Saturday, October 20, 2007

Rowling outs Dumbledore??!!

Can we forget the the world's troubles for a second and talk about the fact that an author just outed her fictional character's sexual persuasion?

Tina Jordan explains for Entertainment Weekly's PopWatch blog:

At last night's talk at New York City's Carnegie Hall — an event for thousands of young Harry Potter fans and their parents — J.K. Rowling outed the kindly headmaster.

Responding to a question from a child about Dumbledore's love life, Rowling hesitated and then revealed, "I always saw Dumbledore as gay." Filling in a few more details, she said, "Dumbledore fell in love with Grindelwald.... Don't forget, falling in love can blind us. [He] was very drawn to this brilliant person. This was Dumbledore's tragedy." She added that in a recent meeting about the sixth movie, she spied a line in the script where Dumbledore waxed poetic about a girl, so she was forced to scribble director David Yates a note to correct the situation.

Now this raises all kinds of interesting questions.
1) Does what Rowling think matters?

2) Does an author have a responsibility to keep aspects of a fictional character's life private? What if the character is in a children's book? What are the ethics, if any, of fictional outings?

3) Am I just procrastinating on deeper thoughts?

Blog reactions at Red State and Andrew Sullivan.

posted by Dan at 04:38 PM | Comments (9) | Trackbacks (0)

Iran to rest of world: "talk to the hand"

The New York Times' Nazila Fathi and Michael Slackman report on a worrisome development in Iran:

Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator, viewed by the West as a moderating influence in Tehran, resigned before crucial talks with Europe this week over Iran’s nuclear program, signaling that officials here may have closed the door to any possible negotiated settlement in its standoff with the West.

The negotiator, Ali Larijani, was among a small group of officials who, while supportive of Iran’s nuclear ambitions, have tried to press back against President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his more radical approach, which has left Iran increasingly isolated.

But with Mr. Larijani’s resignation, it appears that the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the final say in all matters of state, has fallen in squarely behind the president. Mr. Ahmadinejad represents the most radical face of the leadership, which has defied the United Nations Security Council twice and sped up the process of uranium enrichment. Mr. Larijani had been appointed by and reported to the supreme leader.

Now, with oil prices high enough to help Iran mitigate the effects of any new sanctions, and with Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin, having made a historic trip to Tehran last week, it appears that the top leadership has settled on a single, radical track.

“This is definitely a major political change, and not necessarily a positive one,” said Saeed Leylaz, a political analyst and former government official. “It might mean that Iran is speeding up its activities and is becoming more radical, especially now with higher oil prices.”

UPDATE: Farideh Farhi provides some worrisome analysis over at the ICGA blog:
The most unsettling aspect of this move from the insiders point of view may be questions raised regarding Ayatollah Khamenei's control over the nuclear file. Both of the possibilities - that he has either lost control or decided to throw his support for the most radical elements in the Iranian political system - are bound to unsettle the domestic political scene. For him, to be seen as being in one corner with Ahmadinejad against all the other heavyweights of Iranian politics, including Hashemi Rafsanjani, Khatami, Karrubi, Rezaie, Qalibaf, and now Larijani, is a predicament he has tried hard to avoid at least publicly.

posted by Dan at 04:14 PM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)

There's nothing like spotty wireless and the great outdoors

Blogging will be light over the next few days, because I am here.

Imagine about forty political scientists and policymakers surrounded by some of the most spectacular scenery in the country, staring into their laptops and occasionally cursing their erratic wireless connection [UPDATE: In response to the polite urgings of other conference-goers, let me add that I'm guilty of this sin as well).

This place is awesome, but I keep looking around expecting to see Fredo get clipped.

The conference topic, by the way, is "New Challenges to International Regimes." Any readers who have bright ideas about how to reform either the UN system, or the nonproliferation regime should let me know ASAP.

In the meanwhile, loyal readers will have to be sated with mentions of me elsewhere.

The Chronicle of Higher Education has a funny blog post about blog citations.

And I'm quoted in this Economist story on Operation Divest Terror, a movement sweeping state governments who are ordering pension fund managers to divest their holdings of companies doing business with Iran. I'm not terribly optimistic about it having any effect.

That should be enough media whoredom for the weekend.

posted by Dan at 10:53 AM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

Friday, October 19, 2007

Hear me do my best NPR voice

My media whoredom conquers another platform, as today I have an audio commentary for NPR's Marketplace. I talk about Hillary Clinton's trade proposals and the bang-up job they would do in improving America's image.

Discerning readers will observe echoes from this blog post of last week -- but with less snark and more lilting irony. [Sounds like NPR's new motto!!--ed.]

Click here to listen and tell me if my voice can cut it on NPR.

posted by Dan at 01:55 AM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

A question for the fair and balanced reader

Kevin Drum asks an interesting question:

[I]is there any subject among liberals that has the same totemic appeal as tax cutting does to conservatives? As near as I can tell, every single Republican running for president publicly says that cutting taxes always raises revenues — even though the idea is as absurd as Ron Paul's gold standard crankiness. Ditto for the Heritage Foundation, AEI, the Wall Street Journal editorial page, etc. etc. Deviate from the party line, as Bruce Bartlett has, and you're quickly excommunicated.

Liberals agree on lots of things, but I just can't think of anything that's enforced quite as ruthlessly as the conservative party line on tax cuts. Any ideas?

OK, fair and balanced readers... have at it.

[Your two cents?--ed. There's an easy and a hard answer. The easy answer is what's enforced ruthlessly right now vs. what's been enforced ruthlessly over the past two decades. I think I have at least one answer to the former question (don't touch Social Security). My only answer for the latter would be abortion rights.

posted by Dan at 09:18 PM | Comments (19) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Comparing and contrasting McCain and Clinton

Foreign Affairs has released the latest foreign policy visions of the candidates (faithful readers of the blog will remember that Barack Obama, Mitt Romney, Rudy Giuliani, and John Edwards have inflicted presented their views in previous issues. These efforts have ranged from fair to middlin' to bats@$t insane).

Hillary Clinton, "Security and Opportunity for the Twenty-first Century."

John McCain, "An Enduring Peace Built on Freedom."

Having read through the essays, I have two thoughts....

The first is the diametrically opposed logics these two candidates bring to Iraq. Here's Clinton:

Ending the war in Iraq is the first step toward restoring the United States' global leadership. The war is sapping our military strength, absorbing our strategic assets, diverting attention and resources from Afghanistan, alienating our allies, and dividing our people. The war in Iraq has also stretched our military to the breaking point. We must rebuild our armed services and restore them body and soul.

We must withdraw from Iraq in a way that brings our troops home safely, begins to restore stability to the region, and replaces military force with a new diplomatic initiative to engage countries around the world in securing Iraq's future. To that end, as president, I will convene the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the secretary of defense, and the National Security Council and direct them to draw up a clear, viable plan to bring our troops home, starting within the first 60 days of my administration....

Getting out of Iraq will enable us to play a constructive role in a renewed Middle East peace process that would mean security and normal relations for Israel and the Palestinians. The fundamental elements of a final agreement have been clear since 2000: a Palestinian state in Gaza and the West Bank in return for a declaration that the conflict is over, recognition of Israel's right to exist, guarantees of Israeli security, diplomatic recognition of Israel, and normalization of its relations with Arab states. U.S. diplomacy is critical in helping to resolve this conflict. In addition to facilitating negotiations, we must engage in regional diplomacy to gain Arab support for a Palestinian leadership that is committed to peace and willing to engage in a dialogue with the Israelis. Whether or not the United States makes progress in helping to broker a final agreement, consistent U.S. involvement can lower the level of violence and restore our credibility in the region.

And then there's McCain:
Defeating radical Islamist extremists is the national security challenge of our time. Iraq is this war's central front, according to our commander there, General David Petraeus, and according to our enemies, including al Qaeda's leadership....

So long as we can succeed in Iraq -- and I believe that we can -- we must succeed. The consequences of failure would be horrific: a historic loss at the hands of Islamist extremists who, after having defeated the Soviet Union in Afghanistan and the United States in Iraq, will believe that the world is going their way and that anything is possible; a failed state in the heart of the Middle East providing sanctuary for terrorists; a civil war that could quickly develop into a regional conflict and even genocide; a decisive end to the prospect of a modern democracy in Iraq, for which large Iraqi majorities have repeatedly voted; and an invitation for Iran to dominate Iraq and the region even more.

Whether success grows closer or more distant over the coming months, it is clear that Iraq will be a central issue for the next U.S. president. Democratic candidates have promised to withdraw U.S. troops and "end the war" by fiat, regardless of the consequences. To make such decisions based on the political winds at home, rather than on the realities in the theater, is to court disaster. The war in Iraq cannot be wished away, and it is a miscalculation of historic magnitude to believe that the consequences of failure will be limited to one administration or one party. This is an American war, and its outcome will touch every one of our citizens for years to come.

That is why I support our continuing efforts to win in Iraq. It is also why I oppose a preemptive withdrawal strategy that has no Plan B for the aftermath of its inevitable failure and the greater problems that would ensue.

I'm not sure I agree with either Clinton or McCain. The Senator from Arizona is vastly inflating the importance of groups like Al Qaeda in Iraq, but I can't see how the Senator from New York thinks a complete withdrawal -- and the internal chaos that will go with it -- will "enable us to play a constructive role in a renewed Middle East peace process."

That said, these two essays are easily the best of the bunch. Both Clinton and McCain -- or at least, the staffers who wrote these pieces -- have a better grasp for policy detail and means-ends relationships than the other candidates. Clinton, in contrast to either Obama or Edwards, makes the connection between a withdrawal from Iraq and a more generous policy towards Iraqi asylum-seekers. She occasionally suffers from the fairy dust that is the word "engagement," but otherwise she hits the appropriate marks. Also, not for nothing, but this essay is much more clearly written than the other essays in the mix.

McCain, more than any other candidate, gets the connection between trade policy and foreign policy. He explicitly connects improving America's image in Latin America and ratifying the bevy of trade agreements from that region. He also pushes for a completion of the Doha round. His "League of Democracies" idea sounds awfully familiar, and I'm not sure it will fly. That said, this essay is a vast improvement over the other Republican challengers.

posted by Dan at 10:14 PM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)

Why George W. Bush thinks we invaded Iraq

In the latest issue of PS: Political Science and Politics, Richard Rose recounts his meeting -- along with a few other experts -- with George W. Bush in the Oval Office. The idea -- set up by Peter Feaver when he was at the NSC -- was for Bush to interact with experts on divided societies to see what lessons could be applied to Iraq.

It's entitled, "What Do You Tell the President in Three Minutes about Iraq?" I was a little surprised to see this section:

We were told to expect a wide-ranging and free-flowing discussion--and this forecast was accurate. After the President made several references to the importance of liberty, I reminded him that Isaiah Berlin was not only in favour of liberty but also of order. The place to talk about liberty was not in discussions about a land lacking order but when he next saw President Putin. When the conversation became too academic, the President even began leafing through a book of mine that I had given him that ends with a chapter about America's victory over Iraq in Kuwait, a victory that left his father riding the crest of a wave--after which there was only a one-way option down.

The President listened far more than he spoke and when he did it was to make simple points that many critics dodge, such as: We had to do something after 19 young people blew up 3,000 Americans. (emphasis added)

posted by Dan at 04:32 PM | Comments (17) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, October 15, 2007

Not bad for a 40-year old article

The Economist examines the totemic worship of Che Guevara, 40 years after his death.

The wider the cult spreads, the further it strays from the man. Rather than a Christian romantic, Guevara was a ruthless and dogmatic Marxist, who stood not for liberation but for a new tyranny. In the Sierra Maestra, he shot those suspected of treachery; in victory, Mr Castro placed him in charge of the firing squads that executed “counter-revolutionaries”; as minister of industries, Guevara advocated expropriation down to the last farm and shop. His exhortation to guerrilla warfare, irrespective of political circumstance, lured thousands of idealistic Latin Americans to their deaths, helped to create brutal dictatorships and delayed the achievement of democracy.
What's reallly interesting, however, is that the magazine linked to its 1967 story about Guevara's death. This being the Economist, we have no idea who wrote it. Whoever it was, however, deserves props for the analysis and assessment:
This blow at the guerrilla movement in Bolivia follows on its destruction in Peru and its near-destruction in Colombia and Venezuela. It is a major strategic reverse for the “armed struggle.” But there are signs that what may happen now is that the focus of guerrilla activity will move from South America to Central America and the Caribbean. In Matagalpa province in Nicaragua insurgents have become increasingly active this year, while to the north, in Guatemala, the guerrillas, though hard pressed, are continuing to be quite a problem for the government. In Haiti the guerrilla movement is gradually co-ordinating itself, while in the Dominican Republic Dr Juan Bosch’s party this month split itself into violent and non-violent factions. Compared with the great South American dream, this is all small and fairly unimpressive fry for the guerrilla movement. But it would still be premature to say that the death of Guevara means the death of armed insurgency in Latin America.

Che Guevara’s name is already being classed with that of the Liberator, Simon Bolivar. Latin America’s marxist “liberation” has yet to look even likely, but Guevara has died with his reputation intact. From his middle-class Argentinian youth, he became a revolutionary by conviction and profession. With the two Castro brothers he invaded Cuba in the cockleshell Granma, stayed on to help run revolutionary Cuba as minister of industry, then, perhaps growing bored, took his leave of Cuba on a dedicated secret mission to set the continent alight. He failed. But many Latin Americans will go on believing that the legends that will be spun round his Pimpernel existence may one day lead to his picture being hung beside that of the Liberator in Latin American halls.

posted by Dan at 02:58 PM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Meet your kinda touchy-feely blogger

This is the weirdest cognitive test I have ever taken. Click first, and then click back.

Like Kevin Drum, I was initially unable to see anything but the dancer turning clockwise. When I went back to the site a few hours later, however, I was able to get her to go counter-clockwise. At this point I can -- sort of -- get her to go whichever way I want. On the whole, however, my natural inclination is to see a clockwise rotation.

Take the test youself and report back!

UPDATE: Some commenters have suggested that this is merely a software trick -- i.e., the image will rotate in one direction and then randomly switch rotation. To test this, the Official Blog Wife, Official Blog Son and I all looked at the image at the same time. Two of us saw it going clockwise, one of us counter-clockwise. So it's not a software trick.

posted by Dan at 12:01 PM | Comments (29) | Trackbacks (0)

BDM, in profile

Good Magazine has a long Michael Lerner profile of Bruce Bueno de Mesquita, the chair of political science at New York University (in the field, Bruce will forever be known by the three letter acronym "BDM.")

Lerner's story is about BDM's political forecasting techniques, his use of rational choice methodology... and the uniqueness that is Bruce:

If you listen to Bruce Bueno de Mesquita, and a lot of people don’t, he’ll claim that mathematics can tell you the future. In fact, the professor says that a computer model he built and has perfected over the last 25 years can predict the outcome of virtually any international conflict, provided the basic input is accurate. What’s more, his predictions are alarmingly specific. His fans include at least one current presidential hopeful, a gaggle of Fortune 500 companies, the CIA, and the Department of Defense. Naturally, there is also no shortage of people less fond of his work. “Some people think Bruce is the most brilliant foreign policy analyst there is,” says one colleague. “Others think he’s a quack.”

Today, on a rare sunny summer day in San Francisco, Bueno de Mesquita appears to be neither. He’s relaxing in his stately home, answering my questions with exceeding politesse. Sunlight streams through the tall windows, the melodic sound of a French horn echoing from somewhere upstairs; his daughter, a musician in a symphony orchestra, is practicing for an upcoming recital. It’s all so complacent and genteel, which is exactly what Bueno de Mesquita isn’t. As if on cue, a question sets him off. “I found it to be offensive,” he says about a colleague’s critique of his work. “This is absolutely, totally, and utterly false,” he says about the attack of another....

To verify the accuracy of [BDM's] model, the CIA set up a kind of forecasting face-off that pit predictions from his model against those of Langley’s more traditional in-house intelligence analysts and area specialists. “We tested Bueno de Mesquita’s model on scores of issues that were conducted in real time—that is, the forecasts were made before the events actually happened,” says Stanley Feder, a former high-level CIA analyst. “We found the model to be accurate 90 percent of the time,” he wrote. Another study evaluating Bueno de Mesquita’s real-time forecasts of 21 policy decisions in the European community concluded that “the probability that the predicted outcome was what indeed occurred was an astounding 97 percent.” What’s more, Bueno de Mesquita’s forecasts were much more detailed than those of the more traditional analysts. “The real issue is the specificity of the accuracy,” says Feder. “We found that DI (Directorate of National Intelligence) analyses, even when they were right, were vague compared to the model’s forecasts. To use an archery metaphor, if you hit the target, that’s great. But if you hit the bull’s eye—that’s amazing.”

How does Bueno de Mesquita do this? With mathematics. “You start with a set of assumptions, as you do with anything, but you do it in a formal, mathematical way,” he says. “You break them down as equations and work from there to see what follows logically from those assumptions.” The assumptions he’s talking about concern each actor’s motives. You configure those motives into equations that are, essentially, statements of logic based on a predictive theory of how people with those motives will behave. From there, you start building your mathematical model. You determine whether the predictive theory holds true by plugging in data, which are numbers derived from scales of preferences that you ascribe to each actor based on the various choices they face.

Read the whole thing if you want a mostly accurate but incomplete discussion of rational choice theory and its critics -- Mearsheimer and Walt make cameo appearances!

[Jeez, doesn't BDM seems like a bit of a self-promoter?--ed. Compared to whom? Relative to many IR scholars, Bueno de Mesquita has not been shy in trumpeting his own horn. Compared to others, however, BDM seems pretty normal.]

The part that grabbed my attention was BDM's proposal for how to address the Israel/Palestinian conflict:

Recently, he’s applied his science to come up with some novel ideas on how to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “In my view, it is a mistake to look for strategies that build mutual trust because it ain’t going to happen. Neither side has any reason to trust the other, for good reason,” he says. “Land for peace is an inherently flawed concept because it has a fundamental commitment problem. If I give you land on your promise of peace in the future, after you have the land, as the Israelis well know, it is very costly to take it back if you renege. You have an incentive to say, ‘You made a good step, it’s a gesture in the right direction, but I thought you were giving me more than this. I can’t give you peace just for this, it’s not enough.’ Conversely, if we have peace for land—you disarm, put down your weapons, and get rid of the threats to me and I will then give you the land—the reverse is true: I have no commitment to follow through. Once you’ve laid down your weapons, you have no threat.”

Bueno de Mesquita’s answer to this dilemma, which he discussed with the former Israeli prime minister and recently elected Labor leader Ehud Barak, is a formula that guarantees mutual incentives to cooperate. “In a peaceful world, what do the Palestinians anticipate will be their main source of economic viability? Tourism. This is what their own documents say. And, of course, the Israelis make a lot of money from tourism, and that revenue is very easy to track. As a starting point requiring no trust, no mutual cooperation, I would suggest that all tourist revenue be [divided by] a fixed formula based on the current population of the region, which is roughly 40 percent Palestinian, 60 percent Israeli. The money would go automatically to each side. Now, when there is violence, tourists don’t come. So the tourist revenue is automatically responsive to the level of violence on either side for both sides. You have an accounting firm that both sides agree to, you let the U.N. do it, whatever. It’s completely self-enforcing, it requires no cooperation except the initial agreement by the Israelis that they are going to turn this part of the revenue over, on a fixed formula based on population, to some international agency, and that’s that.”

I'm not sure the long-run demographics of the region would support this idea, but it's certainly intriguing.

Full disclosure: When I was putting together my dissertation committee oh so many years ago, I was fortunate enough to persuade Bruce to join -- and The Sanctions Paradox is a much, much better book because of that decision.

posted by Dan at 09:00 AM | Comments (8) | Trackbacks (0)