Friday, August 5, 2005
Obscure economic indicator... cool...
I bring this up because Daniel Gross has an excellent piece in Slate that details an interesting yet obscure leading indicator for economic growth -- parking rates:
My only objection is that I think Gross might be exaggerating the transparency -- compared to gas stations, parking garages are most likely to have their Early Bird specials in big print to onscure their ordinary rates.
Still, it's a nifty metric.
My Normblog profile
If you're dying to know my favorite proverb or my one useful piece of life wisdom, go check it out
Thursday, August 4, 2005
August's Books of the Month
The general interest book is -- [um, like, it's August. Could you please suggest something that's less.... non-fictiony?--ed.] I'll do that suggestion one better -- I'm not going to recommend a book. Instead, I'm strongly recommending that you go out and purchase Firefly -- the Complete Series -- a DVD of Joss Whedon's sci fi series from 2002. I confess that I missed the show when it first came out, but thanks to Tyler Cowen's suggestion I checked it out and am now completely hooked. There are many, many, many paeans to Firefly in the blogosphere if you're interested in them. Anyone who likes Battlestar Galactica needs to watch this show in order to understand the debt, both in terms of themes and visual style, that Galactica owes to Firefly (this is not meant to diss Galactica, which is a fine show, but rather point to its influences). At its core, Firefly is Whedon doing what Whedon does best -- making his watchers forget the multiple layers of irony they are used to in popular culture and care very deeply about what happens to the little world he has created. Be sure to check out Whedon's commentary tracks for some of the episodes as well -- you'll see that he cares even more about the characters than you do.
[So why now, why not save this until the fall?--ed.] Because Whedon has also accomplished something extrardinary -- he managed to convince a major movie studio to commit a fair amount of money and let him make a movie, called Serenity, based on the show. Here's the synopsis:
You can watch the Serenity trailer here. I suspect it will be an entertaining film regardless of whether you have seen Firefly -- Whedon also wrote the screenplays for Speed and Toy Story -- but I bet it will be an even better viewing experience if you have seen all 14 episodes of the show (the Sci Fi channel is also airing them).
[How in the hell did Whedon convince a studio to convert a failed TV show into a movie?--ed.] The best answer I've seen is in this Weekly Standard article by M.E. Russell. Besides the most succinct description of the show I've seen yet, ("Think of it as Star Wars, if Han Solo were the main character, and he still shot Greedo first."), Russell explains why Universal thinks this is worth doing:
Of course, by blogging about this, I've become an unwitting pawn to the whole viral marketing approach.
Mmmm.... unwitting pawns....
Join the Browncoats, and go buy the goram DVD.
This month's international relations book is one that's been killing me for the past few weeks as I've been working on my APSA paper -- Susan Sell's Private Power, Public Law: The Globalization of Intellectual Property Rights.
Sell's book is about the role that software, pharmaceutical, and entertainment firms played in having the United States lobby for the creation of the Trade-Related Intellectual Property system (TRIPS) within the World Trade Organization -- and then the counter-lobbying by developing countries and transnational activist networks that led to the November 2001 Doha Declaration, which explicitly carved out an exception to TRIPS "to protect public health and, in particular, to promote access to medicines for all."
It's the second part of the story that drives me crazy -- because if Sell's narrative is correct, it falsifies the argument I make in my own book on globalization and global governance. When the regulatory status quo is embraced by the two largest trading powers (the US and EU) and by powerful economic sectors embedded in those economies, there is no way that weaker countries and NGOs should be able to budge the status quo. And yet, if Sell's account is correct, that's exactly what happened (Any USTR folks who know otherwise, kindly e-mail me).
It's because Sell's account is so compelling that I'm in the middle of doing something that should happen more often in political science -- examining the cases that cut against my own hypothesis. Either this case is emblematic of a larger problem or it suggests a minor anomaly that I didn't account for in the original model, or the significance of the case is overblown. Reading through, I think it's a combination of the latter two, but it's a credit to Sell's book that she's making me sweat this case. Go check it out.
Medicine and the modern pitcher
On his 43rd birthday, Houston Astros pitcher Roger Clemens has become his generation's Nolan Ryan, the Official Hero to American Middle-Aged Men everywhere.
No Red Sox fan can have an uncomplicated opinion of Clemens -- however, this Alan Schwarz article in ESPN.com provides a nice illustration of how medical advances made Clemens' long career possible:
The quaint old coup
Mauritania is a not-so-pleasant reminder of a relatively pleasant fact: military coup d'etats are a post-Cold War rarity. According to Patrick McGowan (‘African Military Coups d’Etat, 1956–2001: Frequency, Trends and Distribution’, Journal of Modern African Studies, vol. 41, issue 3, 2003.):
Outside of Africa, the only successful coups in the past decade have been in Haiti and Pakistan. Interestingly, the only countries in sub-Saharan Africa that have been independent for 25 years and have avoided coups are Botswana, Cape Verde and Mauritius -- all of which are multiparty democracies. [UPDATE: Hmmm..... this previous sentence came straight from the McGowan article, but Jacob Levy is right to wonder why South Africa isn't on this list. One possibility is that McGowan includes attempted coups, and there might have been one in the late eighties/early nineties that escapes our collective memory.]
Even inside Africa, there is relatively good news -- although the pace of coup activity has not abated, according to McGowan the relative success of coup attempts has declined. In other words, there are as many coup attempts as in the past, but fewer of them succeed.
Why? One obvious reason for the decline in coups is the absence of great power support for them. Another reason might be contained in this London Times story by Jenny Booth:
Here's a link to an earlier AU condemnation of the coup.
Whether this will actually alter the behavior of the coup plotters is doubtful at this point, but it's worth remembering that even this gesture would never have taken place ten years ago. And such gestures in the past have helped to thwart coups in Latin America.
The rest of the world's response has been along similar lines to what's happened in Mauritania.
Alas, focusing on Mauritania itself, it seems pretty clear that the coup does not do wonders for U.S. foreign policy, according to Booth's report:
On the other hand, this International Crisis Group report from March 2005 suggests that fears of radical Islamic activity are overblown. See also Princeton Lyman's CFR briefing on the coup.
Trade, China, and steel
The Chicago Tribune has two articles in its business section on trade with China -- both of which show that all is not what it seems when you analyze a bilateral economic relationship between two large countries.
Of course, as the story goes on, things get a bit more complicated:
In a sidebar, Michael Oneal looks at how U.S. firms across the board will react to a further devaluation of the yuan. Turns out there won't be much of areaction:
Wednesday, August 3, 2005
"Where do you find the time to blog?"
This is the question I field the most when the topic of blogging comes up at cocktail parties and BBQs.
The answer is embedded in this CNN story:
The Forrester page is of little use for those of us who aren't Forrester clients, but if you click on the video, you learn an interesting fact: according to their survey, only 2% of households in the United States read a blog once a week.
I should note that my lovely wife has a different answer to the title question -- "it's the time he would otherwise have used to pick up his socks."
Following up on the avian flu
A follow-up post to June's discussion of the threat of an avian flu pandemic. There's some good news and some bad news.
The good news is that, according to the Financial Times' Clive Cookson, containing the spread of a pandemic is quite feasible:
The bad news is that the computer simulations were based on "an outbreak in rural Thailand of flu caused by the H5N1 avian strain." I'm not sure how they would cope with where the strain has actually migrated. Douglas M. Birch explains in the Baltimore Sun:
So what do Americans think about their foreign policy?
Foreign Affairs has launched a joint project with Public Agenda to gauge the American public's attitudes towards U.S. foreign policy. The "Confidence in U.S. Foreign Policy Index" is designed to poll public attitudes repeatedly over time, so this first poll mostly serves as a useful baseline.
So what did they find out? Well, according to the press release, Public Agenda Chairman Daniel Yankelovich says:
Yankelovich has clearly been using the Pundit Handbook -- replace "the country’s current course" with any public policy problem you like and that sentence can be recycled (I have no doubt Yankelovich also believes that baseball players "just need to play one game at a time").
Seriously, the big news seems to be that Americans are concerned about how non-Americans view their country:
Indeed, at this graph suggests, Americans also seem to prefer using "soft power" approaches to combat radical Islamists:
The irony, of course, is that when asked about some of these economic measures -- say, trade and immigration -- our mercantilist impulse kicks in.
The immigration questions focus primarily on illegal kind of immigration, and the trade questions have less to do with trade and more to do with jobs, so maybe America's schizophrenia is overrated. But it's certainly there.
UPDATE: Yankelovich also has an essay in the forthcoming issue of Foreign Affairs summarizing the poll's findings. One nugget of information that seems interesting:
Tuesday, August 2, 2005
Now the President gets intellectually curious
Three weeks ago, the New Republic's Ben Adler asked a group of prominent conservatives what they thought about the "intelligent design" theory of the Earth's creation.
Apparently, Adler could have asked President Bush as well, because it turns out he has some thoughts on the matter:
Glenn Reynolds lists some other "schools of thought" that might be worth teaching our nation's children. Readers are encouraged to come up with other "schools of thought" that might challenge evolution.
I'll just close with Charles Krauthammer's response in Adler's essay:
UPDATE: Well, Bush also doesn't believe that Rafael Palmeiro used steroids.
Who wants their Gore TV?
Fourteen months ago, Al Gore announced his plans to create a new cable tv channel. That channel -- called Current TV -- launched yesterday. Salon's Heather Havrilesky sums up what Gore is after:
Well, Mo Ryan is certainly discussing Current TV in the Chicago Tribune -- and it sounds like Ted Turner and Rupert Murdoch can rest easy for now:
Havrilesky dumps on the on-air talent:
Hmmm.... this almost makes the hosts sound like.... bloggers. And yes, the channel has its own blog.
And, if they manage to hang around for more than a decade, you just know that someone is going to write a TV column that begins, "Remember when Current TV used to run pods?"
So what's the deal with Iran's nuclear program?
The past few days have seen a lot of hand-wringing over Iran's decision to defy the principal EU countries and IAEA and proceed with "uranium enrichment activities" as the FT's Gareth Smyth and Najmeh Bozorgmehr put it.
Ordinarily, this development would fill the Bush administration with glee. After all, the administration cut a deal with the Europeans agreeing to let them have the negotiation lead with Iran, and even remove the block from Iran's WTO candidacy -- provided that if the talks ever broke down, the EU countries would back at U.S. resolution to bring the matter to the UN Security Council.
Now, however, I see this front-pager by Dafna Linzer in today's Washington Post:
If you read the whole article (oh, and here's a Q&A with Linzer about the story) , you'll see that the big question Bush officials are asking is whether there will be regime change in Iran before that country acquires a nuclear capability.
I have a different question -- is it possible that the mullahs are copying Saddam Hussein? Recall that even though Iraq's WMD program turned out to be relatively moribund, Hussein repeatedly refused to cooperate fully with UN officials. Among the many possible motivations, one hypothesis was that Hussein was unwilling to expose his relative weakness.
Right now every country in the Middle East fears Iran's growing power -- could the mullahs have an incentive to exaggerate perceptions of that power?
UPDATE: Frank Foer, guest-blogging for Andrew Sullivan, frets that the new NIE will be counterproductive to the "broad consensus that the mullahs must be stopped."
Chevron wins the rent-seeking war
David Barboza reports in the New York Times that the China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) has withdrawn its offer for Unocal:
Now I don't doubt that a great deal of hostility towards CNOOC's takeover bid had to do with a fear of China's rising power -- but Barboza's story suggests that it also might have been because while Chevron did not outbid CNOOC for Unocal, they did outbid CNOOC for much Congress:
Chevron played this game well -- they spent way less that the $1 billion gap between their offer and CNOOC's, but by pushing Congress in a direction it probably wanted to go anyway, still got Unocal.
Whether Unocal's shareholders benefited is another question entirely.
Monday, August 1, 2005
That's ambassador Bolton to you
President Bush made the first-ever recess appointment of a UN Ambassador and named John Bolton today. Essentially, this means that Bolton will serve until January 2007.
The myriad political responses to the decision include a lot of apoplexy from Democrats. Ted Kennedy said:
I am shocked to report that Lincoln Chafee -- never thought of as the sharpest tool in the shed -- had the most sagacious comment: "We filibustered the nomineee. We exercised our perogative under the law. He [Bush] exercised his perogative under the law."
Over at Steve Clemons' Washington Note -- and Steve has been leading the blog war against Bolton -- Charles Brown recaps the winners and losers from the Democrat perspective. Ed Kilgore at TPM Cafe is pretty teed off as well.
On the right, Paul Mirengoff thinks this was the right call, though even he's depressed about the long run implications:
My views on Bolton remain unchanged -- from the Bush administration's perspective, this is an unwanted man being sent to an unwanted institution. Given the administration's attitude, it's not clear to me whether anyone else would have been more effective.
Richard Posner's forthcoming book
Eleven months ago, Richard Posner's review of the 9-11 Commission Report appeared on the front page of the New York Times Book Review. And lo and behold, Posner spun that review into a book of his own on homeland security, Preventing Surprise Attacks: Intelligence Reform in the Wake of 9/11.
I bring this up because Judge Posner has another lead review in the NYT Book Review. So in case anyone was curious about the topic of Posner's new book, it appears to be about the political economy of the media.
Go read it all -- there's a healthy number of paragraphs about blogs and the media that Glenn Reynolds discusses as well. I'll post an update once I've semi-digested Posner's analysis.
UPDATE: Well, I'm still cogitating -- but Laura McKenna has posted her thoughts on the matter. Be sure to check out her typology of how experts interpret the rise of the blogosphere.
Meanwhile, Jack Shafer rips Posner's essay apart in Slate. Some of it is carping, but this paragraph raises an alarm bell that also went off in my head when I first read it:
Sunday, July 31, 2005
The revolution in basing affairs?
On the one hand, Donald Rumseld and the DoD have been engaged in a multi-year plan to reorganize and reposition the U.S. military. According to Thom Shanker of the New York Times, the repositioning of 50,000 U.S. troops from Korea and Germany back to the United States is complete.
On the other hand, Maura Reynolds and David Holley report in the Los Angeles Times that some countries are requesting that U.S. forces leave ahead of schedule:
Over at the Christian Science Monitor, Mark Sappenfield suggests that these recent developments suggest the complexity of fighting a global war on terror:
Another way of interpreting the data is that the administration is actually willing to put its emphasis on democracy promotion front and center, even in regions considered of geostrategic importance. The willingness to leave nondemocratic Uzbekistan while maintaining bases in democratizing Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan suggests that the U.S. is recalculating the requirements to be a long-term partner of the U.S. (This, by the way, would contradict what I wrote in Diplomatic History last month.)
The LAT report suggests that the Uzbeks might just be bargaining, so we'll see how this unfolds.
UPDATE: Austin Bay has more on Uzbekistan, although, again, I'll be interested to see if whether the U.S. and the Uzbeks wind up cutting a deal.
Your absurd suggestion of the day
Hat tip to Simon Says for the link.
Oh, and for those Brits reading who want to voice a response to the ASA's suggestion, here's a link to their complaint page.