Thursday, March 30, 2006
What's the purpose of the quasi-popular IR book?
I don't catch The Daily Show very often, so this might be a small-N observation -- but it seems to me that he and Stephen Colbert have a much higher ratio of book authors on their show. Not potboilers, either -- Michael Mandelbaum was on Jon Stewart's show plugging The Case for Goliath.
Over at Duck of Minerva, I see that Daniel Nexon caught Mandelbaum's appearance as well -- but this leads him to ask a different question:
I haven't read Mandelbaum's book yet, but based on his comments and the editorial reviews at Amazon, it looks like a pretty standard retread of hegemonic-stability theory as applied to contemporary US foreign policy....A few replies:
1) Think of the audience. Taking the Mandelbaum book as an example, I seriously doubt that most policymakers have the time or inclination to read the original theoretical work on hegemonic stability theory (Kindleberger, Krasner, Keohane, Lake, Snidal, etc.... well, maybe Kindleberger). Furthermore, HST was generally devoid of normative implications -- which is cdertainly not true of Mandelbaum.UPDATE: Nick Borst posts another excellent reason in the comments: they're the gateway drug for more rigorous IR scholarship. To cranky codgers like Nexon and I, it is easy to detect when a popular book is riffing off of a scholarly idea. If you're in high school or an undergraduate, however, every idea seems new. It wil be far easier for your average 18 year old to absorb IR theory from Mandelbaum than from those expressly writing for a scholarly audience.
While there's a debate over immigration....
I've beeen jamming on a paper I need to finish within the week, which means I haven't been able to cover the whole immigration debate as thoroughly as Mickey Kaus.
[So what's your position?--ed. I think guest worker programs make little economic or political sense. I'd rather vastly expand the legal flows of immigrants who want U.S. citizenship, while simultaneously investing more in border security schemes -- though I'm pessimistic about the latter working terrbly well.]
That said, I can link to this interesting Financial Times story by Richard Lapper on the extent to which Latin America relies on worker remittances as a source of capital inflows:
Migrant workers from Latin America and the Caribbean sent home $53.6bn to their families last year, an increase of 17 per cent on 2004.Here's a link to the actual IADB report.
Academics really need this device
David Pescowitz at Boing Boing alerts the hardworking staff here at danieldrezner.com about a new device that wiould be of great use in the academy:
MIT Media Lab researchers are building a device to help autistic people determine if they're boring or annoying the person they're talking to. The "emotional social intelligence prosthetic device" is a camera that clips on eyeglasses and feeds images to a small computer that uses image recognition software to characterize emotions. If the listener doesn't seem to be engaged, the device vibrates to alert the wearer.Autistic people should not be the only ones who benefit from this breakthrough. I know more than one colleague who really needs this device.
Kurt Anderson has no beef
Kurt Anderson has an essay in New York magazine entitled, "Celebrity Death Watch." The subhead says, "Could the country’s insane fame fixation maybe, finally—fingers crossed—be coming to an end? One hopeful sign: Paris Hilton."
Intrigued, I read the first paragraph:
On a scale of one to ten, one being the least possible interest in famous entertainers qua famous entertainers, and ten being the most, I’m about a six. Until I recently gorged for days on end, it had been years since I had touched a copy of People or Us Weekly. I skipped the Tonys and Grammys and Emmys. But I do skim three or four New York newspaper gossip columns most weekdays, and I watched E!’s Golden Globes red-carpet preshow, and, of course, I tuned in to the Academy Awards telecast. For years, I’ve thought that the intense fascination with famous people must be about to end—and I’ve been repeatedly, egregiously mistaken. But now—truly, finally—I believe that we are at the apogee, the zenith, the plateau, the top of the market. After 30 years, this cycle of American celebrity mania has peaked. I think. I hope.So I read on, eager to see what evidence Anderson had compiled to support his argument. But it wasn't until the third-from-the-last paragraph that I found the evidence, such as it is:
The Nielsen ratings for this year’s Oscars were down 8 percent, and for the Grammys 11 percent. During the last half of 2005, the Enquirer’s newsstand sales were down by a quarter and Entertainment Weekly’s by 30 percent. The American OK! is said to be unwell, the magazine Inside TV was launched and killed last year, and a magazine called Star Shop was killed before it launched.That's it???!!! Good Lord, this kind of evidentiary base makes the Israel Lobby argument look like top-notch social science!!
Even the facts that Anderson presents are bogus. Declining newsstand sales of some celerity mags are meaningless, because of the proliferation of other celebrity mags, like In Touch, Us Weekly, and In Style. Failed magazines are meaningless, since new magazines fail most of the time anyway. Oscar ratings, like Super Bowl ratings, have experienced a secular decline in recent years. And to my knowledge no one has ever cared about the Grammys.
I look forward with bated breath to Anderson's future proclamations of the death of blogs (I beat him to that!!) and why porn has jumped the shark.
Wednesday, March 29, 2006
Now this is provocative scholarship
So let's talk about the provocative article written by two academics that has a whole country's foreign policy community in a lather.
No, not that article -- the authors are still ducking the open debate they claim to want. I'm talking about the one that has exercised the entire Russian military-industrial complex.
For almost half a century, the world's most powerful nuclear states have been locked in a military stalemate known as mutual assured destruction (MAD). By the early 1960s, the nuclear arsenals of the United States and the Soviet Union had grown so large and sophisticated that neither country could entirely destroy the other's retaliatory force by launching first, even with a surprise attack. Starting a nuclear war was therefore tantamount to committing suicide....Needless to say, this article has roiled the Russians just a bit.
How much? Former Russian Prime Minister Yegor Gaidar has an op-ed in today's Financial Times scolding Lieber and Press:
America is a free country and what these two authors wrote in their article, entitled "The Rise of US Nuclear Primacy", is their business. The trouble is, when addressing such a delicate issue, it would be good to understand the responsibilities that go with it....I'm pretty sure that if Lieber and Press were actually the official voice of the U.S. government, this essay would never have seen the light of day. That last thing the DoD would want would be to publicly advertise nuclear primacy, for precisely the reasons Gaidar elaborates.
No, Lieber and Press are doing what academics are supposed to do: generating hypotheses, testing them, and publishing the results,* no matter how uncomfortable the implications. And this implication is particularly disturbing:
Is the United States intentionally pursuing nuclear primacy? Or is primacy an unintended byproduct of intra-Pentagon competition for budget share or of programs designed to counter new threats from terrorists and so-called rogue states? Motivations are always hard to pin down, but the weight of the evidence suggests that Washington is, in fact, deliberately seeking nuclear primacy. For one thing, U.S. leaders have always aspired to this goal. And the nature of the changes to the current arsenal and official rhetoric and policies support this conclusion.Read the whole thing.
* Even though Foreign Affairs is not peer-reviewed, it should be noted that Lieber and Press the FA essay is an abridged version of a forthcoming scholarly article: "The End of MAD? The Nuclear Dimension of U.S. Primacy," International Security 30, no. 4 (Spring 2006).
Mr Gaidar believes that these issues should not be discussed openly. We disagree. The wisdom of American, Russian and Chinese nuclear policies should be debated. But doing so requires a clear appreciation of the dramatic new realities of the strategic nuclear balance.
Tuesday, March 28, 2006
My one post about the Card resignation
Over at washingtonpost.com, Dan Froomkin repeats today's conventional wisdom --- Bush's poll ratings and miscues on Katrina, Dubai, etc., forced him into this move. But this overlooks the deeper cause -- these jobs are just exhausting.
The hours are killer. In this administration at least, White House staffers only get in the news when they've screwed up. There's a reason why, prior to this administration, people had only served an average of two years in high-ranking positions. Time's Mike Allen points out that Card knew this as well:
A wily veteran of Massachusetts politics, Card has been predicting his own departure since Nov. 1, 2001, when he told a Boston audience, "The half-life for a chief of staff is two years... There are very few people who had the experience I am having that survived very long, and that is appropriate. There is no security. I will not vest in the pension system at the White House."What's amazing to me is not that Card has resigned -- it's that there are so many people who have been working at high levels in this administration for six years and show no signs of leaving.
That said, readers are invited to guess who will be the next high-ranking Bush official to leave.... my money would be on this guy.
Monday, March 27, 2006
Why are American firms doing so well?
Sebastian Mallaby has a fascinating column in the Washington Post about why U.S. firms have been outperforming other global firms over the past decade:
Despite all the nostalgia for the era when GM dominated the world's car industry, the heyday of American business may actually be now.
Hello, I'm the one-eyed king of my NCAA pool
I'd like to thank the Florida Gators for beating the Villanova Wildcats yesterday. This clinched my victory in my family March Madness pool.
[Uh... aren't there some more games to be played?--ed.] Yes, but because everyone (including myself) had number one seeds like UConn, Duke, or Villanova winning the Final Four games, no one can earn any more points. I didn't do great in my predictions, but as the saying goes, in a land of blind men, the one-eyed man is king.
I do take comfort from the fact that according to ESPN.com, there are very few two-eyed people out there right now:
The Final Four looks nothing like the users of ESPN.com's Tournament Challenge predicted.This result also confirms that I know next to nothing about either health care reform or the quadrennial defense review.
UPDATE: It turns out that one of those four correct predictions was an accident -- the person confused George Mason with George Washington.
Sunday, March 26, 2006
The trouble with job retraining
Louis Uchitelle has a must-read excerpt from his forthcoming book The Disposable American: Layoffs and Their Consequences in the Business section of the Sunday New York Times. The article covers the fallout of union militancy at a United repair shop in Indianapolis, and what happens when United started outsourcing the work to non-union shops elsewhere in the United States.
Read the whole thing, but here's one section that might give readers some pause:
[J]ob training is central to employment policy. It has been since 1982, when Congress passed the Job Training Partnership Act at the urging of President Ronald Reagan. President Bill Clinton took job training even further, making it available to higher-income workers — including the aircraft mechanics in Indianapolis.As Mark Thoma points out, "the article is more successful at identifying the problems than it is at finding a recipe for solving the displaced worker problem."
A belated book review
Ten days ago I reviewed William Easterly's The White Man's Burden for the Wall Street Journal. I would have linked to it, but the subscription firewall proved fierce.
Luckily, the University of Chicago likes it when their professors write in the public domain. [All the time?--ed. Well, there are no current links to the London Review of Books, if that's what you're asking.] So here's a link to the review. The key paragraphs:
The foreign-aid community, according to Mr. Easterly, is mostly composed of Planners. They think of development as a technical engineering problem and generate ambitious plans to eliminate the causes of poverty in a multi-pronged intervention. But Planners are embedded in and beholden to rich donors -- large institutions in the West. Thus they lack real-life, on-the-ground feedback, and they lack accountability, both of which would allow them to improve their policies over time. Mr. Easterly prefers what he calls Searchers -- those who learn through trial and error in the field. They can't achieve the ambitious goals set out by Planners, but they can deliver at least some results.Be sure to check out Virginia Postrel's review of Easterly from last Sunday's New York Times Book Review. Virginia had a few more hundred words to play with than I did -- and she used them very wisely.