Saturday, March 4, 2006
Your Oscar predictions for 2006
In contrast to last year, I'm pleased to report that my lovely wife and I were able to see almost all of the major films nominated this year. Naturally, it seems that this was unnecessary, since a lot of the races appear to be mortal locks of one kind or another. There isn't even a lot of controversy this year. [What about the Boston Globe op-ed by Michael Kalin asserting that Oscar host Jon Stewart is bad for the body politic?--ed. Oh, you mean the op-ed that presented an absurd thesis and provided exactly zero empirical evidence to support the argument? No, the only controversy is whether a) Kalin used compromising photos of someone on the Globe's editorial staff to crack the op-ed page (this would explain a lot of bizarre editorial decisions at major newspapers); and b) whether any of my readers can dig up an even dumber op-ed published this calendar year.]
As always, the hardworking staff here at danieldrezner.com provides two lists -- who will win and who should win.
Best Supporting Actor
Clooney was a triple threat this year, he's been a bankable movie star for five years, he put on 40 lbs. to play the role, and he gets under the skin of Bill O'Reilly. Is there any doubt?
Giamatti wins it in my book for degree of difficulty. He's in a cliche-ridden movie (Erika and I always have a good laugh when one of us looks at the other and says, "You're the champion of my heart" in our best faux-Jersey accent) playing a stock character of long-suffering but loyal sidekick. He still makes the guy compelling. That's acting.
Best Supporting Actress
Weisz has picked up all the pre-Oscar awards, so she seems to be a lock for this one and can I just say I don't get it? I mean, OK, she's perfectly serviceable in the role, and Lord knows, she's easy on the eyes. Unlike Giamatti, however, she never seemed to add anything unique or interesting to the stock role of passionate crusader. Michelle Williams was much more compelling in Brokeback Mountain.
Keener, however, deserves the Oscar for playing two wildly divergent parts. She's all quite and stillness in Capote -- but I'd rather she win for The 40-Year Old Virgin. It's the toughest part in the movie to play (well, next to Steve Carrell), and yet she completely pulls off the "hot grandma" role.
Drezner's First Law of Oscar: Whenever there's a close race between two actors -- neither of whom has won an Oscar before -- the award will always go to the guy with the longer and better track record. Between Hoffman and Heath Ledger, this means Hoffman [Does this law hold for actresses?--ed. No, that's Drezner's Second Law of Oscar: whenever there's a close race between two actresses -- neither of whom has won an Oscar before -- the hotter actress wins. I'm not saying it's right -- I'm saying that's the way it is.]
In this case, Hoffman's win will be well-deserved. For me, the scene that clinched it was his diatribe at the bar to Harper Lee at the opening of To Kill a Mockingbird. That scene was Capote at his most loathsome, a harbinger of the dissolute, drnk narcissist he would become after In Cold Blood was released. Hoffman is willing to make his character completely unlikeable to service the movie.
In the end, it comes to this: I can see Hoffman playing Ledger's character in Brokeback -- whereas I can't see Ledger playing Capote.
On Witherspoon, see what I wrote about George Clooney, and add the fact that she's a comedienne playing a dramatic role. Unless you're Jim Carrey, that's Oscar gold, baby.
I still can't believe Bello did not score a nomination -- and I didn't even like A History of Violence. You could argue that Bello had a supporting role, but given the weak field this year in the best actress category, I think she belongs here.
Ang Lee directing Brokeback was the perfect marriage of style to material, and he does a fine job. However, for my money MIller does something remarkable in Capote. Visually, the movie grabs your attention in the first half, especially in the contrast between the New York skyline and the flat Kansas landscape. As you begin to identify and understand the characters, however, Miller starts using more close-ups, focusing your attention on the people rather than the place. It's an arresting piece of work.
I liked Brokeback a lot -- though to give Mickey Kaus some ammo, when I told my hetero friends that I was going to see it they almost instinctively recoiled in horror. And I'll confess that my affection for Capote might not be generalizable. However, as someone who gets paid to be a detached observer of real-world events, I found the theme of Capote to be much more interesting.
As for The 40-Year Old Virgin, look, it's just the funniest movie of the year.
Enjoy the show!! I'll be sure to post a post-awards update.
POST-AWARDS UPDATE: A few quick thoughts:
1) Worst. Montages. Ever. (except for the cowboy one -- that was quite funny). Grease is an epic???!!! The Day After Tomorrow is on par with All The President's Men??!! Thank God Jon Stewart said, "And none of those problems ever occurred again. Hooray for us."LAST UPDATE: James Wolcott concludes: "The true theme of tonight's broadcast: boobies!" Er... I thought that was the theme every year.
Friday, March 3, 2006
Academic flotsam and jetsam
The following items of interest will only be of interest to academics and academic wanna-bes:
A) Hey, grad students -- go check out Mary McKinney's excellent essay "Academic AWOL" for Inside Higher Ed. It's about how professors and graduate students fall into the black hole of procrastination, and the ways to get out. It's nothing revolutionary, but it might help some to know they're not the only ones suffering from missed deadlines.That is all.
Most interesting sentence of the day
I haven’t encountered any awkward situations yet running around public bathrooms snapping photos, but I can imagine eventually I may get some curious glances.Eszter Hargittai at Crooked Timber. You'll have to click on the link to see her perfectly innocent explanation.
Thursday, March 2, 2006
Will the India gambit be worth it?
MSNBC is reporting that India and the United States have reached a nuclear deal:
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President Bush on Thursday announced an agreement on a landmark nuclear deal, a breakthrough for the Bush administration as the president made his first visit to India.Here's a link to the White House's fact sheet on the Indo-American strategic partnership. To be honest, it's not clear to me from the reportage how this is different from what was reported back in July plus a repackaging of pre-existing commitments.
Fred Kaplan is not thrilled with the deal, mostly because he thinks Bush is steamrolling a lot of foreign policy actors in the process:
One could make a case that the trade-off is worth it—that the benefits of a grand alliance with India more than compensate for the costs of exempting India from the NPT's restraint clauses. India is not going to disarm, anyway; it has agreed, as part of the deal, to open its civilian reactors (though not its military ones) to international inspectors and safeguards; it's better, one could say, to impose some controls than none at all.I still think that this is the right deal to make. If I had to make Bush's case to the rest of the world, I'd say, "Look, there's no way India is going to renounce their weapons, and if you lived in their neighborhood you wouldn't either. That said, they've agreed to open up their civilian nuclear program up to outside oversight, and they haven't aided or abetted anyone else's weapons program. So this deal acknowledges that the genie is out of the bottle in New Delhi, but keeps the bottle closed for everyone else."
I'll entertain objections to this position in the comments.
Who's the proudest country of them all?
The University of Chicago's National Opinion Research Center just released a cross-national survey to find who had the greatest degree of pride in their countries.
Guess who did well? The results may partially surprise you:
Among 33 nations surveyed, the United States was the nation with the leading score in pride over specific accomplishments and Venezuela was the leading nation in the general national pride portion of the survey....Click here to see the full paper. The paper distinguishes between the general pride and domain-specific measures as follows:
The domain-specific measure assesses positive feelings towards national accomplishments in specific areas, but is not overtly nationalistic, imperialistic, nor chauvinistic. The general national pride measure has a much harder edge to it..... [put] another way, the domain-specific, national pride scale is nationally affirming without being necessarily hegemonic, but the general, agree-disagree, national-pride scale places one's nation above other countries.For a variety of reasons, I'm not surprised about the U.S. results -- they're pretty consistent with both the 1995/96 results and the "American exceptionalism" thesis underlying those responses.
Venezuelan pride does surprise me a bit. General Social Survey director Tom Smith observed that the top two countries "formed their national identities through conflicts that bound their people together and created a national story that resonates with citizens." That could be it. Supporters of Hugo Chavez no doubt would credit his policies.
Wednesday, March 1, 2006
The European Commission's tough test
The European Commission has lost a lot of big battles over the past few years -- the growth and stability pact and the constitutional referendum, to name two. One could easily debate the virtues of either proposal, but the key political science fact is that the Commission was unable to get its way.
Tobias Buck reports in the Financial Times that the next big test is coming -- preventing a beggar-thy-neighbor policy on mergers and acquisitions:
Just over four months ago, Charlie McCreevy raised eyebrows when he warned of a “strong wind of protectionism” blowing through the European Union.The report suggests that the Commission is fighting against some awfully powerful structural forces:
[S]ome point to a more sinister reason for the rise in hostility towards foreign suitors. “One factor is clearly the current economic malaise gripping Europe. In times when the macroeconomic conditions are less favourable, protection is always on the rise,” said Jean-Pierre Casey, research fellow and financial policy expert at the Brussels-based Centre for European Policy Studies.Developing....
Tuesday, February 28, 2006
In honor of Baseball Musings
My favorite baseball blogger, David Pinto of Baseball Musings, is celebrating his one year anniversary of being a professional blogger. Click over to make a donation and keep him at Baseball Musings on a full-time basis.
In honor of Pinto's anniversary, I'll raise a contrarian point about the utility of sabermetrics as a management tool that will warm the cockles of Steven Leavitt's heart. In a Baseball America chat about the top 100 prospects, Jim Callis responded to a very interesting question:
Q: Dave from Third Avenue, Manhattan asks: Jim, what is your take on the Moneyball draft, four years out. Swisher and Blanton seem to be doing just fine. Who else bears watching? Jeremy Brown?If you re-read Lewis' chapter on the 2002 draft, you could go even further than Callis' assessment. In his chapter on the draft, Lewis recounts how Athletics GM Billy Beane went ballistic because in the previous year, the A's first-round draft pick was.... Jeremy Bonderman. Bonderman was the player to be named later in a deal that sent Ted Lilly from the Yankees to the Athletics. My guess is that Beane would be happy to have the current incarnation of that pitcher given his current price tag.
The 2002 Athletics draft should have been an "easy test" of the Moneyball revolution. The Athletics had a large number of draft picks, and no other team had really embraced the sabermetric philosophy to the extent that the A's had. If that draft failed to yield an above-average number of quality MLB players, what does it say about the utility of sabermetrics as a scouting tool?
The one out I can think of for Lewis is that Beane was able to sign those draft picks for way less than normal market value given when they were picked. There's definitely cost-effectiveness, which is really at the heart of the Moneyball argument. Still, that's pretty weak beer given the way Lewis wrote about the potential of that draft.
I'm certainly not suggesting sabermetrics is useless... but might this approach be overrated as a scouting tool?
So, You Want To Buy a Strategic American Company …
That's the title of my latest essay for Slate:
Political resistance to foreign takeovers is not all that shocking, even in the supposedly laissez-faire United States. Foreign corporations are the perfect political bogeyman. By definition, they are un-American. Critics are usually correct when they claim that these firms are only concerned with making money (our multinationals would never act like that!!), and if they are state-owned, well, then their purposes must be even more nefarious. The targets of many of these takeovers—infrastructure, utilities, steel—are perceived to have some strategic value, which makes ordinary citizens even more sensitive....You'll have to read the essay to see my meager bits of advice.
For readers clicking over from Slate, click here to see a list of blog posts on the Dubai ports deal. Then click here for my post about Euro-hysteria on hostile corporate takeovers. And, finally, click here to see my musings on CNOOC's proposed takeover of Unocal back in the summer of 2005.
A subversive thought about the ports deal
The more information that comes out about the proposed port deal, the more I realize why the politics of this case seems so confusing. If you read this Washington Post story by Jim VandeHei and Paul Blustein, this Jim Geraghty post at NRO, this Washington Post story by Walter Pincus, this New York Times story by Carl Hulse and David Sanger, and this Coast Guard release from Monday, you recognize the following facts:
1) This decision was not made by policy principals, but rather assistant secretarie or deputy assistant secretaries;Now, this leads into an interesting conundrum -- depending on where you stand on the political spectrum, the decision-making process affects your take on the deal in odd ways.
If you're a true-blue liberal, you should be perfectly delighted with this outcome. The Bushies did not have a high profile, there was no stovepiping from neoconservatives, and the interagency process seemed to work pretty well. This is, in other words, an exemple of how good government is supposed to operate.
Of course, if you're a red-meat conservative, this is just awful. Unelected bureaucrats and low-level flunkies ran the show. The Commander-in-Chief was out of the loop. Bureaucrats were telling politics what to do, rather than vice versa. This is exactly the kind of thing the Bush administration was not supposed to let happen.
I'm not sure it explains anything, but I thought it was interesting enough to point out.
Where's the income beef?
Brad DeLong has a post up about the dizzyingly unequal distribution of income in the United States. He quotes Paul Krugman:
So who are the winners from rising inequality? It's not the top 20 percent, or even the top 10 percent. The big gains have gone to a much smaller, much richer group than that. A new research paper by Ian Dew-Becker and Robert Gordon of Northwestern University, "Where Did the Productivity Growth Go?," gives the details. Between 1972 and 2001 the wage and salary income of Americans at the 90th percentile of the income distribution rose only 34 percent, or about 1 percent per year. So being in the top 10 percent of the income distribution, like being a college graduate, wasn't a ticket to big income gains. But income at the 99th percentile rose 87 percent; income at the 99.9th percentile rose 181 percent; and income at the 99.99th percentile rose 497 percent. No, that's not a misprint.I'll confess those numbers even give me some pause -- and I've historically been unfazed by income inequality. And yet, there is surprisingly little grumbling about this within the mainstream political discourse about this, with the partial exception of rising protectionist sentiment. Why?
I'd offer three possible reasons -- all of which could be at work:
1) Those on the bottom of the income spectrum are increasingly tuning out politics -- call this the Hacker-Pierson thesis;I'll be happy to entertain other hypotheses.
UPDATE: One additional hypothesis that is clearly emerging from the comments is that the growth in income inequality does not generate resentment because of the changing sources of that income. The rich are no longer rich because of inheritances, but because of their own effort. To explain, let me quote from Rajan and Zingales, Saving Capitalism from the Capitalists, page 92 yet again:
One statistic best sums up the changes that have taken place: in 1929, 70 percent of the income of the top .01 percent of income earners in the United States came from holding of capital -- income such as dividends, interest, and rents. The rich were truly the idle rich. In 1998, wages and entrepreneurial income made up 80 percent of the income of the top .01 percent of income earners in the United States, and only 20 percent came from capital. Seen another way, in the 1890s the richest 10 percent of the population worked fewer hours than the poorest 10 percent. Today, the reverse is true. The idle rich have become the working rich!ANOTHER UPDATE: James Joyner still wants someone to show him the money.
Monday, February 27, 2006
For once, I was ahead of the curve
As part of its cover package on India, Newsweek's Keith Naughton writes about the interesting fact that offshore outsourcing to India is not the political hot potato it used to be:
Not long ago, what seemed most possible was that India would steal the jobs of American workers. But as George W. Bush visits there this week, he'll find a maturing economy that is no longer all about call centers and basic tech support. Now big American investment banks and drugmakers are joining tech firms on the passage to India. R&D centers are springing up so fast that there's now a shortage of Indian engineers. And the stigma of outsourcing jobs to India is disappearing. American companies once afraid to put their names on the doors of their Indian offices now issue press releases touting their latest investments there. "American firms have gotten over their anxiety about India," says financial-services consultant Harrell Smith of Celent Communications. "Now the new anxiety is if you're not in India."Wow, you learn something new every day. Oh, wait.....
My mad math skills
Well, this is a relief:
This, on the other hand, makes me seriously doubt the testing methodology:
Sunday, February 26, 2006
Still looking for a reason to get riled up....
I'm still trying to find a reason to get exercised about the Dubai port deal. The latest is Mickey Kaus' argument:
I recommend Daniel Engber's Explainer on what a port operator actually does:I would recommend that Mickey read this Washington Post story by Jim VandeHei and Paul Blustein. It's ostensibly about the White House's lugubrious reaction to the ports controversy, but it also sheds some light on how the CFIUS process addressed U.S. security concerns:It gets cargo containers off of ships and puts them onto trucks or trains. A port operator also provides other services to the shipping industry: It does the paperwork to get incoming shipments through customs and uses its computer system to help connect the goods with potential recipients. ...If we're afraid of bad guys sneaking something dangerous into the U.S., it sure seems like there are lots of opportunities for mischief if you can infiltrate the firm that does the paperwork and runs the computer system and handles the "personnel issues"! Is it comforting matter that "security" at American ports will still be "controlled by U.S. federal agencies led by the Coast Guard and the U.S. Customs and Border Control Agency ... ." Not if what you're worried about is a small cell of people looking for a way to get around the Coast Guard's security. Just having a port operator that is more easily approached by people who speak Arabic vastly increases the risk, at least the risk from Arab jihadists, no? (emphasis added)
The process began on Oct. 17, when representatives of the Dubai company informally approached the Treasury Department to disclose that they were planning to purchase the British firm, Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Co., according to testimony by administration officials at a Senate hearing last week. Treasury officials directed them to consult with Homeland Security because of the port security question.Given the concessions obtained through the CFIUS process -- DPW's participation in the Customs initiative, the transparency of DPW's books, the continuance of the current management team for the U.S. ports -- is there any rational reason to get exercised about this deal? Is Mickey's assertion that jihadists would have a better opportunity to infiltrate DPW's ports a valid one, given the layers of American management involved?
The Post story also aleviates the other small concern I had about this deal -- that the Bush administration bollixed up the process. The New York Times story I cited in my first post on this topic asserted:
The administration's review of the deal was conducted by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, a body that was created in 1975 to review foreign investments in the country that could affect national security. Under that review, officials from the Defense, State, Commerce and Transportation Departments, along with the National Security Council and other agencies, were charged with raising questions and passing judgment. They found no problems to warrant the next stage of review, a 45-day investigation with results reported to the president for a final decision.VandeHei and Blustein have a different desription of the process in the Post story:
[O]nce Dubai Ports World had agreed to the conditions required by Homeland Security, none of the agencies on CFIUS objected to the transaction when the 30-day review was completed on Jan. 17. If even one agency had objected, the matter would have gone to a 45-day investigation -- which would have required a presidential decision at the end. Moreover, a single dissent would have meant bringing the matter before higher-ranking officials in each department.I should know which version of the process is correct, but I don't. Readers are encouraged to enlighten me on this [UPDATE: Thank you, Chris! This comment clears up much of the confusion.].
UPDATE: Mickey e-mails me to suggest I read Charles Krauthammer's thoughts on the matter:
[T]he problem is not just the obvious one that an Arab-run company, heavily staffed with Arab employees, is more likely to be infiltrated by terrorists who might want to smuggle an awful weapon into our ports. But that would probably require some cooperation from the operating company. And neither the company nor the government of the UAE, which has been pro-American and a reasonably good ally in the war on terrorism, has any such record.Color me unimpressed. DPW already gets a lot of this information because Dubai is a participant in the Container Security Initiative. Furthermore, the on-the-ground environments in the ports themselves look like they won't be changed one iota because of this deal. It will still be U.S. longshoremen handling the cargo, U.S. managers running
port operations for DPW, U.S. managers at the upper echelon of DPW, and U.S. law enforcement managing port security. Where's the beef?
A final point -- my support for the Dubai deal should not be misinterpreted as a lack of concern about port security. I'm as sanguine now as I was before the deal -- that is to say, not all that sanguine. It's just that this deal is irrelevant to the real problems at hand for port security -- inadequate inspections.
An excellent primer on port security can be found in Jon D. Haveman, Howard J. Shatz, and Ernesto A. Vilchis (2005) "U.S. Port Security Policy after 9/11: Overview and Evaluation", Journal of Homeland Security and Emergency Management: Vol. 2: No. 4, Article 1.
ANOTHER UPDATE: Looks like DPW has requested the 45 day review, which has gone a long way towards alleviating Congressional concerns.
Al Qaeda defines victory down
If this Associated Press report by Donna Abu-Nasr is correct, then Al Qaeda's spokesman is starting to sound a lot like the publicist for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Both are all too eager to declare moral victories when real ones aren't happening:
Al-Qaida on Saturday vowed more attacks on Saudi oil facilities, a day after an attempt to bomb the world's biggest oil processing complex showed the group still can strike inside the kingdom....I look forward to future Al Qaeda posting claiming that, "it was a good operation today, we just caught a bad break," and "With our farm system, we are confident in our ability to be a powerful terrorist group in 2010."