Niche And Long Tails
September 13, 2006

by Cass Sunstein Chris Anderson's new book, The Long Tail, is causing a considerable stir. To make a complex story short, Anderson argues that companies can, and do, make increasing amounts of money by catering to niche markets through a large volume of products (books à la, movies à la Netflix), many of which are bought by very few people. At a bookstore, very little money is made from the poor sellers (at the long tail of the distribution).

Just Off The Wire
September 11, 2006

by John McWhorterRevisiting the topic of series on HBO, my wife and I have been mesmerized by the first three seasons of "The Wire." The show chronicles Baltimore detectives' pursuit of criminals with a richness of detail and nuance that makes the show very much a filmed novel. The show is, for one, a magnificent demonstration of the futility of the War on Drugs. The kingpins run their organizations with the diligence and tenacity of any entrepreneurs, and continue pulling strings from prison. There are always kids as young as thirteen ready to replace runners sent to jail.

The Abcs Of History
September 09, 2006

by David Greenberg Historians, listen up: By now you've probably read about the upcoming ABC 9/11 docudrama that's alleged to distort history--with (it is said) a bias against the Clinton administration's counterterrorism policies.

Don't Cry For Tony
September 08, 2006

by Eric RauchwayThere's a fair bit of Blair pity among left, liberal and even libertarian Americans at the moment, but whatever his suffering at the Bush administration's hands, I cannot spare too much sympathy for this government that began to show--well before 9/11 or 7/7--indifference to, if not contempt for, the basic rights that are the best part of the legacy we share with our colonial progenitors. The right to a jury trial is removed in complicated fraud cases and where there is a fear of jury tampering.

Culture Of Resignation
September 06, 2006

by Sanford LevinsonI note the important development that in the UK seven junior ministers have resigned in protest over Tony Blair's refusal to indicate a date certain (and fairly soon) by which he will step down. Blair's resignation, whether voluntary or forced, would not force new elections or a transfer of power to the Tories. Rather, a leader viewed, rightly or wrongly, as widely discredited (as was Margaret Thatcher in 1990), simply leaves office, to be succeeded by a fellow party member (as Thatcher was succeeded by John Major, who won the next election).

The Future Of American Democracy--and Of The Democratic Party
September 06, 2006

by Jacob S. HackerSince I was on the American Political Science Association panel on the health of American democracy of which both Alan and Dan speak below, I want to endorse both their explanations for the low turnout: There is--lamentably, in my view--a good deal more interest in democracy promotion abroad in intellectual circles right now than in the state of American democracy at home, and there was a felt need for more diversity of opinion and more debate on the panel.

Diverse V. Uniform
September 04, 2006

As a fellow APSA attendee, let me offer an alternative explanation for Alan's observation that a lot more political scientists attended a clash of civilizations panel rather than one on the future of American Democracy--a diversity of opinion. I'm sure that Kuttner and Mebane had interesting things to say, and there is much to admire in Hacker and Pierson's work--but let's face it, this panel runs the ideological gamut from The Nation to The American Prospect.

And Yet More On Apsa
September 04, 2006

Alan, the panel I attended that had by far the biggest turnout was on The American Constitutional Order After 9/11 and centered on the important questions of executive power and overreach--surely among the "threats to American democracy" that you suggested political scientists didn't care to hear about. It featured a great lineup of scholars who genuinely disagreed with each other.

On Polarization
September 04, 2006

Continuing the discussion of polarization: One of Cass's papers on the topic discusses the development of academic "schools" (law and economics or critical legal studies, for example) as such examples of group polarization and cascades. I read the paper, maybe against Cass's intention, as offering some good reason for homogeneity at one, early, intellectual stage of development. People are more likely to see an idea through to its conclusions and to test its limits if they are receiving informational and reputational signals from those around them that the idea is a promising one.

Foreign V. Domestic
September 03, 2006

by Alan WolfeI've recently returned from the American Political Science Association meeting. While there I attended two plenary sessions. One, on the future of American democracy, featured Bob Kuttner, Walter Membane, Paul Pierson, and Jacob Hacker. The other, on the clash of civilizations, presented Frank Fukuyama, Steve Walt, Ben Barber, and James Kurth. (An announced Sam Huntington was, alas, unable to attend.) So which topic and cast of characters drew the larger crowd? It was not even close.