Tuesday, January 13, 2004

# Posted 8:14 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

IS MATT YGLESIAS SHORT? The topic of the day over at Matt's site is why everyone assumes that Matt is short based on his headshot. So I have a confession to make: before I first met Matt in person, I also assumed that he was short. It definitely came as something of a shock the first time I saw his head attached to a six-foot-plus body.

But why did I assume what I assume? Here are some suggestions from the comments page on Matt's site:
"Your face isn't long (like, say, John Kerry's), so people -- myself included -- presumed that your body isn't, either."

"Blatant ethnic and cultural stereotyping, pure and simple: Hispanics and Jews are presumptively short, intellectuals are small."

"I think it is the lack of a neck of any substance. Either you don't have one or the pictures aren't showing it."
And you wonder why OxBlog never puts up author photos.
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# Posted 7:46 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

TPM SPIN CONTROL: This Slate column says that Wes Clark puts his foot in his mouth no less often than Howard Dean. Josh Marshall tries to defend Clark by arguing that he's telling the uncomfortable (for the Bush administration) truth, rather than making constant gaffes.

Personally, I think Marshall would look a lot smarter if he just admitted that Clark said a bunch of dumb, slightly offensive things that are nowhere near as dumb as the kind of things Dean often says. (Of course, the Slate column doesn't include this howler that Clark gave us a few days ago.)

On the brighter side (for TPM), Josh gets a good shot in at the Bush administration's peculiar attitude toward releasing classified documents:
Number of days between Novak column outing Valerie Plame and announcement of investigation: 74 days.

Number of days between O'Neill 60 Minutes interview and announcement of investigation: 1 day.

Having the administration reveal itself as a gaggle of hypocritical goons ... priceless.
Josh really should've stopped before that last sentence. It's that sort of snide, overwrought remark which often makes reading TPM a chore. Besides, by Josh's standard, even the saintly Jimmy Carter was a hypocritical goon.

While no one should tolerate the kind of double standards that the Bush administration has clearly employed, going for the jugular every time only results in making Beltway politics ever more cutthroat. (Yet as Mr. Marshall would surely remind us, it's the Republicans who were cutthroat first.)

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# Posted 4:51 PM by Patrick Belton  

NO ONE, ON THE OTHER HAND, IS ACCUSING ME of gloating about anything the heck at all.... (Maybe I'm not doing something right....)
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# Posted 4:31 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

I'VE BEEN CRITICIZED BY READERS for not gloating approrpriately over this. But, really, when your team has the best starting rotation in Major League Baseball (Mussina, Brown, Vazquez, Contreras, Lieber), you can afford to stay quiet when a AAA ball club from Texas poaches a couple of your starters.
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Monday, January 12, 2004

# Posted 11:33 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THE WORST FORM OF GOVERNMENT (EXCEPT ALL OTHERS): Dan Drezner says that getting serious about democracy in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia may be America's best hope.
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# Posted 11:25 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

GO FLY A KIKE: MQ writes in to say that
I tend to find much of the writing on Oxblog, on the whole, of good value, particularly in parsing out the national media's reportage of the occupation of Iraq.

However, the title of your January 11, 11:08am post, "Full of Shi'ite," is disgraceful, disrespectful and not in the least bit cute.

I see no purpose to the use of an incorrect transliteration of a Muslim sect's name in such a distasteful manner. Would you be at all happy if someone would go off about the "Shrew Jew?" Would it even be funny? [Yes and yes. --DA]

This is particularly disconcerting as it is in the context of a discussion of some of the more moderate leadership of the Iraqi Shi'a.

Don't irresponsible lines such as yours only serve to confirm for Muslims the underhanded disdain of those who would proclaim their utmost respect for the cultures, religions and sensitivities of the Muslim peoples?
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# Posted 7:34 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

REALISTIC EXPECTATIONS: There is a solid message at the foundation of this op-ed by Steven Metz, an officer at the Army War College:
Whatever government and constitution emerge in Iraq during the coming year will be badly flawed. Even a talented and energetic people cannot emerge from the darkness of totalitarianism overnight. To ensure success in Iraq, the United States needs to think in terms of multiple generations and decades of sustained effort.
My problem is the logic on which this assertion rests. Metz begins his column with the assertion that
From childhood, Americans are taught the importance of compromise and consensus, of "playing by the rules" and of individual initiative. These are traits that form the foundation of our political and economic system.

Iraqis at this time do not have these basic traits and ideals. To survive in a repressive, pathological system, they've developed a very different set of behaviors, attitudes, values and perceptions, all of which are unsuited to open government and to success in a globalized economy.
If that is so, why were the Poles, Hungarians and Czechs able to establish democracy almost immediately after their liberation from Soviet rule? Clearly, many of the post-Soviet states failed to make the transition to democracy or have found themselves trapped in deeply flawed democratic orders. Thus, what seems to matter more than a history of totalitarianism is the context within which it takes place.

On the one hand, Iraq is far worse off neither it nor its neighbors has a history of democracy (although Iran may have a future). On the other hand, a massive American presence and global interest in Iraq favor democratic reform.

Regardless of such objections, Metz has good recommendations for how to address the probable flaws of Iraqi democracy:
Americans must help Iraq develop a cadre of leaders dedicated to democracy and a free-market economy, and equipped with the skills to manage them. This is a long-term prospect; a short tutorial here and there will not suffice. To make it happen, the United States should immediately fund tens of thousands of scholarships and internships for young Iraqis to come to America and should encourage other Western nations to do the same in their countries...

[Also], the United States must provide constant life support while the new cadre of democratic leaders assumes power. This will include helping Iraq avoid obvious dangers such as foreign intervention, fragmentation, civil war or a takeover by a dictator, but also more subtle risks such as the emergence of a de facto dictator who attains power through the democratic system, or backroom dominance by organized crime.

The United States must be steadfast in its support of Iraq's democrats, even those who aren't particularly pliable. Indeed, we cannot expect that an Iraqi democratic leader will be a supplicant of the United States, always echoing Washington's position. To be a democrat must be enough to merit support.
Exactly. Given Metz's clear commitment to building democracy in Iraq, it really doesn't matter if we have different opinons about the legacy of totalitarianism.
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# Posted 6:57 PM by Patrick Belton  

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# Posted 12:02 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

FINALLY, SOMETHING USEFUL IN THE GUARDIAN: Test your knowledge of The Simpsons. I got 10 out of 10. Kevin Drum got 8 out of 10. But the real quesiton is, what's the threshhold for qualifying as a total geek? (Spinal Tap's answer: 11.)
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Sunday, January 11, 2004

# Posted 11:51 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THE UNEMPLOYMENT PARADOX: Angry Bear has some comments on the perplexing nature of unemployment statistics. Kevin Drum also points out that the disability rolls have risen sharply in recent years, suggesting that unemployment is being hidden by other forms of compensation. In short, this may well be a jobless recovery.
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# Posted 11:45 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THAT LEGENDARY CONSERVATIVE RESTRAINT: CalPundit praises the right-wing of the blogosphere for its moderate reaction to the non-news that blister gas shells have been found in Iraq.
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# Posted 11:42 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

I WANT NUMBERS! Has anyone else noticed that the NYT no longer tells you how many American soldiers have died in combat during the occupation? Instead, we only get the total number of military fatalities since the start of the war, including non-combat deaths.

It's hard to know what brought about the change. On the one hand, it's nice not to have the press obsessively measuring American success or failure in terms of the body count. After all, wars are often won by spending lives to achieve strategic objectives. On the other hand, focusing on total fatalities allows the NYT and others to raise the death toll to almost 500 while avoiding the distinction between those lost to hostile fire and those lost to accidents.

Well, if you're interested in finding out for yourself what's going on, the place to turn (as always) is Lunaville, which is still running an up-to-date casualty count that analyzes American losses from a number of different perspectives. As is fairly well known, US combat fatalities doubled from October to Novermber but fell by half in December, returning to the original figure of about 40. What I didn't know was that there were 422 combat casualties in October, 332 in November and 244 in December (plus 73 in early January).

Thanks to Lunaville, you can also break down casualties by rank, location, week or even specific type of death, e.g. firefight vs. roadside bomb. Remember, knowledge is power.
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# Posted 11:23 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

BEIJING TO HONG KONG: BACDAFUCUP! China's central government has made it clear to the people of Hong Kong that Beijing will decide whether Hong Kong gets to hold truly democratic elections in 2007. This presents a tough question for Hong Kong's reformers: should they antagonize the central government by calling on the people to take to the streets, or should they work things out behind closed doors?

While nothing would warm my heart more than 1 or 2 or even 3 million Hong Kong citizens taking to the streets, the time may not yet be ripe for that sort of power play. (Besides, I need some more time to save up for airplane tickets so I can join the protests.) Let's see what negotiations with the CCP can bring. The people of Hong Kong have already made their wishes known, so Beijing may have to offer concessions in private in order to avoid losing face in public.
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# Posted 11:08 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

FULL OF SHI'ITE: It is time for a creative American response to the ethnic politics of post-war Iraq. Today we learn that Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani refuses to back down from his demands for national elections -- both for the interim assembly and in order to approve the constitution.

According to American sources, the CPA is moving forward with its plans for "caucus-stlye" indirect elections to the interim assembly. (If these are like the caucuses in Iowa, Iraq is headed for trouble.) As for the constitution, only the American-selected Governing Council will have a say in its ratification.

The supposed cause of the US-Shi'ite tension is the expectation that Iraq's Shi'ite majority will use its numerical strength to turn all other Iraqis into second class citizens or even establish an Islamic state similar to the one in neighboring Iran. Yet as I've complained before, such fears are the product of ignorance and bad journalism. Story after story talks about a potential Shi'ite threat to democracy, but never tells bothers to find out what Shi'ites actually want. Take the following quote from today's WaPo for example:
Sistani insisted, as he has since November, on direct elections this year that would give the country's majority Shiite population a chance to flex its electoral muscle.
Now that's just misleading. Sistani has never said that the purpose of elections is to demonstrate Shi'ite strength. Rather, he has made the very fair point that "one (wo)man, one vote" applies just as much to Iraqis as it does to Americans. Unless there is good reason to think Sistani is hiding his authoritarian plans behind a democratic facade, no responsible newspaper should describe his intentions the way the WaPo does.

I've suggested before that the United States can probe the seriousness of the Shi'ite commitment to democracy by
hammering away at a similar point when talking to the Shi'ite leadership: The more of a commitment that you show to democracy as an institution, the faster we can transfer power to an elected government in which your representatives will have a majority.
Now let me make a more specific suggestion. In order to address concerns about potential Shi'ite oppression of Kurds and Sunnis, the United States should ask Ayatollah Sistani to public endorse constitutional protection of minority rights.

Moreover, the US might offer to hold a referendum on the constitution, provided that a majority of each of major ethnic group would have to vote in favor of ratification in order for it to pass. Alternately, we might suggest an American style ratification process in which 2/3 of all Iraqi provinces must ratify the new constitution in order for it to come into force. This would have the advantage of eliminating any explicit reference to ethnicity in the voting process while ensuring that a Southern-based Shi'ite majority could not force a one-sided constitution onto the rest of Iraq.

But these are suggestions. There are many different ways to design a constitution that protects minority rights. And there are a good number of constitutional lawyers and scholars who can suggest how. What matters above all is that the US take the initiative to ensure that there is a popular and democratic transition to sovereignty in occupied Iraq.
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# Posted 1:54 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

MISQUOTED? The NYT's new "public editor", i.e. ombudsman, explains how President Bush accidentally became an advocate of a constitutional ban on gay marriage.
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# Posted 1:36 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

REAGANESQUE? Ex-Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill is charging that George W. is disengaged, ignorant and driven by short-term partisan interests. Is this just sour grapes, or a genuine look through the grapevine? It's hard to say. O'Neill is a notorious for talking first and asking questions later, but also known for being honest.

What I thought was really interesting was that O'Neill
offered up 19,000 documents, including private White House transcripts and personal notes for the book "The Price of Loyalty: George W. Bush, the White House, and the Education of Paul O'Neill."
It's a polisci dissertation waiting to be written!
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# Posted 1:27 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

WHO LET THE OPTIMIST IN THE BUILDING? Eric Schmitt seems decisively committed to up-ending all of his NYT colleagues' bad news stories about Iraq. Today he reports that
Conversations with scores of soldiers over the past four weeks revealed that morale among most soldiers is fairly high, largely because most are in the final months of their tours or have just arrived. Re-enlistment rates are up in many units, helped no doubt by tax-free bonuses of up to $10,000.
Two things: First, I assume that these "scores of soldiers" are the same ones Schmitt mentioned last week. Second, what happened to our manpower crisis in Iraq? You know, 'Iraqification', and all that. Furthermore, if there is no crisis at the moment, is anyone covering our efforts to train new Iraqi security forces? Are we still rushing fresh recruits into uniform to make it look like we have a transition strategy? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?
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# Posted 1:07 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

TALKING TURKEY: Leaving aside a few outlandish comments, Tom Friedman has a first-rate column today on religious tolerance in Turkey. For example, this is almost unbelievable:
I happened to be in Istanbul when the street outside one of the two synagogues that were suicide-bombed on Nov. 15 was reopened. Three things struck me: First, the chief rabbi of Turkey appeared at the ceremony, hand in hand with the top Muslim cleric of Istanbul and the local mayor, while crowds in the street threw red carnations on them. Second, the Turkish leader, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who comes from an Islamist party, paid a visit to the chief rabbi — the first time a Turkish prime minister had ever called on the chief rabbi. Third, and most revealing, was the statement made by the father of one of the Turkish suicide bombers who hit the synagogues.

"We are a respectful family who love our nation, flag and the Koran," the grieving father, Sefik Elaltuntas, told the Zaman newspaper. "But we cannot understand why this child had done the thing he had done . . . First, let us meet with the chief rabbi of our Jewish brothers. Let me hug him. Let me kiss his hands and flowing robe. Let me apologize in the name of my son and offer my condolences for the deaths. . . . We will be damned if we do not reconcile with them."

The same newspaper also carried a quote from Cemil Cicek, the Turkish government spokesman, who said: "The Islamic world should take stringent measures against terrorism without any `buts' or `howevers.' "

There is a message here: Context matters. Turkish politicians are not intimidated by religious fundamentalists, because — unlike too many Arab politicians — they have their own legitimacy that comes from being democratically elected.
Exactly. (It's amazing what happens when you research Islam instead of fashion.)
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# Posted 1:02 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

OH, THE IRONY: Maureen Dowd devotes an entire column to politicians' sweaters but still has the chutzpah to write "It's discouraging to see presidential campaigns succumb to the makeover culture."

NB: According to Dictionary.com,
The words ironic, irony, and ironically are sometimes used of events and circumstances that might better be described as simply “coincidental” or “improbable,” in that they suggest no particular lessons about human vanity or folly. Thus 78 percent of the Usage Panel rejects the use of ironically in the sentence In 1969 Susie moved from Ithaca to California where she met her husband-to-be, who, ironically, also came from upstate New York. Some Panelists noted that this particular usage might be acceptable if Susie had in fact moved to California in order to find a husband, in which case the story could be taken as exemplifying the folly of supposing that we can know what fate has in store for us. By contrast, 73 percent accepted the sentence Ironically, even as the government was fulminating against American policy, American jeans and videocassettes were the hottest items in the stalls of the market, where the incongruity can be seen as an example of human inconsistency.
Who knew the dictionary was so patriotic?
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# Posted 12:51 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

FROM WELFARE TO A THREE-STAR COMMAND: John Burns profiles Ricardo Sanchez, field commander of coalition forces in Iraq. Sanchez is a great subject and Burns does a great job profiling him. But what do you expect of our #1 correspondent in Iraq?
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# Posted 12:41 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

1,000,000 HITS: According to Extreme Tracking, which OxBlog started using in late October 2002, we passed the 1,000,000 unique daily visitor mark on New Year's Eve. Of course, our "real" one millionth hit came earlier, but I think this is a milestone nonetheless. And we owe it all to you, our readers.
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# Posted 12:30 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

LOX VS. NOVA: Gary explains the difference.
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Saturday, January 10, 2004

# Posted 12:30 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

GET YOUR STARBUCKS VISA CARD! No, this isn't a joke. You can actually earn "Duetto Dollars" with every purchase. No question, this is a major landmark in yuppie frivolousness. I'm just waiting for someone to pay his or her rent with a Starbucks Visa so that they can get a couple of free Frappuccinos each month.
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Friday, January 09, 2004

# Posted 10:25 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

"SAY SOMETHING FUNNY" is a new feature in The Onion. In it, comedians have 250 words to make the reader laugh. Here's Weird Al Yankovic's 250:
Make people laugh? Geez, that's a lot of pressure. Why are comics always put on the spot like this? You wouldn't go up to Meryl Streep and say, "Make me cry!" You wouldn't go up to French philosopher Jean-François Lyotard and say, "Make me cognizant of the impact postmodernity has had on the human condition!" You just wouldn't.

Besides, humor is too subjective. For instance, I would think it's hilarious if Ben Affleck were eviscerated by peacocks. But would Ben think it's funny? Most likely not. See what I mean?

Plus, if you want to be really funny... well, you just can't do it in 250 words. Because humor needs to build. You need a little subtext. I mean, for crying out loud, Tolstoy's War And Peace doesn't even start to get funny until around page 712.

And who do you people think you are, anyway? You think you can just snap your fingers, and I'm going to be funny... on demand? Look, I am not your monkey boy!

I'm sorry. It's just that I generally resist doing anything that requires, you know, actual effort on my part. But I guess being funny is a noble quest, so I'll give it everything I've got. I'll give 100 percent. But you know what I won't do? Give 110 percent. You know why? Because that's logically impossible. And as much as I love The Onion, I refuse to break the laws of physics for it.

Okay, so... Rush Limbaugh and a dwarf walk into a bar...

Whoops, that's 250 words. Sorry.
Hehehe. Eviscerated by peacocks. Hehehe. Monkey boy.
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# Posted 4:26 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

HE'S OUR MAN IN 2004: Five TNR writers make the case for each of their favorite candidates. The editors picked out Senator Joe for their official endorsement. A solid choice. Yet as Matt Yglesias observes: "This doesn't strike me as the best way to stay relevant."

The case for Howard Dean is made by Jonathan Cohn. After reading his column, I was actually persuaded that Dean would make a very good......Governor of Vermont.

Dean actually has a pretty impressive record of combining social reform and fiscal discipline. So how about promoting him to governor of a larger state? It's too late for California, but I wouldn't mind him here in Massachusetts or back home in New York. For some real fun, let's nominate Dean for governor of Texas!

Cohn is on somewhat weaker ground when it comes to foreign policy, where he makes the case for Dean by adopting the candidate's own favorite tactic of demonizing Bush. As Cohn writes, Dean's pronouncements on foreign policy fall...seem radical only if the policies of the Bush administration count as mainstream, which they aren't.In light of majority support for the invasion of Iraq -- Bush's most controversial foreign policy initiative -- it's hard to make the case that his policies are outside the mainstream. To be fair, the extreme unilateralist instincts of a Cheney or a Rumsfeld are definitely to the right even of a lot of Republicans. But for all the provocative talk, it was the Colin Powell approach that won out.

What Cohn never gets around to addressing are Dean's outside the mainstream instincts on foreign policy, such as his famous comment on Saddam's fall supposedly being a good thing. Nor does Cohn talk about Dean's lukewarm and fading support for the reconstruction.

Even if Cohn is right that Dean's position on fighting terrorism is actually quite moderate, so what? He presents himself as a leftist critic, his supporters are to the left of the Democratic mainstream and he constantly sets himself for a beating in the fall by making outlandish gaffes about foreign policy. The Democrats can do better.

Moving on, Michael Crowley makes the case for Richard Gephardt. After reading it, I was thoroughly persuaded that Gephardt would make an excellent Minority Leader (or Speaker, in the event that there is a Democratic majority in the House.) Yet as a candidate, Gephardt has been making exactly the sort of extravagant promises any experienced House leader knows to be impracticable.

Michelle Cottle has the honor of making the case for John Edwards. Seems like a good guy. So why doesn't anyone actually want to vote for him?

Finally, we get to Wesley Clark. (Yes, I'm sure you're all thinking "What about John Kerry?" I guess no one at TNR takes him seriously.) While OxBlog has been far from kind to Wes Clark, there are some good things to say about him beyond the fact that victorious generals make good candidates. Peter Scobelic writes that
All the talk about how Clark's biography makes him electable has overwhelmed the more important point: It would also make him a good president. In the last decade, the specter of genocide arose twice in the Balkans; both times, Clark was instrumental in beating it back despite tepid support among political and military elites.
While it may be hard to pin Clark down on what exactly he believes about the war in Iraq or the role of the United Nations, his heroic role in the Balkans demonstrates that he understands the imperative of using American power to promote democratic ideals.

Moreover, he has proven himself capable of working productively with our European allies. While there wasn't much to be said for the French or German positions during the whole Iraq debate, things certainly would have gone better if the Bush administration knew how to reach out to them a little more.

Not that Chirac or Schroeder would've gone along with invasion necessarily, but at least there would've been a lot less criticism on the homefront about how our reckless cowboy President was wrecking our most important alliances.

That's all folks. On behalf of TNR, OxBlog apologizes to Sharpton, Moseley-Braun and Kucinich for not treating them as serious candidates.
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# Posted 3:31 PM by Patrick Belton  

RATING THE PROSPECTS FOR IRAQI DEMOCRACY: Writing in the pages of the Journal of Democracy, Iraqi-born academic Adeed Dawisha favorably assesses the prospects for democracy in Iraq. (Incidentally, here's a recent piece on Adeed from the Cincinnati Enquirer.)

Of the encouraging signs Adeed records, here are two of the more notable:
Without a doubt, the mushrooming of local self-government councils has been one of the major success stories of the occupation. Even those councils that have not been elected have been selected through peaceful and relatively (or even impressively) consensual means, in more than a few cases with initial advice and assistance from coalition military officers, and are providing scope for unprecedented amounts of open debate.
and, a bit below,
the most encouraging sign for the long haul is the sheer frequency with which Iraqis are using such key democratic terms as elections, parliament, human rights, press freedom, minority rights, and the like as debates over the country's future proceed.
He also objects to the phrase "the Iraqi resistance" (which seems most common in outlets with a clear ideological slant) to refer to the perpetrators of attacks against the US and the Iraqi people. Such a categorization, he writes, "whether purposely or inadvertently, creates an impression of a universal phenomenon supported by most Iraqis. Nothing could be further from the truth." In particular, 75 percent of attacks have taken place in Sunni triangle towns containing about 6 percent of Iraq's population.

The piece is well worth a read.
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# Posted 2:16 PM by Patrick Belton  

MORE BAD JOKES FOR A GOOD NEW YEAR: Ask our readers for bad jokes, and they'll respond in droves. Here are a few of the best (or the worst):

Q: Why did the monkey fall out of the tree?  A: Because it was dead.

Q: Where do you find a turtle with no legs? A: Right where you left him.

Q: What do you call a turtle with no legs? A: It doesn't matter, he won't come.

Q: What do you call a cow with two legs? A: Lean beef.

Q: What do you call a cow with no legs? A: Ground beef.

And some jokes from the New York bar: A ham sandwich walks into a bar. The bartender looks at it and says, "Sorry, we don't serve food here."

Shortly after, a crocodile walks into the bar and orders a shot of scotch. The bartender asks him, "How's everything going?" To which the croc answers, "fine". The bartender then asks, "How's the wife?" "Fine." "The kids?" "Fine." So the bartender says, "So why the long face?"

A few minutes later, a bear walks into the bar, puts up his feet on a stool, and orders a beer. The bartender asks, "How's everything going?" The bear says, "well...umm....fine". The bartender then asks, "why the long paws?"

 From our cultural correspondent: A number of years ago, the Seattle Symphony was performing Beethoven's Ninth under the baton of Milton Katims. At this point you must understand two things: first, there's a long segment in this symphony where the bass violins don't have a single note to play. Not a single note for page after page. And second: there used to be a tavern called Dez's 400 right across the street from the Seattle Opera house, rather favored by local musicians.   It had been decided that during this performance, after the bass players had played their parts in the opening of the Ninth, they were to quietly lay down their instruments and leave the stage rather than sit on their stools looking and feeling silly for 20 minutes. Well, once they got back stage, someone suggested that they trot across the street and quaff a few brews. After they had downed the first couple rounds, one musician said, "Shouldn't we be getting back? It would be awfully embarrassing if we were late." Another, presumably the one who suggested this excursion in the first place, replied - "Oh, I anticipated we could use a little more time, so I tied a string around the last pages of the conductor's score. When he gets down there, Milton is going to have to slow the tempo way down while he waves the baton with one hand and fumbles with the string with the other."   So the group had another round and finally returned to the Opera House, a little tipsy by now. However, as they came back on stage, one look at their conductor's face told them they were is serious trouble. Katims was furious! And why not? After all...   It was the bottom of the Ninth, the score was tied, and the basses were loaded.

Our friend Jacob Remes takes responsibility for the "brown and sticky" joke from our last post and and offers another from his incomparable stores: Q: Why do anarchists only drink herbal tea? A: Because they don't believe in proper tea.

And finally, one from the lovely and talented Sasha Castel: Q: Why do the French only make their omelettes with one egg? A: Because "un oeuf" is enough. (Okay, at first I didn't get it either, until a lesser philistine pointed out that "un oeuf" is pronounced "enough.")

Also, while we're speaking about our readers (behind your backs - except for the fact that you're our readers, and so you have a pretty good chance of reading this....), our friend Simon Rodberg from Dublin points out this piece on personals ads in the LRB and NYRB - a subject we've humorously posted on at length (just scroll down to 1:19 pm on Wednesday).
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# Posted 2:03 PM by Patrick Belton  

MOST CONTEMPORARY AMERICANS ARE WIMPS OR BARBARIANS, according to Terrence Moore. This, however, doesn't include our readers.
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# Posted 12:04 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

thanks for suggesting the NYT hire my ass. it's my dream gig, david.

of course, they would have to let me keep writing my sex advice column on the side. that's where the real money is.

love your site.

In a second e-mail entitled "oh, but my fashion sense?", Dan adds
don't got none. my boyfriend dresses me.

thanks again,
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Thursday, January 08, 2004

# Posted 11:58 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

DON'T UNDERESTIMATE THE INDIANS: Here are two responses to my post from yesterday. The first is from DS:
In your recent post "THE INDIAN COMPUTER GEEK MEME" you write:

"Today, job security comes from acquiring knowledge, not building a relationship with a single firm. This model isn't perfect, but it's still damn good."

If only this were true! You still apparently believe the Clinton administration's mantra about knowledge workers. Even the members of the former administration have abandoned their claims: knowledge workers' jobs are the most portable, the ones being exported, and the ones most subject to shrinking wages due to competition whether from offshore outsourcing or importation of cheaper workers from overseas. The $150,000 programmer is largely a thing of the past-- the same guys are making $80,000 or even $50,000 now.

In recent quarters most of the growth both in numbers of jobs and wages have been in relatively non-portable, less-subject-to-foreign-competition sectors like government and health care. Both areas are secure not due to being knowledge workers but due to protection. Health care is one of the most regulated of all fields e.g. licensing, restrictions on telemedicine, etc. And that's where the growth is. Coincidence? Perhaps.
In response to the prediction that the computer industry will lead the field in job growth, JH writes that
I wouldn't put too much faith in those predictions.

It looks like they are largely based on data gathered before the bubble burst, and also probably don't take the current outsourcing boom into account. Nor does it seem to take the length of the jobless recovery period into account.

There are salary numbers from 2001, but the outlook portion refers to 2000, suggesting to me that this part of the report was drawn up in 2000 or earlier.

It wouldn't exactly be the first time that real-world conditions changed far faster than the government could respond...
This issue is pretty far outside my area of expertise, so I don't have a compelling counterargument to offer. In other words, I take DS and JH's comments very seriously. Even so, I'm going to hold on to my position for the moment. My gut says that India can't turn out enough programmers to satisfy a growing computer industry both at home and in the United States.

What I expect to see is a situation somewhat similar to the one in the manufacturing sector, where less demanding tasks are outsourced while cutting edge work is reserved for advanced facilities (with well-paid workers) in the US, Europe and Japan.
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# Posted 11:44 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THE FIGHT IS FOR DEMOCRACY: George Packer wants liberal Democrats to have a tough but principled foreign policy that can go head-to-head with the Bush administration's aggressive call for moral clarity. To that end, Packer has put together a collection of essays by prominent liberal thinkers whose purpose is to lay out a compelling vision that can command the support of a majority of the American electorate.

As someone who shares Packer's goal, I was very excited to get a copy of his book as a gift just a few days ago. So far, I have read the first three essays out of the ten that are in the book. They range from thoughtful to the strident. Yet even the better ones expose -- often unintentionally -- how desperate and hopeless the Democrats have become.

The first essay in the book is Packer's introduction. On page one, it eloquently captures the sense of mission that pervaded American life in the first days after September 11th. On the day of the attacks, an investment banker
...wandered through the smoke and confusion of Lower Manhattan until he found himself in a church in Greenwich Village. Alone at the altar, covered in ash and dust, he began to shake and sob. Feeling a hand on his shoulder, he looked up. It was a policeman.

"Don't worry," the cop said, "you're in shock."

"I'm not in shock," the investment banker answered. "I like this state. I've never been more cognizant in my life."
Packer knows that this sort of intense awareness is the foundation on which a liberal internationalist foreign policy can be built. Yet this awareness faded after September 11th. With some justification, Packer attributes this dulling of the senses to the President's insistence that Americans must resist terrorism by refusing to let it interrupt their daily lives. Instead, what should have come from the White House was a call to arms in the name global democracy.

After making this solid point, Packer's introduction begins to wander. He rails against Americans' selfishness and says that American democracy has fallen into decay. His tone also makes clear that this volume essays is intended only for Democratic partisans. He tells us that "Conservatives today have no concept of the public good. They see Americans as investors and consumers, not citizens." (p. 9)

Packer tells us that liberal internationalists should fight for democracy, but finds it hard to elaborate how. He is more specific, however, about what liberals must abandon:
The relcutance to make judgments, the finely ironic habits of thought, the reflexive contempt for patriotism, the suspicion of uniforms and military qualities, the sentimentality about oppressed peoples, the irresponsibility about hard choices, the embarrassment with phrases like "democratic values" and "Western civilization" -- the softheadedness into which liberalism sank after the 1960s seems as useless today as isolationism in 1941 or compromise in 1861."
After Packer's jarring condemnation of his fellow liberal travelers, Michael Tomasky's essay is especially disturbing. Here is someone who clearly hasn't listened to a word that Packer has said. While its stated objective is to find a solid middle ground "between Cheney and Chomsky", the essay mostly provides vitriolic attacks on a strawman version of Republican foreign policy. Only its final pages does it provide a truncated agenda for American policy that has clearly suffered from its author's preoccupation with denouncing the Vice-President.

According to Tomasky, "What once represented the wish list of the right-most fringe of respectable opinion is now the policy of this country. It is a prescription for empire." (p. 40)The basis for the statement is a history of the Bush administration's National Security Strategy which shows that Cheney and Wolfowitz were aggressive unilateralists back in 1992, long before September 11th made it acceptable to talk about pre-emptive warfare.

Fair enough. But what does this have to do with 'empire'? Despite his occasional condemnations of Noam Chomsky and the far left, Tomasky adopts their vocabularly almost effortlessly. Does America seek to rule foreign nations? Does it make war for the sake of economic gain? Tomasky never says. Instead, he equates unilateralism with empire.

This kind of semantic issue matters because Tomasky's new Democratic foreign policy rests on its opposition to this sort of imperialism. As the author explains,
America is not an empire, it is a democracy. A democracy leads the world, but it does not seek to rule it. The Cheneyites want to rule the world. (p. 41)
I, for one, wish the Cheneyites wanted to rule the world, because if they did they might show a little more enthusiasm for the President's stated objective of rebuilding Iraq and Afghanistan.

For the moment, however, let us grant that democratic anti-imperialism can serve as the basis of a new American foreign policy. What would such a foreign policy entail? Democracy promotion, of course. But what's that? For starters, "a massive aid package for the Arab world...tied to specific and measurable democratic reforms." That sounds nice. But will oil-rich dictatorships take American cash in exchange for giving up their hold on power? Besides, if Democrats are hesitant to support spending for the reconstruction of Iraq, why would they send massive amounts of aid to countries we don't occupy?

Another question Tomasky avoids is the use of force. As he informs us, there was a liberal case to be made for invading Iraq. Yet Tomasky doesn't say whether he himself would've supported the invasion on those grounds (presuming President Bush had done so). And if we can impose regime change on Iraq, why don't we impose it on other dictatorships as well? How about starting with dictatorships that don't sit on top of 10% of the world's oil reserves?

As a passionate advocate of democracy promotion, I know from experience that those questions are the first ones that critics (especially liberal ones) ask anytime one suggests that democracy promotion should be the foundation stone of American foreign policy. Yet Tomasky ignores them entirely. Then again, why bother? If all Dick Cheney stands for is empire, then talking about democracy should be enough to make the Democrats different.

The third essay in Packer's book is a discussion of humanitarian intervention by Laura Secor. Inspired by the humanitarian intevention in Kosovo, Secor clearly believes that American power should be used to promote democracy and human rights (even if diplomacy should be the first resort and violence the last). Thus the challenge Secor faces is how to differentiate her foreign policy from the one already advocated by neo-conservatives both in and outside the Bush administration.

In contrast to Tomasky, Secor is honest enough to admit that neo-conservatives are sincere in the call for a principled foriegn policy. Her only criticism of them is that they are too idealistic. As Secor explains,
Where liberal idealists tend to believe that the given the extent of its power, the United States must strive to promote the good, conservative idealists presume that in promoting itself , the United States does promote the good
In short, Secor is calling for a healthy dose of liberal guilt and self-flagellation. While I myself agree that neo-conservatives often come uncomfortably close to a "my country, right or wrong" approach, tempering their missionary zeal with self-criticism hardly constitutes a distinctive Democratic foreign policy. At best, it is a slight modification whose slightness emphasizes how little Democrats have to add to what neo-conservatives are already saying.

What, then, are the Democrats to do? Perhaps the next seven essays in Packer's book will answer that question. In the meantime, the Democrats best hope is to match the neo-conservatives ideal for ideal, criticizing the Bush Administration when it fails to live up to its own rhetoric.

As I noted on Sunday, Republicans are no less divided than Democrats when it comes to foreign policy. If the Democrats are patient enough, they can build up their credibility in the short-term, then attack Republicans from an unassailable idealistic perch once the Republican realists take back control of American foreign policy.

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# Posted 10:12 AM by Patrick Belton  

THUCYDIDES, SCHMUCYDIDES: Daniel Mendelssohn adds his take to Donald Kagan's and Victor Hanson's comments on this great historian of Athens. (hat tip to our friend Vishal Arya) Also, Rachel chimed into this discussion a bit back on Nathan Hale.
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# Posted 8:35 AM by Patrick Belton  

CFR releases a backgrounder on the new Afghan constitution.
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# Posted 8:08 AM by Patrick Belton  

MORE ON ARAB TRANSLATION: The Christian Science Monitor fronts a piece this morning on Syrian author and publisher Ammar Abdulhamid, who has founded a nonprofit translation firm called Dar Emar in an attempt to increase the quantity of Western publications translated into Arabic.

Abdulhamid has got his work cut out for him: Spain translates in a single year as large a quantity of written work as the Arab world has translated in the past millennium, according to the UN's second annual Arab Human Development Report published last autumn.

And incidentally, the combined GDP of the Arab world is less than that of - Spain.

Placed in comparison with historic Islamic civilization's rich history of translation and absorption of intellectual currents from Western and other Eastern cultures, the current Arab world pales. And brain drain has been substantial: 15,000 medical doctors left the Arab world from 1998 to 2000, and in 1995-96 alone, 25 percent of all graduates from Arab universities holding B.A. degrees emigrated, as this column by Thomas Friedman points out. The number of scientists and engineers working in research and development in the Arab world is 371 per million citizens, compared with a global average of 979 per million. And the Arab world, representing 5 percent of the population of the world, produces only slightly over 1 percent of its books - though it produces triple the global average of religious publications.

Clearly stimulating intellectual life and discovery within the region - something in which Arab emigres residing in the West have shown astounding success - is one of the first key steps for the Arab world to take in becoming free, democratic, and prosperous. And Abdulhamid's work may yet figure for historians yet to be born as one of the first movers of a second Arab renaissance.
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Wednesday, January 07, 2004

# Posted 9:31 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

REPLACE DOWD WITH A GAY MAN: The NYT seems to have one columnist slot reserved for a sassy, good-looking writer with great fashion sense and a wicked sense of humor. So why not Dan Savage?

He's not just funny, he's a serious political writer willing to do investigative reporting.

Plus, Savage wouldn't throw off the political balance on the op-ed page because he's actually quite liberal. (Although he is willing to take the NYT to task for journalistic bias.)

Bill Keller, are you listening?
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# Posted 9:19 PM by Patrick Belton  

CAROTHERS ON ARAB DEMOCRACY: Tom Carothers gives a fair and balanced assessment of the Bush's administration's strategy of democracy promotion for the Arab world in the current issue of Current History.
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# Posted 9:14 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THE INDIAN COMPUTER GEEK MEME: In honor of the 10th anniversary of NAFTA, the NYT turned over yesterday's op-ed page to eloquent denunciations of free trade.

First up is Nobel Prize winner Joseph Stiglitz's morose meditation on US-Mexican trade relations. Stiglitz notes that
Growth in Mexico over the past 10 years has been a bleak 1 percent on a per capita basis — better than in much of the rest of Latin America, but far poorer than earlier in the century.
All in all, Stiglitz's main objection to NAFTA seems to be that it wasn't the silver bullet of Mexican economic growth. He even complains that US-Mexican trade isn't free enough because of US agricultural subsidies that hurt Mexican farmers. Not exactly an argument against NAFTA, is it Dr. Stiglitz?

The second anti-free trade column comes from NY Sen. Charles Schumer and former Reagan Treasury official Paul Roberts. Their column begins with what iis supposed to be a big, scary anecdote:
Over the next three years, a major New York securities firm plans to replace its team of 800 American software engineers, who each earns about $150,000 per year, with an equally competent team in India earning an average of only $20,000.
An almost identical story about high tech outsourcing was the subject of a Bob Herbert column just a few weeks ago. As such, I think it's fair to say that what we are dealing with here is a "meme". It's more than a concept or an idea. It's a convtroversial claim packaged inside of a compelling anecdote that actually has very little substance to it.

The message of the Indian computer geek meme is that the benighted advocates of free trade
advised U.S. workers to adjust, to become better educated and skillful enough to thrive in a new world of employment, where technology and the ability to process information were crucial components.

Well, the workers whose jobs are now threatened at I.B.M. and similar companies across the U.S. are well educated and absolute whizzes at processing information. But they are nevertheless in danger of following the well-trodden path of their factory brethren to lower-wage work, or the unemployment line.
One objection to this argument is ethical. As Matt Yglesias points out,
Say we changed things around and more Americans made more money, more Indians made less money, and all people everywhere had to pay somewhat more for their software. How is that really better? Because it's better for Americans?...

Come to think of it, American software consumers have interests that count as well. So do the shareholders in US software companies. Why is protecting the salary levels of American geeks so overwhelmingly important?
But leaving that (very good) argument aside for the moment, consider the more important fact that the US computer industry is expanding by leaps and bounds. Consider this:
Eight of the 10 fastest-growing occupations between now and 2010 will be computer-related, according to new projections from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The sharpest increase is expected to occur among workers who design software programs or develop computer databases. This occupational group had 380,000 employees in 2000, a figure that is expected to double to 760,000 by 2010. That's an annual increase of 7.2 percent.
Just because the industry is growing by leaps and bounds doesn't mean that no one will get fired and that no jobs will be outsourced. In fact, firings and outsourcing are critical to the growth process.

To be sure, being fired or outsourced or downsized isn't a pleasant experience. But if there is tremendous demand for programmers, then $150,000-a-year programmers shouldn't have a hard time finding a new job.

In contrast, if a factory worker loses his or her job, that's probably it. Economies the world over (including China) are losing manufacturing jobs because of techonological advances.

Thus, the basic message of free-trade advocates is still right on target: acquire high-tech skills and you can expect to have a good job. Can you expect $150,000 per year? I don't know.

One thing you certainly shouldn't expect is security. Critics like Schumer and Herbert seem to be mired in an old-economy model of lifetime employment. (Which still seems to apply to senators and NYT columnists.) But in the information, skills are what matter.

Today, job security comes from acquiring knowledge, not building a relationship with a single firm. This model isn't perfect, but it's still damn good.

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# Posted 1:03 PM by Patrick Belton  

POLLS SHOW GOOD NEWS FOR BUSH, CLARK: CNN/Gallup show Bush's approval ratings improving, and Clark gaining ground on Dean in the pool of Democratic candidates. Bush's New Year's approval rating of 60 percent compares favorably with 56 percent for Carter in 1980 (before Carter's popularity had been worn down by the Iranian hostage crisis), 52 percent for Reagan in 1984, 46 percent for Bush in 1992, and 42 percent for Clinton in 1996. Clark, for his part, has pulled within five percentage points of Dean, whose last month's lead of 27-12 over Clark has narrowed to 24-20.
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# Posted 12:28 PM by Patrick Belton  

A GOOD MAN STEPS DOWN: Lord Robertson, 10th Secretary General of Nato and my personal former boss, stepped down today as head of the Alliance. Coverage from AP and Northern Ireland press.
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# Posted 12:10 PM by Patrick Belton  

BUSH TO PROPOSE AMNESTY TO UNDOCUMENTED WORKERS: This move, details of which are to be announced this afternoon, has the potential to be a very good thing both for US-Mexican relations and for bringing into the legal fold a population who are currently doing a great deal for America and their communities without the color or protection of law. NYT has more, and so do the Seattle Post, LAT, and SF Chronicle .
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Tuesday, January 06, 2004

# Posted 10:29 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THE PUNCH: On my way back from LA, I missed my flight and got stuck at the airport for six hours. Bored out of my mind, I decided to purchase a book from the limited selection available at the newsstand/candy store. (I would've bought a magazine, but the idea of paying three or four bucks for information that's usually available for free online really gets to me.)

Anyhow, the book I chose was The Punch, by John Feinstein. It is the story of "the fight that changed basketball forever." On December 9, 1977 one punch from Lakers' forward Kermit Washington fractured the skull of Rockets' All-Star Rudy Tomjanovich. Tomjanovich almost died.

It is hard to convey the brutal nature of that one punch to those who haven't seen it on film. While I can't remember exactly when I saw it, I'm guessing it was during the Knicks-Rockets championship series in 1994, when Tomjanovich was the Rockets' coach. While I am hardly an avid basketball fan, the viciousness of that one punch stayed in my mind. It provided a shocking contrast to the relative civility of NBA basketball in my time as a fan.

In the late 1970s, basketball was a far more violent game than it is today. In one season, more than 40 fights resulted in a player being thrown out of the game. And to get thrown out at that time, you had to get involved in a brawl, not just throw one punch. Before the 1977-1978 season, the NBA decided that it had to do something about its image by getting tough on violence.

The guinea pig for the experiment was Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who shattered his own hand while punching an opposing player in the opening week of the season. Not long after Abdul-Jabbar returned from his suspension/injury, his teammate Washington sent Tomjanovich to the hospital. Unfortunately, Feinstein never tells us how that punch changed the NBA's attitude toward fighting. Instead, Feinstein becomes so fascinated by Washington's life story that all broader context for the story disappears.

That isn't necessarily a bad thing. Washington had remarkable experiences that deserve to be chronicled. It just isn't what Feinstein promised at the outset. But, hey, this is airport reading. The book is an easy-going page turner that will help you pass the time if you are stuck at an airport. It's a little expensive at $15, but that's what books cost.

If I were going to get all intellectual about it, I would say that Feinstein could have written a fascinating book about the interaction of race and athletics in American life. However, he seems to be a biographer by nature who gets fixated on individual men and women rather than exploring how society as a whole responds to their behavior.

There are brief mentions of how Washington's punch resulted in him receiving death threats, many of them inflected with racial epithets. When a black almost kills a white man anywhere in America, it is news. When a black man almost kills a white man with the cameras rolling, that is a major moment in American cultural life. Then again, that kind of thing is a little bit heavy going for when you're stuck in an aiport.
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# Posted 9:29 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

FLASHBACK TO 2003: I missed this Bob Kagan column while I was in California. Unlike most op-eds, it's still very relevant a month after the fact. And I wouldn't be surprised if certain people are still reading it this November.
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# Posted 9:14 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

PROTECT YOUR BAGEL! Ilyka Damen has some sharp words for all those who would defile the honor of a bagel. While I am no bagel vigilante, I certainly empathize with Ilyka's fury. (Link via Judith Weiss.)
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# Posted 12:31 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

A SOLDIER'S WORDS FROM AFGHANISTAN: The following is a letter sent by an American officer in Afghanistan to his friends and family, including myself. It needs no commentary because it speaks for itself.
Orgun, Afghanistan
24 December 200[3]

Dear Friends and Family:

Happy Holidays! As you read this, I will no doubt be smoking a celebratory cigar with my brothers-in-arms. We are at the halfway point of our deployment; only 4-5 more months and we will be home at last. As the Grateful Dead so aptly said, “It has been a long, strange trip.” I will be feasting on Christmas with my friends and soldiers. As a special treat, the unit airlifted Starbucks frappucinos! Little things like that make a huge difference to morale here. One great thing about being deployed is that it brings a heightened appreciation of otherwise mundane objects. A mug of good hot chocolate, a few strands of Christmas lights, and a surprise shipment of O’Douls make home seem a little closer.

A brief summary of events over the last couple of months…

We spent our first two months in Afghanistan outside the large town of Gardez. As a relatively quiet sector, Gardez was a great place to train on new equipment and bond as a team. We played a lot of volleyball, entertained a host of VIPs, and enjoyed working with one of the Army’s newest concepts- a Provincial Reconstruction Team composed of Army engineers, civil affairs experts, and military police. I escorted them on a fantastic trip to Ghazni where the governor put us up at his opulent guesthouse. Sleeping in a real bed and using a private bathroom seemed like the height of luxury! During our stay there, General Schoomaker, General Meyers, and Christine Amanpour all made visits. Secretary Rumsfeld pinned my captain’s bars on me in September. After two wonderful months in Gardez making friends with interpreters, patrolling relatively safe villages, and administering veterinary care to unfriendly camels, my platoon flew to Shkin on September 26th.

Soon after arriving at what one Army spokesman called “the most evil place in Afghanistan,” my platoon was involved in the largest firefight since Operation Anaconda in March 2002. During a battle that raged intermittently for almost 12 hours, we destroyed close to 40 “anti-coalition militants,” but suffered one very painful American casualty. PFC [name deleted], a 19-year-old soldier in my platoon, died from sniper fire while cresting a hill near Lozano Ridge. Coping with the loss of one of our own was the toughest mission my platoon faced during the last 5 months. Men cited for their bravery in the fight were torn by guilt and self-doubt and many still suffer from nightmares. Fortunately for the platoon, we immediately returned to the front lines after a brief period of mourning. After a few weeks of relative calm, we had another big fight south of Shkin on October 25th. We lost no men in our platoon, but had several friendly casualties in a sister unit. Again, my men impressed me with their courage under fire and professional competence. I feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to see my men change over 9 months- watching them train last spring and then execute the same drills with deadly efficacy in combat. Leading my men in combat has been the most satisfying and challenging experience in my career.

The Army doesn’t like to keep its captains as platoon leaders and I was tagged in early November to become the Battalion Adjutant. I moved to a third firebase, at Orgun, to take over the human resources management for the task force’s 900 personnel. I now spend long hours proofreading award citations, managing finance problems, and assisting the Battalion Commander with officer evaluations and other special projects. I miss being with my men, but find a lot of satisfaction ensuring that the personnel system works for them. The office is certainly the most interesting one I’ve worked in- an old Soviet headquarters complete with bullet holes in the walls. It’s very gratifying to ensure that they receive awards for their actions under fire. I pinned medals on 16 of my men today and expect to pin several Bronze Stars for Valor in the near future.

I keep sane in the office by escaping to the gym to lift weights and to use the rowing machine I convinced Concept2 to donate to my platoon. Whenever I need a break from staff life, I can walk down to where my old platoon lives and hang out with them. I’m glad to have them as a family away from home. The food here is better than at Fort Drum and we are doing our part to sustain the bootleg DVD industry. I’ve been spending a lot of time learning Russian and Hindi and finishing the crate of books I brought with me from the states. I now have daily internet access and some phone use.

The sting of being extended an additional 90 days was made much more bearable by the stacks of letters and boxes I’ve received from all of you. I have been overwhelmed by the support you’ve given me during this deployment and hope to thank you all in person soon after returning home. Please keep writing and sending pictures- responding is one of my favorite distractions from work.

Until next time,
[name deleted]
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Monday, January 05, 2004

# Posted 10:21 PM by Patrick Belton  

BAD JOKES FOR A GOOD NEW YEAR: Q: Why did the bee begin wearing a yamulke? A: So he wouldn't be mistaken for a WASP.

Q: What's brown and sticky? A: A stick. (courtesy of friend JR...)

Q: Why can't a bicycle stand up? A: It is two tired.

Q: What are squares scared of? A: Vicious circles

First sodium atom: "Help, somebody has stolen one of my electrons." Second atom: "Are you sure?" First atom: "Yeah, I'm positive."

Please feel free to submit your favorites! We'll print the best (err, worst) here....
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# Posted 10:15 PM by Patrick Belton  

THIS JUST IN FROM MARS: NASA releases a 3-d image of Mars's surface. Looking to the heavens always manages to inspire our deepest senses of wonder (and the converse: a Russian saying popular in the Soviet period was "Is there life on Mars?" "No, not there either"), and congratulations are in order to Nasa for having brought us to Mars, by the internet.
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Sunday, January 04, 2004

# Posted 11:57 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

QUEER EYE FOR THE BLOG GUY: Pejman talks about his favorite reality show. Pejman insists that he doesn't need a Fab Five makeover.
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# Posted 11:48 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

EVIL CHARITY: Greg Djerejian defends humanitarian NGOs from Instapundit's attack. Greg has lots of other good posts up as well. Just keep on scrolling.
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# Posted 11:17 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THE LAST "HAM"URAI: Watching Tom Cruise act is not a pleasant experience. But the problems with The Last Samurai have much more to do with the plot than the actors. As Mitch Webber sums it up:
Plot: Attractive American Army Captain, sick of killing Natives, soldier-of-fortunes himself out to the Japanese Emperor.  Gets captured by Samurai rebels, comes to love the way of the sword / way of the warrior / way of the Samurai / [supply your own 'way-of-the-...' cliche].

Resolution: Rebellion suppressed.  Everyone dies but white guy.  Returns to Japanese village to be with wife of man he killed.  Very plausible. 

Thoughts: Why is it that every Japanese character in American movies speaks only in platitudes and can't go a full sentence without using the word 'honor'?  Do the Japanese really talk like that?  I mean, even Native Americans usually aren't charicatured so thoughtlessly. 
The funny thing is that the movie tries so hard to be politically correct by highlighting American brutality and ignorance. Yet like so many well-meaning advocates of diversity (both cultural and ethnic), its director reduces the Japanese to being noble savages.

Still, the battle scenes are probably worth the price of the ticket.
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# Posted 11:09 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

CARNAL AMBIVALENCE: Dan Drezner is both encouraged and disappointed by the fact that professors don't have sex with their students more often. See Crescat for details.
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# Posted 10:39 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

MORALE ON THE RISE? Earlier this year, I was deeply worried by reports that our soldiers' morale was falling apart. But now Eric Schmitt reports that
American soldiers, from privates to generals, say they believe that their fight to restore security and stability in Iraq is winnable in the long run, but that an American military presence will be required for years to keep the country from falling into chaos.

In nearly 100 interviews and conversations in the last four weeks, soldiers across Iraq expressed a complex set of emotions and sentiments toward their rebuilding mission, now entering its ninth month...

Morale is generally high, but the guerrilla attacks that kill or maim soldiers have prompted many to endure their daily patrols by seeking refuge in dark humor. As one sergeant in the First Armored Division in Baghdad said recently, between drags on a cigarette, "Time flies when you think you're going to die."
It cannot be said that our soldiers enjoy the challenges of occupation. But who in their right mind would? Instead, our soldiers seems to have an admirably realistic belief that they must do what is right in spite of the cost.
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# Posted 9:40 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

CAN THE DEMS WIN ON NATIONAL SECURITY? That question is the subject of a long and ponderous cover story in this week's edition of the NYT Magazine. Although worth reading, the article never fully grasps why it is that the Democrats have an image problem when it comes to issues of war and peace. It instructive, however, to read what author James Traub has to say about John Kerry:
The Democrats seem trapped between two irreconcilable impulses, or litmus tests. This is especially obvious, and painful, with figures like John Kerry, who has tried to have it both ways. In the run-up to the war, Kerry harshly criticized President Bush for alienating our allies and then voted for the resolution authorizing war. Then he voted against the $87 billion appropriation, complaining that the president lacked a clear postwar plan. As Baghdad plunged into chaos and Dean worked his magic, Kerry began to sound more and more like an antiwar candidate. And then when Saddam Hussein was captured, Kerry criticized Dean for failing to acknowledge the full magnitude of the achievement. It's no wonder that Chris Matthews tied Kerry into a pretzel when he pressed him on ''Hardball'' to supply a ''yes or no answer'' on Iraq.
In short, Kerry's fence-sitting prevents him from sending a clear message to either hawks or doves. The same is true of all the other 'yes-but' candidates in the Democratic fold, namely Gephardt, Edwards and (sort of) Clark.

In an election where national security will be the first- or second-most important issue, voters will want to know what separates the Democratic challenger from the Republican incumbent. And having no clear answer is almost worse than being to the left of the mainstream.

To be a 'yes-but' candidate indicates both a lack of decisive leadership potential and a quiet admission that the Bush administration has basically gotten things right.

Which brings us to Howard Dean and Joseph Lieberman. If he had a real shot at the nomination, Senator Joe would have to hope for a fall campaign that centers on domestic issues, given that he offers no alternative to the Bush foreign policy. And the obvious question for Dean is whether 51% of Americans will embrace an anti-war stance so firm that it seems to grow out of a fear of American power.

In sum, each Democratic candidate -- no matter what his or her position on Iraq -- has a problem presenting a credible challenge to Bush. That is why national security is the Democrats' Achilles heel.

One objection to the argument laid out above is that 'national security' is not the same as 'Iraq'. As Traub points out
The consequences of unilateralism in Iraq dominate the debate. Yet if you talk to Democratic policy experts, Iraq rarely appears as the country's top national security priority. In ''An American Security Policy,'' a study ordered by Tom Daschle, the Senate minority leader, and written by a group that included top former Clinton aides like William Perry, the former defense secretary; Madeleine Albright, the former secretary of state; and Sandy Berger, the former national security adviser, Iraq appears as only the fourth of six major areas of concern. The first is ''The Loose Nukes Crisis in North Korea,'' and the second is the overall problem of weapons of mass destruction in Russia, Pakistan, Iran and elsewhere.
Before the war, one could have laid out a coherent rational for treating Iraq as a secondary concern. Yet in supporting the war, all of the yes-but candidates certified the President's decision to raise Iraq to the top of the agenda. More importantly, the overwhelming bulk of current anti-administration criticism focuses on Iraq. If it weren't important, why bother?

Thus, it is essentially unfair for the yes-but candidates to hold Howard Dean responsible for making Iraq the big issue in this campaign. Traub, however, does hold dean responsible. Consider the following:
''Dean made Iraq a political manhood test,'' laments Will Marshall, a well-known Democratic centrist and head of the Progressive Policy Institute. ''His conflation of anti-Bush sentiment and antiwar sentiment ratcheted the debate toward what has at least echoes of the old antiwar stance.'' By the time President Bush submitted his request for an $87 billion supplemental appropriation for Iraq and Afghanistan in September, the politics of the war inside the party had shifted drastically. Conventional wisdom had it that no candidate seen as pro-war could get a foothold among the highly liberal primary voters in New Hampshire and Iowa, even though polls found that Democrats in both states preferred a candidate who had approved of the war but criticized its conduct.
Yet if the polls favored the yes-but candidates, why was the 'no' candidate the only one able to generate widespread enthusiasm at the grassroots?

From where I stand, the best hope for the Democrats is the long term. As Traub notes, the Democrats' aspiration is to reclaim the tough-minded liberal internationalism of Harry S Truman and John F. Kennedy.

What he doesn't note is that for the moment, George W. Bush has done far more to advance the liberal internationalist cause than any of his critics. For example, what is the last time a Democratic candidate talked about the importance of human rights? Journalists often compare Dean to Carter, but they forget that Carter had the clear moral high ground vis-a-vis his Republican challenger.

What Dean can offer is multilateralism, a doctrine that subordinates moral concerns to the demand for consensus. In a certain sense, he is the true Kissingerian in this race.

Why then, you might ask, is there any hope that the Democrats can reclaim the internationalist mantle? Answer: because the Bush administration and the Republican party may never fully embrace it.

Neither Cheney nor Rumsfeld nor Powell nor Rice has demonstrated more than halting support for the President's apparent worldview. Only Paul Wolfowitz, a second-tier figure with an overgrown media profile, seems to share the President's views. Congressional Republicans don't seem to be much more interested.

But can the Democrats do any better? Probably not. They are at least as divided as Republicans. But the history is there. If my generation of Democrats can seize on that precedent, the opportunity will be there.
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# Posted 9:14 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

A LANDMARK FOR AFGHANISTAN: The constitutional convention in Kabul has produced one of the most enlightened founding documents in the Islamic world.

Still, two great challenges faces the Afghan people. First, control of much Afghan territory must still be wrested back from warlords, druglords and Taliban fighters. Second, the people of Afghanistan will have to resolve the conflict between secular and Islamic law that is embedded in the constitution.

The Afghans will not, of course, have been the first people to adopt a constitution that provides for the possibility of both great freedom and great repression. In Philadelphia, the shameful 3/5 compromise gave official sanction to the brutal degradation of millions and millions of dark-skinned Americans.

Perhaps that compromise was necessary to bring the United States into existence. Regardless, it became the cause of a bloodbath almost a century later. If the United States keeps that lesson in mind, perhaps it will give democratic forces in Afghanistan the support they need in order to overcome their opponents.
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Friday, January 02, 2004

# Posted 2:22 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

NO BIRTHDAY PRESENTS FOR HIM: Robert Tagorda remarks that
I've never understood how the New Year's significance reaches the level of a noteworthy holiday. For Pete's sake, it marks a temporal inevitability. Isn't that a rather pitiful excuse for throwing streamers and otherwise acting the fool?
An eminently logical argument. But here's some advice, Rob: don't even think of pulling that one out as an explanation when you forget to buy Noemie a present for your annivesary!
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# Posted 2:15 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THE SHI'ITES ARE GONNA GET TOUGH: Juan Cole asks: With Saddam out of the way, why make nice to the Americans?

Cole makes a good case, but I am skeptical as usual about predictions of Shi'ite unruliness. What really would've been appreciated is an answer to the question that everyone in the media is dodging: do the Shi'ites really want democracy, or just "one man, one vote, one time"?
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# Posted 1:44 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

A FEW GOOD MEN: Matt Yglesias certifies that John Ashcroft has turned over the Plame investigation to serious prosecutors and not partisan hacks.

Josh Marshall agrees and speculates about why the turnover happened in the first place.
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# Posted 1:08 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

ANOTHER HOMELESS DEMOCRAT: I had a long talk this morning with George Packer, a staff writer for the New Yorker who recently published an excellent in-depth account of the occupation. George also wrote (for the NYTM) what was probably the best article on reconstruction planning that made it into print before the war.

George actually got in touch with me because of my affiliation with Harvard, and not because of OxBlog. However, he is a daily consumer of Josh Marshall's Talking Points Memo. The reason George got in touch was because he heard that my dissertation focused on the role of American conservatives in returning democracy promotion to the foreign policy agenda in the 1980s.

Unfortunately, I don't think that I was as much help as George might've hoped. The reason is twofold. The first is that my research is still ongoing, so I know far more about the Carter era and the early Reagan years than I do about the later period.

Second, I don't have much to say (yet) about the neo-conservatives' stand on democracy promotion in the 1980s, as opposed to the Republican stand in general. Nonetheless, I think George was rather struck when I described how Elliot Abrams and Tom Harkin joined forces to help kick out the Pinochet government in Chile.

The reason for George's interest in early neo-con views on democracy promotion is that he is trying to unearth the intellectual roots of George W. Bush's post-9/11 agenda. While there is no question that neo-conservatives generally embraced democracy as the antidote to communism in the 1980s, in it is far less apparent that they had a serious interest in laying the institutional foundations for democratic reform in allied nations.

Instead, my general sense is that their focus was primarily on bashing the Soviet for the lack of democracy in Eastern Europe and supporting the freedom fighters/"freedom fighters" in Nicaragua. Nonetheless, as I emphasized to George, Reagan's rhetorical support for democracy brought idealism back on to the Republican agenda and made today's ideological rhetoric (and corresponding half-actions) possible.

As far as the current administration goes, George has very little nice to say. His tone when discussing Republicans in general is fairly similar to that of Josh Marshall. When it comes to Iraq, George has the cynicism bred of first-hand encounters with the unforgiveable incompetence of the CPA.

Yet in spite of it all, George is dangerously close to being a liberal hawk. Like TNR and like Michael Totten (and OxBlog, of course) George really believes that the Democratic party must reclaim its heritage as the true advocate of liberal internationalism, of using American power to ensure the spread of democratic values across the globe.

As such, George feels no less marginalized within the Democratic party than does TNR or Michael Totten or OxBlog. He was glad to hear however, that the Rachels and Patricks of this world are doing the best to create a real future for Democratic foreign policy. If the lib hawks are ever to have the success that the neo-cons have had, we have to have scores of young idealists ready to march into the next Democratic administration and ensure that it lives up to our ideals.

Not in 2004, however. With a sense of personal disappointment that can only grow out of true loyalty, George regrets the rise of Howard Dean and the resurgence of the ostrich-headed doves. And Wes Clark isn't much better. But more important than the views of Dean and Clark is the fact that the Democratic base has no real desire to unite power and idealism. Instead, most Democratic voters continue to embrace a sort of kneejerk multilateralism.

And so it goes. For as long as misery loves company, liberal hawks will be social animals.
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# Posted 12:48 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

I spent a short period of my youth living in Florida, and "Honeybells" are essentially just one of a number of types of citrus fruits in the "tangelo" family - hybrids of tangerines and grapefruit. I remember eating my first tangelo 20+ years ago when I was just a kid, and it spoiled my taste for oranges - I used to pine for them when we moved back to Illinois.

The "Honeybell" variety is generically known as a minneola, and they are now widely available at most US supermarkets in the late fall through early spring. Once you've eaten a minneola, it's hard to ever think about eating a regular orange again. They are somehow "orange-ier" than real oranges - the flavor is out of this world.

Minneolas are also grown in South America now, so there is sometimes a second season for them in late spring/early summer. Minneolas and Honeybells are identical - you don't have to buy them from Cushman's. Both my kids (6 and 4) eagerly anticipate when "the minneolas come back".
BE also points out that evertyhing you wanted to know about Tangelos can be found right here.
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# Posted 12:52 AM by Patrick Belton  

DISPATCH FROM THE LAND OF CHRISTMAS, PART TWO: Sing, muse. Sing of snow angels and dog mushing and Christmasses at 40 degrees below.....

I sing of arms, and a man off of whom they froze. Any witnesses here in the Arctic interior of Alaska, where my in-laws' log cabin overlooks Denali, the Great One, 200 miles away to the south, on Tuesday night could have observed the edifying spectacle of this author running around outside in his underwear, searching for firewood in 30 below, shouting "cold state, cold state, cold (expletive deleted) state." The Alaskans have invented an entire technology to combat the cold that surrounds them like a cruel embryo, consisting of parkas, hot tubs, hot springs, saunas, and bunny boots, warm to 30 degrees below. This technology has given the state its dominant symbols - even when temperatures warm up to near freezing, Alaskans rumble about outside in thick, garishly colored parkas, as if displaying the symbols of a common tribe.

Yet in the cold, there is beauty, as in a particularly cruel Aryan ex-girlfriend. While dawn in winter only briefly flashes the state her pink middle finger - Fairbanks receives roughly two hours of sunlight at the winter solstice, while Barrow, in the far north, sees no sunlight from early November until the end of January - the reflective world of snow and ice catch up the ambient light of night, in a universe that shades straight from sunrise to sunset across long reds and pinks, and where you can always be sure of being up before dawn to catch it. And when Aurora-Dawn neglects the state, her sister Aurora Borealis more than makes up for her. The University of Alaska at Fairbanks, which keeps track of this sort of thing, records that Northern Lights appear in the sky 260 days out of the year, and are still not fully understood, even though they disrupt electronic communications...and increase the population of Japan. The belief is apparently quite strong in Japan that conception of a child under the aurora borealis bodes well for the offspring's future, and Alaska has done remarkably little to discourage the belief - the lodge at Chena Hot Springs and the airport in Anchorage (the closest city to Alaska) both sport signs in Japanese as well as English. Each time the northern lights appear here in the Arctic, they appear simultaneously in mirror image in the southern hemisphere, where they are known as aurora australis.

It is a land of sourdoughs and cheechacos - the first, the veridical Alaskans, who sport gruff beards, wear carhartts, and fed the yeast in their dough (hence their names) straight since the gold rush of 1907. The second are newcomers - often soldiers, many black, who served here and returned to a land remarkably free of prejudice against their color. Lawyers, too - the state's bar has the highest percentage of Yale and Harvard graduates in the nation, who come here to indulge their thirst for frontier life, and hang out their shingles as small lawyers with practices based on crashed small airplanes (the only way to get around the great unreachable Bush, apart from snow machines and dog sleds) and torts claims lodged against the odd rifle-ready folk who come up here to treasure their privacy, and who remember wounds. There are poets and theologians, who erect log cabins with gorgeous views to sit and write; and "blow-ins" who come up from the Pacific Northwest to eat granola and work on the large federal parks. (Ninety percent of the state's territory is in federal hands.) There are Christians and communists, who carve communes into the soil, hunt, trap, and sell crafts and furs, like the Puritans before them who settled the lower forty-eight in search of a New Jerusalem. The mountain-men yeomanry of Appalachia have their progeny, too, in the small game hunters and fur trappers, who run trapping lines across the bush, and live a life as remote from human society as any resident of an industrial democracy is likely to lead anywhere. It is a land that features outhouse racing - the only place in the world the sport is played - and midnight baseball on the night of the summer solstice at the home diamond of the Fairbanks Golddiggers. It is a land of extremes, in weather and character.

Fairbanks began as a gold digging town, and in good gold-digging fashion, Cheechaco Lil was the first prostitute to have turned up in Fairbanks, in 1910, on 2nd Avenue - which has retained the reputation. Georgia Lee Eldredge died in the 1950s at the age of 77 as Fairbank's most successful prostitute. She was not attractive, even in her youth. The day she died, one devoted patron called several friends to say he did not intend to go on without her, and then shot his dog and himself with a double .30 rifle. She left $100,000 in her bank account, and no heirs.

I ventured to Two Rivers on a balmy morning of 26 below to take a dog-sled ride in the capable care of Leslie Goodwin, who runs a dog mushing center christened "Paws for Adventure". We were outside for an hour, during which I paid careful attention to the onset of the different stages of frostbite across various appendages of my body. After half an hour, I remember thinking for a brief fleeting moment that even the prospect of Dick Morris sucking on my toes didn't seem that bad, if it would only succeed in warming them up. It was an almost welcome moment when I realized that I was no longer able to feel my toes - at least then, they no longer hurt. With my mind thus cleared of distractions, I could pay attention to my lesson in dog mushing from my expert guide. Mushing terminology is straightforward: "hike" is forward, "haw" left, "gee" right, and "wow" stop. The dogs - anxious, beautiful creatures - are happiest when they are pulling - they are bred to pull things, and left to their own devices run around looking for chains to pull. When first teamed up, they explode off at close to 16 miles per hour, settling into a canter of 8 to 12 mph after a few minutes. There is hierarchy in these things: the front dogs are drivers, who need to be born leaders among dogs, and must be intelligent (not too intelligent, though, or they will forsake the entire enterprise of pulling sleighs wholesale. Sled dogs must not be philosophers). Back dogs must be the strong ones, who can pull the sleigh from a halt. The other dogs are more interchangeable parts.

There's a certain sense of lost innocence one feels about leaving Alaska. It fades away from you slowly - in Fairbanks International Airport, you see the sourdoughs trotting around, greeting each other with grunts in a gruff, manly benevolence. In Anchorage, there are fewer (as they intermix with tourists from Japan and the lower forty-eight, and German and Korean women married to the army); then at Seattle-Tacoma, they fade away entirely as you move past the Alaska Airlines terminal - and then you are left in bland, granola, ski-muffin land. The feeling is one of loss, like an expulsion from Eden. I have never done it without incredible sadness.

So this is my Alaska, the land I have married into. Lastly, a confession - this is actually being posted after my return from the far North to the north of Manhattan island, since with my Alaskan connection it turned out to be roughly as fast to pick up a phone and read 0s and 1s out loud to Blogger. I received this morning an email from a reader in Alaska who turned out to have sat next to my in-laws and me at The Return of the King. People, if you sight an OxBlogger on the street: we're always happy to pundit in person in return for any vices (actually, just caffeine, hard alcohol, or tobacco...and large hats, for Josh...we're fairly clean-cut bloggers....)
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Thursday, January 01, 2004

# Posted 6:27 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

MATT YGLESIAS IS A TEENAGE GIRL: So is Josh Marshall. At least according to Dana Blankenhorn at Dean 2004 (aka Dean Nation), that is.

What Dana's trying to say is that Matt and Josh and other supposedly liberal media hacks are
so anxious to do the bidding of Washington Democrats and take Dean down. They know that Dean brings, not just a Democrat to power, but true democracy, in all its revolutionary hurly-burly fervor. A Dean Administration would not just discomfit them, it would turn their safe little lives upside-down.
Wisely, Matt decided not to honor this sort of ridiculous cheapshot with a substantive response. Also on the bright side, Aziz from Dean Nation invited Ezra Klein to defend Matt and Josh in a lengthy response to Dana.
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# Posted 6:13 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

A REALLY GOOD IDEA FROM HOWARD DEAN: Raise the minimum wage to $7. As Kevin Drum explains, the $7 figure is modest by historical standards. Moreover, even larger raises didn't result in higher unemployment.
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# Posted 5:41 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

CLINTONOMICS AND ITS RIVALS: The NYT has a good round up of the Democratic candidates' economic programs and the differences between them. While the Times emphasizes the similarities between most of the candidates proposals, I think it is worth noting a couple of differences. (For a quick review, take a look at the handy chart provided here.

First and foremost, Dick Gephardt is a hardline old-economy man. He is for repealing all of Bush's tax cuts, for rolling back free trade and in favor of massive new health care expenditures. (What I didn't know was that Al Sharpton advocates almost all of the same things. Btw, Dennis Kucinich does as well, but no one cares.)

Second, Howard Dean is on the fence between the new and old Democratic programs, with his desire to reverse all the tax cuts and rethink free trade. However, his health insurance plans seem to be in line with most of his rivals'.

Third, Wes Clark's program is somewhat undefined. He's for keeping middle-class tax cuts and holding the line on free trade. But he has no health care plan yet. Also, he has what the NYT describes as a plan for a $100 billion stimulus package, which probably merits further research on my part.

That leaves us with Edwards, Lieberman and Kerry, who basically have identical plans.

So what does this all mean? My sense is that it heightens the importance of foreign policy in the primaries, because that's what differentiates the candidates. Moreover, given Gephardt's marginality, the economic divide once again casts Dean as the left-wing insurgent in a moderate liberal party.

I think that it is this dynamic which really drives the conventional wisdom that the party will eventually have to make a choice between Dean and Clark. The question in my mind is whether the also-rans will endorse Clark soon enough to prevent a Dean victory.

UPDATE: El Camino thinks that the differences are even more pronounced than I've made them out to be and that economic policy will become an important focus of the primary campaign. He adds that the details of Clark's stimulus package can be found here.
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