Monday, October 27, 2003

# Posted 11:35 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

CHANGING THE SUBJECT: There is more to say about Iraq, but not today. So I will change the subject to something that is no less depressing but still different: the devastation of inner-city America. My interest in this subject is more personal than political. Growing up in a metropolis, the issues of race and poverty were never far from my mind, even as a child.

In New York City, if a child is old enough to leave the house by himself, he is also old enough to instinctively sense the unspoken divide between white, black and Latin. Sometimes, that divide becomes more explicit. The Crown Heights riots were one such moment.

It is precisely because I have such vivid but clouded memories of New York's past that I was fascinated by Tom Wolfe's Bonfire of the Vanities. With incredible detail, it evoked the confusion and fear of upper-middle class white New York.

However, Wolfe does not tell us much about poor, black New York. I believe that this decision is a reflection of Wolfe's honesty as an author. He will not write about that which he does not know. There is artistic value to this decision as well, since less impressive sections might have marred the exquisite observational writing that fills the rest of the book.

Still, being curious about that which I do not know, I decided to purchase of a copy of Code of the Street, by UPenn sociologist Elijah Anderson.

When browsing the shelves at the Harvard Bookstore, I didn't recognize the connection between Wolfe's writing and Anderson's. When I browse, I mostly look at those books that have been remaindered, since I am not inclined to pay full price for my casual reading. I suspect that because of this haphazard approach to book-buying, I didn't even notice what an impressive and surprising array of authors had chosen to publish their praise on the jacket of Prof. Anderson's book. A partial list includes Cornel West, George Will, Marian Wright Edelman and William Julius Wilson.

Having now read half of the book, I think I can see why it appeals to such a broad swathe of the political spectrum. Anderson's work is richly descriptive but subtly analytical. As the author explains, his purpose was to produce an ethnography of inner-city life. He seeks to document what is, rather than focusing on why it is so or how it should be. While one cannot charge Anderson with ignoring such issues, he certainly does not place them in the foreground.

In short, I think it would be best to place Anderson's work in the 'culture of poverty' tradition. Although I am not familiar with the classics of that canon, I believe that they emphasize how the greatest barrier to the advancement of the poor are not purely economic or structural, but are rather the product of a culture that they themselves embrace.

As such, it isn't hard to see why this tradition has considerable appeal for conservatives. If ethical failures are responsible for the perpetuation of poverty, than one can argue persuasively that increased welfare funding and expanded affirmative action programs are not the answer.

However, one can also argue -- and Prof. Anderson often seems to do so -- that increased funding or greater racial justice might be able to break the hold that the culture of the inner city has on its inhabitants. Even so, such sentiments comprise an undercurrent in Anderson's book, rather than its main stream.

As someone almost completely unfamiliar with the academic analysis of urban poverty, I must say that I have been profoundly shocked by what I have read. What Anderson describes is nothing short of a culture that glorifies uncontrolled violence and conspicuous consumption while forcefully disparaging the virtues of responsibility, modesty, and compromise.

Anderson says time and again that it is not wrong to fear a young black man walking towards you with a North Face jacket, Timberland boots and an unwelcoming expression. And it is not just white America that fears him. Decent black America fears him. Other young black men may fear him. And perhaps most disturbing of all, this is exactly the reaction that the young man in question wants to provoke.

Frankly, if this book didn't have endorsements given by West, Edelman and Wilson, I would not believe a word it says. How, in the absence of first-hand knowledge, could I possibly conclude that so many black men (and women) subscribe to a set of principles that I (and most black Americans) believe to be nothing short of perverse? How, in the absence of first-hand knowledge, could I accept a version of reality that seems designed to validate an extreme political agenda?

The most heartbreaking section of Prof. Anderson's book concerns inner-city attitudes toward parenting. For the young men Anderson describes, persuading the mother of your child to accept your total abdication of responsibility for its welfare is an achievement, a demonstration of masculine bravado. In contrast, supporting one's child -- either financially or through marriage -- is considered a weakness.

I found this so heartbreaking because it seems to go against the most fundamental source of human compassion, the parental bond. I found it so heartbreaking because the victims of this insanity are innocent children.

While disapproving of it, I understand why many young black women and women denigrate academic achievement, denigrate respect for the law, and denigrate respect for their elders. But to destroy one's own children is more than I can comprehend.

I am still afraid that someone will respond to this post and point out a glaring flaw with Anderson's work that I have missed. A flaw I did not detect because of my own ideological blinders. A flaw exposing a willingness to believe the worst, a willingness that is analytically indistinguishable from racism. But for the moment I am persuaded that this is real.

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# Posted 10:43 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

A MODEST PROPOSAL: Tom Friedman makes Jonathan Swift seem like a madman.
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# Posted 10:20 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

A SAD DAY: Our hearts go out to the families of those who lost their lives today in Baghdad.

But more than lives have been lost. For more than a hundred years, the Red Cross has been a symbol of mankind's desire to lessen the carnage of even the most brutal war. In countless conflicts, the Red Cross has navigated treacherous political waters, succesfully establishing its neutral status so that it could minister to the fallen on all sides. But now, we must confront the sort of mindless cruelty that sees even the humanitarian aspirations of the Red Cross as a threat to its savage agenda.
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# Posted 8:26 AM by Patrick Belton  

FEZES AND PIG LATIN IN GREENWICH: While I dodge for the moment making my own stab at truth, I wanted to draw attention to by far the best part of the story David linked to yesterday:
Cole [a prominent local opponent to the U.N. locating in Greenwich, Connecticut] boasted years later of hiring two men to pretend they were Syrians. Each man donned a fez and walked through downtown Greenwich with surveyor tools, chattering away in pig Latin and spooking the shopkeepers.

"The anti-U.N. folks raised a ton of money," Udain recalled, "and they began spreading rumors that camels would walk down the streets."
Atthay isway ettypray arnday unnyfay. Osethay illysay Ushesbay!

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Sunday, October 26, 2003

# Posted 6:54 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

CHICKEN HAWK UNDER FIRE: Whatever your opinion of Paul Wolfowitz, you can't say that he's afraid to put his life on the line for policies that he believes in. As the WaPo points out,
The attack [on the al-Rashid] demonstrated how resistance fighters are increasingly using explosive projectiles -- rockets and mortars -- to pierce supposedly secure American facilities. On Friday, two soldiers were killed and four were wounded in a mortar strike a military base north of Baghdad. Thirteen soldiers were wounded in another mortar attack on Thursday night.
So is this bad news? Well, it certainly isn't good news. But the WaPo's correspondents think that we have to keep things in perspective:
The attacks marred a day when two events brought life in Baghdad closer to normal: the reopening of a major bridge across the Tigris River and the lifting of the nighttime curfew clamped on the capital since U.S. forces toppled Iraqi president Saddam Hussein.
The NYT article on the attack also mentioned the reopening of the bridge and the lifting of the curfew, but preserved its correspondents' sense of detachment and objectivity by having an American general describe those events' significance. For those in a charitable frame of mind, the NYT correspondents' professionalism is something to be admired. Those of a more cynical cast might suggest, however, that NYT correspondents maintain an admirable commitment to professional norms precisely when doing favors their interpretation of events on the ground.
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# Posted 6:26 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

WHAT IS TRUTH? Ex-blogger Mark Butterworth is taking a very creative approach to the issue of accuracy and balance in the media. He is simply asking journalists to provide their personal answer to the age old question of "What is truth?" Mark is also asking a number of bloggers to answer this question, myself included.

While I answered Mark's question the best I could given my lack of philosophical training, I thought it would be a good idea to get some more feedback from what I wrote, which is as follows:
Briefly, I'd say that the simplest kind of truth is factual truth. Much of it is directly observational. This is a table. This a chair. Water is blue.

But, of course, water isn't blue. We just honestly perceive it to be that way. And even tables and chairs aren't really tables and chairs. Those are just made up names we give to loose categories of objects.

Even so, there tends to be so much basic agreement on these loose categories that only philosophers bother to contest them. The NY Times and the National Review, George Bush and Osama bin Laden, can all agree on what is a table and what is a chair.

The utility of this principle extends rather far, enabling us to describe historical events. Germany did invade the Soviet Union in 1941. All of the nouns in the sentence can be endlessly broken down into fragments. The verb "invade" is especially problematic since it is impossible to describe an "action", which doesn't really exist. There was an infinite sequence of lesser actions, each of which can be characterized in many ways. Thus, higher-level verb contain much generalization and interpretation.

Actually, the same is true of nouns. One could substitute "the Nazis", "the fascists" or "Hitler" for the word Germany in the above sentence. Each gives a distinct coloration to its meaning. Even so, those who object to that coloration tend to accept what they perceive as the basic fact of the matter and consciously object to its coloration.

So what does all this have to say about the truth of the news that we read daily? What's very good about it is that you can usually deduce a set of accepted facts even from articles which one believes to be biased.

But you never can know what's being left out. And casual readers tend to be far more influenced by coloration than by "facts". Non-blogging friends of mine tend to see the occupation of Iraq as a catastrophic failure. Yet because they are casual readers, they can't cite the facts on which this observation is based. Rather, the interpretive cues
that appear in almost every NYT article suggest to them a certain interpretation of the matter.

Finally, on top of all this, you have add the complications that come from ethical/ideological disagreements that have nothing to do with what is "true". So the whole situation is something of a mess. But I think the "truthfulness" of the media could be signficantly imporved if journalists were more conscious/honest about the ways in which the presentation of small truths influences our perception of larger ones.
How that's for starters?
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# Posted 6:08 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

GRANDPAPPY BUSH VS. THE UNITED NATIONS: It turns out that this feud goes back a couple of generations.
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Saturday, October 25, 2003

# Posted 11:44 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

POT VS. KETTLE: I don't know how Boomshock thinks he can get away with calling me the pervert in this situation. Then again, at least neither of us is violating the women of Islam like that crazy Reynolds guy over there.
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# Posted 2:48 PM by Patrick Belton  

FROM OUR KABUL CORRESPONDENT: Our valiant correspondent in Afghanistan, treating his duties as OxBlog bureau chief with due seriousness, pens us this update:
It's Friday which, depending on how the moon looks to the relevant authorities, may be the last day before Ramazan begins in Kabul. We're hoping for another day's respite; tomorrow P. and I [note: this is not me - even if I have seemed oddly absent from Oxford lately - ed.] are heading up to check out one of the dams built under our project, and apparently there's a riverside hostel nearby that catches and grills fresh fish from the Panjshir river. It'd be a shame if it didn't start serving until after sundown. Plus, we've decided to honor the fast, judging that to be easier and more respectful than smuggling food into the office restroom (or tantalizing our observant co-worker and housemate Z. with large meals during daylight hours).

Kabul's smoggy skies clear up remarkably on days when car traffic is down. The mountains that frame the city were sharply visible as we drove around today even the more remote ranges, which are usually just distant smudges above the horizon. I spent this evening reading on the balcony of our guesthouse, glancing up at the old hilltop fort that dominates the view from Taimany Street. There were dozens of kite-flying kids silhouetted on the high ridge. The sparrows were going crazy in the trees next door. Something rambunctious was also going on in the larger NGO guesthouse on the other side, but I couldn't tell what - as with most expat haunts, the walls have been heightened with three yards of UNHCR plastic sheeting to prevent anyone seeing in or out. (A more relaxed version of the massive concrete and razor wire barriers that fill half the street around the US Embassy and ISAF headquarters).

Along with logistics assistant Aziz Ahmad, I've spent the last five days riding around the bazaars of Kabul in search of people who can ship, buy, or build us the necessary road construction equipment within three weeks. It's been an education, and a great way to look over a bit more of the city than I could have seen from the expat compounds. Kabul has one of the traits I love most in cities - dozens of ways to get from point A to point B. Getting around may be a life-endangering, drawn-out process, but I doubt I'd ever find it boring. If the multitude of Toyota Corollas ahead is moving too slowly, our resourceful drivers are ever-ready to wheel off the main roads into a maze of rutted, unpaved alleyways. I've gone down to the metalworkers' street across from Kabul Zoo three times now, and each time it's been through a different quarter of the city.

It's fascinating to watch the small specific bazaars roll by roads entirely occupied by plumbing fixture shops, film developers, tinsmiths, carpenters. Scavenged car parts are a roaring business; individual roadside vendors specialize in headlamps, or fenders, rearview mirrors, car doors (with intact windows at a premium). And then you turn off the main road, and are in another, private world of gated compounds ringed by eroding mud-brick walls. Women walk between houses with their burqas rolled back from their faces and children in hand.

Even the routine trip between office and guesthouse can turn abruptly exciting. On Tuesday, we hit traffic so bad that our driver proposed we loop all the way around the center of town and take the road up by the airport. P. said he'd heard of carjackings along that road, but Basyir assured us we'd be fine. We soon found ourselves driving along the edge of a field corn, I think, but it was too dark to tell - on a broad, rutted track covered in dust four inches deep. There were no lights except our headlights, and through the thick storm of dust thrown up by us and other occasional vehicles, we could barely see two yards in any direction. It felt a bit like driving on the moon. Occasionally a lightless shack would appear and vanish along the roadside; three times, we had to abruptly slow down to avoid hitting large rocks that had been considerately placed in the middle of the road. Fortunately, the bandits had taken the night off - either that, or they were still stuck in traffic back in Shahre Now - and we abruptly found ourselves back in the middle of the city, none the worse for wear.

There's a good fifth of Kabul tantalizingly out of reach, built on stone platforms along the steep hillsides with no room left for motor roads. One of the steepest mountains has a thousand-year-old boundary wall built right down its side, defying erosion and gravity. It's strange to turn from that ancient line of stone to the far newer yet half-demolished neighborhoods below it - the pockmarked walls, the gutted, windowless buildings topped with twisted rebar wreckage. In many Kabul neighborhoods, the average shop is a first-floor storefront below two or three stories of war-scarred, uninhabitable ruin. Yet as I mentioned last time, construction is booming. Not everywhere; and the imbalances between different neighborhoods and populations in this city is something I'll write more about later. But the city is coming back. An Indian supplier of construction equipment ruefully complained that he was already being undercut by a half-dozen Afghan merchants who hadn't had a cement mixer to their names two years ago.

Car sales are also booming, and not just to the rich. Traffic in Kabul is as congested as any city I've been in the roundabouts in particular invite a complete standstill, as cars attempt to drive both ways around them and intrepid cyclists, hand-carts, and pedestrians sift into the momentary gaps between vehicles. Beggars chase cars, tapping on the door until the driver or taxi passenger hands over a few Afghanis; and by the way, the "facelessness of the poor" is unnervingly literal in the land of the burqa. Meanwhile, battered German buses roll along with people hanging off the roof and out the windows. Apparently on the theory that what's cool for an SUV is cool for a bus, many buses have the slightly alarming slogan "OFF-ROAD EXPRESS" painted on the side.

For my part, I'll be on the road tomorrow. Next dispatch I'll presumably have some impressions from outside Kabul; and I'll also spin a couple yarns from the surreptitious-verging-on-surreal Thursday night Kabul party scene. Till then!

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# Posted 1:27 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

I read your blog entry mentioning the Genesis video, shown on MTV and elsewhere, that depicted a Claymation Ronald Reagan accidentally launching nuclear missiles. You may be interested to know that the joke wasn't original to that video, and wasn't originally aimed at Reagan. During the reign of Yuri Andropov, the Soviet leader of the very early 1980s who was in poor health, a cartoon by the well-known French cartoonist Plantu ran in Le Monde that showed an IV-drip-connected Andropov in a hospital bed beneath two large buttons that read "NURSE" and "SS-20". The SS-20 was of course the latest model of Soviet nuclear-armed missile. So, the Genesis video in fact turned somebody else's anti-Soviet humor into an anti-American work.
Oh the irony...
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Friday, October 24, 2003

# Posted 10:18 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

COMIC RELIEF: International ANSWER will be heading up an anti-occupation protest tomorrow in Washington DC. (It's nice to see that ANSWER's agenda isn't just limited to sticking up for Castro.)

Organizers and police expect the protest to draw upwards of 30,000 participants. While I don't know about crowd numbers, I do expect a deluge of sarcastic barbs from the blogosphere. It's sort of like shooting fish in a barrel. For example,
"I have two granddaughters," said Nancy Jakubiak, 54, a legal assistant preparing for a 12-hour trip to the District on a charter bus leaving Louisville tonight. "They're 3 and 1, and I do this for them. I tremble when I think of the world they're going to grow up in."
Gee, Nancy, do you mean a world without Saddam Hussein? Isn't Kim Jong Il enough for your granddaughters? That's what I mean by fish in a barrel.
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# Posted 9:31 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO POLITICAL CORRECTNESS? Catch it before it's gone. If you go to the front page of the NYT right now, there is a picture of a spaced-out looking black dude with a caption underneath that says:
An Unconventional Weapon:
Soldiers in Congo are resorting to the practice of cannibalism. Mystical belief, like disease and poverty, would seem to be an unyielding African curse.
Now imagine if someone (say a three-star general at the Pentagon) had said that "Mystical belief, like disease and poverty, would seem to be an unyielding Arab curse." Then the NYT would write an editorial demanding that he be fired.

Look, I have no interest in defending Gen. Boykin. He should be disciplined. And writing one bad caption (or blog post) is obviously not in the same league as evangelical barnstorming. But some consistency would be appreciated.

Anyhow, I read the first sectionof the cannibalism article and I am sure my stomach can take the rest.
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# Posted 11:11 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

NEVER STRIKES TWICE? Not to dispute Patrick's exegesis, but if you are in an open field in the middle of a thunderstorm, climbing onto a cross and just hanging there is a pretty good way to make sure that you get hit by lightning.
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# Posted 9:51 AM by Patrick Belton  

A LETTER FROM DUBAI: OxBlog's network of far-flung foreign correspondents is, well, growing and flunging daily. This just in from the Dubai office:
If you land in Dubai, chances are nine out of twelve times the first thing that will strike you after you leave the airport is how hot the weather it is.  Immediately after, you'll begin to notice the sand, the cars (mostly Japanese and American), wide well-maintained American-style highways, and the diversity of people.  Next you will probably start to get a feeling that driving here is really, really crazy. 
UAE are a young, still developing country of about 3.5 million people.  Of that, only about twenty percent are the so-called "nationals" (holders of UAE passports, mostly indigenous pre-oil settlers), the rest being "expats" either from Europe and N. America, or "TNC's" (Third Country Nationals, cheap manual labor form the Third World).  Sheikh Zayed al-Maktoum, the President (for life) of UAE, is the head of the ruling family -- those would be the Maktoums -- and is both respected and hard to forget if the gigantic portraits you'll see everywhere, such as those along the Sheikh Zayed Rd., incidentally, are any indication.  There are seven emirates (i.e. states) in the country, and they are fairly autonomous -- and, interestingly, not necessarily geographically contiguous (there are also a couple of bits of a neighboring coutry, Oman contained within UAE territory), and regarding this last point don't know why that is or whether it has anything to do with the predominantly nomadic former nature of these societies.  There is quite a lot of topographical or land cover diversity (as geographers like to call it as of late).  The north and the east of the country is rocky and hilly (the Hajar mountains are named in Arabic for "rock"), and there are valleys, oases, now dry river beds (that look weird), the hot springs and cold pools, palm tree plantations/forests, sparsely vegetated arid bushland and dry savannah, and some parts, like Dubai are all sand, and flat as a pancake, or I should say, are meant to be all sand -- it's amazing what desalination and drip-irrigation system can do.  All this in a country that can be traversed North-South and East-West in a day.  
The disparities extend beyond the scenery; effects of the federal system are quite obvious should you travel throughout this country -- the less wealthy emirates are significantly less developed, and in a whole lot of places the date seems to be 1960 or earlier, like Bitnah on the east coast of the country, the site of an old fort, where there are about one hundred ground-level houses with often elaborately designed metal doors, unpaved roads, and goats roaming about. 
And then you have Dubai.  This is the city and emirate which has succeeded in becoming a major finance/banking, shipping, trading, and high-endish hospitality industries hub, so much that very approximately 90% of it's revenue comes from non-petrol sector, which is bloody amazing.  Dubai is a great cosmopolitan city where you can buy just anything, might meet anyone, and could have the time of your life (I have seen some great night life there, and it's cheap. Tuesday nights, the equivalent to Thursdays to those of you unfamiliar with the fact that Thu and Fri are the weekend there, are when ladies get to drink alcohol for free, but ironically, if you're not drinking, and you've just lost your wallet, good luck getting a free soda from the staff!)  Much is legal or tolerated here, but for that which is not (e.g. drugs) the punishment is no slap on the wrist (please don't quote me, but I have read that you could get capital punishment for breaking an environmental law), and just for the record, my wallet and car keys were retrived intact at three after midnight in a packed nightclub, after missing in action for four hours, having been left by this genius in the restroom.
As for being able to buy anything, one rather peculiar feature of most supermarkets (that, by the way, seem to be full of young British tank-top-and-shorts-or-floral-mini-dresses-wearing "Stoppit!" mothers with conspicuously pale children) is a special "Not for Muslims" section, where it is possible to buy pork of any kind (in order to sell pork, markets and restaurants must have a separate storage and handling facilities or kitchen).  In general, life seems to be quite cushy for the Western Expats, who tend to have larger living quarters and better schools for children than they would back home, and you could throw in a TNC maid as well if you like.  TNC's can make tenfolds of the salary they could hope to make back home, and the one Sri-Lankan working in Dubai I talked to had nothing but praise for the way TNC's were treated here, and I think he used other Gulf countries and homeland as bases for that comparison.  Many plan to stay as long as they can (getting UAE citizenship is not an option).  A young South African woman, a manager of an East Asia inspired nouvelle cuisine restaurant, told me she plans to buy an appartment in Dubai (to quote her, "no point in investing in South Africa"); a line in a funny poem about a quintessential Expat in Dubai goes "...and I'm never going back to that Manchester mob!"
All in all, for most it is a nicer, newer, even more cosmopolitan L.A. that has young and emerging forests of gleaming skyscrapers (one of which is called "Manhattan" by the local residents), great big (and ridiculous) shopping malls, and world-class golf courses, good beaches and great SCUBA-diving, all the chintziest hotels, SUV's and highways that seem to be built for them, Starbucks and MNG, every type of restaurant, oh and regarding that, really good Middle Eastern food.  I hope you catch the sarcasm at the end.  The fact is, Dubai is so modern, so international, you can easily forget where it is and what it was, and sadly, many do.  But that's just how I feel.  Besides, in this country you (I don't know about the "Nationals", though) are free to look for what you want, whether it's more than money that brings you here or not.  One of my former professors, and middle-America American lives in Sharjah, a neighboring emirate, where there is a so-called decency code in force.  This code allows police officers to "warn" you that you are indecently dressed should you be showing your knees or navel, and such, and to arrest you if you are in a car with an unrelated member of the opposite sex (although enforcement is probably selective -- I can't imagine them giving grief to Western-looking expats).  Another American professor, a young Eastcoaster also in Sharjah, had been fed up with the politics at home, particularly the foreign policy, and seems very happy to live in this different, a little less hectic place.  And a third American professor, one who, to quote him "made it out of the inner city", is thrilled to travel relatively cheaply to Africa and South East Asia.  He teaches in Abu Dhabi, the official capital of the UAE, as well as the Abu Dhabi Emirate, the wealthiest emirate in the country, thanks to the good old oil.  It's a semi-conservative big city on the south west coast, largely built during the boom years of 70's and 80's, so it has a much more finished look than Dubai, which is a newer, hypermodern city of tomorrow (yes, this cannot be "over-exaggerated").  So one could say that Abu Dhabi looks a little like a hypermodern city of yesterday, and the well-kept, slightly "retro" look gives it, I found, rather original charm. 
To wrap it up, this country at worst seems, at times and places, like an over-commercialized, over-consumptive, not-too-pretty child of globalization, and endless work in progress making an impressive but only facade for an underlying case of underdevelopment.  At best, for most it is a land of choices, opportunities, optimism and future blueprints for coexistance and intercultural tolerance, the child does not seem to be spoiled, and, well, it is exciting work in progress.
Imagine yourself then taking a plane from the "super-Dubai", and landing somewhere like Nairobi...  I'll tell you about that next time. 
Until then, with love,
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# Posted 4:20 AM by Patrick Belton  

SOME EXEGETES MIGHT SEE IN THIS some small indication of displeasure:
Jesus actor struck by lightning: Actor Jim Caviezel [i.e., the movie's "Jesus"] has been struck by lightning while playing Jesus in Mel Gibson's controversial film The Passion Of Christ. It was the second time Michelini had been hit by lightning during the shoot.

Describing the second lightning strike, [producer] McEveety told VLife, a supplement of the trade paper Variety: "I'm about a hundred feet away from them when I glance over and see smoke coming out of Caviezel's ears."

Although it is not due for release until early next year, it has already hit headlines after Jewish figures in the United States slated it for being "dangerous" and portraying Jews in a negative way.
(Then again, we already knew God reads TNR, like any good Jewish intellectual....)
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# Posted 12:42 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

BATTING PRACTICE: Matt Yglesias is the Tim Wakefield of the blogosphere. He's a knuckleball blogger who can tie your hands at the plate with unpredictable and creative thinking. But some knuckleballs just hang there over the plate, waiting to be smashed into the bleachers. Today, Matt has served up one of those floating knuckeballs.

Yesterday, I took the NY Times to task for writing in a straight news article that
With Mr. Hussein still at large, with American soldiers dying here almost every day, with no unconventional weapons found, with America's allies reluctant to help, many supporters now justify the war on the grounds that Iraqis are better off and the nation is on the road to stability.
In response, Matt asks
But what's wrong with [that]? Mr Hussein is at large, no unconventional weapons have been found, American soldiers are dying almost every day, our allies are reluctant to help, and many supporters of the war do now justify it on the grounds that Iraqis are better off and the nation is on the road to stability.
The implicit premise of Matt's statement is that any factually correct statement has a legitimate place in the news. Yet surely a professional journalist such as Matt knows that editorializing is not just a matter of expressing subjective opinions, but emphasizing certain facts at the expense of others.

So let's take a look at the context in which NYT correspondent Ian Fisher wrote what he did. The subject of the article in question is Iraqi citizens' (allegedly) surprising desire to have American forces stay in Iraq for the time being. While the NYT deserves credit for reporting some news at odds with its editorial line, the whole premise of surprise reflects the Times' assumption that the Iraqi people ought to see American soldiers as destructive invaders rather than constuctive liberators. But as it turns out,
"We really feel good for the improvement in our lives," Samir el-Amili, 40, said cheerily as he worked to reopen his demolished jewelry shop on the ground level. "We got something very real from Saddam's going."
Excuse me? Did an Arab just say that freedom is something "very real"? That the end of Saddam's vicious dictatorship was worth the price? How much did Condi and Rummy pay him to say that?

Of course, not everyone is as happy as Mr. Amili.
Saad Atta Mahmoud, 45, a former army officer, was more ambivalent. He grumbled that "the Americans have done nothing good," but said they should stay in Iraq for now.

"How could they leave now?" he asked. "Let's say someone came to your house and he made a big mess. He destroys everything and then says, 'Oh, I have to go now.' No, he has to clean things up."
I don't know about you, but if some psycopath came into my home with a baseball bat and started f***ing sh** up, I wouldn't insist that he stay around any longer than he has to. Thus it seems that even Mr. Mahmoud belives that a continued American presence will do far more good than harm.

Now here comes the paragraph in question. Apparently, the NYT felt that it needed to expand on Mr. Mahmoud's suggestion the United States "has to clean things up." Thus, its correspondent observed that
With Mr. Hussein still at large, with American soldiers dying here almost every day, with no unconventional weapons found, with America's allies reluctant to help, many supporters now justify the war on the grounds that Iraqis are better off and the nation is on the road to stability.
But what if Mr. Fisher worked for Fox News instead of the NYT? Perhaps he would've written that
Cleaning things up in Iraq seems to be at the top of the American agenda. Despite public and congressional resistance, the Bush Administration is fighting hard to appropriate $20.3 billion for the reconstruction of Iraq. In addition, the President has made an unconditional commitment to bring democracy to Iraq, despite the fact that American lives must be sacrificed on almost a daily basis in order to do so.

Yet in spite of the chaos in and around Baghdad, relative calm prevails throughout most of Iraq, where citizens are rushing to take advantage of their newfound freedoms of speech and religion. In many critical areas such as the establishment of local government, the occupation of Iraq has made more and faster progress than did the American occupation of Germany after World War II. By the same token, currency reforms has proceeded apace and Iraqis can now purchase an impressive array of goods at well-stocked local stores.
I'm guessing that Matt wouldn't consider this hypothetical paragraph to be "fair and balanced" despite the fact that it contains no factual errors. Nor should he. Because even-handed journalism is just as much about emphasis as it is about accuracy.

To be sure, there is no objective standard according to which one can measure the fairness of an article's emphasis. That is why I offered a hypothetical alternative to the NYT's editorial comment. To show that there is an alternate (and valid) perspective on the occupation that the NYT glaringly omits. In other words, what the NYT was giving us in a straight news article was not news, but rather its private opinion.
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Thursday, October 23, 2003

# Posted 11:50 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

BUSH IS DEAD WRONG ABOUT CUBA: It's time to lift the travel ban, lift trade restrictions, lift everything. Cuba is a small island just off the coast of Florida. The more open it is to American influence, the more its people will recognize that there are alternatives to living in a police state of misery.

Now I'm sure you've heard this argument before. It's called "engagement". And both liberals and conservatives spent much of the 1990s arguing that the more we engaged China, the more its government would embrace Western political and economic systems.

Yeah right. China is a vast nation, distant from the United States both geographically and culturally. We could only engage it at the margins. But Cuba is fundamentally different. Now, the President is probably right that if that the travel ban etc. is lifted, a significant percentage of the resultant income will go straight into the pockets of the Communist government. But that's not the point.

We are going to overwhelm Cuba with ideas. And we may be able to foster something of a private sector that has assets of its own. Moreover, even Castro's loyal bureaucrats may recognize that their cut of the goods is nothing compared to what it would be if liberalization went even further.

So I wish Congress all the best in its efforts to overcome the President's veto threat. But what do you expect? In 2000, the President's victory margin in Florida consisted of 3000 old Jews who voted for Buchanan. He can't afford to tangle with the Cubans. But Congress can.
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# Posted 11:37 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

AROUND AND AROUND: Another congressional report, another condemnation of the CIA. But no way of telling what role the White House played in the intelligence process.

I sort of wish I were a lawyer so I could figure out exactly what executive privilege is and what its limits are. Because doesn't it seem strange that Congress can read every document it wants from the CIA but can't look inside the White House files? Constitutionally, that makes sense.

You know, it might be nice if the Bush Administration just came and said, "Sure, we'd love to have the Senate Intelligence Committee look at our files. After all, who can trust the government if it isn't honest about what it's been up to." But this is the real world, so fuggedabowdit.
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# Posted 2:36 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

FUZZY MATH: This otherwise good column about the 1983 Beirut truck bomb seems to have some trouble figuring out just how many soldiers we have lost in Iraq. The author notes that
Since President Bush announced the end of hostilities in May, more than 100 American soldiers have become casualties — one or two a day have been killed in ambushes, shot by snipers and blown to pieces by roadside bombs.
Actually, if one soldier were killed each day, there would have been approximately 160 fatalities by now. At two per day, 320. While the author may just have made an innocent mistake, I think it is a good reflection of how the media focus on casualty counting has led to exaggerated perceptions of how often American soldiers get killed.

Meanwhile, enjoy this tidbit from what is ostensible a straight news article on Iraqi public opinion:
With Mr. Hussein still at large, with American soldiers dying here almost every day, with no unconventional weapons found, with America's allies reluctant to help, many supporters now justify the war on the grounds that Iraqis are better off and the nation is on the road to stability.
Maybe the NYT should change its slogan to "Fair and Balanced".
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# Posted 2:31 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

JUMPING THE GUN: Here are some more reasons to think my initial optimism about the Iranian nuclear agreement was premature.
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# Posted 1:18 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

JUSTICE AND WAR: The usually hawkish Greg Djerejian has some serious concerns about the ethical implicaitons of Israeli counter-terrorist policy. Plus, Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston get criticized by Sharon for their role in the peace process.
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Wednesday, October 22, 2003

# Posted 7:47 PM by Patrick Belton  

RAND REVIEWS THE comparative success to date of counterterror coalitions with Europe, NATO, and the EU. The author (incidentally, a former Drezner classmate) reaches the conclusion that the US should pursue military and intelligence cooperation principally on a bilateral basis, while seeking multilateral venues for financial and law enforcement cooperation.
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# Posted 7:28 PM by Patrick Belton  

COME ON, PLACE YOUR BETS: Remind me to write a post sometime soon criticizing the "Pope Death Watch."

In the interim, though - and, after all, since I'm not quite climbed up on my high horse just yet - this Stratfor analysis of the dynamics likely to inform the next papal election, whenever it will be, is interesting.
John Paul II reportedly left written instructions several years ago on what should be done if and when his disease [i.e., Parkinson's] left him bedridden and silent for the rest of his life. Of course, Vatican officials never would confirm the existence of such instructions. However, if he becomes immobile, a successor likely will have to be chosen quickly.

At least 20 cardinals are viewed as potential "papabili," or candidates for the papacy -- including several Europeans, at least one African and three or four Latin Americans.

Some Vatican-watchers have focused on the possibility that 71-year-old Cardinal Francis Azinze of Nigeria could be among the top five likely candidates. Azinze was born into an Ibo family and decided to convert to Catholicism in his early teens. Reportedly he is widely liked within the Vatican hierarchy. He also believes that Muslims, Buddhists and Jews can go to heaven, setting him apart from hardcore Catholic conservatives such as Ratzinger.

Supporters of Azinze's papal qualifications within the Vatican point to several factors in his favor. For example, while Catholicism appears to be in decline in Europe and North America, it is growing very rapidly in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Also, about half of the current members of the College of Cardinals come from countries outside North America or Europe. Moreover, there is a group within the Vatican that believes that electing a black pope would highlight the church's concern for rejecting globalization and alleviating the suffering of the poor.

Italian papal candidates include Cardinal Dionigi Tettamanzi of Milan, age 69, and Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, also 69, who serves in the Vatican as prefect of congregation for bishops and president of the Pontifical Commission for Latin. Some Vatican watchers also tout Vienna's 58-year-old Cardinal Christoph Schonborn -- although many cardinal electors might believe he is too young. Given that John Paul II was elected at 58 and has served for 25 years thus far, many cardinal electors might be reluctant to select a pope who could serve that long.

Other potential candidates include Latin American cardinals Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires, Claudio Hummes of Sao Paulo and Jaime Lucas Ortega of Havana.
Place your bets. (Note: Despite the previous sentence, OxBlog does not condone betting, as it detracts from more important, meaninful, life pursuits, such as whisky and tobacco.) Paddy Power is placing best odds on Cardinals Tettamanzi, Ortega, Arinze, and Battista Re. (That's two Italians, a Nigerian, and a Latin, for those of you keeping score at home.)

UPDATE: Kieran at Crooked Timber is rooting for Nigerian Cardinal Arinze. This is principally because of the expanded Nigerian spam possibilities.
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# Posted 7:19 PM by Patrick Belton  

IRANIAN INTELLIGENCE is helping Hezbollah kidnap Israeli citizens, by loans of jets, operatives, and (per one account) attractive women.

Personally, though, I'd much rather think about fluffy computers.
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Tuesday, October 21, 2003

# Posted 10:12 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

BREAKTHROUGH IN IRAN? While skeptical, I am extremely pleased with the Iranian government's agreement to allow unfettered inspections of its nuclear program.

I expect that this important event will get spun two ways: Liberals will present it as a demonstration of multilateral institutions' ability to resolve crises without restort to war. Conservatives will respond that Iran is only making nice because it was intimidated by our victory in Iraq.

Although it would be premature to reject either of these alternatives before having all the facts, I think that both of them underestimate the ways in which multi- and unilateral approaches to international problem-solving cannot just co-exist, but can complement one another.

First of all, the apparent success of the Anglo-Franco-German team in negotiating a deal demonstrates that the unauthorized invasion of Iraq neither undermined the effectiveness of multilateral institutions nor did it provoke an unbridgeable trans-Atlantic divide (both of which the President's critics expected). In fact, as this website predicted, the decision to invade without UN approval may well have a positive effect on the existing international order.

And when I say "Europe", that includes the United Kingdom, which very much hopes to minimize the number of times that it has to jeopardize cross-Channel relations for the sake of trans-Atlantic ones. Thus, the invasion of Iraq may have facilitated the recent agreement with Iran, not by intimidating Teheran, but by motivating London, Paris and Berlin to work as hard as possible for a peaceful outcome.

Admittedly, Teheran's motives remain unknown. Have they made a strategic decision to abandon their nuclear ambitions? Are they afraid of the domestic dissent an open conflict with the West might provoke? Do they believe that the elusiveness of Iraq's WMD arsenal indicates that hiding such a program is more doable than previously thought? Or are the Iranians just plain intimidated? I wouldn't be surprised if more than one of these factors were at play.

The one regret the Europeans might have about the current deal is that allows the Bush administration to have its cake and eat it too. In other words, the US got to invade Iraq without Security Council permission but still got the French and the Germans to invest their political capital in stopping Iran. Thus, I hope that if the current arrangement comes to fruition, the Bush Administration will recognize that its allies have extended a very valuable olive branch.

Finally, what all this goes to demonstrate is that the values and objectives that the United States and Europe share are far more important than any of the inevitable divides that emerge from periodic conflagrations.

UPDATE: MD points to this Reuters dispatch which quotes Iranian NSC chief Hassan Rohani to the effect that
"We voluntarily chose to [stop enriching uranium], which means it could last for one day or one year, it depends on us...As long as Iran thinks this suspension is beneficial it will continue, and whenever we don't want it we will end it."
Also note that the French, British and German foreign ministers "greeted the agreement as an important step forward rather than a breakthrough." Apparently, Mr. Straw, Herr Fischer and M. de Villepin wanted to make clear that OxBlog has been overly optimistic.
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# Posted 9:34 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

PICK YOUR POISON: Matt Yglesias explains why the botulism found in Iraq was not a chemical weapon. Plus, Matt says Howard Dean isn't avoiding the aid-for-Iraq issue, but is giving the wrong answer.
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# Posted 9:11 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

HIP-HOP JUSTICE: Eminem has emerged unscathed from allegations of slander, thanks to a rhyming verdict:
"The lyrics are stories no one would take as fact/They're an exaggeration of a childish act...

"Any reasonable person could clearly see/That the lyrics could only be hyperbole."
Word to your mother.
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# Posted 5:09 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THE MEDIA WAR: It's been a rough 24 hours for the Bush Administration. Above all, there's the Boykin scandal, which is getting more and more attention. In addition, the WaPo is taking the administration to task for banning press coverage of the arrival of soldiers' coffins from the Middle East. Finally, Human Rights Watch, whose latest report holds the US military responsibility for the unnecessary death of dozens of Iraqi civilians.

When it comes to soldiers' coffins, the Administration picked the worst possible time to make an otherwise sound decision. I'm all for protecting the privacy of the fallen, but in the middle of an open campaign to improve coverage of the occupation, it's hard not to believe that the Administration's decision reflected selfish political concerns rather than the legitimate interests of the soldiers' families.

As for Human Rights Watch, the WaPo article on its new report doesn't really make clear what the US military has been charged with. At the beginning of the article, an HRW officials suggests that US soldiers have behaved in an "over-aggressive" and possibly illegal manner. However, the incidents described at the end of the article make it sound like the fog of war is the real culprit.

If you have the time and the patience, I recommend reading the full HRW report. While the report's summary charges that American soldiers are "arrogant and abusive" and that there is a total lack of accountability for US forces in Iraq, the body of the report doesn't contain much to substantiate that conclusion.

Presumably, the case studies at the heart of the HRW report are meant to substantiate its general conclusions. While I definitely agree that the events described in these studies are tragic, they tend to revolve around confusion rather than neglect.

For example, there are multiple instances in which Iraqi cars were fired upon after running American checkpoints, apparently by accident. In one case, the driver had his internal lights on while also blaring music from his stereo system. Thus, it isn't all that surprising that he failed to listen to (or even hear) the soldiers who yelled at him to stop.

It's also worth noting that a significant number of the cases HRW describes ended in compensation being offered by Coalition forces. Moreover, as the report points out, compensation is not an exceptional event, but rather a standard feature of Coalition policy.

Finally, the HRW case studies are somewhat disturbing because they give the reader no way of determining whether or not any of the eye-witnesses and family members interviewed have anything credible to say. While some cross-checking between witness accounts seems to have taken place, many of the details in the report seem improbable at best. In contrast, the tone used to describe American soldiers' testimony suggests that it should be taken with a grain of salt.

That said, HRW probably is on solid ground when it says that American soldiers need more training in combat situtaitons. Moreover, its recommendations for how to reduce civilian casualties seem useful.

All in all, I'm glad that there are human rights workers aggressively monitoring American behavior. In most instances, such observations lends credibility to official assertions that US troops comport themselves in an exemplary manner.

In those instances where American behavior leaves something to be desired, such monitoring helps ensure that remedial action is taken.

Of course, it might be better if HRW and similar groups didn't always present their findings as scandalous, even when they don't have much to report. Moreover, the armed forces might prove more receptive to such suggestions if HRW & Co. held foreign governments and military forces to similarly high standards.

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# Posted 4:46 PM by Patrick Belton  

PICKING UP HITCHHIKERS IN CUBA: Flying back from my Beckett pilgrimage, I caught this absolutely wonderful piece on Cuba which appeared in the FT over the weekend. Richard Lapper, the FT's Latin America editor, became frustrated with the reticence of Havanans living in a police state to discuss politics, and thus set out with his wife to ten days of ferrying around hitchhikers, and discussing politics, in a rental car:
The trip offers an opportunity to talk to Cubans unencumbered by fears that we might be overheard or that our conversation might be reported to the authorities. The dense network of Revolutionary Defence Committees - Cuba's steelier version of Neighbourhood Watch - is one reason there isn't much crime but it also helps ensure political orthodoxy. When we talked about political issues before we left Havana, many people refused to speak. Others resorted to miming, or referred to Castro simply by stroking an imaginary beard.

So, posing as foreign tourists, we take to the road. We stuff most of our luggage into the hatchback's boot and perch a suitcase on its side on the back seat, leaving just enough room for a passenger or - at a stretch - two. We fill up with petrol, paying in dollars, and set off to find the Autopista Nacional, the eight-lane highway that will take us east into deepest Cuba.
What he finds is not surprising of a police state which spies on and imprisons its human rights workers and poets: "In less than two hours we give lifts to five Cubans, and the picture they are painting of Fidel Castro's Cuba is not attractive. While the ubiquitous roadside slogans urge sacrifice to defend the revolution, Castro seems to be losing the battle of ideas." (Lapper's ending sentence is particularly evocative: "In the gloom, I vaguely make out yet another fading party slogan on a roadside billboard. "Firmness and dignity", it reads.")

This should be required reading for the misguided collegiate fans of the regime, along with Human Rights Watch's extensive documentation of Cuba's repression of its people (including congressional testimony last month by OxBlog's friend Tom Malinowski, a Rhodes scholar from 1989) Although in its report on the latest wave of brutal political repression, Amnesty International curiously spends most of its words playing for the gallery and attacking the U.S. embargo and (quote) the "war on terror" - their scare quotes. (Amnesty's bias against actually looking at countries that repress their people, and instead concentrating with increasing exclusivity solely on criticizing the United States, has been well documented - a sad end to an organization which once stood for human rights.)

Bravo for the FT for, unlike Amnesty, actually going there - and speaking with people who actually live under the regime.
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# Posted 3:27 PM by Patrick Belton  

THIS IS by far the best variant on the new "flash mob" trend that I've ever come across: (via Craigslist)
Date: Fri Sep 26 18:25:27 2003 Here's how it works: you come to my apartment in Astoria, pick up a heavy box or piece of furniture, move it to my new apartment in Greenpoint, then you disperse without saying a word.
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# Posted 2:57 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

WHOSE FAULT IS ANTI-SEMITISM? I dunno. But I figure it's got to be either the anti-Semites themselves, or George W. Bush.

UPDATE: A survey of other blogs suggests that the answer is "a) Anti-Semites".
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# Posted 4:46 AM by Patrick Belton  

LETTER FROM AFGHANISTAN: OxBlog's intrepid new Kabul correspondent has hit the ground running and writes in with his impressions:
So you all know: I got to Kabul safely, and have been here for a day and a half now. In some ways it feels very familiar (echoes of India and Nepal), in others very new and alien. The airport runway is lined with the rusted wrecks of other planes cannibalized for parts. A scattering of poppies have sprung up next to the tarmac. I waited for a couple hours at the baggage claim to find that one of my checked bags was still in Dubai. When I got out to the parking lot, the guy sent to pick me up was not the least put out by my lateness -- still very friendly, very cheerful.

Kabul has sort of an old west feel to it -- a boomtown, and a city of dust. Every surface is covered in the stuff. Dusty wooden scaffolding is hung with dusty posters of the Tajik-Afghan hero and martyr Ahmed Shah Massoud. The trees are all muted shades of green, and in the mornings, the whole sky is a grey-brown haze. Dust-colored mountains shoot up on every side -- some barren, others with an astonishing clutter of mud-brick houses clinging to their steep, craggy slopes. The roads are clogged with yellow taxis and dirty buses, and trucks painted so gaudily that even the dust can't mute them. Some of the trucks were loaded so high with bundles and boxes I can't believe they stayed upright. One pick-up had a camel hog-tied and tossed in the back, its head and neck lolling ridiculously over the side.

Most of the houses are either half-built or half-destroyed; the city is equal parts construction site and war ruin. I drove around with a couple Afghan guys today in search of road construction equipment -- a long, hot, exhausting day, but fascinating. Construction is clearly a booming business, and the restoration of ties to the outside world means we were picking up equipment that hailed from Japan to Belarus (punctiliously skipping all the cheap, high-quality Iranian products, of course). We took a break to eat fatty kebab off a three-foot iron skewer. Then we hiked into the middle of Kabul's main market, a dense tangle of alleys and courtyards with a splendor of goods spilling out into the dim, narrow streets: carpets, silks, a mountain of pumpkins, spices, nuts, tin trunks, chickens. We wove through the crowds, dodging motorbikes and hand-drawn carts and the three-foot deep sewer ditch in the middle of the road. Nearly all the women we passed in the crowded market were wearing sky-blue burqas -- overall, I think around half the women I've seen on the street have been fully veiled, and the other half have merely had a shawl or scarf over their heads. There are far, far fewer women and children out in public here than in any other South Asian country I've ever visited.

I haven't felt hostility from anyone on the street so far; most people are reserved, many are friendly. Still, we live with some tensions. We work inside a walled compound, like most of the foreigners here. Our guesthouse has three (unarmed) guards at the door. We don't walk out alone.

The guesthouse I'm staying at is nice enough -- got a good cook, and a TV with DVD player. I fell asleep last night watching a Korean soap opera which my co-workers (neither of them Korean) have become addicted to.

That's all that comes to mind so far. More updates as events warrant...

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# Posted 4:44 AM by Patrick Belton  

BACK FROM PARIS: and back to posting, after accompanying Josh to London to meet a kindly, middle-aged, ethnically-Franco-German woman....

At this point, I should also make note of how extraordinarily grateful I am to be luckily arrived safe and sound from an arduous, emotionally and physically draining week of working on my dissertation while sipping coffee at the Café de Flore on the Left Bank - with occasional breaks from writing to stroll down Saint Germain de Prés and meet various black-turtleneck clad rive-gauchistes who were very excited to tell me all about the wonders of Maoism, the commodification of contemporary European culture, and new art exhibitions going on around Paris. Thankfully, however, I am now safely back to Oxfordshire, where I can instead resume my accustomed comfortable habit of working on my dissertation while sipping warm beer at our village pub, while taking work breaks to trip over various tourists and drunken English girls. Much better.

Incidentally, I have many reflections on my experiences and conversations in Paris, which I'm looking forward very much to writing up shortly here. I did not always agree with all my interlocutors, but I do feel that now I understand them much better. Many thanks to all the many generous people who were kind enough to host me, who helped me to begin to get to know the city from the inside, and who explained to me current trends in the city's intellectual and literary currents over copious cups of cafe espres. Paris has a kindly heart indeed, and I am very grateful for the opportunity to be its lucky beneficiary.
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# Posted 1:31 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

MISQUOTED BY THE LIBERAL MEDIA: "Mr. Mahathir expanded on his views in an interview with The Bangkok Post published on Tuesday. He said, 'In my speech I condemned all violence, even the suicide bombings,' adding later, 'but those things were blacked out in the Western media.' Then he said, referring to Jews, 'The reaction of the world shows that they do control the world.'"

You can't really argue with that.
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# Posted 1:14 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THE TALMUD IS VERY LONG: Plus other insights into the origins of Jewish intellectual achievement courtesy of Rabbi Yglesias. Meanwhile back at the ranch...Jews are becoming Episcopalian.
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# Posted 12:58 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

FOOT CRAMMED WAY BACK IN MOUTH: How did the Pentagon find this guy? You'd think that the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Intelligence would at least be able to come up with a more persuasive apology.
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# Posted 12:29 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, KEVIN! How much is 45 in cat years?
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Monday, October 20, 2003

# Posted 12:40 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

HOW TO AVOID IMPLICIT HISTORICAL ANALOGIES: Don't call Iraq a quagmire. Call it a monkey trap.
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# Posted 12:29 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THE USUAL EXCUSE: "I said I had sold a water buffalo to someone in Afghanistan and I needed to collect my money." That is how one Taliban fighter persuaded a border guard to let him in. As the WaPo explains, the Afghan-Pakistani border is completely porous. What I want to know is whether that's because Musharraf wants it that way or because it's inevitable.
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# Posted 12:11 AM by Dan  

SPACE RACING. Our good friend Jackie Newmyer has once again published an article on the topic of China and its technological/military goals. In June she wrote a piece in Policy Review. A regional paper in the Northeast picked up her most recent article. I dare repeat myself: Jackie is so hot right now. Jackie.
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Sunday, October 19, 2003

# Posted 1:46 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

HYPOCRISY AT THE VATICAN: As Andrew Sullivan explains in the NYT,
The current pope is obviously a deep and holy man; but that makes his hostility even more painful. He will send emissaries to terrorists, he will meet with a man who tried to assassinate him. But he has not and will not meet with openly gay Catholics. They are, to him, beneath dialogue. His message is unmistakable. Gay people are the last of the untouchables. We can exist in the church only by silence, by bearing false witness to who we are.
Sad but true.
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# Posted 1:26 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

NEVER HAS AMERICAN PRESTIGE IN EUROPE BEEN LOWER: That is a direct quote from this essay in Life Magazine, dated January 7, 1946. As you might have guessed, the essay's main point is that the American occupation of Germany had become a catastrophic failure.

What I want to know is how widespread this sort of pessimism was. I hope that someone out there is conducting a survey of US and foreign coverage of the occupation from 1945-1949. Until then, I guess the best we can do is keep an open mind.
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# Posted 1:04 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

AS JOSH POINTS OUT, some of the Senators who voted for demanding repayment from Iraq are running for re-election. Perhaps more importantly, two of them are running for President: John Kerry and John Edwards. Meanwhile, Howard Dean is refusing to take a position on the issue because -- believe it or not -- he isn't running for Senate.
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Saturday, October 18, 2003

# Posted 3:28 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

ARE YOU A NEO-CON? Greg Djerejian points to this amusing little quiz in the Christian Science Monitor. Greg reports that he was a realist at first, but then changed one answer he wasn't sure about and became a neo-con.

I just took the quiz myself and discovered-- to my complete surprise -- that I am a realist. My surprise abated, however, when I read the quiz's definition of realism, which has absolutely nothing in common with the capital-R realism of Hans Morgenthau, George Kennan and Henry Kissinger.

All in all, I'd have to say that the CSM definitions are fairly crude and are unfair to everyone except the (mis-named) realists. In short, the liberals are naive, the neo-cons are jingoistic and the isolationists have their head in the sand. This leaves us with the realists, who come across as sensible, pragmatic moderates.

But a sensible, pragmatic moderate is not what I am. Rather, I am a fierce advocate of basing American foreign policy on democratic principles. I am neither a liberal multilateralist nor a neo-con unilateralist. "-lateralisms" are means, not ends. Democracy is the end.

In fact, I think that there are a lot of liberals and neo-cons who would agree that we all share an interest in promoting democracy but disagree on how to achieve that objective. However, in the CSM and elsewhere, that disagreement has become the news, while the underlying principles get ignored.
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# Posted 1:09 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

WORTH A THOUSAND WORDS? Or perhaps just $20.
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# Posted 3:35 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

NOT FORGOTTEN: The WaPo calls upon the President to speak out on behalf of Aung San Suu Kyi and the cause of Burmese democracy.
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# Posted 3:22 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

SADR'S CHALLENGE: Brian Ulrich thinks I may be underestimating Moqtada Sadr's potential to become a major force in Shi'ite politics as well as a threat to American interests. With the tension between Sadr and the U.S. now coming to a head, it may not be long before we find out how much of a threat he is.
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# Posted 3:13 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

IN GOLF WE TRUST: Reihan points to this ESPN column on anti-Asian prejudice in the world of golf. I'm going to have to agree that there is a double standard when it comes to tackling racism in public life. But with Howell Raines gone, who is going to make sure the prejudice in the world of golf is front page news?
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# Posted 2:56 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

GOD BLESS HALLIBURTON! I can't put my finger on anything explicity wrong with this op-ed by Halliburton CEO Dave Lesar, but it just seems so damn suspicious.

UPDATE: Or maybe I should be more worried about what Halliburton is doing on the homefront.
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# Posted 2:44 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

HATING REAGAN VS. HATING BUSH: If you take a look at David Brooks' over-the-top column in today's NYT, you'll see that the I Hate Bush debate is still at the top of the agenda. As such, I thought I'd reprint some comments sent in by readers who are old enough to remember the Reagan era and compare it to what we have today.

First, Kevin Drum writes that
For what it's worth, I've thought about the Bush/Reagan comparison a fair amount, and of course I have personal experience of both. I can't quite explain this, but my take is that you're exactly right but completely wrong.

That is, everything you said is correct, and a lot of liberals forget just how much we loathed Reagan at the time. Ed Meese was his Ashcroft, Weinberger was his Rumsfeld, the Soviet Union was his Iraq, etc. And there were all the same jokes about moving to Canada if he won again.

And yet....all I can say is that Bush really is different. I think part of it is the fact that Reagan at least seemed to earn the office. He was governor of CA for 8 years, he ran for president twice before winning, and he had serious ideological credentials (i.e., his anti-communism was serious and long established). By contrast, Bush seems like a frat boy with no experience and no real core beliefs who got elected on nothing but name recognition and the ability to woo lots of big donors. That drives everyone nuts.

And the fact is that Bush *is* more partisan. Despite his rhetoric, Reagan was rather famous for being pretty pragmatic, both as president and as governor. Bush, on the other hand, gives no quarter. Ever.

And, finally, there's 9/11. Reagan may have talked big, but he never did anything more serious than spend a lot of money and support a few guerrillas. Bush has actually fought a big pre-emptive war.

Finally, Reagan always seemed like a friendly guy. Even liberals saw that in him. However, Bush doesn't. In fact, I think he has a mean streak a mile wide and I wouldn't even want to meet him, let alone vote for him. I just flat don't like his personality, and I think that's pretty universal among liberals.

Anyway, I'm just guessing at the reasons here, but I think there really is a difference. Liberals don't hate Bush so much as they despise him, and I think it really is stronger than it was with Reagan. Just thought you might be interested.
Kevin makes a lot of good points, but I want to put one of them context and disagree with another. First, as I argued yesterday, Bush can afford to be more partisan because he has solid support on the Hill. Imagine what Reagan might have done with Congress behind him.

More importantly, I have to sharply disagree with the assertion that Reagan "never did anything more serious than spend a lot of money and support a few guerrillas." The fact is, a massive anti-nuclear movement believed that Reagan was about to blow the world to kindgom come. As members of the MTV generation may recall, there was a classic Genesis video in which a claymation version of the President wakes up in distress and tries to press the red 'Nurse' button next to his bed, but instead hits the one below it labeled 'Nukes'. In hindsight, the video is pretty damn funny. At the time, it was deadly serious.

Next up, we hear from KD -- who voted for Reagan twice but thinks Bush is an embarrassment. She writes that
Having lived in Washington during the period you describe, and having voted for Reagan (twice) as a freshly minted opinion from Graduate School, I might be able to provide some perspective. Reagan had earned his political oats in California. He was an able speaker. Obviously, Peggy Noonan didn't exactly hurt him, but in situations where he needed to stand his ground he did so effectively.

I beg to differ on Iran/Contra, however. Reagan survived the situation only because we couldn't take the stress of another Watergate. That would have broken our spirit at the time, and we looked the other direction. More damaging was his handling of the Air Traffic Controller strike, which to anyone of us who depended on the airports running well, was just kind of dumb.

George Bush is a completely different matter. If Reagan had seen a few million people protesting the war in Iraq, I really believe he would have said: this is part of the national conscience. We need to understand the problem. If it's a problem in perception, let's correct that. But, if it's a problem in policy, let's take some time and make sure we're doing the right thing.

You may not understand how the rush to war in Iraq infuriated many Americans, including myself. For Bush to call to call a significant block of the American people a "focus group," and by this analysis ignore them, is not acceptable from any leader. Yes, I believe Bush is far more partisan. And I believe he is an embarrassment to the office of President of the United States.
Finally, AG offers some bullet-pointed observations:
(1) Reagan got 8,420,000 more popular votes and 440 more electoral votes than Jimmy Carter. So he was installed in office by the American people, not by five reactionary Republicans.

(2) Reagan was as "scripted" as Bush, but didn't sound as scripted. So he didn't remind me how much I disliked him every time he opened his mouth.

(3) Reagan was a self-made man and had been at least moderately successful at everything he did. The governorship of California is a real job with
real power. The Texas governorship is a cipher. So you had to, grudgingly, perhaps, respect him at least a little bit.

(4) Reagan's tax cuts, as irresponsible as they were, were much more broad-based than the Bushies gift the the rich.

(5) Brezhnev did have weapons of mass destruction and had invaded Afganistan.
I think it's interesting that Kevin, KD and AG all emphasize how Reagan earned his way to the top, whereas Bush didn't. At the time, Reagan's critics almost universally believed that he lied his way to the top. They said that Reagan's victories at the polls meant little because he won by deceiving the American public.

As such, I'm going to stick to my argument that what sets Reagan apart from Bush is the fear he inspired in his opponents. You had to watch what you said about Reagan because his charisma enabled him to win without breaking the rules of the game. Thus, the hatred was greater but it was kept inside.

In contrast, it is easy to despise a second-generation President installed in the White House by a few thousand old Jews who voted for Pat Buchanan. The question is, if Bush gets re-elected with a strong majority, will critics begin to think of him as another Reagan, or will his tainted victory in 2000 continue to define his reputation?

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# Posted 2:12 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

REAL ANTI-SEMITISM: The NYT deserves considerable praise for this editorial, which reminds me of an old joke, set in Berlin in the 1930s. There are two old Jews sitting on a park bench, both reading newspapers. One is reading a local Jewish paper that is reporting on Nazi anti-Semitism and the Jewish plight in Hitler's Germany. The other is reading a copy of Der Stuermer, the infamous Nazi propaganda rag published by Julius Streicher.

Alarmed, the first Jew turns to the second and asks how he could dignify Der Stuermer's vicious lies by reading it in a public place. The second Jew responds: "True, true. But I worry a lot less about Hitler when I'm reminded that the Jews still run this country."
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# Posted 1:52 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

HOLD THE LINE! Just in case any of you were getting ready to sign new cellphone service contracts, you should know that it may be worth your while to wait until November 24.
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# Posted 1:48 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

AMERICA IS IN DECLINE: What? You didn't know that? Then I guess you haven't been reading the NY Times. As Jane Perlez reports,
More than 50 years of American dominance in Asia is subtly but unmistakably eroding as Asian countries look toward China as the increasingly vital regional power, political and business leaders in Asia say.

China's churning economic engine, coupled with trade deals and friendly diplomacy, have transformed it from a country to be feared to one that beckons, these regional leaders say.
Of course, the real news is that American dominance in the Far East was fully intact until earlier this year. As Perlez notes,
[The] new, more benign view of China by its neighbors has emerged in the last year as President Bush is perceived in Asia to have pressed America's campaign on terror to the exclusion of almost everything else.
I hardly know where to begin with this one. Perhaps I should mock Perlez for taking at face value the words of "political and business leaders in Asia". How naive does she think they are? Has one year of less-than-stellar American diplomacy persuaded all of China's neighbors to forget that the PRC is a dysfunctional and corrupt oligarchic dictatorship? Or perhaps -- just perhaps -- Asian businessmen and diplomats are smart enough to praise the Chinese in public before entering into negotiations with them at this week's economic summit?

My second recommendation for Perlez is that she talk to her colleague Nick Kristof before declaring that America's decline in the Far East is a twelve-month-old phenomenon. Perhaps Kristof can tell her he -- along with almost every other American expert on East Asian affairs -- spent much of the 1990s expounding upon the death of American hegemony and the inevitable rise of Chinese power. Thankfully, Kristof & Co. had the good sense to attribute such epochal changes to profound historical forces rather than the ineptitutde of William Jefferson Clinton.

Now, I'm not going to pretend that the Chinese economy hasn't made tremendous advances over the past twenty years or that the political situation there hasn't improved considerably since the Tiannanmen Massacre. But you have to keep things in perspective. Instead, the media tend to shoehorn every story coming out of China into a grand narrative of American decline.

What's happening here is similar, of course, to what's happening with media coverage of Iraq. There is no clear-cut political or partisan bias at work. Rather, the media produce news coverage that derives from a set of fixed narratives that have become a part of professional journalistic culture over the course of the past four decades.

If you think about it, there is actually a fairly close relationship between the Vietnam and China narratives: both are morality tales that purport to demonstrate the self-destructive nature of American aggressiveness and the inevitable victory of Third World challengers. The origins of the Rising China narrative are hard to locate. On the one hand, both American and British observers have been predicting the rise of China for almost two hundred years now. However, I'd guess that the Rising China narrative gained its current prominence in the journalistic repertoire as a result of the war in Vietnam.

But that is somewhat beside the point. The real lesson here is that if the media possessed a greater degree of institutional memory, it might not recycle its own stories in such a transparent manner.
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Friday, October 17, 2003

# Posted 12:31 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

HOW DOTH THE CITY SIT SOLITARY, THAT WAS FULL OF PEOPLE! How is she become as a widow, she that was great among the nations, and princess among the provinces, how is she become tributary. She weepeth sore in the night, and her tears are on her cheeks; among all her lovers she hath none to comfort her; all her friends have dealt treacherously with her, they are become her enemies. (Lamentations 1:1-2)

What other than a biblical lament can offer tribute to the despair of long-suffering Red Sox fans? Truly there in the 8th inning Boston was great among the nations. Yet now her tears are on her cheeks.

Why must Red Sox fans suffer so? As the Bible tells us, "Her adversaries are the chief, her enemies prosper; for the LORD hath afflicted her for the multitude of her transgressions: her children are gone into captivity before the enemy." (Lamentations 1:5) As Rabbi Joseph of Torre observes, "transgressions" refers to the sale of Babe Ruth in 1918 for thirty pieces of silver. (Adjusted for inflation, that comes to $100,000.)

But there is forgiveness in the heart of the LORD, so perhaps one day, once Pedro has learned to stop assaulting senior citizens, the Spirit of the LORD will return to Boston.
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Thursday, October 16, 2003

# Posted 8:52 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

WE HATE WHAT WE CANNOT FEAR: A few weeks back, there was a lot of talk about Jonathan Chait's TNR essay entitled "Why I hate George W. Bush". Since I still haven't gotten around to subscribing to TNR Online, I didn't read Chait's essay until TNR sent it out (for free) to all those on its weekly update e-mail list.

Unsurprisingly, reaction to Chait's essay has been divided along partisan lines. Conservatives such as David Brooks tend to see it as evidence that even mainstream liberals have gone overboard with their resentment of the President. Liberals, of course, beg to differ, although some think that Chait's article played right into the hands of conservatives who want to paint all liberals as wild-eyed radicals.

From where I stand, however, the real problem with Chait's essay is its total lack of historical context. And I don't mean that Chait should spend more time writing about Andrew Jackson or Ulysses S. Grant. What's wrong from a historical perspective is Chait's absurd premise that liberals hate George Bush more than they hated Ronald Reagan.

While my memories of the Reagan are somewhat less than reliable, the overwhelming sense I get from my academic reading is that Reagan was a far more controversial figure than any of his successors. But perhaps more important than the hatred that Democrats felt for Ronald Reagan was their abject fear of him. Whereas Bush's upper-crust upbringing and foot-in-mouth pronouncements make him seem vulnerable, Reagan's All-American upbringing and flawless public persona struck terror into the hearts of all those Democrats who believed that no argument they made, no matter how sound, could prevent The Great Communicator from persuading the American public of just how right he was.

Thus, Chait is essentially right to begin his article by focusing on Bush's character. According to Chait,
[Bush] reminds me of a certain type I knew in high school--the kid who was given a fancy sports car for his sixteenth birthday and believed that he had somehow earned it. I hate the way he walks--shoulders flexed, elbows splayed out from his sides like a teenage boy feigning machismo. I hate the way he talks--blustery self-assurance masked by a pseudo-populist twang. I even hate the things that everybody seems to like about him. I hate his lame nickname-bestowing-- a way to establish one's social superiority beneath a veneer of chumminess (does anybody give their boss a nickname without his consent?). And, while most people who meet Bush claim to like him, I suspect that, if I got to know him personally, I would hate him even more.
Where Chait goes wrong is with assertion that Bush-hatred reflects substantive political opposition on the grounds that Bush is not just more ideological than Clinton, but also far more ideological than Reagan. In fact, Chait incomprehensibly describes Bush as "the most partisan president in modern U.S. history."

While arguing that Bush wants to dismantle the welfare state by privatizing Medicare and Social Security, Chait fails to note that Reagan talked of destroying both programs without offering much in the way of an alternative. And while Chait is correct that Reagan followed his massive tax cut with some concessions to his critics, he only did so because the economy went into a tailspin just after the tax cuts went into effect. Moreover, Reagan tried to fight off any protests against his tax cuts, but found it impossible to overcome the objections of both a Democratic House and a moderate Republican Senate. Thus, if Bush can sometimes afford to be more partisan, it is because he has what Reagan never did: solid support on the Hill.

Now what about foreign policy? Given their support of the war against Iraq and relative silence even after no WMD were found, it is hard to characterize Bush as all that much of a radical on this front. In contrast, Reagan drove his opponents up the wall with his constant antagonization of the Soviet Union and inexplicable obsession with fighting Communism in Central America. And then came Iran-Contra. Finally, the President's sterling reputation became tarnished. And yet he was able to emerge from the crisis without taking any personal responsibility for his subordinates' flagrant subversion of the constitutional order. So if you thought the Florida recount made Democrats mad...

Yet despite all their anger and resentment, Democrats often held back thanks to their fear of the President's charisma. This is clearly not the case with Bush. What did hold the Democrats back for a long time, however, was their fear of criticizing the President during the early days of the war on terror. Even in the run-up to the war on Iraq, it was hard to say more than "Gee, we should really be nicer to the French." And that is almost never a winning line in American politics.

But now that Bush is struggling to confront the challenges of occupation while also fighting off a bad economy, an intelligence scandal and the failure to find a substantial cache of WMD, his post-9/11 invulnerability has come to an end. All of the resentment that Democrats once had to hold back is now in the open. The question is, Will such intense emotions lead to victory in 2004, or just a marginalization of the party as a whole? Damned if I know.
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# Posted 7:13 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

NEWS YOU CAN USE: In the odd event you should run into a member of the British royal family, please consider the following:
There are no obligatory codes of behaviour when meeting The Queen or a member of the Royal Family. Many people wish to observe the traditional forms. For men this is a neck bow (from the head only) whilst women do a small curtsy. Other people prefer simply to shake hands in the usual way. On presentation to The Queen, the correct formal address is 'Your Majesty' and subsequently 'Ma'am'. For male members of the Royal Family the same rules apply, with the title used in the first instance being 'Your Royal Highness' and subsequently 'Sir'. For other female members of the Royal Family the first address is conventionally 'Your Royal Highness' followed by 'Ma'am' in later conversation.
Of course, some Americans prefer to be less conventional. Consider the following passage from Michael Lewis' Liar's Poker:
A complete hush enveloped the Great Hall of St. James' Palace. As the queen mother drew near, the insurance salesmen bowed their heads like churchgoers. The corgis [a breed of small dog --ed.] had been trained to curtsy every fifteen seconds by crossing their back legs and dropping their ratlike bellies to the floor. The procession at last arrived at its destination. We stood immediately to the queen mother's side. The Salomon Brothers wife glowed. I'm sure I glowed too. But she glowed more. Her desire to be noticed was tangible. There are a number of ways to grab the attention of royalty in the presence of eight hundred silent agents of the Prudential, but probably the surest is to shout. That's what she did. Specifically, she shouted, "Hey, Queen, Nice Dogs You Have There!
Never let it be said that we Yanks aren't orignal.
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Wednesday, October 15, 2003

# Posted 12:57 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

MIDTERM EXAM: Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez says the US may move forcefully against the armed militia of radical Shi'ite cleric Moqtada Sadr. If that happens, it will be a major test of whether US forces have enough credibility to move against one Shi'ite faction without provoking a general mobilization among defensive Shi'ites.

Of course, such action would also be a test of my argument that America is winning Iraqi hearts and minds. In some respects, however, it is a twofold test. First, there is a question of whether American forces can design their enforcement action in a non-provocative manner.

Nonetheless, it may be the case that no American action, no matter how well-planned, can win over the majority of Iraqi Shi'ites. Thus, such action would be a test of Shi'ite sentiment as well as American competence.

As I suggested before, Sadr lack of support among both Shi'ite clerics and the rank-and-file is his greatest liability -- and thus America's greatest advantage. Then again, you just never know. So keep your fingers crossed.
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# Posted 12:32 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

LETTERGATE: This week's second-tier scandal involves the misguided efforts of Lt. Col. Dominic Caraccilo to spread the good word about American achievements in Iraq. First word of the story came from Olympia, WA's Olympian, which received a pair of identical letters-to-the-editor advertising the positive role of American soldiers had played in Kirkuk. The catch, of course, was that the letters were signed by different soldiers.

Unsurprisingly, both Hesiod and Josh Marshall suspected foul play, given that there is an entire industry devoted to creating "astroturf", i.e. fake grassroots support, for various and sundry causes.

Much more interesting was the fact that Glenn Reynolds immediately assumed that the letters were part of a malicious hoax. Glenn quickly backed down, however, when it became clear that an American unit in Kirkuk had been sending out form letters written by Col. Caraccilo.

In a later post, Glenn points out that all sorts of activists distribute form letters for their supporters to sign and circulate. Given that all of the soldiers in the 503d signed onto the letter willingly, there isn't much ground for condemnation.

What I think Glenn is missing here is that there is a difference between sending a form letter to your congressman and to your local newspaper. From what I can tell, there is an informal expectation that letters-to-the-editor must represent unique individual viewpoints. In contrast, congressmen expect a full mailbag. While the existence of such norms may seem arbitrary, I think that one would have to be fairly ignorant not to be aware of them. ("One" refers to Col. Caraccilo, not Glenn Reynolds, who presumably is aware of the norm but didn't articulate it.)

As Glenn rightly suggests, the soldiers would've had much more of an impact on public opinion if they had written personalized (albeit less elegant) letters. Yes, that is right. But Glenn is thinking too small. What a more savvy commanding officer would have done is distributed the letter in the form of a petition, with the signatures of all 500 soldiers who agreed with its conents.

If Col. Caraccilo had done that, he probably would've gotten some very positive press coverage in the front section of almost every major newspaper in the United States, perhaps even on the front page. The letters from the 503d would have been especially compelling because Kirkuk actually is one of the remarkable success stories of the occupation (despite the NYT's best efforts to pretend that it isn't.)

Instead, both the NYT and Josh Marshall are continuing to attack the letters as a fraud designed to cover up America's failure in Iraq. So, Gen. Petraeus, if you want the world to know that the 101st Airborne is doing a helluva job in Mosul, make sure to learn from Col. Caraccilo's mistakes.

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