Tuesday, June 15, 2004

# Posted 3:48 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

HOW REAGAN WON THE COLD WAR: In response to my recent post, RG makes a very well-informed argument about Reagan's impact on the Soviets:
Your posting on the Gorbachev factor contains one serious error of fact and a couple of analytical deficiencies.

The factual is:
"Kaplan's point about Andropov is misleading, since the Politburo appointed him as General Secretary in the expectation that he would die. However, few of us now remember that Chernenko was born in the same year as Ronald Reagan. He was a hardliner and he wasn't supposed to die."
In point of fact, Andropov's demise was the one that was unexpected. Chernenko was known to be sick when he was elevated to the post of general secretary, as can be verified by reviewing newspaper and magazine articles of the time. His appointment was widely considered a surprise for the fact of his being sick, and came about only because the even sicker older men in the Politburo weren't quite ready for the coming generational shift in power.

The analytical deficiencies are:
1). The failure to reckon with the effects of the Pershing II deployment. I haven't read Kaplan's piece but would suspect this failing is present in his analysis too. Pershing II, not SDI, was Reagan's decisive contribution to the resolution of the Cold War. The deployment came despite massive protests in Western Europe (this is the time of "The Fate of the Earth" and the rise of the Green Party in Germany) and negated the Kremlin's hopes of driving a wedge between the US and the European allies. It took skilled diplomacy to keep Germany and the Benelux countries in the fold, and under a different president the confrontation very likely would have had a different outcome.

2). The failure to reckon with the inspirational effort of Reagan's rhetoric behind the Curtain. I think the testimony of folks like Walesa and Havel to this point is quite irrefutable. And I don't see either Carter or Mondale either saying the things Reagan did, or inspiring the same reaction among the captive peoples if they had tried.
Bottom line: I read Brown's book several years ago and fully agree that without Gorbachev, the end of the Cold War doesn't play out as it does. But I also think Reagan's presence in the White House and conduct of policy narrowed Gorbachev's options and forced him onto a path it wasn't his intention to take. I say this as someone who voted for Anderson in 1980 and Mondale in 1984. My academic specialty at the time was US-Soviet relations and I remember full well that no one in the field, not Hough, Stoessinger, Bialer, Ulam, Gaddis, etc., saw the demise of the Soviet Union coming. That it did come forced me to reassess Reagan, and I had to conclude he got quite a few more things right than he was generally given credit for.
RG makes some good points. With regard to Andropov & Chernenko, I'm to guess that my bad memory is responsible for the error. I'll also go back to Brown and see what he says.

With regard to the Pershing deployment, I disagree with SG's suggestion that it was a sort of final gambit on the Kremlin's part, after which they gave up on opposing the West. I'm not sure what the state of the evidence is on this point, but I was under the impression that the Pershing deployment was one more step in the arms control dance, rather than a historic watershed.

Finally, regard to the inspirational effect of Reagan's rhetoric, the testimony of Walesa, Havel and others is all but irrefutable. Yet it was Carter who first energized Soviet dissidents with his unprecedented support for international human rights. To be sure, Carter's rhetoric on Soviet human rights violations became much less confrontational after his first year in office. Even so, it did make a difference.

The more important point, however, is that the inspirational value of Reagan's rhetoric had a negligible impact on Gorbachev's decision to let the the Eastern European satellites break out of the Soviet orbit. I think the best book on this subject is Jacques Levesque's The Engima of 1989: The USSR and the Liberation of Eastern Europe. It's basic argument is that the primary determinant of Gorbachev's Eastern European policy was his absolute refusal to use force to keep the satellites in line. Nor did he actively encourage reforms in Eastern Europe. Rather, Gorbachev simply decided to let the Soviet Union's puppet goverments fend for themselves.

While fending for oneself may have been harder in the face of an inspired opposition, Reagan's rhetoric was hardly the decisive factor that motivated widespread opposition to Soviet rule. Moreover, the satellite governments' unwillingness to use force was an extension of Gorbachev's refusal to back up their security services with Soviet armed forces.

In the final analysis, I don't believe that either Pershing episode or the impact of Reagan's rhetoric provides the sort of evidence one would need to say that Reagan 'won' the Cold War rather than that he accepted Gorbachev's surrender.
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Monday, June 14, 2004

# Posted 11:47 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THE OTHER KIND OF OUTSOURCING: Not high-tech jobs to India, but national security in Iraq. If the accusations in this column are correct, then the Pentagon has been complicit in a process that is very, very disturbing.
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# Posted 11:33 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THE VIOLENCE CONTINUES: Car bombings in Iraq, today and yesterday. I have to admit, I'm amazed at how many of their fellow Iraqis the insurgents are willing to kill. Or in the case of jihadis, how many of their fellow Muslims.

UPDATE: The electrical power grid is also a mess.
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# Posted 11:24 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

Justice Antonin Scalia, who voted to strike down the statutory ban on flag burning some years ago, has described in speeches how doing so irritated him. He would have loved to put the defendant -- a "bearded, scruffy, sandal-wearing guy burning the American flag" -- in jail, he said. It made him "furious" not to be able to. But "I was handcuffed -- I couldn't help it, that's my understanding of the First Amendment. I can't do the nasty things I'd like to do."
As a frequent sandal-wearer, especially in the summer months, I am quite relieved.
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# Posted 4:42 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

DID REAGAN WIN THE COLD WAR? Perhaps Kevin and I have lost our ideological bearings, but he's convinced that Reagan won the Cold War while I think that all Reagan did was graciously accept Gorbachev's surrender. According to Kevin, Reagan
Really did win the Cold War. Maybe it didn't happen in quite the way his fans would like to believe, and maybe it wouldn't have happened at all without Mikhail Gorbachev, but still: Reagan's defense buildup and his quixotic insistence on pursuing an unworkable missile defense shield really did help to bring down the Soviet Union. When I say this, it's not because I especially want to believe it, but because the historical record seems to show that it really happened.
Kevin's argument rests on a recent Fred Kaplan column in Slate which develops an argument based on declassified transcripts of Politburo meetings. My counterargument rests on the work of Oxford prof Archie Brown, as presented in his excellent book, The Gorbachev Factor.

Hardly a Reagan cheerleader, Kaplan begins by pointing out that
The Gorbachev factor — too often overlooked in this week of Reagan-hagiography — was crucial. If Yuri Andropov's kidneys hadn't given out, or if Konstantin Chernenko had lived a few years longer, Reagan's bluster and passion would have come to naught; the Cold War would probably have raged on for years; indeed, Reagan's rhetoric and actions might have aggravated tensions.
Kaplan point about Andropov is misleading, since the Politburo appointed him as General Secretary in the expectation that he would die. However, few of us now remember that Chernenko was born in the same year as Ronald Reagan. He was a hardliner and he wasn't supposed to die.

In the past, I've heard conservatives argue that Reagan's military buildup, and especially Star Wars, led the Politburo to appoint Gorbachev in the expectation that he would enact reforms and reduce tensions with the United States. However, Brown makes a solid case that after Chernenko's death there was no one left in the Politburo with Gorbachev's influence, so his elevation reflected power politics rather than a sense of impending crisis. The fact that the rest of the Politburo showed little enthusiasm for Gorbachev's reforms isn't all that surprising given their initial preference for Chernenko.

When it comes to Star Wars, Kaplan's supposed ace in the hole is the transcript of a March 1986 Politburo meeting at which Gorbachev said
"Maybe we should just stop being afraid of the SDI! Of course, we cannot be indifferent to this dangerous program. But [the Americans] are betting precisely on the fact that the USSR is afraid of the SDI. … That is why they are putting pressure on us—to exhaust us."

If somebody says, "Maybe we should stop being afraid of the bogeyman," it usually means he is afraid of the bogeyman. It's pretty clear that in the spring of 1986 Gorbachev and all those around with him were at least a little afraid of the SDI bogeyman.
From where I stand, being "a little afraid" doesn't count for much. The real question is, why did Gorbachev respond to an economic crisis not just with market-based reforms, but with radical democratic reforms that dismantled the Communist Party's total domination of Soviet politics? After all, why not follow the nascent Chinese example of liberalizing the economy without giving up political control?

According to Minxin Pei, Gorbachev's political reforms were a desperate attempt to kickstart an economic reform package that wasn't going anywhere. While Pei makes some excellent points -- especially his explanation of why economic reforms worked in China but not the Soviet Union -- he makes the same mistake as Kaplan by not asking why Gorbachev found political reforms acceptable at all.

It on this point that Brown presents his strongest evidence. As part of younger generation, Gorbachev grew up in a family that suffered horrendously under Stalin. By the same token, Gorbachev was young enough at 25 to have been profoundly influenced by Khrushchev's denunciation of Stalin's inhumanity in 1956.

As a rising but open-minded star in the Communist Party, Gorbachev took advantage of his contacts with Western European politicians to learn more about the democratic and capitalist way of life. From men like Willy Brandt, Gorbachev learned that democracy and human rights were not slogans of American imperialism, but humane answers to the tragic deficiencies of the authoritarian Communist model.

Neither Chernenko nor any of the lesser lights on the Politburo shared this sort of background. The idea that any of them would have negotiated the INF treaty, held elections or let go of Eastern Europe is simply beyond the pale. While they might have spent less on weapons and initiated some economic reforms, the most they would have given Reagan was a second era of detene, not an end to the Cold War.

Kaplan concludes his article by writing that
If Reagan hadn't been president—if Jimmy Carter or Walter Mondale had defeated him or if Reagan had died and George H.W. Bush taken his place—Gorbachev almost certainly would not have received the push or reinforcement that he needed.
I don't buy that for a second. Gorbachev's political and military reforms had nothing to do with Reagan's push. Instead, they were the result of an intensely personal vision of ethics and society that Gorbachev had developed on his own. With Carter or Mondale in office, the US-Soviet rapprochment would have advanced just as rapidly -- with Democrats proclaiming all the way that their President had won the Cold War by abandoning the Republicans' alarmist and alarmingly expensive military build-up.

While Reagan deserves all the credit in the world for working with Gorbachev to end the Cold War, the bottom line is that he got very, very lucky.
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# Posted 4:33 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

OLSEN TWINS TURN 18: It was inevitable, I guess. Personally, I'm much more excited about Lindsay Lohan crossing the threshhold of legality on July 2.

UPDATE: Perhaps in honor of the occasion, the State of Virginia is launching an aggressive campaign against statutory rape. The campaign's slogan will be: "Isn't she a little young? Sex with a minor -- don't go there."
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Sunday, June 13, 2004

# Posted 8:59 PM by Patrick Belton  


In this episode, our dashing Afghan adventurer meets Poppies and Pesticides

After lunch, we drove back into town with the local farmer's association to check out their almonds. Like Kunduz and most of the rural Afghan towns I've visited, Tashqurgan offers a forbidding face to any stranger in its streets. High mud-brick walls enclose every home, with windowless, domed clay roofs appearing over the wall. Once you leave the bazaar, the only buildings open to view are ruins or mosques, all usually empty. The outhouses and sewers drain directly into the dusty streets. To a Western eye, the residential areas have a stifling lack of public space -- no parks, few open areas. But the private spaces are elaborate, comfortable, and beautiful; as soon as a gate opens, you can see whitewashed houses, grape trellises, canals, and gardens just inside. From the street, you would hardly realize there was a tree in town. Inside the compounds, you realize that the whole city is an orchard. It's a disconcerting mix of external squalor and internal beauty.

We drove through the streets in our convoy of SUVs, with the shooters keeping a sharp eye out for trouble. For some reason, we were turned away from several gates. When we were finally admitted to one of the farmers' compounds, our suspicions were confirmed: under the almond and pomegranate trees, the whole place was one big opium poppy field. The flowers were tall and gangly, not the deep red carpet from Oz some of you might be envisioning. It was the beginning of harvest season; the bulbs had been scratched to extract opium gum, and most of the poppies had bloomed a pale pink. The farmer chuckled with mild embarrassment, then took us around to diagnose the pest problems he was having with his almonds. In the next compound we visited, the farmer had diversified his crop, growing a broad row of cannabis around the poppies.

Needless to say, anyone working in Afghan agriculture has to deal with the question of poppy cultivation. Afghanistan produces a ridiculously high proportion of world opium -- somewhere between 70 and 79 percent, these days. Poppies can be grown profitably even under drought conditions (though irrigation greatly increases their value), and are on average four times more profitable than wheat. They're also labor-intensive around harvest time, requiring eight or nine times as much labor as wheat -- but there's no shortage of labor in Afghanistan, especially as this is a job rural women can perform. The poppy price dropped more than expected at this year's harvest, but because farmers can hang on to the dry opium for months, they'll probably still cut a significant profit.

Opium isn't just valuable as a cash crop, but as cash... and credit, too. The Afghan banking system collapsed over the decades of war and Communism, with the final blow delivered when the Taliban enforced a clumsy interest-free "Islamic" banking mandate and dismissed all female bank employees. Inflation soared, credit dried up. Only the central bank, Da Afghanistan Bank (Pashto for "Bank of Afghanistan", not ebonics for "The Afghanistan Bank") survived. Throughout rural Afghanistan, opium became the de facto currency, and opium traders paid local farmers a lump-sum in advance for their yearly crop -- in effect, a loan on highly advantageous terms for the traffickers. Even now that Afghanistan has a few banks and a stable currency, "narco-lenders" are still an important source of credit for many farmers.

Does this make opium a good thing for Afghan farmers? No, not really. Interest rates are high on narco-loans, often trapping the farmer into future opium production; and the money has played a part in funding all those guns and landmines floating around rural Afghanistan. The opium trade has had a terrible effect on neighboring countries, too, enriching powerful mafias and contributing to appalling rates of heroin and opium abuse. Despite its draconian anti-drug policies, Iran has nearly as many junkies as all of Western Europe -- in absolute numbers, not as a percentage of population! And of course, Afghan opium also helps fund the Taliban and al-Qaeda, which is no good for anybody.

The Taliban famously banned poppy cultivation in July 2000, which led to a slight thaw in international condemnation of their regime, a plunge in world opium supply, and a dramatic spike in prices. However, they didn't ban the opium _trade_, and their ban came immediately after the 2000 poppy harvest. They had apparently stockpiled a great deal of opium, and made money hand over fist from the ban. (Our friends in the Northern Alliance also cleaned up, incidentally, planting tremendous amounts of opium poppy in their stronghold province of Badakhshan). The Taliban didn't provide any alternative crops for the farmers, and so their ban impoverished innumerable Afghans already hard-hit by drought. We'll never know whether the Taliban would have maintained the ban had they remained in power past 2001, but I rather suspect they would have retracted it long enough to rebuild their stockpiles, then tried to trade a new ban for international favors (something like what North Korea's doing with its plutonium). The remnants fighting along the border have now declared that it's religiously okay to cultivate opium for its "medicinal properties." Right.

President Karzai's declared ban in January 2002 doesn't seem to have had much effect; he isn't beating up farmers on the same scale as the Taliban. Cultivation spread to a number of previously poppy-free provinces last year. Some local governors implemented eradication measures along the highways, but moved their own poppy fields up to remote mountain areas. In Balkh province, the "eradication" usually takes place just after the opium has been harvested. All in all, it's not a terribly impressive performance.

My friend Mumtaz reports that a local commander near Kandahar recently told him: "If Karzai says, 'Don’t grow poppy,' I will still grow poppy. But if Khalilzad says 'Don't grow poppy,' well, then I will be poor." (Zalmay Khalilzad is the American ambassador to Afghanistan). The Americans have hit a number of heroin laboratories and drug markets belonging to warlords, and could presumably knock out a lot more if they chose. It's a dangerous game -- there are some very rich folks out there (including some in the Kabul government) who could start stirring up trouble for the U.S. occupation if it cuts into their opium profits. But I think at this stage, we're better off taking the risk and hitting the traffickers than burdening the farmers with a major eradication program. Give the big donor-funded agricultural projects another couple years to demonstrate alternative cash crops (almonds, raisins, cumin, etc.), set up rural credit and finance institutions, and fix up irrigation structures, so the farmers have genuine alternatives to poppy. Then the government can start enforcing a ban at the farmer level. The U.N. has also suggested scheduling big public works projects to coincide with that labor-intensive opium harvest season, to draw labor away from poppy farmers. It's an interesting idea, which to my knowledge hasn't been tried, but deserves to be.

In practice, I doubt we'll have a couple years to set up alternatives. I suspect that if the Afghan presidential election goes ahead as scheduled, and Hamid Karzai wins as scheduled, we'll see a strict ban reiterated this fall. The elections are supposed to fall in September, and poppy planting generally starts in October; Karzai won't have to antagonize rural Afghans by declaring an eradication policy during his campaign, but there'll be plenty of time for tough talk and interdictions before that other presidential election scheduled for November... And by spring, when the poppy crop comes up, we'll see an eradication program. There's too much pressure from Washington, where a number of "eradicators" with Latin American experience stand to profit from a push to clear fields in Afghanistan.

Anyway, that day in Tashqurgan we told the farmers that we couldn't fund them unless they signed a paper promising to cease poppy cultivation. They told us they understood, and would take that into consideration when deciding whether they wanted our funding. Our California experts examined their almonds and pomegranates. We then all sat down on a big red carpet under a shade tree, and the farmers passed around refreshments -- a tray of white mulberries, and six glasses of shorombe, "the Afghan beer," as Mohibi called it. Shorombe, known as "dogh" in Dari, is sour yogurt blended with salt, pepper, and sometimes cucumber. It's held to make you drowsy, and was a favorite beverage of the Taliban. (My colleague Rahimi, who worked in Kabul during the late 1990s, once commented to the Taliban Minister of Rural Development that the Northern Alliance could take Kabul without firing a shot, if they only knew to attack during the hour from 2:00 to 3:00 every day when everybody in every ministry was in a shorombe-induced stupor. Fortunately, the Taleb was amused by this observation).

We drained our glasses and got down to business. The California agriculturalists noted that a number of the almonds had been infested by bugs, and asked what pesticides the farmers here were using. The farmers broke out a couple of bottles covered in cheery pictures of worms, beetles, flies, tomatoes, corn, wheat, and other pests/crops. Our expert read the bottle: "Methyl parathion. Huh. You know, they took that away from us in the States a few years ago. Highly, highly toxic. Are you guys wearing any sort of protective covering when you spray this?" No, they hadn't ever been told that was necessary. The expert put down the bottle gingerly and looked for someplace to wipe his fingers. "Yeah, in California after we sprayed this stuff, we had to post a sign telling everyone to keep out of the field for a week or so. Don't suppose you do that here?" No, they definitely didn't do that. The expert looked around a little anxiously. "You use it on the almonds. Anything else?" Well, yes. Pretty much everything else. Including the produce, like the cucumbers that had probably gone into our shorombe. We stopped eating the mulberries.

After a couple more questions about how many people had dropped dead with poisoning symptoms in Tashqurgan in recent months -- thankfully few -- we decided to our relief that the bottle was most likely full of a diluted or totally different solution. Mohibi called up the pesticide vendor and chewed him out for his misleading bottle illustrations that had suggested that methyl parathion went well with tomatoes. Yeesh. We chatted for a little longer with the farmers, and suggested other pest control means. Then, as it got on toward late afternoon, we decided it was time to head to Mazar.

[next time: why the helpless Kabul government/powerful warlords story ain't necessarily so]
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# Posted 1:20 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

DREZNER! Guest blogging for Glenn at MSNBC, on World News Tonight over at ABC, and still watch-dogging those journalists who ignore the evidence and confuse outsourcing with Armageddon.

And somehow, he still finds time to over-intellectualize the dating history of Jennifer Lopez.
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# Posted 12:36 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

EULOGY: For President Reagan, courtesy of President Bush:
He believed that people were basically good, and had the right to be free. He believed that bigotry and prejudice were the worst things a person could be guilty of. He believed in the Golden Rule and in the power of prayer. He believed that America was not just a place in the world, but the hope of the world...

When he saw evil camped across the horizon, he called that evil by its name. There were no doubters in the prisons and gulags, where dissidents spread the news, tapping to each other in code what the American President had dared to say. There were no doubters in the shipyards and churches and secret labor meetings, where brave men and women began to hear the creaking and rumbling of a collapsing empire. And there were no doubters among those who swung hammers at the hated wall as the first and hardest blow had been struck by President Ronald Reagan...

As he showed what a President should be, he also showed us what a man should be. Ronald Reagan carried himself, even in the most powerful office, with a decency and attention to small kindnesses that also defined a good life. He was a courtly, gentle and considerate man, never known to slight or embarrass others.
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# Posted 12:20 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THE POLLS, CONT'D: In response to the semi-recent surveys of Iraqi public opinion, SD observes that
I don't know much about Kurdish history, but I doubt they have been a united, secualr, democratic oriented people for a very long time. If I remember correctly, they had been plagued for years by tribal power struggles. They were the epitome of the violent, factional Middle Eastern political culture. Now they appear to be the model Moslem ethnic group.

What did we do right? I would expect that they would appreciate our protection. But I would not expect them to embrace our values as they have. Is there anything we can learn from this?
The Kurds' attitudes are especially surprising given their past relationship with the United States. In the 1970s, Kissinger cut a deal with Iran and Iraq that allowed thousands of Kurds to be slaughtered. Then we let Saddam kill tens or even hundreds of thousands. And even after the first Gulf War we let thousands die in a failed uprising before establishing a protectorate in northern Iraq.

So what did we do right? Well, my best guess is that the Kurds had a unique opportunity during the 1991-2003 interregnum to slowly develop capitalist and democratic norms while being reminded on a daily basis of how horrific life under Saddam had been -- because he was still living right next door.

While the neighboring republics and kingdoms may provide Iraqis with some reminder of what their options are, a foreign country's flaws simply don't have the same cultural significance. Instead, Iraqis today are free to focus on their material deprivation and the failings of the American occupation. In contrast, the Kurds experienced American protection without an American occupation.

So is there lesson here? Perhaps. I think it is that attitudes toward the United States won't improve while our troops are on the ground. But what matters more than whether or not they like us is whether or not they believe in democracy. And if they polls are right, they do.
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Saturday, June 12, 2004

# Posted 3:00 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

JESUS SAVES! (MOSES INVESTS.) Last night I was Saved! It is a remarkable film, destined for a place in the great canon of teen angst and rebellion. Yet it stands out from other classics of the genre because, instead of Generic American High, its setting is the American Eagle Christian High School.

Saved! is a film that recognizes the profound difference between growing up in secular, public school America and growing up in a faith-based educational community. It is a difference that I identify with very strongly, because I attended an Orthodox Jewish school in New York City from kindergarten through twelfth grade.

I grew up in a world apart. All of us were aware of mainstream American culture, but it was not ours. Ours was a religious tradition that influenced everything from how we dressed to how we prayed to what we ate.

In its opening minutes, Saved! hints at the profound ethical transformation that a religious upbringing can have on a child. Instead of a sadistic bitch a la Heathers, the prettiest and most popular girl in school take cares of her wheelchair-bound brother and tries to save the school's token, chain-smoking Jew from the peril of her ways.

Of course, there is a hint of condescension and intolerance in this attempted conversion. But we also understand that it is fundamentally an act of kindness. Sadly, as the film develops, all such hints of kindness fall away. Each and every one of the Christian characters reveals his or herself as hypocritical, arrogant, or even cruel.

In contrast, the pregnant heroine, the wheelchair-bound apostate, the demonized homosexual and the chain-smoking Jew become the school's saviors. They are the only characters capable of true compassion and love. And once again, I identify with them. I hated my high school. I hated its hypocrisy, its ignorance and its racism. I hated how it was brainwashing a generation of bright and well-intentioned children, transforming them into a ghettoized and incurious suburban middle-class.

That, of course, is an exaggeration. But it is what I felt at the time. Yet it seems that the adults responsible for Saved! have not learned to leaven their criticism with any sort of nuanced perspective. In the climactic scene, the pregnant and almost-birthing heroine lectures the school's principal on how imposing one's beliefs on others is cruel and unjust because the world isn't a black-and-white place. Sadly, there is not a single hint in the entire scene that the film's creators recognize how their politically correct polemic has fallen prey to exactly the same hypocrisies that it preaches against.

Nonetheless, the film is a teenage classic. The acting is first-rate. The clothes and music and language ("Let's kick it Jesus-style!") perfectly capture the existence of an alternative Christian universe. And above all, the humor is devilishily irreverent. Upon seeing the nobody-yet-knows-she's-pregnant heroine emerge from a Planned Parenthood clinic, the Jew tells the apostate that there is only one reason a good Christian girl would be walking out of the clinic in dark glasses. He responds: "To plant a pipe bomb?"

In the last week, I have also seen another film, Priest, that attacks Christian intolerance with much greater sophistication as well as much greater honesty and kindness. Its protagonist is Father Greg, a British Catholic struggling both with his own homosexuality as well as the social degeneration of his working-class parish.

Not once in the course of his suffering -- often imposed by the intolerance of his community and his church -- does Greg abandon his faith in Christ. He rages against the Lord, insults him and even lusts after his muscular, taut and crucified body. Rather than a one-sided lecture, the film culminates in an inconclusive scriptural shouting match between Father Greg, his supporter Father Matthew, and an aging parishioner.

With the fire and brimstone of the Old Testament, the parishioner condemns Father Greg's perversion. With the tolerance and compassion of the New, Fathers Greg and Matthew preach forgiveness. Unabashed about its politics, the film lets its audience know what it believes: that if Christ is love, then the love of one man for another should be a source of inspiration, not a source of shame.

It is a controversial message but an honest one. Those who disagree are portrayed as neither ignorant nor hypocritical. The only villian in the film is the vicious father who commits incest with his daughter, one of Father Greg's students. His is not a sin of love. It is a barbaric sin that its perpetrator must hide from both his wife and his community because there is no defense for its cruelty.

At their heart, both Saved! and Priest are about the clash between absolute love and absolute faith. In my own days of adolescent rebellion, I saw love and faith as irreconciliable antagonists. I captured that message in my high school yearbook by placing below my portrait a poem by Langston Hughes known as 'Luck'. It reads:
Sometimes a crumb falls
From the tables of joy,
Sometimes a bone
Is flung.

To some people
Love is given,
To others
Only Heaven.
I'm not sure it means exactly what I thought it did, but I will always remember it.

UPDATE: Amazingly, the NY Times fails to note any sort of hypocrisy in its review of Saved! Instead, A.O. Scott writes that
The film, directed by Brian Dannelly, also wants to be a peace offering [Like the Germans' at Munich? --ed.] in the culture wars, suggesting that the polarization of our society is a smoke screen for our own internal confusion about values, morals and desire...

Some Christians may object that "Saved!," in the end, promotes liberal humanist piety at the expense of religious belief, and there is some truth to this complaint. At the same time, satire can never be evenhanded, and it's possible that this movie would have been better if it had indulged in a little more cruelty.
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# Posted 2:59 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

WELCOME TO PLANET EARTH, LITTLE EDWARD: Your Mommy and Daddy love you very much and I think they will be wonderful parents. Coming soon: Baby photos!
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# Posted 2:47 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THREE CHEERS FOR JIMMY CARTER: I'm sure Ronald Reagan would be proud of his predecessor's efforts to monitor elections and promote democracy around the globe. In fact, Carter even played a critical role in monitoring the 1990 elections in Nicaragua which did so much to vindicate Reagan's struggle against the Sandinistas.

Carter's most recent effort involves Venezuela. Hugo Chavez is still trying to rig the vote, but Jimmy and the OAS are on him every step of the way. Let's hope that the Bush administration gives Carter and the OAS all the support they need.
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# Posted 2:24 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THE IRAQIS HATE US: Well, at least this WaPo article says so. It seems, however, that everyone Ed Cody interviewed for the article is from Baghdad, which tends to be far more anti-American than either the Shi'ite south or the Kurdish north.

But what's really going on, I think, is that the polls which showed 80% of Iraqis have an unfavorable opinion of US troops have given reporters a license to write 80% negative stories. If the polls say 80% don't like American soldiers, then four out of five man-in-the-street quotations will be anti-American.

You see the same thing with polls in the US, although the split is rarely so dramatic. Anyhow, Ed Cody puts it this way in his article:
Since U.S. forces drove to Baghdad and overthrew President Saddam Hussein in April 2003, the 138,000 American soldiers stationed here have lost their status as liberators in the eyes of most Iraqis. Polling by the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority has chronicled a steady souring of opinion, with the most recent surveys showing about 80 percent of Iraqis with an unfavorable opinion of U.S. troops.
While I don't think that a majority of Iraqis have positive feelings about our soldiers, it is interesting how Cody assumes they have lost their status as liberators. After all, a soldier can be both an occupier and a liberator, much as our soldiers now are.

But the more important point is that Cody and numerous others misinterpret the polls. Most Iraqis think they are better off since the invasion and even more Iraqis expect things to get better in years to come. In addition, 50% of Iraqis expect their nation to become democratic.

From where I stand, that constitutes a powerful albeit implicit acknowledgement that American soldiers are liberators as well as occupiers. The majority of Iraqis may not be happy with the way Americans treat them day to day, but they haven't forgotten who it was that toppled Saddam and who will oversee the transition to democracy.
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# Posted 2:11 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

REAGAN REALITY CHECK: Slowly, the press seems to be getting its memory back. Dan Balz writes in a straight news column that
The parallels are obvious for all to see: two conservative presidents who made tax cuts at home and muscular confrontation abroad the centerpieces of their administrations, westerners who sought to restrain the federal government but who had trouble taming the beast, men of faith who courted Christian conservatives, politicians who were often controversial and divisive in office.
It's hard to disagree with that, regardless of your political persuasion.
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# Posted 1:57 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

IDEOLOGICAL CONSISTENCY LONG OVERDUE: Daniel Pipes says that certain Islamic terrorists are now taking care not to kill Muslims, only the rest of us. Does that mean that we should appoint Kareem Abdul Jabbar as our next Ambassador to Iraq? (Link via JVL)
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Friday, June 11, 2004

# Posted 11:50 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

WHAT THE MEDIA REALLY THOUGHT ABOUT REAGAN: Andrew Sullivan has a remarkable round-up that adds a lot of breadth to my previous posts on the subject.
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# Posted 3:20 PM by Patrick Belton  

GADDIS ON REAGAN'S LEGACY AS A STRATEGIST: From a lecture he gave last month at George Washington.
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# Posted 2:13 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

DEJA VU ALL OVER AGAIN: According to a NYT columnist, the President's foreign policy
reflects a general ideological premise of this Administration: that the United States can best deal with its problems in the world by using force and acting unilaterally, without regard to the views of friends and neighbors.
The columnist was Anthony Lewis, the President was Reagan and the date of publication was April 16, 1984. So? The point I'm trying to make here is that liberals should reconsider the fond memories of Reagan they've suddenly developed in the six days since his passing.

Moreover, I would argue that this sort of criticism directed at Reagan was far more valid than similar criticism directed at Bush. Lewis's column came in respone to Reagan's illegal mining of Nicaragua's harbors in the spring of 1984. Because the CIA failed to inform the Senate Intelligence Committee of what it was up to, numerous conservatives were just as outraged about the mining as were liberals. Barry Goldwater, who was both Reagan's ideological godfather and the chariman of the Senate Intelligence Committee told the director of the CIA that
All this past weekend, I've been trying to figure out how I can most easily tell you my feelings about the discovery of the President having approved mining some of the harbors of Central America.

It gets down to one, little, simple phrase: I am pissed off!...

This is an act violating international law. It is an act of war. For the life of me, I don't see how we are going to explain it.
Now, I'm not saying that we shouldn't criticize Bush because, in some respects, Reagan was worse. Mostly, I'm interested as a scholar in setting the historical record straight. But I do think it is important to separate criticism of Bush from his personality. We should recognize both that his actions are rubbing salt into old partisan wounds and that the Democrats' response reflects a cultural trope as much as does an actual consideration of the President's flaws.
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# Posted 5:01 AM by Patrick Belton  

WANT A KID? You only get to keep them for a year, but if you'd like to be a host for a student from Afghanistan, Central Asia, or Russia, there are three programmes which are looking for host families as well as local coordinators (who basically keep an eye out on how they're doing in school and with their host families, make sure they have prom dates, etc.). If you're interested in finding out more, email Tatyana. They have a website, too, at www.americancouncils.org.

The three scholarships, by the way, are these: 1) a Future Leaders Exchange Program (FLEX), which is a scholarship program funded by the United States to encourage learning and understanding between Americans and students from the Newly Independent States of the former Soviet Union; 2) the Youth Exchange and Study Program (YES-Afghanistan), also funded by America to bring students from Afghanistan to study in the US for a year; 3) and the Open Russia Ambassadors Program (ORAP) a Yukos Oil funded scholarship program for students from Russia, particularly Siberian towns.

Kids, incidentally, can be really cute, if you're looking for an extra incentive. (Bibliographic reference: cite Kleinfeld, Kleinfeld, and Kleinfeld 1979)
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# Posted 12:41 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

A LITTLE TORTURE NEVER HURT ANYONE: Steve Sturm thinks that OxBlog, Andrew Sullivan and the Washington Post are being naive in their opposition to torture. Steve asks:
How will you explain to the families of Americans killed in future terror attacks that their loved ones died because this country did not use all of the tools at its disposal - in large part because of your opposition - to learn of the attack in advance?
In defense of Andrew and the WaPo, I think I should point out that they are not categorically against torture, but against the irresponsible way in which the Bush Administration has dealt with the issue, both ex ante and ex post.

On the other hand, OxBlog was pretty categorical. Then again, it was a one-line post. So let me clarify: I recognize that there are certain extreme situations in which torture is justified. If a terrorist knows that a chemical warhead is about to explode in downtown Baghdad, then the gloves come off.

But in general, I think is premature to say either that torture is an efficient method of interrogation or that it is the only method. Moreover, the negative repercussions of torture in terms of both domestic and foreign opinion are so great that we can only afford to use it as a method of last resort.
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# Posted 12:06 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

OXBLOG ENDORSES CHENEY!?!? OxFriend James Kirchick has a column in The Hill about anti-Semitic congressman Jim Moran (D-VA) and his Republican opponent Lisa Marie Cheney.

One thing I didn't realize until reading Jamie's column is that Moran's district, the 8th, consists of Arlington and Alexandria. In other words, it is the home of some of the most educated voters in the country.

I hope that they realize that having an anti-Semitic representative is simply intolerable. Unfortunately, the district's Democrats didn't recognize that fact in this week's primary, in which Moran beat challenger Andy Rosenberg by almost 20 percent.

So what can you do about it? Well, I just gave Cheney $20. Click here if you're thinking about it, too.
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Thursday, June 10, 2004

# Posted 11:57 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

DOGS IN THE NEWS: The good news is that dogs are much smarter than we thought. The bad news is that military intelligence officers explicitly authorized the use of dogs to intimidate prisoners at Abu Ghraib.

So I guess President Bush has two options: One, to blame the dogs at Abu Ghraib for not knowing better, since they're so smart. Two, to stop pretending that what happened at Abu Ghraib was the responsibility of just a few soldiers with a sadistic side.
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# Posted 11:19 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

SIMPLE IRONY OR POETIC JUSTICE? With the 40th president's body still warm, both the WaPo and NYT indulged their liberal appetites for irony by demanding that the 43rd president honor his predecessor's memory by doing something anathema to numerous conservatives: lifting restrictions on stem cell research.

But wait -- the irony goes deeper. According to this WaPo article -- published the day before the WaPo editorial -- the relationship between stem cell research and fighting Alzheimer's is tenuous at best. However, that is the last thing that stem cell researchers want to admit, since they benefit from the public confusion generated by Nancy Reagan's advocacy for the cause.

But wait -- the irony goes deeper than that. As both candidate and president, Reagan persuaded himself of patent untruths in order to promote conservative causes. What is the source of air pollution? Trees! Are there right-wing death squads in El Salvador? No, just Communists in disguise. Did I honor my promise not to trade arms for hostages? "My heart and my best intentions still tell me that is true, but the facts and the evidence tell me it is not."

So, if the First Lady and the liberal media are now Reagan's good name to popularize bad science, is that ironic? Perhaps. But I'd prefer to call it poetic justice.
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# Posted 5:02 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

RAY CHARLES: Rest in peace.
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# Posted 9:00 AM by Patrick Belton  

OXBLOG'S WINE PICKS: This is going to be a running section. Last night's: Don Melchor 2000 private reserve (Chile). This is a Cabernet Savignon which has remarkable body and a long, tarry finish, and its complex layers of flavour, structured tanins and hints of smoke and pepper made it one of the best reds I've had in months. Tonight's: whatever Rachel ends up bringing home from Marks & Spencer.
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# Posted 8:40 AM by Patrick Belton  

KERRY DOING WELL IN COLLEGE: With the release of a new Zogby poll, Art Tripias updates his State by State 2004 map to give Kerry the lead by 296-242. (ed: See what electoral college sophisticates 2000 has made us all!) Florida and Pennsylvania swing this week from Bush's column to Kerry's, along with less vote-heavy Oregon, Nevada, and West Virginia. Bush strengthens his lead in Ohio, while Kerry does better in Michigan and Minnesota, and worse in Iowa. The flip seems more due to Art using Zogby's numbers instead of the Hegehog Report's than to any change in the dynamic of the race, since Zogby's numbers actually represent a decline (from twelve to eleven) since his projection of 24 May in the number of the the 16 battleground states in which Kerry leads Bush. (Thanks to OxFriend Dick Riley for pointing Art's revised map out to us....)
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# Posted 2:26 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THAT EXPLAINS WHY I'VE BECOME LESS LIBERAL SINCE COLLEGE: The more you weigh, the more likely you are to vote Republican.
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# Posted 2:11 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

GOP ANTI-SEMITISM: Moran isn't the only moron. It's the anti-Soros crowd, too. Of course, if you're a devoted Dem, you can celebrate the GOP's efforts to embarrass itself. Anyhow, more reactions here.
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# Posted 2:06 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

TORTURE: It is wrong for America, whether practiced at home or abroad.
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# Posted 1:57 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THE CHALLENGE OF COVERING IRAQ: A very thoughtful piece in the Post, focusing on how to balance the imperative of security with the imperative of getting the story.
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# Posted 1:33 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

WHY IS THE NYT BEING SO NICE TO BUSH? It's hard to know whether the Security Council's 15-0 vote reflects a major accomplishment for the United States, or whether it simply reflects the UN's willing to sign off on the American occupation provided that they don't actually have to support it with soldiers or funds. Accordingly, the WaPo reports that
The Bush administration considers the Security Council vote a victory, particularly after failing to win U.N. support for the March 2003 invasion.
Yet the NYT reports Bush's alleged victory as if it were a fact rather than a boast, hence:
The 15-to-0 vote on the measure, co-sponsored by the United States and Britain, gave President Bush a major diplomatic win.
This sort of unwarranted praise reflects a pattern that I have noticed both while reading old NYT and WaPo articles for my dissertation as well as while blogging about the UN before the invasion of Iraq. In both cases, American presidents could almost guarantee themselves favorable coverage by working through multilateral organizations, UN-based or otherwise.

Moreover, the significance of achievements in any sort of multilateral context is often exagerrated by the press. While it may be too early to say this about the UN and Iraq, I find it quite surprising how any positive blip in US negotiations with Nicaragua in the 1980s got spun as a major opportunity to resolve tensions with the Sandinistas.

In addition, the Nicaraguans racked up a lot of positive headlines by making peace offers they knew the United States couldn't accept. To be fair, the WaPo did this just as much as the NYT despite the Post's more moderate editorial board. On the bright side, it seems the Post has learned a thing or two since then.
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# Posted 1:16 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

When Rep. Chris Cox (R-Calif.) was in graduate school at Harvard University in the mid-1970s, he often tuned in to a Boston country music station to listen to Ronald Reagan's political commentaries. "It felt a little bit like listening to Radio Free Europe behind the Iron Curtain," he said.
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# Posted 12:32 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

REAGAN THE FANTASY LIBERAL: Just like Wes Clark, Maureen Dowd is trying to attack Bush by comparing him (unfavorably) to Reagan. Yet in order to come up with such an unfavorable comparison, Dowd and Clark have to cherry pick or simply fabricate the rare dovish moments in Reagan's presidency.

I'm opposed to this for two reasons. First, for better or worse, Bush hasn't come close to Reagan in terms of hawkishness or intransigence. Second, liberals should not abet conservative efforts to launder Reagan's record. Third, I've spent this whole week being pissed off at what a poor knowledge of recent history most journalists have, despite the fact they lived through it themselves.

I'm so pissed off that I am allowed to defy basic axioms of mathematics.

UPDATE: Finally, Howard Kurtz provides some perspective on the media's incredible ability to forget how much it hated Reagan.

UPDATE II: Jim Hoagland is also trying to correct a lot of the misperceptions that are out there.

UPDATE III: Now Kevin Drum is joining the Reagan-better-than-Bush crowd. I don't get it. As someone who spends his days reading newspapers from and books about the 80's, I find it amazing that anyone could describe Reagan as more flexible or more responsive to criticism. I have two words for you, people: IRAN-CONTRA.

UPDATE IV: Actually, Iran-Contra is probably one word, not two. But as noted above, I am exempt from the laws of mathematics.
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# Posted 12:27 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

OXBLOG CONDEMNS ASSASSINATION PLOTS: But you've got to give Qaddafi credit for at least recognizing that Saudi Arabia is an embarrassment to the Middle East.
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Wednesday, June 09, 2004

# Posted 5:30 PM by Patrick Belton  

WITTY STALINIST PUT-DOWN OF THE DAY (or something like that): 'The South Korean army's military provocations in the sensitive waters in the West Sea is as foolish an act as jumping into the fire with faggots on its back.' North Korean official news agency KCNA, via CNN.
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# Posted 4:52 PM by Patrick Belton  

HEARD AROUND TOWN: Nathan Hale energy guru Ronan claims that 'Your mom reads my Blog, suckah' has become the latest hip insult on the edgy inner-city streets of, well, Cambridge, anyway.
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# Posted 4:35 PM by Patrick Belton  

NOTES ON A 6-MONTH OLD CNN ARTICLE: I'd just run across a link to this CNN piece on Salam Pax. Interesting points: (1) author Avril Stephens (who I'll go easy on, as she sounds from her first name like a coethnic of yers truly) inventively manages to misspell 'blog', continually referring to Salam Pax's product as a 'log', (2) it's interesting, in light of the recent discussion on the conspicuous lack of female bloggers, that according to Avril anyway a full 40 percent of Iraqi bloggers are women (i.e., 2 out of the 5); and (3) Salam Pax has apparently been fielding emails from Iraqis ever since the end of the war asking how to download porn. Looks like they took that 'democracy, whisky, and sexy' thing seriously....
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# Posted 4:10 PM by Patrick Belton  

YOU DON'T SAY: 'Harrods rethink over Hindu goddess underwear' (BBC)
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# Posted 8:20 AM by Patrick Belton  

ONE SORELY NEGLECTED aspect of the Al Ghraib prison mess, which I don't believe either mainstream media or bloggers have yet devoted anything approximating enough attention to, is the reflection it casts on prisons here at home.*

When the Washington Post profiled Specialist Charles Graner, the face behind many of the most brutal images to come out of Al Ghraib, one of the most startling revelations to come out of the article was that this was his day job. Graner, a reservist, had been employed between the two Gulf Wars at Fayette County Prison and at State Correctional Institution-Greene in southwestern Pennsylvania. Images from how Graner and the other guards treated prisoners there rings eerily familiar to the images we have been treated to in the news over the past month. According to the Post's David Finkel and Christian Davenport,

In 1992, [Graner] was working at a county prison in Pennsylvania with guards who acknowledge beating up prisoners as a means of control

According to allegations which led to the firing of two dozen guards in 1998, at Greene guards as a matter of course 'beat prisoners, spit in their food, showered them with racial epithets and wrote "KKK" in one beaten prisoner's blood'.

'In 1994, [Graner] made a fellow prison guard [named Robert Tajc] sick by spraying Mace into his coffee.'

'In 1998, when he was working as a guard in a state prison, he was accused by one inmate [Horatio Nimley] of slipping a razor blade into his food.' 'Nimley, who is serving time for burglary, takes a spoonful [of mashed potatoes]. His mouth fills with blood. He spits out a razor blade. He screams for help. At first the guards ignore him. Then they take him to the nurse. And then they punch him, kick him and slam him to the floor, and when he yells, "Stop, stop," one of the guards says, "Shut up, nigger, before we kill you."'
Prison abuse in America doesn't receive nearly the exposure it should - whether because of misguided subconcious notions that prisoners deserve whatever comes to them, the reluctance of broader rights organisations to associate themselves with their causes, or a more simple lack of resources and attention to the problem.

But Al Ghraib - if it is to have any beneficial repercussions apart from serving as a recruiting poster for organisations and movements in each country which seek portray the United States, not governments such as Saddam's, as the chief enemy of human dignity - can at least provide an opportunity to examine and address this issue, which mocks human dignity and our own nobler commitments to the fair rule of law in our penal, judicial, and police institutions.

Of organisations which have begun to bring the issue to a larger national stage, the efforts of Human Rights Watch are worth noting (I'm happy to use this space to draw the attention to the work of any other groups our readers might know about). Slate has covered the issue, too, from the perspective of prison rape.

More is needed. Much more.

*(By 'here', incidentally, I mean the United States, not England; a ditto referent for 'home', though that's not intended to disparage against a country that's often made me feel warmly welcome as a half-decade's resident.)
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# Posted 7:07 AM by Patrick Belton  

PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN RICHARD MILLER HAS UNEARTHED a long speculated-about suicide poem by future President Lincoln, dating from 1838. Joshua Shenk has more in the New Yorker:
On August 25, 1838, the Sangamo Journal, a four-page Whig newspaper in Springfield, Illinois, carried its usual mixture of ads, news, and editorials. Wallace & Diller’s Drug and Chemical Store had just received a fresh supply of sperm oil, fishing rods, and French cologne. L. Higby, the town collector, gave notice that all citizens must pay their street tax or face “trouble.” Atop the news page, the paper carried an unsigned poem, thirty-six lines long. The poem, which is typical of the era, in its sentiment and morbidness, stands out now for two reasons: first, its subject is suicide (the title of the poem is “The Suicide’s Soliloquy”); second, its author was most likely a twenty-nine-year-old politician and lawyer named Abraham Lincoln.
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# Posted 6:08 AM by Patrick Belton  


This time, our adventurous dashing hero experiments with Gorges and Guns

In the late morning, we passed through the town of Pul-e-Khumre and turned onto the road to Mazar. The road wound up from the broad, fertile lowlands of Baghlan into grassy, treeless hills. Half the terrain in Afghanistan seems to have been designed to facilitate ambushes, and the hill country of Samangan was no exception; every turn in the road brings you out underneath or facing some high vantage from which a surprise attack could be launched. The deep, curving creases between hills would allow easy getaways. As elsewhere, the littering of old tanks and truck frames along the roadside testified to the success of past guerrillas.

Descending from the hills, we saw the thick shadow of forests in the distance: the poplars and almond orchards of Samangan town. The recent brawling between militias in the area hasn't depressed a local construction boom; large new cement houses seemed to be going up all along the road into town. The local Ministry of Agriculture folks were gone, so we drove on to visit their counterparts an hour or so north. The forests and broad wheat fields gave way to a range of desert crags, which crept in on either side of the highway until suddenly we found ourselves driving into Tashqurgan Gorge.

The gorge is unbelievable -- a natural gap in the rock, barely wide enough for the road and a narrow river, with sheer cliffs shooting up hundreds of feet on either side. This natural gateway was hotly contested during the decades of war, and here for the first time I saw on the shoulder of the road the red-and-white-painted stones that indicate uncleared minefields (you're safe on the white side of the rocks, likely to lose a limb on the red side). Not thirty feet from the landmines, entrepreneurial Afghans have set up a half-dozen fruit stands catering to the travelers who stop to gawp at the gorge. We stopped, and gawped, and bought a lot of really tasty apricots.

On the far side of the gorge, the towering cliffs quickly descend to low clay outcrops, with a scattering of walled homes and scenic orchards along the river. These are the outskirts of Tashqurgan -- also known by its ancient name of Kholm, from the jolly old days when the Uzbek khanates of Kunduz and Kholm vied for supremacy of the steppe. Locals claim that eight hundred years ago, the plain was fertile and populous, and you could travel the many miles between Kholm and Mazar-e-Sharif by jumping rooftop to rooftop. Now there's just a thick ribbon of trees running north along the river from Tashqurgan, which like most rivers in northern Afghanistan is swallowed by the desert long before reaching the Amu Darya. The wasteland beyond is empty, oppressively featureless -- it's a palpable shock to drive out of the dramatic crags of Tashqurgan Gorge and suddenly face a completely empty horizon. The minute we drove down into the arid plains, swarms of locusts began hitting our windshield with heavy, wet splats.

We took lunch at a lone house in the desert, with representatives from a local farmers' association. Across the road, we saw a few dozen parked tanks and artillery pieces that looked much less derelict than the normal roadside wrecks. Asking our hosts about it, we found out that it was a DDR storage zone -- the "demobilization, disarmament, and reintegration" program, under which the government hopes to disarm 60 percent of Afghanistan's tens of thousands of irregular fighters before the September elections. This is a dauntingly huge project; billions of dollars of American money in the 1980s (and Saudi money over the last twenty-five years) bought a whole lot of weapons. Essentially, there was a time in Afghanistan when virtually anyone who wanted an automatic rifle could have one. That's a hard genie to coax back into the bottle.

The DDR program has enjoyed spotty successes. On May 5th, a local commander in Wardak province (just south of Kabul) reportedly surrendered over 200 heavy weapons and 600 light weapons to the authorities. Local farmers in the same area complained to news reporters that the DDR program is taking away the means to defend their land, which I take to be a good sign -- DDR isn't working unless people feel they can no longer protect themselves with their guns. (It also made me feel a bit more comfortable when I ended up driving through that bit of Wardak on June 5th... but that's another story).

On the other hand, the official commencement ceremony of the DDR "main phase" in Kabul on May 17 was slightly marred when a hundred Afghan army engineers refused to sign their discharge papers (no demobilization), claimed that the sixty Soviet-made rockets on display scheduled for destruction were duds (no disarmament), and angrily declared that the retirement offer of $200 per man, a bag of wheat, and vocational training were pathetically inadequate (no reintegration). And so far, most of the warlords who have offered to disarm have been the ones allied to the government. Their rivals generally refuse to relinquish their weapons, fearing that in a pinch the government will rearm or fight on behalf of their enemy.

Take our lunchtime DDR view, for example. We were in the province of Balkh, home to at least three major squabbling militia groups -- the Jamiat-e-Islami (mainly ethnic Tajik), the Hizb ul-Wahdat (ethnic Hazara), and the Uzbek irregulars of Abdul Rashid Dostum. I'm guessing that all those tanks we were looking at, lightly guarded across the road, came from the Jamiat warlord Atta Mohammad -- he's cooperated with the DDR program more than any of the other northern warlords, because his party happens to be the main power in the Kabul government. The defense minister, Mohammad Qasim Fahim, is the head of Jamiat, and has shown no qualms about sending the Afghan National Army in to back up his clients against other warlords (more about that in another update). It's hardly surprising that Dostum has so far refused to disarm in response to Atta Mohammad's gestures.

The success of DDR is absolutely essential. I think the need for a strong central government in Kabul is often overstated -- in a country as ethnically divided as Afghanistan, I would argue that you shouldn't make the center too great a prize, because then only one ethnic group will really be perceived as holding power at a given time. That's embittering for everyone else, and destabilizing for the country. (Right now, that dominant group is the Tajiks of the Panjshir valley and their political party, the Jamiat-e-Islami. More on that later, too). America currently works with both the Kabul government and the regional governors/warlords on development projects, poppy eradication, fighting the Taliban, and so on -- that could be formalized into a federal structure where the regions retain a great deal of authority. But while I don't think the central government should have a monopoly on power, I do think it should have a monopoly on guns. Local governors shouldn't be able to resolve their disputes by shooting each other (or their disputes with the Kabul government by shooting the police). And elections will obviously be a little more free and fair if the political parties aren't hanging out with Kalashnikovs around the ballot box.

What could be done to make the DDR program more successful? I can see two strategies that might help: (1) a crackdown by NATO and the Afghan army on warlords who don't disarm, and (2) an attempt to make the Afghan National Army more ethnically neutral, less a branch of the Jamiat-e-Islami. The first option is politically easier, and is already being pursued against Dostum, Ismael Khan, and several minor warlords. The second option would be tricky -- the Jamiat was the main branch of the Northern Alliance, and has enjoyed the backing of the USA ever since the war in 2001. Taking the Defense Ministry away from Marshal Fahim and giving it to some neutral technocrat (like the Interior Minister, Ali Ahmad Jalali) would be a tremendous political risk, even if you give Fahim a nice Vice-Presidency or something in compensation. But it would also make it easier for Dostum and Khan to relinquish their weapons, without effectively handing over power to a local rival.

[next: more travelogue, more political rambling]
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# Posted 5:08 AM by Patrick Belton  

NEW DEMOCRACY UPDATE NEWSLETTER: We at OxBlog (and over at our foreign policy think tank, too) try regularly to do all we can to raise the profile of democracy promotion and democratisation issues, stripped bare of any connection to party or ideology, just because we believe deeply in their moral imperative. But democracy promotion is still a young field, where you can count the principal contributors (Thomas Carothers, Larry Diamond....) on one hand, and have another left to count the principal organisations (the National Endowment for Democracy, Carnegie's Democracy and Rule of Law project, Freedom House) - and probably still have enough fingers remaining to play a workable game of 'paper, rock, scissors'. (Or, for our text/instant messaging-addicted friends, the text message version: [ ] o 8x )

This is why it's incredibly nice when new people and initiatives join the field - and lately, one of those is Freedom House's Democracy Digest, which is produced by a transnational democracy network with editors in the US and the UK. It's a really stunningly well produced digest, which renders into one attractively written report the week's principal relevant news events, publications and information sources, job vacancies, and conferences. Personally I'm suspecting that our own democracy efforts at Nathan Hale will involve substantial collaboration with these folks - and in the meantime, everyone should really go and subscribe.
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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:

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

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
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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