Friday, April 25, 2008

The world is in deep, deep trouble

Forget everything I've said defending public intellectuals. I've just seen Foreign Policy/Prospect magazine's latest list of the top 100 public intellectuals.

Rather than quibble with the definition/ranking methodology, let's take the list as gospel. This is the graphic that scares me:


If political scientists -- perhaps, God forbid, American political scientists -- are the modal group in the category of powerful public intellectuals, then we are all officially f#$&ed.

posted by Dan at 10:35 AM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

How Chinese nationalists are like blog commenters

John Pomfret makes the connection:

I've never really been able to take China nationalism that seriously. It's like some of the comments on my blog. There's no shortage of passion but it's also curiously skin deep. It's often a foil for anti-government feelings, employed by Chinese who are actually fed up with Communist Party rule but aren't allowed to say it. Finally, it often masks deeper divisions in Chinese society. Whenever I read a Chinese blogger urging an anti-foreign boycott or some other type of joint action, I'm reminded of the telling saying that Chinese have about themselves. "A Chinese alone equals the power of a dragon, but three Chinese, nothing but an insect."
Read the whole thing.

posted by Dan at 10:31 AM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

This is funny? Really?

Look, I like ripping into Thomas Friedman as much as the next blogger -- but I can't agree with Matt Yglesias that the following video is "funny":

This is the kind of thing that accomplishes the following:
A) It makes some people who dislike Friedman very happy;

B) It makes people who agree with Friedman like him even more;

C) It makes people who have ambiguous (or no) feelings towards Friedman feel much more sympathetic towards him.

Matt also suggests checking out his book Heads in the Sand as "a more intellectually rigorous Friedman takedown." That's great, but damning with faint praise. I'm pretty sure my seven-year old could muster a more intellectually rigorous takedown as well.

Admittedly, I think he's an exceptionally smart seven year old, but still....

UPDATE: Jonathan Chait agrees with me on this:

I don't think I'm particularly sensitive, but I find the notion of physically humiliating somebody who's trying to explain their ideas in a civic forum to be absolutely horrifying.
For a more virtuous -- and more amusing -- example of pie-throwing, click here.

posted by Dan at 09:43 AM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, April 24, 2008

The most comforting thing I've read about Obama today

Michael Crowley has an essay in The New Republic on whether a President Obama would actually withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq. The key paragraph:

The truth is Obama has no secret plan for Iraq. Interviews with nearly two dozen foreign policy and military experts, as well as Obama's campaign advisers, and a close review of Obama's own statements on Iraq, suggest something more nuanced. What he is offering is a basic vision of withdrawal with muddy particulars, one his advisers are still formulating and one that, if he is elected, is destined to meet an even muddier reality on the ground. Obama has set a clear direction for U.S. policy in Iraq: He wants us out of Iraq; but he's not willing to do it at any cost--even if it means dashing the hopes of some of his more fervent and naïve supporters. And, when it comes to Iraq, whatever the merits of Obama's withdrawal plan may be, "Yes, We Can" might ultimately yield to "No, we can't."
Why does this cheer me up? Because the article suggests that Obama and his advisors might actually let, you know, facts on the ground influence their decision-making. Which is how it should be.

Anyone who tells you they have a foolproof Iraq plan to put in place nine month from now is lying to you.

posted by Dan at 10:56 AM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

The dirty little secret of academia

Over at Crooked Timber, Ingrid Robeyns considers the merits and demerits of part-time employment in the academy. She's doubtful that, as a model, it can work for those who wish to balance work and non-work activities (parenting, etc.):

But my biggest doubt whether part-time work is such a splendid idea for academics who are doing research has to do with the nature of research: whether one works on a full-time contract or a part-time contract, the literature that one has to follow to keep up to date with one’s area of research remains the same. There are ‘fixed costs’ (in terms of time and effort) for each line of research that one pursues. The consequence is that a part-timer spends as much time (in absolute number of hours) on keeping up to date with the literature, implying that she has fewer hours left for actually developing new research....

I am one of those people who (normally) doesn’t go to work on Fridays (and for the next couple of months I have one extra day off so as to be able to spend more time with our baby). I do enjoy the time I can spend with the children, and the fact that this extra day off slows us down a little. But I also sometimes feel I’m cheating myself, since it seems I am doing at least as much work as many people who are working on a full-time contract (with the difference that much of my work gets done in the evenings). In the end I am just not sure whether part-time work in academia is, all things considered, a good idea for those academics who are actively and passionately pursuing research agendas.

Here's the thing: to be tautological about it, academics who "are actively and passionately pursuing research agendas" are doing so because, well, they're passionate about their research. In a good way. At worst, these academics have a love-hate relationship with their work, and at best, it's a scorching hot affair with inquiry and knowledge.

As Ingrid said, some aspects of the academic's job -- committee work, refereeing, university service, and, yes, teaching -- can be compartmentalized in a manner similar to other jobs. There's nothing part-time about research. But this isn't the fault of the employment system -- the fault, such as it is, lies within the nature of the academic. If you love what you do, nominal time restrictions do not matter a great deal -- a fact that occasionally drives my family around the bend.

There's a parallel to blogging here, in that the overwhelming number of people who blog do so because they like it, not because of any renumeration they receive. This renders the economics of blogging -- and online publishing more generally -- a little peculiar. The economics of sectors in which workers derive significant psychic benefits from their work differ from more mundane sectors.

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

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The Chinese response to the Olympics protest

In my last post on the Olympics brouhaha, I voiced some concern about how the mass Chinese public would react to protests and statements of concern from the West.

Over the weekend, we stated to see the blowback, as CNN reports:

Protests against Tibetan independence have continued Sunday in several Chinese cities, according to the country's state-run news agency.

Demonstrators also expressed their anger about what they see as biased reporting of the Tibet story by Western media organizations including CNN.

Protesters gathered outside the French supermarket Carrefour in several Chinese cities including the northwestern city Xi'an, and the northeastern city Harbin and eastern city Jinan, the agency reported.

The demonstrators expressed anger at the way protests disrupted the Olympic torch relay in Paris on April 7. During Sunday's demonstrations in China, some held banners condemning "Tibet secessionists in France tearing up the Five-Star Red Flag," according to Xinhua.

Over at FP's Passport, Drew Kumpf points out that we're beginning to see the blowback among Chinese expats as well:
[T]here were also demonstrations by the Chinese community on Saturday in five Western cities: Berlin, Vienna, Paris, London and Washington. Xinhua news agency reports thousands of participants in the European cities and hundreds here in Washington. With signs like "Love our China" and "You can't find this from BBC... Stop disrupting the Olympics" there is a clear, organized international effort to get the message out that many overseas Chinese also oppose the affronts to the Olympic games and the related media coverage. The silent protest in Britain attracted 3,000 participants and was the first public demonstration on the part of the Chinese community there.

Recent fervor has demonstrated a strong, unified voice on the part of the Chinese community....

While many may call it misguided for its lack of respect for human rights, the Chinese position shows sophistication in political advocacy: Adopt a unified stance and get the widest possible coverage to spread your message. Though the synergy is the result of the people and the government touting the same line, it's an impressive campaign for a country with a state-run media. It's also worth pointing out that, unlike people within China itself, these expats have access to the gamut of information on their homeland, and yet they still feel strongly that the Western view is biased.


posted by Dan at 10:17 AM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Looking for a non-pander

Today, both Democratic candidates decided, "Hey, you know what would be a good idea? Complete and total pandering on the non-existent relationship between vaccines and autism!" Of course, in doing this, they were merely following John McCain's lead.

Still, it's days like this when the major party candidates for president look the smallest. So it is nice to see that there is at least one issue in which one candidate will not pander:

Republican John McCain made a risky argument in a hard-hit Ohio steel town Tuesday, telling residents that free trade can help solve their problems.
That is a tough sell in communities that have hemorrhaged jobs as manufacturing moved overseas and cheap imports flooded the market. But McCain insisted that free trade is the solution and not the cause.

"The biggest problem is not so much what's happened with free trade, but our inability to adjust to a new world economy," McCain said during a town hall-style meeting at Youngstown State University.

"I think the answer is to understand that, free trade or not, we are in an information and technology revolution," he said. "So we want people to be part of that revolution, and we've got to be part of that new economy, rather than try to cling to an old economy." (emphasis added)

Bonus points to McCain for the use of the word "cling."

Hat tiip: TNR's Michael Crowley, who observes, "On the one hand you have to admire McCain's refusal to pander. On the other you have to wonder if he's commiting electoral suicide."

posted by Dan at 11:21 PM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, April 21, 2008

All purpose excuses

A few months ago, I observed the following all-purpose excuse used by many conservatives in a bloggingheads episode:

If I did [insert perfectly reasonable and ethical act here], the terrorist win.
After ruminating on this Josh Marshall post, I now believe I have found an all purpose excuse for liberals:
If I had not done [insert your own unspeakably inoffensive action, here], you know the Republicans would have done it in the fall.
Try it out during your everyday routine... it's easy and fun!

posted by Dan at 03:30 PM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

I'm behind on my shameless self-promotion

Last week's conference, combined with the start of Passover, has caused me to get behind in the self-promotion department.

My latest commentary for Marketplace was last Friday, and discussed the Oakland A's and Billy Beane five years after the publication of Moneyball:

The popularization of sabermetrics has left Beane with less of an advantage -- it's harder to find diamonds in the rough when everyone else is mining the same territory. The A's are not struggling because of "Moneyball"'s failure -- they are struggling because of its success.
Listen to the whole thing.

posted by Dan at 03:03 PM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)