Friday, September 21, 2007

Why B+students are the worst

My latest bloggingheads diavlog is up, in which Matthew Yglesias and I discuss the following:

1) The death of TimesSelect

2) The Iran "rollout" that hasn't happened;

3) Wonkery vs. wankery

4) Grenspan's memoirs;

5) The legacy of Bush appointees

6) The trouble with B+ students

Go check it out.

posted by Dan at 11:08 AM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, September 20, 2007

What the f@#% is going on with the University of California Regents?

I've been remiss in not posting about the rather disturbing incidents involving the U of C Regents. Fortunately, University of California at Davis historian Eric Rauchway does an excellent job of summarizing the state of play:

When the University of California Regents rescinded former Harvard president Lawrence Summers's invitation to speak at a Board dinner this month, it was too easy to link Summers with Erwin Chemerinsky: Just days before, the University of California at Irvine had rescinded Chemerinsky's invitation to serve as dean of their new law school. While the two cases share some common elements--in both, the officials reneged under pressure on commitments presumably made in good faith and for good reasons--the superficial similarities conceal deep differences. In the Chemerinsky case, UC threatened Chemerinsky's academic freedom; in the Summers case, UC threatened mine--and that of everyone else who teaches here.
Read all of Rauchway's essay. Given that it was UC-Davis faculty who started the petition to uninvite Summers, I imagine Rauchway is going to have some awkward conversations the next few days.

One last point. According to this San Francisco Chronicle story:

"I was appalled and stunned that someone like Summers would even be invited to speak to the regents," said UC Davis Professor Maureen Stanton, who helped put together the petition drive. "I think many of us who were involved in the protest believed that it wouldn't reflect well on the university that he even received the invitation."

The petition called Summers' invitation "not only misguided but inappropriate" at a time when the university is working to diversify its community....

While delighted that the regents have decided to replace Summers, Stanton now hopes the dispute will be quickly forgotten.

"Frankly, we'd like to see the story just die at this point," she said.

At least Stanton is consistent -- she apparently doesn't want to have a debate about anything.

posted by Dan at 10:54 AM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)

Your must-read sentence for today

Garance Franke-Ruta, "Fred Thompson vs. Teh Sexy":

[T]he idea that Thompson is some kind of swoon-inducing example of mature masculinity strikes me as a classic example of how straight men are completely unable to assess each other’s visual appeal.
Be sure to check out the entire post -- there are useful visual aids.

posted by Dan at 10:33 AM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

A lost virtue of TimesSelect

The dealth of TimesSelect has been greeted with huzzahs in the blogosphere. And let's face it, one reason for the NYT op-ed page's existence is to be a big fat target for snarky blogs (see the last paragraph in this Kevin Drum post for one sentence takedowns of three op-ed columnists). The end of TimesSelect is good for the blogs and internets.

The change is not entirely cost-free, however. Now that the op-ed page is more accessible, greater attention must be paid to screw-ups by the contributors. Exhibit A is Roger Cohen's essay on "the destruction of 10 taboos as President Nicolas Sarkozy assumes the role of Europe’s most dynamic leader." Most of these taboos are about style more than substance, but let's quote two of them that need some correction:

THE AMERICAN TABOO Enthusiasm for the United States was unacceptable for a French political leader because it was always interpreted as an embrace of “Wild West” capitalism, “Anglo-Saxon” hegemony and vulgarity. De rigueur attitudes held sway: patronizing contempt in Paris met macho derision in Washington. Communication suffered. Sarko’s New Hampshire vacation, enthused American dreaming, iPod-accompanied jogging and in-your-face style cleared the air....

THE NATO TABOO There’s talk of France rejoining the integrated military command of the alliance, unthinkable since Charles de Gaulle hauled the country out in a huff in 1966.

Why, yes, these ideas do seem taboo for France. In fact, I haven't heard such notions floated since.... since... Sarkozy's predecessor, Jacques Chirac, assumed office in May 1995:
In this regard [Sarkozy] is similar to President Jacques Chirac, who came into office with some sincere pro-American sentiments not at all in the Gaullist tradition. Chirac’s affection for his youthful travels and work in the United States seems, or at least seemed, quite real. He visited Chicago in the winter of 1996, in part to try to convince expatriate French entrepreneurs to consider investing in France (in itself, a shockingly non-Gaullist mission). His informality, joviality, and the warm colloquial English he spoke during his visit now appear to belong to a completely different person than the Chirac who so tenaciously fought the United States in the run-up to the Iraq war, or the Chirac who tried in recent years to lord it over the eastern Europeans and his own countrymen.
As for rejoining NATO's military structure, Emma Charlton's AFP story puts Sarkozy's proposal into the proper historical context:
[Defence Minister Herve] Morin insisted France's "priority is to support and relaunch Europe's security and defence policy", but asked: "Why should our partners lose faith in a system that has ensured peace for 50 years, in favour of a system that does not yet exist?"

Paris rejoined NATO's military committee in 1996 grouping military chiefs of staff under President Jacques Chirac.

But the rapprochement was cut short after Washington refused to share more power with European countries in the integrated military structure.

Morin suggested France could now resume "the work begun in 1996", saying that France's role in NATO would be tackled in a white paper on defence and national security to be delivered in March 2008.

Call me when Sarkozy addresses other French taboos.

See, if TimesSelect still existed, I could have saved myself twenty minutes by simply ignoring Cohen's essay.

It should be noted that Cohen also has a blog. The hard-working staff here at looks forward to seeing if Cohen addresses these inconsistencies in today's column.

posted by Dan at 08:43 AM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Who are the grown-ups in international relations?

Imagine for a second that the United States opposed the leading candidate for a leading international organization. Now imagine that in an effort to block that candidate, the U.S. decides to put its own candidate forward. To ensure that the candidate doesn't look like a complete toady, it would make some sense to propose a non-American. However, it would also make sense, at the very least, to make sure that the candidate's home country was on board with the idea. If there was no prior consultation, well, then the U.S. would look pretty incompetent.

Farfetched, you say? Well, consider that Russia just tried this gambit, according to the Financial Times' Catherine Belton, Katka Krosnar and Stefan Wagstyl:

Russia challenged western dominance of world international financial institutions on Wednesday by nominating a surprise candidate, Josef Tosovsky, the former Czech premier and ex-central bank chief, to run the International Monetary Fund.

The nomination pitted Mr Tosovsky against Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the former French finance minister, who has the backing of the European Union.

Russia’s move ran into immediate trouble when the Czech Republic, which joined the EU in 2004, declared that it was standing by the EU’s decision to support the French candidate....

Mr Kudrin praised Mr Tosovsky as a proven crisis manager. He said developing states, including Brazil, India and China, had all expressed support for an open selection process in talks....

Mirek Topolanek, the Czech prime minister, said: “Mr Tosovsky was not, and is not, the Czech Republic’s candidate for this post.”

Few countries yesterday backed Moscow’s choice of Mr Tosovsky. Mr Strauss-Kahn, in Beijing on Wednesday, was reported as saying he felt he had China’s backing. A senior Indian finance ministry official told the FT that as far as he was aware there had been “no conversation” about the nomination and he declined to say whether New Delhi would back Mr Tosovsky. A Brazilian presidential official said Brazil sought reform but was not backing any particular candidate.

The funny thing is that the Russians make a valid point -- why should the US and EU have a duopoly on the heads of key international organizations? The need to cut large developing countries into the global governance game is going to be one of the important international relations questions over the next few years.

That said, this Russian attempt -- like other Russian behavior over the past year -- was unilateral and amateurish. There appears to have been no coordination and/or consultation with other countries. If the U.S. had tried to pull this stunt there would have been a tsunami of criticism leveled at incompetent U.S. foreign policy managers.

This is a small example, but it speaks to a larger problem. The Europeans and Americans might have policy disagreements, but (2002-3 excepted) they have been pretty decent at consulting each other. Russia is ostensibly a rising power, and even has some prior experiennce with being acting like a great power. Their diplomatic style, however, makes the Bush administration's first term look like a paragon of propriety and decorum.

Obviously, power and interest drive most of what happens in world politics. Diplomatic style does matter on the margins, however. And if this is what passes as diplomacy from a rising power, then world politics is going to start looking like a bad episode of The Real World.

posted by Dan at 08:54 AM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Hi, I'm Daniel Drezner, the defense attorney for God

Over at Passport, Mike Boyer alerts me to a unique piece of litigation:

Nebraska State Senator Ernie Chambers has had enough of plagues, famines, droughts, hurricanes, and genocides. Chambers considers these incidents to be terrorists acts. To stop them, he's suing the person responsible for them—God.

Chambers, who before becoming a state legislator was a barber, filed a lawsuit last Friday in Nebraska's Douglas County District Court, naming himself as the plaintiff and God as the defendant, a permanent injunction "ordering defendant to cease certain harmful activities and the making of terroristic threats."

You can read the whole court filing by clicking here.

Before the Voloh Conspiracy and Opinio Juris get a hold of this, I have to sday that my favorite bit is this: "Defendant has made and continues to make terroristic threats of grave harm to innumerable persons." Whoa there -- Chambers has concrete information about these new threats?

After an allegation like that, if I was God's lawyer I'd advise him to smite Chambers until his tongue fell out and his flesh was covered with boils countersue for libel.

posted by Dan at 03:29 PM | Comments (6) | Trackbacks (0)

A post in which I go against my material self-interest

Greg Mankiw links to a James Miller column in Inside Higher Ed on how to promote better teaching in the academy. It involves -- wait for it -- giving more money to professors:

What tools should colleges use to reward excellent teachers? Some rely on teaching evaluations that students spend only a few minutes filling out. Others trust deans and department chairs to put aside friendships and enmities and objectively identify the best teachers. Still more colleges don’t reward teaching excellence and hope that the lack of incentives doesn’t diminish teaching quality.

I propose instead that institutions should empower graduating seniors to reward teaching excellence. Colleges should do this by giving each graduating senior $1,000 to distribute among their faculty. Colleges should have graduates use a computer program to distribute their allocations anonymously.

Some academics have already pointed out the potential effects on grade inflation. There are two other reasons, however, why I think this idea wouldn't work.

First, the professor-student relationship does not necessarily end at graduation. A large swath of students rely on their former professors for letters of recommendation on the job market and for graduate school. My fear about this proposal is not that it would lead to grade inflation, but praise inflation in letters of recommendation.

My second reason is more amorphous, and perhaps more easily dismissed, but I just don't think professors will warm to the idea. This is not (only) because bad teachers would be the relative losers, but because the good teachers would feel weird about getting the money. I suspect that most professors do not want to be part of a profession that thrives on gratuities. This might be a blinkered bias (or it might be an example that supports Tyler Cowen's assertion that some market transactions only work under certain environmental conditions), but it still exists. And I'm not entirely sure the students would feel comfortable with this idea either. Even if the professor-student relationship is a market transaction, it's also an authority relationship, and this will inhibit market-based activity to an extent.

Of course, it is useful to point out that the greatest economist of them all would have heartily agreed with Miller:

The endowments of schools and colleges have necessarily diminished more or less the necessity of application in the teachers. Their subsistence, so far as it arises from their salaries, is evidently derived from a fund altogether independent of their success and reputation in their particular professions.

In some universities the salary makes but a part, and frequently but a small part, of the emoluments of the teacher, of which the greater part arises from the honoraries or fees of his pupils. The necessity of application, though always more or less diminished, is not in this case entirely taken away. Reputation in his profession is still of some importance to him, and he still has some dependency upon the affection, gratitude, and favourable report of those who have attended upon his instructions; and these favourable sentiments he is likely to gain in no way so well as by deserving them, that is, by the abilities and diligence with which he discharges every part of his duty.

In other universities the teacher is prohibited from receiving any honorary or fee from his pupils, and his salary constitutes the whole of the revenue which he derives from his office. His interest is, in this case, set as directly in opposition to his duty as it is possible to set it. It is the interest of every man to live as much at his ease as he can; and if his emoluments are to be precisely the same, whether he does or does not perform some very laborious duty, it is certainly his interest, at least as interest is vulgarly understood, either to neglect it altogether, or, if he is subject to some authority which will not suffer him to do this, to perform it in as careless and slovenly a manner as that authority will permit.

posted by Dan at 08:37 AM | Comments (11) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, September 17, 2007

In other news, Americans still don't like spinach

Over at Entertainment Weekly's Popwatch blog, Gregory Kirschling is puzzled that Iraq is not a real ratings-winner in film and television:

You know one thing that bums me out? A lot of friends I’ve talked to lately refuse to go see movies about Iraq! What’s the matter with people? For the past many weeks I’ve been talking up Paul Haggis’s new film, In the Valley of Elah, and as soon as I mention that it actually has something powerful to say about the war, a lot of folks’ eyes turn glassy. Nobody cares!

Are we that detached? I don’t wanna go on for too long about this, because it’ll probably make me sound like a shrill crazy person, but I do kinda feel that if you refuse to go see a well-reviewed movie like Elah or the flabbergasting war doc No End in Sight simply because both of them are about Iraq, then you are — hate to say, but it might be true — a bad American.

Look, I liked No End In Sight, but are culture mavens like Kirschling really that clueless about why most people go to the movies? There's not a whole lot of escapism in films about Iraq.

[People go to movies for other reasons as well!!--ed. Yes, but getting angry is usually not one of those reasons. And anyone who sees a well-crafted movie on Iraq will feel that way. Why would anyone who supports the war pay ten bucks for the privilege of having their core assumptions challenged? Why would anyone who opposes the war pay ten bucks for the privilege of having their core assumption -- that the war is a mess -- confirmed?]

The only way I could see an Iraq war movie doing well would be if it was, like M*A*S*H, a very black comedy.

posted by Dan at 11:12 PM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

What will Iran do in Iraq?

A common objection to any kind of U.S. withdrawal from Iraq is that it's a gift to Iran. Iran is actively meddling in Iraq's politics as we speak. Should U.S. forces go over the horizon, the prospect of a powerful Iran and a subordinate Iraq stokes fears of a Shiite superstate in the region.

Is this how things will actually play out? Consider what is heppening now in Basra. The Christian Science Monitor's Sam Dagher reports on how Iraq's second-largest city is doing in the wake of the British exit from the city earlier this month. To get a sense of how fractious the place is, here's Dagher's guide to the key players in the region:

Sadrists and Mahdi Army: The movement of radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr is a formidable force in Basra. The Mahdi Army is estimated to number 17,000 in the province. Security officials say that some of the Basra militia are infiltrated by Iran and beholden to Tehran. It opposes a super-Shiite region, but supports the ouster of the Fadhila governor.

The Council: The Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, previously known by its acronym SCIRI, embraces four other affiliate parties in Basra:

The Badr Organization – Once the council’s Iranian-trained paramilitary arm, known as the Badr Brigade.

The Shaheed Al-Mihrab Organization – A nationwide movement headed by Ammar al-Hakim, the son of the Council’s chief.

The Sayed Al-Shuhada Movement (Master of Martyrs Movement).

The Hizbullah Movement in Iraq (no relation to Lebanese Hizbullah) and another small Iraqi party called Hizbullah al-Iraq (see below).

All five parties were previously based in Iran and have strong ties to Tehran. The Council and its affiliates hold 21 of the 40 seats in the provincial council. Badr still controls several police units, including customs.

The Pentacle House: The Council and its four party affiliates make up the Bayet al-Khumasi, or the Pentacle House. The goal: to create a nine-province Shiite group called the “South of Baghdad region.” Billboards in Basra tout the project as a “Shiite Renaissance.”

The Islamic Fadhila (Virtue) Party: Fadhila is a national party founded by Basra natives. Its spiritual leader is Najaf-based cleric Ayatollah Muhammad al-Yacoubi, who broke ranks with Moqtada al-Sadr in 2003.

The movement continues to espouse Sadrist ideas but has increasingly fashioned itself as a Shiite Arab Islamist party opposed to Iranian meddling in Iraq. It opposes the pro-Iranian Council and its affiliates over a number of issues, including the supersouthern region.

Fadhila holds 12 seats in the Basra provincial council, including the governorship and one of the two deputy governor slots in Basra. Fadhila dominates the 15,000-strong oil protection force.

Thaar Allah (God’s Revenge) Party: A small party based in Basra and headed by Yousif al-Mussawi. He is suspected by many city residents of being an Iranian agent. The party derives much of its funding from wealthy merchants who rely on it for protection. It has allied itself with the Council and its Pentacle House in the fight to oust the Fadhila governor. Mr. Mussawi blames the governor for the death of three members of his family during a raid on his party headquarters in 2006.

Hizbullah al-Iraq: A small party headed by tribal chief Abdul-Karim al-Mahamadawi, based in neighboring Maysan Province. The Prince of the Marshes, as Mr. Mahamadawi is known, has a large, armed tribal following and presence in Basra. He has tense relations with the Council and its affiliates.

Mahmoud al-Hassani al-Sarkhi: The cleric broke ranks with the Sadrists and is believed to be in the holy city of Karbala with the bulk of his militia. But he still has a following in Basra. His posters adorn many streets. The controversial cleric has challenged the authority of the marjiya, the Shiite religious authority dominated by the Najaf-based Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.

Read the whole thing. A few facts are quite clear: 1) Iran is playing a very active supporting role;

2) Iran does not appear to be playing a unifying role. The Monitor story suggests that this is because it lacks the capacity to do so:

Although Iran is closest to the council and its affiliate parties like Badr and Sayed al-Shuhada, it's also backing many other Shiite groups in southern Iraq including those that are openly using violence to oppose British and coalition troops, according to Ali Ansari, an Iran specialist at London's Chatham House.

"The Iranians are backing as many horses as they can," he says. "But there is a limit to their influence, given how fractious Shiites are in Iraq."

There's an alternative interpretation -- it's possible that Iran lacks the interest. A fractious Iraq can serve as a buffer for Iran without triggering a security dilemma with Saudi Arabia or other Sunni states.

The Basra story is still developing, of course. Still, one wonders whether Tehran will be any more adept at nation-building in Iraq than the United States.

posted by Dan at 08:13 AM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)

Sunday, September 16, 2007

The unique legacy of George W. Bush

According to the Wall Street Journal, "lifelong libertarian Republican" Alan Greenspan does not think much of President George W. Bush:

Mr. Greenspan writes that when President Bush chose Dick Cheney as vice president and Paul O'Neill as treasury secretary -- both colleagues from the Gerald Ford administration, during which Mr. Greenspan was chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers -- he "indulged in a bit of fantasy" that this would be the government that would have resulted if Mr. Ford hadn't lost to Jimmy Carter in 1976. But Mr. Greenspan discovered that in the Bush White House, the "political operation was far more dominant" than in Mr. Ford's. "Little value was placed on rigorous economic policy debate or the weighing of long-term consequences," he writes.
As strange as it seems today, Greenspan's expectations about the incoming administration were not completely out of whack. There was a time when people thought Paul O'Neill would make a great Treasury Secretary. Norwas this expectation limited to fiscal policy. On foreign policy, for example, Colin Powell, Richard Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and Condoleezza Rice all had good to excellent track records in previous administrations.

At this stage of the game, however, there are clearly four categories of legacies that come with working for George W. Bush:

1) Those lucky few who will emerge with their reputation intact somehow. Examples: Bob Zoellick, Rob Portman, Ben Bernanke.

2) Those whose reputations acquired a stain that will be difficult to erase. Examples: Colin Powell (and his speech to the U.N.), Alan Greenspan (and his endorsement of the Bush tax cuts).

3) Those whose actions have led journalists to engage in psychoanalysis to figure out what the heck went wrong: Examples: Dick Cheney, Don Rumsfeld.

4) Those who have committed career suicide through repeated screw-ups. Examples: Paul Wolfowitz, Alberto Gonzales.

(1) and (4) do not interest me as much as (2) and (3). How is it possible for so many distinguished policymakers to have been brought so low by one administration?

UPDATE: Some commenters have pointed out that Greenspan's endorsement of the tax cuts do not fall into the same category as what other officials did, since he certainly did not endorse the massive spending increases that followed the tax cuts. I think this is a fair point, and can be summed up in an exchange Greenspan had with Bob Rubin about his testimony regarding the tax cuts:

Bob Rubin phoned.... With a big tax cut, said Bob, "the risk is, you lose the fiscal discipline."...

"Bob, where in my testimony do you disagree?"

There was silence. Finally he replied, "The issue isn't so much what you're saying. It's how it's going to be perceived."

"I cant be in charge of people's perceptions," I responded wearily. "I don't function that way. I can't function that way."

It turned out that Conrad and Rubin were right....

Let me put it this way. I think Greenspan can erase his stain with less effort than others in category (2). However, he's going to have to deal with people very eager to keep refreshing that stain.

posted by Dan at 11:38 PM | Comments (20) | Trackbacks (0)