Tag: blogging (page 2 of 3)

Sting Operations

Maureen Dowd’s op-ed Stung by the Perfect Sting rattled some cages in the blogosphere this week. Laura McKenna calling her a whiner, implying the post was really about her own bad blogger press. Tim Burke claiming she is dissing bloggers by failing to reference our own grand debates over anonymity. Danny being Danny Drezner accusing Dowd of comparing bloggers to muggers. The column seems widely interpreted as a slam against the new media.

I was sorry that none of these posts engaged the actual story in the article, which had almost nothing to do with the blogosphere per se. Part of this is Dowd’s fault: her argument was poorly executed and buried under asinine introspection (we bloggers would never exhibit careless narcissim.) But look past the fluff and at issue is an important and (yes, Tim) timely legal question raised by not one but two rulings just this month: Should a person’s right to anonymous speech shield him/her against defamation suits?*

Anonymous speech is protected by the First Amendment. But defamation is not. So what recourse does a plaintiff have when slandered anonymously? At Digital Media Laywer, David Johnson explains the “chicken and egg” problem this way:

If trial proves that the speaker is liable for defamation, then his anonymity was not entitled to First Amendment protection and should be disclosed. If trial proves that the speaker is not liable for defamation, then his anonymity was entitled to First Amendment and should not be disclosed. However, disclosure of a speaker’s identity is generally required for a court to determine whether his words were defamatory. In other words, you have to disclose his identity to determine whether his identity should be disclosed.

One way around this is the “summary judgment standard” set out in Doe v. Cahill, a 2005 Delaware ruling on whether or not Patrick Cahill, a City Councilman, could obtain the identity of anonymous blogger John Doe for the purposes of a libel suit. Daniel Solove explained the summary judgment standard in a blog post in that year:

In this case, Cahill was a public figure, and to prevail in a defamation lawsuit, he had to prove that (1) Doe made a defamatory statement (damaging to Cahill’s reputation); (2) the statement was concerning Cahill; (3) the statement was published (disseminated to others); (4) others would understand the statement to be defamatory; (5) the statement was false; and (6) Doe made the statement with actual malice (he either knew it was false or acted in reckless disregard of the truth).

Solove criticizes the New York rulingfor using a looser standard in the case referenced by Dowd. The plaintiff Liskula Cohen, arguably also a public figure, had been vilified on an anonymous blog as “skankiest in NYC” and was only required to show her case had merit to convince the court to order that Google reveal the blogger’s identity. But even if they had used the Doe v. Cahill standard it is hard to see how they would not have ruled in Cohen’s favor. The only hangup may have been the requirement that the plaintiff demonstrate a defendant’s “malice” but this would seem rather an unfair hurdle when a defendant’s identity is unknown. Hence the chicken and egg dilemma.

Did the court make the right choice? Should a person’s right to anonymous speech (generally, not just in the blogosphere) protect them against defamation suits if filing the suit essentially requires knowledge of the defendant’s identity?

Dowd’s key argument is: No. She, however, is talking not only about defamation but also about various pernicious forms of cyber-bullying and hate speech as well. (She is also not, of course, opposing anonymous or pseudononymous deliberative argument ala The Federalist Papers; it is a straw man to claim that she has “conflat[ed] and tar[red] all anonymous commentary because some act rudely on the Internet” when in fact she carefully distinguishes constructive pseudonomity from mere character assassination.)

On this, I’m with Dowd. I am an advocate of pseudononymous (and to some extent anonymous) blogging, but I am against mindless slanderous invective for its own sake. It cheapens political deliberation, distracts us from the issues, and sets a bad example for our children. As a commenter wrote over at Copyrights and Campaigns:

“Having read the Federalist Papers, I don’t recall Publius defaming as ‘skanks and hos’ those who disagreed with the adoption of the Constitution.”

My fellow political bloggers are correct to point out that this behavior is also not representative of most anonymous bloggers or commenters. But that’s precisely the reason to agree with Dowd and with the court’s decision. Ultimately, “Anonymous Blogger” Rosemary Port’s defense rested on the claim that no one takes the blogosphere seriously as a source of facts. According to the ruling:

“The Blogger argues that even if the words [‘skank’ and ‘ho’] are capable of a defamatory meaning, ‘the context here negates any impression that a verifiable factual assertion was intended,’ since blogs ‘have evolved as the modern day soapbox for one’s personal opinions,’ by ‘providing an excessively popular medium not only for conveying ideas, but also for mere venting purposes, affording the less outspoken a protected forum for voicing gripes, leveling invective and ranting about anything at all.'”

To the extent that this perception is true (that is, to the extent that bloggers get tarred in the public eye as mindless opinion-spouters) it’s not because of people like Dowd, but because of people like Port who abuse their anonymity to defame others – an act that is in fact not protected by the First Amendment – and then claim this as some kind of moral high ground.

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*The case raises other interesting questions as well. For example: what is defamation? The court found that allegations of sexual promiscuity count, and I would grudgingly agree, though you could have a whole feminist debate about what that signifies. I also think you could argue, though Cohen did not, that this was not simply defamation but a kind of hate speech – in fact, had the blogger turned out to be male, I think we’d be hearing precisely such claims of misogyny – interesting double standard. Also, Rosemary Port has now sued Google for complying with the court’s order – hard to imagine that she has a case, since Google’s terms of use state it will hand over information if required to do so by the government, but as Solove points out perhaps Google was negligent in failing to go to bat for her? Worth watching to see.

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Speaking of Coding


The American Political Science Association is offering a short course at this year’s conference on “Coding the Blogosphere,” which will introduce some new tools for capturing and annotating large text datasets such as those generated by Web 2.0 technologies.

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Branching Out

Faithful Duck readers:

So, I’ve launched a new blog. While I will still be writing on global politics here at The Duck of Minerva from time to time, I wanted another place to comment and brainstorm on business issues, technology, innovation, and other related topics. (Sometimes the 140 characters of Twitter just doesn’t cut it).

As I’ve moved outside of academia my interests have shifted–or more accurately, broadened–to include topics such as business, innovation, technology, and social media. The Duck is really a vehicle for commenting on global politics from an analytical and academic perspective. As such, it really isn’t the venue to talk about new technologies, abstract thoughts on innovation and creativity, or to offer musings on business and the economy on a regular basis.

Please do stop by and add it to your RSS reader of choice.

Hope to see you there.

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Hello, my name is ….

I wrote my college admissions essay to the University of Chicago about a very bad country song (the B-side to a single) called “The Cape,” by Kathy Mattea. It is about a boy who ties a flour sack around his neck as a cape, and keeps jumping off the roof of his house … he “did not know he could not fly, so he did.”

Despite often being guided by a disregard for and desire to abandon traditional order, I found myself incapable of making a substantive post without introducing myself.

So, I guess, first, the basics: my name is Laura Sjoberg. I recently turned 30. I seem to have survived it, despite many friends’ insistence on still calling me 19. I have done some moving around – I grew up in the “redneck Riviera” (Florida District 1, in and around Pensacola), went to college at the University of Chicago (“where fun comes to die”), went to grad school at the University of Southern California (to work Ann Tickner, the greatest advisor ever), went to law school at Boston College while a Harvard Postdoc (paying for it by working at Lee Volvo/Jaguar), then spent a year as a Visiting Assistant Professor of Political Science at Duke while finishing law school at UNC (RTP: where football goes to die), before taking a tenure-track job at Virginia Tech (little known fact: full name is “Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University”) in the fall of 2007, which I am leaving for a post at the University of Florida starting this fall (who says you can’t go home?). I’m building a house there, I think it will stick.

My research: my work is broadly in the area of gender in international security. Currently, I am interested in questions of how gender dynamics influence systemic processes related to interstate conflict. In theory (and if my editor asks, in practice), I am currently writing a book called Gendering Global Conflict: Towards a Feminist Theory of War. I’ve done a fair amount of editing (most recently, a special issue of the journal Security Studies, as well as Gender and International Security: Feminist Perspectives and (with Amy Eckert) Rethinking the 21st Century: ‘New’ Problems, Old Solutions. Currently, I’m editing the Feminist Theory and Gender Studies Section of the International Studies Compendium. When I take time off of professional editing, my main research foci have been: feminist reinterpretations of theories of the causes and nature of war (see Gender, Justice, and the Wars in Iraq, as well as articles in International Studies Quarterly and International Politics) and feminist readings of women’s violence in global politics (including Mothers, Monsters, Whores: Women’s Violence in Global Politics (with Caron Gentry), and articles in International Relations and the Austrian Journal of Political Science). I’ve also (thanks mostly to Hayward Alker) dabbled in issues of methodology and potential interdisciplinary work in geography and IR (including an article in International Studies Review).

My hobbies: Florida Gator football (both of my parents are UF alum, I wore orange and blue diapers, my Chihuahuas wear gator shirts), Tampa Bay Bucs football (over/under on one win next season after firing everyone over 30 including the coach?), Lakers basketball (early guess: three-peat), fast cars (don’t currently own one), country music (mixed with a little bit of rap), model trains (there’s a room in my house dedicated to them), bridge, chihuahuas, cooking, making and framing large puzzles, bumper stickers (favorite: “talk nerdy to me”), theoretical math, scrabble, and, recently, getting yelled at by Wii Fit, ejecting it, and playing MarioKart instead. It seems I’ve also just picked up blogging …

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Lions and tigers and new ducks, oh my!

If the owl of minerva flies at twilight, then the duck merely keeps on waddling.

As I’ve hinted at before, we’re in for some changes.

While Charli introduces her kids to the Great American Roadtrip, PTJ is grinding away at his much-anticipated new book on the philosophy of social science. Both shall return, but their lack of activity leaves a void here at the Duck.

Both Peter Howard and I, on the other hand, will soon suffer from more serious cases of bloggus interruptus. Peter is off to the State Department on a prestigious fellowship, and, pending paperwork, I’ll also be embedded in the world of national security policy. Indeed, I’ve already stopped blogging on major issues of the day, and expect to only engage in occasional “lite” blogging until I go on long-term hiatus.

But change is exciting, and we’re thrilled to have suckered recruited a number of excellent bloggers. I expect most of them will want to write a post introducing themselves in greater detail, but here are the headlines:

• Andrew Conway blogs at an maintains the excellent Zero Intelligence Agents. He’s a PhD student at New York University with some years of defense and intelligence work under his belt, and he’s contributed to a number of high-profile blogs (more here).

• Craig Hayden blogs at Intermap; he holds a PhD from the Annenberg School at the University of Southern California and is currently an Assistant Professor at the School of International Studies at American University (more info here).

• Daniel McIntosh blogs at Liberty/Security; he is an Associate Professor at Slippery Rock University where he works on some pretty cool stuff related to international security and international political economy(more info here).

• Laura Sjoberg received her PhD from the University of Southern California, and is currently transitioning to a new job at the University of Florida. For information on her lengthy and growing list of publications, you can check out her personal website or her page at the University of Florida.

We’ve invited all four to cross-post to their other outlets, and to blog here as much or as little as they would like. But, frankly, I’m pretty excited to be bringing in scholars with such diverse expertise, and I hope they stay for quite some time.

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Changes afoot

Our regular readers have probably noticed a general slowdown in the arrival of new content around here. The first week of the Iranian election masked this trend a bit, but it will likely continue. The reason? Fewer active bloggers.

Some, such as Charli and PTJ, are taking short leaves of absence. In contrast, Peter and I will soon be taking much more lengthy breaks–both of us are due to start fellowships with responsibilities that either preclude, or severely limit, blogging activity.

After some lengthy internal discussions, we’ve decided to bring on a stable of guest bloggers, many of whom may be around for quite some time. We’ll be making a comprehensive announcement once we finalize the list, but we’re very pleased with the quality of the new people who have already agreed to blog at the Duck.

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Query: IPE and Blogging

Via sitemeter I recently found my way to IPE at UNC. Which leads me to wonder: I know there’s a fairly robust subculture of security blogs–and camps within that subculture, such as COIN and nG Warfare* blog communities–but what about IPE?

*With n equaling a value between four and six, inclusive.

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Pseudononymity and Rulesets for the Blogosphere

I don’t know what you think, but in my mind, outing a psuedononymous blogger because you don’t like what he writes about you (or what someone else writes about you that he then agrees with) is pretty disturbing.

Ed Whelan of the National Review would argue that “anonymous blogging” (he doesn’t seem to grasp the difference between ‘anonymous’ and ‘psuedononymous’) is irresponsible because it enables the author to avoid any personal consequences of the arguments s/he makes (he ignores reputational effects accruing to the blogger’s online persona):

“One bane of the Internet is the anonymous blogger who abuses his anonymity to engage in irresponsible attacks.”

On the other side of the aisle seem to be everyone else whose reactions I’ve read on various posts regarding this matter, including most of the 264 commenters on publius’ post at Obsidian Wings, who see value in promoting free speech even by those whose jobs prevent blogging openly, who prefer to keep their politics out of their classrooms, or who choose psuedonyms for reasons as simple as being uncomfortable with their family attributing their political views to them.

That said, I don’t think Whelan’s behavior can be rightfully characterized as “libel,” as Mike Innes from the newly reconstituted Current Intelligence blog puts it. But it is certainly a violation of some kind of blogosphere etiquette. But what exactly? What is the off-line parallel for this behavior?

I must admit I’ve never seen a written copy of anything like a “Bloggers Code,” but certainly if there are not formal rules there are some norms and guidelines. If not, should there be? What form might they take? And if they’re nothing more than collectively held understandings about appropriate and inappropriate behavior, by what mechanism should bloggers who violate them be sanctioned?

UPDATE: Simon Owens at Bloggasm.com has an excellent piece up that includes an interview with both publius and Whelan.

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Is IR Really a Science? Let’s Find Out

Henry Farrell at Crooked Timber alerted me to the fact that 3 Quarks Daily has instituted a quarterly award for the best blog post in the areas of science, politics, arts and literature, and philosophy.

Starting next month, the prizes will be awarded every year on the two solstices and the two equinoxes. So, we will announce the winner of the science prize on June 21, the arts and literature prize on September 22, the politics prize on December 21, and the philosophy prize on March 20, 2010.

About a month before the prize is to be announced we will solicit nominations of blog entries from our readers. The nominating period will last approximately one to two weeks. At the end of this time, we will open up the process to voting by our readers. After this period, we will take the top twenty voted-for nominees, and the four main daily editors of 3 Quarks Daily (Abbas Raza, Robin Varghese, Morgan Meis, and Azra Raza) will select six finalists from these, plus they may also add a wildcard entry of their choosing. And finally, a well-known intellectual from the field will pick the winner, runner up, and third place finisher from these, and will write some short comments on the winning entries.

Just for fun, the first place award will be called the “Top Quark,” and will include a cash prize of one thousand dollars; the second place prize, the “Strange Quark,” will include a cash prize of three hundred dollars; and the third place winner will get the honor of winning the “Charm Quark,” along with two hundred dollars.

Well, I don’t know if posts here at the Duck or on other IR blogs would widely be considered science, politics, arts and literature or philosophy (though frankly, I suspect some of PTJ’s might count as all of the above.) But the way I see it, IR is a science, which means IR blog posts should qualify for next month’s contest.

So, since we haven’t yet gotten around to establishing our long-discussed Duck of Minerva “Top Quack” award for IR blogging, if it strikes your fancy head on over to 3QD to nominate an IR blog post of your choosing in the Science contest before June 21. It will be interesting to see which disciplines are ultimately represented among the science awards.

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Academia and “JournoList”

Yesterday, Michael Calderone ignited a media brouhaha with his Politico piece, “JournoList: Inside the echo chamber.”

For the past two years, several hundred left-leaning bloggers, political reporters, magazine writers, policy wonks and academics have talked stories and compared notes in an off-the-record online meeting space called JournoList.

Lou Dobbs and Keith Olbermann talked about the email listserv on their TV programs yesterday.

On the right, bloggers had a field day talking about conspiracy theories and speculating about high profile members of JournoList. Red State’s Erick Erickson:

I’m told such luminaries as David Shuster at MSNBC, Keith Olbermann, Rachel Maddow, a host of New York Times magazine writers, Frank Rich, and others all collaborate on this list….

And it’s not just them. There are writers from the Nation, Newsweek, Huffington Post, New Republic, and a host of other left wing media sites on the list. They would have us believe that it is innocent — a gathering of intellectuals for stimulating debate.

i’m told otherwise. I am told, quite reliably I might add, that left wing bloggers and policy guys use this site as an express train to get their ideas into the mainstream media. And with sympathetic reporters who take the presuppositions made as truth, then add to those some original reporting, you have not an objective media, but a left wing echo chamber dominating print journalism and mainstream television journalism.

List founder Ezra Klien, of “juice box mafia” fame says that none of the named journalists are on JournoList. Olbermann said on his program that neither he nor Rachel Maddow are listmembers.

Later in the day, on his blog, Calderone explained the motivation for his story:

JList seemed to be a more comprehensive gathering of left-of-center opinion writers, mainstream reporters, bloggers, policy people, and academics than other private lists. As someone writing on the intersection of media and politics, I hoped to provide a window into how ideas—-large and small—-can be discussed daily in an informal, OTR way before making their way into the public conversation through blogs and print publications.

Now that’s a topic that might spark interest here at the Duck.

Should academics mingle privately “with several hundred left-leaning bloggers, political reporters, magazine writers, [and] policy wonks” to sound out ideas and potentially insert their scholarship into media reporting and/or policy?

Hamilton Nolan of Gawker buys the intellectual argument for the list — though he focuses on the benefit to the media:

“JournoList is the adult diaper of the liberal media world, soaking up the bullshit before it reaches the outside world. Carry on!”

David Sirota likewise says the story is about “Elite Media On Elite Media Talking to Elite Media About Elite Media.”

JournoList critics — speculating wildly, I should note — make it sound as if the listserv is an “echo chamber,” where “left-leaning bloggers, political reporters, magazine writers, policy wonks and academics” get together to craft a singular message to serve to the unwitting masses. They see JournoList as simply a conduit for progressive “groupthink.”

Member Brad DeLong, however, disagrees vehemently:

It’s not an echo chamber. I have never seen a less echo chamber-like space in my life. The headline is simply wrong….Basically, Ezra Klein’s Journolist is the Juice-Box Mafia: it is the people whom Ezra thinks are smart enough, committed enough to discussion and learning and education, and good-hearted enough to be worth emailing regularly–and the rest of us free-ride on the virtual space that is Ezra’s network.

Klein also makes the list sound far more interesting:

As for sinister implications, is it “secret?” No. Is it off-the-record? Yes. The point is to create a space where experts feel comfortable offering informal analysis and testing out ideas. Is it an ornate temple where liberals get together to work out “talking points?” Of course not. Half the membership would instantly quit if anything like that emerged. There are no government or campaign employees on the list.

I don’t have a lot of first-hand “on the record” experience interacting with the “elite media,” but my limited direct encounters with particular journalists aren’t great. I was on MSNBC with anchor Chris Jansing off-and-on for a couple of hours in fall 2001 when Colin Powell visited Louisville to give a speech on the Middle East. Though we sat next to each other for several hours in a makeshift studio, we rarely spoke to one another when we weren’t on camera. We certainly did not have the kind of exchange that apparently occurs on JournoList.

On my blog, I have explained my somewhat frustrating experiences interacting with journalists who have sought out my take on U.S. foreign policy or international politics. Though I offered fairly nuanced explanations of some complex issues to a reporter who used to write for Cox News Service, she typically used brief pithy quotes and little else. I’m certain that others in academe have had this experience with reporters.

These exchanges do not seem to serve the function of making our democracy more deliberative. It usually seems better just to write something and seek publication.

Does the blogosphere fare better? Over the years, a few prominent bloggers have occasionally picked up tidbits I’ve posted — usually the spicier political ones that I do not post to the Duck. Of course, I’ve written hundreds of more substantive posts read by a much smaller audience. This blog, like my own, isn’t necessarily meant to influence policy, but I’ll acknowledge that it would be nice to think that Duck members are making valuable contributions to dialogue in the public sphere.

In my scholarship, I’m typically critical of institutions that make decisions secretly and without the input of broader audiences. If I thought JournoList was doing that, I’d be more critical of it. However, it seems to be a place for genuine discussion so that ideas can be tested and improved before they are fully formed and embraced. Individual reporters, bloggers, magazine writers, policy wonks, and yes, academics can then take the benefits of those discussions and present them publicly to be tested in a wider public sphere — even a classroom. The “off the record” policy serves to open discussion in a particular forum and would not seem to limit discussion in a broader forum.

Conceivably, JournoList might serve as a valuable “counterpublic sphere.”

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ISA not live blogging

Its been somewhat quiet around here for the past few days, as many of us are attending the annual meeting of the International Studies Association in New York. Internet access at the convention hotel is spotty–there is wireless available in the rooms and expansive main lobby but it costs something like $10-$15 / day, which is far more than any of us on limited travel budgets can afford, hence no live updates.

I think, though, that blogging and its complex relationship to the academy in our field may be turning a corner with this ISA. I was in a panel on “Waltz’s World” which was one of those high-profile panels with big names in a large ballroom that was packed with participants eager to hear reflections on the 30th anniversary of the publication of what is perhaps the single most significant book in our field. In her introductory remarks, one of the panelists mentioned Herz and his contributions to the field, referencing Stephen Walt’s recent comments that he’s perhaps one of IR’s underrated scholars.

Note the link there–that’s right, its to Walt’s blog. She revealed that 1) she reads (or read) his blog, 2) that she assumes we, the large audience, were also familiar with Walt’s blog, and 3) that this is a meaningful way for us to hold some of our professional discussions.

In the “old days” the word on the street was don’t let your department know you blog because you’ll end up like Drezner and get denied tenure. Now it seems the conversation is a little different, as Drezner is doing just fine in his new job with his new blog, and a number of other blogs by IR scholars have surfaced offering a rich discussion of the substance of our field. We (and the others) have a nice blog-role of such sites. We (and others) do talk about fun stuff, offer commentary on current events, but we all also post research notes, insights from our scholarship, and reminders of what the theories and findings of our discipline say about unfolding international events.

Maybe fodder for an “innovative panel” in New Orleans….

(why the big to-do over Walt? Because he’s Stephen Walt. Lots of people have been discussing his Valentine’s Day post, everything from I thought it was cute to that just proves that the Feminists were right and realism is completely gendered. He’s at Harvard. Origins of Alliances. And, he’s got a 17 on influence and 8 on most interesting scholarship in the TRIPS report (pdf) which is to say he’s a big deal in the field in a sabr-metric kind of way)

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Calling all hands

If recent posts are any indication, Laura Rozen has finally stopped referring to virtually every rumored or confirmed Obama foreign-policy appointee as a “hand,” as in “a a think tank hand” and “Clinton-era NSC Africa hand”and “former CIA Latin America analyst and NSC hand” and “top foreign-policy hands” and “several Washington South Asia hands” and “veteran negotiator of the Dayton accords and sharp-elbowed foreign policy hand” and “a long time Africa hand and foreign service officer”and “Hill foreign policy hand”, etc.

She’s doing wonderful work, especially for people like me who have some concrete interest in finding out where people are going, but I’m starting to think she needs to invest in a thesaurus.

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The Progressive Realist

Today is the official launch of the Progressive Realist blog, which, among other things, aggregates excellent posts from a blog network that includes this very website. Despite the obvious bad judgment that shows, you should mosey on over.

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Foreign Policy and the Blogosphere

Many Duck readers probably already noticed the announcement, but perhaps not everyone given the holiday period: two prominent international relations scholar-bloggers are teaming with various scholars, journalists, and former policymakers at Foreign Policy magazine to create a new venture in journalism, blogging and policy analysis.

Effective Monday, neither Marc Lynch, aka Abu Aardvark, nor Dan Drezner will be blogging at their former websites. They will be part of the new Foreign Policy team.

Congratulations — and best wishes — to both of them!

Here’s how journalist Laura Rozen explains the website and her role in it:

an exciting new daily, online site starting Monday featuring a bunch of high-powered foreign policy and national security thinkers, writers, reporters and practitioners. Among them, long time Washington Post defense correspondent Tom Ricks, author of “Fiasco,” who will be writing a daily blog, “The Best Defense,” on all aspects of hard power; Arab world expert Marc Lynch of the excellent Abu Aardvark blog and George Washington University, and Daniel Drezner of the Fletcher School, are both moving their blogs to the site. Foreign Policy editor Carolyn O’Hara will closely observe all things Hillary (including the array of pants suits) in a new blog, Madam Secretary. Former Bush I NSC official, Rice counselor and 9/11 commission executive director Philip Zelikow, former Pentagon comptroller Dov Zakheim, former NSC official (and Palin foreign policy advisor) Steve Biegun, Bush-era NSC advisor Peter Feaver, and former Condi Rice speechwriter and current Foreign Policy editor Christian Brose will be blogging “the Shadow Government,” unclassified for all of us civilians. Former Clinton administration official and NSC chronicler David Rothkopf will interpret the mysteries of Washington powerbrokers; and Harvard’s Stephen Walt, author of “The Israel Lobby,” will offer his Realist take on global affairs. Veteran Washington Post foreign correspondent and national editor Susan Glasser is executive-editing the whole thing, with help from Foreign Policy online editor Blake Hounshell, and deputy online editor Rebecca Frankel.

As for me [Laura Rozen], I will be reporting and writing a reported, scoopy online daily column, The Cable, on all things foreign policy.

I’ll be reading.

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A question to our readers

In my failed attempt to implement a different haloscan configuration, I inadvertently added “ratings” to the blog. My general inclination is to remove them, as I don’t understand what purpose they serve and the stars look really ugly. But I see people are already using them. So, should they stay or should they go?

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Blog math: tire-pressure edition


Wander around the political blogsphere and chances are, at any given moment, you’ll find partisans of all stripes bravely stripping away the deceit of their rivals. Indeed, despite the best efforts of the “MSM” to mislead us all, the bloggers will uncover the facts.

In 2004 they poured over maps of the Mekong Delta to prove Kerry’s falsehoods. They blustered about partisan weighting to prove that Bush was really behind in the polls. They continue their efforts in this cycle. Even as we speak (to take but one example), fearless keyboard detectives will reveal the frightening truth about Obama’s ineligibility to run for President.

Sure, sometimes bloggers get it right. News organizations (and governments) now use Photo-Shopped pictures at their peril. But, more often than not, the amateurs really do reveal themselves as such: they make elementary errors, subject impromptu remarks to laser-beam scrutiny, and so on.

Recent efforts of bloggers at the websites that brought you “How Japanese Internment Won World War II” and “HIV doesn’t cause AIDS” illustrate the pitfalls of google and all-too-quick calculations.

Ed Morrissey explains why Obama’s comment that keeping tires inflated and tuning up cars can save us as much oil as “drilling” is the biggest gaffe since “Poland isn’t under Soviet domination.”

However, Obama clearly stated that we could get just as much oil from tire inflation and tune-ups as we can get from drilling — a ludicrous statement well deserving of ridicule.

Jim Geraghty calculated at the time that, assuming a 10% improvement in gas efficiency, we could save about 330,000 barrels of oil a day through proper tire inflation. Most experts put the actual improvement at 3%. With our present consumption of 20 million barrels a day, that comes to a savings of 1.65% at the most generous assumptions, and more likely about 0.5%. Current production of American oil is 8 million barrels a day; expanding drilling to the OCS and to interior shale would eventually provide millions more per day, not just the 100,000 barrels we’ll get out of our tires.

David Price at Dean Esmay’s Place writes:

How silly is this statement? Doing the math, it looks like he’s off by about an order of magnitude. The DOE link says you can save 3.3% and U.S. consumption is 20.8M barrels a day, half of which is gasoline, so even if fully half the population is driving on very poorly inflated tires you’re talking about only about 165,000 barrels a day, a tenth or less of the millions of barrels a day we could add in production. Hell, the mean estimate for ANWR alone is 780,000 bpd.

So let’s take this slow.

First, let’s give everyone the benefit of the doubt and assume Obama’s reference to “drilling” includes both loosening restrictions on offshore drilling and opening up ANWR (I can’t find a full transcript buried underneath the search results).

Second, let’s note that any oil production from non-drilling sources, such as Shale, is irrelevant to this discussion.

Third, let’s remember that Obama is referring to across-the-board maintenance, not just tire pressure, and use the Federal figures (and not, say ones from a automobile service shop). Now, I have no idea how many cars would benefit, or at what magnitude (these numbers are “up to”), but let’s use Geraghty’s assumption of 1/3 at maximum benefits. So that’s 1/3 of automobiles gaining about 19% efficiency. Let’s use what appears to be a low-end figure of how much of every barrel refined in the US goes to automobile gasoline (45%). We’ll also exclude multipurpose fuels, such as diesel, to make things easier.

So a high-end estimated decrease in consumption (bbl/day) is ((X•.45)•.19)/3.

At 2005 consumption levels, that works out to ((20,800,000•.45)•.19)/3 or 592,800 barrels/day in 2005 (this will be important later).

When I first glanced at Price’s source, I thought something was odd. Figure 2 (p. 9) gives four scenarios for the percentage of imported oil in 2030: (1) 54% with no ANWR, (2) 52% with low-end ANWR production, (3) 51% with mean ANWR production, and (4) 48% with high-end ANWR production. These strike me as marginal gains, but I’m not qualified to make that judgment.

Anyway, it would seem that about a .5% drop in US oil consumption (which one gets at using Obama’s critics’ fugures) translates into something much less than a potential .5% decrease in oil imports? That couldn’t be right.

Then it hit me. Price is comparing the efficiency gains for 2005 oil consumption to ANWR output in 2030.

The report itself assumes a number of breaks on increased US consumption, including continued high oil prices and higher CAFE standards (p. 11): this actually translates into lower US consumption than at present (17 million barrels/day).

Regardless, to put this all in perspective, in 2005-2006 the EIA estimated that total US consumption of oil will increase to a bit over 25 million barrels per day, with an increasing share in the transportation sector. If we use, for the sake of argument, the same formula above that yields a savings of ((25,000,000•.45)•.19)/3, or 712,500 barrels per day, which is a heck of a lot closer to the “mean” estimate from ANWR production in that same year.

True, the high-end estimate here is less than the mean ANWR estimate, let alone the combination of hypothetical offshore drilling and the mean ANWR estimate, but not by an “order of magnitude” or any other number to make Obama’s impromptu statement seem worthy of ridicule.

Moreover, the EIA report doesn’t do a great deal to help the case of the pro-drilling contingent. It notes that OPEC would likely cut production to compensate for ANWR, thus leading to little impact on price.

Assuming that world oil markets continue to work as they do today, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) could neutralize any potential price impact of ANWR oil production by reducing its oil exports by an equal amount (p. 11)

As USNWR summarized the report:

But the U.S. Energy Information Administration, an independent statistical agency within the Department of Energy, concluded that new oil from ANWR would lower the world price of oil by no more than $1.44 per barrel—and possibly have as little effect as 41 cents per barrel—and would have its largest impact nearly 20 years from now if Congress voted to open the refuge today. EIA produced the analysis in response to a request by Republican Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska, who noted that the last time the agency had taken a look at the economics of ANWR production was in 2000, when oil was $22.04 a barrel.

Higher world oil prices don’t necessarily mean that oil companies could pull more crude out of ANWR, the EIA said. Some advanced methods of extraction may be limited by the features of the Alaska North Slope; for example, steam injection could endanger some of the permafrost, the EIA noted.

The agency pointed out, however, that higher prices would make it more attractive to go after small fields that are near the larger fields that would be the first targets for development, and some advanced, expensive techniques of extraction could become more attractive in the later years if oil prices stay high.

However, EIA predicted these high-tech methods wouldn’t have an impact until after 2030, beyond the horizon of the agency’s forecast of the global energy situation.

So EIA assumed little change—and in fact, a slight decline—in ANWR’s productive capacity since 2000, when it projected that the production in the refuge could reach 650,000 to 1.9 million barrels per day. In the new analysis, EIA says that production could range from 510,000 barrels to 1.45 million barrels per day.

So, let’s review the story so far:

• Opening ANWR would have virtually no impact on prices, for reasons that suggest similarly tiny improvements from expanded offshore drilling.

• Obama’s blogger critics only use consumption gains from inflating tires.

• Obama’s blogger critics compare peak production figures (that are decades away) with efficiency gains based on US oil consumption three years ago.

• If the gains from such measures are low in 2030, that will be because of continued high oil prices and efficiency policies that most Republicans oppose.

• On top of this, let me add that all the critics’ quips about jet fuel neglect the fact that the figures they’re using, as best I can tell, only include gasoline consumption by automobiles.

But it gets better. Price slams the “MSM” for using Bush administration figures from offshore drilling of 200K barrels/day as “a number that seems out of step with published estimates of 250,000 to 1 million bpd.” The link supplied is to a MSM New York Times article, which reads:

Supporters of the Republican position put estimates for potential oil production from new areas at 1 million barrels a day or more. That would be a notable improvement in domestic production, of about 5 million barrels a day. The United States consumes more than 20 million barrels of oil a day, importing most of it.

Democrats call the Republican estimates inflated, and some independent analysts agree. David Kirsch, an oil analyst at PFC Energy, a consulting firm, said that if the most promising areas off Florida and California were opened for drilling, their peak production in a decade could be as little as 250,000 barrels a day — less than a quarter of what the gulf produces now.

“It’s almost a desperate attempt to take advantage of the political climate brought on by high energy prices to steamroll through legislation that won’t fundamentally address those high energy prices,” Mr. Kirsch said.

The truth seems to be that we have no idea what’s out there; the EIA estimates about 18 billion barrels total, but that, apparently, includes California fields unlikely to be tapped and won’t become available for years.

Now, the current “talking point” is that even the “commitment” to open these resources will magically reduce prices. The reasoning appears to be that speculators (who may or may not be driving prices) will bid lower knowing that there will be significant, and secure, petroleum reserves coming on-line in ten or twenty years. Not only does the timeframe make the entire story implausible, but it ignores how little the existence of secure production in the North Sea and Russia, and the high possibility of secure production in Brazil in the future, has done to keep prices in check. And, I should add, this reasoning implies that significant anticipated decreases in US consumption would have a similar impact (as they already may be). If those steps could be taken quickly, that impact would be much faster.

At the end of the day, my best guess is that the efficiency gains I estimate are way too high. By the same token, they’ll make a much larger difference over the next few years–or even decades–than opening up ANWR and the Florida coast to drilling.

But when it comes down to it, I don’t really have much confidence in any of the estimates people like me are throwing around.

That’s really the point of this exercise: neither I, nor David Price, nor Ed Morrissey, nor Jim Geraghty have a clue how to make sense of this controversy. All we did was use our search engine of choice, find links that supported (or, if we didn’t read them too closely, appeared to support) our claims, and then amplify one of the partisan sides of this debate. This kind of stuff isn’t investigative anything, it’s nothing more than back-of-the-envelope calculations by unqualified people.

Let me rephrase: our analysis is basically worthless. Ignore it.

(h/t Scott Lemieux).

Image source: https://www.dartmouth.org/classes/57/101ranch.htm

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The stupidity, it burns

Via Matthew Yglesias and a quick google search I learn that the right-wing blogsphere is all in a tizzy over the fact that the Decemberists played at Obama’s Portland speech. This apparently matters because:

1. The left-wing mainstream media isn’t reporting that some percentage of people clearly attended to hear the Decemberists rather than Obama. Ergo, Obama’s not really all that popular. Or something.

2. The Decemberists often play the Soviet National Anthem before their concerts. Given that they named themselves after the participants in an 1825 anti-absolutism rebellion in Russia and that (I kid you not) The Crane Wife contains a duet involving a dead confederate soldier and his pregnant lover/wife, this proves they’re some sort of anti-Americans.

There’s no doubt that the Decemberists are very left-wing. But if this is the kind of stuff that Obama’s going to face rom the right-wing blogsphere during Presidential campaign, I suspect he can rest easy.

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Reader Challenge: Chuck Norris facts– Huckabee version

I’m sure you’re all well aware that:

  • Chuck Norris doesn’t read books. He stares them down until he gets the information he wants.
  • There is no theory of evolution. Just a list of creatures Chuck Norris has allowed to live.

You can read the other top Chuck Norris facts here and here.

You’ve probably seen Chuck Norris with Mike Huckabee, his top celebrity campaign endorsement, appearing with him everywhere in Iowa and New Hampshire. Huckebee’s actual plan to stop illegal immigration? “Two words: Chuck Norris.”

The question to our loyal readers and the blogosphere writ large is this: What are top election facts about Chuck Norris?

Rob Smith, on NPR, has a few:

For instance, perhaps you didn’t know that Huckabee’s bumper stickers don’t have glue? They stick to cars because Chuck told them to. And, when Chuck Norris gives a stump speech, it is on an actual stump — that he pulled from the ground with his teeth.

Your contributions are hereby solicited in the comments, and in a perfect world, this will become one of those memes that sweeps the blogosphere…

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Resistance is futile

I wanted to announce the birth of a new Duck. R. Charli Carpenter, an Assistant Professor at the University of Pittsburgh, is joining our ranks for a poorly defined, and perhaps indefinite, guest stint. Professor Carpenter is a specialist in, among other things, transnational advocacy networks, particularly those involved in war crimes and human rights.

She is the author of Innocent Women And Children: Gender, Norms And the Protection of Civiliansand the editor of Born of War: Protecting Children of Sexual Violence Survivors in Conflict Zones .

Please extend her a warm welcome!

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Everyone else is doing it…

First up, expanding the blog collective.

A big welcome to our new contributor, Maia Gemmill. Maia is a recent SAIS graduate in Russia-Eurasia studies with a concentration in Economics. We also co-authored “Children’s Crusade: The Religious Politics of Harry Potter” in Harry Potter and International Relations.

She’s already, as you can tell, breathing new life into the Duck.

Second, our blog rating is in:

Online Dating


Apparently we use the phrase “bomb” a lot on our front page. Go figure.

Just remember that this particular MPAA-rating spoof is a clever (or not) advertisement for a dating service.

(via Rebecca Tushnet.)

Third, modifying the navigation pane. I’ve implemented, in effect, super-charged peekaboo functionality to the “Labels” section. I expect to make more mods in the future. A big thanks to Chuck at Cumulus Blogs for instructions.

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