Thursday, September 13, 2007

There's spying and then there's, you know, spying

New England Patriots Bill Belichick was fined $500,000, and the Patriots were fined $250,000 and some draft picks for spying on the New York Jets defensive signals during last week's game.

What's interesting about this is that it's not even close to the biggest sports fine levied yesterday. No, for that we have to go to Formula One racing. The New York Times' Brad Spurgeon explains:

McLaren Mercedes, the leading team in the Formula One championship, was fined $100 million Thursday and excluded from the constructor’s title in connection with the spying scandal that has plagued the sport all season.

The International Automobile Federation, the sport’s governing body, found McLaren guilty of cheating by using data obtained from Ferrari, its main rival, to improve its own car, the federation said in a statement issued following a hearing in Paris....

It was the harshest punishment given to a team in the 57-year history of the sport.

The federation, known as F.I.A., said it had stripped McLaren of all its constructor’s points in the Formula One world championship, and the team can score no points for the remainder of the season.

F.I.A. added that the team would not share in the sport’s revenue this season, either....

The spying scandal broke in early July, when Ferrari accused McLaren of using data given by a Ferrari employee to a McLaren employee to improve the quality of its racing car. The police had found documents regarding the Ferrari car at the home of Mike Coughlan, McLaren’s technical director, in England. Ferrari said it thought its former employee, Nigel Stepney, who had been frustrated by organizational changes at Ferrari this season, had provided the information to Coughlan.

A question to the three people in the known universe who are acolytes of both Formula One racing and the National Football League: While even I can determine that McLaren's actions were more egregious than Belichick's, were they 200 times as egregious??

posted by Dan at 11:44 PM | Comments (13) | Trackbacks (0)

This is what happens when you ask me to deliver a convocation speech

I was recruited to be the faculty speaker at The Fletcher School's fall convocation. My talk was modestly titled "On Global Governance, Think Tanks, and Angelina Jolie."

Go check it out. One of my opening jokes:

I feel like I am obligated to impart some priceless nugget of wisdom, something that can be of use to you for the rest of your lives. After racking my brain for six weeks, here was what I was able to come up with (take paper out of pocket)…. never, under any circumstances, buy a cheap mattress. You will spend a quarter to a third of your lives on this particular piece of furniture. If you buy an inexpensive bed to save some money in the short term, your back will remind you of this error for the rest of your life. Take it from someone who once made this mistake – always splurge on your mattress.
Just because it's funny silly doesn't mean it's not true.

I should add that the student speaker, Isabel De Sola, acquitted herself quite well. Click here to read her speech.

posted by Dan at 01:13 PM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

September's books of the month

Today is the fifth anniversary of this blog. I'll have more to say about that in the next post, but it informs my book choices for this month. In celebration of five years, I'm shamelessly picking books written by close friends.

This month's international relations book is Amy Zegart's Spying Blind: The CIA, the FBI, and the Origins of 9/11. The book examines the intelligence failures that preceded September 11 -- and why the CIA and FBI did not adapt to post-Cold War threats. To do this, she examines the innumerable reform and panel proposals made prior to 9/11 -- and why they were not carried out.

No one really likes Spying Blind -- oh, except for a chair of the 9/11 Commission, a chair of the Hart-Rudman commission, the Dean of the Woodrow Wilson School, and three of the leading scholars on organizational behavior. Oh, and Lee Hamilton.

Zegart has been this blog's Official Advisor on All Matters Pertaining to Foreign Policy Bureaucracies since its inception. Any smart presidential candidate should put Zegart on their speed dial before they say anything about intelligence or homeland security reform.

The general interest book is Jack Goldsmith's The Terror Presidency: Law and Judgment Inside the Bush Administration. Jack really doesn't need the blog endorsement, as his book has apparently caught some people's eye.

You can click on my take on Goldsmith here.

posted by Dan at 02:08 PM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Did I miss something to obsess about?

Today I received an e-mail from the folks at Democracy: A Journal of Ideas imploring me to check out Bernard Schwartz and Sherle Schwenninger's article, "Public Investment Works." The one-sentence summary of the argument:

BLS Chairman Bernard Schwartz and New America Foundation Senior Fellow Sherle Schwenninger posit that in an age of decaying infrastructure and failing schools, we can - and must - eschew our obsession with balanced budgets and find ways to make smart public-works investments. (emphasis added)
Um.... how do I put this.... was I in a coma when this obsession gripped the country?

President Bush and most of the Republican members of Congress haven't cared much about balanced budgets for some time.

As for the Democrats, in this century,* the only griping about fiscal rectitude came during the first term of the Bush administration, mostly as a way to attack Bush's fiscal policy. During the second term, I keep reading folks like Paul Krugman articulate the exact same set of talking points as Schwartz and Schwenninger.

What does someone like Hillary Clinton -- whome one would assume to be closest in spirit to her husband's legacy -- think about this? Let's go to her economic speech from last year:

We can return to fiscal discipline. We can invest in infrastructure, research and education, jump start a smarter energy future, promote manufacturing, rein in healthcare costs. And we can do it in ways that renew the basic bargain with America's middle class.
There's certainly a nod to fiscal discipline -- but she seems way more keen on those infrastructure investments to me.

Seriously, has anyone out there been obsessed about reducing the deficit in recent years?

*It's certainly true that, way, way back in the nineties, key parts of Clinton's team were fiscal hawks. Even then, however, folks like Bob Reich were hell-bent on infrastructure investments.

UPDATE: Ah, I see the problem now -- I'm "too knowledgeable". Truly an unusual problem for your humble blogger.

posted by Dan at 03:42 PM | Comments (8) | Trackbacks (0)

White House also intent on finding body of Jimmy Hoffa

AFP reports the following on the 6th anniversary of 9/11:

The White House vowed Tuesday the United States would capture elusive Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden as it marked the sixth anniversary of the September 11 attacks.

US President George W. Bush has pledged "he'd like to find him. He said all along: we are going to find him," spokesman Tony Snow said, just hours after a new video of bin Laden praising one of the 9/11 hijackers was released.

But Snow added: "The fact is that the war against terror is not a war against one guy, Osama bin Laden. It is against a network that uses all sorts of ways of trying to recruit new terrorists."

Well, so long as President Bush is serious about this -- you can absolutely count on it happening.

posted by Dan at 03:37 PM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, September 10, 2007

The 2008 foreign affairs advisor sweepstakes

As I wrote during the last election cycle, foreign policy advisors tend to gravitate towards the candidate they think is the frontrunner -- which makes them a possible leading indicator for which way the race will go.

Via Ross Douthat, I see that Michael Hirsch has done some legwork on this subject for Newsweek's web site.

Two facts stand out. The first is that Obama has held his own vis-à-vis Clinton:

A group of prominent former senior officials in Bill Clinton's administration are informally working for Obama by taking charge of his advisory groups on different regions and issues. Among them: Richard Clarke, the counterterrorism czar from both the Clinton and Bush administrations; Jeffrey Bader, the Mandarin-speaking former director for Asian affairs on Clinton's National Security Council and assistant U.S. trade representative; former Mideast envoys Rob Malley and Dennis Ross; and the recently retired career CIA official and former Clinton-era National Security Council expert on South Asia, Bruce Riedel. Obama has also managed to recruit a large number of former junior and midlevel Clinton officials, especially many who served on Clinton's National Security Council. Among them: Mona Sutphen, Sandy Berger's former special assistant; ex-Clarke deputy Roger Cressey; former NSC Russia director Mark Brzezinski; Sarah Sewell, a former deputy assistant secretary of defense; and Philip Gordon, a former Clinton NSC director for Europe. (Some of these officials, like Riedel, Ross and Malley insist they are giving advice to anyone who asks, including Hillary.)

The more experienced Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, has relied largely on her husband and a triumvirate of senior officials from his presidency—former secretary of state Madeleine Albright, former U.N. ambassador Richard Holbrooke and former national-security adviser Sandy Berger (who tries to keep a low profile after pleading guilty in 2005 to misdemeanor charges of taking classified material without authorization). Hillary also consults with an informal group of 30 less prominent advisers. But she has shown increasing anxiety over Obama's active recruiting effort—so much so that she recently hired Lee Feinstein, a prominent and well-connected scholar at the Council on Foreign Relations, to launch an "outreach" program similar to Obama's. Perhaps the hardest loss for the Clintonites is Greg Craig, the former lawyer for President Clinton who, along with former Albright protégée Susan Rice, a Clinton-era assistant secretary of state for Africa, and former national-security adviser Tony Lake, is considered one of Obama's closest confidants.

Craig told me he hadn't felt any hostility from his former colleagues in the Clinton inner circle. But other former Bill Clinton aides who have lined up with Obama say they have been warned that if Hillary wins the nomination their disloyalty will be remembered. Indeed, many junior or midlevel officials from the Clinton national security team continue to gravitate to Obama because they are wary of what one describes as Hillary's "closed circle." "A lot of us associated with the Clinton presidency had great feelings of loyalty to Bill Clinton, but those didn't extend to Hillary," says Obama Asia expert Jeffrey Bader. "I'm not a great believer in dynasties." Another official says, "There is a sense consciously or subconsciously that we don't want to just go back to same team: Holbrooke, Sandy, Madeleine...the same people having the same arguments about who's going to be in the room."

The second interesting fact is that this metric demonstrates how bad Republicans have it right now:
The Republican candidates have the opposite problem: with the president's popularity at Nixonian lows and his foreign policy in broad disfavor with the electorate, nobody is rushing to hire the president's team. Normally, candidates would rush to seek the counsel of high-powered alumni of the president's foreign policy team. But so many of its members—like neocon hawks Paul Wolfowitz and Douglas Feith—are now thought to be tainted, their views are not widely welcomed. (An exception: the highly respected Robert Zoellick, former U.S. trade rep and deputy secretary of state. But Zoellick took himself out of the game when he replaced Wolfowitz as World Bank president in May.) At the same time, the Republicans' conservative base doesn't have much taste for the realists who dominated foreign-policy thinking in past GOP administrations (except for über-adviser Henry Kissinger, who has managed to transcend these divides with the same aplomb he has shown in past campaigns). For Republicans "there's no upside in declaring, 'These are my advisers.' The base hates realists, and neocons are too controversial," says sometime Romney adviser Dan Senor, former spokesman for the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq. "So the thinking is, don't define yourself by foreign-policy advisers."

posted by Dan at 11:34 PM | Comments (8) | Trackbacks (0)

We have met the Internet and it is us

In a New York Times story about Second Life, Shira Boss notes familiar parallels between the real and the virtual:

When people are given the opportunity to create a fantasy world, they can and do defy the laws of gravity (you can fly in Second Life), but not of economics or human nature. Players in this digital, global game don’t have to work, but many do. They don’t need to change clothes, fix their hair, or buy and furnish a home, but many do. They don’t need to have drinks in their hands at the virtual bar, but they buy cocktails anyway, just to look right, to feel comfortable.

Second Life residents find ways to make money so they can spend it to do things, look impressive, and get more stuff, even if it’s made only of pixels. In a place where people should never have to clean out their closets, some end up devoting hours to organizing their things, purging, even holding yard sales.

“Why can’t we break away from a consumerist, appearance-oriented culture?” said Nick Yee, who has studied the sociology of virtual worlds and recently received a doctorate in communication from Stanford. “What does Second Life say about us, that we trade our consumerist-oriented culture for one that’s even worse?”

I'd say that last quote says more about Yee than about the people he's wailing about. That said, OxBlog's Taylor Owen has a decent answer:
One thing is becoming increasingly clear though, "second life" is a misnomer. The internet is not an alternative to life, it is life. It is us, in all our complexity, madness and brilliance, out in the open for all to see, critique and engage.

posted by Dan at 05:04 PM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

Open Petraeus-Crocker thread

Comment away on David Petraues and Ryan Crocker's presentations to Congress on the effects of the surge strategy.

My three questions:

1) Will anyone's mind be changed by what Petraeus and Crocker actually say? In other words, are there any undecideds actually left in Congress (and in the country, for that matter)?

2) How much should their testimony be weighed against the mutiple independent assessments of Iraq -- many of which are more pessimistic?

3) At what point does the failure of any political solution nullify whatever military gains have been achieved in the short run?

UPDATE: Kevin Drum is watching the hearings and points out a problem for Republicans:
Is it just me, or does anyone else think that Republicans are making a big mistake by spending all their TV time this morning complaining about accusations that Gen. Petraeus is cooking the books in his assessment of progress in Iraq? Repeating the accusation, even if it's only to denounce it, is still repeating the accusation.
The Washington Post's Shankar Vedantam would agree with Drum.

ANOTHER UPDATE: This BBC poll is making the rounds in the blogosphere -- and would seem to represent a direct challenge to the Petraeus/Crocker depiction of Iraq.

posted by Dan at 02:39 PM | Comments (11) | Trackbacks (0)

Sunday, September 9, 2007

The ineluctable power of the bad review

In the New York Times Book Review, historian David Oshinsky writes about what he discovered in the archives of the publisher Alfred A. Knopf.

Oshinsky's general finding is that, "the great bulk of the reader’s reports seemed fair-minded and persuasive. Put simply, a rejected manuscript usually appeared to deserve its fate."

This is boring, however. Oshinsky, like too many of us, is attracted to people when they are bad. So the bulk of Oshinsky's essay is devoted to the exceptionally bad reviews -- bad because they were clearly wrong about the manuscript, or bad because the review seemed to go out of its way to belittle the writer.

As an example of the first type of bad review, Oshinsky opens with:

In the summer of 1950, Alfred A. Knopf Inc. turned down the English-language rights to a Dutch manuscript after receiving a particularly harsh reader’s report. The work was “very dull,” the reader insisted, “a dreary record of typical family bickering, petty annoyances and adolescent emotions.” Sales would be small because the main characters were neither familiar to Americans nor especially appealing. “Even if the work had come to light five years ago, when the subject was timely,” the reader wrote, “I don’t see that there would have been a chance for it.”

Knopf wasn’t alone. “The Diary of a Young Girl,” by Anne Frank, would be rejected by 15 others before Doubleday published it in 1952. More than 30 million copies are currently in print, making it one of the best-selling books in history.

There's more: "Another passed on George Orwell’s Animal Farm, explaining it was 'impossible to sell animal stories in the U.S.A.'"

When rejections are bad, however, they can be delightfully nasty, which is how Oshinsky closes:

Today, as publishers eschew the finished manuscript and spit out contracts based on a sketchy outline or even less, the scripting of rejection letters has become something of a lost art. It’s hard to imagine a current publisher dictating the sort of response that Alfred Knopf sent to a prominent Columbia University historian in the 1950s. “This time there’s no point in trying to be kind,” it said. “Your manuscript is utterly hopeless as a candidate for our list. I never thought the subject worth a damn to begin with and I don’t think it’s worth a damn now. Lay off, MacDuff.”

Now, that’s a rejection letter.

For more on the Knopf archives, click here.

posted by Dan at 11:03 AM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (0)