non-itemized deductions would include a greater number of smaller donations by the less affluent -- and there are more of these people in the red states. That's just a hunch, though.
Again, to derive the conclusion that Bush voters are more altruistic than Kerry voters from this data is absurd -- but just as absurd as the other correlations that have been posted.
Tuesday, November 9, 2004
The Iranian Internet crackdown
Alas, this section got cut from the conclusion of "Web of Influence":
Unfortunately, as my co-author Henry Farrell points out, this point can now be seen in Iran. Nazila Fathi reported on it yesterday in the New York Times:
Jeff Jarvis argues that, "They [the mullahs] will fail. This can't be stopped now."
UPDATE: For some more background on this crackdown, which has been going on for the past few months, check out this Hossein Derakhshan post from two months ago (link via Rebecca MacKinnon) as well as this Human Rights Watch press release from last month.
Open Fallujah thread
Feel free to comment on the current offensive in Fallujah here.
Andrew Sullivan has some contrasting assessments that are worth checking out.
Monday, November 8, 2004
That stupid George Lucas
Over the weekend I took my son to see The Incredibles with the Official BlogBrother, and a fine time was had by all -- though I suspect I enjoyed it more than the boy (My favorite line of dialogue is when the superhero voiced by Samuel L. Jackson asks his wife where his supersuit is. After some back-and-forth about whether he's really going to go out to save the day, he pleads, "Honey, this is for the greater good!" Her response is, "I am your wife! I am your GREATEST good!!")
However, the point of this post is that before the movie they unveiled the teaser trailer for Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. You can see it by clicking here.
The damn thing is driving me crazy -- because you know, you just know that the odds are heavily stacked in favor of the movie being God-awful. If you combine Episodes I and II together, you get about ten minutes of interesting film -- the last ten minutes of Episode II. Maybe that's a promising trend, and maybe the fact that this movie has to end on a downer note means that it will echo the greatness of The Empre Strikes Back.
But I doubt it -- George Lucas might have the reputation of being a master storyteller, but that doesn't change the fact that he's a really bad writer. The discussion of politics between Amidala and Anakin in Attack of the Clones were a particular low point. And anyone who can make Natalie Portman seem dull deserves a good thrashing.
However, the trailer is seductive -- the voice of Alec Guiness, the image of Lord Vader, the return of the Wookies to the narrative. For the millisecond he's on screen, even Liam Neeson finally seems comfortable in the Star Wars universe.
It's tempting, so tempting to plan on seeing the movie on the big screen. It reminds me of the last time I was excited about a sci-fi trailer -- oh, right, that was Episode I.
This is going to be vexing me until May.
Damn George Lucas and his beguiling trailers!! [Calm down! Trust your feelings! And rise--ed. Yes.... master.]
UPDATE: I see Pejman Yousefzadeh is also in danger of being seduced by the dark side.
November's books of the month
The international relations book is Cowboy Capitalism: European Myths about the American Reality by Olaf Gersemann, the Washington correspondent for Wirtschaftswoche, a German economics and business weekly. In the book, Gersemann runs through the litany of European stereotypes about inner workings of the American economy ("Americans work three jobs just to make ends meet;" "Unemployment is low only because so many people are in jail") and sees if the data matches up with the stereotype. Nine times out of ten it doesn't -- and even on the tenth time, there's no evidence that the American variety of capitalism is the proximate or underlying cause for the observed outcome. Go check it out.
The general interest book is The Best American Political Writing 2004, edited by Royce Flippin. The title is a bit deceptive -- it's really the best political writing from June 2003 to June 2004. [Cough!--ed.] However, post-election, it's a useful primer on the rhetorical state of play during the primary and general election seasons. [Cough! Cough!--ed.] In terms of ideological diversity, the forty-eight selections range from Pat Buchanan to Katha Pollitt.
[Ahem -- I said, COUGH, dammit!!!!--ed.] Oh, yes, -- by some error in someone's judgment, this TNR Online essay of mine from April 2004 made the cut. Even more surprisingly, it holds up pretty well post-election.
Sunday, November 7, 2004
The reason the dollar has managed to stay as strong as it has -- despite the combination of large trade deficits and low interest rates -- is that Asian central banks have been buying up greenbacks.
The big question that watchers of global finance have been asking in recent years is: what happens when the Asian central banks stop buying dollars?
Steve Johnson and Andrew Balls of the Financial Times suggest that we're about to find out:
Brad DeLong has further thoughts on the matter.
UPDATE: Do check out the Institute for International Economics web site as well -- papers by Fred Bergsten, Catherine Mann, Morris Goldstein, and John Williamson address various aspects of the U.S. curent account deficit.
ANOTHER UPDATE: DeLong says I'm oversimplifying things:
Well, yes... except that the external pressures on a country to stop buying a foreign currency in order to prevent currency appreciation are much weaker than the external pressures on a country to stop selling a foreign currency in order to prevent currency depreciations. My guess is that (b) doesn't take place until there's some sign that (a) is about to happen.
LAST UPDATE: Some of the commenters are wondering what the big deal is, since, "the value of the dollar remains about 10% ABOVE where it was during the halcyon days of Bill Clinton."
The answer is, possibly, nothing. If the dollar slowly depreciates by about 20-30% over the next year, there's no reason for concern. And the administration deserves some credit for talking down the dollar while preventing a precipitous fall. The question is whether this will continue as Asian central banks stop buying the dollar in such large quantities.
David Brooks 1, Maureen Dowd 0
Go read Brooks NYT column from Saturday.
Then read Dowd's column from today.
Which one is the member of the "reality-based community"?
So what do Chicago's graduate students do in their spare time?
Well, some of them set up one of those blog thingmabobs. Go check out Political Arguments, a group blog comprised of several U of C Ph.D. students in political theory.
This post tackles the whole red-blue question -- go check it out.
I confess to some guilt at linking to them -- because I'm not convinced that it's a great idea for graduate students to be blogging. This is not because they have nothing to say -- quite the opposite. The problem is that for grad students, the opportunity cost of blogging is less time spent on their own research and reading -- activities that are kind of important in terms of getting their advanced degrees.
Of course, I'm sure my senio colleagues have the same attitude towards this little enterprise, so consider this a "pot calling the kettle black" kind of disapproval.