As Uri Friedman has chronicled elsewhere at FP, yesterday Dennis Rodman took to Twitter to engage in some outreach to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un with respect to an American "tried" for espionage in the Hermit Kingdom:
I'm calling on the Supreme Leader of North Korea or as I call him "Kim", to do me a solid and cut Kenneth Bae loose.— Dennis Rodman (@dennisrodman) May 7, 2013
Now I can only assume that "Kim," will react to such a moving plea by releasing Bae immediately.
This got your humble blogger to thinking: If only Twitter had been invented earlier, think of the humanitarian catastrophes that celebrities might have helped avert. Had Twitter arrived with, say, the end of the Cold War, this alternative history would likely have produced the following example of preventative celebrity tweets:
1) "Yo yo yo Saddam, don't bake in the Kuwaiti dessert when you could be chillin' with me in Cabo!! Peace out!!" -- Vanilla Ice (@VanillaIce), January 3, 1991
2) "The Big Aristotle knows that Hutus and Tutsis can get along. So I'm asking them to stop the madness. And go see Kazaam two years from now!!" -- Shaquille Oneal (@SHAQ), April 23, 1994.
3) "The Muscles from Brussels is asking my old drinking buddy "Slobo" to pay up on his bar bet and negotiate a peace deal for Bosnia." -- Jean-Claude Van Damme (@JCVD), November 1, 1995.
4) "WHASSSSSSSSSSSUP???!!! Hopefully no more anthrax attacks. Seriously, whoever's doing that should stop, man." -- Jonathan Taylor Thomas (@JTTtruth), September 30, 2001.
5) "I'm really happy for you, imma let you finish, GWB, but Putin is one of the best strongmen of all time, and he should stop cracking down." -- Kanye West (@kanyewest), May 3, 2005.
Readers are welcome to suggest other lost tweets out there in the comments.
Yesterday the New York Times announced a brand new conference called The Next New World. The URL gives the game away, however -- it's the Friedman Forum. The précis:
Pulitzer Prize–winning New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman hosts this timely forum, bringing together chief executive officers, tech pioneers, government officials, influential decision-makers and scholars to discuss the new world economy, opportunities and challenges. We will explore the complex dynamics of new-world infrastructure, especially the transformative electronic, digital and mobile environment. Attendees can expect invaluable insights into strategies for success in today’s new world order.
If you act before May 10, you can get the discounted rate of $995.00 to attend!
Why should you shell out that kind of cabbage to go to such a confab? Well, there's the speaker list of course, but even better, the Friedman Forum has a "Why Attend?" page that will answer this very question. The good parts version:
The New York Times Next New World Forum is an invitation-only, highly interactive forum that explains:
How this Next New World is changing your job, your workplace, and your competition...
How cyberattacks and monetary crises are the new national security threats—threats to global businesses as well as nations....
How brands are threatened as never before by new players, and why C-Suite executives are both more constrained and less likely to last....
How robotics and other cutting-edge technologies can increase productivity but also disrupt your office and workforce....
How everything from climate change to fallen infrastructure is threatening global supply chains and how the rise of a new global middle class is disrupting American global dominance—while creating new markets.
After reading this, as well as CUNY's announcement that former CENTCOM commander/CIA Director David Petraeus will lead a seminar on the United States and the global economic crisis, I had two reactions.
1) At what point does one decide, "Why, yes, I should lecture people on the New New Things in the Global Economy! And charge at least a thousand dollars for the privilege"?
This is a serious question. I get asked this a lot at various talks, and I'm always befuddled by the query. I mean, if I had the actual answer, I wouldn't be so low in the international relations speaker ecosystem.
2) Forget Davos, Aspen or TED -- the Friedman Forum suggests a whole new vista of conferences branded around the idiosyncracies of individual thought leaders. Friedman better nail this down fast, because the coming competition will be fierce. In the spirit of... er... alliteration and Robert Ludlum titles, let me predict some other possible confabs on the horizon:
A) The Gross Gaggle. Organized by PIMCO's Bill Gross, this would be a collection of the world's most florid investment letter-writers in the world, warning about risk and uncertainty.
The Big Finale: Gross doing a spoken-word version of his latest newsletter with Dave Brubeck's "Take Five" playing in the background.
B) The Slaughter Seminar. The new president of the New America Foundation will lead a highly interdisciplinary gathering to focus on the myriad ways that the 21st century is upending our static 20th century mindsets. Topics will include the role of social networks, social media networks, online networks, gendered networks, and networked networks.
The Big Finale: A three-hour break in the middle of the day for participants to bond with their families.
C) The Dowd Doohickey. Join the Red Priestess as she explains how leadership is supposed to be done in the 21st century. After the ritual flaying of a political scientist to appease the Social Science Gods, Dowd will explain exactly how politicians used to Get Things Gone back in the day.
The Big Finale: Dowd and Aaron Sorkin will re-enact some of the classic Josh Lyman-Donna Moss scenes from The West Wing.
D) The Taleb Teach-In. Just how fragile is your financial position in this time of massive geopolitical and geoeconomic uncertainty? The author of The Black Swan and Antifragile will unleash his crystal ball and stare deeply into your portfolio to see if you're really and truly prepared for a volatile century.
The Big Finale: Taleb unleashes an army of zombies into the auditorium to sort out the resilient from the posers.
E) The Morozov Mish-Mash. Everything is sh*t -- your beliefs, your ideas, your likes, your dislikes, and particularly your values. If you dare attend, Morozov will explain why Everything You Hope for is a Chimera.
The Big Finale. Morozov will glare out at the audience, grumble, "you all suck," drop the mic, and walk off stage.
[And what about your confab?!--ed. I'll let the commenters decide the contents of... the Drezner Deliberations!]
I confess to being fascinated by academic or literary downfalls, so I've been spending the past few days catching up on the imbroglio over Greg Mortenson, his Central Asia Institute (CAI), and his bestsellers Three Cups of Tea and Stones Into Schools.
To sum up: through his books and CAI, Mortenson has popularized his mission to build schools and educate children (particularly girls) in Pakistan and Afghanistan as a way of reducing extremism in that region. Investigative reports by 60 Minutes and Jon Krakauer strongly suggest the following:
1) Mortenson either fudged or flat-out lied about some of the more gripping anecdotes in both books.
2) Mortenson used CAI as a vehicle to promote his books and subsidize his income. CAI covered his travel expenses for book tours and purchased books in such a way to boost royalties for Mortenson. According to financial statenments, CAI devoted more of its budget to Mortenson's promotional tours than actually building schools in Central Asia. Mortenson rebuffed efforts by other CAI employees to impose financial controls on his expenditures.
3) CAI/Mortenson exaggerated the number of schools that were built, and in many cases even if the schools were built, they have been left unused due to a variety of logistical and organizational failures.
Mortenson and CAI have responded with a plethora of media interviews, direct responses and open missives to supporters. Most of these seem pretty feeble to me. When Mortenson says that, "It is important to know that Balti people have a completely different notion about time," you kinda wonder if Mortenson isn't talking about himself.) Official investigations are now under way, publishers are belatedly fact-checking, and some prize committees are very busy wiping egg off of their face.
So, what are the takeaway lessons from all this? Five thoughts:
1) Reading through Krakauer's story, the striking thing is not the extent of Mortenson's deception but rather the fact that it took so long for this to come to light. Mortenson has been a celebrity since Parade profiled him in April 2003. The fact that Mortenson was able to write two best-sellers and enjoy the lecture circuit for eight years despite the surprising number of people who knew there were issues with Mortenson's narrative. The moral of the story is that , even in a transparent Web 2.0 era, myths can trump reality for a looooong time.
2) Even Mortenson's detractors make it clear that they think he's done much good in Central Asia, so this realy isn't a Bernie Madoff-style scam. It does suggest, however, that political analysts who think of NGOs and celebrity activists as pursuing humane policy ends only for altruistic purposes are living in Fantasyland. It's a world of complex and overlapping motives, and no influential actor in international relations is a saint.
3) What's interesting to me about the inaccuracies/fabrications in Three Cups of Tea is that, by and large, they are irrelevant to the larger policy question of whether schools can help reduce violent extremism. Whether Greg Mortenson was kidnapped by the Taliban or not, whether he wandered into a village or not don't really matter from a policy perspective. Based on the amount of
ink pixels being spilled used on these questions, however, it's quite clear that these narrative elements really do matter. As Laura Miller has pointed out in Salon, however, greater attention is being paid to those details than the NGO mismanagement.
This suggests, in many ways, the power that creation or origin narratives have in developing politically alluring policies. CAI ain't lying when they say that, "Greg’s speeches, books and public appearances are the primary means of educating the American people on behalf of the Institute." Coming up with a compelling policy is not always enough to generate action -- narratives matter one whole hell of a lot.
4) Does Mortenson's myths and mismanagement undercut the policy message? To tell the truth, I'm not blown away by Mortenson's policy message -- indeed, it's pretty weak. As Alanna Shaikh points out in FP:
Its focus was on building schools -- and that's it. Not a thought was spared for education quality, access, or sustainability. But building schools has never been the answer to improving education. If it were, then the millions of dollars poured into international education over the last half-century would have already solved Afghanistan's -- and the rest of the world's -- education deficit by now.
Over the last 50 years of studying international development, scholars have built a large body of research and theory on how to improve education in the developing world. None of it has recommended providing more school buildings, because according to decades of research, buildings aren't what matter. Teachers matter. Curriculum matters. Funding for education matters. Where classes actually take place? Not really.
Spencer Ackerman has a detailed, link-rich post at Wired detailing the ways in which U.S. military's COINistas have drunk way too deeply from Mortenson's magical teacup.
In the best defense of Mortenson I've seen, Daniel Glick blogs the following:
But here’s the crux for me. As somebody who has worked in a Muslim country (I was a Knight International Press Fellow working in Algeria in 2006), I know that Americans need a lot of bridge building in the Islamic world. Mortenson has gone where few others have gone, and has put in incredible time and energy to raise awareness, seed schools, and give girls opportunities for education that would not be theirs otherwise. I have no doubt he has done orders of magnitude more good than harm. The same cannot be said for a lot of NGOs doing development work around the world, much less our military involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Hmmm.... maybe. At a minimum, I'd like to see the costs and the benefits of Mortenson's activities weighed very carefully right now.
5) I, for one, look forward to the day when 60 Minutes and Jon Krakauer start looking into the living dead. I will hereby defend every fact, every citation in Theories of International Politics and Zombies to the end of my days, or the end of days, whichever comes first.
Am I missing anything?
I held out as long as I could on the Charlie Sheen fiasco -- but damn Will Winecoff and the IR-relevant horse he rode in on!!
From yesterday's Global Times, Hao Leifeng provides a peculiarly... Chinese take on the whole brouhaha:
Actor Charlie Sheen is a classic example of the difference in Western and Eastern values and norms.
Ignoring public pleas from his father, Sheen has continued a weeklong media blitz, exhibiting obvious signs of mania. With no firm hand to guide them, Western media has deliberately goaded him into making increasingly delusional statements, more concerned about "winning" higher ratings than Sheen's own sense of pride, or the negative example his brash public admissions about his private sex life and unverifiable international conspiracies could be setting for society.
How many young people have been led astray by Sheen's boasts about his substance abuse and freewheeling sex life? And that was when he was in character on national television, as a randy bachelor in Two and a Half Men.
Sheen attracted 1 million Twitter followers in just 24 hours, yet more evidence that microblogs spread the most unhealthy contagions in society like a disease. Chinese family, coworkers, or the authorities would have taken firm steps to make sure someone like Sheen did not make a public spectacle of himself.
It's true: the Obama administration has been ridiculously slow on getting a handle on the Charlie Sheen issue. I mean, you know that if Hillary Clinton got Sheen in a room for an hour, this whole problem would go away. This just reinforces the administration's slowness on handling matters of serious popular culture.
OK, seriously, as I understand it, Global Times is not the same kind of official mouthpiece as, say, China Daily or People's Daily, so I wouldn't take this as the official Chinese Communist Party position. Hell, it might be a parody. Still, a few revealing things from this. There's the swipe against Twitter, and the emphasis on familial loyalties.
I see two other interesting reveals, however. The first is the proposed "Chinese" solution to this problem:
His employers are unhappy that he was distracted with prostitutes and drugs, and didn't show up to work on time. Why not take a tip from the Chinese business community, and make visits to a KTV parlor part of Sheen's workday?
And instead of epic parties at his home with porn stars, why not keep Sheen occupied with business banquets?
Sheen goes on television and boasts that he has two girlfriends, who both sleep in the same bedroom. Is he too poor to set up his wives and mistresses in different houses?
In Chinese society, these problems are dealt with delicately and privately. Sheen is like a typical Westerner throwing fuel on the fire with each interview and tweet. It is almost as if he feels no shame and is loving the attention.
Racism, spousal abuse, addiction, politics, mental illness, boasting about mistresses, - these are all subjects best dealt with behind closed doors.
Er... as near as I can determine, Sheen's bosses have been using this playbook for the entire run of Two and a Half Men. It's only when Sheen thoroughly rejected all outaside intervention that everything blew up. In other words, the Chinese solution to this was exactly the same as the American solution to this -- well, minus the massage parlors. This continued right up until the moment when Sheen decided that the "Charlie Sheen" drug could defeat all comers. And then he was suspended and subsequently fired. Perhaps the fact that the government decided not to send him to the countryside and instead just got his children out of his orbit is peculiarly "western."
Second -- and this is a genuine question to readers -- is Charlie Sheen actually a folk hero to anyone other than substance abusers at this point? I see the attention he's getting now as in the category of, "Wow, look at that massive 12-car pileup on the other side of the road!!! It's horrific, but I can't look away!" Granted, he's now a prime candidate for his own reality show -- but I'm not really sure that's winning the future.
This is the only time I will ask this about Charlie Sheen: what do you think?
[I]t's way easier to slip a humour piece disguised as a bizarre anti-US rant past the Chinese censor than it is to get a serious piece that is even vaguely critical of CCP policy published.
As someone who wrote about celebrity activism a few years ago, I'm always intrigued to see new takes on the issue. In the Washington Post, a curmudgeonly William Easterly argues that today's celebrity activists -- like Bono -- ain't like the celebrity dissidents of a prior generation -- like John Lennon:
Is there a celebrity activist today who matches Lennon's impact and appeal? The closest counterpart to Lennon now is U2's Bono, another transcendent musical talent championing another cause: the battle against global poverty. But there is a fundamental difference between Lennon's activism and Bono's, and it underscores the sad evolution of celebrity activism in recent years.
Lennon was a rebel. Bono is not.
Lennon's protests against the war in Vietnam so threatened the U.S. government that he was hounded by the FBI, police and immigration authorities. He was a moral crusader who challenged leaders whom he thought were doing wrong. Bono, by contrast, has become a sort of celebrity policy expert, supporting specific technical solutions to global poverty. He does not challenge power but rather embraces it; he is more likely to appear in photo ops with international political leaders - or to travel through Africa with a Treasury secretary - than he is to call them out in a meaningful way.
There is something inherently noble about the celebrity dissident, but there is something slightly ridiculous about the celebrity wonk.
Where the essay gets a little strange is where Easterly defines what he means in his dissident vs. wonk divide:
Bono is not the only well-intentioned celebrity wonk of our age - the impulse is ubiquitous. Angelina Jolie, for instance, is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations (seriously) in addition to serving as a U.N. goodwill ambassador. Ben Affleck has become an expert on the war in Congo. George Clooney has Sudan covered, while Leonardo DiCaprio hobnobs with Russian President Vladimir Putin and other leaders at a summit to protect tigers; both actors have written opinion essays on those subjects in these pages, further solidifying their expert bona fides.
But why should we pay attention to Bono's or Jolie's expertise on Africa, any more than we would ask them for guidance on the proper monetary policy for the Federal Reserve?
True dissidents - celebrity or not - play a vital role in democracy. But the celebrity desire to gain political power and social approval breeds intellectual conformity, precisely the opposite of what we need to achieve real changes. Politicians, intellectuals and the public can fall prey to groupthink (We must invade Vietnam to keep the dominoes from falling!) and need dissidents to shake them out of it.
True dissidents claim no expertise; they offer no 10-point plans to fix a problem. They are most effective when they simply assert that the status quo is morally wrong. Of course, they need to be noticed to have an impact, hence the historical role of dissidents such as Lennon who can use their celebrity to be heard.
Now, on the one hand, I can kinda sorta see what Easterly is saying. Sometimes it takes the innocent to say that the emperor has no clothes, and goodness knows celebrities can play that role if they so choose.
That said, Easterly is also being a bit innocent himself. As I argued a few years ago, celebrities have strong personal incentives to embrace causes that are seen as having broad appeal. It's worth remembering that Lennon only starting acting dissident-y after he was more popular than Jesus. The celebrities that have made their anti-war views loudly known -- like, say, Sean Penn -- haven't exactly shifted the debate all that much.
This could be because today's celebrities simply can't project the same kind of star power that the Beatles could. Today's global popular culture is more fragmented, and so individual celebrities might have smaller
groupies fan bases than in the past.
More generally, however, Easterly seems to be arguing that the more celebrities know about the cause that they are embracing, the less effective they will be. Again, in today's information ecosystem, I'm not sure that's right. As I wrote before:
In the current media environment, a symbiotic relationship between celebrities and cause célèbres has developed. Celebrities have a comparative advantage over policy wonks because they have access to a wider array of media outlets, which translates into a wider audience of citizens. Superstars can go on The Today Show or The Late Show to plug their latest movie and their latest global cause. Because of their celebrity cachet, even hard-news programs will cover them-stories about celebrities can goose Nielsen ratings. With a few exceptions, like Barack Obama or John McCain, most politicians cannot make the reverse leap to soft-news outlets. Non-celebrity policy activists are virtually guaranteed to be shut out of these programs.
The growth of soft news gives celebrity activists enormous leverage. The famous and the fabulous are the bread and butter of entertainment programs. Covering celebrity do-gooders provides content that balances out, say, tabloid coverage of Nicole Richie's personal and legal troubles. ESPN can cover both Michael Vick's travails and Dikembe Mutombo's efforts to improve health care in sub-Saharan Africa. MTV will cover Amy Winehouse's on-stage meltdowns, but they will also follow Angelina Jolie in her trips to Africa. They covered Live Earth for both the music and the message....
Indeed, celebrities actually have an advantage over other policy activists and experts because hard-news outlets have an incentive to cover them too. Celebrities mean greater attention, and hard-news outlets are not above stunts designed to attract readers or ratings. Consider this question: If The Washington Post is deciding between running an op-ed by Angelina Jolie and an op-ed by a lesser-known expert on Sudan, which author do you think they are most likely to choose?
On the other hand, it is very easy, in today's world, to mock the uninformed dissident who simply says "war is bad." Indeed, given the causes that celebrities have latched onto -- like Darfur -- the dissident response might well be to call for greater American intervention as the means to end the status quo in the region. Ironically, only as celebrities have acquired more information about Sudan have they realized the huge risks of that policy.
Having read and reviewed Easterly, I suspect he's making these arguments because he knows a great deal about aid (which makes him a wonk in that area) and not so much about war (which makes him more of a dissident) and he'd like celebrities to be following his lead. More generally, and revealing my own biases, I'm skeptical that the dissident will be more effective than the insider. Or, to posit the counterfactual, even if Bono, Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt and George Clooney had railed against the Iraq war from day one, I don't think it would have made a damn bit of difference.
Of course, if Salma Hayek had gotten involved, then all bets are off.
I'm willing for the commenters to persuade me otherwise. Particularly Salma Hayek.
I got to thinking – what other musical super stars could run as leaders to help fix the nations of the world? In what way could Lady Gaga help with nation-building projects? Could Paul McCartney advise the World Bank in any way (other than being able to possibly fund a small third world nation by himself for a year)?
I'll leave it to others to answer the latter two questions -- but the first one is a real doozy. Carvin offers some intriguing possibilities. As someone who's researched the link between celebrities and world politics, however, it's worth pondering the question further.
For me, the musicians I'd want in charge are the ones who demonstrated the ability to persist over time (which disqualifies Lady Gaga for now), the ability to fashion a coherent agenda (which disqualifies Bono), and the ability to avoid a shame spiral that embarrasses the country in question (which disqualifies Britney Spears and many, many others).
So, which musician would I trust with, say, American hegemony? Here are my top 5:
5) Flea, Red Hot Chili Peppers. This band has stayed vital for close to two decades, and a crucial moment was Flea's decision to re-recruit guitarist John Frusciante when the band's fortunes were flagging. The result was Californication and the Chili Peppers' return to relevance. Sounds like someone who could make good staffing decisions. Downside: could raise constitutional issues -- Flea was born in Australia.
4) Dave Grohl, Foo Fighters. After 1994, he could have gone through the rest of his life resting on his laurels as the drummer for the greatest American punk band in history. Instead, he became a frontman and formed the Foo Fighters. And here just has to be a negotiating advantage from listening to this song before going into serious international negotiations. Downside: Grohl would need to get a serious grip on his coffee addiction.
3) Justin Timberlake. The only member of 'N Sync to thrive after the death of boy bands. The only ex of Britney Spears to be known for something other than dating Britney Spears. The only person I know who can be consistently funny on Saturday Night Live. Clearly, he's a survivor. Downside: Hmmm... sure, Timberlake is a survivor, but is he responsible for the demise of Britney and boy bands?
2) Snoop Dogg. Anyone who needs his own translator is bound to confuse and obfuscate his adversaries. Also, the man never seems rattled by anything -- exactly the kind of cool head we need in the White House. Downside: there could be reasons beyond temperment that he's so mellow.
1) Madonna. She's been in vogue for decades now. She's been a true blue survivor, a ray of light to other female singers looking to break into the music industry. If there's anyone who knows how to properly game a situation, it's her. Downside: There's this. And this. This too. Oh, don't forget this. Also, I'm not sure she thinks she's an American anymore.
Readers are warmly invited to proffer their own suggestions for musico-political royalty.
Over at Aid Watch, William Easterly tries to turn the Tiger Woods imbroglio into a teachable moment about development economics. No, really:
What Tiger considerately did for our education was to show how the Halo Effect is a myth....
So if we observe a country is good at say, technological innovation, we assume that this country is also good at other good things like, say, visionary leadership, freedom from corruption, and a culture of trust. Since the latter three are imprecise to measure (and the measures themselves may be contaminated by the Halo Effect), we lazily assume they are all good. But actually, there are plenty of examples of successful innovators with mediocre leaders, corruption, and distrustful populations. The US assumed world technological leadership in the late 19th century with presidents named Chester Arthur and Rutherford B. Hayes, amidst legendary post-Civil War graft. Innovators include both trusting Danes and suspicious Frenchmen.
The false Halo Effect makes us think we understand development more than we really do, when we think all good things go together in the “good” outcomes. The “Halo Effect” puts heavy weight on some explanations like “visionary leadership” that may be spurious. More subtly, it leaves out the more complicated cases of UNEVEN determinants of success: why is New York City the world’s premier city, when we can’t even manage decent airports (with 3 separate failed tries)?
The idea that EVERYTHING is a necessary condition for development is too facile. The principles of specialization and comparative advantage suggest you DON”T have to be good at everything all the time.
Really, I get Easterly's point -- not everything is a necessary condition for economic development. Still, as I read this, my mind kept drifting back to a gem of an article William Baumol wrote called, "Entrepreneurship: Productive, Unproductive and Destructive." It's gist:
The basic hypothesis is that, while the total supply of entrepreneurs varies among societies, the productive contribution of the society's entrepreneurial activities varies much more because of their allocation between productive activities, such as innovation, and largely unproductive activities, such as rent seeking or organized crime. This allocation is heavily influenced by the relative payoffs society offers to such activities. This implies that policy can influence the allocation of entrepreneurship more effectively than it can influence its supply.
Not everything is a necessary condition for development. But some things are VERY IMPORTANT necessary conditions. Without them, a country's natural endowments get used in very, very perverse ways. It is entirely possible to have an innovative society in a corrupt state, for example -- but the question is, how does a corrupt public sector skew the incentives of entrepreneurs and inventors?
I don't think Easterly is completely wrong in his point about the Halo Effect -- but I don't think he's completely right, either.
If you're wondering why it took me a few hours before choosing to blog about Barack Obama's Nobel Peace Price award.... well, it took me that long to stop laughing.
Honestly, I'm not laughing at Obama. I'm laughing at the morons on the Norwegian Nobel Committee who made this decision to cheapen an already devalued prize.
Seriously, let's imagine the deliberations that led to this decision:
CHAIR: Guys? Guys!! It's 2 AM and we've got an award to give later today! What are we gonna do? We can't use Jimmy Carter again -- he was our emergency winner the last time we were stumped! If we don't do this right, we'll have less credibility than the Grammys!!
MEMBER A (clearly drunk): Hey, why not Neil Patrick Harris? For bringing peace to.... umm..... Hollywood awards shows?!MEMBER B: Remember when Time's Man of the Year was... you? Why can't we do something like that? You know, say that the Peace Prize goes to all peace-loving people.
CHAIR: No f%$&ing way. What do you want me to do, hold up a mirror to the cameras when I say who won? And you know how many idiots would ask for their take of the prize money?
MEMBER A: Seriously, Neil Patrick Harris is awesome. Any of you checked out Dr. Horrible's Sing Along Blog?
MEMBER B: Hey, how about that Iranian guy who won the election but got screwed by the mullahs? He seemed pretty peaceful.
CHAIR: Sorry, no dice. We used up our Iranian quota this decade with Shirin Ebadi.
MEMBER B: That Zimbabwean guy?
CHAIR: If you can't remember his name, then he's not getting the award.
MEMBER C: Did you read how the Oscars will have, like, 10 nominees for Best Picture this year? Why not give this to all 20 members of the G-20?
CHAIR: Doesn't the G-20 actually have more than 20 members? Can anyone name them all?
MEMBER A: And How I Met Your Mother is definitely underrated as a sitcom. NPH owns that show.
MEMBER C: Hugh Jackman was People's Sexiest Man Alive this year. Why not double up on him, like we did with Al Gore?
MEMBER A: Get serious, man. Wolverine sucked!!
MEMBER B: Hey, here's a crazy thought... why not Barack Obama?
General laughter and merriment.
CHAIR: How exactly are we going to justify the award? Jesus, even Jimmy Carter had done some actual peacemaking when we gave it to him. What are we going to say? "Barack Obama has succeeded brilliantly in not acting like George W. Bush in His First Term?"
MEMBER B: C'mon... the guy just lost the Olympics bid even after flying all the way to Copenhagen.
MEMBER A: Hey, how about Taylor Swift? We could guarantee Kanye wasn't in the audience.
MEMBER B: Look, maybe it will give Obama a boost. With the massive prestige that the Nobel Peace Prize now carries in the United States because of our brilliant recent selections, maybe this will help get health care reform passed. This award would so put conservatives on the defensive!
[General nodding around the table.]
MEMBER A: Fine, no one else likes Neil Patrick Harris at this table, I get that. What about Roman Polanski? That would make a statement.
CHAIR (looks at watch): Fine, whatever, we're way past deadline. (Points at MEMBER B). Write up the explanation. (Points at MEMBER A). Contact Neil Patrick Harris and put him on "standby" in case Obama can't make it for the acceptance speech.
MEMBER B (scribbling furiously): Hmmm....how's this? "Multilateral diplomacy has regained a central position, with emphasis on the role that the United Nations and other international institutions can play. Dialogue and negotiations are preferred as instruments for resolving even the most difficult international conflicts. The vision of a world free from nuclear arms has powerfully stimulated disarmament and arms control negotiations. Thanks to Obama's initiative, the USA is now playing a more constructive role in meeting the great climatic challenges the world is confronting. Democracy and human rights are to be strengthened."
CHAIR: Hmmm.... no actual achievements other than Not Being George W. Bush in His First Term, but it sure sounds good! OK, we're adjourned
MEMBER C (looking through nomination letters): I can't believe that professor from Tufts nominated Salma Hayek again. Doesn't he know that this is a serious award?!
In semi-seriousness -- Bono got robbed, man.
UPDATE: I do think Obama's response was to the hubbub was pretty good. Again, I'm really not laughing at him -- I'm laughing at the Nobel Committee's decision-making. At this point in time, there were a lot of other, more deserving candidates.
Giving the award to Obama is kind of like giving that junior professor the Teacher of the Year award -- it dooms their chances for tenure.
Your humble blogger has occasionally prided himself as something of an authority on the intersection between celebrities and international relations. Which brings me to Jessica Biel.
Sure, the woman in the picture above these words seems pleasant enough, but according to McAfee security, she's not what she seems. This Reuters story by Belinda Goldsmith explains:
Actress Jessica Biel has overtaken Brad Pitt as the most dangerous celebrity to search in cyberspace, according to internet security company McAfee Inc.
For the third consecutive year, McAfee surveyed which A-list celebrity was the riskiest to track on the internet after Pitt topped the list last year and Paris Hilton in 2007.
Biel, 27, who shot to fame in the TV show 7th Heaven and most recently starred in Easy Virtue, was deemed the most dangerous, with fans having a one-in-five chance of landing at a website that has tested positive for online threats, such as spyware, adware, spam, phishing and viruses....
President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama, who have featured on most celebrity list this year, were not at the top of risky public figures to search.
The Obamas ranked in the bottom third of this year’s results, at No. 34 and No. 39 respectively.
You can access the Top 15 list here. Some interesting tidbits:
A question to readers: if this were a truly just world, which celebrities should be at the top of this list?
Whenever there is a discussion about the structural shifts taking place in the American economy, there's usually a question along the lines of, "where will the new jobs come from?"
This is a fantastically difficult question to answer. The answer requires an ability to predict future sectoral trends in the economy, which last I checked is pretty difficult. For example, we know that many journalists are going the way of do-do, but what will they do instead?
The New York Times' Noam Cohen, however, has pointed the way towards future employment opportunities for writers:
In its short history, Twitter — a microblogging tool that uses 140 characters in bursts of text — has become an important marketing tool for celebrities, politicians and businesses, promising a level of intimacy never before approached online, as well as giving the public the ability to speak directly to people and institutions once comfortably on a pedestal.
But someone has to do all that writing, even if each entry is barely a sentence long. In many cases, celebrities and their handlers have turned to outside writers — ghost Twitterers, if you will — who keep fans updated on the latest twists and turns, often in the star’s own voice.
Because Twitter is seen as an intimate link between celebrities and their fans, many performers are not willing to divulge the help they use to put their thoughts into cyberspace.
Britney Spears recently advertised for someone to help, among other things, create content for Twitter and Facebook. Kanye West recently told New York magazine that he has hired two people to update his blog. “It’s just like how a designer would work,” he said.
Guest Twitterers are just the beginning. I see a robust future for Twitter script doctors ("the first clause is great, but the last three words died in the 18-24 demographic."), Twitter proofreaders ("are we using the English or American version of 'harbor'?"), and -- in world politics -- Twitter translators and diplomatic advisors ("Mr. President, I'm not sure that twittering 'the dollar is here to stay, motherf***ers!' is really the right message to send right before the London summit.")
And, as Tom Ricks points out, foreign actors might need some assistance on this front as well.
Your humble blogger has long been interested in the intersection between celebrity and politics.
I therefore feel compelled to report the following anecdote concerning Jessica Alba and Bill O'Reilly:
Jessica Alba is setting the record straight: Sweden was neutral during World War II.
Alba and Fox TV show host Bill O’Reilly traded punches last week after the presidential inauguration. After Alba told a Fox reporter that O’Reilly was “kind of an a-hole;” he retaliated by calling her a “pinhead” for telling a reporter to “be Sweden about it,” assuming she meant Switzerland.
“I want to clear some things up that have been bothering me lately,” Alba blogged on MySpace Celebrity. “Last week, Mr. Bill O'Reilly and some really classy sites (i.e.TMZ) insinuated I was dumb by claiming Sweden was a neutral country. I appreciate the fact that he is a news anchor and that gossip sites are inundated with intelligent reporting, but seriously people... it's so sad to me that you think the only neutral country during WWII was Switzerland.”
For the record, Alba wins this fact fight. This is the second time in the past year that a right-wing political figure has been brought low by a celebrity.
This is surprising. It's pretty easy to poke fun at celebs like Paris Hilton or Jessica Alba (the latter's inauguration video is unintentionally very funny). Right-wing politicos and pundits should be used to debate.
So why are celebrities schooling them? Has the quality of conservative leadership really fallen so far? What happens when the true A-listers, like, say, Salma Hayek, start focusing their fire on Mitch McConnell or Rush Limbaugh?
The great Bono-as-columnist experiment has started at the New York Times.
And, I have to say, his debut column is a smashing success. In just his first effort, Bono has already managed to combine the worst tropes of Thomas Friedman and Maureen Dowd and fuse them together into some new alchemy of awfulness. At this rate, by March, he will have already progressed to Advanced Op-ed Babble, a state of nirvana heretofore only achieved by A.M. Rosenthal's "On My Mind".
Contest to readers: read Bono's column and, in 20 words or less, explain its theme in the comments. Here's my effort:
Did you know that I knew Frank Sinatra?"
Daniel W. Drezner is professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.