Saturday, February 17, 2007
Yes, it's the golden age of 80's music-video spoofs
First, there was Justin Timberlake's "D**k in a Box" on Saturday Night Live:Now, there's Hugh Grant's "PoP! Goes My Heart" from Music and Lyrics: Clearly, this is the golden age of music video spoofs. Everyone just sit back and enjoy our cultural crest.
My only complaint is that so far this trend has only covered boy bands. I'd like to see someone like Sarah Silverman spoof a Madonna video (though this one comes close).
Things begin to fall apart in Venezuela
Simon Romero report in the New York Times about what happens when you combine price controls and the Dutch disease in Hugo Chavez-land:
Faced with an accelerating inflation rate and shortages of basic foods like beef, chicken and milk, President Hugo Chávez has threatened to jail grocery store owners and nationalize their businesses if they violate the country’s expanding price controls.It will be interesting to see whether Chavez will reverse course. His supporters repeatedly point to Chavez's apparent successes in poverty reduction as the hallmark of his administration (though those "successes" are more illusory than real). Inflation above 20%, however, is a guaranteed recipe for increasing economic inequality -- because only the rich can move their capital abroad or otherwise hedge against inflation.
UPDATE: Chavez is now on a goodwill tour in the Caribbean trying to buy more international support. According to the AP, "The crowd, however, did not respond with applause to the Venezuelan leader's vitriolic statements."
Friday, February 16, 2007
Does anyone tell the truth in the Greater Middle East?
The ABC News blog, The Blotter, reports that Al Qaeda has been reduced to aping what thousands of Americans did on America’s Funniest Home Videos -- staging reality:
An al Qaeda-produced video claiming to show how U.S. and Afghan forces were driven out of a heavily defended base in the last few weeks appears to be a phony.I swear, when you can't trust an Al Qaeda video, you know the world is going to hell in a handbasket.
It's just me, myself, and I
According to Pew's political typology test, I'm an... enterpriser:
Enterprisers represent 9 percent of the American public, and 10 percent of registered voters.So, in other words, I belong to a group that comprises only one percent of the ten percent of registered voters who agree with me -- roughly 0.1%.
Man, I am feeling that love right now.
In all seriousness, however, the test sucks. For example, you are asked which statement you agree with: "The best way to ensure peace is through military strength" or "Good diplomacy is the best way to ensure peace." I'm pretty sure it's not an either-or distinction. Good diplomacy without military strength is largely ignored in world politics. Military strength without good diplomacy bears a strong resemblance to the Bush administration's first term. So, I voted for military strength, because it's more of a necessary condition -- but I wasn't happy about it.
Hat tip: Matthew Yglesias.
UPDATE: Headline Junky alerts me to this ABC Sunni-Shiite quiz. Readers concerned about whether I know what the hell I'm talking about whenever I blog about the Middle East may or may not be relieved that I aced it.
Thursday, February 15, 2007
The Republican Hillary Clinton
Is it just me, or does Rudy Giuliani seem to inspire antagonism levels on a par with Hillary Clinton? From this Kevin Drum post alone, I find Matthew Yglesias having all kinds of fun with Rudy:
One quirk of American politics is that leading presidential candidates normally go into the campaign with little if any foreign policy experience. Most, however, at least recognize this as a problem and try to study up as part of the campaign effort. Giuliani comes to us as a rare duck -- a candidate whose signature issue is national security but who doesn't know anything about national security, and therefore won't study. Result: Nonsense, combined with temperamental authoritarianism.Then there's David Freddoso in the National Review:
If Giuliani’s stances on babies, guns, and gay marriage do not sink him in the Republican primaries, he will probably suffer in a general election campaign from the fact that there is so much evidence in the public record that he is a total jerk....Kevin concludes, "At this rate, I give him a couple of months before he implodes completely."
It seems hard to dispue any of this, but then I look at the rest of the GOP field, and I'm not sure any of it matters. Romney, McCain, the rest of the Gilligan's Island castaways.... they all have whopping flaws too.
Question to readers: is Rudy Giuliani uniquely vulnerable?
In honor of baseball's Hamlet....
As pitchers and catchers migrate south, baseball watchers are obsessing about where Roger Clemens will pitch this year. It therefore seems fitting to remember the last time I saw Roger Clemens in a Red Sox uniform:This might also have been the last time I agreed with Keith Olbermann
Wednesday, February 14, 2007
Where is your liberaltarian God now?
That's the question I ask Brink Lindsey in my latest bloggingheads.tv duet. Other topics covered include whether Barack Obama is the next Ross Perot, the inequality debate, the globalization of populism, and why trade talks are stalled.
Your amusing quote of the day
For Maoists, they’re very light-hearted.From a comment made at this Crooked Timber post by Scott McLemee.
So how's the global war on terror going?
The Center for American Progress, in concert with Foreign Policy magazine, has released survey results of "more than 100 of America's top foreign-policy hands" to see how they think the administration's anti-terrorism efforts are going. [Um... doesn't "they" includes "you"?--ed. Yeah, but I can't call myself a "top foreign-policy hand" without breaking into spontaneous giggles, so I think that just demonstrates a lack of bench strength in American foreign policy circles.]
As that top graph suggests, most of us aren't sanguine. Click here for the whole report. Or, if that whole reading thing bugs you, here is a YouTube video of CAP's Caroline Wadhams explaining it for you:[Yeah, but the CAP is a left-wing think tank!!--ed. If you click here and scroll down to "Survey Particpants", you can find a complete list of those surveyed -- judge for yourself whether the list is skewed.]
Must... resist.... looking back through rose-colored glasses
My son is very excited, because today is his very first snow day from school. I'm happy for him -- all children deserve at least one snow day a year. There's something much more enjoyable about an unplanned day of leisure (for the children -- this sort of thing is unbelievably inconvenient for the parents) than the expected weekend days.
That said, I can't shake the feeling, looking outside my window, that Massachusetts has gone unbelievably soft. There is, as I type this, less than an inch and a half of accumulation outside. Why, when I was a lad.... oh, hell, you know how the rest of that sentence will go.
This leads to an interesting question -- beyond the natural, likely erroneous belief that we were just physically hardier back in the day, what could explain this perception that schools call snow days with less weather now than they used to?
1) Media hype. Last night the spouse turned on the local news to catch a weather forecast, and the anchors looked positively orgiastic in their glee about the impending storm. The growth and sophistication of media marketing is greater now than a decade ago, and this affects expectations about the future;Parents, provide your guesses here.
Tuesday, February 13, 2007
It's been an interesting news cycle for nonproliferation wonks
So, on the one hand, there appears to be a tentative deal with North Korea on its nuclear weapons program. The word "tentative" is stressed because, no matter what the administration claims, this deal looks awfully similar to the1994 Agreed Framework, and that was never fully implemented. Looking at the text, there is an awful lot that still needs to be filled in.
The Washington Post's Edward Cody ably summrizes the political roadblocks to seeing this deal be completed:
As part of the deal, the United States also agreed to help provide part of the fuel oil, along with China, South Korea and Russia, according to Hill. That meant President Bush will be obliged to seek Congressional approval, a possibly difficult exercise given the level of hostility toward North Korea among many U.S. lawmakers and within the administration itself.There is one big difference between 1994 and 2007, however -- the Democrats now control both houses of Congress. I'm not sure, therefore, whether conservative opposition will be as big of a problem as it was before. Of course, it's possible that the 8% of the Democratic caiucus in the Senate now running for president to use the deal as an opportunity for foreign policy posturing.
Meanwhile, according to the FT's Daniel Dombey and Fidelius Schmid, the European Union has come to a sobering conclusion about Iran:
Iran will be able to develop enough weapons-grade material for a nuclear bomb and there is little that can be done to prevent it, an internal European Union document has concluded.UPDATE: God bless the FT, they've made the full text of the EU paper available online.
Meanwhile, The National Interest online has an informative interview with Graham Allison on the contours of the DPRK deal. One excerpt:
This is a significant step for the Bush Administration into the reality zone, a strong departure from its previous failed approach and a good first step. So that’s the good news. The bad news is that this is four years, eight bombs’ worth of plutonium and one nuclear test after the Bush Administration departed from this point that it has inherited essentially from the Clinton Administration....Later on in the interview, he agrees with John Bolton... really, he does.
ANOTHER UPDATE: The International-Herald Tribune's Jim Yardley has some of the play-by-play that led to the DPRK deal.
On a Friday night, three days before Christmas, the tortuous three-year diplomatic effort to end North Korea's nuclear weapons program finally seemed dead. Two months earlier, the country had conducted its first nuclear weapons test. Five days of talks in Beijing had just ended in failure and acrimony.
Bring back the siesta!!
A little more than a year ago I mourned the slow disappearance of the siesta from Spain:
[I]t seems hard to dispute the notion that the siesta is a thoroughly inefficient way of inserting break times into the working day. So the economist in me accepts this as wise policy.It turns out there may be another negative externality associated with eliminating the siesta -- according to Stephen Smith of the Boston Globe:
In a study released yesterday, researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health and in Athens reported that Greeks who took regular 30-minute siestas were 37 percent less likely to die of heart disease over a six-year period than those who never napped. The scientists tracked more than 23,000 adults, finding that the benefits of napping were most pronounced for working men.Well, confirm them, for Pete's sake!
Monday, February 12, 2007
Your Rorschach Middle East story of the week
USA Today's Barbara Slavin reports on how Iran's perceived rise is causing some unusual movements Arab-Israeli relations:
Arab states, led by Saudi Arabia, are making some of their most public overtures ever to Israel and American Jews in an effort to undercut Iran's growing influence, contain violence in Iraq and Lebanon and push for a Palestinian solution.Slavin's story comes out the same day Anthony Shadid analyzes rising Sunni-Shia tensions in the Washington Post (though do check out this Abu Arrdvark post to see whether the Sunni-Shia divide has been exaggerated.)
OK, time for your Rorschach test on international relations. What's the best way to interpret Slavin's story?
A) An exaggeration of a meaningless PR offensive;
I don't think this headline means what I think it means
From the front page of cnn.com:the enemy at home.
Ségolčne Royal's democratic socialism
When the International Herald-Tribune characterizes an economic program as "far-left," it's time to click over and see what all the fuss is about:
Ségolčne Royal, the presidential candidate of the Socialist Party, unveiled a long- awaited platform on Sunday, veering sharply to the left on economic policy while also stressing discipline and "traditional values."At this time, there is no official confirmation that Royal has also promised free ponies to all French children who asked for them.
I have enough of a soft spot for the old Athenian council of 500 to hope that the citizen jury idea could actually work. Beyond that, if Royal wins and actually tries to implement this, it will be the fiscal equivalent of Francois Mitterand's "Keynesianism in One Country" -- with the same results of massive capital flight, recession, and policy retrenchment.
UPDATE: Over at U.S. News and World Report,James Pethokoukis blogs about another prominent politician who's big into taxing profits.
Sunday, February 11, 2007
So that's how a competent Secretary of Defense acts
Yesterday Russian President Vladimir Putin went to town on the United States at the Munich Conference on Security Policy, according to the Financial Times:
Vladimir Putin threw down the gauntlet to the west in a confrontational speech on Saturday, attacking what he called “illegal” US unilateral military action and arguing it had made the world more dangerous.Indeed, Putin says the following in his speech:
Unilateral and frequently illegitimate actions have not resolved any problems. Moreover, they have caused new human tragedies and created new centres of tension. Judge for yourselves: wars as well as local and regional conflicts have not diminished.I wonder if any of Putin's advisors have the stones to tell him that, actually, he's wrong.
That's not what this post is about, however. No, this post is about how the Secretary of Defense responded to Putin's rhetorical blast. Here's the opening of Bob Gates's speech:
[A]s an old Cold Warrior, one of yesterday’s speeches almost filled me with nostalgia for a less complex time. Almost.Gates' deft deflection of Putin's charges seem to be going down well in the press.
It's been so long since an American official reacted so correctly to empty bluster that I'd almost forgotten how it should be done.