In an offhand tweet today, I believe Matthew Yglesias might have stumbled onto a heretofore undetected threat to the American way of life. Here's the tweet:
Cab drivers thinks new construction is creating too many traffic jams. #friedmaning— Matt Yglesias (@mattyglesias) May 22, 2013
Now #friedmaning refers to the common foreign affairs columnist trope of quoting a cabbie to get a "man on the street" feel to any kind of reporting.
But this tweet reminded me that another Friedman obsession is America's crumbling infrastructure. Which got me to thinking: What if the United States government started listening to Friedman? What if the government actually started to invest in shoring up its crumbling infrastructure, particularly in metropolitan areas frequented by Friedman? I think you'd face the much-feared Friedman Feedback Loop:
1) Tom Friedman calls for new infrastructure investment.
2) New investments in infrastructure inevitably lead to traffic snarls.
3) Cabbies, bearing the brunt of said traffic jams, start grousing to passengers.
4) Whether firsthand or secondhand, Tom Friedman hears about the clogged roads.
5) Worked up into a lather, Friedman pens many, many more op-ed columns dedicated to boosting spending to improve American roads.
6) Even more spending on infrastructure leads to even greater traffic jams.
7) Go back to Step 2 and repeat.
Unless infrastructure repair could somehow outpace Friedman's output -- highly unlikely -- entire cities would soon be awash in renovation projects and traffic jams, leading to the overuse of Amtrak, thereby crippling America's rail system as we know it.
One can only hope this looming threat is discussed at next month's Friedman Forum.
An awful lot of international relations can be dispiriting. A glance at the Syrian conflict reveals its awful humanitarian toll, which stands in stark counterpoint to the coldly realpolitik nature of great-power foreign policies toward that country. My point is, it's very easy to feel beleaguered when studying world politics.
But then, every once in a while, comes a story that cries out for its own theme song.
Yesterday the Russians busted an American spy. The Washington Post's Will Englund and Greg Miller provide the straight reporting:
An American diplomat accused by Russia of spying for the CIA was ordered to leave the country Tuesday after a highly publicized arrest that seemed designed to embarrass the United States and its premier intelligence service.
The expulsion of Ryan C. Fogle was announced by the Russian Foreign Ministry, and footage on state-run television showed him wearing a blond-streaked wig and a baseball cap as he was held facedown and handcuffed.
The Soviet-style episode came just days after U.S. Secretary of State John F. Kerry visited the Russian capital in an attempt to soothe diplomatic tensions over the conflict in Syria and the investigation of the Boston Marathon bombing.
A statement released by the Russian Foreign Ministry, which appeared intended to put the United States on the defensive, said, “While our two presidents have reaffirmed their willingness to expand bilateral cooperation, including between intelligence agencies in the fight against terrorism, such provocative Cold War-style actions do not contribute to building mutual trust.”
For somewhat droller reporting on the incident, one needs to surf over to the New York Times, where it's clear that David Herszenhorn and Ellen Barry just enjoyed the dickens out of filing this report:
The circumstances of Mr. Fogle’s unmasking seemed bizarre, even given the long, colorful history of spying by the Soviet Union, Russia and their rivals.…
[T]he Russians released the videos and photographs of Mr. Fogle’s assortment of props, which also included two pairs of sunglasses, a pocketknife and a protective sleeve made to shield information held on the electronic chips now routinely imprinted on passports, transit passes and identification cards.
He also carried a decidedly un-smart phone that from a distance looked like an old-model Nokia. Unlike its counterpart in the “Get Smart” television series, it was not built into the bottom of a shoe.
The most recent comparable spy folly came at the Russians’ expense. In 2010, the American authorities arrested 10 “sleeper” agents who had been living in the United States for a decade, posing as Americans. Some were couples with children; some had well-developed careers in real estate and finance.
What they had not done was send any classified secrets back to Russia, and when they were caught they were not charged with espionage but with conspiring to work as unregistered foreign agents. They were eventually expelled to Russia in a swap that included the Kremlin’s release of four men convicted of spying for the West.
If Americans then wondered exactly what sort of high-level intelligence the Russian government had expected its operatives to find while living humdrum lives in places like suburban Montclair, N.J., the case of Mr. Fogle seemed to pose its own curious questions:
What exactly did he expect to accomplish with a shaggy, ill-fitting wig that seemed to fall off his head at the slightest bump? And why would a counterterrorism officer, trained by the Russian special services, need a letter describing how to set up a new Gmail account without revealing personal information?
Perhaps the overarching question was just: Really?
Looking at the details of what Fogle ostensibly had on him, it's hard to take this event seriously at all. The letter in particular is just one or two Nigerian princes away from looking like a spam email.
The other reason it's hard to take the arrest seriously is that it appears that neither was it a sensitive intelligence operation, nor will it affect bilateral relations all that much. If Fogle's endeavor was truly significant, it's doubtful that the FSB would have gone public like this -- instead, it would have strung out the operation as long as possible in an effort to deceive the United States. And Fogle won't be rotting in a Russian prison, as he' has already been expelled. Post-capture, both Russian and U.S. officials are playing down the incident.
More generally, this won't affect the bilateral relationship -- which, at this point, is based on the occasional mutual interest (counterterrorism), the more frequent clashing interest (Syria, energy), Vladimir Putin's calcified state of feeling aggrieved at the hands of the United States, and the Obama administration's conscious decision to not get drawn into petty rhetorical games with the Russian leadership.
No, instead, one must stand back and gape in wonder at how reality breeds fiction, which then breeds reality. As the NYT story referenced, the last public espionage story involving Russia and the United States involved the placement of deep-cover Russian intelligence agents in U.S. suburbs, which didn't produce much in the way of intelligence, though it did lead to at least one lad magazine pictorial. That scandal, in turn, inspired former CIA officer Joe Weisberg to create FX's The Americans, a truly outstanding show about deep-cover Russian agents operating in the United States during the early Reagan years. And while I cannot recommend the show highly enough, one of the few farcical elements of it is the number of wigs that the lead characters used during the first season. Ostensibly, the lead male character, played by Matthew Rhys, has such extraordinary wig work that he's able to woo and marry an American FBI employee!! It makes Fogle's wigs seem pretty crude -- so crude one wonders if they were planted by Russia's FSB.
The closing of the first season of The Americans played one of the best Cold War-tinged songs ever written, Peter Gabriel's "Games Without Frontiers." That song was perfect for the closing scene because it matched the emotional heft that the show managed to serve up for all of the main characters. Alas, in comparison this scandal seems to feel far more farcical. Readers are thereby warmly urged to suggest what song should accompany this particular espionage episode. I, for one, would suggest this little ditty.
Am I missing anything? Seriously, am I -- is there anything serious to draw from this case?
Your humble blogger is taking a vacation at an undisclosed zombie-proof redoubt for the next ten days, so blogging will be on the lighter side.
Speaking of the lighter side, juuuuuust a few friends and colleagues have informed me that zombie preparedness has become a political issue up in Canada. From BuzzFeed's Ellie Hall:
The Canadian government has gone on the record about the zombie apocalypse. In an amazing exchange on the floor of the House of Commons today, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird was asked if he was working to "develop an international zombie strategy so that a zombie invasion does not turn into a zombie apocalypse."
New Democratic Party Parliament Member Pat Martin applauded the United States Center for Disease Control's emergency preparedness measures premised on a zombie outbreak and wanted to know how Canada would act to protect its citizens.
Here's the clip:
For the entirety of Baird's response, click over to Huffington Post Canada.
Now, to be honest, I'm a bit disturbed by this exchange. First of all, there were so many better puns that Baird could have uttered.
Second of all, both the NDP representative and the Foreign Minister were poorly briefed. Sure, Martin knew about the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and the Quebec government's counter-zombie efforts, but why no mention of British Columbia's aggressive campaign against the living dead?! That seems like rank prejudice against Canada's Western provinces.
Third, how in the name of all that is reanimated could the Canadians have this debate without discussing Canada's distinguished contributions to the zombie genre? No mention of Pontypool? No mention of Fido?! Come on!!!
Fourth, the claim that zombies could effortlessly cross borders echoes a leading Canadian perspective on this issue ... but where's the expert testimony? Why no international relations perspective? It's not like Theories of International Politics and Zombies isn't available in Canada.
This is serious business. Winter has come. The White Walkers could be emigrating down from the North at any moment. Until Canada gets its house in order, secures its strategic maple syrup reserve from waffle-eating ghouls, and starts consulting experts on this issue, I for one, am taking my family south.
This past week your humble blogger added another affiliation to his bio, as he has now joined the Brookings Institution as a... wait for it... nonresident senior fellow with the Managing Global Order project.
Now, those who live and breathe the mores and rhythms of DC's think tank community are already aware of the awesome rights, responsibilities and entitlements that comes with this honorific. Those not in the wonk priesthood, however, might wonder. Clearly, "nonresident" implies I'm not moving to DC. But what are the other perks of being a nonresident senior fellow?
The better way to phrase this query is -- what aren't the perks of being a nonresident senior fellow? It's almost as cool as being a full professor, for Pete's sake!! To list all the perks would take too long. Here are, in order, the top ten benefits to being a nonresident senior fellow at a think tanks, however:
10) Now all of my talks can be shorter. Before any academic or policy talk, a speaker usually receives an introduction in which the convenor reads the person's bio. If the speaker has lots of awards, affiliations, and publications, then this process can take a while, cutting into the speaker's allotted time. Secretly, all speakers want this, cause it means they don't have to remble on as long. Adding the Brookings affiliation will cut my talks by at least thirty seconds.
9) I'm now one affiliation away from the PACT. A key plot device in 30 Rock was Tracy Morgan's quest for the EGOT -- Emmy, Grammy, Tony and Oscar awards. Foreign policy wonks have a similar quest, except it operates by affiliations: Press, Academia, Consulting, and Think Tankery. Adding my nonresident senior fellow appellation to being a Fletcher professor and a contributing editor here at FP, I now have a PAT. The only thing missing is the for-profit consulting gig. I'm looking in your direction, Stonebridge Group and/or McKinsey!!
8) 50,000 frequent flyer miles with an airline of my choice. This sounds like a great perk, but really, it's just so that I can be conversant in frequent flyer-speak when bumping into other nonresident senior fellows at conferences:
ME: So did you get upgraded on this flight?
OTHER WONK: Oh, yeah, but that's because I'm Super Premium status. You?
ME: No, and I was willing to use miles too!!
OTHER WONK: Oh, no, never use your own miles!! See, what you should do it... [long disquisition about the art of frequent flyer mile management.]
You get the idea.
7) Officially one of the old boys now. The "senior" is a tipoff -- I can no longer declare "Young Turk" status. Instead, I'm clearly part of an old boy network of some kind or another. Which will, inevitably, lead to attacks from Glenn Greenwald.
6) Attract a much better class of groupies. Oh, sure, as a full professor I get the entreaty from a student willing to do just about anything to get an RAship/grad school admission/job. DC, however, attacts a much more desperate and stylish set of aspirants. Indeed, within 24 hours of becoming a nonresident senior fellow, my LinkedIn profile was beseiged with requests ranging from "I'm just dying to polish your memos" to "I feel like I'm the only research assistant who gets you -- I mean, really gets you!!"
5) One free black helicopter ride. I have every confidence that the sovereigntists in the crowd are already freaked out by the "Managing Global Order" moniker. AS YOU SHOULD BE!!! Who do you think supplies the black helicopetrs to the United Nations? Before we do, however, a nonresident fellow can pick where in the country the brand-spanking new black helicopter can buzz, just to freak out some locals. I, for one, am looking forward to a quick, below-the-radar trip through the Texas panhandle.
4) Playing the Lincoln card. All nonresident senior fellows run into bureaucratic impediments at some point or another. Once a year, I can pull the Lincoln card out of my wallet, and utter the following: "I am a nonresident senior fellow, clothed in IMMENSE POWER! You will procure me these PowerPoint slides."
3) Preferential treatment at the Old Ebbitt Grill. For years, I used to make reservations at this venerable DC establishment and still find myself cooling my heels and not impressing my date as more distinguished Beltway denizens would just waltz on in. Not anymore!! Now I just flash your "Nonresident Senior Fellow" gold card to the maitre d'hotel and -- KABLAMM!! -- my date and I are enjoying the finest champagnes in the land. This is a much more civilized way of exerting power than the more old-fashioned method in which -- as I understand it -- the men simply unzipped their flies and compared penis sizes.
2) At least ten more seconds of air time on CNN. Cable news nets will let senior nonresident fellows blather on for at least two more sentences before interrupting duing an interview.
1) "Nonresident Casual Fridays." One Friday, every other month, the nonresident fellows show up at the Brookings Institution very early, camp ourselves in the offices of the resident fellows, and scare the bejeezus out of them when they walk in. Alternatively, we prank call the senior resident fellows, pretending to be a White House flack asking for permission to vet them for a prominent subcabinet position.
You know, as 2013 dawns, there's a brewing debate about whether America is now just a "mediocre" country. As a long-run optimist about the America's future, however, I'm pretty dubious of the mediocrity argument. There are too many areas where the United States excels in to write the country off: high tech, higher education, Hollywood, and so forth.
Of course, these strengths are meaningless in foreign policy terms unless the American government can wisely and adroitly deploy them when necessary. Consider, for example, this story from Yonhap about whether Ri Sol-Ju, the first lady of North Korea, has had a baby:
An apparent loss of weight by Ri Sol-ju, the wife of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, fueled speculation in Seoul Thursday that she may have given birth.
A government source, who declined to be identified, said images on the Korean Central TV Broadcasting Station showed a slimmer Ri watching a live New Year's performance with her husband and other high-ranking dignitaries.
He claimed local experts who saw the footage of the first lady speculated that, judging by the weight loss, she may have given birth recently.
This claim was based on the contrast between the latest images taken on New Year's Day and those released in mid December. Pictures of Ri taken last month showed her face looking puffy and there was a noticeable swelling in her midsection.
Here's the photos related to the story:
All I can say is, I hope that the salient U.S. intelligence agencies -- the Central Intelligence Agency, National Security Administration, Defense Intelligence Agency, National Reconnaissance Office, and, of course, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence -- bring in America's leading experts on the "baby bump." And by leading experts, I'm talking about the analysts who populate stories in People, Us Weekly, Star Magazine, Perez Hilton, and the National Enquirer on celebrity baby bumps. Because I will not stand idly by while one of America's greatest strengths -- our unparalleled advantage in celebrity tabloid journalism -- stands on the sidelines when this pressing question about one of the biggest threats to stability in the Pacific Rim persists.
[Really, isn't the U.K. the unparalleled leader in tabloids? I mean, they invented the term "baby bump"!--ed. They've been weakened by internal scandals and distracted by Kate Middleton. It's America's time to shine!!!!]
December 25th is a time of love, gifts, prayers... and thinking long and hard about Santa Claus as an actor in world politics. Sure, one could just compose awesome poems in the holiday spirit -- or one could think seriously about the implications of the jolly fat man for the international system.
I emailed a few of our gravitas-oozing foreign affairs pundits about the true meaning of Santa in our hyperconnected, globalized world. Here's what I got in response:
Santa is the most damning piece of evidence yet that we live in a G-Zero world. This stateless actor commands a vast intelligence apparatus, an apparent slave army of little people, and is not above working animals long past their breaking point. By any stretch of the imagination, he's a rogue actor. And yet, despite these flagrant violations of international norms, there isn't even a nascent effort to combat, contain or regulate his activities. The G-20 continues to dither, revealing itself yet again as toothless and pointless. This would never have happened back when the U.S. was the hegemon!!
On this day of Christ's birth, I will tell you something that the New York Times, which is so in the bag for this administration that one of their columnists kept predicting an Obama victory despite overwhelming mispeception to the contrary, will not: Santa Claus is a force for good in the world. Developing countries will cling to their indigenous Christmas heroes, foolishly hoping that these local legends can guide their country towards peace and prosperity. Wake up, rest of the world!! Yes, Santa can seem a bit domineering with his black-and-white dichotomy of naughty and nice. Let's face it, however -- those countries that have embraced St. Nick are better off. If anything, Santa's problem is that he's not being mean enough to the naughtys of the world. Only when he is prepared to deploy the elves to places like Syria and the Congo will Santa be able to honestly wish all a good night. I hope ole Saint Nick acts in this expansionist manner -- but I worry that the Obama administration, to distract from the fiscal cliff, will declare some kind of "war" on Christmas. Food for thought....
Beltway pundits, serenely sipping their eggnog at those Georgetown Christmas cocktail parties, will offer soothing patter about the merits of a white Christmas and the inherent goodness of Santa Claus. And other powerful interest groups, like retailers and the Catholic Church, will argue in favor of celebrating the birth of Christ on December 25th. Some clever liberal pundits will go so far as to point out that it was an American corporation created the modern-day Santa. Don't let these lobbies fool you -- celebrating Christmas on December 25th and welcoming Santa Claus onto our soil is a breach of American sovereignty that can no longer be tolerated. Why should Americans celebrate this most American of holidays the same time as everyone else in the world? Is it American for our government offices to be closed on this day because of some unelected bureaucrat based in that oldest of old Europe cities, Rome??!! Is it American to have some foreign actor -- a.k.a. Kris Kringle -- make decisions about whether our children have been good or bad?! Americans don't need some foreign list to determine who's naught and nice. I believe that there's a document that already takes care of everything we need, and it's called the United States Constitution. Our elected oficials must take action to protect the Constitution of the United States from these global efforts to affect our daily lives. We're an exceptional country with exceptional children -- we don't need Santa to tell us what they deserve.
It is on Christmas more than any other day that we can appreciate how wrong Chuck Hagel would be for the Secretary of Defense position. The former Senator from Nebraska seems all too willing to compromise in the War on Christmas, suggesting that perhaps "some" public spaces should be free of mangers. This is fully consistent with Hagel's past waffling on various threats to the American way of life, as evidenced by [MINIONS-- PLEASE INSERT LAZY, INACCURATE HYPERLINK HERE--JR]. I've heard exclusively from a top GOP source whose last name rhymes with "Fristol" that Senate Republicans have a master file of statements Hagel made at a Senate Christmas party years ago where he raged against the "rank commercialism" of the holiday. It's this type of anti-free enterprise statements that clearly demonstrate that Hagel is out of the American mainstream in his views on Christmas -- and America's place in the world.
There are many things to admire about Christmas -- and yet I'm left wondering why, on this most nurturing, this most feminine of holidays, it's a fat, aging, affluent white man who traipses around the world offering gifts to children. It could be that Mrs. Claus simply doesn't want to leave the North Pole -- or it could be that she's trapped there by the hidebound traditions of this holiday. Clearly, the current model of delivering everyone's presents on one night makes it impossible for women to have it all. Perhaps we should rework how Christmas operates to make it a more family-friendly model for the Clauses. Instead of everyone getting their presents on one night, it should be staggered throughout the year. This would allow both Santa and Mrs. Claus to participate in the making of the list, the checking it twice, and the bestowing of presents to the world's children. Let's face it -- the more that women take an active part in the management of this holiday, the better for everyone involved.
Merry Christmas, foreign policy wonks!!
While your humble blogger was wending his way back from Paris to the States, everyone and their mother emailed, Facebooked or tweeted me the following campaign video from geek god Joss Whedon:
Now, as much as I've dissected both candidates' foreign policies and foreign policy statements, I hadn't really thought about which one of them would be more likely to trigger the zombie apocalypse.
masks reveals a flaw in Theories of International Politics and Zombies. In that book, I argued that any measures by governments to prevent the creation of zombies were likely to fail. The problem was that the origins of zombies are so multifaceted -- biological, radiological, supernatural -- that it was foolish to deevote resources to trying. Furthermore, the very nature of "normal accidents" could mean that preventive measures could actually increase the probability of flesh-eating ghouls.
But Whedon is onto something different and altogether more interesting in his video. Are there domestic policies that would increase the likelihood of a true zombie apocalypse? He lists serious cuts in health care and social services, as well as Romney's commitment to "ungoverned corporate privilege" that would foment the undead apocalypse.
Now I give Whedon points for acknowledging that we don't know which kind of undead are coming -- "no one knows for sure if they'll be the superfast 28 Days Later zombies or the old school shambling kind." But is Whedon's hypothesis actually true? One could posit that he's got it backwards. After all, the key to preventing the spread of the zombie apocalypse is to slow down the infection rate and spread of the undead contagoion. Cuts to public services might actually discourage the 47% from congregating in public places, thereby making it that much harder for the initial cluster of the undead to be able to spread their pestilence and hunger for human flesh to others. Similarly, it is likely true that giving corporations a freer hand might incentivize one of them to take the Umbrella path to global domination, Romney's tough stands on immigration will likely restrict the H1-B visas necessary to hire the Eurotrash that always seems to be a the top of the corporate ladder when Things Go Wrong.
Stepping back, if you think about it, the relationship between economic inequality and the zombie apocalypse is kinda complicated. On the one hand, consistent with Acemoglu and Robinson, more politically and economically egalitarian societies are likely to invest in the public goods necessary to mitigate the spread of the deadites. On the other hand, unequal societies are likely to have elites invest in worst-case scenarios -- mountaintop redoubts, vast underground laboratories, panic rooms, evil volcano lairs -- that guarantee a minmax outcome in which the human species will continue to exist in some form. Of course, on the third, undead, dismembered, delicious hand, those last redoubt solutions never seem to work out as planned.
Still, as I contemplate a
revised revived edition of Theories of International Politics and Zombies, I thank Whedon for bringing this important issue to the fore -- just as the massive zombiestorm prepares to strike the Northeast Corridor.
Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to stock up on canned goods and imagine the dialogue that a movie treatment of Night of the Living Dead meets Atlas Shrugged would inspire.
Readers are warmly encouraged to proffer their suggestions for policies that would trigger/foment the zombie apocalypse in the comments.
As the Barack Obama gears up his re-election campaign, plenty of political commentators have proffered their advice for which past American election should guide his strategy. Why not look overseas, however? After all, in North Korea, paramount leader Kim Jong Un visited some newly-built apartments that his father Kim Jong Il " paid deep attention from sites to designing and building." Apparently, the residents were crying at the opportunity to meet Kim and his wife. That's leadership.
On the other hand, Kim's visit smacks a bit of standard Western politicking. Maybe Obama should be thinking on a more grandiose level.
In the New York Times, Andrew Kramer provides an excellent template, recounting the heroic exploits of Russian President Vladimir Putin:
Russia’s president piloted a motorized hang glider over an Arctic wilderness while leading six endangered Siberian cranes toward their winter habitat, as part of an operation called “The Flight of Hope,” his press office confirmed Wednesday.
While Mr. Putin recently has found some resistance to his stewardship at home, he found a more receptive crowd among his feathered followers. Experts say that when raised in captivity, these cranes quickly form bonds with figures they perceive as parents. That is a role, apparently, that Mr. Putin has been training for....
Mr. Putin on past expeditions has tranquilized a tiger, used a crossbow to extract tissue from a whale and put a tracking collar on a polar bear. News of his latest plan rippled over the Internet all day Wednesday, to great merriment. Some wondered just how far he would go. Would he try to imitate the gasping-shrieking cry of the cranes, to instill more faith in his leadership?
He has also appeared shirtless riding a horse in Siberia and flown on a fighter jet, a bomber and an amphibious firefighting airplane. Last summer, he dived into the Kerch Strait in the Black Sea and, remarkably, quickly discovered fragments of two ancient Greek urns.
Mr. Putin’s spokesman, Dmitri S. Peskov, however, was later compelled to admit that the discovery was staged.
Oh, man, now I want Putin to be my president, but only after he strangles three enemies of the United States with his bare hands!! I don't care if the enemies are already dead when he does it -- this is a real leader!!
Sure, skeptics might point out that the last time a president of the United States got all macho and donned a flight suit, it didn't end well. And maybe, just maybe, a political leader trying to act like a superhero is harkening back to the outdated and ephemeral notion of Weberian charismatic leadership. Or, perhaps, this kind of derring-do realy masks personal insecurities and... inadequacies that don't need to be discussed on a family blog. But dammit, in this world of the new normal, we need heroes!!
I hereby challenge my readers to devise new heroic exploits for Barack Obama to accomplish as a way of exercising raw, pure, unfiltered leadership. Here are a few suggestions:
2) Inspired by Man on Fire, Barack Obama goes to Mexico and takes care of the drug cartel problem -- single-handedly.
3) After three years, Barack Obama has laid the groundwork for collecting an assemblage of fellow crusaders for truth, justice and the American Way. With a superteam of Michelle Obama, Bill Gates, Seal Team Six, Tom Cruise, the cast of The Expendables, Michael Phelps, Kerri Walsh, Misty-May Treanor, the 1992 and 2012 Dream Teams, and -- of course -- Bill and Hillary Clinton, this elite group of avengers reverse-Red Dawns the Russian Federation, defeating Putin and vanquishing, once and for all, America's number one geopolitical foe.
Any other suggestions?
TO: My Foreign Policy bosses
FROM: Daniel W. Drezner
RE: How Foreign Policy Can Conquer the World
Comrades August Members of the Foreign Policy Community:
Since Foreign Policy revamped its web presence in early 2009, everything has gone according to the Master Plan. You have ensured that this site is one every foreign policy cognoscenti's "must click" list. You have won National Magazine Award after National Magazine Award. With the Sex Issue, you came out with an issue that generated enough buzz to light up Tina Brown's jealousy furnace for years to come.
But where can you go from here? After reading Edith Zimmerman's bemusing description of Cosmopolitan's global empire in the New York Times Magazine, I'm wondering if there's a way to leverage their model. From Zimmerman's story:
Cosmo has a cheerful, girlfriendy tone (“When Your Period Makes You Cra-a-zy”) and a much racier reputation than its newsstand competitors (“Eeek! You’ll Die When You Read What These ‘Normal’ Guys Wanted Once Their Pants Hit the Floor”). Its covers rarely fail to feature at least one bold, all-caps rendering of the word “sex.” The August issue, for instance, offered “52 Sex Tips” and “When Your Vagina Acts Weird After Sex.” A sampling of 2012 headlines includes “50 Sex Tips,” “50 Kinky Sex Moves,” “99 Sex Questions” and “His Best Sex Ever.”
The repetition can be a little numbing, but it may help explain how Cosmo, which is the best-selling monthly magazine in the United States, has morphed into such a global juggernaut. (“If all the Cosmo readers from around the world came together,” read a recent piece in Cosmo South Africa, “this group would form the 16th-largest country in the world.”) Through those 64 editions, the magazine now spreads wild sex stories to 100 million teens and young women (making it closer to the 12th-largest country, actually) in more than 100 nations — including quite a few where any discussion of sex is taboo. And plenty of others where reading a glossy magazine still carries cachet. (“Many girls consider a hard copy of Cosmo to be an important accessory,” says Maya Akisheva, the editor of Cosmo Kazakhstan.) As the brand proudly points out, in 2011 alone, these readers spent $1.4 billion on shoes, $400 million on cars, $2.5 billion on beauty products and $1.5 billion on fragrance and bought 24 million pairs of jeans.
Now, sure, this formula is ripe for satire... but the recipe for successful globalization is undeniable!! Sure, FP did its Sex Issue, but that also generated a fair amount of critical feedback. I think the better tactic is to copy Cosmo's style without its... er... substance. Let's face it, what grabs the attention of readers are Cosmo's headlines. And what grabs the attention of foteign policy cognoscenti is... war. Never mind that war and other forms of violence are on the wane -- war is happening, war is now, war is hot, war is what people want to talk about even if they're not doing much of it.
Scanning Cosmo's website, here are ten headlines that with juuuuuust a bit of tweaking clearly beg for Foreign Policy articles:
75 Ways to Fight an A-maz-ing War
Make it a War Your People Will Never Forget
David Petraeus is Our New Cover Boy!!
30 Things to Do to a Prostrate Adversary
"That's Our Land" and Other LOL Lines that can Start a Hot War
How to Make Your Citizens Beg for More War
When is it Time to Break
Upwith Your Current Military Strategy?
Diplomacy? Ewww!!! Would You Try this War Prevention Method?
How to Wow Your Enemy Every Single Time
Could Your Ally Be Cheating On You? Take the FP QUIZ!!
Now, like Cosmopolitan, Foreign Policy would likely have to tailor its content by country and/or region. I mean, "Nine MREs that Will Make Your Soldiers Go 'Mmmmm!'" would obviously need to be custom-edited to take into account dietary customs in other countries. And this strategy might be hard to market in places like Switzerland, Costa Rica, and so forth. Still, where Cosmopolitan has blazed the trail... Foreign Policy can and should napalm it all to hell... before The Atlantic gets to it first.
Call me, and I can get David Petraeus' makeup artist on speed-dial in no time.
Foreign policy wonks and international relations scholars have summer daydreams just like everyone else. So I can only imagine what my colleagues thought when they read about the latest TV special in Pyongyang:
After a failed missile launching, aborted diplomacy with Washington, and continuing international pressure over the country’s nuclear program, North Korea’s untested young leader has tried once again to take a dramatic step with his isolated, impoverished nation, this time with a bit of unapproved help from Mickey Mouse and Winnie the Pooh.
North Korean state-run television on Monday showed footage of costumed versions of Tigger, Minnie Mouse and other Disney characters prancing in front of the leader Kim Jong-un, and an entourage of clapping generals.
The footage also showed Mr. Kim in a black Mao suit watching as Mickey Mouse conducted a group of young women playing violins in skimpy black dresses. At times, scenes from the animated Disney movies “Dumbo” and “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” were projected on a multipanel screen behind the entertainers; an article in the state-run press said unnamed foreign songs were on the bill.
The appearance of the characters from the United States, North Korea’s mortal enemy, was remarkable fare on tightly controlled North Korean television, which usually shows more somber and overtly political programs. A Disney spokeswoman, Zenia Mucha, had no comment Monday beyond a statement: “This was not licensed or authorized by the Walt Disney Company.”....
The performance was not the first time the Kim dynasty’s fate had been entwined with Disney. In 2001, the current leader’s older brother, Kim Jong-nam, was apparently banished from the line of succession after being detained by the Japanese authorities while trying to enter Japan on a Dominican Republic passport to visit Tokyo Disneyland.
If you look at Sky News' YouTube clip of the show, it does seem like there's a whole Disney Princess theme going on as well:
The BBC reports that this production "seems to point to an easing of North Korea's paranoia about what it calls spiritual pollution from the West." Or... a Kim obsession with Disney. Take your pick.
In full summer daydream mode, I think this is an outstanding opportunity to pursue unconventional statecraft towards Pyongyang. Clearly, there's something about Disney that renders the Kim family weak at the knees. Clearly, the best way to exploit this vulnerability is to have the State Department commission Disney to make a film containing Zoolander-like subliminal images that target the Kim family in particular to subvert their own regime. We know (sorta) that Disney has done this before. We know that even someone as wide-eyed as Katy Perry can be weaponized. Why shouln't the United States exploit its soft power and deploy the Disney Gambit against the Kims?
Because it's the summer and I'm lazy In the interest of participatory policymaking, I hereby encourage readers to submit their own plots and subliminal messaged ideas in the comment stream. Let's make this manipulation of Kim Jong Un a reality!
Very attentive readers -- hi, Mom!! -- are likely aware that your humble blogger has been doing a hell of a lot of conferencing recently. Now, each of these conferences, on their own, has been invaluable . They are a way to gain exposure to new people, ideas and perspectives, get feedback on one's own ideas and perspectives, and pick up useful bits of information.
Combined, however, these conferences have taken their toll. As a public service message and a cautionary warning to other aspiring wonks, I'd like to offer the following top ten list:
TOP TEN SIGNS YOU ARE CONFERENCED OUT
10) The very first thing you do when you enter a conference venue is to scope out the seat that a) is closest to an electrical outlet; b) has a decent view of the podium; and c) is closest to the exit for discrete bathroom breaks. You will switch placards in order to get that seat.
9) The second thing you do when you enter a conferene venue is ask someone about the available wifi.
8) You find yourself bringing your own laminated name tag, placard, and extra-large coffee mug wherever you go.
7) You have filled out your reimbursement forms before the first coffee break.
6) It takes forever to get into your hotel room because you have at least five different key cards in your pocket.
5) You cannot go 24 hours without getting into an extended conversation with a colleague about your grand strategy for deploying frequent flier miles. BONUS SIGN: you secretly think the George Clooney character from Up In The Air was kind of a wuss.
4) The phrase "capacity building" triggers an instant desire to take a baseball bat to whomever just uttered the phrase.
3) You develop the capacity to lightly doze through a presentation but still ask a pertinent question during the Q&A. Then you black out.
2) At the bar after a long dar of conferencing, it only takes one drink for a colleague to say, "you know, you're allowed to bring more than one suit to these shindigs."
1) The hotel staff has to break down your door at 3 AM because you were shouting the word "modalities" during your fitful, jet-lagged sleep.
If you find yourself nodding along to at least seven of the following ten signs, please consult your doctor/department head as soon as possible.
Readers are strongly encouraged to proffer their own warning signs/symptoms in the comments.
When we last left off with Bo Xilai, he and his family were in a spot of trouble for myriad crimes and misdemeanors in Chongqing, including the possible poisoning of a British national. According to this New York Times story by Jonathan Ansfield and Ian Johnson, however, that's just the beginning of Bo's crimes:
When Hu Jintao, China’s top leader, picked up the telephone last August to talk to a senior anticorruption official visiting Chongqing, special devices detected that he was being wiretapped — by local officials in that southwestern metropolis.
The discovery of that and other wiretapping led to an official investigation that helped topple Chongqing’s charismatic leader, Bo Xilai, in a political cataclysm that has yet to reach a conclusion.
Until now, the downfall of Mr. Bo has been cast largely as a tale of a populist who pursued his own agenda too aggressively for some top leaders in Beijing and was brought down by accusations that his wife had arranged the murder of Neil Heywood, a British consultant, after a business dispute. But the hidden wiretapping, previously alluded to only in internal Communist Party accounts of the scandal, appears to have provided another compelling reason for party leaders to turn on Mr. Bo.
This is both interesting and unsurprising. The leadership in Beijing has every incentive to tar and feather Bo to ensure that his residual popularity in Chongqing does not lead to a revival in his power. It's now gotten to the point where Bo's son had to issue a statement to the Harvard Crimson in an attempt to shed the image of being a spoiled princeling driving around in a red Ferrari. I don't doubt the wiretapping story, but let's face it, Beijing's ruling cliques are going to have an incentive to... let's say embellish Bo's perfidy.
And we here at Foreign Policy want to help!!
At this point, the accusations being hurled at Bo Xilai, his wife, and his son are flying so fast and furious that the hashtag #BoXilaicrimes is now rising on Twitter. Look at the list yourself -- here are my faves so far:
RT @_dpress Tore Jeremy Lin's meniscus
Over the years, The Daily Show has tackled issues relating to world politics and American foreign policy with a sharp satirical, somewhat left-of-center edge. I have found most of these takes to be moderately amusing -- and it's pretty hard, sometimes, to make international politics look funny without seeming cruel.
This month, however, marks the four-year anniversary of "Britain's Fallen Soldiers," which I have reproduced below for your amusement. I watch this, oh, let's say once a month since it aired. I have never been able to watch it the entire way through without cracking up.
I will simply note that the crux of NATO's problem, which inspired John Oliver's finest work ever, is, of course, still ongoing. Because intractable international policy problems, like fine satire, have a timeless quality.
Your humble blogger is busy
going into carbohydrate withdrawal celebrating Passover this week. I blogged about the international relations implications of this holiday a few years ago -- but that was pre-Arab Spring. This (and a few glasses of kosher wine) got me to thinking: what would happen if the event that inspires the Passover holiday -- the Exodus -- were to happen today?
With apologies to Colum Lynch, I suspect the reportage would be something like this:
U.N. SECURITY COUNCIL MEETING ON JEWISH EXODUS ENDS IN CHAOS: Permanent Five split on who to sanction for loss of life
Colum Lynch, Foreign Policy
NEW YORK: Attempts by the U.N. Security Council to reach consensus on an approach to the situation in Egypt came to naught earlier today, as different members of the Security Council blamed different actors in the region for the growing human rights and humanitarian disaster.
U.S. Ambassdor to the United Natuons Susan Rice, addressing the Council, blasted China and Russia for their "addiction to obduracy." She concluded, "Over the past decade we have continually raised the repeated human rights abuses and acts of genocide committed by the Phaaroh's regime against the Jewish population in Egypt. Each time, China and Russia have vetoed even the mildest of condemnations, arguing that it was a matter of Egyptian sovereignty. Only now, with the desperate escape of that minority from the Phaaroh's clutches, do the governments of Russia and China take such an acute interest in the welfare of the Egyptian people. "
The United States, France, and United Kingdom have indeed introduced thirteen separate resolutions on human rights abuses in Egypt since the advent of the Phaaroh who knew not Joseph.
Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin delivered a blistering response, arguing that it was the radical Jewsish leaders who had escalated the situation by resorting to weapons of mass destruction and demanding that Moses be indicted by the International Criminal Court as a war criminal: "It was not the Phaaroh who imposed unspeakable sanctions against the Egyptian people. It was not the Phaaroh who slaughtered every first-born male child in Egypt -- except the Jews -- in a flagrant violation of the Geneva Conventions. Surely, not a house in Egypt was spared from this , this plague. It was not the Phaaroh who resorted to trickery in the Red Sea, luring innocent Egyptian troops into the kill zone before massacring them. Both sides are equally guilty in the bloodshed, and until both sides renounce violence, a peaceful solution will be nothing but a mirage of the desert."
No agreement on any resolutions were reached. British Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant flatly rejected many of the Russian assertions, arguing that only soldiers were afffected by the Red Sea disaster, and that it was not immediately obvious whether the Jews were actually responsible for the harsh sanctions that befell Egypt prior to the Jewish Exodus.
Doctors Without Borders upped the number of Egyptian dead into the five figures, but those figures could not be independently confirmed. The Phaaroh's government again rejected the entry of the U.N. Secretary-General's fact-finding mission on the grounds that it represented an intrusion of sovereignty. Russian and Chinese officials blamed this inflexible position on the civil society campaign to label the Egyptian Pyramids the "Slavery Pyramids."
Humanitarian officials are not sure about the current status of the Jewish refugees. According to unconfirmed reports from Egypt, the Jews left in such a hurry that they lacked basic provisions like bread or yeast, carrying only crude rations into the desert. The disputed status of the Sinai makes drone overflights impossible in that area. The "final status" of the Jews is also unclear, as the Assyrians, Moabites, and Philistines all declared the refugees to be persona non grata in their jurisdictions.
Outside the UN building, the NGO Inside Children annnounced that they planned to release a video entitled "LetMyPeopleGo2012," demanding that the Phaaroh release all Egyptian Jews immediately. The group rebuffed criticisms that this problem had been overtaken by events, saying that calling attention to the cruel despotism in Egypt was still "a worthwhile and noble cause."
Earlier this week moderate Henrique Capriles Radonski won a primary election to challenge Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chávez for the presidency in October. The New York Times notes that Capriles is the most popular opposition candidate in quite some time.
This popularity seems to have caused both Chávez and the Venezuelan state media to turn things up a notch. The Guardian's Rory Carroll explains:
President Hugo Chávez on Thursday called the opposition's presidential candidate a "low-life pig", signalling a caustic start to Venezuela's election campaign.
The socialist leader vowed to crush Henrique Capriles in October's vote, branding him an agent of imperialism and oligarchy hiding behind a mask of moderation.
"Now we have the loser, welcome! We're going to pulverise you," he told an audience of medical students. "You have a pig's tail, a pig's ears, you snort like a pig, you're a low-life pig. You're a pig, don't try and hide it." He avoided calling Capriles by name, referring instead to "el majunche", slang for "the crappy one".
The speech, which all radio and television stations were obliged to broadcast live, followed Capriles's victory last Sunday in opposition primaries. The state governor won almost two-thirds of 3m votes cast, a higher than expected turnout which jolted the government.
Since then state media have launched multiple accusations at the wealthy 39-year-old challenger, calling him, among other things, a mendacious gay Nazi Zionist (emphasis added).
Your humble blogger cannot confirm that last claim -- it's possible that the Guardian just mashed together a long litany of insults against Chávez. Still the hard-working staff here at FP needs to pause for a moment and gasp in awe at the bolded insult above. I mean, compared to "mendacious gay Nazi Zionist," calling Captiles a pig seems pretty tame. That combination of adjectives is just so... so... contradictory that, on some da-da level of absurdism, one has to admire it. The next thing you know, Chávez and his media cronies will accuse Capriles of being a "warthog-faced buffoon" or a "scumbag f***face d**khead" or having a father who smelled of elderberries or one of a hundred other insults.
One would hope that Capriles and the opposition would match Chávez's level of insults, but, alas, it appears that he is taking the "high road" and decided to talk about "issues" and stuff. So, for quality invective like this, we're going to have watch the Venezuelan state media more closely.
I'm worried, however, that the Chávezistas might have peaked too soon with "mendacious gay Nazi Zionist." In the interest of adding yet more priceless insults to the toolkit of over-the-top political rherotic, I therefore call upon all of my readers to help out the Venezuelan leader. In the comments, try to suggest insults that, somehow, can top what Chávez and his allies have delivered to date.
The genesis of this blog post is a bit arcane. In response to news reports about proposed changes in U.S. defense doctrine, Andrew Exum jokingly suggested "replacing the 'Two Wars' strategy with a 'Who Wants Some? You? How About You, Tough Guy?' strategy" on Twitter. This led to other suggested mottos, expressed in YouTube videos, which eventually led to me issuing a grandiose call: suggest the YouTube clip that "best encapsulates American grand strategy."
Yeah, that should bring you up to speed.
Below you will find the
ten eleven suggested clips that resonated the most for me, with some further elaboration by your humble blogger. WARNING: some profanity. Then again, if the profane is offensive to you, it's best that you not think too hard about American foreign policy.
A penetrating critique of the orrery of errors that have befallen American foreign policy as of late. Clearly, the United States is trying to conduct its international affairs in a sea of darkness, lacking crucial information to light the way. Despite the best efforts to get all the components of American power into alignment, it's hard to pull off.
Steve Saideman linked to this scene from Crocodile Dundee:
The new or not so new defense strategy of having enough of a military to fight one war while deterring or spoiling an adversary's plans requires a "bigger knife" not to use but to dissuade challengers.
Such a grand strategy also plays to the U.S.'s current strength -- dominating conventional war through bigger and better weapons. In the video, Croc Dundee is confronted not by one mugger but several (and one can read race into this if one wants, since the mugger was African-American, and most threats to the U.S. are by non-white folks). His big knife spoils the plans of each of them. Sounds like a good use of resources.
I think it works as an example of soft power and American exceptionalism. Via her affirmations Jessica demonstrates that Americans think America is awesome -- and therefore, why the rest of the world will/should want the same things Americans want.
FP's Michael Cohen proffers this climactic speech from Animal House:
Not bad, actually. Note that Bluto's inspiring speech has no appreciable effect on the apathetic Deltas at first. Only when other elites -- like Otter -- indicate their support, does the rest of the country -- I mean, fraternity -- rally around the flag. A subtle exegesis of how elite consensus can drive the mass public into stupid, futile gestures.
An utterly brilliant exposition of the ways in which the best strategy in the world will be subverted by the cowboy who shoots first and asks questons later. Indeed, this clip works on two levels. On the one hand, you can think of it as the struggles that go on within the U.S. foreign policy bureaucracy to make sure everyone is on the same page -- and the ways in which hawkish actors can unilaterally set the agenda. Or, look at it as an exegesis of how the United States, through its willingness to take immediate aggressive action, can exacerbate tensions among its less powerful allies. This exuberance can breed resentment among America's partners, but often, Washington doesn't care, because, well, at least we ain't chicken.
Hmmm ... I'm intrigued. This appears to be a subtle indictment of the idealpolitik that occasionally governs American foreign policy. After all, Ray is trying to "think of the most harmless thing ... something that could never destroy us." Naturally, this leads to the creation of an entity that causes his paranormal colleagues to be "terrified beyond the capacity for rational thought." Think of this as a potential metaphor of both liberal and neoconservative enthusiasm for democracy promotion. Sure, it sounds good in your head, but then you see who winds up doing well in the post-Arab Spring political environment, it's easy to lose the capacity for rational choice.
Ha, I bet you think you've been rickrolled. Think again! Rick Astley smartly presaged one of the central dilemmas of America's post-Cold War foreign policy: how do you get nervous allies to believe that the United States will honor its overseas obligations? You have to
have attractive bleach-blonde back-up singers reassure them that "a full commitment's what I'm thinking of" and that "you'll never get this from any other guy." You have to pledge, repeatedly, that America is "never gonna give you up, never gonna let you down." Furthermore, the United States is "never gonna run around and desert you." This kind of reassurance mechanism, done with the proper tone and in harmony with other voices, can make even the wariest of allies vault over political barriers and do backflips in celebration of their alliances with the United States.
Steven suggests that, at a minimum, this explains public discourse on grand strategy, and he has a point. On the one hand, you have an angry public that appears to be willing to fabricate evidence to justify taking aggressive action. On the other hand, you have elites that reject the absence of any logic to justify action. Instrad, they rely on their own galactically stupid set of axioms to guide their thinking.
Sure, the song is an obvious choice, but as he notes, it was no accident that he chose this version. The joyful version makes light of America's exuberance for all things American. That's not the point of this clip -- it suggests the dark side of American exceptionalism, the burden that the United States faces as it tries to preserve global order in a world gone amok by odd, tacit alliances between terrorists and rogue states.
In less than three seconds, this clip hints at a myriad number of rich textual interpretations. Does the dog represent what happens when force is used, dragging the rest of the country along? Or, perhaps the canine symbolizes the big influence of small allies. Actors that the United States thinks it has under its thumb are actually driving foreign policy more than you would think. Without question, however, critics of the Obama administration would conclude that this clip is the definitive explication of the perils that come with "leading from behind."
Like most of these seemingly short clips, Wueger's submission works on two levels. On the one hand, it demonstrates the ways in which hegemonic power allows some actors to be able to pursue policies that small actors simply cannot. In this comparison, this clip reminds the viewer of the many global public goods that a hegemonic actor might feel obligated to provide. Compare Bus 62 with the U.S. Navy after the 2004 tsunami, for example. On the other hand, hegemonic power can also have unanticipated negative externalities. Sure, Bus 62 simply plows through the barrier. However, it does so without helping the other people stuck in traffic, and, like a boss, nearly plows over the person in the way. A cautionary tale about the uses and possible abuses of power.
OK, readers, what are your suggestions?
I could point to full-blown reports, news stories, or portentious weather forecasts, but American residents already know the truth -- Thanksgiving travel is an ordeal. Traffic jams, crowded flights -- it seems everyone is trying to get somewhere in the days before Turkey Day.
With the general mantra of "hurry up and
place your hands in a surrender position wait" governing these next 36 hours, I thought it would be worth considering how a better appreciation of the tools of stateraft might help those of you on the road to avoid unnecessary frustrations.
Let's say that another actor -- which we'll call the target -- is pursuing a course of action that conflicts with your interests in world politics. This presumably means that all your attempts to avoid this clash of interests in the first place have failed. What are your options in developing a policy response?
Well, there's always the denial option -- physically preventing the target from doing the thing that is bothering you. Of course, denial often requires the overpowering, sustained use of force, and therefore is massively expensive. Very few actors have this option available to them.
If denial is not possible, another possibility is compellence. In this case, the goal is to punish the target such that it recalculates the costs and benefits of doing what it is doing and acquiesces to you. While less costly than denial, punishing the target will often involve punishing yourself, albeit not as severely. Some actors possess this option, but its success rate is far from guaranteed
Compellence and denial sound very coercive -- what about inducements? Surely the most efficient way to alter the target's behavior is to buy them off! Not so fast -- sometimes the price is extraordinarily steep. Sometimes the target doesn't want to be thought of as for sale. And sometimes the target might con you.
There's always the possibility of persuasion -- using sweet reason to get the target to reconsider their motives and reverse their actions. Of course, what seems eminently reasonable to you might not look so smart to the target, so this is hardly a surefire recipe for success.
Finally, one should always consider acceptance -- allowing that the costs of trying to change the target's behavior far outweigh the costs of adjusting to the target's behavior. Intuitively, this is a very frustrating outcome -- but if you lack the capability or the budget to pursue the other options, then it still might be the best course of action.
What, you might ask, does this have to do with Thanksgiving travel? Quite a lot, actually. Let's say you're stuck in a traffic jam on I-95, or you're on a plane with a crying toddler sitting next to you. The natural instinct is to declare that the situation is "unacceptable" and that "failure is not an option." All well and good, but let's run through our list of generic policy options and see what's feasible if you're, say, stuck in a traffic jam:
1) Denial: If you're on the road, sure, you could use RPGs to blast a hole through the traffic. That would require an awful lot of them, however, and I hear they're expensive and illegal to use. Good luck having enough of them to force your way through the tri-state area.
2) Compellence: Lot of drivers seem to believe that there are forms of punishment that could be pursued: constant horn-honking, hanging right on someone's bumper, and so forth. This can work with a few drivers, but more often than not it simply creates reciprocal bellicose behavior/minor fender-benders/West Coast shootings by the targets.
3) Inducements: The proffering of inducements on clogged interstates is exceptionally rare, for two reasons. First, what can be offered? Snacks? Drinks? A video player? These are all exhaustible resources -- so in a traffic jam, this will only get you a few car lengths ahead.
4) Persuasion: As Tom Vanderbilt so wonderfully explained in Traffic, communication across cars is difficult. There's that horn, and of course gesticulations with one's fingers can also often be used. Neither of these really persuades, however.
Unfortunately, but logically, this leads us to acceptance as the best approach to handling Thanksgiving traffic jams. It's the best of a bad set of policy options -- much like modern-day statecraft.
[What about the crying toddler on the plane?--ed. Oh, then this metaphor works even better -- crying toddlers are the uncontrollable rogue states of travel. The parent could try denial, but suffocating children still carries serious legal penalties in most states. Compellence is popular, except if the idea is to get a screaming child to stop screaming, punishment isn't really going to work well. Inducements -- "here, have some chocolate!" -- can work, but the child quickly figures out the associated moral hazard and has an incentive to act out again to get more inducements later in the flight. Using persuasion on crying children is something that non-parents are convinced will work -- until the moment they become parents themselves and realize their own utter stupidity. No, if a child is bawling uncontrollably during a flight, it's not because the parent is derelict in their parenting -- it's because they've already exhausted the first four policy options and have no recourse but acceptance.]
Safe and sane travels to one and all!
[NOTE: The following is a public service message from the hard-working team at FP Magazine to the policy wonks and market analysts inside the Beltway--ed.]
Has this happened to you in 2011? You're stressed out from a long day of reading/writing/number crunching/contingency planning and you're looking to unwind and enjoy yourself. Then you see the latest announcement of a European summit meeting and proclamations of a breakthrough deal that will resolve the plight of the Greek economy, the fragile state of European banks, and the perilous credit rating of southern Mediterranean countries.
As you see stocks rise, credit markets soar, and the euro appreciate, the euro-optimism becomes intoxicating. Pretty soon, the euro-giddiness starts to get to you. You start to tweet things like, "the corner has been turned," post on Facebook that, "it's time to Europarty!!" and talk up the metric system again. Nicolas Sarkozy looks like the brilliant progenitor of grand ideas and grand summits, and Angela Merkel is the shrewd politician who made the bankers blink.
After a few hours or so of this, all the problems in the world look eminently solvable. In your head, you've devised brilliant, intricate plans that solve the Israeli/Palestinian peace process, the India/Pakistan enduring rivalry, and the BCS college football rankings. Before you know it, you've organized and presented a talk in which you provide the Mother of All Powerpoint Presentations to Solving Global Problems, charging the entire, catered affair to the Brookings Institution.
Beware!! You are a victim of Eurogoggles. As the Economist will observe, "in the light of day, the holes in the rescue plan are plain to see." Both AFP and Bloomberg will point out that the policy euphoria has faded the next day. It will turn out that details are left unexplained. The size of the bailout package, which looked massive the night before, will prove to be a limp, unsatisfying half-measure the next day. The bank rescue fund and the Greek deal remain incomplete. All you'll be left with is that vague sense of self-loathing at having been suckered again, and a strem of angry voice-mail messages from a DC think tank. The walk of shame to your water-cooler the next day, in which co-workers mock your tweets of the night before, will be humiliating.
Eurogoggles -- don't let it happen to you or your colleagues.
The Official Blog Son and I were lucky enough to catch Team USA's thrilling come-from-behind victory over Brazil in the FIFA Women's World Cup. It was a great and controversial game, sure to be replayed on ESPN Classic for years to come. It also got me to thinking about how prominent thinkers and writers about world politics would use the game as a hook for their foreign affairs columns and op-eds this week. Here are their opening paragraphs:
I was quaffing hearty German pilsners with FIFA President Sepp Blatter in a luxury box in Dresden's Glücksgas Stadium (try the bratwurst!!) when he said something that hit me like a thunderbolt: "I can't understand why there's so much demand for video replay in soccer. You know, there is no instant replay in the real world." And really, that's what the global economy is like -- a fast-speed, arcing bullet of a free kick with no time to press the pause button. You have to use every part of your being -- your legs, your head, though admittedly not your arms -- just to keep pace.
Watching the thrilling run of the Americans leading up to Abby Wambach's header, I was struck by the complex, free-flowing sequence of passes that got the ball from the American end to Megan Rapinoe's left foot. It was such a seamless, interlaced network of exchanges -- dare I call it a web of them? -- that moved the ball forward. As the passes moved from one player to another, I bet social networking technologies moved even faster, alerting Americans that a Big Moment was about to happen. In winning, the United States showed the power of webbed networks -- or is it networked webs? -- yet again.
All of the Western media will focus on the "theatrics" of the USA-Brazil game, but it doesn't matter. This was an intramural match between Western Hemisphere teams, which means it was irrelevant. Japan's stunning upset of host Germany in the quarterfinals is the real story of this World Cup, yet another signal of how the one remaining Asian team will leave the three "Western" teams still alive in the dust.
This was an example of American exceptionalism and American will to power at its finest. Battling a set of rules and referees that were clearly anti-American in their effect, the noble U.S. side displayed dogged determination and grit, vanquishing their Brazilian counterparts. The only black mark on the U.S. side was the timidity of the U.S. coach Pia Sundhage in obeying FIFA's absurd and corrupt rules. Sundhage, from that socialist bastion of meek multilateralism that is Sweden, adhered to the letter of FIFA law in pulling Rachel Buehler after she was "red-carded." A true American coach would have instead followed the spirit of the law and sent an 11th player onto the pitch in place of the unjustly accused Buehler.
Americans will thump their chests, display their brassy jingoism, and bray to the heavens about how the refereeing in this game was "unfair" or "ridiculous." They'll claim that the referee's red card of Buehler and mandated do-over of the penalty kick during regular time was "anti-American." They'll overlook the fact that the Australian ref could have midfielder Carli Lloyd off the field for a flagrant, deliberate handball but didn't. They'll overlook the granting of a re-kick for U.S. player Shannon Boxx during the penalty kick phase. They'll overlook the aesthetic beauty of Brazilian star Marta's soccer artistry. They'll overlook the arrogance of U.S. goalkeeper Hope Solo -- a perfect American name if there ever was one -- as she had the audacity to question the ref (if the officials weren't so obviously in Corporate America's back pocket, Solo would have been red-carded). They'll overlook the fact that the extra half-hour of play insidiously stacked the deck for the Americans, rewarding their better conditioning against the poorer and put-upon Brazilians. They'll overlook the 158 other things that I will now lay out in excruciating detail. Only when WikiLeaks focuses its might on FIFA will the soccer world be more just.
The sweltering heat in Dresden clearly began to affect the crowd. They booed the Brazilian star Marta with all of her touches. You could sense a growing danger as the boos grew louder. The German fans, upset at seeing their own team get knocked out, had clearly decided to side with their tribal allies. It is likely that only Wambach's header prevented what would have been an unruly German/American riot, breaking down the tenuous social fabric. The riot would have started in the heart of Europe, but I have every confidence that, before long, the unrest would have spread to Halford MacKinder's heartland in the middle of Eurasia.
This match crystallized both the promise and the peril of the rising BRIC powers as they assume more responsibilities in global governance. The game put FIFA's many problems -- bad decision-making, a lack of transparency about the bad decision-making -- on full display. Even after the match, FIFA never explained why Brazil was awarded a re-kick following Solo's block of Christina's penalty kick. Instead of constructively seeking reform, however, the Brazilian side tried to free-ride off of FIFA's flaws. Marta constantly whined to the refs about the lack of Brazilian free kicks. Defender Erkia flopped onto the pitch in a transparent effort to stall play. Unless and until the BRIC countries learn to play cooperatively with the fading West, global governance will look as effective as FIFA's efforts to block corruption. Which is to say, not effective at all.
Readers are warmly encouraged to offer their own suggestions in the comments.
[Note to readers: we are pleased to report that Dan bout with Friedman's Disease appears to have passed quickly. Due to difficulties with accessing the FP site, however, he has sent us his latest blog post via Gmail. Given recent accusations, we can neither confirm nor deny that this post has been edited or altered in any way, which we print below without alteration. Enjoy the read!--ed.]
I cannot emphasize how hospitable and gracious my Chinese hosts have been at this conference. From the excellent logistics to the delicious food that I have consumed in massive quantities in a perfect demonstration of excessive American consumption, I have been made to feel like an honored guest.
The only annoyance, not surprisingly, is accessing the Internet which is so filled with sedition and lies with respect to the People's Republic of China. It's one thing to read about how ordinary Chinese are blocked from accessing Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and various Wikipedia pages out of concern than members of U.S. Congress do not use these pernicious social media to send lascivious photos to vulnerable, unsuspecting Chinese women, but it's another thing to confront that fact in person.
The odd thing is the capricious but nevertheless wise nature of the censorship. I can access the Financial Times but not the Economist because the latter is written in a much more condescending, supercilious tone. Even with baseball sites, for several days I could access Baseball Prospectus but not FanGraphs because the latter site's Wins Above Replacement statistic relies on dodgy defensive metrics.
In the end, the irony is that many English-language news-sites are accessible -- it's the social networking sites that are unavailable to encourage our students to pay attention in class unlike their decadent western counterparts.
With China's Internet entrepreneurs being forced to go Red so as to crush all treacherous curs, the Great Fireweall won't be going away anytime soon. Then again, from the Chinese Communist Party's (CCP) perspective, in makes some sense. The repeated outbreaks of social unrest over the past decade -- or the past week -- leaves the CCP with no choice but to continue its censorship policies if it wants to keep its hold on power and guide Chinese citizens towards a peaceful, harmonious world with Chinese characteristics.
It is for this reason that I look forward to returning to the United States so that I might rot my midget brain even further with more blog posts about stupid, bourgeois zombie-themed news.
[Note to readers: Because Dan was upgraded to business class on his trip to Beijing, he was exposed to a serious viral infection in the food called metaphoricus overloadus, known more commonly as Friedman's Disease. Rest assured, it is far from fatal -- it usually passes after 24 hours of no travel. As near as we can determine, all the facts in the blog post below are accurate. While suffering from Friedman's Disease, however, side effects do include rapid-fire, over-the-top metaphors. Remember: You've been warned!! --ed.]
To truly understand the phenomenon that is China, you need to fly into Beijing's airport and then try to get into the city. That's it; that's all you need. Just that adventure alone will tell you all you need to know about the contradictions of the Middle Kingdom.
First you enter a glittering, modern airport, with helpful signs in Mandarin and English. It's sheer scale and modernity telegraphs the ways in which China has already entered modernity. The monorail from my terminal to baggage claim was a pointed reminder of how much the United States lags behind in infrastructure investment in recent years.
And yet, there's the traffic. Summer in Beijing is a confusing miasma of traffic and smog and traffic. As my compatriot and I clambered into our taxi at Beijing's immaculately clean and modern airport, we knew that the ride to the hotel could take anywhere from 30 to 90 minutes depending on the traffic. Just as we Americans don't know when exactly China will catch up, the Chinese are not sure how long it will take to get there.
We might like to think that driving in a New York City taxi is as exciting as a carnival ride, but that's nothing compared with a taxi ride on a Beijing superhighway. In New York, there's always that sense that, in the end, the taxi driver won't risk an actual collision. On the road to Beijing, however, I witnessed at least two last-minute swerves and road rage that would have made Los Angelenos blush. Using an accent that an old-style New York cabbie would have admired in its sheer swarthiness, my cabbie kept honking for at least two minutes after a car viciously cut him off.
It's a fantastical engineering problem, getting so many cars and motorcycles and trucks and buses to merge and move in the same direction. And that's when it hit me like a thunderbolt -- China itself is like this superhighway. It's massive in size, 10 lanes easy. It's filled with an array of vehicles determined to get ahead. The problem is that when you combine all the vehicles together, the real possibility of a two-week-long traffic jam in which everyone wants to go somewhere but nobody gets anywhere is clearly a possibility. Predicting China's future is like predicting the traffic: You know there will be some stop-and-go, but you just don't know how much of it there will be.
When we got to the hotel, I paid my cabbie and he signaled that I owed him four more yuan. I was suffering from ATM disease, so I took out a single U.S. dollar bill and a 100-yuan note, looked at him, and said, "You choose." He paused, and then took the yuan note and made the necessary change. Clearly, all of us participating in this hyperaccelerated, globalized economy are going to have to make the necessary change soon enough.
Andrew Sullivan has wrung a lot of blog mileage from his myriad awards for stupid/extreme statements found in the news. In that spirit, as well as an effort to
keep my sanity extract some humor from the 2012 presidential campaign, I hereby announce the Donald Trump Award for Assertive Ignorance in World Politics -- known on the street as the Trumpies.
Named in honor of the erstwhile presidential candidate who really likes to name things after himself, the award can be earned by either a presidential candidate or one of his/her foreign policy minions. To score a Trumpie nomination, the person must satisfy two criteria during a single statement or exchange. First, the nominee must display a breathtaking ignorance of some bailiwick of American foreign policy or world politics. Second, the nominee must do this while simultaneously demonstrating supreme confidence in the factual and/or analytical rightness of their statement.
This second criteria is important. I won't begrudge a candidate who demonstrates uncertainty or befuddlement on a foreign policy question. World politics is a vast canvass, and as I've said before, expecting a candidate to demonstrate foreign policy omniscence is a fool's errand. Similarly, I'm not looking for your garden-variety gaffe or misstatement that just indicates a candidate is sleep-deprived. No, the key here is that a candidate is both too ignorant and too proud to admit or even recognize their own ignorance.
During the brief, shining comedy moment that was Trump's proto-campaign, he managed to demonstrate this kind of cocksure ignorance on multiple occasions. With his decision to bow out of the race, however, the field for the Trumpies is now wide open and your humble blogger will accept nominations from readers and commenters. The actual award, of course, will not be announced until after Election Day 2012.
To get the ball rolling, the first Trumpie nomination goes to GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain, for his comments on Israel and Palestine on Fox News Sunday:
Now, let's be clear about what's so funny about this clip. Cain's first answer, on offering "nothing" to the Palestinians to make peace, is not what's funny. It's reckless and extreme, but Cain's position possesses some internal logical coherence. It's the combination of this answer with his observation that the Palestinian "right of return" should be negotiated that makes the clip so funny (get a Palestinian negotiator good and liquored up -- hell, just have hummus with them -- and they'll acknpwledge that the right of return is one of the things that they'll have to give up in any two-state peace deal). The combination of these two positions boils down to Cain favoring a single state encompassing both Israelis and Palestinians, and I'm pretty sure he doesn't favor that.
The gaffe was significant enough for the Cain campaign to issue a "clarification of these remarks," which is always a good indicator that a Trumpie nomination has been scored.
Congratulations to Mr. Cain for the inaugural Trumpie nomination! The foreign policy analyst in me hopes that these nominations will be few and far between. The politics junkie, surveying the prospective field, is confident that there will be many more nominations to come over the next 18 months.
The field is now open for nominations -- submit yours in the comments or via-e-mail, and if the strict Trumpie criteria are met, you will see it in a future blog post.
UPDATE: Oh, if Trump re-enters the race, there's gonna be a lot of nominations. Bravo to the Donald for trying to preserve the quality of his brand.
ANOTHER UPDATE: See if Cain had simply admitted to Wallace that he didn't know what "the right to return" meant, he'd have avoided the Trumpie nomination. Instead, he admitted it to Sean Hannity the next day.
Yesterday Rush Limbaugh asked a former U.S. serviceman who called into his show a totally-hypothetical-and-not-in-any-way-designed-to-impugn-the-patriotism-of-the-sitting-president-kind of question:
Are you aware of any military contingency plans for a president who might not be your prototypical pro-America president? Are there contingency plans to deal with a president who may not believe that the United States is the solution to the world's problems?
Marc Ambinder provides both a succinct ("No.") and a more detailed answer. Now, some readers might take umbrage at the partisanship of Limbaugh's question, but I think it dovetails nicely with some recent research interests of my own. In particular: what would happen if the president was under threat of turning into a zombie?
Let's break this down into two phases: A) a president who's been bitten but is still clearly human; and B) an undead POTUS.
The first situation could distort the government's initial policy responses. After all, the actors with the most immediate stake in sabotaging any attack on zombies are those who have been bitten by zombies, and the human relatives of zombies. By definition, the moment humans are bitten, they will inevitably become zombies. This fact can dramatically alter their preferences. This change of mind occurs in many zombie films. In George Romero's Land of the Dead (2005), the character of Cholo has the most militant anti-zombie attitude at the outset of the film. After he is bitten, however, he decides that he wants to "see how the other half lives." In Peter Jackson's Dead Alive (2002), as well as Romero's Dawn of the Dead (1978) and Survival of the Dead (2010), family members keep their undead relatives hidden from security and paramilitary forces.
Clearly, soon-to-be-ghouls and their relatives can hamper policy implementation. One would expect a soon-to-be POTUS to order research efforts on finding a cure rather than focusing on prevention, for example.
If the situation is unclear when the president is infected, all hell breaks lose once he becomes a member of the differently animated. The law here is extremely murky. From Ambinder:
The Presidential Succession Act of 1947 spells out a procedure. Let's look at 3 USC 19, subsection "E." We're dealing with a situation where there is no President, no Vice President, no Speaker of the House and no President Pro Tempore. The law then appoints the Secretary of State as President until either the end of the current president's term in office OR someone higher in the chain of command suddenly re-appears or recovers from injuries and is able to discharge the powers of office. (The Secretary of Defense is sixth in line, after the Secretary of the Treasury.)
This seems clear: If it's not clear, after some sort of decapitation attack, whether the President, the Vice President or the two Congressional successors are alive, or if they're all alive but disabled, then the Cabinet secretaries become acting President -- until and unless a "prior entitled individual" is able to act.
Let's say that the POTUS, the VPOTUS, the Speaker and the President Pro Tempore are all injured; only the Vice President recovers. As soon as that person is eligible, he or she can "bump" the Acting President aside whenever he wants....
The problem is that, in a catastrophic emergency, the people who need to know who is in charge might not have the resources to find this out immediately. These people are, in particular, the Secret Service, and the folks who execute lawful orders from the National Command Authority (which is another name for the commander in chief's executive powers).
Well, then what the hell happens if a president is bitten by a zombie, dies, and then becomes a zombie? It seems to me that the Presidential Succession Act of 1947 doesn't cover this contingency.
There is also the question of the conflicting bureaucratic imperatives that some organizations, like the Secret Service, would face in this scenario. For example, in Brian Keene's The Rising, the U.S. government falls apart almost immediately. A key trigger was the Secret Service's difficulties altering their In divining bureaucratic preferences, where you stand depends on who you eat. standard operating procedures. After the president turned into a zombie, he started devouring the secretary of state. As a result, "one Secret Service agent drew his weapon on the undead Commander-in-Chief, and a second agent immediately shot the first."
I think the lesson to draw here for Rush and others is that in divining both bureaucratic and presidential preferences, where you stand depends on who you eat.
I hereby applaud Rush for being brave enough to highlight this troublesome question during a week when nothing else is going on in the world.
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.
Rest assured, dear readers, I'm hard at work cobbling together the 2010 Albies. It's a Friday, however, which means there's a preternatural instinct to look for something amusing to blog about. Unfortunately, today's payroll figures don't cut it.
Fortunately, there's a golden rule for humor in world politics: sports + global governance = comedy gold. And sure enough, today FIFA president Sepp Blatter didn't disappoint:
FIFA President Sepp Blatter criticized the International Olympic Committee on Friday while defending his own organization against corruption allegations, saying the Olympic body handles its finances "like a housewife."
Mr. Blatter, a member of the IOC since 1999, said FIFA was more transparent than the IOC, and backtracked on plans to create an anti-corruption commission.
"Our accounts are open to everyone. ... We've [done] it since I'm the president. It wasn't done before," Mr. Blatter said in Qatar, where he is attending the Asian Cup. "The IOC does it like a housewife. She receives some money and she spends some money."
Mr. Blatter also said the IOC "has no transparency," and that any transparency was left to the Olympic-sanctioned sports themselves....
Mr. Blatter's criticism of the IOC comes as FIFA, soccer's governing body, faces an IOC probe.
The IOC ethics commission is studying evidence provided by the BBC after it broadcast allegations that FIFA officials—some with Olympic connections —took kickbacks from the soccer body's former marketing partner in the 1990s.
The story does a decent job of highlighting the absurdities of Blatter's claims, but the New York Times' Rob Hughes details the precise absurdities regarding FIFA's vote to have Qatar host the 2022 World Cup:
The vote for Qatar was jaw-dropping.
Only after the decision did FIFA executives, including Blatter, give credence to the notion that the tournament might have to be switched from June to January. It seems that FIFA is having second thoughts. Having accepted Qatar’s promise to build a dozen stadiums air-conditioned, the fear is that players or spectators could fry in the desert heat in summer.
Franz Beckenbauer, a former player who is about to give up his seat on the FIFA panel, was the first to suggest the switch. But FIFA’s own general secretary said it could not be right to vote for a tournament in June/July, then arbitrarily move it to another time of year. Blatter, on a visit to Qatar, however, contradicted him.
Bloomberg's Tariq Panja explains the problems with Blatter's proposal to switch the time of year for the Cup:
If the tournament is moved, major European competitions like England’s Premier League, Spain's La Liga and Italy's Serie A would be severely disrupted. Those leagues would need to shut down for about two months and a longer-than-normal international break during the season may lead to more injuries.
“That would demand a complete re-organisation of the whole world’s fixtures and I cannot see that happening,” Arsenal coach Arsene Wenger said at a press conference today. “If all the championships are not going from March until November and you re-organise and then the dead (off) season would be in December.”
Here's a good and simple rule of thumb: if an international sports organization has to choose where to host a high-profile, touist-generating moneymaker of an athletic competition, then it's corrupt.
The hard-working staff here at the blog would like to thank Sepp Blatter for managing to live up to the comic presence that his very name suggests. Way to go, Sepp!
I remember a few things about the day of the September 11th attacks. I remember being at Heathrow and wondering why they weren't announcing the gate for my flight. I remember being puzzled why I couldn't complete a transatlantic call when my flight appeared to be delayed. I remember my wife telling me what happened. I remember cursing the fact that I was marooned on another continent on one of the few days when my chosen specialty might have been of some practical use for my wife. And I remember, at some point, telling her, "it could have been worse."
Because it could have been. United 93 could have hit its intended target instead of having the passengers and crew overwhelm the terrorists. Al Qaeda could have had a second wave of attacks planned. With some imagnation, al Qaeda could have killed a lot more people on that day.
The other thing I remember in reaction to that day was when it was OK to be funny again. Many pop culture historians will likely point to the first Saturday Night Live episode featuring Rudy Giuliani -- except that wasn't funny. Slightly more hip pop culture historians might point to the monologues of either David Letterman or Jon Stewart -- except they weren't funny either.
No, the first thing that made me laugh after the terrorist attacks -- and sustained my hope for America -- was The Onion's first post-9/11 issue, from the headline "HOLY F&#KING S*&T" on the front to the television schedule in the back (On NBC at 10: "America's Time Of Trial: Who F**king Wants Some? You? Do You? How 'Bout You?"). Consider just the following list of headlines:
Rest Of Country Temporarily Feels Deep Affection For New York
Massive Attack On Pentagon Page 14 News
And finally, the headline that has defined U.S. foreign policy debates for the past nine years:
Any country with the capacity for that much self-lacerating humor will be OK in the long run. So I mean this with all sincerity: that issue of The Onion made me proud to be an American.
Well, that and this Jack Shafer column on why Ground Zero is not hallowed ground.
Time to catch up on recent events in the zombieverse:
1) Data point #527 that zombies are moving up to the top of the cultural zeitgeist: AMC will be airing a televised version of Robert Kirkman's The Walking Dead comic book series. The Comic-Con trailer looks pretty cool.
2) In an effort to allay rising fears of a zombie apocalypse, Cracked proffers Seven Scientific Reasons a Zombie Attack Would Quickly Fail. They're trying to be on the side of the angels with this piece, but I gotta say that I'm pretty unconvinced by most of their arguments. They are correct to point out the myriad ways in which zombies are vulnerable to the elements, animals, and firearms. What they don't talk about is that zombies are not likely to be as seriously affected by these countervailing effects as humans with, well, pain receptors. It doesn't matter if a zombie destroys itself trying to get at live human flesh. What matters is that by having this single-minded pursuit, they're pretty likely to succeed, guaranteeing that the zombie race can replicate even as individual zombies decay.
The oldest evidence of a fungus that turns ants into zombies and makes them stagger to their death has been uncovered by scientists....
The finding shows that parasitic fungi evolved the ability to control the creatures they infect in the distant past, even before the rise of the Himalayas.
The fungus, which is alive and well in forests today, latches on to carpenter ants as they cross the forest floor before returning to their nests high in the canopy.
The fungus grows inside the ants and releases chemicals that affect their behaviour. Some ants leave the colony and wander off to find fresh leaves on their own, while others fall from their tree-top havens on to leaves nearer the ground.
The final stage of the parasitic death sentence is the most macabre. In their last hours, infected ants move towards the underside of the leaf they are on and lock their mandibles in a "death grip" around the central vein, immobilising themselves and locking the fungus in position.
I hate to break it to tem, but this is hardly the first zombie insect story -- Greg Laden at ScienceBlogs was all over the zombie insect question earlier this summer. It turns out that zombie hornets might exist, which sound way scarier to me than zombie ants.
These creatures are more like the "old school" Haitian zombies, in which some evil master controls them, than the flesh-eating ghouls of post-Romero zombie cinema that have been my primary concern. Still, Current Intelligence's Adam Weinstein is freaked out:
A plant had one of nature's most industrial animals do its physical bidding, somehow bringing the neurons and synapses to heel in a coherent, productive way. The liberal arts major in me is mystified and repelled.
The armchair strategist in me thinks: How can our enemies use that?
I'm no chemical or biological weapons expert, so if you are, tell me if I'm crazy, please: Can you imagine a future powder solution, not unlike weaponizable anthrax or botulinum agent, that spreads a fungus capable of commandeering a human brain? Could particular strains be developed to direct hosts into this behavior or that: jumping out of windows, refusing to eat, choking strangers out? Could it even be used to turn reasonable, free-thinking individuals into PBIEDs -- that is, suicide bombers?
Well.... first of all, I refuse on principle to believe that an M. Night Shyamalan movie premise could ever constitute a real threat.
Second of all, even if I violated that principle, I'm not sure that this is as serious a threat as the flesh-eating zombie. What makes that strain particularly virulent is its ability to replicate itself. These kind of zombies, at best, render themselves as total slaves. What they can't seem to do is spread the zombie virus beyond themselves to other agents.
At worst, this kind of bioweapon could, in theory, be used to create a giant army of zombies. Lacking free will, however, they'd be far less effective than the droids in The Phantom Menace.
I think that's all the zombie news this week. More updates as warranted.
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.
Although the Jedis did assist the Rebel Alliance in overthrowing a tyrannical emperor, it's clear that the Knights were originally setup to enforce the Galactic Senate's big government agenda.
I must say, I find Jesse's lack of faith disturbing. Based on the Star Wars films, we know very little about the Galactic Senate's pre-Phantom Menace agenda, but we do know that Chancellor Valorum is a pretty weak leader. We also know Palpatine's designs. Upon becoming chancellor, he vows to put down the separatists, raises a Grand Army of the Republic, stays in power well beyond the expected number of years/terms, and finally reorganizes the Republic into the First Galactic Empire. That's as big of a big government agenda as you're going to get.
Are the Jedi big government advocates? That's unclear. I think it would be more accurate to describe them as cartelistic -- they refuse to permit a free market in learning the ways of the Force. After all, the Jedi Council's initial inclination is not to train Anakin Skywalker despite his obvious talents, using some BS about fear as a cover. Only when Qui-Gon threatens to go rogue do they relent. The Council does not inform the Senate that their ability to detect the force has been compromised. They're reluctant to expand their assigned tasks -- they're keepers of the peace, not soldiers. Just as clearly, their anti-competitive policies weakened their own productivity, given the fact that they were unable to detect a Sith Lord walking around right under their noses for over a decade.
So, were the Jedi perfect agents of liberty? No, probably not. But neither were they handmaidens to the greatest concentration of state power in galactic history.
P.S. Beyond George Lucas' rather bigoted portrayal of anything involving commerce, another source of libertarian resentment against the Jedi might be their lack of respect for property rights. If the Force is an energy field created by all living things, then why the hell to the Jedi get to exploit it without compensating the creatures who create it in the first place? If you think about the Jedi as the Guardians of the Republic, this might sound absurd. Replace "Guardians of the Republic" with "rapacious strip-miners of primordial energy," however, and suddenly they don't look so good. At least the Sith stay small in number, so the externality problem is kept to a minimum.
Daniel W. Drezner is professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.