Saturday, January 15, 2005
Following up on Sibel Edmonds
Remember FBI whistle-blower Sibel Edmonds? The Justice Department's Office of the Inspector General has just issued a review of how the FBI handled both Simonds' allegations of incompetence and security breaches among FBI translators, as well as the Bureau's decision to terminate Simonds. Ted Bridis reports for the Associated Press:
That assessment of Simonds raises a point I've made in the past about whistle-blowers: "there's probably a strong correlation between being a whistle-blower and generally being a royal pain-in-the-ass."
Jerry Seper has a similar story in the Washington Times (link via Glenn Reynolds). Better yet, why not read the unclassified summary of the actual OIG report?
Friday, January 14, 2005
Your weekend reading -- from the CIA
The National Inteligence Council -- the intelligence community's "center for midterm and long-term strategic thinking" -- has released its latest version of Mapping the Global Future: Global Trends 2020. For newspaper accounts, click on this USA Today story by John Diamond. According to the NIC's home page, this time the project used some of that Internet stuff I've heard so much about:
In perhaps a troubling sign for the NIC, when I clicked on that link all I got was a "Service Unavailable" message.
This glitch does not mean the whole project is without interest. For example, check out this graph:
Food for thought.
UPDATE: Never have I seen so many comments posted asking me for further guidance in understanding a graph. First, click here to see the graph in context, and here to see the list of contributors to the project.
From what I can divine, the graph's y-axis is equal to (total # of muslims living in the EU)/(total # of ethnic Europeans living in the EU). That metric is a bit unusual -- ordinarily one would show (total # of muslims)/(total # of people -- including Muslims). The labeling of the y-axis and the unusual NIC metric suggest could lead a casual observer to conclude that there are more Muslims in Europe than there actually are.
As for the trend lines, they look reasonable, given the low fertility rates of "indigineous" Europeans and high fertility and migration rates of Muslims.
For harder data (as opposed to trend lines), click over to muslimpopulation.com
When offshore outsourcing reverses course
Following the "homeshoring" meme, there are lots of reports this month about American firms souring on offshore outsourcing and reverting to onshore outsourcing instead. CNET's Ed Frauenheim has one story about tech companies outsourcing to a firm with operations in Oklahoma City. Another story takes a longer look at one homeshoring firm, Decisions Design:
Here's a link to a press release from Housteau, third homeshoring firm, opening up a new development center in Columbus.
With rising wages in India and other offshoring magnets, expect to see more stories about this trend.
[Hold on a sec; how can you simultaneously defend the practice of offshore outsourcing but still celebrate homeshoring?--ed. Ah, but remember what I actually wrote in "The Outsourcing Bogeyman":
I still think that offshoring, when done correctly, benefits the U.S. economy. But what we're seeing in the links above is the reversing of course.]
How teaching at the University of Chicago affects my thinking
Continuing the sports-blogging of today, Baseball America has a fascinating discussion between two old-style baseball scouts and two new-style sabermetricians (link via David Pinto). As Alan Schwartz frames the discussion:
Read the whole thing. As I read it, my mind turned -- naturally -- to Thomas Hobbes.
[WTF??!!--ed] I grant that the link between Hobbes' Leviathan and Moneyball seems odd, but this is what teaching in the Universoty of Chicago's core curriculum has done to me. I kept thinking that the debate between scouts (who are mostly baseball lifers with vast amounts of experience in the game) and sabremetricians (who believe there are pretty strong cause-and-effect relationships between certain statistical measures and future performance) is the same as Hobbes' ranking of the epistemological merits of experience and science. From Chapter V, Book I of Leviathan:
Hobbes' point was that the prudence gained from experience was certainly useful -- but not nearly as useful as combining prudence with a scientific way of looking at things. The good sabermetricians represent how science can improve upon experience.
I think it's safe to say I would not have made this link were I teaching elsewhere.
[Wow, a post about Hobbes, the U of C, and baseball stats -- talk about a huge demographic!! Huge!!--ed.]
UPDATE: ESPN's Rob Neyer is pessimistic that there really can be an exchange between sabermetricians and scouts. No mention of Hobbes, however.
Charles P. Pierce doesn't like capitalism very much
Pierce -- who writes for the Boston Globe Magazine, Esquire. and appears regularly on National Public Radio, has a truly bizarre Slate essay that takes aim at Michael Jordan.
What, exactly, has Jordan done to incur Pierce's wrath? He's expanding his business empire:
How dare Jordan cater to old fans!!!
I'm genuinely baffled by Pierce's claim in the piece that "there's nothing wrong" with Jordan just being a great player and great salesman -- because the entire essay is devoted to saying that those things are somewhow wrong. Furthermore, even on this plane of analysis, Pierce tries to diminish Jordan's effect as a pitchman, when in fact his effect overshadowed every other athlete up to his time (click here for the whole story). The fact that Jordan was perhaps the first African-American sports figure to be able to achieve such a high-demand status within the corporate world goes unremarked by Pierce as well.
As for Jordan's business ventures since his retirement, I'll let these words from Magic Johnson speak for themselves:
Side note: I'm personally very, very grateful to Magic -- thanks to his Urban Coffee Opportunities program, the Hyde Park neighborhood has more places to get a decent cup of coffee.
Click here for another blog response to the Pierce essay.
Thursday, January 13, 2005
Can the New York Times and booger jokes co-exist?
Over at Slate, Bryan Curtis has a subversive proposal regarding Dave Barry and the Grey Lady:
The big question -- aside from how quickly the Timesmen dismissed this suggestion -- is whether Barry would give up his blog to do it.
Wednesday, January 12, 2005
Your Jewish humor of the week
As Eric put it in his post, "Either you will find this funny without my explaining it to you, or no amount of explaining will do the trick."
UPDATE: This link, on the other hand, will probably be funny to Jews and non-Jews alike.
Regarding Dan Rather and Armstrong Williams
I've been remiss in not posting about the Rathergate Commission report as well as the Armstrong Williams scandal. Fortunately, Kathleen Parker's syndicated column sums up my thoughts on both matters pretty well -- so go check out her argument (Jeff Jarvis too -- though that's always a good recommendation).
Oh, except for this part of Parker's essay:
In one sense Parker is correct -- if a blogger just screws up, nothing prevents that blogger from continuing to post. However, without acknowledging mistakes, that blogger is suddenly going to have a lot fewer readers than before -- and that is a formidable constraint. The mainstream media can experience this problem as well, but not as powerfully. In part that's because a blogger is the sole content provider for his or her blog, whereas a columnist -- or even an anchorman -- is only a cog in a larger media machine.
The key is that bolded part about "acknowledging mistakes" -- and this is one area where the blogosphere has an advantage. Ironically, because bloggers tend to screw up on a regular basis, it is far easier for us to admit error. Journalists are probably more diligent at fact-checking, and probably make fewer mistakes overall. But they do make them. Because these mistakes are more infrequent, and because accuracy is a slightly more precious currency in the mediasphere than the blogosphere, they will resist admissions of error -- compounding the original problem.
This dynamic is reflected in RatherGate. The telling section in the CBS report is how producer Mary Mapes, Rather, et al reacted after their report was challenged. They dug in their heels and engaged in even more distorted reporting in an attempt to defend the veracity of their documentation (check out p. 183 of the report, for example).
The political economy of disaster aid and debt relief
The Economist has a good backgrounder on the delicate politics of proffering aid and debt moratoriums as a means of assisting countries experiencing natural disasters. It opens as follows:
Read the whole thing.
UPDATE: CNN provides another complication when disaster relief is deployed:
A very important post about... food porn
This CBS report by Jim Axelrod has more funny quotes from Puzder:
Speaking of food porn, Puzder's irreverent sense of humor translates into Hardee's new and risqué advertising campaign. Seth Stevenson has a review of these ads in Slate -- as he concludes, "Whatever I may think of these ads, I bet they're effective with the target demographic." He's probably right -- click here for the ad that, er, goes the furthest along this line (it's entitled "Fist Girl").
[What, exactly, was the point of this post?--ed. Well, there's a complex observation to be made here about what "Red America" wants -- Many lefty commentators believe that Red Staters are getting hoodwinked into buying deceptive political propaganda about "moral values" hook, line, and sinker. The appeal of the Monster Thickburger suggests that Red State denizens know exactly what they want, and appreciate it when it's sold to them without any deception whatsoever. Oh, bullsh**t, you just wanted to write a post with the title of "Food Porn" in it and get yourself a Wonkette link!--ed. The two points are not mutually exclusive.]
My question to readers -- does the blunt salesmanship make you more likely or less likely to go to a Hardee's and order a Monster Thickburger?
UPDATE: Glenn Reynolds offers his answer as well as a food review.
ANOTHER UPDATE: Based on the comments so far (and previous blog posts on this topic), there's another possible reason for the appeal of the Monster Thickburger -- the fact that institutions like the Center for Science in the Public Interest preach against it. Indeed, their decision to label all Thickburgers as "food porn" guaranteed that they would earn sound bites, but the effect might be the opposite of what they intended. I gotta think that if a consumer sees something with that label, it will pique rather than retard their interest (insert your own joke about "larger beef" or "more pork" here). If I was Hardee's Andy Puzder, I'd try to spam e-mail this CPSI warning to as many potential customers as possible.
[What if you were working for the CPSI?--ed. There are two possibilities. One option is to try to beat Hardee's at their own game and go snarky rather than excessively earnest -- like the truth ads with regard to smoking. The other option is to be callous and wait for the Red State population to prematurely decline on its own accord after elevated consumption of Monster Thickburgers.]
FINAL UPDATE: This post nicely coincides with Department of Agriculture release of Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2005. Among the key recommendations: "To maintain body weight in a healthy range, balance calories from foods and beverages with calories expended." (link via food economist Parke Wilde)
What happens when women become doctors?
Ronald Kotulak has an interesting front-pager in the Chicago Tribune on the effect of an increased number of female doctors on the health care system. The article is interesting in how it skirts the line between stereotyping and just saying what's true:
Read the whole thing. What's particularly interesting is the "colonization" of women into the subspecialties that permit flexible work hours.
I'm sure there's a labor economist somewhere writing about this... which would be ironic, as women who get doctorates in economics disproportionately become labor economists (the joke when I was in grad school was, "all women go into labor").
Tuesday, January 11, 2005
When bilateral is better than multilateral
Raphael Minder reports for the Financial Times that the United States and European Union have decided to settle the Boeing/Airbus dispute through bilateral talks rather than continue to seek a WTO ruling:
This is a win-win-win decision. The United States and the European Union benefit from being able to craft a compromise rather than risking a WTO arbitration ruling that theoretically could have hurt both governments. Furthermore, bilateral talks permit the kind of give-and-take in bargaining that a WTO panel can't provide.
The WTO wins because it doesn't have to deal with this case -- which for many reasons is ill-suited for its dispute settlement mechanism. More importantly, the WTO keeps its reputation intact. The high stakes nature of this dispute virtually guaranteed that one or both economic great powers would not have complied with the WTO ruling. All that would have done is weaken the legitimacy and credibility of one of those rare multilateral organizations that is generally acknowledged to be effective.
Monday, January 10, 2005
Why do the Democrats reward failure?
There was a sentence in this Associated Press report on possible replacements for Terry McAuliffe to be the new Democratic Party chairman that caused me to pause and re-read to make sure I wasn't hallucinating:
As someone who likes to see an incentive system whereby losing political parties search for ideas and individuals that can help them win again, what the f#%$ are the Democrats asking McAuliffe to stay on thinking?
This is emblematic of a larger problem bedeviling the Democrats -- an oligarchy of party consultants that are not ousted after losing. Amy Sullivan has a great Washington Monthly story on the problem. Some highlights:
Read the whole thing.
What's next for Palestine
It looks like Mahmoud Abbas won a healthy mandate in Palestine. What should he do now?
Seth Jones offers some suggestions in the Financial Times [Full disclosure: Jones did his graduate work in poli sci at the U of C.] Some highlights:
Read the whole thing. And offer your comments about whether Abbas will be able to turn the Palestinian Authority into a functioning, law-abiding state.
That silly Alan Dershowitz
Look, the Harvard Law School has taken its fair share of lumps in the past year -- so critiquing Alan Dershowitz's critique of John Grisham's latest potboiler in the New York Times Book Review seems a bit like piling on.
However, I can't let this paragraph slide:
I'm going to go out on a limb and suggest that students who decide to matriculate at Harvard's law school might -- just might -- have formed their opinions about the law from a greater range of experience than reading Grisham's oeuvre. At a minimum, I'm sure they've read Scott Turow's vastly superior legal thrillers.
Second, it's clearly been a long, long time since Dershowitz checked out the political science literature on the judiciary. I'm hardly an expert on the poli sci literature on the courts, but even I am dimly aware that the trend in the past few decades has been to study judges as rational actors intent on pursuing political agendas -- not exactly above politics (click here for some examples of this literature) Comparative political scientists do tend to assume that American judges are less corrupt than many of their foreign counterparts -- because that appears to be true. However, political scientists have long abandoned the concept that judges do not think or act in a political or strategic manner. And I'm pretty sure that this is reflected in undergraduate courses.