Saturday, December 29, 2007

Odds and ends while I'm off the grid

Greetings from the future. While I can't reveal my exact location, I can confirm that, where I'm typing this, it's likely a day later than where you are likely reading this post.

A few links of note before I go off the grid again:

1) I have an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times that is excerpted from my longer National Interest essay, "Foreign Policy Goes Glam" -- which, I'm glad to say, is now available online in its entirety.

2) While I'm at The National Interest's site, I see that they have collected some interesting information about each candidate's foreign policy advisors.

3) Benazir Bhutto's assassination. Lots of speculation here, but Anatol Lieven's analysis in TNI Online seems depressingly accurate. This section stands out in particular:

She was a populist aristocrat, with all that means in terms of grace under pressure, presence of style and absence of substance; and her party, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) has long been a dynastic party, not a modern mass party with a common and credible program. For that reason it is unlikely to survive the death of the last adult and politically credible representative of the Bhutto dynasty.

In the long run, the decay of the PPP will benefit both the Pakistani army and the Islamists: The army, because it will be able to bring bits of the PPP into government through offers of jobs and patronage—something that Musharraf has already done quite successfully in recent years. This will greatly help the military to put together coalition governments which the army will control from behind the scenes.

The Islamists will stand to benefit because if the PPP decays or disappears altogether, only the Islamists will remain as a political force promising reform of Pakistan’s deeply corrupt, unjust and incompetent governing system. The PPP’s promise to do this may have become more and more obviously hollow over the years, especially during Ms Bhutto’s two corrupt and unsuccessful terms as prime minister—and this was reflected in the PPP’s decline in the public opinion polls.

All the same, the poor of Pakistan had not completely forgotten her father’s vow to bring them “clothing, food and shelter”. No other politician in Pakistan can possibly offer this with a straight face—least of all Nawaz Sharif, with his roots and support among the industrialists of Punjab. So anyone who really wants radical change (as opposed to incremental change stemming from economic growth) will now have nowhere to go but the Islamists.

4) Megan Mcardle is having an awful lot of fun with Ron Paul and his online denizens, which culminates in this post.
Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go see a man about seeing a glacier.

posted by Dan at 02:58 PM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

A very important post about.... things I will not miss while I am away

Your humble blogger is getting the hell out of Dodge for the rest of 2007 and the beginning of 2008. Blogging will be nonexistent for the next 36 hours, followed by ten days of, at best, posting whenever I damn well feel like it which won't be that often light to intermittent blogging.

Since it is the end of the year and I will be out of the country, here is a short list of things I will not be missing while I am gone:

1) Paul Krugman's jihad against Barack Obama. As an outsider to progressive infighting, this was fun for a few go-arounds, but we've now hit the tedious patch when Krugman spends every column and blog post searching desperately for something to dump on Obama. This is Krugman at his most humorless and least persuasive.

How bad has it gotten? If Krugman had written a column for Christmas Day, here's how I suspect it would have opened:

In the fifties, the elves at the Norh Pole were more than 40% unionized, and as we all know, it was the golden age of the elf middle class. Elf wages have since declined, and if you think that's only because of globalization and technological change, hey, here's a single magazine article from five years ago that ostensibly upends that supposition (while whiffing on the underlying causal trend).

Moving, on, Barack Obama claims that, as Santa, he will help the elf middle class. He has also said, however, that he wants to be "the Santa of the naughty and the nice." He's criticized the elf union for funding alternative candidates. It's conciliatory rhetoric like that which will guarantee that Obama will not be elected by a wide margin, dooming the progressive elf movement to a curious footnote in history....

2) Any more talk about Jamie Lynn Spears... really, it's the female equivalent of the Mitchell Report. There's a lot of "what about the children?" gnashing of teeth for both issues. In the spirit of Peyton Manning's Pep Talks, here's my advice:
Wondering what to tell your children about Jamie Lynn Spears being pregnant? Tell them it means that Jamie Lynn Spears is clearly a better actress than her sister, since the character she portrays is apparently much more level-headed than Spears herself.

In the end, it doesn't matter all that much, since the girl is worth gazillions and can therefore afford to hire people to assist in raising the child competently. Unless your children are as wealthy as Spears, however, assure them that if they get pregnant at that age, regardless of what they choose to do, they're going to be creating a serious wrinkle in how they thought their life was going to turn out.

3) Debates about whether Juno or Knocked Up is the better movie. It's like asking which gender you prefer -- there's no right or wrong answer to the question. I've seen both of them - I laughed harder at Knocked Up, but found more of Juno's characters (and cast) more interesting.

What's more interesting is the notion that the writers of these movies -- Judd Apatow and Diablo Cody -- might be having an extended film conversation, if this Entertainment Weekly profile of Cody is at all accurate:

Cody's taste runs more toward movies like Rosemary's Baby and Fast Times at Ridgemont High (she props a Spicoli black-and-white-checked sneaker onto the booth as evidence of her devotion), or sharply funny TV like Freaks and Geeks and Undeclared. ''God, I would slit my wrists to meet Judd Apatow.''

After Cody saw Superbad, she immediately went home and started writing a female response to the teen comedy, which Universal promptly snatched up. Girly Style, named after the wuss version of push-ups, tells the story of some nerdy college women.

4) Blogger endorsements. Yes, I toyed with the idea, but Ann Althouse has a valid point -- I didn't endorse during the 2004 primaries. Why start now?

On the other hand, Matthew Yglesias and the Concord Monitor are onto something with the "undorsement" idea. So, my two undorsements of candidates that could ostensibly win are.... John Edwards and Rudy Giuliani.

My reasons for the Giuliani undorsement have been made clear.

As for Edwards -- I can't take seriously anyone who thinks that a free trade agreement with Peru -- Peru!! -- is somehow going to devastate workers and communities. Proposing to "make top prosecutors at the Department of Justice responsible for enforcing trade agreements"? I love how Edwards wants to re-engage with the world and simultaneously bully these governments into accepting American terms. Hillary Clinton's trade positions are problematic, but Edwards is Hillary on steroids.

posted by Dan at 07:59 AM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, December 24, 2007

Your semi-interesting travel observation of the day

For those of you who will be travelling this holiday season, here's a useful, spontaneous discovery I made yesterday. This is based on my personal experience with an automated voice recognition software program on the customer service line of a major airline:

If, at any point, you say "f*** you" into the phone, you will be automatically and politely transferred to a human operator.
Remember, you have to pronounce the asterisks correctly.

I'm sure my razor-sharp readers were already cognizant of this fact -- but if not, go forth and find out if it works on other airlines.

UPDATE: This site is also useful for figuring out how to talk to a human (hat tip: loyal reader A.A.)

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

Your unambiguously good news of the day
In South Korea, once one of Asia’s most rigidly patriarchal societies, a centuries-old preference for baby boys is fast receding. And that has led to what seems to be a decrease in the number of abortions performed after ultrasounds that reveal the sex of a fetus.

According to a study released by the World Bank in October, South Korea is the first of several Asian countries with large sex imbalances at birth to reverse the trend, moving toward greater parity between the sexes. Last year, the ratio was 107.4 boys born for every 100 girls, still above what is considered normal, but down from a peak of 116.5 boys born for every 100 girls in 1990.

The most important factor in changing attitudes toward girls was the radical shift in the country’s economy that opened the doors to women in the work force as never before and dismantled long-held traditions, which so devalued daughters that mothers would often apologize for giving birth to a girl.

Choe Sang-Hun, "Where Boys Were Kings, a Shift Toward Baby Girls," New York Times, December 23, 2007.

posted by Dan at 12:09 AM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)