Saturday, February 24, 2007

Your Oscar predictions for 2007!!

Well, the Academy Award ceremonies will be upon us in 24 hours, which means it's time for our fifth annual Oscar predictions. We will note that this year, we are wearing black armbands in protest at the brutal discrimination subjected against Salma Hayek in the acting categories. Don't those Academy fools realize that she won Best Nude Scene for 2006 from Mr. Skin for Ask the Dust?! [You'll always have this scene!!--ed. It's not enough. It's never enough.]

OK, same rules as always -- predictions of who will win followed by who should win. Surprisingly, given the move and everything, the wife and I got to see many of the top-nominated films:

Best Supporting Actor:
Will win: Eddie Murphy, Dreamgirls
Should win: Steve Carrell, Little Miss Sunshine

Eddie Murphy has made a ton of money for Hollowood over 25 years, and proved he can act. Hollywood will reciprocate accordingly -- despite his graceless acceptance speech at the Golden Globes -- because the alternative characters (heroin junkie grandpa, child molester) aren't as appealing.

It's great that Arkin got nominated, but Carrell stole the movie for me. Part of it is that he's playing against his "type" from Anchorman and The 40-Year Old Virgin. Part of it is that, as an academic, I had never seen an actor nail the self-seriousness that we all possess in great quantities better than Carrell.

Best Supporting Actress
Will win: Jennifer Hudson, Dreamgirls
Should win: Jane Adams, Little Children

Let me preface this by saying I did not see Dreamgirls, but by all accounts Slate's Judy Rosen is correct in asserting that Dreamgirls is "not really a movie, but a song, surrounded by 125 minutes of padding." Plus, Hudson is apparently the sweetest person on the face of the planet. Still, part of me does wonder why this logic did not apply to Queen Latifah's nomination for Chicago.

Adams played Sheila, Ronnie's date in Little Children. She doesn't have a lot of screen time (really, she would win Best Cameo if they had that category and Adams was more famous). I don't want to spoil the movie for the many of you that didn't see it but should rent it on DVD, so can't exactly say why I thought she deserved it. Let's just say that despite the fact that Kate Winslet was astonishingly good in this film, I couldn't stop thinking about the sorrow embedded within Adams' character for days after seeing the film.

Best Actor
Will win: Forrest Whitaker, The Last King of Scotland
Should win: Daniel Craig, Casino Royale

My hunch is that if either Venus or Blood Diamond were better movies, Whitaker wouldn't be winning. I still think that DiCaprio has a decent shot at a major upset here. However, Whitaker's acting chops will not be denied.

For me, one of the absudities of Hollywood's value system is that someone who can sing or dance can win an Oscar for one show-stopping number, whereas stars in action films are thought to be tawdry and commercial. Craig was able to take a character and a franchise that defined "cartoonish" and actually make people care about James Bond again. For this, he wasn't even nominated. The really absurd thing is that Craig is not an action star but, by all accounts, a chameleon of an actor. Sorry, Daniel -- if it makes you feel any better, my wife and many of her friends would like to somehow make it up to you.

Best Actress
Will win: Helen Mirren, The Queen
Should win: tie, Mirren and Kate Winslet, Little Children

Look, if you don't think Helen Mirren is going to win, please e-mail me so I can take your money in an Oscar pool.

As for who should win, Mirren was extraordinary -- it's not just the makeup, it's every facial twitch and frown. That sais, Winslet accomplishes the same thing -- she makes us sympathize with a fundamentally unsympathetic character (an adulterer who neglects her child).

Best Director
Will win: Clint Eastwood, Letters From Iwo Jima
Should win: Stephen Frears, The Queen

C'mon, you know that the Academy is to Martin Scorcese as Lucy is to Charlie Brown kicking the football. My hunch is that Eastwood gets brownie points for directing two superior films in a year and Scorcese gets docked a point for having that rat in the final shot.

Paradoxically, Mirren is so good in The Queen that she's been sucking all the oxygen from the other people that deserve praise. Frears, in particular, managed to pull off an improbable task -- he fit an Oscar-worthy dramatic performance into one of the driest comedy of manners ever made.

Best Picture
Will win: Babel
Should win: The Queen

Babel is this year's Crash -- on a global scale!! I'm counting on the Academy's guilty liberal conscience to put it over the top. Besides, you know, it aimed high -- which is apparently what matters to Academy voters.

The Queen is the only movie I saw this year that was note-perfect (though Thank You For Smoking came close). Even though, as I said, it's fundamentally a comedy, the characters are never played for broad laughs (well, except Prince Philip). As I said, Mirren's performance has somehow crowded out the attention that it deserves for other reasons, including Michael Sheen's fascinating portrayal of Tony Blair.

Enjoy the show!!

POST-OSCARS UPDATE: Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.... hmwa? It's over? Jesus, people, if you're going to read your acceptance speeches, how about outsourcing the thing to someone who can write in a concise and pithy manner? This awards ceremony actually made me nostalgic for the 3-6 Mafia.

[You're just bitter because you didn't do so well in your predictions!--ed. Alas, this is true. My sharpest observation of the evening occurred after Alan Arkin won for best supporting actor, when I said to my lovely wife, "I bet you Eddie Murphy leaves the building in the next five minutes." And he was never seen from again.]

posted by Dan at 07:29 PM | Comments (6) | Trackbacks (0)

The next class topic: how Woody Woodpecker promotes the Irish

This might be the most bizarre university lecture I have ever seen:

Hat tip: Andrew Sullivan.

posted by Dan at 09:36 AM | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (0)

Friday, February 23, 2007

Why not Drezner in 2008? It was a great two seconds....

So I've decided that, contrary to my earlier Shermanesque pledges forswearing elected office, I shall run for President in 2008.

Drezner in 2008!!! Drez for Prez!! DREZ FOR PREZ!!! [DREZ FOR PREZ!!!-ed.]

No, wait, I've changed my mind, I don't think I can raise the money.

Think this post is absurd? Consider this Des Moines Register story by Thomas Beaumont:

Former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack withdrew as a candidate for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination today, saying he could not raise enough money to compete with his nationally known rivals....

The Iowa polls were also a factor, he said. Vilsack said it had been difficult to tell potential donors "that you're not the prohibitive favorite in the caucus process."

I haven't seen a presidential run this brief since Jimmy James had to withdraw in 1996.

UPDATE: Will Dennis Kucinich survive this Kos assault? [Judging by this clip, I don't think Kucinich needed Kos to be sunk--ed.]

posted by Dan at 02:48 PM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

Open Iran thread

Can't really blog right now, but that shouldn't stop you from commenting!

Post away on what's going to happen next in Iran following the latest IAEA report.

posted by Dan at 08:13 AM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

The secrets of Sid Meier

The Weekly Standard's Victorino Matus has a cover story on Civilization and its creator, Sid Meier (I have previously documented how Civilization nearly crippled my academic career).

Read the whole thing, but here are two bits of interesting information:

Meier cites the strategy board game Risk as one of his major influences. "Conquer the world. All those cool pieces. You felt like you were king. It gave you a lot of power." What about the game Diplomacy? "You had to have friends to play Diplomacy so that kind of left me out."....

Civilization has a range of levels ascending in difficulty, from "Settler" to "Deity," sometimes known as the Sid level. Ironically, Meier has never won at this level. His excuse? "When we're developing, it's hard to finish a game. A lot of times, you play for a while and say, 'Oh, this or that ought to change.' People in the real world get better than us. I mean, there are people who are just so willing to spend the time."

Take, for example, WEEKLY STANDARD contributor and First Things editor Joseph Bottum, who has, in fact, won at the Deity level in Civilization III. He first began playing Civilization II in 1995 when he was a professor at Loyola College in Baltimore. "Among real aficionados," he says, "the goal was to see whether you could launch a spaceship before you reached A.D." The Deity level of Civ III posed more of a challenge, though Bottum eventually found a winning strategy--one involving an ancient civilization whose prime achievement appears early in the game, such as Egypt with its war chariots.

UPDATE: Matus provides some more details in this Galley Slaves post.

posted by Dan at 08:54 PM | Comments (13) | Trackbacks (0)

So what do IR specialists think, redux

Two years ago I blogged about a survey of international relations scholars and their attitudes towards IR theory and U.S. foreign policy.

Two years later.... they're back with another survey. You can access the summary at Foreign Policy magazine. [UPDATE: the full report is available here.]

Dan Nexon summarizes many of the significant findings, impugning the reputation of my home institution in the process.

One finding I found particularly interesting:

Contrary to popular belief, international relations scholars are not doves. Most believe that military force is warranted under the right conditions. Unsurprisingly, given the daily reminder of the challenges of going it alone in Iraq, academics favor using force only when backed by the full weight of the international community. If a military confrontation with North Korea or Iran emerges over nuclear weapons, scholars demonstrate an extreme aversion to unilateral American action. If the U.N. Security Council authorizes force, however, approval for action skyrockets.

This support for multilateralism is remarkably stable across ideology. In the cases of both Iran and North Korea, liberals and conservatives agree that U.N.-sanctioned action is preferable. More striking are the attitudes of self-identified realists. Scholars of realism traditionally argue that international institutions such as the United Nations do not (and should not) influence the choices of states on issues of war and peace. But we found realists to be much more supportive of military intervention with a U.N. imprimatur than they are of action without such backing. Among realists, in fact, the gap between support for multilateral and unilateral intervention in North Korea is identical to the gap among scholars of the liberal tradition, whose theories explicitly favor cooperation (emphasis added).

posted by Dan at 12:21 AM | Comments (8) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

One anti-offshoring advocate changes his mind

Via Greg Mankiw, I find this Andrew Cassel column in the Philadelphia Inquirer pointing out that, around or about three years ago, everyone was freaking out about offshore outsourcing. Yeah, what happened there?

[T]his month marks the third year since the Great Offshoring Scare of 2004.

Remember? It was this month three years ago that Americans woke up to the shocking realization that many of the voices on the other end of the tech-support help line were in India, or Ukraine, or the Philippines. The news hit like a rock, and life was never the same again.

OK, I'm exaggerating. A lot of us actually knew about offshoring before then. And as for life never being the same... well, you decide.

That month, Wired magazine, which keeps its finger on the pulse of the information-technology community, published a cover article about the spreading revolt of American tech workers against firms that filled programming and other jobs overseas.

One of Wired's key interviews was with Scott Kirwin of Wilmington, who had lost his job doing back-office tech work for a bank in Delaware. The experience had shaken Kirwin's faith in American business and prompted him to start a grassroots activist group to lobby for protection against offshoring....

And what happened next? Nothing.

Nothing, that is, like the massive outflow of jobs that many feared. Employment growth, which had been notably slow after the 2001 recession, picked up in the United States. (We've gained more than five million jobs since early 2004.) Recruiters who specialize in information-technology workers say they have more openings than they can fill.

And as a hot-button headline issue, offshoring appears to have gone the way of Y2K and the Red Menace. File it under N, for Not as Big a Deal as We Thought.

Yes, some still see offshoring as a threat, sort of. A Brookings Institution report last week said some metropolitan regions with lots of high-tech employment could see as many as 4.3 percent of their jobs go overseas. (Philadelphia isn't so vulnerable - the Brookings report estimates our potential losses at 2.5 percent at the most.)

But most economists who've looked at the issue rate the long-run economic impact of offshoring as either (1) minimal, or (2) positive. Using overseas workers to save money or boost productivity generally results in better or cheaper services, which in turn leads to more competition, more innovation, and growth.

But you don't have to take my word for it. Listen to Scott Kirwin, who made a return appearance in December to Wired magazine. Things have changed. He shut down his anti-offshoring Web site in 2006 and has since found himself a better job in the software business. "I don't view outsourcing as the big threat it was," he told the magazine. "In the end, America may be stronger for it." (emphasis added)

Gee, that sounds familiar....

UPDATE: Whoops!! The original title to this post read "anti-offhoring" rather than "anti-offshoring," which takes the conversation to places I do not want to go.

Fixed now.

posted by Dan at 04:42 PM | Comments (11) | Trackbacks (0)

Your international law links for today

Over at the Council on Foreign Relations web site, Dan Ikenson and Robert E. Lighthizer are debating whether the WTO dispute settlement system is too robust for its own good.

Meanwhile, at the International Economic Law and Policy blog, my colleague Joel Trachtman discusses why Indonesia has decided to sell Baxter HealthCare exclusive access to its avian flu virus samples.

posted by Dan at 02:06 PM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, February 19, 2007

What Pakistan giveth, Pakistan also taketh away

Like everyone else, I found today's New York Times story by Mark Mazzetti and David Rohde very disturbing:

Senior leaders of Al Qaeda operating from Pakistan have re-established significant control over their once-battered worldwide terror network and over the past year have set up a band of training camps in the tribal regions near the Afghan border, according to American intelligence and counterterrorism officials.

American officials said there was mounting evidence that Osama bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri, had been steadily building an operations hub in the mountainous Pakistani tribal area of North Waziristan. Until recently, the Bush administration had described Mr. bin Laden and Mr. Zawahri as detached from their followers and cut off from operational control of Al Qaeda.

The United States has also identified several new Qaeda compounds in North Waziristan, including one that officials said might be training operatives for strikes against targets beyond Afghanistan.

American analysts said recent intelligence showed that the compounds functioned under a loose command structure and were operated by groups of Arab, Pakistani and Afghan militants allied with Al Qaeda. They receive guidance from their commanders and Mr. Zawahri, the analysts said. Mr. bin Laden, who has long played less of an operational role, appears to have little direct involvement.

Officials said the training camps had yet to reach the size and level of sophistication of the Qaeda camps established in Afghanistan under Taliban rule. But groups of 10 to 20 men are being trained at the camps, the officials said, and the Qaeda infrastructure in the region is gradually becoming more mature.

The new warnings are different from those made in recent months by intelligence officials and terrorism experts, who have spoken about the growing abilities of Taliban forces and Pakistani militants to launch attacks into Afghanistan. American officials say that the new intelligence is focused on Al Qaeda and points to the prospect that the terrorist network is gaining in strength despite more than five years of a sustained American-led campaign to weaken it.

It should be pointed out that this problem has been around for a couple of months now. Obviously, the Bush administration finds itself in a bind about what to do about Pakistan, as Mazzetti and Rohde document:
The concern about a resurgent Al Qaeda has been the subject of intensive discussion at high levels of the Bush administration, the officials said, and has reignited debate about how to address Pakistan’s role as a haven for militants without undermining the government of Gen. Pervez Musharraf, the Pakistani president....

But debates within the administration about how best to deal with the threat have yet to yield any good solutions, officials in Washington said. One counterterrorism official said that some within the Pentagon were advocating American strikes against the camps, but that others argued that any raids could result in civilian casualties. And State Department officials say increased American pressure could undermine President Musharraf’s military-led government....

The analysts said that North Waziristan became a hub of militant activity last year, after President Musharraf negotiated a treaty with tribal leaders in the area. He pledged to pull troops back to barracks in the area in exchange for tribal leaders’ ending support for cross-border attacks into Afghanistan, but officials in Washington and Islamabad conceded that the agreement had been a failure....

Pakistani officials say that they are doing their best to gain control of the area and that military efforts to pacify it have failed, but that more reconstruction aid is needed.

What's truly depressing about this is that there is evidence that Pakistan has cracked down on other terrorist groups. For example, this Christian Science Monitor story by Anuj Chopra points out that one reason today's train bombings will not derail the south Asian peace process is because India recognizes that Pakistan is cracking down on Kashmiri terrorist groups:
Sunday's bombings may represent a departure from the fragile diplomatic cycle between India and Pakistan that made peace talks between them so vulnerable to terrorist attacks. Unlike the response to the [July 2006] Mumbai bombings, the reaction to the attack on the Samjhauta Express underscored India's new reluctance to point fingers at Pakistani militants. Instead, Indian and Pakistani officials have denounced the act of terrorism and are hewing toward peace in a process that began in 2004.

"We expect the peace process will hold," said Khursheed Mehmood Kasuri, Pakistan's foreign minister on Monday.

"No hasty conclusions will be drawn on who is responsible for these attacks," Mr. Kasuri told New Delhi Television, a local news channel, expressing grief over the death of innocent civilians, a majority of whom are Pakistani....

Mr. [Ajit] Doval [former director of India's Intelligence Bureau] said that he suspects the same perpetrators involved in previous attacks – namely Pakistan-based Islamist groups Lashkar-i Tayyaba and Jaish-e Muhammed.

What is baffling about the attacks, he says, is that the bombers are targeting Pakistani citizens.

Doval points out that terrorism in the disputed region of Kashmir – the most contentious issue between the two countries – is at an all-time low.

The number of politically motivated killings has dropped by two-thirds since 2001 to three from 10 per day – the lowest since the Kashmiri uprising began in the early 1990's. The declining attacks could be a sign that Pakistan-based terrorist groups operating in India are feeling increased pressure from the Pakistani government, says Doval.

"Targeting Pakistani civilians could be a sign of their resentment," Doval says of the Kashmiri separatists.

I don't know enough about Pakistan's domestic politics to understand why Musharraf is able to crack down on the Kashmiri groups while he's allowing Al Qaeda groups to fester. I'm sure my readers will enlighten me.

posted by Dan at 06:43 PM | Comments (6) | Trackbacks (0)

Sunday, February 18, 2007

A post in which I agree with the European Commission

Tobias Buck reports in the Financial Times that the European Commission has decided it wants the rest of the world to look more like Brusels:

Brussels wants the rest of the world to adopt the European Union’s regulations, the European Commission will say this week.

A Commission policy paper that examines the future of the Union’s single market says European single market rules have inspired global standard-setting in areas such as product safety, the environment, securities and corporate governance.

“Increasingly the world is looking to Europe and adopts the standards that are set here,” the paper, seen by the Financial Times, says.

The paper calls on the EU to encourage other jurisdictions to follow suit – for example by “promoting European standards internationally through international organisation and bilateral agreements”.

This strategy, it claims, will help European businesses beat their rivals abroad since it “works to the advantage of those already geared up to meet these standards”.

The EU’s drive to establish itself as the pacesetter for worldwide business regulation could well lead the bloc into conflict with the US and other trading partners. US officials have often voiced concern about the Union’s growing clout as a global standard-setter, and the two sides have clashed over issues such as rules for the chemicals industry and the EU’s stance on genetically modified foods....

The two sides have very different regulatory philosophies, with the EU placing a heavy emphasis on consumer protection and environmental legislation while the US tends to promote a more market-based approach. Some critics of the European approach argue that the Union’s stance on issues such as GM foods may also reflect a desire to protect the region’s commercial interests.

However, as the Commission paper points out, the sheer size and wealth of the Union’s single market mean that few corporations can afford to ignore it. By harmonising the rules for a market boasting 500m consumers, the Union has set standards “which partners then have to meet if they are to benefit from the single market”, it says.

“[The single market] gives the EU the potential to shape global norms and to ensure that fair rules are applied to worldwide trade and investment. The single market of the future should be the launch pad of an ambitious global agenda.”

The EU deciding to throw around its market weight? This sounds very, very familiar.

posted by Dan at 11:37 PM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)

You be the ethicist!

Harry Brighouse poses an ethical question to the readers over at Crooked Timber:

Graduate Admissions Committee... is deciding whom to admit.... there is a website on which potential students gossip share information about the departments to which they are applying, and many do so anonymously. However, many such students say enough about themselves that if you are in possession of their file (as graduate admissions committee is) you can identify them with near, and in some cases absolute, certainty. One applicant to said department behaves on the website (under the supposed cloak of anonymity) like… well, very badly, saying malicious things about departments he has visited, raising doubts about whether he is honest and the kind of person it would be reasonable to want other students to deal with, and generally revealing himself to be utterly unpleasant.

Question: is it wrong for the GAC to take this information about the applicant into account when making a decision?

My take: yes, it's wrong. More precise information (how ironclad is the ID'ing of this applicant? How bad is the behavior?) might make it a tougher call. That said, it sounds like the only difference between this applican't behavior and 99% of all grad students I have known in my day is that this person put these things into print rather than speaking them at a party after several beers.

[So you're saying all grad students are utterly unpleasant?--ed. No, I'm saying that all grad students, like all professors, have a side to their personalities that is best shielded from public view. I think it's safe to assume that this applicant never thought that a GAC, armed with information from the file, would put two and two together on a web site. So what would you do?--ed. Assuming the person was admitted and came, if I were the GAC I'd probably have a closed-door meeting with the person to ascertain the truth, and then put a bit of a scare into him or her. That should be sufficient to deter future printed displays of bad behavior.]

What do you think?

posted by Dan at 10:13 PM | Comments (14) | Trackbacks (0)