Friday, December 21, 2007

Why there will never be a fake reality show about academia

Earlier this year I explained in laborious detail why the academy was not a fertile ground for a reality show.

Undaunted by this pronouncement from on high, some Harvard graduate students have come up with a brilliant end-run around this dictum -- an Office-like show about the academy (hat tip: CoreEcon):

If you're in the "field," as it were, I dare you to watch this and not laugh (my favorite part -- the third flash card).

I am curious whether those not in the social sciences will find it as funny. My guess is "no," but I'll leave it for the commenters to decide.

Either way, there are two lessons to draw from this video:

1) Harvard grad students have way too much free time at their disposal.

2) Firing political theorists is always comedy gold.

UPDATE: Henry Farrell draws other useful lessons.

posted by Dan at 08:51 AM | Comments (9) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Question time for John McCain

It's apparently endorsement season in the blogosphere. The hardworking staff here at is deep in debate about presidential endorsements. With this blog's powerful and deeply distrubed coterie of supporters, it's humbling to think that I could very well double the poll numbers of Duncan Hunter or Chris Dodd if I so chose.

The staff is nearing a consensus, but frankly, it hasn't been easy. I can reveal, however, that the blog is taking a hard look at John McCain. Even if I disagree with him about Iraq, I thought his Foreign Affairs essay was well crafted, and a few weeks back the Economist made some smart points about McCain:

His range of interests as a senator has been remarkable, extending from immigration to business regulation. He knows as much about foreign affairs and military issues as anybody in public life. Or take judgment. True, he has a reputation as a hothead. But he's a hothead who cools down. He does not nurse grudges or agonise about vast conspiracies like some of his colleagues in the Senate. He has also been right about some big issues. He was the first senior Republican to criticise George Bush for invading Iraq with too few troops, and the first to call for Donald Rumsfeld's sacking. He is one of the few Republicans to propose sensible policies on immigration and global warming.
Today, the Boston Globe's Sasha Issenberg writes about McCain's views on executive power -- and after eight years of the unitary theory of the executive branch, it's very refreshing:
McCain is not much of a sentimentalist, but over a series of scattered remarks in recent speeches and informal interviews he has begun to lay out a vision for a presidency that would feature the trappings of a much simpler time. Besides cutting back his Secret Service coverage so he could move around Washington in a single car instead of a full motorcade, the Republican presidential hopeful says he would like to host weekly press conferences and even subject himself to a congressional version of the rhetorical brawl that Britons know as Prime Minister's Question Time.

To undo what he calls the "lack of credibility in government official statements" on Iraq, McCain says he would hold a separate weekly war briefing to delve into military and political specifics. "I don't know if a lot of Americans want to pay close attention, but at least you're giving them an opportunity to get details," he said in an interview.

The McCain administration he describes would stand as a stylistic riposte to the modern imperial presidency, and especially to President Bush, whose White House is described by specialists as one of the least accessible in recent history.

Read the whole thing. I'm not sure how much of this will actually happen if McCain were elected -- but the fact that his instinct is to push in this direction is a major bonus for me.

I'm a foreign policy wonk, which means that my natural tendency is to sympathize with the executive branch. But even I think the imperial presidency needs to be scaled back a fair degree. So one of the things I'll be asking myself during this endorsement debate is: which candidates will cement the Bush position of executive authority, and which will not?

posted by Dan at 11:18 AM | Comments (9) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Hmmm.... that's probably a good idea

From the Associated Press:

Lynne Spears' book about parenting has been delayed indefinitely, her publisher said Wednesday. Lindsey Nobles, a spokeswoman for Christian book publisher Thomas Nelson Inc., said Wednesday that the memoir by the mother of Britney Spears was put on hold last week.

She declined to comment on whether the delay was connected to the revelation that Spears' 16-year-old daughter, Jamie Lynn, is pregnant.

"I can tell you that we are standing behind Lynne and supporting her decision to be with her family at this time," Nobles told The Associated Press.

"Pop Culture Mom: A Real Story of Fame and Family in a Tabloid World" was initially scheduled for release May 11, Mother's Day. Spears, the mother of three children with ex-husband Jamie Spears, had been working with a Michigan-based freelancer since March on the memoir chronicling Spears' experiences raising a family in the public eye.

posted by Dan at 09:26 PM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

A good policymaking day

Today, the Eisenhower Executive Office Building is on fire.

Yesterday, in what is strictly a coincidence, the U.S. Trade Representative, Secretary of Commerce, and Deputy Secretary of State had a little get together in the EEOB on planning U.S. trade policy for the rest of the Bush administration's term of office. The idea was to talk with both trade and Latin American experts from the think tank and academic worlds to see whether/how the Colombian, Panamanian and Korean FTAs will be passed by Congress in 2008.

I know all this because I was in the room as an expert. And you can cue massive waves of imposter syndrome here....

These kind of get-togethers are unusual, but those who had attended sessions like this in the past thought this one was similar to what prior administrations would have done. For yours truly, it was an interesting session for two reasons.

First, the meeting bore a passing resemblance to a class in my Statecraft course. Imagine students putting together a 15-minute PowerPoint presentation to advocate for a particular policy, and then soliciting feedback from the rest of the class. Now replace students with policy principals and you get a sense of this meeting (by my grading, the USTR received an A, the dSOS an A-, and the Secretary of Commerce a B+).

Second, I remembered the sense of accomplishment one occasionally experiences as an actual policymaker. Without getting into specifics, I made a suggestion that caused various people in the room to scribble something down. It wasn't a brilliant idea that would cause people to rethink trade as we know it, it was just a small point. But it was a point that was accepted as useful.

Those of you who go into policymaking, however, will discover that the times when you can suggest an idea and get consensus on it immediately are few and far between. When those moments do occur, savor them, no matter how small the success.

posted by Dan at 04:16 PM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

The netroots vs. the foreign policy community... sort of

David Frum writes a broadside on the netroots vs. the foreign policy community in The National Interest. Here's how it starts:

My name is David Frum, and I am a blogger. Every day I post some hundreds of words of commentary at the National Review website—often (to fulfill the cliché) while still wearing my pajamas. But I am also a proud, suit-wearing member of the foreign-policy community, with my very own office in a think tank to prove it.

There is no avoiding the sad truth that my two communities despise each other.

The foreign-policy community (henceforward, “FPC”) values moderation of views and modulation of tone. It insists upon formal credentials, either academic or bureaucratic (ideally both). It respects seniority, defers to office, mistrusts overt self-promotion and is easily offended by discourtesy.

As for the bloggers—well, they’re pretty much the opposite, aren’t they?

You can imagine the response this is going to generate.

I'll have more to say about this later, but for now I'd make two points. First, if the netroots can get past their own spittle, they will see the grace note Frum closes his essay with:

[T]he spread of education and the improvement of communications have raised the level of debate. The populist protesters of 2007 are far more informed and far more sophisticated than their predecessors of 1973, who were in turn a major improvement over those of 1950, 1935 and 1920. And the foreign-policy community that guided U.S. foreign affairs in the 1990s was a much larger and more diverse group than the corresponding elites that wielded power in the quiet days of the 1950s, who were in turn a less cloistered club than that of the 1920s.

It is, as was famously predicted by Yeats, a widening gyre. And it can safely be predicted that when today’s controversies simmer down, and the blogging energy turns to health care or climate change or issues as yet unforeseen, the “foreign-policy community” that reassumes its former ascendancy will likewise be an expanded and enlarged community. The expertise and sophistication of the FPC at its best will always be needed by a country whose natural tendencies are inward-looking and isolationist. And that expertise and sophistication can only be enhanced when today’s FPC is reinforced, as surely it will be, by young people who gained their first introduction to foreign affairs when they were inspired by 9/11 to join the military or enter academia or learn a foreign language…or (why not?) start a blog.

Second, contra Frum's essay, there's really a three-way debate going on, between netroots activists, neoconservatives, and foreign policy experts -- and part of the debate is whether the latter two groups are really fused into one.

More on this later. For now, comment away!

UPDATE: On the other hand, it's not like progressives aren't capable of netroot criticism. Consider this statement from a press release I was sent:

"In this age of blogs, bumper stickers, and soundbites, we made a bet that there was still a need and place for the kind of deep, considered thinking about serious issues that our journal has produced, " said Andrei Cherny, co-editor and co-founder of Democracy. "This award shows that a DailyKos may have its place, but a quarterly journal of ideas can make a real impact in the 21st century."

posted by Dan at 11:16 AM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

Crime.... it's not just for smart people

I can corroborate every detail that Megan McArdle recounts in this blog post, although, in my memory, the potential criminal shuffled away only because he saw me give him the Clint-Eastwood-in-The-Good-The-Bad-And-The-Ugly-Death-Stare.

No, no, that's not true -- he was just a very inept criminal.

posted by Dan at 11:00 AM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

Your interesting political observation of the day

From Slate's John Dickerson:

In McCain's conversations with voters, I'm struck by the contrast between him and Barack Obama. I have covered Barack Obama more than John McCain this campaign. Obama tells audiences he's going to tell them uncomfortable truths, but he barely does it. McCain, on the other hand, seems to go out of his way to tell people things they don't like, on issues from immigration to global warming.
Read the rest of the piece for an example.

posted by Dan at 09:26 AM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

No one send any job applications to me

A friendly note to aspiring professors of international relations:

In a story about the Fletcher School's 75th anniversary, the Financial Times reports that, "Faculty is also earmarked for expansion. The school has 30 full-time faculty, a figure that has grown by approximately 30 per cent over the past five years. [Dean Stephen] Bosworth says he hopes to see a comparable increase over the next five years."

This does not mean that

a) we're hiring any of these people right now;

b) I will have exclusive say over who we hire five years from now;

So you can stop sending me your cvs.

posted by Dan at 09:15 AM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, December 17, 2007

A contest just for professors

At this very moment, academics in North America are in the middle of grading their final papers.

I'm knee-deep in mine, and they inspire the usual range of emotions -- fear, hope, dread, nausea, and somnolence.

As professors across the continent look for a reason -- any reason -- to procrastinate in their grading, the hardworking staff here at hereby invites them to participate in the following Bad Student Writing Contest:*

Post, in the comments, the single-worst sentence you have read in a student paper.
Some ground rules:
1) In-class exams do not count -- you can't expect polished writing in that setting. Besides, Brad DeLong already wins this category.

2) Gven the fragility of some students, be as anonymous as you can in your submission.

3) Bonus points if it's a grad student paper.

I'll open with a grad paper I just graded (and, intriguingly, received a decent grade despite this opening sentence):

Time and again, one can hear about history repeating itself.
Top that.

The winner will be determined by a staff vote here at the blog, and will receive a prize of unspecified but clearly inestimable value.

*In the spirit of reciprocity, students will get their own contest sometime after the new year.

posted by Dan at 08:21 PM | Comments (30) | Trackbacks (0)

Huh. That's weird...

I reckon that other political bloggers are used to this, but for me, it's very strange to read one's own words in a candidate's press release.

In this case, there's two things that are especially odd. First, Romney's attack on Huckabee largely consists of pointing out how much Huckabee sounds like the Democrats -- which is fine, except that people in glass houses should not throw stones.

Second, everyone and their uncle is harping on the "bunker mentality" quote that Huckabee uses to characterize the Bush administration's policies. If you look at what Huckabee actually proposes -- and admittedly it's now always crystal clear -- there's not a stunning difference between a Bush and a Huckabee approach to foreign policy.

UPDATE: On the other hand, this blog post makes an excellent point. If I had to choose between a dinner at Romney's favorite restaurant in New York and Huckabee's apparent favorite restaurant in New York, I'd go with Romney hands down.

posted by Dan at 07:29 PM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)

Paul Krugman says goodbye to his self-awareness

The last few paragraphs of today's Paul Krugman column:

[W]hat happens if Mr. Obama is the nominee?

He will probably win — but not as big as a candidate who ran on a more populist platform. Let’s be blunt: pundits who say that what voters really want is a candidate who makes them feel good, that they want an end to harsh partisanship, are projecting their own desires onto the public.

And nothing Mr. Obama has said suggests that he appreciates the bitterness of the battles he will have to fight if he does become president, and tries to get anything done. (emphasis added)

Let's stipulate that Krugman is not necessarily wrong in the bolded passage.

Maybe, just maybe, however, pundits who imply that what voters want is a full-throated, partisan, populist candidate are also projecting their own desires onto the public.

UPDATE: Matt Yglesias thinks that the Obama campaign is "poor[ly] handling... its relationship with the country's highest-profile liberal columnist," but I have to wonder if Obama is calculating that the long-term benefits outweigh any short-term costs.

As Krugman acknowledges at the beginning of his column, "Broadly speaking, the serious contenders for the Democratic nomination are offering similar policy proposals." Therefore, he's going to broadly support whichever Dem is nominated.

Obama, on the other hand, is not going to be hurt in the general election from a pissing match with Paul Krugman. Indeed, dust-ups like this provide Obama with the kind of perceived independence that plays well with... er... independents.

posted by Dan at 08:49 AM | Comments (10) | Trackbacks (0)