Saturday, April 8, 2006
April's Books on the Month
This month's international relations book is Jack Goldsmith and Timothy Wu's Who Controls the Internet?: Illusions of a Borderless World. Here's the Publisher's Weekly summary:
Is the Internet truly "flattening" the modern world? Will national boundaries crumble beneath the ever-increasing volume of Internet traffic? Goldsmith and Wu, both professors of law (Goldsmith at Harvard, Wu at Columbia), think not, and they present an impressive array of evidence in their favor. The authors argue national governments will continue to maintain their sovereignty in the age of the Internet, largely because of economics: e-businesses-even giants such as Yahoo, Google and eBay-need governmental support in order to function. When Yahoo, an American company, was tried in French court for facilitating the auctioning of Nazi paraphernalia in violation of French law, the company was eventually forced to comply with local laws or risk losing the ability to operate in France. As eBay grew into an Internet powerhouse, its "feedback" system could not keep up with cunning con artists, so it hired hundreds of fraud prevention specialists (known as "eBay cops"). Goldsmith and Wu begin with an overview of the Internet's early days, replete with anecdotes and key historical chapters that will be unknown to many readers, but their book quickly introduces its main contention: that existing international law has the power to control the Internet, a conclusion web pundits, cyberlaw specialists and courts across the globe will inevitably challenge. Wu's and Goldsmith's account of the power struggle between the Utopian roots of the Internet and the hegemony of national governments is a timely chronicle of a history still very much in the works.I think Goldsmith and Wu have written an informative, engaging and provocative book that will undoubtedly challenge most people's preconceptions of the Internet. This is the most important book about the politics of the Internet since Lawrence Lessig's Code.... at least, that's what I said on the back cover. So go check it out.
If you need further convincing, check out Wu and Goldsmith's exchange in Slate with Glenn Reynolds from last week.
For a change of pace, the general interest book is a novel: Allegra Goodman's Intuition. I've been a big fan of Goodman's for quite some time, but this is her best novel by far, because this time around Goodman marries her impeccable narration to a great plot. It's about a struggling cancer lab, a post-doc that stumbles into an apparent breakthrough, the ways in which that breakthrough disrupts the dense network of friendships that allows the lab to function, and what happens when the breakthough is called into question. With Intuition, Goodman managed to pull off the double-coup of earning rave reviews from the Economist and Entertainment Weekly.
Here are three reasons why Intuition is so good (there are many more than three). First, Goodman nails both the quotidian and the big picture aspcts of what it is like to do research for a living. Joy, despair, jealousy, competition, curiosity -- she gets it. Second, and more important, Goodman has created characters with motivations that are simple and yet not so simple. One can try to come up one-sentence explanations for why the protagonists do what they do, and fail -- because real people don't operate like that most of the time. Third, Goodman manages to convey the horrors of what happens to everyone involved when accusations of scientific malfeasance become public knowledge. For anyone who's held a research position, that section of the book will be a gripping read.
Go check them out!
Friday, April 7, 2006
Trade, development... and free ponies!!
The latest Cato Unbound features New York University's William Easterly, author of The White Man's Burden, on "Why Doesn't Aid Work?" There will also be reaction essays from the World Bank's Branko Milanovic, Deepak Lal of UCLA, and the Center for Global Development's Steve Radelet. Go check it out -- you can read my review of Easterly's book here.
On a related topic, I see that Robert Reich reviewed Joseph Stiglitz and Andrew Charlton's new book Fair Trade for All. As Reich recounts the book's policy prescriptions, it appears that Stiglitz and Charlton believe in free ponies:
Stiglitz and Charlton show that standard economic assumptions are wrong when it comes to many developing economies. When markets in sub-Saharan Africa and elsewhere are opened, people often can't move easily to new industries where the nation has a comparative advantage. Transportation systems that might get them there are often primitive, housing is inadequate and job training is scarce. They're vulnerable in the meantime because safety nets are weak or nonexistent. Most people lack access to credit or insurance because financial institutions are frail, so they're unable to start their own businesses or otherwise take advantage of new opportunities that trade might bring. Many poor countries are already plagued by high unemployment, and job losses in the newly traded sector might just add to it.The problem with this argument is the same as the problem with Stiglitz's Globalization and Its Discontents and Sachs' An End to Poverty -- they recognize that markets in the developing world lack vital infrastructure, but fail to recognize that developing governments suffer from even greater institutional deficits. Expecting these governments to determine when their proteted sectors should become unprotected from a welfare economic perspective is wishful thinking -- in large part because these governments will not want to give up the rents that they extract from trade protection.
[But states like Japan and South Korea pulled this off!--ed. That's a matter of some debate, but accept the premise as given. The states that could pull this off have already done it. I ask my readers to identify states with well-developed institutional capabilities that have yet to hit the fast track of economic growth.]
While Stiglitz and Charlton are at it, they should also wish for some ponies.
A slippery slope for the Passover diet?
The Passover holiday starts next week. As Jews -- and philo-Semites -- begin to think about the Seder, they should check out this Joan Nathan story in the New York Times from a few days ago. It's about how Orthodox rabbis are lightening up on baking for Passover:
When Emily Moore, a Seattle-based chef and instructor, was invited to consult on recipes for Streit's Matzo, she assumed that the baked goods would have their traditional heft, because no leavening can be used during Passover.This is all to the good... indeed, as someone who, after careful empirical research, has determined that everything tastes better with bacon, I can only hope that small steps like the easing of Passover restrictions lead to larger reforms in the Kosher dietary laws.
Mmmmm..... baking powder.....
Thursday, April 6, 2006
What, exactly, is the U.S. strategy for the U.N. Human Rights Council?
Warren Hoge reports in the New York Times on a head-scratching policy decision by the Bush administration with regard to the newfangled United Nations Human Rights Council:
The United States said Thursday it would not be a candidate for the new United Nations Human Rights Council, which was approved last month by the General Assembly with Washington nearly alone in opposition.I haven't paid a lot of attention to the negotiations surrounding the new Human Rights Council, and I'm guessing that the Bush administration has some valid reasons to object to the criteria for election to the new Council (Hoge reports that Cuba is running).
That said, can anyone explain the logic in Bolton's statement, because I confess it escapes me. This seems to fall under the category of mindless unilateralism that Max Boot lamented about earlier this week?
UPDATE: Brett Schaefer and Nile Gardiner argue in a Heritage WebMemo that the U.S. made the right call:
With the vulnerabilities of the new Council, the U.S. has made the right decision in adopting a wait and see approach. China, Cuba, and Iran, all notorious human rights violators, have already announced their intention to run for seats on the Council. Should they gain membership, it will be a clear sign that the new Council will be just as impotent as its predecessor. If their applications and those of other dictatorships are rejected, it will demonstrate that UN member states are taking the Council more seriously than the old Commission and that the new body may merit the effort necessary to secure a seat in the future.
When is "a major health problem" good news?
When it's not as bad as a national catastrophe. Tyler Cowen links to a Washington Post story by Craig Timberg on how AIDS infection rates in most of Africa have been wildly overestimated:
Researchers said nearly two decades ago that this tiny country was part of an AIDS Belt stretching across the midsection of Africa, a place so infected with a new, incurable disease that, in the hardest-hit places, one in three working-age adults were already doomed to die of it.It should be stressed that HIV/AIDS infection rates on Southern Africa are alarmingly high.
That said, this is still unambiguously good news.
Thank God for the Guardian's watch on the American Academy!!
The headline of the Guardian's special report on free speech in the American academy by Gary Younge is "Silence in class." The subhead:
University professors denounced for anti-Americanism; schoolteachers suspended for their politics; students encouraged to report on their tutors. Are US campuses in the grip of a witch-hunt of progressives, or is academic life just too liberal?Wow, this sounds pretty bad. Oh, wait, let's get to the text of the piece:
Few would argue there are direct parallels between the current assaults on liberals in academe and McCarthyism. Unlike the McCarthy era, most threats to academic freedom - real or perceived - do not, yet, involve the state. Nor are they buttressed by widespread popular support, as anticommunism was during the 50s. But in other ways, argues Ellen Schrecker, author of Many Are the Crimes - McCarthyism in America, comparisons are apt.Read the whole article -- it's a compendium of the current attacks on various academics. It seems like small beer to me, and not exactly worthy of a Guardian special report. In the words of one academic who has been verbally attacked -- history professor Ellen DuBois: "It's not even clear this is much other than the ill-considered action of a handful, if that, of individuals."
Or am I underreacting? I'll leave that to the commenters.
In the interest of promoting an open debate....
I'm not commenting on the Walt/Mearsheimer article again... just linking in the interest of promoting an open debate:
ARGUMENTS AGAINST THE WALT/MEARSHEIMER THESIS:
The gravest indictment is that the screed is anti-American. For campaigning on behalf of this or that U.S. foreign policy is as American as apple pie....2) Eliot Cohen, "Yes, It's Anti-Semitic," Washington Post, April 5, 2006:
Oddly, these international relations realists -- who in their more normal academic lives declare that state interests determine policy, and domestic politics matters little -- have discovered the one case in which domestic politics has, for decades, determined the policy of the world's greatest state. Their theories proclaim the importance of power, not ideals, yet they abhor the thought of allying with the strongest military and most vibrant economy in the Middle East. Reporting persecution, they have declared that they could not publish their work in the United States, but they have neglected to name the academic journals that turned them down [Several press reports have stated that it was The Atlantic Monthly, which is not a peer-reviewed journal -- but then again, neither is the LRB--DD]....
3) Alan Dershowitz, "Debunking the Newest – and Oldest – Jewish Conspiracy: A Reply to the Mearsheimer-Walt 'Working Paper', "Harvard Faculty Responses to Working Papers, April 5, 2006:
One of the authors of this paper has acknowledged that “none of the evidence [in their paper] represents original documentation or is derived from independent interviews” – a surprising admission, considering that professors at great universities are judged by the originality of their research. Moreover, the paper is filled with errors and distortions that should be obvious to any critical reader, all of which are directed against Israel and the Jewish Lobby. As I will show, there are at least three major types of errors: First, quotations are wrenched out of context (for example, the authors distort a Ben-Gurion quote to make him appear to favor evacuation of Arabs by “brutal compulsion,” when he actually said that, because an evacuation would require “brutal compulsion,” it should not become “part of our programme”). Second, facts are misstated (for example, that Israeli citizenship is based on “blood kinship,” thus confusing Israel’s law of citizenship with its Law of Return; fully a quarter of Israel’s citizens are not Jewish). And third, embarrassingly poor logic is employed (for example, whenever America and Israel act on a common interest, it must be the result of pressure from “the Lobby,” and that “the mere existence of the Lobby” is proof that “support for Israel is not in the American national interest”ARGUMENTS IN SUPPORT OF THE WALT/MEARSHEIMER THESIS:
.......crickets chirping....... [But see update below--DD]
Seriously, I ask commenters who believe that Walt and Mearsheimer are making valid points to provide links to substantive online commentary that buttresses their position. I've seen articles defending their right to say it, and articles applauding their bravery for tackling the issue. I've seen nothing that rebuts criticism made of their piece.
An no one likes a one-sided open debate.
[Yeah, but Robert Pape defended them in the Chicago Maroon, calling them "philo-Semites of the first order"!!--ed. Well, that's not really a substantive defense. Plus, while I certainly don't think they're anti-Semites, to my knowledge
UPDATE: Someone has e-mailed a few suggestions that provide a partial defense of the Walt/Mearsheimer thesis. Here they are:
The tone of the report is harsh. It is jarring even for a self-critical Israeli. It lacks finesse and nuance when it looks at the alphabet soup of the world of American-Jewish organizations and at how the "Lobby" interacts with both the Israeli establishment and the wider right-wing echo chamber....2) Mark Mazower, "When vigilance undermines freedom of speech," Financial Times, April 3, 2006:
What is striking is less the substance of their argument than the outraged reaction: to all intents and purposes, discussing the US-Israel special relationship still remains taboo in the US media mainstream....3) William Pfaff, "Israeli lobby and U.S. foreign policy" Korea Herald, April 6, 2006:
It is a fact of democratic life in the United States that determined interest groups annex their own spheres of federal policy. Energy policy is run by the oil companies, and trade policy by manufacturers, exporters and importers, with an input from Wall Street.
Wednesday, April 5, 2006
Will the U.S. be bombing Iran anytime soon?
I used to think that the Bush administration wasn’t seriously considering a military strike on Iran, because it would only accelerate Iran’s nuclear program. But what we're seeing and hearing on Iran today seems awfully familiar. That may be because some U.S. officials have already decided they want to hit Iran hard.Kevin also links to this Daily Telegraph report by Sean Rayment asserting that the U.K. is gearing up as well:
The Government is to hold secret talks with defence chiefs tomorrow to discuss possible military strikes against Iran.
Over at The Washington Note, Clemons
In the past, I've been occasionally critical of Israeli influence over U.S. decisionmakers when I felt that American and Israeli national security interests were not as convergent in some respective case as some argued.Is this the administration's end game? If so, is it an effective end game?
I have my doubts... a bombing raid might throw a wrinkle or two into Iran's nuclear program, but it won't halt it, and it would give Ahmadinejad a rally-round-the-flag effect.
I have my doubts about the other options on the table, however. Clemons suggests that Ahmadenijad's rule in Iran is more fragile than commonly believed.... but the "domestic unrest brewing in Iran" meme is about a decade old now, and I've seen nothing to suggest that the mullahs will be relinquishing power anytime soon.
Barry Posen argues a la Walt/Mearsheimer that we can live with a nuclear Iran. Of course, realists also argued that nukes would stabilize the subcontinent.... just before the 1999 Indo-Pakistani war broke out.
To me, all policy options still stink.
I'm so glad the moderate Al Qaeda faction is in charge
Foreign Policy magazine has started up a blog with the catchy name of Passport. Perusing the posts, I think it will have to go up on the blogroll.
Among other posts, Davide Berretta informs us about Abu Zarqawi's apparent demotion within the ranks of Al Qaeda:
Remember the letter in which Ayman al-Zawahiri, bin Laden's sidekick, chided chief insurgent in Iraq Abu Musab al-Zarqawi for killing too many civilians? Apparently, that was only a warning: word is that Zarqawi was stripped from his political duties two weeks ago, apparently due to the dispute over civilian killings.Berretta thinks this is a good thing, because "Zarqawi's demotion, if confirmed, could indicate that al-Qaeda is farther from its goal of dividing Sunnis and Shiites than we might think.
Continuing the Tampa Bay Devil Rays metaphor, I look forward to Zawahiri issuing a press release confirming that Zarqawi will be staying on as a consultant, and that the demotion is not really an organizational shake-up.
Tuesday, April 4, 2006
What's the upside of a guest worker program?
It's considered a truism that the United States has been far more successful at integrating immigrants than Western Europe. Fareed Zakaria's column in yesterday's Washington Post elegently explains why:
Seven years ago, when I was visiting Germany, I met with an official who explained to me that the country had a foolproof solution to its economic woes. Watching the U.S. economy soar during the 1990s, the Germans had decided that they, too, needed to go the high-technology route. But how? In the late '90s, the answer seemed obvious: Indians. After all, Indian entrepreneurs accounted for one of every three Silicon Valley start-ups. So the German government decided that it would lure Indians to Germany just as America does: by offering green cards. Officials created something called the German Green Card and announced that they would issue 20,000 in the first year. Naturally, they expected that tens of thousands more Indians would soon be begging to come, and perhaps the quotas would have to be increased. But the program was a flop. A year later barely half of the 20,000 cards had been issued. After a few extensions, the program was abolished.While we're on the topic, be sure to check out Carl Bialik's Wall Street Journal column to see how the number of illegal immigrants are measured.
The American Red Cross gets a spanking
The New York Times' Stephanie Strom reports that the International Committee of the Red Cross is none too pleased with how the American Red Cross performed during Katrina:
The American Red Cross's response to Hurricane Katrina was poorly planned, relied too heavily on inexperienced managers and often failed to meet the needs of victims, say reports by international Red Cross officials who were dispatched to assist their American counterparts.You can access the report by clicking here. A few thoughts:
1) It is just me or is has the Red Cross become the NGO equivalent of the Department of Energy -- i.e., a bureaucracy that, through some internal alchemy, seems guaranteed to generate a scandal every few years?
My very first satellite radio show
I'll be on Open Source Radio with Christopher Lydon on that satellite radio thing the young people talk about so much. My assignment is to
[I thought you said you weren't talking about this any more?!--ed. No, I said I wouldn't blog about this. Talking on the radio is completely different. While I'm at it, though, it's worth linking to this Guardian story by Peter Beaumont that clears up one aspect of the paper that I did think was borderline anti-Semitic: the capitalization of "The Israel Lobby":
[London Review of Books editor Mary-Kay] Wilmers rejects the accusation by Hitchens, Ross and others that the Mearsheimer-Walt article has done little more than attempt to join up a disconnected list of people and organisations lobbying on different aspects of Israeli concern into a central 'Israel Lobby' - capitalised by the LRB. She admits now, however, that it would have been better to use a lower case 'l' for the word 'lobby' - to have avoided the risk of being misunderstood.
Bill Thomas reads Doha its obituary
In a speech last month, WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy said that the Doha round was approaching a "moment of truth"
Christopher Swann and Edward Alden report in the Financial Times about what House Ways and Means Chair Bill Thomas told the truth to an audience at AEI about the future of U.S. trade policy:
Bill Thomas, President George W. Bush’s most important congressional ally on trade liberalisation, is urging the administration to focus its energy on concluding bilateral trade deals, warning on Monday that the Doha multilateral round of talks was heading for failure because of conflicts between the US and the European Union.That's the uderstatement of the day.
Monday, April 3, 2006
So how's it going in Lebanon?
Christine Spolar takes a look in the Chicago Tribune at what's happened in Lebanon since Syrian troops left the country. Spolar takes a pesimistic view of politicians dithering while the people suffer -- but after reading the article, I didn't see a lot of heft to that claim.
The interesting part of the story was about how Hezbollah is coping with normal politics:
The pressure is on the Lebanese political class to recapture the promise of a lost spring. Leaders from all parties in parliament are in round-table talks, the first national dialogue in decades, in hopes of translating last year's street protests for "freedom, sovereignty, independence" into some kind of progress.I'm not holding my breath waiting for Hezbollah to disarm -- but then again, I never thought I would have ever heard a Hezbollah strategist praising the "natural give-and-take" of politics.
Sunday, April 2, 2006
Blegging for research help
Blogging has been light because I'm putting the finishing touches on a research paper... and there's one small question that's nagging at me. Are any readers aware of surveys done in the past decade of the attitudes of American journalists towards American foreign policy?
The Chicago Council on Foreign Relations has a great quadrennial series of polls about American elites, but the reports do not break out responses for journalists.
I'm also aware of the surveys and research into reporters' domestic ideological affiliation, and the volumnious literature on media bias, but that's no good to me -- attitudes towards domestic policies don't translate well into international relations.
I need to see polling numbers of journalists' opinions about foreign policy priorities, the use of force, and/or foreign economic policy. I vaguely recall reading about a few of these, but my numerous searches have produced zilch so far. So, I hereby delegate this to knowledgeable readers.
[What do they get if they find something useful?--ed. A big, big thank you in the acknowledgments.]