OxBlog

Tuesday, February 03, 2004

# Posted 10:41 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

A LOOK BEHIND THE CURTAIN: I got an e-mail just now announcing a seminar series at MIT. The announcement began with the following caveat:
Please note that the Tuesday, March 30 seminar by Harvey Rishikof should be entitled "Prosecution of Saddam Hussein," not "Persecution of Saddam Hussein." Sorry for the mix-up! :)
If only it had been a Chomsky seminar, that really would've been funny.
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# Posted 9:09 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

PRESS GOES SOFT ON BUSH? Brad DeLong (with an "Amen" from Kevin Drum) denounces the WaPo for publishing a major story on the budget deficit that reads like a White House press release.

DeLong is right that the WaPo article doesn't really provide readers with the information necessary to really know what's going on with the budget. But given its unmitigated denunication of Bush as a fool and liar on the editorial page, I think it's a good idea for the WaPo to stick to the facts in the news section.

The counterargument here is that, presumably, more people read the front page than the editorials. Even so, I suspect that the budget-of-lies concept will get across to anyone who follows the issue. Some voters just won't care, and the media can't change that. But with Bush's credibility on this issue so low and the deficit spiraling out of control so soon after Clinton reined it in, Bush can't come out of this looking good.
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# Posted 8:49 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

PAPERS SLAM NEW BUDGET: If you read these three columns without knowing who'd written them, you'd probably guess that Paul Krugman had written all three.

Of course, the first is a WaPo masthead editorial, the second a NYT masthead and the third an actual Krugman column. In fact, the WaPo may be the harshest of the three. It opens by asserting that "The Bush administration's 2005 budget is a masterpiece of disingenuous blame-shifting, dishonest budgeting and irresponsible governing." It's hard to disagree.

What really pisses me off is the administration's refusal to acknowledge the continuing costs of our work in Iraq and Afghanistan. That doesn't amount to a cut-and-run strategy, but it isn't all that much better. What this kind of evasiveness ensures is that whenever the President does submit a funding request for Iraq and Afghanistan, it will become a political football.

Perhaps that's smart politics. Perhaps Bush expects that the Democrats will embarrass themselves again and reinforce their image of weakness on national security by bickering over whether or not to fund the occupations. But one sure result will be a weakening of public support for nation-building and democracy promotion. Whenever one of these funding debates start, it is hard even for the bill's supporters to come out and say that we should spend abroad while cutting back at home.

While spending on Iraqis may be for the purpose of ensuring own security, it's a hard case to make on the campaign trail. Thus, if the administration were 100% committed to promoting democracy in the Middle East, it would try to build bipartisan support for its objectives by stating up front just how it intends to pay for them.
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# Posted 5:39 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

DAMN THOSE SENSIBLE ISRAELIS! Polls show that Israelis favor Arik Sharon's plan to dismantle the Gaza settlements by a 25-point margin, 59-34.
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# Posted 3:21 PM by Patrick Belton  

PLUG: It's been my great pleasure before to note here the tour schedule for the Tallis Scholars, and I'd like to do the same today for Chanticleer. Together, they're uncontestably the finest a capella ensembles singing anywhere at present, and I really can't recommend highly enough that any of our readers who might have the chance to attend one of their concerts would certainly do so.

Chanticleer will be performing in the following cities over the next two months:

February
4 Indianola, Iowa: Simpson College, 7:00p.m.
5 Storm Lake, Iowa: Buena Vista University, Schaller Chapel, 712-749-2452, 7:30p.m.
7 Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, Ted Mann Concert Hall, 612-624-2345, 7:30p.m. 
8 Duluth, Minn.: University of Minnesota/Duluth, Weber Music Hall, 218-726-8877, 7:30p.m.
21 San Francisco: One World, Calvery Presbyterian Church, 8:00p.m.
22 Petaluma, California: One World, St. Vincent Church, 3:00p.m.
27 Santa Clara, California: One World, Mission Santa Clara, 8:00p.m.
28 Sacramento: One World, First United Methodist Church, 8:00p.m.
29 San Francisco: One World, Calvery Presbyterian Church, 7:00p.m.

March
5 Palm Springs , California: Annenberg Theatre, 760-325-4490 or boxoffice@psmuseum.org
6 Irvine, California: Irvine Barclay Theatre, 949-854-4646 or tickets@thebarclay.org
7 La Jolla, California: St. James Church, 858-459-3421, Ext 109, 4:00p.m.
10 Anchorage: Anchorage Concert Association, Atwood Concert Hall, 907- 272-1471, 7:30p.m.
29 San Francisco: New Voices, Calvery Presbyterian Church, 8:00p.m.

And the Tallis Scholars, incidentally, will meanwhile be performing on tour in the UK, Europe, and the US:

February
Tuesday 24 February: St. John's, Smith Square, London (020 7222 1061)
Thursday 26 February: at 7.30pm Bridgewater Hall, Manchester (0161 907 9000)

March
Sunday 14 March: Teatro della Pergola, Florence (info@mamusic.com)
Tuesday 16 March: Monfalcone, Italy (same email)
Friday 19 March: Zamora, Spain (porticozamora@terra.es)
Monday 22 March - Richmond, VA
Thursday 25 March - Ann Arbor, MI
Friday 26 March - Lexington, KY
Saturday 27 March - New York, NY
Sunday 28 March - Rhode Island, RI
Tuesday 30 March - Roanoke, VA
Wednesday 31 March - Savannah, GA

April
Friday 2 April - Stanford, CA
Sunday 4 April - Boston, MA
(Further details for US tour are obtainable from: info@franksalomon.com)

Doing things like this is one of the greatest pleasures of having a blog - we're always very happy to support the arts!
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# Posted 6:05 AM by Patrick Belton  

DETERMINED TO SHOW THAT "SECURITY COUNCIL" IS A EUPHEMISM: After September 11th, the UN Security Council formed a panel to investigate the funding of terrorist organizations, and ways in which the international community could cooperate to halt those organizations' streams of finance. The panel was founded, under the leadership of a British diplomat named Michael Chandler. It released a report saying that the international community was not doing enough to combat Al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations.

So what did the UN do? Well, of course, it dissolved his commission and fired Mr Chandler.
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# Posted 5:42 AM by Patrick Belton  

CALPUNDIT'S NOTING that in very initial polling, Kerry's opening up a small lead over Bush. Undoubtedly, the Skull and Bonesman (errr...I mean, the one from Massachusetts) is being helped out by his recent bounce from comparative obscurity, and hasn't been front-runner long enough to attract a great deal of criticism - but if it holds up, then we might be in for a very interesting summer and fall....

At the very least, we'll have something to write about.
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# Posted 4:40 AM by Patrick Belton  

DAVID'S ABSOLUTELY RIGHT, the extraordinarily important events going on with the Iranian legislature and scheduled elections this week deserve far more attention from all of us here in the blogosphere. Toward that end, here's a first round-up of what people have been writing about Iran, both in the blogosphere and in print. We'll be furnishing these round-ups regularly, so please let us know if we've overlooked anything or you have suggestions....

First off, BBC is offering up a Q&A about the election crisis and the text of the letter submitted by the resigning MPs, while also summarizing the coverage and editorial positions of the various Iranian newspapers.

Voice of America is repeating a US government call for free elections in Iran, while "refraining from specific comments about developments in the struggle between reform politicians and the conservative Guardian Council out of concern it might be seen as American interference." Meanwhile, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty is reporting the Iranian government's alleged deliberations about whether to postpone the elections (a view which is particularly strong in the Interior Ministry. The Financial Times is pointing out the low level of enthusiasm for the Islamic Republic's 25th birthday celebrations over the weekend. According to the FT, pragmatic conservative strategists worry public response may swell the ranks of the reformists, and reformers as well as many analysts hope for the intervention of the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, to overturn the Guardian Council's ruling disqualifying 2,400 reformist candidates for parliament. EurasiaNet, however, is finding both sides to be digging in and appealing to their bases, and says the Ayatollah has given no indications he will intervene or exercise leadership - his office has indicated he would be "unavailable" for the coming two days. The piece also notes that the boundaries of acceptable criticism of the revolutionary state are expanding - reformists are now openly questioning the existence of the Guardian Council and the office of Supreme Leader, which they had not dared to do before. There is also good reporting to be had in the CS Monitor and NYT, and excellent analysis in the Economist. The NYT, on the other hand, editorializes (too harshly, in my opinion) that the disqualification of the reformist candidates may spell the end of reform in Iran.

Turning to bloggers, Pejman writes:
In addition to the decision of over a hundred Iranian reformers to resign en masse from their parliamentary seats, the the largest reformer party has decided to sit out the upcoming elections:

Iran's reformists are enraged by the decision of the Guardian Council -- an unelected constitutional oversight body run by religious hardliners -- to declare more than 2,000 would-be lawmakers unfit to stand in the election.

More than 120 reformist lawmakers resigned from parliament on Sunday and President Mohammad Khatami's reformist government has called for the vote to be postponed.

"We have no hope that a fair, free and legitimate election can be held on February 20. So in the current circumstances we cannot participate," Mohammad Reza Khatami, head of the Islamic Iran Participation Front (IIPF) party, told a news conference.

He added the party, one of the main backers of his brother President Mohammad Khatami, would only put forward candidates for an election if the candidate bans were overturned and the vote was delayed to allow more time for campaigning.

The hope now is that the supreme religious leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, will overturn the ban to avert a legitimacy crisis. However, given the continuous efforts of the hardliners in the Guardians' Council (and elsewhere) to sabotage and undermine the work of elected reformers, there is no way to consider the Islamic regime as anything but illegitimate.
At NRO, Michael Ledeen is pointing out that now might not be the best time for congressional staff to cozen up to the regime in Tehran (see AP and WaPo for more). MaroonBlog has a great deal on the topic, too.

Students at Tehran University are reported to be planning a protest on Wednesday - we'll be following along closely.
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# Posted 3:20 AM by Patrick Belton  

ONE MORE CONTRIBUTION TO THE ARABIC CONSTITUTIONAL DISCOURSE: In a continuing effort to share a humble, brotherly contribution with the free people of Iraq in their constitutional discussions from out of our own Anglo-American constitutional tradition, a small play about the drafting of the US constitution's been written and translated into Arabic. (Thanks to Kelion Kasler for pointing this out to us.)
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# Posted 1:11 AM by Patrick Belton  

BELTON, YOU GIVE ESOTERIC A BAD NAME: This isn't nearly as important as David's post on Iranian democracy below, but for those of you who will be interested in this sort of thing, this is the sort of thing you'll be interested in. Indiana University is in the process of collecting online an exhaustive list of all RFE/RL programs and segments broadcast in Central Asian languages from 1989 or so on. Many, but not all, are also in the process of eventually being posted online in RealPlayer format. (And they also link to the current programming pages of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and BBC World Service in different languages, so you can listen to today's news in Uzbek, Dari, Pahsto, Tatar, Turkmen, Kyrgyz, and every other funny language your mom's never heard of.) This is awfully useful if you're interested in learning any of these languages or seeing what the BBC and RFE/RL are broadcasting in that part of the world - it's also useful if you're just curious what Tajik sounds like.
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# Posted 12:49 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

FLOOD THE ZONE: Jason Broander says today's dramatic events in Iran deserve more attention both in the blogosphere and in the mainstream media. He's right, and we should've been on this one earlier.

All indicators suggest that we are about to confront a major turning point in the history of Iranian democracy. The President's own party -- the most popular and legitimate party in Iran -- is boycotting elections. I can't think of any other country in which that ever happened. Moreover, more than a third of Iran's MPs have resigned.

These actions seem to represent a clear challenge to the conservative clerics who are preventing Iran from becoming a true to democracy. Khatami's party is saying that it will no longer lend its legitimacy to fake elections that install governments without power. What it wants now are real elections that let the people choose who governs.

So dammit, flood the zone! (That means you, too, George W.)
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Monday, February 02, 2004

# Posted 6:53 PM by Patrick Belton  

THE BEST WRITING IN OXFORD IS DONE ON THE BATHROOM WALLS, #5:

(text, written in pencil:)
A Venerable Prof of Divinity
Had a daughter who kept her virginity
Oh! The lads down at Magdalen
They must be a'dawdlin'
It wouldn't have happened in Trinity.
(commentator, writing in blue ink:)
Rhythmically unsound
Dubious rhyming
IS THIS SOME KIND OF JOKE?
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# Posted 2:47 AM by Patrick Belton  

VERY RIGHT OR VERY WRONG, BUT NEVER BORING: And today, Andrew takes one of his (admirably rare) detours into the second camp. Viz:
THE CULTURE OF DEATH: A couple of hundred people are dead because they were a little too enthusiastic about stoning the Devil. This happens every year. Is it culturally insensitive to ask whether there isn't something profoundly awry about a religion that sends so many to their deaths as part of a religious duty? The Hajj minister in Saudi Arabia comments: "All precautions were taken to prevent such an incident, but this is God's will. Caution isn't stronger than fate." Excuse me? God's will to commit hundreds to their deaths? At the same time, Islamist fanatics murder scores by killing themselves in Iraq. What we have on our hands is, in some instances, not that far from a death cult.
Rather than parse or critique the argumentative structure of the paragraph (though I don't quite believe that the concluding smear against Islam generaliter follows at all from the premises, however incontrovertibly true, that the Saudi religious authorities are awfully negligent in permitting Hajj trampling deaths to recur with such tragic frequency, and that religiously-motivated terrorists do pose quite grave challenges to the security and peace of the newly free Iraqis), what I'd prefer to do is to point out one hopeful note which this analysis misses. And that is the bluntness, conciseness, and eloquence with which on the night of Eid al-Adha, Abdul Aziz bin Abdullah Al Sheik, the Saudi Grand Mufti and by no means a liberal, denounced terrorism. Noting that the extraordinary majority of victims of the recent terror attacks in Iraq and Turkey have been Muslim, and equally attacking terror against non-Muslims, the Mufti asked in his address to the pilgrims whether "is it holy war to shed Muslim blood? Is it holy war to shed the blood of non-Muslims given sanctuary in Muslim lands? Is it holy war to destroy the possessions of Muslims?" (For reporting of his speech, see Chicago Tribune and LA Times.) And to miss the significance of this condemnation - in favor of instead using a human tragedy aggravated by the incompetence of a tyrannical regime to make a smear against the extraordinarily variegated and broad Islamic swath of the planet - seems to me regrettable.

I'd like to note, though, that I'm criticizing Andrew here precisely because of the high moral tone of his life's work, and because of the great esteem in which I hold his contribution to the political discourse of the two countries of which I am resident. His quite sensible combination of social progressivism, fiscal moderation, and idealistic hawkishness in foreign policy represents a far too rare triumph in our day of humanistic common sense over the partisan and ideological consistencies that are so in fashion for our thoughtless age. With lesser sorts, I do not quibble.

UPDATE: A bit more on this from one of our esteemed friends.
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Sunday, February 01, 2004

# Posted 11:54 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

CORRECTION CORRECTED: MM writes that
"Distractable" is a recognized variant spelling of "distractible," and not incorrect at all.

As Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary put it (see near the end of the definition):
dis.tract vt [ME, fr. L distractus, pp. of distrahere, lit.,
to draw apart, fr. dis- + trahere to draw] (14c) 1 a: to turn
aside: divert b: to draw or direct (as one's attention) to a
different object or in different directions at the same time
2: to stir up or confuse with conflicting emotions or motives
syn see puzzle -- dis.tract.i.bil.i.ty n -- dis.tract.ible
or dis.tract.able adj -- dis.tract.ing.ly adv
Fine by me. I just feel bad for the kid who got tossed in the first round of the National Spelling Bee for using an acceptable variant.
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# Posted 11:24 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

OXBLOG REPORTS FROM THE FRONT: What could be more fun than a post-Super Bowl riot? Driving home, I watched Boston natives honor their athletic heroes by hanging out of car windows, honking continuously and starting a fire in a newspaper vending machine. Shortly thereafter, four men ran by with a keg in a shopping cart. I expected even more action as I approached the next intersection, but no thanks to some cops in riot gear, I lost the chance to become a full-fledged war correspondent. Dagnabit!
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# Posted 7:49 PM by Patrick Belton  

RESPECTFULLY NOTED: The Forward notes a few congressional primary races that might interest some of our readers: First, Andy Rosenberg is running against Northern Virginian Congressman Jim Moran, whose nationwide reputation rests mostly on his paranoid and ridiculous (and, now, ironically self-fulfilling) comments that Jews are out to unseat him (see our Moron Watch, from last April). Second, Oxford grad (D.Phil., history, St Antonys) Jamie Metzl's running for an open seat in Missouri's 5th (see his campaign website). Jamie's a really nice guy, and eminently qualified, too - a White House Fellow and Harvard Law grad with experience on the NSC and Senate Foreign Relations staffs, several respected academic books to his name, and enough ties to his district to propel him to a fast lead in fundraising. I didn't think people like him ran for Congress anymore.
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# Posted 6:32 PM by Patrick Belton  

VAGUELY INTERESTED IN THE SUPER BOWL, but you'd rather read about Lesbians? Well, you can have it both ways - ESPN has a very nice game cast where you can keep an eye on the game while keeping the other free to do whatever you want with it....
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# Posted 6:19 PM by Patrick Belton  

"WE HAVE AN OBJECTIVE MEDIA" HEADLINE OF THE DAY: "Engineering Geek Names Son Version 2.0" (CNN)

(Incidentally...and since it's somewhat vaguely on the same topic...today is Rachel's and my 40 month, and therefore 3.333 repeating year, anniversary of our first date. So this post goes out with love to the lovely blogosphere wives who put up with us....)
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# Posted 2:16 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

OUR CONDOLENCES to the people of Erbil, Iraq on this day, which should have been a day of celebration.
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# Posted 4:02 AM by Patrick Belton  

WHICH WAY DO I POINT THIS THING AGAIN?: I'm off, at a dreadfully early hour, to represent Oxford on the athletic field the first time, this time against that pernicious enemy, the villainous British Pistol Association! (cue Darth Vader theme, I suspect). Ideally I'll succeed in at least not doing too dire harm to anyone else or myself....

UPDATE (5:00 pm): Okay, far from being pernicious villains, the British Pistol Association were extraordinarily good sports who not only won a close match against us on a windy day, while showing admirable technique, but also took us out to lunch after, and extended to all of us a kind invitation to shoot there as their guests whenever we liked. Their headquarters, Bisley in Surrey, has for ages been the headquarters of British pistol and rifle shooting, with origins in the officer corps. All national- and Commonwealth-level competition takes place there, and the place has a quite lovely sense of history.

So I'll have to reserve the label of pernicious villain for second-rate universities located in various cities called Cambridge....
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# Posted 12:44 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

TO HELL WITH CANADA! INVADE MARS! Citizen Smash has more.
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# Posted 12:43 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

HAVE YOU HEARD THE GOOD NEWS? That quesiton always makes me think of the Sopranos episode where Janice dates an evangelical Christian. Not knowing he's surrounded by mobsters, Janice's boyfriend always begins conversations by asking "Have you heard the good news?" He then tries to convert his newfound criminal and Catholic friends to his brand of Christianity.

Anyhow, Winds of Change has just declared that Saturday, the Sabbath, will from henceforth be a day of good news. Well versed in many religious traditions, Joe will be using his Saturday posts to share the wisdom of Hasidic Judaism, Sufi Islam and Zen Buddhism. Today's earthly good news is that WoC's Armed Liberal has just gotten engaged. AL also has a post from Friday which should count as good news, because it concerns a remarkable display of human compassion.

Of course, if you want some bad news, WoC has plenty of that as well. Thus, I highly recommend the most recent Central Asia briefing, which has some good news, but plenty of bad as well. Torture. Stuff like that.

CORRECTION: Saturday has been good news day for quite some time now on WoC. I just got thrown off by the use of the future tense to describe this practice in the post linked to above. Well, serves me right for not reading WoC more often.

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Saturday, January 31, 2004

# Posted 9:05 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

DON'T READ THIS! Stop now. I told you not to read this. Oh, alright. Fine. If you're going to be that way, just go ahead. Anyhow, in case you haven't heard, Slate media critic Jack Shafter has been launching high-profile attacks on the NYT Magazine for running an allegedly unsubstantiated story about sex slavery in the United States.

The first critic to call the NYT on its questionable reporting was blogger Daniel Radosh, who was rewarded for his trouble with personal threats from the article's author, Peter Landesman. Landesman's editor and then Landesman himself apologized for going overboard. But both of them still stand by the story.

After going through all of this material, I'm left wondering why I bothered with it in the first place. Mainly, I guess, because it involves two of my favorite subjects: First, sex. Second, incompetence at the NYT. (If Jayson Blair had been directing X-rated films in the back offices on 43rd St, you can bet OxBlog would've provided daily coverage.) Even so, I felt after going through it all that I had wasted my time.

Why? Perhaps because it all seemed so petty and sensational. Then again, if sex slavery is a serious issue, we should be reading about it. Perhaps because I found Shafter's criticism persuasive, the seriousness of the issue not the first thing on my mind. So before you go and follow the links in this post, decide if that's what you really want. After all, if you'd followed my advice, you wouldn't have even gotten this far.

NB: I have consistently referred the NYT's offices as being on 44th St, even though they are most definitely on 43rd. This is a particularly embarrassing mistake for a native New Yorker, especially one who had the chance to visit the Times' offices as a student journalist in high school. What I can't remember is whether or not the NYT building goes through the entire block and has windows on 44th St. If so, I'd at least feel somewhat vindicated.
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# Posted 8:56 PM by Patrick Belton  

HAPPY EID: Tomorrow is Eid al Adha, so an Eid Mubarak to our Muslim brothers and sisters!
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# Posted 3:25 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

QUEER EYE FOR THE SADDAM GUY: I hope all you network executives are listening. This is going to be a blockbuster. It's time for the Fab Five to give Saddam a makeover. After coming out of that spider hole, Saddam looked just plain terrible. The beard is the first thing that has to go. But why stop there? This is a job for the professionals...
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# Posted 3:10 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

IS MUSHARRAF GETTING TOUGH? He's fired Pakistan's #1 bombmaker and is forcing rural tribes to turn over Al Qaeda suspects. On a related note, Phil Carter reports that American forces are preparing a major offensive in Afghanistan. Their target is Osama bin Laden and they seem unexpectedly confident that they will find him. (And while you're over at Phil's site, make sure to check out his excellent coverage of the legal debate concerning rhe rights enemy combatants.)

I sense that there is a relationship between all these events but have no ability whatsoever to say what it is. My concern is that Musharraf will once again become uncooperative in the near future, since his efforts to play off the United States against his internal opponents demands that the general make concessions to both sides.
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# Posted 2:53 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

DEAN-BASHING AT THE NYT? Public editor Dan Okrent examines his paper's record. He find a number of flaws, but nothing serious. I would've been more critical, especially of Jodi Wilgoren, whom Okrent describes as an excellent reporter.

But more importantly, Okrent's column represents a new self-awareness at the Times and a new willingness to subject the Paper of Record to serious criticism. At the moment, Okrent find himself in the somewhat unusual position of defending the Times from the left. Yet by establishing the legitimacy of internal criticism, Okrent is preparing the Times for the much harder task ahead: to admit when it has wronged conservatives.
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# Posted 6:36 AM by Patrick Belton  

GOOGLE AND DATING, PART DEUX: Hmmm, when yesterday I took note of the manifold useful applications of the internet to dating (see, for instance, this joker's former jdate profile....), I hadn't even thought of this application:
A suspected US fraudster on the run for a year has reportedly been caught after a woman checked his name on the Google website before meeting him for a date. LaShawn Pettus-Brown was wanted in Ohio for allegedly siphoning off city funds from restoration projects.

Mr Pettus-Brown showed up to meet his date only to be greeted by several FBI agents, not the woman of his dreams. (via BBC)
And they made fun of me for googling Rachel before we went out.....
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# Posted 6:28 AM by Patrick Belton  

PLANES AND TERRORISTS: RAND releases a study on the implications of counterterror operations for air power.
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Friday, January 30, 2004

# Posted 9:47 PM by Patrick Belton  

NULAND ON GENETIC ENGINEERING: Yale's Professor Sherwin Nuland is one of the most eloquent humanistic voices in the medical profession of our day, and is an extraordinary asset both to his campus and his nation. So it's with great pleasure that I point out he has a piece in the New York Review of Books, on genetic engineering - he's always worth reading, whether in this instance you agree with him or not.
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# Posted 7:51 PM by Patrick Belton  

RITA KATZ puts out her weekly summary of terrorism-related headlines.
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# Posted 4:00 PM by Patrick Belton  

MAYBE HE'S NOT IN AS GOOD SHAPE as he appears: "Castro would 'die fighting' any U.S. invasion of Cuba" (CNN)
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# Posted 3:38 AM by Patrick Belton  

OXBLOG'S MOVIE PICS: The Triplets of Belleville, which played in Europe as Belleville Rendevous, is opening in America. Josh, Rachel, and I saw it here, and it was one of the simultaneously sweetest and most interesting films I've seen in ages.

So if any of our readers have dates tonight, it's most recommended! (And if you don't, then there are websites for that.....)
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# Posted 3:10 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

FARRAKHAN ENDORSES BIN LADEN: At tonight's debate Tom Brokaw said,
Reverend Sharpton, there is a great war going on in the world between the West and the Nation of Islam. And the United States, at the moment, is losing the war for hearts and minds. Everyone agrees on that, whatever their political position happens to be. [Actually, OxBlog thinks we've made progress when it comes to hearts and minds. --Ed.]

Specifically, what should the United States be doing in terms of programs? And how much money should it commit to find common ground between this country and the democratic ideals that we all embrace and the Nation of Islam?
If only Dr. Freud had been there. Why not just come out and ask Al Sharpton if he's an irresponsible demagogue like Farrakhan? (And the answer would be...) But I can forgive Tom Brokaw for his Freudian slip. It was at least entertaining.

However, the rest of Brokaw's questions were terrible. After going through tonight's transcript, I didn't have much an opinion about which candidate made an impressive showing or lost ground to his competitors. Because with questions like Brokaw's, all you wind up getting are evasions and cliches.

At first, Brokaw just asked questions about well-known gaffes that have already gotten more than their share of press coverage, for example Kerry's comments about getting southern votes. But then he started asking softballs that just gave the candidates a chance to launch into their stump speeches. I mean, do you really need to ask Howard Dean (in so many words) whether the President lied about Iraq?

Perhaps the strangest questions were the ones Brokaw had for Joe Lieberman. Basically, he only asked him about policies with which he agrees. Was it OK to invade Iraq without UN approval? Has NAFTA been good for the economy?

All in all, it seemed like Brokaw suffered from split personality disorder. Half the time he asked questions that were supposed to be tough but we're generally just impertient. And the other half of the time he asked questions so easy that there was no hope of learning anything about the candidates. Well, I guess that's how they did things back in the days of The Greatest Generation...
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# Posted 2:19 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

RECYCLING THE GARBAGE: You'd think the NYT would know better. No, wait. You wouldn't. Nonetheless, I'm going to give the Keller mafia a hard time for writing that
Mr. Bush, whose aides had been plotting a war against Iraq practically since Inauguration Day, has dodged questions about why the American intelligence about Iraq was just as wrong as Britain's intelligence.
Was anyone on 44th St. paying attention when it turned out that Paul O'Neill's claims about pre-9/11 war planning were patently false? Even O'Neill himself admitted that his comments were misleading. Get with the program, people.
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# Posted 2:09 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

WHAT'S FRENCH FOR CHUTZPAH? This NYT op-ed defends the proud tradition of French secularism. Its author writes that
In this time of political-religious tensions, school secularism is for us the foundation for civil peace, and for the integration of people of all beliefs into the Republic...
Try telling that to some Jewish kid whose school just got firebombed. If educational secularism is the foundation of civil peace religious integration, I guess that makes it responsible for the fascist anti-Semitism of the French right and the Islamic anti-Semitism of the French left. Not to mention the apathy of those in the middle.
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# Posted 1:59 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

PAY ATTENTION! ARE YOU DISTRACTABLE? The answer to that question is 'no'. How can I be so damn sure? Because there's no such word as 'distractable'. If you can be distracted, then you are distract-ible.

Now, the reason I'm being so pedantic is that last night I rented Spellbound, a very sweet documentary about eight kids who made it to the National Spelling Bee in Washington. One of the eight gets asked to spell 'distractible', but spells it with an 'a' instead of 'i'. Of course, I thought he got it right and then felt sort of dumb when he got booted from the competition.

The film is different from a lot of documentaries because it doesn't seem to have a message or agenda. It is just a chance for the viewer to meet eight interesting young men and women as well as their families. What they have in common is an almost inexplicable love of language that results in an almost obsessive commitment to spelling every word in sight.

Unless you have a Ph.D. in English, you'll spend the second half of the film with your jaw wide-open while these kids spell words you've never even heard of. Hellebore? Euonym? Thank God I wasn't on that stage.

The final word in the National Spelling Bee represented an ironic choice on the part of the judges: logorrhea -- the excessive use of words. Might apply to certain blogs...

UPDATE: Who knew? Glenn Reynolds was once in the National Spelling Bee.
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Thursday, January 29, 2004

# Posted 5:07 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

EGG-FACED PROPHET? Noam Scheiber comments on the resignation of Joe Trippi, whom Scheiber so recently identified as "The Man Who Reinvented Campaigned".
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# Posted 5:00 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

WHO IS JOHN KERRY? TNR tries to decide. Dan Kennedy suggets that Kerry is "a deceptively formidable candidate, especially when his back is against the wall" and that Kerry is "connecting with these voters -- connecting in a way that perhaps he never had before in his career."

Jon Keller
responds: "Let's not pretend that a Kerry nomination would be anything more than the latest eruption of baby-boomer political flatulence." Ouch!
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# Posted 12:33 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

A SHOT ACROSS KERRY'S BOW: Fred Barnes lays out how conservatives will attack Senator John if he gets the nomination. I don't know enough to say if all of Barnes' criticism is fair, but I think he's right that Kerry's shifting positions on both Gulf Wars will be hard to defend. At the same time, the Standard politely mocks John Edwards' millionaire populism.

UPDATE: TNR reminds us of Kerry's spectacular chameleon act from back in '91.
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# Posted 12:32 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

WHAT SISTANI BELIEVES: Reuel Marc Gerecht writes that
The point is, you judge a Shiite cleric first and foremost by his writings, his lectures to his students, the younger clerics he has trained, and his mentors. By all of these criteria, Grand Ayatollah Sistani is a "good" mullah. There are two big intellectual currents in modern Shiite clerical thought. One leads to Khomeini and the other leads to clerics like Sistani. There are certainly overlapping areas between the two schools of thought--the place of women in post-Saddam Iraq will likely be a fascinating subject--but on the role of the people as the final arbiter of politics, there is very little reason to doubt Sistani's commitment to democracy. Clerics like Sistani may use high-volume moral suasion, they may suggest that a certain view is sinful, but they understand that clerics cannot become politicians without compromising their religious mission
Not a definitive answer, but a lot more specific than what we've been getting from the daily papers.
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Wednesday, January 28, 2004

# Posted 10:29 PM by Patrick Belton  

LIVE IN ENGLAND? WANNA VOTE? And, err...if you're a US citizen...then you just might be in luck. I'm aware this is possibly a comparatively small group of our readers, but I thought the information in this email that I just sent around my college might be useful anyway for the few people who would benefit from it:
Dear friends,

Being pitifully unable to raise myself all the way up to the Olympian level of today's earlier emails, can I just point out that for the US citizens in the crowd, there are a few voting-related activities going on around Oxford and London that might interest at least a few of you. Especially if you've been puttering around on a d.phil. long enough that you've been dropped from the rolls in your proper state (ahem...that's not me though).

In terms of voting in the primaries while overseas, there's a Democratic caucus being held in London on February 9th for expatriate US citizens, to select delegates from the expat community. Passports are necessary to attend, or at least to attend somewhat usefully, and contact information for the event seems to be Democrats Abroad UK at 020 7724 9796 or email vote@democratsabroad.org.uk. There's not a Republican equivalent this year, because of the existence of an incumbent president.

On this Tuesday, to help all of you expats have a Super Tuesday (yes, I'm aware that was bad), the UK Democrats Abroad is holding a primary-watching party and absentee voter registration evening in Oxford, at the Rothermere Institute, at 8 pm. They'll also, in somewhat lesser Tammany fashion, feed you. If on the other hand your preferences tilt Republican, I'm quite sure you can turn up anyway and take whatever sneaking pleasure you wish at having them help you register. Or, if you liked to keep to your own kind, the contact information for the Republicans Abroad UK is the address chairman@republicansabroad.org.uk; though I'm not aware of their having yet announced a voting registration event in Oxford or London. Presumably though they're the sort of people who would take pleasure in sending you the appropriate forms you would need in their spare time.

I hope that's useful to at least some of you. Incidentally, my connection was too slow to attach the virus that's going around, but if anyone feels left out, I'm happy to call them up and read them the appropriate zeroes and ones.

with all best wishes,
Patrick
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# Posted 9:56 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

GOING SOFT ON IRAN? The WaPo says that both Europe and the US are endangering hopes of democratic reform.
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# Posted 9:50 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

KAY SAYS IRAQ INTELLIGENCE "ALMOST ALL WRONG": However, the former chief investigator explicitly refused to hold political pressure responsible for distortion of the intelligence. On a related note, Kevin Drum has concluded his search for anyone, anywhere who denied the existence of Saddam's WMD before the invasion of Iraq.

Kevin's search came in response to Atrios' insistence that before the war
There were also plenty of reasonable people running around saying that this whole WMD stuff was nonsense. Remember how they were treated by our media? They were treated like escapees from an insane asylum who needed to up their Thorazine dose. Remember how radical and controversial it was to even suggest such a thing?
Suspecting that Atrios was wrong, Kevin asked his readers to search high and low for evidence that someone reasonable doubted the existence of Iraq's WMD. Turns out that no one in either the United States or Western Europe expressed such doubts, although Vladimir Putin came close to doing so. If Kevin were inclined to do so, he might have added that Atrios got what he deserved for buying into the indefensible notion that the media has gone soft on Bush.

By the way, while you're over at CalPundit, check out Kevin's post on the economy. Good stuff.
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# Posted 8:06 PM by Patrick Belton  

STUDENTS PROTESTING TOP-UP FEES OCCUPIED EXAM SCHOOLS LAST NIGHT: And, I really don't mean any disrespect, but as far as I can tell no one noticed. The president of the Student Union accompanied the protesters in occupying the university building, and called loudly on the government to reject the proposal to increase the funds available to the nation's suffering universities. Fortunately, however, the government of Britain often possesses sufficient wisdom to disregard the political advice of Oxford students - as when, for instance, it did indeed in 1939 decide to fight for King and country.

I found out about the protest only late this afternoon, as the President of Malawi was in the midst of making a no-show at Oxford. (Which, given President Muluzi's nasty habits of suppressing critical journalists and denying opposition parties the right to hold peaceful rallies, might not on the whole be that bad a thing....)
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# Posted 8:30 AM by Patrick Belton  

AND A SECOND BIG WIN FOR BLAIR: The Hutton Report has been released, entirely exculpating the Blair government of any involvement whatsoever in David Kelly's suicide. The report's key points are here, and the BBC devotes an entire page to the controversy as it's unfolded. The full text of the report will be up shortly on the Inquiry's website, here.

UPDATE: It's up...
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# Posted 8:11 AM by Patrick Belton  

AND DISCUSSING HOMELAND SECURITY, SOME MORE: The Oxford chapter of our gang is taking up the subject tonight, at 8:30 pm in the St Antony's College JCR. We'll let you know what we come up with!
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# Posted 8:02 AM by Patrick Belton  

GOOGLE IN UZBEK! Central Asia hands are awfully happy......

And that includes, incidentally, Nathan Hamm who's just written a Central Asia update over at Winds of Change. (Nathan normally blogs here.) (As opposed to Nathan Hale, who blogs here.)
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# Posted 7:57 AM by Patrick Belton  

ANDREW SOUNDS TO ME TO HAVE BASICALLY GOTTEN IT RIGHT: Rather than bash Dean's wife for shunning the traditional first lady role, the media should applaud her.
One of the greatest, freshest, most exciting parts of Howard Dean's campaign was always his refusal to play this hideous media soft-lens Oprah game. He wasn't very telegenic; he shot his mouth off; he said things other candidates were too afraid to say. The fact that his wife was completely absent from the campaign was a wonderful new testament to Dean's real feminism.
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# Posted 3:39 AM by Patrick Belton  

WHAT GOT ME, DAVID, was more the person who got to us by googling "undersexed graduate students"....
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# Posted 3:05 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

MORE GOOGLE HIJINKS: Someone found OxBlog by searching for "sex change operation pictures". What's really strange is that OxBlog came up sixth in the search even though Google found 149,000 entries.

FYI, it was this post on the relevance of sex change operations to gay marriage laws that caught Google's eye. The previous post had thanked Zeyad for posting pictures of an anti-terrorism march in Baghdad.

In case you were interested, the number one site for sex change operation pictures is here. It doesn't have any pictures either. But it suggests that an appropriate punishment for Osama bin Laden would be for him to have a sex change operation and then be forced to live under Taliban rule in Afghanistan.
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Tuesday, January 27, 2004

# Posted 10:09 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

REAL-TIME COMMENTARY: The WaPo's Robert Kaiser is answering questions online at the moment. I think it's a testament to the WaPo's readership and to internet news junkies in general that their questions tend to be a more interesting than his answers. Here are a few samples:
Toledo, Ohio: Doesn't losing both NW and Iowa doom Dean? 13 out 14 nominees have won at least one of these critical first states.

Robert G. Kaiser: Maybe, but I don't believe in historical determinism, and I have never seen a year like this one.

Washington, D.C.
: In the recent past, has any Democratic candidate lost the first position in Iowa and New Hampshire but won the nomination.

Robert G. Kaiser: Bill Clinton did not run against Tom Harkin in Iowa in '92, and came in second to Paul Tsongas in NH. In fact, none of these results from the past "prove" anything about the future...

Boston, Mass..: Paul Tsongas won South Carolina in 1992 by a wide margin -- does this bode well for Kerry down there? Thank you.

Robert G. Kaiser: Well, it suggests that South Carolina won't gote against Kerry on the grounds that he comes from the wrong state. But I'm not sure it means any more than that...

Ames, Iowa: Do you think that the media is so much against Howard Dean because they are owned by the big corporations who would lose if this sort of campaigns built on $100 a little person succeeds?...

Robert G. Kaiser: ...Dean was the big phenomenon of this election. He naturally attracted a lot of attention. He didn't handle it very well. I think that's his problem. [OK, so not all online newshounds are that smart, but the percentage is high. --Ed.]
Now, if you're willing to follow a tangent, take a look at Kaiser's response to a question about the media's role in the election:
Washington, D.C.: Mr. Kaiser, as the fourth arm of government, how would you rate the performance of the media during this primary season?

Robert G. Kaiser: Thanks for giving me the opportunity to say that "the media" is a club neither I nor any of my colleagues at The Post ever applied to join. We work, proudly, for The Washington Post, which has, once again, covered national politics with great distinction last year and this, in my insufficiently independent opinion. Television now does a poor job on politics year round. many papers around the country don't pay enough attention to political coverage. Commercial radio has died. NPR is doing a fine job. Etc Etc. "The media" is a catchall that doesn't really catch the reality of the news business.
While there's no disputing the high quality of the WaPo's coverage, Kaiser's answer is still profoundly misleading. Few journalists spend their entire careers at a single papers, especially not the WaPo. Rather, journalists circulate constantly, a process that results in the establishment of a set of professional norms that is almost identical at every major news outlet. In this sense, there truly is a profession known as "journalism" and a collective of professionals known as the "media".

The opinion expressed above reflects the work of numerous scholars, my favorite of whom is Stephen Hess. In fact, while divided on many issues, scholars interested in the media almost all agree on the uniformity of journalistic norms. This finding has endured now for more than twenty years. In the process, it has been confirmed by opinion surveys (of journalists), hundreds of interviews, and many sociological studies in which scholars have spent weeks or even months in the newsroom as observers.

In fact, Kaiser's comments back up another important finding on which media critics have reached consensus: that even journalists at the most prestigious publications are only dimly aware of the norms that bind them to their colleagues. Rather, journalists often perpetuate stereotypes that have little basis in fact, such as the supposedly low quality of TV journalism in comparison to print. Unsurprisingly, most scholars believe that the first step toward the improvement of American journalism is greater self-awareness on the part of American journalists.
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# Posted 9:38 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

NO SURPRISES IN NEW HAMPSHIRE: With the half the votes in, it looks like tonight's results will turn out almost identical to the projections of yesterday's tracking polls. Kerry is running slightly ahead of the projections of the and Edwards slightly behind, but the major story is in place: Kerry sustains his momentum, Dean consolidates second place with a double-digit lead over Clark and Edwards.

The more interesting questions about the race actually come at the bottom of the ballot. If Clark finishes fourth (or a distant third) in New Hampshire after avoiding Iowa, is his candidacy on the ropes? By the same token, will Edwards lose the invaluable media attention of the past seven days as a result of his somewhat lackluster finish?

My guess is that the subtleties of the Edwards-Clark finish won't matter much, since both are depending on a strong showing in the South. That, of course, brings us to the fact that 2/3 of New Hampshire primary voters described themselves as anti-war. Presumably, that statistic favored Dean and, to some degree, Kerry. In pro-war democratic states, will Edwards have an advantage? Or will Clark and Kerry's military records substitute for their having clear positions on the war?

Finally, Lieberman. The NYT suggests (in a straight news article, of course) that Senator Joe's 9% showing "could doom his candidacy". At the end of the same article, it reports that
Some analysts have said that if Mr. Lieberman does as poorly as the pre-primary polls indicated, he will be finished as a realistic candidate.
But given that Lieberman was expected to get 5-6%, doesn't 9% look relatively good? Double digits would look especially nice, suggested that Lieberman is running neck-and-neck with Clark even though the Senator is a supposed also-ran.

With 9-10%, it almost pays for Lieberman to fight it ought until the convention, since those kind of numbers might allow him to play kingmaker.
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# Posted 5:57 PM by Patrick Belton  

MEETING AN AMBASSADOR: And a Russian one, at that. Grigory Karasin, the Russian ambassador to the Court of St James and a former deputy foreign minister, stopped up at Oxford this afternoon. I typed up a transcript of the discussion, but haven't had a chance to proofread it, so it contains some typos. (Sorry!)

Some of the more interesting selections are quoted below. You can read this text in one of two ways - as presented and without definite and indefinite articles, in which case you'd have to read it aloud and ideally with a marked Russian accent; or with them, as I've optionally supplied. I hadn't meant to only extract unusual (or risible) comments, as his general presentation was articulate, intelligent, and often quite candid. However, there were a few bits - call them, "Karasinisms" - that I just couldn't let slip by without comment....

on the Holocaust
When we think of anti-Semitism, we shouldn’t overemphasize that part of [the] Holocaust. At [the] same time, some people tried to put anti-Semitism into [the] Middle East to discuss [a/the] Middle East settlement. That is [a] different thing, entirely.

on Iraq, and impersonating Madonna
We think that what happened was not optimal, but we recognize that we are living in a material world, and we think the best thing that can be done is to bring back the U.N.

on imaginative construals of what it means to have free and fair elections
Russia is a multiparty democracy with elections, plus and minuses with them, for examples – but take [the] last Duma election, roughly 23 parties took part in that, generally well organized, honest and fair. I can argue with those who think it was not like that.

on having your next presidential election be a foregone conclusion, in a multiparty democracy with elections
also, on the virtues of going to work each day
On march 15, there will be the election of the President, not many people hesitate to predict the result, and it is not because we live in a society where everything is predictable, it is because the personal record of President Putin is absolutely obvious. People trust him, they see that he is really a working President, that every day he tries to handle in a really constructive way some questions with the government.

on optimism
Because Britain is traditionally the land of very good and positive inventions, so let us hope it will invent something to allow us to prosper as an economic power.

on Chechnya (or, having your eggs and breaking them too)
But to try to take an upper hand in political discussions, that can be done later, but establishing that people can go to work and take their children to school, that is priority, and later we can discuss what was optimal.

on Russia, as a new cuddly neighbor
Even if you take the recent Americans’ announcements, not only in Georgia but certainly, Secretary of State says that he thinks, the intonation of the statement was that Russia should be friendly with neighbours, etc., we don’t have to be reminded about that. We’re not pretending to be the patrons of everybody who is neighbouring to Russia. And that is example of Cold War mentality – when Russia is still seen as former Soviet Union. But we should keep in mind that our security, and our national interests, are observed. And we should keep in mind that Russia is either a partner, a full partner, or no partner at all.

on what free speech means to him
It is not yet the end of the road, but people feel themselves living in free market conditions, where they have no limitation to express their views, and where the media represents different views and, fortunately for the state, and fortunately for Russia, it is no longer in the hands of the oligarchs, who like very much to defend, so-called, their own rights, among them, the freedom of speech. It was not freedom of speech, it was the freedom of speech of those who own the news channels.

on those good old days
We can’t say that the former experience of Soviet power was totally negative for my country, there were a number of positive experiences in education, science, and other fields.
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# Posted 5:48 PM by Patrick Belton  

...AND A BIG WIN FOR BLAIR: The top-up fees bill passes the Commons, 316-311. BBC for more.
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# Posted 11:07 AM by Patrick Belton  

WHAT WE PAY THEM FOR, PART DEUX: The State Department releases several documents, including Secretary Powell's op-ed criticizing the lack of democracy in Russia in Izvestia; the selection of the first class of Iraqi Fulbright scholars from free Iraq; Deputy Secretary Armitage's interview on Egyptian television about democracy promotion in the Middle East; and a synopsis of the U.S. government's efforts with regard to female and juvenile refugees.

More, please.
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# Posted 7:14 AM by Patrick Belton  

MY PREDICTION, PROBABLY WRONG: The last NH polls show a tiny bit of movement away from Kerry, whose post-Iowa surge is starting to cool, and towards Dean, who is solidifying his position as the clear alternative to Kerry. On the other hand, the weather in New Hampshire, while not so great, isn't so bad to depress turnout (i.e., no snow): and lower turnout would have further favored Dean over Kerry, since Dean has a much broader get-out-the-vote organization in the state. So Kerry and Dean move out of New Hampshire tonight to battle it out in the South, with Lieberman (my quijotic candidate), Clark, and Edwards sticking in it until Super Tuesday. Advantage: strongly Kerry, with Dean nipping at his heels to gain on him if he stumbles.
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# Posted 3:30 AM by Patrick Belton  

CAMPAIGN FLAGGING, CLARK CAMPAIGNS AS THE NON-YALIE CANDIDATE: At a diner in Keene, N.H., Clark assured a group of voters that "I didn't go to Yale." Kerry, Dean, Lieberman, and President Bush all hold Yale degrees. Edwards and Kucinich quickly picked up on Clark's brilliant idea, and announced they too would help to form a "non-Yalie coalition," which would revive the presidential hopes of the three doomed candidates with flagging campaigns. The three university goyim indicated they would first concentrate their attacks on Senator Lieberman, who holds two Yale degrees, and is therefore thought to be most vulnerable.
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# Posted 2:43 AM by Patrick Belton  

POLLY WANNA RUN FOR PRESIDENT? A captive African grey parrot, named N'kisi, is quite astounding researchers by displaying verbal inventiveness, an ability to deal with novel ideas, and a wisecracking sense of humour. Seeing Jane Goodall, after having seen her photograph, he wisecracked to her: "Got a chimp?"

Hearing about N'kisi's verbal suppleness, ability to confront novel ideas, and affable wisecracking sense of humour, there have been last-ditch efforts by U.S. Democrats to attempt to convince N'kisi to enter into the New Hampshire primary. No word yet, however, as to whether the parrot will say yes, or merely string the Democratic party along for an interminable series of crackers.
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# Posted 12:56 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

CLARK TAKES EARLY LEAD: Dixville Notch chalks up eight votes for the General. Kerry follows with three, Edwards with two. Last time around they took Bradley, four votes to two.
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# Posted 12:37 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

HAPPY BLOGIVERSARY, GREG! Belgravia Dispatch turns one.
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# Posted 12:28 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

DEFENDING THE NEW ECONOMY: The WaPo tells Democratic candidates to stop blaming Indian techno-geeks for the supposed jobless recovery.
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# Posted 12:19 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THE 20th HIJACKER: And the man who stopped him.
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# Posted 12:16 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THE ORIGINAL JOHN KERRY: Via Garry Trudeau via Instapundit.
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# Posted 12:15 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

STOP JUDICIAL ACTIVISM! In Afghanistan.
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# Posted 12:08 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

PROBLEM? ANSWER.

Problem:
The procedures in place for choosing [the new Iraqi] government are insufficiently democratic and excessively complex. Unless the transition goes well, Washington's chances of extricating itself from the day-to-day political and security problems of Iraq could fade.

The system for choosing a new government is built around a convoluted sequence of caucuses in which appointed officials are supposed to solicit and then screen nominations from local dignitaries. The process allows no direct participation by ordinary Iraqis and provides no assurance that all important elements of the population will be appropriately represented.
Answer:
Whatever is decided on, not all Iraqis will be happy. That is why any plan needs the international legitimacy U.N. involvement can bring. The current dispute might have been avoided if the U.N. had been included at an earlier stage. Instead, the agreement that set up the flawed caucus plan was drawn up last fall without U.N. participation. It is encouraging to see Washington, however belatedly, now trying to correct that mistake.
Huh? Iraqis deprived of their democratic rights will somehow be happy if the UN sanctions a less-than-democratic transition plan? Or if the UN had drawn up an undemocratic transition plan in tandem with the United States? By the same logic, one might be led to believe that 44th St. would've accepted the result of the Florida recount four years ago if Kofi Annan had told them to.

I think the real problem here is the NYT's inability to recognize that the people of Iraq know what democracy is and value it. And that the people of Iraq, unlike the editors of the NYT, don't see undemocratic international organizations as a source of democratic legitimacy. Perhaps Ayatollah Sistani will accept the American plan if the UN endorses it unconditionally. But then Shi'ites will be accepting the American plan because of their respect for Sistani, not their respect for the UN.
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Monday, January 26, 2004

# Posted 11:50 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

PLAYING HARD TO GET: You've got to wonder about all these undecided voters in New Hampshire. After two months of having all the candidates parade back and forth across the state, what exactly are New Hampshire's voters waiting to discover in the last hours before the polls open?

If they're all so thoughtful and civic-minded, why didn't they read about the candidates when they had time? Frankly, I sorta think that all those folks in Concord and Manchester and Nashua are just so used to having their butts kissed by politicians that they refuse to decide until the absolute last minute just so that they can milk the primary for all its worth.

But you know what would make them real humble real fast? Moving the first primary to another state. Then watch the New Hampshirites complain about the Nebraskans or whoever and how they think they have some sort of special right to get personal attention from the candidates while the rest of us get nothing more than 30-second commercials.

(Yes, I am in a bad mood.)
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# Posted 11:39 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

HITTING BELOW THE BELT: According to a financial analyst from Nashua, NH:
It hurts to vote this way, but I think George Bush has been a disaster, and if my cat had the best chance of winning the election, then I'd vote for my cat.
If the cat gets enough votes, it will be Pussy vs. Bush in November.
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# Posted 11:25 AM by Patrick Belton  

TRANSATLANTIC DIFFERENCES: The Oxford, Pennsylvania franchise of LA Fitness offers weights and training facilities. My own LA Fitness chapter, in Oxford, England, offers "dating." I have a number of responses here: first, does this make working out more or less of a meat market? second, if the point of weights and training facilities is to facilitate dating anyway, is it then a good or bad idea to simply cut out the intermediate steps? third, and most importantly, is this because English people can't do the "dating" bit on their own after they've done the "go to the gym" bit?

UPDATE: A reader points out: "if you check the boxes on the dating service though, as a male seeking a male, it only comes up with males seeking females. Does this mean that gay men in England don't need the help with dating that straight men do?" Heh - perhaps!
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# Posted 10:44 AM by Patrick Belton  

IS THE ROYAL NAVY STILL FIGHTING THE COLD WAR? Prospect Magazine argues that it is:
The most significant threat our ships face is air attack. The only utility of frigates in air defence is as sacrificial shields, and our current destroyers [which are capable of launching surface-to-air missiles: ed] are obsolete. Our fighter screen is cleverly improvised but only works in cold weather. New destroyers may be available in a few years, but we will be without fleet fighters for some time, and will be very weak in airborne radar, which could solve so many of our problems.
In response, author Lewis Page calls for a massive reduction in Britain's frigate and dated destroyer fleet, and a reinvestment in nuclear submarines and an unmothballed third carrier.
With the money saved, we could build effective armed forces and be the terror of the world's dictators and ethnic cleansers, as we should be. Britain would have a capability independent of the US, a situation more dignified than relying on the Americans, while moaning about how they manage each crisis.
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# Posted 10:32 AM by Patrick Belton  

STRAIGHT IS BETTER: We at OxBlog have never been stingy in our support for gay rights. However, this post from our friends at Crescat Sententia reminds us that there's nonetheless one thing in life which, even we'd have to admit, is much better off straight: and that's whisky.

UPDATE: Our friend John Gould points out that I shouldn't neglect distinguished Irish variants on the whisky theme. Quite correct, and duly noted!
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# Posted 9:34 AM by Patrick Belton  

THE WASHINGTON POST runs a quite good editorial this morning criticizing the President's remarks on gay marriage in his state of the union address last week.
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# Posted 9:25 AM by Patrick Belton  

UZBEKISTAN RELEASES 3,000 prisoners in an amnesty to mark the anniversary of the nation's constitution. Many of the prisoners were accused of being members of Hizb-ut-Tahrir, although Karimov's government is also known for using the threat of radicalism to imprison political opponents and Muslims from any branch of Islam not directly controlled for the state. No key dissidents (such as Ruslan Sharipov or Muhammad Bekjonov, brother of the exiled opposition leader Mohammad Solih) are to be released.
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# Posted 9:21 AM by Patrick Belton  

POWELL PUSHES PUTIN ON DEMOCRACY: In a front-page piece run in Moscow's Izvestia, Colin Powell expressed grave American concern with the decay of democracy in Russia, said Russian politics were not sufficiently subject to the rule of law, and indicated there were limits to the U.S.-Russian relationship in the absence of shared values. (There - we knew we paid the Department of State for something....)
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# Posted 8:46 AM by Patrick Belton  

PUZZLE WRAPPED IN A RIDDLE SHROUDED IN AN ENIGMA: Amb. Sandy Vershbow, a Yalie Kremlinologist for whom I had what was really a great pleasure to work for several years ago in Brussels at the US Mission to Nato, spoke last week at Carnegie on political trends in Russia. The transcript is online, and definitely worth glancing through.
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Sunday, January 25, 2004

# Posted 11:34 PM by Patrick Belton  

TNR HAS A SHORT piece on terrorism in the Americas, by the CS Monitor's correspondent in Bogota.
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# Posted 9:24 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

MAN IN THE STREET: Hey, Dan, did you meet this guy in New Hampshire?
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# Posted 8:09 PM by Patrick Belton  

WOW: More images this evening from Mars, more spellbinding than the last, and reflecting a side of the Martian landscape we'd never quite glimpsed before.
Mars and she played even and odd.

- George Peele (1559–1596), "The Hunting of Cupid," at l. 36.
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# Posted 7:37 PM by Daniel  

REPORT FROM THE FRONTLINES. No, not Iraq. New Hampshire. I just got back from a nice weekend in the Granite State during which I surveyed the Democratic primary scene. Quite a place.

I spent my first day with a friend who was helping out the Clark campaign by “canvassing” homes in Bedford. This consisted of knocking on Democrats’ doors and handing them Clark literature as well as his 18 minute DVD, "American Son."

In almost every home I visited (sample size: around 30), people said they had watched the previous night’s debate but had not yet made up their minds. On the whole, Bedford residents were very friendly and concerned about us staying warm.

One couple invited me inside and the wife spoke for almost 20 minutes. She said that she was a Democrat and had voted for Bill Clinton. She said she had no problem with “the gays” (which made me think that she does—think of people who say, “I’m not racist, but you see….”) but didn’t appreciate that they could get health care for their partners without having to pay the marriage tax. She also said that she hated paying taxes. This was related to her second point: she could not understand why immigrants didn’t have to pay taxes and why she had to support them with her money. I was not sure what she meant, but she continued, saying, “you know, the people who own the gas stations, the Arabs (pronounced A-rabbs), the Iraqis, you know.” I didn’t know, but I tried to force a smile and said, “I’m pretty sure that immigrants do pay taxes, but maybe you can check the Clark website for more information.” She and her husband said that “five families of immigrants live in one house, you know? And we have to pay for them.” Her husband said he liked Clark but his wife said she had not yet made up her mind.

At another home, a woman yelled at us and accused us of not paying attention to her “Beware of Dog” sign. Actually, we had. I had just mentioned to my friend that the sign reminded me of one of my all-time favorite Far Side comics: the one entitled "Beware of Doug."

I began to wonder what kind of dogs she had, and if they were scary, and what mailmen or invited guests did, but before I could paint the mental picture, out of nowhere two German shepherds came charging toward us. Fortunately, they ran past us. “Who are you?” an older woman asked. “We are here to give you information about General Clark” my friend replied. She shooed us away and told us, “No, I’m for Dean.” Then, she said, “Well, anyone but Bush.” As we walked away, she reined in her dogs and told us to be careful.

I spoke with one voter who said he traditionally voted Republican, but didn’t like what Bush was doing and could potentially vote for a Democrat. He was particularly peeved by Bush’s “damn amnesty program with the illegals.” His solution: we should put up a fence and keep them out for 5 years, so we can catch the ones who are already here. He asked if Clark was the guy who “hated guns.” I told him that I was pretty sure that Clark did not hate guns, but that he believed in enforcing the gun control laws we had, including a limitation on assault weapons. I mentioned that such weapons did not seem to be very necessary for hunting. He agreed that AK 47s are not too important for hunters like himself, but that he also used guns for protection of his property. If the government did try to seize people’s guns, he told me there was going to be “a battle.” Then he said that he liked a lot of Kucinich’s ideas.

The entire experience was a lot of fun, and it was pretty amazing to see how much time and effort hundreds of people volunteer for one candidate. Some volunteers complained that rival campaigns stole their signs, and apparently the local police quietly dealt with many incidents like this, preferring to keep them under wraps. Edwards, Kerry, and Clark "visibility" volunteers (people holding signs and waving to cars passing by) were out late on Saturday night for in sub-freezing temperatures for hours on end. Very impressive. I was also pretty taken aback by fact that so many voters had not yet made up their minds. I guess we will see what happens on Tuesday!

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# Posted 7:03 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

HYPOCRISY IN A SMALL PLACE: Why is George Bush praising a dictator in Azerbaijan?
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# Posted 1:59 PM by Patrick Belton  

YOWSERS, it's amazing how even after you're happily and faithfullly married, how dern long it takes to live down one's reputation from New Haven bachelorhood.....
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# Posted 1:59 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

SHOULD KERRY WITHDRAW? Andrew Sullivan reminds us of last month's conventional wisdom.
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# Posted 1:28 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

TALK SHOW ROUND-UP: I spent an hour this morning in front of a 60-inch television (not my own) flipping back and forth between Meet the Press, Face the Nation and This Week. For the first time, I actually saw the primal scream instead of just reading about it. And I thought to myself, "This is news?" Actually, the whole story is total bullsh**.

As one of Chris Matthews' guests pointed out, journalists in the hall with Dean didn't think twice about the scream (or "squawk", whichmight be more accurate) . It was a loud, energetic event. Only the after-spin turned the scream into an issue. But after seeing interviews this morning with Kerry, Clark, Edwards and Lieberman, I have to say that none of them had the energy that Dean displayed in the moments leading up to the scream. Watching Dean was actually exciting, even inspiring. Here's was someone who really cared about politics, whose passion seemed authentic.

Does that mean I'll vote for him? Hell no. But I think it speaks to how the press is spinning Dean's anger management issues. As the LAT's Ron Brownstein pointed out, candidates always get punished for doing something that confirms negative stereotypes about them. If Bill Clinton misspelled potato, no one would've noticed. Then again, perhaps the media should ignore such pseudo-events. Especially in this instance, where I don't think what Dean did says anything about his character.

So, moving on. None of the other candidates particularly impressed me. Whatever you ask them, they have a pleasant sounding answer. Many of those answers are truthful, but still less than informative. The one candidate who seemed to have trouble offering vague platitudes was Wes Clark. When George Stephanopolous asked him about the inconsistency of the war, his answer seemed desperate, as well as misleading. Clark said that his April op-ed was taken out of context.

Actually, as Steve Sachs has shown, the context is the most damning part of it. Any single sentence in Clark's op-ed could be spun as somehow anti-war. But all together, they add up to a clear pro-war message. Which is probably why Clark looked so pleading and defensive during his interview. There's just this look in his eyes that says "Please stop ruining my resume! I'm supposed to look presidential!"

Finally, the comedy highlight of the week: Howard Dean's cameo on Letterman, presenting a Top 10 list poking fun at himself. He really delivered the lines well, with the right timing and the right attitude. But will Howard Dean's sense of humor become next week's meme? No, of course not.

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# Posted 1:00 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

PATRICK BELTON, AKA "MYSTERY"? Reading about this Casnanova, I couldn't help but think that I'd met him somewhere before...
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# Posted 9:55 AM by Patrick Belton  

FACT-CHECKING THE DAILY MAIL'S, WELL....: The Daily Ablution points out that even British tabloids can't be trusted nowadays. O tempora!
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# Posted 5:15 AM by Patrick Belton  

IF ONLY THEY HAD SUED BA: David Bernstein has been posting over at Volokh on a hateful early American variant of the "eenie, meenie" counting rhyme- and a fairly frivolous lawsuit against Southwest Airlines that resulted from it.

The etymological site Word Origins includes an interesting survey of the evolution of the rhyme across British and American history, finding that "chicken" and "tinker" occur in early contemporaneous British versions:
The rhyme was not recorded until 1855, with that early version using the words eeny, meeny, moany, mite. Another version, also published in 1855 but said to date to 1815 begins, Hana, mana, mona, mike. Various versions appear in the mid-19th century in both Britain and America, as well as in many different European languages.

Early American versions of the rhyme tend to contain the line catch a n____ by the toe. In early British versions, chicken or tinker are used instead. With rhymes such as these, there is no "original" version and there are countless early variants. The use of n____ is just one variant among many.
For more pleasant etymological stories, see Etymologically Speaking, for starters. (Ex: biscuit from fr. "cooked twice", "Big Apple" from the New Orleans race track, "barbarian" from the sound Greeks thought they were making (ie, bar-bar-bar-bar) - and these are just for the letter "b".....)
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# Posted 1:37 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

BLOGGING WITH THE PROS: As mentioned last week, the Columbia Journalism Review has started up a blog devoted to evaluating campaign coverage.

From I've seen so far, it's posts are very, very thorough. Specifically, I went through the "Spin Buster" thread devoted to, well, busting spin. Perhaps because it has been such a rough couple of weeks for Howard Dean, most of the posts are devoted to defending him from unfair attacks. The tone of the posts is very protective of Dean, but I think it's too early to say the site is playing favorites.

One post I tended to agree with (unsurprisingly) argues that the whole primal scream angle is a product of the echo chamber. I also like this post tearing into NYT correspondent Jodi Wilgoren, who criticizes Dean for following advice that she herself gave him.

One post that goes over the line begins by asking: "Does the political press have a vested interest in slowing down the Howard Dean juggernaut?" It goes on to warn that the press has begun to manufacture a "Dean is slipping" meme. Of course, the post is dated January 14, so what it really indicates is that the press got one of Iowa's big stories 100% right an entire week before the vote. Does CJR admit its mistake? Of course not.

Another post that almost sounds like a campaign ad for Dean argues straight out that the press is wrong to brand him a radical, when in fact he is a moderate. (After all, Paul Krugman says so.) Actually, I think the press has been pretty good about noting Dean's moderate record as governor. But his both his message and his support come from anti-war activists in the so-called "Democratic wing of the Democratic party." The fact that Dean casts his opponents as faux-liberals who've been suckered by the administration makes it hard to call him a moderate.

Criticism aside, I'm going to keep reading CJR, since it tends to either hit the nail on the head or make a strong argument for what it believes in. A worthy addition ot the blogosphere.

UPDATE: I just did a little more reading on CJR, and it seems like they're pretty protective of all the candidates, whom they see as victims of a scandal-driven media that ignores substantive issues. In this post, for example, CJR reasonably defends Clark for his supposed "guarantee" that there would be no more 9/11's. Yet in this post, CJR actually defends John Edwards (my homey) for shamelessly dodging a controversial question about gay marriage on the grounds that it forces him to address a thorny issue. But isn't that exactly what the press is supposed to do?
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Saturday, January 24, 2004

# Posted 8:41 PM by Patrick Belton  

DISCUSSING ISSUES IN HOMELAND SECURITY: The Washington, DC, chapter of our nationwide Nathan Hale foreign policy society met up this week to discuss current and upcoming themes in homeland security. The conversation was insightful and interesting, and we have some notes from it up online here.
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# Posted 3:30 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

A TASTY MORSEL OF IRONY: I know OxBlog has been a little heavy on the irony late, but this one is top good to resist. According to this column in Slate (which I found via Volokh), Michael Moore is not just Wes Clark's biggest fan, but also one of his most vicious critics. Apparently, Bowling for Columbine (which I had no interest in seeing) plays up Kosovo as an example of mindless American violence and carpet bombing. I'm guessing Wes Clark didn't see the movie. But how exactly can Michael Moore endorse an alleged baby-killer?
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# Posted 3:20 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

BETTER LATE THAN NEVER: Left-liberal FP has published an excellent article by Max Boot that debunks a lot of myths about the neo-cons. While the most recent neo-con moment has passed, this article will be an important resource for the next time that the Wurlitzer gets going.

IMHO, the only point at which Boot comes off as too much of a neo-con apologist is his insistence that neo-cons don't oppose multilateralism. Sure, unilateralism isn't a hard and fast neo-con principle. But neo-con antagonism toward the UN/Old Europe runs so deep -- and overlaps so much with most Republicans' anti-UN sentiments -- that unilaterallism usually turns out to be the preferred option regardless of the situation.l
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# Posted 2:53 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

INSIDE THE ECHO CHAMBER: Josh Marshall has a great post up on what it's like to cover a presidential primary debate. (Plus some solid insights into the Kerry and Edwards campaigns.) Josh writes that almost all the correspondents at the debate were:
in a big room somewhere nearby with a bunch of long school room tables arranged as they might be for an SAT test in high school. And space after space at those tables is occupied by journalists with laptops open, a phone at each station, perhaps some other paraphernalia nearby or a parka, watching the debate on a series of big TVs.

In other words, they’re watching the debate on TV just like you are. Only they’re doing it in a big room with all the other journalists.

Now, this can be kind of fun, because you get to see a lot of other people you know, and a number you haven’t seen in a while. And you get a very good sense of how other reporters think everybody did. But that can be a pretty skewed view, an echo chamber in the making in ways you can probably imagine, even if you don’t spend much time talking to the really egregious above-it-all conventional wisdom types.
So when they talk about a herd mentality, they literally mean that there is a herd. Historically speaking, one of the most important interventions by the herd was during Jimmy Carter's final debate with Gerlad Ford in 1976. In that debate, Ford deep-throated his own foot by insisting that Poland was not under Soviet domination.

According to polls taken immediately after the debate, there was no clear winner. However, media coverage that night focused on the Poland gaffe, and polls taken only hours later showed a dramatic shift in perception, with Carter becoming the clear winner in the public mind.

Now, there's a strong argument to be made that Ford got exactly what he deserved. A public opinion poll in Warsaw would certainly have shown considerable disagreement with Ford's description of Soviet benevolence. The irony, of course, is that Jimmy Carter suddenly looked like the toughest anti-Communist on the block, a reputation which didn't last all that long once he took office.

But was this an example of media bias? Perhaps, but not partisan bias. While Republicans might have felt that their man was getting picked on, the fact is that the media always plays up the candidates' foot-in-mouth moments. The real question is whether the public is poorly served by a media that focuses on such relatively unimportant incidents.

Ideally, voters would know to discount some of the hype around such gaffes, e.g. Dean's primal scream. But no one can tell the voters how to think. The real lesson is for candidates, who should appreciate just how much trouble they will get themselves in if they don't watch what they say.
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# Posted 2:34 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

NYT SOFT ON GOP? TPM thinks so. If you compare this NYT story to its Boston Globe counterpart, there's no question who's being tougher. But the Times certainly covers the facts, albeit in less depth. Is this evidence of "The further decline of a great paper"? No, but this is.
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# Posted 8:12 AM by Patrick Belton  

AFTER DAVID mentioned the Soviet national anthem, it was all I could do to link to this page with lovely choral renditions of every Soviet national hymn (including Central Asian SSRs), for those of you who might feel nostalgic for a day when the evil we were fighting came at least from the land that produced Dostoyevsky.
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# Posted 6:44 AM by Patrick Belton  

IN IRAQ, the first Iraqi brigade of the Iraqi army is nearly ready for service, with three battalions of 750 soldiers and officers having been graduated since October. The first battalion is currently in Kirkuk serving with elements of the 4th ID; the second battalion is with the 1st AD in Taji; and the third, slated to graduate this week, will deploy in Mosul. The plan is to have nine divisions with 27 battalions, acording to MGEN Paul Eaton, who commands the coalition military assistance and training team.

Also, welcome home, Screaming Eagles! We've missed you.
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# Posted 6:29 AM by Patrick Belton  

RITA KATZ has this week's terrorism and counterterror headlines.
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