Friday, March 24, 2006

Jacques Chirac doesn't like capitalism that much

Another month in France, another excuse for mass protests. This month, the justification has been a law proposed by French prime minister Dominique de Villepin that would make it easier for employers to fire younger workers. The thinking is that this would encourage firms will hire more workers. Needless to say, the French unions disagreed.

The Financial Times' Martin Arnold reports that de Villepin is ready to cave:

Dominique de Villepin will hold talks with trade unions “with no strings attached” on Friday over his unpopular employment law, a move widely interpreted as a climbdown by the embattled French premier....

The meeting could happen on Friday. But the offer for it came only after a long and reportedly heated meeting with President Jacques Chirac, fuelling rumours that the prime minister was ordered to back down.

The new law, which allows companies to fire people aged under 26 in the first two years of their contract without reason, has sparked widespread protests by students and workers which erupted into violence in central Paris yesterday....

Unions want the law withdrawn. François Chérèque, leader of the moderate CFDT union, said: “If the prime minister does not respond positively to our demand to withdraw the first job contract, we will end the conversation.”

Critics suspect Mr de Villepin has fallen into the same trap as his hero Napoleon Bonaparte, ousted after leading France to military defeat at Waterloo.

Analysts, opposition Socialists and members of his own centre-right UMP party said he had tried to push reform too far, too fast, in pursuit of his personal ambitions.

“President Chirac has told him to back down as he was leading the country to the wall,” said Dominique Moisi, a senior adviser at France’s Institute for International Relations. “He tried to convince himself he could be France’s Margaret Thatcher, but forgot he was only the number two.”

Chirac's hostility to any idea with a whiff of Anglo-Saxon provenance is also demonstrated in this FT story by George Parker and Chris Smyth:
Jacques Chirac, French president, defended his walkout on Thursday night from the EU summit – after a French industrialist began addressing leaders of the bloc in English – saying he had been “profoundly shocked to see a Frenchman express himself in English at the (EU) Council table”.

Mr Chirac and two senior French ministers walked out in protest at the decision of Ernest-Antoine Seillière, head of the Unice employers organisation, to make a plea for economic reform in what he called “the language of business”.

Mr Chirac’s boycott reflected the tensions surrounding the two-day economic summit, which comes against a backdrop of French street protests over labour market reform and claims that Paris is engaged in protectionism of its energy market. The French president was not in the room to hear Mr Seillière urging leaders to “resist national protectionism in order to avoid a negative domino effect”.

He returned after Mr Seillière had finished speaking.

posted by Dan at 10:14 AM | Comments (18) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Comments are down

The good folks at are experiencing technical difficulties which make it impossible for comments to be posted right now. Profound apologies, and I hope to have this problem fixed soon.

UPDATE: Comments should now be working.

posted by Dan at 06:35 PM

It's not easy to catch avian flu

Scientific American's David Biello reports on a important finding: why, so far, the H5N1 avian flu virus has not passed from human to human yet:

A virus's ability to spread is the key to its ability to create a pandemic. New research shows that this bird flu currently lacks the protein key to unlock certain cells in the human upper respiratory tract, preventing it from spreading via a sneeze or a cough.

Virologist Yoshihiro Kawaoka of the University of Wisconsin and University of Tokyo and his colleagues tested strains of H5N1 isolated from respiratory tissue in the noses, throats and lungs of infected humans. Although regular human flu viruses bound easily with the receptors found in the nose and throat cells, H5N1 strains attached only to those receptors on cells found in the deepest regions of the lungs.

"Deep in the respiratory system, receptors for avian viruses, including avian H5N1 viruses, are present," Kawaoka explains. "But these receptors are rare in the upper portion of the respiratory system. For the viruses to be transmitted efficiently, they have to multiply in the upper portion of the respiratory system so that they can be transmitted by coughing and sneezing."

....the findings suggest one way in which H5N1 must mutate if it is to become a highly contagious virus, the researchers argue in their paper in today's Nature. It also reveals a way to monitor for the emergence of such a strain. "Identification of the H5N1 viruses with the ability to recognize human receptors would bring us one step closer to a pandemic strain," Kawaoka says. "Recognition of human receptors can serve as molecular markers for the pandemic potential of the [isolated strains]."

Here's the link to the article abstract in Nature.

posted by Dan at 04:59 PM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)

The new axis of evil

I refer, of course, to the New York Yankees and trademark lawyers.'s Darren Rovell has an amusing story about one lone financial planner's fight to the death against these forces of evil:

Mike Moorby hates the Yankees. And except for the fact that they haven't won the World Series for five straight seasons (Moorby loves that about them), the Yankees keep giving him reasons to hate them.

Now, they're messing with a little bit of his livelihood.

Moorby, a 38-year-old financial advisor from New Jersey, proudly admits that he feels as good when he sees the Yankees lose as he did when he saw the Red Sox win it all in 2004. In fact, he hates the Yankees so much that he started a side business, creating memorabilia for other pinstripe haters. Inspired by the pain of Aaron Boone's home run that prevented his Red Sox, yet again, from reaching the World Series in 2003, Moorby drew up a logo that features the interlocking letters "YH" (Yankee Hater) with devil horns.

The fledgling enterprise (Moorby's Yankee Hater company is called Rebel Forces LLC) sent a bunch of hats with the YH logo to then-Red Sox first baseman Kevin Millar early in 2004; and in April of that year, a Boston Herald photographer shot a picture of the team's new ace, Curt Schilling, wearing one of them at a Boston Bruins' game. It was an immediate credibility boost.

Without a single piece of advertising, Moorby soon was selling hats from his Web site to people in all 50 states, and a handful of orders were coming from Europe and Asia. By now, business isn't quite as brisk, but Moorby says he gets at least one order a day.

Not surprisingly, the baseball establishment in New York didn't take kindly to Moorby's Yankee Hater merchandise. He says staying in business has meant tearing up a cease-and-desist letter from Major League Baseball; and he claims he has spent all his profits, appropriately, fighting the Yankees themselves, who opposed his trademark application that used the stylized Yankees "Y" in it. If things stay on schedule, final proceedings concerning the merit of Moorby's trademark will go before the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board before the end of the year.

"I'm not going to go out with a whimper," says a defiant Moorby. "Plus, how many times in life do you actually get to play against a team that you hate so much? Who would imagine that [he] would ever go face-to-face with the beast? Well, I am doing that right now."

I think I might just have to order myself a hat.

posted by Dan at 04:45 PM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)

Where's the open debate? I want to see an open debate!!

One of the arguments that Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer made in "The Israel Lobby" was that the first rule of the Israel Lobby is that you can't talk about the Israel Lobby:

The Lobby doesn’t want an open debate, of course, because that might lead Americans to question the level of support they provide. Accordingly, pro-Israel organisations work hard to influence the institutions that do most to shape popular opinion.
Alas, this story in the Forward by Ori Nir suggests that the reaction to their LRB essay might vindicate this portion of their hypothesis (link via Scott Johnson):
In the face of one of the harshest reports on the pro-Israel lobby to emerge from academia, Jewish organizations are holding fire in order to avoid generating publicity for their critics.

Officials at Jewish organizations are furious over "The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy," a new paper by John Mearsheimer, a top international relations theorists based at the University of Chicago, and Stephen Walt, the academic dean of Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government. In their report — versions of which appear on the Kennedy School Web site and in the March 26 issue of the London Review of Books — the scholars depict "the Israel lobby" as a "loose coalition" of politicians, media outlets, research institutions, Jewish groups and Evangelical Christians that steers America's Middle East policy in directions beneficial to Israel, even if it requires harming American interests.

Despite their anger, Jewish organizations are avoiding a frontal debate with the two scholars, while at the same time seeking indirect ways to rebut and discredit the scholars' arguments. Officials with pro-Israel organizations say that given the limited public attention generated by the new study — as of Tuesday most major print outlets had ignored it — they prefer not to draw attention to the paper by taking issue with it head on. As of Wednesday morning, none of the largest Jewish organizations had issued a press release on the report.

"The key here is to not do what they probably want, which is to have this become a battle between us and them, or for them to say that they are being silenced," said Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. "It's much better to let others respond."

Pro-Israel activists were planning a briefing for congressional staffers to be held Thursday. Lawmakers on Capitol Hill are considering releasing a letter in response to the new paper, congressional staffers said.

So, score one point for Walt and Mearsheimer.... but wait!!! Later in the story, there's this:
Mearsheimer and Walt also seem to be resisting further publicity.

"I don't have an agenda in the sense of viewing myself as proselytizing or trying to sell this," Mearsheimer told the Forward. "I am a scholar, not an activist, and I am reticent to take questions from the media because I do believe that this is a subject that has to be approached very carefully. You don't want to say the wrong thing. The potential for saying the wrong thing is very great here."

Mearsheimer was hosted on National Public Radio Tuesday for a full hour, to talk about Iraq, but did not make any mention of the controversial paper he co-authored. "To have a throwaway line or two on public radio to promote yourself is a bad idea," he told the Forward, following his NPR appearance. "I prefer to take the high road, although that is not always easy." Since publication, Mearsheimer added, he and Walt also turned down offers from major newspapers, radio and television networks to lay out their thesis.

Indeed, this appears to be true. Earlier in the week, Walt told the Sun's Meghan Clyne: "'I have discussed your inquiry with my co-author, Professor Mearsheimer,' he told the Sun. 'We appreciate the invitation to respond to the comments, but prefer not to.'"

So let me get this straight: the authors have written and published a paper because they want to provoke an open debate -- and then decide not to respond to any of the critiques made of the paper? [But some of those critiques are just ad hominem attacks labeling them as anti-Semites!--ed. Yes, but other responses, from Dennis Ross, Ruth Wisse, Jeffrey Herf & Andrei Markovits, and Alan Dershowitz, are devoid of that charge and are coming from people with comparable reputations to Walt and Mearsheimer. This editorial by the Forward provides the most comprehensive shredding of their hypothesis, but all Mearsheimer can say is that they have to be careful about what they say.]

New policy here at if the authors of a study refuse to engage in the open debate they claim to want, then I see no reason to take the study seriously.

posted by Dan at 10:32 AM | Comments (34) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

ISA blogging

Blogging will be light for the next few days, as I attend and present at the International Studies Association meeting in San Diego.

I mocked ISA last year for their dress tips, but this year I see that the conference has its very own blog. So clearly, the International Studies Association has officially jumped the shark.

Here's a fun time-waster for loyal and truly geeky readers -- flip through the conference program and tell me which panel I simply must attend on Friday and why. The winner will be chosen arbitrarily by me and will receive a serio-comic summary of what transpired at the panel.

posted by Dan at 07:01 PM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)

The U.S. hedges its bets on the Doha round

Until 2006, the Bush administration's policy of "competitive liberalization" in trade had been pretty much symbolic. FTA's with Bahrain, Morocco, or even the CAFTA countries were economically insignificant. Neither the EU nor India was going to feel compelled to move on Doha because of CAFTA.

This year, however, there have been annoucements to negotiate FTAs with Malaysia and South Korea. Competitive liberalization has a bit more teeth to it.

Alan Beattie points this out in the Financial Times:

It’s always wise to have a Plan B. As the US urges progress in the “Doha round” of trade talks, it is also chasing bilateral trade deals across east Asia. These proposed pacts, which include South Korea, Malaysia and Thailand, will act as insurance for a disappointing round. They also put down a marker for future US influence in the region.

The US has for several years pursued a policy of “competitive liberalisation”, pursuing both multilateral and bilateral liberalisation. This irks many trade experts who say bilateral deals do more to divert and complicate trade than advance it.

But the US strategy is clear. William Rhodes, senior vice-chairman of Citigroup and chairman of the US-Korea business council, says: “Because the Doha round has been moving so slowly...there will be more of these bilateral FTAs like that being negotiated between the US and Korea.”

The bilateral talks have a sense of urgency. The US’s “trade promotion authority” – the White House’s right to submit entire trade agreements to Congress for a Yes-No vote – expires in the middle of 2007.

While the expiration of this authority sets a hard deadline for Doha, it will also close the window for the US to sign bilaterals. Karan Bhatia, deputy US trade representative with responsibility for Asia, says: “TPA is concentrating our focus on making sure we lock down agreements that we believe can and should be achieved before that deadline. We are pushing forward aggressively with Korea and Malaysia to try to close those before the time expires.”

The $64 billion dollar question is whether these propoed FTAs will convince the EU to relent on ag subsidies and India and Brazil to relent on non-agricultural market access.

At a minimum, the European Commission is making noises about more FTAs in Asia.

Developing.... at least until TPA expires.

posted by Dan at 12:05 AM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

A follow-up on the Israel Lobby

Well, I see the blogosphere has generated a welter of resposes to the Walt/Mearsheimer hypothesis that "The thrust of the U.S. policy in the [Middle East] is due almost entirely to U.S. domestic politics, and especially to the activities of the ‘Israel Lobby.'"

Interestingly, mainstream media reaction has been very muted. True, James Taranto discussed it in Opinion Journal's best of the Web, and the New York Sun has reported it to death. So far, however, the Israeli press has covered this more diligently than the American media. [UPDATE: ah, I missed both the UPI coverage and the Christian Science Monitor's Tom Regan -- though neither of these stories include any response from critics.]

So far, the best straight reporting story I've seen comes from the Harvard Crimson's Paras D. Bhayani and Rebecca Friedman -- which includes this priceless paragraph:

In their piece, the authors savaged those on both the political Left and Right, calling groups as diverse as the Brookings Institution and American Enterprise Institute, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal editorial boards, and Sen. Hillary R. Clinton, D-N.Y., and World Bank President Paul D. Wolfowitz members of the “Israel Lobby.”
On the one hand, it's a shame that this isn't being debated more widely in the mainstream press. On the other hand, it might be good if the mainstream media didn't cover it, if this New York Sun editorial is any indication:
It's going to be illuminating to watch how Harvard handles the controversy over the decision of its John F. Kennedy School of Government to issue a "Faculty Research Working Paper" on "The Israel Lobby" that is co-authored by its academic dean, Stephen Walt. On page one this morning we report that Dean Walt's paper has been met with praise by David Duke, the man the Anti-Defamation League calls "America's best-known racist." The controversy is still young. But it's not too early to suggest that it's going to be hard for Mr. Walt to maintain his credibility as a dean. We don't see it as a matter of academic freedom but simply as a matter of necessary quality control.
This is an absurd editorial -- just about any argument out there is endorsed by one crackpot or another, so that does not mean the argument itself is automatically invalidated. As for Walt's sympathies towards David Duke, in the very story they cite, Walt is quoted as saying, "I have always found Mr. Duke's views reprehensible, and I am sorry he sees this article as consistent with his view of the world."

I didn't say this explicitly in my last post, but let me do so here: Walt and Mearsheimer should not be criticized as anti-Semites, because that's patently false. They should be criticized for doing piss-poor, monocausal social science.*

To repeat, the main empirical problems with the article are that :

A) They fail to demonstrate that Israel is a net strategic liability;

B) They ascribe U.S. foreign policy behavior almost exclusively to the activities of the "Israel Lobby"; and

C) They omit consderation of contradictory policies and countervailing foreign policy lobbies.

As an example of the latter, consider this fascinating cover story Liel Leibovitz in the February issue of Moment magazine on the battle to endow Middle Eastern chairs at American universities. The highlights:
[W]hen Columbia announced that an endowed chair would be named in honor of Said—who died of leukemia in 2003—there was outrage in some quarters of the Jewish community. That outrage intensified in March 2004 when, after a long delay, the university revealed that the Edward Said Chair of Modern Arab Studies and Literature had been funded in part by the United Arab Emirates. A few influential Jews demanded that the university return the gift, suspend the establishment of the chair, or both.

Columbia did neither. Instead, at a black-tie dinner a year later, Columbia trustee Mark Kingdon announced that he and his fellow trustees had raised $3 million to endow an Israel studies chair in order to expand the breadth of coverage in the Middle East and Asian Languages and Cultures department.

It was hard not to see the endowment of the new Israel chair as tit-for-tat for the creation of the Said chair and perceived pro-Palestinian sensibilities on campus. Professor Michael Stanislawski, head of the search committee entrusted with appointing a professor to the Israel studies chair, insisted that the trustees’ decision predated the controversy, although he added, “It would be naïve to think that there’s a ‘Chinese wall’ between the two.”

At universities across North America, endowed chairs have become another weapon in the campus battle between supporters of the Palestinian cause on one side and Israel on the other. And while the struggle involves a tiny fraction of American academics, the battle of the chairs could well change the face of American scholarship and upset the delicate balance between knowledge and money....

Said himself was a complex figure. He was a Palestinian nationalist who was not above occasional vitriol. Yet he also embarked on joint projects to increase understanding between Jews and Arabs with his friend, the Israeli conductor Daniel Barenboim. The young, liberal academics who adopted his theories sometimes took a less nuanced approach: By the 1980s, Israel had become the bête noire of the American left and thus a topic of fierce debate on college campuses.

The new passion for the Palestinian cause coincided with an influx of oil money from the Arab world, and beginning in the 1980s, Persian Gulf royalty began to endow chairs and centers across America. The Saudi royal family alone established the King Abdul Aziz ibn Saud Chair of Islamic Studies at the University of California at Santa Barbara and the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques Adjunct Professorship of Islamic Studies at Harvard University, as well as the King Fahd Center for Middle East and Islamic Studies at the University of Arkansas and the Sultan Program in Arab Studies at the University of California at Berkeley.

Concerned that these new chairs would cause an irreversible shift towards pro-Palestinian sensibilities, large swaths of the Jewish community leapt into action. One obvious solution: Endow academic chairs that would offset the balance.

There’s a key difference between the Israeli chairs and their Arab counterparts, says one board member of a foundation that recently endowed an Israel chair, who asked not to be identified. “Look at who their donors are,” he says. “They’re not wealthy Arab Americans. They don’t match the profile of our donors, who tend to be private people who made their fortunes in business.”

By way of example, the board member mentions that the three currently filled Israel chairs in the United States were endowed respectively by Seagram heir Charles Bronfman, plastic surgeon William Schatten and outsourcing entrepreneur Henry Taub. Of the two Israel chairs in Canada, one, at the University of Toronto, was also endowed by the Bronfman family, while the other, the Kahanoff Chair at the University of Calgary, was funded by the estate of Sydney Kahanoff, a Canadian Jewish oilman. Middle East studies chairs, the board member added, are endowed by “countries, principalities, kingdoms. That makes the whole thing more political, more susceptible to claims of trying to buy influence.”....

In 2004, Helen Diller, the wife of real estate magnate Sanford Diller and a University of California Berkeley alumna, was moved to donate $5 million to Berkeley’s Center for Middle East Studies to fund research grants and sponsor a series of visiting Israeli scholars. “You know what’s going on over there,” she told the San Francisco Jewish newspaper, J. “With the protesting and this and that, we need to get a real strong Jewish studies program in there.... Hopefully, it will be enlightening to have a visiting professor and it’ll calm down over there more.”

An academic committee at Berkeley chose Oren Yiftachel, a professor of geography at Ben-Gurion University, as the first Diller Visiting Professor. Yiftachel is one of the Israeli academics most critical of his country’s policies. In a 2001 article, his words echoed those of Said: “The actual existence of an Israeli state (and hence citizenship) can be viewed as an illusion. Israel has ruptured, by its own actions, the geography of statehood, and maintained a caste-like system of ethnic-religious-class stratification. Without an inclusive geography and universal citizenship, Israel has created a colonial setting, held through violent control.”

Needless to say, these were not the kinds of statements that Diller had envisioned to bring calm to the embattled campus. Still, having given the endowment, there was nothing she could do but wince. For his part, Yiftachel resents the criticism his lectures received in the Jewish press. “How can they come and criticize an Israeli for being critical of Israel,” argues Yiftachel, who has since returned to Ben-Gurion University, “when my life is here, my mother is here, my children are here? I work to improve this country, and they just bark from a distance.” The Diller endowment, he adds, is superb in that allows scholars of vastly different political persuasions to lecture at Berkeley.

Read the whole thing -- but the excerpted passage above suggests a few kinks in the causal chain that Walt and Mearsheimer propose. First, there are lots of groups trying to alter elite American discourse through a variety of means. Second, if Walt and Mearsheimer want to claim that the Israel lobby has bought up public intellectuals, they're going to have to explain why those intellectuals are more powerful than the ones bought for by Arab states -- at present, countervailing pressures simply do not exist in their argument. Third, the Berkeley example demonstrates the process tracing problem that Walt and Mearsheimer need to address. It's one thing for lobbies to throw money around to influence U.S. foreign policy; it's another thing entirely to demonstrate that the money actually influenced foreign policy decisions.

Full disclosure: Moment is "the largest independent Jewish magazine in North America... committed as ever to being an independent forum, in which disparate opinions and ideas are addressed in provocative ways." But I don't think it's part of the Israel lobby.

* This is not to deny that a pro-Israel lobby affects U.S. foreign policy, just as Cuban emigres undoubtedly have an effect on U.S. policy towards Cuba. It's just that Walt and Mearsheimer say that the lobby "almost entirely" explains U.S. policy. My contention is that they vastly overestimate both pro-Israel lobby's causal role -- and their uniformity of opinion and motivation.

UPDATE: Via Glenn Greenwald, I see that Michael Kinsley had the brains to bring up this subject before the Iraq war even started. Go check it out -- I'm far more comfortable with his version of the argument than Mearsheimer or Walt.

posted by Dan at 09:58 AM | Comments (43) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, March 20, 2006

I always suspected this was true
As the bookie commissioner of an illegal gambling operation the TAP March madness pool.... it seems there is an inverse correlation between NCAA clairvoyance and grasping the minutiae of US health care policy.
Well, at least among liberals, anyway. Among conservatives, I suspect there's an inverse correlation between performance in baseball rotisserie leagues and comprehension of the Quadrennial Defense Reviews.

[So how are you doing in your March Madness pool, smart guy?--ed. My correct upset predictions (Montana over Nevada, and Georgetown over Ohio State) have kept me in the running despite some excessive loyalty to the Land of Lincoln (F#$%ing Salukis; should have picked Bradley instead). I'm told that if my prediction of Florida making it to the Final Four comes true, I'll be sitting pretty.]

posted by Dan at 09:24 PM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)

Don't expect Orange Revolution II

Belarus had a presidential "election" over the weekend, which current president Aleksandr Lukashenko won handily.. I use quotations because the OSCE reported:

The Belarusian presidential election on 19 March failed to meet OSCE commitments for democratic elections, despite the fact that voters were offered the potential for a genuine choice between four candidates.

Arbitrary use of state power and widespread detentions showed a disregard for the basic rights of freedom of assembly, association and expression, and raise doubts regarding the authorities' willingness to tolerate political competition.

The full text of the OSCE report can be found here.

There have been some protests in Minsk because of the outcome, but as I've written before, I'm not expecting a Orange revolution in Belarus anytime soon. This Times of London report by Jeremy Page doesn't make me feel any more sanguine:

President Lukashenko of Belarus declared yesterday that he had thwarted a Western plot to overthrow him, pouring scorn on the thousands who protested against his election victory.

About 5,000 opposition supporters protested again last night, setting up a dozen tents in central Minsk, after Western observers said that Sunday’s presidential poll had failed to meet international standards.

The US, which has branded Mr Lukashenko “Europe’s last dictator”, denounced his victory and backed opposition calls for a new election. The EU said that it would impose more visa bans on Belarussian officials.

But President Putin of Russia quickly congratulated Mr Lukashenko, highlighting the Kremlin’s determination to prevent another revolution in a former Soviet state. “The results of the election testify to the fact that the voters trust in your course,” he said.

Mr Lukashenko brushed aside his critics at a two-hour celebratory news conference. “The revolution that was so much talked about, and so much prepared for, failed. It couldn’t be otherwise,” he began, prompting applause from the 600 audience members — mostly state officials.

He derided the 10,000 people who demonstrated on Oktyabrskaya Square on Sunday night despite driving snow and a threat from the KGB chief that they could face the death penalty. “You saw the people who went on to the square. They were good-for-nothings.” He even suggested that God had intervened by sending a blizzard at the height of the protest. It was a vintage performance by the former collective farm manager who has resurrected Soviet-style economic and political controls since he was elected in 1994.

He sat alone beneath a giant plastic model of the Soviet-era national emblem, which he revived after taking power. A map of Europe showed Belarus to be about the size of France.

In one particularly stage-managed exchange, Sergei Gaydukevich, a candidate in the election who was widely regarded as a stooge, stood up to congratulate Mr Lukashenko. The President responded that he had voted for Mr Gaydukevich. “I have a tradition that I don’t vote for myself,” he said.

A Serbian woman asked if she could kiss Mr Lukashenko, on behalf of all Serbian women, for travelling to Belgrade while it was being bombed by Nato. When a French journalist asked about his threat to “break the neck” of anyone organising protests, he responded: “Is your neck broken?”

One thing I love about British papers, however, is that they can be much more blunt than comparable American papers. Take this paragraph:
Shown on national television, the conference was sure to appeal to his supporters in the countryside and the elderly. However, it only reinforced his image among younger Belarussians and most Westerners as a deluded megalomaniac.
UPDATE: A Fistful of Euros has more... including a link to a this fake Belarusian news blog, which is apparently being used as part of a policy simulation exercise for University of Kentucky's Patterson School of Diplomacy.

posted by Dan at 06:16 PM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)

Sunday, March 19, 2006

The most interesting fact I learned today
Short [sperm] donors don't exist; because most women seek out tall ones, most [sperm] banks don't accept men under 5-foot-9.
Jennifer Egan, "Wanted: A Few Good Sperm" New York Times Magazine, March 19, 2006.
posted by Dan at 11:21 AM | Comments (12) | Trackbacks (0)

The Economist surveys Chicago

This week's Economist has its first survey of Chicago since 1980. As John Grimond writes, there have been a few changes during those years:

Appearances often deceive, but, in one respect at least, the visitor's first impression of Chicago is likely to be correct: this is a city buzzing with life, humming with prosperity, sparkling with new buildings, new sculptures, new parks, and generally exuding vitality. The Loop, the central area defined by a ring of overhead railway tracks, has not gone the way of so many other big cities' business districts—soulless by day and deserted at night. It bustles with shoppers as well as office workers. Students live there. So, increasingly, do gays, young couples and older ones whose children have grown up and fled the nest. Farther north, and south, old warehouses and factories have become home to artists, professionals and trendy young families. Not far to the east locals and tourists alike throng Michigan Avenue's Magnificent Mile, a stretch of shops as swanky as any to be found on Fifth Avenue in New York or Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills. Chicago is undoubtedly back.

Back, that is, from what many feared would be the scrapheap. In 1980, when The Economist last published a survey of Chicago, it found a city whose “façade of downtown prosperity” masked a creaking political machine, the erosion of its economic base and some of the most serious racial problems in America. There followed an intensely painful decade of industrial decline and political instability during which jobs, people and companies all left Chicago while politicians bickered and racial antagonisms flared or festered. Other cities with similar manufacturing economies, similar white flight and similar problems of race and class looked on in dismay. If Chicago, the capital of the Midwest, the city of big shoulders, the city that works, that toddlin' town (few places have generated so much braggadocio), were to descend into rust-bound decay, what chance was there for Pittsburgh, Cleveland, St Louis, Detroit and a score of smaller places?

Chicago's revival should not be judged merely by the manifest sparkle of the Loop and such districts as River North, the Gold Coast and Streeterville. A more telling indicator is the growth of population recorded in the most recent (2000) census: an increase of 4.0% for the city since 1990 (compared with 3.9% for Minneapolis, and losses of 5.4% for Cleveland, 7.5% for Detroit and 9.6% for Pittsburgh). Other signs of economic vigour include the arrival of Boeing, which moved its headquarters from Seattle to Chicago in 2001, the growth of the futures and derivatives markets embodied in the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and the Board of Trade, and the decision to expand O'Hare to ensure it keeps its place as the busiest (depending on the measurement) airport in the country....

So Chicago seems to have weathered its period of deindustrialisation and emerged looking pretty robust. Other cities still groping for life after manufacturing death and trying to restore hope to their citizens and to the benighted neighbourhoods in which they live would do well to see what they can learn from Chicago's experience. This survey will try to do the work for them. It will examine an American success story. Is it as good as it seems? How much of it depends on Chicago's peculiar circumstances? How much could be repeated elsewhere

The survey suggests four reasons for Chicago's rebirth:
1) Geographical advantages unique to Chicago (Lake Michigan, being the largest city in the Midwest);

2) Immigration:

Though Latinos are individually poorer than other Chicagoans, their collective household income of $20 billion a year makes up nearly 10% of the six-county area's total. The sales-tax revenues generated in the shops of Little Village's 26th Street are, it is said, greater than those of any other retail corridor in Chicago but Magnificent Mile. Latinos are also a driving force in the region's property market.

Since 1990, the growth in the number of Latino workers has just about matched the growth in jobs in the region. And the numerical match has paralleled a geographical one: many Latinos go straight to the jobs, which are mostly in the suburbs, bypassing the inner city altogether. Thus one person in five in the six-county area is now a Latino, making a living, likely as not, as a gardener, labourer, office cleaner or waiter. In the 1990s, the Latino population doubled in each of the five suburban counties around Chicago.

3) Civic-minded businessmen:
Too much can be made of planning in Chicago: in many ways the city is a monument to the creativity of chaos. But the influence of business is hard to exaggerate. The people who run the place could, and sometimes do, fit into one room. Some are politicians; some are academics; some are heads of museums or hospitals or outfits like the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations or the MacArthur Foundation. But most are in business.

Indeed, if you are the boss of a big business anywhere in the Chicago area, you are expected to take an active part in the civic life of the city. Accordingly, the same names appear over and over again on the boards of universities, hospitals, museums, orchestras, opera companies and local charities. More to the point, business is almost always an active participant in any public endeavour, from school reform to the creation of Millennium Park, the brand new $475m park-cum-auditorium-cum-ice-rink-cum-fountain-cum-you-name-it just north of the Art Institute.

4) Richard Daley's focus on public housing, schools, and greenery.
Go check it out. Grimond makes way too much of Chicago's success at landing corporate eadquarters' like Boeing -- and I was surprised he never mentioned Ed Glaeser's work on the economics of Northern cities. Still, it's interesting reading.

posted by Dan at 09:18 AM | Comments (8) | Trackbacks (0)