Saturday, October 1, 2005

Liberalization, Moroccan style

Neil MacFarquhar has an excellent front-pager in today's New York Times looking at the conundrums of Morocco's recent liberalization:

Morocco has moved further along the reform road than any of its Arab neighbors. Its press is vibrant and outspoken. A family law no longer treats women as chattel. Civic organizations can be formed with relative ease, and scores of them work on everything from improving prison conditions to lowering the country's abysmal illiteracy rate.

Yet the entire system of law rests not on a framework of checks and balances, but on the whim of the king. Morocco's Constitution declares the king both sacred and the "prince of the faithful."

Other Arab constitutions do not declare the ruler holy, but an official reverence cocoons virtually every president or monarch in the region. Anyone who challenges the ruler does so at his own peril.

It is a fact that raises a central question here and across the Middle East: What is needed to turn states of despotic whim into genuine nations of law?

Read the whole thing.

posted by Dan at 04:46 PM | Comments (12) | Trackbacks (0)

Friday, September 30, 2005

The shift in jobs and the need to shift job training

The Economist reports on the decline in manmufacturing employment in the U.S.

For the first time since the industrial revolution, fewer than 10% of American workers are now employed in manufacturing. And since perhaps half of the workers in a typical manufacturing firm are involved in service-type jobs, such as design, distribution and financial planning, the true share of workers making things you can drop on your toe may be only 5%. Is this cause for concern?

The Economist answers its own question in this opinion piece:

Shrinking employment in any sector sounds like bad news. It isn't. Manufacturing jobs disappear because economies are healthy, not sick.

The decline of manufacturing in rich countries is a more complex story than the piles of Chinese-made goods in shops suggest. Manufacturing output continues to expand in most developed countries—in America, by almost 4% a year on average since 1991. Despite the rise in Chinese exports, America is still the world's biggest manufacturer, producing about twice as much, measured by value, as China.

The continued growth in manufacturing output shows that the fall in jobs has not been caused by mass substitution of Chinese goods for locally made ones. It has happened because rich-world companies have replaced workers with new technology to boost productivity and shifted production from labour-intensive products such as textiles to higher-tech, higher value-added, sectors such as pharmaceuticals. Within firms, low-skilled jobs have moved offshore. Higher-value R&D, design and marketing have stayed at home....

Yet there is a residual belief that making things you can drop on your toe is superior to working in accounting or hairdressing. Manufacturing jobs, it is often said, are better than the Mcjobs typical in the service sector. Yet working conditions in services are often pleasanter and safer than on an assembly line, and average wages in the fastest-growing sectors, such as finance, professional and business services, education and health, are higher than in manufacturing....

People always resist change, yet sustained growth relies on a continuous shift in resources to more efficient use. In 1820, for example, 70% of American workers were in agriculture; today 2% are. If all those workers had remained tilling the land, America would now be a lot poorer.

Of course, the good service sector jobs do require some training. And this Chicago Tribune story by Barbara Rose highlights the deficit in human capital investment in Chicago:

Chicago's future economic prosperity will depend in part on the success of programs such as The Employment Project that move more workers into the mainstream of a competitive global economy, a new study reports.

The study by the nonprofit Chicago Jobs Council, to be released Wednesday, is intended as a wake-up call to the fact that an estimated 41 percent of the area's labor force will reach retirement age over the next 15 years, fueling demand for new skilled workers. Yet an increasing number of job seekers have only limited basic skills.

The report is part of a broader awakening about the importance of workforce development in an era in which companies need better-educated workers to compete globally, business leaders said.

"If you had to look for the single least sexy and most complicated topic out there, this is it," said Paul O'Connor, executive director of economic development group World Business Chicago.

Here's a link to the Chicago Jobs Council report discussed by Rose.

posted by Dan at 12:09 AM | Comments (27) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, September 29, 2005

The Red Sox cause heartburn -- but do they save lives

It's going to be an agonizing/wonderful/intense final weekend of Major League Baseball's regular season. Whenever Major League Baseball has to post this kind of web page to explain the possible playoff permutations (link via David Pinto), you know there are some close races.

Naturally, the piece de resistance is the AL East, with the streaking Yankees a game ahead of the Red Sox, who are tied with Cleveland in the wild card standings.

I don't know how these games could top the drama of the last two years with these two teams -- but then again, I thought that was true right before last year's ALCS, and look what happened.

Intriguingly, the close series probably means an easier load for Boston's emergency rooms:

A couple of dyed-in-the-red-wool Fenway fanatics -- who, by day, specialize in analyzing trends in health-care use -- wondered what happens to emergency room traffic when the Sox catapult into the playoffs.

The result of their research: Last fall, while the Sox pummelled the Yankees in the deciding game of the league championship and, then, the Cardinals in Game Four of the World Series, business in the ER was as cold as Manny Ramirez's bat was hot.

''We knew if we were looking for any public event that would have an effect on health-care utilization, it would have to be the Red Sox championship games," said Ben Reis, inveterate Sox fan and Children's Hospital Boston researcher....

The researchers discovered that during the championship games, televisions were blaring in three of every five households in the Boston area, watching Curt, Johnny, and the rest of the self-proclaimed Idiots.

At the same time, visits to the emergency rooms plummeted, on average, by 15 percent when compared to historical trends for ER visits on autumn evenings.

Fewer ER visits and more babies -- you know the recent Red Sox revival has been good for New England.

[Sure, there are fewer visits, but do the Red Sox save lives?--ed. The reportage is unclear. On the one hand, it seems that people with chronic ailments might defer or postpone visits. On the other hand, "There was no evidence, the researchers from Children's report, of a surge in ER visits immediately after the game concluded." One has to wonder if there were fewer driving accidents, etc. while people were watching the games.]

posted by Dan at 10:25 PM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Gone grand strategizin'

Blogging will be intermittent for the next few days, as I'm off to Princeton University for the next couple of days. I'll be participating in a conference sponsored by the Princeton Project on National Security, which I referred to a year ago as "a nonpartisan effort to strengthen and update the intellectual underpinnings of U.S. national security strategy."

It's definitely bipartisan -- half of Democracy Arsenal and America Abroad will be in attendance.

If you glance at the planned agenda you'll see that participants will be trying to think big thoughts. In my case, it will probably consist more of listening to others think big thoughts.

In the meantime, talk amongst yourselves about this truly horrifying report.

posted by Dan at 06:16 PM | Comments (8) | Trackbacks (0)

The end of the immigration spike

Mickey Kaus is still worried about immigration even after reading and partially debunking a L.A. Daily News story by Rachel Uranga:

[I]t's worth worrying about a) the possible collapse of a common language and b) the possible Quebec-like Mexification of Southern California.

I've never really bought into either meme. And today, Nina Bernstein has a New York Times story that pours more cold water on this hypothesis:

For years it seemed that immigration to the United States could only rise. Now a new study, based on a year-by-year analysis of government data, shows a startlingly different pattern: Migration to the United States peaked in 2000 and has declined substantially since then....

In terms of immigrant destinations, the study confirms a long-recognized trend away from the "big six" traditionally immigrant states - California, Florida, Illinois, New Jersey, New York and Texas - which still receive 57 percent of immigrants, toward so-called new growth states like Iowa and North Carolina. The foreign-born pioneers to such states in the 1990's now serve as a magnet for friends and relatives from abroad, especially when jobs are plentiful

Bernstein's story is a riff on the Pew Hispanic Center's latest report, "Rise, Peak and Decline: Trends in U.S. Immigration 1992 – 2004." The executive summary also observes that:

The shift of immigrant flows away from states with large foreign-born populations such as California and New York towards new settlement states such as North Carolina and Iowa accelerated during both the peak and the decline that followed.

Indeed, the report makes it clear that the shift in immigration flows to new states is a permanent and not temporary shift.

Beyond allaying fears of Mexifornia, the study has two take home points.

First, immigration flows follow the economy:

Rather than undergoing a continuous increase in immigrant levels as is commonly perceived, the United States experienced a sharp spike in immigration flows over the past decade that had a distinct beginning, middle and end. From the early 1990s through the middle of the decade, slightly more than 1.1 million migrants came to the United States every year on average. In the peak years of 1999 and 2000, the annual inflow was about 35% higher, topping 1.5 million. By 2002 and 2003, the number coming to the country was back around the 1.1 million mark. This basic pattern of increase, peak and decline is evident for the foreign-born from every region of the world and for both legal and unauthorized migrants.

In 2004, migration bounced back to exceed 1.2 million. Whether or not this move portends further increases is impossible to predict. But even with this recent increase in migration, the most recent data show that immigration flows are at levels comparable with those of the mid-1990s and still significantly below the peak levels of 1999–2000.

Both the run-up to the peak and the drop-off in immigration coincide with a variety of conditions known to influence such flows, most notably the performance of the U.S. economy. Immigration grew sharply during the rapid economic and job expansion of the 1990s and then declined as the economy went into a downturn after 2001. Measures of the change in the Mexican labor force—the largest single source of U.S. immigrants by far—follow trends closely related to the pattern of changes in U.S. immigration.

This finding probably won't surprise many economists, but it is politically significant -- because it counters the belief that immigration is some unyielding, unstoppable force.

That said, the second, more disturbing take-home point is that the composition of immigration flows is changing -- and not for the better:

From 1992 to 2004, the unauthorized share of immigration inflows increased and the share that was legal decreased. By the end of the period, more unauthorized migrants than authorized migrants were entering the United States.

Declines in legal immigration accounted for the largest part of the drop from the peak flows at the turn of the 21st century. From the peak in 1999–2000 to the trough in 2003, over 60% of the decrease in flow is attributable to lower levels of inflows of legal permanent residents and legal temporary immigrants counted as part of the population.

This kind of study may give greater impetus to a grand bargain on immigration reform -- in which legal immigration flows are expanded at the same time there is a crackdown on illegal immigration. [I thought the grand bargain involved a guest worker program--ed. Yeah, but my grand bargain would ditch that part -- guest worker programs don't have a great track record, and the dispersal of immigrants to non-border states would probably reduce its allure anyway.]

Go check out the whole report.

posted by Dan at 11:28 AM | Comments (31) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

So how's the public diplomacy thing going?

Karen Hughes, the under secretary for public diplomacy, is in the middle of a "listening tour" of the Middle East. Guy Dinmore reports in the Financial Times on how it's going.

The stop in Saudi Arabia was apparently quite an eye-opener:

Indignant Saudi women on Tuesday turned the tables on Karen Hughes, the US under secretary for public diplomacy, rejecting her analogy of them as the “broken wing” of a bird that the US will help fly....

Mrs Hughes, better known as the long-time communications guru for President George W. Bush, began the “open dialogue” before several hundred women at Dar al-Hekma university by introducing herself as a “working mom”.

She went on to talk about the importance the US attaches to freedom and welcomed a new Saudi labour law that is supposed to open up more job opportunities for women....

Students and teachers lined up at the microphones to express in perfect English their indignance at the stereo-typing of Saudi women as living in a closed society, unable to work or drive or vote. They also slammed the US media for spreading such an image, notably one Oprah Winfrey show that they said presented a Saudi woman beaten by her husband together with the message that theirs was a country to be avoided.

“We are happy, not just content, but happy,” one student objected.

Mrs Hughes quickly replied that she thought Arab women were strong and intelligent, but stuck to her guns, saying that Americans “take their freedom very seriously”, and that means speech, religion, voting and driving – for work and shopping.

Doesn't sound great -- but read this section, and consider the possible sample bias:

Afterwards, the young women – many from wealthy families who spend their summers in the west – were eager to give interviews, explaining why driving was not such a big deal for them, and that the right to vote would come eventually.

“We don’t want the US to force us to bring change,” said one teacher. “They did not allow the blacks to vote before, and now they are forcing the world to accept their views.”

Students described Mrs Hughes as “very kind” and “friendly”, but begged to differ on her views. “I go out with my driver. I go to the beach. I don’t feel caged in,” said one student. “People think we go on camels and live in tents.”

When pressed, they admitted that they would like the right to drive and vote but insisted that reform would come at Saudi Arabia’s pace and choosing. Some complimented King Abdullah for his gradual reform efforts, saying he wanted women to drive but that many conservatives in Saudi society did not.

UPDATE: If this Josh Marshall post is accurate, then the FT has downgraded Hughes from Minister of Propaganda to her actual title.

posted by Dan at 10:30 PM | Comments (14) | Trackbacks (0)

Serenity -- the review

Forget the clever marketing strategy -- is Serenity worth the coin? Does it soar like a leaf on the wind?

The answer partially depends on where you fit in the movie-going universe:

1) Joe and Jane Moviegoer. If you like action flicks with a dash of surprising levity, Serenity is definitely worth checking out. Writer/director Joss Whedon clearly knows his genres, and has no trouble mixing them -- in this case, sci-fi and westerns -- and has even less trouble subverting genre stereotypes. The best parts are the first and last 30 minutes of the film. There's a lot of backstory exposition, and if you go for opening weekend, you might notice a lot of oddly enthusiastic moviegoers, but I agree with Variety's Derek Elley in saying that, "Familiarity with the original episodes isn't necessary, as a tight opening effectively recaps the backstory." This is not Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me -- thank God.

[UPDATE: I'm glad to see this thumbs-up from someone illiterate in Whedon-speak.]

If geeks and fanboys scare you, do not see Serenity on opening weekend. Then go.

2) Firefly fans. Hmmm... how to put this.... hell yes, it's worth the coin. Whedon brought his "A" game and Universal gave him just enough money to make it very, very shiny. Whedon accomplishes in Serenity what he did so proficiently in his best work on TV -- he creates characters who stay true to their motivations, and then makes you realize that just because an actor is featured in the opening credits, there's no guarantee that they'll still be alive when the end credits run. It's that credible danger that makes the final half-hour of Serenity so intense for fanboys and fangirls alike. In Chiwetel Ejiofor, Whedon has found the perfect villain for this piece. Summer Glau and Nathan Fillion are equally good in the emoting and kickass fighting categories. The rest of the cast has their moments as well.

3) Aspiring movie auteurs: This take from Ken Tucker's New York magazine review should whet your appetite:

[Whedon] can write quick, gabby banter for an array of heroes and oddballs better than any auteur since Preston Sturges, and he can dramatize the camaraderie within an ensemble better than anyone since Howard Hawks.

My take: You wish you could do a tracking shot like the one Whedon serves up in the opening credits. Serenity is a nice exercise in demonstrating how special effects should serve the story and not vice versa. As for dialogue, one person who saw an earlier preview put it best: "Han Solo wishes he was this cool." Whedon betrays his TV past with some claustrophobic shots at some junctures, but this is a great big-screen directorial debut.

4) Libertarians: Back in August, I resisted posting on this debate on the politics of Firefly that had been going around the blogosphere. Having seen Serenity, I think I'll weigh in.

To recap: Tyler Cowen argued that the "implicit politics" of the show imply it's "actually Burkean conservative."

Sara T. Hinson thought the show sounded libertarian themes -- like all sci-fi:

At its best, science fiction advocates liberty. While Star Trek lamentably supported a "Federation knows best" mentality, other works like Star Wars and Robert Heinlein's novels have promoted the dissolution of central rule and the triumph of the individual. For the science fiction writer, space means one thing: freedom. Like the Wild West where men made their own rules and property rights were enforced at the end of a landowner's shotgun, space has afforded the hope that one day man can move beyond the reach of any government's oppressive hand.

Having seen Serenity, I have to side with Hinson. While I thought the television show had both libertarian and modern liberal themes, the movie is actually more libertarian . Indeed, without giving Serenity's plot away, the information you discover about the Reavers negates one of the anti-libertarian critiques present in Firefly.

So go see the goram movie.

UPDATE: Jacob Levy saw the same screening I did, and blogs an excellent review. This paragraph captures the film well:

This is not a genre-buster like Matrix or even a genre-redefiner like Blade Runner. It's more of an ante-raiser like Alien: "See? This thing that we've gotten used to seeing done badly can be done really, really well." For Alien, it was making a monster movie genuinely suspenseful, scary, and visually compelling. For Serenity, it's making space opera morally serious and centered on complete characters with convincing relationships and first-rate dialogue. I predict that it will make watching Star Wars or Star Trek movies harder to do without cringing.

Matthew Yglesias also liked it -- though I don't agree with Yglesias' assertion that Whedon painted "the Alliance as a cartoonishly evil empire."

[Dude, don't you and everyone else are overreading a sci-fli flick?--ed. You don't know Whedon. From the Toronto Star's Marlene Arpe:

Whedon's work is studied in universities, it's the subject of academic conferences and about a dozen books in print.

[Whedon says,] "Who's gonna feel bad about that? I've worked enormously hard on every episode of every show I've ever done, not just to have it be interesting, but to have a very specific reason to put it on ... And so there's been, with my writers, a great deal of discussion about philosophy and politics and message and structure, so to have it be a field of study, feels like we actually communicated.... Language is my drug."

So there.]

ANOTHER UPDATE: In Reason, Julian Sanchez has a link-rich, spoiler-rich essay on the philosophical roots of Serenity -- and makes a persuasive case for the role of Camus as well as Hayek. In Slate, Seth Stevenson likes Serenity but thinks Joss Whedon's comparative advantage is in the long narrative arcs of episodic television. Salon's Stephanie Zacharek agrees:

I still feel some anxiety that "Serenity" will be viewed by audiences unfamiliar with Whedon's work as just another sci-fi-geek enthusiasm. My problem, I think, is that "Serenity" dredges up some of the same feelings I have when a movie adaptation of a book I love just doesn't measure up. I'm so used to "reading" Whedon in the long form -- so used to riding the rhythms of his television series, rhythms he sustains beautifully week after week, season after season -- that "Serenity," as carefully worked out as it is, feels a bit too compact, truncated. That's less a failing on Whedon's part than a recognition of the way TV, done right, can re-create for us the luxury of sinking into a good, long novel. I hope Whedon makes many more movies (and there's the enticing possibility that "Serenity," if it does well, will be the beginning of a franchise). Faced with a big screen, Whedon knows exactly what to do with it. But the small one needs him, too. Of all the pleasures TV watching has to offer, he has perhaps tapped the greatest one: that of waiting on the docks, anxious to find out what happens next.

posted by Dan at 12:47 AM | Comments (27) | Trackbacks (7)

Monday, September 26, 2005

Finding Serenity

As promised last week, I got to preview Serenity. I'll review it in the next post -- for this one, a few interesting tidbits about the logistics of the whole enterprise after the jump:

1) Joss Whedon fan Dori Smith wondered last week:

Okay, here's something that's been puzzling me since yesterday: you've got Joss Whedon, who's a well-known Hollywood liberal type and John Kerry supporter. He's got a new movie coming out next week, name of Serenity.

So why on earth is Whedon, or the studio, or the PR folks, only working with rightwingers to plug the movie?

Maybe it's 'cause there aren't any progressive bloggers who are long-time fans of the show?

I seriously doubt the latter is true, but I do have a partial explanation for Smith: the motto of Grace Hill Media -- the PR firm tasked with the blogger promotion -- is "Helping Hollywood Reach People of Faith." I wonder if there's another PR firm to hype the event for liberal blogggers.....

2) And I wonder if they're better than Grace Hill Media, because I must agree with this blogger's complaint about the confirmation e-mail they sent to everyone. Juuuust a bit too bossy.

3) As someone who was captain of my high school math team, I can say with some certainty that I know from geeks. With that background knowledge, I must confirm what one of my moviegoing compatriots said: "I've been to Star Wars and LOTR openings, but this was easily the geekiest moviegoing audience I've ever seen."

3) Universal studios showed one preview before Serenity -- Doom, starring The Rock. From an audience primed for Joss Whedon quips, it provoked a... bemused reaction.

4) Despite the high fan-to-nonfan ration, there were enough interested outworlders such that the preview accomplished what Whedon said was the marketing strategy in this New York Times interview:

The idea was always that if the fans got excited enough, made enough noise, somebody fan-adjacent would go, "What's that noise?" And somebody near him would go, "What's that noise?" It was about those people, the people who don't know where to look, but then they start to see it or hear about it.

posted by Dan at 11:55 PM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (2)

How to try Saddam

How do you try a dictator for crimes committed while in office? The question is not an easy one to answer. The best treatment I've seen of this problem, ironically, is fictional: Julian Barnes' The Porcupine.

This question will rear its head again when Saddam is put on trial in three weeks. Gary Bass -- author of Stay the Hand of Vengeance: The Politics of War Crimes Tribunals -- has a non-Times-Select op-ed in the NYT expressing concerns about how the Iraqi government is handling the matter:

The Iraqi war crimes tribunal's first case against Mr. Hussein, which opens Oct. 19, charges him with the 1982 massacre of at least 143 men and boys from the village of Dujail. This was meant to be a test case of manageable scope and strong evidence. Unfortunately, Laith Kubba, a spokesman for Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, says that once the court has reached a guilty verdict in the Dujail case, the near-certain sentence of death "should be implemented without further delay."

But if Mr. Hussein is executed for the Dujail killings, he will never be called to account for the larger atrocities on which he was arraigned in July 2004: killing political rivals, crushing the Shiite uprising in southern Iraq in 1991, invading Kuwait in 1990, and waging the genocidal Anfal campaign against the Kurds in 1988, including gassing Kurdish villagers at Halabja.

If this sounds trivial, Bass is correct to point out that the treatment of Saddam's past affects Iraq's political future:

[T]he Iraqi tribunal would do well not to rush Mr. Hussein to the gallows. A hasty execution would shortchange Mr. Hussein's victims and diminish the benefits of justice. Baathists would be all the more likely to complain about a show trial. Kurds would rightly feel that they were denied their day in court for the Anfal campaign. Shiites in the south would also be deprived of a reckoning.

A thorough series of war crimes trials would not only give the victims more satisfaction but also yield a documentary and testimonial record of the regime's crimes. After Nuremberg, the American chief prosecutor estimated that he had assembled a paper trail of more than five million pages. A comparably intensive Iraqi process would help drive home to former Baathists and some Arab nationalists what was done in their names. The alternative is on display in Turkey, where the collapse of a war crimes tribunal after World War I paved the way for today's widespread Turkish nationalist denial of the Armenian genocide.

Read the whole thing.

posted by Dan at 11:34 AM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (1)

Spammers, please help the Chinese government out...

Reuters reports that the Chinese government has issued some new rules about how the news can be reported on the Internet (link via Drudge):

China set new regulations on Internet news content on Sunday, widening a campaign of controls it has imposed on other Web sites, such as discussion groups.

"The state bans the spreading of any news with content that is against national security and public interest," the official Xinhua news agency said in announcing the new rules, which took effect immediately.

The news agency did not detail the rules, but said Internet news sites must "be directed toward serving the people and socialism and insist on correct guidance of public opinion for maintaining national and public interests."

Another Xinhua report has this priceless tidbit:

Online news sites that publish stories containing fabricated information, pornography, gambling or violence are facing severe punishments or even shutdown.

These new measures were part of a new regulation on online news services, jointly introduced yesterday by the State Council Information Office and the Ministry of Information Industry.

"We need to better regulate the online news services with the emergence of so many unhealthy news stories that will easily mislead the public," said a spokesman with the information office at a press conference yesterday.

Services that provide online news stories, that have bulletin board systems (BBS) or have the function of sending short messages containing news contents to individual mobile phones are all subject to the regulation....

The public will help information departments at all levels supervise news sites. Anyone who finds unhealthy online stories can visit and report.

Isn't this sort of request exactly the kind of useful activity that spammers could engage in instead of bothering me?

posted by Dan at 01:36 AM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (4)