Friday, June 22, 2007

My moral midgetry

Following a link at Fairer Globalization, I came across this Moral Sense test at Harvard.

It's an eight question test in which an action is described and then you are asked to award damages.

In the scenarios I was given, I awarded an average of $129 in fines. The average response of all test takers was approximately $72,000.

So, clearly, I'm a heartless bastard. [And you also like to make fun of short people!!--ed.] Or, I'm more willing to blame fortuna than people when bad but (largely) accidental things happen.

Take the test and let me know how moral you are.

UPDATE: Well, after reading the commentary, I do feel better about my moral standing. Well, except for Mike Munger's reaction, which just makes me want to grab a baseball bat, apply it to Munger, and then see whether the tort system really works.

posted by Dan at 06:28 PM | Comments (61) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Name this blog phenomenon!

Apparently the Encyclopedia Brittanica now has a blog. Michael Gorman is using it to harumph at the myriad ways in which the Internet has destroyed all that is great and good in scholarship and high culture. His first post opens with "The life of the mind in our society suffers, in many ways, from an increase in credulity and an associated flight from expertise." You get the drift -- this is not the first time Gorman has done this.

Over at Inside Higher Ed, Scott McLemee critiques Gorman's critique. He closes with this point:

What really bothers the neo-Luddite quasi-Mandarin is not the rise of digitality, as such. The problem actually comes from “the diminished sacredness of authority,” as Edward Shils once put it, “the reduction in the awe it evokes and in the charisma attributed to it.”

But it’s not that all cultural authority or critical intelligence, as such, are vanishing. Rather, new kinds are taking shape. The resulting situation is difficult and sometimes unpleasant. But it is not exactly new. Such wrenching moments have come repeatedly over the past 500 years, and muddling through the turmoil does not seem to be getting any easier.

Plowing similar ground, Henry Farrell asks:
I can see why the Encyclopedia Britannica has an urgent interest in pushing this line, but I don’t understand why the intellectual standards of argument among its appointed critics is so low (and they aren’t an aberration; I understand that they’ve made somewhat of an effort to publicize these pieces and get them talked about).
To answer Farrell's question, you need to recognize the phenomenon of Bigthink Online Criticism (BOC), which proceeds as follows:
1) Pre-existing cultural institution finds itself under threat of being ignored/devalued/losing cultural cachet in relation to online substitutes;

2) To stave off irrelevance, said institution commissions BOC essay;

3) BOC essay, to roil the waters, overstates to a greater or lesser degree the various flaws that online substitutes possess;

4) BOC essay is posted on the net, while various online and offline commentators are alerted to its presence;

5) Online community reacts with outrage, linking and critiquing the BOC essay repeatedly, making it the topic du jour.

6) For a brief moment, declining cultural institution staves off slide towards irrelevance.

7) The more Manichean the BOC, the longer the boomlet of attention.

I humbly request my readers to name this gambit.

UPDATE: Brittanica's Tom Panelas e-mails the following:

If nothing else you should be aware of the fact that Gorman's posts are part of a larger forum on the Web 2.0 movement generally, and that it includes people who disagree sharply with him, such as Clay Shirky, danah boyd, and Matthew Battles, as well as others who disagree with him by degree, such as Nicholas Carr. If you and Henry think Britannica is "pushing a line" by publishing Gorman's opinions under his name on our blog, it follows then that we are also pushing the lines of these other people. Since Clay Shirky's posts, among other things, have some strong criticisms of Britannica, we are therefore pushing criticism of ourselves. What our motives for this might be I’ll leave it to you to divine, but you might consider an alternative explanation: that we’re simply having a debate among people with different views.

By the way, if you really think the intellectual standards are low, please take a look at what Shirky, Battles, and Carr have written. (danah hasn’t posted yet; she’ll be with us next week.) If, after that, you still think the level of discourse is substandard, please feel free to raise it by adding your own comments.

posted by Dan at 03:16 PM | Comments (8) | Trackbacks (0)

How should I feel about Fred Thompson in 2008?

Gideon Rachman went to hear Fred Thompson give a big foreign policy speech in Lodon and came away unimpressed:

I'm afraid that what he had to say was utterly platitudinous.

The US is "an inspiration for all those who seek freedom"; Tony Blair is a "gallant friend" of America; the uncoupling of the Atlantic alliance would be a bad thing. Winston Churchill was a great man; Neville Chamberlain was not so great. We should worry about Iran because - "If we know anything from modern history, it is that when fanatical tyrants pledge to wipe out an entire nation, we should listen." He even had the nerve to quote that Harold Macmillan line about the biggest problem in politics being "events, dear boy, events." Haven't heard that one before.

Admittedly, he was marginally more interesting in the q&a. He thinks it would be a good idea to blockade Iran, which he describes as a "very, very serious threat." He still thinks it was right to invade Iraq and that there is some evidence that the surge is working. But he is clearly worried that American politicians are going to pull the plug prematurely - "We have a multi-year plan, which the political process might give only weeks or months."

As for the goal in Iraq - "We need to do everything possible to avoid the appearance of utter weakness." And America needs to strive to leave the country in something "better than terrible conditions." That, at least, struck me as a fairly realistic assessment of what is achievable.

I find it hard - or perhaps just alarming - to imagine Fred Thompson as president. He seemed to me to be not terribly bright.

Click here to read Thompson's speech and judge for yourself. After reading it, I'd say two things:
1) His sense of humor is better developed than his policy recommendations for the Middle East.

2) You ain't gonna find a lot of difference between this speech and Mitt Romney's Foreign Affairs article.

What do you think?

posted by Dan at 02:12 PM | Comments (15) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

How should I feel about Bloomberg in 2008?

So Michael Bloomberg has left the GOP, and is enticing media hordes about the prospect of a 2008 campaign (though Howard Kurtz dissents). He's the Time "action hero" of the week.

Should I be interested in him? Matt Yglesias thinks so:

From a Reason magazine perspective, it seems to me that a Bloomberg Administration is likely to be substantially more libertarian than either a Democratic or a Republican one would be. Bloomberg, however, is specifically identified with a brand of trivial nanny-stating -- indoor smoking ban, trans fat ban -- that seems to be to aggravate libertarians in a manner that's out of proportion to the actual significance of the policy issues.
Over at Lawyers, Guns & Money, Scott Lemieux advises libertarians to be cautious: "there is a serious reason libertarians should be skeptical of Bloomberg: the appalling string of arbitrary detentions with no serious justification during the 2004 GOP convention."

What do you think?

posted by Dan at 01:59 PM | Comments (13) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

My latest bloggingheads throwdown

My latest bloggingheads diavlog was supposed to be with the lovely Megan McArdle, in which we revealed various clothing and other indiscretions from our past. Scandalous information about the both of us was revealed.

Alas, there was a technical glitch, and so that diavlog will now not be seen again until Bob Wright releases the DVD version of "Bloggingheads: The Lost Tapes."

As a substitute, go check out my diavlog with Bob Wright. Topics include:

1) Should a blogginghead be monogamous or play the field?

2) The depressing situation in Palestine;

3) The depressing situation talking about Palestine in the United States;

4) How can the U.S. regulate Chinese industries?

5) What will technology do to China?

6) The globalization of American sports

7) Why everyone will like Knocked Up and why no one should see the Fantastic Four sequel.

Oh, and along the way Bob cajoles me into issuing a public challenge.

posted by Dan at 01:52 PM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

Outsourcing to Jonathan Rauch on immigration

Your humble blogger has been mute about the immigration bill that is either dead or not dead -- I can't rememberwhich iteration we are at right now.

In the interest of economy, and in improving the debate on this subject, I will simply outsource my position on this to the National Journal's Jonathan Rauch:

[T]he Senate bill was worse than it needed to be. On the legal side of the immigration equation, there are easy trade-ups to be had. In fact, even a National Journal columnist with no apparent qualifications could write a better bill.

And what might that look like? Glad you asked.

  • First, raise the number of legal immigrants by about 50 percent, to about 1.8 million a year. That meets the economy's demonstrated demand for workers.

  • Second, provide pathways to permanence. Bring in these 1.8 million people on temporary visas, say for three to five years, with the promise of permanent legal residency (a green card) if they stay out of trouble, pose no security risk, and work or get a college degree.

  • Third, don't micromanage who gets in. Allocate visas using a simple three-way formula that gives about equal weight to family, work, and education: 600,000 family visas for close relatives of citizens and green-card holders; 600,000 work visas for people who are sponsored by an employer and have less than a bachelor's degree; 600,000 education visas for people who hold a bachelor's degree or higher, with first call going to those who also have employer sponsorships or family ties.
  • There is no chance, at the moment, that this plan will be adopted. But there is some chance that making the case for it might help clarify what the country should be shopping for in an immigration reform measure.

    The most basic decision any immigration bill needs to make is this: How many immigrants does the country need and want? Bizarrely, this was the one question that the debate over the Senate bill did not seem to concern itself with. Even finding estimates for total immigration under the Senate reform proved dauntingly difficult until the Congressional Budget Office published some projections last week.

    Hat tip: Virginia Postrel.

    posted by Dan at 07:57 AM | Comments (10) | Trackbacks (0)

    Monday, June 18, 2007

    You be Newsweek's guest editor!

    I find little to cavil about Newsweek's sympathetic profile of Angelina Jolie ("look, she's gone from Billy Bob Thornton's ex to being good at acting, adopting and international public diplomacy!")

    Well, OK, there is this rather odd section:

    Earlier this month Jolie was invited to join the Council on Foreign Relations, the elite club for the American foreign-policy establishment. It's no room for lightweights. Her fellow members include Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Jimmy Carter, Diane Sawyer and Bill Clinton.
    To my dying day, I will be vexed by one of two possibilities:
    1) Reporter Sean Smith sees Diane Sawyer as a foreign policy heavyweight;

    2) An editor at Newsweek read Smith's draft and though,"not enough heavyweights... better add Diane Sawyer."

    posted by Dan at 11:55 PM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)

    A&W sells me on MacDonald's

    While engaging in my monthly hotel workout regimen, I caught a new ad by A&W restaurant. The gist of the ad was that McDonald's was not to be trusted because... wait for it... they used beef from New Zealand. As opposed to A&W, which only uses American beef.

    Having been to New Zealand,, that ad actually made me want to go out a buy a Big Mac. Because New Zealand grass-fed beef tastes much, much better than American corn-fed beef.

    posted by Dan at 11:29 PM | Comments (8) | Trackbacks (0)

    The rise of trans-Pacific regulatory conflict

    In the past two days there have been two stories in the press suggesting that the U.S. will be butting heads with China and India over a variety of regulations.

    On Sunday, the Washington Post's Marc Kaufman writes that the growth of pharmaceutical imports is triggering health and safety concerns:

    India and China, countries where the Food and Drug Administration rarely conducts quality-control inspections, have become major suppliers of low-cost drugs and drug ingredients to American consumers. Analysts say their products are becoming pervasive in the generic and over-the-counter marketplace.

    Over the past seven years, amid explosive growth in imports from India and China, the FDA conducted only about 200 inspections of plants in those countries, and a few were the kind that U.S. firms face regularly to ensure that the drugs they make are of high quality.

    The agency, which is responsible for ensuring the safety of drugs for Americans wherever they are manufactured, made 1,222 of these quality-assurance inspections in the United States last year. In India, which has more plants making drugs and drug ingredients for American consumers than any other foreign nation, it conducted a handful.

    Companies based in India were bit players in the American drug market 10 years ago, selling just eight generic drugs here. Today, almost 350 varieties and strengths of antidepressants, heart medicines, antibiotics and other drugs purchased by American consumers are made by Indian manufacturers.

    Five years ago, Chinese drugmakers exported about $300 million worth of products to the United States. Eager to meet Americans' demand for lower-cost medicines, they, too, have expanded rapidly. Last year, they sold more than $675 million in pharmaceutical ingredients and products in the U.S. market.

    After the pet food scandal that triggered fears over the safety of human and animal foods imported from China, experts say medicines from that country and from India pose a similar risk of being contaminated, counterfeit or simply understrength and ineffective.

    "As the manufacturing goes to China and India, the risk to human health is growing exponentially," said Brant Zell, past chairman of the Bulk Pharmaceuticals Task Force. The group represents American drug-ingredient makers that filed a citizen's petition with the FDA last year asking the agency to oversee foreign firms more aggressively.

    "The low level there" of follow-up inspections, "combined with the huge amount of importing, greatly increases the potential that consumers will get products that have impurities or ineffective ingredients," he said.

    FDA officials say that they are not aware of any health problems caused by drugs imported from India or China and that the American companies that import them usually do their own quality and safety testing. But the agency acknowledges that it is virtually impossible for it to know whether poor-quality or contaminated drugs from lightly regulated Asian plants have caused patients to get sicker or remain ill, especially because patients and doctors are unlikely to suspect poorly manufactured drugs as a problem.

    Meanwhile, in USA Today, Jayne O'Donnell reports about another brewing regulatory problem -- lead levels in childrens' jewelry:
    The Chinese government opposes a proposed U.S. standard limiting the amount of lead allowed in bracelets, necklaces and other jewelry sold for children.

    All but three of more than 30 Consumer Product Safety Commission recalls for lead in children's jewelry since 2003 were for China-made items. The others were made in India.

    The Chinese government said in comments to the CPSC that it's not necessary to limit the lead content to the proposed 0.06% by weight because much of the lead wouldn't seep out of jewelry so would "do little harm for children." China's comments are the only ones opposing the CPSC proposal. A final regulation is likely by early 2008.

    CPSC says 20,000 children were treated in emergency rooms from 2000 to 2005 after swallowing jewelry. The number doesn't include choking incidents. A 4-year-old boy died last year after swallowing a charm that was 99% lead.

    CPSC is concerned that children can ingest unsafe levels of lead after putting necklaces and other jewelry in their mouths, even briefly. If they are also exposed to lead in their homes or drinking water, there can be a cumulative risk. Lead poisoning can lower the IQ, cause learning disabilities and lead to kidney or liver disease.

    Along with being the target of nearly all of the lead jewelry recalls, China-made products have made up half of CPSC's overall recalls for at least two years, says acting Chairman Nancy Nord. Recalls of China-made products have been steadily increasing since 2003.

    "It is absolutely imperative that all manufacturers understand that if they are going to sell products in the U.S., consumer protection has to be one of their main concerns," she says.

    In the comments, Guo LiSheng, a deputy director general in China's Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine, said the agency agrees with the U.S. that children's health and safety need to be protected but believes putting warning labels on the jewelry "may be more efficient than setting the limit of lead content."

    If you read both articles, these two cases are not identical. There appears to be a strong justification for ratcheting up the lead regulations, while problems with pharmaceutical imports remain more hypothetical than real.

    Going forward, it will be interesting to see whether affected domestic industries will be lobbying for regulatory barriers rather than more overt forms of protectionism. The thing about regulatory barriers is that they are not always protectionist in motivation. And that's precisely what makes them more attractive for import-competitive sectors.


    UPDATE: Thanks to Nicholas Weaver for sending me this New York Times story by Walt Bogdanich on Chinese resistance to regulatory investigations. Definitely worth a read.

    posted by Dan at 08:07 AM | Comments (8) | Trackbacks (1)