Friday, January 20, 2006
Cuba gets to play ball
The Bush administration is letting Cuba play ball.One slightly bizarre aspect to this was the reasoning the Bush administration gave for rejecting the first application back in December:
"The president wanted to see it resolved in a positive way," White House spokesman Scott McClellan said in an e-mail to The Associated Press. "Our concerns were centered on making sure that no money was going to the Castro regime and that the World Baseball Classic would not be misused by the regime for spying. We believe the concerns have been addressed."I understand the concern about profit. But spying? Even if there are Cuban spies, what are they going to find in Puerto Rico?
I, for one, welcome Cuban participation -- because I want to see them get whipped by the capitalist teams. Scanning the team rosters and the schedule of games, I'm fairly confident that if they're very, very lucky, the Cubans will get creamed in the semifinals by the Dominican team.
Man, the DOJ has some strange lawyers
Mike Hughlett reports in the Chicago Tribune that the Justice Department would like to access Google's records:
Google Inc. is refusing to obey a Justice Department demand that it release information about what people seek when they use the popular search engine, setting up a possible battle with broad implications for Internet privacy rights.Oddly, Google has issued no official comment. [UPDATE: check out this San Jose Mercury News story, however.]
I'm not competent to comment on the legality of the request, but the thing that struck me is that the DOJ is being unbelievably lazy.
The DOJ wants to show that online searches lead to inadvertent stumbles into porn. It is true that the best way to show this would be to retrieve a sample of searches. However, almost as good would be for the DOJ to commission some social scientist to do the research for them. It would not be hard for a researcher to run an experiment to gather this kind of data, and the results would be just as useful to the Department of Justice.
There's something else that disturbs me about this request. If Yahoo! and other search engines have already complied, then the DOJ doesn't really need Google's data. All of the search algorithms are pretty much identical -- which means that Justice already has a sufficiently large sample. Even if the differences are more important than I think, the companies cooperating with the DOJ already represent a larger combined market share than Google, so it's not clear that their cooperation is really necessary for the DOJ to make its evidentiary argument.
So why continue to press Google?
I see one of two possibilities:
1) The data they have doesn't support the administration's supposition, and they're hoping Google will bail them out;Readers are encouraged to try and diving what the DOJ is thinking.
UPDATE: One other quick thought -- although I doubt they acted for these reasons, this is brilliant PR for Google. Their spectacular growth and ever-increasing range of activities had threatened to turn cultural perceptions against the firm. By resisting the Bush administration -- in contrast to Yahoo's capitulation -- Google will look very, very good to all the syberlibertarians oiut there.
Thursday, January 19, 2006
Say it's so, Theo!!!
Three an a half months ago Theo Epstein left the Red Sox. And while I haven't been gnashing my teeth as much as other Red Sox fans, I admit I was a bit concerned about the long-term direction of the club.
So it's nice to say that Theo's back, baby!!!
Principal Owner John Henry, Chairman Tom Werner, President/CEO Larry Lucchino and Epstein issued the following joint statement:Here's a link to the AP story as well.
So is he going to be somewhere between Lucchino and the co-GM's? Will he get a seven-figure salary? Are the differences smoothed over? Join us next week for another episode of As the Sox Turn.UPDATE: For those of you who know about sabremetrics, this is pretty funny: "You had me at VORP."
Is Al Qaeda acting generous or desperate?
Is it my imagination or does this AP report by Lee Keath suggest that Osama bin Laden is getting desparate?:
Al-Jazeera on Thursday broadcast portions of an audiotape purportedly from Osama bin Laden, saying al Qaeda is making preparations for attacks in the United States but offering a possible truce to rebuild Iraq and Afghanistan.Now, if you click over to the Al Jazeera version of the story -- which has longer excerpts from the tape -- bin Laden says he's making this offer out of the goodness of his heart:
"This message is about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and how to end those wars," it began.That is just so generous of Al Qaeda.
I'm very wary of sounding triumphalist, but this sounds much more like bad spin control and concern about losing the war than an act of benevolence.
I'll trust the readers to judge for themselves.
UPDATE: Fox News has a partial transcipt.
The BBC obseves that taped Al Qaeda messages are receiving less coverage from the Arab media -- and what coverage there is has become decidedly more negative.
Meanwhile, Time's Tony Karon thinks bin Laden has surfaced because he's worried about his own standing among the jihadists:
The message — relatively "moderate" by Jihadist standards, in that it appeared to stake out a hypothetical negotiating position and the prospect of coexistence with the U.S. at the same time as warning of new violence — was notable less for its content than for the fact that it was released at all. Despite directly addressing Americans, its primary purpose may nonetheless be to remind Arab and Muslim audiences of his existence, and to reiterate his claim to primacy among the Jihadists.... in the year of Bin Laden's silence, he has begun to be supplanted as the media face of global jihad by Musab al-Zarqawi, whose grisly exploits in Iraq grab headlines week after week.Idunno... this sounds like international relations analysis using the mindset of a Hollywood publicist.
LAST UPDATE: Greg Djerejian articulates a few points that had been knocking around in my head as well: [W]hen I hear the word "truce" emit from UBL's lips (or, perhaps, whatever impersonator is doing a stand-in on his behalf), I conclude that we are winning the battle against al-Qaeda....
[A] U.S. attack would be a plus for al-Qaeda strategically, no doubt, if for no other reason than it would re-assert its ability to shed blood on American shores. Fine, no argument there. But now UBL has raised the ante, again, and he risks becoming the Boy Who Cried Wolf one time to often. If he can't execute a major attack in the relatively near future, even despite his explications regarding long operational cycles (it has now been over four years and counting since 9/11), his credibility continues to erode. If he pulls it off, yes his credibility is enhanced in terms of his showcasing continuing operational capability far from his current base, but still, however, he will not achieve his desired goal of dividing the U.S. public so as to precipitate a US withdrawal from Mesopotamia....
Ultimately, however, one is left thinking what a sad life bin Laden leads trafficking in human misery, or, of late, reduced to threatening mass carnage via episodic videotapes basically dumped in front of Al-Jazeera's offices. So I guess I disagree somewhat with Muhammad Salah, Cairo bureau chief for the pan-Arab daily Al Hayat, who says to the NYT: "The fact that he was able to record the message, deliver it and broadcast is in itself a victory for him". Well, yeah, maybe. But that's really defining victory down quite a damn lot, isn't it? It increasingly smells of desperation, of a man espying a tightening noose.
Wednesday, January 18, 2006
The reorganization of foreign aid, continued
Last month I posted on subterranean rumblings about a reorganization of foreign aid.
Guy Dinmore reports in the Financial Times that the first public step in this reorganization starts tomorrow:
The Bush administration is expected to announce on Thursday a controversial restructuring of its foreign aid system under Randall Tobias, a retired pharmaceuticals executive who currently heads the US global Aids programme.I'll hold off on commenting until I see more of the proposal. What interests me about Dinmore's story is what comes next:
Ms Rice was expected to announce the changes on Thursday, officials said, following a keynote speech to Georgetown University on Wednesday in which she sketched out a “sweeping and difficult” transformation of US diplomacy and its institutions.Here's a link to Rice's speech. I still need to digest all of it, but I do like the reallocation of diplomatic personnel towards the large developing countries.
Drezner's Third Law of Blog Motion
[With profuse apologies to Sir Isaac Newton--ed.]
UPDATE: In the interest of preventing a similar kind of reaction to this blog, do check out this post as well.
Will the Pakistani airstrike be worth it?
So there was an airstrike in Pakistan over the weekend that was intended to kill Al Qaeda #2 Ayman Al-Zawahiri -- but the strike missed the target. This caused thousands of Pakistanis to protest the airstrike the next day. The Pakistani press has also been up in arms.
With goodwill earned in-country from the earthquake relief, it seems as though a single airstrike could vitiate the shift in public opinion. The Council on Foreign Relations has a web page declaring, "MISSILE STRIKE PUTS U.S. ON DEFENSIVE."
Which leads us to this tidbit of information from ABC News:
ABC News has learned that Pakistani officials now believe that al Qaeda's master bomb maker and chemical weapons expert was one of the men killed in last week's U.S. missile attack in eastern Pakistan.There is no word on whether Mursi was also Al Qaeda's number three official.
Question for readers -- assuming this information is accurate and becomes common knowledge in Pakistan, will it blunt the downturn in public opinion?
[What do you care? The bad guys are dead!!--ed. Yeah, but I want the whole megillah.]
The Bush administration wants to be like France
Marc Perelman has a piece on Foreign Policy's web site comparing and contrasting the American and French approaches to homeland security. One big difference is how the problem was viewed prior to 9/11:
In 1988, the FBI invited Alain Marsaud, then France’s top antiterrorist magistrate, to speak about terrorism to the bureau’s new recruits at its academy in Quantico, Virginia.Then there are the differences in approach now. It turns out the Bush administration wishes the U.S. system was more like the French:
In the French system, an investigating judge is the equivalent of an empowered U.S. prosecutor. The judge is in charge of a secret probe, through which he or she can file charges, order wiretaps, and issue warrants and subpoenas. The conclusions of the judge are then transmitted to the prosecutor’s office, which decides whether to send the case to trial. The antiterrorist magistrates have even broader powers than their peers. For instance, they can request the assistance of the police and intelligence services, order the preventive detention of suspects for six days without charge, and justify keeping someone behind bars for several years pending an investigation. In addition, they have an international mandate when a French national is involved in a terrorist act, be it as a perpetrator or as a victim. As a result, France today has a pool of specialized judges and investigators adept at dismantling and prosecuting terrorist networks.The problem is that the French system doesn't fit very well with American traditions -- so I don't think grafting this system onto the American Constiution is going to work all that well.
Assisted suicide and the war on terrorism
Orin Kerr has a good post up explaining why the Supreme Court's 6-3 ruling in Gonzales v. Oregon favor of Oregon's assisted suicide law could be a harbinger for how the Court will rule on NSA surveillance or other executive-legislative disputes.
UPDATE: Stephen Bainbridge has a good post up on what the ruling reveals about Scalia's jurisprudence.
Tuesday, January 17, 2006
Trade law and cyber-realism
My future colleague Joel Trachtman has a new blog on international trade law that is worth checking out.
[What could possibly be interesting about an international trade law blog?--ed.] Well, Joel was smart enoough to link to this Christopher Shea piece in the Boston Globe about Jack Goldsmith and Timothy Wu's forthcoming book on national regulation of the Internet:
[F]orget all that talk about a borderless utopia and about blogs dissolving dictatorships-or at least tamp it down. When it comes to the Internet, ''The story of the next 10 years will be one of rising government power," says Tim Wu, a former marketing executive for a Silicon Valley company who now teaches law at Columbia. While some countries are committed to a fundamentally ''closed" Internet, others want it open. Since technology permits both approaches, Wu adds, ''I wouldn't be surprised if we saw an Internet version of the Cold War."Go check it all out.
Liberal absurdities on Iran
Perusing the liberal blogosphere over the past week, I see a lot of skepticism regarding U.S. policy towards Iran.
Josh Marshall -- with strong endorsements from Brad DeLong and Matthew Yglesias -- believes the Bush administration is too incompetent to handle Iran:
The prospect of a nuclearized Iran seems far more perilous to me than anything we faced or seemed likely to face with Iraq. But for those of us trying to think through how to deal with this situation, we have to start from the premise that there is no Iran Question, or whatever you want to call it. There's only how to deal with Iran with this administration in place.Now, I certainly have had my doubts about this administration's foreign policy competence in the past few years. Gven the administration's policy to date on Iran, however, this line of argument strikes me as pretty much bulls**t.
Consider what the U.S. has done vis-à-vis Iran:
1) Deferring to the EU-3 on negotiations towards Iran;The approach the Bush administration has pursued towards Iran -- multilateralism, private and public diplomacy, occasionally deferring to allies -- is besotted with the very tropes that liberals like to see in their American foreign policy. I'm still not sure what the end game will be with regard to Iran, but to date I can't see how a Kerry administration would have played its cards any differently than the Bush team.
Just to annoy Atrios, let's close with something Peter Beinart observed in a TNR essay on the Democrats and national security:
Kos and MoveOn have conveniently convinced themselves that the war on terrorism is a mere subset of the struggle against the GOP. Whatever brings Democrats closer to power, ipso facto, makes the United States safer. That would be nice if it were true--but it's clearly not, because, sometimes, Bush is right, and because, to some degree, our safety depends on his success. National security will never be reducible to the interests of the Democratic Party.Kevin Drum thinks liberals need to think seriously about what the appropriate policy should be towards a noncompliant Iran. I think he's right.
[But don't the opportunity costs of Iraq show that the Bush administration can't handle Iran?--ed. For this to be true, you'd have to convince me that:
a) If we hadn't invaded Iraq, Iran would not have tried to develop a nuclear weapons program;I don't buy any of these suppositions.]
UPDATE: To avoid making blanket statements about liberals and Iran, I should point out that Brad Plumer provides an interesting and liberal analysis of Iran. Plumer recommends engagement:
Would security guarantees and real economic incentives from the United States convince the Iranian government to give up its nuclear program—or, at the very least, outsource its uranium enrichment to Russia? Maybe. Maybe not. What I don't understand is why this isn't worth trying. The United States would have to negotiate directly with Iran, which would contradict the Bush administration's longstanding preference not to "appease rogue regimes," true, but a little loss of face is about the worst that would come of trying. If it fails, then move on to step two. But the upsides to a serious attempt at engagement are very high.There is also this op-ed by Dariush Zahedi and Omid Memarian in last week's New York Times. Zahedi and Memarian think sanctions would hurt Iran more than I do:
[T]he plummeting Iranian economy will only worsen if the United States succeeds in referring Iran's nuclear file to the Security Council, whether or not meaningful sanctions follow. Such a referral would accelerate capital flight, deal a blow to the country's already collapsing stock market, devastate its hitherto booming real estate market, and wipe out the savings of a large part of the middle class. It would also most likely result in galloping inflation, hurting Iran's dispossessed, whom the Ahmadinejad administration claims to represent.The problem with this logic is that the group most affected by sanctions is also the strata of society with the least amount of influence over the Iranian government.
On the other hand, Zahedi and Memarian suggest an alternative pressure strategy:
Just as Iran can use the Shiite card to create mischief in the region, the United States could manipulate ethnic and sectarian tensions in Iran, which has significant, largely Sunni, minority populations along its borders.Developing....
LAST UPATE: Stratfor's George Friedman (subscription required) has an interesting view on both the rationality of Ahmadinejad and a surprising take on how Iran is doing in Iraq:
One of the ways to avoid thinking seriously about foreign policy is to dismiss as a nutcase anyone who does not behave as you yourself would. As such, he is unpredictable and, while scary, cannot be controlled. You are therefore relieved of the burden of doing anything about him. In foreign policy, it is sometimes useful to appear to be insane, as it is in poker: The less predictable you are, the more power you have -- and insanity is a great tool of unpredictability. Some leaders cultivate an aura of insanity.
The Chivas Regal of board games?
Major in economics in college, and you'll likely hear the story about Chivas Regal, a brand that was struggling back in the seventies and hired a consultant to diagnose its ills. The consultants came back with two recommendations: change the label, and raise the price of a bottle of whiskey by 20%. The logic was that consumers would take the higher price as a signal of higher quality, and demonstrate a willingness to pay. Sure enough, the strategy worked.
I bring this up because Mary Umberger has a front-page story in the Chicago Tribune about a new board game that makes the Chivas Regal price change look miniscule:
"OK, everybody, grab a rat," announced an organizer who had brought a dozen aspiring property magnates together.So, is the game worth the coin? I haven't played it, so I can't say for sure. Snippets from the Tribune story make me skeptical, however:
Cashflow also departs from routine games through the detailed accounting each player must do. The object of the game, like Monopoly, is to make money through investments. But players must keep meticulous financial statements, updating them constantly as they flip apartment buildings, negotiate complicated partnerships and juggle debt....For the past five years -- the period of Kiyosaki's fame -- real estate investment was a pretty shrewd move. However, anyone who banks their retirement income on property in Belize is much more comfortable with risk than I am.
To be fair, if you root arounf Kiyosaki's web site, he's quite aware of the real estate bubble. However, this letter suggests to me that his financial success seems based on the Chivas Regal argument:
Presently, although Kim and I are still buying real estate, we are also selling our "junk" real estate. Eight months ago, Kim put on the market a small apartment house valued at $1 million, for $1.4 million. People complained and no one bought it. So four weeks ago, she raised the price to $2.0 million and it sold in one day for full price.Hmmmm.... maybe my belief in the power of incentives is misplaced, but I just don't buy this. I can accept that the Chivas Regal effect works for... Chivas Regal. Maybe I can accept the idea that it works for an overpriced board game. But the idea that someone was able to sell a piece of real estate only after jacking the price up by $600,000 doesn't pass my smell test.
For anyone curious about Kiyosaki's current investment strategy:
I am getting rid of my U.S. dollars. As you may know, the U.S. dollar has lost nearly 40% of its value against other currencies in the last four years. That means if you have $10,000 in savings in the year 2000, it is worth about $6,000 in purchasing power. Rather than holding cash in the bank, Kim and I have been holding our excess cash in gold and silver bars. Why? Because you will know that the dollar is falling because the price of gold and especially silver will begin to rise. When silver goes higher than $8.50 an ounce and gold reaches $500 an ounce, you will know the end is near. When the crash comes, the currency of many countries will go down in purchasing power as the price of these two precious metals rise in value.
Monday, January 16, 2006
It's been a busy day for Iran-watchers
Let's see what's been going on with regard to Iran for the past day or so, in order from tragedy to farce:
1) The BBC reports that Britain, France and Germanyt will request an extraordinary session of the IAEA in order to refer Iran to the UN Security Council.If Iran keeps this up -- making news, kicking out competitors -- they're going to exhaust that poor AP guy based in Tehran.
Major league baseball has some bad, bad lawyers
The Associated Press reports that Major League Baseball is about to get into a legal war with fantasy baseball:
A company that runs sports fantasy leagues is asking a federal court to decide whether major leaguers' batting averages and home run counts are historical facts that can be used freely or property that can be sold.I find it hard to believe that MLB could win this in court -- and the PR backlash from going after fantasy baseball operators isn't going to win them any plaudits either.
IP lawyer Kent Goss is quoted as citing an interesting 2001 case in which MLB themselves claimed that player names and statistics were (as far as I can interpret) both in the public domain and free for others to profit from, and the California Court of Appeal upheld MLB's right to use the names and stats of historical players. "A group of former players sued MLB for printing their names and stats in game programs, claiming their rights to publicity were violated," Goss said. "But the court held that they were historical facts, part of baseball history, and MLB had a right to use them. Gionfriddo v. Major League Baseball, 94 Cal. App. 4th 400 (2001)."In other words, five years ago MLB was making the opposite argument of what it's saying now.
This leads me to a question I can't answer -- what on earth prompted baseball to adopt such a hard-line position on an issue it knows it probably can't win in the courts?
Sunday, January 15, 2006
How public corruption and 9/11 are linked
Timothy J. Burger has a short item in Time on why the FBI has had such success in recent years at nailing high-profile public corruption targets, such as Jack Abramoff. Turns out that 9/11 had something to do with it, in a roundabout sort of way:
Since 2002, the FBI has engineered a surge of more than 40% in public-corruption indictments, with 2,233 cases pending nationwide, compared with 1,575 four years ago.
Anatomy of an unbelievable scene
The New York Times' Arts section has three articles by three Times movie critics "looking deep inside three of the year's most haunting scenes."
Until the staircase sex, Mr. Cronenberg has encouraged us to look at Tom the way Edie sees him, to believe the image she has unquestioningly accepted of the good father, the loving husband, the Everyman and the hero. "You are the best man I have ever known," she whispers to Tom after their first lovemaking. Through her ignorance and slow awakening, Edie has served as our surrogate, but in this scene she becomes something else, something other. In a story of blood and vengeance, Mr. Cronenberg asks us to look at those who pick up guns in our name, protectors who whisper they love us with hands around our throats. And then, with this scene, he goes one better and asks us to look at those who open their hearts and bare themselves to such a killing love.Dargis does a lovely job of deconstructing the scene, showing how details like Edie's wardrobe act as a harbinger for what's about to happen. And I suspect that Dargis' interpretation of what Cronenberg is going for are perfectly accurate.
There's just one thing -- that scene completely destroyed my willing sense of disbelief in the movie. Until that point, Maria Bello as Edie acts as our emotional barometer for the events that take place, and I found her responses completely believable -- indeed, they're the best thing in the film.
The idea, however, that at that particular moment on the staircase her character was going to find the violence and identity switches a turn-on was pretty damn ludicrous. Critics might have liked it because it touches on the theme of violence's hidden role in the American heartland, but as a resident of said heartland, the scene looked like pure Hollywood tripe. Edie's first reaction to the discovery of her husband's true identity -- in the hospital room -- was far more convincing.
The staircase moment in the film might have been perfectly staged, brimming with craftsmanship, and well acted -- but without the emotional resonance, it was impossible to be as invested in the characters for the rest of the flick. I think Maria Bello deserves an Oscar nomination -- for everything she did but that scene.
Everyone reacts to movies in different ways, so I'll ask the readers -- particularly the (five or so) women who read this blog and have seen A History of Violence. Did that scene make sense to you?