OxBlog

Tuesday, February 10, 2004

# Posted 10:35 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

A SAD DAY IN IRAQ: The terror continues. Our condolences to the victims, whose only crime was wanting to participate in the rebuilding of their country.
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# Posted 10:18 AM by Patrick Belton  

iBROKE: My iBook is sadly iBusted, so iWill be writing slightly less than usual on the iBlog and iThesis for the next several days. iSorry.
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Monday, February 09, 2004

# Posted 6:20 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

BLACK IS WHITE, UP IS DOWN: Glenn Reynolds thinks CNN may be spinning the Zarqawi memo as proof that anti-American insurgents are growing stronger, not weaker.

But I think that this is a case of sheer incompetence, not bias, a possibility that Glenn acknowledges. If you read the article attached to the headline, its gets the story right. The headline just seems out of place, like some sort of accident.

Unfortunately, I can't even find the original story on the Netscape/CNN site. Instead, there is a similar report bearing the headline: "Letter: Bin Laden Has Recruiting Problems". Of course, that's somewhat misleading as well, but at least they're getting closer...
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# Posted 7:21 AM by Patrick Belton  

BRIGHT COLLEGE YEARS, REDUX: Psychologist and current graduate school dean Peter Salovey to replace Richard Brodhead as dean of Yale College; American religion scholar Jon Butler will take over as dean of the Graduate School.
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# Posted 6:19 AM by Patrick Belton  

IT'S ALL IN THE ADVERTISING, PART 31 OF A SERIES: Statravel.co.uk includes this Valentine's Day special on its website:
If you fancy a quaint little number, then we have the perfect weekend break for you to impress. This delightful hotel located in the area of Montmartre and minutes from the Sacre Coeur and Moulin Rouge has to be a bit of a find.
Area of Montmartre, by Moulin Rouge - so basically, you're saying that it's right plunk in the middle of Paris's red light district? (Unless this is a fairly heterodox species of British "Valentine's Day special"?)
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Sunday, February 08, 2004

# Posted 9:50 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

BUSH VS. RUSSERT: There are two basic ways to think about Tim Russert's hour-long interview with the President, broadcast this morning on NBC's Meet the Press. One is that Russert went soft. The other is that the debate about the missing WMD has been played out to the point at which every thrust and parry on both sides of the aisle has become extremely easy to predict.

While Russert certainly could have been nastier and interrupted the President more often, there is an expectation (perhaps unjustified) that even journalists will show a certain amount of deference to the Commander-in-Chief when talking with him in person. Besides, Bush is usually willing to hang himself if you just give him enough rope.

Anyhow, Russert did get to ask the tough questions that everyone expected. For example:
The night you took the country to war, March 17th, you said this: "Intelligence gathered by this and other governments leaves no doubt that the Iraq regime continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised."...

How do you respond to critics who say that you brought the nation to war under false pretenses?
Or:
Can you launch a preemptive war without ironclad, absolute intelligence that he had weapons of mass destruction?
And:
Looking back, in your mind, is it worth the loss of 530 American lives and 3,000 injuries and woundings simply to remove Saddam Hussein, even though there were no weapons of mass destruction?
Finally:
The Bush-Cheney first three years, the unemployment rate has gone up 33 percent, there has been a loss of 2.2 million jobs. We've gone from a $281 billion surplus to a $521 billion deficit. The debt has gone from 5.7 trillion, to $7 trillion, up 23 percent. Based on that record, why should the American people rehire you as CEO?
While relatively tough, those questions are also relatively predictable. How much you wanna bet that Bush's prep team asked him almost exactly the same questions in their rehearsals for the Russert interview?

Of course, the fact that the questions were so predictable makes the President's lackluster responses even more disturbing. While Bush managed to hit his talking points, his stumbling defensiveness made the interview hard to watch, even for someone like myself who thinks that there are perfectly good answers to all of Russert's questions about the war.

Now, we know George Bush is going to stumble. We can forgive him for being less than eloquent. But more important than the fact of stumbling is the way in which it conveyed a total inability to think through the issues in a sophisticated manner. Throughout the interview, Bush seemed like he was struggling to remember what he had been told to say at rehearsals. This, after 18 months of having Iraq in the headlines?

But personally, far more disturbing than this stumbling was Bush's defensiveness. Everyone response came across as an almost desperate effort to pretend that Russert's questions hadn't really hit on one of the administration's major failures. Bush came across as someone who simply couldn't admit to the American public when something had gone wrong. If Bush had just come into the interview and said, calmly and confidently, that of course there were major intelligence failures, I think he would've won a lot of respect without losing anything in political terms. Everyone already knows the weapons aren't there. Admitting is the best damage control strategy.

Now, there was one point at which the confused and defensive Bush gave way to a calm and confident alter ego. In the middle of a question about nation-building (which he was in the midst of fumbling), Bush suddenly got this look in his eye as if he knew exactly what the right answer was. He said that
The best way to secure America for the long term is to promote freedom and a free society and to encourage democracy. And we are doing so in a part of the world where people say it can't happen, but the long term vision and the long term hope is -- and I believe it's going to happen -- is that a free Iraq will help change the Middle East. You may have heard me say we have a forward strategy of freedom in the Middle East. It's because I believe so strongly that freedom is etched in everybody's heart, I believe that,and I believe this country must continue to lead.
The change in the President's body language was astonishing. It's the kind of thing that doesn't show up in transcripts, the kind of thing that made me glad I actually got up so damn early on a Sunday morning in order to watch the interview.

When Bush started talking about democracy promotion and the universal desire for freedom, his words began to flow in a way they hadn't before. And you couldn't help thinking that the words were coming straight from his heart. With Reagan, you could dismiss it as acting. But with Bush, it's hard not to believe he's sincere.

Now, that doesn't mean that Bush truly understands what kind of effort serious democracy promotion entails. It doesn't mean that he will notice when the US begins to compromise its principles in countries that don't make the headlines. But it gives me a certain confidence that he understands why the reconstruction of Iraq is vital to our long-run victory over the forces of terror. That is why Bush put himself on the line for the $87 billion reconstruction bill. That is why we still have 120,000 troops on the ground. While I can't shake my suspicions that Bush (or Cheney or Rumsfeld) is getting ready to cut and run, the fact is that the President has shown a surprising willingness to stay and fight for what innumerable critics have long dismissed as a lost cause.

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# Posted 8:50 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

WAITING FOR MODOT: Who says that there's no such thing as good political art? This dramatic tour de force is a masterpiece worthy of Chekov. Letting an author of such brilliance work as a mere columnist is a travesty, an outright betrayal of all that is good and pure about the American theater. Thus, I suggest that the New York Times fire her immediately.
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# Posted 10:15 AM by Patrick Belton  

IN A STEP OF EXTRAORDINARY IMPORTANCE in the evolution of Japan's use of its military, the first convoy of troops drawn from Japan's Ground Self-Defense Force crossed into Iraq today to participate in reconstruction and peacekeeping activities. They will deploy in the southern city of Samawa, and will eventually build up to 1,000 air, ground, and naval personnel, in line with legislation passed in July to permit the deployment of Japanese military units in non-combat zones abroad. The deployment will likely receive additional legislative authorisation from the upper house of the Diet tomorrow. Christian Science Monitor has a great deal more.
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# Posted 6:18 AM by Patrick Belton  

JIM WOOLSEY ON this question, in the WSJ op-ed page:
So which is it: Are America's spies a gaggle of fools for believing that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction? Or is the Bush administration a gang of knaves for lying us into a war?
One of Jim's most interesting points has to do with the scale of the biological weapons in question:
Take anthrax. The Iraqis admitted they had made 8,500 liters (8.5 tons), and Colin Powell in his February speech to the U.N. Security Council noted that the U.N. inspectors thought Saddam could have about three times as much. But even this larger amount would weigh only some 25 tons in liquid form--slightly more than one tractor-trailer load. If reduced to powder, as Mr. Powell suggested in his speech, it could be contained in a dozen or so suitcases.
His final conclusion, I also think, is also noteworthy:
[A] three-part emphasis on human rights, terrorist ties and WMD programs would have been solidly in line with the president's own explicit policy. A three-legged stool is more stable than a one-legged one, but for some reason the administration decided not to make all three parts of its case in justifying the decision to go to war. As a result, its very heavy emphasis on WMD to the exclusion of the other two bases of its strategy has left the administration vulnerable to the failure to find WMD stockpiles.
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# Posted 12:54 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THE GRUNTS' WAR: The WaPo has an excellent article on what fighting insurgents means for the common soldier. But as the article also makes quite clear, there are no common soldiers.
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# Posted 12:36 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

JUST HOW LIBERAL IS JOHN KERRY? That's the question of the day over at the NYT, which has up an in-depth look at Kerry's two decades in the Senate. The profile opens with lavish praise of Kerry's work as chairman of special committee established for the purpose of investigating whether or not there were still American POWs in Vietnam. I don't know much about the issue, but it does seem that Kerry deserves credit for navigating a political minefield and helping re-establish US-Vietnamese relations. On the other hand, characterizing some of Kerry's critics as "zealots steeped in Rambo movies" doesn't exactly suggest that the NYT is taking an even-handed approach to the issue.

After the POW issue, we get to the bread and butter: Kerry's strong support for abortion rights, gay rights, gun control and environmental protection. I think he's been on the right side of every one of these issues. However, he has broken with the Democratic majority on NAFTA and welfare reform, positions that I also support. Even so, it's probably fair to describe Kerry as "solidly liberal", even if he doesn't seem to want that label himself.

The one major error in the NYT profile concerns Kerry's role in the Iran-Contra affair. The Times writes that Kerry's
ad hoc investigation paid off. Suspicions about Colonel North increased. The Foreign Relations Committee began a formal inquiry. Documents found in a plane that was shot down in Nicaragua indicated involvement by the C.I.A. And in November 1986, a Middle Eastern newspaper reported that United States arms had been secretly sold to Iran with the proceeds diverted to support the contras.
While Kerry's deserves credit for paying attention to the issue before many other Senators did, it is absurd to imply that his work contributed to any major revelations of the Reagan administration's misconduct. What blew the case wide open was the plane crash mentioned above. The fact that a Nicaraguan soldier shot down a plane and that one of its American crewmen survived was a matter of sheer luck -- bad for the President, good for the Constitution. Without that plane crash, there would've been no story.

As for the Iranian connection, the story of American arms shipments was broken by a small Lebanese paper called Al-Shiraa. Again, that was a matter of considerable luck. Kerry did not in any way lay the foundation for it.

But enough about what the NYT did write. Far more important is what it didn't. If you compare the NYT article to it's counterpart in the WaPo, you'll be left asking yourself how the NYT managed to avoid any mention of Kerry's double-speak justifications of his votes against the first Gulf War and for the second. The WaPo reports that
Nowhere has Kerry been challenged more for voting one way and talking another than on Iraq, both for his vote in support of the war in 2002 and his vote opposing the Persian Gulf War in 1991.

In 2002, he voted for the resolution authorizing Bush to go to war unilaterally, but then became one of Bush's harshest critics for having done so. Kerry, in his floor speech before the vote, warned Bush to build an international coalition through the United Nations, but the resolution did not require the president to gain U.N. approval before going to war. Kerry later said he was voting not for the use of force but for the threat of force.

In January 1991, Kerry opposed the resolution authorizing Bush's father to go to war to eject Iraq from Kuwait, arguing that the U.N. sanctions then in place should be given more time to work. When former Vermont governor Howard Dean recently challenged Kerry to square those two votes, aides said that the 1991 vote was not one in opposition to the use of force, just as Kerry has said his 2002 vote was not in support of the use of force.

In his 1991 floor speech, Kerry accused President George H.W. Bush of engaging in a "rush to war" -- language similar to that he used in criticizing the current president on the eve of the Iraq war a year ago. Kerry argued in 1991 that there was no need to pass the resolution to send a message threatening force against Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, although that was his justification for supporting the 2002 resolution.

Before and after last year's war on Iraq, Kerry criticized the president for failing to assemble the kind of coalition Bush's father put together in 1991. But in his 1991 floor statement, Kerry was dismissive of the elder Bush's coalition. That effort, he said, lacked "a true United Nations collective security effort," and he was critical of the then-president for trading favors for China's support and cozying up to Syria, despite its human rights record.

"I regret that I do not see a new world order in the United States going to war with shadow battlefield allies who barely carry a burden," he said then. "It is too much like the many flags policy of the old order in Vietnam, where other countries were used to try to mask the unilateral reality. I see international cooperation; yes, I see acquiescence to our position; I see bizarre new bedfellows and alliances, but I question if it adds up to a new world order."
Now how does the NYT spin the issue? It writes that
In 1991, [Kerry] opposed sending troops to fight in the Persian Gulf war. But he voted in 2002 to authorize fighting in Iraq, and he supported military action in Panama, Somalia, Kosovo and Afghanistan.

"I think he's a moderate Democrat ? very liberal on social policy and reasonably conservative on foreign policy and defense matters," said former Senator Warren B. Rudman, Republican of New Hampshire.
How clever. Using an out-of-context quote by a Republican to make Kerry seem to have a far more consistent record on national security than he actually does. I doubt Karl Rove will be so kind.

All in all, it looks like I'll be facing the usual dilemma this November. I can get the domestic policies I like by voting Democratic and the foreign policies I like by voting Republican. But no matter which way I vote, the chances of getting a straight-talker in the White House aren't very good.
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Saturday, February 07, 2004

# Posted 11:48 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

SHOUT-OUT TO STARBUCKS: Yes, I know that public praise for Coffee Inc. may result in my being branded as a yuppie reactionary. F*** that. Yesterday, my local Starbucks accepted an expired coupon in exchange for a three dollar drink. Three minutes later, the barista came over to me and admitted that he had forgotten to put the espresso in the mix. He already had a properly-made caramel macchiato in hand.

Would I have known that there was no coffee in my drink if the barista hadn't freely admitted his own mistake? Perhaps. After tasting the replacement the difference was clear. But I was quite happy with my hot milk, caramel syrup and whipped cream. So let's hear it for neo-liberal corporate-led globalization. Because good service is invaluable.
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# Posted 5:49 AM by Patrick Belton  

RE LEVIN APPOINTMENT TO INTEL PANEL: Well Josh, we did invent the whole dern apparatus - who else should be brought in to fix it?
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Friday, February 06, 2004

# Posted 7:09 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

MR. DEAN GOES TO WASHINGTON. State, that is. Tomorrow's northwestern caucus gives Dean a chance (albeit slim) to come out on top for once. For an insightful look ahead to next week's primaries, Terry Neal's Talking Points column is the place to go. But what I really want to know is, will Terry Neal have to fight a grudge match against Joshua Micah Marshall for the right to the "Talking Points" name? Or does Marshall's use of the word "Memo" protect him charges of intellectual property theft?

More importantly, Kerry has Michigan sewn up while Edwards and Clark fight over Tennessee and Virginia.
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# Posted 1:40 PM by Patrick Belton  

WINDS OF CHANGE BLOW THROUGH IRAN TODAY: Winds of Change takes the blogospheric lead in today's coverage of the unfolding election crisis in Iran, with an enormously comprehensive and insightful special briefing, provided by Project Free Iran. It's well worth a read, and warmly recommended.
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# Posted 1:28 PM by Patrick Belton  

NEW EGYPTIAN BROTHERHOOD HEAD: There's a new head for the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt - Muhammad Mahdi 'Akef has succeeded the deceased Mamoun al-Hudeibi as head of the organisation which is a parent to many current jihadist-orientated religious groups in the Middle East, including Hamas. The changeover of command occurred on 14th January, according to ArabicNews.com, and Memri has organised a collection of his early speeches, which do not seem to be taking the Brotherhood in a radically different direction from his predecessors. The best profiles of the organisation online are to be found at FAS, the Encyclopaedia of the Orient, and in Economist's broader survey of Egyptian political forces.
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# Posted 2:33 AM by Patrick Belton  

WORD PLAY: Amateur etymologists (etymophiles?) among our friends will take great pleasure in this site by England's Michael Quinion, an OEDist. You might spend some pleasant minutes there, if by chance you have been vaguely curious since kindergarten about the origin of, say Lb (and £) for "pound", the expression "big cheese" (the origins of which are incidentally Persian and Hindi, not dairy), the semantically nonsensical "I could care less" (which is found only in the States, and derives from Yiddish semantics), and my newly prized term to describe my own academic prospects, sticky wicket.

Also you might check if you're interested in Jesus H. Christ, or conversely the whole megillah (megillah, Heb., "scroll", from the reading of the book of Esther on Purim), the relationship between sycophancy and the Dantean insult "go suck a fig" (Gr. sukon, fig; see also the Sistine Chapel, wherein Michaelangelo shows his true feelings about his Julian patron), snob (from a Home Counties dialectical term for cobbler), keeping mum (with origins more onomatopoeic than Freudian), Elephant and Castle (from Infanta de Castile, translated into Cockney), and - for David and Rachel - bunny, a rural English term of endearment from the 17th century.

And Quinion also has an extraordinary wit which I'd be remiss if I didn't quote here extensively:
from the relevant entry: “I was in a deli recently when the girl behind the counter dropped something between the cabinets. There was an officer waiting on line and she said: ‘Do you think the long arm of the law can get this out for me?”
And on clams, happy and otherwise:
“Do you have any idea of the origins of the phrase happy as a clam? I’ve used it for years without knowledge of just how one would determine that a clam is happy—my acquaintance with the mollusc is strictly through consumption.”

[A] Near that stage in their lives, only the most masochistic of molluscs could be expected to experience anything but a sense of imminent dread. Even the most comfortable of clams, however, can hardly be called the life and soul of the party. All they can expect is a watery existence, likely at any moment to be rudely interrupted by a man with a spade, followed by conveyance to a very hot place.
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Thursday, February 05, 2004

# Posted 2:24 AM by Patrick Belton  

AFTER A STATE SUPREME COURT RULING, THE STATE OF MASSACHUSSETS is to begin issuing marriage licenses to qualified same-sex couples beginning May 16. WaPo covers this important step in the evolution of the United States's treatment toward its homosexual citizens. The text of the recent advisory opinion is here; insightful commentary on the topic is to be found here, here, and here.
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# Posted 1:46 AM by Patrick Belton  

CHICAGO IS...OUR KIND OF TOWN!: Our foreign policy society is having its first meeting in Chicago this Sunday - with no lesser co-hosts than Will Baude and Amanda Butler from Crescat Sententia! Our chapter in New York co-hosted Assistant Secretary of State (Economic Affairs) Bob Hormats on Tuesday, and our chapters in Washington and Oxford have just met with guest speakers to discuss themes and trends in homeland security. We've also got highly active chapters in San Francisco, LA, Boston and New Haven, too: if you're not already receiving our weekly newsletter of our own events and other foreign policy events and job openings going on around the country, and you'd like to, then please just drop us an email!
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Wednesday, February 04, 2004

# Posted 10:51 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THE FEEDING FRENZY HAS BEGUN: This NYT article gives way too much attention and credibility to cheapshots that Republicans have begun to take at Kerry. While Kerry's defenders get a few good shots in themselves, you've got to scroll down a ways to see what they say. But that is the price of being #1. And while the Times' editors are hoping that John Edwards will do their mud-slinging for them, the fact is that the media will play the lead role in picking Kerry apart.

Now, one particularly disturbing aspect of the NYT article is that it focuses on partisan slurs while ignoring substantive criticisms of Kerry's record. If the RNC can get top billing by calling Kerry an extremist, it doesn't exactly promote serious debate. But it's not as if the Times is letting Bush off the hook. Also in today's paper, the Times reviews the military service issue, which never plays well for Bush.

The basic message of the article is Kerry=hero, Bush=lazy rich boy. That's not exactly wrong, but one might easily say that a balanced article on the subject would point out that war hero John Kerry couldn't make up his mind about whether to support either Gulf War. Also of the note, the NYT reports Democratic accusations that Bush went AWOL but doesn't really say whether there is any merit to the charge. As the Daily Howler point outs in a very comprehensive post, neither the NYT nor the WaPo nor the Boston Globe has ever presented the facts of the case very clearly. Finally, a Campaign Desk investigation shows that all of the recent attention given to the AWOL issue resulted not from Michael Moore's charge that Bush was a "deserter", but from Peter Jennings' interrogation of Clark regarding Moore's charge at the recent South Carolina debate. I wonder how much we'd have to pay Jennings to mention OxBlog...

UPDATE: Phil Carter points out a number of ways in which enterprising journalists might confirm or disconfirm the AWOL charge.
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# Posted 8:33 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

CLINTON THE DEFICIT HAWK? Steve Sturm says OxBlog must be smoking something. But Steve agrees that Bush's "budget" is indefensible.
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# Posted 7:35 PM by Patrick Belton  

IRAN WATCH: There are quite good round-ups of the latest events by MaroonBlog (also here), Regnum Crucis, and Free Thoughts (thanks to Winds of Change for pointing out these last few to me). Dead tree coverage includes WaPo, Economist, New Zealand NBR, and Voice of America. The day's big event was a call by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei for a second review of about 2,000 candidates whose candidacies were banned by the Guardian Council; he also insisted the election would take place as scheduled on February 20th. The review will be undertaken by the Ministry of Intelligence and Security, which is comparatively friendly to reformists. Commentators have speculated that Khamenei is grasping for a compromise solution which permits elections to continue with a minimum of protest and, in so doing, preserves as much legitimacy as possible for the unelected clerical organs of governance - the Guardian Council and his own office of Supreme Leader.

(P.S. We wrote a bit more about the subject a day or two ago here, too.)
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# Posted 2:03 PM by Patrick Belton  

ABC APOLOGIZES FOR SENIORS GOLF TOUR BREAST-BARING STUNT: From SportsPickle.com, and courtesy of our friend David Cavalier:
ABC Apologizes for Mickelson Breast-Baring Stunt

Phil Mickelson stunned and disgusted millions of television viewers on Sunday with a shirt-ripping publicity stunt that revealed his right breast as he walked up the final fairway at the FBR Open. ABC, who televised the tournament, and Mickelson both apologized for the incident, saying it was caused by a “golf shirt malfunction.”

(underneath, there's a photo and caption: Chris DiMarco and Phil Mickelson walk up the 18th fairway moments after DiMarco tore away part of Mickelson’s shirt, revealing his right breast. Mickelson is seen throwing the ripped piece of his shirt to the ground.)
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# Posted 4:30 AM by Patrick Belton  

FOR, FORGETTING THEIR FATHERS, THEY KNOW NOT YOU: Only weeks after Joel Engel memorably announced against the Beatles's song "Imagine," the often quite clever Second Breakfast admits she once argued another Beatles' tune should be more aptly and literally entitled "All You Need Is Food." (via Pej).

UPDATE: Someone points out correctly that "Imagine" was actually a Lennon solo. So clump me in under the title of this post....
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# Posted 1:26 AM by Patrick Belton  

"SMART, NERDY, AND SINCERE:" Judy Dean for President? Anyone?
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# Posted 12:38 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

GET READY...GET SET...SPIN! So what happened today? Was it an unmitigated victory for Kerry? Or an indication that Edwards and Clark are still strong enough to challenge him? Howard Kurtz argues rather persuasively that the Edwards-as-serious-challenger spin doesn't have much to back it up. He might even be right that some journalists are playing up Edwards' strength because an outright Kerry victory means the end of this spring's biggest story.

Still, Kurtz misses an important point: After watching Kerry come from nowhere to surprise Dean, the media is very hesitant to expose itself to another potential embarrassment in the event that Kerry falls from grace. Besides, with Tennesse and Virginia coming up next Tuesday, Edwards may be able to generate some serious momentum (or the impression thereof). Edwards would then have three weeks until Super Tuesday to make his case while letting the media pick Kerry apart.

And what about Clark? I really don't know why he has such concentrated support in the southwest. One can plausibly argue that Arizona and New Mexcio have more liberal primary voters, since they put Dean in third while decisively rejecting Edwards. Yet Oklahoma went strong for both Clark and Edwards while giving Dean just 4%.

But perhaps none of this is relevant since Kerry took home majorities in three states and 40%+ in two others. Edwards and Clark really have no choice but to play for the breaks. And Dean? Heading back north, you just never know.

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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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