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:
Kathryn Jean Lopez also makes a trenchant point about the Pope's last lesson:
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.
Thursday, March 31, 2005
Warding off the dark lords of dark chocolate
Apparently, the dark chocolate Twix is part of a larger trend. Julie Scelfo explains in Newsweek:
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.]
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:
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.
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:
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.]
Tuesday, March 29, 2005
Bill James and I, two peas in a pod
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:
James's complete answer is interesting to baseball fans, but I kept returning to that bolded section and unconsciously nodding my head.
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:
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
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:
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:
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.
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:
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.
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:
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.