Saturday, April 9, 2005

April's Books of the Month

The international relations book for April [It's a bit late--ed. Look, I've been on the road a little bit.] addresses two issues that plague the study of the global political economy: how to explain the independent effect of economic ideas and ideology, and the overestimation of Karl Polanyi's Great Transformation as a guide to understanding political economy.

Various IR scholars have tried to put forward arguments for how ideas -- distinct from material interests or pre-existing institutions -- influence outcomes. As someone who generally assigns a lot of causal weight to interests and institutions, I've neverheless wanted to see a serious exploration of the role ideas can play in the world. And, at the very least, I'm in the middle of reading a good-faith effort to do this very thing: Great Transformations: Economic Ideas and Institutional Change in the Twentieth Century, by Mark Blyth. Great Transformations looks at how the United States and Sweden have reacted to economic crises by changing their ideas about how to run an economy. To explain the role of ideas, Blyth goes back to a very old but still useful typology that economist Frank Knight made between risk and uncertainty (though this distinction remains a subject of debate among economists). Risk is a situation in which there are a number of possible outcomes, and it is possible to estimate the probability of each of those outcomes taking place. Uncertainty, in contrast, is a situation in which all of the possible outcomes aren't necessarily known, and it is impossible to estimate the probabilities of future events. It is under conditions of uncertainty -- i.e., when an economic crisis causes policymakers to lose faiths in previously accepted truisms about the economy -- when ideas can have causal potency.

Also, I like any book that opens with the sentence: "While Polanyi's description of the economic disorder caused by the self-regulating market still has great resonance, his prediction of that same market's denouement seems precipitous, at least with the benefit of hindsight."

The general interest book is Brian C. Anderson's South Park Conservatives: The Revolt Against Liberal Media Bias. Anderson's book is an expansion of a City Journal essay he wrote in autumn of 2003 (about which I blogged here) -- in which he argued that the rise of cable news and satire, blogs, and conservative publishing houses was leading to a level playing field in the media. South Park Conservatives also has chapters on talk radio and campus conservatives. Here's the closing paragraph:

Over time, a greater number of right-of-center voices will find audiences, whether it's via talk radio, cable news, the press, the entertainment world, and even academe. The Left will have to re-examine, argue, and refine its positions, so many of which proved disastrously wrong, and stop living off the past. It's hard to imagine that this development won't result in a broader, richer, deeper national debate--something liberals of an older, John Stuart Mill stripe would have welcomed.

The one coda I would attach to this is that the rise of a conservative media elite can lead to the same kinds of arrogance and sumgness perpetrated by the old liberal media elite. Eric Boehlert makes this point in Salon in his autopsy of the Schiavo memo meme. For more on this incident, see Jack Shafer's essay in Slate about the comparative advantage of bloggers vs. journalists.

Go check them out!

posted by Dan at 12:43 AM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

Friday, April 8, 2005

I didn't think this was possible...

John Holbo posts an amusing paean to... comment spam.

Here's how it starts:

Do you know what’s interesting about comment spam? Nothing, of course. But consider this. No piece of comment spam has ever been able to mimic a human convincingly. It tries, but comment spam is like the aliens among us. They look like us, dress like us … but they also eat the houseplants. In obedience to the iron genre trope that there must be some obvious failure of mimicry that gives away this sinister presence. To read comment spam is to come to awareness that these creatures have travelled a long way to get to our little blue marble floating in space (whether they come in peace, or to breed with the ladies, or because their home planet is tragically polluted.)

Read the whole thing.

Refreshingly, after repeated waves of comment spam last fall, I've had to deal with far fewer attempts since the election. The most clever spam effort I've seen simply copied a prior comment from the thread, with the desired URL replacing commenter's e-mail and URL. This is dangerous, because unless the blogger is paying attention it just looks like a random double comment.

posted by Dan at 02:47 PM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (0)

Funny thing about the comics....


Jeffrey Zaslow writes in the Wall Street Journal (that link will work for non-subscribers) about how old comic strips are trying to stay fresh. Apparently the "Family Circus" above is one such example. Others include, according to Zaslow:

Blondie's daughter, Cookie, is dressing like Britney Spears....

Lately, Little Orphan Annie has landed in a North Korean jail and foiled terrorist plots....

Dick Tracy chases corporate crooks, including one with a trophy wife in continual need of plastic surgery. Prince Valiant might be living in the sixth century, but his current storyline has an ecological theme designed to resonate with 21st-century readers. Blondie uses a laptop in her catering business....

"Nancy," a character who has been around since 1933, watches "The O.C." on TV and recently booted her friend Sluggo from a competition a lot like "American Idol." Her Aunt Fritzi drives a sport-utility vehicle and loves such country-music stars as Faith Hill and Shania Twain....

The more macro trend Zaslow identifies is the barrier to entry that keeping old strips on the funny pages presents:

Other young cartoonists complain that cosmetic makeovers in these "dinosaur strips" are masking recycled plots and gags. They say a comic should die when its creator does. "There's all this new talent not making it on comics pages because newspapers are running Blondie and Nancy," says Stacy Curtis, a 33-year-old editorial cartoonist for the Times of Northwest Indiana, in Munster, who has had three strip ideas rejected by syndicates.

The half-dozen major syndicates receive 10,000 or so submissions a year from cartoonists. They pick altogether about 12 to 15 to launch. Some syndicates defend their reliance on old strips by saying profits from these popular old war horses allow them to invest in the promotion of new comics....

Though many old gag comics such as "Blondie" and "Beetle Bailey" are thriving, storyline strips are an endangered species. People don't read newspapers with the regularity they once did, so they don't follow the daily ins and outs of heroines such as red-headed reporter Brenda Starr. And given the fast-paced nature of TV and movies today, people have little patience for a 14-week storyline that plays out with "the speed of a dripping faucet," says Mary Schmich, the Chicago Tribune columnist who writes "Brenda Starr." Ms. Schmich hopes that strips like hers will gain new life because people can now read dozens of days at a time online.

What the Internet taketh away, the Internet also giveth. Which makes this as good a time as any to recommend Chris Muir's Day By Day strip.

posted by Dan at 12:09 PM | Comments (8) | Trackbacks (1)

Thursday, April 7, 2005

The World Bank fires a warning shot across the dollar's bow

Andrew Balls reports in the Financial Times that the World Bank ain't too comfortable with the developing countries' accumulation of dollar-denominated assets:

Developing countries that have amassed large US dollar reserves face a growing threat of big losses from a sudden decline in the dollar, the World Bank warned yesterday.

In its 2005 Global Development Finance Report, the bank identified the "gravest risk" for emerging markets as a deep and disorderly dollar decline. This could create volatility, including a dollar collapse below what the bank's economists see as its long-term equilibrium level.

The result, it said, could be "a costly restructuring of world industry that would have to be undone in following years as the dollar returned to its equilibrium level".

But even in the event of a continued steady decline in the dollar the bank warned that countries with big dollar reserves faced capital losses, continuing the pattern of the past 2½ years.

Foreign reserves held in developing countries rose from $292bn (€227bn) in 2003 to $378bn last year, the bank said in the report. Asia, and particularly China, accounted for much of this, but 101 of 132 developing countries increased their reserves last year.

The report's warning was echoed by the International Monetary Fund, the bank's sister organisation, yesterday. Rodrigo Rato, IMF head, said: "A sharp increase in US interest rates would adversely affect the expansion and lead to a significant deterioration in emerging market financing conditions."

The World Bank press release contains more direct warnings shots than those quoted in the FT:

[Uri] Dadush [Director of the Bank’s Development Prospects Group] says the US current account deficit is likely to hit six percent of GDP in 2005.

“This is an unsustainable current account deficit level. The phasing out of that deficit will take forms that are very difficult to evaluate in advance. It will require some adjustment in interest rates. It will require some adjustment in exchange rates,” he says.

Overall, Dadush says it could lead to a “significantly more turbulent financial environment for developing countries.”

... But [François] Bourguignon, [the Bank’s senior vice president for Development Economics and Chief Economist], too sounds a warning about the risks facing developing countries.

“We should also keep in mind that current global financial imbalances pose risks—of disorderly exchange rate movements, or of interest rate increases—that could threaten these gains. Developing countries need to prepare themselves for adjustments, some of which could be sudden,” he says.

Dadush says it’s vital for developing countries to be ready to act.

“History shows again and again that policy makers have been surprised by financial crises when they arise,” he says.

“There is a tendency for financial markets and policymakers to miss the warning signs and overshoot, making the necessary adjustment larger when it does occur.”

Click here for the Bank's full report, Global Development Finance 2005: Mobilizing Finance and Managing Vulnerability.

Brad Setser has further thoughts on this topic as well:

The Bretton Woods 2 system of Asian reserve financing of the US continues, no doubt. But I also think it is fair to say that many -- both in Asia and in the World Bank -- are beginning to reassess the cost/ benefit ratio of this system.


UPDATE: Last month Stefan Karlsson provided a nice backgrounder on the trade deficit for those who need a refresher. An the Economist has a nice backgrounder as well.

posted by Dan at 05:35 PM | Comments (14) | Trackbacks (1)

The New York Times and academic politics

The New York Times editorial page is lousy with academic politics today. First, the've published six letters in response to Paul Krugman's Tuesday column (see my take here).

Tom Elia take issue with one of the letters -- for me, however, this one was the most amusing of the lot:

To the Editor:

As a (left-leaning) college history professor, I am bemused by accusations that I am trying to indoctrinate my students with my progressive ideals. If I had that kind of influence, all my students would do the reading every week, proofread their papers meticulously and attend every class. (They don't.)

Samuel S. Thomas
Springfield, Ohio, April 5, 2005


Meanwhile, the lead Times editorial discusses the fracas at Columbia's Middle Eastern Studies program -- in which students have claimed to be intellectual intimidated by pro-Palestinian faculty members and faculty have received hate mail and death threats. The editorial trashes the selection of the faculty committee tasked to write a report and the overall clumsiness with which the university handled the affair (i.e., refusing to do anything until a documentary film brought the issue into the public eye).

What I really found peculiar, however, was the closing paragraph of the editorial:

[I]n the end, the report is deeply unsatisfactory because the panel's mandate was so limited. Most student complaints were not really about intimidation, but about allegations of stridently pro-Palestinian, anti-Israeli bias on the part of several professors. The panel had no mandate to examine the quality and fairness of teaching. That leaves the university to follow up on complaints about politicized courses and a lack of scholarly rigor as part of its effort to upgrade the department. One can only hope that Columbia will proceed with more determination and care than it has heretofore.

Replace "pro-Palestinian, anti-Israeli bias" with "pro-liberal, anti-conservative bias" -- is there any difference between the NYT's complaints about substantive bias in Columbia's Middle Eastern Studies program and conservatives' complaints about substantive bias in the humanities and social sciences?

[But just because academics are liberal doesn't mean they proselytize in their classes--ed. This is true, and it should be stressed that I think professors using their lectern as a bully pulpit is the exception as opposed to the rule. However, as a category of concern, the Times objection in this paragraph and the conservative complaint are awfully similar. However, as the letter quoted above suggests, how much difference any of this makes in the end is subject to debate.]

UPDATE: Juan Cole is too smart to make the following bullshit allegation:

Personally, I think that the master narrative of Zionist historiography is dominant in the American academy. Mostly this sort of thing is taught by International Relations specialists in political science departments, and a lot of them are Zionists, whether Christian or Jewish. Usually the narrative blames the Palestinians for their having been kicked off their own land, and then blames them again for not going quietly. It is not a balanced point of view, and if we take the NYT seriously... then the IR professors should be made to teach a module on the Palestinian point of view, as well. That is seldom done.

This sort of argument makes me wonder if Cole has ever actually sat in on an international relations course. It is possible that someone at some college teaches the Middle East as "Zionist historiography" but most IR scholars are way too professionalized to ascribe such a normative judgment to any nationality. It sure as hell ain't "dominant in the American academy." In fact, I'll dare Cole to find a single syllabus at the American Political Science Association archive or elsewhere with a "Zionist" bent.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Cole responds here, saying:

Drezner has misunderstood my point. I don't give a rat's ass whether those courses have a Zionist bent or not. I am saying that "bent" is not a relevant category of analysis when evaluating university teaching. Everybody has some bent. The question is, whether students come out of the class having learned to reason about a set of problems or not. The content is not as important, since they'll forget a lot of the content anyway, and will receive it selectively, both during and after the class. But if you teach them to take things apart and see how they work, to think about social and political causation, to see how things work together, in a particular field, then they can produce their own knowledge and understanding about it thereafter. They can also question their own and the professor's premises because they will have learned about hidden premises and how to bring them out in the open and interrogate them.

I certainly do not disagree with Cole's point about teaching students critical and analytical skills -- but his first posting (excerpted above) on this topic was entirely a discussion about content and not method. Furthermore, Cole has misunderstood my rebuttal. When I say that, "most IR scholars are way too professionalized," what I mean is that my fellow IR profs rarely, if ever, offer only one master narrative of any event. Instead, they tend to discuss how an event or case can be explained by different theories of international relations, and how for almost every theory, there are inconvenient facts that problematize that model. This doesn't leave much room for the "Israelis good, Palestinians evil" mode of teaching (and, again, let me stress that this is in international relations classes, which were the target of Cole's lament; I can't speak to how these questions are taught in comparative politics or history classes).

See Henry Farrell for a similar take. His punchline:

This doesn’t at all gel with my experience of how international relations is taught or practiced, which is that IR courses which cover Middle East politics usually provide readings that cover both sides of the argument....

I suspect that Cole’s claims reflect his lack of experience with IR as it is actually practiced in the academy. Certainly he needs to provide some evidence if he wants to make the rather strong claims that he is making stick. Otherwise, he’s doing what the people who he’s (in my opinion correctly) criticizing are doing – condemning an entire discipline wholesale on the basis of a rather shaky set of claims as to what the people in that discipline are “really” doing in the classroom.

posted by Dan at 10:24 AM | Comments (28) | Trackbacks (2)

Wednesday, April 6, 2005

Gone debatin'

I'll be at Boston University today as part of "The Great Debate" series at Boston University's College of Communications:

The Great Debate: Does Overseas Outsourcing Hurt the U.S. Economy? 6:30 p.m. Tsai Performance Center Paneilsts include Thea Lee, Chief International Economist, Public Policy Department, AFL-CIO; Jerry Jasinowski, President, Manufacturing Institute, National Associational of Manufacturers; Lori Wallach, Director, Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch; and Daniel Drezner, University of Chicago. Students panelists are Nick Barber, COM Broadcast Journalism, COM'06; and Ida Ziniti, COM Journalism, COM'06. Admission: free. Open to the public. Info: 617-353-5015.

They'll also be webcasting the event -- click here to see.

posted by Dan at 09:33 AM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, April 5, 2005

Brooks and Krugman roil the waters

Occasionally I wonder whether David Brooks and Paul Krugman call each other up and say, "Hey, let's get the blogosphere really worked up about topic X!!" I know that doesn't actually happen, but their columns from today -- Krugman's explanation for why no conservatives are in academia and vice versa, and Brooks' explanation of why conservatives are the party of big ideas -- play off each other nicely.

Krugman's thesis:

Claims that liberal bias keeps conservatives off college faculties almost always focus on the humanities and social sciences, where judgments about what constitutes good scholarship can seem subjective to an outsider. But studies that find registered Republicans in the minority at elite universities show that Republicans are almost as rare in hard sciences like physics and in engineering departments as in softer fields. Why?

One answer is self-selection - the same sort of self-selection that leads Republicans to outnumber Democrats four to one in the military. The sort of person who prefers an academic career to the private sector is likely to be somewhat more liberal than average, even in engineering.

But there's also, crucially, a values issue....

Scientific American may think that evolution is supported by mountains of evidence, but President Bush declares that "the jury is still out." Senator James Inhofe dismisses the vast body of research supporting the scientific consensus on climate change as a "gigantic hoax." And conservative pundits like George Will write approvingly about Michael Crichton's anti-environmentalist fantasies.

Think of the message this sends: today's Republican Party - increasingly dominated by people who believe truth should be determined by revelation, not research - doesn't respect science, or scholarship in general. It shouldn't be surprising that scholars have returned the favor by losing respect for the Republican Party.

In contrast to Krugman's claim of Republican intolerance, Brooks argues that it's precisely the intra-party squabbling that keeps the GOP on its toes:

Conservatives have not triumphed because they have built a disciplined and efficient message machine. Conservatives have thrived because they are split into feuding factions that squabble incessantly. As these factions have multiplied, more people have come to call themselves conservatives because they've found one faction to agree with....

Moreover, it's not only feuding that has been the key to conservative success - it's also what the feuding's about. When modern conservatism became aware of itself, conservatives were so far out of power it wasn't even worth thinking about policy prescriptions. They argued about the order of the universe, and how the social order should reflect the moral order. Different factions looked back to different philosophers - Burke, Aquinas, Hayek, Hamilton, Jefferson - to define what a just society should look like.

Conservatives fell into the habit of being acutely conscious of their intellectual forebears and had big debates about public philosophy. That turned out to be important: nobody joins a movement because of admiration for its entitlement reform plan. People join up because they think that movement's views about human nature and society are true.

Liberals have not had a comparable public philosophy debate. A year ago I called the head of a prominent liberal think tank to ask him who his favorite philosopher was. If I'd asked about health care, he could have given me four hours of brilliant conversation, but on this subject he stumbled and said he'd call me back. He never did.

Liberals are less conscious of public philosophy because modern liberalism was formed in government, not away from it. In addition, liberal theorists are more influenced by post-modernism, multiculturalism, relativism, value pluralism and all the other influences that dissuade one from relying heavily on dead white guys.

Combined, these two columns have certainly inspired a great deal of blog chatter. On Brooks, see Glenn Reynolds, Kieran Healy, Mark Schmitt, Matthew Yglesias, and Kevin Drum. On Krugman, see Juan Non-Volokh, Orin Kerr, Mark Kleiman, and Brad DeLong [What the hell does DeLong's post have to do with Krugman's article?--ed. Nothing, except it does offer a glimpse into the kind of mentality that is necessary to survive and thrive in the modern academy].

As a Republican academic, I offer the following insights:

1) At the conference I atttended this weekend, a law professor (whose name and affiliation will remain anonymous) told me flat out that a colleague had Googled a job applicant who was being seriously looked at, found the applicant's blog, found the political views on the blog to be "reactionary," and that this was a contributing factor to the decision not to hire the applicant. This, alas, confirms one of the negative externalities of scholar-blogging.

My point? Krugman clearly believes that some beliefs about the scientific method are a necessary condition for academia, and these these views are anathema to Republicans. To which I would say: a) this is the intellectual equivalent of quoting union Democrats bashing the logic of free trade and therefore concluding that no Democrats could possibly become economists -- in other words, Krugman mistakenly attributes the attitudes of some Republicans about evolution to all Republicans; and b) the above anecdote suggests that when the broad swath of academia is liberal, receptivity to evolution ain't the only necessary belief to hold in order to get hired.

2) If you go back and read Ron Susskind's "reality-based" New York Times Magazine cover story on the Bush administration, or think about Bush's definition of "political capital," you quickly become aware that conservatives are quite well-versed in arguments about the social construction of reality, thank you very much.

3) I fear I may botch the point I want to make here, but it's worth roiling the waters by making it anyway. Considering how both sides of the ideological spectrum have been thinking about foreign policy since 9/11, I can't help thinking that both Krugman and Brooks have a decent point. On questions of grand strategy, almost all of the intellectual ferment has come from conservatives (though bravo to the folks at Democracy Arsenal for trying to correct that imbalance). At the same time, the conservatives in power did a God-awful job of actually implementing various parts of this strategy, in part because they they were so unwilling to question the empirical support for their foundational assumptions. In contrast, "reality-based" liberals have been correct on an awful lot of particulars, but not on the big questions.

In other words, my ideal foreign policy is one that's forged in the grand strategy debates on the right, but implemented by the policy wonk mandarins on the left.

There's plenty more to wrestle with here -- including the question of how Mill's On Liberty would inform one's reaction to these columns -- but I'll leave that to the readers.

posted by Dan at 10:56 PM | Comments (43) | Trackbacks (5)

San Francisco regulates bloggers -- or not

Eugene Volokh has the run-down on a possible San Francisco ordinance designed to regulate election coverage, and may or may not regulate blogs. Eugene writes, "I've held off on blogging about this because I wanted to figure out just what the ordinance means, and it's been surprisingly hard." After reading his post, I'm equally flummoxed -- but I fear this will not be the last of blog regulation.

posted by Dan at 10:23 PM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)

Passive-aggressive opportunism and the College of Cardinals

Liz Sly has an interesting piece in the Chicago Tribune on the selection process for the next pope. Although any male Catholic can be chosen, the overwhelming probability is that the next Pope will come from the College of Cardinals -- the very body that selects the next pope.

This raises a tricky question -- how can a Cardinal who wants to be pope express that desire? As Sly explains:

It will be no ordinary election. Campaigning is frowned upon, and any cardinal who may wish to be pope would be best advised to keep that to himself. A cardinal who is seen to be pre-empting God's will by promoting his own chances would be quickly shunted aside.

So, does this make it difficult for potential prelates to make their case to fellow cardinals? Not necessarily, thanks to the Internet, as Sly explains:

In days gone by, the General Congregation would have provided a first opportunity for cardinals from far-flung places to meet and learn about each other's positions on various issues.

But in the age of jet travel and electronic communications, all the cardinals already have met at least once and are likely to be somewhat familiar with each other's reputations and policies, decreasing the likelihood that a dark horse candidate would emerge, as was the case when John Paul II was chosen.

Some cardinals have Web sites, especially those who head dioceses, on which they post their pictures, writings and biographies, making it easy for cardinals to read about each other.

The Web site of the archdiocese of Milan, for example, contains more than 120 pictures of Archbishop Dionigi Tettamanzi, one of the most frequently mentioned favorites for the job.

The powerful Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who as the dean of the College of Cardinals will be in charge of organizing the conclave and is expected to play a key role in brokering the selection, has his own Web site on which his extensive theological writings are posted. There also is a fan site on which admirers can purchase T-shirts, beer mugs and buttons emblazoned with Ratzinger's most important pronouncements.

In other words, candidates for the papacy can't come out and say they want to be the pope, but they can provide easily accessible information about their theological doctrines, positions, and, yes, even head shots. They can't be aggressive, but they can be passive-aggressive. [Jeez, it's almost like they're academics or something--ed.]

I eagerly await the first cardinal blog.

For more information on the selection of the next pope, visit this page at

UPDATE: The Associated Press reports that, "In a major change to a centuries-old practice, the Vatican will ring bells in addition to sending up white smoke to signal the election of a new pope." Yep -- it's just a step or two between ringing bells and text-messaging the entire flock.

posted by Dan at 11:50 AM | Comments (9) | Trackbacks (2)

Monday, April 4, 2005

A warming world and frosty Aussies

President Bush has had a pretty good foreign policy run as of late. Last month Europe decided to maintain its arms embargo on China (though this issue hasn't gone away) and this month accepted Paul Wolfowitz's nomination as World Bank President without firing a rhetorical shot. The French have returned to their usual exercises in Anglophobe hysteria -- now they're worried about the hegemony of Google.

In the rest of thw world, that whole "freedom on the march" deal is looking pretty good. Kyrgyzstan's transition to democracy "has been largely peaceful" according to the BBC. Syria has now set April 30th as the actual deadline for its military withdrawal from Lebanon. Finally, President Bush just had a fruitful meeting with Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko, promising help in getting Ukraine into NATO and the WTO (though he didn't go as far as Slate's Peter Savodnik would have liked).

In Iraq, the news is also trending upwards. 64 Sunni scholars recently issued a fatwa declaring that Sunnis could join Iraq's security forces in order to prevent the country from falling into the "the hands of those who have caused chaos, destruction and violated the sanctities." The violent insurgency has died down as of late; Britain's senior military official in Iraq declared that the insurgents were "running out of steam."

So things are apparently going swimmingly for Bush. But -- you knew there was a "but" -- there's this Australian poll reported in the Economist that's nagging at me:

THERE are few stauncher allies of America than Australia. John Howard, the prime minister, was one of the first leaders to commit troops to the war in Iraq, and recently dispatched another contingent. His conservative coalition government has forged a free-trade agreement with the United States. Mr Howard may be right when he boasts that Australia's relationship with America has never been closer. But he is on shakier ground when he says that the American alliance is “very central to the Australian psyche”.

An opinion poll published on March 28th asked Australians to rank a list of 15 countries and regions by their “positive feelings”. America came eleventh, at 58%, just behind Malaysia and Papua New Guinea. Only Indonesia, the Middle East, Iran and Iraq rated worse. The highest rating country (surprisingly, given their neighbourly rivalry) was New Zealand, which 94% of Australians felt positive about, followed by Britain, the EU and Japan.

The doubts about America did not stop there. Among ten potential threats from the outside world, 57% of Australians believed American foreign policies were as dangerous as Islamic fundamentalism. While 72% of Australians saw the American alliance as important for their country's security, more than two out of three thought Australia took too much notice of the United States in shaping its foreign policy. Asked if Australia should support America in any conflict with China over Taiwan, 72% said no.

Click here for the whole poll, which was sponsored by the Lowy Institute.

One could dismiss this as an irrelevant poll in a country led by a very pro-American government. Or one could think of this as one of those data points suggesting that other countries/populations are just biding their time until they can act to subvert U.S. interests.

I'll leave that debate to the readers.

posted by Dan at 03:25 PM | Comments (18) | Trackbacks (0)

Sunday, April 3, 2005

A very important post about.... the state of the Sox-Yankees rivalry

Ah, opening day. I was going to compose a long post about coping with the idea of the Red Sox as world champions, while still being confident of the Red Sox's chances this year, but a lot of other people beat me to it.

Although some fans are growing complacent from the 2004 success, I fall into the Bill Simmons camp on this one:

I never thought I would say the words "Thank God for the Yankees," but I'm saying them now. Thank God for the Yankees. As soon as Sunday night rolls around and Yankee fans are booing Boomer, Manny, Damon and everyone else, every Sox fan will snap right into, "All right, it's time to defend the title now" mode. You can't help it. We're natural enemies in the wild. And if it wasn't for them, we would be content playing with house money for the rest of the decade....

When it comes right down to it, this blood feud with the Yankees is unlike anything else in professional sports right now. They're the Ali to our Frazier, the Iron Sheik to our Sergeant Slaughter. We need them, they need us. We hate them, they hate us. The rivalry is developing into a self-perpetuating organism – a zero sum game for sports, a de facto Cold War – something that neither team can ever truly win. Both teams jockey for the upper hand all season, the battle resolves itself in October, and then everything starts again in April. That's just the way it is. Until last year, the Yankees always prevailed. Now we have an official rivalry on our hands. Is it better than winning a championship, or pulling off the greatest comeback in sports history? Of course not. But it's still pretty good. (emphases in original)

Over at the Black Table, Will Leitch sums up the state of the Red Sox quite nicely:

[T]he Red Sox aren't going away anytime sooner than the Patriots did. The Sox lost Pedro Martinez after being outbid on a contract they should have sprinted from in the first place, but more than made up for him with cheaper signings of David Wells (who will never, ever go away), Matt Clement and Wade Miller. The offense should be just as strong as last year's and even added shortstop Edgar Renteria, who, while overrated, shores up the defense and will be worth his four-year contract for at least, well, a year-and-a-half.

One could make the argument that last year's victory over the Yankees was the victory the Red Sox had been waiting for, the first step in winning the great war. But [Red Sox general manager Theo] Epstein has done something that George Steinbrenner has not done; he has put together an outstanding team that will also flourish in the future. The war isn't not just starting: It's already over. The Red Sox have won. The Yankees just don't know it yet. The notion of the hard-luck Red Sox fan has been obliterated.

As for the Yankees, consider this Futility Infielder post by Baseball Prospectus contributor Jay Jaffe from the offseason:

I'm sick of learning about the Yankees signing has-beens like Doug Glanville and Rey Sanchez and never-weres like Damian Rolls to compete for jobs at the fringe of their 25-man roster. I'm sick of contemplating a bench that with Glanville (34 years old, 2004 [on-base percentage] of .244), Sanchez (37, .281), Ruben Sierra (39, .296), John Flaherty (37, .286), and Bubba Crosby (28, .196) is both incredibly old and lacking a single player who put up a .300 OBP last year. Glanville last broke the New Mendoza Line in 2000, Flaherty in 1999. The team's thinking here is a direct affront to everything we've learned about winning baseball over the last quarter century.

I'm sick of ranting about the Yankees' player development woes. A couple days ago I quipped via the [Baseball Prospectus] internal mailing list, "That's an impressive new take on the concept of 'farm system' the Yanks have going -- find the freshest corpse available, exhume it, and fit it for pinstripes."

....I'm especially sick of the lack of vision and imagination being shown by the front office. At a time when the hallowed franchise is four years removed from its last World Championship, they appear to be accelerating in the opposite direction at alarming speed. I'm not going to pin this all on the increasingly marginalized Brian Cashman; it seems pretty clear that the shots are being called from higher up. Any day now I expect Randy Levine to call a press conference just to tell us that the team is completely out of ideas. As in...
Yankee Spokesperson:

"On behalf of the New York Yankees, I have the obligation to announce that our storehouse of brainpower has been exhausted by all of this dynasty-keeping we're expected to do. Ladies and gentlemen, we're completely out of ideas [digs finger in ear, looks around the room solemnly, then examines finger pulled from ear] Yep. That's it, we're tapped. You can all go home now. Questions?"

The Yankees are going to be good this year, no doubt. Randy Johnson will be ferocious. However, the fact is that they have no depth in starting pitching -- for the Yankees to win this year, they have to rely on one over-40 pitcher with no cartilage in his right knee and another over-40 pitcher with just a spot of back trouble. This didn't hamper the Red Sox last year (their top five pitchers were remarkably healthy and started 157 of 162 games), but the odds of the Yankees repeating this durability ain't great.

What's more important, however, is how this rivalry shapes up for the next few seasons. It's telling that Theo Epstein has managed not just to sign free agents this off-season, but also trade for some decent prospects. By allowing most of their free agents to walk, the Red Sox will have five of the top fifty picks in this year's amateur draft. The Sox won't just be good this year -- they're setting themselves up for quite a nice run.

And the Yankees? No team with a $200 million payroll is going to be bad -- and this is a great thing for Sox fans. For there to be a real rivalry, both sides need to have a decent chance of winning, and this will be a real rivalry for many years to come. It's been intense in recent years because, as Joe Torre observed, "both clubs have been very evenly matched." After this year, however, medium-term trends favor the Red Sox. Given that for years, nay, decades, the reverse was true, I have no problem with this.

So let the games begin. But I don't think either Tom Maguire or Baseball Crank are going to be too happy -- especially after this year.

posted by Dan at 12:29 AM | Comments (11) | Trackbacks (0)