Friday, September 9, 2005

Post-Katrina American foreign policy

Last week I talked about the future foreign policy costs of Katrina.

In Slate, Richard Haass talks about the current foreign policy costs of Katrina:

It will be no easier to cordon off U.S. foreign policy from the effects of Hurricane Katrina than it has been to protect New Orleans from the waters of Lake Pontchartrain.

That a purely domestic event should have profound consequences for American foreign policy is not in and of itself new. U.S. prestige suffered a blow in 1992 when the Los Angeles riots were broadcast around the world. By contrast, Ronald Reagan's firm handling of the air-traffic controllers strike a decade before communicated resolve and firmness.

The initial federal and local reactions to Hurricane Katrina, however, have sent the opposite message. The images seen around the world communicated a lack of competence and considerable chaos and suffering. The dominant overseas reaction has been sympathy mixed with shock and horror at what was seen by many as evidence of racism and a reminder of the extreme poverty in which many Americans live. America's enemies indulged in schadenfreude. Hugo Chávez could not resist the chance to taunt President Bush; North Korea radio linked the U.S. "defeat" in Iraq with its "defeat" by Katrina; jihadists celebrated what had happened and the possibility the price of oil would soar even higher. The world's only remaining superpower appeared to be anything but. In an era of 24-hour satellite television and the Internet, public diplomacy is about who Americans are and what they do, not just what they say. Unlike Las Vegas, what happens here does not stay here.

The global impact goes beyond impressions. A priority of this administration's foreign policy is to promote democracy around the world. But the attractiveness of the American model, and the ability of the United States to be an effective advocate for more democratic, capitalist societies, which had already been weakened by the disarray in Iraq, is now weaker still as a result of the disarray at home. It will be more difficult to make the case for free markets and more open societies if the results of such reforms come to be associated with the disorder seen in New Orleans.

Read the whole thing. And then, go read this Economist summary of the past week.

UPDATE: One thing I'm hoping about Katrina -- like what happened after 9/11 -- is that the estimated body count turns out to be less than originally expected. This AP report (link via Instapundit) offers some hope that this will also happen post-Katrina.

ANOTHER UPDATE: James Joyner thinks Haass is overstating his case -- particularly on the energy angle:

I agree that we don't have much of an energy policy. He's flat wrong, though, that substitutes forms of energy and diversifcation won't work. When oil was cheap and plentiful--which is to say, all but a few months in the history of the country--there was little incentive to develop those alternatives. Now that the price appears to be permanently higher owing to increased demand from surging economies abroad and other factors, that's likely to change.

Andrew Sullivan takes a gloomier view: "What the response to Katrina has done is make the U.S. super-power look a lot less credible, a lot less fearsome, a lot less capable. Ditto, of course, with regard to the inept conduct of the war in Iraq."

posted by Dan at 11:44 PM | Comments (25) | Trackbacks (1)

Thursday, September 8, 2005

The commercial peace?

The Cato Institute has come out with their 9th annual Economic Freedom of the World report. According to Cato's press release, this edition has one particularly intriguing finding:

Economic freedom is almost 50 times more effective than democracy in restraining nations from going to war. In new research published in this year’s report, Erik Gartzke, a political scientist from Columbia University, compares the impact of economic freedom on peace to that of democracy. When measures of both economic freedom and democracy are included in a statistical study, economic freedom is about 50 times more effective than democracy in diminishing violent conflict. The impact of economic freedom on whether states fight or have a military dispute is highly significant while democracy is not a statistically significant predictor of conflict. (emphasis added)

I know Erik, and I know that Erik knows a lot about the causes of war, so this tidbit definitely piqued my interest.

You can read Gartzke's paper by clicking here. His policy conclusions are provocative. For example:

The results here suggest that efforts to promote peace in the Middle East and in other regions dominated by autocratic governments through democratization are of particularly questionable worth. Whether Iraq, for example, can achieve stable democracy remains to be seen; but even success in such ventures appears unlikely to yield a meaningful reduction in interstate conflict unless it is paired with substantial and successful economic reform. Given finite resources, the attentions of developed nations are best directed upon reinforcing and propagating the free-market principles and practices that lead to peace over much of the northern hemisphere. The United States in particular has used its status as hegemon to champion capitalism and to encourage economic development. This effort should not be allowed to falter now that terrorism and the end of the Cold War have shifted US focus from containment of the Soviet Union to a more pro-active international policy. Democracy should be encouraged but the evidence suggests that democracy alone will not yield peace, while popular rule appears unstable in the absence of some degree of prosperity. In short, to achieve the goals of peace and freedom, the developed countries of the world cannot afford not to sponsor the extension of capitalist institutions and practices.

I'd really like for Gartzke's theoretical conclusions to be true, and he makes a persuasive case in the paper. I have three small cavils, however:

1) What, exactly, makes governments decide to increase economic freedom in their own countries? One possibility is that democracies are more likely to do this than non-democracies. For example, Helen Milner and Keiko Kubota argue in "Why the Rush to Free Trade? Democracy and Trade Policy in the Developing Countries" that:

Rising international trade flows are a primary component of globalization. The liberalization of trade policy in many developing countries has helped foster the growth of these flows. Concurrent with this rush to free trade, there has been a global movement toward democracy. We argue that these two trends are related: democratization of the political system reduces the ability of governments to use trade barriers as a strategy for building political support.... We provide empirical evidence to support our claim through econometric analysis of the developing countries from 1970-1999. Democracy seems to be associated for these countries with trade liberalization. Globalization may be fostered by democratization.

In other words, it's possible that the best way for countries to promote economic freedom is to promote political freedom as the antecedent.

2) That said, the other thing that worries me about Gartzke's finding is that trade openness is not significant in any of the regression results (though, as the appendix makes clear, trade metrics are included in the economic freedom score, so this could just be multicollinearity at work). Again, it could be that trade openness leads to more economic freedom across the board, which then leads to less violent behavior. But if that's not the case, it's profoundly disturbing, since besides democracy promotion, trade diplomacy is the primary engine through which the United States promotes economic freedom in the rest of the world.

3) One last musing -- the economic freedom score is a composite of a series of measures, including rule of law (which is correlated with democratic regimes) low inflation (which is correlated with economic development) and low tariffs (which is correlated with economic openness). How much of the empirical results are driven by multicollinearity between the explanatory variable and the the control variables?

Again, I still think Gartzke is onto something. Plus, I can't pass up mentioning Gartzke's observations about offshore outsourcing:

To avoid development creating a tinderbox of the southern hemisphere, it is necessary that increasing prosperity coincide with a relative decline in the value for territory and with growing dependence on global capital. The advantage of late-industrializing countries is that they may skip the most dangerous stages of industrialization. Early industrialization creates the need for natural resources and the where-with-all to acquire them through force. Labor costs are low, allowing the staffing of occupying armies. More important, valuable assets and resources remain “lootable” through conquest. Knowledge industries call for heavy investments of capital and human ingenuity but little that can be ransacked by an invader. The “outsourcing” of services, telemarketing, and software industries, while vexing to many in the developed world, helps to create economies in the developing world that are less inclined toward war. The Indo-Pakistani conflict has regularly erupted in warfare but leaders in both countries have recently come to accept that their more open economies suffer greatly from active hostilities. The growing dependence on international capital and the declining value of disputed territory relative to technological innovation means that the impetus to make peace has increased and the value of war has declined.

Check out Cato's web page on economic freedom for more (here's a link to the executive summary)

posted by Dan at 09:31 PM | Comments (16) | Trackbacks (6)

Helping the homeless from Katrina

Alex Tabarrok at Marginal Revolution relays an excellent policy proposal from the University of Virginia's Ed Olsen on how best to find housing for those displaced by Katrina. I'm reprinting it below in its entirety:

By Edgar O. Olsen

What the people displaced by Hurricane Katrina need most now is housing. Hundreds of thousands of families are now living in temporary housing and shelters, sometimes little more than tents, throughout the south central region. These families cannot wait for new housing to be built.

Fortunately, new construction is not necessary to solve the immediate problem. Enormous numbers of vacant units in the region are available for immediate occupancy by families with the ability to pay rent — and a simple expansion of HUD’s largest housing program would provide even the poorest families with the means to rent these units.

The rental vacancy rate in the United States is at a historically high level. For all metropolitan areas as a group, it is over 10 percent. The largest metropolitan areas in the south central region have some of the highest vacancy rates – 15.6 percent in Houston, 14.4 percent in San Antonio, 12.8 percent in Dallas, 12.2 percent in Memphis, 13.1 percent in Birmingham and 18.5 percent in Atlanta. Vacancy rates for smaller metropolitan areas and non-metropolitan areas are also at historically high levels. In short, many rental units in the south central region and throughout the country are available for immediate occupancy by people with the ability to pay the rent.

Fortunately, no new federal program is required to match families suddenly needing housing with an existing stock of vacant apartments. The United States government already operates a program that would enable low-income families to pay the rent for these units. The Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program currently serves about two million families throughout the country. It enables participants to occupy privately owned units renting for up to, and somewhat above, the local median rent. Enormous numbers of vacant units could be occupied immediately by families with these housing vouchers.

Congress could show its bi-partisan resolve to respond to this emergency housing crisis by acting promptly to authorize a sufficient number of additional Section 8 vouchers to serve the poorest hurricane victims.

Since many victims have had to travel quite a distance to obtain temporary shelter and many will have to move further from New Orleans to obtain permanent housing within a reasonable time, these vouchers should be available to any public housing agency in the country to serve families displaced by the hurricane. To avoid delays in getting assistance to these families, the vouchers should be allocated to housing agencies on a first-come-first-served basis and any low-income family whose previous address was in the most affected areas should be deemed eligible. We should not take the time to determine the condition of the family’s previous unit before granting a voucher.

Getting the poorest displaced families into permanent housing is an urgent challenge. It requires bi-partisan support for Congress to act promptly, quick action by HUD to generate simple procedures for administering these special vouchers, and housing agencies in areas of heavy demand to add temporary staff to handle the influx of applications for assistance. Even with the best efforts of all parties, the proposed solution will not get all the low-income families displaced by Hurricane Katrina into permanent housing tomorrow. However, it will be much faster than building new housing for them. And it will show them that the federal government cares about their plight and is working to do what it can to help.

I'd like to think that there actually would be bipartisan support for such a proposal. As Megan McArdle points out, "Section 8 vouchers, while certainly not perfect, have been a big improvement over the failed government housing projects they replaced." They use Republican-friendly means to achieve Democrat-friendly ends. And, since Congress is currently not doing much of use with regard to Katrina, maybe they could act on this. And this proposal is much better than some of the other ideas that are floating around. [That's a bad, bad pun--ed.]

Let's see if someone notices.

Assignment to Mickey Kaus: what would be the secondary and tertiary effects of such a proposal?

posted by Dan at 02:33 PM | Comments (10) | Trackbacks (0)

"Katrina is not the Worst Case Scenario"

Amy Zegart --'s resident expert on homeland securit and intelligence reformy -- e-mailed me these thoughts on Katrina's lessons for defending against terrorist attacks:

The devastation from Hurricane Katrina is not the worst case scenario. The worst case scenario is a man made disaster with no warning: a catastrophic terrorist attack with a nuclear or biological agent. Make no mistake. The question is not whether such an attack will occur, but when.

What can we do? Start by facing reality. It is not too soon to begin assessing what went wrong with emergency response in New Orleans and what makes terrorism different from natural disasters. Some initial thoughts:

1. The keystone cops response in New Orleans stems, in part, from a flawed model of how to train for disaster.

Training drills almost never prepare officials for the worst. New Orleans conducted disaster exercises in 2000 and 2004 for hurricanes, but these drills did not include the possibility of a levee failure. In Los Angeles, a major port security exercise, Determined Promise 2004, tested a new mobile radio patch unit that enables different emergency response agencies to talk to each other. Surprise surprise: the system worked well. Of course it did. When everyone knows disaster will begin at noon on Monday, they miraculously remember to bring the right radios and brush up on instructions about how to use them properly. Even worse, not only do many exercises avoid facing truly disastrous scenarios, they define success by how smoothly everything goes. This gives a false sense of comfort, or to use a technical term, it's STUPID. Instead, we need to drill into officials that the right measure of success is how much they learn. If things do not go wrong in a drill, then the exercise was not useful.

2. At every level of government, elected officials work from a fictional premise: that they can, and should, protect everyone from every possible disastrous event. But the truth is hurricanes will hit. Terrorists will strike. Prevention will be far lower than 100%. If you start by acknowledging, rather than avoiding, this reality, you get a different approach: concentrate funding, planning, and efforts on potential events that would bring catastrophic consequences, rather than spreading resources too thin. Hurricane hits Florida, bad. Hurricane hits New Orleans rendering the entire city uninhabitable, catastrophe. Suicide bombs at shopping malls, bad. Nuclear bomb blasting a major U.S. city into oblivion, unacceptable. The goal should be to ensure that government is best prepared to prevent and respond to the worst possible outcomes rather than splitting time and money between an endless array of possibilities.

Politicians hate thinking like this because it's scary and it's politically unattractive: they actually have to make choices about what ranks high on the priority list and what does not. And that is guaranteed to piss off more people than it pleases. In the three years after 9/11 Congress distributed roughly $13 billion in homeland security funding to the states using a formula that redefines crazy: 40% of the funds went to every state, regardless of population or terrorist targets. Rural areas with no major targets got a disproportionate share of the funds, while the most likely terrorist targets, like Los Angeles, got the shaft. Note to self: move back to Kentucky soon.

Zegart also has a sobering reminder -- it is easier to cope with natural disasters than terrorist attacks:

Natural disasters are obvious when they occur. Many types of terrorist attacks (biological attacks, radiological contamination) are not. If you think the slow pace of response to Katrina is bad, imagine the outbreak of an infectious disease, where fast diagnosis is all that stands between a few deaths and national tragedy. Natural disasters often come with warning. Terrorist attacks do not. This difference is huge. It is easy to forget, amidst the desperate struggle for survival by New Orleans residents, that many thousands more did successfully evacuate before the hurricane hit. In a massive terrorist attack, the likely scenario would be mass panic.

posted by Dan at 12:37 PM | Comments (18) | Trackbacks (3)

Take that, Lincoln Park!!

Residents of Hyde Park are keenly aware that although our neighborhood possesses many fine qualities -- ample bookstores, nice housing, diversity of residents -- one quality it does not possess is a surfeit of great restaurants.* For that, you have to go up to the downtown, the West Loop, or the North side.

In today's Chicago Tribune, restaurant critic Phil Vettel says this may be changing:

Where is Chicago's next hot restaurant zone? We've already seen the Miracle on Randolph Street, West Division's dining surge, the South Loop's gradual buildup. What's next?

Would you believe ... Hyde Park?

Don't scoff. Or, go ahead and scoff. No one saw Randolph Street coming either.

But Hyde Park, a largely well-to-do neighborhood (bounded by 44th Street, 60th Street, Cottage Grove Avenue and the lake) that for years has been underserved by the restaurant community, is poised to become, within a year or three, a legitimate dining destination.

"I love that area," says restaurateur Jerry Kleiner. "There are 50,000 people here [44,700, according to the neighborhood's Web site], you've got the university and the hospital, and the city has been fixing up Lake Shore Drive. I thought this would be a good opportunity."

And so in spring 2006, Kleiner is opening a 160-seat, 4,000-square-foot restaurant in the heart of Hyde Park.

What has the dining community giddy with anticipation is the fact that Kleiner is regarded as something of a culinary pied piper. Where he goes, other restaurateurs quickly follow.

More to the point, Kleiner has a track record of launching successful restaurants in neighborhoods others regard as "iffy."

Read the whole article, if you care about such things. I've heard this kind of talk about Hyde Park many times since I've been here, but Kleiner's track record makes me more optimistic than usual. Look out, Lincoln Park -- in, say 20 years, we will have closed the restaurant gap!

Of course, this section of Vettel's piece brings me back to reality. It quotes Mary Mastricola, the owner of La Petite Folie, the one high-end restaurant in the area:

"The one shocker was not being able to find kitchen employees," she says. "You can get students to work in the dining room, but we ran ads looking for kitchen workers and we had kids responding who wanted $2 an hour extra because we're south. They'd rather work in higher-visibility places."

Left unspoken in the piece is why Mastricola doesn't just hire neighborhood residents beyond the student population.

And don't get me started on the supermarket situation around here.....

*Yes, devotees of Dixie Kitchen, or Medici, or Pizza Capri, there are some lovely places to eat around here. But a neighborhood of this size needs more than just a handful of good eateries.

posted by Dan at 10:03 AM | Comments (24) | Trackbacks (2)

Wednesday, September 7, 2005

Whither Egyptian democracy?

Egypt's first multi-candidate presidential elections were held today, and much of the press coverage echoes this London Times account by Richard Beesron: "the experiment in democracy risked being seriously compromised by intimidation, electoral abuse and widespread voter apathy."

Dan Murphy's account in the Christian Science Monitor includes corruption among the sins of this elecvtion:

The bus is rolling through the narrow dirt roads of Dar El-Salam, a down-at-heel Cairo neighborhood, and men and women are running to catch it, afraid they'll miss voting in Egypt's first presidential election.

The man with well-oiled hair cramming them into the rusty machine - festooned with portraits of President Hosni Mubarak - isn't collecting fare. Instead, he's gathering ID cards to be checked against voter rolls. Those will be returned, with 20 Egyptian pounds ($3.20), after his riders cast their votes - for the incumbent.

Sounds rather depressing. However, Steven Cook writes on Foreign Policy's web site that in the long term, Hosni Mubarak may get more reform than he originally planned:

[J]ust because the election was a sham, doesn’t mean that it was meaningless. The constitutional amendments that were instituted to make the election possible may just open the door for real democracy in Egypt....

Influential elements of Egyptian society are already mobilizing to push Mubarak’s changes further than he anticipated. Approximately 3,000 members of Egypt’s Judges Club, for instance, are insisting that they be given full authority to supervise the presidential elections to ensure polling is conducted freely and fairly. One astute Egyptian observer puts it this way: “Egyptian judges now know the power of making collective, public demands, buoyed by the admiration and support of pro-democracy forces and the glare of the international and domestic media.” Other groups are following suit, including journalists, human rights activists, Islamists, and even Egypt’s sclerotic opposition parties. All are signaling to Mubarak and his regime that business as usual is no longer acceptable. Mubarak’s appointed successor, whoever it is, will likely not be able to waltz through the 2011 elections by believing merely that his patronage network will be enough to trump these reform-minded forces.

While immediately unsatisfying, Mubarak’s constitutional amendments could make a significant impact on Egyptian politics in the middle to long term. Sure, the changes seem like yet another gambit to reinforce Egypt’s existing political order under the guise of reform. But they nevertheless have the potential—in combination with continued internal and external pressure for change—to provide the basis for significant moves toward real democracy. The status quo in Egypt is slowly slipping away. And by 2011, Egypt may have a president who is neither a military officer nor a civilian with the last name Mubarak.


UPDATE: The AP's Maggie Michael reports that Egypt's regime might be feeling some blowback earlier than he had anticipated:

More than 3,000 people marched through downtown Cairo at midafternoon -- by far the largest crowd ever drawn by the opposition group Kifaya, or "Enough" in Arabic. Police watched from a distance, despite government vows that protests would not be allowed.

posted by Dan at 04:46 PM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

So how's the transatlantic divide going?

The German Marshall Fund of the United States -- in concert with Italy's Compagnia di San Paolo -- has just released the results of their latest transatlantic survey over at

Some of the more interesting results highlighted in the press release:

  • Interestingly, the nexus of President Bush’s foreign policy agenda — democracy promotion — is widely supported among both Europeans and Americans, but receives much higher marks from Europeans (74% EU9 vs. 51% U.S.). As to how to actually promote democracy, Europeans and Americans both strongly prefer soft-power options — only 39% of Americans and 32% of Europeans (EU9) support the use of military force.

  • Regarding what most worries Americans and Europeans, both Americans and Europeans’ cite economic downturn as the threat most likely to personally affect them. More Americans cite international terrorism as a likely personal threat than do Europeans (71% vs. 53%). Europeans see themselves as more likely to be personally affected by global warming (73% to 64% Americans). Across the board, Americans are more afraid of every threat asked, except global warming.

  • While 54% of Americans believe the partnership between the U.S. and EU should become closer (down 6 points from 2004), 55% of Europeans (EU9) believe the EU should take a more independent approach to security and diplomatic affairs (up 5 points).

  • Europeans differ on what being a superpower means: 26% of those that want the EU to become a superpower believe that the EU should concentrate on economic power and do not favor increased military spending, 35% value both military and economic power and are willing to pay for increased military spending.

  • “We found that, despite major efforts to repair relations, there is still a rift in how we view each other and the world," said Craig Kennedy, President of the German Marshall Fund. “Leaders on both sides of the Atlantic need to build upon areas where Americans and Europeans do agree, like democracy promotion, to pave the way forward for transatlantic relations."
  • Click here to view all of the topline results. One interesting finding that should temper concerns about a European desire for superpower status: when asked whether "a more powerful European Union should compete or cooperate with the US," 80% of Europeans in the big seven countries say "cooperate" -- and those numbers are higher in France and Germany. [Yeah, but don't forget to mention that only a bare plurality of Americians believe that a European superpower actually would cooperate--ed.]

    posted by Dan at 11:12 AM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)

    IISS weighs in on Iran's WMD program

    When we last left the Iranian WMD saga, it turned out that U.S. and U.N. intelligence were downgrading the likelihood of Iran developing nuclear weapons anytime soon.

    In this week's installment, the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) weighs in. Reuters provides the summary:

    Iran, threatened with referral to the U.N. Security Council over its atomic ambitions, could develop bomb-making capability in as little as five years but a 15-year timeframe is more likely, a think tank said on Tuesday....

    "If Iran threw caution to the wind and sought a nuclear weapon capability as quickly as possible, without regard for international reaction, it might be able to produce enough highly enriched uranium for a single nuclear weapon by the end of this decade," said John Chipman, director of London's International Institute for Strategic Studies.

    He said technical problems could prolong the process and that given international pressure, the Islamic state was more likely to try to accumulate the capability over 10 to 15 years.

    The evaluation by the influential think tank comes two weeks before the U.N. atomic watchdog (IAEA) will discuss whether to send Iran to the Security Council, possibly prompting sanctions.

    The assessment is in line with British estimates, although U.S. intelligence reports have been more conservative, with a study last month putting the date for a bomb at 2015.

    "Our assessment is technical," Gary Samore, editor of the IISS report, told reporters.

    "The most interesting discussion is about political calculations and how Iran weighs the risks and benefits of acquiring nuclear weapons capability."

    Samore said Iran appeared to be less worried about possible U.S. military action than two years ago, partly due to what he described as "the mess" in Iraq.

    Click here to read Chipman's press release.

    posted by Dan at 12:50 AM | Trackbacks (0)

    Tuesday, September 6, 2005

    The perils of teaching in Italy

    Reuters reports on a potential case of discriminatory hiring and firing practices in Italy:

    Was it her looks or lifestyle that led the Roman Catholic Church to cause a minor media frenzy by firing an Italian religion teacher this year?

    Caterina Bonci said Church authorities decided she was just too attractive and dressed too sexy to teach religion after 14 years on the job.

    The Church says it sacked the 38-year-old blonde from the central Adriatic city of Fano because she is divorced.

    Even Italy’s leading newspaper, Corriere della Sera, gave readers a break from pages of stories about scandal at the Bank of Italy and government bickering with the teasing headline:

    “Teacher in mini-skirt fired by diocese.”

    Bonci said she separated from her husband in 1995 and divorced in 2000 and that both events had not affected her job or raised eyebrows from her employers at the time.

    She said reports that fathers accompanied their children to religion classes so they could look at her meant little to her as long as the children came to class.

    As a public service for readers of, below is a photo of Ms. Bonci.


    Readers can judge for themselves.

    posted by Dan at 06:03 PM | Comments (12) | Trackbacks (0)

    I'd blog more if it wasn't for that darn Jacuzzi-tusion

    In honor of the the 10-year anniversary of Cal Ripken's breaking Lou Gehrig's iron-man streak in baseball, Jayson Stark has an amusing column at on his "favorite injuries, calamities or miscellaneous excuses for missing games during Ripken's fabled streak."

    Go check them out -- my two favorites:

  • [Atlanta Braves pitcher] Pascual Perez missed a start because he couldn't find the stadium, drove 100 miles on a loop freeway around Atlanta, circled the city two hours, missed his exit five times.

  • Reds pitcher Johnny Ruffin hurt his knee watching television.
  • I was convinced that last one had to be a misprint, but I stumbled across this fine Peter Gammons column on Ripken that mentioned the same injury:

    Cincinnati’s Johnny Ruffin was unavailable to pitch when he sat down on a couch in the players' lounge to watch television and his knee popped out of joint.

    posted by Dan at 04:21 PM | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (0)

    September's anti-Book of the Month

    The topic of Slate's Book Club this week is Barbara Ehrenreich's Bait and Switch: The (Futile) Pursuit of the American Dream . The book is about Ehrenreich's efforts to create a fictional persona and land a job in "media/public relations work." Along the way, the career self-help industry is mocked.

    Let's see how the reviewrs went for it. Hmmmm.... Tyler Cowen didn't like it very much:

    Our sleuth makes a mistake analogous to the one that marred Nickel and Dimed. In that earlier experiment, she entered life as a low-income worker, yet without many support systems. She had no church, no family, and no reliance on friends for financial or even moral aid. It is no wonder she found life so tough and capitalism so demoralizing. She lived an ordinary "lower class" life, yet with upper-middle-class, modern, academic morals and methods.

    This time she cuts herself off from networks and personal contacts. She does recruit some friends to lie for her and back up her vita, should anyone call and ask about her past. But there is not a single voice to spread the word about her. Nor can she fall back on accumulated experience and contacts, for that would reveal her identity. So, she stalks the job world as a paper ghost. Alan, I wonder what would you—as a rational employer—make of a 60ish-year-old woman who appears out of nowhere and has no pre-existing contacts, offers, or networks? And what job is more a matter of personal contacts than public relations?

    Ehrenreich is clueless when it comes to job searching. The book jacket describes her "series of EST-like boot camps, job fairs, networking events, and evangelical job-search ministries. She is proselytized, scammed, lectured, and—again and again—rejected." The reader is never sure if she goes through all this to express her contempt for the participants in those enterprises, or if she truly believes this is the best way to look for a job. At one point she visits a Web site and pays $200 an hour for a weekly phone consultation; she is then told to fantasize about her ideal job. A worthy anecdote, yes, but should I assume this very smart woman was doing her best?

    Nor was Ehrenreich a model interviewee. For one meeting she was late. She was asking for salaries of $60,000-$70,000, and at least once she asked for $100,000. Her (phony) résumé is stacked with a long succession of short-term contracts, none showing much commitment. One interviewer tells her she seems "angry."....

    On the topic of practical experience with a process, let me offer mine. Through my work in my university, I have been involved in interviewing, hiring, and working with a media and PR person. First, we knew people who knew the hire; personal recommendations were an important signal of quality. Second, had a candidate behaved as Ehrenreich did, she would not have made the first cut.

    Well, one would have expected Cowen, a free market economist, to dislike Ehrenreich. Surely Alan Wolfe, the other reviewer, who believes that capitalism, "cause[s] needless suffering to far too many innocent people," has a more positive take?

    He does not:

    Dear Tyler:

    No, actually, I cannot muster much, if any, enthusiasm for Bait and Switch. If anything, you may be too kind to Ehrenreich. The least of her problems is her cluelessness about what it takes to find work. I found even more disturbing her tendency to lecture those who lack her presumably superior understanding of how the world works.

    Do not read the whole thing.

    UPDATE: Kieran Healy weighs in on Ehrenreich and suggests an intriguing alternative read.

    posted by Dan at 03:06 PM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (0)

    I guess protecting Iraq's border isn't really that important

    Ellen Knickmeyer and Jonathan Finer report the following for the Washington Post:

    Fighters loyal to militant leader Abu Musab Zarqawi asserted control over the key Iraqi border town of Qaim on Monday, killing U.S. collaborators and enforcing strict Islamic law, according to tribal members, officials, residents and others in the town and nearby villages.

    Residents said the foreign-led fighters controlled by Zarqawi, a Jordanian, apparently had been exerting authority in the town, within two miles of the Syrian border, since at least the start of the weekend. A sign posted at an entrance to the town declared, "Welcome to the Islamic Republic of Qaim."....

    The report from Qaim, about 200 miles west of Baghdad, marked one of insurgents' boldest moves in their cat-and-mouse duels with U.S. Marines along the Euphrates River. U.S. forces have described border towns in the area as a funnel for foreign fighters, arms and money into Iraq from Syria.

    Insurgents have occasionally made similar shows of force, such as the takeover of a Baghdad neighborhood for a few hours late last month by dozens of gunmen. They then slipped away, having made the point that they can muster men as well as plant bombs. The weekend takeover of Qaim extended already heavy insurgent pressure on the people there and came after the U.S. military said it had inflicted heavy bombing losses on foreign-led fighters....

    Capt. Jeffrey Pool, a Marine spokesman in Ramadi, capital of the western province that includes Qaim, said he had no word of unusual activity in Qaim. Marines are stationed just outside the town, and no Iraqi government forces are posted inside, Pool said.

    Witnesses in Qaim said Zarqawi's fighters were killing officials and civilians whom they consider to be allied with the Iraqi and U.S. governments or anti-Islamic. On Sunday, the bullet-riddled body of a young woman dressed in her nightclothes lay in a street of Qaim. A sign left on her corpse declared, "A prostitute who was punished."

    Zarqawi's fighters have shot and killed nine men in public executions in the city center since the start of the weekend, accusing the men of being collaborators with U.S. forces, said Sheik Nawaf Mahallawi, a leader of the Albu Mahal, a Sunni Arab tribe that had clashed earlier with the foreign fighters.

    Dozens of families were fleeing Qaim every day, Mahallawi said.

    For local fighters now, "it would be insane to attack Zarqawi's people, even to shoot one bullet at them," the tribal leader said. "We hope the U.S. forces end this in the coming days. We want the city to go back to its normal situation."

    Many of the towns along the river have been subject to domination by foreign-led fighters, despite repeated Marine offensives in the area since May. Residents and Marines have described insurgents escaping ahead of such drives, and returning when the offensives end. (emphasis added)

    Read the whole thing.

    Given the bolded portion, either one of two things is happening:

    a) A large number of Iraqis are playing one heck of a prank on Knickmeyer and Finer; or

    b) The Marines need to do a little better on intelligence gathering.

    UPDATE: Greg Djerejian has a nice pre-Katrina round-up of what to read around the blogosphere about Iraq.

    posted by Dan at 11:29 AM | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (0)

    The revenge of ham radio

    Among those debating the relative influence of the blogosphere in American politics, the facile question has always een whether blogs will become "talk radio or ham radio?" The obvious implication is that talk radio is now a permanent feature of the media ecosystem that covers politics, while ham radio was a fad that remains sustained only be true enthusiasts. Blog enthusiasts tend to favor the former comparison over the latter.

    After reading this Wall Street Journal story by Christopher Rhoads on what ham radio has done in the wake of Katrina, perhaps the blogosphere should become more comfortable with the latter comparison as well:

    With Hurricane Katrina having knocked out nearly all the high-end emergency communications gear, 911 centers, cellphone towers and normal fixed phone lines in its path, ham-radio operators have begun to fill the information vacuum. "Right now, 99.9% of normal communications in the affected region is nonexistent," says David Gore, the man operating the ham radio in the Monroe shelter. "That's where we come in."

    In an age of high-tech, real-time gadgetry, it's the decidedly unsexy ham radio -- whose technology has changed little since World War II -- that is in high demand in ravaged New Orleans and environs. The Red Cross issued a request for about 500 amateur radio operators -- known as "hams" -- for the 260 shelters it is erecting in the area. The American Radio Relay League, a national association of ham-radio operators, has been deluged with requests to find people in the region. The U.S. Coast Guard is looking for hams to help with its relief efforts.

    Ham radios, battery operated, work well when others don't in part because they are simple. Each operator acts as his own base station, requiring only his radio and about 50 feet of fence wire to transmit messages thousands of miles. Ham radios can send messages on multiple channels and in myriad ways, including Morse code, microwave frequencies and even email.

    Then there are the ham-radio operators themselves, a band of radio enthusiasts who spend hours jabbering with each other even during normal times. They are often the first to get messages in and out of disaster areas, in part because they are everywhere. (The ARRL estimates there are 250,000 licensed hams in the U.S.) Sometimes they are the only source of information in the first hours following a disaster. "No matter how good the homeland-security system is, it will be overwhelmed," says Thomas Leggett, a retired mill worker manning a ham radio in the operations center here. "You don't hear about us, but we are there."

    posted by Dan at 10:48 AM | Trackbacks (0)

    Good news about Chernobyl

    Peter Finn reports in the Washington Post that twenty years after the disaster at Chernobyl, the health effects have been much less than prior estimates would have suggested:

    The long-term health and environmental impacts of the 1986 accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine, while severe, were far less catastrophic than feared, according to a major new report by eight U.N. agencies.

    The governments of Ukraine, Belarus and Russia, the three countries most affected by radioactive fallout from Chernobyl, should strive to end the "paralyzing fatalism" of tens of thousands of their citizens who wrongly believe they are still at risk of an early death, according to the study released Monday.

    The 600-page report found that as of the middle of this year, the accident had caused fewer than 50 deaths directly attributable to radiation, most of them among emergency workers who died in the first months after the accident. In the wake of the world's largest nuclear disaster, there were numerous predictions of mass fatalities from radiation.

    The report said that nine children had died of thyroid cancer, but that the survival rate among the 4,000 children in the region who had developed thyroid cancer has been 99 percent. An expected spike in fertility problems and birth defects also failed to materialize, the study found....

    Officials said that the continued intense medical monitoring of tens of thousands of people in Ukraine, Russia and Belarus is no longer a smart use of limited resources and is, in fact, contributing to mental health problems among many residents nearly 20 years later. In Belarus and Ukraine, 5 percent to 7 percent of government spending is consumed by benefits and programs for Chernobyl victims. And in the three countries, as many as 7 million people are receiving Chernobyl-related social benefits.

    "The monitoring of people with incredibly low doses uses huge amounts of resources and does more psychological harm than good," said Fred Mettler, a professor of radiology at the University of New Mexico who chaired one of three health groups in the study, titled "Chernobyl's Legacy: Health, Environmental and Socio-Economic Impacts."

    Here's a link to the World Health Organization's press release on the report -- compare and contrast with this media assessment from a decade ago.

    Environmentalists will likely not appreciate the irony of Finn's closing paragraphs:

    The abandonment of large tracts of land, combined with a ban on hunting, has led to a dramatic increase in wild animals and birds, including wolves, elk, wild boars, white-tailed eagles, owls, cranes and black storks.

    "Without a permanent residency of humans for 20 years, the ecosystems around the Chernobyl site are now flourishing," the report said. "It looks like the nature park it has become."

    posted by Dan at 12:48 AM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (1)

    Sunday, September 4, 2005

    Underreaction and overreaction on Katrina

    President Bush appears to have figured out that the federal government's first response to Katrina was pretty pathetic (though not just the feds -- see this Glenn Reynolds post and this jaw-dropping Brad DeLong post), and is now working overtime to correct that first impression, for political reasons if nothing else.

    A White House official told me Friday night that, after fumbling around for days, practically every White House agency was getting involved in coping with Katrina. As this New York Times story by Adam Nagourney and Elizabeth Bumiller suggests, Bush has revamped his schedule this month to respond to Katrina.

    This readjustment is clearly necessary to a point. But here's the thing -- the criminally slow underreaction from last week could lead to a criminally big overreaction in the next few weeks. As this Knight-Ridder story by Warren Strobel points out, the President has other things on his plate this fall:

    Bush and Rice have planned an aggressive fall season of foreign policy, beginning with a summit of 170 world leaders at the United Nations next week. Also on tap are the launch of a public diplomacy initiative to improve the U.S. image in the Muslim world and a possible Rice trip to the Middle East.

    Bush had planned to host Chinese President Hu Jintao in Washington this week, but the White House asked that the meeting be rescheduled to take place during Bush's trip to the United Nations, so he could concentrate on hurricane relief.

    Add to those things the WTO ministerial in Hong Kong.

    Let's be clear -- I'm not saying that the president should not be devoting a healthy fraction of his attention to rebuilding the Gulf Coast. My point is that by screwing up in one direction last week, the administration will now screw up in the other direction for the next several weeks, and I guarantee you that a year from now we'll be bemoaning some foreign policy crisis that would have been defused if everyone had kept their eye on the ball in the present.

    UPDATE: Matthew Yglesias makes a similar point.

    posted by Dan at 11:34 PM | Comments (41) | Trackbacks (4)