Friday, April 1, 2005

Open Pope thread

Feel free to comment on the legacy of Pope John Paul II, now approaching death. His pivotal role in promoting dissent in the Soviet bloc will certainly be prominently mentioned. So will his profound and consistent commitment to pacifism. As for his iron-clad control of the Church hierarchy itself, I'll leave it to the commentors.

UPDATE: Rest in peace, Karol Wojtyla.

Josh Marshall takes a welcome break from Social Security-blogging to make an excellent point about the ways that this pope changed the way that we think about the pope more generally:

One other thing that is worth mentioning --- especially for people under thirty --- is that before John Paul II, the Pope was a much more, well … parochial figure than he has been in the decades since.

The Pope didn’t travel around the world. He was always an Italian. And he was far less involved in the ecumenical work that played such a role in John Paul’s pontificate. All of this goes to say that for a Jewish nine-year-old and his grandfather sitting in a rec room in a Jewish retirement home in 1978, the Pope was a much more distant figure than he would be to almost any of us today.

Kathryn Jean Lopez also makes a trenchant point about the Pope's last lesson:

Much has been and will be said about Pope John Paul’s most recent silent teaching—his lessons from his example of his own suffering: How to live, how to die. To respect all human life, even when sickly. I think also when you realize that he did not go to the hospital this week it was another specific lesson by example--and a striking one this week of all weeks. He took his antibiotics, he had a feeding tube, and had doctors on hand treating him, but his situation was grave and he didn’t opt for any extra (read: extraordinary?) care that, perhaps, might have given him a few more days. We’re not to be absolutists, but realists who are called to be protectors of this amazing gift we’ve been given—human life.

posted by Dan at 11:23 PM | Comments (21) | Trackbacks (1)

Gone conferencin'

Posting will be erratic the next couple of days, as I wend my way to New Haven for a conference sponsored by Yale's Information Society Project entitled "The Global Flow of Information." Looks like an interesting program.

If you're really trying to avoid work, go check out the thought piece I'll be presenting entitled "Weighing the Scales: The Internet's Effect on State-Society Relations." I'll be very curious to see whether new information technologies will affect the situaion in Zimbabwe.

UPDATE: For those of you who really want to know what's going on at the conference, check out Lawmeme, which is liveblogging the panels.

posted by Dan at 10:37 AM | Trackbacks (2)

Thursday, March 31, 2005

Warding off the dark lords of dark chocolate

Fifteen minutes ago I felt a rare craving for a candy bar, and went to buy one. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that Twix has introduced a dark chocolate version of their candy bar.

Apparently, the dark chocolate Twix is part of a larger trend. Julie Scelfo explains in Newsweek:

All his life, Jason Judkins was seeking something, but he was looking in all the wrong places, like vending machines. "Usually between 2 and 3 o'clock I'd eat a Snickers, a Three Musketeers or a Twix," he recalls. "Then after dinner I'd have chocolate cake, or Hershey's Nuggets, or ice cream with Hershey's syrup." But that was before his first taste of a dark-chocolate truffle from The Cocoa Tree, an artisanal candy store in his town of Franklin, Tenn. Made fresh on the premises from dark chocolate and organic cream and butter, it made his mouth "explode" with tastes he'd never gotten from an M&M. Of course, he could have bought a lot of M&Ms for the price of a single truffle, $1.80 plus tax. But these days he is satisfied with chocolate only a couple of times a week instead of twice a day, and since each piece is 10 times as good, he's way ahead.

Long after iceberg gave way to arugula, candy remained defiantly retro: cheap, garishly wrapped and tasting just like it did when you were a kid. But eventually, connoisseurship touches everything. The symbol of this revolution is dark chocolate, intensely flavored with cocoa, fragrant and complex. Comparing it with milk chocolate—also made from cocoa, but diluted with milk powder, lecithin and much more sugar—is like comparing wine with grape soda. Once dark chocolate was an obscure and furtive passion that involved haunting drugstores for a stray Lindt bar. Now grocery stores carry Dagoba Organic Chocolate at up to $4.40 for a two-ounce bar, or the Chocovic Ocumare, which caters to the obsessive chocolate snob by listing its cocoa content (71 percent) and the type of bean (Venezuelan Criollo) on the wrapper. Sales of high-end chocolates have risen 20 percent each year since 2001, says Clay Gordon, who runs the Web site. And the revolution has reached even the mass marketers. Hershey's introduced dark-chocolate Kisses in 2003; this year Mars is rolling out dark versions of Twix and, yes, even M&Ms. "Americans have spent the last 10 years educating themselves about wine, olive oil and cheese," says Gordon. "Attention is finally turning to chocolate. The surprise is it's taken this long."

....Indeed, anyone with a dollar or two can taste the artisanal truffles of Legacy Chocolates in Menomonie, Wis., or Moonstruck Chocolate Co. in Portland, Ore., or any number of other local chocolatiers now dotting the mallscape. ("Truffle" typically means a soft chocolate confection dusted in cocoa powder; filled chocolates are better described, simply, as "bonbons.") Biting into one, you immediately understand why chocolate has been associated with sex at least since 1519, when the Aztec emperor, Montezuma, became renowned for the vast quantities of hot "xoco latl" he drank before visiting his harem. The rich taste and intoxicating aroma arouse the senses, immediately bestowing pleasure upon the eater. This experience has given rise to a new type of customer, capable of integrating chocolate consumption into a normal, healthy lifestyle, like those French women who don't get fat. (emphasis added)

As a lifelong dark chocolate afficionado, I fear this to be a bad, bad, bad, bad, delicious trend. The dearth of dark chocolate opportunities has to date been an effective constraint on excessive chocolate consumption. The proliferation of dark chocolate "microbrews" could overwhelm my feeble abstinence instinct -- this is the candy equivalent of Salma Hayek showing up on my doorstep wearing nothing but a terrycloth robe and asking for a foot massage.

My only viable strategy might be to insist on consuming only very gourmet chocolates. [You could just exercise more and eat less. Or you could be like Virginia Postrel and eat more spinach--ed. No one likes it when you act like a rational editor.]

posted by Dan at 04:14 PM | Comments (27) | Trackbacks (1)

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

The decline of Harvard and the return of COFHE

Between my junior and senior years at Williams College, I was an intern for the Office of the Provost. It was there I found out about the Consortium for Financing Higher Education (COFHE), a little-known organization of elite schools that pooled data on admissions, tuition, and the like. When I was working there, COFHE was twitchy about being subject to antitrust investigations, but that died down in the late eighties. As the COFHE website suggests, this is an organization that doesn't really like to advertise its existence.

I hadn't thought about COFHE for at least a decade -- until I saw this Boston Globe story by Marcella Bombardieri:

Student satisfaction at Harvard College ranks near the bottom of a group of 31 elite private colleges, according to an analysis of survey results that finds that Harvard students are disenchanted with the faculty and social life on campus.

An internal Harvard memo, obtained by the Globe, provides numerical data that appear to substantiate some long-held stereotypes of Harvard: that undergraduate students often feel neglected by professors, and that they don't have as much fun as peers on many other campuses.

The group of 31 colleges, known as the Consortium on Financing Higher Education, or COFHE, includes all eight Ivy League schools, other top research universities like the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Stanford, and small colleges like Amherst and Wellesley.

''Harvard students are less satisfied with their undergraduate educations than the students at almost all of the other COFHE schools," according to the memo, dated Oct. 2004 and marked ''confidential." ''Harvard student satisfaction compares even less favorably to satisfaction at our closest peer institutions."

The 21-page memo, from staff researchers at Harvard to academic deans, documents student dissatisfaction with faculty availability, quality of instruction, quality of advising, and student life factors such as sense of community and social life on campus.

The raw data used in the memo come from surveys of graduating seniors in 2002, but are the most recent comparison available and are still consulted by Harvard administrators. On a five-point scale, Harvard students' overall satisfaction comes out to 3.95, compared to an average of 4.16 for the other 30 COFHE schools. Although the difference appears small, Harvard officials say they take the ''satisfaction gap" very seriously.

Only four schools scored lower than Harvard, but the schools were not named. (COFHE data are supposed to be confidential.) The memo also notes that Harvard's ''satisfaction gap" has existed since at least 1994.

On the five-point scale, Harvard students gave an average score of 2.92 on faculty availability, compared to an average 3.39 for the other COFHE schools. Harvard students gave a 3.16 for quality of instruction, compared to a 3.31 for the other schools, and a 2.54 for quality of advising in their major, compared to 2.86 for the other schools.

Students gave Harvard a 2.62 for social life on campus, compared to a 2.89 for the other schools, and a 2.53 for sense of community, compared to 2.8.

I'm dying to know where the University of Chicago came out in those rakings. If the U of C -- a place at which the logo "Where Fun Comes to Die" appears on many a t-shirt -- ranks higher than Harvard in terms of satisfaction, then Harvard really has some catching up to do.

posted by Dan at 11:21 PM | Comments (11) | Trackbacks (0)

As the Sciavo commentary descends into silliness....

In recent decades, the appearance of Jesse Jackson has been a useful leading indicator of a political issue degenerating into complete silliness.

In this case, however, the conclusive signal about the sheer idiocy of most of the Schiavo commentary comes from today's Chicago Tribune op-ed page. In it, David Martin publishes his living will, which includes the following:

I want it to be known that I fear degradation, indignity and political hypocrisy far more than death. I ask my medical attendants to bear this in mind when considering what my intentions would be in any uncertain situation.

If the time comes when I can no longer communicate, this declaration shall be taken as a testament to my wishes regarding medical care. If it is the opinion of two independent doctors who are not U.S. senators that there is no reasonable prospect of my recovery from severe physical illness, or from impairment expected to cause me severe distress or render me incapable of rational existence, then I direct that I be allowed to die and not be kept alive by artificial means such as life-support systems, tube feeding, resuscitation or hastily passed, politically motivated federal legislation....

I wish the following persons to be avoided at all costs in the event of uncertainty about my wishes:

Dr. Bill Frist, U.S. Senate, Washington

Tom DeLay, House of Representatives, Washington

George W. Bush, the White House, Washington

OK, this is pretty much the kind of thing I predicted would happen, but let's skip that.

What got me was Martin's byline: "David Martin is a lawyer who lives in Ottawa, Canada."

Now, whilethe U.S., Canada, and Mexico have recently pledged greater security and economic integration, I'm still pretty sure that no one living in Ottawa, Canada really has to worry about a Schiavo-type scenario happening.

[C'mon, wasn't Martin just being a smart-ass -- a type of behavior with which you're familiar?--ed. Yes, but to be a good smart-ass one must have the comedy equivalent of legal standing -- and Martin doesn't.]

posted by Dan at 10:15 AM | Comments (16) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Bill James and I, two peas in a pod

Via David Pinto and Balls, Sticks, & Stuff, I came across an extended interview of Bill James, the godfather of sabremetrics and a consultant to the world champion Boston Red Sox.

Given James's long advocacy of using statistical techniques to gauge the value of baseball players, he provides a surprising response to the question of why Boston was able to overcome it's 0-3 deficit against the Yankees in the American League Championship Series:

Interviewer: I have to ask you this. On an internet baseball fan site, I recently saw you quoted to the effect that veteran leadership had enabled the Red Sox to come back from down 0-3 in the ALCS. But, in that forum, the immediate response was to doubt your sincerity. Bill couldn't mean that! And these were people who held you in high regard. Are you resigned to your reputation at this point in time?

Bill James: Well, believe it or not, I don’t worry about my reputation in that sense. I’ll let that take care of itself.

This is probably a long-winded answer, but I’ll try to explain it this way. If I were in politics and presented myself as a Republican, I would be admired by Democrats by but despised by my fellow Republicans. If I presented myself as a Democrat, I would popular with Republicans but jeered and hooted by the Democrats.

I believe in a universe that is too complex for any of us to really understand. Each of us has an organized way of thinking about the world—a paradigm, if you will—and we need those, of course; you can’t get through the day unless you have some organized way of thinking about the world. But the problem is that the real world is vastly more complicated than the image of it that we carry around in our heads. Many things are real and important that are not explained by our theories—no matter who we are, no matter how intelligent we are.

As in politics we have left and right—neither of which explains the world or explains how to live successfully in the world—in baseball we have the analytical camp and the traditional camp, or the sabermetricians against the scouts, however you want to characterize it. I created a good part of the analytical paradigm that the statistical analysts advocate, and certainly I believe in that paradigm and I advocate it within the Red Sox front office. But at the same time, the real world is too complicated to be explained by that paradigm.

It is one thing to build an analytical paradigm that leaves out leadership, hustle, focus, intensity, courage and self-confidence; it is a very, very different thing to say that leadership, hustle, courage and self-confidence do not exist or do not play a role on real-world baseball teams. The people who think that way. . .not to be rude, but they’re children. They may be 40-year-old children, they may be 70-year-old children, but their thinking is immature. (emphasis added)

James's complete answer is interesting to baseball fans, but I kept returning to that bolded section and unconsciously nodding my head.

posted by Dan at 03:02 PM | Comments (12) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, March 28, 2005

Republicans and their discontents

Via Glenn Reynolds, I see that over at Daily Pundit, Bill Quick has eleven laments about the current incarnation of the Republican party. Go check them out. I don't agree with all of them, but obviously I agree with enough of them to post about it. The third one -- "The deadly combination of establishing huge new permanent expenditures while at the same time cutting taxes, thereby guaranteeing massive new debt for future taxpayers" is the one that really kills me.

Quick closes as follows:

The Republicans are no longer the party of small, limited government, fiscal sanity, states and individual rights, and the Constitution. In their own way, they have become as bloated, hypocritical, invasive, and spendthrift as much of the worst the Democrats have to offer.

If you think there must be some alternative, I am with you, and I would like to find one. That means we have to create an interest group of moderates and libertarians who become crucial to the balance of power. If we hold the keys to the electability of candidates from the right and the left, then both sides must listen to us.

Am I suggesting the formation of a new party? No, not at the moment. But we do have tools available to us, most especially the Internet and blogs., as much as I dislike its goals, has perfected these as a method of exerting enormous influence. It has, in effect, taken over the machinery of the Democratic party. What they did, we can do as well, and I am proposing that we do it.

Quick makes an intriguing parallel -- but I'm unconvinced that, judging by either electoral or ideational outcomes, the growth of the left blogosphere and other Internet sites has been particularly beneficial for the Democratic party. These groups' biggest successes have been: a) increased voter turnout in November 2004; and b) ensuring a solid Democratic bloc to prevent Social Security reform. Against those successes, the Dean self-immolation, the electoral losses in November, and the party line demanding an exit option from Iraq ASAP count as failures.

I agree with Quick on the substance, but even as a blogger I'm not convinced the process would be beneficial

posted by Dan at 02:39 PM | Comments (22) | Trackbacks (2)

The Bush administration and the fourth wave

Dexter Filkins in the New York Times and Henry Farrell at Crooked Timber make useful points about the precise relationship between U.S. foreign policy, international organizations, and the nascent fourth wave of democratization. This leads to an intriguing policy proposal, but let's put that aside until the end of the post.

Filkins asks whether the elections in Iraq triggered the demonstration of people power in Lebanon and concludes in the negative. He observes that Lebanon's political culture was far more democratic for a far longer time than Iraq's. However, this does not mean that U.S. foreign policy is irrelevant:

In an echo of the ambivalence many Iraqis feel about the American presence in their country, many Lebanese are skeptical of American intentions. Not least among their reasons is what they regard as the acquiescence of the United States to the continuation of Syria's military presence here in 1990, in exchange for Syria's joining the coalition that was then being built to oust Mr. Hussein from Kuwait.

"The Syrians had a mandate from the United States" to keep their troops in Lebanon, said a former Lebanese minister who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

For many Lebanese, what made significant change possible in Lebanon was not the elections in Iraq, but the events of Sept. 11, 2001, which prompted the Bush administration to re-examine its reluctance to challenge the Syrian regime, as well as other Arab dictatorships that had backed terrorist groups. When the Lebanese began calling for a Syrian withdrawal, the Syrian government had to defy not just the Lebanese people, but the United States as well.

For that reason, more than a few Lebanese believe, President Bush's demands are proving decisive in driving the Syrians out. "This enthusiasm for democracy may not happen again," said Khalil Karam, professor of international relations at University of St. Joseph here, speaking of American foreign policy. "Without it, we could not stop Syria."

Back at Mr. Hariri's tomb, Mr. Salha, the factory worker, offered his own grudging invitation, if only to ensure that his homeland finally frees itself of Syrian domination.

"We are not against Bush," Mr. Salha said. "If he wants to make us safe and free, that's great. Let him do it."

Farrell links to a Financial Times story by Stefan Wagstyl that points out the regional (i.e., post-Soviet) nature of these revolutions. Farrell acknowledges that, "US policy has had some indirect effects – the US support for regime change in Georgia has probably had unanticipated consequences as Georgia became an example of change for other countries in the post-Soviet space."

Farrell, however, then goes on to observe the useful role that the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe has played in the post-Soviet space:

After the Iron Curtain crumbled, participating states in the OSCE agreed on a set of new, beefier normative commitments that were supposed to support democracy, and that allowed certain kinds of limited internal intervention within countries (a High Commissioner on National Minorities; election monitoring) in order to shore up democracy where it was weak. Some countries – especially in Central Asia – then slid back into various forms of presidential authoritarianism, in which periodic elections rubberstamped continued autocratic rule. Now, however, we’re seeing again how these countries’ previous commitments are having unexpected consequences – OSCE election monitors’ reports are providing a means through which opposition figures can undermine the regime. Since the governments under threat purport to be democracies, they may find themselves in a rather difficult position....

Furthermore, to the extent that the OSCE (rather than simple geographic diffusion) is responsible for this wave of democratization, it probably won’t spread to other parts of the world. It’s a product of the intersection between two sets of institutions and rather specific domestic conditions. The institutions are (a) the strong international commitments that these countries gave to the OSCE in the 1990’s, permitting election monitoring, and (b) the minimal trappings of democracy that these countries maintained. The domestic conditions are a government that is uncertain enough of its control of armed forces and internal security that it can’t be sure that they will obey orders to fire on protesters etc, and a domestic opposition that is capable of acting with some minimal degree of coherence to capitalize on reports of election fraud through protests and other actions. We aren’t likely to see these circumstances repeated elsewhere.

Farrell is correct that the OSCE's geographical remit is bounded. However, I'm not sure his general point stands. The fact is that most countries in the world -- including many in the Arab Middle East -- try to maintain the minimal trappings of democracy, precisely because of its normative power. So that condition is met.

The problem is finding an international organization that has legitimacy and respect within the Middle East that has both the willingness and the opportunity to engage in election monitoring and concomitant activities.

Hey, wait a minute -- how about the United Nations??!! As some of you may recall, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan does want to reform the U.N., and claimed in a report that, "The United Nations does more than any other single organization to promote and strengthen democratic institutions and practices around the world, but this fact is little known." OK, as I said before, that line is pure horses**t, but that doesn't mean it must always be so. The U.N. has some genuine street cred in the Arab parts of the world. Having the U.N. play the role of the OSCE in the Middle East is not as crazy as it first sounds.

Arch-conservatives might be skeptical of the U.N.'s ability to do any good whatsoever, a concern that has some merit. But pushing for the U.N. to take a greater role in election monitoring is precisely the kind of proposal that would resonate with big-government conservatism and perhaps even neoconservatism.

Just a thought.

posted by Dan at 09:50 AM | Comments (11) | Trackbacks (1)

Sunday, March 27, 2005

The convenient out of "national dialogue "

Richard Clarke recently started a column in the New York Times Magazine on national security issues. His latest effort, on Iran, is a bit frustrating, but I'm on the fence about whether this the fault lies with Clarke or his word count.

Clarke spends the bulk of the article arguing that the invasion of Iraq has served Iran's national interest even better that Amercan interests, and argues that hoping for democratization to overwhelm Iran's mullahs would be foolish. He also takes potshots as the administration's recent decisions to recognize Hezbollah as a political party in Lebanon and allow the EU to take the (temporary) lead on nuclear talks.

With that, here's how Clarke closes:

The president recently said that reports of the United States preparing to attack Iran were ''simply ridiculous.'' He then quickly added, ''All options are on the table.'' There are reports that Pentagon planners, reacting to the prospect of drawn-out negotiations, are developing strike packages to take out W.M.D. sites in Iran. Some planners say such strikes would cause the people to overthrow the mullahs. Actually, if we struck Iran, I think we would unite it, trigger a spasm of terrorist attacks against America and Israel and start another war for which we have no exit strategy. Thus, we need an honest national dialogue now on how much we feel threatened by Iran and what the least-bad approaches to mitigating that threat are. (emphasis added)

Clarke was the NSC Director for Counterterrorism for more than a decade. He's just spent 500 words shredding the administration's menu of Iran policy options. One would think that this would be the right moment for Clarke, a genuine expert on this question, to introduce his own thoughts on the matter. Instead, we get a "national dialogue" cop-out. That's a close second behind "mobilize political willpower" on the list of Grand and Meaningless Policy Proposals. It's particularly odd with regard to Iran, since national dialogues about foreign policy tend to be limited to questions of grand strategy or imminent war.

It's possible that Clarke is fresh out of constructive ideas on this subject. To give him the benefit of the doubt, however, it's also possible that a 700-word limit on his column prevents a fuller explication of his thoughts. My money is on the former -- a savvy columnist would have put in a teaser for a future column devoted solely to this topic -- but I'll give him some benefit of the doubt and see what emerges in future columns.

posted by Dan at 12:25 PM | Comments (19) | Trackbacks (2)

Right profession, wrong stage of life

Warren St. John and Alex Williams have a good article in the New York Times Style section about sleep patterns and the character taits that are often incorrectly derived from them. Among the interesting facts:

Whatever the negative associations with sleeping late, scientists say there's good reason to doubt the boasts of the early risers. Dr. Daniel F. Kripke, a sleep researcher at the University of California, San Diego, said that in one study he attached motion sensors to subjects' wrists to determine when they were up and about. While 5 percent of the subjects claimed they were awake before 4 a.m., Dr. Kripke said, the motion sensors suggested none of them were. And while 10 percent reported they were up and at 'em by 5 a.m., only 5 percent were out of bed....

Dr. Kripke said that a 2001 study of adults in San Diego showed no correlation between waking time and income. There's even anecdotal evidence of parity on the world stage; President Bush is said to wake each day at 5 a.m., to be at his desk by 7 and to go to sleep at 10 p.m., while no less an achiever than Russian President Vladimir V. Putin reportedly wakes at 11 a.m. and works until 2 a.m.

Night owls thrive, it seems, by strategizing around the expectations of the early crowd. Bella M. DePaulo, a psychology professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara, who goes to sleep around 3 a.m. and wakes about 11 a.m., said that before she answers the phone in the late morning, she practices saying "Hello" out loud until she sounds awake. Ms. DePaulo said she has been a night person since childhood, and that she gravitated toward academia in part of because of her sleep habits.

"Academia is a good place to be if you're out of the mainstream," she said. "If you're doing 80 hours of work a week, what does it matter what 80 hours you work?"

The sleep schedule is certainly one reason why I gravitated towards academia (and blogging, I suppose -- it's a partially nocturnal event). That said, one of the first internal indications I had that I wanted to marry Erika was that I shifted my grad student work habits from a 7PM-2 AM cycle to a 9-5 schedule without complaint.

Unfortunately, the article fails to address the biggest challenge to late-sleepers. It's not the job, it's the children. Any hope of sleeping in for the next decade is pretty much shot to hell.

The advantages for the children are overwhelming, of course -- but that doesn't mean I don't miss the halcyon andbygone era of getting up past ten o'clock in the AM.

posted by Dan at 11:52 AM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (2)