OxBlog

Tuesday, November 04, 2003

# Posted 11:03 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

APPARENTLY, OXBLOG OWES CONDI AN APOLOGY: In a recent post, I criticized Wes Clark for saying that the Bush Administration's negligence was in part responsible for 9/11. As part of OxBlog's ongoing effort to be fair and balanced, I also criticized Condi Rice for saying that the Clinton administration was negligent with regard to Al Qaeda. But now it seems that Condi may not have said that at all.

As Pejman points out, the idea that Condi said what she said comes from this NYT article. As such, Pejman has some sharp words for Matt Yglesias, who blasted Condi for her one-sided accusations on the basis of what he read in the NYT. So I guess OxBlog ought to suffer some of Pejman's wrath as well.

FYI, the quotation I attributed to Condi (taken from an e-mail sent by one of our readers) is pretty much a verbatim repetition of what the NYT said, with just a few of the quotation marks moved around. Still, it should go without saying that I had an obligation to verify the quote before posting it on the web.

Btw, I'm still looking for a transcript of Condi's speech since it isn't up on the NSC website yet. (Even so, it's pretty clear from reading the NYT article that Condi's remarks were misrepresented.)
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# Posted 7:36 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

STUDENTS FOR WAR: While Reihan suggests that it's a parody, I think that the SFW website is for real. Yes, the graphics on the SFW homepage are ridiculous. And agitating for war with North Korea is almost ridiculous. Still, SFW was a real organization with typical right-of-center views back in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq.

Anyhow, the reason I raise this issue is because the Campus Organizations section of the SFW site has a link to OxDem. To SFW's credit, it describes OxDem and the other student groups as "organizations supporting the cause of freedom". If SFW were a parody, I think it would have the decency to call us "young hegemonists" or something to that effect.

So, bottom line: Website real. In no way representative of OxDem's views.
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# Posted 11:35 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

"AMERICA WILL NOT RUN": The President has come out with one response to Sunday's tragic loss of life. Howard Dean has come out with another:
"[The attack] weakens the position of the president and my Democratic opponents," said Dr. Dean, a Democratic contender who, as one of the most vocal critics of the war, cited the attack on a Chinook helicopter that took the lives of 16 American soldiers on Sunday. "There are now almost 400 people dead who wouldn't be dead if that resolution hadn't been passed and we hadn't gone to war."
While Dean can argue with some validity that the war may have been a mistake given our failure to find a substantial cache of WMD, this sort of statement implies that because we made a mistake by going in, we should pull out right now regardless of the consequences. That is the kind of short-sighted thinking that makes it so hard for me to even consider supporting the Vermont governor's bid for Commander-in-Chief.

UPDATE: Brian Ulrich writes that this interpretation of what Dean said may be misleading. After all, Dean says on his website that
"That is, after all, now much more than a national security objective," he added. "It is a declaration of national purpose, written in the blood of our troops, and of the innocent on all sides who have perished."

His bullet point on American troops: "A democratic transition will take between 18 to 24 months, although troops should expect to be in Iraq for a longer period."
While Brian is right about Dean's official position, I think one gets a better sense of what Dean is about by listening to what he says in person. The pattern we tend to see with Howard Dean is that he says something embarrassing in person, e.g. his comment about "guessing" that Iraq is better off without Saddam, then has to correct himself by pointing out that his official position isn't what you would expect based on his prior statement. To me, this says a lot about his instincts on foreign policy. If Dean makes the transition from candidate to present, I think it is reasonable to expect that his instincts will be far more more important than his official positions.

Btw, it's probably worth pointing out that Dean's official statement is from April 9, which leads me to think that it isn't exactly the most important thing on his mind these days. So what I'm interested in seeing is whether Dean keeps talking about those-who-wouldn't-have-died while adjusting the 400 figure upwards as warranted. If so, it will become ever harder to believe that he is committed to rebuilding Iraq.

UPDATE: Brian has some comments on my response.
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Monday, November 03, 2003

# Posted 12:01 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

CLARK'S SPEECH -- HIS DEFENDERS RESPOND: OxBlog's vocal Democratic readers are up in arms about my criticism of Wesley Clark's attacks on George Bush. The remark at the center of the conroversy is my assertion that
If a Democratic candidate is going to attack Bush on this front, he will need nothing short of a smoking gun in order to persuade the American public that Osama bin Laden deserves anything less than 100% of the blame for the September 2001 attacks.
According to Mark Kleiman, my assertion constitutes nothing less an "abusive misinterpretation" of Clark's words. Specifically,
The idea of Bush's "letting 9-11 happen" is entirely Adesnik's fantasy, and that Adesnik converts Clark's well-reasoned rebuke of Bush -- for trying to blame the failure to notice that al-Qaeda had plans to use jetliners as missiles on lower-level intelligence personnel -- into the absurd assertion that Bush, rather than bin Laden was responsible for the crime. Having put absurd words into Clark's mouth, Adesnik is then stunned by their absurdity: Did he really say that?
In an e-mail response to Mark, I point out that Michael Tomasky of The American Prospect interpreted Clark's speech to mean exactly the same thing that I thought it meant. So, unless Clark's most avid partisans have fantasies identical to those of critics such as myself, I think it is fair to say that I am guilty of neither abuse nor misinterpretation. Still, Mark responds that
I read Tomasky. He and I agree both about the facts and about what Clark is saying. Bush, as President, is responsible for failures in the national security apparatus. There were failures that facilitated 9-11. So Bush can reasonably be held responsible for misfeasance. That isn't to say that "Bush let it happen" or that Bush is a criminal in any way comparable to bin Laden, only that Bush is responsible for the screw-ups and shouldn't be allowed to blame it on underlings in the intelligence agencies.
First of all, I never even came close to saying that Clark described Bush as being in any way comparable to Bin Laden. Rather, I clearly stated that Clark wants Bush to shoulder a small but significant proportion of the responsibility for the September 11 attacks. And that seems to be exactly what Mark Kleiman and Michael Tomasky want as well.

On a related note, AL writes in that
I think your recent blogpost obscures an important distinction between 'blame' and 'responsibility'-- responsibility in the slightly separate sense of the acts of a responsible person. There is no question that Osama gets 100% of the blame for 9/11...I don't think Gen. Clark is talking about blame. Gen. Clark
is suggesting, and it is not an unreasonable inference given the reluctance to the White House to divulge anything, that Bush had been *imprudent* and *irresponsible* in disregarding various warnings we might have received.

If I forget to lock my bicycle, the thief is 100% to blame. This doesn't mean I should get four more years of running the bicycle store.
In response, I'd have to say that there is a slight difference between bicycles and national security. If you ignore threats to the well-being of your bicycle, it's probably because you were thinking about something more important. If the President ignores threats to our national security, it's a matter of criminal negligence.

Moreover, the use of the bicycle analogy suggests that just a little more forethought on Bush's part might have prevented a major national disaster. If that is one's position, then one cannot say that one isn't trying to blame Bush. Think, perhaps, of a night watchman who is having a few drinks at the corner bar while burglars make off with everything in the company safe.

The problem here is that both Kleiman and AL want to have it both ways. They want voters to think of Bush as partially responsible for 9/11 without admitting that Clark's words constitute an attack or an accusation. In other words, they want to throw mud without getting it on their hands. (In contrast, Tomasky is up front about what he is doing.)

Now, notice what I'm not saying -- that Clark is wrong. If the Senate Intelligence Committee pries enough evidence from the deathgrip of the Administration, it may just find that Bush & Co. were criminally negligent when it came to Osama Bin Laden. Still, Clark's accusation struck as me as quite surprising because there was no indication that he knew of any such evidence.

I'd also like to add that I never intended to give Repubicans a free-ride on the 9/11 mudslinging front. As JG points out, Condi Rice tried to turn the tables on the Democrats two days after Clark's speech by saying that
"The Clinton and other past administrations had ignored evidence of growing terrorist threats and despite repeated attacks on American interests, until Sept. 11, the terrorists faced no sustained, systematic and global response from the United States. They became emboldened, and the result was more terror and more victims."
Given that the Bush Administration hasn't released any evidence to back up such charges, Rice's comments are pretty offensive. I'm guessing, however, that the President won't say this sort of thing, especially not on the campaign trail.

While I don't necessarily think that he's above it, it's an accusation that undermines the credibility of the attacker unless he has evidence to back himself up. That is why I was so surprised by Clark's statement. It just seemed like such a bad move. (For a good elaboration of that point, see this post from the Chicago Report.) Moreover, it was another bad move on the national security front from a candidate whose greatest strength is supposed to be military and foreign affairs.

Incidentally, I now have more information on Clark's speech, information provided by a someone who is in a position to know. While riding with Clark on his way to make the speech, my source watched the general make last-minute revisions to the text. Thus, the differences between the official text and what Clark actually said would seem to reflect a personal decision by the candidate to intensity his attacks on the President. Whether it was a good decision is what we don't yet know.

UPDATE: AL clarifies that he is accusing the Bush Administration of doing something very wrong. However, he is not accusing it of being evil or malign.
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Sunday, November 02, 2003

# Posted 12:41 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

ANOTHER SAD DAY. Our thoughts are with the families of the dead and wounded.
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Friday, October 31, 2003

# Posted 6:05 AM by Patrick Belton  

A HAPPY HALLOWEEN to all our readers! (Except, of course, to our Gaelic readers, to whom I should wish a happy Samhain instead).

And except in France, where, according to the always trustworthy Seattle paper, Halloween is apparently as much a relic of last year's fashion as pointy shoes. Tant pis.
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# Posted 5:43 AM by Patrick Belton  

ANOTHER DAY, ANOTHER LETTER FROM KABUL: Here's the latest from OxBlog's intrepid, and hard-working, bureau chief:
Ramazan is well underway; thankfully, the days are cool and short. P.'s [note: still not me - ed.] and my decision to join the fast has been greeted with general incredulity and the sly question, "Ah yes, but what time do you get up for breakfast?" In P.'s case, the answer is generally, "Not at all." I tend to drowse awake at 4:00 a.m., munch a couple McVitie's biscuits, down a liter of water, and fall asleep again. Z. initially tried to muster us for a proper pre-dawn breakfast, but then started sleeping through the alarm herself. Regardless, by the time dusk rolls around, we're all famished and ready to pack away a grand iftar dinner. One of these days we're going to see if the food at the shuttered, formidable-looking Croatian dive across the street is as good as its reputation.

Tonight (Thursday) I ended up taking iftar at the home of logistics assistant Aziz Ahmad, after a long afternoon of driving around the city discussing American marriage customs and the shelling of West Kabul during the 1990s. Aziz lives with his parents and seven siblings on the western outskirts of Kabul, in a tight-packed
neighborhood of small walled compounds. He hustled me and the reluctant driver, Ainodeen, through the door and into a cozy, carpeted dining room with long floor cushions. After allowing me to give cursory salaams to his flustered sisters, Aziz ducked out and drew a curtain across the doorway; it was the last I saw of his
family, with the exception of his brother and six year-old sister, who periodically brought in more food. We sat cross-legged around a plastic tablecloth, tore off chunks of the diamond-shaped, corrugated flatbread that accompanies (or composes) most meals in Afghanistan, and tucked into heaps of mashed potatoes (deliciously heavy on the garlic, oregano, and pepper), curd, and still-liquid fried eggs. Over a dessert of lightly salted pomegranate seeds, Aziz ruefully discussed how his family's persistent association with foreigners has cut them off from their traditional community in the south. "My father was in the military, so when we went back to the village five years ago, they called us all Communists. Now that I work with French and US groups for a few years, they call me a foreigner."

It was all rather a contrast with last Thursday, which I spent entirely in the company of foreigners. We had dinner and drinks at the Mustafa Hotel (favorite haunt of expat journalists), whose slightly claustrophobic barroom offers glitzy mirror-mosaic decor, Beck and Guinness on tap, and a decent chicken tikka pizza. The bar is up a narrow flight of stairs, past several doors and a couple clusters of guards. A sign on the wall informs all concerned parties that under no circumstances will alcohol be served to Afghan citizens. When we left (the women shrugging their headscarves back on), we drove over to a compound inhabited by a haggard, hospitable Dane and a cheery Glaswegian Scot who invited everyone in sight to tomorrow's rugby game. About ten other young aid workers from all round Europe and Australia were hanging out on the couches, deconstructing music videos over screwdrivers and G&Ts. I added my American twang to the symphony of accents, and we whiled away a cheerful half hour in front of the TV.

Then began the remarkable quest for Thursday night parties in a city without addresses. In a country littered with mines and mujahidin, I think my life was most in danger that night, hurtling through the Kabul streets after dark with a tipsy, expostulating Scot as chauffeur: "Love the Afghans. Couldna find a kinder, more hospitable people. But get them behind the wheel of a car, and forget about it! Game over!" None of us quite knew where we were going, though as we trawled the area where the ICRC party was supposed to be, we encountered two or three other cars following the same rumor. Finally our little caravan arrived at the right street. As with most expat parties in Kabul, this one was marked by (1) a surreptitious X on the door of the compound, and (2) a couple dozen inconspicuous white SUVs with NGO logos and patient Afghan drivers parked along the roadside. We found the marked door and walked past the impassive guards into a different world. A sign by the entryway mandated a tequila shot for all comers (the three bottles were long empty). The house was packed with aid workers from all over the planet, drinking, dancing, talking shop. A long table held an international array of booze, from Australian wine to Latvian vodka to a particularly unpleasant ouzo. There was a bonfire in the backyard, and (as a surreal complement) someone had rigged a projector to shine the "Fire" animation from Windows MediaPlayer onto the ten feet of UNHCR-logo sheeting that topped the rear wall of the compound. We left an hour or so later, with our Aussie friend seeking directions on her mobile: "Yeh, we were just at that party, but it's a bit crap. Is the Bearing Point party on Flower Street? Is there room to park?"

It was loads of fun, and you can't deny all those hardworking expats a little festivity in a city as dry as Kabul. But the disconnect between the normal world of Kabul and the behind-heightened-walls party scene was striking; and naturally there are frictions. The UN has implored its staff to keep a lower party profile on a number of occasions. One of the previous hangouts was a pub established (brilliantly) across the street from a mosque, eventually forced to move due to bomb threats. As we were arriving last Thursday, a group of partygoers who missed the X on the door accidentally roused the unamused Afghan family across the street from their dinner. And the sight of the Afghan drivers waiting up til all hours to drive their drunken masters home was a bit distressing. Of course not everyone's comfortable walking home from parties (as P. and I ended up doing around 3 in the morning), but more efforts could be made to carpool.

Now, one similarity between expat life and Afghan life is that both are generally lived behind high walls -- which I found interesting, having heard plenty of criticisms in other countries of the comfortable "gated communities" in which aid workers isolate themselves. But in a culture as modesty-conscious as Afghanistan's, the gated compound is the norm, and mutual isolation in private life is a powerful social principle (though I hasten to add that hospitality and kinship are even stronger ones). Driving out of the city, I was struck by the walls everywhere -- high, narrow barriers of packed mud along field boundaries, brick walls parceling off empty blocks of mountainside. I commented that barbed wire would surely be a more effective way to keep the sheep out. "Sure," a friend responded, "but you want to be able to send the women to work in the fields. They can't do that effectively in a burqa." The daily trip from home enclosure to work enclosure isn't only an expat routine.

Our trip north of Kabul also brought the effects of the war into full focus. As we drove through the arid, misnamed Dih Sabz wasteland ("Sabz" means "green"), we kept passing the rusted wreckage of Soviet tanks and troop transports. Slowly the desert gave way to trees, walled fields and homes... with large white checkmarks painted on the mud walls, and lines of white stones along the roadside. "White means the deminers have been through here," a friend explained. "If you see red stones, stay the hell on the road. If you don't see any color stones, stay the hell on the road. If you see white stones, ask yourself seriously whether you have a reason to leave the road." As we turned onto the Bagram airbase road, our driver Basyir informed us that this had been the line of control between Ahmad Shah Massoud and the Taliban after the latter conquered Kabul. Both sides of the road were beautifully green, and clearly good farmland; both had been mined into uninhabitability by the rival armies over the years, and were only now recovering. In a bleakly appropriate coda, just as we finished discussing the rehabilitation of mined lands, a one-legged man on a bicycle pedaled gamely past our car.

But more than the mined farmland in the Shomali Plain, West Kabul is by far the saddest thing I've seen in the country. It was literally caught in the crossfire when the mujahidin began killing each other after driving out the Soviets; Aziz and Ainodeen laconically pointed out the specific surrounding mountains from which Gulbuddin, Massoud, and Dostum shelled each other and the city below. Thousands of civilians died. Hundreds of homes were leveled. And today, even after years of reconstruction, West Kabul is still a skeleton of a city. The giant Soviet-built grain silos on the highway have great scorched dents on the side where the shells hit them. The walls left from the bad old days are plasterless, pocked with bullet holes and shrapnel scars. The road in front of Kabul University has been fixed up a bit, but most of the other streets are still deeply pitted from bombs and barricades.

In Kabul it's common to see big metal shipping containers lined up by the side of the road; people keep them after shipments are delivered (perhaps because they choose to, perhaps because there's just not much to ship out of Kabul) and use them as shops or even homes. Along the main roads in West Kabul, you see bullet-riddled containers everywhere, and some are warped, convex, with jagged blast holes. I assumed they had all been used as barricades in the bloody street fighting of the civil war. Today I was told that the warlords had packed the latter containers full of prisoners and fired rockets into them -- execution, not war. Every time I begin to think my imagination is adequate to what happened here, I'm proved wrong again.

In general, please don't imagine that my mostly car's eye view (no pun intended) [ed: get it, Karzai? Joel shares the OxBloggers' taste for kabbalistically obscure puns...] of Kabul is adequate to the reality. There's more going on here than I could possibly pick up in a few weeks. I'll end with one of the things I saw in West Kabul that I found poignantly hopeful: a completely gutted warehouse whose ground level (extending for half a city block) was being used to store new bricks, stacked from floor to ceiling. The city is rebuilding. Kids are going to school in droves, including cute little headscarved girls. The only guns I've seen on the street have been carried by police and soldiers.

But it's clear from all reports that Kabul's relative stability and recovery aren't shared throughout Afghanistan, and Afghans continue to seek refuge in the capital for that reason. The ISAF armed forces here have been key to Kabul's recovery (notwithstanding the disgruntled banner hung from a wall near the heavily barricaded US Embassy: "Honorable International Societies! Have you come to Kabul to block our crossroads and roads?"). The sooner NATO achieves its stated goal of extending ISAF to the major regional cities -- not just Kunduz, though that's a good start -- the better.

And the sooner I get to bed, the better... it's only a few hours till breakfast...
For earlier Letters from Kabul from our worthy Afghanistan correspondent, see if you will here and here.
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Thursday, October 30, 2003

# Posted 6:51 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

CLARK'S SPEECH: A POLITICAL MASTERSTROKE? Matt Yglesias' boss is arguing that Wes Clark's attack on George Bush's pre-9/11 record was not just intentional, but also the first shot in a well-planned campaign strategy. As Tomasky puts it,
[Clark] will apparently seek in the coming weeks and months to convince Americans that a failure of presidential leadership before 9-11 may have been partly responsible for the disaster's occurrence in the first place.
I'm going to have to call that wishful thinking. If Clark actually had such a clear strategy, why was his prepared text so equivocal on the issue of Bush's responsibility? And if this specific attack on Bush was such an important part of Clark's overall message on national security, why did he resort to ad libbing?

Now, Tomasky may be right that Bush is more vulnerable to criticism on the pre-9/11 front than widely thought. The Kean Commission may well expose an embarrassing degree of unpreparedness in the White House. And Tomasky may even be right that Clark's "surely has his own sources in the U.S. intelligence world". Still, if a Democratic candidate is going to attack Bush on this fron, he will need nothing short of a smoking gun in order to persuade the American public that Osama bin Laden deserves anything less than 100% of the blame for the September 2001 attacks.

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# Posted 2:23 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

CLARK'S SPEECH, A FIRST-HAND ACCOUNT: Alex Massie was there, and he reports that Clark really did say that Bush was personally responsible for 9/11.

Alex also notes that the specific wording of the accusation was pretty much an ad lib and that transcripts handed out at the event match the one posted on Clark's website.

On a related note, Alex links to this Josh Marshall post which argues that Clark's campaign is in complete disarray and headed for failure. Rightly, Alex takes Josh to task for focusing on organziational issues and ignoring the most important reason that Clark is running into serious trouble: he keeps changing his opinion on the most important issue of the day -- Iraq -- while insisting that his views haven't changed at all.
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# Posted 10:45 AM by Patrick Belton  

A LAST FINAL BOW FOR FRANCO CORELLI, TENOR: One of the great tenors of the twentieth century, Franco Corelli, has passed away from us, perchance to sing with the angels.

Rachel and I were, somewhat poignantly, listening entirely by chance to Corelli's Songs and Arias disc at the precise moment he died. (This has made me somewhat cautious in use of my CD player...though were I a substantially less benevolent and well-meaning sort to all, I could note I've been listening quite a bit to the Dixie Chicks today, without demonstrable effect.)

Corelli's Metropolitan Opera debut formed one of the legendary nights to occur in that house, when both he and Leontyne Price both made their debut on the same night in Il Trovatore. The ovations at the end of the performance carried on for nearly an hour. In an anecdote which I recall, from the oral tradition of my own music coaches and relatives not too distant from his (and Rossini's) natal port town of Ancona on Italy's east coast, was that Corelli initially worked in the docks of his port town, following in his father's profession as a naval engineer. Friends noticed his singing on the docks, guided only by old 78's of Caruso, Gigli, and Lauri-Volpi, and encouraged him to study voice professionally. He received what seems in retrospect to have been quite bad instruction at the hands of Rita Pavoni in the Conservatory of Pesaro, and gained the distinction of being compared to a glass - "whenever he went up," Italian oral tradition records the contemporary assessment, "he broke." Returning to the ports, his friends convinced him once again to leave to pursue his vocal gifts, and receiving mildly better instruction from Arturo Melocchi (who was known, however, as a "throat-wrecker"), and a quite productive apprenticeship under Giacomo Lauri-Volpi, he deputed in 1951 as Don Jose in Carmen, singing with Maria Callas in 1953, deputing at La Scala with her in 1954, and taking Tosca to London in 1957. He retired in the year of my birth, 1976. If there be Neapolitan gondoliers in the heavens, he has surely taken his place there among them.
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Wednesday, October 29, 2003

# Posted 11:31 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

DID HE REALLY JUST SAY THAT? (PART TWO): Did Wes Clark actually accuse Bush of letting 9/11 happen? Or did the NYT imagine it?

Josh Marshall, who heard Clark deliver the speech, didn't mention anything about Clark's accusation. That surprised me, since Josh isn't one to miss a big story.

As such, I decided to figure things out for myself by getting a transcript of Clark's speech, which is available on the Clark04 website.

After reading the speech, I'm even more confused. There are some passages that are very similar to the ones reported in the NYT, but which have a fundamentally different meaning. According to the Times,
Gen. Wesley K. Clark said on Tuesday that the administration could not "walk away from its responsibilities for 9/11."

"You can't blame something like this on lower-level intelligence officers, however badly they communicated in memos with each other," said the retired general, the latest entrant in the Democratic presidential field. "It goes back to what our great president Harry Truman said with the sign on his desk: `The buck stops here.' And it sure is clear to me that when it comes to our nation's national security, the buck rests with the commander in chief, right on George W. Bush's desk."
According to the Clark website, the General said
And then there is 9/11. There is no way this administration can walk away from its responsibilities. This wasn't something that could be blamed on lower level intelligence officers. Our great Democratic President Harry Truman said, the "buck stops here." And when it comes to our nation's foreign policy, the buck sits on George W. Bush's desk. And we must say it again and again until the American people understand it. National security, next to upholding the Constitution, is the most important duty of any President.
Reading the Clark transcript, it's hard to figure out exactly what the General is saying. What is Clark referring to when he says that "This" wasn't something that can be blamed on lower-level intelligence officers? Is he referring to 9/11 or to the absence of WMD in Iraq?

From the NYT version of Clark's speech, however, it is absolutely clear that Clark is talking about 9/11. Well, that's all I have for the moment. I'll let you know what I find.

UPDATE: The AP has quotations almost identical to those in the NYT. TNR also has Clark saying the same thing, although Frank Foer doesn't think Clark meant to say what he said. Which leaves me wondering: Did Clark just completely mangle his prepared text?

UPDATE: There's nothing on Clark's sppech over at the Weekly Standard, but it does have a scathing review of Clark's ever-changing position on the war. The Corner has a link to the NYT article.

UPDATE: I just sent the following e-mail to the contact address given on the Clark '04 website:
Dear Clark '04 Staff,

Good luck with your work -- I know you've probably been putting in a lot of 16 hour days lately.

At the moment, I have a question about Gen. Clark's speech to the "New American Strategies for Security and Peace" conference. According to the New York Times and the Associated Press, Gen. Clark held President Bush personally responsible for the intelligence failures that led to 9/11. However, the quotations to that effect that appear in the NYT and AP stories do not appear in the transcript of General Clark's speech posted on your website. In that transcript, Gen. Clark makes statements superficially similar to the ones reported by the NYT and AP, but which have a fundamentally different meaning. Could you please explain this discrepancy?

Best,
David
UPDATE: I was hoping to settle the issue of what Clark said by watching the webcast of his speech, but I'm having trouble connecting.

UPDATE: Having slept on it, I think it's probably fair to conclude that the media reported Clark's statements accurately. However, the Clark campaign may simply have posted an earlier draft of the speech rather than the final product. Alternately, Clark may have mangled the text. Ultimately, the best indicator of what happened may be whether or not Clark decides to disavow his comments -- but even then it would be hard to know if he were backtracking from an accident or from a major rhetorical blunder.
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# Posted 8:51 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

DID HE REALLY JUST SAY THAT? Wes Clark seems to be blaming Bush for 9/11. No, not Iraq. 9/11. While the Administration has hardly been forthright about the intelligence failures that contributed to the attack, Clark really seems to be going out on a limb.

My best guess is that Clark thinks he can steal Dean's thunder by ramping us his attacks on the President. Or maybe Clark really has no idea how serious such accusations are. To figure out what was really on Clark's mind we may have to ask Matt Yglesias -- because The American Prospect sponsored the conference at which Clark delivered his speech (via satellite).

NB: Matt seems to have gone back to the pessimist side in the Iraq debate. Serves me right for outing him as a tentative optimist back in mid-October.

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# Posted 8:33 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

OXBLOG AGREES WITH NYT: Putin's a lying thug.
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# Posted 8:19 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

STICKING IT TO THE JEWS: OxBlog has never hidden its respect for the Jewish people. We are always ready to stand up for Israel and against anti-Semitism. But as an insider, let me tell you that sometimes the Jewish people really need to be taken down a notch. Through mantra-like repetition of assorted myths, we sometimes persuade ourselves to believe in our own delusions of grandeur.

Case in point: The supposed invincibility of the Israeli military. Long frustrated by stereotypical images of Jews (and especially Jewish males) as pale, thin and cowardly, Jews the world over now insist that Israeli soldiers are the bravest and most capable in the world. How else to explain the overwhelming victories of 1948, 1956 and 1967, as well as the death-defying come-from-behind triumph of 1973?

But what about 1991? According to Prof. Eliot Cohen -- best known as the author of Supreme Command -- the US military lost much of the respect it had for the Israelis as a result of the first Persian Gulf War. It turns out that this development had nothing to do with Saddam's ability to get in a few shots at Tel Aviv before pulling out of Kuwait. Rather, after their nonchalant devastation of the finest Arab military in existence, the Americans became much less impressed with Israeli victories over adversaries who were even less competent.

Prof. Cohen raised this point in response to a question that was asked after his lecture today on Israeli military strategy and culture in comparative perspective. In the course of his lecture, Prof. Cohen exposed the emptiness of the cherished myths that well-meaning Jewish teachers pass on to countless students in Hebrew schools across the nation.

As a survivor of 13 years of Jewish education, let me tell you that you cannot go to a Jewish school without having myths of Israeli prowess drummed into your head at every turn. And if you went to an Orthodox school like mine, chances are you were taught that Israeli victories were literal miracles, visible signs of God bestowing favors on his chosen people. (What I could never figure out was whether the Almighty just started being nice to the Jews in 1945, or whether the Israeli military's success was some sort of compensation for all of the terrible things that He let happen to us beforehand.)

Suffice it to say that the overwhelmingly Jewish audience at Prof. Cohen's talk was deeply unhappy with what he had to say. With one exception, every question thrown at him demanded to know how he could reconcile this or that Israeli achievement with his insistence that the Israeli military is nothing special. Some of the questions were fairly intelligent. For example, one man wanted to know how Israel established a competent military force in its first heady days as an independent state. As it turns out, David Ben Gurion wisely recognized that the fastest way to build up the armed forces was to take advantage of many Israelis' experience serving in the British and other European militaries.

Among the less thoughtful questions was how Cohen could fail to recognize that Israeli pilots are the best in the world, especially when behind the controls of their F-16s. Somewhat sarcastically, Cohen asked his interlocutor whether the Israelis built the F-16s and taught themselves how to fly, or whether the Americans had something to do with it. However, before Cohen could finish what he was saying, an old Israeli woman asked him how many MiGs the American air force had shot down. (Answer: Enough.)

What really surprised me about the audience was its unwillingness even to accept that lsrael might have the second best military in the world, after that of the American juggernaut. It sort of reminded of the debates I used to have with some of my friends in junior high school. We genearlly assumed that America was stronger than Israel because its military was bigger. But a lot of us argued that, man for man, the Israel military was better. While this view generally prevailed, some dissenters insisted that the American army was better man for man, but only because it could afford to spend so much more on each soldier's training and equipment.

With these adolescent debates as a backdrop, it was especially interesting to hear Prof. Cohen explain that the Israeli military, historically, has valued quality less than quantity. Little known is the fact that in 1948 the Israelis outnumbered their opponents. And thanks to its extensive system of conscription and reserves, Israel maintains one of the last mass armies in the age of the professional soldier.

Prof. Cohen also argued that despite prevalent images of Jews as intellectuals, Israel has one of the least intellectual armies in the world. Unlike the American army and many of its European counterparts, the Israeli armed forces produces few substantive works of military theory and history.

Now, lest one think that Prof. Cohen's entire lecture was an effort at Socratic subversion of Jewish egomania, it is important to recognize that such exercises have tremendous practical value. After all, Israel's most devastating losses on the battlefield -- in the Sinai in October 1973 -- were a direct result of the stubborn hubris that had set in after the Six Day War.

In addition, unloading all of this mythical baggage enables one to appreciate what may be Israel's greatest accomplishment on the military front: the establishment of the only democracy in the Middle East thanks to David Ben Gurion's aggressive efforts to undermine the political influence of senior generals and ensure the subordination of the military to civilian authorities.

At a time when many Israelis considered themselves to be revolutionaries and kept portraits of Stalin above their desks, it was hardly a foregone conclusion that Israel would become both a Jewish state and a democracy. For that, we ought to be thankful.
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# Posted 7:20 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

WHERE DOES THE WaPo STAND? This masthead editorial praises President Bush for his iron-willed resolve and says we are making progress in Iraq. Yet this column by editorial page editor Fred Hiatt says that defeat and failure are very real possibilities if we don't get the security situation under control. Has the tide begun to turn?
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# Posted 7:04 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

ARAB LEADERS DENOUNCE KILLING OF INNOCENT IRAQIS: Oh, that Greg Djerejian. He has quite an imagination. Today he invents a hypothetical world in which concern for innocent Arab life motivates Arab heads of state to condemn the cold-blooded murder of dozens of Muslim Arabs in Iraq.

Of course, Greg is a sensible fellow, so he doesn't confuse such hypotheticals with real-life reality. He knows that Arab dictators are self-serving cowards whose lip service to Arab nationalism and Islamic values never gets in the way of their lust for power.

But don't worry, Greg. The day will come when Mubarak and Assad and Abdallah speak out forcefully on behalf of the sanctity of Arab life. It will the be day after an American bomb goes astray and kills a dozen Iraqis.

UPDATE: If the victims in this story turn out to be innocent bystanders, Mubarak et al. may have their chance to lambast the Americans. Frankly, though, I think the Arab leadership will keep quiet unless something egregious happens, like the wedding-party bombing in Afghanistan.
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# Posted 3:46 PM by Patrick Belton  

SYLVIA PLATH, DEFENDED FROM HER DETRACTORS: As we're having something of a poetic day today, it seems appropriate to link to Meghan O'Rourke's excellent essay on Sylvia Plath on Slate.
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# Posted 3:34 PM by Patrick Belton  

TORY SHAKE-UP: As of several minutes ago, Ian Duncan Smith is no more, at least as leader of the Conservative Party. (See BBC, Guardian, Telegraph, Conservative Party website). The instant frontrunner to replace him has been shadow chancellor Michael Howard.
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# Posted 8:43 AM by Patrick Belton  

A VISIT FROM FATHER PAUL:
"Beannacht De ar an obair,"
-- "The More a Man Has the More a Man Wants," from Quoof, (1983)

As a brief, personal comment, one of the side compensations of becoming grievously overeducated in universities such as this one, as well as of serving time as a foreign policy hand in Washington and New York, is that you accumulate frequent opportunities to meet, and I quote, "Great Men." And so, in the last several years, like many of my friends, I have duly been able to meet a number of the United States's and Britain's leading scholars, chief legislators and public servants of the U.S. executive branch, and even, last week, HM the Queen. This is obviously due to coincidences of shared place rather than through any personal merit whatsoever, and I only make the point at all because I have never before yesterday had the opportunity to exchange words with anyone for whom I have for so long nursed such deep intellectual and personal admiration as I do for Paul Muldoon, our professor of poetry.

Along with Josh, Josh, and Rachel, we ended up brushing up against him before the lecture and having a quite nice chat with him. He's an amazingly nice man, and half-embarrassedly shook all of our hands and introduced himself to all of us as "Paul." I muttered off some Irish to him and must have in so doing by equal parts scared and amused him, so he very kindly talked with us until it was time for his lecture.

During which, some nutter blew a long whistle roughly 20 lines into Paul's prefatory reading of Dover Beach (ironically enough, right around the line about "there is no silence, no peace" &c), and stood up, while carrying a stuffed sheep, and shouted out seven or eight lines in verse, which segued into a denunciation of Jews and Tony Blair (who, as we learned, is the first PM not to be British, as he's Zionist), and ending with the memorable line "the Jews are the real separatists." He was finally convinced to leave, announcing that he was taking his friend, Larry the stuffed sheep, with him. After which our professor poetry announced, admirably without missing a beat, that coincidentally the election for the next Professor of Poetry would be in March of 2004, and that those who said Oxford was being a boring, quiet place would perhaps find themselves mistaken.

Josh and I may disagree slightly over whether it is he or Heaney should be classed the foremost poet currently composing in English. But it is the similarities between the two that amaze: both Heaney and Muldoon were born, obviously, in the North (Muldoon in Armagh, Heaney in Derry) they both attended Queen's University, Belfast; they both passed portions of their youth in the BBC's Northern Ireland bureau. Heaney is dedicant of Muldoon's "The Briefcase" (1990). They have both held Oxford's professorship of poetry.

The poetic output of the North in our generation has been prodigious: though, as Kinsella rightly points out, the Northern phenomenon is 'largely a journalistic entity' rather than a school in any real sense, that Heaney, Muldoon, and their too-neglected colleagues Ciaran Carson, Medbh McGuckian, and Derek Mahon would all hail from a beleaguered, traditionally philistine province simply astounds. This is a province, and a country, that poetically punches above its weight. Of contemporary poets in the Republic, Nuala Ni Dhomhnaill was reared in the Kerry Gaeltacht and composes in Irish at the highest levels that language has known, and Thomas Kinsella's corpus, including his verse translation of The Tain (1969), one of the starting points of the Gaelic literary tradition, are worth noting. Though they straddle an international boundary, all these contemporary Irish poets, whether from the Republic or North, betray great density of local reference. They all follow Kavanagh's dictum, in the sonnet "Epic," "I made the Iliad from such / A local row."

It is in his playful erudition, at times giving way to moments of haunting epic vision, and in his skillful knitting together of intertextual elements from an English-language literary tradition of which he is undisputed master that Muldoon distinguishes himself from the other poets of our day. He combines the incredible humour and inventiveness of, say, "A Half Door Near Cluny" (1998) (which has the appearance of a crossword puzzle), or of [Ptolemy] and [Euclid] in "Madoc: a Mystery" (1990), with the erudition and gift for textual allusion that he displays in the pyrotechnics of To Ireland, I. It is really only Muldoon who could compose a lengthy poem entirely in haiku: witness, "Hopewell Haiku" (1998). He takes, as their citizen, the Gaelic and English literary traditions seriously, but himself as an object he does not, permitting a tremendous sense of fun to run down across Muldoon's lines.

I also must confess here a small personal bias: he is, after all, to my knowledge the only poet who for accidents of natural circumstance links the social and geographic worlds that are also mine: Gaelic Ireland, Britain, the Judaism he comes to through his wife, and the American northeast and the New Jersey Turnpike which have been his residence since 1987. And these worlds are woven together in the spaces between his verses. Following Kavanagh, as he does in his A to Zed of the Irish literary tradition presented in To Ireland, I (based on his Clarendon Lectures in English, 1998), he could not do anything else.

I'll be attempting in the coming months to summon up the guts to invite our professor of poetry out, next term, for a pint with a group of Irish students and others sharing an interest in his work. And in the meantime, I will be off to buy my stuffed sheep. We all do need friends, after all.

UPDATE: For opening her blog with a quote from A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, and for linking to Nuala Ni Dhomhnaill, Sheila O'Malley wins the highly coveted OxBabe "Blogosphere Babe of the Week" award. (Prior illustrious winners include Yalediva, and, of course, my lovely Rachel for the brief period she was posting on Nathan Hale). Also, Sheila might even go on a date with you, provided you live in New York and have an air conditioner.

Elsewhere, Josh Cherniss also comments on l'affaire sheep.
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# Posted 12:05 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

ONCE UPON A TIME IN CHINA, PART 2: If you want to learn a lot about Chinese foreign policy, read this excellent essay in the new issue of Foreign Affairs. One of the co-authors is Taylor Fravel, a colleague of mine at the Olin Institute who got his doctorate from Stanford last year and just presented a paper at Olin's National Security Seminar that won more praise than any other paper presented so far this year. Taylor also happens to be an Oxford graduate. If he weren't so busy, I guess we'd have to ask him to blog.

Anyhow, this post isn't really about Chinese foreign policy. As I mentioned yesterday, I'm not in a foreign policy frame of mind at the moment. Thus, those of you who would prefer to think about substantive political matters rather than the films of Jet Li (the actual subject of this post) should go and give Taylor's article a thorough read. There are a lot of subtle points in it, so do not forget that there is often an iron fist inside the velvet glove.

Now, back to Jet Li. Last night, I saw -- for the first time -- Once Upon a Time in China, Part 2 (OUTC-2). The opening scene is one of the absolute funniest I have ever seen. It is 1895 in Southern China, and Wong Fei-hung (Jet Li) is in the midst of a railroad journey from Fushan to Canton. A practitioner of traditional Chinese medicine, Wong happens to be not all familiar either with railroads or Western customs. However, his wordly aunt is familiar with both.

When the three protagonists sit down in the dining car, Wong and his apprentice stare in disbelief at the slab of meat on their plate. Wong's aunt informs him that this is a "steak". Wong and his apprentice then begin to struggle with the knife and fork they have been given. Both of them try to imitate Aunt Yee, but wind up pushing the steak around their plate rather than eating it.

Then suddenly, Foon the apprentice pushes down with his knife and fork, sending his steak hurtling toward the window. Ever the Kung Fu master, Wong catches it in his hand just before it is lost forever. Wong then haughtily admonishes Foon to eat properly, but proceeds to send his steak flying into Aunt Yee's face, from which it rebounds back onto the table.

So you're probably not laughing right now. Whether because it is intrinsically hard or because I lack the necessary talent, describing slapstick humor in prose form is not a simple matter. But don't worry. The scene is so funny that you will laugh even if you know exactly what is coming, so you haven't lost anything by reading this post.

Another reason you might not be laughing is that this sort of reverse cultural humor has finally begun to get an audience in the United States thanks to Jackie Chan. But after all the Americans-with-chopsticks humor around, this is still a very amusing alternative.

Of course, there is a lot more to OUTC-2 than just slapstick. First of all, there's kung fu. The action choreographer for the film was Yuen Woo-Ping, now famous in the West as the creative genius behind the fight scenes in all three Matrix films. (At the risk of ruffling some feathers, I'll say that the action in OUTC-2 is far better than it is in the Matrix.)

However, both the slapstick and kung fu are ultimately part of a story, and a good story at that. Coincidentally, it is a story about a foreign policy, even though I said that I wasn't going to write about foreign policy today. More importantly, it is a story about inter-cultural relationships, or what we Americans might refer to as "diversity".

While 'diversity' has become a provocative code word in the American political lexicon, OUTC-2 provides a compelling reminder of what a compelling concept diversity is when removed from its domestic political context. After all, I'm willing to guess that the overwhelming majority of readers on this site enjoy traveling abroad and learning about foreign cultures.

Yet even in such contexts, we often assume that those who think about diversity are Americans/Westerners coming into contact with other cultures. Yet as OUTC-2 demonsrates, Hong Kong can offer us a very different perspective on what it means to navigate cultural differences and cultural divides.

Above all, OUTC-2 reminds us that diversity in no way entails unquestioning acceptance of the other. The primary message of the film is that China must overcome its entrenched legacies of authoriatrian and xenophobic violence. If it can do so, it will then be in a position to both share its unique heritage with the West as well as benefit from all that the West has to offer.

Another fundamental aspect of the film's message is that there is an inextricable link between diversity and democracy. In American political discourse, advocates of diversity often find it hard to make a forceful case for the universality of democracy and human rights, since the universality of anything suggests that diversity only has value within a very narrow set of limits.

However, the message of OUTC-2 is that the benefits of diversity are only possible within a democratic political order. In Hollywood, a movie with a message as serious and sophisticated as that would dispense with all the kung fu and slapstick humor. But not in Hong Kong, where one can still be an intelligent film goer and want to enjoy a good laugh and a good fight. Now that's diversity.

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Tuesday, October 28, 2003

# Posted 9:08 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

MUCKRAKING ON THE RIGHT: David Brooks slams greed-driven lobbyists and the hypocritical GOP legislators in their pockets.
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# Posted 8:40 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

A LYING THUG: You know who I mean. Oh, and he's also an anti-Semite.
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# Posted 8:35 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

CLOUDS VS. LININGS: A mixed report from Mazar-e-Sharif.
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# Posted 8:32 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

DECADES OF GOOD DEEDS PROVIDE NO ARMOR: An apt headline for today's WaPo update on the Red Cross bombing. According to the Red Cross, the "attacker used what looked like a Red Cross/Red Crescent ambulance to deliver the device."
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# Posted 6:22 AM by Patrick Belton  

SCRIBBLING BENEATH THE VEIL: The New York Times reviews "The Storyteller's Daughter," the wide-ranging literary exploration of Aghanistan just accomplished by Saira Shah, an Afghan-Kent native of Parsee and Afghan stock. (The title refers to the author's father, celebrated Afghan Sufi writer Idries Shah.) Ms Shah has certainly come of age in her own right, and what's more, has done so twice over: she is also the narrator of Channel 4's haunting documentary Beneath the Veil, filmed under the late unmissed Taliban regime.
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# Posted 6:19 AM by Patrick Belton  

FOR ANY OF OUR READERS WHO ARE IN OXFORD: You really should go see Paul Muldoon tonight, if you're not already. Not only is he the most significant living poet writing in English, he's also the professor of poetry we're lucky enough to share with Princeton. What's more, you've got two chances: once at 5, at Schools (where he's lecturing on Matthew Arnold's Dover Beach and the end of the poem), and again at 7:45 in the more intimate surroundings of the music room at Corpus.
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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!

Cheers,
Joel
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# Posted 1:27 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

POP CULTURE CLARIFICATION: CJ writes in that
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,
 
Saliha
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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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