Saturday, December 24, 2005
So much for the market clearing price
On this last half-day of the holiday shopping season, I gazed upon my son with horror as he broke the spine of The Essential Calvin and Hobbes. This has symbolized my reaction to my son's recent interest in my paperback Calvin and Hobbes collections -- joy at watching him read combined with a mild dose of horror at the way he's treating the books. [Dude, he's only five--ed. I didn't say I blamed him -- I said I watched him, mute and helples, as it happened.]
However, I decided to take this as a sign to go online and buy The Complete Calvin and Hobbes from Amazon.com. They were listing used & new from $149.99 with the following note:
Due to the number of copies printed, The Complete Calvin and Hobbes is currently unavailable. The publisher is planning to reprint this title in April 2006 and copies will become available soon afterward.On a lark, I checked to see if Barnes and Noble had it. Not only were they carrying it, but at bn.com it was marked down to $105.
I confess to being surprised that there was this much of a price and quantity spread between Amazon and Barnes and Noble. It does make one wonder if the Economist is correct to crow about the advantages of being number two in a business.
Readers are hereby encouraged to post the greatest price spreads they've ecountered in their shopping activities among established online merchants.
UPDATE: Thanks to Rhett in the comments section for offering a plausible explanation for the discrepancy in prices.
Friday, December 23, 2005
"The judicial equivalent of a bitch slap"
That's Jacob Sullum's assessment of what 4th Circuit Court of Appeals judge Michael Luttig delivered to the Bush administration in denying their request to transfer Jose Padilla from military to civilian custody. Orin Kerr concurs.
Luttig was on Bush's short-list for Supreme Court nominees, but as Sullum points out:
The rebuke is richly deserved. Even a court that was prepared to recognize the detention authority asserted by Bush is not prepared to let him submit his policies to judicial review only when he feels like it.Indeed, just about every branch or bureaucracy of government is bitch-slapping George W. Bush this month on national security issues.
There's the judicial branch. Beyond Luttig, another federal judge resigned from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court in reaction to the NSA domestic surveillance program, forcing the administration to brief the rest of the FISA judges before they faced a full-blown judicial revolt.
There's the legislative branch. As Jim VandeHei and Charles Babington point out in today's Washington Post:
This week's uprising against a four-year extension of the USA Patriot Act was the latest example of a new willingness by lawmakers in both parties to challenge Bush and his notions of expansive executive power.Finally, there's the permanent bureaucracy. As David Ignatius pointed out earlier this week in the Washington Post the torture question has revealed a clash between the Bush administration and national security professionals (link via Kevin Drum):
The national security structure that the Bush administration created after Sept. 11, 2001, began to crumble this month because of a bipartisan revolt on Capitol Hill. Newly emboldened legislators forced the administration to accept new rules for the interrogation of prisoners, delayed renewal of the Patriot Act and demanded an investigation of warrantless wiretapping by the National Security Agency.The great thing about the American system of government is that whenever one branch exceeds its traditional scope of authority, that branch is eventually brought to heel by the other parts of government.
This is one of the iron laws of politics that George W. Bush is now facing.
Thursday, December 22, 2005
Why panics, pandemics, and policy don't mix
Concerns about a looming avian flu pandemic have prompted a lot of commentary and blog chatter over the past few months (including from yours truly) about whether governments are adequately pepared to combat an outbreak of avian influenza. However, panicked calls for governments to "do something" without contemplating the costs and risks that come with each strategy generally leads to bad policy.
Consider, for example, that many developed-country governments have been scrambling to load up on the drug Tamiflu as a way to treat the H5N1 variant of the bird flu. In the Financial Times, however, Andrew Jack explains why this might be a problem:
Fresh doubts were cast on the efficacy of Tamiflu as a treatment for bird flu on Wednesday night when one of the world’s most prestigious medical journals published new reports of resistance to the drug and deaths in patients in Vietnam.Here's a link to the actual NEJM paper for all of the M.D.s in the house. Dr. Anne Moscona has a commentary on the paper in the NEJM that's worth reading for non-doctors as well. One disturbing implication:
It is therefore worrisome that personal stockpiling of oseltamivir [Tamiflu] is likely to lead to the use of insufficient doses or inadequate courses of therapy. Shortages during a pandemic would inspire sharing of personal supplies, resulting in inadequate treatment. Such undertreatment is of particular concern in children — the main source for the dissemination of influenza within the community, since they usually have higher viral loads than adults and excrete infectious virus for longer periods. The habit of stopping treatment prematurely when symptoms resolve (a well-established tendency with antibiotic therapy) could also lead to suboptimal treatment of influenza and promote the development of drug resistance....
Is now the winter of my baseball discontent?
When my New York Yankee-loving brother starts posting random comments goading me to blog about baseball, you know it's not a good sign for the Boston Red Sox.
Indeed, Johnny Damon's decision to join the Yankees has prompted quite the media backlash against the performace of Red Sox management since Theo Epstein's departure as GM. One commenter on Jacob Luft's SI.com blog put it well:
So right now, the Sox have four guys who played second last year (Graffanino, Loretta, Cora and Pedroia) and three guys who played third (Lowell, Youkilis, and Marte); no real first baseman, no clear shortstop, no center fielder, a disgruntled left fielder and no leadoff hitter.The New York Daily News' Bill Madden sounds a similar theme:
[A]s of now, [the Red Sox] have no center fielder, no shortstop, no first baseman, no bona fide closer and seemingly no game plan.Lest you think the criticism is coming only from Yankee-lovers, consider this Tony Massarotti rant in the Boston Herald (link via David Pinto):
[T]he 2006 Red Sox look like an 84-78 squad with a management team that is playing rotisserie baseball. The Sox still can go out and get players, but there seems little regard for how they fit together. And until we learn otherwise, there is simply no way to know that Mark Loretta and Mike Lowell can shine in Boston, that Julio Lugo or Coco Crisp is coming (or that they, too, can succeed), that Kevin Youkilis can play every day or that Keith Foulke can close again....Ouch.
Is there any hope for Red Sox Nation? I think the answer is yes, but it takes a little work.
First, consider that each of the individual trades/signings that the Red Sox have made this offseason can be defended. No one except the Yankees thought Johnny Damon was worth $13 million a year. Trading a backup catcher for a former All-Star second baseman seems like a shrewd move. Renteria was never comfortable in Boston, and in trading him the Red Sox got one of the top ten prospects in all of baseball. Getting Josh Beckett was worth the costs in prospects -- especially since the Sox also got a premier set-up man and a Gold Glove third baseman. The problem isn't with the individual moves -- it's whether one can see an overall plan when the moves are combined.
Second, left unsaid in all the critiques is the fact that the Sox have done a very good job of rebuilding their pitching staff. In the past few months the Sox have lost Mike Myers and Chad Bradford while acquiring Josh Beckett, Guillermo Mota, and Jermaine Van Buren via trade, re-signing Mike Timlin, signing Rudy Seanez, and picking up Jamie Vermilyea via the Rule V draft. They have also developed a raft of quality arms -- Jonathan Papelbon, Manny Delcarmen, Craig Hansen, and Jon Lester -- from their own farm system. That's a set of pretty decent moves made at low cost given the way the market for pitching has gone as of late. And while it may be overly optimistic to expect Curt Schilling or Keith Foulke to perform at their 2004 levels, it would be way to pessimistic to see them be as bad as they were in 2005. To be sure, not all of these pitchers will pan out, but enough of them will for the 2006 pitching staff to look better than the 2005 version.
Third, the off-season is only half over. The $64,000 question is whether the Red Sox can trade from their strengths (pitching, second base, third base, farm system) to improve their weaknesses (leadoff hitter, centerfieldier, shortstop, first base) between now and February. The big concern here is whether these obvious deficiencies will force the Sox into desperate moves in January and February. However, it's also worth remembering that the Sox had uninspiring production from two of those positions in 2005 and still made it to the playoffs.
Finally, it's worth remembering that at this point last year everyone was trashing White Sox GM Ken Williams for a series of moves that laid the foundation for the 2005 team. The only thing that matters is the how the team performs on the field between April and October.
[How convinced are you by your own analysis?--ed. About 55% -- the other 45% of the time I'm with Massarotti.]
UPDATE: Sam Crane offers Confucion and Taoist perspectives on the Damon signing.
Wednesday, December 21, 2005
Open Bolivia thread
I would be remiss in not mentioning that Bolivia just elected a former coca farmer turned socialist politician as president. Among his many campaign pledges are to decriminalize coca production and to renationalize the commanding heights of the national economy.
Comment away on the implications of this power transition in Andean region. Noah Millman offers various reasons for why this should concern the United States.
[Hey a few years ago you were pretty sanguine about the rejection of the neoliberal model in Latin America. How about now?--ed.] Well, the spread of Chavez-like politicans throughout Latin America would be intrinsically bad. At the same time, this Associated Press report suggests just how difficult it will be to foster regional solidarity by pursuing a policy of economic nationalism:
The winner of Bolivia's presidential elections has repeated his vow to nationalize oil and gas and said he will void at least some contracts held by foreign companies "looting" the poor Andean nation's natural resources.So, the new Bolivian president's first move is to alienate his top foreign investor, who happens to be.... Brazilian. The last paragraph suggests that staying this course will retard other foreign investors. And note that no U.S.-based multinational appears on that list.
Even if Hugo Chavez lends a hand, I don't think this strategy is going to inspire a lot of solidarity elsewhere in the continent.
Tuesday, December 20, 2005
And you thought Heidi Fleiss' little black book was bad
If this Anne Kornblut story in the New York Times is true, then there are a lot of people inside the beltway who are going to be feeling very, very nauseous for the next few weeks:
Jack Abramoff, the Republican lobbyist under criminal investigation, has been discussing with prosecutors a deal that would grant him a reduced sentence in exchange for testimony against former political and business associates, people with detailed knowledge of the case say.
Christmas in the Pacific Rim
I'm back from Hong Kong, and seriously jet-lagged. Before I stop thinking about that jewel of a city, however, I have a question for any cultural anthropologists in the crowd -- what's the deal with Christmas in the Pacific Rim?
The city of Hong Kong -- never shy of neon -- was engulfed in Christmas decorations the week I was there. This web site points out::
Christmas in Hong Kong is the time for the tasteless, the season for the syrupy, the holiday for the horrific -- if we're talking about lights and decorations, that is. There may be another city that can equal Hong Kong in the banality of its Christmas decorations, but it's sure to fall short in terms of sheer volume.I was told that I would see the same thing in Tokyo as well.
Many Westerners who attended the WTO Ministerial expressed distaste about this phenomenon as well -- not on religious grounds, but rather because to them it epitomizes the homogenization of western tastes.
I think this is much ado about nothing. I doubt that any North American city, with the possible exception of Las Vegas, would festoon itself in the same way Hong Kong has -- but then again, no other American city is as in love with neon as HK. However, to repeat my question to Tyler Cowen or anyone else who would know -- why is Christmas so big in so many non-Christian countries?
My hunch is that it's a marketing opportunity, but I'm open to other suggestions.
Monday, December 19, 2005
Drezner gets results from Pakistan!
I bring this up only because of some new poll results released by Terror Free Tomorrow:
In the first poll in Pakistan since the earthquake of October 8, 2005, Pakistanis now hold a more favorable opinion of the United States than at any time since 9/11, while support for Al Qaeda in its home base has dropped to its lowest level since then. The direct cause for this dramatic shift in Muslim opinion is clear: American humanitarian assistance for Pakistani earthquake victims....Click here to see the full results in .pdf format.