Friday, February 8, 2008

Great innovations in world diplomacy

The Onion devises a new way to directly communicate the world's displeasure with Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad:

An excerpt:

Roastmaster and former U.N. secretary general Kofi Annan kicked off the evening by welcoming President Ahmadinejad to "what [was] sure to be the first and last time Mahmoud would ever be surrounded by 72 virgins."

"Ladies and gentlemen, and Tony Blair, we stand here in the presence of one of the most vicious and destructive forces in the world today—but enough about Bea Arthur," said Annan, gesturing with a tumbler of Makers Mark across the long white tables of chuckling diplomats to the former Golden Girls star. "Some people here tonight will tell you that Mahmoud refuses to engage in diplomatic talks, that he is the most ruthless stonewaller who has ever lived. Well, those people have obviously never met my first wife."

Readers should feel free to suggest the following in comments:
1) Other wold leaders deserving of such an honor;

2) Whether being roasted by, say, Shecky Greene does violate either the Additional Protocols of the Geneva Convention or Attorney General Michael Mukaskey's definition of torture.

posted by Dan at 08:51 AM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, February 7, 2008

The vice presidential paradox

In a post on whether Mike Huckabee might be John McCain's wingman on the 2008 GOP ticket, Ramesh Ponnuru makes an interesting point regarding the ratcheting up of standards for Vice Presidents:

The job of the vice president has changed, thanks to Clinton's decision to pick Al Gore in 1992 and Bush's decision to pick Dick Cheney in 2000. These men, at the time they were picked, were extraordinarily well respected; and they went on to have greater responsibilities than previous vice presidents. I think voters now expect vice presidential nominees to pass a higher bar. They can't be picked solely to win a state or lock down a constituency. They have to be plausible presidents. I expect that consideration will be even more important given McCain's age. And I'm not sure that Huckabee can clear that bar.
I have really mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, Huckabee is clearly not ready for prime time as a president, and based on his foreign policy views, I want pretty far away from the corridors of power.

On the other hand, the ratcheting of the VP bar creates a different problem -- instead of a buffoon or a lightweight, you have a talented, ambitious politician placed in an ambiguous position. This means presidents need to give them something to do in terms of policymaking. And, frankly, the results have ranged from unproductive (negotiating a global warming treaty that had zero chance of ratification; outsourcing government) to destructive (screwing with the foreign policymaking process).

The paradox is that an ideal vice president should be ready to be president from day one. At the same time, such a person -- in order to take the job -- requires major policy bailiwicks to tide him or her over.

I'm not sure what the right mix is for a VP selection, but I don't think either the "true lightweight" or "ambitious heavyweight" molds works terribly well.

Anyone have any suggestions?

UPDATE: Over at the Monkey Cage, Lee Sigelman crunches some numbers to try and divine who the actual VP picks might be for the donkey side.

posted by Dan at 04:32 PM | Comments (15) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Your cool statistic for the day

The AP reports some pretty stunning news:

The number of mobile phone users will overtake the number of nonusers this year for the first time, according to the U.N. telecoms agency.

Ownership rates in developing countries are rising fastest, with Brazil, Russia, India and China alone accounting for 1 billion subscribers last year, the International Telecommunication Union said.

In 2000, only 12 percent of the global population had a mobile phone.

"At current growth rates, global mobile penetration is expected to reach 50 percent by early 2008," according to ITU's January newsletter.

This would amount to more than 3.3 billion subscriptions worldwide.

I would be more impressed, however, if this piece of information appeared anywhere on the International Telecommunications Union main web page.

posted by Dan at 09:08 PM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

So you can see why I'm in a good mood today

As near as I can figure, the following people would have to be classified as the "losers" from Super Duper Tuesday:

Ted Kennedy, Patrick Kennedy, Caroline Kennedy, John Kerry, and the African-American "establishment" in the Deep South: so much for the Kennedy's pull with either Massachusetts voters or the Hispanic community [UPDATE: Hmmm... Matt Yglesias makes a convincing case that the endorsements had some pull in Massachusetts.] And so much for the endorsements of the "establishment" African-Americans in the South swaying the black community.

Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, and James Dobson: so much for their pull with conservative voters

So it's a Super Wednesday for me.

[Wait, what about bad political prognosticators?--ed.] Oh, I'm always a loser in that category

posted by Dan at 08:48 AM | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

A hegemonic bloggingheads

My latest bloggingheads diavlog is with Rob Farley from Lawyers, Guns, and Money and the Patterson School of Diplomacy. Topics include the Super Bowl, waning hegemony, Republicans who like Obama, and bold Super Tuesday predictions. Go check it out!!

There's also this challenge to listeners:

posted by Dan at 05:44 PM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

And in the end, I voted for....

John McCain.

I was tempted to vote for Romney -- not because I'm really a fan of Mitt, but because I wanted to se Romney push McCain on economic issues. I've never bought the supposition that candidates who lock up the nomination early are better placed for a general election victory. Competition is what brings out the mettle in a politician.

McCain has certainly been tested, and he deserves some credit for sticking to his positions even when they cost him the frontrunner status. I liked a lot of his Foreign Affairs essay, and I really like his take on executive power.

Still, like Ross Douthat, I can't shake the impression that McCain has reclaimed that status more by default, luck, and the utter incompetence of the rest of the GOP field.

Think about this. Giuliani self-destructed. Romney's pandering was about as subtle as a 15-year old boy would be in a room with the Pussycat Dolls. Paul's a bigot -- or quite friendly with bigots, I'm not sure which. Tancredo and Hunter were non-entities. Only Huckabee has improved his standing from the campaign he's run, but that's not saying much.

It would be good to see Romney, as the last man standing, push McCain to be a better candidate. In the end, when faced with his name on the ballot, I couldn't seriously pull the trigger on someone who appears to hold no core values whatsoever.

posted by Dan at 08:43 AM | Comments (12) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, February 4, 2008

Why Republicans feel OK about Obama

Peter Wehner, a former deputy assistant to President Bush, writes in the Washington Post about why Republicans have positive feelings towards Barack Obama:

What is at the core of Obama's appeal?

Part of it is the eloquence and uplift of his speeches, combined with his personal grace and dignity. By all accounts, Obama is a well-grounded, decent, thoughtful man. He comes across, in his person and manner, as nonpartisan. He has an unsurpassed ability to (seemingly) transcend politics. Even when he disagrees with people, he doesn't seem disagreeable. "You know what charm is," Albert Camus wrote in "The Fall," "a way of getting the answer yes without having asked any clear question." Obama has such charm, and its appeal is not restricted to Democrats.

A second reason Republicans appreciate Obama is that he is pitted against a couple, the Clintons, whom many Republicans hold in contempt. Among the effects of the Obama-Clinton race is that it is forcing Democrats to come to grips with the mendacity and ruthlessness of the Clinton machine. Conservatives have long believed that the Clintons are an unprincipled pair who will destroy those who stand between them and power -- whether they are political opponents, women from Bill Clinton's past or independent counsels.

When the Clintons were doing this in the 1990s, it was viewed by many Democrats as perfectly acceptable. Some even applauded them for their brass-knuckle tactics. But now that the Clintons are roughing up an inspiring young man who appears to represent the hope and future of the Democratic Party, the liberal establishment is reacting with outrage. "I think we've reached an irrevocable turning point in liberal opinion of the Clintons," writes Jonathan Chait of the New Republic. Many conservatives respond: It's about time.

A third reason for Obama's GOP appeal is that unlike Clinton and especially John Edwards, Obama has a message that, at its core, is about unity and hope rather than division and resentment. He stresses that "out of many we are one." And to his credit, Barack Obama is running a color-blind campaign. "I did not travel around this state over the last year and see a white South Carolina or a black South Carolina," Obama said in his victory speech last weekend. "I saw South Carolina." That evening, his crowd of supporters chanted as one, "Race doesn't matter." This was an electric moment. Obama's words are in the great tradition of Martin Luther King Jr. Obama, more than any figure in America, can help bind up the racial wounds of America. In addition, for the past eight years, one of the most prominent qualities of the American left has been anger, which has served it and the country very poorly. An Obama primary win would be a move away from the politics of rage.

I'd say this sums it up nicely, but the last point in particular should be stressed. Every single conservative I've talked to since the South Carolina primary has mentioned the Clinton comparison between Obama and Jesse Jackson -- and it left a bad taste in everyone's mouth.

posted by Dan at 01:31 PM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

A good year for Connecticut sports fans

It's not easy being raised in a comfortable suburb of central Connecticut. It creates confused sports loyalties that cannot be explained to others. The past two weeks, I've had to explain to friends and neighbors how I can simultaneously root for the Boston Red Sox and New York Giants.

Well, after last night's game, I'm not thinking it's that difficult a burden. Despite some sloppiness in the middle quarters, the Giants wrecked the Patriots' perfect season. They didn't wreck it through luck, but through superior line play and intelligent play calling. So much for the shock and awe of an unbeaten season.

There were no wardrobe malfunctions. The announcing team was confident. The commercials were mostly mediocre, but not abysmal. For once, it was just about the game -- with an awesome fourth quarter.

One last thought -- for all the hand-wringing about "what the children will think" about Spygate or steroids or what have you, this football season finally contained a positive parable for the children. Despite the fact that the last regular-season game against the Patriots was a meaningless one for the Giants, they put maximum effort on the field. Even though they lost that game 38-35, their effort was rewarded. That game gave the Giants the confidence to win three straight playoff games on the road, and then pull off a shocker in the Super Bowl.

In professional sports, it's not only about talent -- effort still matters. And that's a great moral for the children.

posted by Dan at 07:56 AM | Comments (6) | Trackbacks (0)

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Why I'm screwed in the book publishing biz

Rachel Donadio's essay in the New York Times Book Review asks a very good question: why, in this age of digitized publication, does it still take friggin' forever for a completed book manuscript to actually become a book?

Donadio's answer -- marketing a book is essentially like marketing a movie:

The three-martini lunch and the primacy of the Book-of-the-Month Club may be things of the past, but publishing still relies on a time-honored, time-consuming sales strategy: word of mouth.

“It’s not only buzz, it’s a product introduction — but with nothing like the advertising or marketing budget that a piece of soap would have,” said David Rosenthal, the publisher of Simon & Schuster. With the Internet and blogs, word of mouth travels more quickly today, but there’s a glut of information. To help a book break through the static, publishers have to plan months in advance....

As soon as a literary agent has sold a publisher a book, and even before it’s edited, copy-edited, proofread and indexed, the publicity wheels start turning. While writers bite their nails, the book editor tries to persuade the in-house sales representatives to get excited about the book, the sales representatives try to persuade retail buyers to get excited, and the retail buyers decide how many copies to buy and whether to feature the book in a prominent front-of-the-store display, for which publishers pay dearly. In the meantime, the publisher’s publicity department tries to persuade magazine editors and television producers to feature the book or its author around the publication date, often giving elaborate lunches and parties months in advance to drum up interest.

Chain stores like Barnes & Noble and Borders generally buy books at least six months before the publication date and know about particular titles even farther in advance. Much to the anxiety of midlist writers clamoring for attention, chain stores determine how many copies of a title to buy based on the expected media attention and the author’s previous sales record. Which is why publishers say it’s easier to sell an untested but often hyped first-time author than a second or a third novel. “It’s one of the anomalies of our business that you have to reinvent the wheel with every title, virtually,” said Laurence Kirshbaum, a literary agent and former chairman of the Time Warner Book Group.

Although digitization has made the printing and typesetting process much faster, distribution still takes time, especially in a country as big as America. (In Britain, with its smaller size and more insular literary culture, things move faster.) But once a book hits the market, the product has to move. “For all the weeks and months that go into the gestation of the book, we’re up against the so-called lettuce test once we get into the stores,” Kirshbaum said. “If we don’t get sales fast, the book wilts.”

Read the whole thing. One part of the essay surprised me, however:
Like movie studios jockeying over opening dates to score huge first-weekend box office numbers, publishers often change publication dates to avoid competition for reader attention and marketing buzz....

[T]wo books on sushi — “The Sushi Economy,” by Sasha Issenberg (Gotham), and “The Zen of Fish,” by Trevor Corson (HarperCollins) — appeared nearly simultaneously. “You never want to get in a horse race with another book on the same subject,” said William Shinker, the president and publisher of Gotham.

Actually, for books on more arcane topics -- like sushi in the global economy -- I would have thought the reverse to be true. If two or more books on a similar subject come out at the same time, well that's a trend. This means they're more likely to earn reviews at high-profile places, and other sections of the newspaper might even start writing about the trend.

It's dead-wrong instincts like that one which might explain why I'm not in the book publishing industry.

Hat tip: Megan McArdle.

posted by Dan at 11:53 AM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (0)