Tuesday, June 22, 2004

# Posted 11:29 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

AMERICA SAYS BUSH IS A LIAR: The WaPo continues to amaze with its abominable coverage of US public opinion. On yesterday's front page, it reported that
Public anxiety over mounting casualties in Iraq and doubts about long-term consequences of the war continue to rise and have helped to erase President Bush's once-formidable advantage over Sen. John F. Kerry.
At least the Post got one fact right: Kerry is surging in the polls, especially on issue of whom voters prefer to conduct the war on terror. But Kerry's surge has absolutely nothing to do with public anxiety about casualties in Iraq or the long term consequences of the war.

Unsurprisingly, the Post compiles all the available evidence of public disenchantment with the occupation, but ignores all of the evidence that point's to Bush's success. One month ago, 38% of Americans thought that we are making "significant progress" toward the establish of a democratic government in Iraq. 57% disagreed. But the now the split is 50-48 in Bush's favor.

An increasing number of Americans think that Bush has a "clear plan" for handling the situation in Iraq, although the split is still 50-48 against the President. Surprisingly, 51% think that the United States is making "significant progress toward restoring civil order" in Iraq, with 48% disagreeing. Thus, it isn't suprising that 44% now approve of Bush's handling of Iraq, up 4% from last month. (55% disapprove, down from 58.)

Now, one can make a pretty strong argument that all of these good feelings about Iraq reflect the American public's overvaluation of the approaching transfer of sovereignty on June 30. After all what kind of sovereignty can Iraq have with 150,000 American soldiers on its soil?

As it turns out, the American public seems to understand this dynamic pretty well. 53% say that the United States, and not Iraq, will hold real power after the handover. Moreover, an overwhelming 77% disapprove, saying that the Iraqis themselves should be in charge.

So what is going on here? If things are looking up for the President in Iraq, why do more Americans now trust John Kerry to wage the war on terror? It turns out that there is a very simple answer to this question and the WaPo completely missed it: The American public has come to believe that Bush is a liar.

According to the WaPo/Poll, 39% of Americans believe that Bush is "honest and trustworthy" while 52% say the same about Kerry. Strangely, the Post provides no trend data on this question, so it's hard to know what the numbers mean...unless you invest the effort necessary to dig up poll results from two months ago and compare.

On April 18th, 55% said Bush was honest and trustworthy. Previously, that number had never dropped below 52% and went as high as 71% in mid-2002. Now, can one make a strong case that this dramatic change in Bush's honesty ratings is responsible for the nosedive in public opinion about the War on Terror?

Absolutely. Judging by the size of the headlines alone, the 9/11 Commission's finding that there was no "collaborative relationship" between Saddam and Al Qaeda has been the biggest story so far this year -- and it played out in the days immediately preceding the WaPo's most recent poll.

Technically speaking, I think it's fair to say that Bush never lied about the relationship between Saddam and Al Qaeda. (I'm not sure I would be so kind to Cheney.) Regardless, Bush's statements have been confusing, disingenuous and utterly unbecoming of a president.

The big question now is whether the damage done to Bush's reputation for honesty is permanent. If the good news of Saddam's capture provided a temporary spike in public assessments of the situation in Iraq, perhaps the impact of the intensive coverage of the Commission's finding will slowly fade during a long, hot summer.

Or perhaps not. My gut feeling says that American voters pay far more attention to a President' personal characteristics than they do to what's happening on the ground half a world away. Bush may recover some of his lost ground, but I suspect that a significant amount of the damage will be permanent.

UDPATE: I just noticed an EJ Dionne column that explains why the Commission's report is so damning:
The battle over the al Qaeda-Hussein connection is ground zero in the fight over the administration's credibility.

On the failure to find weapons of mass destruction, the administration has alibis. It may have ignored contrary evidence on the existence of those weapons and it may have pressured intelligence agencies to reach conclusions that would justify war. But the administration can point to many Democrats, and even Europeans, who thought those weapons existed.
But when it comes to Saddam and Al Qaeda, Bush and Cheney are all alone. I don't agree with much else Dionne says, but he got that much right.
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# Posted 6:41 PM by Patrick Belton  

PRIVATEERS!!!!! One of the odder constitutional moments to arise out of the aftermath of September 11th transpired when Representative Ron Paul (R-Tx), rereading Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution, realised that Congress had the power to grant letters of marque and reprisal. Letters of marque and reprisal, for those of you with lives who aren't congressional foreign policy or constitutional scholars, were a means of sanctioning privateers to travel abroad - hence past the nation's frontier, or 'marque' - and search, seize, or destroy assets or personnel of a hostile country - yes, the 'reprisal bit' - in private response to a public wrong. It was considered a retaliatory measure short of a declaration of war, and as such was meant to be governed by a rough proportionality between the original delict and the state-sanctioned privateer's reprisal. Pirates with letters of marque and reprisal were operating within the colour of law, and were hence privateers. For instance, the famous pirate Captain Kidd's letter of marque from the Admiralty is here. These went out of fashion with the Declaration of Paris in 1856, of which the US was not a signatory, though at several points - during the US civil war and the Spanish-American war, in particular - the US government indicated it would at least for present purposes abide by the principles of the declaration.

Where, indeed, all of this rested - until October 10, 2001, when Representative Paul reread the Constitution and realised that Congress still retained the power to grant letters of marque, and, heroically deciding that the President could not possibly be expected to win a war on terror without such an important tool (i.e., as pirates), he decided thenceforth to devote himself to a holy personal mission of granting President Bush the power to grant letters of marque and reprisal in the war on terror. To this end, he introduced HR 3076, the September 11 Marque and Reprisal Act of 2001. Helpfully, the bill's section 2(a) notes that the September 11 terrorists were, indeed, pirates (air pirates), and of course, who could be expected to fight pirates except with pirates? (Actually, wasn't it the Royal Navy that put down most piracy in the Caribbean and Atlantic sea lanes? hey, we're having fun here, don't spoil it.) And indeed, in short order letters of marque became Rep. Paul's best answer to everything: on the House floor, with parliamentary eloquence not heard since Cicero, Rep. Paul praised them as the obvious result of proceeding with caution and deliberation, taking into account unintended consequences, and avoiding hasty responses - 'We should be careful not to do something just to do something- even something harmful. Mr. Speaker, I fear that some big mistakes could be made in the pursuit of our enemies if we do not proceed with great caution, wisdom, and deliberation. Action is necessary; inaction is unacceptable. No doubt others recognize the difficulty in targeting such an elusive enemy. This is why the principle behind "marque and reprisal" must be given serious consideration.' (yes, he really did praise bringing back pirates as a 'cautious, deliberate' solution to September 11. And that's just a glimpse, ladies and gentlemen, of the keen intelellect and leadership skill it takes to be a member of Congress.) Sadly, the bill has not moved anywhere visible to the naked eye in committee - but something tells me we haven't heard the last of the September 11 Marque and Reprisal Act. Crusades are made of flinty stuff.

Frankly, I'm comforted by the notion that members of the House of Representatives are, like Ron Paul, even as we speak reading the Constitution to scan for powers that can be reinvigorated and placed in the president's hands to prosecute the war on terror. This is principally because I'm comforted by the fact that at least some members of the House can read. Although if we were to commission pirates to act in our interests, I'd like to nominate patriot Hans Sprungfeld. And this isn't even to speak of the constitutional fun and games that can be had, say, in establishing standards of weights and measures, or even in establishing post roads (woo-hoo!).
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# Posted 6:54 AM by Patrick Belton  

BUT WHERE DOES SPACE BEGIN? As Josh and many other blogosphere commentators have noted, SpaceDev technology's SpaceShipOne vessel yesterday became the first private craft to cross into space. More interesting, though, is the question of when precisely it did so.

Common usage in the United States accords the title of 'astronaut' to any person travelling above an altitude of 50 miles, or 80 km. By comparison, a Boeing 747-400 most typically cruises at an altitude 10 kilometers, or 32,900 feet (6.23 miles). More officially, the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale, based in Lausanne, describes the boundary of space as being at 62 miles, or 100 km. SpaceShipOne's trajectory yesterday peaked at 100.12 kilometers (62.214 miles, or 328,491 feet) - meaning Michael Melvill had only 124 meters each way in which to enjoy officially stamping his passport in space.

The atmosphere thins gradually through its upper reaches, making it difficult to identify a clear delineation between it and space, but re-entering orbital craft begin to encounter noticeable atmospheric effects at 75 miles, or 120 km. (For terminology buffs, the portion of the earth's atmosphere from 50 to 85 km above the equator generally is referred to as the mesosphere, whereas the segment above 80-85 km is referred to as the thermosphere. The less exhilerating - though nonetheless stratospheric - heights lying immediately below the mesosphere are the familiar stratosphere, which ranges from 17-50 km above the equator.) Or, if you don't want to go that far, you can just go to the Stratosphere casino in Las Vegas.
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# Posted 1:51 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

BUSH HAS MORE IN COMMON WITH EUROPEAN LEADERS THAN YOU THINK: Guido Calabresi is a federal judge and a former dean of Yale Law School. He is not known for the subtlety of his political opinions. But yesterday he outdid even himself by comparing Bush to Mussolini and Hitler:
In a way that occurred before but is rare in the United States...somebody came to power as a result of the illegitimate acts of a legitimate institution that had the right to put somebody in power. That is what the Supreme Court did in Bush versus Gore. It put somebody in power...

The reason I emphasize that is because that is exactly what happened when Mussolini was put in by the king of Italy...The king of Italy had the right to put Mussolini in, though he had not won an election, and make him prime minister. That is what happened when Hindenburg put Hitler in. I am not suggesting for a moment that Bush is Hitler. I want to be clear on that, but it is a situation which is extremely unusual..

When somebody has come in that way, they sometimes have tried not to exercise much power. In this case, like Mussolini, he has exercised extraordinary power. He has exercised power, claimed power for himself; that has not occurred since Franklin Roosevelt who, after all, was elected big and who did some of the same things with respect to assertions of power in times of crisis that this president is doing...
Of course Bush isn't Hitler, says Calabresi. So why mention old Adolf? The analogy is actually a terrible one. Yes, Hindenburg had a right to appoint Hitler. Shortly thereafter, Hitler held rigged elections and then 'persuaded' his pet Reichstag to let him rule by decree. (I guess Calabresi would say that even as a dictator, Bush is a total failure.)

I don't know enough about Italian history to debunk the analogy to Mussolini, but I'm guessing it's pretty worthless as well. And hey, what the f*** is up with comparing FDR to Mussolini?

(Special thanks to SH for the link. For more on Calabresi see Eugene's posts here and here.)
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Monday, June 21, 2004

# Posted 12:37 PM by Patrick Belton  

INCIDENTALLY, a rather unattractive male English teenager is currently attempting to auction off his virginity on Ebay. (The link is to the auction.) He's starting bidding at £1,500.00. Oddly, no one has yet bid.

UPDATE: The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle at work - unfortunately, Ebay has withdrawn the ad. And David Vardy, 19, is sadly stuck with his virginity.
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# Posted 8:47 AM by Patrick Belton  

MAJOR DIPLOMATIC INCIDENT UNFOLDING: Iran has seized three vessels of the Royal Navy which were patrolling the Shatt al-Arab, and have seized eight British sailors. The Ministry of Defence has stated that the ships were involved in helping the Iraqi police patrol the area.

UPDATE: The NYT has more - the MOD has described the three boats as 'inflatable' and indicated their crew were in the process of delivering them to Iraq. Separately, the British Embassy in Tehran released a statement that three training patrol boats had lost radio contact with their base.

UPDATE: The BBC is quoting Iranian Al Alam TV that the Iranian government is intending to prosecute the eight sailors, for illegally entering its (disputed) territorial waters. Foreign Secretary Jack Straw held a telephone conversation this morning with Iranian FM Kamal Kharazzi to discuss the matter, but there is no report on how the conversation proceeded. The matter is also receiving suprisingly little press attention.
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# Posted 4:49 AM by Patrick Belton  

THIS MORNING IS THE SUMMER SOLSTICE: And here is how it looked as summer broke over Stonehenge:

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Sunday, June 20, 2004

# Posted 11:51 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

IS POLLACK OFF THE RESERVTION? Greg D. points out that Ken Pollack's criticism of George Bush has gotten to the point where the centrist and moderate scholar has begun to sound like Fisk or Chomsky.

Even so, Pollack's column in TNR is well worth reading. Fortunately, there is only one point at which he waxes idiotarian. While reading the column, I think it's important to remember just how much Pollack's professional reputation has suffered because of Bush's handling of the occupation.

Of course, there are flaws in Pollack's argument beyond his intemperate criticism. Greg points out some to them. I would just add that Pollack seems completely oblivious to the fact that the intense controversy surrounding Bush's decision to invade Iraq consumed the White House's attention in the months before the war. Already averse to nation-building, there was little reason to think the Bush administration would prepare seriously for the occupation even if the President committed himself in principle to building democracy.
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# Posted 11:16 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THE WAR LETTER: Along with Kos and Dan Froomkin, Tim Noah over at Slate is trumpeting this letter as definitive evidence that Bush stated unambiguously that there was a working realtionship between Saddam and Al Qaeda.

I was pretty suspicious of this spin on Bush's letter, but didn't have the legal expertise to show why Noah et al. were wrong. However, Eric Soskin does quite a job of it here and here. Tom Maguire and Gene Volokh have more.
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# Posted 4:14 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

CIRCLING THE WAGONS: The Weekly Standard has joined NRO in its all-out assault on the 9/11 Commission's finding that there was no active relationship between Saddam and Al Qaeda. Following NRO's Andrew McCarthy, the Standard's Stephen Hayes has thrown a spotlight on the equivocations and oversights of the Commission's recent report, not to mention press coverage thereof.

While I agree with a good number of the individual points that Hayes and McCarthy make, I disagree with their apparent premise that the 9/11 Commission could (and should) have resolved certain questions left unanswered by their report. In contrast to the independent counsels responsible for both the collection and interpretation of evidence during Iran-Contra and Monica-gate, the 9/11 Commission seems to be wholly dependent on the intelligence community for providing it with material to evaluate.

Perhaps more importantly, this administration has a powerful incentive to provide the Commission with all relevant material that might have established an active relationship between Al Qaeda and Saddam. In contrast, the Reagan and Clinton administrations had every incentive to cooperate with investigators as little as possible.

Thus, the real question here is not why there are certain oversights in the Commission's report, but rather why the administration, after investing so much time and effort in the search for compelling evidence of an active Saddam-Al Qaeda relationship, hasn't been able to come up with anything more definitive.

That said, Hayes and McCarthy do a good job of identifying three potential points of contact between Al Qaeda and Saddam that I expect to become the staple references for all those who take issue with the Commission's report. Those points of contact are:
  1. The undefined relationship between Iraqi agent Ahmed Hikmat Shakir and 9/11 hijacker Khalid al Mihdhar.
  2. The unverified but undisproven claim that Mohammed Atta met with an Iraqi agent in Prague in June 2000.
  3. The connection of both Bin Ladin and the Iraqi government to the Sudanese chemical plant levelled by an American attack in June 1998.
With regard to each, Hayes and McCarthy make a good case that there is more to know than the Commission lets on. But if the Bush administration couldn't demonstrate that these points of contact were part of a collaborative relationship, why should one expect the 9/11 Commission to support that allegation?
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# Posted 4:05 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

A PERFECT SUMMER DAY: The solstice isn't until tomorrow, but yesterday belonged to summer. I swam and lay on the beach at Thoreau's Walden Pond. I picked fresh strawberries and ate them right then and there at a small farm in Lincoln, Massachusetts. At night, we barbecued outdoors and had dinner on my friend's porch as the sun set and the fireflies lit up the garden.

If this brief description of paradise has made you jealous, just remember that I will spend tomorrow two stories underground, sitting at a small table surrounded by dusty old books, with nothing but a harsh fluorescent light to read by. But that's not for another 18 hours!
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# Posted 3:43 PM by Patrick Belton  

AND FOR NEWS OF THE WEIRD: Thousands of bunnies, nibbling in concert, prevent historic Warwickshire radio towers (the origin of the BBC time 'pip' before the hour) from being demolished. Well, who's to say they shouldn't have liked them?
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# Posted 2:00 PM by Patrick Belton  

ROYAL ASCOT WATCH: Hey, it's a Britain-themed day...

More than two-and-a-half tons of smoked salmon, nearly five tons of strawberries and one hundred twenty thousand bottles of champagne were devoured at Royal Ascot, which ended on Saturday. Also consumed at the races were an estimated 12,000 bottles of Pimms.
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# Posted 1:51 PM by Patrick Belton  

AFTER A HALF-DECADE as a proud resident of Great Britain, I can note that I've finally learned how to tell, within a second of looking at someone, whether they're a foreigner.

They're the ones who smile back.
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# Posted 1:49 PM by Patrick Belton  

RISING POWER: Per Sunday Telegraph (today's print edition, p.3), the government of China hopes to reach the top tier of the world's cricket nations within 20 years.
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Saturday, June 19, 2004

# Posted 4:04 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

BLOGS VS. DEAD-TREES: Right now, Time Magazine has a big and breathless story about blogs right on the top of its website. My response? To ignore it. I mean, what can you say to a million-selling news-weekly that lists Glenn Reynolds as one of its "Five Bloggers to Watch"? Maybe next week Time will announce that Barry Bonds has a pretty good shot at making the Hall of Fame.

Now here's something interesting: This week, Spencer Ackerman of TNR has been guest-blogging for Josh Marshall. Huh? An established journalist at a top-flight publication filling in for a blogger on vacation? What next? Will Kos write editorials for the NYT? Will Jayson Blair fill in for Drudge?

It's probably worth noting that Spencer has his own blog, Iraq'd, over at TNR. At least in terms of influnce, Iraq'd certainly isn't TPM. So Spencer is sort of moving up by filling in for Josh. Still, it's hard to get away from the notion that Spencer's decision reflects the rising prestige and credibility and that blogs have developed in the recent past.

Or perhaps I'm getting this all wrong. Maybe Josh and Spencer are friends, and Spencer is just doing this for Josh as a favor. But even if that were the case, it says a lot about the approaching parity of first-tier blogs with first-tier opinion journals. Two years ago, would any blogger have dared to ask a professional journalist -- even a friend or especially a friend -- to fill in for them? Of course not. It would've been an insult, sort of like asking Luciano Pavarotti to sing karaoke.

But somewhere along the lines, things changed. Now I'm not trying to say that blogs are taking over Big Media. But there is a growing interface between the two that results in talent in one sphere being equated with talent in the other.

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# Posted 3:50 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THE BRUTALITY OF AL QAEDA: I have nothing to say. The beheading of Paul M. Johnson speaks for itself. But just imagine: imagine if instead of celebrating the brutal murder of an innocent, instead of posting photograhps of his severed head on their website, the Saudi militants responsible for Johnson's death announced that they were letting Mr. Johnson go in order to demonstrate their moral superiority to the infidels who abused and humiliated Muslim prisoners at Abu Ghraib.

No, I don't think that could happen. These terrorists seem incapable of recognizing that kindness is often a far more dangerous weapon than violence. If they understood that, then I would truly be afraid.
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# Posted 2:56 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

ARE BUSH'S CRITICS IRRESPONSIBLE? According to NRO, they're just plain wrong. Andrew McCarthy says that if you take a close look at what the 9/11 Commission says about the Saddam-Al Qaeda connection it's far from definitive.

I don't buy it. While I'll be the first to admit that there's a helluva lot we don't know about both Saddam and Al Qaeda, I'm not sure that there's much more evidence out there to find right now. If the Bush administration has invested so much time and effort in investigating the relationship between Saddam and Osama, why hasn't it found evidence of a connection? And if it found such evidence, why doesn't the 9/11 Commission believe that Public Enemies #1 and #2 had a "collaborative relationship"?

But what about the actual criticism directed toward the administration? With regard to the "Bush lied" chorus, the WaPo says that
The accusation is nearly as irresponsible as the Bush administration's rhetoric has been.
That's pushing it. The NYT may be ineffably pretentious when it writes that "Now President Bush should apologize to the American people" -- as if the absence of a Saddam-Al Qaeda connection was news -- but irresponsible and disingenuous rhetoric from the White House is far more dangerous than pretentiousness in the paper of record.

It is worth pointing out, however, that the NYT editorial board can be just as careless with its language as Messrs. Bush and Cheney. For example, it writes that
The Bush administration convinced a substantial majority of Americans before the war that Saddam Hussein was somehow linked to 9/11.
That is misleading at best or simply not true. While the Bush administration hardly sought to resolve public confusion about this point, the President never asserted that Saddam played a role in 9/11. Over at CBS, John Roberts isn't much better. He reported that
It is one of President Bush's last surviving justifications for war in Iraq, and today, it took a devastating hit when the 9-11 Commission declared there was no collaborative relationship between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden. ... Those repeated associations left the majority of Americans believing Saddam was involved in 9/11.
While Roberts' accusation is less explicit than the NYT's, his comments are supposed to be straight news, not an editorial. Meanwhile, Dick Cheney is launching a pretty fierce counter-attack against the NYT. While I agree with Andrew that Cheney is right about the NYT headline being pretty unfair, Cheney's case seems to revolve primarily around the existence of a Saddam-Zarqawi relationship. If that's all the Vice President has to go on, he's not in good shape.
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# Posted 2:43 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

HEADLINE POLITICS: In response to my post on the NYT-WaPo headline duel, LS -- a professional journalists at a major daily paper -- puts it far better than I did:
I don't have any inside scoop on the NYTimes, but from where I sit, as an editorial writer for a page that is a lot more conservative than the newsroom, I can say with some assurance that what looks like "spillage" only happens when the newsroom and the editorial page are staffed by people who already agree. That is, the news pages would be exactly the way they
are if the editorial page weren't there at all.

The same has been true at the three papers I worked for before I came here, and other edit writers I know who are in the same situation say it has been their experience as well, so I think what you see is not the result of any influence by edit pages on the news coverage but simply the fact that the edit pages of big newspapers are more likely to be liberal than to be conservative, and so are the newsroom staff.
Interesting. One has to respect all those papers that put up a firewall between politics and opinion, but that wall may not be effective until the journalistic professional begins to represent a broader array of political opinions.
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Friday, June 18, 2004

# Posted 7:06 AM by Patrick Belton  

18 JUNE: Today in 1873, Susan B Anthony was issued a fine of $100 for having cast a vote in the presidential election held on 5 November of the previous year. She was, incidentally, earning an annual salary of $100 from her work as a schoolteacher. My student Jon Silver points out that, like Frederick Douglass, Ms Anthony was a resident of Rochester. The fine would go unpaid.
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# Posted 6:44 AM by Patrick Belton  

INTERNATIONAL RESPONSE TO AIDS BOOK TOUR: OxBlog's good friend (and, lest we point out, Nathan Haler) Greg Behrman will be on the west coast this coming week for his book tour. His book is The Invisible People: How the U.S. Has Slept Through the Global AIDS Pandemic - think Woodward does the government's response to AIDS, just better. Here's where he'll be speaking, if you'd like to drop by!



Stacey's Booksellers
581 Market Street

Cody's Books
2454 Telegraph Avenue
Berkeley, CA


Commonwealth Club of Silicon Valley
First Unitarian Church of San Jose
160 North Third Street
San Jose, CA



Borders Books & Music
330 S. La Cienega Blvd.
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Thursday, June 17, 2004

# Posted 11:24 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

DID BUSH REALLY SAY THERE WAS A RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN IRAQ AND AL QAEDA? I think the best description of his comments is "maddeningly vague". In March 2002, Bush said that
Al Qaeda hides, Saddam doesn't, but the danger is, is that they work in concert. The danger is, is that al Qaeda becomes an extension of Saddam's madness and his hatred and his capacity to extend weapons of mass destruction around the world.

Both of them need to be dealt with. The war on terror, you can't distinguish between al Qaeda and Saddam when you talk about the war on terror. And so it's a comparison that is -- I can't make because I can't distinguish between the two, because they're both equally as bad, and equally as evil, and equally as destructive.
The reliably partisan Center for American Progress pares down Bush's quote to the absurd statement that "You can't distinguish between al Qaeda and Saddam." Obviously, that isn't what Bush was saying. But what matters most is that the President was being much less than honest about the critical issue of the day.

The actual question Bush got asked was "Mr. President, do you believe that Saddam Hussein is a bigger threat to the United States than al Qaeda?" All Bush had to say was that they are both extremely serious threats and that he would deal with both of them. Or he could've said that Osama and Saddam may work together in the future because they both hate America so much. Instead, he implied that they were already collaborating.

According to Kos, the definitive evidence that Bush lied is the letter he sent to Congress just before the invasion of Iraq. In it, Bush said that invading Iraq
is consistent with the United States and other countries continuing to take the necessary actions against international terrorists and terrorist organizations, including those nations, organizations, or persons who planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001.
That sound pretty cagey, but I'm wondering if "consistent" has a precise legal meaning in the context Bush used it. Earlier on in the letter, Bush refers separately to "the continuing threat posed by Iraq". All he really seems to be saying about 9/11 is that going after Saddam doesn't preclude going after Osama as well. Besides, Bush has been very careful about denying any sort of relationship between Saddam and 9/11, even to the point where he publicly criticized Cheney for saying that one existed.

For another set of maddeningly vague quotes, you can head over to this compilation by the AP. In his 2003 State of the Union Address, Bush said that
Evidence from intelligence sources, secret communications, and statements by people now in custody reveal that Saddam Hussein aids and protects terrorists, including members of al-Qaida.
That seems like a reference to Abu Musab Zarqawi, whose relationship with Saddam still isn't clear.

Now, for the sake of being comprehensive, it's also worth pointing that in his infamous aircraft carrier speech, Bush said that
The liberation of Iraq is a crucial advance in the campaign against terror. We've removed an ally of al Qaeda, and cut off a source of terrorist funding. And this much is certain: No terrorist network will gain weapons of mass destruction from the Iraqi regime, because the regime is no more.
"Ally", huh? That sounds like a collaborative relationship. Or is it just a figurative description of the relationship between two of America's greatest enemies?

All in all, I'm inclined to support Matt Yglesias' observation that Bush's remakrs are all part of this administration's
longstanding practice of making technically accurate, but misleading and tendentious, statements in order to try and trick people into believing things that aren't true.
If you want to be a little nicer to Bush, you can say that he didn't have a malicious desire to trick people. But it doesn't really matter. The bottom line is that Bush contributed to public confusion about one of the most critical aspects of American national security instead of just telling the simple truth. If you want to bring honor back to the White House, that is certainly not the way to do it.
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# Posted 10:49 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

The reason I keep insisting that there was a relationship between Iraq and Saddam and al Qaeda, because there was a relationship between Iraq and al Qaeda.

This administration never said that the 9/11 attacks were orchestrated between Saddam and al Qaeda.

We did say there were numerous contacts between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda. For example, Iraqi intelligence officers met with bin Laden, the head of al Qaeda, in the Sudan. There's numerous contacts between the two.
Was the President trying to say that "numerous contacts" constitute a "relationship"? Or did he begin by asserting that there was a "relationship" and then back-track to the concession that there were only "numerous contacts"?

While Bush doesn't seem to choose his words all that carefully when speaking off the cuff, his use of the word 'relationship' seems very, very calculated. The 9/11 commission said there was no "collaborative relationship" between Saddam and Al Qaeda. So is Bush suggesting that there was a relationship but that it wasn't collaborative?

With regard to a recent comment by Dick Cheney, Matt Yglesias writes that it wasn't technically a lie:
Rather, it was part of the administration's longstanding practice of making technically accurate, but misleading and tendentious, statements in order to try and trick people into believing things that aren't true, while protecting themselves from criticism in the elite media.
That certainly seems like a good description of Bush's remarks. Except for the fact that he utterly failed to protect himself from criticism in the elite media. This morning, the WaPo led off its Saddam-Al Qaeda article with the statement that
The Sept. 11 commission reported yesterday that it has found no "collaborative relationship" between Iraq and al Qaeda, challenging one of the Bush administration's main justifications for the war in Iraq.
According to tomorrow's paper,
President Bush yesterday defended his assertions that there was a relationship between Saddam Hussein's Iraq and Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda, putting him at odds with this week's finding of the bipartisan Sept. 11 commission.
So the news yesterday was that Bush is a liar and the news today is that Bush is a liar. Perhaps Bush thinks that his quasi-denial of the charges will be enough to keep the faith of some undecided voters. But frankly, responding to a highly-respected bipartisan commission with an evasive semi-denial is probably not going to persuade anyone except the Republican faithful.

My best guess is that Bush himself (along with Cheney) is deeply in denial. It's the same phenomenon we saw with Reagan. When you believe in something with all your heart and then stake your reputation on it, letting go is the hardest thing to do.

So is that an excuse for Bush's misleading comments? Hell no. His remarks were embarrassing and unpresidential. Period.
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# Posted 2:35 PM by Patrick Belton  

ENGLAND FENDS OFF SWITZERLAND 3-0, for those of you who are interested in that sort of thing....

Also, per capita GDP seems a fair predictor for country's performances so far. For each matchup which has been held to date, here is the corresponding matchup between the two countries' per capita (purchasing-power parity) GDP as well as their net PPP GDP: (I've placed the larger number in each comparison in bold, for presentational convenience)

Greece 2, Portugal 1 ($19,900 vs $18,000; $212.2 bn vs $182.3 bn)
Switzerland 0, Croatia 0 ($32,800 v $10,700; $239.8 bn vs $47.14 bn)
Denmark 0, Italy 0 ($31,200 v $26,800;167.7 bn vs $1.552 tn)
Czcech 2, Latvia 1 ($15,700 v $10,100; $160.5 bn v $23.77 bn)
Spain 1, Russia 0 ($22,000 v $8,900; $885.5 bn v 1.287 tn)
France 2, England 1 ($27,500 v $27,700*; $1.654 tn v $1.664 tn)
Sweden 5, Bulgaria 0 ($26,800 v $7,600; $238.1 bn v $57.13 bn)
Germany 1, Holland 1 ($19,900 v $28,600; $212.2 bn vs $461.4 bn)
England 3, Switzerland 0 ($27,700* v $32,800; $1.664 tn v $239.8 bn)
Portugal 2, Russia 0 ($18,000 v $8,900; $182.3 bn v $1.287 tn)

So, as you can see, per capita GDP is a rather better predictor than net GDP. Disregarding matches which ended in ties (i.e., in indeterminate results), per capita GDP predicts the winner in five out of seven pairings, whereas net GDP predicts accurately in four cases.

Corollary to Belton's Law: Belton's Law does not apply to England. England ought to have beaten France by both per capita and net GDP predictors; similarly, Switzerland should have beaten England by per capita GDP (though not by net GDP). Granted, both economic figures are for the UK rather than England, as I haven't come across economic data for England alone. But I assume the result would have been conserved by using English rather than UK data, which, given the location of the City and its financial centre in England, would have raised per capita GDP over France still more, though not necessarily up to the Swiss level - i.e., no change in that result - though on the other hand, it would have made net GDP a correct predictor of the France-England matchup.
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# Posted 7:07 AM by Patrick Belton  

ADVERTISING MISMATCH - PAGING THE CROOKED TIMBER IRONY-WATCHERS: I love the Weekly Standard. I also happen heartily to enjoy the French language, the French literary and intellectual tradition, all flesh-and-blood French people I have the pleasure to know, and most things, actually, about the French nation, apart from the various political institutions it seems to generate from time to time. But just out of curiosity, is the Standard necessarily the optimum place for Champs Élysée Audiotapes to urge readers to 'Become fluent in French!'? (That said, I heartily endorse, applaud, and support any advertisers who seek to provide monetary assistance to the Weekly Standard, New Republic, Slate, or any of my other daily reads...)

UPDATE: A reader emails in: 'Back here in the States, you might be interested to know that The Longest Day, broadcast on D-Day this year, was sponsored by Mercedes-Benz! (Maybe they thought that the Germans' staff cars were some kind of product placement...)'
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# Posted 7:01 AM by Patrick Belton  

JOSH CHERNISS is posting up a storm on Stuart Hampshire.
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# Posted 6:15 AM by Patrick Belton  

BLOOM: LAST CALL... Sheila O'Malley, lovely girl that she is*, has been posting loads on Bloomsday. Also, OxFriend Phil C. poses a question to our readers:
I was trying to explain to a colleague—over beers @ Mackey’s Pub on L St—last night why Joyce is worth reading (she was forced to read “Portrait” for a lit class in college, couldn’t figure out what was going on, and has disliked JJ ever since).

Eventually I got on to the topic of 1922 as the annus mirabilis of 20th-century literature and began to gas on a bit about how JJ’s technique of bringing the sound and soul of the modern city into his writing very closely resembles TS Eliot’s method of “bricolage” (think of all the snatches of conversation, pop music, etc. from the London scene in The Waste Land—kind of TSE’s nightmare version of JJ’s Dublin, w/ its pompous schoolmasters, blowhard editors, mellifluous Italian music teachers, crippled coquettes on beaches, sirenical barmaids, debating literary intellectuals etc replaced by the typist and her small house-agent’s clerk, the tense married couple, the ladies in the pub, one-eyed Smyrna merchants, and so on).

But for the life of me I couldn’t explain who influenced whom, or if indeed there are filiations of influence from one to another of these giants. I know that Waste Land came out in ’22, and that JJ mailed portions of Ulysses to TSE, Ezra Pound, et al. while JJ was working on it (which must have been before ’22—chunks of U were indeed written during WWI, if I recall correctly). Yet on the other hand, TSE had published works such as “Prufrock,” which use some of this “found-objects-or-experiences-transmuted-into-art” method as early as 1914.

So are JJ & TSE just parallel—like Newton & Leibniz, geniuses who had similar brilliant insights independently but almost simultaneously—or did one affect the other more than vice versa?
Any thoughts?

* In fact, sufficiently avid readers of OxBlog will recall that Sheila is - along with my lovely wife, Sasha Castel, and the NHS's cross-dressing crouton doctor - one of a very exclusive number of female blogosphere friends to have attained the highly coveted status of 'OxBlog OxBabes of the Week'.
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# Posted 3:41 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

QUICK! BEFORE THEY'RE GONE! Take a look at today's front-page images from the NYT and WaPo. The WaPo has a five-column headline that reads: "Al Qaeda Scaled Back 10-Plane Plot". In contrast, the NYT has a four-column headline that reads: "Panel Finds No Iraq-Qaeda Tie; Describes A Wider Plot for 9/11".

There no question that politics played a big role in all of this. After all, you only have to look as far as the editorial page to see what the editors were thinking. For the NYT, the Commission's report is conclusive evidence that Bush lied. Anticipating the "Bush lied" chorus, the editors of the WaPo write that "The accusation is nearly as irresponsible as the Bush administration's rhetoric has been."

From where I stand, the clearest thing of all is that editorial page politics spill over onto page one and that those responsible for this spillage are either unaware of it or unable to admit it.
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# Posted 3:29 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

BEWARE OF EVIL BLOGS: Hugh Hewitt warns that the and Karl Rove and assorted Islamic fundamentalists may soon be up to no good in the blogosphere.
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# Posted 3:26 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

Slowly, and in spite of systematic stonewalling by the Bush administration, it is becoming clearer why a group of military guards at Abu Ghraib prison tortured Iraqis in the ways depicted in those infamous photographs. President Bush and his spokesmen shamefully cling to the myth that the guards were rogues acting on their own. Yet over the past month we have learned that much of what the guards did -- from threatening prisoners with dogs, to stripping them naked, to forcing them to wear women's underwear -- had been practiced at U.S. military prisons elsewhere in the world. Moreover, most of these techniques were sanctioned by senior U.S. officials, including Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and the Iraqi theater command under Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez. Many were imported to Iraq by another senior officer, Maj. Gen. Geoffrey D. Miller.
From a masthead editorial in the WaPo.
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# Posted 3:17 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THREATS FROM IRAN: The inspections stand-off takes another step closer to becoming a nuclear showdown. Jim Hoagland has more.
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# Posted 3:02 AM by Patrick Belton  

THOSE GODLESS COMMUNISTS, have they got no shame?
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# Posted 2:47 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

YOUNGEST BLOGGER EVER: Little Edward was born on June 10th and already has his own blog. For the moment, his parents are doing most of the posting and taking care of the technical side of things, but I'm sure Edward will get the hang of it soon.

In their most recent post, Mom & Dad write about Edward that
He's little. He has deep black pools for eyes -- when he opens them, which he's hesitant to do. He turns red when he's excited. He likes to eat, doesn't particularly care for baths. He's wonderful.

Which is why we're starting this blog. To watch him grow, to share our thoughts and reflections as he gets bigger, to offer up fun anecdotes from his babyhood. Maybe also to hear ourselves think -- something that, often now, it doesn't feel like there's much time for.
NB: I'm not including any links to Edward's blog because it really just intended for family and friends. Of course, if Edward posts anything political, I may decide to fisk it. :p
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Wednesday, June 16, 2004

# Posted 4:17 PM by Patrick Belton  

BLOOMSDAY REDUX: The Emigrant, an Irish print and online newspaper serving an audience principally of Irish expatriate communities around the globe, was kind enough to pick up my Bloomsday article. Thanks, lads!
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# Posted 12:21 PM by Patrick Belton  

HOPEFULLY, HE DOESN'T LIVE IN VIRGINIA: Otherwise, Slate, you might want to call your lawyer. David Amsden's story carries the title (on their main page) 'Prom Night Undercover: Our reporter sneaks back into high school with a 17-year-old date.' Obviously this advertising campaign isn't reaching someone...
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# Posted 6:30 AM by Patrick Belton  

BLOOMSDAY: A CENTURY. In some sense, modern literature began a hundred years ago today.
Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed. A yellow dressinggown, ungirdled, was sustained gently behind him by the mild morning air. He held the bowl aloft and intoned:

-- Introibo ad altare Dei.
In the world of text, of Molly Bloom's sensuous, doubting, ultimately affirming soliloquy (I was a Flower of the mountain yes when I put the rose in my hair like the Andalusian girls used), of Stephen Daedalus's monologue walking along the beach which stretches in Sandycove from Martello tower to Dun Laoghaire (Ineluctable modality of the visible: at least that if no more, thought through my eyes), this was the day Stephen and Leopold wandered throughout the city Joyce himself had fled (using for my defence the only arms I allow myself to use - silence, exile, and cunning), enacting a modern Odyssey, and eventually finding one another briefly (and in Bella Cohen's brothel) as father-seeking son meeting son-seeking father. In the other, non-textual world, the world of breakfasts made of 'the inner organs of beasts and fowls' and 'grilled mutton kidneys which gave to his palate a fine tang of faintly scented urine', 16 June 1904 was the day when the artist, as a young man, fell in love with rustic Galway girl Nora Barnacle. And he would immortalise the day for her.
Halted, he peered down the dark winding stairs and called up coarsely:

-- Come up, Kinch! Come up, you fearful jesuit!
Joyce is not quite Stephen - the worlds of language and sausages don't correspond quite that neatly - but both come together in places. Daedalus was, after all, Joyce's early pen name as a student at Clongowes, and in a more real sense, Joyce was the real Daedalus, the architect who created the Labyrinth for the minotaur at Crete, and then showed his son Icarus to fly to escape it. After observing painfully his son's death, Daedalus is exiled to Sicily - undoubtedly, one supposes, to be the crafter of novels. And as far as how well the artificer of the century's most intricate, Labyrnthine text did succeed when he went to 'encounter for the millionth time the reality of experience and to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race'- well, go this morning to O'Connell Street to see how Joyce's myth of Dublin has been received by that city's people, and si monumentum requiris, circumspice.

In the Celtic calendar, there is day called Samhain when, after one agricultural cycle has ended in harvest and before the next one has begun, two years are joined together - but imperfectly, and in the crack between them, it was possible to pass between the world of men and the world of the Sidhe, the faeries. Bloomsday is such a day, when the world of sausages and the world of Joyce and Daedalus come together - imperfectly, but for a moment it's somehow more possible to pass between them. And benefit from the reconciliation, in the world of faeries, myth, and divine jesuitical artificers, between Stephen's intellect, Bloom's corporeality, and Molly's sensuality, and between the father who forever sought a son and the son who forever sought his father.
I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes.
Is the book really as grand as all that to-do happening in O'Connell Street this morning suggests? Oh Yes yes yes it is, yes.

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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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