OxBlog

Tuesday, April 13, 2004

# Posted 5:56 PM by Patrick Belton  

POLITICAL WEBSITE OF THE DAY: Apart, of course, from all of our friends in the blogosphere.... WaPo's Veep-o-matic: select up to five characteristics of the ideal vice presidential candidate for Senator Kerry to select (non-politician, southerner, live or work outside the beltway - hey, I'm not saying these are good characteristics to select a vice-president on....), and let the magic of 21st-century technology do the work for you.
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# Posted 5:23 PM by Patrick Belton  

PESACH IS A VERY NICE HOLIDAY when it comes, but it's an even nicer holiday when it ends. So a very happy chametz eating season, everyone!

Here are lots of nice leavened recipes, to help you celebrate: for Irish soda bread, crumpets, and lots of other nice yummy types of bread.
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# Posted 5:17 PM by Patrick Belton  

COUNTERTERRORISM AND DOMESTIC INTELLIGENCE IN DEMOCRACIES: RAND has a report gauging lessons learned from the experiences in domestic intelligence and counterterrorism of Britain, France, Canada, and other democracies.

Also from RAND lately, recommendations on organising counterterror responsibilities within the executive branch.
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# Posted 1:41 PM by Patrick Belton  

SENATOR KERRY GIVES HIS VIEWS ON IRAQ this morning in the WaPo. While some is sound-biteish ("Progress is not possible in Iraq if people lack the security to go about the business of daily life. Yet the military alone cannot win the peace in Iraq. We need a political strategy that will work."), some is unfair or incorrect (e.g., the attempt to make political hay out of the recent violence: "In the past week the situation in Iraq has taken a dramatic turn for the worse." Or the factually disputable claim in - "Finally, we must level with our citizens. Increasingly, the American people are confused about our goals in Iraq, particularly why we are going it almost alone.") - but a few ideas are quite interesting, including increasing the role of Nato in Iraq. My take: this piece includes a number of notes - some anti-war, some more hawkish - which Kerry will be trying out in public over the next few weeks, while the campaign is still in a low stage of intensity, to develop the views that he judges will meet with the best public response. A great deal of his ultimate foreign policy stance will depend on the result, and is currently up for grabs.
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# Posted 1:26 PM by Patrick Belton  

US TO STOP PATROLLING DMZ: The UPI is reporting that the U.S. military will relinquish its outpost along the Demilitarized Zone in October, in favour of permitting South Korea to take a greater role in its own self-defence. This comes at a time when President Roh Moo-hyun seeks to make good on campaign promises to move his country closer to its northern neighbour and away from the United States; the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade remains in favour of close defence ties with the United States. It's unclear, however, whether this latest move, intended to downplay the U.S. presence, will gladden too many hearts across the Korean political spectrum - Korea's conservatives worry that removing U.S. forces from the DMZ removes an important security tripwire, while liberals complain that the U.S. will now build new bases further to the south to replace the reployed soldiers.

The more salient and interesting question here is, did the United States act correctly here? The answer in the short term, most likely, is a clear yes. There are no friends to be won for the United States by its sticking around in countries where its presence isn't wanted. Basing represents as much a natural irritant to a relationship as a solidifier of ties, and it may well be that ties between Washington and Seoul will draw closer minus a few hundred adolescents away from home for the first time, and largely immunized against local prosecution for their misdeeds by a Status of Forces Agreement, along with the electoral irritant their presence often provides. And that troops of the 2nd Infantry Division might be safely brought home without prejudicing the nation's security is a view not only held among the South Korean electorate, warming toward their northern neighbour and chilling toward their nation's historical alliance partner, but also among such rather less sentimental and anti-American voices as, say, Michael O'Hanlon. Rumsfeld's plan to eliminate redundant command structures in Hawaii, Japan, and Korea makes eminent sense if it can actually be carried out in the face of service-level bureaucratic inertia. And that the present moment represents a particularly good time to draw down the American footprint in areas where it's outsized, in order to shift troops home or toward theatres where they're acutely needed, is as clear a proposition as they come.

It's the longer term that's somewhat more tricky. The drawing-down of American troops in Korea is clearly a very pleasant scenario for the Chinese, who for the past two decades have been pursuing a quiescent strategy in which they plan that a peacefully unified Korea will naturally fall into its orbit, along with Tiawanese reunification. In Beijing's post-normalisation calculus, this process will be nudged along as its economy and trade ties grow stronger in the Asia Pacific, while the United States grapples with unpopularity in the region stemming both from basing and the rise of opposition parties to unseat historically governing pro-U.S. parties, while at home it comes to face the domestic electoral and economic effects of overextension. While one recent War College paper suggests Guam as an alternate American basing site, however ideal Guam may be in logistical terms, as a politically symbolic ally it leaves a bit to be desired. But a drawing down of basing in politically problematic crowded Seoul and Okinawa, along with the construction of the groundwork of a new alliance with the foreign policy establishment of Roh's party - and the dramatic upgrading and restructuring of security ties with a Japan which looks ready to have outgrown its post-World War Two straightjacket - may represent as good a policy choice for the United States in Asia as is out there.
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# Posted 10:30 AM by Patrick Belton  

ROUND-UP: With Rachel having decided to erect a Mexican death shrine next to the sofa for my cold, laid out with lillies and various British cold ailment remedies, blogging at least holds out the possibility of making me feel slightly less like a 90 year-old Tamaulipeca woman waiting patiently for the angel of darkness.... (There's also something distinctly Indian in my shrine, too - most likely in the flowers - but I can't quite tease it out yet.)

Rob's suggesting the UN call on Sistani to crack down on Sadr, since Sistani seems to have deferred to it in the past. Meanwhile, Crooked Timber points out far-right tabloid speculation that Europe will become a province of Islam is utter demographic scaremongering, and touches on jurisdictional challenges in prosecuting spam.

Josh Kurlantzick points out that the internet has not been the death knell to authoritarianism that enthusiasts in the optimistic 1990s had hoped: the reasons why - principally the individual nature of web-surfing (but then again, what about such electronic political phenomena as blogging and meet-ups?), and the suppression of sites with political content (successfully "nailing jello to the wall," is his quote with regard to China). Still, in countries which unlike China and Singapore don't actively suppress independent electronic fora for political conversation, it sounds from this piece that there's likely a great deal of potential in spreading internet-mediated political technologies such as blogging and meet-ups to young populations that already frequent cybercafes, if only at present to download - merciless google troll coming - naked pictures of Brittney Spears and Paris Hilton kissing topless Osama Bin Laden while listening to free ringtones...

Christopher Hitchens points out, mercifully, that Iraq isn't Vietnam. Also in Slate, and equally mercifully, Lee Smith points out that Al-Jazeera's tendency of late toward conspiracy theories about the U.S. is unprofessional and silly. (Also awkward and silly is Bob Dylan in a bra, a phrase which is likely to win us substantially fewer google hits.)
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# Posted 9:25 AM by Patrick Belton  

MORE ON SUDAN: As genocide continues - and as human rights organizations continue to ignore it, preferring instead to comfortably attack the United States - Dan Geffen has more on the possible European response.

UPDATE: A former Oxford amnesty member emails in
OK, admittedly it's not as thorough as one would like (and dated 3 February so they are taking their eye off the ball) but still a step up from "ignoring" it...

http://web.amnesty.org/library/Index/ENGAFR540102004

How's Trinity at this time of year? Do the ducks still nest next to the
porter's lodge near Staircase 1?

Hope you're feeling better,

MP
Thanks!
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# Posted 4:41 AM by Patrick Belton  

I'M A SICK, SICK MAN: So possibly light posting from me today - too much Pesach celebrating and dissertating, I guess, not to mention cavorting with a sick, diseased woman. Go read Drezner instead. You could even enter our essay contest - deadline is May 1st!
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Monday, April 12, 2004

# Posted 4:59 PM by Patrick Belton  

I HAVE A NEW favourite ship in the Royal Navy! I'm referring, of course, to the HMS Belton, which has won my heart. She was a minesweeper, run aground heroically in the Hebrides in 1974. (But there was no naval action in Hebrides in 1974! No, but it sounds sort of like the Falkands, and they were only eight years after. Oh) Incidentally, those interested in my academic work will be gratified to know "Belton is busier than ever", according to the website of the village of Belton in Lincolnshire. You can also read about medieval Belton and Victorian Belton, and even visit Belton House, which has apparently after only four years of entertaining already been put on the tourist map!
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# Posted 11:04 AM by Patrick Belton  

GUINNESS IS GOOD FOR YOU: Now it's official.

UPDATE: But that doesn't mean it doesn't have its detractors nonetheless:
Although I don't always agree with you, I usually find your posts worthwhile or at least inoffensive. (Ed: new OxBlog slogan - "usually worthwhile or at least inoffensive!") In this case you are spreading psuedoscientific nonsense that could have serious detrimental effects on an entire class of people. The nutritional benefit of Guinness has been systematically exaggerated by corporate propaganda for a century. As more recent research has shown, Guinness is beneficial only as part of a balanced diet. Please see this link for proof.
The link goes on to note "So, to fulfill all of your daily nutritional requirements you would need to drink a glass of orange juice, two glasses of milk, and 47 pints of Guinness." (I actually know a bloke in Galway City who does that.) Personally, in this genre of biased, malinformed detractor literature, my preferences run toward the classic "Young Scientist Proves Guinness Not 'Good for you'"
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# Posted 9:36 AM by Patrick Belton  

IN BOSTON? WANT FUN? Our foreign policy society's Boston chapter is having its first meeting this week - if you live in the area, and would like to come along, please drop our friend and chapter president Ronan Wolfsdorf a note!

Also, warm thanks to Robert Tagorda in Los Angeles, Eric Hassman in San Francisco, Will Baude and Amanda Butler in Chicago, Justin Abold in Washington, Allen Dickerson and Roger Schonberg in New York, Tom Petrick in Houston, Marc Schulman in Miami, and now Lindsay Hayden at Yale for their kind efforts in starting up chapters of our foreign policy society around the country. If you'd like to get in touch with our friends in a city near you, please feel free to drop them a note!
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# Posted 9:25 AM by Patrick Belton  

JUST BECAUSE IT NEEDS TO BE SAID, AND LOUDLY: BAD. BAD. BAD.

Incidentally, a friend and I are planning to start up an ngo soon to foster cross-racial understanding and friendships in cities in the US and UK - I'll be asking for your suggestions, and more on that to come shortly.
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# Posted 6:07 AM by Patrick Belton  

OKAY, I DID IT. I have a confession to make. It was years ago, Rachel and I had broken up for a weekend, and I did it out of weakness. No, not go to one of the multiple students financing their Oxford education through prostitution - something much worse, and much darker. I sat down, in the dark, and in my weakness took a test for admission to a nerd group. I've pretty much been haunted by the results ever since. Particularly when I get emails like this:
UFO SIG: an international Mensa e-SIG for serious discussion about unidentified flying objects. (Ed: SIG="Special" Interest Group)

We are here to discuss unidentified sightings and experiences of our members. We encourage and welcome members with specific experiences to post a note about their observations to our group.
 
Whilst our group is factually-oriented, many of our members are also interested in science fiction. There are two international e-SIGs of possible interest to these members, M-Star Trek and M-Babylon 5. These groups' home pages are listed below.
 
FYI, our UFO SIG is the fastest-growing SIG in the history of international e-SIGs.

More links of interest to our members:
And unlike, say, much cooler clubs like the Illuminati, Skull and Bones or Freemasons, or even your average trip to the Madame in Magdalen, I think I'll be haunted by these folks for years to come.

MAILBAG: JH from Dallas notes "I joined long enough to get a Mensa Credit Card from
MBNA. I hand it to snotty waiters." Hey, good idea, can I get one? (a credit card, not a snotty waiter). And "Anon" from an academic email address takes a different tack entirely and writes: "Forget about all that Fallujah nonsense, what we all want to know about is the Madame of Magdalen. Does every college have one, and is there is an equivalent of the Norrington table?" No, but now we do have a slightly better idea where all those hits from "Oxford massage parlor" were coming from.
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# Posted 5:04 AM by Patrick Belton  

MORE ON TRANSLATING THE BLOGOSPHERE INTO ARABIC AND FARSI: I'm really grateful to everyone who wrote in with their thoughts on my post on providing Arabic and Farsi translations of blogs across the political spectrum, whether automatically by using a translation program or by having volunteers translate a "best of the web" roundup which would represent blogs from across the political spectrum, and could appear, say, once or twice a week.

Right now I'm leaning towards thinking that a human-translated "best of blogs" roundup might be looking like the more attractive option, given the inaccuracies in web translating software at this stage of the game, but I'm also happy to keep looking into both possibilities. For my part, our think tank'd be very happy to host and help administer the project with help, and create a movable type blog for the purpose. I'd be particularly interested in hearing from any of our readers who speak Arabic or Farsi, and who might be willing to help translate posts, perhaps once or twice a month. If you have any other suggestions or would like to help out, please drop us a note!
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Sunday, April 11, 2004

# Posted 8:18 PM by Patrick Belton  

WHAT THE BECK: I am about to do something which is illegal on British soil. Not to call for the abolition of the monarchy - actually, we here at OxBlog have generally had quite good things to say about the usefulness of the Queen in the nation's diplomacy and in Britain's efforts to maintain a higher world profile. (Anyway, who in South Africa ever gets excited about a visit from the imponderous President of, say, Ireland?) No, this is to do something far more dangerous - to question, loudly, what the heck all of the fixation with David Beckham was all about in the first place.

I mean, come on - he looks like a ren-faire geek, just if possible even less manly. How he ever convinces random Euro-femmes to commit adultery with him proves, I think, just how easily sex is to come by in post-Christian Europe. He got his wife's name tattooed on his arm in Hindi - but it's spelt incorrectly. He has allowed himself to be seen in public in a sarong, never a wise fashion choice for any English male. And as far as his hair - shaved off, cut into a Mohawk, long and wild and carefully done into plaits, he's always looked basically like a geek. Yes, yes, he slipped one past Greece in 2002 to draw and keep England in the World Cup, but he got stood up by Lisa Simpson, when the show's producers decided he wasn't well known enough in the States to receive a cameo role. And he named his kid Brooklyn? What, so he can develop a fondness for America and be playmates with Prince Michael II?

His and Posh Spice's three-week publicity tour of the States in June was, well, basically ignored. But perhaps there's another side to this, that we're missing. Which is that Beckham shows all of us that you can be an effeminate, geeky looking, and style-challenged English male, and still have a chance of pulling when you go to the Continent. Which perhaps is worth letting the bloke hang around, after all.

UPDATE: After early mistaken attempts involving Arab democracy and gay rights, OxBlog finally hits on the secret for filling up our inbox. Randy Paul from Beautiful Horizons writes in amusingly, "I'm an Arsenal and FC Barcelona fan, so my antipathy towards Beckham is well grounded, but in fairness to him he did name his oldest kid Brooklyn because he was conceived there. Thank God he wasn't conceived say in a hotel near LaGuardia in Flushing for example."
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# Posted 10:34 AM by Patrick Belton  

PB ON THE PDB: While Kevin's as usual been doing some really wonderful blogging lately, I'm not sure I agree with him here about the President's Daily Briefing from August 6 which was just released:
[W]hat really struck me was that the whole thing was so short - considerably shorter than your average op-ed column, in fact - and written at about a high school level. This is an intelligence briefing prepared at the request of the president of the United States and he was apparently satisfied with it? Eleven paragraphs of pabulum considerably less authoritative than an average article in Foreign Affairs? Sheesh.
Actually, I'm not really sure I agree with Kevin here. If you look through administrations at documents prepared for the president (the National Security Archive has one fairly nice collection online), they're as a rule never over two pages. And while I strongly support inquiries into and subsequent reforms of both the analytical process and the current sad shape of information sharing among bureaucracies, where there's an awfully lot of good work to be done - what strikes me about this particular briefing, having spent some portion of my life reading sterling samples of bureaucratic argot, is that it's clear, concisely written, and packs a good deal of information into a short memo. If you'd like to see something that's none of these things, look around most government documents.

MAILBAG: A graphic designer points out how the PDB, which he notes disapprovingly "looks like it was done in Word," could be made more effective as a way of presenting information. Hey, we have a substantial readership in the EOP and national security agencies - for what it's worth, we're all for making the daily briefing as effective (and pleasant-looking) a tool as possible!
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# Posted 6:57 AM by Patrick Belton  

A VERY HAPPY EASTER, TO ALL OF OUR READERS AND FRIENDS! The Pope, in his semiannual Urbi et Orbi message, urged humanity to oppose the "inhuman, and unfortunately growing, phenomenon of terrorism, which rejects life and brings anguish and uncertainty to the daily lives of so many hard-working and peaceful people. May [God's] wisdom enlighten men and women of good will in the required commitment against this scourge."

(SIDENOTE: Reuters, more colloquially, notes "Pop appeals for peace in Easter message." Which, semantically, is correct too - il papa)
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Saturday, April 10, 2004

# Posted 11:43 PM by Patrick Belton  

MORE ON IRANIAN SUPPORT FOR SHI'A INSURGENCY: London's Al-Hayat:
The direct Iranian presence in the Shi'ite areas of Iraq in the political, security, and economic affairs can not be ignored anymore. This presence is accompanied by a vigorous Iranian effort to create bridges with different forces in Iraq; first, by material and logistic aid to parties other than the Shi'a, and secondly through the traditional Iranian influence in the religious seminaries [hawza] and in the Marja'iya [religious Shi'a authorities] institutions.

A member of the Governing Council told Al-Hayat that the Iranians have recently managed to activate a known Marja' [a Shi'a cleric regarded as a religious authority], Kazem Al-Ha'iri, who lives in the city of Qum in Iran, and is known to be close to Al-Sadr's movement, and was regarded as an heir to Ayatollah Muhammad Sadeq Al-Sadr.

Iraqi security sources say that the escalation erupted after an American decision to oust Hassan Kazemi Qumi, the recently appointed chief Iranian agent in Iraq, who is an officer in the Iranian Revolutionary Guards... The sources connected the ousting of Qumi with Moqtada Al-Sadr's statements that his movement is an extension of the Lebanese Hizbullah and of Hamas... Sources said that the visit of an assistant of Moqtada Al-Sadr to Fallujah before the last uprising and Al-Sadr's statement that his movement is an extension of Hamas were both messages to his new allies among the Iraqi Sunnis.

It may well be that the Iranians, who apparently have influence in more than one sphere in Iraq, have intervened to reconcile the inner Shi'ite struggle for power. They intervened when Moqtada Al-Sadr sought to take control of the Husseini circle in Karbala, an attempt that the followers of Ayatollah Al-Sistani objected to. The Iranians worked out an arrangement under which large sums of money were sent to institutions belonging to Al-Sadr's family, which placated Al-Sadr, and satisfied him with controlling the Al-Kufa mosque only."
Al-Sharq Al-Awsat:
[former Iranian intelligence official in charge of activities in Iraq, who recently defected from Iran] Haj Sa'idi told Al-Sharq Al-Awsat that the Iranian presence in Iraq is not limited to the Shi'ite cities. Rather, it is spread throughout Iraq, from Zakho in the north to Umm Al-Qasr in the south, and the infiltration of Iranian Revolutionary Guards and the Al-Quds Army into Iraq began long before the war, through hundreds of Iranian intelligence agents, amongst them Iraqi refugees who were expelled by Saddam Hussein in the 1970's and 1980's to Iran, allegedly because of their Iranian origin, and who infiltrated back into Iraq through the Kurdish areas that were out of the Iraqi Ba'th government control.

After the war, the Iranian intelligence sent its agents through the uncontrolled Iraq-Iran border; some of them as students and clerics, and others as belonging to the Shi'ite militias.

Haj Sa'idi said that the assassination last summer of Ayatollah Muhammad Baqir Al-Hakim, who headed the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), was a successful operation carried out by the intelligence unit of the Iranian Al-Quds Army. He also revealed that there was a failed attempt on the life of the highest Shi'ite Marja, Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani, at the Eid Al-Adha holiday last year, and that there was another plan to assassinate Ayatollah Ishaq Al-Fayadh.

Haj Sa'idi claimed that some of the Iranian intelligence officers in Iraq are known to everybody, for example in Al-Suleimaniya and Derebendikhan in the north. However, he said, the real threat comes not from the officers that are known, but from those that are unknown. Amongst them are 18 Shi'ite charities in Kazimiya, in Al-Sadr city in Baghdad, in Karbala, Najaf, Kufa, Nasiriyah, Basra, and other cities with a large Shi'ite majority. In those offices, new agents are recruited every day, under the guise of financial aid, medicine, food, and clothing for the poor.

Haj Sa'idi said that the Iranian plan to turn Iraq into another Iran is a wide-ranging plan, and it involves the recruitment of thousands of young Shi'ites for the next stage, which will take place with the [first] parliamentary elections in Iraq. Those recruited now are supposed to enlist their relatives to vote for candidates that will be endorsed by the Iranian intelligence apparatuses.

Haj Sa'idi also mentioned that more than 300 reporters and technicians who are working now in Iraq for television and radio networks, newspapers, and other media agencies are in fact members of the Al-Quds Army and the Revolutionary Guards intelligence units.

He also mentioned that the Iranian money allocations for activities in Iraq, both covert and overt, reached $70 million per month. He claimed that 2,700 apartments and rooms were rented in Karbala and Najaf, in order to serve agents of the Al-Quds Army and the Revolutionary Guards.

Haj Sa'idi added that the attempt by the Kurdish authorities in northern Iraq to act against the Iranian activities there prompted a reaction by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards to incite the Turkmeni Shi'ites in the region against the Kurds. He claimed that many Turkmen Shi'ite commanders traveled to Iran and got huge financial support, as well as guarantees that Iran will stand by them in case of clashes between them and the Kurds.
Also in Al-Sharq Al-Awsat:
A source in the Quds Army of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard revealed to Al-Sharq Al-Awsat information relating to the construction of three camps and training centers on the Iranian-Iraqi borders to train elements of the "Mehdi Army" founded by Muqtada Al-Sadr. The source estimated that about 800-1,200 young supporters of Al-Sadr have received military training including guerilla warfare, the production of bombs and explosives, the use of small arms, reconnoitering and espionage. The three camps were located in Qasr Shireen, 'Ilam, and Hamid, bordering southern Iraq which is inhabited largely by Shi'a Muslims.

The newspaper also reported that the Iranian Embassy in Baghdad has recently distributed 400 satellite phones to supporters of Al-Sadr and to clerics and students at the A'thamiyya district of Baghdad, Al-Sadr City, and the holy city of Najaf, all of which are inhabited predominantly by Shi'a Muslims.

The Iranian source, known in Iraq as "Abu Hayder" confirmed that the intelligence service of the Revolutionary Guard has introduced to the Shi'a cities radio and TV broadcasting facilities which are used by Al-Sadr and his supporters.

During his recent visit to Iran, Al-Sadr met with Hashemi Rafsanjani, head of the Expediency Council as well as the head of the revolutionary guard intelligence, Murtadha Radha'i, and the commander of the Al-Quds Army responsible for Iraqi affairs, Brig. General Qassim Suleimani and other government and religious leaders.

The source estimated the financial support to Al-Sadr in recent months have exceeded $80 million, in addition to the cost of training, equipment and clothing of his supporters.

The source indicated that elements of the Al-Quds Army and the Revolutionary Guard Intelligence lead many of the operations directed against the coalition forces. These elements are also leading a campaign against the senior Shi'a clerics such as the Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani, Hussein Al-Sadr [Muqtada's uncle], Ishaq Al-Fayadh and others because of their opposition to the concept of "the Rule of the Jurist" [Wilayat Al-Faqih] which is Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's style of government.
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# Posted 5:28 PM by Patrick Belton  

BUMMER OF LUCK: I just received an email with the promising subject "GET PAID F@R Y@UR @PINI@NS" from OxBlog's estimable correspondent EUQQGBWVIAOKFB@bn.com.br.

But then it turned out that they were just looking for freelancer pundits, and were only going to pay 15 cents a word.

Pity.
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# Posted 3:41 PM by Daniel  

RICE AND RACE. I enjoyed Alessandra Stanley's article about the racial dynamics of Rice's appearance. Lee Hamilton's quote reminded me of the Chris Rock bit in "Bring the Pain" about how everyone always says Colin Powell is so well-spoken: "Well-spoken is not a compliment. Well-spoken is something you say about people you don't expect to be able to speak. How do they expect Colin Powell to sound? Like, I'm gonna drop me a bomb today!"
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# Posted 2:55 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

OXBLOG TO HINDUS -- WE FEEL YOUR PAIN: The WaPo reports that
[Prof.] Courtright was not the first to find Oedipal overtones in the Ganesha story. But his book became a rallying point for devout Hindus in the United States who say the academic study of their religion is completely at odds with the way they experience their faith.
The academic study of Christianity and Judaism also tend to be completely at odds with the way tens of millions of Christians and Jews experience their faith. For that matter, the academic study of politics is entirely at odds with the way most Americans experience politics.

As the son of a religious studies professor, however, I endorse the academic study of religion wholeheartedly. It constantly provides thoughful perspectives on one's faith that, at minimum, provoke informative debates. At best, such perspectives enrich the faith with their insights. And in the absence of contrarian perspectives, the faith tends to become inbred and stagant.

If you don't like what the academicians have to say, you can always treat their work the way actual politicians treat the work of political scientists: Just ignore it.
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# Posted 12:54 PM by Patrick Belton  

NOPE, NO JEWS OVER HERE: Not that England's any less welcome a place to be Jewish than, say, New York, but here is the unabridged text off the container of "Rakusen's Matzos: The big snack, low fat cracker for healthy appetites":
Matzos are ideal for those who prefer low fat diets. With no added salt Matzos can help reduce your sodium intake. Unlike other crackers, Rakusen's Matzos are simply a wholesome blend of fine English wheatflour and pure water. Each matzo is flame-baked in a traditional long oven for just sixty seconds to give them their incomparable crispness and subtle nutty flavour. Plate-sized Matzos contain no added salt or fat, making them a healthy, satisfying snack or lunchtime partner for toppings galore. Matzos - the original cracker that generations have enjoyed.
Note the studious avoidance of any mention of Passover or anything Jewish whatsoever. Nope, no Jews over here, just regular old English people enjoying a wholesome subtle nutty flavour - cheers, mate!

UPDATE: One of our friends wrote in to suggest this was because we hadn't bought the Kosher for Pesach matzos, which have Hebrew on the box. This may well be the case. But given the choice between a true and boring explanation, and an interesting but untrue one, you know which one I'll always pick...
 They could change the brand name to something a little less, you know, ethnic, like...
 
Definitely Not Jewish English Wheatflour and Water Crackers
Rakkossen's Finnish Flatbreads
Gatsby's Best Crackers
 
- MF, West Virginia
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# Posted 10:10 AM by Patrick Belton  

OPEN QUESTION TO READERS AND THE BLOGOSPHERE: We've all been following lately the efforts of Juan Cole and other like-minded folk to increase the quantity of western political discourse, both historical and contemporary, that's available in Arabic. There have also been a number of websites coming online lately - such as Babel Fish and Ajeeb - that have the capacity to translate automatically online text. These translation engines certainly don't provide perfect translations, but generally give ones that are competent enough to comprehend the meaning of the original text.

So my question is, does anyone out there have any ideas about how we might generate automatic Arabic (or Chinese, Farsi, Russian, or even Spanish and French) translations of English-language blogs from across the political spectrum? A number of writers have noticed a great thirst for political information and commentary in the Middle East, China, Russia, and other areas suffering under illiberal governance, and even in Latin America and francophone Africa it seems to me that making the American political debate readily available would increase understanding both of the United States and of the breadth of opinion within it.

I've been experimenting with Altavista's Babel Fish translation site (which offers Russian, Chinese, Spanish, and French translation), and while it thought our foreign policy society was a "cerveza inglesa," and couldn't even load OxBlog, InstaPundit, or Robert Tagorda, it did a fairly good job in translating both Kevin Drum and Matt Yglesias. My conclusion is that it must only read left-of-center blogs.

If anyone has ideas about whether this idea might be feasible, and how we might go about making it happen, I'd really love to hear from you. For my part I'm happy to help out however I can, and if it's helpful, our foreign policy society would be very happy, for instance, to host mirror sites of blogs from across the political spectrum on our server. Please let me know your ideas!

UPDATE: This has generated a lot of interest already, which I'm very grateful for. I think that one promising idea may be to rely on a handful of volunteer translators to translate into Arabic and Farsi a "best of the web" roundup, which would represent blogs from across the spectrum, and could appear, say, once or twice a week. For my part I'd be very happy to create a movable type blog for the purpose. I'd be very interested in hearing from any of our readers who speak Arabic or Farsi, and who might be willing to help translate posts. If you have any other suggestions or would like to help out, please drop us a note!
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# Posted 10:01 AM by Patrick Belton  

OPPORTUNITIES TO WORK IN THE CPA: We've just received this from a friend in Washington, who thought our readers might be interested:
SOFIA (Support Our Friends in Iraq and Afghanistan)

The Department of Defense is seeking to hire highly skilled and deeply motivated U.S. citizens to work as civilians assisting the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) in rebuilding the nations of Iraq and Afghanistan. This is a unique opportunity to serve our country.

People who submit a resume need to understand that conditions may be harsh, primitive and hazardous. Conversely, there may be few opportunities in life to make such a lasting contribution to world peace. Prior experience in the military should be a big help in adapting to the mission. Individuals will be hired by the department through the U.S. Army, which is the executive agent. For more information, please visit our website at: http://cpolwapp.belvoir.army.mil/sofia/.
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# Posted 9:35 AM by Patrick Belton  

FROM CHEESE TO NEOLOGISMS: Being a cultural francophile, even if my admiration of the country doesn't quite extend to any of its present or past political expressions, I'd like to note a very nice word for web-surfer that's originated in Paris: internaut.
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# Posted 8:48 AM by Patrick Belton  

MADONNA, IRELAND, KABALLAH: This all makes for a great joke, which I'll tell as soon as it isn't the triduum and pesach.
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# Posted 7:55 AM by Patrick Belton  

BEST OF THE WEB SITE RECOMMENDATION: And unlike Andrew's, you can even open this one at work.

The Information Warfare Site (UK) has got a quite nice website up, most notably including a compilation of all CRS reports as they're released, and news archives on subjects ranging from Al-Qaa'eda to cyberterrorism.

(Just disregard the Halloween-ish computer bug that makes all of the news stories appear to have been released on Friday 13 December....)
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# Posted 6:00 AM by Patrick Belton  

LARRY DIAMOND argues in the Journal the case for suppressing Sadr and his militia, and also indicates that sentiment in the CPA has been moving quickly toward the demobilization of all of the militias using financial and employment incentives.

My inclination is to agree with his argument that, absent the demobilization and disarmament of the militias, every step of the transition to democracy in Iraq - the formation of parties, registration of voters, election campaigns, casting and counting of votes - will be done under the shadow of militia intervention. And that sounds like a recipe more for democracy à la pakistanaise than anything we'd like to impart to the Iraqi people, if we could possibly avoid it.
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# Posted 5:47 AM by Patrick Belton  

MAYBE I SHOULDN'T HAVE BEEN SO QUICK TO LOSE MY VIRGINIANITY: The attorney general in Richmond is pressing charges against the first three people to be arrested under Virginia's anti-spam laws.
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# Posted 1:42 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THE CASE FOR NEGOTIATING: Two days ago I agreed with the WaPo that the United States should crush Moqtada Sadr and his outlaw militia. While I am still hanging on to that position, it is only by a thread. In the NYT, Yitzhak Nakash makes a very persuasive case for letting Ayatollah Sistani broker a ceasefire.

While Nakash comes across as somewhat naive, he makes one extremely persuasive point: that what Sadr wants even more than to end the occupation is to establish his dominance within the Shi'ite community. If Sistani brokers a settlement, it will re-establish his preeminence among Shi'ites and put the transition process back on track.

What Nakash fails to acknowledge is that negotiating with Sadr elevates him to level of respect that he hardly deserves. Yet doing so may be worthwhile, if Sadr consents to the verifiable demobilization of his militia while pledging to respect both the process and results of Iraq's first national elections next winter. Without a verifiable demobilization, however, there is no point in demanding Sadr's lip service to a democratic process he wants to destroy.

The case against negotiation is made rather well by David Brooks. There is good reason to believe that the great majority of Shi'ites, both clerics and parishioners, want nothing to do with Moqtada Sadr. We have to be patient now, rather than accepting at face value the unsubstantiated assertion that Sadr is leading a nationwide revolt.

Of course, the paper that Brooks happens to write for is reporting exactly the opposite: "Account of Broad Shiite Revolt Contradicts White House Stand". While I think it's premature to compare the Times' reporting to Drudge, its reliance on unnamed sources in the US intelligence community is somewhat problematic.

The sources in question provide no specific information to reinforce their claims. Moreover, there is no indication of whether the Times' sources represent a majority or minority opinion within the intelligence establishment. If it is a majority opinion, I expect to see other news outlets confirm the story while providing additional sources. If it is a nationwide revolt, we will have no choice to negotiate.
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# Posted 12:50 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THE COVER UP IS ALWAYS WORSE THAN THE CRIME: Nixon and Watergate. Reagan and Iran-Contra. Clinton and Monica. None of them was punished for what they did. They were punished for lying about it.

All of them were second-term presidents, re-elected by a landslide. None of them learned the lessons of the past, thus condemning themselves to relive it. And now George W. Bush has brought himself to the brink of another major embarrassment because he has refused to learn from the mistakes of his predecessors. The editors of the WaPo observe that
The testimony of national security adviser Condoleezza Rice before the federal Sept. 11 commission justified President Bush's decision to authorize her exceptional appearance.
In other words, if Bush had dispatched Rice to Capitol Hill before being forced to do so, her testimony would have become a footnote, not a banner headline. Even though nothing that Rice said was new or interesting, her simple presence in the spotlight has motivated the administration's critics to pick up charges that had once been dropped.

We have known for almost two years that Bush was warned in August 2001 about Al Qaeda's intention to launch a major attack on US territory. Even back then, Condoleeza Rice didn't want to give an honest account of the the warning's exact contents. The WaPo reported at the time that
New accounts yesterday of the controversial Aug. 6 memo provided a shift in portrayals of the document, which has set off a political firestorm because it suggested that bin Laden's followers might be planning to hijack U.S. airliners.

In earlier comments this week, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice and other administration officials stressed that intelligence officials were focused primarily on threats to U.S. interests overseas. But sources made clear yesterday that the briefing presented to Bush focused on attacks within the United States, indicating that he and his aides were concerned about the risks.
Perhaps because she wasn't punished for misleading the public the first time around, Rice has chosen to do so again. She told the 9/11 Commission that the August briefing consisted of "historical information based on old reporting. There was no new threat information. And it did not, in fact, warn of any coming attacks inside the United States." Yet
Several Democratic commissioners said in yesterday's hearing that the briefing also includes significant details about suspected al Qaeda sleeper cells and their plans to carry out domestic hijackings. The commission has demanded that the briefing be made public, a step that White House officials said yesterday was likely. "We hope to be able to make it available," communications director Dan Bartlett said.
And the WaPo is already reporting as fact that the Aug. 6 briefing contained specific information about Al Qaeda plans in progress. Even so, the publication of the full contents of the briefing may not embarrass the President:
Republican John F. Lehman, a former Navy secretary, is one of seven commissioners who have seen only a summary of the PDB. He said the current information within it is not particularly specific.

"On the FBI's part of it, it says don't worry about it, we've got 70 field investigations going," Lehman said. "That's the tone of it. . . . I found it to be net favorable to the president, which is why I can't understand why they were so restrictive in the first place [about] letting us have access to it."
Why was the administration so restrictive? Simple. Because it has learned nothing from the examples set by Nixon, Reagan and Clinton. The cover up is always worse than the crime.

But more important than the similarity between Bush and his predecessors is the difference: Bush is up for re-election. What if 2 or 3 percent of the electorate -- independent voters, not Democratic partisans -- stop trusting the President's because of his unwillingness to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth? What if Thomas Kean, the Republican chairman of the 9/11 commission declares that the attacks on New York and Washington could have been avoided? Reagan and Clinton had nothing to lose but their reputation. Bush may lose his job.

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Friday, April 09, 2004

# Posted 10:52 AM by Patrick Belton  

A VERY HAPPY GOOD FRIDAY to all of our readers and friends.
The wounded surgeon plies the steel
That questions the distempered part;
Beneath the bleeding hands we feel
The sharp compassion of the healer's art
Resolving the enigma of the fever chart.

Our only health is the disease
If we obey the dying nurse
Whose constant care is not to please
But to remind of our, and Adam's curse,
And that, to be restored, our sickness must grow worse.

The whole earth is our hospital
Endowed by the ruined millionaire,
Wherein, if we do well, we shall
Die of the absolute paternal care
That will not leave us, but prevents us everywhere.

The chill ascends from feet to knees,
The fever sings in mental wires.
If to be warmed, then I must freeze
And quake in frigid purgatorial fires
Of which the flame is roses, and the smoke is briars.

The dripping blood our only drink,
The bloody flesh our only food:
In spite of which we like to think
That we are sound, substantial flesh and blood—
Again, in spite of that, we call this Friday good.
- "East Coker," IV, T.S. Eliot
See also Eliot's teacher Donne, in his metaphysical sonnets addressing, as always, theological mystery with wit:
Who sees Gods face, that is selfe life, must dye;
What a death were it then to see God dye?
It made his owne Lieutenant Nature shrinke,
It made his footstoole crack, and the Sunne winke.
Could I behold those hands which span the Poles,
And tune all spheares at once, peirc'd with those holes?
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# Posted 7:18 AM by Patrick Belton  

ADVERTISING FOR SPECIAL FORCES IN THE NEWSPAPER: Dishwasher, secretary, automative electronic specialist, commando....

The Army has attracted a bit of publicity lately by offering a direct enlistment option into special forces. The option permits enlistees to attempt the Special Forces Qualification Course immediately after finishing basic training, AIT, and jump school, rather than serving a number of years in the ranks and then attempting the course as an E-4 The wash-out rate for the course, however, is rather high - and enlistees who don't successfully complete the course will likely be heading to Iraq as 11B infantrymen.
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# Posted 5:42 AM by Patrick Belton  

WASHINGTON GIVES IN TO BEIJING, PULLS CHIEF DIPLOMAT IN TAIWAN: Washington has given in to Beijing's repeated requests and pulled diplomat Therese Shaheen from the American Institute in Taiwan, where she was Washington director. Shaheen's clashes with the White House were intensified when she issued a letter of congratulations to President Chen Shui-bian for his election victory before the White House had issued its own.

That the nation's diplomats must hew to the instructions of the president they represent is beyond question the president's prerogative; that Washington give into Beijing's pressure in the personnel which it sends to Taiwan, however, is both kow-towing and reprehensible beyond measure.
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# Posted 5:32 AM by Patrick Belton  

CEASEFIRE IN FALLUJAH: We received this press release from the CPA by email indicating a U.S. ceasefire in Fallujah; the WaPo reports it is for the aim of allowing a delegation of sheikhs from the city to travel to the Marine base outside of Fallujah for negotiations. Other sources report that the ceasefire is also to allow humanitarian access to the city:
Today at 1200, Coalition Forces initiated a unilateral suspension of offensive operations in Fallujah in order to hold a meeting between members of the Interim Governing Council, Fallujah leadership and leaders of the anti-Coalition forces, to allow delivery of additional supplies provided by the Iraqi Government, and to allow residents of Fallujah to tend to wounded and dead. During this suspension period, Coalition Forces retain the inherent right of self defense, and will remain fully prepared to resume offensive operations unless significant progress in these discussions occurs.
In other Iraq news, while Japan has stood strong against the insurgents' despicable seizure of three citizens, with the threat to burn them if Japan does not withdraw its forces in the Iraqi theatre - Thai PM Shinawatra has ordered his nation's troops to stay in their camp in Kerbala until fighting ceases.

UPDATE: Ceasefire over after 90 minutes. WaPo: "Lt. Col. Brennan Byrne, the commander of the U.S. Marine unit in southeast Fallujah, told reporters on the scene in Fallujah that offensive operations were being suspended to allow women and children and men too old to fight leave the battered city en masse in response to pleas from religious leaders in Fallujah." CNN, though, has reports that it's still on.

UPDATE 2: Amusingly, a friend in the CPA was reading this and writes:
I jumped on your blog briefly and wanted to let you know that the suspension of offensive actions against Fallujah are still on, as of BG Mark Kimmitt’s briefing about an hour and a half ago. We unilaterally suspended any actions at noon today for all the reasons the press releases lists and actions remain suspended at this time. The Marines do retain, however, the right to self-defense if fired on. My guess is that this is where the misleading reports are coming from – a media outlet hears a couple of shots and assumes we are resuming actions.
Thanks!
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# Posted 5:28 AM by Patrick Belton  

PAKISTANI FUNDAMENTALIST OPERATIVES IN IRAQ: Outlook India writes about the links between Pakistan's Lashkar-e-Taiba and the Islamists fighting the United States in Iraq.
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# Posted 5:22 AM by Patrick Belton  

JUST HOW BROADLY BASED IS THE "BROAD-BASED SHI'A INSURGENCY"? Arthur Guray from Tripias writes that the NYT cites unnamed reports that there is a "general mood" that anti-Americanism is rising and the insurgence is becoming widespread, while
AP, Reuters, CBS, MSNBC, and WaPo all either flatly state in their reports that there is no sign of the insurgence becoming widespread, or don't discuss it (as in WaPo's case). The NYTimes has descended into Drudge Journalism.
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# Posted 4:58 AM by Patrick Belton  

AL-SADR NOT SUPPORTED BY OTHER SHI'A LEADERS: Al-Sistani has sought to marginalise Al-Sadr after, among other things, Al-Sadr assassinated Shi'a cleric Abd Al-Majid Al-Khoei, who was the grandson of Al-Sistani's mentor Ayatollah Abu Al-Qassem Al-Khoei. Ayatollah Al-Sistani is also reputed to be quite sore at Al-Sadr for his attempt to grab by force the revenues of Al-Hawza derived from religious pilgrims visiting Shi'a holy sites in Najaf and Karbala. This coldness is reflected in the fact that Al-Sistani has refused to grant a meeting to Al-Sadr. MEMRI has an analysis.
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Thursday, April 08, 2004

# Posted 7:38 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THE TRUTH ABOUT AL QAA'IDA: Ever since advertising my minimal knowledge of Arabic, the demands have been piling up for an explanation of one of the most perplexing aspects of the War on Terror: Why do some people spell 'al Qaida' with an 'i', whereas others spell it with an 'e', as in 'al Qaeda'?

To ensure a definitive answer, I decided to ask Harvard linguistics impresario CH for an answer. (Asking him was a good idea, since I would've given you a wrong answer otherwise.) So here goes:

The middle syllable of 'Qaida' is a long 'e', which most linguists write out as 'i'. CH speculates that the alternate spelling 'al Qaeda' emerged because experts in Persian (of whom there are many) prefer to write out long 'e' as 'e'.

Now, if one is going to invest the effort in understanding how to spell the name of the terrorist organization founded by Mr. bin Laden, one may as well learn how to pronounce it as well. First comes the 'al', meaning 'the'. Most people seem to know that this part is pronounced like the first syllable in the word 'olive' and not like the first name of Mr. Gore.

It's the 'Qaeda' that most people get wrong. Usually, it gets pronounced either 'al KAY-da' or 'al KY (rhymes with 'sky')-da'. Both are wrong for the same reason: they assume that there are two syllables in the word, not three. Actually, it's more like 'al KAA-i-da'.

The double 'a' is very important. In Arabic, a 'long' vowel actually has to sound longer than a short one. When writing out Arabic words in English, one indicates the presence of a long vowel either by doubling the vowel or putting a horizontal bar over it.

Now what about this whole 'Q'-instead-of-'K' business? Well, in Arabic there are two letters that have a 'K' sound, but one of them is aspirated, which means that a burst of air comes out along with the sound. Sometimes this gets written out as 'kh' instead of 'q' because the 'sound' of 'h' is really just an aspiration.

Finally, we come back to the long 'e' that started this whole discussion in the first place. There is actually an invisible consonant which precedes it, but which is unpronounceable in English. The letter is called 'ayin' in Arabic and sounds sort of like someone clearing their throat. When written in English, ayin becomes an apostrophe.

So, in the final analysis, the most precise way to write 'al Qaida' is actually 'al Qaa'ida'. (Of course, you don't have to capitalize the 'Q' since there are no capital letters in Arabic.)

If you've read this far, you'll probably also want to know why 'Taliban' also gets spelled as 'Taleban'. As CH points out, 'Taliban' is actually a Persian or Dari word, not an Arabic one (although there is an Arabic cognate for it which also means 'students'). And since long 'e' is written as 'e' when transliterating Persian, the proper spelling is 'Taleban'. However, English speakers are more likely to pronounce the long 'e' correctly if it is transliterated as 'i' in this context.

And since Kevin asked: There is no good reason for American newspapers to drop the 'al from 'al Qaeda' in order to save space in headlines. No Arabic newspaper would do that.
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# Posted 6:33 AM by Patrick Belton  

ALL MY ROWDY FRIENDS ARE COMIN' OVER TONIGHT: The WashTimes is citing military sources that al-Sadr is receiving support from Iran and Hizbullah - the source indicates that money, moral support, and possibly weapons as well are coming from across the border.
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# Posted 12:49 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

GONE AWOL? Greg Djerejian comments on America's failing effort to get Iraq's security forces ready to take care of themselves.
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# Posted 12:31 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THE PROTESTANTS AND THE DEVIL'S ADVOCATE: I have continued to receive many, many thoughtful responses to my comments on the Jewish-Christian relationship. (MP has also responded via blog.) One important thread of the conversation concerns how Protestants might respond to my comments differently than Catholics. DK writes that
Most progressive Christians would NOT reinterpret the Gospels to mitigate anti-Semitism. In fact, most of the "progressive" Christians I know would
explicitly say that yes, some parts of the Gospels are openly anti-Semitic, and other parts of the Bible are pro-slavery or anti-women or anti-gay. The prevailing progressive argument is that those parts reflect not the word of God, but the human prejudices of the writers, and that our new historical understanding of the Bible should lead us to reject entirely prejudiced-sounding passages that conflict with the divine command to love your neighbor. The usual argument is that the original oral or written Jesus stories contained nothing anti-Semitic (and were told by people who would self-identify as Jewish followers of Jesus), but statements blaming the Jews were added many years later, after violence had broken out between Christians and Jews who had previously shared the same synogogues and gatherings. So progressives would recommend excision over reinterpretation here.
I'm down with that. My only concern is that the percentage of Christians willing to embrace excision is not that high. (Although MF indicates that it may work out for the Orthodox.) Anyhow, DK adds that
Furthermore, many Protestants would disagree entirely with your comment that the Gospel's "[place] collective blame on the Jewish people for the death of Christ ... [as] an integral aspect of [their] theological agenda."

The problem with this statement are the words "blame" and "collective blame." It is pretty clear to me (and a longstanding Protestant dogma) that both of these concepts are alien to the Gospels and their agenda...Regarding collective blame, at least since the time of Martin Luther Protestants both progressive and non- have seen the Gosepls as entirely about individual guilt and redemption, and not in the least about collective guilt. This is even true in the most extreme theologies of original sin -- in Jonathan Edward's "Sinners in the hands of an Angry God" sermon, you aren't hanging by a thread for the sins of Adam, but for your own personal, specific sins flowing from your personal depravity, laziness, and wickedness.

IMHO, this does not absolve the Gospels of the charge of anti-Semitism, as Martin Luther himself was very non-progressive and very anti-Semitic. He was prejudiced, but he would have rejected any notion of collective guilt.
That also sounds about right, even though I hardly know enough about Protestantism to say so decisively. At the same time, I have vague recollections of Jews being called 'Christ-killers' even by American Protestants. Was I just not paying attention to who was accusing me of killing their Savior? Or has theological consistency sometimes been subordinated to the politics of anti-Semitism? I really don't know. Moving on, DC says
You wrote:

"Yet the message of the text seems clear: that only those Jews who abandon their own religion and become followers of Christ can overcome the burden of guilt that the Jewish people took upon itself by sentencing Him to death."

The problem with your sentence is that it doesn't require the term "Jew." That's the message of the Gospels for everybody. We all must overcome our guilt at having killed Him and become followers in order to find redemption and grace. There's no "special" burden on the "Jewish people" to overcome something extra.

I?ve been a practicing Episcopalian for 34 years and I've never once taken the view that the Jews in particular have anything special for which to atone. I have also never once heard that view espoused by any clergy or lay members of any congregation to which I have belonged. I can?t even remember any discussion of ?the Jewish people.? Church discussion centers on "mankind" as a whole. The central message has always been that humanity killed Christ. If you really think of, it was Judas who killed Christ and he was a disciple!
This point again leads me to turn inward and ask if the perils of persecution have prevented Jews from learning enough about Christianity to help overcome the divide. I hope that DC's perspective has gained widespread acceptance among Protestants. Yet when confronted with an unfortunate cultural artifact such as The Passion, my instincts take over and sometimes all I can hear is "Christ-killer."
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Wednesday, April 07, 2004

# Posted 11:51 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

FROM A TEACHER TO HIS PUPIL: Thurston Moore eulogizes Kurt Cobain. (In the NYT, of all places.) I was a junior in high school when Cobain killed himself. I resented him for it. What right did he have to take away from all of us our source of inspiration? I know he didn't want to be a role model, but couldn't he show us that there is more to life than wandering through it in a drug-addled haze and ending it all with a shotgun blast?

I thought Nirvana would be forgotten after a while. Sure, we all believed that Nevermind had changed everything about what it meant to be a teenager in America. But teenagers always believe that what they care about is profound and historic. Toward the end of college, however, I began to notice that there were just as many Nirvana-clad kids wandering around Greenwich Village. They had the same angry and sensitive look we sought to perfect back in high school.

I always figured that if Nirvana survived, it would be a product of nostalgia. Those of us who remembered high school fondly would wear their Nirvana t-shirts on weekends. But I was completely wrong, and thank God for that. The music has survived the cultural moment in which it was created. Kids who were seven years old when Cobain died now think he's the greatest thing since sliced bread. I just hope that in another ten years it will still be the same way.
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# Posted 10:52 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

BEIJING CLAMPS DOWN: The CCP doesn't want direct elections in Hong Kong. I'm waiting to hear what the people have to say.
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# Posted 10:46 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

LIVING IN A GLASS HOUSE:
"John Kerry's newfound interest in fiscal discipline is a political gimmick that defies his 20-year record in the Senate and stands in stark contrast to his reckless and expansive promises of new government spending on the campaign trail," said Steve Schmidt, a Bush campaign spokesman.
If only George Bush had discovered that gimmick for himself before racking up a $400 billion deficit.
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# Posted 10:21 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

MORE BAD NEWS FROM IRAQ: Heavy fighting continues. There are further signs of a Shi'ite-Sunni alliance as well as indications that the depth of Shi'ite resentment is greater than expected. Perhaps recognizing that it is best to admit ones mistakes quickly, Donald Rumsfeld has announced that the occupation force will grow by as much as 25,000. Of course, that means that a lot of soldiers who deserve a rest will have to spend even longer away from home.

On the homefront, the politics of the occupation are getting louder. Joe Biden and John McCain are reminding the administration that responsible voices on both sides of the partisan divide wanted a larger occupation force from the outset. John Kerry is keeping his powder dry by offering vague criticism of the President while insisting that the United States must stabilize Iraq. However, Robert Byrd is doing his best to undermine Kerry's responsible stand by declaring that
"Surely I am not the only one who hears echoes of Vietnam in this development," said Mr. Byrd, referring to the possibility of an increase in troops. "Surely, the administration recognizes that increasing the U.S. troop presence in Iraq will only suck us deeper into the maelstrom of violence that has become the hallmark of that unfortunate country. Starkly put, at this juncture, more U.S. forces in Iraq equates more U.S. targets in Iraq."
While Ted Kennedy, Pat Buchanan and Maureen Dowd might agree, Coalition forces come across are fairly confident.
"We will attack to destroy the al-Mahdi Army," Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, a military spokesman, told reporters today. "Those attacks will be deliberate, precise and they will succeed.

"As long as we keep paying attention to the fact that ultimately it's the moderate Iraqis who we're here to serve, I don't think we're going to have much to worry about."
I hope that such confidence is well-grounded. At minimum, I'm glad that Kimmit placed just as much emphasis on the political dimension of the struggle as the military. On a related note, the question of civilian casualties and collateral damage has begun to reemerge as a result of a rocket attack in Fallujah. The WaPo reports that
Witnesses told Arab journalists in the city that as many as 40 people were killed in the bombing, although the U.S. military said it had no reports of any civilian casualties.
In contrast, the headline of the NYT article about today's fighting is "US Rockets Reportedly Kill Over 2 Dozen Iraqis in Falluja". The Times goes on to report that
American marines fired rockets at a wall surrounding a mosque in Falluja, west of Baghdad, killing more than two dozen people, news agencies reported, quoting witnesses who said the death toll could be as high as 40.
I'm guessing that the "news agencies" referred to by the Times are the same as the "Arab journalists" mentioned by the Post. More importantly, I hope that as few civilians as possible were killed. As always, it comes down to hearts and minds.
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# Posted 2:15 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

OXBLOG DREAM JOB:
Lam Nguyen's job is to sit for hours in a chilly, quiet room devoid of any color but gray and look at pornography. This job, which Nguyen does earnestly from 9 to 5, surrounded by a half-dozen other "computer forensic specialists" like him, has become the focal point of the Justice Department's operation to rid the world of porn.

In this field office in Washington, 32 prosecutors, investigators and a handful of FBI agents are spending millions of dollars to bring anti-obscenity cases to courthouses across the country for the first time in 10 years.
I agree with Glenn. This is completely ridiculous. Those prosecutors and FBI agents should be hunting down terrorists. But Ashcroft is Ashcroft, so what can you do?

Well, here's a modest proposal: Let some of the Taliban guys out of Gitmo early on the condition that they volunteer for DOJ's anti-porn task force. They should do a good job, since they tend to share Ashcroft's militantly anti-porn stance. Moreover, they should work for peanuts since they're used to Afghan wages. And then the FBI guys can focus on Al Qaeda.

The biggest drawback to this plan is that it will antagonize opponents of outsourcing. After all, why should we be giving jobs to the Taliban when there are hundreds of thousands of unemployed Americans who want nothing more than to look at porn all day while getting paid by the government?
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# Posted 8:11 AM by Patrick Belton  

WAITING FOR NEWDOW: Along with Amanda from Crescat, Leon Wieseltier from TNR also was in the gallery during the oral arguments for Newdow. His observations are worth noting - what came to his mind, in the midst of the jarring of counsels making the worse argument the better, was rather
a shrewd and highly un-American observation that was included among the aphorisms in Either/Or: "The melancholy have the best sense of the comic, the opulent often the best sense of the rustic, the dissolute often the best sense of the moral, and the doubter often the best sense of the religious." The discussion that morning fully vindicated the majesty of the chamber, as legal themes gave way to metaphysical themes and philosophy bewitched the assembly. But something strange happened. Almost as soon as philosophy was invited, it was disinvited. It seemed to make everybody anxious, except the respondent. I had come to witness a disputation between religion's enemies and religion's friends. What I saw instead, with the exception of a single comment by Justice Souter, was a disputation between religion's enemies, liberal and conservative. And this confirmed me in my conviction that the surest way to steal the meaning, and therefore the power, from religion is to deliver it to politics, to enslave it to public life.
His ensuing reflections on the relationship of belief, unbelief, and the search for truth within a polity are worth reading.
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# Posted 7:46 AM by Patrick Belton  

AND ONE SECTOR'S POSITIVELY BOOMING: Defence contractor SAIC, mercifully a quite nice company which does a great deal of DOD and national security contracting, posts a profit up 43% for this fiscal year.
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# Posted 4:10 AM by Patrick Belton  

FROM THE REFERRAL LOGS: OxBlog is apparently your blog of choice if you're bored, looking for something interesting in the news, searching for rude Patrick or Patrick Gaddis (and no, I didn't change my last name to kiss up when I took Cold War history), if you want culinary advice about What can I do with smoked salmon?, and my personal favorite, the oddly evocative "embarrassment restraint".
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# Posted 1:03 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THROWING DOWN THE GAUNTLET: Kevin Drum says that things in Iraq are shot to all hell. Moreover, this is proof that all those who criticized the media for manufacturing bad news about the occupation -- Who, me? -- should admit that they were wrong and the media was right.

Well, I'm going to hold off for now, first and foremost because I have an Arabic test at 9AM tomorrow. But also because there are some broader questions that I want to take the time to think over.

First of all, can what is going wrong in Iraq now be traced to what the media asserted was going wrong in Iraq all along? Over the past few months, the media has mainly been saying that the United States' great mistake was not to take Ayatollah Sistani's demands more seriously earlier on, since he commands overwhelming support among Iraq's majority Shi'ites. Did American hesitance to compromise with Sistani increase Moqtada Sadr's support, or did the media simply drop the ball on this one?

Second, what will happen if the media's most persistent critics go back and read the specific stories that we criticized for being one-sided or pessimistic? Do current events demonstrate that the flaws we detected in those stories were actual strenghts? Or are such flaws still present and unrelated to recent violence?

My guess is that I actually will go back and do some of the research necessary to answer these questions, if only because I'm a little taken aback by the sneering tone of the almost always affable Calpundit. What will I find? Who knows.

UPDATE: Compared to Kevin, Matt Yglesias is rather sanguine about today's violence. On the other hand, Matt has some tough but fair comments about a recent gauntlet I threw his way on the media bias issue. To clarify, I don't believe that moderate liberals see the media as fundamentally objective. Rather, they see the media's subjectivity as politically neutral. In contrast, Matt asserts that the media (inadvertently?) favors conservatives.
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# Posted 12:40 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THE PLURAL OF AL QAEDA: Since I have an Arabic test tomorrow, I thought I'd share some Arabic language trivia with you. As many of us know, 'Al Qaeda' means 'the base' or 'the foundation'. However, it does not just refer to physical objects, but also to concepts. Thus, the plural of Al Qaeda, 'Al Qawaid', means 'grammar'. Why? Because grammar is the foundations a language.

Now, it may just be a coincidence, but should we be surprised that George Bush is at war with grammar?
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# Posted 12:34 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

MAKING HISTORY ON THE COURT: Congratulations to UConn for becoming the first university ever to win both the men's and women's titles in NCAA basketball.
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# Posted 12:28 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

MARINES TAKE HEAVY CASUALTIES: It is a sad day. Heavy fighting against Sunni insurgents in Ramadi has taken the lives of 12 Marines. Coalition forces are also taking casualties in the struggle against Moqtada Sadr's Shi'ite militia in Baghdad and southern Iraq.

Are these losses the unfortunate price of victory? Or are they an indicator that something has gone wrong on the battlefield? Honestly, I don't know. The Marines say that they have secured Fallujah, where four American civilians were killed and mutilated this past week. It seem to early to say whether the struggle against Sadr's militia is going well or not.

Reports place the strength of the Sadr militia at anywhere from 3,000 to 10,000. Whether those are trained fighters or simply hangers-on I have no idea. As such, it is hard to say how strongly motivated Sadr forces are. Are they ideologically committed to establishing a Shi'ite theocracy? Or will they fall back when confronted with Coalition firepower and the condemnation of mainstream Shi'ites?

Speaking more broadly, does the recent outbreak of violence represent a serious threat to the stability of Iraq? As the NYT aptly put it,
One of the biggest questions at day's end was the role of most of the majority Shiites previously thought to be relatively sympathetic to American goals.
While Ayatollah Sistani has issued a decree urging Iraq's Shi'ites to remain calm, Moqtada Sadr is positioning himself rhetorically as a supporter of the Ayatollah. To that end, Sadr announced that "I proclaim my solidarity with Ali Sistani, and he should know that I am his military wing in Iraq." It is hard to know whether Sadr actually expects to win the Ayatollah over to his cause or whether he simply wants to draw as many mainstream Shi'ites as possible into his fold.

Another emerging question is the degree to which Shi'ite and Sunni radicals may unite against occupation forces. In one Sunni neighborhood in Baghdad, residents marched alongside the Shi'ite followers of Moqtada Sadr:
"What Moqtada Sadr did simply woke up the people," said Sarmad Akram, 36, who owns the small food shop next door. "Now the people have the guts to resist."

The exchange, in a middle-class Sunni quarter, was one scene Tuesday that appeared to challenge the assessment by U.S. military officials that Sadr speaks for only a radical fringe in Iraq and that his calls for mass resistance will resonate only with his followers.
Well, I hope not. And I expect not. Every sign until now has pointed to a broad Shi'ite preference for Ayatollah Sistani's strategy of taking control of Iraq through democratic means. The current uprising may provide a chance for a significant number of Shi'ites to vent their frustration, but unless mainstream leaders throw their support behind it, I don't see how it can gain momentum. On the other hand, those who know Iraq far better than I do are concerned. According to John Burns,
In effect, the militia attacks confronted the American military command with what has been its worst nightmare as it has struggled to pacify Iraq: the spread of an insurgency that has stretched a force of 130,000 American troops from the minority Sunni population to the majority Shiites, who are believed to account for about 60 percent of Iraq's population of 25 million.

Privately, senior American officers have said for months that American prospects here would plummet if the insurgency spread into the Shiite population, leaving American and allied troops with no safe havens anywhere except possibly in the Kurdish areas of the north.
Incidentally, Burns was briefly taken prisonerby Shi'ite radicals earlier today. In contrast to Burns, the editors of the WaPo have chosen to see the silver lining behind the hovering clouds:
For months it has been evident that it will be impossible to stabilize Iraq under a transitional government, much less stage the democratic elections planned for next year, unless factional militias are disarmed and disbanded. Mr. Sadr's Mahdi Army is the most dangerous among them. For weeks there has been a debate inside the occupation administration about whether and how to confront Mr. Sadr; by ordering attacks on coalition troops Sunday, the cleric may have ensured that a painful but necessary battle will go forward...

But now that the conflict with the Mahdi Army has begun, U.S. commanders should not hesitate to act quickly and with overwhelming force.
I tend to agree. There is nothing to be gained by cooperating with anti-democratic extremists. The faster that the United States crushes them -- while minimizing civilian casualties -- the faster it will demonstrate that there is no alternative to the interim constitution and the coming elections. In theory, one might call upon the United Nations to help resolve the current conflict. Yet at the moment, even its fiercest partisans have begun to admit that the UN's credibility has been severely damaged by the Oil-for-Food scandal and the incompetence of the first UN mission to Iraq in providing for its own members' security.

So here we are between a rock and a hard place. I've got my fingers crossed.
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Tuesday, April 06, 2004

# Posted 7:47 PM by Patrick Belton  

ARAB DEMOCRACY WATCH: Algeria will hold elections tomorrow, which are expected to be free and fair. The U.S. is receiving a great deal of credit for exerting influence to safeguard the fairness of tomorrow's elections, along with the military's neutrality in the election. Brian Ulrich has more.
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# Posted 6:49 PM by Patrick Belton  

NEXT YEAR IN JERUSALEM: Josh and Rachel wisely talked me out of live-blogging our seder, but noteworthy events included our friend Simon Rodberg's quote, in response to the question "why do we lean to the left?", that Jews always lean to the left. Also noted is Josh's, Rachel's, and my idea of coming up with a neo-con hagaddah for next year.

This year we are slaves; next year, free. May slavery give way to freedom, ignorance to wisdom, despair to hope: next year in Jerusalem.
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# Posted 11:44 AM by Patrick Belton  

SUPPORTING DEMOCRATIZING TRENDS IN ISLAM: RAND's Cheryl Benard has written what looks at first glance to be a very thoughtful piece on trends, currents, and subgroups within contemporary Islam. She also has a detailed set of recommendations about supporting modernizers first, and secondarily traditionalists against fundamentalists, which seem to me to be worth further discussion.
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# Posted 10:17 AM by Patrick Belton  

UM, DID ANYBODY NOTICE THAT WHILE WE WEREN'T LOOKING, the Lithuanians have impeached their president? The Lithuanian parliament found Rolandas Paksas to be guilty of ties to Russian business, organized crime, and intelligence (note: in Russia, those aren't separate industries) - Paksas is the first European leader to be removed from office through impeachment. (We're not counting these two though).
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# Posted 8:00 AM by Patrick Belton  

WELL DONE, MA'AM: The Queen, speaking in flawless French, delivered a stirring speech last evening at the Elysee in commemoration of the centenary of the Entente Cordiale, recalling the history of Anglo-French cooperation through the wars of the past century, and calling on the two nations to face the challenges of counterterror side by side. Finishing with a toast to M. le President and the French nation, the Queen ended saying "Vive la difference, mais vive L'Entente Cordiale." Well done, ma'am. Britain is fortunate to have such a skilled practicioner to draw upon in its diplomatic service.
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# Posted 5:00 AM by Patrick Belton  

HAPPY PASSOVER FROM OXBLOG!
A man walks into Central Park from the West 85th street entrance, sits down by the Lake, and takes out his lunch - which, being passover, included a fair bit of matzoh.

A few minutes later, later a blind man comes by and sits down next to him. Feeling neighborly, the man eating lunch decides to pass a sheet of matzoh over to the blind man.

The blind man handles the matzoh for a few minutes, looking puzzled, and finally exclaims, "Who wrote this crap?"
Chag sameach!
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# Posted 4:39 AM by Patrick Belton  

PHOTO CAPTION CONTEST: Madame Chirac clearly counting the seconds until she can get away from the Duke of Edinburgh....
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# Posted 4:10 AM by Patrick Belton  

CHINA=BAD. In the latest instance, for completely reneging on its commitments to democratic self-governance on the part of Hong Kong, most recently by declaring that political reforms in Hong Kong would only be permitted from Beijing and not from the legislature of Hong Kong.

For more, see Brookings on Beijing's attempts to subordinate Hong Kong's wonderfully clean and efficient civil service to its lackeys, Economist on Beijing's anti-subversion law and character assasination labelling democratic legislators as unpatriotic, and Senate Foreign Relations taking the testimony last month of Hong Kong legislators and democracy activists.
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Monday, April 05, 2004

# Posted 5:49 PM by Patrick Belton  

PERSONALLY, I'LL BE LOOKING FORWARD TO the book version of this David Brooks piece on the spirit of Emerson, Lincoln, and Jonathan Edwards as subtly alive in American exurban suburbia.
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# Posted 5:25 PM by Patrick Belton  

WITH THE MONEY THEY'VE SAVED ON FRENCH LESSONS for their Paris correspondent, the Beeb has sent its team around the world to see if binge drinking is really that much worse in England than in other countries. The answer: yes.
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# Posted 4:46 PM by Patrick Belton  

US ON THE VERGE OF SIDELINING IRAQI DEMOCRATS: Just having returned from Iraq, Michael Rubin writes in the L.A. Times that the U.S. is being so even-handed in its treatment of the different Iraqi parties, that liberal democratizers are feeling marginalized:

One February evening, a governor from a southern province asked to see me. We met after dark at a friend's house. After pleasantries and tea, he got down to business. "The Iranians are flooding the city and countryside with money," he said. "Last month, they sent a truckload of silk carpets across the border for the tribal sheikhs. Whomever they can't buy, they threaten." The following week, I headed south to investigate. A number of Iraqis said the Iranians had channeled money through the offices of the Dawa Party, an Islamist political party, led by Governing Council member Ibrahim Jafari. On separate occasions in Baghdad and the southern city of Nasiriya, I watched ordinary Iraqis line up for handouts of money and supplies at Dawa offices. The largess seems to be having an effect: Polls indicate that Jafari is Iraq's most popular politician, enjoying a favorable rating by more than 50 percent of the electorate.
Rubins goes on to argue that the CPA's well-intentioned evenhandedness is being interpreted as support for Islamists, in a society weaned on conspiracy theories:
While Sens. John F. Kerry of Massachusetts and Carl Levin of Michigan demand yet another government audit of the Iraqi National Congress (previous audits have found no wrongdoing), radical clerics find their pockets full, their Iranian sponsors more interested in mission than political cannibalism. Last month, I visited a gathering of urban professionals in Najaf. They repeatedly asked why the CPA stood by while followers of firebrand Shiite cleric Muqtader Sadr invaded homes, smashed satellite dishes and meted out punishment in ad hoc Islamic courts. We may dismiss Sadr as a grass-roots populist, but his rise was not arbitrary. Rather, his network is based upon ample funding he receives through Iran-based cleric Ayatollah Kazem al Haeri, a close associate of Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
More here.
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# Posted 12:00 PM by Patrick Belton  

OVERHEARD AT THE OXBLOG BUREAU OFFICE:
Anonymous OxBlogger, to be called "PB": Wait, Ali G is Jewish? (from your wikipedia piece....)
Anonymous OxBlogger 2, to be called "JC" I guess. Not so surprising, is it?
PB: But I thought he was Kazakhstani!
PB: Next you'll be trying to convince me that Spock was a Jew....
JC: Wouldn't dare. He doesn't have the capacity to feel guilt.
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# Posted 11:47 AM by Patrick Belton  

WISE ADVICE FROM EVERYONE'S JEWISH GODMOTHER: Playwright, and every Yalie's Jewish godmother, Toni Dorfman writes a memorable letter giving some of the wisest advice I've yet read on getting over a broken heart.
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# Posted 5:42 AM by Patrick Belton  

WHAT HE SAID: Writing in the Times about the genocide taking place this very moment in the Darfur region of Sudan, Nicholas Kristof correctly commented "Do we advise such refugees that 'never again' meant nothing more than that a Führer named Hitler will never again construct death camps in Germany?" He spoke correctly.

The government of Sudan is currently engaging in genocide against three of its country's black western tribes, the Reziegat, Salamat, and Ta'aisha. Women of those tribes are being systematically raped; roughly one thousand people are being killed each week; and with seven hundred thousand driven from their homes, Sudan's army is bombing the survivors.

The Pentagon is monitoring the situation closely, but with American might deployed already in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Haiti, America's military cannot be asked to be the only one to respond. The UN's response has been significant, but not enough - the Security Council has not addressed the issue by invoking Chapter VII, although UNHCR in cooperation with the government of Chad has done a great deal to alleviate the immediate human plight of refugees by establishing refugee camps far from the Sudanese border, where refugees in Chad were still being attacked by the Sudanese military. Still, the response by the undersecretary general for humanitarian affairs, Jan Egeland, was talmudic, and ridiculous: "I would say it is ethnic cleansing, but not genocide." Still worse, the human rights industry has kept its head equally in the sand: Amnesty International doesn't even mention the genocide in the Sudan on its front page, preferring as usual to pander to its donors with pieces criticizing the United States for the clearly equal crime of executing a dual murderer.

Our friend Zach Kaufman, and director of our think tank's Africa program, wrote in the New York Times recently that "One lesson that should be drawn is that if it is true that the current Sudan resembles 1994 Rwanda, then the United States government should join with others to initiate a humanitarian intervention, assist victims and hold perpetrators accountable. If not, our demands for and promises of 'never again!' will have failed yet again." While the United States cannot bear the sole principal role in counteracting this atrocity at a time when its divisions are already deployed to combating the inhumanity of Fallujah and the Taliban, the responsibility of the international community to make good on its promises of "never again" is clear.
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# Posted 4:59 AM by Patrick Belton  

NOTE TO THE BBC: The correct spelling of the museum on the left bank of the Seine is not, contrary to popular impression, "muse dorsa."

UPDATE: We get results. They fixed it.
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# Posted 12:35 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

RUMBLE IN THE BLOGOSPHERE: Kos said something very, very dumb. Glenn Reynolds called him on it. Kevin Drum reluctantly weighed in on the side of Kos' critics. The Kerry 2004 blog was so embarrassed by Kos that it dropped him from its blogroll. Kos admits he said something dumb but describes the response to it as a product of right-wing paranoia. Yeah, whatever.

CLARIFICATION: Glenn has declared that OxBlog is "officially bored" with Kos-gate. Well, sort of. This whole affair is something of a tempest in a tea cup. However, my "Yeah, whatever" comment above was directed primarily at Kos' paranoid response to his critics. Glenn, Kevin et al. were right to criticize Kos, although the whole thing did get somewhat out of hand.
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Sunday, April 04, 2004

# Posted 11:58 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

NYT VS. WaPo: WHO'S TELLING THE TRUTH? Seven American soldiers are dead. That is a fact. But why has violence broken out across Iraq? Is this what radical Shi'ites want? Is the violence an accidental byproduct of the challenges of occupation? Or has the incompetence of the Coalition-led reconstruction effort provoked otherwise passive Iraqis to take up arms?

If you read the WaPo, you will conclude that there is no clear answer to the questions posed above. Coalition forces' discomfort in a foreign environment is just as likely to have been the cause of the violence as are radical Shi'ite provocations. If you read the NYT, there is no doubt that today's events were planned. The first sentence of John Burns' article on the subject reads:
A coordinated Shiite militia uprising against the American-led occupation rippled across Iraq on Sunday, reaching into the heart of Baghdad and the sprawling Shiite slum of Sadr City on the capital's outskirts and racking the holy city of Najaf and at least two other cities in southern Iraq.
Burns' use of the words 'coordinated' and 'uprising' were no accident. Lower down in the same article he writes that
On Sunday, [Moqtada] Sadr's veiled threats to stir public disorder erupted into carefully orchestrated violence, with potentially dire implications over the long term for the Americans, and for Iraq.
Furthermore, Burns lets us know exactly what we should think of Mr. Sadr's efforts. He reports that
Mr. Sadr, the son of a powerful Shiite ayatollah who was assassinated by agents of Mr. Hussein in Najaf in 1999, has been a menacing presence in the shadows of the American occupation. He has refused to involve his organization with the American attempt to construct democratic institutions, calling them a ruse intended to place the country under permanent American control. He has threatened to establish an alternative government, and to send his militia, known as the Mahdi Army, into battle with American troops...

Mr. Sadr issued a statement early Sunday from the mosque in Kufa where he had barricaded himself telling his followers, in effect, to turn to violence.

"There is no use for demonstrations, as your enemy loves to terrify and suppress opinions, and despises peoples," he said, referring to the Americans. "Terrorize your enemy, as we cannot remain silent over his violations."
In contrast to Burns' conviction, the WaPo correspondents responsible for this story have used all of the standard conventions of the journalistic trade to convey their unsurety about the cause of the violence. For example, explanations for the violence offered by Sadr's disciples are juxtaposed with explanations from American officials, implying that the credibility of both explanations is roughly equivalent and that the truth lies somewhere in between:
Sadr, 30, delivered a sermon in Kufa on Friday calling on supporters to challenge the occupation.

Abu Haider Ghalib Garawi, a leader of the Mahdi Army -- a self-styled militia Sadr formed last year -- said the cleric had not called for violence in his sermon and attributed the violent protests in Kufa to frustration with the U.S.-led occupation.

"There is no more patience," he said. "We cannot guarantee the behavior of the wise people and of the ordinary people."

At a news conference in the Iraqi capital on Sunday, L. Paul Bremer, the U.S. administrator for Iraq, said U.S.-led forces and Iraqi security would respond strongly to any violent challenge.
Toward the end of the WaPo article, however, there are some more tangible hints that today's violence was not intentional but rather a product of unfortunate coincidences:
Sunday's protests were sparked by reports that Mustapha Yacoubi, an aide to Sadr, had been arrested...Protests and violence involving Sadr's supporters have been increasing since the closing of the cleric's newspaper a week ago.
These same events are explained very differently by the NYT, however:
The scene for the uprising was set a week ago, when American troops raided the Baghdad offices of a popular newspaper, Al Hawza, that was the mouthpiece for Mr. Sadr, and chained its doors under an order by Mr. Bremer closing the paper for 60 days. American officials said Mr. Bremer had acted because of inaccurate reporting in the paper that incited hatred for the Americans, including a February dispatch that an explosion that killed more than 50 Iraqi police recruits was not a car bomb, as occupation officials had said, but an American missile.

For days, demonstrators in the thousands marched through the streets of Baghdad and Najaf, hoisting portraits of Mr. Sadr and vowing retaliation against the Americans. But what appeared to have pushed Mr. Sadr into insurrection was the arrest by allied troops on Saturday -- by probably Americans, although the American command did not say -- of a cleric who was a senior aide to Mr. Sadr, Mustafa al-Yaqubi. A statement on Sunday from Iraq's interior ministry said Mr. Yaqubi was wanted in connection with the killing at a Najaf mosque last April of Ayatollah Sayyed Abdul Majid al-Khoei, a cleric the Americans brought back from exile in London in the hope of shifting the Shiite clerical establishment into a pro-American stance.

Some reports, unconfirmed by the Americans, have said Mr. Sadr himself is on a list of 25 people who are wanted by the interior ministry in connection with the killing, and that he, too, is likely to be arrested.
The differences between the NYT and WaPo could not be more stark. The former describes an intentional assault on Coalition forces organized by a radical Shi'ite cleric who associates with murderers and may be one himself. The WaPo describes confusing events for which no one in particular was responsible.

Why are these accounts so different? Politics don't seem to be the issue, since the NYT tends to be far more critical of the occupation than the WaPo. My hunch is that John Burns is simply far superior to his counterparts at the WaPo. He sees what they do not. Moreover, I suspect that the WaPo will soon revise its account in order to reflect what was written by Mr. Burns.

The broader lesson to be taken away from this episode is one that this third of OxBlog never tires of repeating: That correspondents routinely employ the conventions of journalistic objectivity in order to convey subjective interpretations of the events that they witness. While subjectivity is an integral part of the human condition, the American media have the potential to dramatically improve their coverage by admitting to both themselves and their audience that they are not nearly as objective as they like to pretend.

To critics of the 'liberal media', such accusations are nothing new. Yet moderate liberals, including OxBlog favorites such as Drum and Yglesias, still tend to dismiss charges of media bias as little more than the carping of conservatives unwilling to face the truth. However, the example described above has nothing to do with politics. My criticism has nothing to do with the fact that I like one newspaper's political preferences more than I like the other. That is why this episode is such a powerful demonstration of how journalistic conventions create the illusion of objectivity.

CLARIFICATION: Seven American soldiers were killed in Baghdad. An eighth American soldier died elsehwere, as did a Salvadoran.

UPDATE: The AP report on today's violence resembles that of the WaPo. USA Today splits the difference while Reuters and CNN come across as relatively agnostic about the cause of the violence. The Guardian subtly implies that the heavy-handedness of the occupation was to blame.
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