Saturday, March 12, 2005

What to read on the blogosphere

In honor of my trip to New Orleans to talk about blogs at the Public Choice Society meetings, here's what I'm going to be thinking about for the next 24 hours:

1) Gallup has a new poll on blog readership entitled, "Blogs Not Yet in the Media Big Leagues." It opens:

Three-quarters of the U.S. public uses the Internet at work, school, or home, but only one in four Americans are either very familiar or somewhat familiar with blogs (the shortened form of the original "Web logs"). More than half, 56%, have no knowledge of them. Even among Internet users, only 32% are very or somewhat familiar with blogs.

More to the point, fewer than one in six Americans (15%) read blogs regularly (at least a few times a month). Just 12% of Americans read blogs dealing specifically with politics this often. Among Internet users, the numbers are similarly low: 19% and 15%, respectively....

According to a December 2004 Gallup Poll, the percentage of Americans getting their news on a daily basis from the mainstream media is 51% for local television news, 44% for local newspapers, 39% for cable news networks, 36% for the nightly broadcast network news, and 21% for radio talk shows. By contrast, only 3% of Americans say they read Internet blogs every day, and just 2% read politics-focused blogs daily.

Mystery Pollster deconstructs the poll, pointing out:

No, the collective reach of blogs is nowhere near that of television or print media, but focusing on the relatively small percentages misses the rapidly growing influence of the blog readership in absolute terms. The 12% that say they read political blogs at least a few times a month amount to roughly 26 million Americans. That may not make blogs a "dominant" news source, but one American in ten ads up to a lot of influence.

It's also worth comparing and contrasting the Gallup poll with the BlogAds survey.

2) Lada Adamic and Natalie Glance, "The Political Blogosphere and the 2004 U.S. Election: Divided They Blog." The abstract:

In this paper, we study the linking patterns and discussion topics of political bloggers. Our aim is to measure the degree of interaction between liberal and conservative blogs, and to uncover any differences in the structure of the two communities. Specifically, we analyze the posts of 40 “A-list” blogs over the period of two months preceding the U.S. Presidential Election of 2004, to study how often they referred to one another and to quantify the overlap in the topics they discussed, both within the liberal and conservative communities, and also across communities. We also study a single day snapshot of over 1,000 political blogs. This snapshot captures blogrolls (the list of links to other blogs frequently found in sidebars), and presents a more static picture of a broader blogosphere. Most significantly, we find differences in the behavior of liberal and conservative blogs, with conservative blogs linking to each other more frequently and in a denser pattern.

Jerome Armstrong takes this information and concludes, "there's just a lot more coordination through linking among Republican than there has been with Democratic bloggers, at least on the surface of particular URL's." Which suggests to me he didn't actually read the paper, since on p. 10 the authors reject this hypothesis:

Once we remove from our analysis all URLs pointing to political blogs, the liberal and conservative blogs both had an average similarity of 0.083 and 0.087, a difference that is not statistically significant. These results suggest that Although conservative bloggers tend to more actively comment on one another’s posts, this behavior is not accompanied by a greater uniformity in other online content they link to....

Conservative television programs and conservative talk radio have sometimes been perceived to be acting as an echo chamber for Republican talking points. However, we did not find evidence for this in conservative blogs.

Kevin Drum has a better summary, and highlights this interesting finding:

Notice the overall pattern: Democrats are the ones more often cited by right-leaning bloggers, while Republicans are more often mentioned by left-leaning bloggers....These statistics indicate that our A-list political bloggers, like mainstream journalists (and like most of us) support their positions by criticizing those of the political figures they dislike.

[So does this mean that Cass Sunstein's thesis about cyberbalkanization is correct?--ed. Not necessarily, for a couple of reasons. First, the authors admit that, "we did not gather the URLs of libertarian, independent, or moderate blogs," though admittedly they are smaller in number. More importantly, the authors collected this data in the run-up to the 2004 election -- an easy case for partisanship if there ever was one.

Oh, and a quick tip of the cap to Adamic and Glance for the citation to Drezner and Farrell.

3) As evidence against cyberbalkanization, click over to this petition from bloggers to the Federal Elections Commission. For even better evidence, go sign it.

posted by Dan at 12:45 AM | Comments (6) | Trackbacks (2)

Susan Estrich can't be this stupid

Via Virginia Postrel, I see that the Susan Estrich/Michael Kinsley feud has not abated (click here for my take on the triggering op-ed). James Rainey provides the latest account for the Los Angeles Times. Two interesting facts:

1) In the first nine weeks of this year, women penned 20.5% of the paper's op-ed columns, not including staff editorials, which do not carry bylines. That compared to the New York Times, with 17% women writers on its op-ed pages and the Washington Post with 10%.

2) Susan Estrich is losing her equilibrium: "As the controversy drags into a fourth week, Estrich continues to bounce from conciliation to confrontation. She seemed near tears in an interview, saying she never intended the fight to get so personal. She blamed the operators of her website for improperly posting comments about Kinsley's mental health and contended she didn't think e-mails to Drudge and others in the media would get into the public domain." (emphasis added)

This kind of thinking is on par with Sandy Berger thinking, "Yeah, I bet I can get away with taking some classified documents home without anyone the wiser."

posted by Dan at 12:14 AM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

Friday, March 11, 2005

Should Jeffrey Sachs get $150 billion per year?

Time's cover story this week (alas, subscribers only -- Aha! I found a way to access it for free; Sachs also has an excerpt in the March/April issue of Foreign Affairs) is a lengthy excerpt from Jeffrey Sachs' forthcoming book, The End of Poverty: Economic Possibilities for Our Time. Sachs is the director of Columbia University's Earth Earth Institute and for the past two decades has been a macroeconomist to the stars. The quick precis of Sachs' argument is that for roughly $150 billion in aid a year, it would be possible to end extreme poverty (i.e., living on only a dollar a day) across the globe.

For those of you who aren't Time subscribers, check out The End of Poverty web site, which includes a copious collection of Sachs' prior work. Or, you could read this New York Times magazine story on Sachs from a few months ago by Daphne Eviatar. The key graf from that story:

Sachs is nothing if not a big thinker. And in July, the renowned macroeconomist and special adviser to United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan was in Ethiopia on a world tour advancing his most ambitious project yet: the elimination of global poverty. While others tinker with incremental steps, Sachs has no patience for the small scale. Ethiopia and sub-Saharan Africa have slid deeper into poverty in the last 20 years, and whereas many economists stress the failures of local leadership, Sachs is telling a different story. In his version, Africa, through no fault of its own, is trapped. Held back by geographical impediments like climate, disease and isolation, it cannot lift itself out of poverty. What Africa needs, then, is not more scolding from the West. It needs a ''big push'' -- a flood of foreign aid -- to boost its prospects and carry it into the developed world.

Time's sidebar story profiles Sachs in glowing terms:

In the halls of politics and power, most economists are like wallpaper— full of intricate details but ultimately decoration. Jeffrey Sachs, however, is a brand name. A player. There's Jeff with the Pope. There's Jeff with U.N. chief Kofi Annan. There's Jeff with his save- the- world sidekick, U2's Bono.

Sachs, 50, has been around the planet more times than a space station to promote the U.N.'s Millennium Development Goals, to raise annual aid to 0.7 percent of gnp of the donor countries (starting with an extra $70 billion per year as of 2006), in order to halve poverty by 2015. He's a special adviser to Annan while pursuing a day job as head of Columbia University's Earth Institute, which reflects his philosophy as an economist: that sustainable development can be achieved only through an approach that considers everything from geography to infrastructure to family structure.

I'm curious what readers think about Sachs' proposal, as it's something I'll be mulling over this weekend. My initial response is threefold:

1) I very, very much want Sachs to be correct. If $150 billion in rich country donations a year is all it takes to eradicate global poverty, that's a fantastic rate of return using either an economic or an ethical calcuator;

2) I have a hunch that Sachs is not completely correct. Reading papers like this one makes me wonder just how much of Sachs' proposal is built on wishful thinking.

3) What I'm still undecided about is whether the investment is worth it even if Sachs is only, say, 50% correct. Would there be any other way of spending $150 billion a year that reduced extreme poverty by more than that amount?

Two final metanotes: First, I'm somewhat surprised that Time ran the excerpt, a heartbreaking photo essay, and a glowing sidebar on Sachs himself without any critical take on the meat of Sachs' proposals. I'm not saying Time should have done a hatchet job on him or anything -- but there are critiques out there for why Sachs' proposal might not work, and Time does a disservice to their readers if these aren't mentioned somewhere.

If this is an examplar of Time's "Journalism with a Conscience," count me out.

Second, at the same time, I'm somewhat surprised and mildly appalled that this story hasn't generated a lot of buzz in the blogosphere. Sachs could be mostly or partially wrong, but he's neither is a lightweight nor making vague proposals. He's got some serious proposals about channeling money towards anti-malaria medication, transportation infrastructure, clean water wells and the like. Unfortunately, this lack of attention would seem to be consistent with Ethan Zuckerman's hypothesis that the blogosphere echoes the mediasphere in paying a disproportionate amount of attention to the advanced industrialized world.

UPDATE: Thanks to Glenn Reynolds for the link. And given some of the comments, let's try to head off a few objections at the pass. The following are not valid reasons for rejecting Sachs' plan

1) Sachs ignores the importance of free market capitalism in economic development. No, Sachs is quite adamant about the benefits of free trade and market capitalism. His argument is rather that in some sections of the globe, the abject level of poverty is so low that it's impossible for people to generate any surplus value -- what Sachs refers to as a "poverty trap." In these areas, a boost of aid would permit some initial savings -- after which economic development along market lines can begin to take place.

2) Sachs was responsible for Russia's failed reform effort, so why trust him now? I'm pretty sure the Russians bear the primary responsibility for the failure of Russian reform, but for the moment let's take this critique as fact. Sachs was also responsible for successful reform efforts in Bolivia and Poland. A 2-1 record in development economics ain't too shabby.

3) Sachs just wants to give this money to corrupt governments. No, he's explicit in saying that countries with spectacularly bad governance -- i.e., Zimbabwe -- don't get a dime. The corruption critique still has some validity, but Sachs also has some minimum threshhold conditions on this front.

4) Sachs' plan has no details, just a nice round number. Click on the UN Millennium Project -- and, more specifically, the page containing links to the full text -- to get a sense of the details.

To repeat, there are ways to criticize Sachs' plan -- but these arguments don't hold water.

ANOTHE UPDATE: Tony Blair has stepped into this debate as well with his Commission for Africa report. Reviewing the report, the Economist observes:

Extra aid would probably ease Africa's poverty. Although past aid has largely been wasted, the report gives sound pointers as to how in future it could be made to work. Aid should be “untied”: that is, the recipient should not be obliged to buy goods from the donor. It should be predictable, to help the recipient plan for the long term. It should mostly be in the form of grants, not loans, to avoid future debt traps. It should “support the national priorities of African governments rather than [donors'] special enthusiasms”.

Most important, aid should be lavished on the countries that can use it—ie, poor but fairly well-governed ones—and denied to corrupt and incompetent regimes that will steal or squander it. The trouble is, there are not enough well-governed countries in Africa. “Without progress in governance,” admits the report, “all other reforms will have limited impact.”

....Africa will not prosper until corruption is checked and governance improves. And that task, as the report says, is “first and foremost the responsibility of African countries and people”.

posted by Dan at 02:48 PM | Comments (104) | Trackbacks (15)

The secret formula for superheroines

Christina Larson has a droll essay in Washington Monthly about how Hollywood has screwed up the female superheroine genre, despite the initial promise from Charlie's Angels or Buffy the Vampire Slayer (the TV show and not the film). The key part:

But the good news for Hollywood—and audiences—is that there is an enduring formula that works. Superheroines since the 1970s—from Wonder Woman to Princess Leia, Charlie's Angels to Lara Croft, "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" to "Alias's" Sydney Bristow—have all followed a few simple rules to find success on the big and little screen. And every would-be action babe who has flopped has broken at least one of them. So what's the secret?

1. Do fight demons. Don't fight only inner demons.
2. Do play well with others. Don't shun human society.
3. Do exhibit self-control. Don't exhibit mental disorders.
4. Do wear trendy clothes. Don't wear fetish clothes.
5. Do embrace girl power. Don't cling to man hatred.
6. Do help hapless men. Don't try to kill your boyfriend.
7. Do toss off witty remarks. Don't look perpetually sullen.

I would point out that one of Buffy's best seasons was when she had to try to kill her boyfriend -- but that's nitipicking. Read the whole thing.

posted by Dan at 02:12 PM | Comments (9) | Trackbacks (0)

The dollar hiccups again

Throughout the mid and late nineties, U.S. Treasury secretaries learned to repeat the mantra that "a strong dollar is good for America" ad nauseum to reporters -- because if they didn't, the markets would speculate that the dollar wouldn't be defended and start to go nuts.

Through the mid and late noughties [Is that what this decade is called?--ed. Damned if I know] it's not really going to matter a whole hell of a lot what the U.S. Treasury Secretary says. What matters now is what officials are saying in the countries where official institutions are buying dollars and dollar-denominated assets -- Japan, China, Korea, etc.

And as this Financial Times story suggests, the quicker these officials learn not to publicly discuss "diversification," the less jittery currency markets will be:

Japan's finance ministry moved swiftly on Thursday to calm markets after the dollar tumbled and Treasury yields spiked higher on comments made by Junichiro Koizumi, prime minister, about diversification of foreign currency reserves.

Asked by a parliamentary committee about government policy on Japan's $840.6bn of foreign reserves, Mr Koizumi said: “I believe diversification is necessary."

Markets reacted sharply to his comments, sending the euro to a two-month high of $1.3456 against the dollar.

Ten-year Treasury yields reached a seven-month high at 4.57 per cent on the news. Japan holds large amounts of Treasuries as a result of its currency interventions and any diversification of its reserves is likely to involve scaling back its holdings.

Investors fear this would weaken bond prices and lift yields, raising US borrowing costs.

Peter McTeague, strategist at RBS Greenwich Capital, said trading volumes of US Treasuries jumped and investors suffered “a pretty wild ride” in Asian trading hours.

Japan's ministry of finance (MoF) moved quickly to quash any suggestion that policy had changed.

Mastatsugu Asakawa, director of the foreign exchange division at the ministry, denied Japan's policy had shifted. “We have never thought about currency diversification,” he said, saying the prime minister was referring to asset-class diversification within a particular currency....

The episode however emphasised market sensitivity to any hint that Asian central banks are considering diversifying their massive dollar holdings, which have built up as a result of unprecedented levels of intervention in the past two years.

This is essentially a replay of what happened with South Korea last month. My guess is that we'll see a few more gaffes and then officials will wise up -- as long as Bretton Woods 2 sticks around.

posted by Dan at 12:09 AM | Comments (36) | Trackbacks (3)

Thursday, March 10, 2005

There are going to be more protests in Lebanon

That's not a particularly powerful prediction given this Voice of America story:

Lebanon's President Emile Lahoud has renamed pro-Syrian Omar Karami as prime minister, just two weeks after he resigned the post following massive opposition protests against Syrian influence in Lebanese politics.

The decision Thursday, came after Mr. Lahoud held consultations with parliamentary deputies. The parliament, where Syria's allies have a majority, overwhelmingly advised in favor of reappointing Mr. Karami.

Mr. Karami, a pro-Syrian Sunni Muslim politician, immediately called for a national unity government and urged the opposition to join, saying it is the only way out of Lebanon's crisis.

The opposition, which did not present a candidate, has been demanding a full Syrian withdrawal from the country.

Jenny Booth reports in the London Times that the opposition has already rejected joining a unity government.

The Beirut Daily Star's Nada Bakri has the reaction from protestors. They're pretty mixed. Here's one example:

Boutros Fadel, 41, from the Lebanese National Liberal Party (LNLP) and who has been camping out at Martyrs' Square for over a week, said: "We oppose Karami's reappointment as he is part of the pro-Syrian regime. However, he won't and can't affect our will and determination to free Lebanon from the Syrians."

He added: "Karami resigned to calm protesters down, like giving them a morphine injection. It won't work and the cure to the virus which entered Lebanon in 1976 is UN Resolution 1559."


posted by Dan at 11:38 AM | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (0)

Slavery is alive and well

The Economist has a truly depressing story about the persistence of slavery in parts of Africa and South Asia. Here's how the story begins:

Slavery is like polio. Most westerners associate it with earlier, darker times in human history. Its eradication is a sign of human progress. And yet despite these perceptions slavery, like polio, has not in fact been eradicated. The fact of modern slavery was brought home again this week by the story of a botched manumission in Niger.

Anti-Slavery International, a London-based human rights group, estimates that 43,000 slaves are held in Niger, which the United Nations reckons to be the second-least-developed country in the world. Slaves in the landlocked west African country form a stigmatised, closed class. Even freed slaves carry the taint of their hereditary status, and their former masters or parents’ masters may claim some or all of their income, property and dowries.

In 2003, Niger finally got around to amending its laws to make slave ownership punishable with up to 30 years in prison. (The practice was outlawed with Niger’s independence from France in 1960, but carried no penalty.) Facing jail, a chieftain in western Niger offered to free the 7,000 slaves held by him and his clansmen in a public ceremony, due to take place on Saturday March 5th. But in the week leading up to the event, Niger’s government came to fear that a massive release of slaves would draw unwelcome attention to slavery’s existence in the country. The government declared that slavery does not exist in Niger, the ceremony was cancelled and the slaves left as slaves. Far from avoiding a public embarrassment, Niger has multiplied its worldwide shame.

Here's how the story closes:

The form of slavery that perhaps affects the greatest number of people is bonded labour, which is particularly rife in India, Pakistan and Nepal. Desperate workers are given a loan for as little as the cost of medication for a child, and are forced to work to repay the loan and “interest”. But no clear contract is offered—the unfortunate bonded labourer often winds up working years to repay such loans, and the bond is even often passed on to children after the original labourer’s death. Because of the apparently voluntary nature of the bondage, many do not see it as slavery. But the labourer is often so desperate for a loan, without other sources of credit, that there is little real choice involved. And once bonded, the threat of violence and the limitations on personal freedom involved make the practice in effect no different from chattel slavery.

Many other slavery-type practices remain widespread, despite having been forbidden by UN conventions. These include forced marriage, wife-transfer, child marriage and the sale of children for labour. In Brazil, forced labourers clear Amazonian jungle at gunpoint. In western Europe, prostitutes from the former Soviet block are forced to work without any choice of which or how many clients they sleep with, and with the threat or use of force curtailing their freedom. And in the United States, Free the Slaves, another anti-slavery group, found illegal forced labour in at least 90 cities, involving over 19,000 people. The CIA has estimated the number of slaves in America at 50,000. Chinese, Mexicans, Vietnamese and others work against their will in the sex trade, domestic service, farms and sweatshops.

In America and Europe, there is at least some hope of recourse to the authorities. India and Pakistan have banned debt bondage but struggle to enforce the law. Sudan is a criminal state actively encouraging rampaging militias. And Niger has been a rickety democracy for just over five years, unable even to admit its problem, much less tackle it. Like many things that should have been stamped out a long time ago, slavery, it seems, is alive and well.

Click here for more information about the problem.

From a humanitarian perspective, this is just awful. From an international relations perspective, slavery's persistence would seem to pose a significant challenge to theoretical approaches that emphasize the power of transnational norms to eradicate or regulate certain forms of behavior.

posted by Dan at 11:16 AM | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, March 9, 2005

The tricky thing about eliminating terrorism....

In the wake of Hezbollah's demonstration of political strength yesterday in Lebanon, and President Bush's confident speech declaring that, "[the] best antidote to radicalism and terror is the tolerance and hope kindled in free societies," let's take a look at another part of the world where concerted efforts have been made to extinguish terrorism -- Northern Ireland.

Tom Hundley reports in the Chicago Tribune on how the IRA now faces an opponent more powerful than the Protestant paramilitaries -- three Catholic sisters:

The $50 million robbery of Belfast's Northern Bank a week before Christmas, the biggest heist in the annals of British crime, was the kind of audacious Robin Hood caper that enhanced the mystique of the Irish Republican Army.

But the ugly Belfast pub brawl that resulted in the slaying of a 33-year-old Catholic man by members of the IRA has seriously tarnished the organization's image among its grass-roots Catholic supporters, especially after the victim's five sisters defied the IRA's unwritten code of silence and publicly demanded that their brother's killers be brought to justice.

The Jan. 30 murder of Robert McCartney has underscored the increasing criminality of the IRA and dealt a serious blow to the electoral chances of Sinn Fein, the IRA's political wing.

It also has isolated Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams and turned the McCartney sisters into local heroes. Adams has not been invited to the traditional St. Patrick's Day celebration at the White House later this month; instead, President Bush has extended the honor to the McCartney sisters and the victim's fiance, Bridgeen Hagans.

"The support of the White House in our quest for justice will be a big help," said Paula McCartney, a 40-year-old mother of five and part-time university student who has emerged as the family's spokeswoman.

In an extraordinary admission of just how damaging the incident has become for the IRA, its leadership issued a statement Tuesday saying it had met with the McCartney sisters and offered to impose a "punishment shooting" on the four men it says were directly responsible for McCartney's death.

Read the whole thing -- the story suggests just how difficult it might be to eliminate terrorists even when their grass roots support starts to dwindle. As Hundley points out:

Under terms of the Good Friday agreement, the IRA should have disarmed and disbanded several years ago. Instead the gunmen have turned themselves into an increasingly Mafia-like crime organization, specializing in drug dealing, extortion, money laundering and the occasional bank robbery.

Indeed, this is the tricky thing about eliminating terrorists -- they can turn to other activities that lack political content but still destabilize society.

The good news in this case is that the IRA's hamhanded offer of punishment shootings has successfully united the other key domestic and international players in Northern Ireland. Needless to say the punishment shooting offer has drawn the ire and condemnation of both Great Britain and the United States. The McCartney sisters have also rejected the IRA's offer and restated their conviction that “For this family it would only be in court where transparency and accountability prevail that justice will be done."

Over at Crooked Timber, Henry Farrell concludes:

[T]he Bush administration is sending about as clear and unambiguous a signal as one could possibly hope for [in inviting the MCartneys to the White House]. Interestingly, the signals from the North seem to suggest that Sinn Fein and the IRA recognize that they’re in real political trouble - not only because of the frost in their relations with the Irish, British and US governments, but also, more importantly, because of protests from natural constituency in the Catholic working class communities in Northern Ireland (where the murder in question has been highly controversial). For the first time in my memory, there’s a serious internal challenge to the IRA’s ability to control its own community, and to the frequently brutal actions of its hard men. Getting rid of them would be a considerable step forward for democratic politics in the North.

The uneven progress being made in Northern Ireland merely underscores this paragraph from President Bush's speech yesterday:

Encouraging democracy... is a generational commitment. It's also a difficult commitment, demanding patience and resolve -- when the headlines are good and when the headlines aren't so good. Freedom has determined enemies, who show no mercy for the innocent, and no respect for the rules of warfare. Many societies in the region struggle with poverty and illiteracy, many rulers in the region have longstanding habits of control; many people in the region have deeply ingrained habits of fear.

This statement would also seem to hold for more affluent, more literate, and yes, more democratic societies as well.

posted by Dan at 12:02 PM | Comments (18) | Trackbacks (2)

Help out this fifth grader!

I just received the following e-mail, which I've edited a bit:

My name is *******. I am in the fifth grade.... As part of my class project for American Studies we have to write an essay on a current event and relate that to information on the internet. As part of my project I have decided to write an essay on the Iraq War. My father is not a supporter of the war and belongs to some groups that are for peace. One of his coworkers said I should not just write about the war but about what people on the internet think about it.

There is an essay on the war that my father read about that he thinks would be perfect for my topic but it would be better to see what bloggers think about it. It is not in support of the war and is called Iraq, The Boy Who Cried Wolf, And The Couch Potato's Burden....

My father says I should send it to some people who are for the war, some people who are against the war, and other people who are in the middle. I can then see why people who have the same ideas might have different reasons....

PS- I know you are a professor but I would appreciate it if you could use simpler words. My father says you are for the war but not a person full of anger, so I should try you. (emphasis added)

Alas, as a professor I'm congenitally incapable can't write using only simple words anymore. So I'll turn this one over to my readers.

posted by Dan at 11:59 AM | Comments (15) | Trackbacks (1)

Yeah, I'm Jewish too

Eugene Volokh posts about some anti-Semitic websites that are trying to identify Jewish professors at UCLA (link via Glenn Reynolds). I'll just quote his closing argument:

So, yeah, we're Jews. Yeah, we're overrepresented on university faculties, in law and medicine, in the Senate, on the Supreme Court. [Don't forget the blogosphere!!--DD.] Speaking of Nazis, we were overrepresented on the Manhattan Project, too.

The most powerful country in the world, America, is one of the ones that has been most open to Jews. Look at the most anti-Semitic countries in recent history: Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union, the Arab world. Right up there at the forefront of civilization and power, aren't they? Is it all the workings of The Conspiracy? Or is it just that the sorts of idiots who hate Jews do other idiotic things, too?


posted by Dan at 11:14 AM | Comments (12) | Trackbacks (0)

Your surreal post of the day

I honestly don't know how to categorize this post. I'll just relay what the Associated Press has to say about Russell Crowe and Al Qaeda:

Russell Crowe says Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida terror network wanted to kidnap him as part of a "cultural destabilization plot," according to an Australian magazine.

In an interview published in the March edition of Australia's GQ magazine, Crowe said FBI agents told him of the threat in 2001, in the months before he won a best actor Oscar for his role as Maximus in "Gladiator."

"That was the first (time) I'd ever heard the phrase 'al-Qaida,'" Crowe said. "It was about -- and here's another little touch of irony -- taking iconographic Americans out of the picture as sort of a cultural destabilization plot," he added.

Crowe was born in New Zealand and has a ranch in eastern Australia but made his name in Hollywood.

I'll leave it to my readers to figure out if this is a prime example of:

a) Russell Crowe's outsized ego;

b) The FBI's ineptitude in coping with Al Qaeda;

c) Al Qaeda's surprisingly deft sense of popular culture (remember, if the information is accurate, they wanted to kidnap Crowe before he won the Oscar).

UPDATE: Hmmm.... maybe Al Qaeda wasn't behind this fiendish plot.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Readers are heartily encouraged to suggest which celebrity kidnappings would be the most likely to trigger "cultural destabilization" in the United States. Loyal reader B.A. suggests Oprah Winfrey. [What about Salma Hayek?--ed. Ms. Hayek has the distinction of being the celebrity most likely to culturally destabilize the hard-working staff at]

UPDATE: Kudos to bumperarchive for finding the link to the actual magazine story. Here's the relevant section of the interview:

GQ: In the midst of the Oscar celebrations and the success of Gladiator, there was the rather strange kidnapping subplot. What can you explain about that now?

RC: We just arrived in Los Angeles, and we got contacted by the FBI, and they arrived at the hotel we were staying at, and they went through this big elaborate speech, telling us that for the whole time we were going to be in America, they were going to be around and part of life. You know—oh, I shouldn’t say things like this—I do wonder if it was some kind of PR thing to attract sympathy toward me, because it seemed very odd. Suddenly, it looks like I think I’m fucking Elvis Presley, because everywhere I go there are all these FBI guys around.

GQ: I don’t think it did create sympathy for you. I think a lot of people were kind of mean about it. I think they wrote about it in a way that implied you were paranoid and self-important.

RC: None of it was my application. I didn’t pay for any of it. It was…the FBI, bless their pressed white shirts. They picked up on something they thought was really important, and they were following it through. They were fucking serious, mate. What are you supposed to do? You get this late-night call from the FBI when you arrive in Los Angeles, and they’re like absolutely full-on, “We’ve got to talk to you now, before you do anything. We have to have a discussion with you, Mr. Crowe.”

GQ: But who was supposed to be after you?

RC: [pauses] Um…well, that was the first conversation in my life that I’d ever heard the phrase Al Qaeda. And it was something to do with some recording picked up by a French policewoman, I think, in either Libya or Algiers. And it was a destabilization plan. I don’t think that I was the only person. But it was about—and here’s another little touch of irony—it was about taking iconographic Americans out of the picture as a sort of cultural-destabilization plan.

GQ: So presumably the trigger for it was that you played the iconic American movie role of that year?

RC: That seemed to be a Hollywood thing, yeah. But look, I’ll tell you what, it was never resolved to any intellectual satisfaction from my point of view. I never fully understood what the fuck was going on.

GQ: But there must have been a point where they said, “Well, we’re not going to be around anymore….”

RC: Oh yeah, there was a point where they said they thought the threat had probably or had possibly been overstated, and then they started to question their sources, and blah, blah, blah. But I don’t know how it was resolved, you know? But they were serious about it. And what can you say? I mean, gee, there were a lot of man-hours spent doing that gig, so the least I can say is, “Thank you very much.”

GQ: It must have messed with your head somewhat.

RC: I think it was a bit odd. But I also thought, [laughs] Mate, if you want to kidnap me, you’d better bring a mouth gag. I’ll be talking you out of the essential philosophies you believe in the first twenty-four hours, son. I might chew through the first one, too, so be prepared.

posted by Dan at 10:28 AM | Comments (15) | Trackbacks (1)

Monday, March 7, 2005

Bad news or really bad news for newspapers?

Is print dying? A Pew Internet survey of how Americans got their information during the 2004 campaign suggests that maybe the answer is yes. Anick Jesdanun explains for the Associated Press:

Reliance on the Internet for political news during last year's presidential campaign grew sixfold from 1996, while the influence of newspapers dropped sharply, according to a study issued Sunday.
Eighteen percent of American adults cited the Internet as one of their two main sources of news about the presidential races, compared with 3% in 1996. The reliance on television grew slightly to 78%, up from 72%.

Meanwhile, the influence of newspapers dropped to 39% last year, from 60% in 1996, according to the joint, telephone-based survey from the Pew Research Center for The People and the Press and the Pew Internet and American Life Project.

Nonetheless, Americans who got campaign news over the Internet were more likely to visit sites of major news organizations like CNN and The New York Times (43 percent) rather than Internet-only resources such as candidate Web sites and Web journals, known as blogs (24 percent).

Twenty-eight percent said they primarily used news pages of America Online, Yahoo and other online services, which carry dispatches from traditional news sources like The Associated Press and Reuters.

"It's a channel difference not a substantive difference," said Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Internet group and author of the study. "Newspaper executives probably now have to think of themselves less as newspaper people and more as content people."

....Fifty-eight percent of political news users cited convenience as their main reason for using the Internet. This group was more likely to use the Internet sites of traditional news organizations or online services.

But one-third of political news consumers cited a belief that they did not get all the news and information they wanted from papers and television, and another 11% said the Web had information not available elsewhere. These individuals were more likely to visit blogs or campaign sites for information.

And blogs, Rainie said, likely had an indirect influence on what campaigns talked about and what news organizations covered.

Click here for Editor & Publisher's take on the report. I'm not sure how much newspapers should be panicking in terms of content -- what appears to be happening is that many people have substituted an online version of their newspaper for the print version. Nevertheless, the secular decline is evident, which should scare the business side of the press. The fact that many people are reading even online newspapers through the editorial filter of either an online news page or a blog is what should rattle editors.

The actual Pew study can be found here -- and here's a link to Michael Cornfield's analysis of the Internet's effect on the 2004 election. Key paragraph:

The numbers of American citizens who turn to the internet for campaign politics may dip in 2005 and the off-year election in 2006, in the absence of a presidential election. But a return to pre-2000 or even pre-2002 levels of engagement seems unlikely. As broadband connections proliferate and hum, the old mass audience for campaigns is being transformed into a collection of interconnected and overlapping audiences (global, national, partisan, group, issue-based, candidate-centered). Each online audience has a larger potential for activism than its offline counterparts simply because it has more communications and persuasion tools to exploit. This transformation makes life in the public arena more complex.


posted by Dan at 06:17 PM | Comments (12) | Trackbacks (0)

Hezbollah generates a natural experiment

As change continues to roil parts of the Middle East, media focus is increasing on Lebanon. The Syrian government is getting more specific in its plans for a partial pullout of its troops. However, the really interesting development is within Lebanon's domestic political scene. Scott Wilson explains in the Washington Post about Hezbollah's decision to maintain its support for Syria:

The leader of Hezbollah, the militant Shiite Muslim movement that for weeks has stood on the sidelines of Lebanon's political upheaval, called Sunday for national demonstrations against what he characterized as foreign influences seeking to expel Syria, a key sponsor of the party, from the country.

Hassan Nasrallah, a Shiite cleric who serves as Hezbollah's secretary general, was critical in particular of the United States and France. His announcement dashed the hopes of Lebanese opposition leaders that the large, disciplined movement would join their cause to drive Syrian troops and intelligence services from Lebanon.

The first demonstration is scheduled for Tuesday in Beirut, along an avenue near the central square where Lebanon's anti-Syrian opposition movement has staged round-the-clock protests since the Feb. 14 assassination of former prime minister Rafiq Hariri.

Nasrallah appeared after what he called an "emergency meeting" of more than 30 political parties aligned with the Syrian government, which is facing international pressure and a popular uprising here to end its 30-year presence in Lebanon....

"Freedom means that we decide for ourselves the best way to address what we see today as clear intervention of the United States and France in Lebanese internal affairs," Nasrallah said at a news conference in the Shiite suburbs of south Beirut. "The opposition must give us explanations regarding the foreign intervention. We must convince each other that only true sovereignty means independence."

Nasrallah's defiant position comes as an emerging Lebanese alliance of Christian, Druze and Sunni Muslim parties has turned its attention to winning parliamentary elections scheduled for this spring in the hopes of forming a government free of Syrian influence. Nasrallah appeared to serve notice that Hezbollah and a variety of smaller pro-Syrian parties intended to mount a unified campaign to prevent a government hostile to Syrian interests from emerging after the elections....

With an extensive social services network and an armed wing celebrated here for helping end the Israeli occupation of south Lebanon in 2000, Hezbollah is perhaps the most formidable player in the power-sharing system among religious-based parties. Linked to the 1983 bombings of the U.S. Embassy and Marine barracks in Beirut, Hezbollah is now recognized as a legal political party in Lebanon and controls a 12-seat bloc in parliament. The United States has placed Hezbollah and its satellite television channel on its list of terrorist organizations, and the European Union is considering adopting a similar designation.

Nasrallah's ability to mobilize perhaps hundreds of thousands of Hezbollah followers for demonstrations, in addition to other large Shiite, Sunni and pan-Arab parties that will likely take part, threatens to expose a deep gulf in Lebanese society that Syrian officials have warned could widen into the kind of sectarian strife that fueled Lebanon's 15-year civil war.

Assad, in a speech to parliament Saturday, said: "We should not remain in Lebanon one day after there is a Lebanese consensus over our presence," something Hezbollah's counter-demonstrations are likely to show does not exist....

Nasrallah said the international pressure against Syria and Hezbollah, which increased sharply after the assassination of Hariri, was designed to further Israel's political goals, and he has called on several important Arab governments that have aligned themselves with the U.S. position to change course. Some Lebanese opposition leaders have called openly for Lebanon to recognize the 1949 armistice with Israel signed after the first Arab-Israeli war, a position Hariri was believed to have supported at the time of his assassination.

This will be interesting. There is no denying Hebollah's political strength in Lebanon -- however, there is also no denying that the group has been very slow to react to recent political developments.

Many commentators question whether democratization in Lebanon necessarily advance U.S. interests in the region if all it does is empower groups in Hezbollah. I've maintained in the past that even if that short-run effect takes place, democratization remains the proper long-term strategy. However, Tuesday will provide fresh evidence of whether even the short-run costs are as great as many people fear. If Hezbollah musters fewer people than expected in counter-demonstrations, then it suggests the fear of radicalism in a democratizing Middle East might be misplaced. [And if there are huge counter-demonstrations?--ed. Hey, then I'm wrong. But the social scientist in me is more excited about the prospect that there will soon be data to examine the hypothesis than worried about being wrong.]

UPDATE: The Council on Foreign Relations has an informative interview with Stephen A. Cook on the Syria-Lebanon dynamic from late February. Two useful tidbits:

Q: How much does it cost Syria to keep thousands of troops in Lebanon? Do the Lebanese pay for their expenses?

A: No. The Lebanese don't pay for them per se, but Lebanon has become an economic lifeboat for Syria. There are thousands of Syrian workers, along with Syrian soldiers, in Lebanon who send money back to Syria. There is a certain amount of smuggling that goes on through Lebanon. And so Syria, which is facing a dire economic situation right now, sees Lebanon as very important economically....

Q: Talk about the street demonstrations we're seeing now in Lebanon. There was another one yesterday demanding that Syria get out. What are we seeing here?

A: Yesterday's demonstration was the largest yet and, according to press reports, there were tens of thousands of people in the streets screaming, "Syria out!" And like what happened in the Ukrainian situation, people are now draping themselves, not in orange, but in [the Lebanese national colors of] red and white, expressing their opposition to the Syrian presence and their opposition to the Syrian government.

But there was also a rather sizeable demonstration that was held under the auspices of Hezbollah over the weekend that was a counter-demonstration, saying people should not trifle with the government, should not trifle with the Syrians, and that Hezbollah supported the current arrangements. And Hezbollah is the largest and most powerful militia--the only remaining militia--in Lebanon. So there seems to be a groundswell of average people--Muslims, Christians, and Druze--who are opposed to the Syrian occupation of Lebanon. But at the same time, Hezbollah is also able to mobilize a significant percentage of the population in support of this continued Syrian presence.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Lee Smith will be posting daily dispatches for Slate this week from Beirut. His first posting contains this amusing paragraph:

[D]uring Eid al-Adha, a major Muslim holiday commemorating Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son, Saudi tourists have just about taken over downtown, especially the restaurants where the Saudi women seem less interested in the various food choices—French, Lebanese, Moroccan, Italian, TGIF, Dunkin’ Donuts—than in smoking water pipes underneath see-through plastic tents set up in the middle of the cobblestone streets. Some of the women are fully veiled in black, but most seem to be availing themselves of the opportunity to show off their latest purchases. After a little time checking out their dresses, jewelry, hair, and make-up, it dawns on me that underneath every Saudi veil, there's a Jersey girl dying to break free.

Smith also links to two expert blogs on what's happening in the Fertile Crscent -- Across the Bay and Syria Comment. Go check them out.

posted by Dan at 10:47 AM | Comments (44) | Trackbacks (4)

The U.S. exports comic book heroes

Kim Barker has a story in today's Chicago Tribune on the adaptation of one comic book hero to the Indian subcontinent:

He swings from buildings, wears a red-and-blue spider costume and shoots webs from his wrists.

But this Spider-Man is Pavitr Prabhakar, not Peter Parker. Uncle Ben has turned into Uncle Bhim. Longtime crush Mary Jane is Meera Jain. This Spider-Man does not wear only an average tight superhero outfit. He also sports a red Spider-Man loincloth and white balloon pants.

"We kept the characters the same, but added an Indian touch," says Jeevan Kang, the artist.

Spider-Man has been outsourced. Next month, the first edition of the Spider-Man India comic book will be released here, in an attempt to expand the superhero's market by catering to different cultures.

In Spider-Man India, our teenage hero has just moved to Bombay, India's cosmopolitan business center. Prabhakar hails from a village and wears large gold hoop earrings. He is teased at his new school for wearing his traditional loincloth, called a dhoti. Other boys call him "dhoti boy." They use words such as "dude" and say Prabhakar "has air bags for legs."

As with many future superheroes, Prabhakar is haunted by his past. His parents were killed when he was a child; he still has nightmares about them. And clearly, he is destined for something more, as made obvious by his Uncle Bhim, who repeats that familiar Spider-Man adage: "With great talent, with great power ... there must also come great responsibility."

Unlike Peter Parker, a spider never bites Pavitr Prabhakar. Because this is India, there is more smoke and mysticism involved. A mysterious yogi appears to the teenager and gives him the power of the spider "that weaves the intangible web of life."

Prabhakar is told to fulfill his karma. He wakes up on a roof in a Spider-Man suit with a dhoti.

Spider-Man India's nemesis also has a magical touch. Nalin Oberoi turns into a Green Goblin-like mystical Indian demon after stealing a powerful amulet.

"We'll see what happens," says Suresh Seetharaman, an executive with Gotham Entertainment Group, which puts out Spider-Man India and distributes most U.S. superhero comic books in India. "It has been receiving a lot of unprecedented publicity and noise."

If the first four-issue package is successful, the series will likely continue, he says....

One wonders if the Spider-Man icon is particularly well-suited for export. One of Spider-Man's distinguishing features among the superhero pantheon is his relative poverty.

Readers are encouraged to propose which countries would embrace which superheroes export -- and why. UPDATE: Readers are also strongly encouraged to peruse David Adesnik's thoughts on this very question from his January Weekly Standard essay

posted by Dan at 10:08 AM | Comments (23) | Trackbacks (1)

Sunday, March 6, 2005

Aloha again!!!

Back from Waikiki, but juuuuuuust a bit jet-lagged. Regular blogging will resume tomorrow.

In the meantime, Tom Maguire has an idea for how to topple the North Korean regime. Take a look at his proposal and let him know what you think.

posted by Dan at 04:54 PM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (0)