Saturday, September 29, 2007

Gonna be a stress-free weekend


On the same night, the Red Sox and the Cubs clinch division titles.... and the earth is still rotating.

As for Mets fans, I can only suggest clicking here and taking some solace from Adam Smith.

posted by Dan at 09:23 AM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)

Friday, September 28, 2007

Which audience matters?

A bunch of readers have e-mailed or linked to Jeffrey Fleishman's Los Angeles Times story from earlier this week about how Ahmadinejad's U.S. trip has played well in the Middle East -- he ostensibly has "folk hero" status.

Certainly this is a potentially relevant audience -- but if you think about it, for Ahmadinejad it's actually his least relevant audience.

How has the trip played inside Iran? In the Washington Post, Robin Wright suggests not so well -- in part because it played so badly in the United States:

The congressional rebuke a few hours before Ahmadinejad's Iran Air 747 departed reflected what American scholars and Iranians alike depicted as a missed opportunity by the Iranian president to ease mounting tensions between Iran and the West, particularly the United States....

"Iranians find the Western reaction insulting and a sign of belligerence, but Ahmadinejad has also not emerged as a statesman or a diplomat," said Vali Nasr of Tufts University. "The Iranian blogs and chat rooms are clearly taken aback not just by the comments [at Columbia] but by the headlines of tabloids. . . . He has tried to reach out to Americans, but to a large measure he has failed -- and the Iranian political elite know he has failed."

It should be oted that Nasr's view is not held by everyone -- but I'm unconvinced that this was a domestic win for him.

How about the Security Council? Blake Hounshell suggests, again, not so well:

[N]otice what happened today at the U.N.: French President Sarkozy called for "combining firmness with dialogue," reiterating his position, "if we allow Iran to acquire nuclear weapons, we would incur an unacceptable risk to stability in the region ad the world." And Germany's Angela Merkel came out in support of a new round of sanctions "if [Iran's] behavior doesn't change." She added, "Israel's security isn't negotiable," and referred to Ahmadinejad's history of comments on Israel as "inhumane".

These statements may well have been worked out on Friday, when the permanent five members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany met in Washington to discuss the sanctions issue. But it sure was easier for Germany to toughen its stance after yesterday's farce at Columbia. Ahmadinejad had a chance to come across as a moderate, undercutting the unity of the EU3. Instead, he came across as a buffoon not ready for prime time.

Question to readers: does Ahmadinejad's popularity in the Middle East matter as much as his unpopularity at home, in the United States, and in the United Nations?

UPDATE: More conflicting takes from the weekend newspapers.

posted by Dan at 01:39 PM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)

China's new foreign policy headaches

Andrew Sullivan nicely recaps the state of play in Burma. I confess I've been loathe to blog about events there because, knowing the military regime's track record in that country, there is only one way this will end.

Quentin Peel uses this flare-up on China's southern border to point out that Beijing is beginning to adjust to the fact that the world expects responsibility to go along with power:

The prospect of growing chaos in the confrontation between Burma’s military junta and civilian protesters provides a critical challenge to China’s efforts to forge a new international image as an influential and responsible world leader.

It calls into question the Chinese position of non-interference in the politics of countries with which it does business, and the absolute priority for political “stability” – which hitherto has always meant an acceptance of the status quo....

Senior Chinese academics attending a Sino-European dialogue in Paris this week repeated the familiar mantra that China puts development before democracy. But they also admitted that growing experience of operating conditions in Africa has caused Chinese officials to start discussing issues such as the rule of law, corporate social responsibility, and institution building.

Neighbouring Burma is far more sensitive for Beijing than distant African states such as Sudan and Angola, but there are similar signs of growing frustration with the Burmese military regime, as much for its incompetence as for its brutality.

“China is changing its identity from being a spectator to being an actor,” said Professor Feng Zhongping, director of the Institute of European Studies at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, at the Paris seminar, hosted by the EU Institute for Security Studies. “Now it increasingly realises its responsibilities outside China.”

The question, of course, is whether senior Chinese officials are heading in the same direction as the senior Chinese academics.

posted by Dan at 07:47 AM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (0)

Blogging scholarship available

The Daniel Kovach Scholarship Foundation is giving away $10,000 to a blogger this year:

Do you maintain a weblog and attend college? Would you like $10,000 to help pay for books, tuition, or other living costs? If so, read on.

We're giving away $10,000 this year to a college student who blogs. The Blogging Scholarship is awarded annually.

Go check it out. And I suspect they're more reliable than other scholarship programs.

posted by Dan at 07:34 AM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

You want guilt? You can't handle the guilt!!

The Chronicle of Higher Education asked several academics, "to share their secret (or not so secret) guilty pleasures" outside of the classroom."

Cosmic Variance's Sean Carroll provided an answer, but is thoroughly unimpressed with the entire exercise:

Seems like a potentially amusing parlor game, no? Well, as a moment’s reflection would reveal, no. Because you see, what could they possibly say? Most academics, for better or for worse, basically conform to the stereotype. They like reading books and teaching classes, not shooting up heroin or walking around in public dressed up in gender-inappropriate undergarments. (See, I don’t even know what would count as a respectable guilty pleasure.) And if they did, they certainly wouldn’t admit it. And if they did admit it, it certainly wouldn’t be in the pages of the Chronicle....

As it turns out, compared to my colleagues I’m some sort of cross between Hunter S. Thompson and Caligula. Get a load of some of these guilty pleasures: Sudoku. Riding a bike. And then, without hint of sarcasm: Landscape restoration. Gee, I hope your Mom never finds out about that.

Henry Farrell chimes in:
I’m as bad as any of the respondents if not worse – my guilty pleasures are nothing more exciting than science fiction and fantasy novels with garish covers – but if anyone else has more interesting pleasures to confess in comments (anonymously or anonymously), go ahead.
Some of Henry's commenters comes up with some good ones, but my personal fave is: "snorting meth off the flesh of naked people using a rolled up Universal Declaration of Human Rights."

I have no shortages of guilty pleasures, but there are limits to sharing.

Still, to make Sean feel better, here are links to my guilty blog pleasure du jour and my ridiculously guilty TV pleasure from last fall (in my defense, the official Blog Wife was also transfixed by the latter).

posted by Dan at 11:19 PM | Comments (6) | Trackbacks (0)

Is the United States more anxious than it used to be?

In the wake of Ahmadinejad's romp through New York, there's a meme that Americans, by not extending every courtesy to him, have displayed an anxiety that would have never existed during the Cold War, when conservatives had no power.

For example, everyone and their mother link to a Rick Perlstein essay that compares and contrasts Ahmadinejad's visit with Nikita Khruschchev's 1959 visit to the United States. Here's a snippet:

Nikita Khrushchev disembarked from his plane at Andrews Air Force Base to a 21-gun salute and a receiving line of 63 officials and bureaucrats, ending with President Eisenhower. He rode 13 miles with Ike in an open limousine to his guest quarters across from the White House. Then he met for two hours with Ike and his foreign policy team. Then came a white-tie state dinner. (The Soviets then put one on at the embassy for Ike.) He joshed with the CIA chief about pooling their intelligence data, since it probably all came from the same people—then was ushered upstairs to the East Wing for a leisurely gander at the Eisenhowers' family quarters. Visited the Agriculture Department's 12,000 acre research station ("If you didn't give a turkey a passport you couldn't tell the difference between a Communist and capitalist turkey"), spoke to the National Press Club, toured Manhattan, San Francisco (where he debated Walter Reuther on Stalin's crimes before a retinue of AFL-CIO leaders, or in K's words, "capitalist lackeys"), and Los Angeles (there he supped at the 20th Century Fox commissary, visited the set of the Frank Sinatra picture Can Can but to his great disappointment did not get to visit Disneyland), and sat down one more with the president, at Camp David. Mrs. K did the ladies-who-lunch circuit, with Pat Nixon as guide. Eleanor Roosevelt toured them through Hyde Park. It's not like it was all hearts and flowers. He bellowed that America, as Time magazine reported, "must close down its worldwide deterrent bases and disarm." Reporters asked him what he'd been doing during Stalin's blood purges, and the 1956 invasion of Hungary. A banquet of 27 industrialists tried to impress upon him the merits of capitalism. Nelson Rockefeller rapped with him about the Bible.

Had America suddenly succumbed to a fever of weak-kneed appeasement? Had the general running the country—the man who had faced down Hitler!—proven himself what the John Birch Society claimed he was: a conscious agent of the Communist conspiracy?

No. Nikita Khrushchev simply visited a nation that had character. That was mature, well-adjusted. A nation confident we were great. We had our neuroses, to be sure—plenty of them.

But look now what we have lost. Now when a bad guy crosses our threshhold, America becomes a pants-piddling mess.

Look, this is a pretty silly historical comparison. There are several reasons why the U.S. treated Khrushchev differently than Ahmadinejad, none of which have to do with the relative power of American conservatives:
1) The USSR was an acknowledged superpower; Iran is not. And yes, these things should matter in how foreign potentates are treated. And last I checked, neither Hu Jintao nor Vladimir Putin has complained about their treatment in visits to the United States during the Bush years. In fact, as Matt Zeitlin observes, Hu got the 21-gun salute and exchange of toasts the last time he was in the USA.

2) Khrushchev had no problem wearing a tuxedo and delighting in the petty charms of the bourgeoisie as it were. If we even offered a white tie dinner to Ahmadinejad, does anyone think he'd actually accept? And what would he wear?

This sounds like a small difference, but it's symbolic of the larger cultural gap that exists between Iran and the U.S. than existed between the superpowers during the Cold War.

3) In 1959, the Soviets weren't viewed as defecting from the tacit rules regarding nuclear weapons. Once they were suspected of violating those rules, I'm astonished to report that Cold War liberals started acting in a different manner.

Take a look, for example, at this video of Adlai Stevenson's famous 1962 UN speech in which he confronted Soviet ambassador Valerian Zorin about the presence of Soviet missiles in Cuba -- glamorized in Thirteen Days.

Click on over and check out the speech for yourself. We get nuggets like these:

Mr. Zorin and gentlemen, I want to say to you, Mr. Zorin, that I don't have your talent for obfuscation, for distortion, for confusing language, and for doubletalk. And I must confess to you that I'm glad I don't.
Wow, that Stevenson was a pants-piddler, wasn't he?

The current crisis with Iran is not the same as the Cuban Missile Crisis -- but it's worth remembering that Iran concealed its nuclear activities from the IAEA for two decades. So you'll excuse Americans for not taking too kindly to Ahmadinejad.

Historical analogies are always a dangerous minefield, but this cherry-picking of the historical record should make amateur analogists blush with embarrassment.

UPDATE: Robert Farley responds here: "Since the point of the wingnutty is that Ahmadinejad is EVIL DANGER EVIL DANGER EVIL DANGER EVIL and must be silenced at all costs, the comparison seems quite apt."

Farley's post clarifies for me where liberal bloggers are coming from on this point, but it also throws up the problem that Perlstein and Farley are now comparing apples with oranges. Both compare the official U.S. handling of Khrushchev (state dinner, etc.) with the unofficial response of Americans to Ahmadinejad (Columbia, visiting 9/11 shrine, blog responses, etc.). One could argue that to many non-Americans, someone like Lee Bollinger appears to be an official spokesman for the foreign policy establishment of the United States. To Americans, however, that's a pretty ludicrous assumption.

The Bush administration's response to Ahmadinejad's visit hasn't exactly been receptive, but does the president walking out of the General Assembly prior to Ahmadinejad's speech really constitute pants-piddling?

posted by Dan at 01:24 PM | Comments (8) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Wait, you mean that markets move towards equilibrium?

The New York Times' Anand Giridharads loooks at how India's outsourcing sector is maturing. He finds that -- gasp! -- Indian firms are outsourcing their outsourcing to other countries.... including, among others, the United States:

Thousands of Indians report to Infosys Technologies’ campus here to learn the finer points of programming. Lately, though, packs of foreigners have been roaming the manicured lawns, too.

Many of them are recent American college graduates, and some have even turned down job offers from coveted employers like Google. Instead, they accepted a novel assignment from Infosys, the Indian technology giant: fly here for six months of training, then return home to work in the company’s American back offices.

India is outsourcing outsourcing.

One of the constants of the global economy has been companies moving their tasks — and jobs — to India. But rising wages and a stronger currency here, demands for workers who speak languages other than English, and competition from countries looking to emulate India’s success as a back office — including China, Morocco and Mexico — are challenging that model....

In May, Tata Consultancy Service, Infosys’s Indian rival, announced a new back office in Guadalajara, Mexico; Tata already has 5,000 workers in Brazil, Chile and Uruguay. Cognizant Technology Solutions, with most of its operations in India, has now opened back offices in Phoenix and Shanghai.

Wipro, another Indian technology services company, has outsourcing offices in Canada, China, Portugal, Romania and Saudi Arabia, among other locations.

And last month, Wipro said it was opening a software development center in Atlanta that would hire 500 programmers in three years.

In a poetic reflection of outsourcing’s new face, Wipro’s chairman, Azim Premji, told Wall Street analysts this year that he was considering hubs in Idaho and Virginia, in addition to Georgia, to take advantage of American “states which are less developed.” (India’s per capita income is less than $1,000 a year.)

posted by Dan at 01:56 PM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (0)

Brooks vs. the netroots, round XVII

David Brooks' column today makes me rethink my truculence about the death of TimesSelect.

Brooks' argument is that the liberal netroots are not meeting expectations in affecting the Democratic Party:

Now it’s evident that if you want to understand the future of the Democratic Party you can learn almost nothing from the bloggers, billionaires and activists on the left who make up the “netroots.” You can learn most of what you need to know by paying attention to two different groups — high school educated women in the Midwest, and the old Clinton establishment in Washington.

In the first place, the netroots candidates are losing. In the various polls on the Daily Kos Web site, John Edwards, Barack Obama and even Al Gore crush Hillary Clinton, who limps in with 2 percent to 10 percent of the vote.

Moguls like David Geffen have fled for Obama. But the party as a whole is going the other way. Hillary Clinton has established a commanding lead.

Second, Clinton is drawing her support from the other demographic end of the party. As the journalist Ron Brownstein and others have noted, Democratic primary contests follow a general pattern. There are a few candidates who represent the affluent, educated intelligentsia (Eugene McCarthy, Bill Bradley) and they usually end up getting beaten by the candidate of the less educated, lower middle class.

That’s what’s happening again.

Read the whole thing... definitely not crap. But I do have a few cavils. Are celebrities mobuls really shying away from Clinton? Wasn't Steven Spielberg's endorsement a signal to other members of the cultural elite to line up behind Hillary? Similarly, hasn't Hillary's supporters been more likely to max out their campaign contributions to date -- suggesting that Obama has done just as well in tapping support from low income households? And would the netroots really be upset by President Hillary? Wasn't there a fair amount of netroots enthusiasm about Hillary's health care plan?

Readers are requested to link to the most hyperbolic netroot response they can find to this column.

posted by Dan at 08:35 AM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)

Open Ahmadinejad thread

So, did Mahmoud Ahmadinejad score a public relations coup by speaking at Columbia University?

He had to sit there while university president Lee Bollinger told him him, "you exhibit all the signs of a petty and cruel dictator." And that was one of the nicer things Bollinger said to him:

Frankly, and in all candor, Mr. President, I doubt that you will have the intellectual courage to answer these questions. But your avoiding them will in itself be meaningful to us. I do expect you to exhibit the fanatical mindset that characterizes so much of what you say and do. Fortunately, I am told by experts on your country, that this only further undermines your position in Iran with all the many good-hearted, intelligent citizens there.
According to the New York Times account, Ahmadinejad managed to parry back efforts to pin him down... but he also claimed that Iran has no gay people.

Ezra Klein's take is that Ahmadinejad is "outwitting us in the court of world opinion." My take is similar to what Bollinger said about Ahmadinejad's Council on Foreign Relations appearance last year:
A year ago, I am reliably told, your preposterous and belligerent statements in this country (as in your meeting at the Council on Foreign Relations) so embarrassed sensible Iranian citizens that this led to your party’s defeat in the December mayoral elections. May this do that and more.
What's your take?

posted by Dan at 12:44 AM | Comments (10) | Trackbacks (0)

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is here to enlighten America

I think some Bush administration officials are laboring under some serious misconceptions with regard to Iran. Their unstated belief is that the mass Iranian public is ready to oust President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, and their conservative acolytes. All they need is some external nudge -- like a good dose of bombing -- for the state to collapse.

In contrast, everything I've heard or read from Iran experts suggests that on the streets of Tehran, Ali Q. Publiq feels a strong sense of national pride about the nuclear program. It's the one thing that Ahmadinejad has found to boost his domestic standing. So this view among Bush officials is not only untrue, it's a patronizing view of ordinary Iranians. They are perfectly capable of disliking Ahmadinejad, desiring a strong Iran, and preferring not to be bombed at the same time.

It should be pointed out, however, that Bush administration officials are not the only ones suffering from this kind of delusion. There's also.... Mahmoud Ahmadinjad himself. From the AP's Ali Akbar Dareini:

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Sunday that the American people are eager for different opinions about the world, and he is looking forward to providing them with "correct and clear information," state media reported.

The hardline Iranian leader left Sunday for New York to address the U.N. General Assembly and speak to students and teachers during a forum at Columbia University....

Ahmadinejad said his visit will give Americans a chance to hear a different voice, the official IRNA news agency reported.

"The United States is a big and important country with a population of 300 million. Due to certain issues, the American people in the past years have been denied correct and clear information about global developments and are eager to hear different opinions," Ahmadinejad was quoted by IRNA as saying.

State-run television also quoted Ahmadinejad before boarding his presidential plane Sunday as saying that the General Assembly was an "important podium" to express Iran's views on regional and global issues.

Oh Mahmoud, I'm not sure how to put this gently, so I'll put it bluntly: Americans are perfectly capable of disliking George W. Bush and disliking you and your thuggish regime even more. Your past actions and statements have rendered you as a less than credible purveyor of "correct and clear information." Any belief of yours that Americans will be persuaded by your rhetoric is a mistaken one.

Ironically, the AP story also reports that the people who are fretting the most about Ahmadinejad's trip to New York are.... other Iranians:

Ahmadinejad's visit to New York is also being debated back home. Some in Iran think his trip is a publicity stint that hurts Iran's image in the world.

Political analyst Iraj Jamshidi said Ahmadinejad looks at the General Assembly as a publicity forum simply to surprise world leaders with his unpredictable rhetoric.

"The world has not welcomed Ahmadinejad's hardline approach. His previous address to the Assembly didn't resolve any of Iran's foreign policy issues. And no one expects anything better this time," he said.

Independent Iranian analysts also criticized Ahmadinejad for making the trip, saying his anti-Western rhetoric makes life for Iran more difficult.

"Many experts believe Ahmadinejad's previous two visits brought no achievement ... rather, it heightened tensions," the reformist daily Etemad-e-Melli, or National Confidence, said in an editorial Sunday.

UPDATE: A clarification -- just because I think Ahmadinejad is deluded about American attitudes -- actually, I think he's deluded in general -- doesn't mean that I don't fully support Columbia University's decision to host a forum for him.

posted by Dan at 06:41 PM | Comments (9) | Trackbacks (0)