Saturday, November 20, 2004

Could be worse -- could be Celtic/Rangers

Last night as I was flying back to Chicago I dipped into Franklin Foer's How Soccer Explains the World. The two chapters I read were about the tight linkage between Serbia's soccer hooligans and Arkan's war crimes, and the fierce Celtic-Rangers rivalry that defines Glasgow.

Reading the book helped put last night's melee between the Indiana Pacers, the Detroit Pistons, and the Piston fans at Auburn Hills in the proper perspective. Brendan Loy has the immediate reaction.

I'm not condoning the behavior of the fans here -- Mike Celizic is correct to assign a significant amount of blame on the moronic fan that threw something at Ron Artest in the first place. And, of course, Artest was Artest -- which means he subsequently lost it. If he hadn't, however, this would have ended with some minor suspensions and would not have led off Sportscenter. In other words, it took a precise sequence of actions for this to happen, and if Artest isn't the player in the middle, I'm not sure it escalates.

This was a case of emotions spilling out of control by all concerned -- starting with Artest and Ben Wallace. What it was not was a case of organized, premeditated violence with the intent of harming players or opposing fans. Go read Foer's book for examples of truly sociopathic sports fans.

What happened last night wasn't pretty -- but Marc Stein is probably right to say that the NBA will recover quickly from this episode:

The league has seen far darker days, be it the drug scandals of the 1970s that nearly put the NBA out of business, or the lockout of 1998-99 that cost Stern's kingdom its distinction as the only major professional sports league in the United States to avoid a work stoppage....

Believe it or not, like it or not, attracting more interest to future chapters of Pistons vs. Pacers is one of the ramifications. That's entertainment, folks. The pattern for many of us, after expressing our disgust and disappointment, is to keep following along, desperate to see what happens next.

However, Stein missteps when he says:

Much of the behavior was actually worse than soccer hooliganism, because soccer hooligans are often plain, old hooligans who pretend to be soccer fans just to have an outlet to cause trouble. Friday's culprits threw bottles, liquids, foods, a chair and God knows what else at Pacers players to escalate the chaos to an all-time high. Or low.

In my book -- and I believe most criminal codes -- premeditated acts are considered more heinous than acts of passion.

UPDATE: Kevin Hench has a good round-up over at Fox Sports. And Chris McCosky of the Detroit News points out the failure of the refs to take control of the situation -- not to mention their inexplicable failure to whistle Artest for a foul in the first place.

LAST UPDATE: Given that Artest was suspended for the rest of the season, this interview he gave last week to's Marc Stein seems unintentionally hilarious. The key bit: Can the Pacers really count on you for the rest of the season?

Artest: I'll be here for the rest of the season.

posted by Dan at 08:12 PM | Comments (18) | Trackbacks (4)

A scholarly post

Google released their scholarly search page recently -- Eugene Volokh has a profane review. I'm still kicking the search page's tires.

Another useful site for scholars is ResourceShelf's DocuTicker -- a blog that started up about six months ago and is devoted solely to linking to recent government and think tank research (thanks to A.S. for the link). In fact, on their main site, Rita Vine provides a librarian's assessment of Google's new search feature.

Finally, Eszter Hargittai has a post "challeng[ing] the position of dismissing blogging as relevant scholarship altogether." As one of the people Eszter is challenging, I'm going to digest her post before proffering a full response. But. as with anything Eszter writes, it's well worth reading.

posted by Dan at 12:03 AM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (1)

Friday, November 19, 2004

Hey, the system works

Kevin Drum and David Adesnik are gnashing their teeth over Colin Powell's statements about a nuclear Iran -- and the fact that they were based on shaky empirical evidence. Kevin writes, "It's hard to believe our credibility can get any worse on stuff like this, but obviously we're trying."

I take the "glass-is-half-full" approach on this one. A lot of IR scholars were convinced that what happened in Iraq was evidence that contrary to a lot of democratic peace theory stretching back to Kant, the executive branch could gin up any excuse to go to war and it would fly with the other branches of government and the American people.

I always thought this was exaggerated. Iraq was a sui generis case in which, post-9/11, the administration went after low-hanging fruit in the form of a country in the same region that we'd fought a decade earlier, and was in noncompliance with a lot of UN Security Council resolutions. There aren't a lot of countries like that -- even Iran isn't like that. Furthermore, the post-invasion revelations about the mistakes that were made were not going to just fade away.

The Powell episode bears this out. If Iraq did anything, it made all the relevant actors -- including the Bush officials who leaked to the Washington Post -- recognize that the hurdle to justify coercive force is going to be higher from here on in. Maybe, just maybe, the failures of intelligence in Iraq have made everyone set the evidentiary bar just a bit higher for future military action.

One final random thought -- is it me, or did the Powell episode happen at almost blog speed for the U.S. government? Basically, Thursday's post corrected Wednesday's post.

Now one can question whether the U.S. government should really operate according to the norms of blog posting, and I share Kevin's concerns about U.S. credibility. Credibility is sustained by being right, but it's also sustained by admitting when you are wrong. This strikes me as a case where the government was forced to be more transparent with the quality of the information they had than at any time in the run-up to Iraq.

And that's a very, very good thing.

posted by Dan at 11:22 AM | Comments (36) | Trackbacks (1)

The state of the State Department

Via Glenn Reynolds, I've been growing more and more interested in this anonymous group blog by State Department Foreign Service Officers who happen to be Republican. This post on what Condi should do to reform the management at Foggy Bottom rings true:

Slash and burn. At times it appears that half the FS is involved in making personnel decisions on the other half. The teeth-to-tail ratio is very poor. The assignment process must be streamlined; the seemingly endless negotiations for assignments must end; the protracted meetings and deal-makings must stop; show less sympathy for special needs, e.g., tandem couples. It can take a year or more to assign someone to a posting. Absurd. Reduce the size of the personnel (HR) operation. Put an end to the little empires that exist in HR, empires established by bureaucrats who "homestead" themselves in the HR system, spending years there accumulating power, establishing networks to reward themselves and friends and to punish "enemies." It is tempting to rely on these persons' "expertise," but resist it; rotate them out. Make them stand in a visa line in Mexico City. Get them out of Washington on a regular basis. It's the Foreign Service. They don't want to go? They can go work for the DMV.

Drastically reduce the layers of bureaucracy. Do we need so many staff assistants, special assistants, executive assistants, etc.? Flatten out the pyramid. Work on eliminating whole offices and bureaus. Have the Secretary go to Congress and argue for eliminating the annual human rights report exercise -- an enormous and wasteful enterprise that keeps hundreds of people employed to appease a handful of NGOs who don't like the reports anyhow. Kill off this requirement; eliminate the whole human rights bureau (DRL). Scrap the Undersecretary for Global Affairs (G): what the hell is that job anyhow? Cut the oceans and environment bureau (OES). Merge the three quasi- pol-mil bureaus and reduce their overall size. Beef up the INR function. Spin off USIA, again. Take a merciless look at the consular affairs (CA) bureau, and get rid of all those lawyers in that bureau! Do we need to baby long-term American expats who haven't lived in the US for years and years and often don't pay taxes? Split the CA bureau: hive off citizen services from visa issues.

Until you reform the assignment process, have the Secretary not assume that a person who is, for example, working on Arab-Israeli affairs, actually knows something about Arab-Israeli affairs or that what he knows is actually right or worth knowing. That person could have gotten the job thanks to some complex deal having nothing to do with substance.

Take a hard look at the size and number of embassies abroad. Do we really need an embassy in every African and European country? Do we need them so big?

I don't agree with all of their recommendations -- yeah, we do need embassies in all of those countries -- but their observations about the excessive levels of bureaucracy are spot-on. When I had my CFR fellowship and was choosing between going to State and Treasury, I took the Treasury option even though it was at a lower level. It took only one visit and one glance at the two organizational charts to realize that Treasury's hierarchy was much quicker and flatter -- and as a result, policy was able to be altered and implemented much more quickly.

posted by Dan at 11:08 AM | Comments (19) | Trackbacks (2)

Thursday, November 18, 2004

It's always something....

According to Drezner family lore, whenever I travel I always leave something behind. Alas, this time around I forgot the AC cord for my laptop, so blogging will probably be very light today and tomorrow.

For those in DC, a reminder of why I'm travelling (note NEW LOCATION):

IHS and Reason magazine present Ana Marie Cox, Daniel Drezner, Henry Farrell, and Michael Tomasky debating the role of blogs in the election on November 18.

A free-for-all discussion on the role of blogs and politics featuring Wonkette's Ana Marie Cox, blogger and University of Chicago political scientist Daniel Drezner, blogger and George Washington University political scientist Henry Farrell, The American Prospect's Michael Tomasky, moderated by Reason's Nick Gillespie.

Drinks and hors d'oeuvres to follow remarks and Q&A.

Thursday, November 18
7:30-9:00 pm

Porter's Dining Saloon
1207 19th St. NW (19th and M Street)
Washington, DC

UPDATE: Well, the panel was a blast -- for those of us who had chairs to sit on. The room was pretty crowded, which was great in terms of interest but not so great in terms of temperature and ventilation. Thanks to one and all who showed up!

posted by Dan at 02:41 PM | Comments (8) | Trackbacks (1)

China extends its soft power

Jane Perlez writes in the New York Times about the contrast between China's expanding efforts to sell its culture in its near abroad with the ratcheting down of U.S. public diplomacy:

In pagoda-style buildings donated by the Chinese government to the university here, Long Seaxiong, 19, stays up nights to master the intricacies of Mandarin.

The sacrifice is worth it, he says, and the choice of studying Chinese was an easy one over perfecting his faltering English. China, not America, is the future, he insists, speaking for many of his generation in Asia.

"For a few years ahead, it will still be the United States as No. 1, but soon it will be China," Mr. Long, the son of a Thai businessman, confidently predicted as he showed off the stone, tiles and willow trees imported from China to decorate the courtyard at the Sirindhorn Chinese Language and Culture Center, which opened a year ago.

The center is part of China's expanding presence across Southeast Asia and the Pacific, where Beijing is making a big push to market itself and its language, similar to the way the United States promoted its culture and values during the cold war. It is not a hard sell, particularly to young Asians eager to cement cultural bonds as China deepens its economic and political interests in the region.

Put off from visiting the United States by the difficulty of gaining visas after 9/11, more and more Southeast Asians are traveling to China as students and tourists. Likewise, Chinese tourists, less fearful than Americans of the threat of being targets of terrorism, are becoming the dominant tourist group in the region, outnumbering Americans in places like Thailand and fast catching up to the ubiquitous Japanese.

As the new Chinese tourists from the rapidly expanding middle class travel, they carry with them an image of a vastly different and more inviting China than even just a few years ago, richer, more confident and more influential. "Among some countries, China fever seems to be replacing China fear," said Wang Gungwu, the director of the East Asian Institute at National University in Singapore.

Over all, China's stepped up endeavors in cultural suasion remain modest compared with those of the United States, and American popular culture, from Hollywood movies to MTV, is still vastly more exportable and accessible, all agree. The United States also holds the balance of raw military power in the region.

But the trend is clear, educators and diplomats here say: the Americans are losing influence.

As China ramps up its cultural and language presence, Washington is ratcheting down, ceding territory that was virtually all its own when China was trapped in its hard Communist shell.

"The Chinese are actively expanding their public diplomacy while we are cutting back or just holding our own," said Paul Blackburn, a former public affairs officer of the United States Information Service who served at four American embassies in Asia in the 1980's and 90's.

Read the whole thing -- Perlez backs up her assertion.

Does any of this matter? This depends whether you think that soft power actually matters. I think soft power doesn't exist without hard power, so really Chinese soft power matters only as it represents a manifestation of China's hard power.

posted by Dan at 01:22 AM | Comments (37) | Trackbacks (1)

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

About that values gap....

I've been back and forth about whether the values gap explains the 2004 election. Mystery Pollster Mark Blumenthal looks at the latest Pew analysis of the role that moral values played in the 2004 election, and comes away convinced that there's something to the argument. Go check it out.

And, for a lovely example of this, see how you react to this Reuters story (thanks to R.H. for the link):

Hunters soon may be able to sit at their computers and blast away at animals on a Texas ranch via the Internet, a prospect that has state wildlife officials up in arms.

The Web site already offers target practice with a .22 caliber rifle and could soon let hunters shoot at deer, antelope and wild pigs, site creator John Underwood said on Tuesday....

Underwood, an estimator for a San Antonio, Texas auto body shop, has invested $10,000 to build a platform for a rifle and camera that can be remotely aimed on his 330-acre (133-hectare) southwest Texas ranch by anyone on the Internet anywhere in the world.

The idea came last year while viewing another Web site on which cameras posted in the wild are used to snap photos of animals.

"We were looking at a beautiful white-tail buck and my friend said 'If you just had a gun for that.' A little light bulb went off in my head," he said.

Internet hunting could be popular with disabled hunters unable to get out in the woods or distant hunters who cannot afford a trip to Texas, Underwood said....

Underwood, 39, said he will offer animal hunting as soon as he gets a fast Internet connection to his remote ranch that will enable hunters to aim the rifle quickly at passing animals.

He said an attendant would retrieve shot animals for the shooters, who could have the heads preserved by a taxidermist. They could also have the meat processed and shipped home, or donated to animal orphanages.

Here's a link to the site in question. Josh Chafetz says, "Only in Texas," but I suspect there are other states out there where this would be a viable option.

posted by Dan at 03:14 PM | Comments (21) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Oh, yes, there are costs to blogging

This week's blog casualties:

1) A Delta flight attendant was fired for posting mildly risqué photos of herself in her Delta uniform on her blog.

2) An NBA owner was fined for making disparaging comments about the NBA on his blog.

Not quite as bad as the Iranians, of course.

posted by Dan at 11:16 PM | Comments (10) | Trackbacks (1)

What happens if Conan the Bacterium infects Aquaman?

John J. Fialka has a front-pager in today's Wall Street Journal (this link should be good for non-subscribers as well) that spurs a "Wow, this is cool" reaction in me. It's about research into microorganisms that can not only survive in nuclear waste dumps -- they thrive there:

Eight years ago, scientists using a metal rod here to probe the radioactive depths of a nuclear-waste tank saw something that shocked them: a slimy, transparent substance growing on the end of the rod.

They took the specimen into a concrete-lined vault where technicians peered through a 3-foot-thick window and, using robot arms, smeared a bit of the specimen into a petri dish. Inside the dish they later found a colony of strange orange bacteria swimming around. The bacteria had adapted to 15 times the dose of radiation that it takes to kill a human being. They lived in what one scientific paper calls a "witches' brew" of toxic chemicals.

It was a step forward for the U.S. Department of Energy, which has been looking for a few good bugs -- in particular, members of an emerging family of microbes that scientists call "extremophiles." These microbes can survive in some of Earth's most inhospitable environments, withstanding enormous doses of radiation, thriving at temperatures above boiling, and mingling with toxic chemicals that would kill almost anything else.

That makes them a potentially valuable tool in the Energy Department's effort to clean up vast amounts of nuclear waste, including the Savannah River Site near Augusta, Ga., and the Hanford Site near Richland, Wash. The department says it could cost as much as $260 billion to clean up its messes with conventional methods, which rely heavily on chemical treatment and robots. Using extremophiles could slash that bill....

Scientists know of at least a dozen extremophiles. The first was discovered in 1956 in Corvallis, Ore. Scientists were zapping cans of horse meat with high radiation, trying to establish the preservative value of food irradiation. One can developed an ominous bulge. Inside, the scientists isolated pink bacteria they had never seen before.

They gave it the scientific name Deinococcus radiodurans. But researchers were so amazed by the bug's resilience that some years later, they nicknamed it "Conan the Bacterium," spawning a folklore and debate among scientists that continues today. Because the microbes endure radiation at levels higher than any natural source, some scientists have argued that they must have ridden in on comets. Others speculate that they were the Earth's first residents after the planet was born in a radioactive explosion.

The original Conan proved to be a wimp among extremophiles. It could handle radiation, but not the solvent toluene and other chemicals normally found in bomb makers' wastes. So, in 1997, the Energy Department started work on a genetically manipulated bug that researchers called Super Conan.

Super Conan now lives in a petri dish at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, a U.S. military research facility in Bethesda, Md. It can handle nasty chemicals as well as radiation, but the researcher who developed it, Michael J. Daly, says the government is afraid to let it out.

"We're at a point where we could do some field trials," he says, adding that his sponsors at the Energy Department doubt the public is ready for the release of this laboratory-engineered bug into the environment. It might eat nuclear wastes, but they worry about what else might it do, he says.

Rather than confront such touchy matters, the department is confident it can find Super Conan's equivalent in nature, says Ari Patrinos, the department's director of biological and environmental research. He estimates that fewer than 1% of the Earth's bacteria forms have been identified: "There are plenty out there for our needs. We just have to pick and choose." (emphasis added)

I will confess that the bolded section was my second reaction when reading the headline. I immediately flashed back to when I would watch Superfriends on Saturday mornings. Inevitably Aquaman would experience some "freak genetic mutation" and turn into some giant pissed-off fish that wreaked havoc on the high seas until Superman finally gave him the antidote. It was always a nuisance. [Er, but these extremophiles would prevent this from happening -- so why did you think of Aquaman?--ed. I didn't say I was following a rational chain of logic here. I was describing gut instinct.]

posted by Dan at 06:31 PM | Comments (17) | Trackbacks (0)

Shrewd assessment or wishful thinking from William Kristol?

Via Dan Froomkin, there's an article by Guy Dinmore in the Financial Times suggesting that Donald Rumsfeld is on his way out as well. Well, it's not the FT saying this so much as William Kristol:

William Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard, said he saw a "slightly softer version of Bush politics" over the next four years.

He also predicted that Donald Rumsfeld, secretary of defence, would resign, as President George W. Bush wanted to redress "the complete dysfunctionality of State and Defence and the refusal of Powell and Rumsfeld to work together".

If confirmed, Mr Rumsfeld's removal would also mark what Mr Kristol called an "intellectual victory" for the neo-conservatives who railed against the defence secretary's opposition to postwar nation building.

Kristol has much better inside dope than I, but I've seen little evidence that Rumsfeld wants to leave -- or that Bush wants him to go. Then there's this quote from Mike Allen's Washington Post story:

Administration officials said Rumsfeld, the other most prominent member of Bush's war cabinet, will continue to run the Pentagon for the foreseeable future.

"The decision was made to keep Rumsfeld and drop Powell because if they would have kept Powell and let [the Rumsfeld team] go, that would have been tantamount to an acknowledgment of failure in Iraq and our policies there," one government official said, requesting anonymity to speak more candidly. "Powell is the expendable one."

Rumsfeld was asked during a news conference yesterday if he had submitted his resignation to Bush. "I haven't discussed that with him at all, in writing or orally," he said.

Link via Andrew Sullivan.

Greg Djerejian and Josh Marshall have useful thoughts on Bush's motivations here.

posted by Dan at 12:49 PM | Comments (19) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, November 15, 2004

David Rothkopf on the NSC

As Condi Rice moves on to State, Glenn Kessler and Thomas E. Ricks devote half a Washington Post article to what David Rothkopf, a former Clinton apointee at Commerce and the author of the forthcoming The Committee in Charge of Running the World, thought of Rice's performance at NSC. Rothkopf makes some points that have been stressed here at

David Rothkopf, who has written a forthcoming history of the National Security Council titled "Running the World," said that much of the success of a national security adviser is defined not by the adviser but by the president. He said Rice "could not be more effective" as a top staffer to Bush because of the closeness she has had with him.

But Rice's management of the interagency process has been lagging, according to Rothkopf and former and current officials. In part, this is because Rice not only had to manage two powerful Cabinet members with sharply different views -- Powell and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld -- but also to deal with a player distinctive to the Bush administration: Vice President Cheney, who weighs in on every major foreign policy question.

Rothkopf said Bush undercut Rice in her running of the interagency process because he has allowed Cheney and Rumsfeld to operate outside the control of the NSC. "The president has to put his foot down and say, 'This has to stop,' " Rothkopf said, but Bush never did.

In an interview for Rothkopf's book, Rice, who turned 50 on Sunday, noted that she was "the baby" of the group, whereas Cheney, Powell and Rumsfeld had dealt with one another over decades.

But now, Rothkopf said, "her unique relationship with the president is going to enable her to counterbalance Rumsfeld if he stays -- or anyone else. Condi has a better chance of being balanced with these guys now than Colin Powell four years ago." (emphasis added)

posted by Dan at 11:40 PM | Comments (21) | Trackbacks (4)

Open cabinet reshuffle thread

Mike Allen and William Branigin are reporting in the Washington Post that Colin Powell will resign today as Secretary of State. Three other cabinet secretaries -- Education Secretary Rod Paige, Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman, and Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham -- are also expected to resign.

Feel free to post your thought here on Powell's legacy, possible replacement, implications for U.S. foreign policy, and whether there will be any further departues from the foreign policy team. I'm particularly curious about this section in the Allen and Branigin story:

The exodus -- including the previously announced departure of Ashcroft, who is in charge of several aspects of the fight against terrorism -- raises questions about whether Bush will have the continuity that his staff has said he wanted.

Bush is launching the most ambitious legislative agenda of any of his years in office, and his aides are constantly cognizant of the possibility of having to respond to a terrorist attack.

"That's doesn't mean they're leaving today," McClellan said of the officials involved in the latest resignations. "They'll continue to do their job."

The resignation letters carry a variety of dates, indicating that the White House has received a stream of them since the election and has been packaging the announcements.

If this is true, then it means Don Rumsfeld ain't going anywhere.

UPDATE: Rice goes to State and Hadley gets promoted.

posted by Dan at 11:51 AM | Comments (48) | Trackbacks (0)