OxBlog

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

# Posted 4:39 PM by Patrick Belton  

INTERNATIONAL RESPONSE TO AIDS BOOK TOUR: OxBlog's good friend, and Nathan Haler Greg Behrman has just released a groundbreaking work on the international response to AIDS, titled The Invisible People. Greg's work in this book is really astounding, and his enviable access to the halls of the White House, international organisations, and developing countries where the AIDS epidemic was playing out, permitted him to offer a much fuller account of the bureaucratic red tape, inexplicable blunders, egos, power plays, and pain and suffering, that went into the epidemic and the associated US response than any other source had done.

We'll be providing a fuller review of Greg's book here soon, but if you'd like to catch him yourself, here are the dates and cities of his book tour:

ATLANTA
Tuesday, June 8
8:00 PM
Outwrite Books
991 Piedmont Ave.
Co-sponsored by AID Atlanta

WASHINGTON, D.C.
Wednesday, June 9
7-9 PM
Co-sponsored by: UN Association / YouthAIDS
at UN Foundation (Connecticut Ave.)
-Cocktail Party

Thursday, June 10
7:00 PM
Borders Books & Music
1801 K Street NW
-Would particularly love to see some friendly faces at
this one!

Friday, June 11
6:00 PM
Global AIDS Alliance
Luna Books
1633 P Street, NW
-Cocktail party / 10 minute film screening

Monday, June 14
6:00PM
Council on Foreign Relations
1779 Massachussets Ave.
Co-sponsored by CFR, CSIS and DATA
-Amb Princeton Lyman presiding over discussion of book
and current policy
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# Posted 1:35 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

APPROVAL NOT PENDING: Patrick, stop grossing out our readers. The swimwear-related image you mentioned in the last post almost persuaded me never to read OxBlog again. ;)
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# Posted 6:23 AM by Patrick Belton  

THOUGHT COMMERCIAL PUBLISHING COULDN'T GET ANY MORE DUMBED-DOWN? Joe Gandelman notes that Penguin is dispatching models into the street in the UK to encourage men to read. Okay, it's hard to summon up too much savage indignation about that one. On the other hand, if you feel OxBlog isn't sexy enough for you, please do feel free to imagine the three of us* wearing bikinis while wisecracking and otherwise punditting forth about politics.

_________
* pending David and Josh's approval. And, come to think of it, Rachel's, too.
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# Posted 4:45 AM by Patrick Belton  

ELECTORAL COLLEGE TRACKING MAP: Arthur Tripias has an electoral college map of the United States indicating which candidate is currently ahead in each state, according to the latest polls. He will be updating the map frequently between now and the election. If the election were held today? Bush by 307 electoral votes to 231.

So how does that stack up against last time? In 2000, Bush received 271 votes to Gore's 266 - which made that the closest collegiate result since 1876. By way of comparison, in 1976, Carter secured 297 votes against Ford's 240 (a Washington State 'faithless' elector voted for Reagan in the end); Kennedy bested Nixon in 1960 by a fairly expansive college margin of 303 against 219 (Harry Byrd received 15 votes). In historical elections, the closest results were Jefferson-Burr's 73-73 tie in 1800 prior to the ratification of the 12th Amendment (which sent the election of the President to the House, where 10 state delegations then voted for Jefferson, 4 for Burr, and 2 abstained), and 1876's Hayes-Tilden 185-184 score, where Congress referred a dispute over the votes of four states to the Electoral Commission, which then awarded their votes to Hayes. Even George Washington's practically-speaking uncontested election of 1789 wasn't particularly close as an electoral college result, with his vice president John Adams securing 34 votes against his 69 in a preordained result. In particularly bad electoral college showings, Roosevelt-Landon in 1936 produced a 523-8 landslide (whereas even in wartime, Dewey would hold FDR to at least 432-99 in 1944); Nixon received 520 against McGovern's 17 in 1972; and Reagan bested Mondale by 525-13 in 1984. Lincoln's 212-21 trouncing of McClellan in 1864 no doubt deserves mention, too.

Incidentally, Benjamin Harrison's victory over Grover Cleveland in 1888 wasn't that close in the electoral vollege, even though popularity queen Cleveland turned a capital-L loser when she got to college (Ed: wait, I think you're looking for www.nytimes.com/dowd - this is OxBlog. MD: oh, thanks!), and Cleveland bested Harrison by a mere 100,456 votes in the national popular count (5,540,309 votes to Harrison's 5,439,853). The electoral college produced a healthy spread that year of 233-168. (And if you're curious, as a percentage of votes cast, Cleveland's lead of 0.915% compares quite healthily with 2000's margin of 0.536% for Gore)

And finally, if you're going to be an elector and want to maximise your influence, then head to one of these states, which haven't passed laws against faithless electors: among them, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Texas, and Illinois. (It's questionable whether penalties in other states are legally enforceable, too, and no state has ever sought to apply such a penalty.) Here's a list of faithless electors in history - the first was Pennsylvania's Samuel Miles in 1796 (pledged to John Adams, cast vote for Thomas Jefferson); New Hampshire's William Plummer in 1820 changed his ballot to ensure (mistakenly, but laudably) that no President other than George Washington would be elected with the unanimous vote of the Electoral College; in 2000, the District of Columbia's Barbara Lett-Simmons abstained from voting for Gore to protest the district's lack of congressional representation. The coveted title of stupidest faithless elector probably goes to nurse Margaret Leach of West Virginia, who in 1988 was shocked to learn that she could vote for whichever candidate she chose, so she switched the names of Dukakis and Bentsen; when she tried to convince other electors to follow suit, no one joined her.
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# Posted 4:11 AM by Patrick Belton  

OXBLOG REVERSES ITS ADVICE: Save your eyesight, watch BBC! You can watch the transit of Venus safely on the BBC's SunCam. In 1761 and 1769, the transit of Venus proved crucial in calculating the astronomical unit - the mean distance between Earth and the sun - as roughly 150 million kilometres. This methodology was urged on astronomers by the Astronomer Royal, Edmund Halley, before his death (the distance had already been approximated at 140 million kilometres by Jean Richer and Giovanni Cassini in 1672, using the parallax of Mars.)

The Economist has an amusing tale of the transit quests of 1761, which motivated Cook's first voyage of discovery and an expedition to Sumatra by the later-famous British explorers Mason and Dixon - and, on the French side of a cross-channel scientific rivalry which predated the twentieth century's space race by two hundred years, the pathetic tale of the excessively-surnamed Guillaume Joseph Hyacinthe Jean-Baptiste Le Gentil de la Galaisiere. Later, in 1874, that year's transit impelled the first (and badly functioning) motion camera. (There's also a great deal more history here.)
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Monday, June 07, 2004

# Posted 8:47 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

REAGAN'S LEGACY: PROMOTING DEMOCRACY IN IRAQ. In the midst of debating whether or not Reagan won the Cold War, both liberals and conservatives have embraced the implicit but flawed premise that Reagan's impact on American foreign policy did not endure beyond the fall of the Soviet Union. Yet the fact of the matter is that every time President Bush describes freedom as a universal aspiration, capable of flourishing even in the political wastelands of the Middle East, it is Ronald Reagan's voice that America hears.

In his historic address to the British Parliament in 1982, Reagan foresaw the downfall of the Soviet empire. Much less noticed was Reagan’s declaration that democracy promotion must serve as the moral and strategic foundation of American foreign policy. Contemporary journalists described Reagan’s address as an anti-Communist broadside, almost wholly ignoring the President’s positive agenda of promoting human freedom. Scholars of the Reagan era have mostly done the same.

While Reagan found it hard to withdraw American support from right-wing dictators with whom the President had established close personal ties, his administration ultimately oversaw the democratization of the Philippines, South Korea and Chile. While Reagan often found it hard to acknowledge the human rights violations committed by democratic forces, his “crusade for freedom” ultimately brought both human rights and democracy to the suffering citizens of Nicaragua and El Salvador.

But most important of all, Reagan persuaded a generation of Republicans that the GOP’s response to the Democratic embrace of human rights should not be a return to the amoral realpolitik of the Kissinger era, but rather a proud commitment to sharing America’s democratic ideals with all those who still live in the midst of dictatorship. As things now stand, George Bush’s vision of a democratic Middle East seems like little more than a pipe dream. Yet as Reagan’s legacy shows, it would not be wise to “misunderestimate” the President.
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# Posted 6:26 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

OBITUARY WARS: An in-depth critique of the NYT and WaPo obituaries for President Reagan could fill a book, so I'll limit myself to a few observations. First and foremost, the WaPo obituary reflected the worst sort of mindless adoration that tends to emerge in the aftermath of an important man's death. While I am all for praising the dead at funerals, journalists have an obligation to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth even while the body is still warm.

What I found most disturbing about Lou Cannon's obituary in the WaPo was that its tone and substance were completely at odds with Cannon's own magnificent biography of the President. Cannon's biography demonstrates how desperately out of touch Reagan was with the reality around him and how little he cared to learn more about it. Whether death squads in El Salvador or bureaucratic warfare in his own Cabinet, Reagan allowed himself to remain blissfully unaware. What makes the biography so damning is that it was written by Cannon, who even in the 1980s was known as the mainstream journalist most sympathetic to Reagan.

Actually, the real problem here is that the Post decided to let Cannon write Reagan's obituary. While one can forgive Cannon for publishing an uncritical eulogy of a man with whom he had a close personal relationship, the Post should have known better than to let the President's friends write his obituary. Of course, this is not how conservatives are looking at it. Already, the Weekly Standard is praising the WaPo while blasting the NYT for its spare and mocking coverage.

While I agree that the Times' could've done far more than publish a single, long obituary, the fact remains that its account of Reagan's presidency is far more balanced than the one written by Cannon. The main problem with the Times obituary is that its smirking arrogance detracts from the credibility of an otherwise fair account. As Hawken points out, the Times' obit comes dangerously close to suggesting that Reagan's success reflected little more than his good looks. In short, the Times obit reflects the same elitist condescension that marred the paper's coverage of Reagan during his two terms in the White House. The message then was the same as the message now: conservative presidents can only succeed because of the gross ignorance of the American voter.

Perhaps as penance for the failures of their respective obituaries, both the NYT and WaPo have published masthead editorials that contradict the obituaries' basic message. The WaPo editorial is a thoughtful evaluation of how Reagan's uncomprising ideological convictions were responsible for both his triumphs and his failures. The NYT editorial balances the expected liberal criticisms of economic and foreign policies with a good bit of ahistorical fluff. Unbelievably, the NYT writes that
Many people who disagreed with his ideology still liked him for his personality, and that was a source of frustration for his political opponents who knew how much the ideology mattered. Looking back now, we can trace some of the flaws of the current Washington mindset — the tax-cut-driven deficits, the slogan-driven foreign policy — to Mr. Reagan's example. But after more than a decade of political mean-spiritedness, we have to admit that collegiality and good manners are beginning to look pretty attractive.
As a doctoral candidate whose research involves reading old NYT articles from the 1980s, I can assure you that the Times was far more likely to criticize Reagand for his dishonesty and diviseness than praise him for his collegiality and good manners. Even if the President was always a gentleman in person, he didn't shy away from playing a very nasty sort of hardball politics when he thought that America's best interests were on the line.

The Times' revisionist history is disturbing because it dovetails with the revisionism that conservatives have embraced for quite some time now. For example, the Weekly Standard has just reposted a Fred Barnes column from 2001 that begins:
RONALD REAGAN had an unusual way of dealing with reporters and columnists: He transcended them. He didn't complain about what they wrote or said on TV. At least I never heard that he had. He didn't flatter them, as some politicians do, by pretending to admire their work, in hope they'd produce puff pieces about him. So far as I know, he didn't have friends in the Washington press corps and didn't want any.
As a matter of fact, Reagan complained very vocally and publicly about liberal bias in the media. For example, in the very speech that I described yesterday as Reagan's greatest, the President insisted that
For months and months the world news media covered the fighting in El Salvador. Day after day we were treated to stories and film slanted toward the brave freedom-fighters battling oppressive government forces in behalf of the silent, suffering people of that tortured country.

And then one day those silent, suffering people were offered a chance to vote, to choose the kind of government they wanted. Suddenly the freedom-fighters in the hills were exposed for what they really are -- Cuban-backed guerrillas who want power for themselves, and their backers, not democracy for the people.
In short, Reagan believed that the liberal media were useful idiots that did Moscow the favor of working without compensation. Collegiality and good manners? Not by a long shot.

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# Posted 6:18 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

SILVER LINING BECOMES VISIBLE: Even the pessimistic Swopa thinks that things are getting a lot better in Najaf. But that doesn't mean that we're out of the woods just yet.
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# Posted 2:57 PM by Patrick Belton  

NEW INDIAN BLOG: Regular OxBlog readers will remember that we're occasionally fortunate enough to have contributions on the subject of India from our good friend Antara Datta, who's not only brilliant but is a complete sweetheart, too. Well, fortunately for the blogosphere, she's gone and started her own blog where she'll be commenting on politics in India, which is at http://indiapolitics.blogspot.com. A warm welcome to the blogosphere, Antara - and for the rest of you, her blog comes very warmly recommended!
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# Posted 2:05 PM by Patrick Belton  

NOTED: A while back, I offered a review of google's new email service, Gmail, which we were privileged to be able to take for a test drive. (Some people get to test drive cars. Oh well, you take what you can get. Our review is in three parts, here, here, and here.) Like our good friend Jacob, I plan on using my account principally to store backup copies of my dissertation. (And for our truly bored readers, you can read an early draft of my chapter on Congress and China policy here....)

As we noted before, Gmail doesn't seem to deal particularly well now with spam - which might just be because as a newer service, its filters have less experience with what constitutes spam. More interestingly, though, there seems to be a rather unique form of spam going about now which only affects Gmail accounts - which consists of spammers asking people with gmail accounts to help them get gmail accounts, presumably to spam from. This makes some sense, as test-drive members each have two accounts which they can give to friends - in our case, we passed them along to readers. It's also rather funny, in a sick sort of way. (Kind of like rain on your wedding day - oh, wait....)

UPDATE: Our friend Scott Evenson writes in to recommend Aventuremail as well, which apparently provides 2 gigabytes of storage capacity (that's 121 copies of my dissertation, after I put in the pretty graphs).
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# Posted 6:48 AM by Patrick Belton  

MORAN WATCH, III: Fortunately, Andy Rosenberg is running in Virginia's 8th congressional district Democratic primary to challenge Northern Virginian Congressman Jim Moran, whose nationwide reputation rests mostly on his paranoid and ridiculous (and, now, ironically self-fulfilling) comments that Jews are out to unseat him. He has my strong endorsement. Unfortunately, he's unlikely to win, and precisely because Jews (and in this case at least, quite unfortunately) don't control American congressional politics to the extent Moran apparently believes them to.

Here's what we had to say late April about this:
Posted 10:52 AM by Patrick Belton
MORON WATCH: Anti-Semitic Virginia Democrat Jim Moran tumbles farther toward his political doom with ridiculous comments last night that Jewish organizations were planning to direct and take over the campaign of his next electoral challenger. [According to the Washington Post, his speech included the comments that American Israel Public Action Committee (AIPAC) has begun organizing against him and will 'direct a campaign against me and take over the campaign of a Democratic opponent'.] (The meeting unfortunately ended before he could begin distributing copies of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.)
Mercifully, Moran's rant was swiftly condemned by now-House Democratic leader Pelosi, who denounced them as 'offensive and [with] no place in the Democratic Party'. (Even if our politics might be slightly different, count me in as a closeted admirer of that woman, ever since her insurgency campaign against the first Bush administration's conciliatory post-Tian'anmen China policy represented one of the more tactically brilliant campaigns in congressional politics in that decade).

Never one to let a good line go, Moron - seeking perhaps to rev up his staff for the campaign's final push - apparently recently conducted an anti-semitic rant in the presence of his staff in March, leading to the resignation of pollster Alan Secrest from his campaign staff. However, lest our readers in the 8th congressional district think that Moron's political record consists solely of anti-semitic diatribes, we do want to be fair. It also consists of brawling in the hall of Congress with other members (in a 1995 dispute, Moran shoved Rep. Randy Cunningham (R-Calif.) off the House floor). Also, it includes a number of ethics scandals, too. (In 1998, for instance, Moran received a $450,000 home refinancing loan from MBNA Corp., in spite of being behind in credit card payments to MBNA to the tune of $30,000. Shortly after closing the loan, Caesar's Virginian wife signed on as a sponsor of bankruptcy overhaul legislation that stood to benefit the company.) Rep. Moran's first career ended on an unauspicious (but nonetheless somewhat prophetic) note when he was forced out of the Alexandria City Council on bribery charges. The Economist has more on his dubious record; there is also a quotes page.

'If I was to lose my passion, I'd get out of politics', Moran has been quoted as saying. Both sound like fairly good ideas.
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# Posted 6:40 AM by Patrick Belton  

HOW NPR STOPPED PLAYING CLASSICAL MUSIC: Andrew Ferguson covers how it all happened:
Classical music listeners, the researchers [from Walrus Research, in 2002] discovered, "use classical music to escape from the problems of the world." Not surprisingly, there are similarities in race (white) and income levels (very high) between the average NPR listener and the lover of classical music, yet in fact they represent two very different kinds of people. One group the researchers dubbed "Classical Monks," the other, more typical of the new NPR listeners, were "NPR Activists."

Classical Monks use the music format to attain an internal state, soothing and calm, intensely personal. NPR Activists use information from NPR News to guide their relations with other people in their community and around the globe. . . . NPR Activists love analysis and debate. More talk is better, if that talk informs their understanding of global issues. . . . Classical listeners enter a dream world with images of paradise. The NPR newsmagazines keep reminding us of the real world, with its social conditions, environmental changes, and economic forces. . . .Classical Monks seek an emotion derived from the aesthetic. NPR Activists think that reason and logic, on the basis of solid information, can lead to the perfection of mankind.

The classical listener values lone serenity. NPR fans are the most politically active segment of the population.


For those who have trouble with complete sentences, Walrus Research helpfully broke the findings down into a neat PowerPoint chart (see above). "The portal to NPR news is through the intellect," said the study. "The portal to classical music is emotional."

In sum, Walrus said: "Classical listeners use the station for gratification of their private, internal needs." Sounds kind of yucky, doesn't it? And certainly not very public. Catering to such people might even be considered an abdication of responsibility for a program director bent on public service.
Incidentally, as Ferguson notes, there is an interesting academic paper, 'Guys in Suits with Charts,' by Alan Stavistky, about the 'transformation of public radio from its educational, service-based origins to an audience-driven orientation' - i.e., among other things, how it stopped playing Brahms and Mahler and began, like most arts in their decadant stage, dabbling in politics.
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# Posted 6:30 AM by Patrick Belton  

THANKS ANYWAY, I THINK I'LL OPT FOR TELLY AND A HOT WATER BOTTLE: According to the latest Department of Health statistics, one out of every twenty oral drug doses given in English hospitals is incorrect.

UPDATE: Joshua Macy points out that our RSS feed apparently shortened the title of this post to the slightly less accurate, but more amusing, 'THANKS ANYWAY, I THINK I'LL OPT FOR TELLY AND A HO'.
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# Posted 5:42 AM by Patrick Belton  

MORE FROM OXBLOG'S AFGHANISTAN CORRESPONDENT:

[When last we left our intrepid Afghan adventurer, he was struggling valiantly against evil customs officials, who would not permit him to bring accompanists beyond the waiting area, or even to have gases and passions inside his handbag...]

Wednesday: Observations and Negotiations

We got an early start out of Kunduz. The plan had been to drive south all morning, stopping off at various orchards and demonstration fields along the way. In the afternoon, we planned to head northwest as far as Samangan town, check out some almond groves in that area, and then either crash there or head back to the minor city of Pul-e-Khumre for the night. But our Deputy Head hadn't enjoyed our sparing accommodations in Kunduz, and decided that we would drive all the way to Mazar-e-Sharif that evening (two or three extra hours) in order to be guaranteed air-conditioned rooms and comfortable beds.

We didn't immediately inform our team of shooters of the change in plans when they rejoined us -- I guess we figured that if the shooters decided Mazar was out of the question, we would at least have their protection for the morning. Unfortunately, because our bodyguards didn't realize that the distance we'd be traveling had significantly increased, they decided to set a nice, relaxed pace for our convoy of SUVs. After twenty minutes, the Deputy Head pulled up next to us, rolled down the window, and yelled, "We'll never make Mazar at this rate! You guys take the lead!" Glad to oblige, our driver Ainodeen floored it past our surprised-looking security escort. As before, the shooters kept to their comfortable 60 kmph and soon fell out of sight behind us.

We drove for the next several hours through the fertile provinces of Kunduz and Baghlan, following the main river valleys through a succession of bustling market towns. The steep row of hills separating the provinces was speckled with hundreds of wild pistachio trees. Mohibi explained that the hilltop trees were common property, and right now dozens of Afghan soldiers were up there protecting the unripe pistachios. In a few weeks, when the nuts ripened, the hills would be opened to all comers, to pick as many as they could carry away. One California consultant shook his head and commented on this highly unprofitable use of agricultural resources. Mohibi didn't hear him; he was explaining with enthusiasm that once, long ago, he had served in the Afghan army as a pistachio guard himself. Back then, before the Soviet invasion, that sort of thing was one of the army's primary functions.

The war has left its marks everywhere, of course. Near Kunduz, a joker with a can of white spray paint had written "No Parking: Tow Zone" in English on a derelict tank that had been halfway hauled off the road. Over the following two days, we passed more old Soviet military hardware than I could list, rusting away on the roadside or flipped over halfway down a ravine. Frankly, after driving from Mazar to Kabul, I find it astonishing that the Russian Army has any tanks left. The typical speed bump in Kunduz, Baghlan, and Samangan is a tank tread, unrolled across the highway and reinforced with asphalt. (It can chew the heck out of your tires if you're not careful). Graves are the other strikingly common roadside sight -- typically a pole sprouting from a heap of stones, strung with green or black flags and streamers. Below the flags, there are usually wordless slate slabs at the head and foot of the mound. A few graves have white marble headstones with elaborate inscriptions.

Late in the morning, we pulled into the town of Baghlan, to check out a sugar factory that has been out of commission for over a decade but painstakingly maintained by the local government. The old Czechoslovak sugar beet processing machinery was dusty but not corroded; there were only a couple bullet holes here and there; and the caretaker was re-cutting glass for the broken window panes when we made our surprise visit. A fleet of Soviet cargo trucks were rusting away in the yard… plus, of course, a couple tanks.

We could get the place working again -- whether it would ever be profitable is another question. Part of the problem with Afghanistan is that it's surrounded by countries producing most of its potential exports at lower cost. Cotton? Hard to beat Uzbekistan (even if US cotton producers would allow USAID to assist the Afghan cotton sector). Textiles? Pakistan has too much riding on that market -- they'd slap on an enormous tariff or threaten to close off the border, if by some miracle Afghan textiles neared competitive advantage. Fresh fruit and produce? Not unless we can get quality up to the level of the Arab countries and Iran. Raisins and almonds? Maybe. Afghanistan used to supply more than half of the European dried fruit market. But quality standards have gone up in the EU while crashing in Afghanistan. Opium? Now we're talking -- Afghan intensive cropping practices have allowed them to get almost four times the yield per hectare of their closest competitor on the poppy market, Myanmar. And the Afghans are sticking with what they do well.

But I digress. The shooters showed up while we were breakfasting on fatty kebab, naan, and yogurt. At this point, we explained that our group was heading to Mazar for the evening; that we understood the security company hadn't planned for this extension of the trip; and that we were willing to pay for extra petrol if they needed it. The shooters pushed back their sunglasses to stare at us incredulously, conferred together for a moment, then said that the extra petrol would cost $50. This seemed just a tad steep, but they were the ones with the automatic weapons, so we accepted our weak bargaining position and shelled out.

They looked at the money, conferred again, and then asked, "But what will we put in our stomachs?" Mohibi grumbled (in English) that they could put the extra bloody petrol in their stomachs, since their boss had certainly given them enough money for food and lodging. We tried to convince them to just head back to Kabul and take the $50 as a don't-shoot-us-please fee, but they didn't like the thought of facing their boss if they returned a day early. In the end, the Deputy Head paid them another $50 for food, lodging, and "damn well keeping up with us wherever we decide to drive for the next two days." Curiously, the shooters no longer seemed to have any trouble matching our speed.

As we drove that day, I was struck by the near-total absence of female faces in public. In Kabul, as I mentioned last fall, roughly half the women I see on the street are in burqas, and the other half wear headscarves. In Kunduz and the countryside around it, the burqa is all but universal. Over two days of watching, only in Mazar city and in the town of Hairatan right on the Uzbek border did I see the face of a woman over fourteen or so. (We did see plenty of younger girls -- the good people of Kunduz, Baghlan, and Balkh seem to be sending their daughters to school in droves, which is encouraging. Everywhere we drove, we passed swarms of schoolgirls in black uniforms and gauzy white headscarves).

I asked Ainodeen to what extent this near-universal veiling was a legacy of the Taliban. He said that rural Afghans had always kept to a strict modesty code, and that ten, twenty, or thirty years ago if we'd been driving the same road we would have seen the same proportion of veiled women. The Taliban imposed all kinds of stifling, unpopular rules that were purely derived from their interpretation of the Qur'an: no music, no kite-flying, no sports. Those little textual tyrannies are why so few Afghans remember the Taliban with any fondness today. But in some cases (the burqa, restrictions on the travel of women) they also formalized long-standing rural norms, which continue to be socially enforced among the majority of Afghans who live outside Westernizing urban areas. The persistence of the burqa isn't an indicator of support for Taliban ideology; by the same token, no one should expect that the ouster of the Taliban has brought rural Afghanistan any closer to accepting Western gender values.

I don't mean to suggest that these deep-rooted restrictions on women's dress and movement persist on "cultural" steam alone, or that they exist unopposed in rural areas. Especially in villages close to the capital, many women state that they would gladly swap the burqa for the less confining headscarf if only they lived in Kabul. (Hopefully, a lot of those schoolgirls I saw on the road in the north will grow up feeling similarly). It takes a great deal of pressure to keep these women under wraps -- and the pressure isn't just exerted by family, neighbors, and the local mullah, but by governors and local militias.

Take as an example idyllic Paghman, a verdant, mountainous district where the Kabulis like to take their picnics. It's currently dominated by the militia of Abdul Rabb al-Rasul Sayyaf, a butcher and torturer who wrecked a good fraction of Kabul during the mujahidin era (and is now allied to the most powerful bloc in the U.S.-supported government). Sayyaf's gunmen on the one hand enforce a strict "Islamic" dress code, and on the other hand perpetrate much of the banditry, kidnapping, and rape that is held to necessitate that code. The burqa and other restrictions have traditionally been justified on the grounds that they protect women; like many protection rackets, the "protection" and the threat increasingly stem from the same sources.

But at least it's now possible to discuss gender issues a little more openly, and most departments of the central government are supportive. By contrast... well, my co-worker Mumtaz has a great story from his days in the late 90s as a translator with the UN. He accompanied a UN delegation to the new Taliban government to negotiate the conditions for UNICEF, UNHCR, and other groups to continue work in Afghanistan.

The Taliban Minister of Planning began their first meeting by leaning over the table and pointing straight at Mumtaz. "We are willing to talk about these aid programs. But tell them that if they so much as mention gender, I will f--- their mothers," he said with ferocious emphasis. "Translate!"

Mumtaz nodded gravely, turned to the UN staff, and said, "He says you are under no circumstances to mention gender. He will not hear of it." The UN staff nodded gravely, and Mumtaz turned back to their host. "Did you tell them?" insisted the Minister. "Did you tell them that I would f--- their mothers?"

"Of course," said Mumtaz, unflappable. "They do not look shocked," said the Taleb dubiously. Mumtaz shrugged, raised his palms in a helpless gesture. "They are Westerners. They do not mind such things."

[next time: guns 'n' poppies]
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Sunday, June 06, 2004

# Posted 11:51 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

REAGAN REMEMBERED: Rather than eulogize the President, I find it best to let his own words speak for him. On June 8, 1982, Reagan spoke to the British Parliament at Westminster. He declared that
In an ironic sense Karl Marx was right. We are witnessing today a great revolutionary crisis, a crisis where the demands of the economic order are conflicting directly with those of the political order. But the crisis is happening not in the free, non-Marxist West, but in the home of Marxist-Leninism, the Soviet Union. It is the Soviet Union that runs against the tide of history by denying human freedom and human dignity to its citizens...

Now, I don't wish to sound overly optimistic, yet the Soviet Union is not immune from the reality of what is going on in the world. It has happened in the past -- a small ruling elite either mistakenly attempts to ease domestic unrest through greater repression and foreign adventure, or it chooses a wiser course. It begins to allow its people a voice in their own destiny. Even if this latter process is not realized soon, I believe the renewed strength of the democratic movement, complemented by a global campaign for freedom, will strengthen the prospects for arms control and a world at peace...

What I am describing now is a plan and a hope for the long term -- the march of freedom and democracy which will leave Marxism-Leninism on the ash-heap of history as it has left other tyrannies which stifle the freedom and muzzle the self-expression of the people.
Who else dared to believe in 1982 that the Soviet Union was on its death bed? No matter how many times I read Reagan's address, I find his prescience to be almost incredible. Yet as Reagan himself said, all the evidence was there in plain sight. Who in their right mind could ever have believed that the Soviet system was as viable as its Western counterpart?

Reagan 1982 speech was also remarkable because of its prescient declaration that promoting democracy abroad must serve as the foundation of American foreign policy:
Around the world today, the democratic revolution is gathering new strength...

We must be staunch in our conviction that freedom is not the sole prerogative of a lucky few, but the inalienable and universal right of all human beings. So states the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which, among other things, guarantees free elections.

The objective I propose is quite simple to state: to foster the infrastructure of democracy, the system of a free press, unions, political parties, universities, which allows a people to choose their own way to develop their own culture, to reconcile their own differences through peaceful means.

This is not cultural imperialism, it is providing the means for genuine self-determination and protection for diversity. Democracy already flourishes in countries with very different cultures and historical experiences. It would be cultural condescension, or worse, to say that any people prefer dictatorship to democracy. Who would voluntarily choose not to have the right to vote, decide to purchase government propaganda handouts instead of independent newspapers, prefer government to worker-controlled unions, opt for land to be owned by the state instead of those who till it, want government repression of religious liberty, a single political party instead of a free choice, a rigid cultural orthodoxy instead of democratic tolerance and diversity?...

The task I've set forth will long outlive our own generation. But together, we too have come through the worst. Let us now begin a major effort to secure the best -- a crusade for freedom that will engage the faith and fortitude of the next generation. For the sake of peace and justice, let us move toward a world in which all people are at last free to determine their own destiny.
When President Bush describes the democratic future that belongs to the people of Iraq, every word is vintage Reagan. Yet just as Bush preaches the gospel of democracy while failing to invest the effort and resources necessary to make it grow, so did Reagan fail to understand what sort of practical steps might have to be taken to implement his compelling vision.

For now, I will hold off on further criticism. For one moment, it is worth meditating on nothing more than the profound insights of a man who was a great patriot but never had pretensions of being a great philosopher.
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# Posted 8:29 AM by Patrick Belton  

GOING DUTCH: In OxBlog's 'ethnic and national calumnies against groups we really have nothing in particular against' category, a recent poll shows that one third of Dutch men believe watching their national football team play in the Euro2004 championship in Portugal is more important than celebrating their wife's birthday...if it came to that. (It was not polled, however, how many Dutch women wanted to celebrate their birthdays by watching footie...which seems a relevant question, too....)
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Friday, June 04, 2004

Thursday, June 03, 2004

# Posted 10:25 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

OUR IMPERILED DEMOCRACY: Picking up where Josh left off, I thought I'd compose a list of which of our Presidents "didn't live in a time when [their] bad decisions could imperil our democracy." That way, if anyone wants to complain about Bush in historical context they can do so properly. So here goes:

Definitely lived in a time in which their bad decisions could imperil our democracy:
Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Jackson, Buchanan, Lincoln, A. Johnson, Grant, Wilson, Hoover, F.D. Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, L.B. Johnson, Nixon, Reagan, G.W. Bush.
Probably lived in a time in which their bad decisions could imperil our democracy:
Monroe, J.Q. Adams, Van Buren, Tyler, Polk, Taylor, Fillmore, Pierce, McKinley, T. Roosevelt, Taft, Carter, Clinton, G.H.W. Bush.
Sort of lived in a time in which their bad decisions could imperial our democracy:
Hayes, Arthur, Cleveland (I), Harrison, Cleveland (II), Harding, Coolidge.
Did NOT live in a time in which their bad decisions could imperil our democracy:
W.H. Harrison, Garfield.
Now, I'm sure you will find some of these decisions controversial. But I can say with confidence that American democracy was safe in March and April of 1841 as well as from March through September of 1881. So here's my idea for a Kerry slogan: "Bush: Only safe for 10 months every 228 years." Who wouldn't respond to that?
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# Posted 10:10 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

TIME FLIES: Just got into New Haven -- this weekend is my 5th reunion. I have broadband where I'm staying, but not much time on my hands. Besides, I am firmly committed to blogging while sober.
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# Posted 3:06 PM by Patrick Belton  

WELL THEY ALL LOOK ALIKE TO US WATCH, #28: In a series of recurring problems which grounded all air travel today in England and Wales, controllers systematically mistook Glasgow (habitually in Scotland) for Cardiff (generally to be found in Wales). We at OxBlog know that telling confusing Celtic capitals from each other can be awfully confusing, and are pained by the recent suggestion, to whomever it should be attributed (the initials PB and DA have both been suggested...), that the English are simply no good at telling foreigners apart....
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# Posted 2:55 PM by Patrick Belton  

THERE WILL BE A NEW DCI: Tenet announces that he will be stepping down as director in July. Former DDI and NIC chair John E. McLaughlin will become interim director when Tenet's resignation takes effect.
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# Posted 12:20 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

DOUBLE-D VS. THE FEMINISTE: Prof. Drezner has an interesting encounter.
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Wednesday, June 02, 2004

# Posted 11:33 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

DOES SISTANI REALLY SUPPORT ALLAWI? That the question Swopa asks. A good question, too. For the record, my comment that Allawi "apparently" has Sistani's support reflected the WaPo's observation that "Although he is secular, [Allawi] reportedly has the support of the country's top Shiite cleric." But Swopa makes a good case that we've misunderstood Sistani before and that American correspondents in Iraq haven't learned their lesson.

UPDATE: Well, that answers that question. Sort of.
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# Posted 6:52 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

"CONSERVATIVES SHOULD HAVE SEEN THIS COMING": That's what Frank Foer wrote about Ahmad Chalabi ten months ago. But that was a long time ago, back when Pentagon officials were calling Chalabi the "George Washington of Iraq" and WSJ editorialists were describing him as a democratic visionary.

Anyhow, it now looks that Chalabi did exactly what everyone thinks he did -- tell Iranian intelligence that we broke their codes. Noam Scheiber says the news has already "flooded [his] stomach with more bile than [he] can handle for one day." I'm not sure exactly how much bile that is, but I have a feeling that a lot of people in Iraq are going to suffer from much more than an upset stomach because of Chalabi.
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# Posted 6:23 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

GOING ON THE DEFENSIVE? Spencer Ackerman continues to blog up a storm about Iraq. Today, Spencer takes a close look at the negotiations designed to produce a new Security Council resolution for Iraq.

Yesterday, Ackerman tore into American generals for suggesting that their new priorities will be to focus on the protection of Iraqi infrastructure and government officials. Spencer writes that
Leaving insurgents and militias--and every militia in Iraq is just tomorrow's pool of insurgents--unchallenged except for responding to discrete flare-ups will make it that much harder for the U.S. to protect the new government...By not conducting offensive operations, we're giving the extremists time and breathing space to regroup, resupply and redouble their efforts at murdering the new government and throwing the political process, such as it is, off track.
Unfortunately, I think Spencer is mischaracterizing the army plans. Lt. Gen. Thomas Metz, the officer in charge of day-to-day operations, has issued a
clear warning to "anybody who misinterprets our focus away from combat operations and onto other things like Iraqi security capacity and infrastructure protection."

"We will always maintain a quick-reaction force, with very lethal combat capability," he said. "If someone thinks there is a vacuum and wants to enter it with conventional forces, you better believe we are ready."
Now, it is fair to ask whether the emergence of new priorities had anything to do with our decision to accept a flawed settlement with Sadr's forces in Najaf while allowing former Ba'athists to run Fallujah. Metz's comments about Fallujah lean in that direction. Still, I think the army and the (ex-)CPA should be given more time to show that their approach works. On the other hand, OxBlog's correspondent in Fallujah warns that the situation there has become a fiasco and will be exposed by a major American publication in the coming weeks. I guess we'll see.
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# Posted 11:05 AM by Patrick Belton  

SOMETHING NOT QUITE ADDING UP HERE: I don't really feel any particular need either to defend or to villify Ahmad Chalabi here, but there's one bit to the story as it now stands that I don't quite understand.

So as CNN and other news outlets are now reporting, Chalabi becomes aware that the United States has cracked the codes by which Iran encrypts its secret transmissions. Chalabi gives this information to the Iranian intelligence chief in Baghdad, who relays it to Tehran - but using one of the codes which he'd just become aware that the Americans had cracked. The Americans, reading this transmission (as they had cracked the Iranian codes - see previous sentence), then become aware that Chalabi had passed this information on to the Iranian intelligence station in Baghdad.

This doesn't quite seem to add up - which doesn't mean that Chalabi didn't betray us, is indeed our friend, or is even a nice guy - but why wouldn't the Iranians, who are apparently good at this game, relay the information to Tehran via a courier, instead of using a compromised channel? It seems they'd only act they way they did if: (1) their station chief in Baghdad was phenomenally stupid (which is, I suppose, always a possibility), or (2) if they had a grievance against Chalabi, and/or (3) believed that souring his relations with Washington was more in their nation's interests than, say, using the cracked code to send misleading information to the Americans. I suppose there's also one remaining possibility, (4) that they assumed in error that they had a safe code they could rely upon - but such a calculation is bound to be risky, once you know that the Americans have broken at least some of your codes - and why risk losing a valuable means for misdirecting one of your major adversaries, when you could test the safety of your different channels by (as they indeed did) transmitting test messages to see whether the Americans would act in such a way to indicate they'd read them?

Again, this isn't to say that Chalabi is a nice guy, or that I'd want to open a joint banking account with him in Jordan - but I'll still be curious to see if some of these incongruencies become settled as the story unfolds.
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# Posted 2:05 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THE UNKINDEST CUT: The headline of the actual story in the WaPo (print & online editions) reads "Many Hurdles Ahead for US". But on the WaPo homepage, the story gets listed as "White House is Hopeful Tide has Turned in Iraq." (Technichal question: Do the WaPo and NYT file cached versions of their respective homepages? It's frustrating to link to headlines that disappear.) Anyhow, talk about being set up for a fall:
With the introduction of both a new Iraqi government and a new U.N. draft resolution, the Bush administration senses the beginning of the end to its controversial and costly intervention in Iraq...

President Bush was almost giddily buoyant during a Rose Garden news conference about Iraq's interim government...Not since the "Mission Accomplished" photograph aboard the USS Lincoln on May 1 last year, when Bush declared an end to major combat operations in Iraq, has the administration appeared as upbeat about the future.
The funny thing is, Bush didn't actually say anything terribly optimistic at yesterday's press conference. I'm guessing he did appear quite giddy, however, since his moods tend to be fairly transparent. (Either that, or he is a far better actor than Ronald Reagan ever was.) I guess you might say that Bush learned the lesson of the "Mission Accomplished" debacle: don't go on the record as an optimist if you aren't pretty damn sure that the breaks will go your way. After all, when the administration gets dealt its next blow in Iraq, what are the critics going to say? That the President's smile was too broad back on June 1st?

UPDATE: The WaPo has changed the headline on its homepage to "Many Hurdles Still Ahead for United States in Iraq".
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Tuesday, June 01, 2004

# Posted 8:45 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

IS PERVEZ PERVERSE? President Musharraf of Pakistan has a column in today's WaPo that would be extremely persuasive if it weren't written by a corrupt dictator.
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# Posted 8:34 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

HAITI STILL A TOTAL MESS: Not that it's surprising. Still, I think there is no question that the Bush administration did the right thing by forcing Aristide out and sending in US troops. (For an argument to the contrary, see Randy Paul.) Those troops will soon return home, to be replaced by a larger contingent of Brazilians. Rebuilding Haiti is clearly a good cause and our allies in Europe and Latin America are willing to pick up where the US left off.
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# Posted 6:08 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

LEAVE HISTORY TO THE PROFESSIONALS, TOM: Invoking Germany and Japan as precedents for nation-building in Iraq doesn't really work. There are some very important lessons to be learned, but critics can (and will) immediately point out that the invasion of Iraq was no World War II and that America doesn't have thorough-going European support like it did in '45. Pretty much, starting in about Germany and Japan means starting up an unproductive discussion about Iraq.

However, since Tom Friedman mentioned Germany and Japan first, I think it's a good idea to respond. Friedman writes that
I have a "Tilt Theory of History." The Tilt Theory states that countries and cultures do not change by sudden transformations. They change when, by wise diplomacy and leadership, you take a country, a culture or a region that has been tilted in the wrong direction and tilt it in the right direction, so that the process of gradual internal transformation can take place over a generation...

We did not and cannot liberate Iraqis. They have to liberate themselves. That is what the Japanese and Germans did. All we can hope to do is help them tilt their country in a positive direction.
Bollocks, bollocks, bollocks. The shock of defeat and the sudden infusion of American ideals provoked a radical transformation of both German and Japanese society and culture. For the best English-language accounts of these transformations, see From Shadow to Substance by Dennis Bark & David Gress and Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II by John Dower.

Way back in October 2002, Dower predicted that Iraq would not become another Japan because the US did not have the will power to endure the occupation. OxBlog half-agreed with Dower. I said that will power was, in fact, the critical issue, but that it was too early to dismiss the Bush Administration's commitment to nation-building. As things have turned out, the issue isn't commitment but competence.

So, does incompetence mean that we should settle for a tilt rather than a transformation? In some respects, perhaps. But there is no reason to compromise on our insistence that Iraq must have an elected government that respects the rights of its citizens. That alone would amount to a transformation. And if such a government can survice, Iraqis will have plenty of opportunities to liberate their culture and society from the legacy of Saddam.

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# Posted 5:42 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

"DIVERSE GOVERNMENT TAKES SHAPE IN IRAQ": That the banner headline on the NYT homepage right now. The article that goes along with it is almost as upbeat as the headline. After all, is there anything that the NYT approves of more than diversity?

Anyhow, I'm not impressed with the handover. Yes, I know -- OxBlog is always supposed to be more upbeat than the NYT. I just feel that this is one of those formal occasions that gets big headlines because it's a formal occasion and not because it really matters. The fact remains that this is a caretaker government with partial sovereignty.

Strangely, even the Times' account of Bush's remarks about the transition doesn't even challenge any of the President's vague assertions or remind readers of the weaknesses in his speech from last week. In fact, the article doesn't even bother quoting a Kerry campaign spokesman or other Democratic figure. It is as if someone snuck a whole lot of ecstasy tablets into the water filtration system on West 43rd St.

UPDATE: The WaPo coverage is pretty soft, too.
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# Posted 5:38 AM by Patrick Belton  

ADVERT OF THE DAY AWARD: goes to the campaign in the Dublin International Airport, lining the corridor between arrivals and passport control, which features roughly thirty posters of the fetching Hungarian Miss Europe, Zsuzsanna Laky, over a caption reading (roughly), 'If you want her, you need to take all of us. Budapest: A European Capital, 2004'. Talk about putting your best face forward....
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# Posted 1:38 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

BELATED MEMORIAL DAY THOUGHTS:
We don't really celebrate many of our holidays as intended here in the USA, but in the middle of a time of war it really does seem worth thinking a bit about the extraordinary courage and dedication shown by the members of the armed forces, especially today's all-volunteer force. It's remarkable as you drive through the outside-the-beltway part of Virginia and northern North Carolina just how frequently you see signs in local businesses admonishing passers-by and customers to support the troops. And, indeed, they deserve our support.
That's from Matt. He adds: "It seems to me that this is probably best done by providing them with some leadership that knows how to do its job properly." I half agree, but I think that for this one day, we should just focus on the troops and their personal sacrifices.
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# Posted 1:36 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

MATT YGLESIAS = ERIC CARTMAN? Why does Matt have an insatiable need to poke things with sticks?
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Monday, May 31, 2004

# Posted 11:56 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

ARE THE JOURNALISTS LISTENING? When bloggers ask whether blogs matter, what they really mean is whether professional journalists respond to our questions and demands. We don't expect politicians to listen to us. We don't expect corporate executives to listen to us. But we see ourselves as journalists' next-of-kin and therefore deserve their attention.

While bloggers may argue about whether journalists listen, Rachel Smolkin actually went out there and asked a whole lot of actual journalists whether they make time for blogs. Most of the answers are pretty non-committal. The most interesting comes from NYT correspondent Jodi Wilgoren, who showed some interest in Wilgoren Watch. However, her critics
"typically did not reflect much knowledge about or understanding of mainstream journalism," Wilgoren says, and often came from passionate Dean supporters. "I got many, many letters accusing me of being a tool of the Republican administration or trying to destroy Howard Dean."
I think Wilgoren is throwing the baby out with the bath water. Certainly, some of her critics are mindless leftists. But even OxBlog thought that her coverage of Dean was harsh and unfair.

Now, the irony here is that Wilgoren is quite liberal herself, as one can tell from her efforts to whitewash the crimes of David Gilbert and Kathy Boudin. While Wilgoren deserves credit for at least looking at blogs, I think that her reaction may become typical for mainstream journalists, i.e. find a few online critics you can label as ignorant and use their prejudice to justify ignoring the blogosphere as a whole. According to NYT ombudsman Daniel Okrent,
"In some instances, some [blogs] are so partisan -- even though they're right in many instances -- they're immediately discredited within the newsroom because of their partisanship," [Okrent said]. "If the comment comes from someone who isn't identified as a partisan, they take it much more seriously."
This Okrent quote comes from an excellent column by Marc Glaser which addresses many of the same issues that Smolkin's essay does. Whereas Smolkin looks at the issue more broadly, Glaser focuses on a specific incident in which National Debate editor Robert Cox forced NYT editorial page editor Gail Collins to make an official policy change that imposed tougher standards on her columnists.

Now, it's hard to say whether Cox got a response from the Times because he was a blogger or because he was right. After all, non-blogging readers sometimes get responses as well if they're right. However, the fact that Cox got the Times' attention by posting a parody of their website -- thus provoking the threat of the lawsuit -- suggests that his medium played an important.

The Cox case provides an interesting contrast with the Trent Lott affair, which Rachel Smolkin covers quite nicely. As I see it, the difference between the two is that Cox was directly challenging the competence and authority of professional jouralists, while Josh Marshall and others helped bring down Trent Lott by converting journalists to the anti-Lott cause.

I think both sorts of influence are quite significant, although the Cox variety is somewhat more interesting because it demonstrates that when bloggers go head to head with the pros, they can still come out on top.

Now, last but not least, we come to Dan Drezner and Henry Farrell's effort to conduct a systematic survey of which blogs journalists actually read. I think that their approach is important since Smolkin's essay is rather anecdotal and Glaser's focuses only bloggers' success.

The results of Dan and Henry's survey aren't exactly a surprise. Journalists read the same blogs that bloggers read: Sullivan, Reynolds, Marshall, etc. But that is still a very significant finding because it demonstrates that journalists have developed a surprisingly similar sense of who is worth reading in the blogosphere. (Sadly, OxBlog didn't make the Top 10. Oh well.)

If there is one thing I'd add to all of these worthwhile contributions, it's that we still need to develop a better idea, in our own minds at least, of what role(s) blogs are supposed to play. Smolkin tends to suggest that blogs set themselves up as an alternative to mainstream, reportorial journalism. But I like Jay Rosen's take better:
Almost all of the op-ed writing in America used to be on op-ed pages. That is no longer true. Weblogs have taken over part of that territory. And while the best of them may have 'opinion clout,' the simple fact that they have some territory alongside Big Media is significant.
Bloggers are never going to replace correspondents. But we may be able to knock off Maureen Dowd.
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# Posted 11:14 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

CALL IT A HUNCH: The WaPo has an interesting analysis of the time stamps on the Abu Ghraib prison photo. One fact that really struck me was that soldiers in the 372nd began to abuse prisoners within two days of arriving at Abu Ghraib.

That being the case, it's very hard to imagine how the abuse could have taken place without some sort of green light from either military intelligence or superior officers. Yes, it is possible that these few soldiers were so sadistic that they leapt at the opportunity to commit human rights violations. But the alternative is too compelling to be ruled out.
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# Posted 1:48 PM by Patrick Belton  

DISPATCHES FROM KABUL: OxBlog's Afghanistan correspondent is back afield, and sends in part one in a series of despatches to us:
Part I: Arrival

As a kindness to the daily herd of travelers waiting to see if their flights show up, the departure lounge of Kabul airport has been decorated with inadvertently funny signs. "No accompanists allowed beyond waiting area" -- once you pass through security, you're singing a capella. And there's the official list of items which are forbidden in one's handbag:

1. The handbag.
2. Explosives and military matters.
3. Gases and passions.

We showed up, handbags, passions, and all, in the early afternoon to a mostly empty airport -- the major commercial flights are all scheduled to depart in the morning. We were headed from Kabul to northern Afghanistan for a three-day tour of the almond groves with a couple California nut experts. (They pronounced almond to rhyme with "salmon," something I never quite got used to). The airport staff handed us flattering little Frequent Flyer -- Kunduz bag tags and hurried us through security to our two-prop AirServ charter plane. We scrunched into our seats; the pilots elbowed their way down the two-foot-wide aisle, buckled up, then craned their heads back for a conversational safety lecture.

I'd braced myself for a bumpy ride, but the skies were friendly -- and the view from the air so breathtaking I probably wouldn't have noticed if we'd dropped an engine. The mountains of Panjshir rose up like a white wall to our right, and to the left was the great central massif of Afghanistan, with ridge after snow-capped ridge rippling out to the horizon. Mohibi, our Afghan companion, pointed out the winding ravines running up to Bamiyan at the heart of the country. I was glued to the window for the whole flight. The mountains became hills, the hills gently rolling grassland, and we dropped smoothly into Kunduz.

The trip quickly became less smooth. We had sent up a couple of drivers the day before -- and, per our company's new security policy, we had called up the ex-military guy who runs the main protection racket in Kabul and asked him to send two cars full of hired "shooters" for our defense. However, when we arrived at Kunduz airport (which is a couple miles out of town), we found ourselves alone save for a handful of curious airport guards. After a couple of heated phone calls, our drivers showed up, speeding like the devil. Turned out they'd been ready to leave for the airport on time, but the shooters had taken a little while to muster up. As we spoke, our security escort arrived: two SUVs full of skinny, scruffy, shabbily clad Panjshiri irregulars, chain-smoking and casually brandishing their Kalashnikovs as they piled out of their cars. They didn't look very impressive. I imagine the Soviets thought the same thing.

We took off for town. The roads around Kunduz are unpaved, and throw up tremendous clouds of fine white dust as you drive along them. Somehow, our shooters managed to lose us in the cloud. I asked where they'd gone. Mohibi doubtfully said, "I think I saw them turn back to the airport." I asked why on earth they would have gone back to the airport. Mohibi shrugged and said, "Because the sky is so high" -- a wonderful Afghan phrase, which I heard him use a lot over the next few days. The shooters later caught up with us, and chewed out our drivers at length for "losing" them again. They then informed us that today, they were only contracted to escort us around Kunduz city, and that if we were going to drive out of the city for site visits we would need to pay them extra for petrol. This so irked our Afghan companion that he told them to get lost and meet us tomorrow morning. We drove around for the rest of the afternoon cheerfully unprotected.

Kunduz is a small provincial capital, with half-paved streets full of colorful horse-drawn carts. It's the city where the Taliban lost the war for the North back in 2001 (also losing one John Walker Lindh as a captive to the conquering Northern Alliance), and it was the first (and so far the only) city outside Kabul to get its own ISAF peacekeeping force. Course, there was already a pretty robust peace to keep -- unlike, say, the cities of Herat or Mazar-e-Sharif, Kunduz had no mighty warlord or clashing commanders to make life difficult for occupying troops, and it's well away from the Taliban resurgence. The surrounding countryside reportedly has a bit of a bandit problem, but the roads north to Tajikistan are open again. Power wires that were yanked down and sold as copper to Pakistan during the war are going back up, with electricity two or three hours a day.

The farm country around Kunduz is simply beautiful: broad fields of golden wheat and brilliant green rice, densely planted stands of poplar, old almond trees shading the fields. And when you head south out of the city, you quickly find yourself driving through my stereotype of a Central Asian landscape: a broad tableland of pasture and wheat fields, with a wall of nearly treeless pale green hills springing up at the horizon, and the snowy mountains of Badakhshan drifting sky-blue in the distance.

As we drove, I jokingly asked Mohibi why the Afghans referred to the mountains as the Hindu Kush -- seemed odd, given that they're in a resoundingly Muslim-majority region. "Well, you see, once there was an Afghan and a Hindu traveling together from Hindustan to Afghanistan," Mohibi informed me, beaming. "The Hindu had a very warm wolf skin coat, and the Afghan had only a shirt, but he had enough money, and he was very clever. So he said to the Hindu, give me your coat and I will give you all my money. The Hindu was greedy, he said okay. So the Afghan took the coat. When they came to the mountain, the Hindu realized it was so cold, so he said, I will pay you double, just give me back the coat. The Afghan said no. Soon the Hindu drop dead. The Afghan take all his money and keep the coat. That is why they call it 'Hindu' -- meaning Hindu -- and 'Kush' -- meaning kill." I learn something new every day.

We visited a bunch of farmer associations, orchards, and nurseries that afternoon. Our visiting California consultants had brought along sacks of cheap plastic animals, the kind you can buy by the hundred in most dollar stores in the States, and handed them out one at a time to the local kids wherever we went. It was a nice idea -- you never saw a little molded plastic pelican inspire such mirth and delight. They said that whenever they went to Mexico, they brought toy soldiers, but had thought better of it in this case.

The "Modesto boys" also dispensed little snippets of agronomical wisdom, but the whole three-day trip was mostly an excuse for our Deputy Head of Project for Agriculture to drive around the north and get a feel for the place. The Afghan farmers spread out blankets, carpets, and pillows in the shade of the almond trees, gave us juice boxes imported from Pakistan, and tried to draw our attention away from the opium poppies three fields over. When it finally began to get dark, we drove back to the German guesthouse in Kunduz.

Our dinner topics that night included rhetting, scutching, and hackling. You might think this was just the common South Asian expat game of describing the grotesque symptoms of whatever stomach virus we contracted from last night's salad. But no -- one of our companions was astonished to find that the local Afghans only used flax as an oilseed, and had never heard of linen. He immediately launched into a Heineken-fueled explanation of every step in the process of extracting flax fibers and turning them into tablecloths. As you might expect for a process older than the English language, it's got its own highly specific medieval-sounding vocabulary. Afghan and American alike, the rest of us listened with baffled interest.

Then our Deputy Head began to argue that our project should focus on getting Afghans to invest in "tree bonds" -- selling the ten-year income stream from a poplar grove. Apparently it worked in Bolivia. When someone questioned whether Afghan poplars were really a secure investment, the Deputy Head shook a finger in our collective faces. "I've worked in international development for forty long years, and it's been one failure after another. You try an idea, you hope it'll work, and it never does. But this, this works. This is my home run." The prospect of working in this field for four decades and coming out of it with a single success -- and tree bonds, at that -- was a bit discouraging.

We eventually crashed in our mildewed, over-warm rooms. I woke up around six and washed my hair in the sink (no functional shower) before hitting the road again.

more to follow....


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# Posted 6:02 AM by Patrick Belton  

OUR HONOURED DEAD: General Logan's General Order #11, officially established Memorial Day (then called Decoration Day) in 1868. The day is celebrated officially in the United States by the placing of a small flag onto each grave at the Arlington National Cemetery, and the laying of a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier by the President.

PBS has a tribute. The White House Commission on Remembrance encourages the observance of one minute of silence at three o'clock in recognition of the nation's war dead.
They shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.
-Laurence Binyon, Trinity College, Oxford, 1914
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# Posted 5:14 AM by Patrick Belton  

ON A PERSONAL NOTE....Congratulations to OxBlog's good friends Hae Won and Wilson! Those of us who've already bought shares in the institution of marriage have a strong interest in keeping the share price high and protecting our investment, so thanks, you guys! :)
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# Posted 12:37 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

GANDALF & SEX AND THE CITY: Did you know that Kim Cattrall debuted on Broadway opposite Ian McKellen in Chekhov's Wild Honey?
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Sunday, May 30, 2004

# Posted 10:39 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

WES CLARK, SUPERPUNDIT: Suddenly, he's everywhere. A cover story in the Washington Monthly. A share of the cover from TNR's special issue on Iraq. What is it that Wes Clark wants to say?

With regard to Iraq, Clark has two big ideas -- one new and one old. The old idea is that if we're nice to Europe, it will send its soldiers over to Iraq to die for our cause. Given that the French have already said that their soldiers will never, ever serve in Iraq, that approach probably won't work. Clark's new idea is that the United States must
involve regional governments in Iraq's reconstruction, giving them a seat at the table in that country's development so they understand that they are not the next targets of regime change.
By regional governments, Clark actually does mean Syria, Iran, Saudi Arabia, etc. Of course, has to wonder how we can help Iraq become more democratic by involving some of the world's most repressive dictatorships in its reconstruction. The closest Clark comes to answering this question is when he writes that
Of course, the United States will likely differ sharply with the positions some of these states take, but it is better to hash out such issues at the negotiating table than in vitriolic exchanges via the media.
Actually, I prefer vitriolic exchanges via the media. Compromising with Syria, Iran and Saudi Arabia about the future of Iraq means selling out the Iraqis we supposedly liberated.

Now what about Clark's cover essay in the Washington Monthly? It's supposed to be the big think-piece in which he demonstrates that he can apply the lessons of history to solve those problems that ignorant neo-cons just don't understand. (Translation: "Please, please Mr. Kerry, make me your Secretary of State!") Of course, to apply the lessons of history, you actually have to know some history first. Let's start with the last two sentences of Clark's essay:
If the events of the last year tell us anything, it is that democracy in the Middle East is unlikely to come at the point of our gun. And Ronald Reagan would have known better than to try.
Actually, promoting democracy at gunpoint was exactly what Reagan was all about. Remember Nicaragua? You know, the country where the United States sent guns to brutal right-wing guerrillas in the hope that they would promote democracy?

Bizarrely enough, that strategy worked despite its appalling cost in terms of Nicaraguan blood. A similar strategy, perhaps even bloodier, did the trick in El Salvador. Unfortunately, things in Afghanistan didn't turn out as well. Now, Clark has gone on the record saying that he voted for Reagan. As far as I can tell, he must've confused Reagan with Mondale.

Getting back to the point, the big lesson that Clark draws from our experience in the Cold War is that cultural engagement is the secret to victory. He writes that
During the 1950s and 1960s, containment...[entailed] holding the line against Soviet expansion with U.S. military buildups while quietly advancing a simultaneous program of cultural engagement with citizens and dissidents in countries under the Soviet thumb...

[In the 1980s], Western organizations provided training for a generation of human-rights workers. Western broadcast media pumped in culture and political thought, raising popular expectations and undercutting Communist state propaganda. And Western businesses and financial institutions entered the scene, too, ensnaring command economies in Western market pricing and credit practices.
Unless Clark is talking about China, I really can't think of any Communist state whose command economy even came close to being "ensnared" by Western corporations. As for Western media, the West Germans were pretty much the only ones who reached a Communist audience, but not in the Soviet Union. And as for the 1950s and 1960s, there were really no "cultural engagement" programs of any significance. In short, Clark's history of the Cold War is basically imaginary.

So there. I've now spent far too much time criticizing someone whom Democratic voters (except in Oklahoma) decided wasn't good enough to be their candidate for President. But when you're a graduate student, you feel compelled to expose the ignorance of anyone who tramples on your area of expertise. How demented.
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# Posted 10:19 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

CHALABI CENTRAL: Laura Rozen is a professional journalist whose blog has become the uber-source for liberals following the Chalabi scandal. Rozen seems to be extremely well-informed although her resentment of the neo-cons is palpable and vehement. (Yes, I know. Most liberals believe that being extremely well-informed and extremely resentful of the neo-cons go hand in hand. But I think you get what I'm saying.)
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# Posted 10:02 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

WHAT LIBERAL MEDIA? Kevin Drum is bashing Fred Barnes. While you can judge the merits their arguments for yourself, what really interests me is how the biggest ideological divide between myself and moderate liberal bloggers such as Kevin and Matt Yglesias is the issue of media bias. Neither of them will give an inch on this issue and constantly denounce conservative criticism of the media as disingenuous or even dishonest.

For most of America, the conservative-liberal divide focuses on Iraq, both the invasion and its aftermath. Yet in spite of my relative optimism about both, I share Kevin and Matt's sense that all of the big decisions have been close calls and that a strong case exists for both sides. So why has the issue of media bias become so divisive? My best guess is that because bloggers depend so much on mainstream journalists, even the slightest differences in our perception of their work become greatly magnified. But again, that's just a guess.
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# Posted 5:46 PM by Patrick Belton  

MORE ON ALLAWI: Just to follow up on David's post below, the Arabic page of Allawi's Iraqi National Accord party spells his name أياد علاوي - that is, with no shadda over the لا ('la'), and the shadda is generally not meant to be omitted.

On the other hand, the INA's English pages consistently spell his name 'Allawi', suggesting that it's probably the more appropriate English spelling.
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# Posted 4:55 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THE CASE AGAINST ALLAWI: Courtesy of Spencer Ackerman. Ackerman overdoes it, but makes some good points. Unfortunately, he doesn't look at the all-important relationship between Allawi and Sistani, which is supposedly good.

On a related note, there seems to be persistent disagreement about whether to spell the Prime Minister's name "Alawi" or "Allawi". I haven't seen the PM's name spelled out in Arabic, but I'm guessing that the relevant issue is whether or not there is a pronunciation marker known as a "shadda" over the 'L' in Allawi's name. The role of the shadda is to double the sound of a consonant, so it would turn 'L' into 'LL'.
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# Posted 4:42 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THE GREATEST GENERATION -- OR THE MOST LASCIVIOUS?
Guy Kemp, 85, a former Navy Seabee who served in the Pacific, found himself jitterbugging to "Chattanooga Choo-Choo" with a woman he didn't know.
Hey, I hope I'm that energetic at 85. Here at OxBlog, we've only got respect for the millions who served in the War. We just think they need a little ribbing, too.
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# Posted 12:55 PM by Patrick Belton  

RAIN ON YOUR WEDDING DAY NOT REALLY IRONIC, RESEARCHERS FIND: OxBlog favourite Belle Waring, just one of the many excellent bloggers to be found over on Crooked Timber, points out that the preponderance of situations in the Alanis Morrisette Song 'Ironic' were not, in fact, ironic:
A recent post on our blog about whether any of the situations in the Alanis Morrisette Song “Ironic” were, in fact, ironic, has garnered unexpected interest. I looked at the lyrics more carefully, and I think perhaps half could be said to qualify in an extended sense, that is, they seem like dramatic irony. So: “rain on your wedding day” is unquestionably not ironic, it’s just somewhat unfortunate. But I’ll give her “death-row pardon two minutes late”, I guess, if we accept a certain notion of irony I outline below.
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# Posted 8:48 AM by Patrick Belton  

AND DÉJÀ VU ALL-OVER-AGAIN HEADLINE OF THE DAY: 'Hamas leader killed in Israeli helicopter strike.' From CNN.
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# Posted 8:38 AM by Patrick Belton  

AMBITION ODDLY PHRASED QUOTE OF THE DAY: From WaPo: Although some Kerry staff aides cringe at their nickname, Holbrooke jested upon hearing that he is called a Pooh-bah, "It's the highest rank I've ever held, and I hope by the end of the campaign to be promoted to pasha."
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# Posted 8:01 AM by Patrick Belton  

I'M GLAD THERE'S AN ACADEMY, BECAUSE: how else then would we have articles such as On Toothpicking in Early Hominids, by W.A. Agger, T.L. McAndrews, and J.A. Hlaudy, Current Anthropology (45:3), June 2004, Page 403ff.
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# Posted 2:12 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

MORE GORE: Robert Tagorda points out a rather uncomfortable contradiction in the Vice President's recent speech.
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# Posted 2:02 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

KERRY ON IRAQ: The Bush-Cheney website has posted a rather clever interactive page that allows you to click on a given date and see what John Kerry was saying about Iraq at the time. There is no smoking gun which allows you to say "Ha! I knew he was a hypocrite!", but it is amazing how many different positions Kerry can appear to take without actually contradicting himself. On the other hand, Kerry seems to recognize that his criticism of the President can only go so far. It's not an easy position to be in.
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Saturday, May 29, 2004

# Posted 8:03 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

A TALE OF TWO KERRYS: Both the WaPo and NYT have put up detailed summaries of Kerry's recent remarks about foreign policy. The headlines are all that you need to tell the difference between the two papers perspectives. Since noon, the top story on the WaPo website has been "Kerry: Security Trumps Promoting Democracy". On the NYT homepage, the third bullet point beneath a story about Iraq has a link entitled "Kerry Faults Bush on Security Issues". (NB: These are the headlines on the front page of the WaPo and NYT, respectively. The URLs for the articles have slightly different ones.)

So, what did Kerry actually say? The first sentence in the WaPo account reads:
Sen. John F. Kerry indicated that as president he would play down the promotion of democracy as a leading goal in dealing with Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, China and Russia, instead focusing on other objectives that he said are more central to the United States' security.
Not what I'd like to hear, but not an unreasonable position either. After all, how much has Bush done for democracy in any of those countries? One might even say that the President's lofty rhetoric and minimal follow-through have reinforced certain dictators' suspicions that the US only cares about Al Qaeda.

Of course, just because Kerry's position is reasonable doesn't mean the NYT should've ignored it. The NYT piece is almost entirely about Kerry's comments on North Korea and his belief that the Bush administration is excessively preoccupied with Iraq.

Now, it's probably worth mentioning that a WaPo correspondent conducted the interview with Kerry. Thus, that paper has an incentive to turn it into big news while the NYT has an incentive to play it down. Still, I would've appreciated at least one sentence describing Kerry's demotion of democracy to a secondary United States objective.

While it's sort of inevitable that different papers provide different accounts of the same event, the difference here seems to have ideological connotations. After all, it was just three days ago that a NYT news analysis column declared that Kerry and Bush had almost identical positions on Iraq -- totally disregarding Kerry's demotion of democracy to a secondary objective there.

Of course, one could turn this whole analysis around and say that the WaPo is promoting its own agenda which just happens to resemble the one that we favor here on OxBlog. But given that one of the unspoken principles of campaign coverage is that journalists have an obligation to point out significant differences between the candidates, it's hard to understand how the Times could ignore remarks made by Kerry that are so completely at odd with the positions taken by Bush.
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# Posted 5:32 PM by Patrick Belton  

WRONG, WRONG, WRONG.

(Wrong.)
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# Posted 3:25 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

A DAMN USEFUL SITE: I really like Memeorandum. Basically, it's a site that complies a list of the Big Media stories most linked to by bloggers on all sides of the political spectrum. Without any pretensions of being scientific, it does a surprisingly good job of filtering out the noise and delivering the news that people actually care about.
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# Posted 3:23 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

TERRORISTS UNLEASH PLAGUE OF CICADAS: MSNBC reports that John Ashcroft will believe anything. I can't vouch for the MSNBC reports, but it definitely fits with my prejudices about Ashcroft.
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# Posted 3:16 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

DEVIL'S ADVOCATES: The NYT reports that Richard Perle & Co. stormed into Condi Rice's office to demand that Jerry Bremer stop beating up on Ahmad Chalabi. How embarrassing. Leo Strauss must be rolling in his grave.
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# Posted 12:28 PM by Patrick Belton  

CAPTION OF THE DAY award goes to BBC, for its caption accompanying a photograph which accompanied a report on violent protests taking place at the end of an EU-Latin America summit in Guadalajara: 'The rioters did not appear to be promoting a particular cause'.
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# Posted 5:47 AM by Patrick Belton  

IRANIAN PLANS TO 'TAKE OVER' BRITAIN: This from segments of Iran's Revolutionary Guards opposed to President Khatami's policy of 'dialogue of civilisations', and via Al-Sharq al-Awsat, and MEMRI. More convincingly, they're making an effort at recruiting suicide volunteers to be sent to Iraq, Lebanon, and Palestine.
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# Posted 12:54 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

FASCINATING NONSENSE: I have absolutely no idea what to make of the polls coming out of Iraq. The most comprehensive poll, conducted by USA Today/CNN/Gallup, starts out sounding like a White House press release. More Iraqis say they are better off rather than worse off since the invasion. More than 60% think Iraq will be better off in five years than it was before the invasion.

Then the news gets even better: 40% of Iraqis identify democracy as the best form of government for Iraq, with only 12% preferring an Iranian model. 50% think that five years from now Iraq will be a democracy, with no other form of government getting more than 12 percent. (Imagine asking Americans the same question!) Finally, and almost unbelievably, an overwhelming majority of Iraqis favor constitutional provisions protecting freedom of religion (73%), freedom of assembly (77%), and freedom of speech (94%).

Now here's the bad news: The CPA approval rating is just 23%, with 46% against it. The split for the US as a whole is 23-55. The UN split is 33-23 with 37 undecided. 50% say the US isn't serious about establishing a democratic system, while 37% say it is. 55% say the US won't leave unless it is forced out. When it comes to occupation forces, 45% want them gone after June 30th while another 45% don't.

By the way, don't forget to adjust all of these numbers about 15% in the unhappy direction, since the Kurds are cheerleaders for the Bush-Cheney re-election effort. For example, 96% of them see the US favorably and 98% believe it wants to promote democracy in Iraq.

So, what can one say about numbers like this? First of all, despite the apparent contradictions, I think the numbers are probably sound since an ABC News poll in February got very similar results. According to ABC, Iraqis are happy with how things are, think they're getting better, but want the US out. 49% want democracy and only 21% want an Islamic state (but 28% want a strong leader "for life". Also, another finding that I could only believe after reading it in both polls was that a strong majority of Iraqis have favorable opinions of the new police and armed forces.

Albeit hesitantly, I'm going to describe these polls as good news. It would be almost unthinkable for Iraqis to still have a positive opinion of an occupying power this long after the initial invasion. But the Iraqis' optimism about the future and faith in democracy suggest that the country may really have a chance.
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# Posted 12:51 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

FOUR YEARS TOO LATE: "[Gore's] speech was extraordinary — blunt, colorful and delivered with the kind of passion you seldom see in politics anymore." Then again, most swing voters don't exactly share the opinions of Bob Herbert.
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# Posted 12:48 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

SO FUNNY I FORGOT TO LAUGH: Someone's research assistant should be editing his boss' material.
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# Posted 12:34 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

TYPICAL NEO-CON BULLSH**:
Sudanese peasants will be naming their sons "George Bush" because he scored a humanitarian victory this week that could be a momentous event around the globe — although almost nobody noticed. It was Bush administration diplomacy that led to an accord to end a 20-year civil war between Sudan's north and south after two million deaths.

If the peace holds, hundreds of thousands of lives will be saved, millions of refugees will return home, and a region of Africa may be revived.
Not exactly what you expect from Nick Kristof, is it? As Kristof points out, there still a long way to go in Sudan:
While Mr. Bush has done far too little, he has at least issued a written statement, sent aides to speak forcefully at the U.N. and raised the matter with Sudan's leaders. That's more than the Europeans or the U.N. has done. Where are Tony Blair and Jacques Chirac? Where are African leaders, like Nelson Mandela? Why isn't John Kerry speaking out forcefully? And why are ordinary Americans silent?
I just don't understand the guy. Three days ago, he was telling us that "Our embrace of Mr. Sharon hobbles us in Iraq even more than those photos from Abu Ghraib." Well, this much I can say: radical mood swings are a Kristof hallmark. Plus, Nick has really cute kids.
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Friday, May 28, 2004

# Posted 11:57 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

MURDER IS MURDER IS MURDER: Why has the Commander-in-Chief remained silent about the murder of at least ten prisoners of war and the refusal of the Pentagon to investigate their deaths seriously?
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# Posted 11:50 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

CIA FAVORITE BECOMES IRAQI PM: On the one hand, Iyad Allawi won the unananimous support of the Governing Council. On the other hand, won't it be a little hard for someone so closely associated with the CIA to win the trust of the average Iraqi? Then again, he apparently has Sistani's support.

One implication of Allawi's selection is that the US won't have to deal with a hypothetical request to pull its soldiers out of Iraq. Given Sistani's tolerant approach to the American presence and Allawi's own relationship with the US, it's hard to see why he would play the nationalist card unless he were completely desperate for support.

But with Sistani's backing, there is little chance that he will ever be that deseprate. (Unless he did something really stupid like spying for the Iranian government...)

UPDATE: The NYT tells quite a different story. They're calling Alawi "a choice for prime minister certain to be seen more as an American candidate than one of the United Nations or the Iraqis themselves."
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