Saturday, July 29, 2006
Interest group capture and Snakes On A Plane
For nearly a year, SoaP obsessives have been chatting and blogging about the movie, not to mention producing their own T-shirts, posters, trailers, novelty songs, and parodies. As the movie has morphed from a semiprecious nugget of intellectual property into a virtual plaything for the ethertainment masses, Snakes and its cult are teasingly threatening to revolutionize the rules of marketing for the do-it-yourself digital era....New Line execs are not the only people freaking out -- Chuck Klosterman has a rant on this in the August issue of Esquire:
I have not seen Snakes on a Plane, so I have no idea how good this movie is (or isn't). But I do know this: Its existence represents a weird, semidepressing American condition, and I'm afraid this condition is going to get worse. I suspect Snakes on a Plane might earn a lot of money, which will prompt studios to assume this is the kind of movie audiences want. And I don't think it is. Snakes on a Plane is an unabashed attempt at prefab populism, and (maybe) this gimmick will work once. But it won't keep working, and it will almost certainly make filmmaking worse....There are several possible ways this could play out. However, the one that interest group theory suggests will happen is that by trying to please the most ardent base of fans, the movie will reduce its appeal to a wider audience.
Of course, both Jensen and Klosterman miss one important point in their analyses -- they're generalizing from a $30 million dollar film. $30 million is a lot to you and me, but to Hollywood that's barely enough to pay for Jessica Alba's skin care products. Somehow I doubt this kind of interactive filmmaking process would take place with a tentpole movie, as it were. With a bunch of lower-budget films, however, this kind of feedback might increase the viewing pleasure of specialized viewers, even if it doesn't make the movie seem any better to a general viewer.
There's more to discuss here, but I'l leave it to my readers and a plaintive cry for help from Virginia Postrel.
All I want to know is, why isn't Salma Hayek in this mother f*&%ing movie?
Friday, July 28, 2006
Someone please explain to me how this multinational force will work
President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair announced Friday their support for a U.N. cease-fire resolution to end the Mideast crisis and a multinational force to stabilize southern Lebanon.OK, I see... a multinational force that will rid southern Lebanon of militias and "help Lebanese troops take control of the south," but will do so with Hezbollah's blessing.
This sounds kind of familiar... ah, yes, here's a front-pager by Thanassis Cambanis in today's Boston Globe that looks at the multinational force that's already in southern Lebanon:
A volley of outgoing Katyusha rockets zipped from the hilltop above the gate of the United Nations peacekeepers' compound here yesterday late in the afternoon.The United Nations Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) is easy to mock as a symbol of the UN's ineffectiveness. However, their observations of what would be needed to actually do their job are worth noting:
[UNIFIL commander Alain] Pellegrini said a future multinational force in southern Lebanon would have to have the muscle to stop belligerents, for example finding and stopping Hezbollah units like the one that started firing from in front of the UN compound in Naqoura yesterday afternoon.Question to readers: does anyone believe it would be possible to constitute a multinaional force that would be able to constrain Hezbollah's actions without triggering more bloodshed?
UPDATE: Another question -- who's going to commit troops to such a force? As Elaine Sciolino and Steve Erlanger pointed out a few days ago, it's not like the countries calling for a multinational force actually want to send troops:
The United States has ruled out its soldiers’ participating, NATO says it is overstretched, Britain feels its troops are overcommitted and Germany says it is willing to participate only if Hezbollah, the Lebanese militia that it would police, agrees to it, a highly unlikely development.
My diavlog debut
For months, nay, years, the hard-working staff here at danieldrezner.com has begged yours truly to
Your humble blogger has finally made the plunge... on bloggingheads.tv. To see me debate Nonzero author Robert Wright on the Middle East, Doha, the clash of civilizations, "progressive realism," and sportswriting, click here.
The situation in Lebanon has calcified
When the war started in Lebanon, I said the situaion was fluid.
Not any more.
Neil MacFarquhar has a front-pager in the New York Times suggesting that the Arab Middle East has come to a consensus about the war in Lebanon -- and it's not a consensus the United States would like:
At the onset of the Lebanese crisis, Arab governments, starting with Saudi Arabia, slammed Hezbollah for recklessly provoking a war, providing what the United States and Israel took as a wink and a nod to continue the fight.This situation is no longer developing -- it's developed. And ironically, it's developed because Arab governments in the region are doing what the Bush administration wants them to do -- respond to popular opinions within their countries.
To be fair, I suspect if the IDF had managed to cause Hezbollah to disintegrate within the week of conflict, this wouldn't have happened -- and I think that was what the IDF expected to happen. However, I'm shocked, shocked to report that pre-war intelligence might have been flawed.
Now, Israel faces the worst of both worlds -- they've discovered that Hezbollah is a more potent, disciplined, and technologically savvy threat than they previously thought. At the same time, public opinion in Lebanon, the region and across the world has shifted against Jerusalem, making it next to impossible for them to adopt the military measures necessary to eradicate the threat [What measures are those?--ed. I'm not even sure -- I just now they would involve action on a greater scale than what the IDF is currently doing.]
UPDATE: There is one whopping caveat to the above that I forgot to mention -- it is possible that Hezbollah has suffered far greater losses than we know. There is an asymmetry in the reporting of the conflict -- reporters clearly have much greater access to the Israeli military than Hezbollah. While it's in both sides' interest to keep published reports of their losses to a minimum, it's institutionally tougher for Israel to do this.
As a result, the Israeli losses are known -- the Hezbollah losses are not completely known. [If Hezbollah crumbles in the next week, will this be your "quagmire" post?--ed. Pretty much, yes -- but I still don't think they will fall apart.]
Thursday, July 27, 2006
The healthy automotive sector in the United States
No doubt, the title to this post must sound odd. After all, according to one recent report, foreign automakers now command a majority of the U.S. auto market for the first time ever.
However, Daniel Griswold and Daniel Ikenson argue otherwise in a Cato policy brief that looks at the U.S. automotive sector. Their argument is unsurprising for anyone familiar with Cato:
The financial woes of a few companies operating in a healthy, competitive market do not justify intervention by Washington policymakers but are the market's way of providing feedback about the decisions of those firms. It is not the role of the government to rescue companies that have made relatively bad decisions. Healthy competition ensures that best practices are emulated, leads to gains in productivity and innovation, and provides American automobile consumers with greater choice, better quality, and more competitive pricing.This argument is unsurprising coming from Cato -- but they do have the advantage of marshalling useful facts to buttress their argument:
Although complaints about unfair competition from abroad are less shrill than in the 1980s, foreign producers have not escaped criticism. The chief executive officers of General Motors and Chrysler recently complained that an allegedly undervalued yen gives vehicles imported from Japan an unfair price advantage of as much as $3,000 per vehicle. Sen. Carl Levin, a Democrat from Michigan, charged at a hearing in February that Detroit-based automakers face unfair foreign competition. "They are competing with currency manipulation by other countries, including China, Japan and Korea, which gives their vehicles and other products an unfair price advantage in our market," Levin said in a statement. And the United Auto Workers union, which represents workers at GM, Ford, Chrysler, and several parts' producers, has called for a federal "Marshall Plan" to aid those companies....Amen.
One small caveat to their argument -- these percentages could change as demand for hybrid vehicles go up. The Toyota Prius, for example, are manufactured in Japan.
The glimmer of good news from the Middle East
There's a great deal to be depressed about when contemplating the situaion in Lebanon, or the Middle East writ large -- go check out Marc Lynch's blog to read about the shift in Arab perceptions as a result of U.S. actions and inactions.
However, Niall Ferguson makes a point in the Los Angeles Times that is worth remembering -- contrary to the fears of a few weeks ago, the odds of a wider war appear to be slim:
Could today's quarrel between Israelis and Hezbollah over Lebanon produce World War III? That's what Republican Newt Gingrich, the former speaker of the House, called it last week, echoing earlier fighting talk by Dan Gillerman, Israel's ambassador to the United Nations.Hat tip: Oxblog's Taylor Owen.
A business-writing tic that drives James Surowiecki nuts
His example -- the Boeing-Airbus rivalry:
What much of the talk about the inherent weakness of Airbus ignores is that, just a few years ago, it was Boeing that looked fundamentally flawed, while Airbus was seen as the future of the industry. Beginning in the late nineties, Boeing’s commercial-aircraft business went into a long and nearly profitless slump. In 2001, Airbus surpassed Boeing in new orders, a lead it maintained until this year. During that period, Airbus’s unusual structure was praised; its insulation from the stock market supposedly allowed it to invest in long-term research and development. Boeing, by contrast, was thought to be trapped in a short-term, cost-cutting mentality, because, as one analyst put it, “the money guys don’t reward long-term thinking and investment.” In 2003, Business Week declared that Boeing was “choking on Airbus’ fumes,” and warned that Boeing’s “slip to No. 2 could become permanent.”
Wednesday, July 26, 2006
Will Hezbollah overtake Al Qaeda in the standings?
I've blogged before about how Al Qaeda is like the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Without using the baseball metaphor, Bernard Haykel argues in today's New York Times that Hezbollah could supplant them in the eyes of many Sunni and Shiite Muslims.
This isn't necessarily a good thing, accoding to Haykel:
With Israel at war with Hezbollah, where, you might wonder, is Al Qaeda? From all appearances on the Web sites frequented by its sympathizers, which I frequently monitor, Al Qaeda is sitting, unhappily and uneasily, on the sidelines, watching a movement antithetical to its philosophy steal its thunder. That might sound like good news. But it is more likely an ominous sign....Read the whole thing to see why this could spell trouble for the west.
A sportswriting tic that drives me nuts
Less than two weeks after the All-Star break, the Red Sox suddenly appear to be in desperate need of a collective breather.Now, the Red Sox had just lost two games to the Mariners, and their relef pitching and defense did not perform up to spec. However, Horrigan takes a two-game trend and assumes that will be the new status quo. This leads to the argument that the second-best team in baseball (by winning percentage) is falling apart.
This is a sportswriting tic that drives me nuts -- failing to recognize regression to the mean. If teams go through a mini-slump or reel off a few victories, it's attributed to a fundamental change in the quality of the players. Sometimes, bad things happen to good players and vice versa. Just because the Sox have a few bad games does not mean that things will stay that way.
Baseball writers are far from the worst culprits on this score -- that award has to go to basketball writers. Lest one believe that I'm exaggerating, go back and see what was written about the Heat-Mavericks finals after the Mavs went up 2-0 in the series.
Tuesday, July 25, 2006
Us greedy, chocolate-eating, Wal-Mart-shopping, family-protecting academics
In the Chronicle of Higher Education, Mathew H. Gendle engages in one of the more useless acts of self-flagellation about globalization I've seen in quite a while:
Like many liberal-arts institutions, the university where I teach [Elon] places a heavy emphasis on the freshman year, and all new students are required to take a class called "The Global Experience," taught by faculty members drawn from departments across the campus. One of the central objectives of the course is to break students out of their bubble by forcing them to think about the interconnectedness of our world.Oh for Pete's sake.....
If Gendle really wants his students at Elon to learn, he might want to inform them of the following:
1) Eric V. Edmonds and Nina Pavcnik, "Child Labor in the Global Economy," Journal of Economic Perspectives 19 (Winter 2005): 199–220,. Their punchline:If Gendle wants to make his Elon students really ponder their consumer behavior, here's a question worth asking -- what is the welfare effect of not purchasing goods and services made in the least developed countries?Fortunately, abhorrent images of children chained in factories or forced into prostitution stand out for their relative rarity. Most working children are at home, helping their family by assisting in the family business or farm and with domestic work....In all likelihood, the clothes you wear are not manufactured with child labor -- but if you choose to refrain from buying clothes made in countries like Bangladesh, you actually increase the likelihood of exploitative child labor.
I'm in an area that focuses on social justice and responsibility along environmental, gender, political, and economic lines. Know what I'm doing this afternoon? Going to the WalMart to buy a product I haven't been able to find anywhere else. After I finish my tropical fruit and non-organic, non-fair trade coffee and take a 20-minute shower, of course.
Monday, July 24, 2006
World trade talks have collapsed. The Financial Times' Alan Beattie and Frances Williams explain:
A last-ditch meeting in Geneva of the six core “Doha round” negotiators – India, Brazil, the US, EU Japan and Australia – broke up amid recriminations over irreconcilable differences about farm liberalisation. The US continued to argue for big cuts in farm import tariffs to open up markets for its farmers, a demand fiercely rejected by the European Union, Japan and India, who said America had first to go further in offering to cut agricultural subsidies.The Economist explains why this is a tragedy (excerpted by Megan McArdle):
Last year, the World Bank estimated that global gains from trade liberalisation would equal roughly $287 billion, of which $86 billion would accrue to developing nations, lifting at least 66m people out of poverty. Activist groups including Greenpeace and Oxfam were quick to condemn both Washington and Brussels for intransigence over agricultural subsidies, saying that rich-world self interest is leaving the poor to suffer.[Why the question marks in the title?--ed.] Because trade rounds have been declared dead before and were revived. Doha looked dead after Cancun and was brought back to life by Bob Zoellick. On the other hand, the hard deadline here is the expiration of President Bush's Trade Promotion Authority in June of next year. Beattie and Williams are sober about the chances for a resurrection of Doha:
Historical experience provides a little hope but not firm ground for optimism. The previous “Uruguay round” of trade talks was in essence suspended in 1990 after similar disagreements between countries. Arthur Dunkel, then director-general of the WTO’s predecessor organisation, continued to take soundings among member countries and produced his own “Dunkel draft” suggestion for a final deal a year later, leading eventually to a final agreement in 1994.Developing.... I hope.
UPDATE: Simon Lester has a good roundup of who is blaming who for the collapse of the talks.
The case of Juan Cole
The Chronicle of Higher Education has a (
DeLong's essay makes the best case for the scholarly benefits from blogging; O'Connor makes the best case for why blogs should be a factor (and not necessarily a positive one) in hiring decisions.
For background on the case, click here for this story by Liel Leibovitz in The Jewish Week.
UPDATE: While on the subject of academia, it's also worth checking out this Stanley Fish essay from yesterday's New York Times, and Ann Althouse's critique of it.