Archive | July, 2007

That’s Enterntainment

21 Jul

A little while ago, Entertainment Weekly did an interview with House‘s Robert Sean Leonard.  Besides the fact that both House and Leonard are great, the interview was a nice window into the world of a serious actor who loves his work, but has neither the inclination nor the ambition to be über-famous.  I found this story especially enlightening:

I once did a movie with Kiefer Sutherland called Ground Control, about air traffic controllers. We had like four directors. At one point, I walked in, and he was directing. I said, ”What are you doing?” He said, ”Richard quit, I don’t know.” I remember Kiefer saying, ”Man, this is like one of those movies where you go home to your hotel and you’re exhausted, it’s three in the morning, you turn on the TV and the movie you’re shooting is actually on Showtime.” You think, ”I’m still shooting this! And they sold it to Showtime!”

Poetry has some uniquely lame trade-offs, but it’s still nice to see that even actors who have “made it,” still have to put up with this sort of crap.

Colleges That Change Lives (Wrecking Ball Edition)

13 Jul

I know my alma mater, Allegheny College, likes to promote itself as one of the “colleges that change lives,” but I don’t think this is quite what they had in mind:

Well, at least it made CNN.

Just Don’t Tell Ben Bernanke

12 Jul

Via Andrew Sullivan, a roundup of a minor blogosphere debate about FDR and the more, uh, “creative” ways Roosevelt made economic policy.  Pejman Yousefzadeh of Redstate asserts that the relevant lesson to be drawn from this is  to beware of an unchecked Executive:

I don’t care how long ago this pathetic and frightening policymaking fiasco occurred. It is appalling that it ever happened and in order to make sure that no President ever again thinks of arrogating unto himself/herself the authority to engage in command-and-control decisions concerning issues best left to the market, it behooves those of us who actually are serious about policymaking and historical lessons attendant to policymaking to point out such travesties for the historical record . . . the better to avoid such trainwrecks in the future.

I’ll just point out that the sort of “policy making fiasco” Yousefzadeh is talking about is avoided by investing that power in the Federal Reserve.  As Kevin Drum noted, the idea of messing with the price of gold was a way of controlling inflation, a task we now invest in the Fed Chairman.  There really isn’t any danger of a president going around setting the price of milk and iPods (see: all of the 1990s).  So it’s agreed: markets know more about the economy than the president, so “boo!” to price controls.  Fiscal policy gets left up to an unelected, former Princeton econ professor.  Deal.

Development as Tyranny? or Why Tone Matters

12 Jul

ILLUSTRATION BY MIKE BENNY FOR FPWilliam Easterly has an essay about “Developmentalism” in the latest issue of Foreign Policy in which he ratchets up the rhetoric against Jeffrey Sachs and his institutional kin.  His argument is that IMF/World Bank third-world development policy has become it’s own top-down ideology, unresponsive to the needs or actual conditions of impoverished people in the countries it aims to rebuild.  At least, that’s the crux of his argument.  But much of the article is wrapped in an over-the-top rhetoric and tone, like this introduction:

A dark ideological specter is haunting the world. It is almost as deadly as the tired ideologies of the last century — communism, fascism, and socialism — that failed so miserably. It feeds some of the most dangerous trends of our time, including religious fundamentalism. It is the half-century-old ideology of Developmentalism. And it is thriving.

Comparing bad development projects, unaccountable policy wonks, and wasted funds to fascism and communism is an entertaining level of hyperbole that you can only find in general readership magazines, which I assume is because editors like to unleash this sort of public debate to boost sales (“almost as deadly” is a nice touch that is at once outrageous/open to broad interpretation).  Easterly has some good points to make about on-size-fits-all planning, like the disastrous structural adjustment policies that left a lot of countries worse off in the 1980s (and eventually defaulting on IMF and World Bank loans), but the ill-conceived “bad development policy = ideology” subverts his argument to his attack.  Amartya Sen said it best in his 2006 review of Easterly’s White Man’s Burden in Foreign Affairs:

Empirical evidence of the ineffectiveness of many grand development and poverty-alleviation schemes is undoubtedly worth discussing clearly and honestly, as Easterly does when he is not too busy looking for an aphorism so crushing that it will leave his targets gasping for breath.

I’m also confused by his continuing animosity directed at Jeffrey Sachs (whose The End of Poverty has been sitting on my shelf for months, and I swear I’ll get around to reading any day now).  I think Dan Drezner has it about right on the Sachs theory of political change; I have a hard time seeing Sachs’s “poverty trap” conception as less unbending ideology than cognitive bias born of Sachs’s political naivete and high IQ, which sees problems and their solutions as both equally apparent to everyone.  Easterly’s message would be better served if he didn’t think the way to hold people accountable was by impaling them on rhetorical pikes–or analogical flights of fancy.

ILLUSTRATION BY MIKE BENNY FOR FP

A Tale of Two Matts

10 Jul

Michael van der Galiën recently posted an insightful meditation on the difference between the analysis of a political scientist and a “political junkie”:

For Political Scientists, however, we have always been here before. Every new political issue can be related to older issues. You don’t have to take anything at its face value, because chances are it is in reality an older controversy dressed up in new clothes. And, as much as it pains me to repudiate the me of 15 years ago, I can see a lot of merit in this view. Political junkies always see the world they live in as a “tipping point” (the most overused trope of the last fifty years). Every issue is of epoch making importance, each setback is a “disaster”, and every politician can be categorically labeled as ally, enemy, hero or traitor.

This immediately brought to mind two of the blogs I frequently read, Canadian musician Matthew Good’s blog and Matt Zeitlin’s blog. The differences between the two are an instructive comparison of blogospheric punditry, but not in the way you might think. Depressingly, Matthew Good’s blog is often a bewildering mix of the worst of both worlds, combining the world-changing assuredness of the political junkie with the too grand scope of a freshman political science student. Zeitlin, on the other hand, manages to provide cogent analysis of daily events while keeping his historical wits about him–and he’s only seventeen.

To get a sense of what I’m talking about, here’s a selection of posts from Matt Good and his contributors, with great observations like this one:

Given the fact that the US is, like many other Western plutocracies, a shadow of its former promise, why is it currently deemed near treason to demand the complete reform of government?

I’m disappointed to learn that I no longer live in a liberal democracy, but a country where Microsoft and Wal-Mart determine who runs the country (or perhaps make it a foregone conclusion with their contributions?). As long as I get a free copy of Windows Vista when I go to “fake-vote,” or whatever it is I’m doing in the voting booth¹. This is bad freshman “proof by assertion” mixed with the political junkie’s belief that each action by the Bush administration is irrecoverable and a signal of bloated American imperialism’s impending demise. Good doesn’t say exactly what “the complete reform of government” might mean, and that’s one of his major problems. He often alludes to actions or past events without context or further explanation: Continue reading

What the History Channel Doesn’t Want You to Know

5 Jul


Now that the Fouth is over, we can get back to what is really great about our founding fathers.

Oooooh! Ahhhh!

5 Jul

Was your Fourth of July fireworks display as good as this one?  Bet it didn’t have the sweet commentary.