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:
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!
Friday, April 8, 2005
I didn't think this was possible...
Here's how it starts:
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.
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:
The more macro trend Zaslow identifies is the barrier to entry that keeping old strips on the funny pages presents:
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.
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:
The World Bank press release contains more direct warnings shots than those quoted in the FT:
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.
The New York Times and academic politics
Tom Elia take issue with one of the letters -- for me, however, this one was the most amusing of the lot:
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:
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.]
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:
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:
Wednesday, April 6, 2005
I'll be at Boston University today as part of "The Great Debate" series at Boston University's College of Communications:
They'll also be webcasting the event -- click here to see.
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.
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:
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:
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.
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.
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:
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 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 catholic-pages.com.
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.
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:
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.
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.
As for the Yankees, consider this Futility Infielder post by Baseball Prospectus contributor Jay Jaffe from the offseason:
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.