Saturday, September 3, 2005
William Rehnquist, R.I.P. (1924-2005)
My thoughts about Rehnquist can be found here. My only addendum is that while there will undoubtedly be a focus on Rehnquist's ideology as a justice, his greatest legacy for the Court might be his management skills -- he was a vast improvement over both Burger and Warren in that capacity.
Earlier this summer, Charles Lane wrote an informative article about Rehnquist for Stanford magazine. I'm sure SCOTUSblog will have more tomorrow.
Milton Friedman, meet Robert Reich
Milton Friedman introduced the idea of a "negative income tax" in his 1962 book Capitalism and Freedom. The idea behind it was a way to provide welfare in the most efficient and least welfare-distorting manner possible.
In the New York Times today, Robert Reich drives this point home by looking at the deleterious effects of the alternative policy possibilities -- protectionism and pork-barrel spending:
Read the whole thing -- Reich proposes a number of policy possibilities, including the expansion of the modern-day equivalent of the negative income tax, the earned income tax credit.
I'm not sure I buy all of Reich's proposed package, but his analysis of the political economy of the status quo is dead on.
Attack of the lipstick ninjas
In the Washington Post, Anthony Faiola reports that Japanese PM Junichiro Koizumi is pulling out all the stops in the run-up to parliamentary elections in Japan:
Friday, September 2, 2005
Will the Saints go marching back in?
In Slate, Josh Levin mourns the loss of his hometown city:
Also in Slate, Daniel Gross posits that the national economic effect of Katrina could be more devastating than the 9/11 attacks. Kieran Healy has two posts worth reading about the magnitude of the social disaster.
If there is any comfort that can be taken at this point from Katrina's aftereffects, it's in this story by Michael Phillips and Cynthia Cossen in the Wall Street Journal: cities beset by catastrophic attacks refuse to fade away:
Read the whole thing.
Thursday, September 1, 2005
September's Books of the Month
This month's general interest book is in response to the question I get asked on occasion -- "So what's the University of Chicago really like?" The work that I've seen best capture the spirit of the place is actually a play -- Proof, by David Auburn. The drama won a Pulitzer and some Tonys, and has been made into a movie that will be released this month (click here to see the trailer).
The movie's director, John Madden, was smart enough to shoot the film on location on campus and in Hyde Park, and even in the trailer you get a strong sense of place. Ordinarily I'd say more about it, but I'd rather not give away important plot details (as an aside, kudos to Madden and Miramax for not revealing these details in the trailer).
Proof is quite short, so I'll counterbalance by recommending a mammoth of an international relations book -- S.E. Finer's three-volume The History of Government. Finer -- an Oxford Professor of Government -- decided to write about the development of government from Sumeria to modern times as his retirement project. After surviving a massive heart attack, he devoted the next six years to the project and managed to almost finish it (34 out of 36 chapters). Some polishing by his colleagues and former students led to three volumes that the Economist raved as the best political science book ever when it came out in 1997.
[So you've read it then?--ed. Er, no. But this year I've agreed to join a small book club (only one other member) devoted to tackling this tome over the rest of the academic year. With September upon us, I look forward to cracking the spine -- especially since I just finished Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs and Steeland I'm intrigued about whether Finer will buttress or refute some of Finer's assessments about the ancient world. So, you just finished a 1998 book and are now tackling a 1997 book. You are so cutting edge.--ed.]
The diplomatic aftereffects of Gaza
According to the Associated Press, Israel is reaping some diplomatic fruit from its Gaza pullout:
Wednesday, August 31, 2005
I'm in the mood for.... APSA
Blogging will be erratic for the next couple of days as I wend my way to the American Political Science Association annual meeting in Washington, DC. Lucky me, I have two panels tomorrow and then can truly enjoy the conference.
If you feel the need to get into the APSA mood -- and don't we all feel that way sometimes -- go click on the following:
Racking up those blogging perks
Since I've started blogging, there is no doubt that I've received an increased number of free books. Yesterday I received three -- one on education reform, one on why Europe will run the 21st century, and galleys on why emerging democracies are more war-prone than other kinds of governments.
However, those paled beside the following e-mail:
Readers are invited to think of an appropriate contest.
Tuesday, August 30, 2005
Copter parents at two o'clock!!
When I was teaching at the University of Colorado, I had to deal with a student who wanted me to change his/her class grade from a C+ to a B-. The student's primary argument was not that s/he deserved a better grade for the class, but that his/her GPA had dropped below the minimum required to qualify for CU-Boulder's study abroad programs. Needless to say, this was not a terribly persuasive argument -- not to mention grossly unfair to all the students who had actually earned their B- grades -- so I said no.
I said no several times.
A week after the student's final plea, I received another phone call asking me to reconsider -- from the student's mother. The mother evinced little concern about her child's academic performance -- she just wanted to see her progeny spend a semester in Florence. I was more than a little surprised by the attempt, and got off the phone as quickly as possible.
I haven't had a problem like that with a parent since the start of the millennium, but I tell this story because of Justin Pope's AP story on 'copter parents.' What are these creatures?:
Read the whole thing. I'm not completely unsympathetic to the parental position -- on the list of parental sins, being "heavily involved" in their childrens' lives is far down the queue. Plus, when parents are spending the kind of money for higher education they are spending now, a little monitoring of one's investment is to be expected.
That said, wheedling for better grades on behalf of their children would seem to cross the line. In Clueless, at least the father had the good sense to make his daughter Cher argue her own case.
In praise of mild hypocrisy in foreign policy
The Economist's Global Agenda has a story about negotiations over UN reform. It appears the U.S. would like to make some changes:
Read the whole thing to see the substantive points of difference.
Here's the thing that bothers me: the Bush administration can make a credible case for many of the substantive changes. By throwing in everything but the kitchen sink, however, and by doing so at such a late hour in the negotiations, the U.S. winds up alienating more countries than it needs to. This is one of those examples where good diplomacy can grease the wheels to advance U.S. interests -- and instrad there's going to be trouble.
Part of the problem, ironically, is that the Bush administration takes these international agreements way too seriously. Early in the administration many commentators praised the Bushies for being forthright about rejecting agreements they had no intention of honoring.
There's such a thing as going too far in the rejection of hypocrisy, however. Think of small hypocrisies as the international equivalent of pork-barrel politics. Sometimes you agree to an empty platitude in return for tangible progress on some issue.
The danger for any administration is that the platitude takes on a life of its own. This happens, however, less frequently than the administration thinks it does.
UPDATE: David A. Schwartz has a piece in the Weekly Standard explaining why the existing reform proposal falls short of the mark. Schwartz was a member of the 2001 U.S. delegation to the U.N. Commission on Human Rights, so he's worth reading on this point. [On the other hand, the 2001 delegation did not cover itself with glory -- the U.S. lost its seat on the commission, while China, Sudan, Syria and Cuba were elected.--ed.]
Monday, August 29, 2005
Open hurricane porn thread
CROW-EATING UPDATE: The post below was written 24 hours before the waters of Lake Ponchatrain broke through the levee, devastated New Orleans, and video footage came in on damage to the Mississippi Gulf coast. I must concur with James Joyner that the coverage of this hurricane was not overhyped in the end, and at this point is a rather trivial issue compared to the damage at hand.
I maintain that my general point stands on extreme weather coverage, but not with this case. Whether there is a "weatherman crying wolf" phenomenon taking place is also worthy of further thought.
Click over to FEMA's list of charities to help out those affected -- or even better, Glenn Reynolds' list of charities
Comment away on Hurricane Katrina -- or even better, the coverage of it. If this report is any indication, the original estimates of potential damage appear to have been overstated (though the New Orleans Times-Picayune has a different take). This is of small comfort to rural residents of Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana, but better news for oil traders -- who appear to have panicked and then reassessed -- as well as consumers.
This overestimation would be consistent with the growing problem of hurricane porn:
I think this blogger actually underestimates the problem -- it's not just local news, it's the cable nets as well. See Michelle Catalano for more.
Readers are invited to submit the most.... er.... pornographic moment of coverage they've seen to date.
UPDATE: Glenn Reynolds believe that Katrina was worth the hype. And several commenters have pointed out that the blanket coverage probably saved lives in convincing people to get the heck out of the Big Easy. Valid arguments.... except I've been so inured to prior hurricane porn that it's now tough for me to distinguish between a genuine menace to mankind vs. some weathermen breathlessly claiming that some tropical depression could be huge.
ANOTHER UPDATE: Alas, I spoke too soon about New Orleans.
Sunday, August 28, 2005
Regarding the CIA's latest self-assessment
Amy Zegart -- who is writing a book on intelligence reform and is danieldrezner.com's official go-to source on this issue -- e-mailed me her thoughts on the CIA's latest effort at self-criticism: