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Wednesday, April 28, 2004

Aught We or Aught We Not? 

There's a very interesting post up on Slate today about why and how much Major League Baseball pitchers stink as batters. I recommend it to anyone with even a marginal interest in baseball.

But that's not why I'm posting. I'm posting because the author of the piece (Nate Silver of Baseball Prospectus) casually tosses this statement into his article:
In the aughts, pitchers are managing an OPS of .365, just 47 percent of that of everyday players.
This is, as far as I can tell without actually bothering to do any research beyond two quick Lexis-Nexis searches, only the third or fourth time in the past year that anybody has bothered to try to give the decade in which we're now living a name.

And I say "hallelujah."

What good are labels like "the eighties" for anything besides VH1 specials? Seriously. I can't tell you how incredibly irritating I find discussions like "what year did the sixties REALLY begin?" And now, thanks to what seems to be a collective inability to find a suitable name for the current decade, we may be entering a golden age where these stupid collective terms fade into the benighted past.

Some Jghaxxaq Evening 

Via MetaFilter, "A Collection of Word Oddities and Trivia."

I can't wait 'til I actually have time to read more of this. In the meantime, here are two things you probably didn't know:
According to James Joyce, CUSPIDOR is the most beautiful word in English.

JGHAXXAQ is the Maltese word for "enchanting."

That Guy from Libya 

Never let it be said that Moammar Kadafi (or however you prefer to Romanize his name) doesn't still know how to make an entrance, as the LA Times makes clear:
Emerging from his jet, Kadafi was resplendent in a brown robe. Members of his entourage brought along a black tent — the kind their leader prefers to sleep in. They set it up on the grounds of the Val Duchesse palace, Belgium's residence for visiting dignitaries.

Kadafi moved regally when his heavily guarded motorcade arrived at EU headquarters, waving at a crowd of Libyan and African students who greeted him with percussion and cheers. A smaller group of protesters was kept out of sight.

Kadafi walked amid a phalanx of young female bodyguards in stylish blue fatigues, their brimmed caps jammed over dark eyes and long black hair. Four of the guards stood on stage directly behind Kadafi when he spoke.
Yep. Still got it.

Of course, that's not all he still knows how to do. Reports of Kadafi's repentence for years of supporting terrorism may be premature:
I hope that we shall not be obliged by any evil to go back or to look backward," Kadafi said. "We do hope that we shall not be forced or obliged to go back to those days where we bomb our cars or put explosive belts around our belts and around our women so that we will not be searched or harassed in our homes as is taking place now in Iraq and in Palestine.

"The victims are women and children," he said. "We don't want to be forced to do that."
Looking for more statements by the Colonel? This site purports to be "The Official Site of Muammar Gadafi" (but also spells his name "Gathafi"), and includes pearls of wisdom on such topics as the solution to the Israel/Palestine problem (a single state called "Isratine") and Kashmir.

I, for one, am an admirer of Kadafi's prose style, as exemplified in his magnum opus, the Green Book, which features free-form metaphysical and political theorizing written in an undergraduate-with-a-minimum-word-count-to-hit style, and includes passages such as
The national factor, the social bond, works automatically to impel a nation towards survival, in the same way that the gravity of an object works to keep it as one mass surrounding its centre. The dissolution and dispersion of atoms in an atomic bomb are the result of the explosion of the nucleus, which is the focus of gravitation for the particles around it. When the factor of unity in those component systems is destroyed and gravity is lost, every atom is separately dispersed. This is the nature of matter. It is an established natural law. To disregard it or to go against it is damaging to life.
So take a page from Kadafi's book: don't disregard gravity.

Harman for Veep? 

According to Political Wire, the New York Sun is reporting that Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA) is being considered as a running mate by the Kerry campaign.

As I've documented before, the Sun has some incredibly shoddy reporting, and it's obviously way too early to take rumors like this seriously. On the other hand, as someone who worked for Rep. Harman for three years, I'm excited by the prospect of seeing her in higher office. She's a smart, hard-working, tough legislator, and I think she'd be an excellent Vice President. I'll have more on Jane from an insider's perspective, if and when events warrant.

Hobbit Builds Sailboat on Mountain, Karen Hughes is French 

This article (from the front page of the Washington Post!) reads like something from the Onion, or a right-wing fantasy about the typical liberal. It tells the story of App Applegate, an 85-year-old, 5-foot tall ("hobbit-sized") former college professor who has built a boat to sail to the socialist paradise of Cuba. His biggest problem right now: he built the boat (financed with social security checks) on a mountain 6 miles away from the nearest body of water.

The key element of the story describes Applegate's friendship with woodcarver and organic-food advocate Rivkah Sweedler:
Applegate and Sweedler see eye to eye on religious, environmental and political matters: Her late husband, Walter, was also an atheist. App and Rivkah are outspoken advocates of open-field defecation. They deeply dislike President Bush.
In other ridiculous "news", it turns out that Kerry-basher and former Bush aide Karen Hughes was born in Paris. Yeehaw.

Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Lettuce = Pubic Hair (?) 

Explananda has a link to this site, where one can learn a little (not enough!) about the Yezidis and their prohibition on eating lettuce, along with some somewhat-suspect speculation that links this dietary practice to a Sumerian poem using lettuce imagery to refer to naughty bits. [This site, by the way, explains that the actual reason for the prohibition is that the word "lettuce" in Kurdish sounds like the Arabic word meaning "to pelt with stones."]

As it turns out, despite their out-of-the-mainstream beliefs and small numbers, the Yazidis are actually quite important in today's Iraq. During Saddam Hussein's campaign to arabize Kurdish Northern Iraq, his government reclassified the Yazidis as Arabs: as part of their effort to de-arabize Northern Iraq, some Kurdish groups are now trying to get the Yazidis to be counted as Kurds.

If you're interested in the Yazidis and their other unusual religious practices (no wearing of dark blue, possibly-Mithraic bull sacrifice, etc), check out this site or this one (or here if you speak German and will translate it for me).

UPDATE: This news article actually gives a very different account of the Kurds-or-Arabs classification battle. I don't know enough to say which is correct.

Monday, April 26, 2004

More on Kirkuk 

Matthew Yglesias kind of off-handedly throws out the following instanalysis of the Peter Galbraith piece I linked to in my last post:
[Galbraith] talks a bunch about Kirkuk and the looming disputes surrounding the disposition of that city. But when he proposes that Kurdistan become de facto and yet not de jure independent, complete with an autonomous military force, he doesn't say which side of the line the city belongs in. I suspect this is not an oversight per se, but rather a reflection of a philo-Kurdia that runs through the article at many levels. He is saying -- but without quite saying so -- that we should let the peshmerga seize Kirkuk while the Shiite-dominated New Iraqi Army is weak, reverse decades of Arabization (and God knows what happens to the Turkmen), and just leave things at that. That just sounds to me like a recipe for endless conflict and bitterness down the road. I'm more optimistic that some sort of Kurd-Shia accord could be reached if we make it clear to the parties involved that unless an accord is reached, we regard the situation as hopeless and don't intend to keep throwing good money (and Marines) after bad.
Okay: a negotiated settlement is preferable to a Shiite-aggravating imposed solution. On "democratic processes breed democratic behavior" grounds, it's hard to argue with this logic.

Yet, as I've argued here (and harped on again and again), when control of natural resources is at stake, the promise of future returns from their capture can fuel dreams of conquest, and help convince otherwise uninterested parties to lend material, financial and other forms of support to separatists, resulting in civil war being more likely to break out and likelier to be long-lasting and nasty. This is a dynamic that we've seen happen again and again, as I described in that previous post.

So what? So maybe it's a good idea, on stability grounds, to let the Kurds grab Kirkuk, precisely so that it's clear just who is in control of the oilfields. As long as the US puts extensive pressure on the Kurds to distribute the oil revenues from the Kirkuk fields according to some negotiated agreement, this might be the most stable configuration we could hope for. The biggest danger I see here is the prospect of really unpleasant reverse-Arabization: obviously there would have to be a lot of international pressure on the Kurds to behave in accordance with human rights norms. Maybe there is some useful precedent to be found in cases like the post-Soviet Baltic republics. Maybe.

On the other hand, as I discussed here, the Kurds are hardly a unified group at this point. It's hard to know whether this militates against my point (i.e. even if "the Kurds" control Kirkuk, the same oil-fuels-separatist-conflict logic obtains for Kurd against Kurd war) or for it (i.e. the PUK, who are the more pro-federal Iraq of the Kurdish groups, would be the ones who ran Kirkuk and would be strengthened by outright control).

Worthwhile Reading 

There's a thought-provoking (and more than a little depressing) piece on the future of Iraq by former ambassador Peter Galbraith in the most recent issue of the New York Review of Books. Galbraith, no knee-jerk pacifist, notes that post-war planning has been a disaster:
Much of what went wrong was avoidable. Focused on winning the political battle to start a war, the Bush administration failed to anticipate the postwar chaos in Iraq. Administration strategy seems to have been based on a hope that Iraq's bureaucrats and police would simply transfer their loyalty to the new authorities, and the country's administration would continue to function. All experience in Iraq suggested that the collapse of civil authority was the most likely outcome, but there was no credible planning for this contingency. In fact, the US effort to remake Iraq never recovered from its confused start when it failed to prevent the looting of Baghdad in the early days of the occupation.
After surveying the successes and failures of Iraq's postwar administration, Galbraith comes to the conclusion that a sort of modified confederation (with a central government empowered primarily to run monetary policy and to protect and distribute oil revenues among Kurdish, Sunni and Shiite autonomous regions) is the only stable configuration achievable at this point:
In my view, Iraq is not salvageable as a unitary state. From my experience in the Balkans, I feel strongly that it is impossible to preserve the unity of a democratic state where people in a geographically defined region almost unanimously do not want to be part of that state. I have never met an Iraqi Kurd who preferred membership in Iraq if independence were a realistic possibility.

But the problem of Iraq is that a breakup of the country is not a realistic possibility for the present. Turkey, Iran, and Syria, all of which have substantial Kurdish populations, fear the precedent that would be set if Iraqi Kurdistan became independent. Both Sunni and Shiite Arabs oppose the separation of Kurdistan. The Sunni Arabs do not have the resources to support an independent state of their own. (Iraq's largest oil fields are in the Shiite south or in the disputed territory of Kirkuk.)

Further, as was true in the Balkans, the unresolved territorial issues in Iraq would likely mean violent conflict. Kirkuk is perhaps the most explosive place. The Kurds claim it as part of historic Kurdistan. They demand that the process of Arabization of the region—which some say goes back to the 1950s—should be reversed. The Kurds who were driven out of Kirkuk by policies of successive Iraqi regimes should, they say, return home, while Arab settlers in the region are repatriated to other parts of Iraq. While many Iraqi Arabs concede that the Kurds suffered an injustice, they also say that the human cost of correcting it is too high. Moreover, backed by Turkey, ethnic Turkmen assert that Kirkuk is a Turkmen city and that they should enjoy the same status as the Kurds.
Galbraith may well be correct: this may be as strong a federation as can be achieved in Iraq. I hope the planners at the CPA have a chance to consider his points.

Priorities, Priorities 

Well I'm glad to see they're taking care of the important stuff. The BBC reports that the Iraqi Governing Council has chosen a new flag for Iraq.

Hopefully now that that's out of the way they can get to other pressing matters like a new national bird.

UPDATE: More excellent news: the Washington Post now reports that some Iraqis don't like the flag because it uses the color blue, just like Israel's does. What a wonderful world.

UPDATE: A well-informed reader has let me know that Iraq already has a national bird, the Chukar.

Kerry and Trade Policy 

The AP is reporting that John Kerry is calling for the US to bring more cases before the WTO:
The Democratic presidential candidate said Bush is not taking action to stop jobs from going overseas, such as aggressively filing unfair-trade cases with the World Trade Organization, or WTO.

"To engage and win in the global economy, we must not only open markets, we must ensure a level playing field for American workers," Kerry said in remarks prepared for delivery Monday. "As with most economic issues that impact American jobs and American workers, when it comes to enforcing our trade laws, this administration has been asleep on the job...."

Kerry's report notes that the administration has filed just 10 WTO cases during his three years in office, compared with 65 during the last six years of the Clinton administration. Democrats in Congress have also complained about that record.

Kerry offered a six-part plan to enforce trade agreements, including efforts to strengthen worker's rights, eliminate abusive child labor and stop illegal currency manipulation. He said he would double the U.S. Trade Representative's budget for enforcement and create an advocacy office there for small businesses.
Is this a legitimate complaint? First, it might help to review the policy tools available to a US President in the face of complaints about unfair trade practices. The Executive Branch can work either unilaterally (via the anti-dumping procedure), bilaterally (basically trying to "settle out of court" through existing forums or via ad-hoc negotiations), or multilaterally, through the WTO's dispute settlement procedure. We've seen the Bush administration try out the unilateral approach (as in so many other areas of foreign policy) by imposing tariffs on imported steel. We've also seen the results of this policy: the WTO gave permission to affected countries to put countervailing duties on US products, forcing Bush to withdraw the steel tariffs.

In judging Kerry's statement on the policy merits, there are two things to consider: first, is Kerry focusing on the right policy instrument? In other words, if we believe that American companies face an unfair export playing field, is the multilateral approach the right one? Most economists would say "yes, absolutely." There's a lot of suspicion about whether dumping as a practice actually exists, and the unilateral approach to trade policy is easily captured by protectionist interests at the expense of other industries. The steel tariffs are a great example: sure, steelworkers and mill owners got some breathing room when the tariffs were applied, but the consensus among economists is that industries using steel in their products lost a lot more than the steel industry gained, to the detriment of the US economy as a whole. The multilateral process gives more parties an opportunity to weigh in, leading to policies that more closely match national welfare considerations. Furthermore, just as in the realm of domestic politics, disputes are less likely to devolve into open acrimony when handled through mutually-accepted legal procedures than when parties in an argument take matters into their own hands.

But is there really a case to be made that other countries are treating American firms unfairly, or is this just more head-in-the-sand protectionist gobbledygook? I would argue that Kery has a strong case here, and that he's hit upon the optimal response to anti-free-trade political pressure. There are plenty of legitimate gripes about foreign (and American) trading practices that the WTO can solve. For example, a ruling last month made clear that Mexico was violating WTO rules by allowing its privately-held monopoly telephone company to charge border-crossing fees on incoming international telephone calls. As far as I can tell, the only losers here were shareholders and employees of Telmex, while the big winners were US phone companies and people who wanted to make phone calls to friends, family, or business contacts in Mexico. So big businesses trade blows, and consumers win. Excluding those with a personal grudge against AT&T, it's tough to see why anyone outside the industry would be particularly upset about this decision.

To the extent that Kerry's rhetoric adds fuel to protectionist fires, or leads people to believe that the nation's jobs or manufacturing woes should be blamed on international trade, it's probably a bad thing. But to his credit, Kerry has fastened onto an excellent policy response.

Thursday, April 22, 2004

Pre-emptive Critiques of the "Copenhagen Consensus" 

Over the next few months, if you visit politics/policy/environment/development blogs, you're going to hear a lot about Bjorn Lomborg and his Copenhagen Consensus project (which I'll call "CC"). CC is a conference sponsored by the Danish Environmental Assessment Institute (set up by the Danish government) and the Economist magazine:
The basic idea was to improve prioritization of the numerous problems the world faces, by gathering some of the world's greatest economists to a meeting where some of the biggest challenges in the world would be assessed.

The unique approach was to use an expert panel to make a ranking of various economic estimates of opportunities that would meet these challenges. Thorough challenge papers were commissioned from leading specialists - the challenge paper authors - for each challenge.

The outcome should be a prioritized list of opportunities meeting the biggest challenges. This list could be beneficial to decision-makers all over the world.
The conference comes at the end of May, and the Economist is already publishing digests of some of the challenge papers. The full roster of challenges includes climate change, communicable disease, conflict, financial instability, malnutrition/hunger, education, corruption/governance, migration, sanitation/water and subsidies/trade barriers. All of these are serious problems (or at least seriously problematic policy areas); it also makes intuitive sense to try to figure out how much bang for the buck attempts to address each problem will provide.

Yet even though limited aid budgets mean that ranking priorities is always a necessity, and even though we don't yet know what the results of CC will be, there's already a spate of pre-emptive criticisms of the project. I do have a few concerns, which I'll discuss below. I do think that such a high-profile effort should be roundly examined, and I'm glad that people are preparing to argue every point addressed. But the tone of the pre-emptive criticism we've seen so far drives me nuts.

That there's a controversy here shouldn't be too surprising to those who've been following environmental politics: Lomborg, CC's creator, is a Danish political scientist who published a book called The Skeptical Environmentalist a couple of years ago. The book caused a firestorm of protest on its publication, including an most of an issue of Scientific American dedicated to discrediting it. You can read Lomborg's reply here. I simply don't know enough about environmental science to comment intelligently on Lomborg's book, so I'll let you judge for yourself.

Some of the pre-emptive critiques of CC are more persuasive than others. Disinfopedia (an anti-corporation, anti-PR-firm project) has a lot to say about the project: its concerns, however, boil down to accusing Lomborg of stocking his panel with "right-wingers." But the actual roster of experts, challenge paper authors, and opponents consists mostly of scholars whose work doesn't neatly fit on either the left or right. One such scholar is Nobelist James Heckman, whom Brad deLong has called "impeccably right-wing," but who has argued (against a large proportion of those sharing his academic discipline) that government civil rights programs have been a major reason for improvement in the economic prospects of blacks in America, and that early-childhood programs like Head Start are more successful than their opponents would suggest.

Or Jhagdish Bhagwati, who irritates the anti-WTO crowd by arguing that environmental and labor-rights concerns should be met via other, non-trade-only international organizations, but also condemns the "Wall Street-Treasury" axis of influence in US policy for going too far in demanding liberalized capital controls. Challenge paper author Barry Eichengreen joins Bhagwati on this decidedly non-right-wing policy prescription, by the way.

And then there's Susan Rose-Ackerman, who has led the attempt to reclaim the methodological advances of the "Law & Economics" school for progressives who care about distributional issues. And Phillip Martin, who has spoken out for developing better protections and educational programs for immigrants in California. These are absolutely not "right-wingers!" Clearly, the debate needs to move beyond simply stating that "these experts are right-wingers, so we lefties must ignore everything they have to say."

Another line of pre-emption has been raised by the Danish newspaper Dagbladet Information (and translated here):
[T]he global community is not an automaton where the correct policy comes out after depositing the economic data. The way of the world is also governed by non-economic values, ethics, traditions, religion, and so forth. Rational or not—this is the one difference between humans and calculators, and therefore Lomborg’s rationale will never—and should never—be the sole governing principle of global policies.
To which I say: "So what?" Even if we find that CC's results are based entirely on purely-economic factors (which is, given what I know about the participating scholars, incredibly unlikely), that doesn't mean that CC is without value. Presumably, elected leaders are better served by having better information to use in assessing whatever part of their decisions are based on "economic data." Ethics, religion and the other elements of policymaking aren't invalidated by getting the economics right.

Information is standing on firmer ground when it points out that
Lomborg’s prioritizations are contained within the coffer that is marked “environment and health.” When spending has to be prioritized, it is, for some reason, not possible to also look at global military spending, investments in the entertainment industry, production of luxury goods, royal weddings, and so forth.
I fully agree that for all sorts of reasons, national governments spend far too little of their budgets on transnational problems like hunger, climate change and development assistance. There's really just no question about it. It would be great if CC also took a look at how to solve this underlying problem of priorities. Still, it makes sense to ask how to spend a limited budget most effectively, even if attention should also be paid to why the budget is so severely limited.

To be perfectly clear, I am very interested to see what comes out of the Copenhagen conference. I sincerely hope that some great ideas are generated and given good publicity by the exercise. At this point, though, it's simply too early to judge whether CC is a stalking horse for climate-change-deniers or a good first step on prioritizing problems. I hope my readers will keep an open mind and set aside the pre-emptive critiques that they're sure to see repeated in the days ahead.

Taking "Natural Parenting" Too Far 

As the father of a six-week old baby girl, I heartily disendorse the diaper-free method of parenting described on this website.

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

The Important Parts 

The Washington Post is running a series of articles adapted from Bob Woodward's new book about President Bush's decision to go to war against Iraq.

Here are, as far as I can tell, the most important parts of today's excerpt:
The Joint Chiefs' staff had placed a peppermint at each place. Bush unwrapped his and popped it into his mouth. Later he eyed Cohen's mint and flashed a pantomime query, Do you want that? Cohen signaled no, so Bush reached over and took it. Near the end of the hour-and-a-quarter briefing, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Army Gen. Henry H. Shelton, noticed Bush eyeing his mint, so he passed it over.

Cheney listened, but he was tired and closed his eyes, conspicuously nodding off several times. Rumsfeld, who was sitting at a far end of the table, paid close attention, though he kept asking the briefers to please speak up or please speak louder. "We're off to a great start," one of the chiefs commented privately to a colleague after the session. "The vice president fell asleep, and the secretary of defense can't hear."
Now that's some nice reportin'.

Mystery Solved? 

The Amherst College mystery machine may have been identified: it appears to be a head-measuring device, for use by hatmakers and/or phrenologists. Explananda and Boing Boing have more.

I still say don't touch it.

Monday, April 19, 2004

I Like the Island Life, Part IV 

Somebody once said "buy land: they're not making any more of it." Depending on where you look or whom you ask, it was either Mark Twain, Will Rogers or "a famous real estate agent" who said this.

The saying, however, is not strictly true. For purely pedantic purposes, I'd like to point out that volcanic activity occasionally creates new islands. Take that, straw man!

For those of you who are still reading, there's a reason I bring this topic up: over the past 50 years or so there has been a small wave of attempts to build new countries on artificial islands, usually by utopian libertarians. Unfortunately for these visionaries, the nation-states of the world have made moves to stop this from actually happening: the Third Conference on the Law of the Sea, acceded to by 150 nations since 1982, declares that artificial land can't be constructed without the approval of the nearest (existing) nation-state. Presumably not every country has the will or the means to scuttle an artificial island, be it the Hall of Doom or a libertarian utopia, but they all have the right to do so. This is a great example, incidentally, of the way international law serves the needs of states instead of rendering them obsolete. Take that, lawyers and neoliberal institutionalists!

There are a couple of places that could possibly qualify to be grandfathered in, however. The most famous of these is Sealand, a "country" set up on an abandoned drilling platform in the North Sea and used for a while as a "data haven" where internet activities forbidden by nation's laws could be conducted harassment-free. Read all about it here.

There's another massive strike against these projects in the current international environment. "Failed states" are viewed with concern: since they have no central government which can be reached via diplomacy or coerced under standard doctrines of war, there's no one to appeal to to halt terrorist activity. I would think that the US and other states would view new, tiny, floating sovereign entities in a similar light.

If you're interested, there's a lot of history on this subject to be found on the web. You can get an eyewitness account of a 1968 attempt to build a libertarian utopia ("Project Atlantis") in the Caribbean in this memoir by Roy Halliday (not last year's AL Cy Young Award winner, by the way, but someone else entirely). I don't know why it didn't work; they seem to have had a good plan, focusing on ideology instead of logistics (just like we're doing in Iraq!):
The original plan for Operation Atlantis consisted of three stages: (1) gather libertarians in a single location (the motel) “where they can work together to build an integrated community” and prepare the way for the next stage, (2) acquire an ocean vessel and declare it to be an independent nation while in international waters, and (3) create “an artificial island as close to the shores of the U.S. as international law will permit and Uncle Sam will tolerate.” Each of these stages was designed to make a profit for the initial investors and to ultimately be self-supporting. By establishing Atlantis as a proprietary community inhabited only by individuals who voluntarily agree to the terms of their lease contracts, Stiefel endowed it with a limited government that does not violate the non-aggression principle, thereby making Atlantis acceptable to both limited-government libertarians and anarcho-libertarians.
But don't let the failure of Project Atlantis get you down. If you're interested in the prospect of living in the middle of the ocean with like-minded freedom lovers, the Seasteading Project is conducting tests of new, allegedly seasickness-proof "sovereign, self-sufficient floating platforms." Their website is fascinating, has tons of resources on the topics covered in this post, and answers all your questions about seasteading (addressing your fears that the project will contribute to overpopulation, for example). Take a look.

I Like the Island Life, Part III 

So far, I've restricted my posting to islands of the "land sticking up out of the water" type. But there are also cultural islands, populations claiming one ethnic or national identity but living surrounded by those of another group. Armenians claim Nagorno-Karabakh is such an island, for example. There are also political islands: exclaves like the Cooch Behar region between India and Bangladesh, Llivia in France or Baarle-Hertog in Belgium.

The last two cases are pretty interesting: you can see maps here and here. Llivia is a tiny splatter of Spain wholly inside France, while Baarle Hertog is sort of an archipelago of the Netherlands completely surrounded by Belgian territory. Cromartyshire in Scotland is similar in its non-contiguity (as is Alaska, for that matter), but this is just an administrative division, not one involving international borders. Russia's Kaliningrad (separated from the rest of Russia by Lithuania and Latvia) is perhaps a better analog.

Why do I bring all this up? I want to recommend a fascinating book. Boundaries, by Peter Sahlins, tells the story of the Cerdanya/Cerdagne, a region on the border between Spain and France which includes Llivia. Sahlins explains how the concept of national boundaries is a relatively new construction: in feudal Europe, royal families fought over, passed along through inheritance, or married into jurisdiction over subjects rather than control over geographic territory. A villager paid his taxes to, owed allegiance to, and prayed in the churches influenced by a particular aristocrat. If his son cleared land for a farm in an nearby district, past the fields of a neighbor owing allegiance to another lord, the new farm fell under the jurisdiction of the father's ruler.

This jurisdictional allegiance clearly had little or nothing to do with territorial boundaries, military control of strategic points, or any of the other aspects of what we today understand as the lines demarcating one state from another. Sahlins tracks the history of the shift from the jurisdictional idea of states to the modern territorial idea, showing along the way the push and pull between the needs of individuals living in border regions and the armies and bureaucrats of the great state centers. It's a good read if you like history books, and I think its insights about the slippery, constructed nature of what we often consider to be natural or obvious ideas about things like nationhood, statehood, or boundaries are of particular use in understanding what's going on in international news right now.

UPDATE: Fixed link errors.

New York's Terrifying Technology 

Take a look at this NY Times headline from today's paper: "City Tests Loom, and Third Graders Feel the Heat"

Now, I'm not one to read the articles, but why does the city own a loom, and are we planning to utilize child labor? If so, wouldn't fourth graders make better weavers?

UPDATE: More from the NY Times: "Devils' Burns Will Be Treated for Colon Cancer"

By the way, these creative misreadings are brought to you by my inimitable younger brother, who doesn't have a website that I can link to.

I Like the Island Life, Part II 

The BBC is reporting that Vietnam has begun sending tourist expeditions to the Spratly Islands, which China also claims (as do, actually, Malaysia, the Phillipines, Brunei and Taiwan):
Meeting soldiers, passing through an oil field and visiting a former prison might not be everyone's idea of the perfect holiday, but this inaugural trip to the Spratlys has attracted more than 60 Vietnamese tourists.

They set off early on Monday for an eight-day return trip and according to an official on board opened a bottle of champagne to celebrate.
It just goes to show: ruffling diplomatic feathers can be fun, especially when you're a "strategic tourist."

The Spratlys actually sound like a nice place to visit. There are about a hundred islets and reefs, with a total land area of under 5 square miles. Not much land, but no shortage of soldiers: over 2000 at last count, from 5 of the claimaint nations. China's reside upon the aptly named "Mischief Reef," which apparently was named after Heribert Mischief, a crewmember on board the ship that discovered the islands in 1791. I'm not making that up, by the way.

And those aren't the only countries that have ever hoped to call the Spratlys their own. According to this site. the Spratlys:
have been claimed at one time or another by the Philippines, Japan, France, Portugal, Spain, the United Kingdom, the Republic of Vietnam, the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, the Republic of South Vietnam, the People's Republic of China, and the Republic of China...In addition there have been a number of private individuals who have asserted territorial rights (sometimes in conflict with each other) under the names of the Kingdom of Humanity, the Republic of Morac-Songhrati-Meads, the Principality of Freedomland, the Free Territiory (sic) of Freedomland, and the Republic of Koneuwe.
Why all the interest in these rocky outcroppings? What you'd guess, generally: oil (or the possibility of oil), fishing rights, and in the case of the Kingdom of Humanity, the apparently lucrative industry of processing gooney birds for the restaurants of Saigon and Manila. I'm not making this up, either, by the way.

If you're interested in going, the Vietnamese hope to send more tourist boats to the Spratlys in the near future. Also, the Taiwanese apparently have constructed a house on stilts on one of the islands, which also could be a nice place to visit, and which also has caused much consternation in diplomatic circles.

If you go, though, do be careful, warns globalsecurity.org:
Military skirmishes have occurred numerous times in the past two decades. The most serious occurred in 1976, when China invaded and captured the Paracel Islands from Vietnam, and in 1988, when Chinese and Vietnamese navies clashed at Johnson Reef in the Spratly Islands, sinking several Vietnamese boats and killing over 70 sailors.
Ah, the island life.

I Like the Island Life: Part I 

My friend Bora (whose name is half an island's), once escaped an uncomfortable situation is a way I highly recommend emulating. Stuck at a table at a bar with an angry, argumentative couple in the throes of a nasty break-up, Bora closed his eyes, tapped on the table, smiled, and said: "You know what, guys? I like the island life."

Wise words from a wise man.

But the island life isn't always so serene. And it can be fraught with international tension, as my prior post on the Canada/Denmark squabble over Hans Island illustrates.

Today, look for more posts on islands, disputed territory, and non-state actors. And don't forget to bring the sunblock.

UPDATES:
Part II: More disputed territory. The Spratly Islands and the sometimes silly fight over them.
Part III: Not just geographical oddities: the history of political islands, or exclaves.
Part IV: A danger to the nation-state system? History and politics of artificial islands.

I'm Back 

I'm back from the Midwest Political Science Association conference in Chicago. This week I'll let you know about a couple of the more interesting papers I saw delivered there, so stay tuned.

Anyway, for those of you who expressed your annoyance at the lack of regular posting, your troubles are over.

Saturday, April 17, 2004

Best Google Search Yet 

This is definitely the best Google search leading someone to the Bonassus that I've seen:

"reasons why scientists are more important than politicians in shaping the world"

I sincerely hope that the googler who found this blog via this search came away satisfied. I'd also like to see the report.

Second Son? 

This is really a post about an odd metaphor, not baseball, and not baseball metaphors, so read on, oh baseball-o-phobe:

Last year, in the baseball post-season, the Yankees and Red Sox faced each other in the decisive Game 7 of the American League Championship Series. Whichever team won would go on to the World Series. It was truly exciting: people in New York and Boston, even those with no interest in sports, were obsessed with the outcome of the game. Needless to say, the Red Sox lost in extra innings, crushing my hopes and inspiring some lunatic neighbor of mine to start blowing a shofar or something out the window until my wife screamed at him to stop.

The final pitch of the ballgame was delivered by Red Sox knuckleballer Tim Wakefield, who gave up a homerun to Aaron Boone. Wakefield, who'd played for the Sox for 8 years (and who'd absolutely devastated the Yankees earlier in the same series), feared that he'd be run out of town on a rail. This was Boston, after all, where the goat of the 1986 World Series, Bill Buckner, is still hated bitterly, despite the fact that he was a major part of the Red Sox's making it to the postseason that year.

Universal popular opinion, though, blamed Red Sox manager Grady Little for the loss, much to Wakefield's relief.

And here's why I'm writing about this. In an interview with the Boston Globe last night, Wakefield reflected on his treatment by the Boston fans:
Last night, Wakefield was not only facing the New York Yankees for the first time since Boone took him over the left-field wall in the 11th inning of Game 7 last October in the Bronx, he was pitching in Fenway Park for the first time since that tear-stained night. The cheers he heard may not have matched the volume of boos directed at the newest pinstriped villain, Alex Rodriguez, but they were further affirmation that he had been given a reprieve instead of a blindfold and cigarette.

"That really meant a lot," Wakefield said, after last night's 6-2 Sox win over the Bombers, in which he was staked to a 4-0 lead and made it stand up through seven innings in which he allowed just one earned run on four hits. "The reception I got was tremendous.

"I wanted to give the best performance I could for those fans. They've opened their arms and embraced me like a second son."
Uhhh.... A "second son?" Has anyone else ever heard this term before? Do second sons get embraced in a particular way? Who is the first son in this picture?

OK, not an interesting post. I admit it. But that's all the brainpower I had for the blog today.

Friday, April 16, 2004

No Posts 'Til Sunday 

I'm at a conference in Chicago, learning the state of the art of political science research and presenting a paper of my own. I'll return to blogging on Sunday.

Thursday, April 15, 2004

Offtopic But Worth It 

Found via MetaFilter: FanPants.

Figure 8, especially, is too horrible for words. The sad thing is that every day I see people who are overeating these things into obsolescence.

Bin Laden's Generous Offer to Europe 

It's being widely reported that a tape recording of someone claiming to be Osama bin Laden makes an offer of a 3-month truce with Europe "when the last soldier leaves our countries."

Not that I take this particularly seriously, but do those countries include, say, Kosovo, where 27 NATO and non-NATO countries on the European continent have troops participating in KFOR? How about Sudan, where as I've reported before an EU intervention is both a (distant) possibility and potentially a huge saver of lives?

Just asking.

Wednesday, April 14, 2004

Baseball Boots 

Why are Converse Chuck Taylors (and knock-offs) called "Baseball Boots" in the UK?

Seriously. I've been wondering about this for years. It's as if Americans called ice skates "cricket shoes."

Sudan Follow-Up 

Nicholas Kristof uses his column in today's NY Times to plead for more rhetorical pressure on Sudan's government from the US and UN.
I'm not suggesting an invasion of Sudan. But it's a fallacy to think that just because we can't do everything to stop genocide, we shouldn't do anything. One of the lessons of the last week is how little it took — from Washington, the U.N. and the African Union — to nudge Sudan into accepting a cease-fire and pledging access for humanitarian workers.

Now we need more arm-twisting to get Sudan to comply with the cease-fire (it marked the first day, Monday, by bombing the town of Anka). The Sudanese government is testing us, but so far the State Department has shown a commendable willingness to stand up to it.

We can save many tens of thousands of lives in the coming weeks — but only if Mr. Bush and Mr. Annan speak out more boldly, if the U.N. Security Council insists on humanitarian access to Darfur and if the aid community mounts a huge effort before the rainy season makes roads impassible beginning in late May.

In the last 100 years, the United States has reacted to one genocide after another — Armenians, Jews, Cambodians, Bosnians — by making excuses at the time, and then saying, too late, "Oh, if only we had known!" Well, this time we know what is happening in Darfur: 110,000 refugees have escaped into Chad and testify to the atrocities.

How many more parents will be forced to choose whether their children are shot or burned to death before we get serious?
It'll be interesting to see whether more "cheap talk" from the West will convince the Sudanese government to back down. I sincerely hope it does.

Tuesday, April 13, 2004

New York Sun on a Soros "October Surprise" 

I don't usually read the New York Sun (nor do I know anyone who does: is this a function of my social isolation or the Sun's lack of readership? I suspect the latter).

Anyway, I noticed this headline on the front page of today's issue: "October Surprise from Soros?" I knew that Soros had been giving a lot of money to anti-Bush 527s, so I was curious. What kind of surprise might they be talking about?
When financier George Soros said last November he would give up his fortune if it would oust President Bush from office, the offhand remark sparked speculation about just how far the billionaire would go to achieve his goal.

Could Mr. Soros orchestrate a financial crisis to harm the president's reelection? It wouldn't be easy.

Such an October surprise might involve a speculative attack on the dollar or on American financial markets. Mr. Soros's hedge fund bet against the British pound in 1992 helped push that currency out of the European monetary system.

Mr. Soros could not be reached for comment. His spokesman, Michael Vachon, dismissed the notion as preposterous.
Yeah, no kidding! Does anyone take this idea seriously? According to the Sun's own reporting, no!
"It's silly talk," said a former director of international finance at the Federal Reserve Board, Ralph Bryant, of the speculation.

"This is conspiracy theory gone haywire," said Christian Weller, a senior economist at the Center for American Progress, a liberal Washington think tank that was funded in part by $3 million from Mr. Soros. "The economics of it just don't work."

An economist at the free-market Cato Institute described the theory through a spokesman as so "out there" as to be "not even worthy of comment."

Above all, economists stressed that a speculator targeting the dollar would face intractable pressure from numerous foreign governments who hold enormous dollar reserves and dollar denominated debt.
What a great way to generate grist for your front page: make up a preposterous claim, suggest that it's a rumor floating around (without directly saying that anyone else is talking about it), and then debunk your own creation.

Maybe I should start doing that.

Sudan and the European Union 

I've posted before (here and here) about the ongoing catastrophe in the Darfur region of Sudan. Despite some promising signs, the situation seems still to be pretty terrible, with continuing militia attacks on civilian populations and a looming refugee crisis of massive proportions. I noted earlier that Explananda had called out the Europeans on this one, saying that this would be a great way to prove that their talk about the proper use of force in the world was more than hot air. Today, there may be some developments on that front.

According to the BBC,
The ceasefire in Sudan's Darfur region has had little effect on the ground, the United States has said.

Government-backed Arab militias are reported to be continuing their attacks, a spokesman said...

"We do still have reports that the government-supported Arab militias are attacking parts of western and southern Darfur," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said.

"There are also reports of continuing aerial bombardments, such as at Anka... north-west of Khartoum this [Monday] morning.

"In addition, we understand the militias remain in the vicinity of the internally displaced persons camps, occupying land that they had claimed from Africans, and effectively preventing (people) from returning to their homes," he said.

However, the rebel Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) said that the ceasefire was being respected.

"The fighting has stopped entirely," Abu Bakr Hamid al-Nur told Reuters news agency...

Sudan analyst Eva Dadrian from the Africa Analysis newsletter says it will be hard for the government to reign in the Arab militia - the Janjaweed - which have been leading the attacks on black African civilians in Darfur.

"Darfur is a very vast region and the government will have difficulty to control these people. The Janjaweed are everywhere. They hide in the mountains," she told the BBC Network Africa programme.

The fighting in Darfur has been raging for more than a year, with rebels claiming that the Arab-dominated government is ignoring the region.

The refugees say that attacks on their villages by helicopter gunships are followed up the Janjaweed on horses and camels, who rape, kill and loot.

The Sudanese government has denied the allegations.
An article in today's NY Times also suggests that UN refugee assistance has been far too little, far too late, and that refugees are in imminent danger of famine.
Aid agencies have set up camps in this remote, impoverished corner of Africa to provide medical care and food in what officials call one of the world's worst disasters affecting civilian populations.

Behind the refugee agency's office in Iriba, a small administrative settlement 38 miles from the contested border town of Tine, stand 14 open-back Red Cross trucks. The vehicles are meant to travel to the frontier to carry refugees still fleeing from Sudan across the empty savannah, but the trucks are stranded without fuel.

Across the compound, a warehouse meant to hold cereal, sorghum and oil to supply a camp of 6,000 for a month holds less than half that amount because the contractor organizing the transportation has run out of money to pay the drivers.

"You can't keep bringing people in and dumping them and not giving them anything to eat," said Dave Coddington, a team leader at Catholic Relief Services, an aid group that is helping to distribute food in the refugee camps. "It's an embarrassment for the U.N."
So what, besides failing to provide sufficient material resources to aid efforts, is the international community doing? It's too soon to say how much credence to lend to this, but the Financial Times reports today that
The European Union's top military official says EU-led forces could intervene in Sudan, where more than 670,000 people have fled the western region of Dafur following weeks of killings, rape and looting by Arab militias...

The surprise comments by Gustav Hägglund, who ends his three-year stint as the first chairman of the EU's military committee this month, coincide with fresh efforts by Brussels to strengthen its defence capabilities.

In an interview with the Financial Times, General Hägglund said the possibility of the EU sending a force to Sudan had been raised by Louise Fréchette, the United Nations deputy secretary-general. "Sudan is on the list of the UN [for some form of peacekeeping mission]," Gen Hägglund added. The 65-year-old Finnish general was appointed Europe's top military chief three years ago, when the EU had a fledgling military staff, no idea which military missions it would undertake and persistent ambiguities between Britain and France over the future role of European defence.

Since then, the EU has taken over a small Nato-led mission in Macedonia, quickly deployed a 1,500-strong military force to Bunia, Democratic Republic of Congo, last summer and will take over this year from Nato the large mission in Bosnia. The Congo mission last year was the EU's first military mission outside Europe.

"There is no reason why the EU could not go to, for instance, Sudan. I see it to be very possible. It would be mandated by the UN. It is part of the battlegroup concept," said Gen Hägglund.
The FT article goes on to speculate about future EU military capabilities and the likelihood of an effective common EU defense structure. But to me, the real question of interest here (beyond the basic issue of helping other human beings in danger) is whether anyone will actually lead a Western intervention into an Arab-ruled country, and how this will be portrayed in the world press. If I recall correctly, Osama bin Laden has somehow portrayed both the slowness of the Western reaction to the plight of the Bosnians and the fact of Western intervention in Kosovo and East Timor as attacks on Islam. Clearly we have to do something about the situation in Sudan (despite at least one commentator's skepticism), but there are other issues to consider here as well.

Light Posting Schedule 

To the 50 or so people who appear to be regular readers of this blog: I'll be on a light posting schedule through this weekend. I'm going to a conference in Chicago, where I'll be presenting a paper. I'll try to post a short responsive piece every day, but I won't be publishing anything substantive until Monday, possibly.

Next week I should have a lot of material, though, so please keep visiting.

Monday, April 12, 2004

"How to be a Free Trade Democrat" 

I don't have much time today, but since there's been a lot of interest around the blogosphere in how to sell the virtues of free trade to a leftish audience, I thought I should point out this under-pointed-out piece from the latest issue of Foreign Policy.

Enjoy.

Sunday, April 11, 2004

Still the Real Thing! 

According to this article in the Los Angeles Times, Peru's nascent soft drink industry is banking on finding loopholes in UN anti-drug laws to start exporting flavored sugar water with small amounts of coca extract (and trace amounts of actual cocaine) in it, under the brand name "Kdrink." Yum, I guess.

Interesting enough. But here's the kicker:
With the notable exception of Coca-Cola, products using coca leaves are banned in most nations beyond the Andes...In 1886, an Atlanta pharmacist invented Coca-Cola as a brain-stimulating tonic that combined cocaine and an extract from the caffeine-producing kola nut.

Coke dropped cocaine from its recipe at about 1900, but the secret formula still calls for a cocaine-free coca extract produced at a Stepan Co. factory in Maywood, N.J.

Stepan buys about 100 metric tons of dried Peruvian coca leaves each year, says Marco Castillo, spokesman for Peru's state-owned National Coca Company, Enaco.
Maybe I'm the last one on the block to hear of this, but WTF? The Coca-Cola corporation buys 100 metric tons of coca leaves a year? From the national coca company of Peru? Enaco?

Maybe we should tell Hamid Karzai about this. He could contact Snapple about marketing Laudanum Iced Tea, after setting up the Afghan National Poppy Company, Afnapopco.

UPDATE: You can check out Enaco's offerings here, but only in Spanish.

Breakdown in the Western Alliance 

Here's a story the US media seems to have missed entirely: Danish and Canadian nationalists are up in arms over a territorial dispute.

No, seriously.

These guys have everything you need to know.

UPDATE: As this comprehensive list of all known international territorial disputes shows, the Canada/Denmark kerfuffle (also known as the "Hans Island Foofaraw") is the only such conflict which is in any way hilarious. All the others are sad or serious.

UPDATE: Long-lost dorm neighbor (and fellow father-of-a-daughter-named Lucy) Adam Bonin has generated some commentary on the argy-bargy on his eclectic blog. Check it out.

Misplaying our Hand...Again 

In an earlier post, I suggested that even though the news from Iraq appeared to be growing bleaker by the day, there might be some reason to believe that the ramping up of hostilities between the US and Moktada al-Sadr's followers was the result of strategic, purposeful decisionmaking by the CPA. My reasoning was that the CPA realized the unusually high threat of civil war in post-occupation Iraq and was taking steps to knock down the best-organized potential leader of a rebellion.

The narrative presented by this article in yesterday's Washington Post gives an account of what actually happened, and seems to suggest that I was accurately describing the strategy being pursued, but I may have been a little too willing to give credit to the CPA by hoping that the strategy would be pursued effectively. Once again, it seems, the Bush administration and its appointees have fastened onto a strategy, a defensible, reasoned strategy, even, but have failed to make realistic assumptions about the likely costs or probability of success of their chosen path.

What was the thinking underlying Bremer & Co's behavior? At first, the CPA tried to ignore Sadr for as long as possible in the hopes that more moderate clerics would draw away his supporters. But at some point, it became obvious that allowing the Sadrist militia to remain armed would make general disarmament impossible:
With the planned handover of sovereignty less than 100 days away, political officers within the occupation authority called for more aggressive efforts to disband Sadr's militia on the grounds that the continued existence of the Mahdi Army was preventing other Shiite militias from disarming. If the Americans failed to demobilize Iraq's disparate militias before ending the occupation, it likely would impede the country's democratic transition, the political officers had warned.

"He was creating a context in which there were simply not going to be free and fair elections," said Diamond of the Hoover Institution. "We could have bought him off, but the result was not going to be a democracy in Iraq but a creeping slide into some form of a Islamist dictatorship in which various militia armies would be the ones who would determine the outcome of the election. That's because if we didn't disarm his army, we wouldn't be able to disarm any of the other militias. And if you don't demobilize of all the militias, there's no way you can have a democracy."
As I've argued elsewhere, this may be understating the danger: disarmed militias could rapidly rearm, gaining resources and support by claiming future returns from controlling oil production. But the CPA did, correctly, realize that ignoring Sadr (or other leaders willing to violently resist a post-occupation Iraqi government) would be a colossal mistake. So the strategic thinking was correct.

Things don't seem to have worked out as planned, though, with Sadr now apparently emerging as a popular figure and rallying point for anti-American activity. Was this the result of poor execution of an anti-Sadr plan, or was it the result of a lack of an anti-Sadr plan?

Noam Schreiber makes a case in the New Republic that the article shows that it was Sadr who was in control of the situation, and he who precipitated the outbreak of active battles:
On the one hand, the article makes the point that Paul Bremer chose to tighten the pressure on Sadr in late March, by closing down his movement's increasingly anti-American newspaper, al-Hawza. This appears to have been the proximate cause for the Sadr-sponsored uprising, implying that Sadr didn't have a whole lot of choice in the timing of the matter. On the other hand, the article points out that the rhetoric emanating from the paper, and the actions of the Sadr organization generally, had been growing more and more belligerent in recent weeks, making it more crucial for the occupation authorities to respond. As Bremer's spokesman Dan Senor told the Post, the decision to confront Sadr came in response to "a real trend in the ramping-up of very inciteful, highly provocative rhetoric ... that was directed at promoting violence against Americans during a very emotional time.... We had a concern that if he was left unchecked, Americans could wind up getting killed." On top of that, the article says that Sadr had lowered his group's profile this past winter while he focused (successfully, as it turns out) on building up the size of his militia. The combination of these circumstances suggests to me that Sadr did, in fact, control the timing of the confrontation with the U.S. authorities, and that the timing was somewhat of a miscalculation given that several more months of low-grade insurgency could have helped him further increase the size of his militia while postponing an outright confrontation until the coalition forces had dwindled substantially.
In other words, Schreiber is arguing that our current problems were orchestrated by Sadr. By this reading, we can't fault the CPA for failing to anticipate a problem, merely for failing to address it quickly. Schreiber even holds out hope that this was a strategic mistake by Sadr, and that the problem is much less bad than it would have been if Sadr hadn't forced Bremer's hand.

Schreiber misses the most damning portion of the article, though:
When Bremer ordered the shutdown of al-Hawza, there was no intention to use force to apprehend Sadr or leaders of his militia, according to occupation authority officials familiar with the decision.

One U.S. official said there was not even a fully developed backup plan for military action in case Sadr opted to react violently. The official noted that when the decision was made, there were very few U.S. troops in Sadr's strongholds south of Baghdad. That area has been under the jurisdiction of multinational military divisions that had failed to move aggressively against the cleric's militia.

The newspaper closure was intended "to send another signal to Sadr, just like telling him about the arrest warrant," the official said. "In hindsight, it was a huge mistake. The best-case scenario was that he would ignore it, like the earlier threat, or that he would capitulate. The worst case was that he would lash back. But we weren't ready for that."

At the time, occupation authority officials figured that Sadr had between 3,000 and 6,000 militiamen, only 2,000 of whom were armed fighters -- a figure that turned out to be a vast underestimate. "We were relying on the most optimistic predictions possible," the official said.
Doesn't this seem to be the same problem that we've seen again and again? Doesn't it seem like the Bush administration and its appointees are constantly screwing up in this precise way? It's truly amazing to me how a group of people so determined to see itself as hard-nosed and realistic can be so selectively pollyanna-ish.

Friday, April 09, 2004

More Federalism Worries for Iraq 

The New Republic has an interesting article today by Soner Cagaptay (which I think is only available to subscribers) about the facts on the ground in Kurd-dominated northern Iraq:
[O]ne might be tempted to conclude that the Kurdish north is the only area of Iraq immune from the repercussions of this past week's anti-American revolt.

But that is far from true. Indeed, there is reason to fear that the effects of the Sunni and Shia uprising will be felt in northern Iraq, with potentially disastrous consequences. To understand why, one has to remember that Iraqi Kurdistan--while enjoying both a higher level of freedom and a higher standard of living than just about anywhere else in Iraq--is a deeply divided place. The Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) controls the western part of the region and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) controls the east. The differences between the KDP and the PUK are deep-rooted. In the 1990s, the two parties fought a bitter civil war. When the United States intervened to broker a ceasefire, the KDP and the PUK agreed to stop fighting, but they also split up northern Iraq into two cantons and exchanged populations. As if they belonged to alien ethnic communities, KDP members in PUK areas left for the KDP zone, and PUK members in KDP areas left for the PUK zone. Though this split is largely ignored by the mainstream press these days, it appears to be growing wider. And there is now reason to believe that the past week's events to the south will drive the KDP and PUK further apart, which would represent a major blow against the already tenuous dream of a federal Iraq.
The author goes on to argue that the KDP, which is both relatively well-off and economically independent from the rest of Iraq, may be considering a separatist, pan-Kurdish strategy, and speculates that this strategy will seem more attractive the worse the chaos in the rest of the country becomes. It's a worrisome scenario, and one I hope the CPA is addressing, rather than seeing Kurdish Iraq as an undifferentiated unitary actor.

Incidentally, the source of the KDP's wealth is its control of the border crossing between Turkey and Iraq. Presumably there is some potential for US leverage here. On the other hand, the relatively pro-federal-Iraq PUK controls Kirkuk and its oil, as well as the border with Iran, which it has apparently kept shut. One might think that by Cagaptay's logic, we should be more worried about the PUK choosing to chart its own course.

WTO Weakness 

Although there hasn't been quite as much coverage of them over the last year or so, anti-globalization protesters continue to pop up here and there, despite this Economist article suggesting the movement is effectively dead. Last winter in Miami, hundreds of protesters showed up to yell about the proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas. Anti-WTO banners are visible at more or less every antiwar protest. And we can expect there will be a presence from this crowd at the G8 summit in Georgia later this year.

Part of the protesters' case against the WTO is their contention that it removes nations' ability to make their own laws, effectively ceding sovereignty from democratic bodies to unaccountable tribunals. But an article in today's Washington Post (free registration for non-paranoids) suggests that the WTO is far, far weaker than its opponents paint it. The article attempts to show that the US Congress is terribly gridlocked, by pointing out that
nearly two years after the World Trade Organization ruled an obscure U.S. export subsidy illegal, and more than a month after the European Union imposed retaliatory sanctions, Congress still has not repealed the subsidy. Yesterday, the Senate joined the House on an Easter recess after failing to pass legislation that could lift the sanctions crippling companies such as Hord Crystal Corp. in Rhode Island.
"This could lead to the demise of this company, and this company has been around since 1946," said Bill Feldman, whose jewelry industry has been among the hardest hit. "All I can say is, companies like ours . . . do not have the time to watch them play around..."

In August 2002, the World Trade Organization gave Europe the go-ahead to punish U.S. companies if their government did not repeal the Foreign Sales Corporation/Extraterritorial Income Exclusion (FSC/ETI) subsidy for exports. Last November, the European Union drafted a hit list designed to maximize the pain for lawmakers.

Targeted for sanctions were industries in heavily Republican states, many of them already teetering on a financial precipice: leather goods and wood products, paper and carpets, textiles and footwear, travel goods and jewelry, even thoroughbred racehorses.

To complicate matters, the EU exempted industries that European businesses depend on, such as aircraft manufacturing.
All of this makes clear a couple of important points about the WTO. The WTO and its tribunals can't actually strike down domestic laws. They can only authorize successful complainants to put up limited countervailing protection. The complainants don't actually have to raise their own barriers even if they get permission, and countries successfully complained against can decide to live with the consequences.

Or in this case, fail to decide one way or the other. Theories of the political economy of trade would predict that the EU's targeted tariffs would have prompted almost immediate repeal of the offending subsidies. The pain to producers is clearly intense, and the limited range of affected firms would suggest that collective lobbying would be fairly easy. Furthermore, the EU targeted firms in districts controlled by the party in power in both houses of the legislature and the White House. But according to the article, Congress has been too confused to act:
Last fall, both the House Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee reported out complex business tax bills that would repeal the subsidies and replace them with a variety of other business tax cuts. The bills have languished since as lawmakers have debated internal procedures.

And the simple task of repealing a $5 billion-a-year export subsidy has grown ever more complex as lawmakers seek to please each other and the conflicting demands of the business lobby. The Senate bill now stretches to 930 pages, with tax breaks worth $72 billion over 10 years, offset by a dizzying variety of tax loophole closers, revenue raisers and regulatory changes.

In March, the European Union imposed the first WTO-approved trade sanctions against the United States, a 5 percent surcharge on goods coming into Europe that will rise by a percentage point each month until it reaches 17 percent. It now is 6 percent, heading to 7 percent before Congress shakes off the cobwebs from its spring break.

"It'll go all the way up to 17 percent before they do anything about it. I'll guarantee it," said Ken Anselm, the self-described "owner, CEO and janitor" of tiny Western Cutterheads Inc., which makes mass-production wood lathes in Kentucky.

The repercussions have rippled across the country.

In Mississippi, Shuqualak Lumber Co. depended on Europe for 5 percent of its southern yellow pine sales and 8.5 percent of its revenue. That's all but gone, said W. Anderson Thomas, a company vice president. Pacific Lumber Co. in California has taken to paying the duty itself, hoping to hold on to its European customers until Congress acts.
In this pre-election period, with outsourcing and manufacturing job loss being such a colossal issue that the president announced the appointment of a new "manufacturing czar" today, it's hard to believe that the relevant committee chairmen just haven't figured out that they could ram through ad-hoc legislation dealing only with removing the subsidy. It's just as unlikely that clever Democrats could be holding up consideration of the bills, especially in the House, where the majority party has enormous agenda-setting power. It would seem to me instead that there's probably something of a stalemate between backers of the (now illegal) subsidies and those hurt by the countervailing measures. In other words, domestic politics still matters as much as, if not more than, a WTO ruling.

"Sure," the WTO protester might say, "but this is because business is fighting business. When it comes to labor or the environment, business and its WTO handmaidens will win every time." Maybe so. But it would seem to me that the lesson here is that there's no need to organize against the WTO if you can organize a domestic lobbying coalition sufficient to keep Congress from adjusting to negative WTO rulings. There are a lot of good things the WTO can do (and hopefully will) for the worlds' poorest countries and their citizens. If protesters are concerned about keeping up strong labor and environmental laws in rich countries, today's news suggests they can do so quite successfully by focusing on domestic politics.

Thursday, April 08, 2004

Novel Forms of State Development Aid 

I'm working on a fairly significant project on this topic, of which more later, but I noticed an interesting press release from the WTO recently, which I'd like to discuss. First, some background:

About a year ago, the journal Foreign Policy published a fascinating article attempting to rate the rich countries on their assistance to poorer nations. Despite some questionable methodology, the big contribution of the project was an attempt to include more than just bilateral aid in an index of assistance:
The index examines six policy categories: foreign aid, openness to international trade, investment in developing countries, openness to legal immigration, contributions to peacekeeping operations, and responsible environmental practices.
Unsurprisingly, Norway was an extremely generous donor of bilateral foreign aid, and was somewhere in the middle on all the other elements of the index, except trade. But on trade
Norway ranks a distant last; it has particularly high tariffs against agricultural imports from poor countries, and its various barriers are equivalent in impact to a flat 61 percent tariff on all goods from developing countries—equivalent, that is, in terms of lost profits for producers in poor nations. Norway’s ranking may seem surprising given the country’s record as a beneficent provider of aid. However, in Norway, as in much of Western Europe and the United States, agribusiness and other rural interests, though they are no longer competitive abroad, remain politically powerful, and the government has been unable to reconcile domestic politics with its otherwise enlightened approach to the developing world.
The Norwegian case is an interesting one: why hasn't a nationwide investment in an identity as a good international citizen translated into greater trade liberalization? Is it really a question of interest group politics? Another question is why Norway and the other Scandinavian nations also do fairly poorly on the investment question. Is there just a lack of contacts between Scandinavian importers and poor country exporters, or is there some kind of structural barrier in place?

Having been thinking about these questions for a while, I was intrigued by this press release, which describes a significant contribution by Norway to a WTO project designed to help poor countries learn to take better advantage of the global trading system. Is Norway interested in buying the products this project will help put on the global market? Is there any kind of policy coherence here at all? Hopefully I'll have answers to these questions soon. In the meantime, here's the point of this post: the official aid policies of countries across the world are confused, incoherent, and tough to compare. Since nobody likes to rate as a bad citizen, especially when the degree of badness can be expressed in an ugly number, I'd think that developing a really good scale would be an excellent way to browbeat legislatures into becoming more generous. As we think along these lines, we need to include policy choices like Norway's in any index we create.

Progress in Sudan 

I haven't had time to post much today. Hopefully I'll have time tonight. In the meantime, since there seems to have been some interest in the Sudan genocide story I posted earlier, I thought I'd link to this hopeful story.

It seems that Kofi Annan and the Bush administration have been taking advantage of the 10-year anniversary of the Rwanda debacle to put some heavy rhetorical pressure on the Sudanese government, and there are reports of a truce. I'll post more on this later, when I've learned a bit more.

Wednesday, April 07, 2004

Nobrow Partisan Humor 

According to the BBC:
If humans behaved more like their chimp relatives they might be better at communicating, say experts.

Scientists at the Zoological Society of London are looking for volunteers to "talk chimp" in their everyday work and home life to test out the theory.

One part of the survey recommends waving your arms, brandishing objects and making yourself appear large, to assert authority over others.

Volunteers can also bond with their group by grooming each other.
I see that they already have a volunteer...

Headlines from Overseas 

BBC: "US Bombards Iraq Mosque Complex"
Guardian (UK): "40 Dead as US Targets Mosque"
Times (UK): "US Missiles Hit Iraqi Mosque"
The Australian: "Mosque hit in Fallujah assault"
Sydney Morning Herald: "40 Dead as US Bombs Mosque"
Le Monde: "Irak : l'armée américaine bombarde une mosquée"
Frankfurter Allgemeine: "Irak Heftige Gefechte - Raketenangriff auf Moschee"

So...think they noticed we bombed a mosque? Actually, according to the BBC story, what was hit was the outside wall of a mosque's compound, not the mosque itself. I'm guessing the Arabic news sources will have similar headlines tomorrow, although it's interesting that Al Jazeera is playing up the casualty numbers, not the mosque-bombing angle.

It's amazing how quickly events devolve into symbols: in this case, early returns seem to show that what will be remembered about today's events in Iraq is that Americans violated the sanctity of a holy place in pursuit of warlike aims. I can't see how this is even remotely a good thing.

More Powerful than a Gestetner Apparatus? 

My alma mater, Amherst College, has unearthed a mysterious and beautiful device. No one there knows what it does, so the college is soliciting opinions, knowledgable or otherwise.

I think it's either a demon-summoning device a la the Hellraiser movies or an early version of the thermostat. Either way, don't touch it.

[Link via Explananda]

Ah, New York City 

I went to my favorite local coffee shop (Joe, on Waverly Street) earlier today and was pleasantly surprised to see that they featured fresh Kosher-for-Passover macaroons and other treats as well as some kind of fancy-schmancy rosemary matzah. I know I'm hardly the first person to point this out, but it's a lot easier to be Jewish here than it was growing up in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The more subtle difference is that when I ordered my snack, no one asked me what it was or why I was eating it. When I was growing up, Passover meant daily lunchtime show-and-tell about my religion. I didn't usually mind, but it's nice not to be a weirdo.

Tuesday, April 06, 2004

Horror in Sudan 

The ever-depressing Samantha Power (author of this must-read book on genocide) has an opinion piece in today's NY Times (registration required, but there is NO NON-PARANOID REASON not to register) about what's going on right now in Sudan:
The horrors in the Darfur region of Sudan are not "like" Rwanda, any more than those in Rwanda were "like" those ordered by Hitler. The Arab-dominated government in Khartoum has armed nomadic Arab herdsmen, or Janjaweed, against rival African tribes. The government is using aerial bombardment to strafe villages and terrorize civilians into flight. And it is denying humanitarian access to some 700,000 people who are trapped in Darfur.

The Arab Muslim marauders and their government sponsors do not yet seem intent on exterminating every last African Muslim in their midst. But they do seem determined to wipe out black life in the region. The only difference between Rwanda and Darfur, said Mukesh Kapila, the former United Nations' humanitarian coordinator for Sudan, "is the numbers of dead, murdered, tortured, raped."
The BBC is now reporting that the UN has started a 10-day mission, which appears to consist of interviewing refugees and politely asking the government to admit inspectors.

Like Rwanda, this would seem to be a case where the UN, or NATO, or somebody should step up and violate sovereignty norms in pursuit of the greater goal of preventing genocide. I wonder if this is more or less likely in the wake of last year's international arguments about multilateralism, collective security, and the rights of Muslim countries. I'm not too optimistic.

UPDATE: For the Ride... has some readings on genocide 10 years after Rwanda, including a quote (and link) from a piece harshly critical of Samantha Power for her advocacy of "ventur[ing] abroad in search of monsters to destroy." Worth a look.

UPDATE: Explananda says Sudan is a great opportunity for European opponents of Gulf War II to show they're not just wimpy, hand-waving, fair-weather human rights advocates.

Are We Seeing Civil War in Iraq? 

As others around the blogosphere have noted, things are looking particularly ugly in Iraq lately. Not only has the Sunni town of Fallujah suddenly flared up again, but there appears to be a newer, scarier dynamic at work as well, with Moktada al Sadr and his followers ratcheting up anti-US activity. While I'm sure there's plenty of good news to be found in some areas of Iraq (Paul Bremer still seems to think so), that's hardly any reason to ignore the fact that one Shi'i leader has gone from being a potential problem for US forces to the active leader of a full-on insurrection.

How big a problem is this for the prospects of future Iraqi democracy and US interests worldwide? An interesting interview today in Salon (you have to watch an ad if you're not a subscriber) suggests that it's not really that scary a situation. It may be the case that the administration is trying to take care of the Sadrists before handing over power, which actually makes sense if you buy the concerns I brought up here about post-occupation civil war.

Why does it make sense? Iraqi oil gives splinter sectarian groups hope that they can finance a successful insurrection. It's clearly the case that Sadr has a better chance of making things go wrong in Iraq by virtue of the fact that he can promise future returns from captured oil facilities. There's just no good technical fix for this: it may be the case that the best way to nip a long-running, nasty civil war (perhaps something like FARC's in Colombia) in the bud is to get rid of potential insurrection leaders now.

Of course, there's another, obvious possible result of such a policy: a popular, martyred leader, an angry, tough-to-quiet populace, and numerous, aggressive claimants to the Sadrist mantle. We can only hope that this time, the administration has thought through the possibilties.

Monday, April 05, 2004

Speechless 

Sometimes, I feel like my dissertation has far too much in common with this.

Mercenaries and Peace 

I noted earlier that there are a lot of mercenaries performing security functions in Iraq right now. Because of the recent horrific events in Fallujah (and the response of one prominent blogger), there's been a lot of interest in this topic in the blogosphere as well.

One question that is definitely worth considering is what the implications are of using private security firms instead of, or in addition to, a volunteer army (or a conscripted army). The US is doing it. The UK is doing it. Since I'm operating under the incredibly low evidentiary standards of blogdom, I hereby pronounce this a trend. And if it's a trend, we are obligated by the iron laws of journalism to worry about it. What do the scholars say on this topic?

Not much, as it turns out. I'll go over the literature on "military manpower systems" quickly, then engage in some quick speculation about how adding mercenaries to the mix might change things.

Kant noted (way back in 1795) that "standing armies" were a danger to peace, because their presence might make a state appear aggressive, and because their members were likely disposed toward warlike behavior. It's worth noting that it's not clear whether Kant was talking about mercenaries or about professional armies like the US Armed Forces.

Since Kant, there's been some speculation that all-volunteer armies might be dangerous as well, as they might provide aggressive leaders with smaller war-initiation costs:

* Presumably, volunteers are self-selected to be less war-averse, and so might be less likely to complain about being sent to fight than soldiers selected by a draft;

* Since it appears that much of the membership of our all-volunteer force is drawn from lower socio-economic strata, it might be the case that politicians will be less-likely to fear well-financed and well-organized opposition to war from soldiers' families.

There has also been some speculation that volunteer armies make countries less likely to initiate wars, because soldier quality is generally lower than it would be under a conscription regime, and therefore fighting is likely to be costlier and less effective. I don't really buy the soldier-quality argument, but maybe a reader can explain how this would work. I think perhaps the idea is that conscripted soldiers are less likely to become career professional soldiers, so that there's a lot more training and a lot less well-captured institutional knowledge.

All-conscripted (or partially-conscripted) armies, on the other hand, are often thought to make aggression less likely, mostly because if the whole electorate has some positive chance of being drafted (or having a son get drafted), politicians have to work a lot harder to sell voters on the initiation or continuation of a war.

Interestingly, there's some (not very convincing) statistical evidence that conscription can make war more, rather than less, likely. My source here is an article in the December 2003 Journal of Conflict Resolution, which you can examine if you have access to a good library. But putting this dubious finding aside for the moment, a bit of thinking would seem to indicate that no matter what argument one takes from the list above, more mercenaries available for hire, or institutions that make hiring mercenaries easier, should actually make aggressive action less costly for warlike leaders, and should make states in general more worried about the likelihood of being attacked. The self-selection, selling-the-war-costs, and soldier quality logics all point to the conclusion that development of mercenary systems is dangerous.

Obviously, there's a lot more to say here. I may revisit this question with some more well-thought-out arguments later.

Anti-Anti-Semitic Googlebombing 

Unfortunately, as of right now, if you enter the term "Jew" into the Google search engine, the top match returned is for a nasty little anti-semitic website. After hearing about this from my friend Itamar and reading about it on the ever-excellent Crooked Timber, I've decided to join the attempt to "googlebomb" this situation away by linking to the Wikipedia definition of Jew. If the googlebomb is successful, the anti-semitic site will be bumped out of first place.

For those of you who've received e-mail asking you to sign a petition requesting Google delink the obnoxious site, I refer you to this Jerusalem Post article (free registration required), which seems to indicate that a petition may not be all that successful an instrument. On the other hand, I'm sure it can't hurt.

One question does occur to me: googlebombing is a great way to get a site to the top of a google search list. But even if the effort I'm joining is successful, all we've achieved is moving the anti-semitic site to second place. What should be the goal here for those of us who love free speech but dislike racist rhetoric? Comments are very welcome on this one.

Corner Market Failure 

From the "Of Local Interest Only" Desk:

So, New York City has, happily, decided to reinstate full recycling on a weekly basis. Since it appears that most of my readers aren't New Yorkers, let me explain. About ten years ago (maybe more), New York began picking up paper, cardboard, glass and some plastic waste to be recycled. It was easy: you just sorted your trash and put recyclables out on the curb once a week. Actually, it wasn't always that easy: there were rules about what color bags which kind of trash could go in, and in some neighborhoods (for example the Chelsea block where my wife and I lived until 16 months ago), some mysterious enforcement agent would come by and periodically paw through all the bags, assessing fines against landlords for sorting violations.

Two years ago, in the middle of a budget crunch, the City of New York decided to stop recycling plastic and glass. Environmentalists complained bitterly, so last year, in what I think was supposed to be a compromise, the City decided to start recycling plastic again, but to reduce pick-ups to once every other week. Keeping track of whether this Friday or the next is recycling day turns out to be surprisingly hard, and the result at my apartment was a giant and growing pile of bound newspapers waiting to be taken downstairs. (Actually, anyone who has ever visited a place where I live knows that such piles are always present, but trust me, the every-other-week schedule made things worse.)

But now, as of April 1st, the original program has been reinstated. Glass is back on the list, and the recycling trucks come around every single week. Great, right? Well, yes, except this time the market seems to have failed where the City government has been successful. Despite the fact that there has been a virtual avalanche of publicity for the new recycling drive, and despite the fact that much of this publicity has been in the form of posters indicating what materials to recycle in which color bag, it appears that it is completely impossible to find a clear plastic recycling bag in the West Village. A highly-scientific survey of my neighborhood (methodology: go into every bodega, supermarket and deli within three blocks of my apartment) turned up exactly zero boxes of clear plastic trash bags for sale.

Although it seems unlikely that my neighbors are all such enthusiastic recyclers that they had bought out the stock of these bags, I decided that, just to be sure, I should ask the managers of some of the stores whether they had seen an upsurge in recycling bag sales. The answer: "What the hell are you talking about? If it's not on the shelf we don't sell it."

My point? I am a cranky old man. Also, I can think of no good explanation for this missed, albeit minor, business opportunity for local vendors. It sure isn't an information problem.

Saturday, April 03, 2004

Third Party Schadenfreude Timeline 

Over on Slate, Timothy Noah is keeping up a lonely (and ineffective) drumbeat calling for Judge Roy Moore, of Hideous Ten Commandments Plaque fame, to face down the nay-sayers and run for US President. The hope here is that right-wing idealists are as easy to fool as those on the left, and that Moore will serve as a kind of Ralph Nader of the Right (despite the actual Nader's ludicrous claims to this mantle).

Is this a possibility? Presumably, the Constitution Party's nomination is Moore's for the taking. He's already announced he won't accept the nomination, but this kind of false modesty is a well-worn strategy in presidential politics, so our hopes shouldn't die just yet. These good folks don't choose their nominee until late June, at their convention in Valley Forge, PA.

The Constitution Party, by the way, bills itself as
the only party which is completely pro-life, anti-homosexual rights, pro-American sovereignty, anti-globalist, anti-free trade, anti-deindustrialization, anti-unchecked immigration, pro-second amendment, and against the constantly increasing expansion of unlawful police laws, in favor of a strong national defense and opposed to unconstitutional interventionism.
Yeesh.

For those of you keeping score at home, or considering running for President of the United States, the other "major" minor party conventions take place as follows:

Libertarians: May 28, Atlanta
Greens: June 23, Milwaukee (Milwaukee?)
Reform: July 30, Columbus OH (Splinter 1 of Perot's Reform Party, endorsed Nader in 2000)
American Reform: TBA (Splinter 2 of Perot's Reform Party, seeking anti-immigration centrists)
America First Party: TBA (Splinter 3 of Perot's Reform Party, supported Patrick Buchanan)
Natural Law: No convention
Prohibition (only registered in Colorado): No convention

Some of these parties have already made it onto 20 or more state ballots. You can follow their progress in obtaining ballot access here.

I hope that any Bonassus readers who choose to seek a third-party nomination for any elective office will contact me: I'm genuinely interested in hearing about your experiences.

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