Friday, April 6, 2007
When should sound science trump the precautionary principle?
Even the Onion is vlogging
Well, not vlogging so much as good old fashioned fake news that makes you squirm as well as laugh:
This is going to be very, very bad for my productivity.
Thursday, April 5, 2007
Least clarifying clarification.... ever
Via Blake Hounshell at Passport, I see that Israeli PM Ehud Olmert felt compelled to issue a "clarification" following Nancy Pelosi's visit with Bashir Assad. I don't find it beyond the realm of possibility that Pelosi screwed up her message, but the clarification is kind of strange too:
The Prime Minister emphasized that although Israel is interested in peace with Syria, that country continues to be part of the axis of evil and a force that encourages terror in the entire Middle East.Question to readers -- was there a point when Syria got officially added to the axis of evil category? Or, as Hounshell puts it, "I wasn't aware that 'axis of evil' had become a formal designation." Though I'm intrigued by the idea of the State Department issuing an Annual Report on Evil in the World ("The State Department found that Iran has become 30% more evil in the fiscal year 2006, but overall evil levels declined in most regions.")
How unusual is Daisuke Matsuzaka?
There's going to be an orgy of coverage about Dice-K's stellar pitching debut for the Red Sox today, and of course it is foolish to extrapolate from one start. That said, I can't resist quoting from Tom Singer's mlb.com postmortem on the start:
"His ball moves funny. To me, it was like working a knuckleball pitcher," said Jeff Nelson, the plate umpire who spent the day looking over catcher Jason Varitek's shoulders.UPDATE: For a play-by-play description of Daisuke's first game, you would be hard-pessed to beat Bill Simmons.
Blogging vs. vlogging
The biggest difference between consuming vlogging, which I do rarely, and consuming blogging, which I do continually, is that you can get the compressed product of a great deal of time and thought on a blog, but not in a vlog. For example, if I spend six hours on a blog item, or even just one, that a reader can consume in five minutes, they are getting the benefits of all the time and effort I put into it. But a five minute vlog will most likely provide only my thoughts as they exist in real time, or perhaps even only a note of skepticism as conveyed by a raised eyebrow, and no articulated thoughts at all. Five minutes with a blog can yield you six hours with a mind, but five minutes with a vlog will usually get you five minutes with a mind, or, sometimes, a face. The overall number of thoughts consumers will imbibe per minute is much lower on vlogs than on blogs.I wouldn't disagree with Garance so much as suggest that she's leaving something out of the equation -- I suspect most people consume blogs very differently from vlogs. To consume a blog you actually need to read it, which implies that you've given it top priority among the things your conscious mind is processing at that moment. Vlogs, on the other hand, can be consumed more passively. Yes, you can watch your screen as a bloggingheads segment plays. And, certainly, there are small snippets of video that will command one's full attention. On the whole, however people will treat a vlog the same way they treat the television or the radio -- it can be on in the background while the consumer is consuming other things.
Score one for the Blinder-Friedman hypothesis
Let it be noted that Anand Giridharadas had a story in yesterday's New York Times that offers some support for the Alan Blinder-Thomas Friedman view of offshore outsourcing:
Outsourcing is breaking out of the back office.Meawhile, Tom Friedman looks at call centers opening up in Kenya by a firm named KenCall.
UPDATE: Friedman's column prompts a bizarre comment from Matthew Yglesias:
The reason KenCall works is that its wages are so low. Its wages, in turn, are low because in Kenya at the moment the IT infrastructure necessary to operate a call center is very scarce relative to the level of English competency necessary to work in one. If an undersea cable makes it significantly easier to start up call centers, that may change. It all depends on how large Kenya's "large pool of educated, English-speaking talent" really is.I think Matt's point is that offfshoring jobs are constrained in their ability to generate sustainable growth in the developing world. That's wrong -- India has had pretty sustainable growth even though their talent pool is a small percentage of the population.
What would be more accurate to say is that if the education picture remained constant, the returns to being an offshoring magnet are a) limited to the upper tier of the popilation, and b) decline over time as wages would go up for (relatively) skilled labor.
On the latter point -- so what? Offshoring flows would decline as wages rise -- and rising wages are a good thing. On the former point, here's the question you have to ask -- what's better, a society that has a relatively even distribution of income or a society where the poorest are not made worse off but the educated earn much higher returns for their education?
I suspect Matt would say the latter but not be happy about it. Over the long haul, however, market signals about the increasing returns to education would encourage an expansion of educated individuals -- which counters the effect that concerns Yglesias, and happens to be a good thing in and of itself.
UPDATE: Yglesias clarifies his position here:
Friedman is portraying the issue as one in which Kenya needs to build better broadband access, and then the IT jobs would come. The counterpoint I meant to make was that the real chokepoint here seemed to me to be the Kenyan education system. Only a very small proportion of Kenyans are qualified for KenCall-style jobs. At the moment, only a small proportion of the qualified people can get KenCall-style jobs precisely because the physical infrastructure to easily set up competing firms isn't there, which makes wages low by world standards which makes Kenya an attractive outsourcing destination. Build more infrastructure, you'll get more firms, the labor market will tighten, wages will go up, and then growth will slow down as future outsourcers look to other, cheaper countries.
Wednesday, April 4, 2007
In the matter of Hobbes vs. Schelling....
Nancy Pelosi's trip to Syria, along with the showdown over timetables for withdrawal from Iraq, have annoyed the president. Reuters reports Bush's frustration with Pelosi's visit:
President George W. Bush said on Tuesday visits by U.S. officials like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Syria send "mixed signals" and do nothing to change the behavior of a country the United States accuses of sponsoring terrorism.Meanwhile, the Boston Globe's Susan Milligan reports on how Bush is reacting to Congressional activism on Iraq:
President Bush declared yesterday that the military may suffer quick and devastating cuts if the Democrat- controlled Congress does not submit a war funding bill to his liking by mid-April, warnings that deepened a standoff between the White House and Capitol Hill over the Iraq war.Bush would find a kindred spirit in Thomas Hobbes here. Bush, like Hobbes, believes that a state can and should have only one center of power. In the Hobbesian formulation, the emergence of competing voices implies division and weakness, which outsiders can exploit.
There's something compelling to this logic. If one analogizes international relations to poker, then surely no one wants the strength or weakness of their hand revealed by someone else.
However, this is not the only logic that one could apply to international relations. As Thomas Schelling pointed out in The Strategy of Conflict -- and as Robert Putnam elaborated in "Diplomacy and Domestic Politics: the Logic of Two-Level Games" -- there are times when domestic weakness can be translated into international bargaining strength.
What has been particularly frustrating about the debate in Washington over Iraq is that everyone seems to be fighting one another and forgetting the fundamental mission of the war.Of course, for the Schelling strategy to work, Congress needs to bend -- they would have to agree that if the Iraqis completed a set of reforms by a given date, then complete withdrawal would not be necessary. Bush would also need to bend -- sometimes mixed messages are a good thing.
The really interesting question going forward is whether, in their diplomatic initiatives, both Bush and Pelosi will be more concerned with Hobbesian questions of authority or Schelling questions about signaling. Unfortunately, I share Panetta's frustration -- domestic politics will trump any gain that can be leveraged from these policy disagreements.
Tuesday, April 3, 2007
I saw it, so you're going to have to suffer as well
I'm going to have a stomach ache the rest of the day after watching this:I understand what Alanis was going for here, but the fact is, as Hua Hsu wrote in Slate two years ago about the original Black Eyed Peas song, "My Humps":
It is... proof that a song can be so bad as to veer toward evil....Which makes an "ironic" cover of the song... well.... pretty damn bad.
Monday, April 2, 2007
It's your last chance to help me help APSA to help you
Political scientists are strongly encouraged to read and critique draft, as I should have one more pass at it. I'm particularly curious if I've made the downsides seem too scary.
Two steps forward, one step back on trade
The two steps forward are that the United States and South Korea signed a free trade deal just before the deadline of having it approved under President Bush's Trade Promotion Authority. The New York Times' Choe Sang Hun explains:
United States and South Korean negotiators struck the world’s largest bilateral free-trade agreement today, giving the United States a badly needed lift to its foreign trade policy at home and South Korea a chance to reinvigorate its export economy.The step back comes from the Bush administration's weekend decision to slap tariffs on Chinese paper. Steven Weisman explains in the NYT:
The Bush administration, in a major escalation of trade pressure on China, said Friday that it would reverse more than 20 years of American policy and impose potentially steep tariffs on Chinese manufactured goods on the ground that China is illegally subsidizing some of its exports.[U.S. trade with China far exceeds trade with South Korea. Why is this only a step back compared to KORUS?--ed.] Two reasons. First, much as I despite countervailing duties, this policy shift seems to make sense within the context of what those duties are supposed to accomplish. As Weisman explains:
American law allows the United States to impose what are called antidumping duties when imports are sold in the United States at prices below what it costs to produce them.Second, I'm willing to bet that this case will end the same way the steel case ended. If the complainants are basing their argument on China's currency valuation, then the WTO ain't going to uphold this action. In which case, three years from now, we know how this wll end -- unless it gets settled in the bilateral Strategic Economic Dialogue between now and then.
UPDATE: they're not basing it on the currency valuation. Never mind. Meanwhile, Trade Diversion is skeptical of Commerce's ability to assess the magnitude of the direct subsidy.
Sunday, April 1, 2007
It's been six months -- let's revive the Book Club!!
I received a comment a few days ago pointing out that I needed to refresh my book suggestions. And, indeed, it's been a few months since my last selections. This has mostly been due to two factors: 1) the rigors of new course preps; and 2) I was paralyzed by a series of astonishingly interesting books.
Seriously, over the span of a few weeks at the beginning of the year, I got hit with advance copies or gifts of Scott Page's The Difference, John Lukacs' George Kennan: A Study of Character, A.J. Jacobs' The Know-It-All, and Eric Abrahamson and David Freedman's A Perfect Mess. I'll admit it -- the range of choice was dazzling enough to paralyze me for a few months.
I've regained my equilibrium, however. So, without further ado, my international relations book of the month is.... wait for it.... hey, what do you know, it's All Politics Is Global!!!!
[Um... the readers might be getting sick of the repeated plugs; is the book any good?--ed.] Hey, if it wasn't good, I wouldn't be hawking it so shamelessly on this high-quality blog! This book slices, it dices, and it can explain both the regulation of Internet pornography and the European Union's foreign economic strategy. It's a book that puts the lie to Carl Schmitt's claim that disputes about trade and regulation really weren't political. And it's the only book I will publish in 2007.
Besides, have you seen the cover?:
I mean, there are globes and everything.
The general interest book is the definitive edition of F.A. Hayek's The Road to Serfdom, edited by Bruce Caldwell. The definitive edition means, among other things, that Caldwell has cleaned up Hayek's footnotes, gathered all the introductions to the myriad editions, and included some popular writings of the period to put Hayek's work in context. Virginia Postrel has more on this point.
The best part, however, is that Caldwell included the two reader reports -- by Frank Knight and Jacob Marschak -- to the University of Chicago Press on whether the publish The Road to Serfdom. You'll have to buy the book to read the whole thing, but here's the concluding paragraph of Knight's report:
In sum, the book is an able piece of work, but limited in scope and somewhat one-sided in treatment. I doubt whether it will have a very wide market in this country, or would change the position of many readers.Even if you own a previous copy, go buy this one.
UPDATE: A bad news/good news/best news situation with All Politics Is Global:
1) The bad news is that Amazon.com is now saying it takes 3-4 weeks for delivery.Don't let Amazon.com stop you from ordering the book!
Put me in coach, I'm ready to blog.....
Baseball season starts today!! As Paul at the Yanksfan Vs. Soxfan blog pointed out, "We are officially in that golden time where all things are possible and nothing is sure. Soak it up. This is one of the best weekends of the year." Indeed -- this Saturday and Sunday, it's still possible to envisage the Kansas City Royals wining the World Series.
The Red Sox season starts tomorrow -- along with Passover. Prior to 2004, of course, this confluence of events would be freighted with more symbolic meaning. Now, it's just going to cause me to whisper "Next October in Fenway Park" at the end of the seder.
Two years ago, I was confident about the future of the Red Sox and gleeful at the anticipated downward trajectory of the Yankees. This offseason, on the other hand, has sobered me up. For all the talk about parity, the scariest thing facing Major League Baseball is a Yankee franchise that actually knows how to develop, trade, and inculcate top prospects.
Just about every reasonable projection I've seen has the Yankees winning the pennant again this year. I am not so foolhardy as to make predictions, but I do have several reasons for optimism regarding the Red Sox chances this year:
1) Neither Randy Johnson nor Ted Lilly is pitching in the Al East. As mediocre as their years were in 2006, these guys were always able to manhandle the Red Sox. That's a lot more competitive games against AL East rivals than in the past.Let the season begin!!
Newton North sure is getting a lot of media play today
Both the Boston Globe and the New York Times have big stories on Newton North High School today [Hey, won't your children be attending this high school at some point?--ed. Yes, but that is many, many years from now and I'm sure the time will pass very, very, slowly.]. Sara Rimer's front-pager for the New York Times is
Esther and Colby are two of the amazing girls at Newton North High School here in this affluent suburb just outside Boston. “Amazing girls” translation: Girls by the dozen who are high achieving, ambitious and confident (if not immune to the usual adolescent insecurities and meltdowns). Girls who do everything: Varsity sports. Student government. Theater. Community service. Girls who have grown up learning they can do anything a boy can do, which is anything they want to do.There's a lot of additional material on the Times web site -- including Esther's and Colby's college application essays.
I confess that I'm not entirely sure why this is on the front page of the New York Times. Is it a news flash that smart boys like girls who are smart as well? The thesis I gleaned from Rimer's story is that, despite all the internal and external pressures placed on these adolescents, they're coping pretty damn well. I suppose it's nice to see a long story about well-adjusted adolescents -- but I really have to wonder if Bill Keller is getting a kickback on Rimer's book advance.
As a Williams alum, however, my heart grew heavy when I read this section of the story:
Esther was in calculus class, the last period of the day when her cellphone rang. It was her father. The letter from Williams College — her ideal of the small, liberal arts school — had arrived.It is actually Ms. Rimer who is unschooled in admission letter intricacies -- unless Williams has changed its practice in recent years, everyone gets a thin envelope. For those who are accepted, the thick envelope with all the pertinent information comes later.
So Esther, don't blame your father for not being clued in (click on the story to see which colleges were bright enough to accept Esther -- she'll land on her feet).
It is already tagged as the most expensive high school in Massachusetts: a $154.6 million showplace, designed by an internationally renowned architect and awaited with some anxiety by the residents of Newton.UPDATE: Wow, in Episode #245 of How Gender Affects Interpretation in the Blogosphere, Bitch Ph.D has a very different take on the Times article: "Kinda depressing article.... high-achieving women feel a constant sense of inadequacy."
Maybe I'm grading on a curve, but by the standards of In-Depth Newspaper Stories About Adolescent Girls, the subjects of Rimer's story seem remarkably well-adjusted.