OxBlog

Sunday, March 14, 2004

# Posted 4:24 PM by Patrick Belton  

THE SOCIALIST PARTY HAS CLAIMED VICTORY in Spain's elections. See CNN, El País.

As Joe Gandleman has pointed out (see also here), the Socialists have promised to withdraw Spain from the Iraq coalition in the event of their election. Which is to say, of course, that the terrorists got what they wanted - assuming that Al Qa'eda was indeed behind the attack - to deter a European country from further participation in Iraq, after punishing it for its involvement to this point. But to be fair, on the other hand the Spanish government has gone out of its way to play down the Al Qa'eda implications (which would make it vulnerable) in favor of ETA (which would strengthen it). An attribution of the attack to Al Qa'eda would have made Aznar's party vulnerable, having brought the country into Iraq and provoked the terrorists' ire; an attribution to ETA would have strengthened the party, having amassed a strong record in combatting the separatist group. Aznar's government is seen as having played politics with the investigation, which if true would have been unworthy both of the commitment to principle which brought his government into Iraq and of the continued trust of his nation. And at any rate any nation which had suffered the unprovoked tragedy which Spain did in the March 11th attacks may be given considerable leeway in forgiving actions it takes while grieving.

The webpage of the party, whose full name is the Partido Socialista Obero Español, is here.
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# Posted 7:16 AM by Patrick Belton  

CLOSE BUT NOT QUITE: Much has been made, in Tech Central Station as well as elsewhere, of the claim that the March 11th attacks in Madrid occured precisely 911 days after the 9-11 attacks in New York. Close, but not actually correct. By my count, March 11, 2004, was actually the 912th day after September 11th, 2001.
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# Posted 6:41 AM by Patrick Belton  

MORE PURPORTED AL QA'EDA STATEMENTS OF RESPONSIBILITY: Yigal at MEMRI posts a translation and commentary on the alleged Al Qa'eda statement released in Al-Quds Al-Arabi on March 12. Reuters releases a second ostensible claim of responsibility from Al Qa'eda, released Saturday night. The purported spokesman, who spoke in Arabic with a Moroccan accent, claimed to speak on behalf of the military spokesman of Al Qa'eda in Europe, an Abu Dujan al Afgani. The statement was released on a videotape dead-dropped into a waste paper bin on Madrid's outskirts, after a television station received a call informing them that the tape would be there.
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# Posted 1:57 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

BOMBS AWAY: I'm off to the west coast to board an aircraft carrier in San Diego and then observe Air Force exercises outside of Las Vegas, Nevada. I'll be travelling with the rest of the fellows from the Olin Institute. Our priority is to hit the casinos. Back on Wednesday.
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Saturday, March 13, 2004

# Posted 9:27 PM by Patrick Belton  

COME TALK TRADE: Our readers in Washington are all warmly welcome to join our foreign policy society's Washington chapter on Sunday evening for a discussion comparing multilateral and bilateral approaches to freer trade. The event will be at 7:30 at the Bertuccis in Clarendon, and our guest speaker will be Andreas Sennekamp (Georgetown Law).

Also, our San Francisco chapter will be getting off the ground this coming Friday, March 19, with an event on globalization at 6 pm at the Berkeley Faculty Club. Nayan Chanda of the Yale Center for Globalization (and editor of its magazine, YaleGlobal) will be the guest speaker. There is unfortunately a door charge of $15, but it buys a great deal of food.

Penultimately, we're running high school and college foreign policy essay contests in each of the ten cities in which we have a chapter; please let us know if you'd like to volunteer and pitch in!

Finally, we've got new pages up for a few of our programs, in democracy promotion, Trade, Security, and Development, and Asia. Please do drop us a note if you've got any ideas for resources you think we should link to from any of these pages (or if you can at least think of a particularly funny way to make fun of what we've got so far...).
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# Posted 4:17 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

CRUSHING OF DISSENT: I have to admit, I don't follow any of Glenn's "Crushing of Dissent" links when they expose political correctness at America's universities. I guess I just don't believe that all those tempests-in-a-teapot really have much significance. But this time, Glenn has linked to a parody of the NYT by Robert Cox that had to be pulled off of Cox's site when the Times threatened legal action.

That's just pathetic. If the NYT cared so much about its integrity, perhaps it should've kept an eye on Jayson Blair. On the other hand, this sort of vindictive behavior is an implicit admission of just how vulnerable professional journalists are to the criticism of intelligent amateurs. Viva el blogosphere!

UPDATE: Joe Gandelman observes that Robert Cox "couldn't BUY this kind of advertising." That's absolutely right. Cox has already gotten a hundred times more exposure than he would have if the Times said nothing. His work is being distributed by dozens of websites. I guess all we can hope for is that the NYT will sue OxBlog someday.

UPDATE: I was sort of curious whether anyone left-of-center would pick up on this and what their take would be. Kevin Drum answers both questions in an impressive manner:
This goes beyond mere bullying and descends into paranoid — and hypocritical — lunacy. The Times certainly has the right to protect its copyright, but at the same time you'd think the publisher of the Pentagon Papers would show a little more respect for free speech and a little more tolerance for criticism.

They should be ashamed of themselves.
Amen. Kevin also has a very solid post up on Social Security.
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# Posted 4:01 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

STANDING AS ONE: Inspirational photographs from Spain. (Via Instapundit)
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# Posted 3:55 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

OXBLOG CULT CLASSICS: It is the destiny of certain films to fade gloriously into the star-studded past, admired by masses and critics alike. It is the destiny of other films to become the secret possession of an enlightened few who share their obsessions with their closest friends but are never able to justify it to America's mainstream. A masterful film in that latter category is Jim Jarmusch's Ghost Dog. It is the ultimate embodiment of assassin cool. Forest Whitaker plays the title character, an inner-city ascetic who lives according to the Way of the Samurai. He is a professional killer who handles a gun with the elegance that the Samurai once handled their swords. Whereas Hollywood has glorified the non-chalance of the shotgun-wielding action hero, Jarmusch's Ghost Dog is an intense and meditative individual who recognizes that an instrument of death must must be treated with sacred precision.

The great challenge facing so many martial arts films is how to translate the lexicon of the contact weapon -- sword or fist -- into the language of the bullet-riddled present day. In Way of the Dragon, Bruce Lee granted himself the miraculous ability to disarm polyester gunmen with wooden darts. Other films, such as the Once Upon a Time in China series, have made the wiser decision to cast themselves as period epics in which the world still had a place for pure martial artists. Jarmush transcends this divide by having his protagonist endow a firearm with the philosophical elegance once reserved for the sword and the fist. The result is unforgettable.
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# Posted 3:00 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

US PREZ HAS ILLEGITIMATE SON: I'm referring to Grover Cleveland of course. In the Week in Review, Elisabeth Bumiller provides a welcome reminder that the campaigns of today aren't even close to as vicious as those of yesteryear. Historians have been making this point for some time, but the press doesn't often pick it up.

Anyhow, there was one paragrpah from Bumiller that struck me as somewhat disingenuous:
Generally, the campaigns of the 19th century were meaner than the ones today, in large part because the newspapers of the era took sides and were often subsidized by the political parties. "There was almost no restraint on what could be said in the partisan press," said Bruce J. Schulman, a professor of history and American studies at Boston University. "Party organizations were much stronger, and the partisan attachment of voters was much more loyal. Politics then was not about trying to convert voters based on issues. There were more or less no swing voters. It was all about getting your army of voters to the polls."
Although no expert on the subject, I think Prof. Schulman is right about the changing nature of partisanship. Nonetheless, Bumiller is really pushing the envelope when she credits the relative civility of modern campaigns to the rise of objective journalism. As Harvard prof Thomas Patterson documents in his excellent book Out of Order -- not to be confused with the Rod Stewart album of the same name -- the modern media has taken upon itself the mission of exposing every presidential candidate as a liar, an exaggerator and a hypocrite.

To be fair, the candidates often do much of the journalists' work for them. Even so, journalists have chosen to focus their coverage on the candidates' inconsistency and spin rather than the substance of their policy proposals. Now, this isn't necessarily a bad thing. Perhaps voters should have a healthy cynicism about the candidates they elect. In fact, the modern press may do a far more effective job of character assassination than the partisan press ever did because today's journalists are detached enough to focus on actual lies and inconsistencies rather than generating the outrageous rumors of yesteryear (or of post-Soviet Russia). Whereas 19th century voters could easily discount the output of the other side's spin machine, today's journalists are neutral enough to ensure that whatever they report has to be taken seriously.

Perhaps the best way to put it is that thanks to the media, the negativism of modern campaigns is more substantive and disciplined than ever before.
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# Posted 2:19 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

WISDOM OF THE ANCIENTS: Ahhh. A perfect Saturday morning. Slowly getting out of bed at noon. Fresh pancakes and hot coffee for breakfast. All that was missing was waking up next to Salma Hayek. Anyhow, I did come across this interesting report in the Yale Alumni Magazine over breakfast:
"Scientists have found the oldest known fossilized animal that is definitely male. The pinhead-sized yet proportionately well-endowed ocean-dwelling creature was retrieved from 425-million-year-old rocks in the United Kingdom. Dubbed Colymbosathon ecplecticos, Greek for "amazing swimmer with a large penis," the animal is remarkably similar to a group of modern crustaceans known as ostracodes."
In other news about impressive endowments, Jesse Jackson is demanding that Yale place at least 5% percent of its assets in the hands of minority asset managers. I think Yale's response to Jackson was about right: When it comes to the endowment, we're color-blind. We only see green.
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# Posted 1:52 PM by Patrick Belton  

RITA KATZ has posted this week's terrorism headlines. Last week's were here.
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# Posted 12:45 PM by Patrick Belton  

THOUGH IT INSISTS ON explaining Putin's successes with recourse to a pat theory about "Russia's love affair with strong leaders," BBC manages to include today a black joke of the later Soviet period, and we always like those. Here goes:
A black joke of the later Soviet period supposedly quotes a history book of the 21st century: "Who was Adolf Hitler?"
Answer: "A petty dictator who lived in the time of Joseph Stalin."
Interesting, but like usual, you can do better than the BBC just by pilloring random sites from the internet:
A delegation from his native Georgia leaves Stalin's office after an hourly meeting. Stalin realizes that he cannot find his pipe and calls Dhzierhzynsky to find out if anyone from the delegation took his pipe. After 30 minutes Stalin finds the pipe under the table and calls Dhzierhzynsky to let the delegation go. Dhzierhzynsky answers Stalin's call: "I am sorry Comrade, but one half of the delegation already admitted that they took your pipe, and the other half died during questioning."

A person comes to a post office and complains: "These new stamps with Lenin do not stick..." The clerk answers: "Comrade, you probably spit on the wrong side."

A grandson complains to his grandfather after a trip to the Soviet Union: "You told me that there is a lot of gold, silver, food, and beautiful women, but all I found was poverty..." The grandfather asks:" And whom did you go with?" The grandson answers:"I went with a traveling company." "That's why..." The grandfather says after a while: "I went with Marshal Pilsudski, in 1920, during the Polish-Bolshevik War."

On his trip to the Soviet Union, President Kennedy saw many drunks. He asked Breznyev about it. Surprised Breznyev replied "...and there are no drunks in the US, in NYC?" "No" answered Kennedy. "When you come to NYC, you may shoot first three drunks you see." After 6 months, Breznyev came to NYC, and walked out of the Soviet embassy. He shot first three drunks he saw, and came back, and went to sleep. When he waked up next day, he read in the New York Times "A bald, short gangster shot three employees of the Soviet embassy."

In a Soviet pre-school, the teacher describes the Soviet Union to the children: "In the Soviet Union all kids are happy. In the Soviet Union all kids have lots of beautiful toys and live in great apartments..." Suddenly one child starts to cry and scream: "I want to go to the Soviet Union!"
UPDATE:
One of my favorite Soviet Era jokes is this one.  In 2072, a boy asks his father, "Dad, who was Leonid Brezhnev?"  His father answers, "He was a politician who lived at the time of Solzhenitsyn."
Michael
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Friday, March 12, 2004

# Posted 10:19 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

DEMOCRAT WITH A SMALL 'D': Few statesmen have done more to promote democracy abroad than Oscar Arias. As President of Costa Rica in the late 1980's, he played a critical role in Central America's transition to democracy, a task once thought impossible. In today's WaPo, Arias defends Jean-Bertrand Aristide's 1995 decision to abolish the Haitian military. And I agree with him.

While some might conclude that the absence of such a force paved the way for February's chaos, I would argue that the minimal human cost and peaceful outcome of the crisis were a direct result of the fact that Haiti had been demilitarized. I regret that a hundred or more Haitians may have died, but am glad that there was no return to the pre-Aristide era, when death tolls rose into the thousands and tens of thousands. Moreover, the absence of a reactionary military establishment all but ensured that French and American peacekeepers could take up their posts without a challenge. Instead of mourning the dead, Haitians can now focus on rebuilding their nation.
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# Posted 9:54 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

REMEMBERING THE WOUNDED: Bob Herbert has posted a thoughtful tribute to a wounded veteran of the Iraq War.
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# Posted 9:23 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

SISKEL & EBERT & OXBLOG: I don't know why, but when OxBlog goes Hollywood, we get some extraordinarily thoughtful responses from our readers. Even though it's been seven days since I posted my initial thoughts about M*A*S*H, the mail is still coming. Writing in from Chicago, Prof. JL notes that there is surprising resemblance between the Hawkeye-Burns relationship in M*A*S*H and the Bunny-Fudd relationship in some classic Looney Toons:
The phenomenon you note -- viciousness being a response to provocation -- is played out nicely in 1940s and 1950s cartoons. Chuck Jones usually required that Bugs Bunny be (playfully) mean in response to a provocation. Jones's typical introduction of the shift from mild
victim to strong attacker was Bugs saying, "Of course, you know, this means war!" An exception is Chuck Jones's Duck Amuck, where Bugs as animator torments
Daffy Duck without provocation. Other Bugs directors, such as Bob Clampett in the early 1940s, allowed Bugs to attack without provocation. Although both worked, the Clampett approach was more artistically daring.

The Warners cartoonists of the 1940s were all aware of this issue and Tex Avery, after he left Warners for MGM, did a great commentary on this process in an MGM cartoon, Bad Luck Blackie (1949). It is too long to describe in detail, but Joe Adamson in Tex Avery: King of Cartoons (pp. 89-93) has a long description. It starts with a mean dog, swallowing and disgorging a little kitten, cruelly laughing. Once our sympathies are aroused against the dog, the kitten allies with a black cat. Together,
they torment the dog through the rest of the cartoon, which ends with the kitten cruelly laughing as the dog did at the beginning. The bulk of the cartoon is pretty funny, but the opening and closing are quite disturbing because you are indeed sucked in to root for the brutal treatment the dog gets--and seemingly deserves. At the last moment, Avery lifts the veil to let you know how he has manipulated your sympathies.
I think JL is right, although my memories of Bugs & Duffy are a little bit hazy. It's also interesting how in almost every episode of M*A*S*H, Burns has to antagonize the audience before Hawkeye is allowed to have a go at him. This sitcom/cartoon logic: the characters have no apparent history and must reenact their morality each time the camera starts to roll. Next up, SC tries to provide a little more context for my perceptions of M*A*S*H:
Just to clear up some misconceptions...

Heller wrote in the intro for a limited edition run on Catch 22 that he was using the war/military as a satirical tool to make fun of how crazy civilian corporate life was in the 1950's. It's not a criticism of "military life" so much as it is of "civilian life". He seemed to go out of his way to clarify this point precisely because there'd been so much confusion about his intent. It'd probably be more accurate to say he was making fun of the militarization of US corporate culture that to say he was mocking the corporate nature of US military culture.

Regarding MASH. It'd probably be worth your time to rent the full feature DVD version and listen to what Altman himself says about the project, intent, and public reaction. He had innumerable problems clearing both the studio and the ratings board due to his insistence of keeping some of the more graphic operating room scenes, which for the time were extremely controversial. Altman suggests that he was able to get away with as much as he did mainly because there were a couple gigantic war films in production at the same time (Patton was one), and he was able to get most of what he wanted because of the small scale and obscurity of his production. So although you're certainly entitled to your personal, subjective interpretation of the film, it's worth noting that MASH (like Catch 22) was meant by its creator as a
broad social commentary and not a specific critique of military culture alone.
You know, I may just go back and rent the DVD again so that I can listen to the commentary track. Getting a director's insight into his own work is one of the great benefits of upgrading from VHS to DVD. However, when you rent DVDs, you don't often want to watch the movie twice in the space of four or five days. But when I own the DVDs, I tend to go through as much of the extra material as possible.
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# Posted 12:19 PM by Patrick Belton  

SPANISH EMBASSIES: Glenn posted a link to Spanish diplomatic representations in the United States, and encouraged readers to send flowers or other expressions of sympathy. I think this is a very poignant idea, and wanted to add this list of Spanish embassies and consulates in the United Kingdom and elsewhere, for our readers who are in the rest of the world. To our Spanish friends: we are grief-stricken alongside you.
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# Posted 9:27 AM by Patrick Belton  

THE WEEK IN DEMOCRACY: OxDem and our foreign policy society's democracy program contribute a weekly democracy briefing to our friends over at Winds of Change. This week's is up now, with updates on the Mid-East initiative, the Iraqi constitution, Syrian protests, Russian elections, and the Palestinian legislature.
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# Posted 8:47 AM by Patrick Belton  

MORE ON THE INDIA-PAKISTAN CRICKET LINEUP: OxBlog's friend Alex Massie writes in with more background for the India-Pakistan international tomorrow:
www.cricinfo.org is likely to have access to at least a radio broadcast and quite possibly video too. The BBC's site may also be of use.

It's true that this is the first full series in 14 years but the two sides did play three matches in 98-99 in India and have played numerous one day matches against one another on neutral territory such as Sharjah and even, somewhat bizarrely, Toronto. A test between the two at Eden Gardens, Calcutta (capacity 100,000+) would be one hell of an experience.

Incidentally, one way of understanding or appreciating the changing nature of India is through its cricket team. India has always produced some wonderfully talented players, but they have tended to be a fragile side that often crumpled under pressure. (Their record outside of India is, frankly, atrocious). It was as though they didn't truly believe they could dine at top table.

These days however they play with a grand swagger, fearing no-one and are confident (rightly so) that they can give anyone a run for their money. They played a thrilling series in Australia over Christmas that showed they could compete with the best in the world. (one of the good things about being back in Scotland from the US for the holidays was being able to get the cricket on TV).

Also - there's probably no sportsman in the world in any sport who plays under as much pressure as India's batting genius Sachin Tendulkar (a joy to watch incidentally - you could say he combines Barry Bonds' ability with the grace of Joe Dimaggio). His face is everywhere in India - on TV, plastered on billboards - and when he bats he does so with the expectations and hopes of a billion people on his back. Somehow he manages it, retaining a serenity that is quite remarkable.

One other point - cricket in India is one of the essential components that glues this remarkable country together. Rich and poor, Hidu, Muslim and Sikh alike are united in their passionate love of the game. (It was a pretty significant moment when Mohammed Azharuddin, another swashbuckling batsman, became the country's first Muslim captain in 1989).

Pakistan, meanwhile, though a team that also has more than its share of talented players have for the last fifteen years often played in a style that suggests they feel an unfair world is constantly conspiring against them.

Hopefully this series can be the beginning of a fresh rapprochement between the two countries.

yours etc

Alex Massie


UPDATE: AND MORE INDIA-PAKISTAN CRICKET - It turns out that coverage of the match is live online at the BBC website. Also, a friend whose sympathies lie more with the Pakistani side responds to our email above:
Hey there,

In reply to your friend Mr. Massie's comments on India and Pakistan's cricket teams. As an erstwhile avid fan of the Pakistani team,I sort of (as ridiculous as this sounds) took a little bit of offense to that last paragraph on Pakistan's team. I mean, I would agree with him if he said "Pakistan's team has spent the last 15 years royally sucking" but to say "Pakistan, meanwhile, though a team that also has more than its share of talented players have for the last fifteen years often played in a style that suggests they feel an unfair world is constantly conspiring against them." is really rather odd. What does he mean by that?

Having lived in Pakistan and seen the ludicrously bureaucratic mess that is the administration of the Pakistani cricket team, not to mention the absolute lack of any semblance of competition below the national level (we have teams that represent a popular brand of soap playing against a team that represents a provincial police force playing on a dirt pitch about once a year) AND the fact that most of the best players are recruited from absolute nowhere with very little quality coaching at the high school or college level (most of the team at any given time is functionally illiterate) I think it's amazing that the country has produced the level of talent that it has and has performed so well against the bizarrest odds time and again to win the cricket world cup in 1992 and to play in the final in 1999.

What Mr. Massie said about the pressure that Sachin Tendulkar faces could easily be applied to Waqar Younis, Waseem Akram, Inzamam ul Haq and Imran Khan in their prime. Also, I think a lot of the coverage he receives is pretty welcome to him - until last year I saw him sponsering rather trivial products like ballpoint pens on prime time television - so I'm sure he's not exactly recoiling from all the attention he receives.

I mean, most of the things he said about the Indian cricket team (and how cricket unites all indians etc etc) is absolutely true about the Pakistani team too. Maybe we just don't sell ourselves as well as the Indian team does!

well, what a rambling email. I'm not much of a writer!

sincerely,

R,
AND EVEN MORE!
...In the above paragraph, it should be noted that the Nawab of Pataudi and Ghulam Ahmed, also Indian Muslims,  have captained the Indian side back in the 50s and 60s.

Deshis like me are happy to see references to Holi festival and cricket in your blogs.

Are you guys exploring Indian cuisine at Ox beyond chicken tikka and samosas ? Try a south indian dosa-idli-vadai for breakfast or weekend brunch or a Gujerati thali meal at one of the joints near Euston Sq station / St Pancras area in London.
 
Thank you,
 
Cheers
 
Swami
Thanks very much, Swami! And our congratulations, as India's now won the match by five runs.
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# Posted 8:02 AM by Patrick Belton  

STUDENTS DISCOVER MRS KENT THE MUSIC TEACHER WAS REALLY THE DUCHESS OF KENT. The Duchess, who thought it would be great fun to teach children music, had been teaching primary students in Hull music for the past eight years, incognito. Her students did always seem to have rather nice field trips, including visits with the Halle Orchestra and to London's Westminster Abbey, where the school choir sang with opera singer (and Yorkshirewoman) Lesley Garrett.
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# Posted 7:46 AM by Patrick Belton  

ROH IMPEACHED: South Korean Prime Minister Koh Gun will assume the powers of the presidency until South Korea's Constitutional Court decides whether President Roh should be removed from office -- a trial which could take up to half of a year. In a scene recalling some of the choicer moments of Parliamentary and Congressional history, "some [legislators] threw their shoes at the speaker while others wept, yelled, crouched on the floor or sang the national anthem." (CNN)
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# Posted 7:42 AM by Patrick Belton  

WASHINGTON POST ON 3/11: Hear, hear:
THE BUSH administration's clumsy diplomacy and its critics' hyperbolic charges of "unilateralism" sometimes obscure the fact that the United States has had true and valuable allies in the war on terrorism. Yesterday one of the best of those, Spain, suffered a blow as shocking and as terrible as any the enemy has landed since Sept. 11, 2001. Authorities said that more than 190 people were killed and more than 1,200 injured when 10 backpacks crammed with compressed dynamite exploded on four trains in Madrid at the height of the morning rush hour. It remained unclear last night who was responsible; police initially blamed the Basque ETA organization but later discovered evidence pointing to al Qaeda. Either way, as Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar put it, "March 11, 2004, has taken its place in the history of infamy."
See also the New York Times, which poignantly notes "We are all Madrileños now.".
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# Posted 6:13 AM by Patrick Belton  

PAKISTAN-INDIA INTERNATIONAL IN KARACHI: In a historic match fraught with symbolism of warming ties between India and Pakistan, the two nations' cricket sides will face each other in Karachi tomorrow morning. In a friendly held yesterday, Pakistan's A - which did not include some of the best Pakistani players - stood down the India side by six wickets. India and Pakistan have not held a cricket series in fourteen years; the Kerala News have a history of the rivalry.

I'd be very interested to hear whether any of our South African or cricket fancying friends might know whether the international is to be webcast, and if so, where (and when)? I'll be very happy to share the information with our readers.
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# Posted 3:07 AM by Patrick Belton  

FERN HOLLAND, SELFLESS HEROINE OF OUR GENERATION: I've never read an obituary before of someone whom I didn't know but who as instantly seemed intelligible, and the same sort of person as most of my dear friends. May those who knew and loved her have at least the consolation of knowing she died with heroism, and in the pursuit of what was right.
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# Posted 2:55 AM by Patrick Belton  

OVERNIGHT DEVELOPMENTS UPDATE ON MADRID BOMBING: Moderate Voice has a linkfest. Also, Ha'aretz presents an insightful analysis by columnist Ze'ev Schiff. (Thanks to our reader John Hobbins for pointing out the latter.)
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# Posted 12:16 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

NAZIS VOTE REPUBLICAN: David Broder makes a solid point. Whatever you think of George Bush's 9/11 ads, they're nothing compared to FDR and the WWII-era Democrats abuse of patriotism at the polls. On the other hand, it looks like Bush has stolen a page from his father's playbook by trying to scare voters with menacing images of dark-skinned criminals.
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Thursday, March 11, 2004

# Posted 11:55 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THE PERMANENT CAMPAIGN: Two weeks into the race for the White House and some people have already had enough. Kevin Drum is one. Josh Marshall may be another. And Dan Drezner is on the fence.

I'm not sure that I care one way or the other. The process of governing has already become a permanent campaign. From the moment a President takes office, he works on building public support for his agenda while keeping a watchful on his approval ratings. Well, duh, isn't that what Presidents are supposed to do?

Not exactly. For the past forty years or so, governing has resembled a permanent campaign. But before that there really was a divide between electioneering and policymaking. Now, I'm not saying that political considerations didn't have an overwhelming impact on policy. But in the days of Roosevelt, Truman and Eisenhower, politics between elections had more to do with closed-door bargains than public appeals for support. Depending on your perspective, the old system may have been more or less democratic and more or less efficient.

Anyhow, that doesn't mean I want to see a Kerry-Bush catfight dominate the news for the next eight months. I think it's fair to say that the more we hear about the candidates the less we will hear about what's going on outside of this country. Then again, no one is stopping from reading foreign newspapers, so if I get caught up in the catfight I've only got myself to blame.
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# Posted 11:35 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

SPEAK OF THE DEVIL: I was going to write about Bush's flip-flops and Kerry's foreign policy. But the WaPo beat me to it. It's better that way, since I had a couple of drinks at dinner. If I had to write an editorial in this condition, it would probably wind up being about something stupid, like whether or not John Kerry uses Botox.
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# Posted 11:15 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

DEMOCRACY IN ACTION: If you ever get bored with our Congress, check out South Korea.
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# Posted 11:09 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

KISS MY BRASS: It's not every day you run into a four-star general. But tonight I attened a dinner with the Commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. Michael W. Hagee. By the way, he looks a lot younger and less intimidating in real life than in his photo on the Marine Corps website.

The purpose of the dinner was for Hagee to share his thoughts on the future of warfare. The talk was off the record, but my buddy Captain K said it was the same canned routine you always get. As far as I can tell, Hagee's message was about the same as the one on the Marine Corps website: our strength is our people. We are flexible, adaptable and fast. Nonetheless, it was an interesting talk, with some good war stories and insight into the challenges of rapid deployment.

I sort of suspect that Hagee only described his talk as off the record in order to give the impression of greater intimacy. Without breaching confidence (which I can get away with now that John Ashcroft is on the disabled list), I think I can tell you all that the only impolitic thing Hagee did was take some very mild cheapshots at NATO. Moreover, he had a very sympathetic audience, consisting mostly of security studies faculty who like to feel that they're inside the machine.

The best story of the night came from Captain K and was not told within earshot of the Commandant. Apparently, one of K's sailors went down to Davy Jones' locker as a result of auto-erotic asphxiation. That shouldn't be funny, but the Navy medical team found him dead "in mid-stroke". Not knowing exactly what happened to their son, the sailor's parents demanded access to all of the evidence gathered as part of the official investigation of his death. Thus, it fell to Captain K to write a letter suggesting to them that the evidence -- including detailed photos of the "crime scene" -- were more graphic and disturbing than they could handle.

It's actually not the first time K had to handle this kind of bizarre situation. Another one of his soldiers discovered after shipping out of Bangkok that his new wife was a man. However, he told K that he loved "her" very much and that they were saving up for an operation to make "her" a real woman. And to think Kevin Drum was worried that true love no longer exists.
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# Posted 4:34 PM by Patrick Belton  

LONDON NEWSPAPER SAYS AL QA'EDA-AFFILIATED GROUP CLAIMED RESPONSIBILITY FOR SPAIN ATTACK - which of course, they might have an incentive to do even if they hadn't carried off the event, but if true could very likely make 3/11 Europe's 9/11.

The announcement ran in Al Quds al Arabi:
The newspaper Al-Quds al-Arabi said it received a five-page e-mail from the Brigade of Abu Hafs al-Masri claiming its "death squad" had penetrated "one of the pillars of the crusade alliance, Spain."

"This is part of settling old accounts with Spain, the crusader, and America's ally in its war against Islam," the unverified claim said.
WaPo has added:
The statement to the al-Quds al-Arabi newspaper said, "We have succeeded in infiltrating the heart of crusader Europe and struck one of the bases of the crusader alliance," and called the attacks "Operation Death Trains."

The statement, which was faxed to Reuters, was signed by the Abu Hafs al-Masri Brigades. That group also has claimed responsibility for the November bombing of two synagogues in Turkey and the August bombing of the U.N. headquarters in Baghdad.
Reuters, for its part, has:
We bring the good news to Muslims of the world that the expected 'Winds of Black Death' strike against America is now in its final stage...90 percent (ready) and God willing near," the letter said.... A copy of the letter was faxed to Reuters in Dubai.
Also, Spanish investigators have found detonators and a Qur'anic tape in Arabic in a stolen van near Madrid.

Several thoughts at the moment: the coordinated aspect of the attacks in different locations, as well as the scale of casualties, would both tend to be points in favor of an Al Qa'eda attribution; further, Al Qa'eda had threatened Spain as an ally of the United States's in the Iraq war; Eta as a matter of practice has always telephoned a warning prior to an attack in public; and finally, Eta has not produced a massive attack in years, with the number of its operatives pared after a series of high-profile arrests. On the other side of the balance sheet, a new generation of leaders will be coming into their own in Eta precisely on account of those arrests; and the timing, 72 hours before elections predicted to return a right-of-center party, would seem to suggest a domestic group. Of course, there always remains the analytic possibility that Eta and Al Qaeda may have joined forces - in the way that Hamas and the IRA share weapons and operatives (and in their case, post-colonial ideology), and may both be found in FARC-controlled areas of Colombia - they may simply have decided that both groups could agree on having Spain as an enemy. Like everyone, I'll be following the news very closely for the next few days, to see how the attribution dilemma unfolds.
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# Posted 1:41 PM by Patrick Belton  

PERHAPS OF INTEREST ONLY to some of our readers, but this is by far the best language website I've yet come across. In addition to well-writen pages on such topics as polite usages in French letters, there's also an admirable page on French gestures. I think this one is my favorite.
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# Posted 10:39 AM by Patrick Belton  

OXFORD TO GET RID OF BRITISH UNDERGRADUATES (BBC). "Aaah, that's just wishful thinking," says American postgraduate student.
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# Posted 4:36 AM by Patrick Belton  

MONEYMAN RETIRES: The Pentagon's Comptroller, Under Secretary Dov Zakheim, has announced he will be leaving the Defense Department. Dr Zakheim, incidentally, got his doctorate in this neck of the woods, and has written on subjects close to my own current research area on Congress and U.S. great power relations. As Janine Zacharia reports, he will be going to work with Rachel at the international affairs consulting firm Booz Allen.
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# Posted 1:00 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

MARRIAGE AT THE POLLS: Andrew Sullivan points out that Bush's approval rating on the gay marriage issue is 44 in favor, 52 against. While the polls on this issue are volatile and their meaning not 100% clear, a 52% negative rating still suggests that Bush is losing ground because of the issue.
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# Posted 12:13 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

FLIP-FLOP PING-PONG: Rob Tagorda and Matt Yglesias are swatting back and forth the question of whether John Kerry is an unprincipled opportunist or a contemplative man of nuance. I think this issue is an extremely important one because now seems to be the time when the media is defining for itself who the candidates are. If the flip-flop story grows legs, every profile of Kerry from now until the election will have to spend time evaluating the evidence for and against the charge. Regardless of whether such profiles convict or pardon the Senator from Massachusetts, the simple fact that the issue is constantly in play will become a serious liability.

Getting back to Matt and Rob, the debate started with Matt's column in TAP, which argues that the flip-flop charge is a artificial one created by the Bush administration and picked up by journalists with a compulsive interest in embarrassing the candidates. Rob's first response to Matt implies that Matt is attacking a strawman, since he debunks conservatives attacks on Kerry's record while ignore what the WaPo and TNR have to say.

Matt then got the jump on Rob by pointing out that he had already responded to the WaPo and TNR pieces in question. Undaunted, Rob responded with some original research by using Nexis-Lexis to pore over back issues of Kerry's hometown paper, The Boston Globe. Unconvinced, Matt shot back that the Globe has it in for Kerry and that its evidence is less than compelling.

So where do I stand on all of this? I don't know yet. I spent an hour and half tonight reading just some of the many articles devoted to the flip-flop question. What struck me as most surprising was Matt's statement that if you "look at Kerry's words and deeds with the pre-existing assumption that he's a man of principle and integrity" you will that find his positions to be consistent and nuanced. Yet "if you go into it assuming that Kerry is an opportunist, you can read the events to support that conclusion." While Matt's comments refer specifically to Kerry's vote to authorize the use of force against Saddam in October, they seem to reflect his general take on the issue.

What surprises me so much about Matt's approach is its implication that there is no right answer to the question of whether or not Kerry has flip-flopped on the major issues of the day. It all comes down to a question of trust. While Matt may be right, "Trust me" is a very hard message for a candidate to run on. To be sure, Bush's less-than-forthright approach to the deficit, the 9/11 commission, the WMD question and his National Guard service record make it just as hard for him to ask for the voters' trust. But as the challenger, Kerry has to show that he is better than Bush, not that he isn't worse.

Asking for the voters' trust is also an invitation for journalists to challenge a candidate's reputation. When Jimmy Carter promised that he would never tell a lie, journalists did all they could to catch him telling one. And Gary Hart...well don't ask about Gary Hart. The point is that Kerry can't lay the flip-flop issue to rest by telling either voters or journalists to trust him. In fact, doing so would only ensure that the issue stays on the table. And even now, there may be enough evidence out there to cast doubt on Matt's "pre-existing assumption that [Kerry]'s a man of principle and integrity". Consider the opening grafts of the NYT profile devoted to the flip-flop question:
When Senator John Kerry was speaking to Jewish leaders a few days ago, he said Israel's construction of a barrier between it and Palestinian territories was a legitimate act of self-defense. But in October, he told an Arab-American group that it was "provocative and counterproductive" and a "barrier to peace."

On Feb. 5, Mr. Kerry reacted to Massachusetts' highest court's decision legalizing same-sex marriages by saying, "I personally believe the court is dead wrong." But when asked on Feb. 24 why he believed the decision was not correct, he shot back, "I didn't say it wasn't."
Later on in the Times' profile, Kerry explains that
He had criticized the Israeli wall before the Arab-American group in October because its path was then expected to deviate widely from Israel's border into West Bank villages ? though he conceded he had not made the distinction clear at the time.
Perhaps Kerry is telling the truth. But why does it always seem that Kerry has to pull this kind of rabbit out of his hat in order to reconcile apparently inconsistent views? By the same token, Kerry has recently revised his 1996 conclusion that the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional. This subtle distinction has enabled Kerry to argue against Bush's proposed amendent banning gay-marriage but in favor of state-level amendents that have the same effect. If one assumes that Kerry is "a man of principle and integrity", then all is well. But isn't it just a little too convenient how Kerry has revised his passionate and long-held views on gay marriage just in time to present a more moderate face during his presidential campaign? Again, there's no evidence to show that Kerry is being opportunistic. But my gut instinct says that this guy has to be watched.

Tomorrow: Bush's flip-flops and Kerry's stance on the war.
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Wednesday, March 10, 2004

# Posted 7:54 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

CIRCUMCISIONS TO GO AHEAD AS PLANNED, COWS & CHICKENS CELEBRATE: Even though thousands of Israeli rabbis are on strike, its foreskin-choppers are still hard at work, since Jewish law does not require them to have rabbinical oversight. However, the meat industry is at a standstill because it does require oversight in order to produce kosher products. As a lifelong Jew, I'd just like to say that there's something a little funny about a religion that is more strict when it comes to protecting farm animals than when it comes to protecting the tender vessels that hold the future of our people.
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# Posted 1:49 PM by Patrick Belton  

WELL-DESERVED GREATER ROLE FOR NED: The U.S. government's new democracy-promotion plan for the Middle East has made a good first move in selecting a worthy organization as its spearhead - the National Endowment for Democracy, which has supported indigenous democratic movements in their early stage in places from Poland to South Africa, will receive a doubled appropriation this year, with the additional money being used to support the activities of dissidents, women's rights campaigners, human rights groups, press organizations, and new political parties.

I can't think of a worthier cause, or a more trustworthy organization to give a prominent role in it to.
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# Posted 11:03 AM by Patrick Belton  

MORE IN THE AMBIGUOUS TITLES DEPARTMENT: There's a Norwegian health care provider called Noraid. Perhaps all those sponsors of terror in South Boston Irish pubs could give to them instead?
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# Posted 10:43 AM by Patrick Belton  

THE "TOO LATE FOR THAT" AMBIGUOUS HEADLINE AWARD OF THE DAY: From CNN, "Washington sniper gets life"
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# Posted 5:17 AM by Patrick Belton  

JUSTICE FOR SIERRA LEONE: The Sierra Leonean war crimes tribunal, which is paid for and managed by the United States and Britain, will be opening today. (See its website, and BBC.)
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# Posted 3:52 AM by Patrick Belton  

SISTANI WATCH/READING LIST: I'd promised you all yesterday a running compendium of pieces on the Iraqi constitution, Sistani, and the Iraqi Shi'i, so I'm before you here this morning to deliver. We're also having a discussion tonight on analyzing Sistani, the SCIRI party, and trends in the Iraqi Shi'a community, here in the Oxford chapter of our little foreign policy society, so if any of you feel like heading out to Oxford, you're warmly welcome.

As far as understanding Sistani goes, Spencer Ackerman has written on the subject on his TNR blog, Iraq'd, CFR does a backgrounder, CS Monitor, which I'm increasingly impressed by, has a piece, and NPR ran a profile which is basically an interview with Juan Cole. Also, RFE has a brief profile, and Slate has a piece, too.

As far as understanding SCIRI goes, FAS has a profile - the WaPo had one as well, a third one dates to the pre-war period - and other worthwhile pieces are here and here.

I haven't come across any pieces that are quite as good about the trends among the Shi'a in general - perhaps because what those trends really are is somewhat more nebulous. The best I've found are CS Monitor, Guardian, Juan Cole, and Juan Cole's blog.

Please let us know if you run across any other pieces you think we should include in this list!

UPDATE: Steve Den Beste wrote a lengthy and insightful post today on the constitution, and particularly electoral incentives it attempts to introduce toward moderation and compromise
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# Posted 12:27 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

M*A*S*H NOTES: After talking so much about the film that started it all, I decided that I had no choice but to start watching the series that made M*A*S*H a household name.

After watching the first half-dozen episodes on DVD, it's not hard to figure out why everyone says that the series is simplistic, self-righteous and far more political than the film. These characteristics emerge in the series pilot, which develops and amends one of the important subplots in the film, the fate of Ho-Jon, the young Korean who works for Hawkeye.

In the film, we first meet Ho-Jon along with Maj. Burns, the pretentious martinet surgeon who later becomes Hawkeye's main adversary. When Hawkeye first meets Burns, he is teaching Ho-Jon to read by using a Bible as an instruction manual. Hawkeye's [As M points out, it was actually Hawkeye's associate Duke Forrester who gave Ho-Jon the girlie mag --ed.] response is to give Ho-Jon a girlie mag. During the film, Hawkeye becomes very close to Ho-Jon and does his best to protect him from the war. When the Korean military subjects Ho-Jon to a pre-draft physical, Hawkeye gives him medication that artificially raises his blood pressure. The Korean physician in charge sees through this ruse, however, and Ho-Jon enters the army.

In the pilot, Burns shows no demonstrable interest in Ho-Jon's welfare. Instead, Hawkeye persuades his alma mater to accept Ho-Jon as a foreign student but discovers that Ho-Jon will need $2000 to cover the cost of travel, etc. Thus, Hawkeye organizes a raffle to raise funds for Ho-Jon while Burns tries to throw a wrench in the works because Hawkeye's plans violate military regulations.

Another change in Burns character in the first episodes is that he becomes a mindless poster boy for American propaganda. Whereas in the film Burns was simply strict, his strictness now becomes an extension of his naive belief that Korea is a good war. This point comes across best in Episode Six, in which Burns desperately tries to get the lead role in a propaganda film being made by an Army public relations unit.

In contrast, Hawkeye's breaks into the storage room where the undeveloped film is being kept and destroys it in order to protect the homefront audience from this sort of propaganda. Then, Hawkeye persuades Col. Drake to let him direct the film, which turns out to be a Marx Brothers farce set in the 4077th. The Marx Brothers' mock-up is actually one of the most brilliant things I've seen on television. Alda's impression of Groucho is fantastic and the machine-gun sarcasm of the dialogue doesn't give you even a second to recover.

When the mock-up ends, Hawkeye appears on screen by himself, out of costume and delivers a solemn lecture on the human costs of war. This is M*A*S*H at its most self-righteous. In lesser ways, this leitmotif appears again and again throughout the first six episodes. It is also a rhetorical device for battering Burns and other defenders of the war, since they are often shown to be far less concerned about the human cost of war than are Hawkeye, Trapper John, etc.

Yet at the same time that the series meditates on the costs of war, it also sanitizes it. The bowdlerization first becomes apparent as the M*A*S*H theme music plays at the beginning of the episode. The haunting lyrics of the original song have been taken out. But perhaps one simply cannot have a primetime television show declare that
Through early moring fog I see
Visions of the things to be
The pains that are with held for me
I realise and I can see

That suicide is painless,
That suicide is painless
It brings on many changes
And I can take or leave it if I please

The game of life is hard to play
Gonna to lose it anyway
The losing card I'll someday lay
So this is all I have to say
The fact that Marilyn Manson chose to do a cover of the song only emphasizes the fact that it was something mainstream America just wasn't ready for. (NB for our British audience: The Manic Street Preachers have covered the song as well.) While one can argue that the removal of the lyrics was an inevitable concession to the network censors, it does reflect the absence of the darker psychological aspects of the film as well. In the original, the men of the 4077th sing the song during a mock funeral for one of their comrades who has chosen to commit suicide because he is unable to confront his latent homosexuality.

Given that psychiatrists still defined homosexuality as a perversion and a pathology at the time the film was made, its portrayal of the issue is both far ahead of its time as well as sensitive and sophisticated by today's standards. However, I'm going to have to reserve judgment on this issue until I get to watch the later episodes of the series, in which a more prominent role is played by the cross-dressing Corporal Klinger. Still, Klinger does appear in some of the early episodes and is nothing more than a clown.
[I screwed this one up bigtime. The potential suicide is a response to impotence, not latent homosexuality. Serves me right for letting my politics get in the way of dispassionate analysis. And thanks to CM for pointing this out. --ed.]

One final aspect of the series I'd like to comment on is the contrast between its paternalistic liberalism and the politically correct liberalism of today. In Episode Five, Hawkeye runs across a sergeant who has purchased a Korean woman named Young Hi from her family for a price of $500. While Young Hi is at best an indentured servant and at worst a slave, she bears it all with constant chirpiness and no complaining. After delivering a lecture about the hypocrisy of buying slaves during a supposed war of liberation, Hawkeye hatches a plan to win Young Hi in a fixed poker game with the visiting sergeant.

When Hawkeye wins, he grants Young Hi her freedom. The catch is that she doesn't want it. In fact, Young Hi is so dedicated to being a servant that when Hawkeye sends her to Seoul she sneaks back to the 4077th and starts cleaning again. At that point, I was beginning to expect that the scriptwriters were going to pull a fast one on the audience. Surely Young Hi wasn't really all that servile and self-denigrating. Her ridiculous pidgin English dialogue made her seem like a complete fool. It had to be an act put on for the Americans' benefit. As good liberals, the scriptwriters were surely luring the audience into believing that Koreans aren't as self-aware or assertive as Americans, only to have Young Hi drop the mask once the audience had bought into her act.

Bottom line: she doesn't. Instead, Hawkeye teaches her how to be an individual. He teaches her to interact with other members of the M*A*S*H unit as an equal. Hawkeye also contacts Young Hi's family so that she can return to them. But when Young Hi's brother shows up to claim her, he makes it clear that he intends to sell her once again, but this time for double or triple the price. At first, she goes along with it, telling Hawkeye that family is the most important thing for Koreans. But within thirty seconds of leaving the base, Young Hi strides right back and announces that she told her brother off because she learned from Hawkeye how to be an individual.

On one level, there's a good message in this story about the universal value of freedom. On the other hand, it is absurdly condescending to suggest that Hawkeye's 72-hour lesson in civics could persuade a Korean woman to turn her back on her family. It makes Young Hi seem even more naive then she did when she accepted her role as the sergeant's slave. Are we supposed to believe that Koreans have no personalities of their own, but instead willingly conform to the dictates of their American masters? Isn't that exactly the kind of Great Society paternalism that supposedly got the United States involved in the same war that M*A*S*H was devoted to protesting?

But remember, that was 1972. Ethnicity and gender weren't mainstream liberal concerns. Thus, Hawkeye's relentless womanizing -- and the passive acceptance of it by his giggily-jiggily nurses -- might strike today's audiences as no less disturbing than the racial caricature known as Young Hi. All in all, M*A*S*H is truly a relic of its time.
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Tuesday, March 09, 2004

# Posted 12:28 PM by Patrick Belton  

PAKISTAN FIRES A LONG-RANGE MISSILE. This would be more upsetting if they could also point it somewhere.
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# Posted 10:20 AM by Patrick Belton  

PLAYING WITH MY FOOD: CNN reports this morning that McDonalds's salads have a greater fat and caloric content than the fast food company's hamburgers. Wow, that's really neat, in a sort of troubling kind of way.

So, illustrating what I do when I'm skipping lunch to work on my dissertation, I used the McDonalds's website nutrition calculator to run a few sample meals, and the CNN article was right. It turns out the trusty cheeseburger has 330 calories and 14 grammes of fat, of which 6 are saturated. The Crispy chicken California cobb salad has 370 calories and 21 grammes of fat, of which an identical 6 are saturated.

You can draw whatever moral you like, but my suggestion is to just go have a burger!

UPDATE: Baude says get the salad.
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# Posted 6:08 AM by Patrick Belton  

READING THE NEW IRAQI CONSTITUTION: This will be a developing post, as I come across analyses and commentaries on the interim Iraqi constitution which was adopted yesterday. The text of the constitution is here, on the CPA's website. George Washington University's Nathan Brown has released an admirable article-by-article commentary on the text and drafting process, and Noah Feldman, who consulted to the constitution's drafters, analyzes the document in a lengthy interview to the AP.

Several months ago, the International Crisis Group had written a report about vexing issues hanging over the drafting process. And among the more noteworthy journalistic reporting, the Christian Science Monitor discusses the issues which hung over the Shi'i reticence to sign:
The Shiites, which account for about 60 percent of Iraq's population, had reservations about a Kurdish-backed clause dealing with a permanent constitution as well as the composition of the presidency.

The clause states that the permanent constitution will fail if two-thirds of the population of three provinces object. With minority Kurds controlling the three northern provinces of Dohuk, Suleimaniyeh, and Arbil, Shiites feared that the clause granted the Kurds a veto.

The Shiites had also wanted a council of five presidents in which three would be Shiites and the other two split between a Kurd and a Sunni. The interim charter instead provides for one president and two deputies.

The dispute was resolved when Ayatollah Sistani was persuaded by Shiite council members to drop his objections and allow the signing to proceed. Any further delays in passing the document risked upsetting the transfer of sovereignty from the US-led coalition to an Iraqi interim government on June 30.
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# Posted 3:03 AM by Patrick Belton  

CUTE LOCAL CUSTOMS WATCH: Under a picture with the sunny caption "Will there still be a place for ancient beliefs?", BBC runs the following:
Haunted by "strigoi" - the undead - villagers on the slopes of the Carpathian mountains exhume a corpse from the graveyard and drive a stake through its heart to banish the evil spirit.

They burn the remains of the heart, mix the ashes with water from the local well and drink it, to complete the macabre ritual.

...all this took place in February 2004 at a village in Dolj County, south-western Romania.
After noting this is after all rather weird, BBC goes on to say "the 'Strigoi Show', as the TV dubbed it light-heartedly, has prompted such a stir about local customs and culture." Not one to abandon such an admirable stride once it had hit it, the BBC finishes strong with the conclusion, "Romania's metropolitan press may argue that its ancestral customs are out of line with "modern European civilization", but the new Europe may be all the poorer for it if they disappear completely."

Cutting-edge political scientists quickly then appeared on the scene in south-west Romania, arguing that in a Transylvanian mountainside infested by Nosferatu, it is only rational to engage in collective actions to burn and drink the heart of grandma. They then quickly engaged in a bitter war over whether most of the village should then free ride, which resulted in someone's graduate student not getting tenure.

When asked by a local village bystander what they were doing, the political scientists replied, "It's our culture. Go away."
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# Posted 2:19 AM by Patrick Belton  

YESTERDAY WAS INTERNATIONAL WOMEN'S DAY, so it is only appropriate today to commemorate several instances around the world in which our age is spectacularly yet to reach equal dignity for one half of humanity. In Iran yesterday, the Basij thuggery suppressed with batons a rally to mark the date. In Afghanistan, self-immolation, along with other forms of suicide, have in the face of harsh tribal tradition become endemic as a mode of escape from lives of enforced marriage followed by subsequent spousal battery. Even in the incontrovertibly liberal United States, the chief officer of the Air Force in the Pacific has just received a report that 92 accusations of rape involving Air Force personnel had been reported to the Pacific Command from 2001 to 2003. To his credit, General Begert has exercised sterling leadership to indicate that his service will not tolerate rape in the ranks, and has ordered changes in training, reporting practices, and the means of recourse available to assaulted female personnel; at the same time, we should note that his desire to counteract the problem was motivated by the horrible disclosure last year of more than 50 reported rapes or assaults over the past decade at his service's Academy.

The state of women in the world has not yet arrived at the level of dignity enjoyed by its men, and on International Women's Day we must all commit ourselves to ensuring that it one day does.
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Monday, March 08, 2004

# Posted 10:40 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

RHODES SCHOLAR IGNORES PALESTINIAN TERROR: I received the following message on the Rhodes Scholars' e-mail list this morning:
Dear Friends,

As some of you may already know, this weekend saw another Israeli incursion into Palestinian territories, leaving 14 dead (including 4 children) and over 50 wounded in what the Israeli army is calling a "pin-point operation." While killings like this are all-too frequent, they are set against the backdrop of a 37-year-long military occupation that has been condemned by the UN, International Red Cross and Crescent, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and a vast majority of the world community. Most recently, this occupation has taken the form of a physical wall that is even now being used to encircle Palestinians and further limit their dreams of a nation-state. The Jewish-only bypass roads will remain in place, only now they will be diverted so as to avoid the ghettos in which Palestinians will be imprisoned on their own land.

I am writing to all of you because, at the threshold to the second century of Rhodes Scholar history, we face an important ethical moment, and I would like to call upon us all to face that moment with all the moral fortitude with which we, as a global community, saw the downfall of apartheid. Not only are the histories related in light of Israel's arms dealings with South Africa in the face of an international embargo against the apartheid state, but the creation of bantustan-like Palestinian ghettos and the systematic disenfranchisement of that entire nation also speak their own truths. It is no longer enough for us to congratulate ourselves on the marriage of the Rhodes Trust and Nelson Mandela. We must speak out when we see the Israelis perpetrating the same crimes we now feel safe in criticizing South Africa for having committed for nearly half a century. President Mandela has long spoken out against Israel's ilegal occupation of Palestine, even calling for military resistance
against the Israelis in the name of an independent Palestinian state.

I would like to invite all of my colleagues and friends in the Rhodes community to write to me privately, so that we may discuss the eventual creation of a Rhodes Scholars Palestine Forum. A multiplicity of political beliefs and ideas is welcome; only a desire to see a free and peaceful Palestinian state is required. I look forward to meeting and discussing this historical crisis with each of you. Thank you for your consideration. Until then, I am --

Truly yours,
C.H.
In response to Mr. H's e-mail, I sent a message back to the list that read as follows:
Dear Friends,

As some of you may already know, February 22nd saw another suicide bombing in Jerusalem that targeted innocent men, women and children. While killings like this are all-too frequent, they are set against the backdrop of a 56-year-long record of terrorist attacks against the state and citizens of Israel, the first and oldest democracy in the Middle East.

Most recently, this terrorism has taken the form of repeated suicide bombings intentionally designed to slaughter as many civilians as possible. The victims are Arabs as well as Israelis, Muslims as well as Jews. In an effort to negotiate peace, the State of Israel offered the Palestinian people their own state on their own land -- including more than 90% of the territory in the West Bank and Gaza. However, the Palestinian Authority rejected this offer and launched a second wave of violent attacks on Israeli soldiers and civilians. With little hope left for a negotiated peace, Israel has chosen to construct a physical wall to protect its citizens from unceasing attack.

I am writing to all of you because, at the threshold to the second century of Rhodes Scholar history, we face an important ethical moment, and I would like to call upon us all to face that moment with all the moral fortitude with which we, as a global community, saw the downfall of the Taliban/Al Qaeda regime in Afghanistan. Not only are the histories related in light of Al Qaeda's murder of thousands of innocent men, women and children in New York and Washington, but both Al Qaeda and Fatah and Hamas are driven by the same radical anti-Semitic ideology of hatred that condones murder in the name of God.

It is no longer enough for us to congratulate ourselves on the marriage of the Rhodes Trust and Nelson Mandela. We must speak out when we see Palestinian organizations committing the same crimes they have committed for more than half century -- since long before the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza in 1967. President Mandela has long spoken out against Israel's occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, even calling for military resistance against the Israelis in the name of an independent Palestinian state. As a Nobel Peace Prize winner, Mandela's one-sided criticism of the State of Israel is shameful and hypocritical. As the author of a peaceful transition to democracy in South Africa, Mandela should be also support peace and freedom in the Middle East.

I would like to invite all of my colleagues and friends in the Rhodes community to write to me privately (and cc: C.H.), so that we may discuss the eventual creation of a Rhodes Scholars Arab-Israeli Peace Forum. A multiplicity of political beliefs and ideas is welcome; only a desire to see a true and lasting peace in the Middle East is desired. I look forward to meeting and discussing this historical crisis with each of you. Thank you for your consideration. Until then, I am --

Truly yours,
David
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# Posted 9:04 AM by Patrick Belton  

BUNNIES ON MARS: There are more things on heaven and earth, wascally Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.....

There's more news from Mars here and over here, too.
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# Posted 3:52 AM by Patrick Belton  

AND THEY SAY GREAT POLITICAL ORATORY IS DEAD: But they haven't been listening to Congressman Major Owens, of Brooklyn, whose website promises "Issue updates, legislation, rap poems, event schedule." Didn't think rap and the Congressional Record met that often? Well, that's just because you haven't read "Towers of Flowers," his effort after 9/11:
Pyramid for our age, Funeral pyre, Souls on fire;
Monumental Massacre, Mound of mourning, Futures burning, Desperate yearning, Excruciating churning;
For all the hijacked years, Cry rivers, Feel the death chill, Iceberg of frozen Bloody tears;
Defiant orations of Pericles, Must now rise, Out of the ashes,
Jefferson's profound principles, Will outlive the crashes.
Funeral pyre, Souls on fire, Lincoln's steel will, In the fiery furnace;
There's also his less-known work, Message to the Republican Mob, which begins
Before you merely mauled welfare mothers, But now you’re messing with The Great American Middle Class; We’ll kick your rear! Grandfathers are full of fear, New anger after every tear.
Read them a few times; they have a way of sticking with you.
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# Posted 3:10 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

QUICK, COVER YOUR ASSES! If you read Saturday's papers, you probably thought that the failure of Shi'ite leaders to endorse the new Iraqi constitution was a sign of bad things to come. After all, the NYT reported that
The delay represented a major embarrassment for the American officials here, who had guided the negotiations on the constitution and helped break numerous deadlocks. L. Paul Bremer III, the chief American administrator, was supposed to appear at the ceremony and the sign the completed constitution.

Television cameras from around the world stood arrayed around an empty stage. Dozens of Iraqis who had gathered for the ceremony got up and left.
The WaPo reported that
The Shiites' refusal to sign was regarded by some council officials as a stark indication of the deep divisions that exist between rival religious and ethnic groups, suggesting that a consensus on the interim constitution reached earlier this week may not have been as solid as U.S. and Iraqi officials had claimed.
But now the Shi'ites have withdrawn their demands and the constitution should be approved tomorrow. So, did the NYT report today that Friday's "major embarrassment" didn't materialize? Or that Paul Bremer has been successful in encouraging Iraqis to work together? And what about the WaPo? Did it report that the Shi'ites' compromise is an indication of how ethnic and religious divisions may not be as profound as originally thought?

Since those were all rhetorical questions, I won't bother telling you the answers. The fact is that professional journalists have a remarkable habit of overlooking their own short-sightedness. Unsurprisingly, the same correspondents at the Times (Dexter Filkins) and the Post (Rajiv Chandrasekaran) covered both the Shi'ite walkout on Friday and the Shi'ite compromise earlier today. Their coverage demonstrates how committed both men are (subconscioulsy, I think ) to telling the story of how America is going to fail in Iraq. Of course, it's hard to tell a consistent story when the facts keep getting in the way.

Consider the Times' and the Post's respective interpretation of Ayatollah Sistani's role in this affair. Initially, Filkins reported that
The delay demonstrated anew the political power of Ayatollah Sistani, the country's most powerful religious leader. Despite repeated avowals that he would remain above the push and pull of politics, and that he would keep Islam separate from the state, he has repeatedly shown his willingness to involve himself in political debates.
Taken unawares by the Shi'ites' compromise, Filkins now writes that
The change of heart by the Shiite leaders appears to represent a retreat by Ayatollah Sistani, who touched off the impasse last week by expressing his concerns to the Shiite leaders.

Until Sunday, the ayatollah had all but dictated to American officials the terms of such important political questions as elections.
Filkins wants us to believe that suddenly, on Sunday, Sistani decided to stop bossing the Americans around. Yet this change was apparently too subtle for Chandrasekaran to note, since he's still reporting that
The Shiites' initial refusal to sign provided a clear demonstration of the political influence of Sistani and other top clerics.
Now, as I said above, I don't think that any of this WaPo/NYT spin is conscious. We're simply dealing with reporters who think in terms of deadlines and put together a story each day that makes sense of the known facts. Such reporters have little incentive to go over the previous day's dispatch to see how it looks in hindsight. After all, they're not bloggers. If Filkins messes up, Chandrasekaran won't mention it in his article. And neither one will have an inbox full of criticism if today's dispatch abandons the insights of yesterday.

But it isn't only deadline pressure and the absence of peer review that is responsible for what's going on here. If that were the case, coverage of Iraq wouldn't be so uniformly negative. Rather, there is a basic narrative of failure in the reporters' heads that transforms deadline pressure and the absence of peer review into a conveyor belt for the reproduction of their profession's conventional wisdom.

Six months ago, Josh Marshall wrote that
There's a basic principle in scientific theory: an hypothesis, to be a real hypothesis, must be capable of disproof. In other words, for an hypothesis to be a valid basis for research, there must be some data which, if found to be true, would prove the hypothesis was false. Otherwise, there's no way to test it.

Now, foreign policy is no science. But some looser version of this principle must apply here as well. To be a policy, as opposed to a theological position, there must be some potential results that would show the policy was not working. The proponents of the policy should be able to say ahead of time that if this or that result happens, the policy has failed...
Marshall intended his comments as criticism of those naive Iraq hawks (specifically myself and Ralph Peters) who insisted that every suicide attack was a sign of the insurgents' desperation. While I don't think Josh was being fair to us naive optimists, his comments about falsifiability do explain a lot about why Dexter Filkins, Rajiv Chandrasekaran and the rest of the Iraq press corps almost never recognize the shortcomings of their own work. On those days when bad news comes out of Iraq, e.g. Friday, they describe it as evidence that Iraq is going to hell in a handbasket. When there's good news, e.g. today, they put their failure narrative aside for the moment. Thus, it's very hard to change the coloration of the news that's coming out of Iraq.

In the long term, correspondents sometimes begin to recognize what's going on. Certain facts are simply too hard to ignore. When American tanks rolled toward Baghdad, the media stopped reporting that the invasion had become a quagmire. Of course, there is no clear geography of success or failure when it comes to nation-building. If history is a guide, the first big positive story to come out of Iraq will be the elections held in late 2004 or early 2005. Often, the first election held after the fall of a dictatorship provokes a dramatic response in terms of both turnout and popular enthusiasm. Examples of that trend include El Salvador, Cambodia and South Africa.

Of course, what all of us would most like to see is a peaceful transfer of power from one elected Iraqi government to another. That is the most reliable indication that democratic norms are taking root. But in nation that is almost 2/3 Shi'ite, the opposition may not win a national election for quite a while. In fact, that sort of stability wouldn't be surprising. The first West German chancellor, Konrad Adenauer, held office for 14 years. In Japan, the Liberal Democratic Party was at the helm for even longer. Which means that in Iraq, we will have to look at the quality of everyday life to figure out whether or not it is a democracy.

There won't be a happy ending to the story in Iraq because there won't be an ending at all. But we can make sense of what's going on if we pay close enough attention.

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Sunday, March 07, 2004

# Posted 11:36 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

DEMOCRATIC TRIUMPH OR WASTE OF PAPER? It looks like Iraq will have an interim constitution by tomorrow in spite of Friday's sudden cancellation of the signing ceremony. One of NRO's guest authors thinks that the document just papers over more profound conflicts. For example:
One need look no further than the controversy over December 2003's IGC decree 137 which introduced sharia (Islamic religious law) in the place of secular family law to see how poorly democratic values are entrenched. Passed at a time when key secular members of the IGC were out of the country, and the chairman of the IGC was a Shia Islamist, decree 137 was denounced by the Kurds, women's groups, and some secular parties as undemocratic and discriminatory. Ambassador Bremer refused to sign decree 137, which meant that it could not be implemented.

Although decree 137 never had any force, the IGC bowed to pressure from women's groups in particular and symbolically repealed the decree on February 27, 2004. The reaction of some of the Shia Arab members of the IGC to the February 27, 2004 vote was troubling and revealing. Unhappy at losing the vote on decree 137, eight Shia members of the IGC walked out of the session when women's groups in the room cheered and shouted their pleasure at the vote. The eight Shia members did not just accept their defeat with ill grace. They then attempted to nullify their defeat through the interim constitution negotiations, a bid to put Islam on the statute books by every route available. The Shia Islamists and their allies are likely to continue with these tactics and can be expected to seek to undermine the current compromise text.
From a different perspective, this might just be a story of democracy at work. After all, there were no violent protests, no denunciations of the democratic system as anathema to Islam. Just hardball politics of the kind you see in any modern state. Of course, the Shi'ites can afford to be patient because they expect to dominate the new Iraq. But calculated or not, that kind of restraint on the part of a brutally repressed and suddenly liberated people suggests a certain faith in the democratic process. (Thanks to BM for the link.)
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# Posted 11:16 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

FILM CLASSICS -- THE READERS RESPOND: Some very interesting comments have arrived in respose to my recent film reviews. Commenting on my review of M*A*SH, EJB says:
Take it from somebody who grew up with the "military life," specifically the United States Army Medical Corps. You don't have a clue, son. There is not and has never been a more dedicated, disciplined, and dynamic enterprise on the face of the planet...Not that we don't enjoy the humor ourselves, but especially after years of TV saturation, the leftist portrayal of "military life" was and is now an extreme disservice to our country and our people.

There is a difference between theater and reality. Your post reveals you don't know one from the other, just like that other Rhodes scholar who "loathed the military."
EJB's comments are pointed but fair. While I meant no offense, my review of M*A*S*H never challenged the film's portrayal of the Army Medical Corps. In retrospect, I should've made it clear that I was approaching M*A*S*H as a suggestive satire about military life, not an actual account of any specific soldiers or units. One reader who speaks to that point is naval officer CL, who writes:
Re: Your point about the US military juggernaut -

I was aboard one of our carriers in the Gulf last spring, and after another planning meeting broke up "requiring better problem definition," [I] remarked that very thing to one of our Royal Navy liaison officers.

I said to him that it can certainly look like a well oiled machine from the outside looking in. From the inside looking out it sometimes resembles a lunatic asylum, with all the inmates rushing around banging their heads on the walls. Through some sort of mysterious brownian movement, at some point all the lunatics bang their head on the same wall, and that one gives way into another room. Where the process repeats, and progress is marked.

The brownian movement metaphor seemed particularly apt to me. Think of the military as an observable, physical object, subject to Newtonian physics. You can gather simultaneous data on position and velocity, and so predict where it will end up.

At the unit level, the physics are closer to sub-atomic levels. It's quantum mechanics. The closer you are to determining position, the further you get from velocity, and vice-versa. One is forced to speak in terms of probabilities.

How does "it all come out fine in the end?" To quote from the movie Shakespeare in Love, "It's a mystery."
I fully agree. Whether we're talking about the US military, the US government or major corporations such as Microsoft and Ford, there is something inexplicable about their ability to function. And yet they do.

Moving on to the cultural side of things, NC remarks that
I recently rewatched MASH myself. What I found interesting was the initial hostility of Hawkeye and Trapper John when they first meet Frank Burns. They come into the tent where Frank is teaching [Korean teenager O-Jon] English [by using] the Bible. This leads to much mockery and the gift of a girlie mag to the kid, continuing as Frank kneels to pray at the foot of his cot, and sometime later [more] mockery of his refusal of a martini. This is all before Frank shows himself as the classic military martinet, perhaps earning the abuse that he suffers. Maybe as I've aged I have become more conservative (yet still agnostic, long haired, etc...) , or just sensitive, but the prejudice against Frank was in a sense shocking.
I fully agree. Most anti-authority films (think Animal House) protect the moral integrity of their protagonists by having the 'bad guys' break the rules first. But there's no mistaking what happens in M*A*S*H. Hawkeye is relentlessly cruel toward Frank Burns and Nurse O'Houlihan.

Perhaps the director wanted it to be that way, or perhaps the novel on which the film is based emphasizes that Hawkeye is anything but a Boy Scout. Either way, if the portrayal of Hawkeye's cruetly was intentional, I think it was a good decision from an artistic perspective. It shows that Hawkeye's behavior is a reflection of his character, not a sudden response to minor provocations by Burns or O'Houlihan.

It also adds sophistication, both moral and analytical, to the anti-authority message of the film. Hawkeye is rebelling against a system, not against one or two bad officers. Moreover, Hawkeye's cruetly suggests that the irrationality of the system may provoke the response it does because it is dealing with humans and not with angels. Of course, the irrationality of the system reflects the fact that it is composed of humans and not of angels.

Now, going back a bit further in time, there have also been some interesting comments made about Blackboard Jungle and To Sir, With Love. WS writes that
I had the pleasure of meeting Ron Clark, a real "To Sir With Love" teacher, last week at my corporate conference, where he was the featured speaker. His story is amazing and he is an terrific speaker. After falling in to teaching in his home town in rural North Carolina, Ron set out to teach in Harlem. He was the only white person in the school and he was given the very worst class. The transformation which took place, and he tells his story very well, was nothing short of fantastic. By the end of the school year he got nearly one-third of his class of 37 into the best junior high in the city. A school which only took 30 kids total by application and interview each year. His secret was teaching respect and civility as a foundation. Check out his website and his book. If you get a chance to hear him speak you won't be disappointed.
No doubt about that. Even those teachers who succeed in more favorable circumstances need tremendous strength of character and often have astounding stories to tell. Nonetheless, I think it is often hard to express exactly how one goes about transforming sullen and dejected students into curious and thoughtful ones. As I mentioned before, both Blackboard and To Sir find it hard to express the cause of that transformation. If Clark can put it into words, he is most assuredly an impressive speaker. Finally, DS writes that
I attended Bronx public schools starting in 1948, so I can report on actual conditions then. Blackboard Jungle was a best selling book before it was a movie. The author Evan Hunter (Ed McBain) has written a gazillion books, mostly mysteries, and remains productive today.

Back when Blackboard Jungle was written, some inner city high schools did indeed have the type of crime problems portrayed in the book. It was also the case that much of the general public was not aware of these problems, so the book was quite shocking. The movie was less shocking, as I recall, since the book had already made its point.

It is striking that after forty years of increased spending and increased attention from state and federal governmental entities, the problems of inner city schools have gotten a lot worse.
If only we knew how to fix them...

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# Posted 11:37 AM by Patrick Belton  

I DON'T GET IT. Is he joking or something?
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# Posted 10:54 AM by Patrick Belton  

MORE ON GREEK ELECTIONS: A friend of ours in Greece writes to add his analysis of the elections taking place there today:
The Olympics are thought of as apolitical, really, and not something to get worked up about. Indeed a recent poll has show an alarming apathy towards them amongst the public. Also, I wouldn't say ND are 'edging ahead'. I have been here in Greece for a couple of years now. Last summer ND led PASOK by about 5 points. Since then, one of the two main issues has reared is ugly head: that was union power. I think it was September when the Govt capitulated to one of the major civil service unions, seemingly because it was scared of this 5% gap widening. This opened the floodgates, and it was 'beer and sandwiches' all round. Teachers, Lecturers, Doctor, Taxi drivers, and, yes, even prostitutes (here everything is unionised!) went on strike. I was worried that we were in for a winter of discontent, but somehow they managed to pay them off or stand them down. The damage was done, however, and a weakened government has just been limping along for a couple of months. The overall economy has moderate growth but is too resistent to structural change. Nothing for either party to really shout about. The other main factor is just the feeling that it is time for a change, that the present lot have become (too) corrupt and indifferent to their needs. Evidence for this is that when PASOK announced the PM would be retiring to let his foreign minister contest the election, their ratings jumped 5 points to make it 3 behind. The new guy, Papandreou, is no more popular a polician than the old one, Simitis, but just the change did them a lot good (but not good enough, unless the polls are wrong).

So, in summary, I'd say government weakness, corruption and staleness are what weigh on people's minds, and whether Papandreou can breathe new life into the Socialist party, or whether (possibly painful) economic and social structural reform by Karamanlis is desired.

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# Posted 8:08 AM by Patrick Belton  

GREECE VOTES TODAY: Turnout is expected to be high.
The main choice is between two political dynasties that have dominated modern political life.

On the right is New Democracy conservative leader Costas Karamanlis, nephew of a former prime minister who led Greece out of military dictatorship.

On the left, is Pan-Hellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK) leader George Papandreou, grandson and son of former prime ministers, who is bidding to win the fourth consecutive election for the socialists since 1993.
Conservatives are edging ahead in what is anticipated to be a highly close result, and in which bloated bureaucracy and the country's embarrassing abysmally stalled preparations for August's Olympic games have become the most pivotal issues. Economist reviews the issues and political dynamics, while Guardian, scaremongering, fixates on a marginal far-right parliamentary candidate who has been expelled from the conservative coalition.
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